Can We Take Astrology Seriously? — Introduction, part 2
I am assuming that, before reading this, that you are familiar with part 1.
This series of articles (previously an unpublished book I wrote) surveys the world of Astrology. Should I therefore offer a definition of it before starting, so that we know exactly what we are dealing with? You may not think this necessary, since everyone knows what Astrology is, namely “the study of the influence of the planets and other heavenly bodies on human affairs”, or words to that effect. Perhaps it could be compared to car maintenance, where there is one standard method of repairing the brakes, and all mechanics do it exactly the same way. This is definitely not the case. Astrology can be applied to many areas, and in contrast to car maintenance, there is not even any agreement about what tools to use. A.T. Mann, for example, talks about the “numerous and contradictory ways of interpreting (the chart)”¹. In the same book (of which Mann is the editor), having discussed differences in the choice of which zodiac to use, which house system to use, and how many planets to use, Roger Elliot concludes that “in no other system of thought is there such vigorous debate and practice over the basic tools of the trade”². John Addey says: “One could take each and every factor in use in present-day astrology and show it to be surrounded by a host of uncertainties”³. All this is a source of much amusement to critics of Astrology, who see these disputes as evidence of the folly of believing in it.
To return to the provisional definition, many astrologers would comment that the word ‘influence’ is inaccurate and, even worse, might also add that it all depends on what you mean by ‘planets’. It is not just a question of arguing over details; there are fundamental differences of opinion as to what Astrology is, an idea expressed most forcefully by Dennis Elwell when he says that Astrology “is not what the public thinks it is, it is not what scientists think it is, nor yet is it what most astrologers think it is!”⁴. I hope that this statement will leave you suitably confused, and therefore whet your appetite for what follows.
It would therefore be a good idea to define Astrology, to explain exactly what it is that I am trying to defend. While acknowledging the desirability, I am nevertheless going to refrain from doing so. I have included the above paragraphs merely to put you on your guard against believing that you already know what Astrology is. You may think, for example, that a horoscope is meant to predict certain aspects, even events of a person’s life. Critics often make accusations along these lines. Why does this chart not reveal that he is a murderer? Why did a book discussing Kennedy’s life published fifteen days before his assassination fail to predict it? How can two people with similar charts have different life-spans, different levels of career-success, and so on? Thus critics assume the right to set the agenda. If we are going to learn about Astrology, however, surely it would be better to listen to the astrologers themselves. Elwell, for example, counsels us against adopting such attitudes. He talks about the “extraordinary limitations of the horoscope” and says that neither status, financial success or failure, tendency to good or evil, race, gender, the extent of talent, death-time, or even whether the chart is for a human or a boat, is revealed in the horoscope. He suggests that “instead of lamenting such limitations, astrologers should be prepared to be instructed by them”, and that we should “accept that the subject matter of the horoscope may be different from what we thought”⁵.
It would in any case be extremely difficult to give a definition which would satisfy all practitioners. The world of Astrology is like a maze. When trying to find one’s way, part of the fun is getting lost; it all adds to the satisfaction if one eventually finds the centre. My hope therefore is that you gradually understand what various astrologers think Astrology is by reading about it, and I offer my services as a companion in the maze. I will restrict myself to pointing out that, although serious astrologers acknowledge that a debased form exists, they believe that there is nevertheless a true, deeper astrology. This idea was expressed most forcefully by the French surrealist writer André Breton when he said: “I see astrology as a very great lady, most beautiful… She seems to me, besides, to hold one of the noblest secrets of the world. What a shame then, that nowadays — at least for the common masses — a prostitute reigns in her place”⁶. It was presumably this deeper astrology that Noel Cobb was referring to when he talked about “the kind of home (astrology) deserves: a palace designed by Leonardo, decorated by Botticelli, furnished by Lorenzo and filled with the living music of Ficino’s lyre”⁷. It goes without saying that in this book I shall be trying to discover whether this “very great lady” really exists.
Please note finally that I shall be concentrating almost exclusively on the most common usage, the drawing up and interpretation of the horoscopes of individuals in relation to their moment of birth, often called genethliacal astrology, although I prefer a less technical term such as natal. Thus I shall be asking this question: is Astrology, however it is defined, responsible for what the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas is talking about in this passage?
“Time passed and my wife gave birth to our son whom I helped to look after for half of each day from his birth. What struck me was how he was who he is from scratch. He seemed to be in possession of his own personality, his own very unique configuration in being… that has never really changed in itself. He has of course taken on much more and is as complex as the rest of us due to his life with his mother and myself, but the very core of him is as it was”⁸.
I shall, however, also spend some time discussing mundane astrology, the interpretation of charts as they apply to world affairs, and horary astrology, the drawing up of a chart in response to a question. I shall restrict myself to these mainly because I do not feel competent to assess the validity of other applications. I think it is fair to say, however, that if Astrology has implications for psychology, politics, and divination then these would be so far-reaching that, with the possible exception of medicine, they would outweigh any other uses that Astrology might have.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. The Future of Astrology, Unwin Hyman, 1987, p85
2. ibid., p191
3. A New Study of Astrology, Urania Trust, 1996, p2
4. The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999, Pix
5. ibid., p178 et seq.
6. quoted in Principles of Astrology, Charles and Suzi Harvey, Thorsons, 1999, p2
7. foreward in The Planets Within, Thomas Moore, Lindisfarne Press, 1990
8. Forces of Destiny, Free Association Books, 1989, p2