Monday, 24 October 2016

Astrology, The Theory

I was recently asked about my approach to astrology and thought it might be interesting, not least to myself, to express my understanding of it here.

My attitude to astrology is mixed. I believe there is a correlation between the position of the planets at birth and a person’s character but I don't know what is at the root of this, and I don't think anyone else does either. But I believe there is this link because I have seen evidence for it in many cases, starting with my own and then moving on to people I knew well and then to people I didn't know at all. In one case I did an astrological interpretation of the birth chart of someone I knew only as a friend of a friend. I hadn't met her and didn't even know her name though I did know her age, of course. She was surprised at the accuracy of it and that was certainly not down to any skill I might have had but was the power of astrology itself. I simply translated what was there. Inevitably some of what I said was off target but that's because we all manifest our horoscope in an individual way. Human beings are not machines and there are other factors involved in our make up besides the astrological. Specifically, heredity, environment and upbringing and also the pattern and quality of the soul or higher self which, as far as I know, is not revealed in astrology. As this higher or pre-incarnate self is generally not even acknowledged, that's not altogether surprising. Still, despite all these other influencing factors of which I was unaware, there was apparently more right than wrong in the interpretation. There was certainly enough for the person to recognise herself.

What this amounts to is that astrology is as much an art as a science. It definitely contains elements of both. So to do a proper interpretation of someone’s chart it helps to have context, i.e. to know a bit about the subject. Then you can interpret the symbols, and astrology is basically a symbol system, in the way that is applicable to that particular person. And that will be unique. So the planets in their signs affect him but he also affects the way they affect him. It is not a deterministic thing but a blend of freedom (the individual) and necessity (the planets in the signs, houses and so on), and the astrologer has to work out how these interact, using his intelligence certainly but also, and to a degree, his intuition. No wonder this seemingly loose way of doing things perplexes those who restrict themselves to a purely rational view of the world. Astrology is not something that is universally repeatable and means the same thing in the same way every time, but something that works more on an individual basis, though this does not mean anything goes. Rather it's a question of seeing how the specific elements revealed in the horoscope adapt themselves in a particular context.

As for how it works nobody really knows but the fact is it does appear to do so. I would say the evidence for it is strong but it is not overwhelming and it is unlikely ever to be proved in the way that science likes proof, though some have tried using statistics, probability and such like. The results are suggestive but never entirely convincing, and consequently one can't deny that there is an element of choice as regards belief or disbelief. But then that is true for many things and, on the whole, the evidence for astrology is good enough to have convinced many by no means stupid people (who have actually made a serious study of it) that there is something in it.  But, as I say, how it works is a mystery. Whether it's because the planets influence us through some psychic equivalent of a force they give out like magnetism or gravity. Or because each moment of time has a particular quality of its own which is reflected in both the planetary positions and the mind of a new-born child so the position of the planets would be like the hands of a cosmic clock, telling the time not causing it. Or is it something else entirely that provides the link?

My initial interest in astrology was on a poetic/mythological level. The beauty and sense of cosmic order it possesses are most impressive, and when you explore its symbols you see they have an archetypal quality that can lead us into deeper levels of meaning than are normally accessible to the rational mind ploughing its own furrow. Thus astrology can be a key to opening up the imagination and revealing the treasure trove within. So merely as an art form it is worthwhile. But then when I explored it as a means of character analysis I found that it really does help to explain a person, and to understand that person's motivations and ways of being. How he expresses himself, how he approaches the world, how his emotions work or don't work and all sorts of other things, including how he might respond to other people and the nature of his relationships. This is most useful in terms of getting to know oneself, and, because one's birth chart is an objective fact (and this is undeniable as it shows the pattern of the sky when you were born), you can't just dismiss it as you might be able to do if someone told you an unpalatable home truth about yourself. If you have a lot of Leo in your chart you must accept that you could sometimes be a bit bossy and dominating and therefore watch out for that. If you have the Sun in hard aspect to Neptune you must accept that you could have escapist tendencies and so be on your guard against those. These placings also have their positive side so this is where you could use an astrological understanding of your birth chart creatively. By understanding what it means you can cultivate the good and watch out for the, shall we just say, not so good. Astrology is actually quite complicated when you bring all the elements together and it can even take into account the contradictions in a person’s character. Once you understand these areas of conflict it can help you to deal with them. So I do think it can be a very effective tool of self-understanding.

That's astrology as far as character analysis is concerned. The other side to it is prediction and this seems to be what most people want from it. But I don’t have any interest in this branch of astrology. For one thing, I'm not sure it is right to try to know the future in this way. It seems an irreligious attitude. My feeling is that God gives us what we need from within and to try to use technique or technology to force the issue is an unspiritual approach akin to trying to steal fire from heaven. It's a wicked generation that looks for a sign and all that. But also, and on a more practical level, I just don’t think predictive astrology works very well. Maybe if we understood a good deal more about the techniques involved then it would but even then I think it could only predict potential patterns not actual realities. We shouldn't forget that astrology is a symbol system and symbols can be interpreted in many ways, all of which may be true in an inner sense but could be wildly different in their external workings out. From a personal perspective I have found that certain events in my life do seem to have been reflected in the planetary movements of the time but many others have not. There have been times when apparently major events in my life have occurred but there's been nothing untoward going on in the heavens, and there have also been significant transits of planetary conjunctions to natal positions when nothing significant seems to have happened. So both from the point of view of spiritually correct behaviour and from that of simple accuracy I would not put too much faith in the predictive side of astrology. 

In terms of character analysis, though, I do believe astrology has much to offer and I shall go into that aspect of it a little more in a future post.


Nicholas Fulford said...

I'll give Jung his due with alchemical symbols, and they can be keys into aspects of the unconscious, but that is about as far as I am willing to take it. The problem is that it is far too easy to project into it, and selection biases mean that people are far more likely to pay attention to correlations with which they agree while discarding those pieces that don't fit. (We are narrative generators after all, and will often fill in gaps of memory with fiction to create a cohesive narrative. Most of the time this is not intensional, but more than a few times I have left a fictious part of a story stand rather than correct the record.)

The other thing I will grant is that people can vest importance into symbols - sacralizing them and turning them into talismans. This provides a thing into which a person can project unconscious associations, and reflect them back upon the conscious mind to probe and consider. Whether and to what degree they are actually archetypical and shared between people is difficult to say. I think some types of geometry - in the form of mandalas and fractals - express the alchemical maxim, "as above, so below" or perhaps in a more modern context, "as without, so within". One of the more interesting correlations is indicated when looking at the similarity between the structure of the universe as generated by a very sophisticated computer model and a picture of the neuron structure in a mouse's brain. Again, there may be an element of selection bias, but it has the "oh wow-ness" factor that makes my hairs stand up and sends a chill down my spine. Subjective though the reaction is, it invites a person into an ecstatic state of awe and wonder. And that for me is really what such things are about. Do they resonate on some level such that my state in experiencing them changes? If that happens, then I consider the symbol personally - and perhaps collectively - important.

Nicholas Fulford said...

I meant to leave this link for reference as it shows the image in question. Sorry about that.

William Wildblood said...

I do take your point about seeing what you are looking for, and no one could deny that it happens. But as far as astrology is concerned this doesn't work as an explanation because the elements of the chart do mean quite specific things and, though there is some flexibility of interpretation, it's not endlessly elastic. For instance, if I saw a conjunction of the Sun and Mars in a chart I would be astonished if that person wasn't a rather forceful type unless everything else in the chart pointed the other way. But really the only way to prove this to oneself is to try it out.

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