history and philosophy of astrology

On The Use of Mythology in Astrology

I wrote this paper on the use of mythology as a device in astrological delineations a few years ago while I was still attending Kepler College . I think that I initially wrote the paper because I was kind of annoyed by the subject matter and I wanted to focus on more precise techniques, having just had my first introduction to Hellenistic and Indian astrology a few months earlier. At the time I was also rather excited by some of the arguments that Robert Schmidt was making about the conceptual origins of the Hellenistic tradition and the possible the influence of Plato’s Timaeus on the original cosmological model of the astrologers, as you can tell in the paper. The paper is pretty amateurish, and I would probably write it a bit differently now, but I’ll present it in the original form with only a few slight modifications since gist of the argument towards the end is still essentially the same as what I would make at this point in time.

This isn’t a technical paper on how to delineate charts using mythology, but it is actually more of a theoretical argument against using mythology as a core tool in delineations. I should point out that I’m not trying to denigrate anyone who is a proponent of such an approach, and I have a number of good friends who regularly employ mythology in chart delineations, but this article is more of a rationalization of my own reasons for not doing the same as the basis for my own practice.

The Place of Myth in Astrology

Horoscopic astrology appeared in the Mediterranean area sometime around the 1st or 2nd century BCE and it was heavily influenced by the philosophy of the earlier Athenian and Hellenistic philosophical schools, particularly that of Plato (437-347 BCE). Robert Schmidt has recently proposed that the entire apparatus of horoscopic astrology was a theoretical construct devised by one person, or one group of people, over the course of one or two generations based off of the Platonic notion that the cosmos is a living, sentient animal, with a body and a soul.[1] Furthermore, Schmidt argues that this cosmic animal possesses a rational consciousness that is capable of knowing the events that befall individual human beings, and the observable astronomical phenomena that are studied by astrologers are actually believed to be expressions of thoughts that take place in the cosmic consciousness of this animal.

Following this basic premise it is thought that the preexisting astrological traditions derived from the Babylonians and the Egyptians were synthesized and used as the basis of an intricate and precise construct which could be used to read, translate and interpret the thoughts of the cosmic animal as they occur relative to individual human beings or events. The technical language of astrology was based upon the attempt to use the multifaceted nature of the Greek language to convey concepts of a universal character in a very specific way. Schmidt argues that the meaning of the astrological concepts were implicit in the language and grammar used, and much of the significance derived from the system was indeed inseparable from the language itself. It appears that the language used in the surviving texts from the Hellenistic astrological tradition was grounded in a concrete theoretical structure that was multivalent enough so as to not warrant the use of analogy, similes or mythology because the words used were able to convey a very precise message through the complex linguistic wrangling of the ancient Greek language.

While the planets themselves were named after the gods of the Greek pantheon centuries before horoscopic astrology came out of Alexandria, nowhere in any of the Hellenistic astrological texts is there made a direct correlation between the mythology of the gods and the significations of the corresponding planetary bodies that bare their names. The connection between the names of the celestial bodies and their corresponding myths in an interpretive astrological context does not appear to have been made in the western astrological tradition until sometime in the 20th century, and thus it is a relatively new innovation with respect to the history of horoscopic astrology as a whole. As a relatively recent development in the western tradition, this method of chart delineation should be reexamined within the context of ancient and contemporary astrological system alike in order to determine the applicability of mythology to the astrological construct as a whole, from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint.

Origins of the Use of Mythology in Modern Astrology

According to Demetra George in a lecture given to the Washington State Astrological Association at their meeting in March of 2005, the first modern astrologer in the west who seems to have explicitly used mythology to glean information about the nature of the planets was Liz Greene. In the opening paragraph of her first book, Saturn, a New Look at an Old Devil, Greene states

…the stuff from which myths and fairytale are composed is a symbolic portrayal of the values of the collective unconscious psyche of man. [2]

From this basic premise Greene goes on to make analogies between the various myths and ‘archetypes’ of the Saturn/Kronos character in Greek mythology, with how the planet Saturn can be interpreted by astrologers in a horoscopic chart. She says in her closing remarks that

…a symbol cannot be comprehended by words but must be approached though the intuitive facility…

Thus the use of mythology in modern astrology from its introduction was a tool used to emphasize the intuitive function of the art so that broader concepts could be conveyed, and it was done largely in order to makeup for the limitations of modern language and to convey the full complexity of certain astrological concepts.

In Greene’s book she draws heavily on the work of one of the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), particular some of the main concepts that he proposed during his lifetime such as the notion of archetypes, the collective unconscious, and the theory synchronicity. In his 1917 work On the Psychology of the Unconscious Jung explains the collective unconscious and archetypes in the following manner:

The unconscious contains, as it were two layers: the personal and the collective. The personal layer ends at the earliest memories of infancy, but the collective layer comprises the pre-infantile period, that is, the residues of ancestrial life. Whereas the memory-images of the personal unconscious are, as it were, filled out because they are images personally experienced by the individual, the archetypes of the collective unconscious are not filled out because they are not forms personally experienced. On the other hand, when psychic energy regresses, going even beyond the period of early infancy, and breaks into the legacy of ancestrial life, then the mythological images are awakened: these are archetypes. [3]

Demetra George elaborates on the matter of the archetypes in her book Asteroid Goddesses

Archetypes are the essential universal thought forms available to human consciousness during all periods of time. [4]

By incorporating these definitions of the collective unconscious and the archetypes with Schmidt’s argument that the Hellenistic astrologers considered the universe to be a living creature whose thoughts could be read through the movements of the celestial bodies, perhaps we could speculate that the collective unconscious that we draw upon is somehow connected to the consciousness of this living cosmos that we reside inside of. Perhaps the archetypes or concepts inside of that consciousness are available for all of humanity to draw upon and they are somehow intertwined with the thoughts of the cosmic mind, as expressed by the movements of the celestial bodies. The archetypes are somewhat general in character though, because they are essentially broad, undirected concepts, of a universal nature and they are not as specifically focused because they occur everywhere in our world and not just through the specific language of astrology. One could argue that astrology itself is a structured, or systematic attempt to translate the multivalent conceptual cognitions of the cosmos into a language in order to reveal precise ‘thoughts’, and thus the use of mythology to further illustrate certain broad archetypes would be something that would be an addition to an already complicated system, since by nature mythology is general in its character and meaning, whereas astrology can be more specific insomuch as it is a language.

Other languages in the ancient world eventually supplanted classical Greek, which was used to develop Hellenistic astrology, and when ancient Greek died as a spoken language it took with it much of the meaning inherent in the original astrological concepts. Astrology was translated into other languages numerous times and was transmitted to several other host cultures, going through transformations each time to the different belief systems, languages and cultural customs of its hosts. In each instance astrology was adapted to its host cultures. Although there were often deliberate attempts to retain the original intent and meaning underlying the technical terminology, in the process of these transformations and adaptations much of the meaning of the technical language was changed or forgotten. By the time astrology was revived in the English speaking world in the 20th century there was very little of the original theoretical and interpretive edifice left. Western horoscopic astrology was lacking the type of philosophical and technical depth that it once had, not to mention the intimate understanding of the languages were used in the previous traditions in order to come to a deeper understanding of the intimate details of the system. After the development and proliferation of Jung’s psychological concepts it was only natural for them to be adopted and refined by astrologers because they provided a type of consistent theoretical basis that had been lacking. Not surprisingly, much of Jung’s own work was directed towards investigating the concepts of myth and symbolism, as it exists in the psyche.

The Use of Myth Now

One could argue that the use of mythology to describe astrological concepts was developed and utilized by astrologers in the 20th century largely due to the inadequacies of the modern astrological construct and the technical terminology that was available at the time, as well as the need to find a better way to convey the cognitions of the cosmic mind. Mythology isn’t a precise translation of those concepts or cosmic cognitions though, but rather it is more like a rough outline or allegory of the astrological concepts. It lies completely separate from the entire astrological apparatus in it of itself, almost as an overlay to the initial information that can be gleaned from the placements in a horoscopic chart. This is because astrology is not fundamentally mythological, or perhaps even archetypical at its core, but rather it is a very precise language, albeit one that can be translated into many different conceptual paradigms, including the mythological and archetypal realms. However in doing so it looses a certain amount of precision that is inherent in the language of astrology itself, because myth is naturally predisposed to being imprecise, and thus the meaning is generalized and non-specific.

Thus, while mythology should be used to help elucidate and convey certain messages, stories and feelings, it should not be done at the expense of the technical accuracy or integrity of the system. Therefore mythology should be treated more like a type of garnish or as the figurative ‘icing on the cake’ of the astrological apparatus itself, as it does not constitute the core of the system.


1. Robert Schmidt, Kepler College Sourcebook of Hellenistic Material with Commentary, Project Hindsight, Cumberland, MD, 2003, pgs. 4-5.

2. Carl Jung, ‘On the Psychology of the Unconscious’ in Two Essays on Analytic Psychology, Meridian Books, Cleveland, OH, 1965, pg. 87.

3. Liz Greene, Saturn, A New Look at an Old Devil, Samuel Weiser, New York, 1977, pg. 9.

4. Demetra George, Asteroid Goddesses, ACS Publications, San Diego, CA, 1986, pg. 12.

5 replies on “On The Use of Mythology in Astrology”

Just a quick note before I spend some time reading your article more carefully.

The image you chose is tres interessant: Bottecelli’s “Birth of Venus, which is part of a larger work that included the painting “Spring,” and together they comprise an astrological-mythological allegory painted by Bottecelli based upon indications provided by Marsilio Ficino in the 16th century. In Ficino’s “Book of Life” (Kaske & Clarke translation) in Book 3, he explains the astrological/allegorical symbolism behind “Spring” in a chapter called “The Three Graces are Jupiter and the Sun and Venus. Jupiter is the Grace Which is the Mean Between the Two and Is Especially Accommodated to Us.”

Quoting from Chapter 6 on the nature of Jupiter:

“This is why the Greeks call Jupiter life [referring to the Etymology of “Zeus”] and the cause of life. The astrologers declare that he also has power over the animal spirit, saying that Jupiter is useful for philosophy and discovering truth, and for religion. So also Plato, when he says that philosophers spring from Jupiter (note: was Plato speaking of the planet Jupiter or the “mythological” God?). Homer also signified this, when he said, expressing an opinion of the ancients, ‘the mind of men is of such a quality as the father of the gods and men brings upon them from day to day.'”

He goes on to contrast the role of Sun and Mercury in the role of mind and intelligence.

My point is that the use of mythology in astrology began much earlier than the 20th century. Though it may be fair to say that they manner in which some modern astrologers use myth in the practice of astrology would not likely be recognizable to earlier generations.

Ok. Back to the meant of the article!

Point taken. One might also point out that the mythology of the gods did have a bearing on the delineation of the planets in the Mesopotamian and Indian traditions. Still, as far as the western tradition is concerned, it seems like the focus of the majority of the authors, especially in the Hellenistic tradition, was not on deriving the significations of the planets directly from the mythology of the gods that they were named after. That this approach appears to be conspicuously absent was kind of a surprise to me when I first began studying Hellenistic astrology, because it is often taken for granted in the modern period that this was a common practice in the ancient world, or that it lies at the very foundation of all of the significations of the planets. I guess that this was the main point of the article when I wrote it originally.

The lack of explicit “mythological” materialin the hellenistic is curious. I have found myself wondering, perhaps, that it wasn’t necessary. What we call the “mythological” world-view was so pervasive (that is, it was embedded in The worldview of the time) that it simply wasn’t necessary. For instance, the word “Aphrodite” would’ve about said it all. No need to “delineate” the symbolism of the star of Aphrodite.

Another thought: many of Plato’s writings are riddled with “mythological” material. I am thinking particularly (inspired by Botticellis’ painting I suppose!) of his comparison/relationship between Aphrodite Ourania and Pandemos in the Symposium.

Then of course there is the day/night star cycle (Innana/Ishatar) allegorized in the Gilgamesh epic.

These and other myths would’ve common knowlege. Temples enshrining this “pagan” world view were literally everywhere in the Hellenistic world. So no need for a Liz Greene book to illustrate the parallel between a planet and a deity?

It is possible that this world view was so pervasive as to not require explicit elaboration at the time, but I would still expect to see some sort of direct link in the sources, aside from some of the occasional poetical allusions made in Dorotheus and maybe Manilius. Maybe my own assumptions here are faulty though.

The Mesopotamian link is important though because there appears to have been a deliberate attempt to assign certain Greek gods to each of the planets in a way that deliberately mimicked the Mesopotamian assignments. So, the case could be made that some of these associations were just carry overs from a period in which the Greeks didn’t really have much of an astrology of their own, and the associations with certain gods were done deliberately in order to reflect the Mesopotamian assignments, rather than the Greek assignments developing organically on their own or what have you. Although, that doesn’t really detract from their value or answer the question of their possible astrological usage in the later horoscopic astrological tradition. So… yeah.