Traditional and modern astrology: a philosophical exploration (part 4)

How does Greek Philosophy Relate to Astrology?

Horoscopic astrology developed alongside the ideas of classical Greek philosophy. It could be said that the observation of the sky and planetary motions inspired much philosophical musing. In the past there was little separation between science and philosophy, between religion and astrology or between mathematics and magic. The world was understood to be idealistic; that is that idea or mind came before matter, matter being a result of idea.

From this perspective spirit and matter were considered equally real and important. The interplay and mutual relationship between God and humans or the planets and the affairs of the earthly realm was a given. The axiom “as above so below” rang true in every sense of the words; what occurred here on Earth was naturally to be reflected in the movement of the cosmos. This was not perceived as magical, but rather as logical.

It is only when our focus began to shift from a spiritual perspective of life to a biological one that matter became the ultimate reality and soul a construct of the human mind. This shift had a profound effect on our world. Mechanical science and technology has changed life on this planet as well as our human consciousness. No longer are we part of a tribe, no longer do we accept the concept of a predetermined fate, no longer do we see the movement of the planet and stars as evidence of their soul or ours, and no longer do we accept magic as being natural. For the most part we now see ourselves as a collection of individuals jostling to be and to find our purpose; our bodies and the rest of the material world is a manifest proof of chemical reactions that adhere to the laws that govern the physical universe. We elevate logical and rational thought based on sensible evidence over and above magical thinking that is dismissed as flights of the imagination, not based in rational reality.

Astrology has reflected this change by becoming primarily focused on the individual and his inner processes of realization. The natal chart has been elevated to being a tool to help in the individuation of the native. Astrology’s recent focus on the psychology of the individual is an illustration of this shift.

The Roots of Traditional Astrology

To really understand traditional astrology we need to shift our focus from the modern paradigm and reset it on how the world and cosmos were understood around 2500 years ago, when horoscopic astrology first began to appear. One of the first problems we encounter is the modern notion of evolution and progress, which has ingrained itself so firmly into our psyche that it is difficult for us to accept that where we find ourselves is anything but a higher more evolved level than what came before. We need to perceive the past not through the prism of the present, nor through the romantic notion of a past golden age, but rather from the neutral position of a novice or student eager to learn.

We need to let go of our preconceived ideas about astrology and accept that there is much we can learn from the ancients. This can be a very uncomfortable process as cherished notions and ideas need to be relinquished or at least re-examined. At the same time, it is immensely freeing to open our minds to other possibilities. Our understanding of concepts such as: god, soul, evolution, knowledge and information are different to what they were in the past and it is important to appreciate these differences.

Much of the rational for astrology can be found in the philosophical ideas and principles of ancient Greek philosophers including Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle as well as the Stoic school. Having even a cursory understanding of these can be immensely informing to the astrologer.

part 5


Traditional and Modern astrology: a philosophical exploration (part 2 – history)

While we may never know exactly how or when horoscopic astrology first began. We do know that it sprung out of a time and place that was greatly influenced by the cosmological ideas of the Babylonian, the celestial religions of the Egyptians, the Hermetic magical understanding of correspondence in nature and the philosophies of the great classical thinkers and their schools, including Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. The period between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE was a time when many of the ancient cultures and their accumulated wisdom came together. The city of Alexandria and its famous library became the cultural and commercial center of the Western world. Here Jewish, Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek traditions intermingled and unified under the Greek language of the Hellenistic lords. Horoscopic astrology appears to have been the results of this interchange of wisdom and ancient learning.

The Babylonian contributed their concept of the 12 fold zodiac and the planetary positions in the signs. The Egyptians brought the concept of the 36 decans and the importance of the rising decan which is possibly the origin of the Ascendant and it’s the importance in the horoscope. The Greeks contributed their understanding of the characteristic of the planetary Gods, the elements and most importantly their system of planetary rulership which was based on the distance of planets to the Sun.[1]

From these rich ingredients arose horoscopic astrology; a subject which was to profoundly influence man throughout his cultural, religious and political history. Astrology was understood to be at various times: a tool for predicting a predestined and fated future, a way of interpreting the will of God or the Gods, a form of Divination with which one could enter into a dialogue with the God(s) and sometimes a bit of all the above. By highlighting some of the mysteries that have fascinated mankind since the dawn of the ages, astrology engendered serious philosophical and scientific debate and challenged intellectual thought and beliefs over the centuries.

One of the foundations on which horoscopic astrology was based was a perception of life which was accepted for over two thousand years. This view was idealistic and held that the physical, transient, sub-lunar world that we experience through our senses was the result or expression of an immaterial, eternal and essentially divine reality. Over the centuries the details of what that essential reality actually constituted and how the natural world and humans were connected or related with it, was the subject of much debate; however the understanding that matter was subservient to a higher and more refined spirit or mind was the accepted paradigm.

In the centuries leading up to the birth of the Jesus, the pagan religions perceived the world as being at the mercy of the Gods whims. The planets were representatives or symbols of these Gods, and so could be relied upon to display their will or intentions. Astrology could forewarn man of the Gods intentions; man could then proceed to make decisions that were in accordance with them, thereby avoiding the displeasure and wrath of their Deities.

In the early centuries CE, as pagan polytheist beliefs were overshadowed by the monotheist beliefs of the Judaic/Christian and later Islamic religions; the planets lost their positions as representatives of myriad Gods, but retained their role as emissaries or signs from the singular Divinity, at least for a period of time.

As Christians challenged the dominance of pagan beliefs in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, the role and influence of astrology changed. Astrology reached a height of sorts, during the dying days of the Roman Empire. The Roman emperors used astrology as a tool to give them political advantage; though this was not always to the advantage of their astrologers[2].

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, schools and libraries closed as financial support dried up, the knowledge of the Greek language died out, and the people became less literate. It is with gratitude that we should view the Arabic and Persian astrologers of the early Middle Ages; for while Europe descended into the period we now know as “the dark ages”, the intellectual light was transferred to the Middle East and there the wisdom of the ancient world including astrology was preserved, refined and expanded.

In the 5th and 6th centuries Hellenistic astrology traveled to the East and was intermixed with the astrology of the Persians[3]. Many of the Greek astrological texts were translated into Pahlavi (the language of the Persians) and we can surmise that some additions would have been made. It is unfortunate that no manuscripts from this period have survived, having been destroyed when later the Arabic Muslim armies overthrew the Persians and established their own empire.

Finding themselves in need of help to administer their empire the Arabs invited experts and intellectual giants of the world to assist them in building and maintaining their empire. They established a cultural, commercial and intellectual center emanating from their capital Baghdad; a city whose foundation date and time was elected by a group of astrologers.[4] For the next few centuries Baghdad and the Arab world attracted philosophers, artist and intellectuals of all sorts including astrologers.

Medieval or Arabic astrology flourished from the mid-8th century and lasted for about 200 years. A new translation project began as surviving Greek and Pahlavi texts were translated into Arabic. While the so called Arabic astrologers of the 8th and 9th centuries (many of whom were actually either Persian or Jewish), did refine some technical and mathematical points, the astrology they practiced remained for the most part Hellenistic. It is from this period that we begin to encounter the concept of planetary orbs, quadrant house systems and the beginning of horary astrology proper.

In the 11th century Europe began to reawaken from its 600-year hiatus. As the Christians began to repulse the Muslim from the Hibernian peninsula and reclaim their territory; they discovered the libraries left in their wake. Europe’s intellectual fire was reignited. By the mid-12th century one of the most feverish translation projects began. Arabic texts on all subjects including many on astrology were being translated into Latin. Classical Hellenistic works were made available for the first time in over six centuries to a very intellectually hungry Europe.

After astrology was reintroduced into Europe in 12th century, it took its place at the center of theological, scientific, mathematical and philosophical debate. It was an accepted subject of serious study that invited much debate, criticism and controversy[5] and was one of the principle subjects taught in the newly founded Universities. The basic curriculum consisting of the foundational trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric; and the more advance quadivium: geometry, music, astronomy and arithmetic.

It is important to remember that during the middle age and renaissance, science and theology were more closely aligned; in fact, religious dogma aside, they had the same goal, to understand and come to know the nature of life and the universe. Within the study of nature, God was a given and needed to be reconciled with science as well as astrology.

In the west astrology reached the apex of its popularity and influence around the mid 1600’s; a time in which the political and social structures of Europe were irreparably changed by the English civil war, which culminated in the execution of Charles I.[6] At the end of the 17th century astrology experienced a sharp decline in influence. The reasons for this decline are multi-faceted and complex.[7] Astrology did not die so much as it was split into various factions that were unable to survive the tumultuous paradigm shift of the time.

After the restoration (circa 1660 – 1685) there was a backlash against astrology, more specifically judicial astrology[8], which had been used as a propaganda tool during the volatile and insecure period of the civil war. Astrology had become associated with seditious radicalism which was perceived to be the cause of so much destruction and unrest. The natural desire for calm and peace made many suspicious of anything that reminded them of that dangerous and dark period in their recent history; therefore astrology and astrologers were no longer trusted.

At the same time the new intellectual climate favoring a more Baconian[9] science based on observation and experiment, began to view judicial astrology as being irrational and overly steeped in magical thought and superstition. Publicly astrology lost favour with the intellectual world. Though many of the great minds of the late 17th early 18th century privately acknowledged the validity of astrology, especially natural astrology[10], they believed that judicial astrology had been corrupted and needed to be purged of irrational beliefs, popular magical connotations and political rhetoric. Many hoped to restore astrology, bringing it more in line with “natural philosophy”.[11]

There was another branch of thinking which believed that astrology had strayed from the purity of its classic Ptolemaic roots, and needed to be purified by eliminating the “false Arabic inventions”, the magical thinking and the new rational scientific thinking that had polluted astrology. Though many wanted astrology to be restored or purified in order to takes its rightful place in the world of the educated elite, its negative reputation and fragmentation weakened it so that it could not defend itself against its critics.

As the world and life came to be understood from the perspective of mechanical, material and intellectual rationale, rather than from the perspective of divine creation and immaterial soul; the perceived connection of astrology to divination and magic led to its diminishing importance in science and philosophy, and its eventual banishment from intellectual discourse. By the early-18th century much of what had previously been the domain of astrology, became redefined as astronomy or medicine; while astrology was dismissed as trivial and irrelevant or worse, misguided superstition. By the end of that century astrology had been relegated to the fringes and was of no consequence in academic or intellectual circles.

A third arm of astrology did survive and remained popular with the majority of the rural and uneducated public; this was the simplified astrology of the popular almanacs which the intellectual elite rejected and mocked as being only fit for the “vulgar” commoners. The common rural folks held on to evident truth of idealism (mind before matter) for longer.

Eventually even this more popular astrology was attacked when the vested interest of the industrial power fought to eliminate these almanacs because they were rooted to a past that was subject to the natural rhythms of time, which did not accord with the more mechanical “clock” time of the industrial age.

part 3

[1]For a full and detailed history of astrology’s beginnings see Nicholas Campion, the Dawn of Astrology, (Continuum Books, the Tower Building, 11 York Road, London)

[2]See Ben Bobrick, The Fated Sky: Astrology in History (Simon & Schuster, Rockefeller Center,  New York)p. 27-60

[3]Sassanian Persian empire flourished between 220 to 650 CE

[4]The chart was elected by the Caliph Al-Mansur’s court astrologer Nawbakht the Persian, Umar al-Tabire and the young Masha’Allah. The chart was set for July 31, 762 around 2:40 PM in Bagdad, Iraq.

[5]Benson Bobrick, The Fated Sky: Astrology in History, (Simon & Schuster, Rockefeller Center, New York) p. 91-92

[6]The execution of the King was a momentous event which destroyed the long held notion of the “divine right” of the King to rule.  I believe this created a split between us and the divine, which has led to the fragmentation of our world.

[7]For more information about this see Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey  1989)

[8]Judicial astrology refers to specific chart analysis and judgment leading to individual prediction or advice, as different from natural astrology which looks at the natural phenomenon such as weather, health and mundane events, associated with celestial movement and cycles.

[9]Roger Bacon (1214-1294) whose ideas were later developed by Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

[10]See note 6.

[11]Natural sciences


Published in: on December 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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


Focusing the Chart Using Yearly Profections

Have you ever wondered why some transits come and pass with seeming little impact on the life of the individual, even though they looked pretty powerful? Have you or one of your clients ever experienced a huge life changing event and yet there is nothing obvious happening in the chart that could be attributed to it?

The main technics that modern astrology has at its disposal for advancing the chart through time are transits and progression. Traditional astrology uses techniques that identify planetary periods and time lords. This is one of the principle differences between modern astrology and traditional (being pre-18th century) astrology. A time lord refers to a planet which has governorship over a period of time in a person’s life. When a planet takes over the role of time lord whatever it rules in the chart will come into focus; its condition and position in the natal chart will dictate how easy or difficult the period is likely to be.

Anything that happens to the planet that is the Lord of the time period will come to the forefront and be more likely to manifest in the life. Transits to or by this planet will be active and produce impressive events in the life, while transit to other or by other planets during the same period may feel like duds; nothing of any significance happens. It is as if the planet that is the time lord is switched on and lights up a particular part of the chart and therefore a sphere in the life. There are also times when a second planet may also be “switched on” and it will act as co-time lord.

This can be very helpful to the astrologer who is now better able to tell which of the many transits coming are likely to actually produce some activity and which can in all probability be dismissed.

There are many different planetary period outlined in the tradition; some cover periods of many years of an individual’s life and others that cover a much shorter period. One of the oldest and simplest time lord techniques that come to us from the tradition is yearly profections. Simply speaking the chart is moved or profected one whole sign per year. {This technique works best and is easier if using whole sign house system to identify areas of the life.} The ruler of the new profected Ascendant takes the role of time lord for that year. If there is a planet or planets in the sign of the new profected ascendant they will also be activated for the year.

Having the knowledge of which planet is the profected Lord of the year also helps to focus the solar return chart; for the position and state of this planet in the solar return chart provides more information.

An example of how this might work:

The native turned 51 years old in 2011, this is a 4th place profected year. We move everything in her chart by 4 full signs; her 4 degree Capricorn ascendant profects to 4 Aries, a sign ruled by Mars. Mars therefore becomes the Lord of the year from her birthday 2011 to her birthday 2012. Since she also has her natal Moon very close to the degree of the profected Ascendant, the Moon will also take on an important role during that year.

The 4th house themes are home and family and also cover literally, the physical home we live in. Her Moon being right on the IC point brings in the themes of the 7th house which she rules; therefore relationship and partners. Natal Moon reinforces this theme by being opposite natal Venus; the universal significator of relationship and partners. In her natal chart Mars also rules the 11th house; the house of friends, colleagues and our “hopes and wishes”. Note as well that the profected 7th house cusp lands on natal Venus at 4 degrees Libra, and profected Venus comes to the natal ASC at 4 degrees Capricorn, emphasis on relationship coming from many directions through the profections of the year.

Mary natal

 We would expect that all these themes: home, relationship and her “hope and wishes” will be brought to the forefront during this year. And they were. The native wanted to sell her existing house and buy a bigger place, one that was more modern and to her taste; her “hopes and wishes”. She had been living with her partner for just under 2 years and there were problems in the relationship that made her want to live alone again, though she was emotionally torn.

We can see by the state of her Moon that relationship generally would be a challenge for her. Moon in Aries means she has a strong emotional need for freedom;  Mars which rules it, has little dignity and is in the frustrating position of being weak in the cadent 6th house, squaring his dispositor Mercury, (universal significator of communication). He is also opposite Jupiter the natal ruler of her 3rd and 12th houses. Relationships would bring up this frustrated Mars and the difficulty she has in communicating without getting emotional or argumentative. As Mars is in the 6th house the stresses of all this are likely to impact on her health.

Using the yearly profections it is fairly easy to see that she is going to experience a difficult year, as well as a pivotal year, for both the home front and the relationship represent fundamental areas of life.

Her Solar return for the year 2011:

Mary SR

The solar return chart can be thought of as frozen transits for the year. Her solar return for the year 2011 strongly reinforces the themes brought up by the 2011 profections. This is not always the case, but being so tells us what an important and charged year this is for the native.

Lord of the Year, Mars and Moon are opposite on the ascendant and descendant angles. Both are in pretty bad shape essentially; Mars is in sign of its fall and the Moon is in her detriment. The Moon is also conjunct natal Saturn at 11 Capricorn and squaring the SR Saturn at 15 Libra. Bringing a Saturnian theme and further emphasizing the difficult nature to the year. The IC point of the SR chart is conjunct her natal Moon and there we find Uranus.

Because Mars is so powerfully placed on the 7th cusp, we know that the native will have the ability to take the action necessary, as difficult as it might be. Mars is about cutting or severing. Uranus is strongly placed on the IC of this chart indicating a change on the home front, but as it is also transiting the natal Moon, who rules the natal 7th it highlights the relationship sector as well. Uranus is associated with divorce and relationship breakups. In fact she did with great difficulty and emotional stress sell her house, break up her relationship with the partner and move into her new home alone.

One of the problems in the relationship had to do with money. She had worked hard to own her own home and was about to upgrade. Her partner had no assets of his own and she feared that he would be able to claim some of hers if they continued living together. She did not want to risk her fortune on a relationship that had problems (they argued an awful lot), even though she did not really want to break off the relationship totally as she enjoyed the companionship. Lord of the Year Mars in the Solar return chart is on the degree of her part of fortune, symbolically an interesting placement.

The year was immensely stressful for her and she developed a serious problem with her digestion, which weakened her physically as she was unable to eat very much. The South node in the solar return chart is on the 6th cusp and conjunct her natal Mars. As Mars is the Lord of the year, ruler of the profected ascendant, he governs her body and the south node is draining her vital energy.

Pluto is making a transit to her natal ASC which tells of major changes to her life, but the profections really focus us on which areas of the life those change are going to manifest. There is always so much that can be seen in a chart, but having a method with which you can focus on which area will come to the forefront makes it far easier to interpret what is likely to happen in the life.

Published in: on August 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm  Comments (5)