Can We Take Astrology Seriously? — Introduction, part 1
Nearly twenty years ago, I wrote a book exploring the possibility that there might be something meaningful in Astrology, despite the ridicule that is often heaped upon it, especially by rationalist, “scientific” sceptics. I did not have any particular intention to publish it; it was more a challenge to myself to see if and how well I could write. Having completed it, I therefore did nothing with it, and it has remained in unopened folders on my computer.
The arrival of Medium, however, now provides the opportunity to share my thoughts on the subject. I recognise that, in the meantime, the topic has been dealt with in greater depth by Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche, and especially Keiron Le Grice’s The Archetypal Cosmos. I think, however, that there is still enough original material in my work to make it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in exploring this topic.
Since writing the original, I have come across further material which would be worthy of inclusion. I have decided, however, to leave the text as it was originally, with only some minor editing. Even though it may not be the final word on the subject, it can hopefully be seen as a useful stepping stone in the exploration of this mysterious but intriguing subject.
I’ll publish it on Medium chapter by chapter.
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This is the epigram for the complete book:
“My position in these matters is pragmatic, and the great disciplines that have taught me the practical usefulness of this viewpoint are psychotherapy and medical psychology. Probably in no other field do we have to reckon with so many unknown quantities, and nowhere else do we become more accustomed to adopting methods that work even though for a long time we may not know why they work…
In the exploration of the unconscious we come upon very strange things, from which a rationalist turns away with horror, claiming afterward that he did not see anything. The irrational fullness of life has taught me never to discard anything, even when it goes against all our theories, or otherwise admits of no immediate explanation. It is of course disquieting, and one is not certain whether the compass is pointing true or not; but security, certitude, and peace do not lead to discoveries”.
Carl Gustav Jung, Preface to the I Ching, (1)
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This book is intended primarily for the general reader who is interested in exploring the issues surrounding Astrology, but who knows nothing about it. That was an exact description of me before I started researching. My intention is to delve into psychological, scientific, spiritual, and philosophical areas, the main purpose being to defend Astrology. You should therefore not read it if your purpose is to learn about astrological practice and technique. The advantage of this is that you can rest assured that you do not need to know any in order to read it.
It includes only as much of the history as is necessary to make my points. Nevertheless, I have made an effort to include material which will go some way to making the book a survey, dare I say a small encyclopedia, of Astrology, and the current state of astrological thinking. I hope that by the end you will feel that you have a clear grasp of the issues; your decision whether or not you then accept Astrology will at least be well-informed.
Other readers who have already had some training, or who are already well read in psychology etc., will almost certainly be familiar with some of my material and the arguments presented. I wanted, however, to write from scratch for a hypothetical reader who knows nothing at all about the issues. Therefore please feel free to skim or omit chapters if you find nothing new for you in them. I hope that there will still be much to interest you, especially in Part III. In any case you may be interested to see how an outsider approaches these issues which are already familiar to you.
The possibility that there might be something “in” Astrology first occurred to me in 1980. I had been through an extraordinary period, that was in effect a religious conversion. The various elements involved were: Analytical (i.e. Jungian) Psychology including its emphasis on dream analysis, Psychosynthesis (2), ESP, powerful synchronistic events, and the I Ching. Later that year a friend, who had introduced me to Psychosynthesis and the I Ching, invited me to a lecture about Astrology, a subject that already interested him. My sole memory of the evening was the speaker’s statement that during one’s twenty-ninth year Saturn returns to the same position as at one’s birth, which precipitates an inner need to deal with all the unresolved issues of one’s life (3). He described Saturn, therefore, as the planet of “unfinished business”. This bowled me over, as it described perfectly what had happened to me earlier that year.
A discovery like this would normally have thrown me into a period of intensive study; if something seemed to be “true” I would immediately want to know all about it. Fortunately, as a result of my psychological experiences that year, I was more in tune with myself and had developed more self-awareness. At the time I did not feel much like studying, and understood that it was not possible to know everything, and that it was OK to leave some things to others. I therefore decided not to pursue it.
Since that time my interest in Astrology has followed two paths. On the one hand I have had my birth-chart drawn up and interpreted, and occasionally had some progressions (4) commented upon, but only by amateurs, that is to say friends who have done some study. The results, however, have always been extremely impressive. On the other hand I have also been deeply impressed by the accuracy of some newspaper astrologers, in particular Patric Walker until his death, and more recently Jonathan Cainer. Patric Walker wrote a daily column in the Evening Standard for several years, and although I did not buy it on a daily basis, every time that it crossed my path so to speak, for example, looking over someone’s shoulder on a crowded tube-train or left lying on a seat, I always thought that his comments were extremely appropriate to my life-situation. He subsequently wrote a weekly column in the Radio Times, which I did study every issue for an extended period, and again his comments always seemed to be unnervingly accurate.
I also remember an occasion when I was attending a training course for a part-time job. Another participant was an aspiring professional astrologer; during a conversation we had she singled Walker out as the one important newspaper astrologer. Furthermore, while preparing for writing this book, I thought that I should explore whether any research into the accuracy of newspaper astrology had been attempted, in case I was going over old ground. I had a conversation with a friend of my wife, an amateur student of Astrology. Having asked her whether she knew of any such research, her reply was “there isn’t any, because it doesn’t work,” although on a previous occasion, which she may have temporarily forgotten, she had spoken favorably about the columns of Patric Walker. During the ensuing conversation she told me that she attends meetings of the Astrological Lodge of London — a forum rather than a college for (serious) astrologers. She told me that the impression she has formed from various conversations there is that they are quite impressed by Jonathan Cainer, and previously by Patric Walker.
So there seems to be a kind of consensus, some circumstantial evidence to back up my own impression, that Patric Walker was a talented newspaper (that is to say “sun-sign”) astrologer. Critics normally say that the statements in these columns are deliberately vague so that almost anyone could read something into them. That may be true in certain cases, but I have to say that to me the statements were not vague, that I could pinpoint exactly what in my life was being referred to. How could this be? Did other Taureans have the same experience? Or, for that matter, all people under other signs? If they did what would this mean?
It was therefore with some interest that I came across an article in the Independent on Sunday of December 31st 1995 in which the famous biologist and dedicated atheist, Richard Dawkins, launched a vituperative attack upon Astrology, declaring that it is “an aesthetic affront. Scientific truth is too beautiful to be sacrificed for money or entertainment”. In his conclusion he wonders why astrologers are not prosecuted for false representation under the Trade Descriptions Act, driven out of business, and jailed for fraud.
His article was itself a response to a previous piece in the same newspaper by Justine Picardie entitled Spinning After Patric’s Star, which he quotes as follows: “When the late, great (sic) Patric Walker died, it wasn’t just his billion readers — or his income — that attracted his aspirant successors; it was his reputation as the Henry James of horoscope writers, as the man who’d made the trade respectable”. In the same vein he criticizes her for describing Walker as eminent “without irony”. He himself goes on to describe Walker as a “dead charlatan”.
I was somewhat outraged by this attack. Dawkins was clearly entitled to his opinion, but from his general tenor it seemed obvious that he had done minimal, if any, research into the subject — he had not bothered to find out what astrologers actually believe and say — which he presumably felt would be beneath his dignity. In effect he was being given a two-page spread in a national newspaper in order to air his prejudices. For some time I considered writing some kind of article in response, but it did not seem especially urgent as I had no obvious outlet for it. Then suddenly I had the idea that, as my profession is musician and songwriter, the obvious medium of expression for my ideas should be a song. So I wrote Homage to Patric Walker, which is part of a song-cycle called Time for a New Paradigm (5). Some time after having done that, I had the further idea that there was no reason why I should not write my response anyway; this would have the advantage of making the ideas clearer. At that time I thought it would probably be not much longer than Dawkins’ article. During the process of researching and writing, as you will discover, it has grown somewhat.
I therefore start from the position of having had repeated experiences that astrologers make meaningful statements (for some interesting examples provided by others, see footnote 6), and assume that there must be some reason for this. To a certain extent this is irritating, because part of me would rather just get on with my life. The opposite part of me feels intrigued, however, so that I want to understand, and am therefore going to explore the issues.
As I write this introduction, I have already written much of what follows. I can now see what I could not have seen before I started, namely that in the past, let’s say a hundred years ago, the right language was not available to anyone wishing to defend Astrology against the sceptics. However, given the great advances in psychological and scientific knowledge that have been made in the twentieth century (Jung and quantum physics), it is now possible to examine meaningfully the old controversy of Astrology, and address once more the two perennial questions: does it work, and if so, how does it work?
Because Astrology seems meaningful, I am going to make a case for it. Let me say in advance that I will not prove it; I do not think such a thing is possible. I am going to imagine a situation analogous to a legal trial. Astrology stands accused and is in the dock. I have been appointed as the defense counsel. I suspect that my client is innocent, but I cannot be absolutely sure, I only have its word for it. My job is of course to present the best case possible, to try to convince the jury. My client deserves nothing less.
In this scenario Richard Dawkins would be someone throwing bricks at the police-van arriving at court, without having even heard the evidence. Thus another way of looking at this book is my report on the research that I think Dawkins should have done before writing his article. Because I shall be “making a case”, you will perhaps at times feel that I am showing bias. I shall try to avoid this and make my investigation objective; I want to make a good case, which it would not be if I were unfair. You see, I am a defense counsel with integrity; I would not want my client to be set free if guilty. To show my good intentions in this regard I am going to tell you at the outset exactly where I stand. I am not myself an astrologer and would not know where to begin if asked to construct a birth-chart, although I am fascinated by the issues Astrology raises and am sympathetic towards it. My basic worldview is that of a Jungian.
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I hope you are enjoying my articles. I have written much on other subjects apart from Astrology. For a full list it is easiest to visit my website (click here). They are also available at Medium, if you look at my profile.
(1) I Ching, tr. Richard Wilhelm, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968, Pxxxiv
(2) Roberto Assagioli’s system of Transpersonal Psychology
(3) an idea that I have subsequently come across in more than one astrological text
(4) current developments related to the horoscope
(5) The song-cycle is on Youtube (grahampemberton1), played on acoustic guitar. I do not currently have an acoustic guitar version of this song, so that it is missing there. The lyrics are available, however, on my website grahampemberton.com (click here). It may be hard upon reading them to imagine how they could be made into a song. It’s best to think of them as a kind of rap.
(6) I thus find myself in the same position as Henry Miller who “does not claim to live by it, but admits to finding ‘disturbing accuracies in everything that concerns astrology’ ” (quoted in Astrology by Louis MacNeice, Aldus, 1964, p11). The key word is “disturbing”. The astrological statements to which I have referred have intruded into my life in such a way that they leave me no peace. The author comments: “In spite of all the arguments against astrology… the fact remains that some accomplished astrologers (and there are a few) have the unexplained ability to analyze accurately a person’s character and personality as it is revealed in the horoscope’s cosmic symbolism” (ibid. p260). Here is one of his examples:
Astrologer Evangeline Adams “was arrested for fortune telling and, instead of buying herself off with a fine, elected to stand trial. She appeared in court loaded with reference books, explained how she made her forecasts, and then capped theory with practice by reading from a birth date of a person unknown to her, who happened to be the judge’s son. The judge concluded that: ‘The defendant raises astrology to the dignity of an exact science’ ” (ibid. p196).
A similar story is told by J. A.West and J.G. Toonder: “The English astrologer, Ingrid Lind, appeared on television analysing ‘blind’ the characters and histories of four persons unknown to her. So accurate were her readings that a number of journalists reviewing the programme paid her the supreme compliment of doubting the honesty of the experiment”. (The Case for Astrology, Macdonald & Co., 1970, p212).
As further evidence I can also give an example of a friend of mine who was experiencing some personal difficulties, and on impulse consulted an astrologer, a famous one as it happens, although she had no previous interest or belief apart from occasionally reading her horoscope in the newspaper. She went through the normal procedure, submitting her birth time and place in advance so that a chart could be drawn up. When she attended the session she was amazed at several precise statements made within the first few minutes regarding her parents, and their relationship, and others later about herself. These statements were based exclusively on the chart; no questions were asked to try to glean information or to see how well the astrologer was doing. My friend was so impressed that she began to read up about Astrology. Her partner, who was completely sceptical beforehand, describing the planned consultation as a complete waste of money, having heard the tape of the session was also “very impressed”.