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 )