The Manifesto | The Dominion | Texts and Articles | Review | Links | ACCUEIL (FR) | HOME (EN)

The Problem of Astrology
by Robert Schmidt

    In recent years, I have been writing and talking a lot about the problem of astrology, and proposing that the astrological community undertake a serious and large-scale investigation into this problem. And very frequently now I am being asked the question "Can you define this problem for us?" Now, my short answer to this question is, "No, I cannot state exactly the problem of astrology, for I cannot yet define what astrology itself is, let alone specify the kind of problem that it poses for us."

    To even specify this problem completely, I would have to answer several interrelated questions: what kind of problem astrology poses for us, who or what is proposing the problem, to whom is it addressed. So what kind of problem does astrology poses for us -- that is, how it is thrown forward in front of us (which is what the word problema means in Greek). Is it a challenge, a temptation, a provocation, a ruse, a distraction, a humiliation?

    And who or what is proposing the problem. Modern astrology? The dead hand of the tradition? The gods? The truth itself? Some phantasm in my own mind? And to whom is it addressed? The astrological community? The sciences? Humanity at large? Anyone who has ears to hear?

    I am not yet in a position to answer any of these questions. However, I believe I can -- even at this preliminary stage -- DESCRIBE the kind of problem that astrology poses us, and also establish its rank and importance as a problem in the modern world.

    First of all, I would say that the problem of astrology is one of the most persistent of problems. It has been around for more than 2000 years now, as an itch that consciousness has never been able to satisfactorily scratch, although the ancient defenses and attacks of astrology may now seem antiquated and irrelevant. Astrology exists like an indigestible lump in modern consciousness, and we would be hard put to point to anything more incongruous to modern thought. It is not easy to formulate hypotheses from philosophy, science, or epistemology that seem adequate to what astrology is, which do not denature it in the process of either attacking or defending it. And I think that anyone who is clear-headed and takes a long honest look at the arguments that have been presented for and against astrology will conclude that the attacks on astrology have been ignorant and trivial, while the defenses put up by astrologers to validate or justify astrology have themselves been pitiful.

    Astrology seems to exist in modern consciousness in some place where it is not easily accessible. It is almost as if exists in our blind spot. Now this could be because the astrological phenomena themselves, or astrology as a discipline, are somehow just too brilliant for us to see. This is also a classical metaphor -- the higher things are so bright and so brilliant that our limited consciousnesses can somehow not take them in, we are literally blinded by the light. On the other hand, it could be the case that the reason we cannot access astrological phenomena from a scientific point of view or from any accepted modern standpoint is because the astrological phenomena are in some way occulted by those very modern disciplines. The modern sciences themselves may in some way be preventing us from having access to astrology as a legitimate phenomena. Or to use the eclipse metaphor differently, maybe astrology exists in the shadow of science, that twilight area which is the dumping ground of science and represents all the issues and problems it is unwilling to come to terms with. It may even be the case that, metaphysically speaking, astrology is a repository or point of accumulation for everything we don't know, everything that is not present to us. After all, in a practical context astrology is supposed to deal with the past and future. Now I find that very fascinating, that there could be one area, one purported discipline, one set of practices which in some way might sum up everything that we don't understand. If any of the above truly characterize the problem of astrology, then it would be no ordinary problem. In fact, it would be the mother of all problems, the problem of problems.

    Unfortunately, the problem of astrology has been around for so long that even the formulations of special astrological problems have grown stale. One often hears in the astrological world the statement "Who cares about all this theoretical and speculative inquiry. Astrology works for me, and that's all that matters." But that very familiarity may be the strongest indication that astrology is a problem that very much needs to be addressed. For isn't it the case that the familiar, what we have taken into our own household, so to speak, is what we constantly overlook? What we can no longer look over? We have to find a way of making the problem of astrology fresh and exciting again.

    Let me try to make an analogy here that I hope will further characterize the problem of astrology and speak further to its rank as a problem. There was a time in the Greek world where a number of people were pursuing something that they called philosophy, a word that simply meant the love of wisdom. This word originally applied to anyone who was thinking seriously and deeply about fundamental questions in any discipline, such as mathematics. Thus, these first philosophers were primarily characterized by their attitude toward inquiry. The earliest philosophers were inquirers into nature -- the original physicists -- who believed that they could understand the world by looking intently at it and thinking about it. They wrote up their insights in the form of pithy, enigmatical aphorisms. Later philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle developed special skills in the use of logos (or language), and they believed that their dialectical tools could give them access to any subject whatsoever, whether in the natural world or the human world.

    But early on Plato and Aristotle began to treat of something they called prote philosophia, or the primary love of wisdom. So the question naturally arose, What is Philosophy? And what is the paradigmatic or primary Philosophy? We might say that they had begun to confront the problem of philosophy. Was philosophy simply an attitude toward wisdom (what we might call a mindset)? Was it a kind of inspired madness? Was it the skilful use of the tools of language in their application to any subject whatsoever, and thus a kind of craft? Or was it knowledge of a kind (we would say a science), either possessing its own proper object of inquiry, or instead being a special way or regarding any object whatsoever? How did the primary philosophy relate to the knowledge accessible through the special disciplines, such as mathematics and astronomy? And so forth.

    I think that you see the analogy with the problem of astrology. Later on in this talk I will say some more about the connection between astrology and metaphysics. Suffice it to say here that these Greek thinkers did not try to define philosophy ahead of time. It is also pertinent to say here that as a result of their inquiry they shifted later attention to the question of Being -- namely, what is that which is -- as the proper object of philosophical inquiry, and that question has dominated metaphysics ever since.

    The problem of philosophy was originally the problem of greatest rank in Greek times, and to some degree the question of Being has maintained that rank until modern times. The Greeks clearly believed that it was the central problem for all times. But have you ever watched some of those TV programs with Mortimer Adler or Bill Moyers or other thinkers where they are discussing the most exalted philosophical issues, including the question of Being? Now, I don't know about you, but I have never been able to watch these programs without an acute and keen sense of embarrassment -- this despite the fact that I have spent almost all my adult life studying philosophical texts. And I have tried to analyze what it is that embarrasses me. It's not that these people are stupid and I am embarrassed for them. It's not that I think the issues they are discussing are unimportant. It is something more subtle than that. It's that they are dealing with questions of weight that are not really their questions; in some very real sense they are not entitled them. Thus their serious and studied air seems to me to be a kind of metaphysical affectation. And this embarrasses me -- in a metaphysical sort of way.

    The question of Being became the central question for the Greeks. Is it the central question for our time? Maybe we should conduct an inquiry into the problem of philosophy all over again, bearing in mind the strange place and function astrology seems to have in modern consciousness. Doesn't astrology involve the love of wisdom, too? Maybe a modern inquiry into the problem of philosophy would no longer reduce itself to the question of Being, of what always is, of what is eternally present. When Aristotle says that the question of being was, is now, and always will be the central question, isn't that a prediction, in some sense an astrological judgment? I keep thinking that astrology has to do with what is in some sense absent, what will be or what has been, with what is inaccessible to the present. Again, the Hermetic tradition tells us that astrology can be a tool to dispel ignorance, agnoia? But isn't it the purpose of wisdom to dispel ignorance? And if it is true to say that in modern times astrology is the focal point of all our ignorance, wouldn't it show our love of wisdom, that is, wouldn't we be the true philosophers of modern times, if we undertook to investigate the problem of astrology?

    For some reason, I don't find myself embarrassed when speaking about the problem of astrology. Someone is bound to ask, "How can you hope to inquire into the problem of astrology if you can't first define what astrology is?" I assume that what is asked here is not simply a definition of the word 'astrology', but a definition of the thing that the word refers to. There is a difference. We might define the word 'man' as a 'human being'; but the entity man as been variously defined as "a rational animal," "an animal that uses tools," somewhat facetiously as "a featherless biped with flat nails," (in order to distinguish a man from a plucked chicken), and in other ways.

    Now, even the definition of the word 'astrology' -- what is called the nominal definition -- would be difficult enough, for we would have to give an adequate description of what astrologers do and what they study. One of my dictionaries says "the divination of the supposed influences of the stars upon human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects." I am sure that most modern astrologers would violently disagree with this word definition, saying that astrology has nothing to do with planetary influences per se, but rather uses the stars "synchronistically" as a timing-mechanism; many would disagree that it is a form of divination, preferring to think of it as a science, or perhaps a craft. In order to define astrology as a word, we would have to completely and adequately describe what different astrologers in ancient and modern times have studied, and take my word for it, it would be very hard to find any common denominator here. In any case, the mere nominal definition would not take us very far in our inquiry into the problem of astrology, although we definitely think it valuable to be fully acquainted with what astrology is for different modern astrologers and what it has been for the ancients.

    Much more difficult is the essential or "real" definition of astrology as a pursuit that human beings are concerned with, for then we have to mark off astrology from the other things human beings do and pursue and demarcate it according to some exact principles. Such a definition is not merely descriptive as the nominal definition is; it actually purports to say what something "really" is. In the case of astrology, the essential definition leads us immediately into a snarl of theoretical issues, which I will try to hint at in a moment. In ancient times, it was the role of philosophy itself to provide us with the essential definitions of things.

    But SHOULD I attempt to exactly state the problem of astrology -- which obviously presupposes some definition of astrology itself -- before entering into an investigation of astrology itself? Now, from a classical point of view -- by which I mean the tradition of Plato and Aristotle, and the dialectical inquiry in classical times -- it would be a methodological error to try to define what something is before you begin to inquire about it. At least this is true for a fundamental inquiry such as the one we are proposing. In fact, in ancient times, the answer to the question what is something, its definition, was the very last thing obtained or achieved in any inquiry. It may be first in the order of demonstration, but it is last in the order of discovery.

    Now, there are at least two reasons for this. First of all, it would be impractical. If we had to agree on what astrology is before we began an inquiry, we would be in some endless dispute with all modern astrologers, each of whom has a somewhat different idea of what astrology actually is. We could never come to some agreement ahead of time. And if I took matters into my own hands and proposed some definition of my own, and then proceeded to argue my way to some position concerning astrology, then someone is bound to reject my demonstrations on the grounds that he disagreed with my definition. So the attempt to propose a definition ahead of time is also inefficient.

    But the more important reason is that even if you should propose a definition that many or even most astrologers agree upon, you will in fact be prejudicing the outcome of the inquiry. In a very real sense of the word, the way in which a question is stated or a problem posed will prejudice the outcome of that investigation. And this is something that I believe ancient thinkers had a very profound understanding of, something that we are largely lacking in the modern world.

    By why can't we propose definitions of astrology and debate their merits? We moderns are animated by what I would call a debate mentality -- we like to wrangle. We demand that the contestants in a debate must first define their terms. They then respectively draw up their arguments pro and con. The contestant with the more persuasive arguments wins. End of debate.

    The intention of a debate is to "establish" one side of an argument persuasively. This kind of wrangling, a somewhat degenerate form of the ancient art of rhetoric, is often confused with the ancient art of dialectic practiced in Platonic dialogues and Aristotelean treatises. This is because dialectical argumentation also draws up arguments for and against some position. But the two are actually miles apart. The intention of dialectical argumentation is not to establish one side of an argument, but rather to deliberately bring the two sides into a deadlock, bring the question itself to an impasse, what the Greeks called an aporia. The reason for this was to systematically draw attention to something that had been overlooked in the inquiry. As Aristotle said, the aporia or impasse in the intellect makes visible the knots in the problem, and we cannot make progress in an inquiry if we do not know where the knots are that are holding us back. We might call this an art of calculated confusion.

    Thus, the intention of dialectic is to advance an inquiry. But in a very real sense the rhetorical arts of persuasion and debate effectively stop the argument, bring the inquiry to a close; for when we are persuaded we cease to inquire further. It is a terrible perversion of language to use the rhetorical arts of persuasion in an inquiry into the truth.

    Modern astrologers often like to think of astrology as a symbolic language of the stars, a divine language, and I believe ancient astrologers would also have approved of this characterization (which is not intended as a definition, by the way). But shouldn't this celestial grammar, this celestial logic, then be the standard for our human languages? And may it not be the case that the stars are trying to teach us the proper use of logos, of language? Wouldn't it then follow that only the proper use of argumentation and dialectical inquiry will provide us access to the problem of astrology itself?

    So, to repeat, I cannot yet define what astrology is, nor should I at this point. But what about taking a less ambitious approach and tackling some easier questions.

    I could indeed draw up a loosely organized list of special questions and problems somehow connected with THE problem of astrology: Is astrology an art or a science? If it is a science or some kind of exact discipline, does it have its own proper subject matter? If so, is it about time itself, human life, natural phenomena such as the weather? Or does it perhaps encompass the whole breadth and depth of existence? And if, say, it deals with human life, is it properly person-centered, concerned with our souls and personalities, or is it rather event-oriented, concerned with the events that befall us, or both? And if, say, the events that befall us, then is it all of them or just a certain class that can properly be labelled astrological? Again, does astrology use the stars as causes or as timers; or are the stars perhaps speaking to us in a symbolic or even oracular language that we must interpret? Again, what are the appropriate validation procedures for astrology? Are they statistical or otherwise experimental? Again, were the rules of astrology discovered empirically through centuries of observation or were they the insights of certain enlightened beings possessing a consciousness beyond that of normal humans? And so on.

    But if instead astrology is an art of interpretation, does it more resemble a fine art where reading an astrological chart is like interpreting a piece of music in performance? Or is it a craft that follows certain pre-established rules? Or is it perhaps divinitory in nature, requiring some special intuitive gift on the part of the interpreter?

    You get the idea. There are other difficulties. There are a great many surviving astrological traditions. There is Western astrology, Hindu or Vedic astrology, and astrology as it is practiced in China and the Orient. Now, in many cases these different traditions use astrological methods that are virtually contradictory to one another. As a case in point, let me only mention the Western commitment to a tropic zodiac (which begins the circle of astrological signs at the vernal point, or point of intersection of the ecliptic and equatorial circles) and the Hindu insistence on a sidereal zodiac (which divides the zodiac from some privileged star); these two zodiacs are not coincident, yet the two different astrologies employ many of the same methods which are dependent on the choice of sign, and they both claim success in their applications. How can this be? Furthermore, even between and among the various strata of the Western tradition itself there are many inconsistencies and incompatibilities of concepts and methods. From the point of view of a fundamental inquiry of the kind we are proposing, this must be admitted to be a truly sorry state of affairs.

    Astrologers do in fact discuss and debate all the issues mentioned above, although I think it fair to say that their opinions on these matters are at best educated guesses, and at worst are simply reflections of their personal preferences. It is hard to say whether any of the problems catalogued above qualifies as THE problem of astrology.

The Plan

    In the problem of astrology we have a very special kind of problem. We have to make inquiry into a subject without being able to define that subject ahead of time (or without even knowing whether it is a subject matter instead of a method). The subject itself may be obscured or occulted by the only investigative tools that we have at our disposal, whether these are the tools of mathematical physics or the application of dialectical or speculative reasoning. The approach must keep astrology center stage and not allow it to be reduced or assimilated to one of the special sciences. It must help defamiliarize ourselves with the stale formulations of astrological problems that have accumulated over the past two thousand years or better, and which will also prevent us from coming to some artificial and superficial kind of clarity. But at the same time this procedure has to take us forward to our goal of trying to gain some initial access to the problem of astrology. Let me lay out the plan that I propose.

    The first stage of this plan consists of "the restoration and the recovery of the practical astrological tradition." The second stage concerns "the search for a theoretical foundation," and the third stage I call "the securing of the Metaphysics of Metaphysics". This division is just a declaration of intention, in recognition of the requirements we have laid out above.

    I will be explaining each of these stages in a moment, but I want to make a prefatory remark. Even though I've laid these out as three stages, I don't mean that they are to be followed sequentially. Rather, all three of these stages have to be pursued simultaneously. I know no way of doing proper and responsible translations of ancient astrological writings without coming face to face with theoretical issues. In my opinion, it would be foolish to simply spend the next ten years routinely translating astrological writings and only then try to confront the theoretical questions. For one thing, the translations would not be that good. Unless we have grappled with the theoretical issues, we are in no position to translate even the practical aspects of the ancient astrology correctly. In the very first Greek translations that I did I found myself immediately in a nest of theoretical and metaphysical problems, and without confronting those I don't think we would have gained much of the clarity that I think we have gained in interpretation and use of these ancient methods.

    I also know of no way of pursuing an inquiry into the theoretical foundations of astrology that does not presuppose an extensive and prior familiarity with the entire practical astrological tradition, and that does not immediately involve us in philosophical and ultimately even esoteric concerns. In other words, the restoration of practical astrological methods, the pursuit of theoretical foundation, and the attempt to understand the higher philosophical and metaphysical implications of the astrological tradition itself -- all three of these concerns implicate one another and cannot really in any way be done separately. We have in fact been pursuing them simultaneously.

    Now let me begin to talk a little bit about the first stage, the restoration and recovery of the practical astrological tradition. This first stage has been officially underway for better than four years now, going under the name of Project Hindsight. During this period of time we have translated about 2/5 of the surviving astrological writings from Hellenistic times, and made at least a dent in the large number of astrological works written in Medieval Latin.

    One of the most interesting things we have discovered so far is that there is an incredible stratification of the astrological tradition. It is not one seamless whole. It does not have what I would call conceptual integrity. Before we can hope to understand the astrological tradition on its own terms and in accordance with its own presuppositions, we must first try to resolve the tradition into its component strata. Let me try to give you an idea of what we are up against by briefly tracing the astrological tradition that developed in Europe and the Middle East.

    The best evidence seems to indicate that astrology began with the Babylonians some time during or before the 5th c. B.C.E. It quickly spread to Egypt, Persia, and India. Around 200 B.C.E. the astrology developing in Egypt was translated into Greek and made available to the Mediterranean peoples, resulting in a tremendous flowering of astrology during the Hellenistic era that lasted up until the 6th c. C.E. Beginning in the 9th c., the fundamental Greek astrological texts from Hellenistic times were translated into Arabic. The Arabs also drew directly on Persian and Indian sources and compounded these with the Hellenistic material. In the 13th and 14th centuries, many Arabic astrological texts were translated into Medieval Latin. As we enter the Renaissance, a revisionist attitude set in, and many astrologers attempted to purge the Arabic-style astrology of the Latin west of its Arabic influence using the Greek astrological writings of Ptolemy as the paradigm of a "rational" astrology, unwittingly throwing out much of the legitimate Hellenistic tradition at the same time. Toward the end of the 17th c. astrology begins to fade out. It barely survives for a couple of centuries until we get up to modern times in the 20th century, where we have a kind of astrological revival which is based originally on just little scraps of astrological knowledge that have managed to survive through the intervening centuries. This revival is conducted virtually in ignorance of all the earlier astrological texts except for Ptolemy, and even he is poorly understood.

    This should give you some idea of the kind of complexity of the astrological tradition as it has come down to us. Now, there is something I want to emphasize because it has great bearing on what we are trying to do with our translation program: The western astrological tradition develops through an attempt to interpret written texts. Each successive generation of astrologers going all the way back to Hellenistic times has tried to interpret the written texts of their predecessors. There appears to have been very little continuity of oral transmission of astrological doctrine as there supposedly is in India, where you have master/student relationships and the astrological doctrine has been handed down through families for centuries.

    Thus the foremost astrologers of the C.E., Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens, are all trying to interpret the writings of earlier generations of astrologers, and ultimately the root text of Hellenistic astrology, a work attributed to Nechepso and Petosiris, an Egyptian pharaoh and his high priest, dated to around 200 B.C.E. This work does not survive intact, but only in excerpts quoted by later astrologers. Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens often interpret key passages in this root text in totally different ways. Now, even the writings of Ptolemy, Dorotheus and Vettius Valens are not especially clear in many places so we have another generation of astrologers who are basically compilers who are trying to study the work of those three Greek astrologers and trying to understand what they have said, and there are differences of opinion in the interpretation of these primary Greek astrologers whose writings we possess in some state of completion. Then all this material is translated into Arabic, a language very different than Greek, and you can guess at some of the problems Arabic astrologers must have had with their Greek sources.

    So, not only is the astrological traditions stratified but it appears that in many cases the tradition was not transmitted intact. In my opinion, there have been numerous errors of translation and misinterpretation, particularly as the astrological material went from Greek into Arabic. What this means is that much of the astrological doctrine that survives into the late Renaissance must be bracketed, you might say. If we can plausibly argue that some of these astrological doctrines and some of these astrological concepts can be due to misunderstandings or mistranslations, we must in some way treat them specially or treat them differently. It doesn't mean that they are necessarily incorrect -- the history of thought is full of creative misinterpretations of earlier traditions -- but it seems to me that such material must be put into a separate category until it can be tested.

    Once we have resolved the tradition into its component strata and diagnosed the errors of transmission, and before we can hope to re-synthesize the tradition in a manner that will not leave us with a lot of conceptual fault-lines that are bound to cause us trouble later, we have the task of understanding each stratum without anachronism, that is, on its own terms and from its own presuppositions. This is far from easy to do. Although modern astrological concepts bear some resemblance to those of ancient times, they have altered in subtle ways. The astrological vocabulary of the Greeks is in some ways very similar to our own, but in other ways extremely different. Key concepts like the astrological word for a sign, the astrological use of rulership, [house] all these kinds of things for the Greeks have a kind of slightly different significance, or in some cases a very major difference from the way in which we use these concepts in modern times. They make look familiar to us, but in fact they are not. It takes a special art to defamiliarize ourselves from what we think we understand about astrological concepts and confront the tradition afresh, and this is really what Hindsight is all about.

[Goal to restore the lost work of Nechepso/Petosiris from its fragments.]

    Yet at the same time, by studying an astrology which is still very different from us, even though it has this suspicious air of familiarity about it, by studying these ancient writings we can in fact get a kind of clarity about our own thinking and our own astrology that we would not necessarily have if we simply sat down and tried to approach the problem of astrology directly, stating the problem in modern terms and so forth. It is a commonplace that you learn more about your own language by studying a foreign language, and the same thing applies here.

    There is one point I would like to make clear. Despite all the time we have been spending translating and restoring the tradition, we do not consider ourselves to be antiquarians. We are not librarians trying to preserve the tradition out of mere historical interest. After all, these ancient astrologers had their day; we are modern people and we have to create a modern astrology.

    It is clearly valuable to study the astrological tradition for what it has to offer us. Hellenistic astrology, for instance, is in many ways the source of all later Western traditions. And we do find in this Greek astrology a greater integrity and coherence of astrological concepts, and this can set standard for us in our effort to create a modern astrology.

    However, even though we have been spending all this time with the Greeks, our intention is really to basically to rid ourselves of the burden of the Greeks. It is very hard to get free of the Greeks. It is very hard to do that scientifically, mathematically, philosophically and also astrolo-gically. The Greeks haunt us. They always have. One might say that the reason they haunt us is that we have never given them a decent burial. Their ghosts are ever present, and even if we don't know it, Greek principles and Greek thinking are always pulling our strings in ways that we are not always aware of. Our intention is to become aware of how those ancient dead Greeks are in fact pulling our strings.

    So we don't want to simply admire and return to an ancient time. We would like to take the ancient writings, understand them on their own terms, and from their own presuppositions, and get out of them what we can get out of them. And then, bury them so we can be free from them at last. Now this may seem like a somewhat disrespectful attitude. In fact, I think it is the most respectful attitude we can have towards past thought. In order to welcome the future of any discipline we basically have to give the past, or give our ancestors, a decent burial. And if we don't do that, we will be forever subject to various concepts, various procedures, various ways of thought that the Greeks began that are not necessarily appropriate to our time any longer. So when we study these ancient writings, it is always with an intention to ultimately get free from them.

    Let me move on to the second stage in our attack on the problem of astrology, the stage that we call "The search for a theoretical foundation." Here our first task is to identify, isolate, and critique all the theoretical frameworks, ancient and modern, that have already been proposed for astrology, implicitly or explicitly. These are actually quite numerous. As far as explicit ancient frameworks are concerned, let me here mention only Ptolemy's attempt to reconceptualize astrology in terms of Aristotelean natural philosophy and the medieval attempts to draw on an interesting doctrine called "light metaphysics."

    But everywhere in earlier astrology we find the free use of scientific and philosophical concepts, particular the Aristotelean distinction between form and matter, the classical doctrine of the elements and the primary qualities, the intensification and relaxation of forms (the classical concepts employed for the understanding of the variation of qualities), These concepts are often used with great skill for the purpose of "deriving" delineations of aspects, transits, dispositorship, etc. We should also mention the Stoic concepts of fate, their epistemological concepts, and so forth.

    You can imagine how the confusing manner in which these concepts are used at all stages of the astrological tradition complicates the stratification problem considerably. We also have to ask ourselves whether these concepts are integral to the astrological teachings, since they have been either discredited or left behind by modern physics.

    But there is also in ancient astrology, particularly in that of the Hellenistic period, evidence of an implicit theoretical framework, and this may be of even more importance to us in our search, because it may be one more intrinsic to astrology itself, if only we can disclose it. This evidence is found in the Greek astrological vocabulary itself. All the key words of Greek astrology seem to have been very carefully chosen so as to contain a deliberate and characteristic ambiguity. Sometimes the words could belong either to the field of causal thinking or that of oracular divination; other times it is hard to determine whether they are referring to entities or images. And there are other equally fundamental dichotomies. But more about this when we come to the third stage of our investigation.

    What about the potential of developing a theoretical foundation for astrology out of modern thought? You have no doubt heard many astrologers talk with great enthusiasm about the most avant garde research of the modern sciences - quantum theory (which of course is not simply avant garde any more) chaos theory, Bell's theorem, super string theory, the morphogenic fields of Sheldrake, transpersonal psychology, God knows what -harboring the belief that these new developments in physics will eventually pave the way for a true astrological theory.

    Now, in my opinion, astrology and physics are by no means on a convergent course. It is comparatively easy to show, for instance, that in so far as chaos theory could make celestial causation plausible, it would make astrological prediction impossible; and in so far as astrological prediction is possible, chaos theory is irrelevant. Analogous things could be shown for almost all the avantgarde theories of science, and we have already done quite a bit of this work.

[Haven't even made a real attempt to investigate astrology in terms of classical physics. Assume that astrological influence is anything wavelike, etc.]

    In fact, I think it would be a terrible tragedy if astrology were conceptualized in terms of physics, psychology, or any of the special sciences. In ancient times astrology seemed to have a rank and a role nearly equal to that of metaphysics, in so far as it took as its province the whole of reality. And if we were to define or conceptualize astrology in terms of any of these special modern sciences, however powerful they may seem, we would not be doing justice to the promise that astrology has always held out for mankind -- we would be selling it short.

    But there is a more serious danger here. If we examine the methodology of the special sciences, we will find that they can only deal with astrological phenomena -- or any phenomena -- by taking these phenomena and turning them into something that they can deal with, often times by leaving behind or denaturing what was characteristic about those phenomena in the first place. In my opinion, the events that astrology studies are not intrinsically objects of physics, psychology, or any other special discipline. I say this because we have already been making a systematic attempt to formulate hypotheses from the special disciplines intended to account for astrology.

    In order to organize this particular part of the inquiry we have invoked the word "phase" -- p-h-a-s-e -- which by the way is derived from the Greek word phasis, another of those ambiguous astrological terms, and one very dear to my heart since it's a word that means on the one hand "speaking" and on the other hand "appearing" and seems to give us access to all manner of esoteric phenomena.

    In any case, the word "phase" we understand to be an acronym for philosophy, history, astrology, science and esotericism (or possibly epistemology, or possibly experience, all of which we understand to be summarized under the letter "e"). From time to time we have even flirted with the idea of putting an "r" on the end of this word, which might stand for "religion", because certainly there is abundant evidence that astrology was central in many ancient religions and there may have even been an astral religion at one point. But the intention behind this particular acronym is to emphasize, by putting the "a" or "astrology" in the very center, that we are in the first instance trying to understand astrology in terms of the modern disciplines, philosophy, history, science, epistemology or experience, possibly esotericism, if you can understand that to be a discipline.

    We have seen that many of the concepts in these disciplines are not applicable to astrology as they stand. Instead, they need to be stretched, modified, or as I like to say, rehabilitated, before they can be applied to astrological phenomena. In many cases they have to be modified almost beyond recognition. The attempt to honestly conceptualize astrology in terms of the special disciplines invariably takes them to a frontier they were never designed to explore.

    Thus, this problem of astrology goes well beyond the astrological framework itself. It can be an indirect way of studying and critiquing the modern sciences and other disciplines, and in my opinion this is one of its greatest advantages. If we fail in our attempt to solve, so to speak, the problem of astrology we will certainly find something interesting along the way, if nothing else but the limitations and vulnerabilities of the sciences themselves.

    As I mentioned a moment ago, we have already formulated several hypotheses concerned with the meaning and workings of astrology. In fact, we have developed a hypothesis corresponding to each of the letters in PHASE: The Hypothesis of a Temporal Field reconceptualizes the field concept from physics so as to accommodate temporality and consciousness and make plausible a kind of astrological causality. The Hypothesis of Metaphysical Appropriation is a philosophical hypothesis, originating in the near-equivalence of the Hellenistic concept of familiarization, which describes the way the signs are related to the planets via rulership, and Heidegger's metaphysical concept of appropriation, which describes the way in which Being and Man are related. The Hypothesis of a Celestial Grammar deals with the issue of astrology as a symbolic language; it uses Greek grammar to articulate both the rational and the oracular character of celestial communication. Finally, the Hypothesis of Ritualistic Connection seeks to understand the sequential connection of the astrological events themselves in terms of the defining moments in ritual, as an alternative to causal and effect relations.

        Now, these hypotheses are all very provisional and they are by no means intended to be definitive. However, I do believe that they are exemplary in the sense that they indicate how deep we may need to dig, and how deep down we may have to place our columns, in order to begin to begin to support the true weight of astrological phenomena. Or understanding these hypotheses themselves to be supports (the Greek word hypothesis simply means something set underneath something else -- that is, a "support") we may begin to locate the grounding bedrock upon which an astrological discipline may be erected.

    Let me say something now about the third stage, what I've called "the securing of the metaphysics of metaphysics." In the search for the theoretical foundation we are primarily attempting to apply the special disciplines to astrology, but remember, with the expectation that they would somehow fail. In the securing of the metaphysics of metaphysics we turn this procedure around. We could still use the acronym "phase" but instead of trying to apply philosophy, history, science and esotericism to astrology, we begin with astrology and we ask the questions, "What type of philosophy is appropriate to astrology as it survives? What type of historical hypotheses may be used in connection with astrology? What type of science is really appropriate to astrological phenomena without in some way denaturing them, as modern physics in my opinion most assuredly would? What type of esotericism really belongs to the astrological tradition itself? In other words, in this stage of the project or of the investigation what we do is keep astrology center stage and use it to redefine and reorganize the modern disciplines themselves.

    Why the title "Metaphysics of Metaphysics?" Now I chose that title very deliberately because, in my mind, metaphysics has two completely different meanings. My background being in the study of ancient and modern philosophy, when I heard the word metaphysics, I always understood it to mean the study of Being, as it was for the Greeks. It was a great surprise to me when I first went into a bookstore and looked for the metaphysical section expecting to find some new books on Aristotle, and found instead books on crystals, out-of-body experiences, meditation, occultism, and astrology. This was long before I was involved in the astrological world, by the way.

    So what am I trying to get at by this little phrase here, the "metaphysics of metaphysics." There is a statement by a Neo-Platonist philosopher named Iamblichus in a strange book called On The Mysteries. In this book another neo-Platonist Porphyry (of Porphyry house fame, for the astrologers here) is directing a number of questions about the Egyptian religion to an Egyptian priest. In the course of the answering of these questions the priest says that the men who translated the Egyptian sacred writings into Greek -- and these sacred writings included the their magical, alchemical, and astrological writings, all generally attributed to one of their sages names Hermes -- the men who translated these sacred writings into Greek were men who were trained in Greek philosophy, presumably the philosophies of the Athenian Greeks Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

    Now, this is a very astonishing statement and it made a great impression on me. If we take it seriously (it is several hundred years after the fact), it means that in Hellenistic astrology we may have an absolutely unique event, something that had probably never happened before and has not happened since. We may have a deliberate and unprecedented fusion of what we might call the straight Athenian philosophical tradition and the esoteric traditions of the Middle East.

    Now, I think that we have already found abundant evidence of this fusion in the Hellenistic writings, but whether or not this turns out to be valid, the term metaphysics of metaphysics reflects that goal, the goal of somehow bringing the straight philosophical tradition together with the esoteric tradition, and this without reducing the one to the other, the goal of showing the esoteric implications of philosophy and the philosophical import of esotericism.

    I keep thinking of the Harranian Sabians, that strange cult in the Arab world who considered themselves the heirs to classical antiquity, but who had the goal of arranging and articulating all the sciences and disciplines from the Greek world underneath the master disciplines of astrology, alchemy, and magic. Even the metaphysics of the Greeks became a handmaiden to the esoteric disciplines.

    As I hinted earlier, doesn't the problem of astrology give us a golden opportunity to rethink metaphysics from the ground up. We propose to ask anew the question: what is the primarily love of wisdom, for don't we all think that astrology has something to do with wisdom?

To cite this page:
Robert Schmidt: The Problem of Astrology
All rights reserved © 2000 Robert Schmidt

Centre Universitaire de Recherche en Astrologie
Web site Designer & Editor: Patrice Guinard
© 1999-2001 Dr. Patrice Guinard