Can We Take Astrology Seriously? — Aspects, Horaries, Tee-Squares, Trines
This is part of a series of articles I am publishing on Medium Can We Take Astrology Seriously? These were previously an unpublished book I wrote some time ago, Homage to Patric Walker. This article is chapter 4, which follows the Introduction, part 1 and part 2, chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3.
So, let us now turn to ‘serious’ astrology. With regard to the ‘scientific’ school, as far as I am aware, no-one has made a serious claim to have proved any causal link between the planets and human personality. As I consider this proposition unlikely, and have no way of investigating it myself, I do not propose to discuss it further. I am happy to leave such research to those scientists and astrologers who have an interest in it; if they come up with convincing results, so much the better. As I noted previously, most astrologers do not believe in this idea either; I would therefore prefer to concentrate on what they actually do believe which, on the whole, falls into the ‘spiritual’ school.
I stated in the introduction that I am sympathetic towards Astrology. I arrived at this position because of my personal experience that astrologers do make meaningful statements. I would even go so far as to say that I think that Astrology is probably valid. To arrive at this position it is not necessary to believe that the planets ‘cause’ human personality. It is not even necessary to believe that they ‘correspond’ with each other, even though they might, because Astrology works on its own terms. I therefore want to explore the possibility that it is valid, but not in the way it claims, that there might be an alternative explanation. To clarify what I mean by this, there needs to be a suitable, temporary definition, and mine is the following: Astrology is a discipline that claims to make meaningful statements about the personalities and lives of individuals based upon an interpretation of their birth-chart — and extrapolations from this, for example progressions (1).
Researchers trying to investigate the field from a scientific standpoint have no alternative but to pursue statistical enquiries in order to make generalisations about the properties of the houses, and are therefore operating at the sun-sign level. Studies of this kind, however, bear little relation to how most astrology is actually conducted. To explain this point, let me state something that should be blindingly obvious: neither the sun, nor the moon, nor for that matter any of the planets has ever been present at an astrological consultation. Once we have removed the astronomical bodies from the process, we are left with a client, an astrologer, and a chart or diagram, and the subject matter is one individual’s unrepeatable life situation, about which no generalisations are possible. As Stephen Arroyo says: “Astrology must be seen and used as part of counseling, not as something self-contained and isolated from the intimate dialogues of the helping professions. Astrology, unless it is applied to a specific person and to a specific situation, cannot be used to its full potential” (2, his italics). There is therefore no essential difference between the practice of Astrology, consulting the Tarot cards, the I Ching, or for that matter reading tea-leaves, in that there is some external pattern or design that is interpreted by an ‘expert’ for the benefit of the questioner (3). So in these terms the only ‘proof’ of Astrology that we would need is the subjective opinion of the client that the interpretations are in fact meaningful. By so doing we could separate ourselves from the impossible demands of the scientists. As Robert Hand says: “Independent of the validity of astrology being based on any objectively real physical effects or founded on any real planetary energy that influences human lives, astrology has value” (4).
If astrologers make meaningful statements, and it is my definite experience that they do, how is this achieved? One explanation could be that some kind of psi phenomenon is at work. Telepathy would not seem very likely, but an assimilation of the body and the history of the person could not be ruled out. This was something I have myself experienced during an ESP course I attended in 1980. Some variation of clairvoyance is also possible, sinking into a relaxed state, and using the power of intuition.
I can mention in this context an experience I had several years ago. I had met socially someone who described himself as a psychic, or clairvoyant (I don’t now remember the exact term he used), but at the time he was moving away from that careerwise and was training in hypnotherapy. A few years later I saw an advert of his in a newsagent’s window, and thought that it would be fun to have a consultation, which I arranged by telephone. When I arrived he remembered that he had seen me before, but could not remember exactly where. By this time he was a practising hypnotherapist, but agreed to give me a psychic reading, as this was what interested me. I now remember three phases of the session, although there may have been others. He began by reading my aura, and telling me some things about my medical history. We then did a Tarot reading. Everything that he said during these first two phases was impressive, to the extent that I had no doubt that he had a real talent for this work. At one point, however, he said that he did not really need any of these external aids, and that he might just as well say “whatever came into his head”, as he felt that he had tuned into me. He then carried on and made several more accurate statements about my life and relationships, which included items that astrologers had also said in relation to my birth chart, and this without any external aid apart from my presence in the room (5).
So it seems possible that certain human beings can know about the personal life of others purely by ‘intuition’. How would this be achieved? In the ESP experiments we were asked to sink into a relaxed state. This would seem to be equivalent to the alpha brainwave state, not the normal, more active waking state (beta). This was when the experiments worked best. Access to intuition or to clairvoyance would therefore be most likely in this alpha-state. So if, as an exception to the normal state, someone had this brain-wave pattern naturally, or had managed to achieve it through some process of biofeedback, then he or she presumably would be able to operate at a psychic level more or less constantly. This may in fact be part of the description of what it means to be ‘psychic’, an idea which seems to be confirmed by the work of J. B. Rhine, one of the pioneers of ESP research: “The results of the tests on individuals were uneven. Some were negative insofar as the number of correct ‘guesses’ was below probability. On the other hand, other tests went far beyond the probability figure. In this regard, the conclusion seems to suggest itself that certain individuals — perhaps certain ‘types’ of individuals — are better able to function in the parapsychic situation” (6) and (for interesting examples, footnote 7).
The idea that some type of ESP may be at work is reflected in the writings of astrologers. For example Cordelia Mansall says: “The astrologer must conjure up his inner resources to confront both himself and the person in the birth-chart. The astrologer must allow self-expression to flow freely… Principles cannot be put to use until they are felt by heart, mind and spirit. Books and teachers…are meant as guides until sufficient confidence is acquired to depend upon the only tools that are really needed, your ephemeris and yourself ” (8).
Margaret Hone is more cautious, but nevertheless recognizes the importance of this factor: “Astrology is NOT an innate ABILITY, such as clairvoyance or psychometry or telepathy. (It must here be stated that many practitioners who have such abilities cannot help but use them as is their natural manner, thus adding intuitively gained detail to their work, which they themselves would explain to be ‘extra’ to astrological deduction” (9) and (10).
The situation seems to be the same in sun-sign astrology, for even if we grant the existence of some cosmic energy which influences a whole group, the question still remains, how does Jonathan Cainer (see chapter 3) get in touch with it and manage to express it, given that — as he admits — he doesn’t understand how he achieves what he does. In his letter to me Cainer refers to his use of “intuition”, and in the Guardian interview he talks about “getting into a meditative state”. So is it possible that by getting into the relaxed ESP state, and just saying ‘what comes into one’s head’, one can articulate the meaning of an energy arriving, according to one line of astrological thinking, from distant parts of the solar system? The most likely answer is of course ‘no’, but that is what eminent astrologer Dane Rudhyar seems to be referring to here: “What is implied in this is the power to deal with situations or living entities as wholes… It is instinct at the unconscious level. It is intuition, or holistic perception, or ‘clair-seeing’ (not ordinary clairvoyance) at the conscious level. It is the power to see universal life-patterns at work in the functioning of particular organisms or processes” (11).
If it is a valid argument that natal astrology is meaningful whether or not it relates to the planets, it can be put in the same family as psychoanalysis, a way of understanding the inner dynamics of the personality (12). To state this in Jungian terms, a horoscope would be the plan of the individuation process. It is not hard to find statements by astrologers supporting this train of thought:
Mayo/Ramsdale: “The profound and verifiable truth about astrology is that through its basic astronomical formulae one can learn the intricate psychological structure of one’s own being and trace the deep-seated drives and motives behind one’s own behaviour. Its value to parents, social welfare and probation officers, teachers, psychologists, the medical profession — in fact to all who seek truth and understanding of the complexities and contradictions within an individual’s personality — is inestimable” (13).
Cordelia Mansall: “The birth chart is the representation of the principle that it is within the capacity of each of us to make greater use of our individual life force and is, therefore, evocative of our potential to be all that we are capable of becoming” (14).
Margaret Hone: “Each planet seems to represent in the person, a certain drive or urge in the unconscious. He is subject to its compulsion but the more he becomes consciously aware of it, the better he can deal with it, for the sake of attaining his own self-understanding and his resultant ability to become a happy member of society” (15).
Lindsay River and Sally Gillespie make the clearest statement about Astrology as therapy: “The birth chart shows that qualities we thought we lacked are there within the psyche, though buried… Astrology can help to make changes real by describing the parts of ourselves that are as yet unfamiliar, and suggesting the nature of the blocks we have to our own growth”. Later on the same page they say: “Every birth chart is a map not only of the self as it is but of opportunity for development” (16).
In these terms Astrology shares the same aims as, and may therefore be seen as a variation of, Gestalt Therapy, Psychosynthesis, Inner Voice work, and Analytical Psychology. If it is a useful tool in these areas, that is still without reference to any astronomical body, only to charts and diagrams. If Astrology were only that, then it would have to be considered a projection of inner realities into the outside world . Since the subject matter of Astrology is very often the life and development of individuals, this statement by Edward Edinger — a prominent Jungian analyst — would seem to be relevant: “The process of individuation often expresses itself in symbolic images of a metaphysical nature” (17). As projection is a well-recognized phenomenon in the world of therapy, this would perhaps make Astrology more acceptable to the sceptic. The uncomfortable fact remains, however, that when the birth-chart is constructed, it is based upon the actual positions of the planets in the sky, so that on the face of it there is a correspondence between the inner world of the psyche and the external world of matter. This is the point at which most people start to find Astrology hard to accept, and also where my ‘alternative explanation’ theory starts to founder. It is therefore the point at which this investigation must start getting serious.
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(1) if unfamiliar with this term, check out The Progressed Birth Chart — Tarot.com
(2) Astrology, Karma and Transformation, CRCS, 1992, p242
(3) In the case of the I Ching the expert is of course a text rather than a human being, and this could also be the case with the Tarot cards if one consulted books containing standard interpretations for answers to one’s own questions. The situation with graphology and palmistry is similar except, of course, that the pattern has a more direct relationship with the questioner.
(4) The Future of Astrology, A. T. Mann (editor) Unwin Hyman, 1987, p23
(5) In the ESP experiments in which I participated the recipient was asked to report “whatever came into their heads”.
(6) Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, Ira Progoff, Julian Press, 1973, p100, referring to Rhine’s New World of the Mind
(7) Compare Louis MacNeice: “There are the rare few astrologers who can look at a map of the heavens as they supposedly were at the moment of your birth and tell you what kind of person you are, and even what seems to be in store for you in the future. This, then, must be intuition, combined with experience and with a highly developed ability to assess people’s characters (these rare astrologers seldom stoop to blind diagnosis). In such cases the horoscope seems to function as merely a kind of ‘focusing point’ for the intuition”. (Astrology, Aldus, 1964, p261).
Charles Harvey tells of the even more extraordinary talent of one Henri Moricond who at the end of a social gathering was able to tell everyone present the exact year, month, day and time of day of their births. He comments: “Moricond’s virtuoso performance…reflects the fact that each one of us literally ‘speaks our chart’ in every aspect of our life from our physical appearance, dress, gesture, and voice, to our opinions, attitudes, aspirations and actions” (as footnote 4, p71). Is that pure observation, or could intuition or psi be involved?
Marie-Louise von Franz has a very interesting story to tell in support of this idea. She visited a famous palmist, who told her accurate information from her past, even down to an operation she had had two years previously. She managed to pin him down to an explanation of his ability: “He told me that he was a medium and that when a person came into the room to consult him, he knew all about him; he just knew it, but did not know what he knew, and this whole performance with the cracks and the handlines was to bring up the knowledge that he had. In that way he could project his unconscious knowledge into these lines and inform his client, so they were a catalyzer to make him conscious of what he already knew”. Von Franz comments: “The unconscious knows things; it knows the past and future, it knows things about other people… A medium is a person who has a closer relationship, one might say a gift, by which to relate to the absolute knowledge of the unconscious” (On Divination and Synchronicity, Inner City, 1980, p39). Astrologers might be doing exactly the same thing, using the birth-chart to help them bring up their unconscious knowledge.
(8) Discover Astrology, the Aquarian Press, 1991, p139
(9) The Modern Text book of Astrology, L.N. Fowler, 1978, p16
(10) This does not seem to be a new idea, for Ptolemy, the grandfather of Western astrology, begins his Centrilop: “Every judgment arrived at by an astrologer must be the result of his intuition and his science.”
Michael Baigent also notes: “Considerable creative flexibility was condoned in omen interpretation, a flexibility which is also found in astrology” (From the Omens of Babylon, Arkana, 1994, p43).
The astrologer who has pursued this avenue further than any other is Geoffrey Cornelius. Whereas critics would say that, if astrologers’ success is attributable to intuition and ESP, then that would disprove Astrology, he goes the opposite way and says that this is actually what Astrology is. Discussing his belief that there is some other element involved in the practice of Astrology he says: “Usually when this conclusion is reached, a vague mention is made of ‘intuition’ and the analysis of the phenomenon is taken no further… (But) far from being the end of discussion this has to be the place where we begin” (The Moment of Astrology, Arkana. 1994 p59). I shall be discussing his ideas in more detail later.
(11) The Astrology of Personality, Dane Rudhyar, Servire/Wassenaar, 1963, p172
(12) Compare Dennis Elwell: “The least that could be claimed is that since astrology has been projected from the human mind in this organic way, it cannot do other than reflect the nature of that mind. Because of this intimacy we can expect it to be inherently suited to be a vehicle for the comprehension and discussion of the operations of the psyche.
“We will look briefly at two such areas where the benefits of astrology do not depend on any actual link between the heavens and the earth. The first is in the counselling of psychotherapy situation…” (The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999 p216).
(13) Teach Yourself Astrology, Jeff Mayo and Christine Ramsdale, Hodder Headline, 1996, Pvi
(14) Discover Astrology, the Aquarian Press, 1991, p29
(15) as (9), p19
(16) The Knot of Time, Lindsay River and Sally Gillespie, Women’s Press Ltd., 1987, pp9–10
(17) Ego and Archetype, Shambhala Publications, 1972, p197