Astrological thinking starts with the basic premise that the bodies of our solar system, their movements, positions and mutual aspects present an order that is in correspondence with life on earth. The Greeks called these bodies ‘wanderers’ (<planetos>) therefore the sun and the earth’s moon are also planets in astrological parlance. The planets represent the basic principles, their interaction with each other form at any moment a unified whole. They form an order, a kosmos.
Astronomers measure the quantity of time, expressed in years, days, hours and minutes, defined by the movements of sun and earth. Whereas astrologers give us the quality of time, the kairos. This moment is measured by the position of all the planets, and how they aspect each other. Time gets transported into an image.
The constellation at the time of our birth, as cast in the horoscope, is witness to our fate, it holds our ‘lot’. It is our signature. It is what we have to own up to. It is woven of the same forces that we all carry but for everyone it is different in form and calibration. Like in a piece of music a theme consists of different motives and their variations.
The basic structure in astrology is made up of nine planets bound in relation to each other. But all that we truly can grasp is their shape, color and movement, as they silently move around the orbit. Over millennia civilizations have tried to make sense of this nightly spectacle, the seven visible ‘planets’ rising in the east and setting westward while moving at the same time incrementally in the opposite direction circling the sun. It was in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Arabia, where these movements of the planets were minutely observed, that the foundation of western astrology was laid.
Astrology is a system of great beauty and stringent logic. Your horoscope depicts the exact planetary constellation for the time and place of your birth. Hieroglyphic and strange, as this graphic maze must look to you seeing it for the first time, it holds amazingly rich information, intricately encrypted. Symbols drawn into a grid, raw and simple, turn out to be precise and poignant in the story they tell.
The complexity of a chart is of a high order. The astrologer faces a challenge similar to the chess player when analyzing the configuration on the board. A single figure placed differently and everything changes. The same holds true for the horoscope.
Astrology answers to our question of who we are. No other system rivals it in its complexity of design and richness of interpretation. Psychotherapists and psychoanalysts have used astrology within their practice, and found it helpful. Not only did the astrological information confirm their findings, it also provided answers to areas they had no other way to access.
The reading of your horoscope
Planets do not have an agenda. They do not want to enact anything. They silently go about to trace their elliptical path, forming ever new configurations. It is we who impute sense. We treat what we see as text, we interpret it with our syntactic and semantic skills, with our hermeneutic savvy. There is no outside reference we can fall back on. There is no author. All we have is the text. And we try to pry it open, to glean a meaning. Minds like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton and Galileo were drawn to astrology for that reason and were casting charts. They perceived the harmonics in the constellations, they detected precise analogies to mathematical and musical connotations, and saw correspondences to human affairs.
So the task of the astrologer is to draw out these correspondences, to tie the macrocosm to the microcosm, our world, to make the connection from the abstract chart to the human experience. It is the task of translation: the planets are represented by mythic figures, and the twelve signs of the zodiac are cast by archetypal symbols. Myth and archetype have their own domain and it is difficult to translate them into concepts. Their meaning oscillates around a core, a primordial force, and it will only open up by thinking in analogy, image tending to be stronger than language, choosing metaphor rather than discourse. There are different ways of engaging with the horoscope.
The chart can be seen as drama. The planets are the personae dramatis, their positioning in the zodiac show how they are going about to achieve their goal, in friendship or enmity, in an open or sly manner, and their positioning in the geocentric grid will show the areas where conflict and symbiosis will occur.
Or as narrative. Our lives so far, the memories, the stream of consciousness we experience, the challenges in which we find ourselves embedded, are seen as part of an ongoing story.
Finally, the chart as lyric. Like in poetry, the sense is not grasped by parsing the details but by getting a hold of the whole, wherein everything plays its part. Lyric does not want to tell you what it means. It is inexhaustible. It does not have a ‘message’.
The astrological chart speaks and is silent at the same time. It waits for interpretation, forever eluding a definitive version.
(See also 'Astrology - the art and skill of reading signs’ in the blog ‘Thoughts on astrology’)
The calling - become who you are
Goethe, in the first stanza of his ‘Orphic Sacred Words’ called' Δαιμων, Dämon', spoke of the law that would rule your life from the moment of birth. ‘Thus you have to be, your self you cannot flee.’ It is command and challenge, a task to reckon with. Rilke talks of ‘Auftrag’, something entrusted to you. ‘Many a star was waiting for you to perceive it. Many a wave would rise in the past towards you... All this was charge. But were you up to it?’
Each of us has our own daimon, as the Greeks used to call it, the daimon being allotted to us at birth by fate indicating the true nature of the human soul. For Plato it is a spiritual being that dwells within us, watches over us and at times acts against us. Our task is to become aware of this power and to actualize what is given to us as potential.
Wie an dem Tag, der dich der Welt verliehen,
Die Sonne stand zum Gruße der Planeten,
Bist alsobald und fort und fort gediehen
Nach dem Gesetz, wonach du angetreten.
So mußt du sein, dir kannst du nicht entfliehen,
So sagten schon Sibyllen, so Propheten;
Und keine Zeit und keine Macht zerstückelt
Geprägte Form, die lebend sich entwickelt.
As on the day that gave you to this world
The sun stood to the salute of planets
From there on you grew and prospered
According to the law that was your calling.
Thus you have to be, yourself you cannot flee
So already Sibyls told, and prophets.
And neither time nor any power can tear apart
A formed character that lives and grows.
See also ‘Ananke’ in the blog ‘Thoughts on Astrology’
To interpret the astrological chart does not mean to list all the aspects therein. Any computer printout can do that (in fact that is all it can do). It is very confusing to be confronted with all the disparate information spewed out from data banks. The task is to separate the major from the minor aspects and detect the dominant themes in your chart. That is impossible to do with just a glance. It takes time for the chart to open up. You have to give yourself over to it. It has to get a hold on you. At this point we find ourselves in the realm of a ‘Glass Bead Game’, to draw a parallel to Hermann Hesse’s rarified vision where in a manner at once intellectual and meditative all worldly affairs can be distilled into the interplay of just a few concepts.
We have to go the opposite way, to embody the distilled concepts with life. There is a need to get muddied and grounded to earth. The chart needs to be squared with the rugged timber the human being is. The same traits will express themselves differently in different circumstances. To give meaningful information, the client’s world needs to be understood, the context, to bring together the lyric and play of the script with the realities of the individual life.
Our character will stay the same throughout life. It is kind of an emotional armor with which we confront ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ and so does conceal our vulnerability. But there also is flexibility. I cannot get rid of my shortcomings but I can deal with them differently. That means becoming aware of the potential we hold and looking at it with a new perspective. In a simile we can say we are like players in a card game. The cards are dealt. And we have no way knowing what the others will do. But whatever our hand, there are ways to play it imaginatively and creatively.
The same holds true of your astrological chart. Your ‘lot’ is cast, so to speak. But there are many possibilities to play it out. I try to make you aware of the talents you have and the challenges you face. They may be hidden, subdued by conforming to our environment. Being aware of the forces at work you can make them work for you. There is nothing to lose but maybe a lot to gain.
There will be no judgement in the reading of the chart. Morality plays no role in astrology. We all partake in the panoply of human emotions and traits. We can be noble as we can be treacherous. Shylock, Antonio or Ophelia, they are not alien to us, they are us. We look at the chart as your playbook and I can point out the conflicting tendencies but you will have to make the decisions. I will not give you advice but try to help by pointing out perspectives you might not have noticed on your own.
A frequent response of clients to an astrological reading is relief and pleasure that their own inner reality has been affirmed and validated and that there is indeed a reason for their feeling and acting the way they do. It can describe how the individual sees and responds to the world. The less we understand our innate natures, the fewer choices we have when faced with life’s challenges.
(see also 'Schopenhauer on character' in the blog "‘Thoughts on Astrology’)
Every field has its predictions. Medicine, economics, meteorology, they all make predictions. This is supported by their methodology and born out by experience. By analogy, astrology also makes ‘predictions’. There are times of smooth sailing and times when the sea gets rough and rocks your boat. This, as well as the area in which to expect a change, can be seen from the chart. But to conduct your life by concentrating on these rhythms means losing the big picture. There is something petty about 'calculating' one's life this way that trivializes astrology. Better to get to’ know yourself’, trust in your abilities and move forward with conviction.
Out of the timber you got make a sturdy boat and know how to handle it well, then you can confront with confidence whatever comes. To shift metaphors, for a kite to rise you need headwinds. Hoping for tailwinds to raise you is a loser’s game. There is no way to foretell the future. Countless systems have been tried out and they all fall short. It is mainly this fortune telling business where astrology got its bad name. And about every other astrologer is guilty of peddling in this area. The temptation is just too great. People look for it and astrologers gladly oblige.
That said, there is no reason to shy away from prognosis. They have their legitimacy and value when used properly. Astrology has developed several tools and methods to account for how favorable a given moment in time might be if one is confronted by a difficult decision and they can be of real help. I can help you choose a favorable wedding date or the right moment to launch a venture. But the basis is always the native chart and its interpretation. Only then the overlaying rhythms at that moment in time can be considered and a clearer picture will emerge. The astrologer’s role is to explain and illustrate the picture, the client’s role, and him alone, to decide what action to take.
The human being is not a unity. There are distinct aspects to our being. Body, psyche and our social interaction are three different but closely intertwined realms, studied respectively in medicine, psychology and sociology. It is the realm of the psyche that foremost interests us in astrology.
Our psyche does not start out as a blank slate - we carry the DNA of countless generations back within us, our embryonal experiences, the trauma of birth and, when we took our first breath, the cosmic signature that stood as our witness. We carry this imprint and structure in our psyche, affecting both the conscious and the unconscious.
It is important to be aware that our mind is an autopoetic system, that it creates itself along myriads of internal structures and is immune to direct outside influences. It is a closed system. The outside world is experienced only through interpretation - as the internal structures process outside information. Each person constructs their very own reality. We only see what we see, and cannot see what we do not see.
It is an interesting phenomenon how astrology is received in public opinion. There is on one hand a widespread interest fed by the columns in papers or magazines, trivial entertainment, tellingly next to the funnies. But when it comes to intellectual public opinion, astrology is outright dismissed. The verdict is absolute. Anybody professing an interest in the subject is open to ridicule and risks being ostracized. And the tone of disregard is telling - incredulity laced with a sardonic smile.
The hostility of ‘science' towards astrology highlights its own blind spot. They do not even bother to understand the subject, mistaking a hermeneutic topic (like linguistics) one to be judged by natural scientific methods. These are 'Non Overlapping Magisteria'. But it is hard for science not to overreach and play the role of ultimate arbiter. A case in point is the statement ‘Objections to Astrology’, published in 1975 and signed by 186 Leading Scientists. Both the astronomer Carl Sagan and the philosopher Paul Feyerabend took the scientists to task for their inapt attack on astrology. Being men of reason they felt driven to hold science to its own standards. (http://www.astrologer.com/tests/objections.html)
The English mathematician George Spencer-Brown (1923-2016) also took a stand for astrology, admitting to using it himself. "And to any 'scientist' who sneers at the use of astrology, I quote Newton: 'Sir, I have studied it. You have not!'"
(See als 'Astrology - a language?' in the blog ‘On my mind’)
There are many people who helped shape my ideas on astrology, some in person, others through their books. The persons mentioned here had a significant impact on me. They all were highly accomplished in their field of work and encountered, at one point or another in their life, the rich world of astrological symbolism. Each one approached the subject through a different lens and so opened up new ways of seeing. Bringing together conceptual logic with the richness of mythos became a lifelong fascination for every one of them.
Two other writers have influenced my thinking greatly for a long time. It was Niklas Luhmann, and his work on ‘System Theory’ that introduced me to new way of looking at the world.
Peter Sloterdijk is the other writer whose work I have followed for decades. Especially helpful, in this context, were his writings on ‘Spheres’ and ‘Thymos’.
A number of reproductions of artwork from The Dove series by Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) are depicted on my website. All are in the public domain. I was delighted to encounter five of her paintings at the Central Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennial, “Il Palazzo Enciclopedico,” directed by Massimiliano Gioni, when I visited in July 2013. Hilma af Klint’s canvases represent partitioned geometric forms and metaphysical, including zodiacal, symbols. Seeing them the first time I was moved by their strength and serenity, and the awe is there still whenever I look at these pictures.
Her artwork, which includes 193 monumental “Paintings for the Temple,” and over 1000 works on paper is just beginning to receive wider attention. The Serpentine Gallery in London presented “Painting the Unseen” from 3 March - 15 May 2016 and in 2013 the Moderna Museet in Stockholm featured 230 works in the exhibition “Pioneer of Abstraction.” In MOMA’s 2012 show of 2012, Hilma af Klint was excluded. According to Kate Kellaway, who spoke with curator Leah Dickerman about the omission for an article published in The Guardian,“reflex alarm at the occult” seems to have been the explanation.
Fritz Riemann (1902-1979); psychoanalyst, astrologer
Oskar Adler (1875-1955); musicologist, M.D., astrologer
Ted Hughes (1930-1998); British poet laureate, astrologer
Erich Carl Kühr (1899- 1951); German astrologer
Hilma af Klint (1862-1944); painter
I have burrowed in the thickness of the earth,
and the beasts of the zodiac have come forth,
and so I have chased these beasts, like on a hunt.
Study of philosophy, law and economics at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. degree of Masters in Economics, 1974.
Study of astrology with Wolfgang Doebereiner 1975 - 1977 in Munich
Private study groups on Heidegger and Nietzsche and Foucault in the 80’s and 90’s in Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts
Study of Systems Theory (autodidactic)
Study of Ancient Greek at Smith College 2015 - 2018
Homeric Greek (private study group - Northampton) 2016 - 2019
Some basic conceptions of astrology
The twelve signs (the zodiac) mark the yearly path of the earth around the sun.
There are four elements: fire, earth, air and water, and three modes: cardinal, fixed and mutable. Each sign has its specific element and mode.
The signs have gender, being either masculine or feminine, alternating with each other.
The twelve houses divide up the daily rotation of the earth around its axis.
Analogous to the signs the houses have three distinctive modes: angular, succedent and cadent.
The Ascendent is the sign ‘rising’ over the eastern horizon at birth. It demarcates the first house, the following houses are counted counterclockwise.
Each of the ten planets has their own force and agenda. They will acquire their characteristic trait from their respective position in sign and house, and from the aspect they cast to each other.
A history of astrological images
Please go to the <pinterest> website of 'Thema-Kairos Astrology' and click on the 'Astrology' board. You will see thousands of astrological images from Antiquity and the Middle Ages in their splendor and beauty. It shows how deeply the astrological symbols were embedded within the different cultures and how much it was part of everyday life.