Astrology — Reflections on the Birth Moment
This was originally the first appendix to part 2 of my book on astrology Homage to Patric Walker. However, since I ended the previous article (chapter 9, the first chapter in part 2) with a hypothesis about how Astrology works, it seems appropriate to publish it next. For a guide with links to all that has preceded, please see the Introduction, or the bottom of this page on my website.
Ironically, even though natal astrology places such supreme importance upon the exact timing of the moment of birth, understanding what actually happens around that time is one of the most difficult issues to come to terms with.
My hypothesis (as outlined at the end of the previous article) states that the cosmos and the personality of the new-born child correspond to each other. Which way round is it, however? As I have expressed it, one might conclude that the cosmos somehow imprints itself on the personality of the baby. In the past some astrologers have concurred with this — saying in effect that our character and destiny are “written in the stars”. It also sounds like some scientists who ignorantly say that astrologers claim that the position of planets causes human personality. My hypothesis does not actually say that, however, and remains neutral on the question. The most commonly held opinion among modern astrologers is in fact the opposite, and seemingly more bizarre, conclusion that the cosmos somehow corresponds to the personality of the baby.
A scientific explanation.
This deduction has been made partly in response to the work of Michel Gauquelin (discussed in part 1), who has expended much time and energy trying to understand this problem. Astrologers claim that birth, usually identified as the first breath, is the significant moment. This presents a difficulty for scientists like him in that they think that the moment of conception should be more important, the genetic blueprint supposedly forming the embryonic personality at that stage. He says: “The child comes into the world fully formed, with all its potential gifts inherited from its parents’ (1). Therefore any relationship with the planets would apparently be more significant at conception. If Astrology still works by reference to the birth-time, as his findings in fact showed, a possible conclusion would be that personality is changed in some way at the moment of birth in response to planetary positions. Gauquelin, probably quite reasonably, resists this, saying that “it is hard to accept that a planet, acting on the chromosome structure of the cells, should shake them up and redistribute them in such a way as to give a decisive orientation to its character” (ibid. p143). He suggests instead that there must be some meaningful connecting link between conception and birth; it could not be just a random process.
He therefore set out to discover how childbirth starts, and what role if any the foetus plays in it. This last idea had no support when he started his research, but about that time the tide turned. He quotes Professor Robert Debré, Dr. G. S. Dawes, Dr. G. C. Liggins and Dr. Fritz Fuchs (both professors of gynaecology and obstetrics), who all suggest in their own words that the foetus plays a big part in the onset of labour. If Astrology is true therefore, the suggestion must be that there is a theoretically ideal birth-time related to, perhaps determined by, the moment of conception. The foetus somehow knows this unconsciously and seeks to be born at the right time in order to fulfil its nature. Gauquelin expresses the idea like this: “The foetus at term would be endowed with a ‘planetary sensibility’, which would stimulate its entry into the world at a given moment in the daily course of this or that planet, rather than at some other time. This planetary sensibility would be of genetic origin, and the planet itself would not modify the organism of the new born child. Instead, it would act as the ‘trigger’, the ‘activator’ in parturition, while its position in the sky would simply reflect the psychobiological temperament of the child” (ibid. p146) (2).
If this theory is correct, it would suggest that when there is medical interference, for example a Caesarian birth or the introduction of chemicals, any astrological effect should be diminished or removed completely. Gauquelin found that this was in fact the case: “Medical interference annihilates the influence of the cosmic indicator” (p147).
Of the astrologers that I have studied, John Addey has discussed the issue in the most depth. He broadly accepts Gauquelin’s findings, saying: “It might be true to say that as long as one is satisfied with an explanation in terms of the mechanisms of the process, Gauquelin comes as near as anyone to offering a more or less intelligible account of what lies behind the association between cosmic conditions, the time of birth and the temperament of the native” (3). He also agrees with his conclusion, saying: “One sometimes hears the question asked: How can the hour of my birth possibly affect what I am? The answer of course is that it does not — it is what one is that affects the time of birth”. This does not of course mean that the baby is somehow imprinting itself on the cosmos, rather, “there are forces at work which attract, as it were, the birth to an appropriate symbolic moment in time — like attracting like” (p179) (4).
Also, Dennis Elwell, commenting on the “fact that the horoscope is able to symbolise events that happened before birth” says that it “knocks on the head the idea that astrological effects come about because some sort of imprinting takes place at birth” (5). Since Addey and Elwell start from a diametrically opposed world-view to Gauquelin, and arrive at the same conclusion, it is reasonable to think that we must have solved this particular problem.
A spiritual explanation.
Gauqelin’s train of thought still leaves many questions unanswered. He is not even investigating Astrology as astrologers understand it, namely the obtaining of a complete picture of the person at the moment of birth; he is merely attempting to explain the limited findings of his own research. He nevertheless has to account for the effect, and, in accordance with his usual tendency, speculates about electromagnetism etc. Needless to say, he never tries to explain how such phenomena could achieve the effect of making someone more likely to be an athlete. The problem is that he is seeking to understand astrological effects purely from the standpoint of science, and in his case this means an exclusively materialistic perspective. He concedes: “I am confronted with the vast difficulty of trying to propose a coherent scientific model capable of accounting for my observations” (6). This is fascinating on two counts. On the one hand it reveals how biassed he is against spiritual explanations. On the other he is admitting how extremely hard it is to explain even his limited astrology from the scientific standpoint. From my spiritual point of view, as outlined in chapter 9 (the previous article), it is actually impossible to understand definitively what happens around the birth-moment, given that so much of the process takes place at the levels of spirit and psyche beyond the universe with which we are familiar. Such an idea would be anathema to Gauquelin, and he settles for a bizarre theory which tries to incorporate heredity into the planetary scheme. Again his words are revealing: “If a physical explanation of the phenomenon is absolutely necessary, it seems to me that the only approach is to link it with the role of heredity” (also p143). Why is a physical explanation absolutely necessary? He is in effect admitting the folly of this theory by saying that it was created to fit in with his pre-existing world-view, which denies any spiritual perspective.
According to the great spiritual traditions the personality and life-outline of every incarnating soul is planned before birth. From this perspective Gauquelin is clearly making some gross assumptions in his thinking, for example: “The child comes into the world fully formed, with all its potential gifts inherited from its parents”. He cannot know this for certain, but on the other hand he cannot help but think like that, given his materialistic standpoint. The statement is ludicrously inaccurate, however, from the point of view of spirituality, in which gifts are not necessarily inherited from parents, nor are they determined at the moment of conception. I also wonder what Gauquelin would make of this statement by Ram Dass: “Some beings enter this trip at the moment of conception, others at the moment of birth” (7).
Although I subscribe to the spiritual viewpoint, I am not trying to make a judgment as to which view is correct; I merely wish to point out that Gauquelin’s whole theory is based upon unproven assumptions which he treats as undeniable facts. Nevertheless, he does seem to have been right to stress the role of the moment of conception. What then are we to make of astrologers insistence on the importance of the moment of birth, usually identified with the first breath ? Are they just fudging the issue, confronted by the overwhelming difficulty of pinpointing the moment of conception, or is there something to what they say?
Many astrologers subscribe to a spiritual viewpoint like the one I have just described, and would therefore say that Gauquelin does not have a full grasp of the issues. Not all spiritual teachers go as far as Ram Dass, however. Z’ev Ben Shimon Halevi, for example, says: “At the moment of birth a particular set of spiritual and psychological circumstances are concretized into the body and physical situation that that spirit-soul emerges into at that moment” (8). If I paraphrase this, Halevi seems to be saying that the nine months gestation period is a gradual process of integration of soul and body beginning at conception, the first breath thus representing the end of that process. Again this is a possible scenario, a reasonable defence of the birth-moment, and one which Gauquelin has clearly not taken into account.
From any spiritual perspective Gauquelin is overestimating the importance of conception. Many astrologers will also say that the birth-moment is symbolic, a concept that he would find incomprehensible, but which fits perfectly with my thinking in this book, for example chapter 7. Thus Cordelia Mansall, while acknowledging that some astrologers do try to work with the time of conception, says: “The first cry is deemed the most significant since it is at that moment when the infant draws upon life-giving oxygen thereby making the statement, ‘I partake of the substance and life of the planet’ and formulating the commitment to be all that he or she is capable of becoming. The birth chart is the record of that commitment written in cosmic language” (9).
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(1) The Truth about Astrology, Basil Blackwell, 1983, p143
(2) Compare T. Glynn, discussing the work of Dr. Eugen Jonas: “Jonas discovered that at the time of birth, the baby is at the peak of his metabolic cycle and actually causes its own birth by releasing adrenalin into the mother’s bloodstream. His experiments indicated that this peak always occurs at the same sun-moon angle for each individual. The most logical explanation for this phenomenon is that the embryo has an inherent personality… The time of birth is then precipitated by the planetary alignments that most strongly influence the baby. Therefore, your birth chart really shows the planetary alignments to which you are most sensitive”. (quoted in Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements, Stephen Arroyo, CRCS, 1975, p36)
(3) A New Study of Astrology, Urania Trust, 1996, p64, his italics
(4) In the original the rest of the quotation was italicised.
(5) The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999, p140
(6) as footnote 1, also p143
(7) Grist for the Mill, Wildwood House, 1978, p40
(8) The Anatomy of Fate, Penguin, 1995, p66
(9) Discover Astrology, Aquarian Press, 1991, p20. Compare this statement by Dane Rudhyar: “Cosmically speaking, every moment of the universe can thus be realized as a cosmic symbol revealing the quality of the moment, and the soul of the Cosmos”. (The Astrology of Personality, Servire/Wassenaar, 1963, p78)