Exegesis Volume 5 Issue #42

From: Janice & Dennis
Subject: stars as signs

From: "William D. Tallman"
Subject: Re: Exegesis Digest V5 #41

From: Juan Revilla
Subject: Re: Exegesis Digest V5 #41

Exegesis Digest Tue, 01 Aug 2000

Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2000 22:12:32 +1200
From: Janice & Dennis
To: Exegesis
Subject: stars as signs

The issue of the common understanding of astrology as relating to stars is interestingly multi-dimensional. As already recently addressed by contributors, we have a range of opinions. Bill Tallman posed the question ""Is the notion that the word 'astrology' means "the study of the stars" now considered irrelevant or perhaps even erroneous?". I am tempted to answer "Yes!".

But the most appropriate answer is another question: "Considered by who?". It is certainly not considered irrelevant by the third (one survey) to two-thirds (another poll) of the populace that `believes in astrology' in western democracies. I personally consider the notion erroneous but not irrelevant.

Seems to me the real issue is what part the stars play in astrology as it is commonly practised. Majority usage includes only groups of stars that lie in the `path of the sun', the `signs of the zodiac'. There is also a small minority usage that employs the tradition of deeming significance to various bright stars individually.

Star signs are widely recognised and used in popular culture, separately even from astrology itself, which fact must arise from some deep inner need felt by people. Perhaps in this connection lies the relevance of the answer given by Patrice Guinard: "Astrology would be, with this point of departure: "The study of the stars IN MAN"."

Is the star field reproduced within? Does the old hermetic maxim `as above, so below' suggest as much? Is there really a pattern in heaven that is reflected on earth, in which microcosm and macrocosm contain the same informational structure at the deepest level? Does the holographic paradigm suggest as much? Can we deconstruct the belief underlying modern astrological practice as a triadic holarchy: heavens above, social interaction beneath, psychological states within? The profound point of such questions is that common sense in current postmodern society is identified thus, and in this Rome one must do as the Romans do. To provide answers is unfashionable, as any study of modern media will demonstrate. Indeed, provision of authoritative explanations is likely to induce intense suspicion and resentment in the minds of readers. Questions are much better, allowing readers and viewers to idly wonder in the fraction of a second available until the subject is changed. Progress in astrology will therefore come only from extremely non-conformist theoreticians.

Early in the 20th century George Bernard Shaw made a rather similar point: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Star signs are derived from sections of the zodiac, not sections of the ecliptic; a band, not a circle. The width of the band is defined by tradition to derive from the motions of the Moon and planets on either side of the ecliptic. The zodiac thus has meaning derived from the solar, lunar, and planetary cycles. The popular notion is that it derives solely from the path of the Sun. The 12 equal sections of the star field that are called the signs of the zodiac are called `star signs' in relation to people born when the Sun occupied any particular sign.

Which brings us to another profound question: what are they signs of? A year ago (in Exegesis) Cynthia D'Errico Clostre wondered if she were to take "a few insights from semiotics (the morphology of language practice, i.e., the word as sign, ideological construct), and then apply it to the discourse of Astrology, what might I discover about Astrology and its mechanisms?" [Ex 4/43] Unfortunately, she has not followed through on this, but her suggestion stimulated me to investigate the issue, and she was right to signal its relevance. Astrology is used by most contemporary practitioners as a language for interpreting character and destiny. Some, including myself, even use it to interpret the archetypal dimension of events.

Cynthia made a good point about such use of astrology as a 2nd language... "The second-language speaker can become an adept in his chosen second language only if he accepts the discourse which frames it, the register in which it operates, and only if he surrenders to the mechanisms which underlie it; and, these last, he need not identify nor understand in order to use the language. (We here on this list, however, are invited to identify and define those mechanisms.)"

These constraints are communal. We can be more explicit about this, and identify rules, interpretive conventions, and frames of reference as key structural components of the astrological language which operate via meanings held in common. These are paradigmatic. Individual practitioners impose personal meanings as overlay, but only at the cost of collective comprehension and the reduction in the quality of any communication entered into with others operating in the belief system.

Since `signs' are subcomponents of astrology's primary frame of reference, the zodiac, we therefore expect their meanings to be held in common. In practice, this is only relatively so. There seems to be sufficient intuitive recognition of the `signs' as archetypes to allow features of their nature to be tacitly agreed to. To some degree this tacit agreement on sign meanings can be objectively documented via keywords. A check on published sign descriptions will confirm that this is so. The relativity, however, will also be evident, in the variations of terms also employed, and in the personal projections (mistakenly) added.

I guess the semiotic perspective is most relevant in the use of signs as labels and identifiers, relative to the frame of reference that provides communal meaning. Astrology as a language is a vehicle for common meanings to the degree that anyone using it can get some measure of comprehension from any audience, and some extent of discourse established with correspondents. Exegesis serves as an example. But there is always the polarity between individual understanding of the `signs' (and planets, and houses, etc) and that most nebulous of things, the collective wisdom. Any particular description touted as exemplifying the latter is liable to be compromised in accuracy by its temporal period, cultural specificity, and the taint of personal meaning imparted by the author purporting to transmit the tradition.

So presumably semiosis will finger the use of `signs' to signify star-field sectors, in deconstructing traditional astrology. Applied to contemporary astrology, I'd expect it to point out that the signs of the zodiac signify archetypes. These archetypes seem to manifest in life on earth, both socially and personally, in mundane affairs and synchronously in the psychological states of those involved. These sign archetypes derive from a tropical frame of reference, and are activated by lunar and planetary transits of the signs, as well as solar. The linguistic habit of both astrologers and public masks this, of course. They routinely mistake the sign for the archetype. The signs and planets are not within - the sign and planetary archetypes are.

So for clarity of communication on the subject of astrology, some discipline in the use of terminology is advisable. The map is not the territory. The label is not the content. The cosmos contains an ever-changing pattern, and facets of this pattern can be mentally correlated with factors in the solar system as well as corresponding factors in our psyche, but we ought not to fall victim to the lazy use of identifying terms for these factors. Clarity in our use of language will reinforce clarity in our comprehension of the various relationships involved, if we adopt it. Continued misapplication of identifying terms will merely reproduce the confusion that has long been associated with star `signs'.

The confusion over the signs, and zodiacs, is symptomatic of the general cloud of confusion, illusion, & delusion, that surrounds the uses of, and belief in, astrology. Further evidence that the mind and behaviour of the astrologer is ruled by Neptune, not Uranus.

Of course, I am being totally unreasonable in expecting astrologers to advance their endeavour by developing personal discipline in their description of astrology. Ought I anticipate protests from postmodern practitioners keen to do their own thing? Collective constraints being most evident in their lack, why not just enjoy the consequent freedoms? Language evolves, with the artistry of the user, so why not invoke this escape clause? After that distastefully antiquated attempt to lay down the law, why don't I conform to postmodern expectations and mollify readers by concluding with the requisite bunch of (fatuous) questions?

Dennis Frank


Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2000 00:46:39 -0700
From: "William D. Tallman"
To: Exegesis
Subject: Re: Exegesis Digest V5 #41

 > Bill:
 > "Is the notion that the word 'astrology' means "the study of the stars"
 > now considered irrelevant or perhaps even erroneous?"
 > This is astronomy. Astrology would be, with this point of departure:
 > "The study of the stars IN MAN".

Astrology, as a word, is the combinative form of the Greek 'astron' and 'logos'. I have loosely translated the suffix 'logy' as study, with the idea that the root 'legein' denotes speech in the form of discourse (discussion) as an effective means of identifying and formulating that which can be generally agreed as worthy data, comprising knowledge. This was approximately the Greek formula for the study of anything, usually in concert with someone who had both data and ideas for formulating same, as a moderator of sorts. Hence, astrology can be understood as the general study of the stars, just as any other area of interest with that prefix may be deemed the study of that area of interest.

Astronomy, then, is a subdiscipline of astrology, focusing on the quantitative analysis thereof with the idea of formulation the general and enduring apparencies we commonly call 'laws'. Nomy derives from 'nemein', which means 'to count, to measure (or to quantify)', such that deeper understanding of apparencies may be achieved in accordance with the methodologies and philosophies of science.

This differentiation is supported by the historical relationship between these two labels. The definitions I give come from memory and are subject to the frailties thereof.

I use the term astrology with intent: I am asserting that we cannot assume we know, or think we are in the way of discovering, all that may be worthily discerned of the stars (the celestial sphere, to be more accurate, I think). It is the conceit of modern science that it comprises the only valid approach to useful knowledge, such that astronomy is the only valid approach to knowledge of the celestial sphere. If modern science were able to adhere to its own fundamental principles, it's argument could well have substance, but it does not: modern science predetermines its own reality based on strictures other than those that arise therein. Those strictures are the cultural attitudes that control the funding that makes science possible, attitudes upon which science has most certainly had a powerful effect, but only in its willingness to prostitute its own principles to the current public worldview in order to sustain its own existence. Human nature rules all this, not ideology.

My purpose has been to point toward the promise of the original intention of the philosophers to discover what they may for the purpose of seeking reality's own truth, whatever that might be. The terms in common usage now effectively describe the somewhat venal usages of men with private agenda. I would have astrology be rediscovered as an open ended exploration of the celestial sphere with a focus on how it impacts mankind, and astronomy understood as a rather closely defined subdiscipline thereof.

As such, astronomy could never be in a proscriptive position with regard astrology. Astronomy would contribute what it may, but on questions it is unable to address would be required to stand mute and refrain from dictating what may or may not be possible. As we are all rather well aware, it does not hold this position presently.

As I suggested in my last post, there are some number of standard astrological models, many of which appear to be considered by their adherents as able to demonstrate sole exclusivity of validity. A reasonable assessment of these models does not demonstrate such intrinsic exclusivity, as some astrologers are able to recognize, I am happy to suggest.

In that regard, the notion of astrology as limited strictly to subjective validity is but one type of standard model. I submit that any claim of exclusive validity of that, or any other, astrological model lacks demonstrable substance.... yep, I'm one of *those* astrologers!

Finally (for this post, at least), I would observed that the existence of se veral apparently mutually exclusive standard models strongly suggests that, indeed, none of these models possesses attributes which could qualify it as any sort of standard at all, even though it may appear to represent some number of different interpretations thereof. If this is so, then I submit this demonstrates that there *is* no standard model of astrology, which leaves astrology bereft of any qualifiable claim to any sort of validity at all.

In short, we cannot even agree on the fundamental nature of the discipline itself. Is it any wonder that we are not taken seriously? But then, like others I've made, this post is yet another call for a reasonable approach to astrology that will disappear into the oblivion of disregard, and I will have satisfied only myself that I have not yet abandoned astrology to it's apparent destiny of absolute triviality.



Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2000 09:31:52 -0600
From: Juan Revilla
To: Exegesis
Subject: Re: Exegesis Digest V5 #41

Thanks to William for his careful comments. I must apologize first because this was my first post and I didn't present myself. I have been lurking for months, and only after reading William's question did I decide to participate...

William Tallman wrote:

 > ... What you describe is part of the
 > current standard model of astrological practice and the attendent complex of
 > assumptions and beliefs. As such, it is astrology as it might be relevant
 > to the astrological operator: sufficient for the practical usage of a
 > defined astrological construct or model.

I'm glad to hear that this is a standard model. As I suggested, I think there is a difference between theory and practice. Astrology can be almost anything you want in theory, but it may be something very different in practice. Is astrology what it is thought it is, or what astrologers do? Astrology uses today the same basic tools (planets, signs, aspects, houses, directions...) than 2000 years ago, it is the same "technology" (such as the clock, or the calendar, or the wheel), so we can say that astrologers still do the same thing, technically speaking. The ideas about astrology and its function may change from individual to individual, from epoch to epoch, etc., but, in my opinion, these ideas must match what is done in practice, and, in practice, since the time of the Greeks, the astrologer doesn't deal with "the stars", but with coordinates projected on a plane.

This distinction is basic to me. I would welcome any illumination about why this distinction is not important, or wrong.

 > What is assumed here, I think, is the irrelevance or even inappropriateness
 > of astrological inquiry outside the given standard model.

I honestly don't know what is standard or not. To inquire about the planets, or their "behavior" (whatever that means) within a model of thought based on present astrological practice, would be quite irrelevant or inappropriate IF the model used is contradicted by that practice, which is often the case. Or to say it differently: the inquiry, to be relevant, must be based on something which is not modern astrological practices, which, by their nature, contradict the idea that astrology has something to do *directly* with "the stars out there".

 > ... practices that
 > are without real basis, are thus without possibility of understanding in
 > their own terms, and are subject to misuse, abuse, and corruption.

Everything is subject to abuse and corruption. What practices are those you mention? Why do you assume they have no basis? Isn't this assumption a result of the specific model you are following or using? By not having a real basis in your model, are they misleading? Isn't all this relative?.

Generally speaking, perhaps it is not a question of practices "having no real basis", but of a basis which is to be found or inquired about, since it wouldn't be a practice if it did not have a basis.

 > This, I
 > think, is born out by the plethora of divergent and assumedly contradictory
 > practices in astrology.

There would be nothing wrong with this plethora if astrologers would be aware how much what they do contradicts what they say or think about the nature of astrology. The plethora is not the evil, but the inappropriateness of the models that claim to explain it. They may not be contradictory at all, but natural results of basic astrological principles. Perhaps the apparent contradictions of many practices is a sign that the model we have to explain astro-practice is inadequate.

 > Of the many examples of this that abound, one can
 > cite the egregiously ridiculous assumption that tropical and sidereal
 > astrology are mutually exclusive; at least that one has been give respite in
 > recent thinking, but there are any number of others.

I agree with your example. They are complementary. But I understand to a point the "fight"of siderealists, which comes out of the fact that tropicalists often choose to *ignore* the sidereal perspective, or are unaware that they are being "tropicalists". Another example, in my opinion, is the "egregiously ridiculous assumption" that the many alternative ways of calculating the houses, or primary directions, means that one and only one can be correct and all the others are therefore incorrect ot wrong.

 > The object of study is not the solar system itself, but what it is
 > modelling, i.e., the flow of time.
 > --This is a reasonably coherent exposition of the current standard model of
 > astrological assumptions and beliefs. That standard model does not define
 > astrology, but sets forth some current thinking in that regard.

What is "Astrology": an idea or a practice? What defines astrology? Is it acceptable to maintain an idea about astrology which is contradicted by practice?

 > In Babylonia the measurements of time are provided by planetary motions,
 > or, in Greek astronomy, by the Sun (a very important cultural difference!).
 > --Are you saying the Greeks did not utilize planetary motions? Or are you
 > implying that they emphasized the Sun above the motions of the others?

I said "the measurements of time". From what I learn from my readings there are many differences between Greek and Babylonian astronomy. Babylonian astronomy was based on the motions of the planets correlated among themselves in the night sky (sidereal), and therefore their sense of the passage of time was very weak, whereas Greek astronomy was primarily concerned with the Sun, i.e., with the exact measurement of the timing of events, where events are measured against solar phenomena or markers. The Babylonians used the night sky as their reference frame, the Greeks used solar markers (tropical zodiac).

This doesn't mean that the Babylonian didn't know the things the Greeks knew. It means that their cultural values and practices were different, and so was their astrology and astronomy.

A brief explanation of this found, for example, in Raymond Mercier "Studies in the Medieval Concept of Precession, Part I" ('Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences', (1976) 26, page 200). Also in Willy Hartner "The Young Avestan and Babylonian Calendars and the Antecedents of Precession" page 3, Journal for the History of Astronomy x (1979).

 > ... The entire Greek metric was lifted
 > whole cloth from the Babylonians, who used the sexagesimal (base 60). That
 > the Greeks considered geometry to be a key to divine insight, if you will,
 > does not mean that the Babylonians were geometrically illiterate, for they
 > were not.

From my readings, I learn that Greek astronomy is based on geometrical models. Babylonian astronomy is not, it is based on numerical or arithmetic models. This fact does not imply that the Babylonians were ignorant of geometry, and doesn't say anything about the origin of the geometrical models. It is the characteristic of a cultural practice.

This is explained, for example, by Neugebauer in "Problems and Methods in Babylonian Mathematical Astronomy", The Astronomical Journal Vol.72, Nr.8 pp. 964-972 (1967), and also in "The Survival of Babylonian Methods in the Exact Sciences of Antiquity and Middle Ages", Proceed. Ameri. Philos. Soc. Vol.107, No.6 (1963)

 > What I think you are suggesting is that the Greeks invented the graphic
 > representation of a celestial configuration, based on the notion that it
 > would provide insight into the nature of things terrestrial in that time and
 > place.

I am not suggesting about the origin, but about the main characteristic of an established practice...

The argument is based on the characteristics of the "Greek Mentality", as opposed to a "Babylonian Mentality", which --since I am not an expert in this-- is what I have read over and over again, as it becomes evident in what historians know as "Babylonian astronomy" and "Greek astronomy". It doesn't matter --from this perspective-- where something originated. Each culture adapts what it takes from another and imprints it with its own features.

You didn't address my argument that in practice, as opposed to theory, the astrologer doesn't deal with the stars except indirectly. Once the map is done, the astrologer deals with the map, not with the observed reality of the heavens. There are even many who believe that calculating planetary positions is not astrology but astronomy... in which case astrological practice *never* deals with "the stars".



End of Exegesis Digest Volume 5 Issue 42

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