In the Prologue to The Philosophers’ Secret Fire, Patrick Harpur asserts:
The Secret Fire extends far beyond alchemy. It was a secret that was passed down from antiquity – some say, from Orpheus; others, from Moses; most, from Hermes Trismegestus – in a long series of links which constituted what the Philosophers called the Golden Chain. This august succession of Philosophers embodied a tradition which we have either ignored or labelled ‘esoteric’, even ‘occult'; but it continues to run like a vein of quicksilver beneath western culture, rising up out of the shadows during times of intense cultural transition.
It is not a piece of information; nor is it a code to be cracked or a riddle to be solved. Nor, alas, is it a system of philosophy or body of knowledge which can be expressed directly.
I view astrology as an inner tradition that partakes of the Secret Fire. Astrology is not essentially about the accurate placements of the planets and the rules of interpretation and the industry of scholarship which builds up around such a tradition - useful, though distinctly secondary, as that scholarship is. Astrology essentially concerns using its own symbols as a prism to experience the Secret Fire.
It is an inner thing that is probably best expressed, as Harpur does, by saying what it is not. When the Secret Fire is present, there is a charge in the air that opens up and transforms. It is like an initiation. An astrology reading, at its best, is based around this element. The astrologer must go on a lifelong quest to find it, not knowing what they are looking for, maybe not even knowing they are on a quest.
“… those daemons that are found
In fire, air flood or under ground
Whose power hath a true consent
With planet, or with element.”
The planets as daemons, shape-shifting forces or beings that are “linked to the fate of individuals, just like the personal daimons, described by Plato in The Republic, which are assigned to us at birth and control our destiny.”
I think there are such things as perfectly good astrology readings where the Secret Fire is not present. Yes, a good description of the person’s character through reading the symbols, maybe a few insights and hopefully plenty of encouragement. £100 well spent and well earned.
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But occasionally, and it may not always be possible, it is like the gods speaking through you, and you come out with stuff that changes the context of someone’s life, shows them the bigger and deeper picture of what they are about, the very particular gifts they have and how to wake up to them. And what you say can always be worked backwards and justified in terms of the formal meanings of the planets.
The Secret Fire has its simulacra. It is most obvious to me in the workings of psychic and mediums, of whom I have seen quite a few over the years. In some of them, some of the time, you feel that power present, and the ability to express it. But most of the time their ‘intuition’, or the ‘spirits’ that have turned up, are pretty low level and frequently misleading. At least astrologers have a framework to hang onto, that always gives valuable information if used with integrity. But once ‘intuition’ takes over, you have to be really careful to keep that integrity. It’s very easy, for example, to subtly slide over into saying what the other person wants to hear, or to say things about the future that are conjecture dressed up as prophecy. Or to start getting into psychology, a subject that often doesn’t honour the soul or fully grasp the wider, unknowable purposes of the gods.
The real training for astrology usually takes decades. Learning the system and how to bang the symbols together so that words come out of your mouth is the easy bit. Anyone can go and get a certificate like this, and unfortunately it is generally seen as a qualification to practise the craft, you are a ‘professional’.
But astrology is not about that at all. The real qualification is the refashioning of the personality so that it becomes a vessel for the gods. And that is something the gods do to you if you are lucky or unlucky enough, it is not something you can decide. It is for the daimons who were assigned to you at birth.
The real qualification is earned on your pulses, you probably have to be pulled apart by Pluto until you have no idea what life is about any more, or drowned by Neptune, so that life can begin again in a completely new way. If you are prepared to listen. “Of his bones are coral made, Those are pearls that were his eyes.” 
And as you emerge, you may find yourself still an astrologer. Or maybe something else, you just don’t know. Or just Jo Bloggs with a look in his eye that makes people say there’s something about him.
I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach. 
 John Milton Il Penseroso
 The Philosophers’ Secret Fire p4
 Shakespeare’s The Tempest
 Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner