Astrology — Fate and Free Will
This is the latest chapter from Part 2 of my unpublished book on Astrology. (For what has preceded please see this list.) Part 2 is nearly complete. Here I discuss the relationship between the potential truth of Astrology and its relationship to fate and free will. Heimarmene is a goddess of fate/destiny in Greek mythology.
Chapter 17 HEIMARMENE
My survey of astrological thinking is almost complete. In chapter 16 I have suggested a theory which, taken in conjunction with the ideas about natal horoscopes I offered in chapter 9, might be the explanation for Astrology, or natal astrology at least. Taking everything that I have read into account, combined with my own life-experience, it is the best that I can come up with. Critics may disagree with it, but at the very least it is based strongly upon modern science, modern psychology, and what real astrologers of the serious, deeper type actually say.
Part 3 will ask what the implications are, if Astrology is true. Before I do that, however, there is one loose end that I would like to tie up. If Elwell’s idea is correct that “the patterns formed by the wheeling heavens are a sort of ‘exploded diagram’ of what is simultaneously happening in human consciousness”, and if what is happening in human consciousness itself has its source in the archetypes, the question is raised as to what extent human life is determined by factors external to the ego.
No book which claims to survey Astrology could be considered complete if there were no mention of the words ‘fate’ and ‘free will’. Since I do not remember having used them so far, I had therefore better do so. I am sure you will be relieved, however, if I say that I will not be entering into a full debate on this question, which has become somewhat tired and stale in philosophical circles, going round in circles without ever really making anything that could be described as progress. I shall restrict myself to commenting on the work of Liz Greene, one astrologer who has taken a special interest in it, and her book The Astrology of Fate¹.
While discussing some of the issues surrounding Astrology with a friend who had been reading an early draft of Part I, she came out with this refreshingly honest statement: “But I like to feel that I’m in control.” Astrology cannot help but raise the issue of free will, since it gives the impression that in some sense our lives are determined by things ‘written in the stars’. If the horoscope and subsequent progressions reveal in any sense at all a ‘blueprint’, there is a clear suggestion that we are not as free as we might like to think to choose our lives. This is clearly one of the reasons that Astrology is treated with suspicion and hostility, because we are desperately attached to the idea of freedom. The implications of this approach to life are somewhat alarming, however; it says in effect that it doesn’t matter whether something is true or not, it is more important that we feel comfortable. On the whole we would prefer to live a lie rather than a disturbing truth, and Astrology might just be a disturbing truth.
If it were merely a question of personality being determined, it would not be such a big deal. I have never heard anyone argue that human beings are not all different, that everyone is not an individual both physically and from the point of view of character. Neither have I ever heard anyone seriously argue that the ego chooses what personality to have. Even from the ludicrous tabula rasa perspective our personality shapes itself unconsciously in response to the environment and our experiences. So, no matter what your philosophical viewpoint and no matter to what determining factors you attribute this, the creation of personality is beyond our control. So on this specific point Astrology could not be worse than any other world-view.
The words destiny and fate are nowadays more or less interchangeable. Their etymological origins suggest that this was not always the case. As Liz Greene explains: “The root of ‘destiny’ in Latin means ‘to stand apart’, thereby implying that, although destiny is fate in one sense, it is more concerned with the individual’s development, that which makes him unique, that which makes him ‘stand apart’ from his fellows” (p167). Thus one’s destiny can be seen as the fact that I have just discussed, the ego’s apparent lack of choice in choosing personality. It is really only the suggestion that Astrology reveals a blueprint for our lives over and above personality, and the beliefs that events may be predetermined, therefore potentially predictable, and that evolution is progressing according to some detailed plan about which we have no choice, that make the hackles rise. This is what can reasonably be called fate, that which is written.
In some peoples’ eyes, fate implies a blind, automatic, therefore by definition unjust, force. It is therefore offensive and unpalatable, and is considered a medieval or ancient superstition, no longer relevant to the modern day. Liz Greene has noted the following trends which try euphemistically to avoid the issue:
1) “It has become acceptable, in some circles, to speak of karma, while avoiding the word fate. Karma, it would appear, is a nicer term because it implies a chain of cause and effect, with some importance given to the individual’s choices in a given incarnation” (p3).
2) the dilemma that fate has provided the Church: “It seems to me, when initially confronted with this complex theological vision of a fate which is not fate but behaves like it and really is it if a different word could be used, that a number of very eminent Church Fathers were trying extremely hard to reconcile the experience of fatedness in life with a religious outlook which had, of necessity, to exclude fate because such a belief eroded the interest in and dependence upon the Church as a means of salvation” (p281).
3) “Psychology too has found other, more attractive terminology when confronting issues of fate. It speaks of hereditary predisposition, conditioning patterns, complexes and archetypes” (p4).
4) The modern astrologer speaks instead “with elegant ambiguity, of potentials and seed plans and blueprints. Or he may seek refuge in the old Neoplatonic argument that while there may be a fate represented by the planets and signs, the spirit of man is free and can make its choices regardless” (p4, going on to quote Margaret Hone and Jeff Mayo as examples).
Others say that Astrology has “evolved”, has “emerged from the errors of the past”. The modern practitioners are quick to call themselves “free-will astrologers”, to talk about “personality tendencies”, and pronounce that “the stars incline, they do not compel”. Far be it from me to suggest that this line of thinking is actually wrong, but I have never found the arguments used to support it especially convincing. I wonder therefore whether these astrologers, faced by enormous hostility over this issue, are not watering down what they really think for fear of being rejected out of hand. It is almost as if they were saying: “If I tone this bit down, at least they will listen to what else I have to say”. Perhaps some of them believe in fate more than they care to admit. Liz Greene is not quite so cautious, for having made a similar statement: “We modern astrologers quite naturally wish to disown all that medieval claptrap, particularly the claptrap about fate”, she shows that she was intending a strong irony, for she immediately informs us: “There is one very annoying obstacle to such disowning. Those fatalistic Renaissance astrologers were unusually accurate in their predictions” (p143). Ouch!
Despite these modern attempts to rationalise an unjust fate out of existence, Greene discusses several case-histories where such a factor seems to be playing a part. This is the main purpose of her book. I do not wish to belittle her work by not discussing it in detail, but this aspect of fate is not directly relevant to the argument that I want to develop here. So if you think that the type of negative fate often portrayed in ancient Greek stories is an outmoded, superstitious idea, please seek out Greene’s text and judge for yourself. I shall just mention that:
a) of all the astrologers I have read she comes the closest to an acceptance of predestination, for example here: “The story is contained within us at birth, and merely awaits the telling through being fleshed with the experiences and conscious choices and perceptions of an individual life” (p169).
b) her ideas about fate lead Greene to some radical ideas about the horoscope itself. Most astrologers associate the birthchart with the individual. Greene goes further and says: “The figures of the parents, the unsolved dilemmas and unconscious conflicts they contain and pass on, and the intrinsic nature of the parental marriage, are already (her italics) present as images within the birth horoscope. In other words, they are a priori, inherent from the beginning — what has been written” (p96).
I am more interested in the possibility of the creative aspect of fate. As Greene explains, it was never seen as blind by the Greeks and was called Heimarmene, described by Gilbert Murray as “a fine thread running through the whole of existence” (p4), (an idea which is echoed in Elwell’s title The Cosmic Loom). On that theme she also says: “The experience of ‘unfathomable powers’ is unmistakable, and so is the feeling of a web of some kind with filaments that radiate out into unknowable distances. Unsurprisingly, the spider is one of the most ancient symbols of fate. This web is what the Stoics meant by Heimarmene, and it upset the early Church to such an extent that it was forced to develop the concept of God’s Providence to counteract the sense of fatality which any encounters with the web provoked” (p312).
Their concern with fate and Astrology evolved “from the vision of an orderly, interconnected cosmos” (p2), and “the profound sense of a universal moral order” (p20). This sounds somewhat similar to the world-view of many modern astrologers. So perhaps, if we try to go beyond the euphemisms, we would find that fate as the Greeks actually understood it is a more valid idea than we would like to admit. Greene quotes Bertrand Russell: “The Greeks had a theory or feeling about the universe, which may be called religious or ethical. According to this theory, every person and everything has his or its appointed place and appointed function… The theory is connected with the idea of fate or necessity. It applies emphatically to the heavenly bodies…” (p20)².
This view of fate does not seem radically different from Jung’s ideas about individuation (destiny) and vocation (fate), that if you look deeply inside yourself you will find the purpose for which you have been created, a task that specifically you have been given, which is totally suited to your personality. It makes perfect sense, in the interconnected, meaningful cosmos which astrologers believe in, that this should be so. According to this view fate is a daemon, “the force which shapes his life from within, and makes and mars his fortunes, not a ‘destiny’ allotted him from without” (p167)³.
A description of fate in this context would be the experience of an inner content, whose will is not the same as that of the ego, but perceived as originating in the Divine, trying to realize itself through that person, driving him or her forward. In Jungian language this experience is associated with the Self: “the central archetype of ‘order’ which stands at the core of individual development. Fate, nature, matter, world, body and unconscious: These are the linked threads which are woven on the loom of Moira (the name of the goddess of Fate), who rules the realm of flesh and substance and the instinctual drives of the unconscious psyche, of which the ego is a latter-day child” (p26). (Liz Greene, as well as being an astrologer, is a Jungian analyst.)
As Jung himself puts it:
“What happens to a person is characteristic of him. He represents a pattern and all the pieces fit. One by one, as his life proceeds, they fall into place according to some predestined(!sic) design”⁴. (One can easily see why the words fate and destiny have become synonymous. Greene also says: “the astrological pattern seems to describe both character and destiny, as though they were the same thing” [p271].)
“True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God…. But vocation acts like a law of God from which there is no escape… Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called”⁵. (The I Ching also thinks along similar lines, for example: “Only the man who goes to meet his fate resolutely is equipped to deal with it adequately” [Hexagram 5] ).
In Greene’s opinion, based upon her experience as analyst and astrologer, “there is certainly something…which seems to possess a kind of ‘absolute knowledge’ not only of what the individual needs, but of what he is going to need for his unfolding in life. It appears to make arrangements of the most particular and astonishing kind, bringing a person together with another person or an external situation at precisely the right moment, and it appears to be as much part of the inner man as the outer… I make no pretence of knowing what ‘it’ is, but I am unashamedly prepared to call this fate” (p8).
Dennis Elwell, although saying that he believes in free will, nevertheless expresses himself similarly: “The charts frequently make oblique references to other events, other times and places. Some of these allusions have a poetical, imaginative character, evoking almost dreamlike images, as if destiny is being shaped by a master dramatist”⁶. I am not suggesting that many people experience life in this way, but clearly some do and that is their experience, not necessarily a silly illusion. The fact that others haven’t got a clue what they are talking about does not invalidate it, and the fact that we do not experience life like that all the time does not mean that it is not still happening unnoticed.
What about science? Is it possible for a scientist to believe in fate? If ‘teleology’ is a dirty word, then fate must surely be a completely unmentionable taboo. The possibility of fate obviously depends upon your world-view. From the atheistic standpoint fate in any sense is clearly impossible; it depends upon the existence of some higher power, whose will can be interpreted as fate. Much modern science, based as it is on materialism and mechanism, is atheistic. Even when scientists subscribe to more spiritual beliefs, they are careful to separate these from their work.
The physicist Freeman Dyson is an outstanding example. In Disturbing the Universe⁷ he describes a spiritual experience early in his life: “In a blinding flash of inner light I saw the answer to both my problems, the problem of war and the problem of injustice. The answer was amazingly simple. I called it Cosmic Unity. Cosmic Unity said: There is only one of us. We are all the same person. I am you and I am Winston Churchill and Hitler and Gandhi and everybody. There is no problem of injustice because your sufferings are also mine. There will be no problem of war as soon as you understand that in killing me you are only killing yourself” (p17). However, when he applies his personal beliefs to his work he says: “The peculiar harmony between the structure of the universe and the needs of life and intelligence is a third manifestation of the importance of mind in the scheme of things. This is as far as we can go as scientists. We have evidence that mind is important on three levels. We have no evidence for any deeper unifying hypothesis that would tie these three levels together. As individuals, some of us may be willing to go further. Some of us may be willing to entertain the hypothesis that there exists a universal mind or world soul which underlies the manifestations of mind that we observe. If we take this hypothesis seriously, we are, according to Monod’s definition, animists. The existence of a world soul is a question that belongs to religion and not to science” (p252).
It is clear then that the stated position of scientists in print may not reflect what they actually think. It is possible therefore that more scientists believe in something like fate than are willing to admit it. The point that Dyson is discussing here is the commonly held opinion amongst modern physicists and cosmologists that the universe seems to be constituted in such a way as to be very favourable for the emergence of life as we know it, and “is an unexpectedly hospitable place for living creatures to make their home in”. As he says: “There are some striking examples in the laws of nuclear physics of numerical accidents that seem to conspire to make the universe habitable”, for example:
a) (summarized): “If the nuclear forces had been slightly stronger than they are… hydrogen would be a rare element, and stars like the sun…could not exist… If, as seems likely, the evolution of life requires a star like the sun, supplying energy at a constant rate for billions of years, then the strength of nuclear forces had to lie within a rather narrow range to make life possible”.
b) “All the rich diversity of organic chemistry depends on a delicate balance between electrical and quantum-mechanical forces… If the laws were changed so that electrons no longer excluded each other, none of our essential chemistry would survive…” (p250–1).
Ideas like this suggest a lack of accident and randomness in the evolution of the universe. This impression is intensified when one discovers that physicists believe that if conditions had been ever so slightly different much less than one second after the Big Bang (is that is assumed), life as we know it could not have emerged billions of years later. This conclusion excites cosmologists, scientists, and Christians alike, suggesting as it does the strong possibility of a designer God.
So there is a sense in which the current state of the universe seems to have been ‘fated’ since the beginning of time. If that is true, we humans again have to confront the question to what extent our lives are fated in ways that we do not notice, and to what degree of detail. David Bohm is another scientist whose thinking hints, at the very least, at absence of freedom, if not fate: “He compares the movements of electrons in the laboratory to those of ballet artists responding to a musical score. The score itself, he says, constitutes ‘a common pool of information’ through which the dancers can move together in an organized and orderly way”⁸.
To pursue this analogy, if there is a director/choreographer, the music, the dancers and the dance, it is clear that the dance cannot choose to stop itself. Only if one of the other three components stops will the dance abruptly come to an end. So in this scenario are we the dancers or are we the dance? You may be unwilling to accept that we are merely the dance, but a case could be made for that point of view. Don’t forget that our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts, just about everything we are emerges from quantum processes, i.e. movements of particles, the ‘patterns of organic energy’ referred to in the title of The Dancing Wu Li Masters. We have no control over this; to that extent we are the dance. Yet our experience tells us otherwise. We seem to experience choice, and to that extent we are more like the dancers. We can decide whether or not to cooperate with the director, how much effort we will put into the production. Ultimately the quality of the production, as seen by the audience, would depend upon us. But it would not be us writing the music or directing the ballet.
Alan Vaughan is also deeply interested in this question. He discusses the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, the themes of which, although fiction, he sees as describing universal realities. Thus he says: “The coincidences or synchronicities that link our lives are manifestations of a universe so highly organized that literally nothing happens by chance. Like some incomprehensibly complex clockwork, the universe unfolds in time and space its inner plan that does not allow for accidents. ‘Chance’ is but an illusion fostered by our incomplete knowledge of the universe’s greater plan”⁹. So is the suggestion in the cosmologists’ theory about the conditions of the first one second right? Has everything in the universe been fated from the outset?
Vaughan is not an astrologer, rather a psychic with a special interest in prophecy. To him there is no doubt that a person’s future is predictable. Having discussed some of his own experiences involving prophecy and synchronicity, Vaughan wonders “if there might be a common cause, some transcendental plan of life that pre-exists and guides our individual destinies” (p86). He also quotes Dr. Eugene Osty: “Every human being knows his own entire life according to laws that are still to be discovered, and metagnomic subjects [sensitives] are psychic instruments of variable quality that reveal what each human being knows concerning himself without being aware consciously, or even subconsciously, that he has this knowledge”… and says that he made this statement “after many years of experience in eliciting predictions from psychic sensitives about his own life. The sensitives seemed to be able to tap psychically an inner ‘blueprint’ of life that furnished information about the person’s future…” (p72). Vaughan believes that we are born with this blueprint, and goes so far as to say: “A person as a spiritual entity makes his basic choices for the future before he is born. He enters the world with his inner destiny” (p227). Despite this he does not believe in an absolute predetermination. He draws the analogy with a play/drama which has been written but which nevertheless allows some freedom of interpretation for the actors, thus equating us with the dancers rather than the dance in my analogy above. (Someone who has developed a theory to explain Astrology along these lines is Peter Roberts. He calls it the New Vitalism, and it is outlined in The Message of Astrology¹⁰. It is interesting in that he has formulated it in response to [Michel] Gauquelin’s findings — as discussed in part 1. See pp94–5.)
Does a belief in Astrology imply a belief in fate?
Something which could reasonably be called fate has therefore been seen at work in the world by an eminent astrologer, an eminent psychologist, an eminent physicist, and an eminent psychic. Reading Elwell’s discussion of the sinking of the Titanic, the massacre at Dunblane, and the death of Princess Diana (as described in previous chapters) also suggests to me that the people involved were in some sense fated to die, although Elwell himself does not use those words. Should we be more sympathetic to the idea therefore?
Some of the most vocal opponents of Astrology on the grounds of its ‘fatalism’ are Christians; it seems to conflict with their conception of God. Yet Jesus is said to have used language similar to Elwell, Bohm, and Vaughan; he says that nothing will pass from the law ‘till all be fulfilled’ (Matthew 5.18). Can anyone seriously doubt, after reading the Gospels, especially the account of Jesus’s agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, that to die on the cross was his fate? To have a fate, a mission — ‘that which I must do’ — was not reserved for Jesus because of his special status. To seek their fate was something that he expected of all his followers: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8.34). Jesus is saying here that to be his follower you must give up your free-will and accept your fate. Fate is therefore fundamental in Jesus’s teachings. So according to Jesus, if there is some relationship between Astrology and fate, whose concept of God is more accurate, astrologers or Christians?
If we allow ourselves to live unconsciously — unobservant, without ever reflecting — it might seem that we are consistently making choices, exercising our free-will. In chapters 12 and 14, however, I have provided vast amounts of evidence that all sorts of hidden factors are secretly influencing, organising our lives. Do we have free-will therefore? If ideas like Greene’s are right, or even if they aren’t and a more standard astrological viewpoint is adopted, we are clearly not as free as we sometimes like to think. If we go even further and consciously connect to the evolutionary process of the universe, we might end up agreeing with Alan Vaughan: “I believe that the main reason for unhappiness is a dissonance between a person’s inner ‘blueprint’ and the life he is actually leading. And that happiness is, by definition, a fulfilling of one’s potentialities — a complete expression of one’s inner ‘blueprint’. If you are doing well at what you came into this world to do, then you are happy” (p229).
Thus we clearly have free will not to follow our blueprint, we can choose to be unhappy, to lead lives devoid of meaning, to refuse to dance. It was presumably this idea which led Jung to say: “Free will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do” (epigram in Liz Greene). Any ‘free-will’ astrologers who claim to be inspired by Jung should at the very least consider clarifying their position.
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- Mandala, 1985
2. from The History of Western Philosophy, Routledge, 1946, p130
3. quoting F.M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, Harvester 1980, p110. Cornford’s words are themselves a commentary on an idea of Heraclitus.
4. Psychological Reflections, edited by Jolande Jacobi, quoted on p313
5. Collected Works 17, para 299, quoted on p316
6. The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999, p262
7. Harper & Row, 1979
8. Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self, Flamingo, 1991, p2, referring to A New Theory of the Relationship of Mind and Matter, in Philosophical Psychology, 3, no2, 1990
9. Patterns of Prophecy, Turnstone, 1974, p21
10. Aquarian Press, 1990