Traditional and Modern Astrology: a philosophical exploration (part 1)

Once we enter the world of traditional astrology our view of life and the world changes. It is very difficult not to be influenced by the great astrologers that came before us. However, it is the incredible commonality between human experience of the past and our own that takes us by surprise. We live in a world that is imbued with the ideas that promote evolution and progress. Whilst everything on earth is born, grows, withers and dies in the endless cycle of life and death giving rise to the illusion of a forward movement of time, it is but that; an illusion.

Traditional astrology understands the importance of Saturn, not only as the ally of the astrologer but also as the significator of time. Saturn of old was also called the Lord of deception and it is possibly his rulership over time which earned him this moniker. As astrologers, we deal in time and are prone to get caught in its apparent but deceptive forward momentum. But looking back into the past, we recognize that we have not moved far. The cycles of life, of the planets and stars, mark our experiences, but time stands still in a forever present moment that is re-experienced over and over and over.

The theory that Darwin made famous; that every living creature adapts and evolves is so accepted that it is nigh near impossible to conceive of a past that is not somehow more backwards than our present day. Astrologers are far from immune to this notion and so they take up each “new” discovery in our skies as a sign that we, the collective, have evolved in our consciousness. This implies that in the past, the consciousness of the people was not as evolved and therefore was lower than that of people alive today.

Even a cursory knowledge of political, philosophical or even astrological history would disprove this notion. The wisdom of the past is awe inspiring when one makes friends with Saturn and takes the time and effort to explore it.

Traditional and Modern Astrology

The word traditional means to follow a tradition, which is defined as: “a) Passing of beliefs or customs from one generation to the next. b) Any long held method, practice…etc.…” [1]All forms of astrology practiced today fall into the definition of tradition, as all derive from the ideas and work of others who have come before.  The term “traditional astrology” has over the past 20 years or so, come to mean the astrology as it was practiced prior to the late 17th century, but this is not to say that modern astrology does not have its own tradition. However it is important to remember that there was a major break in the transmission of astrological knowledge which has resulted in the development of a very different type of astrology in the 20th century; this is the astrology we call modern.

Many modern ideas that have been incorporated into astrology are recent additions to a very ancient subject that have little connection to its past tradition. With the recent availability of modern translations of the older texts, we are experiencing a resurgence of interest in traditional astrology, which has reinvigorated the field but also highlighted some divisions within the rarefied world of astrology today.

Horoscopic astrology as it was practiced prior to 1700 encompasses roughly 2000 years of tradition:[2] and it includes the astrology as practiced by Vettius Valens, Ptolemy, Masha’Allah, Guido Bonatti through to William Lilly and his contemporaries. Over this time astrology was refined; certain techniques were developed, the application and emphasis on astrological doctrines shifted and changed to reflect the cultural, philosophical, religious and political developments of the times and location.

There are differences between the astrology that William Lilly practiced and that of Vettius Valens, however they are founded on the same basic fundamentals and are more similar than is the astrology of William Lilly to that practiced by the majority of 21st century western astrologers. The historical circumstances that led to this situation is one that needs to be understood if astrologers are to reconcile the rich legacy they have inherited to the art that they practice today.

Part 2

[1]Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, fourth edition (Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford 1989)

[2]There was a long tradition prior to circa 400 BCE of omen based astrology, but astrology that uses a horoscope or chart with a calculated Ascendant did not appear until about 400 BCE

 

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