Maybe It's True - An Introduction to Astrological Ideas
What is Astrology?
Here are some different viewpoints about what astrology is and what it aint.
A Symbolic Language
Astrology is the study of correlations between the movements of the planets and life and events on Earth and is interpreted using a symbolic language. The purpose of the astrological language is to communicate information about who we are, where we are going and what we might encounter on our journey. A myriad of reference books make up the disparate corpus of astrological vocabulary, grammar and knowledge. When we try to translate what astrology is and what astrological symbolism means, from its pure basis into the spoken or written word, we find that many words and concepts can be used to define the individual elements of astrology. Astrological variables have many different, but congruent values. The ultimate purpose for an astrological language is to enable us to extract information about the significance and meaning of time. We do this by observing and extracting meaning from the local indicators of time - the Sun, Moon and planets.
There are a wide variety of dialects of the astrological language; each of them seeks to transmit the truth about the meaning of time. All languages are used and abused in a variety of different ways. Fairground fortune tellers who use astrology, if they are not the charlatans that many believe them to be, are merely singers of songs in the language of the stars: they use their knowledge of the language to hum you a tune and you pay them for it. The tune might make you feel good and its words might be meaningful. You will probably cross their palm with silver (or maybe it will be gold). There are others who use this language to write poetry, many do this in daily newspapers and magazines. They are paid to help you think positively. Nothing wrong with that really and they are using a system of astrology (called mundane astrology) that when focused at individual targets (rather than a twelfth of the population) can yield tangible results. But these singers of songs and tellers of poetically positive stories are only doing to their language what pop stars and buskers do to the English, French, German, Italian, Spanish or Japanese languages. Remember that songs in any language can have meaning to some people and no meaning to others.
It has been proposed that the key to astrology lies in archetypal symbols that are part and parcel of life on Earth and which the mind can intuitively recognise. For instance the psychologist Carl Jung saw astrology as the revelatory part of a connecting principle which operates at the level of the unconscious mind and which links everyone and everything. Rather than causing events, Jung's interpretation of astrology was basically that time itself has qualities that are linked to human life and events in the world. He called this idea synchronicity , observing that every moment in time has particular qualities and that events that take place in any given moment reflect these qualities. Jung described his idea of holistic interconnectivity as the collective unconscious, which in turn has been described by some as the DNA of the psyche. The collective unconscious can be envisaged as a system of underground (unconscious) networks and wires that connect human beings up on the (conscious) surface by different symbolic connectivity protocols (which are different depending on your psychological predisposition). Or, more simplistically, as a great sea that pervades all things, and we, like ships on this sea that float around on its surface, are free to chart our own course or be blown by the wind. We are connected to all the other ships in the world by the sea beneath our decks. Indeed in this model, the ships themselves have very deep hulls which stretch down into the depths, but our consciousness up on deck rarely goes down to these lower levels, except in our dreams, meditations and nightmares.
Assumptions and Misrepresentations
Many people misinterpret what astrology is on two broad levels, those involved with hard-science and particularly astronomers, attempt to understand astrology by treating it as a literal science that is physically causal in nature. This approach is guaranteed to create a scenario that makes it easy to dismiss astrology as an early and unsuccessful attempt at understanding the relationship that we as humans have with the universe. It is therefore referred to as a pseudoscience (this term was also used by Josef Goebbels to describe Albert Einstein's theories, so we can surmise from this fact that scientists who use it to describe astrology are not trying to categorise, they are trying to divert attention from it). In actual fact, astrology is not regarded by many astrologers as a science, but as a much more fundamental subject that is closely related to our personal experience as human beings, rather than simply our clever ability to measure physical things. As Patrick Curry has remarked, modern science is naturally limited, by its very foundation, to be exactly what astrology is not.
' In any case, the very identity of modern science is founded, in part, on not being astrology; or rather, on being not-astrology. Why? Because in order for modern science and its programme of naturalism, mechanism and rationalism to succeed, the stars and planets - the source and object, ever since the Greek philosophers, of the most perfect truth available to human perception - had to be turned from spiritual and qualitatively distinct and unique agents, subjectivities, into fully 'natural', lifeless and quantitatively identical objects. (Note the change from an irreducibly plural pantheon to a single stuff.) So astrology had to be defeated, and for science it remains a heresy: embarrassing if not threatening, and those who still experience the heavens in the old way superstitious if not downright perverse.' 1
Ancient astronomer/astrologers regarded astrology as emanating from some kind of physical influence, although gravitation was unknown to the ancient and medieaval astrologers and magnetism was not well understood, so the trend then was to attribute the effect either to an unknown force, or to a divine entity, (or both). 2 The fact that the influence of early astrologers has pervaded astrology as far as structure and interpretation is concerned, makes it easy for literal minded thinkers to adopt the same standpoint, and with the benefit of recent developments in science, notably their ability to measure the forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and the two nuclear forces, which are regarded as the four fundamental forces of nature, they can reject the subject using the same literal criteria that the early astrologers thought they were dealing with: put simply they thought that the planets influence was causal, physical and literal. It is now clear that this is not the case. Actually no astrologer, or anyone else for that matter, in the history of the subject has ever been able to satisfactorily attribute any causal force or influence to astrology. Astrologers have simply attributed the cause of astrology to whatever the current paradigm in history allowed. To some early astrological commentators the powers behind astrology were the gods, or the fates, planetary rays, then magnetism, then gravitation. This might seem a little bit dubious, but in actual fact, because of what astrology actually appears to be - our way of interpreting the meaning of time - it would be virtually impossible to know its actual mechanism from our perspective . Approaching the subject from the point of view that astrology claims some kind of direct physical causal mechanism attributable to individual planets is therefore probably an error. Changing the viewpoint slightly, we now try to understand astrology in terms of correspondences rather than causes. Seeing time as a process in which the planets are elements in a gestalt configuration, allows us to observe planets as marker points - parts of the process - rather than as purely causative elements, whose effects can be easily or simplistically isolated. 3 The astronomer/astrologer Claudius Ptolemy, who lived in the 2 nd Century CE is credited with making some mistakes in his attempt to understand our place in the universe, for example, he posited the Earth as the centre of the universe, speculating that the Sun and the other bodies in the solar system circled the Earth in different spheres. He developed mathematical rules to explain his theories and adopted the idea that planets move in epicycles which he used to explain the astronomical phenomenon of Retrogradation (when planets appear to slow down, stop and start to move backwards). His ideas were accepted as fact until Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler formulated and adopted ideas and theories that the Sun was the centre of the solar system. Ptolemy was in the dark in many ways, and his ideas and assumptions were proved erroneous when better observations, facilities and methods were developed.
The fact that it took over one and a half millennia to reach the point where Ptolemy's ideas were disproved was because the mediaeval mindset placed a great deal of emphasis on the relationship between human beings and the universe (or more accurately, God). It was as if the universe had been created specifically for human beings - we were the centre of the universe back then. Later observations have shown that we are not physically central to the universe, but our planet circles just one of (approximately) 400 billion stars in a fair sized galaxy in a universe of 100 billion galaxies (and counting). This makes us seem physically smaller and more insignificant than we did to the mediaeval mind. If we apply Ockham's Razor to the problem, (given two equally predictive theories - choose the simplest), on balance of probability it seems simpler to conclude that the universe wasn't created for us, but we are in fact an accidental side-effect of a random process we now call nature . This conclusion requires the fewer number of assumptions, but it fails to explain why we feel significant and that the universe appears to 90 percent of the world's population to be meaningful enough for them to believe in a deity and therefore a meaningful universe.
Ptolemy's errors were not made because he had an inferior mind to any of the astronomers who came after him, but because he lived in the 2nd Century CE. His efforts were, therefore, trammelled by the conditions, knowledge and research facilities of his day: he was trapped in time. and so were all of the astronomers who came after him. and so are we.
Nils Mustelin, a skeptic from Finland , developed a parody of astrology called Sporalogy in the 1980s. Sporalogy is the art or science of determining a person's fate from the positions that the Helsinki City Transport's trams were in at the moment of the person's birth .
Mustelin claims that the trams are much nearer the person in question, so surely they have a greater effect than the distant planets and stars.
Unfortunately, for Mustelin's system to work in the same way it does in When Stars Collide, his system lacks one or two very important elements. Firstly the Helsinki tram system must encompass all of the people on Earth and secondly the planet Earth, as a whole, must be subject to the Helsinki tram system. I imagine if -say - tram number 4 was removed, scrapped and not replaced, even people living in Helsinki would not really feel the effect of its absence; 4 the same cannot be said of - say - Jupiter, which apart from being an important part of the delicately balanced system within which we live, is also something of a guardian planet (as the collision of comet Shoemaker Levy 9 proved). Remove Jupiter from the Solar System and we are either dead meat or toast, literally, and I would venture to suggest, also symbolically. Remove tram number 4 and we don't care - nor do we die. I do appreciate Nils Mustelin's point of view, but I do not feel this comic genius was showing an in-depth understanding of how astrology would work if it was really true when he developed this idea, which, if the detail of his theory is anything to go by, was evidently developed after consultation with one of the fairground fortune tellers mentioned above.
The other reason why astrology is misunderstood is because its presence in popular culture is often in horoscope columns in newspapers and magazines. Most people only encounter astrology through its presence in the popular press. Astrology helps to sell newspapers and since 1930 this has been the most common link between this ancient art and the general public. It is also very easy to reject astrology by assuming there is no difference between what it actually is and how it is represented. Newspaper astrology, along with other forms of popular sun-sign astrology, is easy to criticise. It doesn't really make sense to most people that all Leo's will have the same type of day or week as each other, but it is very difficult to communicate the complexity of astrology to a wide audience, the twelve signs of the zodiac are a useful way to maintain interest in astrology and it should also be noted that if horoscopes sell newspapers, then the popularity of astrology has a social and cultural congruence that satisfies an apparently genuine human requirement in spite of intellectual disapproval. It is also worth noting that if we live in a universe that contains astrology (that is, if astrology is 'true') then this universe is a very strange place indeed: a place where information might be transmitted to individuals in very odd or unusual ways.
Astrology's main linguistic claim is that it provides a means of interpreting what happens in the heavens (the sky, space, 'out there') and applying it with relevance to events that take place on Earth. It is in fact the belief that time itself has a collective meaning beyond our own personal psychological projections. The phrase As Above So Below originates in what is called Hermetic philosophy and has an apochryphal or uncertain beginning, but the appreciation of what the legendary Hermes Trismegistus 5 (sometimes identified with the Egyptian deity Thoth , the Greek deity Hermes and their Roman counterpart Mercury ) was communicating when he (or whoever) wrote this, is that changes in the system within which we live and by which we measure time, are reflected in changes on Earth and in the lives of its inhabitants. This does not imply cause and effect, but correspondence and correlation.
All that is in the universe is mirrored in man - the small universe.
Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius
'That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, in the accomplishment of the Miracle of One Thing'
As below, so above, as above, so below; this accomplishes the wonders of oneness
The two main claims of astrology are:
Correlations exist between the position of and angles between celestial objects and terrestrial events
Correspondences exist between the positions of the planets at birth and human personality 6
Belief in astrology is widespread and multi-faceted: there are a number of different systems employed to interpret information which is based on the motions of the planets (including the Sun and the Moon) usually from a Geocentric (Earth-centred) point of view through a band of the sky (the ecliptic) that is an imaginary circle tilted 23 degrees from the equator projected out into space. The ecliptic indicates the plane of the solar system. This imaginary band of 360 degrees is then divided into twelve equal sections, known as Signs, each of which occupies 30 degrees of the ecliptic.
The Signs begin at Aries and end at Pisces. The start of the tropical zodiac is measured from t he first point of Aries , and is defined to be the point where the Sun, moving along the ecliptic, crosses the celestial equator from south to north. This occurs at the spring equinox (or vernal equinox ), on or around March 21, when day and night are of equal length. (Equinox means equal night). There are twelve zodiac signs. The zodiac has the same relationship to astrology as a field does to a football game: it is possible to play the game (in any of its 'codes') without a marked-out field, but you will lose something in the process. Perhaps it's best to sum this up from another angle: I think planetary positions and angles are very important in astrology, but astrology without qualitative interpretation (i.e. different qualities for the positions of the planets in different areas of the sky) would be a fairly difficult subject to develop or practice. I therefore believe that whoever came up with the idea for astrology, (if astrology is 'true' I am referring here to God, not the Babylonians), did not do it by halves. How different character traits are imprinted by planets as they pass through signs is not important, at least not at this point in time, and not in When Stars Collide.
The idea that there are 13 constellations on the ecliptic and only 12 signs is not really relevant to either astrology or astronomy. The signs are obviously different to the constellations, which may have been named after the signs based on the observation of correspondences, we don't know. The signs are of equal length, each being 30 degrees; the constellations are not; Virgo is 44 degrees, Cancer about 20 degrees.
The zodiac is a relatively recent astrological proposition; the earliest surviving horoscope dates from the 5 th Century BCE. When horoscopic astrology really took off (roughly between 200 BCE and 200 CE), the first point of Aries was in about the same temporal position as the Spring Equinox, that is, the constellation Aries began at about the same position as the zodiac sign Aries. Because of a phenomenon called precession the constellations appear to move from our reference point on Earth; this motion is equivalent to about one degree every hundred years.
The planets in astrology are symbolic of human qualities (e.g Mars = Anger , Passion, Competitiveness , Saturn = Fear, Limitation, Depression 7). They are given other qualities coloured by the part of the sky through which the planets are travelling (for example Mars in Aries = Anger that is Directed Forcefully, meaning that whoever is born when Mars is in Aries has the potential to act in this way, the outcome of this potential depends completely on the rest of their birth chart viewed as a whole, coupled with the free-will of the subject and at least one other factor which is key - the fact that all planets progress - they move - they don't stay in the same place - they change sign - (this places the cat among the pigeons with both astrologers and sceptics, both of whom have been arguing from incomplete positions) and given energetic qualities by encounters with other planets as their elliptical motions create geometric patterns or angles between each other, these angles are the Aspects . 8
People who do astrology are interested in time and change: the flow of events and the uniqueness of events that happen in time, but specifically the way that these changes can be understood and interpreted using an astronomical framework of planets and the Zodiacal zones of the sky as they relate to people and things on Earth. This is measured by such things as the moment a person was born or an event took place.
Conception or Birth?
A common complaint among sceptics is that astrologers use the moment of birth as the most significant moment in which to draw a horoscope. They argue that this is somehow arbitrary: that the moment of conception is ignored when it could plausibly be more important. How much credence one attaches to this type of argument depends heavily on the perspective of one's belief system. If, for example, you believe that one second after fertilisation, the foetus is a new member of the universe then the argument has merit. If you believe that the unborn infant's attachment to its mother suggests a different relationship to the universe, then the argument has less merit. Astrology contends that anything born or initiated in any given moment has potential qualities that relate to that moment. The journey from conception to birth is seen in astrology as a different journey than the one from birth to death.
References and Notes
1 The 2004 Carter Memorial Lecture delivered by Dr. Patrick Curry http://www.skyscript.co.uk/enchantment.html
2 Chapter two of the first tractate of Guido Bonatti's Liber Astronomiae (written in the thirteenth Century CE) is entitled That the Stars Imprint [their influences] on Inferior Bodies and that the Mutations Which Happen in This World Happen by the Motion of the Stars . In this chapter, Bonatti explains that the circular motion of the heavens causes change on Earth and that because the Sun and Moon are closer to the Earth, their presence is felt more than the impressions made by the other planets and stars. Of course, Bonatti firstly ascribed cause to the divinity of God and secondly to the motion of heavenly objects. In essence he is describing physical causality subject to a divine will.
3 Reductionism is not an ideal approach with which to examine astrology, but in certain cases we can isolate certain flavours from the overall soup because they relate very strongly to an element of life that is consistent; as in the case of Venus and the beginning of relationships. My contention in this book is that because we can isolate a Venus effect, we can then track the effect. The same might be said of other, more complex, areas of astrology, but we would have to invest effort in order to isolate the right variables.
4 Although those people living in the middle of the Helsinki transport system might notice a subtle change in their ability to travel from A to B at particular times of day
5 Hermes Trismegistus or 'thrice great Hermes'
6 John Anthony West, The Case for Astrology , 1991, Viking, p2
7 In this sense, planetary correspondences mirror a facility in computing known as a multi-valued variable.
8 The type of astrology referred to in When Stars Collide is based upon traditional western astrology using the fixed or tropical zodiac , but because we will be dealing primarily with aspects (angular relationships) of the Sun, Venus and Mars, nothing in the core of what I have to say precludes translation to the Vedic (traditional Indian astrology) or western sidereal method which both use a different starting point for the Zodiac. The zodiac signs are used in this book primarily as astronomical references points. It is the angles between the planets that are of most importance, but inevitably the attributes of the signs will often shape their interpretation.