What is astrology?

Astrology is a divine art. It is the study of correlations between two things: the movement of the planets (and other astronomical points) … and our lives and events on Earth.

Astrology is one of the world’s oldest organised bodies of knowledge. It has been a prominent spiritual practice across many cultures for thousands of years. It is only since the rise of ‘science’ from the late 17th century that astrology has been viewed by some as ‘superstitious nonsense,’ a ‘pseudoscience.’

It gets a mixed reception in religion. Some consider it ‘evil’ or ‘occult’. This is despite historical evidence that the church (including Popes) at various times has been okay with it, so long as it is not mis-used.

In the West prior to the late 17th century, astrology was an important and recognised component of academia and medicine.

It was an area of study that attracted some of the most intelligent minds of the era. The 17th century Royal College of Physicians used astrology to choose favourable times to administer medicine. It was better to give medicine when the Moon applied by favourable aspect to Jupiter, for instance. This was because Jupiter was considered a positive (benefic) influence. This is an example of ‘electional’ astrology, and is similar to ‘planting by the Moon’, which is used in many cultures.

I don’t agree with the ‘astrology is superstitious nonsense’ viewpoint.

Most skeptics (and others) who rubbish astrology know absolutely nothing about the subject. How can they truly conduct plausible research without a thorough understanding of the topic under investigation?

Atheist Richard Dawkins‘ dismissal of astrology is laughable. His profound ignorance on the subject amply demonstrated during his television documentary on the topic. It sadly seems to be human nature to dismiss and marginalise what one cannot (or won’t seek to) understand.

There’s some useful pro-astrology discussion around ‘evidence’ and science on astrologer.com. Compare this with the severe anti-astrology slant of rationalwiki.org’s astrology page, which I reluctantly include here in the interests of, um, ‘balance.’ But be aware that much of that anti-astrology information is factually incorrect.

Astrology explores the maxim, ‘as above, so below.’ Astrology recognises the connectedness of all things. It is a symbolic language, one that codifies stuff that happens ‘up there’ in the heavens, with stuff ‘down here’ on Earth. Weird though that connection may seem in principle. But in earlier times, this was considered entirely normal and an expression of the natural order of things, of God’s divine plan made visible.

The Elizabethans even had a name for this cosmic interconnectedness: the great ‘Chain of Being.’

Popes (e.g. astrologer Regiomontanus worked with Pope Sixtus IV), presidents (Ronald Reagan), business people (Kerry Packer) and leaders in politics have used astrologers. In earlier times, a king or queen would regularly consult an astrologer.

For example, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was in regular contact with astrologer John Dee (1527-c.1608/9). Dee was a highly educated academic and astrologer. History has sought to re-write him as a ‘quack’, but other historians (such as Gyorgy E. Szonyi in John Dee’s Occultism) have looked at the facts and seen otherwise. One of Dee’s tasks was to choose a suitable time  and date for her coronation using electional astrology (see below), which he did.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), discoverer of the laws of planetary motion was also a life-long astrologer. In a 1601 letter, he wrote, “… the belief in the effect of the constellations derives in the first place from experience, which is so convincing that it can be denied only by those who have not examined it.” (Source: Bobrick, B. The Fated Sky, Simon & Shuster, New York 2005, p162)

Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) likened herbalism without astrology as a ‘lamp without oil’, or ‘a pudding without fat.’ Not only was astrology used to diagnose the course of an illness, but there were also auspicious times for administering herbal medicine, and preferable times to plant and pick certain herbs to ensure their medicinal effect was strongest.

Mint, for example. According to Culpepper it is ruled by Venus. So the best day to pick Mint is Friday (Freyja’s Day – Freya being the Norse equivalent of Venus) at the first hour after sunrise. This is ‘Venus’s hour’, using the ancient system of dividing the day into planetary hours.

What can astrology do for me?

An experienced astrologer will examine your horoscope and provide you with insight. Or you might like to learn astrology yourself, enabling you to learn about your life and the lives of others.

Astrology can provide insight into your unique personal character, energies, strengths and challenges. This analysis is far beyond mere ‘chance.’ And astrology is not simply the ‘personality guessing game’ that (ignorant) skeptics assume it is.

Secondly, astrology lets you look at planetary influences at various periods during your life.

You may wonder why certain things have happened in your life. In many cases, they are not totally ‘by accident’, despite appearances. Astrological analysis of an unfolding life is done by looking at how movement of the planets over time interact with their positions in your horoscope. Several techniques are used: transits, progressions, solar arc directions.

And astrology can be used in other ways. Such as to find a suitable time to perform a particular action (electional astrology), such as a wedding day. Or astrology can look at the horoscopes of two people in a relationship, to understanding the dynamics involved (this is called ‘synastry’).

If you choose to learn about astrology, you’ll gain a valuable insight into the human condition, and a deeper understanding of yourself and your life as it unfolds and how it connects with the heavenly realms.

What types of astrology are there?

There are two broad approaches in contemporary astrology: traditional and modern.

Traditional astrologers are those who are reclaiming astrology as it was practised in the past, typically before the early 19th century. Computers have helped do the difficult calculations required, and dedicated scholar/astrologers such as Rob Hand, Robert Schmidt and Benjamin Dykes are translating and applying important works from Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew sources.

Modern astrology is more psychological, open-ended, and is generally thought to start around the year 1900, with astrologers such as Alan Leo (1860-1917), and Evangeline Adams (1868-1932). Modern astrology is often Jungian, and is interested in myths and archetypes.

Within the above two approaches lie the following types of astrology:

Natal – to do with a person’s life, and their inherent potentials — based on the time, place and date of birth, as shown in the horoscope. The horoscope is a diagram showing the positions of the planets etc at birth. We can look at how the natal horoscope unfolds over time (life events) using techniques such as transits, progressions and solar arc directions.

Mundane – the astrology of nations and politics. Based on the birth horoscope of countries (when the country was founded, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence for the U.S.A.).

Electional – choosing an auspicious time to undertake an activity, from opening a shop, going in to battle, or selecting a favourable wedding day. Electional astrology is choosing a time to do something which is best in accord with heavenly influences. People who ‘plant by the Moon’ are using electional astrology. They plant crops when the Moon is in an appropriate sign of the zodiac – usually a water sign, because water is associated with fertility.

Horary – the astrology of answering questions. A person asks the astrologer a question (e.g: where is my lost dog? Will my team win the match tonight? Will Jenny be my girlfriend?). The astrologer notes the time, date and location where they received the question. A horoscope is created for that moment, so birth data is not required. And that horoscope (or ‘chart’) can reveal the answer to the question. Horary was widely used in the past, and one of its greatest experts was William Lilly (1602-1681), author of Christian Astrology (1647) [Amazon link], a remarkable textbook on the topic, still in print today.

What about sun sign astrology, in newspapers and magazines?

Entertaining, but not astrology.

Astrology isn’t meant to divide people into 12 types. We can’t predict what today is going to be like for brown-haired people. Likewise astrology can’t offer anything meaningful for a twelfth of the world’s population, based just on a Sun sign.

Sun sign ‘astrology’ gives the deeper body of astrological knowledge a bad name. It obscures and trivialises the more comprehensive body of knowledge, turning it into glib entertainment.

What about astrology and, um, science?

Science has given us many wonderful things. And I have respect for many scientists and the scientific process and what it has achieved.

But …

But like ideologies and dogmas (and people) generally, it can have problems with things it doesn’t understand. Astrology is one of those things.

Many scientists are prejudiced against astrology, without giving it a fair hearing.

To them, it’s all just ‘superstitious nonsense,’ or ‘pseudoscience’. Which it definitely isn’t. With a bit of impartial enquiry they might discover that it actually contains something of considerable value. They just need to put their prejudices aside and take a closer look. And practice the impartial enquiry science is supposed to rest upon.

In the West, we inhabit a culture of scientific materialism. This is a fairly recent development, roughly starting in the late 1600s, with the Royal Society, and the development of the experimental method.

There are many benefits to this approach, don’t get me wrong. But to assume that it is the only way of viewing the world is limiting, and plainly just ‘not so.’ At worst, it can become a dogma, an ideology an assumption that it is the only ‘truth’ there is.

And finally, let’s not forget that some of science’s leading figures of the past were into esoteric stuff, a fact often conveniently forgotten.

The historical record has conveniently brushed under the carpet all that esoteric stuff these scientists did. Paracelsus (1493-1541) – discovered Zinc, but also made magical talismans; Newton (1642-1727) was heavily into alchemy; Van Helmont (1580-1644) – discovered ‘gas’, but was also a mystic; Kepler (1571-1630), the noted astronomer who also wrote a book about astrology, De Fundamentis Astrologiae Certioribus (1601).

What about astrology and … religion?

Established churches’ attitudes have ranged over the years from tolerance to outright condemnation of astrology.

Particularly around the idea of ‘fate’ and ‘free will.’ However, Popes have used astrologers in the past – for instance mathematician and astrologer Regiomontanus (1436-1476) did some work with Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484). And there’s plenty of astrological symbolism throughout the bible. Such as the four gospels corresponding with the four fixed signs of the zodiac. The twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, and their connection to the twelve signs of the zodiac. Check out this information about the traditional Catholic view of astrology.

A teacher of influential theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was Albertus Magnus (1193/1206-1280).

Wikipedia:

“Albertus was deeply interested in astrology… throughout the Middle Ages – and well into the early modern period – astrology was widely accepted by scientists and intellectuals who held the view that life on earth is effectively a microcosm within the macrocosm (the latter being the cosmos itself). It was believed that correspondence therefore exists between the two and thus the celestial bodies follow patterns and cycles analogous to those on earth. With this worldview, it is reasonable to assert that astrology could be used to predict the probable future of a human being. Albertus made this a central component of his philosophical system, arguing that an understanding of the celestial influences affecting us could help us to live our lives more in accord with Christian precepts. The most comprehensive statement of his astrological beliefs is to be found in a work he authored around 1260, now known as the Speculum astronomiae. However, details of these beliefs can be found in almost everything he wrote, from his early Summa de bono to his last work, the Summa theologian.”

What do all those symbols mean?

Astrologers use symbols, known as glyphs (pronounced ‘gliffs’), most often visible in a horoscope.  Glyphs  are shorthand for denoting various points in a chart, such as: signs of the zodiac (Aries, Taurus, etc), planets, aspects, and the Moon’s Nodes.

It’s very difficult to show the commonly used glyphs in an HTML web page, so I’ve put together a one page PDF ‘cheat sheet’ for you to download. It covers the main glyphs, the core set. There are other glyphs, but these are the foundation.

If you want to learn astrology, you’ll need to memorise the glyphs and what they represent.