Like a Virgo...

Like a Virgo: How The Times Covers Astrology

 The paper’s analysis of the zodiac is practical and deliberate.


“We cover it because people have made it newsworthy,” said Choire Sicha, the editor of The Times’s Styles section, which reports on cultural trends and has published many of the recent articles on astrology. “It is a so frequently used part of people’s Instagram lives and online lives.”

Astrology, as a subject, has appeared throughout The Times archives for decades. In the early 20th century, the topic was grouped in the same category as ghost stories, told to amuse readers; later, it contributed shock value and a sense of satire to political and news stories, like a series of articles written about the use of astrologers by Nancy Reagan, the former first lady.

“It was filed under ‘Superstition and Witchcraft,’ which means The Times didn’t hold much weight to what was written in the stars,” said Jeff Roth, who manages the files of newspaper clippings in The Times’s morgue.

Although many newspapers run a horoscope column, The Times never has. Mr. Roth said he believes this is because it is not supported by science.

Today, astrology articles go through the same vetting as articles involving experimental beauty, wellness, internet culture or drugs, and editors acknowledge when there is no scientific evidence to back up a trend.

The New York Times, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, p. 2, excerpt, (italics mine)

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          The truth is worth it.

Piecing together the facts. Vetting sources. Connecting the details. The New York Times applies journalistic rigor to every topic we cover, in our mission to deliver what is critical to democracy — independent journalism with an unwavering commitment to the truth.

Advertisement of the New York Times

Not when it comes to astrology. The NYT takes the most superficial and biased approach to astrology. No rigor on this topic. Commitment to truth? It shows the Times as deeply biased by mainstream thinking and avoiding any controversy.

Letter written to the NYT on Sept. 11, 2019, and published online

Mr. Roth says he believes the Times does not cover astrology because it is not supported by science. By the same token, religion and the arts are also not supported by science but are readily covered. Astrology never claimed to be a science, it is a field of the humanities (as are religion and the arts) and has its own critical standards and methodology. The constellation in the horoscope is treated like a text to be interpreted. That is what a serious astrologer does. Printed horoscopes are worthless and their only purpose is entertainment. But they foster the stigma that astrology carries among the 'educated'. How easy to chuckle and feel superior rather than have the courage to engage with the subject honestly. It is like the accused is found guilty before trial. The Times claims to investigate truthfully, here is a chance to engage.



feminine/masculine

“...If you grow up in Western culture, as I did, with the belief that there is a scientific explanation for everything, then there will be certain ideas you must not know. It will be called ‘mystic nonsense’ and ‘crazy stuff’. People who have studied these ideas naturally know that these ideas are neither mysterious nor crazy. But we do not have a relevant method to account for them - that is the great gap in our education.

…If someone becomes part of the scientific machinery and accepts the doctrine of what is seen as scientific and what not, then he finds himself in a foolproof trap. He accepted a bargain and does not know the price he paid.

…Western civilisation is based on ancient Greek and Judaic culture: both held the masculine superior over the feminine. Other cultures held both principles in equal balance. On the one hand they did praise the pompous, military, formal and totally humorless masculine side but equally they held in high esteem the intimate, secret, intuitive and light-hearted feminine side - which our culture lacks.

For some time now I felt the necessity for an author, raised in the Western tradition and with professional competence in more than one science, to do my best to bridge the chasm between the two sides of our human nature. We must realize a perspective that encompasses the formal/informal, masculine/feminine, external/internal division. It is difficult to write about. The theme is as big as life itself and needs as long to be learned. All I can try to do is to create some opening. At least a small one.

…With our emphasis on the masculine we can pursue our affairs to their bitter end. Tragedy may take her course, until the final curtain falls. But then again, there is really nothing in the way which would keep us from revising the stage direction.

George Spencer-Brown, from the foreword to his book ‘This game only two can play’ , 1971, (excerpt)

George Spencer-Brown (1923-2016), mathematician, consulting engineer, psychologist, chess-master, consulting psychotherapist, author, and poet; he also defended the practice of astrology.


George Spencer-Brown (1923-2016),

George Spencer-Brown (1923-2016),

In astrology the stage direction is already enlightened. The actors are conceived and named after the Ancient Greek Pantheon of gods and goddesses who - different from mortals - held power in a balanced way. Mars (Ares) finds his equal in Venus (Aphrodite) and Moon (Selene) in Sun (Helios). In the individual charts, naturally, there can and will be an imbalance of the feminine and masculine energies - regardless of gender.

Aphrodite of Syracuse

Aphrodite of Syracuse

Mars, Hadrian Villa

Mars, Hadrian Villa

Chiron - a chimera

First the basics.

Chiron, discovered in 1977, is a small solar system body (or minor planet) in the outer Solar System, orbiting the Sun between Saturn and Uranus. It was named after Chiron, one of the centaurs from Greek mythology. Since then more bodies were detected that orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. They were officially classified as centaurs. There are currently 452 centaurs listed.

700px-TheKuiperBelt_42AU_Centaurs.svg.png

Chiron has a diameter of about 120 miles. If the Earth were the size of a golf ball Chiron would be the size of a grain of salt.

Now the astrological embarrassment.

Astrologers, upon the discovery, turned quickly to their dictionaries and learned that Chiron, the centaur, was worshiped in Antiquity as a mentor, tutor and healer. But he was not able to heal his own wound. What a gift the astronomical community had bestowed on astrology by naming the newly detected body Chiron! What synchronicity! Didn’t alternative healing methods and therapies have a heyday in those years? The pantheon of Roman and Greek gods, all jealous and unforgiving, would now include a gentle soul, intent on soothing grievances. He was immediately labeled the ‘Wounded Healer’ and that moniker stuck, kitschy as it is. While dearly embraced by the astrological community overall, I am not the only one being confounded and perplexed.

Chiron, the ‘Wounded Healer’

Chiron, the ‘Wounded Healer’

A fellow astrologer puts it this way, sarcasm not withholding: “Despite its utter insignificance, it fascinates those astrologers who have decided that they are spiritually evolved. On its discovery Chiron was hijacked by a vociferous minority of astrologers who regard themselves as healers. Their wishful belief is that mankind is on the verge of a golden new age where each will heal his fellow. Having been discovered at the dawn of this new age, Chiron must be the planet of the healer: and as we all had such dreadful childhoods, he is a ‘wounded’ healer - the best sort, apparently.” And as to the time of discovery, he mocks that it also was the rise of the yuppie, the materialist player of the market, who produces nothing and makes himself rich. Yet the book that explains Chiron as a stockbroker, wounded or otherwise, has yet to be published.

To be told by almost any astrologer that each of us carries this wound of unknown origin in our charts (and in ourselves) and thus  enables us to heal our fellow beings might be very comforting and ennobling but it is utter nonsense and diverting from the basic premises of astrology. Chiron is just a speck of rock floating in the outer void signifying nothing.

Quotation by John Frawley, ‘The Real Astrology’, 2001





The outer planets, reconsidered (VI)

I will make a case why the planet Pluto does not belong in the astrological system. In 2006 it was downgraded by the astronomical community to a dwarf planet. Pluto is a body of the Kuiper Belt which is a disc-shaped region found in the outer solar system, extending out from the orbit of the planet Neptune. The discovery of other objects in the Kuiper Belt, starting in 1992, confirmed the view that Pluto belongs to a vast array of similar objects orbiting beyond Neptune. Some of these objects, such as Eris, Haumea and Makemake, are very similar in size to Pluto, some of them even bigger.

These Kuiper Belt objects are drastically different from Neptune and the other (classical) planets, both in how they formed and in how they got to their current orbits. Thereby, Pluto is definitely not a planet. It is estimated that there are around 35,000 Kuiper belt objects that are larger than 100 km in diameter. The known icy worlds and comets in this region are all much smaller than even Earth’s Moon.

The Solar system thus encompasses the sphere of the eight planets circling the Sun from Mercury to Neptune, constituting the Inner Solar system, and  all these planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the Ecliptic. Next lies the Kuiper Belt and beyond the Oort Cloud which is an extended shell of icy objects that exist in the outermost reaches of the solar system.

Kuiperbelt-1.jpg

Astronomically, Pluto is not any more considered a planet. It was an erroneous astronomical judgement made 90 years ago and revised in 2006. But astrologers held on to their Pluto, having so much invested into this avatar from beyond.

A model of distance and size  will show why the inclusion of Pluto as a planet does not work. Imagine a helium infused balloon, one used for balloon rides, about 50 ft. in diameter, as the center, representing the Sun. About a mile away the Earth would be circling, its size about that of a grapefruit. Further out, 30 miles away, Neptune is circling, about the size of a beach ball. What about Pluto? You would have to spot it floating somewhere about 40 miles away from the balloon being just the size of a toy marble. (On another scale, if the Sun would be a globe of about 5 ft. in diameter, the Earth would be slightly smaller than a penny in a distance the length of a football field, Neptune the size of a golf ball three miles away and Pluto the size of a short grain of rice four miles away). Pluto is simply off scale in regard to the inner Solar system.

If one nevertheless wants to keep Pluto as part of the astrological system, then the logic should be extended to Haumea, Makemake and Eris. What would they stand for? Trying to get a clue from the names they were assigned will hardly help: Haumea and Makemake being goddess and god of fertility in the Hawaiian religion and Eris was the Greek goddess of chaos, strife and discord. Either unaware, or at a loss for answers, astrologers stay(ed) put with Pluto, at the expense of critical thinking.

Venetia Burney, an eleven-year-old schoolgirl in Oxford, England, who was interested in classical mythology, could hardly have imagined the confusion she would create in astrological circles when she suggested the name Pluto for the newly discovered plant in a conversation with her grandfather, a former librarian at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library, who passed the name on to the university’s astronomy professor, who cabled it to colleagues in the United States. Lowell Observatory, which had the right to name the new object, had already received more than 1,000 suggestions from all over the world, ranging from Atlas to Zymal. Each member of the Lowell Observatory was allowed to vote on a (very shortened) list of three potential names: Minerva, Cronus and Pluto. Pluto received every vote. The final choice of name was helped in part by the fact that the first two letters of Pluto are the initials of Percival Lowell, the founder of the Observatory where the search for a ninth planet was begun in 1906. The name was announced on May 1, 1930.


(revised Sep. 3rd, 2019)

Venetia Burney, 11 years old

Venetia Burney, 11 years old

The outer planets, reconsidered (V)

In 1930 a new planet was discovered and named Pluto. The excitement in the astrological community was palpable: a new player was in the field! Where and how was one to integrate this avatar into the system? What did he represent? Consensus quickly evolved and Pluto was seen as a symbol of the times when it was discovered: splitting the atom, the threat (and power) of nuclear power, while totalitarian regimes took hold all over the globe. Pluto did signal an all powerful force to be reckoned with.

But which would be Pluto’s realm in astrological terms? The zodiac signs were all already assigned to their rulers. The planet next in line to be demoted to make room for Pluto had to be Mars (next in line after Saturn and Jupiter). Aries or Scorpio, which one would be assigned to a new ruler?

Think of the name Pluto. Wasn’t that the god of the Underworld? And wasn’t the 8th house (ruled by Scorpio) called the house of death? And had Scorpio not a reputation for dealing with all that was dark, secretive, brooding, mysterious, passionate? Soon it was a fait d’accompli for astrologers: Pluto was to be the new ruler of Scorpio, and Mars was to be relegated to the single domain of Aries.  Did it not show astrology was moving with the times?

Nowhere among modern astrologers was this move questioned, on the contrary, it was welcomed and eagerly embraced.  Pluto was now the energy of deep and primal power, unleashing unconscious forces that can overpower our rational minds and everyday habits in the form of ruthlessness, lust, violence, extreme force, and total transformation. With this move a picture of dark and seductive passion was added to the astrological display, kind of the elemental and brooding Heathcliff nature, an image of ourselves, astrologers thought, we might like to think we share. Pluto indeed has sex-appeal.

But I think Pluto does not belong in the astrological system.

(Revised Sep. 3rd 2019}

Pluto   velificans  , with a  Cupid  attending his abduction of  Proserpina  in a  four-horse chariot  (Roman cinerary altar,  Antonine Era , 2nd century)

Pluto velificans, with a Cupid attending his abduction of Proserpina in a four-horse chariot (Roman cinerary altar, Antonine Era, 2nd century)





The outer planets, reconsidered (IV)


This brings us to Neptune, a gaseous giant, equal in size to Uranus. Both planets complete the Solar system on which all astrological interpretation is based and therefore should be part of the astrological system. (The traditional school disregards the newly discovered planets all together focussing solely on the five visible planets known since Antiquity. A view that I respect but do not share.)

The natural move was to assign Neptune rulership of Pisces, the sign following Aquarius, which brought a closure to the new and expanded system. The reasons were compelling:  Neptune was brother of Jupiter who had ruled Pisces before, a peer in power. With Pisces being a Water-sign and Neptune being known as the god of the Sea, that seemed to be a good match. Perhaps even the Astronomical Society thought they had got this one right.

Well, not really. Neptune was well known in the Hellenistic world as the ‘Earth-shaker’, also god of the storms and earthquakes, who could unleash fury on any mortals that aroused his anger and he would destroy ship, ground and men at his whim. He caused fear and trembling in the Ancient World. Not quite the standard bearer for ‘peace-loving’ and ‘spiritually’ oriented Pisces, qualities often espoused by astrologers. What seemed so perfect at first sight does not hold up: mythological Neptune and what the sign Pisces stands for have not much common ground.

So again, we have to reverse the logic. ‘Neptune’, as we may now call him, is representing the core tenets of Pisces but not imbuing it with any personal traits. His name should just be taken as symbol and token for the sign Pisces.

Neptune, also being Lord of the horses

Neptune, also being Lord of the horses





The outer planets, reconsidered (III)

For astrologers, open to incorporate the newly discovered planet Uranus into the astrological system, the name given seemed to be fortuitous. With Saturn the threshold of the known world had been reached, and Uranus, god of the sky, ouranos meaning sky in Ancient Greek, represented well all that was before and above. Uranus was given rulership over the Air-sign Aquarius, thought to fit that realm of the high and lofty so much better than Saturn who until that point ruled Aquarius along with Capricorn.

Very little is known about the mythic Uranus, the divine genealogy does not give us any clues, and that makes it difficult to define what Uranus stands for. In contrast: for all the other gods and goddesses known as planetary rulers we have a wide range of archetypal expressions. Already their reference in casual conversation give us an idea: mercurial, venusian, martial, jovial, saturnian and lunar traits are well known and understood. But uranian?

Having exhausted the possibilities of myth astrologers adopted the bizarre method of correlating historical events that took place around the discovery of the planet with the nature of that planet. With Uranus being discovered in 1781, the Euro-centric view focussed on the French (and American) Revolution, and Uranus was from then on seen as an abrasive, rebellious, revolutionary force, flaring up in a sudden, disrupting the old order and heralding in the new. One has to ask: what about all the other events that happened at that time, and in other parts of the world? And what if the planet had been discovered in the Baroque period of conservative rule a hundred years before, or seventy years later, at the time when Neptune was discovered? Uranus, by that standard, would stand for something very different. This whole line of reasoning is highly questionable, at the very least. It’s only support lies in C.G.Jung’s notion of synchronicity, meaning that seemingly unconnected events may share a deeper relation than meets the eye.

So Uranus came to be known as a mainly disruptive force, and textbook after textbook was to repeat this line. The unpredictability and capriciousness symbolized by Uranus seemed to be too tempting as it added another layer of apprehension and danger to the chart. Saturn, ruler of Aquarius since Antiquity, did symbolize structure and stood for clear, rational and impersonal expression and now got supplanted by a god with an erratic behavior, striking unexpectedly.

Uranus, being part of the Inner Solar system, needs to be incorporated into the astrological system and clearly should represent Aquarius. He embodies everything Aquarius stands for but, admittedly, in a more idiosyncratic way than Saturn: open-mindedness, peer-to-peer relation, choosing one’s company free of traditional ties, non-hierarchical order, keen on one’s own individuality, free-thinking, disliking overly emotional bonds, defiant against hierarchical structure, needing open space and distance from others, and, last but not least, sudden, intuitive insights.

Also to keep in mind: Aquarius is a fixed sign: stubborn, demanding, and unflinching, thus persevering in its quest by steadfastness and not by forceful disruption and revolutionary ardor.

(revised Sep. 3rd, 2019)



Uranus and the Zodiac-Wheel, Greco-Roman mosaic C3rd A.D.,  Glyptothek Munich

Uranus and the Zodiac-Wheel, Greco-Roman mosaic C3rd A.D., Glyptothek Munich

The outer planets, reconsidered (II)

What name should they be given? As for the first planet, discovered in 1781, a giant gaseous body sixty times the size of earth but smaller than Saturn and Jupiter, the astronomical community finally settled on the name of Uranus, thus staying within the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods. Being the primordial god he was father of Cronus (Saturn) who was father to Zeus (Jupiter), who in turn was father to Ares (Mars), Aphrodite (Venus) and Hermes (Mercury), thus conforming to the logic of the genealogical lineage.

In 1848 a second trans-saturnian planet was detected, in size close to Uranus. Neptune became the internationally accepted name. Neptune was the god of the sea and brother of Jupiter.

A third planet was discovered in 1930. It was named Pluto, getting ifs name from the Roman god of the underworld, being also a brother of Jupiter. Alternative names had been proposed, like Herschel, Verrier and Percival, thereby honoring the discoverers of the new planets. But mythological reference won out over these and other proposals.

But for astrologers that should prove to be a mixed blessing.

The three outer planets are drawn on the right (7,8,9)

The three outer planets are drawn on the right (7,8,9)



The outer planets, reconsidered (I)

The basic elements of astrology have always been the planets and the zodiac, and their relationship to each other. It was a well ordered system, linking Sun, Moon and the five visible planets with the twelve zodiac signs.

The first eight signs of the zodiac showed the stages of individual development, starting in Aries and coming to fulfillment and closure in Scorpio. Moon ruled Cancer, Sun ruled Leo, and Mercury, Venus and Mars each ruled two signs. They were referred to as ‘personal’ planets.

Sagittarius and Capricorn are concerned with the individual’s role in community, with Jupiter and Saturn ruling, respectively. That left Aquarius and Pisces as the two remaining signs for the final stages, transcending the personal and communal role of a person. Mirroring the personal planets, dual rulership again was assigned, with Saturn ruling Aquarius and Jupiter Pisces. This was the classic and harmonious scheme, a well ordered cosmos, and unquestioned for over 2000 years.

Until the discovery of the new planets.

Classic Hellenistic sign and planet rulership, with asymmetrical axis

Classic Hellenistic sign and planet rulership, with asymmetrical axis



What is a horoscope? (III)

The quest for the houses: it is the thorniest problem of astrology. The twelve houses are the twelve areas of life that impact you. Planets in those houses show the dominance of certain areas over the others. Rulership of planets over those houses point to where the impact will finally play out.


How do we conceive of houses? Whereas the revolution of the earth around the Sun in a yearly fashion gave us the the twelve zodiac signs, the daily rotation of the earth around its axis results in twelve segments, called houses, analogically. The starting point is always the degree at the eastern horizon (Ascendant) where it intersects with the ecliptic of the moment of the event (birth). There is little disagreement about this, and the configuration of Midheaven.


With Ascendant/Descendant  and Midheaven/Midnight axes we arrive at four quadrants, but what about the intermediary partitions in each quadrant? We are talking about the task of reducing a three-dimensional sphere into a two dimensional diagram which poses a conundrum. Using different criteria, there are countless ways to achieve this. With each attempt the house sizes will have different shapes: while your Sun might be in the sixth house with the Placidus method, the Koch method might show it in the fifth house. The results by the methods of Alcabitius, Regiomontanus, Porphyrius et al. will vary again. It is, and always will be, an unresolved issue.. The horoscope in each case will look different. There is no argument about right or wrong, it all comes down to choice.


We asked: ‘what is a horoscope?’ And the answer is, and that is what I tried to point out, there is no single ‘true’ horoscope, only a variety of different approaches. Drawing from a common tradition each astrologer has to deploy his or her acumen and experience to set their own framework. This is not unlike the field of psychotherapy with its common goal but very distinct and diverse methods.



The three-dimensional astronomical reality at birth time and birthplace

The three-dimensional astronomical reality at birth time and birthplace

What is a horoscope? (II)

As we pointed out in the previous section, referring to any form of display or presentation, the artist/author has to heed the basic rule: make a distinction! That also is the case for marking a planet’s position on the ecliptic circle. The ecliptic is divided into twelve segments of 30° each, the so called sun signs, called the zodiac. They represent developmental stages in a logical order thus describing an organic whole that has a beginning and an end, starting in Aries and ending in Pisces.


But a circle has no beginning. We need a criterion. Astronomy bases the signs based on the fixed stars, the visible constellations, as does Indian astrology (sidereal system) while Western astrology takes the vernal equinox as its starting point (tropical system). While both systems once, millennia ago, coincided they now have moved about 24° apart, one degree every 72 years, because of the earth’s axis rotating backwards (precession). So if you take the 23rd Sep as as an example, in a Western horoscope you will find the Sun in 1° Libra, in an Indian horoscope in 6° Virgo. Again, it is not about right or wrong but your preference.



Sidereal-vs-Tropical.png

What is a horoscope? (I)

A common definition is something like: A horoscope is a chart or diagram representing the positions of Sun, Moon and planets and their aspects at the time of an event (birth), these positions being calculated by astronomical calculation. That seems straightforward and should result in a definite chart.


But it doesn’t. The horoscope is an artifact, not a scientific representation. Like any diagram, illustration or schematic drawing it involves the author’s choice of what to include or exclude, and this is true for the horoscope, too.


As to the planets: which ones make the cut? Just the seven heavenly bodies visible with the naked eye and known since antiquity? Or should we also include the three only recently discovered trans-Saturnian planets? What about Chiron, discovered in 1978, a comet/planetoid circling in an eccentric path between Saturn and Uranus, and gaining great popularity among many astrologers who refer to him as the ’Wounded Healer’?


Traditional astrology accounts for basically three aspects between planets: opposition, trine and square, referring to the division of the circle (the ecliptic) by 2 or 3 or 4, and clearly indicating a difficult, helpful or impeding quality, respectively. But what if we divide by 5 and come up with a quintile?  In addition to the Ptolemaic aspects, Kepler not only proposed the quintile (72°) but also the bi-quintile (144°) and the sesqui-quadrate (135°). Are we gaining information or losing clarity by including them? Also: planets only rarely make precise aspects, mostly varying by several degrees. The bigger the radius we allow for each planet to be still effective the more aspects we will get, and vice versa.


The astrologer is the arbiter of choice. Every astrologer will have his or her preferences, resulting in a unique chart. Like painters of a certain landscape will come with different versions, or writers varying in their account of the same event.



Keplers horoscope, drawn by himself; it shows the infinite possibilities at the hand of the astrologer to cast a horoscope; computer printouts would be at the other end of the spectrum.

Keplers horoscope, drawn by himself; it shows the infinite possibilities at the hand of the astrologer to cast a horoscope; computer printouts would be at the other end of the spectrum.

What we see when we read

The writer and illustrator Peter Mendelsund wrote a book that asks us plainly: what do we see when we read? What does our mind conjure when reading a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter? As Oliver Sacks reminds us: “One does not see with the eyes; one sees with the mind.”

I bring up this book because his insights on reading a text can be easily transported to astrology - the chart being seen as text. As the same book will play out differently in each mind, so each chart presents itself differently to each astrologer who has to render the symbolic constellation into a plausible narrative whole. (The client, again, will take in a version of his or her own).

Here are some of his musings plucked from the book.

He notes that we can read novels quickly, as if driving through them, or slowly, as if walking, and have distinct experiences. “The best book for me: I drive through it quickly but am forced to stop at occasion, to pull over and marvel”.

“We perform a book - we perform a reading of a book. We perform a book, and we attend the performance.”

“As in viewing art, there is no ‘innocent eye’. There is no such thing as the naive reception of imagery. Like painters, or writers, we make choices - we have agency.”

He observes that in fables the characters, a fox, a hare, a grasshopper, are transparently generalized types. This “...allows such literary systems to function properly. What is important in these cases is their universal applicability - as opposed to, say, psychological detail.” Astrology partakes in the fable’s richness by presenting its own players: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio…

 

Peter Mendelsund ' What we see when we read', 2014

Peter Mendelsund ' What we see when we read', 2014

Prediction and delusion

Looking for a good time to pull something off? Hoping to beat the odds? Go on dreaming… Nobody and no ‘system’ can tell you anything about what is going to happen. The future is open and unknown. Plain and simple. So one would think. But the temptation to get just some help from the outside is too big, it seems. Has always been. And ‘astrologers’ peddle their goods by pandering to that weakness. First in line, at least in the US, seems to be Susan Miller, to name just one, with her monthly 'forecasts' for each sun sign. What turns out to be, no surprise here, a totally generic artifice bereft of any individual significance, how could it be otherwise. Shameless chuzpah exploiting widespread gullibility. It is an old story.

The-Year-Ahead-2018-Calendar-300x250.jpg

There is no way to trick your lot. Find out what you got and how to work with it. The more you know your character the better. It might not (and probably will not) be all good news but that should not surprise you. This way you start to take your lot in your own hands.

 

How Peirce might be helpful

Many may not ever have heard of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) but he might just be the most original and the most versatile intellect the US has so far produced. He was an innovative force in philosophy and mathematics, developed pragmatism as a method of research, but considered himself, first and foremost, a logician. He was the founder of semiotics, the science of signs and symbols, i.e. how meaning is created and communicated. It is his invention of the triadic sign system that will interest us here. Getting acquainted with this method we might get a better understanding how astrology works.

What is a sign? According to Peirce any thing or phenomenon may be considered a sign. It is always something real, like being able to be noticed by us, we can see it, hear it, touch it. A sign always represents something else, on object (smoke/fire, siren/alarm, flag/country, yawning/boredom etc). The third link is the mediator who brings sign and object into relation, who makes sense of it. All and every experience we have can be traced back to this triad. We are generally just not aware of this intricacy.

 

pierce-triadic-model-1.jpg

As to astrology: Basically, all we ‘have’ is the movement and appearance of the planets and their position to each other. We are not looking at the planet per se (the task of physicists and astronomers) but to some of its singular quality. In Peirce-speak, its qualia. This the interpreter (astrologer) will relate it to its source, its underlying ground, its object, which could be the archetypal realm of the collective unconscious. We must bear in mind that the object can never be accessed by an actual personal experience but is always already mediated by signs. The astrologer’s task is to make sense of the signs perceived and relate them to flesh and blood human experiences in the phenomenal world. For instance, Mars appearing reddish to the eye and with its forceful zodiacal pace calls up the archetype of the Warrior which can be experienced in countless forms (i.e. willful, aggressive, expansive, dynamic). It can also be seen as the sign for the primordial force of cutting/separation/dissonance - in contrast to the corresponding primordial force of binding/union/cohesion as represented by Venus with her brilliant radiance, mild and soothing to behold when perceived as evening or morning star.

We have to keep in mind that a sign in its triadic form is only a sign when interpreted. For those who do not notice a sign nothing will come to mind. For astrology the planetary spectacle of our solar system is regarded as a system of signs to be interpreted by those who see it. That does not mean that every hunch one has will reveal something true, for any research has to be backed by logic and method. Peirce was a pragmatist, and the ultimate test for any interpretation was that it proved itself. It had to work. And that is the test for astrology, too.

(expanded version, October 28)

(See also 'The Astrological Text' in the Blog)

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914)

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914)

Bias - ever present

I came across some writing of the Finnish filmmaker and astrologer Altero Alli, from Portland, OR, reminding us of the well known, but easily forgotten, fact that biases shape all our experiences and perceptions. It is especially important for clients to keep this in mind. I quote (somewhat abbreviated):

"What precedes and underlies even the most skillful reading is something called bias. It should go without saying that all astrological interpretations reflect the subjective bias of the interpreter; the idiosyncratic filter of believes, ethics and values that an astrologer uses to interpret symbols and signs. There can be no such thing as ‘pure information’ or ‘absolute objective truths’ when interpreting an astrology chart. You can grow adamant and impassioned about your point of view (and you may even be right!) but it still remains your way of seeing."

Astrology - a language?

The astrologer Alexander von Schlieffen, from Berlin, Germany, said that when asked by sceptics whether he ‘believes’ in astrology, as ever so often happens, he would counter by asking “Do you ‘believe’ in French (English…)?”. Astrology, he argues, is a language and talking about ‘believing’ makes no sense. This usually will have the effect of leaving the inquirer baffled and astrology seems to be rescued from disrepute to respectable discourse with one bold stroke. Sympathetic to his efforts to give astrology its proper domain, I fear his argument will not do. For, is astrology really a language?

Language requires that there be a speaker and someone spoken to. As to astrology, who would be the speaker? The New Age community came up with ‘the universe’, a cipher so indistinct as to fit everything and nothing. Religions hold the credo that there are various ways  in which God may speak to us. Could the heavenly constellations be interpreted thus?  - The poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) was alluding to this in one of his poems: “... the stars, through which God, in letters well to read, lets man know his lot and fate, through his astral writing on the firmament. But we, crouched in dust and bent by sin, disavow such writing and see it not.” But religious sentiment should not be the basis for astrology.

It may be useful to make the distinction between natural language and formal language.

A natural language is a linguistic system used for communication. It all starts with someone’s intention to say something, it is expressed in one way or another, and a third party understands it (or not). In short: information, utterance, understanding. - In contrast, a formal language is an ordered set of symbols that denote specific meaning. All natural sciences make use of such lingua franca.

Astrology is neither one or the other but partakes in both. The astronomical configuration relies on natural science but interpretation belongs to the humanities which operate in a very different manner. Here the chart serves as a 'text' where meaning is inferred - analogous to a linguistic analysis. The reference to astrology as language, while not literally true, does serve as a useful shorthand to get a grip on the subject. But why not admit that there is indeed a belief underlying the astrological view, namely the Hermetic dictum 'as above, so below'?

(see also 'The astrological text' in the Blog)

(rewritten, Nov.26th )                                        

New Moon/Full Moon chart interpretations

There is this habit of some astrologers to come out every two weeks with a chart depicting the constellation at the time either of the New Moon or Full Moon. This then serves as a template for the author to ruminate about events and tendencies that are ‘in the air’ or to be played out in the near future. And surprise, surprise! What you find in the analysis are exactly the current world (US) affairs put into astrological parlance. The authors have the chutzpah to hold the finger into the wind (i.e. read the New York Times) and then ‘find’ astrological correspondences. Isn’t it amazing how true these forecasts always are? In recent months we were told to be aware of ‘fake news’ and ‘rogue leaders’, that we have to contend with ‘dangerous brinkmanship’ in world affairs and 'ugly violence' erupting locally. The intention behind such efforts is, quite obvious, to give astrology (and the author) more credibility. But you are taken for a ride. This being done in bad faith by practitioners who should know better only compounds the general mistrust towards astrology.

Already logically there are deep flaws in this practice: (1) the moment of New Moon or Full Moon happens at a certain moment in time. But any chart you draw for that moment depends on the geographical position you choose. It is a different chart for New York, a different one for San Francisco, and again different for Beijing. A different chart calls for a different reading. (2) the extent of viability is - by its own concept - only two weeks, a meek amount of time for anything to unfold until the next Solar/Moon interaction occurs, shifting things in a new direction but two weeks down the road… (3) even if entertaining the thought that certain Sun/Moon positions would portend certain tendencies, are they the same for all agents and countries of the Earth, Georgia, Finland, Uruguay, Seychelles...