|Exegesis Volume 6 Issue #8
Exegesis Digest Mon, 19 Feb 2001
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 15:05:17 -0800
From: "William D. Tallman"
Subject: Astrology: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
It has occurred to me that I've inadvertently painted a misleading picture of the current state of astrology, wherein I've emphasized all the things that astrology lacks if it is ever to achieve general acceptance in modern times. In painting that picture, I have, so I have come to think, made the assumption that the potential positive versions thereof would be obvious to the reader.
I can now see how that assumption is at the very least undependable, and is most probably simply invalid; my growing suspicion is that the reader may indeed draw the conclusion I basically hold no hope for astrology. Were that true, I would never have appeared in this forum. So I'm going to take some pains to paint another picture here, one that addresses what is possible for the future of astrology, if the effort is made to make it so.
To begin with, I will look at what already exists, what is already available, and what has already been done.. at least so far as I am personally aware.
Astrology has a fairly rich traditional lore, the applications of which are becoming more accessible through research. In general, there have been only a few periods during which active practice and study did not take place throughout the civilized world. So not only does a very long history of the study exist, but it can be seen to encompass virtually every culture as well. The result is a rather enormous mass of material that emanates directly from the study of the heavens for the specific purpose of divining the affairs, and the future, of mankind. This historical resource is very poorly understood, however, and will require a good deal of effort to take in hand; nevertheless, we do not suffer a dearth of recorded astrological practice.
The central problem in addressing all this is the current definition of astrology. In the main, it is assumed that 'legitimate' astrology is limited to horoscopy, such that any material that is not relevant thereto is not to be considered astrological in nature. Of course, the traditional lore of horoscopy is much more limited than that of astrology in general, which tends to imply that this limitation applies to astrology as well. This does not have to be the case. It only takes the declaration that any study of the celestial sphere for the purpose of divining the affairs and future of man is, by literal definition, astrology. Corollary to this, of course, is the declaration that horoscopy is a specific branch of astrology, such that is the basis of our current usage. If we can do this, we can develop ways of accessing the value inherent in all the material that is not specifically horoscopic in orientation.
So the thrust of effort in these regards should be towards generating a systematic approach to astrological material, whenever and wherever it was generated, such that nothing is simply dismissed out of hand for the lack of any way of seeing what to do with it. There is some excellent work being carried out currently in several venues, each of which, as one might expect, has its own orientation and its own purposes. Where work is not being done, it is certainly not because the expertise to do so does not exist, it is because there is currently no recognizable (much less accepted) meta-format that exists to draw all these materials together. It is the development of that meta-format which I would specifically suggest be immediately addressed, and by those who are disposed by talent, training, and inclination towards that sort of work.
It's pretty obvious that applied astrology is the principle, if not the only, current strength extant. There are very many people who practice astrology at one or another level of expertise, commitment, and ability (knows stuff, wants to do stuff, and can do stuff). At the moment, we know more about astrology than at any time in the history of mankind, because we have a broader array of tools and skills at our disposal than ever before. We have general availability to any given individual of every known (by modern researchers) aspect of astrological knowledge and usage. The price of the book and the will to apply what is there is all that is required, and from the ubiquitous presence of the friendly neighborhood psychic book shop, almost all of which have a more or less extensive astrology section, it would seem that the price is available and the will (presumably) to make use of it is also there.
We have an interesting array of different 'schools' of astrological practice, representing most horoscopy about which anything much is known, and including some astrology that is perhaps based or derived from horoscopy but takes it into different areas of application. We have a discernible philosophical spectrum concerning all aspects of astrology, both theoretical and practical, and in this last century (the twentieth) there has been quite well known and respected work to discover and show how astrology can (does?) correlate with modern academically accredited disciplines of knowledge. We also have a surprisingly extensive range of astrological application, although that is not at all well known, even within the astrological community.
What we don't have is any way of seeing how all of these various schools, practices and applications relate to each other, such that they all form a discernible general field of study, discipline of practice, etc. It would seem trivial to at least establish the fundamentals for doing this: They all deal with planets and the configurations they create in the celestial sphere. They all operate within the same environment and apply to the same terrestrial phenomena... the affairs of men. They share a common fundamental terminology and rudimentary language.
The reality is, however, that each of these various manifestations of astrology are basically parochial, such that they do not easily admit to comparison with each other. The devotees and practitioners of each appear to hold that they are the custodian of astrological 'truth', where the implication is that others do, at best, to a lesser extent, if at all. The saving grace here is that the devotees and practitioners are generally amongst the minority, where the majority are users not fully committed, if at all, and there are always some number of dilettantes or students that are even less committed, of course. These students (dilettantes?) generate, in their own practice and experience, some form of individual means of correlating the various schools and applications they follow, and so we cannot assume that a way of relating this panoply of astrology such that creates a whole, does not exist, for indeed it obviously does. Individuals do it all the time. We need to discover what is most commonly done and why.
A great deal of theoretical work has been done in astrology in the past century, some of which has apparently fairly ready academic acceptance (the work, not astrology itself). There are several stages in which that work has developed, each more or less resting on that which went before. Some of this work is represented in current astrological thought and practice, and some is not. Most of this work is generally available in book form.
In addition, there has been a continuing effort to ground astrology in science that has gone forward through the centuries, and it is doing so today. Of my own knowledge, there are several projects that have been undertaken by qualified and well regarded scientists for the specific purpose of developing a foundation for astrology in one or another field of science. One of which I am currently aware explicitly intends to develop a solid and testable foundation for astrology in physics, and I am given to understand has made good progress.. ie has generated some testable theoretical material, which appears to be currently undergoing verification, etc., etc.. There are others that approach astrology from a biological point of view, as well as the better known psychological approaches.
So far as I know, none of these have reached the stage of legitimate full scale test projects, but apparently not for the lack of will on the part of the workers involved. The means to carry these projects out simply does not now exist. The best that can be done is to amass case studies and submit them to some sort of inspection and manipulation, usually involving statistics in one form or another. The sort of projects that require a large number of workers are apparently not presently possible, simply because the personnel is not available to do the work. It's important to note here, that the personnel does indeed exist. There are more than enough astrologers out there to do a variety of such projects, but there is a uniform reluctance, if not outright refusal, on the part of the astrological community in general to be involved in such efforts.
The reasons for this are several. There is the perception on the part of most astrologers that they are not able to do the work, whatever it is. There is the perception on the part of most astrologers that such efforts constitute a clear and present danger to their own form of practice. And there is the general ideology that astrology is best left a mystery, lest it be contaminated somehow by any sort of active investigation. There are other reasons as well, but these are fairly well known and understood by most of us.
In other areas of study, the area itself is the subject of respect and is regarded as having intrinsic value in its own right. People come to study and learn such subjects, and those who can and will, go on to contribute their own work to the field, such that all who study are heirs to whatever enrichment those contributions create. This is not the case with astrology, and the reasons for this are themselves fairly well understood, I think: most fall into the categories already stated above. I will address those reasons shortly.
So there are possibilities for the advancement of astrological knowledge, and those possibilities have been more or less continuously presented by one or another astrologer, but there is virtually no one there to accept and make use of those possibilities. Without such a corps of workers in astrological research, virtually nothing is possible in the area of theoretical development beyond the individual (small group) efforts in case studies, etc.
In order to make any sense of this state of affairs, its useful to look at what sort of situation can be said to be the case with current astrology. If we can do that, maybe we can see at least where effort is required
The fundamental type of organization that is now manifest in astrology is approximately that of the old craft guild halls, but without the benefits thereof and with most of the abuses instead. Astrological knowledge is doled out by those who have it, but quite deceitfully: the lore is presented with the implied assumption that it will support the generation of a given individual's competency as an astrologer, but with the full knowledge that it is not the lore but the personal skills and talents that are the operative function. If it were possible that the lore itself could do the job, then cook-book astrology would be a real value; so far as we have seen to date, it is not.
These skills and talents are indeed developed in astrology schools, as are all such, through exercise and application under knowledgeable guidance, but the results are all too often the generation of yet another devotee to a particular school or practice, such that supports the continued existence of the school itself rather than the career of the student. These schools are created, not by demonstration of a haven for meritocracy, but by any 'astrologer' who can manage to market themselves well enough to have a book they've written accepted for publication. This gives them the leverage to do the lecture circuit and write articles in the various astrology magazines, such that their names are advertised and their reputations duly enhanced. They then cash in by contributing to the founding of a 'school of astrology', which serves to further underwrite continued publication, etc. etc.
Some of these people are indeed good astrologers, but so are many practitioners who do not so market themselves. Some can indeed teach astrology itself, rather than their own brand of astro-charisma, but so can many other astrologers about whom we never hear. But neither of these are the rule, unfortunately, and in any case, there is no way of demonstrating peer reviewed competency upon which the student can rely as a matter of course. I remember being told at one point by someone who would have seen me become a prosperous astrologer: "You don't have to be good, you just have to be 'out there'!!". I declined to embrace that point of view, but it's rather obvious that it is a discernible rule of thumb in the astrology profession.
If this is the present state of affairs, then we can ask what they could be given the current state of astrology organization. A very brief look at the past can provide an answer.
In the old guild halls, there were grades that the learner achieved, the overall organization of which fell into three categories: apprentice, journeyman, and master. The apprentice studied in a guild hall with a master, and having completed that course of instruction, set out (journeyed) through a succession of jobs or postings, where further learning of different ways of doing things took place. Whoever could then demonstrate a product of value in the marketplace could then develop a personal reputation that led to the achievement of the status of master. These three stages are still in use in the trades (it's socio-politically incorrect to contemplate oneself as a master, and so that grade exists in the form of the business owner who has developed the marketable reputation).
They are also mirrored in academia, which developed only a short while later, although well within the era of the guilds: the Bachelor's degree is the achievement of journeyman status, having completed the apprentice course of undergraduate study. The Master's degree is the achievement of the eponymous guild status, where the individual demonstrates the ability to do original work. The Doctorate is a further step, specifically oriented to academia. It is the ability to demonstrate mastery of the philosophy of the subject of interest, such that it can be taught (doctor -docent.. common root), although now it's more oriented towards the demonstration of that philosophical mastery in the production of original work that is of accepted value to the professional community. In general, the difference between the Master's thesis and the Doctoral dissertation is that of knowing how, and being able to actually do, original work. Beyond the Doctorate is the Professorship, etc, etc.
Astrology has nothing of this sort, because there is no means of coordinating the various schools such that they are of discernible value to each other.. so that credits in one are honored in another, for instance. This may be the case in specific situations but is not so generally. Absent this, there seems no means of establishing any sort of whole field (all-astrology) construct into which all this disparate practice and philosophy can be assembled. So astrology can neither demonstrate competency as a trade/craft, or as a profession. I will readily admit that my judgments of the standards of an astrology professional have no intrinsic basis in the practice of astrology; those standards come from elsewhere in the care-giving community.
In short, much is possible, but very little is accomplishable. The astrological community is unwilling to give general support to any serious attempt to further our understanding of astrology, even though the ways and means to do so not only exist but are regularly offered for use. Although I've addressed the reasons for this situation a number of times, and in different forums, I said I would do it here. And so I will.
At present, astrology is largely the purview of those who want what they are not willing to earn. They want the security of a means of knowing what is not, for whatever reason, immediately obvious, but they are not willing to risk that security by questioning the means they use. For them, astrology is the ideal world view: it provides a means of gaining insight into the nature of human reality, but it allows them to determine the meaning and significance of that reality as they like, with no requirement to support their claims in any way. The fact that most astrological usage today is a manipulation of archetypes means that the interpretations thereof can be anything the practitioner wishes, with the idea of a more concrete version of the lore being unacceptably 'deterministic'.
Accordingly, we see a strong tendency of astrologers to identify themselves more with some one or another point of view rather than with astrology itself. We see them use such points of view that have been generally identified and subscribed as sources of authority, very much in the same manner as religious sectism where that authority provides 'revealed knowledge' that does not admit query or doubt. These groups become havens of support, where defense against such heretical activity can be vigorously mounted, thus providing further isolating confirmation of what seems very like parochial righteousness.
It is customary in our times to engage some institutional world view as a virtual replacement for one's inner and subjective reality. Examples of such institutions range from religion and philosophy to advocacy of some social stance or cultural practice. In general, the default fallback mode for each of these is militaristic and aggressive defensiveness. So it is now with astrology, but astrology itself is not one of those institutions: the various established points of view arrogate astrology as a foundation for their own support, creating this militant parochialism inside the body of astrological practice and thought.
Historically, we can see that one of the major cultural determinants of the last several millennium is laid upon the various interpretations and worships of a single (historical?) figure's acknowledgment and commitment to a single deity. From Abraham and Yahweh have descended three of the most militaristic world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and much of the history of western civilization is writ by the antagonism between these three. I suspect that if the subscription to astrology was that extensive, we would not have a much less tragic history of astrology itself to record. Never mind the fairly universal objection that astrology is meant only for the benefit and nurture of mankind: the exact same claims were and are put forth by these world religions.
We can suppose, of course, that what we're really addressing here is the state of the human condition, the reality of human nature. And it's difficult to argue the point. But what is most important to realize here is that not all such human endeavor is oriented to and maintained in this manner. While science and academia certainly have their versions of this sort of thing, the acknowledged intention is that the endeavors themselves be raised above that level. This is also generally true of the established arts. Why isn't, or can it not be, true for astrology as well?
As long as the majority of astrologers conceive of astrology as a form of religion, I see no potential for change in this state of affairs. It used to be said that astrology was the queen of sciences; we all know why this is no longer so, but we appear to now believe that astrology is not and can never be any sort of science again. The reality here is that any field of interest can be made a science (as well as an art, a philosophy, a practice or craft, etc.), all that is required is that it be treated as such, that the methodologies and philosophies of science be brought to bear on astrology.
It is now commonly thought, apparently, that astrology cannot be both a science and a religion, and maybe that's true, but I suggest that this depends on how both of these treat with astrology. The default mode is to position them as mutually exclusive antagonists, such that lays waste to any grounds upon which they meet, but that is the result of refusal to put forth any effort to understand or exert control over either of these pursuits. The fact is, I submit, that the state of astrology today is that of the 'wasted grounds' where science and religion have fought numerous battles. So it's not the fault of astrology itself, but how it has been used, that is the root of the Problem of Astrology, I think.
It would appear that there indeed exists much positive potential for astrology, not just as a matter of it's own essential value, but of the variety of possible and extant tools, skills, projects, ideas, etc., that continue to arise and be offered to the astrological community. Unfortunately, that community does not now have the means or inclination to accept or make use of these offerings. I've described this situation briefly as best I can in this post. The question now is: what can be done?
In my next post, I will address that question in some detail.
End of Exegesis Digest Volume 6 Issue 8
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