Exegesis Volume 2 Issue #28

Exegesis Digest Tue, 20 May 1997


Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 08:16:13 +0000
From: Francis G. Kostella
Subject: Ptolemy, conception, more on proof
In V2 I25, Mary Downing wrote:

> How likely were the ancients --
> really -- to record the "ambient"
> every time they copulated?

Hardly likely at all. In the case of my son, who was "planned" (sort of), I could narrow the conception down to a ten day period, and I'm an astrologer with an interest in knowing this type of information. On the other hand, we should be careful about projecting our attitudes on the people of other eras.

> how sure are we Ptolemy was
> correctly translated . . .  How
> sure are we that the Tetrabiblios
> is, in fact, "all there"?  I believe
> Hindsight et al found missing
> pieces.

As far as the translation goes, the translator's footnotes show enough familiarity with astrology that I'm not concerned with this latest translation to English. So far, my experience with translations of ancient astrology texts done in the last few decades has been that the translators are not utterly ignorant of the practice of astrology. I just read the translator's introduction/notes to Ficino's "Three Books on Life" which actually holds a longish discussion of Ficino's nativity that I did not find fault with. . . in short, we should not assume that all translations are anti-astrology.

As for the Tetrabiblios, I'm sure it is incomplete to some degree. And that's based on simply reading the translation and trying to follow the writing. However, we cannot judge if missing parts are important or not. The problem with questioning accuracy is that it tends to damn the use of Ptolemy's work, for why should we assign authority to that which we are unable to decipher with clarity? I think it is better to view the field as an ongoing, living conversation, where joining the conversation long after ancient authorities is not necessarily a debility, and where our own era's contributions may be just as important as other times and places. (I'm very happy with the resurgent interest in the history of astrology, and in "traditional" astrology, but I worry that some of us are "running away" into the past.) Viewing the field as a conversation rather than a set of rules gives us the chance to investigate the difficult issues by way of more conversation.

> This is one of those impossible topics.

Indeed it is, but I think that despite it being "factually unanswerable" it is not profitless to ask the question. The typical manner of teaching astrology is to gloss over these types of questions by showing charts that work, and proceeding onwards with interpretations. Astrology then becomes kind of a "practical engineering" where we cross the valleys with bridges built of bigger and heavier blocks of solid experience that will bear the weight needed. But I often wonder that if we could keep our Beginner's Mind intact if we might not invent some new methods of spanning the open spaces that might suit us better.

For instance, I recall being mystified by the idea that the universe would "stamp" the individual upon her birth, but my concern was easily dismissed by learning enough astrology to see that, indeed, it seems that charts work, and therefore the "stamp" is impressed by some unknown agency. At that time it was easy for me to posit that a physical explanation would eventually be discovered that explained why charts actually work, but I now see that I may have made wrong turn back there, in that I asked the wrong question, and then assumed the evidence somehow answered the question or pointed to an eventual answer.

When given the fact that no known physical agency explained the "stamp" of the stars, why did I continue to assume that a "stamp" must exist? That is, why did I assume that there would be an answer of the sort that would delight a materialist? Why did I not question the need for a "stamp"? What is this "stamp" anyway?

> . . .  all well and good if
> it improves their interpretation
> skills. But they can't prove it. 
> We can only accept their
> teachings as an act of faith.

Right. But when we get right down to it what can we prove? And in which arena can we prove it? And what do we mean by proof in astrology, anyway?

Given the general difficulty of aligning astrology with the prevailing materialist modes of reasoning, and since our culture had abdicated the role of final arbiter to those modes, we're left with only the more personal modes for use within astrology and hardly any manner at all for making points to the culture at large--let alone setting up discourse with other fields of study. One can imagine an astrologer (while speaking as an astrologer) having a meaningful conversation with some varieties of psychologists, but not, say, with nearly any type of practicing physicist.

Within astrology, one can imagine astrologers of various stripes having significant conversations, but the type of conversations where demonstrations and proofs of ideas take place are soft and fuzzy. That is, I can introduce a new concept or technique to astrology, offer it a useful addition to your astrologer's "bag `o tricks", demonstrate a few useful applications with examples (often using natural or political disasters) and off it goes into the canon, perhaps to become popular, or not, but to never really fade away. In my perversity, I nearly introduced a new "example" technique, but I thought twice about it and decided against it lest it come back as a ghost to haunt me. We never speak about "dead" techniques or those that have been disproved . . . or are at least less effective. Why is that?



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