Defining Traditional Astrology

The great lineage of Astrology which stretches back at least 2 millennia is now being reawakened. In this post I am are going to focus on the philosophical and some of the technical differences between so called traditional astrology and modern astrology.

Traditional: The passing of beliefs or customs from one generation to the next. Any long held method, practice. Of or pertaining to time-honored orthodox doctrines.

Orthodox: Adhering to what is commonly accepted

On some level all astrology is traditional, as all are handed down by a previous generation of astrologers. However it is important to remember that there was a major break in the transmission of astrological knowledge and wisdom which resulted by the 20th century, in the development of very different types of astrology, which have a much shorter and more recent history; the “tradition” of modern astrology only extends back at most a couple centuries.
Maybe a better term to describe what has come to be known as “traditional” astrology would be “classical” astrology.

Classical: Traditional in style or form, or based on methods developed over a long period of time. Of a kind that has been respected for a long time. Used to describe something that is attractive because it has a simple, traditional style. Belonging to or relating to the ancient Greek and Roman world, especially to its language, literature, art, etc.

Traditional astrology is Western horoscopic astrology as it was practice and written about from roughly the 2nd century BCE through to the end of the 17th century. This encompasses roughly 2000 years of tradition and includes the astrology practiced by Vettius Valens, Masha’Allah, Al Biruni, Bonatti, through to William Lilly.
Over those centuries astrology reflected the political, intellectual, religious and social shifts in society; as well as their prejudices. Techniques were added, dropped and refined, yet the core doctrines on which astrology was founded remained fundamentally unchanged. The astrologers of old understood the importance of their roots and proudly called upon the astrological greats that came before them. As Guido Bonatti stated in his Book of Astronomy; treatise II (13th Century):

I will therefore speak, following the footsteps of our venerable predecessors, on those things which will seem useful for this work, calling to mind their opinions – namely, Ptolemy, Hermes, Jafar, Ibn Qurra, al-Qabisi, al-Khayyat, al-Kindi, al-Andarzagar, Masha’allah, ad-Dawla, Jirjis (and others who have studied in this science), by adding those things which will seem useful to me, according to how God grants me grace in organizing them and restore to me my memory.”

Birth of Modern Astrology
The late 17th Century saw a seismic shift in our perspective and understanding of reality, man, his world and the Cosmos. This heralded the beginning of the “age of enlightenment” also known as the scientific age. The paradigm changed from a view that held the manifested world to be a result of a non-material, essentially divine reality in which consciousness or spirit was primary; to one in which the physical, material world was the primary reality.
The enlightenment saw the formerly accepted essentially divine nature of the Cosmos replaced by a mechanical/mathematical one. The accepted reality now became, of a rational Universe adhering to physical laws, albeit driven by the hand of God. There was a rejection of the inherent intelligence of the Cosmos; the planets and signs were stripped of their numinous intelligence.
The enlightenment’s focus on matter and the physical had two effects on astrology. The first was of disenchanting it by removing its access to the Divine realm. The second was to fragment and separate it into bits, leading to the proliferation of specialization.
Traditional or classical astrology can not be contained or exist within a sole physical universe, nor can it be defined by “scientific” empirical observation. Within this new paradigm astrology lost connection to its roots.

Modern astrology that focuses on character analysis and the development of the individual, had its genesis in the 19th century, after approximately two hundred year of decline. By the 20th century, many different schools of astrology had developed, based on various principles. Philosophically these are very different astrology, born out of a different paradigm to the tradition. Some of these new schools include:

The Hamburg School of Astrology, also known as Uranian astrology. Was founded in 1925 by Alfred Witte. Uses hypothetical transneptunian planets and midpoints.
Cosmobiology: Developed by Reinhold Ebertine, (1940) Took a more critical and scientific approach to astrology. It refined the use of midpoints, did away with houses and charts. Was critically biased against traditional astrology.
Evolutionary Astrology: A form of natal astrology based on the philosophic principle that human being evolve through many lifetimes. Pluto and the Lunar nodes in the birth chart are used as pivot point to understanding an individual position in their evolution.
Esoteric Astrology: Based on the work of Theosophist Alice Baily, and her ideas on the evolution of soul consciousness. It uses an entirely  different set of rulerships which is unique to esoteric astrology.
Humanistic or Psychological Astrology: A 20th century development, that was influenced by Jungian principles, mythology and archetype. It takes a non deterministic approach to the natal chart.

Modern astrology has given us some wonderful tools with which to describe the character and explore the psychology and personal evolution of an individual. This in itself is a reflection of our modern understanding of reality; with its emphasis on the individual, and how astrology impacts him and his world. To illustrate this, take for example the title of the first chapter in the 1989 edition of “Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology” (1974):  Astrology and its Place in the Universe of Man. The second paragraph reads:

“…Yet your physical body does not represent your true dimensions. It is the extent of your consciousness which determine your relative position in the scheme of the Universe. Your physical body is but an anchor of your total being and has as its base, the Earth. As such it is subject to all influences of this planet just as our globe is, in effect, directly regulated by any motion of the Sun and it, in turn, is integrally linked to the fate of the Galaxy. In his consciousness of himself, Man, like a infant, often forgets that he is part of a greater plan of creation.”

Contrast Alan Oken’s 20th century words with those of 13th century astrologer Guido Bonatti, who begins his great work, Book of Astronomy with these words:

“The Soul which is in man is quite noble. It gives essence and perfection to the body, and its foods are very noble, with respect to the foods of the body, since the soul is most noble with respect to the body. And the soul rejoices in intellectual gain, and that depends upon the knowledge of philosophy; and in that the soul rejoices, and is delighted…And there is nothing in which the soul gains so much as in astronomy or astrology.
For through this study, we know and understand creatures beyond passion; unalterable and immutable in another essence since they are the super-celestial bodies. And through these creatures we are able to draw near to an understanding of the Creator, and to know however much more the human mind is able to attain, and to perceive Him to be beyond passion and unalterable.”

The Differences Between Modern and Traditional Astrology
Broadly and philosophically speaking the difference between traditional and modern astrology can be summed up as such:

  • Traditional astrology emphasises the Creator or God, the Divine, the world of spirit and our relationship to it.
  • Traditional astrology recognises the inherent intelligence or “consciousness” of the Cosmos and Planets.
  • In traditional astrology mundane matters of everyday life and the body, were seen to be subservient to the superior bodies; the soul could negotiate with them.
  • The traditional natal chart is a picture of the individual’s fate, his environment and place in the world, only part of which is his mind.
  • Modern astrology emphasises the individual and how the Cosmos impacts or describes him and his processes.
  • Modern astrology focuses on the consciousness of the individual.
  • In Modern astrology everyday matters are seen to be reflected or mirrored in the Cosmos.
  • The modern natal chart is seen as a picture of the individuals mind or psyche.

Aside from Cosmobiology, which did away with the horoscope and replaced it with a 90 degree dial, modern astrological horoscope look the same as traditional charts. There are some differences:

  • The use of outer planets and asteroids: Traditionally, astrology only used seven planets: 2 lights and 5 wandering stars to be precise. Whenever the   planets are presented they are the ordered by distance and speed. Called the Chaldean order: Saturn, Jupiter,   Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon.  This puts the Sun in the center of the planets.
  • The use of minor aspects: Traditionally aspect had to divide the 12-fold zodiac equally and so only the Ptolemaic aspect were used   (opposition, square, trine, sextile and conjunction). Aspects did not have orbs; planets did. Some minor aspect were recognised, like the semi-sextile & the ‘inconjunct’, but these were not considered strong enough to have much effect.
  • The use of Vertex, black Moon Lilith and other astronomical points: Not used in traditional astrology, though there was a whole doctrine of Lots, also known as the Arabic Parts. Today only the Part of Fortune is used in modern astrology.
  • Secondary progressions/Solar Arc: Traditionally primary direction were used. This fell out of favor as the calculation became too difficult it was replaced by the much simpler day for a year progressions or Solar Arc.
  • Emphasis on transits – especially of the outer (modern) planets: Traditional astrology makes use of a variety of planetary period or time Lords,  yearly and monthly profection and Solar and Lunar returns.

There is more focus on the Signs of the Zodiac in modern astrology. Traditionally, the Zodiac Signs were understood very differently. William Lilly begins his chapter on the signs of the Zodiac by setting out the various ways they were divided: by quadrant or season; by elements (hot or cold and dry or moist);  by sect, diurnal or nocturnal (masculine or feminine); by modality (moveable, common or fixed); whether bestial, humane or feral, fertile or barren; mute or voiced. He then writes of the nature, description, and diseases signified by the twelve signs. On the nature of Aries (CA page 93):

“Aries is a masculine, diurnal sign, moveable cardinal, equinoctial; in nature fiery, hot and dry, choleric, bestial, luxurious, intemperate and violent: the diurnal house of Mars, of the fiery triplicity and of the East.”

In Alan Oken’s – Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology  the chapter on Aries is called: Aries – I Seek Myself  (page  57).  He begins with these words:

Aries symbolises the realization within oneself that one is different and apart from the rest of humanity. It is therefore the individualizing agent, the ego, the consciousness of self. Aries is the beginning, the first emanation of self-awareness coming from the realm of the collective.”

There follows eight more page describing  various aspects of Aries in different context and ending with positive and negative keyword concepts for Aries:

  •  Courageous and Bold
  • Fool hardy and a zealot
  • Inspirational to others
  • Egotistic show of bravado
  • Intuitive and perceptive
  • Oblivious to all thoughts but own
  • Always takes the initiative
  • Acts without forethought
  • Direct and decisive
  • Lacks of subtlety; opinionated
  • Like to lead others out of darkness
  • Uses other exclusively in self- interest

Modern astrology focuses on and makes more use of the Universal signification of the planets. Each planet has a function that every individual must contend with. Alan Oken again (page 211).

“Saturn allows for personal growth, but only through the fulfillment of one’s earthly obligations and responsibilities. Thus the position of Saturn in the natal horoscope reveals what obstacles one has to overcome in order to achieve success…It is the energy of this planet which tests one’s endurance. It brings the trials and stumbling blocks so that an individual can attain the strength and wisdom he needs in order to deal with life’s difficulties.”

Compare to William Lilly (CA page 58 -61)

Nature: He is a diurnal planet, cold and dry (being far removed from the heat of the Sun and moist vapours), melancholic, earthly, masculine, the greater infortune, author of solitariness, malevolent”

He then lists what Saturn signifies or rules: in manner and actions, corporature, quality in man, professions, sickness, savours, herbs, plants and trees, beasts, fishes, birds, places, minerals, stones, weather, winds, years, countries and finally angels.

Traditional astrology uses the universal meaning of a planet, but focuses on the specific signification of planet within a chart: The universal meaning of a planet was based on its nature (hot, cold, dry, moist), its place in the scheme of   the solar system. It specific signification depended on what it governed or signified in the chart.

Traditional astrology recognizes malefic and benefic planets: One of the most contentious ideas to many modern student. The benefic planets: Venus and Jupiter brought about growth and pleasures, while the function of the malefic planets: Saturn and Mars was to bring about destruction; in order to keep the cycle of life flowing.

Sect: diurnal or nocturnal chart: Day and night charts were delineated differently. Some planets were understood to be stronger by day, some by night. This divided the planets into two Sects, consisting of a luminary, a benefic and a malefic planet. The day sect was: Sun, Jupiter and Saturn; the night sect was Moon, Mars and Venus. Mercury joined the day sect when oriental to the Sun, the night when occidental to the Sun.

In traditional astrology the essential and accidental dignity of a planet is very important: The condition of a planet dictated how well it could function and do its job. Essential dignity was based on a   planet’s position in the zodiac and there were five: rulership, exaltation, triplicity, terms and face or decans.   The accidental condition of the planet was based on its relationship to the Sun and Earth included: house   position relative to the angles, aspect, speed and direction.

Bonatti quotes Al-Qabisi about Saturn:

“Saturn is a masculine, diurnal planet, and he works at intemperate coldness and dryness. He is significator of fathers and grandfathers and all ancestor who is signified by the 4th house, but this is more by accident than nature, for he naturally signifies the person or body of the native, on account that the first thing that happens to a man is the physical person through which being is given to him.”

Here, Bonatti gives us a hint of what has to be one of the biggest difference between Modern and Traditional astrology. The associations between house and sign meanings, mixed with rulership.

Firstly, modern astrologers assigned rulership to the three outer planets: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. This destroyed the symmetry of the ancient system and exposed the total misunderstanding about the meaning and function of rulership and dignity.
Secondly, the “astrological alphabet” was created; this was to de-rooted modern astrology from its tradition. The astrological alphabet connects the signs of the Zodiac and the terrestrial houses of the horoscope, as well as the planet ruling the signs. So the first house and the first sign, Aries became associated, and since Aries was ruled by Mars, the first house takes on Mars quality. The second house and the second sign, Taurus and Venus became associated…etc..
Once we get to Scorpio, Aquarius and Pisces, the outer planets were added to the mix: the 8th house and Scorpio, took on Pluto qualities, the 11th house and Aquarius, Uranus qualities and the 12th  house and Pisces, Neptune qualities.
With the astrological alphabet the lines between sign and house were blurred and the symbolic meanings of both became muddied. Having a planet in a house was like having it in the sign erroneously associated with that house.
While this “system” may appear logical on the surface, it is at odds with the centuries of tradition and the foundation of Western astrology. The astrological alphabet has created much confusion and separation between modern and traditional astrology.

Only in traditional medical astrology do we find a connection between houses, signs and ruling planet. The outer planets do no appear in the scheme. In traditional astrology the signs, were understood to be the celestial “houses” or domiciles of the planets; they had no relationship to the terrestrial houses of the horoscope.
The traditional scheme of rulership was based on a planet’s relationship with the Luminaries in particular the Sun; not on similar characteristics between the sign and a planet. It also informed the doctrine of aspect.

To conclude, the main difference between modern and traditional astrology is one of perception and philosophical understanding as to the nature of life. Modern astrology reflects the modern idea that fate can be overcome or transcended by our free will; the (natal) chart reflecting the individual and how best they can navigate life.

Traditional astrology is not focused on the individual or their will, but rather on the will of the Divine. The chart helps to understand our place in the overall (divine) order so that we may align with it. I will leave you with the words of William Lilly from his letter to the student (1647).  one of the last whose lineage is now being reawakened.

“My Friends, whoever thou art, that with so much ease shall receive the benefit of my hard studies, and doth intend to proceed in this heavenly knowledge of the stars, wherein the great and admirable works of the invisible and all-glorious God are so manifestly apparent… Consider and admire thy Creator and be thankful onto him, be thy humble, and let no natural knowledge, how profound and transcendent soever it be, elate they mind to neglect that divine Providence, by whose all-seeing order and appointment, all things heavenly and earthly, have their constant motion”


Published in: on December 11, 2018 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: