history and philosophy of astrology

My current philosophical views on astrology

The goddess Fortuna and the wheel of fortuneMy own views on astrology have been drifting towards a more Platonic and Stoic model of astrology since I started attending Kepler College a few years ago. At some point in Nick Campion’s book Astrology, History and Apocalypse he points out that astrologers have historically tended towards either a sort of Aristotelian causal model of astrology or a more Platonic symbolic or archetypal model of astrology.

I like the Platonic notion of an animate or conscious cosmos that speaks to itself as derived from the Timaeus , combined with Jung’s modern conceptualization of the idea of cosmic sympathy in his theory of synchronicity. If the stars and planets represent the cosmic cognitions, speech, or logos of the cosmic animal then this would fit perfectly within Jung’s notion of an acausal connection between celestial and earthly events because this internalized celestial logos wouldn’t necessarily be causal in nature. That is to say, telling someone what is going to happen or overhearing something doesn’t necessarily mean that that has actually caused what is going to happen. Astro-logos, then, would be a rational construct for interpreting the cosmic cognitions of the cosmos and the thoughts that it entertains relative to mankind or earthly matters in general.

Geoffrey Cornelius makes a good case for the implausibility of astrology being causal in his book The Moment of Astrology, although his overall argument carries several fundamental flaws and he takes his conclusions to a bit of an extreme position that seems unnecessary. Cornelius built his argument on the assumption that horary existed in the Hellenistic tradition and in order to substantiate his case that astrology is inherently divinatory and entirely subjective he was forced to contrive the meaning of the fundamentally important Greek term katarche by switching to a different language and seeking derivatives in Latin. Ultimately this attempt to divorce the term katarche from the notion of what he calls ‘moments of origin’ was unconvincing and his insistence on blaming Ptolemy for this notion ignored the evidence that astrology has been founded on the notion of specific temporal moments of origin since at least the 5th century BCE when Mesopotamian astrologers started casting charts for the moment of the birth of the native. For me Cornelius’ work inadvertently underlined the importance of the fact that horoscopic astrology is built on this notion of temporal moments of origin where celestial events correlate with terrestrial events, and the existence of any earthly system can be studied by observing that placement of celestial bodies at the moment of its symbolic ‘birth’. I think that the fact that we are dealing with mathematically fixed and predictable astronomical bodies does introduce a substantial degree of objective and tangible reality into astrology, and the notion that it only has a merely subjective and relative truth is, in my subjective opinion, false.

If there is a sort of objective truth to astrology then I think that Stoicism as a philosophical model for astrology was a a logical progression or application that was necessitated by the fundamental astrological premise and the subsequent elaboration of the system. This isn’t a very popular position with some of my friends and co-workers at Project Hindsight, and in the astrological community in general, but it seems like a natural progression to me. There are these three questions that I’ve been asking every astrologer that I meet for a few months now that are designed to elicit a response that would implicate Stoicism as the logical model for dealing with the question of fate within the context of astrology. They are yes or no questions.

1. Do you agree or disagree that the planets and the stars, or celestial bodies in general, influence or correlate with earthly events, i.e. major events in people’s lives, general psychological makeup, natural events, political events, etc.? (This is the basic astrological premise. Notice that the question of the planets causing or signifying is sidestepped or taken into account and room is left for each individuals own notion of the astrological mechanism. Also the ability of the astrologer to predict these things is taken out of the equation. This is merely a question about if such correlations do exist irregardless of if an astrologer is able to predict them ahead of time.)

2. Do you agree or disagree that the planets and stars, or celestial bodies in general, cause or correlate with not only major events and things in a person’s or a system’s life, but also with seemingly small or miniscule things, like running into a person on the street who later turns out to be important, or perhaps bruising your knee, or getting into a slight argument with someone, or feeling depressed or irritable one day, etc. (this question is designed to see if the person thinks that astrology involves major events and lesser or seemingly unimportant things. That is, does the astrological principle extend to just about everything. This question also disregards the human element and the ability of the astrologer to accurately predict the ‘effect’ of such minute correspondences ahead of time.)

3. Do you agree or disagree that the astronomical positions of the planets were set into motion long before the birth of any of the people or systems that can be studied through astrology, and that their astronomical positions are essentially fixed and predictable. (This is simply an astronomical question designed to elicit a reasonable response that the astronomical positions of the planets are for all intents and purposes fixed and predetermined.)

Presuming that all of these questions are answered in the affirmative, which pretty much every astrologer that I have talked to did, it would seem like a more Stoic conceptualization of fate would be logical. A type of predestination is inherent in the basic premise of horoscopic astrology. Not in a negative sense per se, but in a way that is sort of beautiful and elegant. Contrary to some contemporary arguments, it seems to me that this perspective may actually be more called for with an acausal view of astrology though because in the causal view where the stars actually influence or control lives and events and it would seem to actually leave open more room for redirecting or harnessing those ‘influences’ somehow, while the acausal view has more of an objective clockwork connotation. This is what Geoffrey Cornelius refers to disparagingly as the ‘Machine of Destiny’ position. I think that this largely depends on your perception of Stoicism and the notion of a fixed and essentially unalterable fate though. It seems like Stoicism often gets a bad rap in our modern, more humanistic society and even most astrologers have a very negative knee-jerk reaction to the very thought of such a position as a result of the conditioning that we receive in our modern western humanistic society. It seems like little thought is given to the apparent contradiction between the fundamental unspoken premises that we base our astrological practices on and our more humanistic statements of some sort of unlimited capacity for free-will at any given moment in time. Hans Jonas has a few interesting statements about Stoicism in his book The Gnostic Religion which portray it in a quite different light:

…the Stoics later advanced the proposition that freedom, that highest good of Hellenic ethics, is a purely inner quality not dependant external conditions, so that true freedom may well be found in a slave if only he is wise. (Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 1963 edition, pg. 6.)

Later in the book he writes

Stoic philosophy strove to integrate the idea of destiny as propounded by contemporary astrology with the Greek concept of harmony: heimarmene to the Stoics is the practical aspect of the harmony, i.e., its action as it affects terrestrial conditions and the short-lived beings here. And since the stellar movements are actuated by the cosmic logos and this logos functions in the world-process as providence (pronoia), it follows that in this wholly monistic system heimarmene itself is pronoia, that is, fate and divine providence are the same. The understanding of and willing consent to this fate thus interpreted as the reason of the whole distinguishes the wise man, who bears adversity in his individual destiny as the price paid by the part for the harmony of the whole. (Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, pg. 259.)

The big question that I am wrestling with at this point, and the real purpose behind the previous line of questioning, is ‘what is the purpose of astrology within a Stoic conceptualization of fate?’ Is it just to know? To become free inwardly of ones life in all of its good and bad times? Maybe so. I suspect at this point in my life that this may be the only really consistent approach to dealing with astrology and that it may be the way to go for astrologers in general, but on the other hand it may not be appropriate for consultations and dealing with clients on an individual level in a modern society. I guess that the catch is that even if everything that we do is already predetermined or fated in some sense, we still experience life through the act of making choices on a day to day basis and this conceptual model that we have for interpreting fate does not change the necessity of making those choices. So I guess that the best approach to take is to live your life as if you have “free-will”, even if you do believe that everything has already been mapped out ahead of time.

14 replies on “My current philosophical views on astrology”

Pretty sexy blog Chris, and I’m coming round to that view as well.

When you said you should live like you do have free will even when you really know that its all mapped out beforehand it reminded me of my own saying I came up with: ‘believe in God but think like an atheist’.

I love that you ask these questions.

Here’s a crucial question in this mix. Are the details also to a greater or lesser extent predetermined, or just the archetypal quality of things?

In other words, someone has Mars coming up to his ASC. Even if we factor in detailed astrological considerations like how benefic or malefic this is for this particular person at this particular time, is this still determined to play out in just one way? Even from the moment of one’s birth, decades ago? Or does how we live our lives affect what energy we attract to ourselves?

Does a person who is very angry, very combative, who harms others with little consideration for them going, and reckless, going to experience the same result from this transit as someone who is much more balanced, conscious, cautious, and considerate? Maybe in some cases, but in general, I think not.

What is really predetermined here? A meeting or check-up with Mars, which could go in different ways depending on what we attract to ourselves through free will choices or karmas (or both), or even perhaps just some element of chaos? This is closer to what I think. Like attracting like unto itself is one of the key spiritual lessons of the sign Scorpio imo, and that has to come into play somehow.

However, so as not to completely neuter the astrology here, I also consider that a more benefic occasion of a Mars-ASC transit (better dignity, aspects, time lord indications, etc.) would, all other things being equal (such as for the same person), be more positive than a more negative occasion of a Mars-ASC transit.

But I still agree with your basic sentiment at the end. But let’s say there are three levels from which things could be seen.

One, the human level, where we do not know the future and seem to have free will.

Two, some intermediate level (neither human nor omniscient, perhaps at the level of something like Angels or guides, if one believes in that) where there could be both elements of fate and free will which are understood. This could be any kind of spiritual power with greater vision than ourselves which does not still know everything, but knows more than we do.

Three, a level of omniscience that would come from “G-d” or something equivalent, from which there would only be “fate,” as we think of it.

From the level of number three, even if it exists, for me it does little good to focus on it. As you said, we have to live as if we have free will. So I think that’s a philosophical matter with little human import, unless one takes a very passive approach to life. Of course, people have done this, and they may achieve some inner peace, but then also don’t seem to do very much otherwise and probably deny themselves opportunities because of their inaction. The belief itself could unconsciously lead to more inaction than one would otherwise not take.

As far as your bigger question about the purpose of astrology and whether it’s just to know, I think we can do that, but still be fairly pro-active at the same time.

As far as the acceptance of things to achieve some inner freedom from it, I agree that is considerably possible and this seems like a good use of astrology. This is a passive approach, but I don’t see why there isn’t room for both passive and active applications of astrology.

Three other thoughts.

One, there is the possibility to strategize around our own astrology to some extent, choosing good times for certain things and avoiding bad times for certain things. This includes specific electional charts, but also can have a big picture focus. This is obviously somewhat active, because it helps us with the timing of our actions.

Two, is the entire realm of remedial measures, whether it’s spiritual, locational, or in terms of items like gemstones or talismans. I see no reason why these things couldn’t be perfectly good uses of astrological knowledge, although the magical side of it is not something I particularly understand or endorse. And in this case, astrology becomes a very active discipline.

Lastly is the possibility that knowledge of astrology itself directly leads us to better experiences. Perhaps self-understanding helps us have better relationships. Perhaps self-understanding leads to more appropriate choices for work, direction, or lifestyle. Perhaps astrology inspires some kind of active spiritual approach which leads one to a better life. This is also an active approach, not just about accepting our lot, but about empowering ourselves with knowledge in order to improve our situations.

If the stoics believe that our lives are pre-determined by the cycles of planets and that the interplay of planets is the mechanism for that fate to work by either causative or synchronistic means, then the purpose of the study of those cycles is purely for the sake of studying them, as humans seem to be predisposed to study things. We dont have to study things for a purpose apart from to observe their effects. Our study of it is irrelevant to its effectiveness if fate is all, no?

I would not wholeheartedly agree with question 2. I think apparently “minor” events that have an archetypal significance (a la Jung) are correlated with the movement of the planets, but that sometimes you just bruise your knee. Granted, I am not a microscopic astrologer, and don’t pay attention to every Moon and Mercury transit, but I believe that we do have free will within the constraints of our character (as determined by the natal chart) and the movements of the heavenly bodies (transits, progressions).

“A type of predestination is inherent in the basic premise of horoscopic astrology.”

I think it depends on the latitude of interpretation you allow the astrological correlations to have. To borrow from Elizabeth Grosz, specificity of interpretation bias determines particularity of results obtained by interpreting a text, developing a philosophy, analysing a social arrangement, assessing another culture, or delineating a nativity. Socio-individual relations cannot be reduced to behaviourist modes of explanation: behaviourism may describe but it cannot explain socio-individual relations. Mars to the ascendant is precisely only Mars to the ascendant: everything else is interpretation. Mars to the ascendant is predetermined: interpretation is not. Or rather, the destination is predetermined, but the journey is not the destination.

Nice blog.

If astrologers claim to make predictions that are more right than wrong, then doesn’t this create problems for the free will argument? As soon as you venture into the territory of predictive outcomes, it’s harder to avoid charges of fatalism.

I must be lost. Myself I see the heavens as a clock. There are no subtle forces from the stars or planets. This said, I think that the universal potential for change posseses subtle patterns which have become evident after hunderds or thousands of generations of contemplation. Patterns which could only be identified thanks to the observence of the heavens, the only precision timep├Čece available to the ancients. As far as free will is concerned, of course it’s an illusion, an illusion that gives us room to learn and grow. I don’t envy those closer to perfection, once personal values are perfected there is nothing left to learn and context no longer requires freewill. Fate is purely contextual, if lessons are learned, new challenges present themselves, if not they persist and yet it all depends on the individual to interpret their meaning. If the world were to end tomorrow some may interpret it as rapture while others may see it as tragedy yet all face the same fate.

I see no difference between freewill and fate. They are one and the same, their existence interwines.

Moreover, in and out of itself astrology is a imperfect model, so the amount of answers it can give is limited.

What we do not know is why can we know beforehand, just as we do not know why we exist. There will always be a wall, it seems. That’s is our freewill, to never know everything there is to be known.

Ignorance = freewill as much as fate = knowledge. One does not exist without the other, still, they occupy the same space, at the same time. There will always exist things we do not know for lack of knowledge as much as knowledge will bring answers we thought impossible. Astrology is a tool for knowledge.

Astrology is a way of knowing that allows humans to think about life in complex ways. The Stoics appear to have taken what they knew about life and astrology to a kind of fatalistic conclusion, pretty much the same one Witte and most of the Uranian astrologers came to. My larger view is that astrology operates on a deep biological level – but I won’t go into that now. What’s relevant to this discussion is the possible use of astrology as a reality selection guide by those who are able to watch themselves operate – an extreme position of objectivity. Here the operator plays with the ongoing flow of time – electional astrology being the best known method. Fate is the endless astrological currents large and small, free will is surfing these. I believe this approach could actually be considered a kind of higher consciousness, certainly more interesting to a Uranian like me than Neptunian practices (which most regard as a kind of higher consciousness) that only involve loss of self in one way or another.

The fascinating truth revealed to us through astrology is that everything is cyclical. Nothing is forever. Not the good nor the bad, the easy nor the difficult. Free will is what we choose to do with what is given. Once we know this we can savor the Moments and have strength to ride the storms out. Because “This too shall pass”.

The birth chart is our karma that is what we are given, the transiting stars are our “fate”, the more we use free will the less bound we are by karma. Astrology gives us knowledge of the planetary influences on us so we may become more free, but never wholely free, by making better and more conscious choices because free will is, I believe, conscious choice guided by a higher truth as opposed to following our temporal feelings,whims and the masses around us. It is the use of our higher thinking. So I believe astrology in the big as well as the small gives us knowledge of a system which has tremendous influence on our lives and is patterned by something even higher than itself:)

I like the article, and the Weltanschaung it presents. I also think the commenter Moses adds an important idea; that just because a thing is pre-determined that does not have to mean its form of manifestation is pre-determined (my phrasing, not his).

In addition to the above I would like to add the perspective of Leibniz when it comes to the idea of free will. As I understand it, he considered free will not to be the will to do whatever might pop into your head but to be a will that is rational. And rationality itself puts constraints on what we might will. So exercising your free will may very well be to do the one and single thing that fits the time and place where you are.

Indeed, it seems to me that this is even what he considers the free will of God to be like. God can only choose to create perfectly, and so creation must be the best possible creation (“the best of all possible worlds”). God, being supremely rational, also has a completely unified will.

Our free will, one could conclude, only vacillates when we do know have full knowledge. The better informed we are, the better we act, the more in line with our free will.