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

Astrology Considered as a Potential Science of Time
by Dennis Frank

    Astrology can obtain a contemporary form if it's primary elements can be derived from our generic collective experience of life on earth.  Making common experience the criterion is daunting, since it requires the integration of personal experience within a social context grounded in the natural environment.  It would appear that a pragmatic approach is best, which identifies the components of traditional astrology that are most readily accessible to consensus recognition.  This enables the appearance of astrology as commonly taught and learnt to be 'saved' to a substantial extent.  To obtain credibility for this irrational belief system then remains the challenge.

    The pragmatic approach proceeds to identify potential common ground with contemporary belief systems, upon which a connecting rationale might be erected.  Such a rationale would serve the dual purpose of explaining the previously inexplicable beliefs of astrologers in a way that made sense to the modern educated sophisticated mind, and developing an evident consistency between astrology and other fields of knowledge.  Such a pragmatic approach, if undertaken by astrologers in collaboration, and maintained sufficiently, would in effect be progressive, because it would build a multi-disciplinary contextual basis for astrology within the new paradigm.  I'm here using paradigm in its widest postmodern sense, as the prevailing belief system of the emerging global civilisation, of which the new paradigm of science is merely the most influential component.

    Rudhyar showed the way, using Smuts' theory of holism, Jung's theory of individuation and Assagioli's theory of psychosynthesis to provide the horoscope with a modern rationale as model of the psyche.  His grasp of science was unfortunately too tenuous to enable him to go further, but it is surprising that others have failed to do so.  A scan of astrologers' web sites reveals the abysmal performance in this area:  one or two of promising quality, then a bunch that at least pay lip service to the need to provide astrology with a plausible rationale, then many more that deliberately set out to insult the readers' intelligence with pseudo-explanations, all of which are vastly out-numbered by the rest, which make no attempt to provide the public with reasons to take astrology seriously at all.

    What if astrology really is a nascent science of time?  The use of the horoscope seems always to have suggested so, but the focus has always been on individual moments.  Traditional astrology merely provides a system for studying their horoscopes.  The 20th century saw a progressive trend toward the development of a modern astrology in which the study of time periods became popular, but it was rather hamstrung by the lack of a rational theoretical framework.  Time periods are features of the collective temporal environment.  A consensual interpretive framework would enable astrologers to agree on the main features of time periods, and a relatively  objective meaning of any time period would then be established by consensus. This would then be communicable to the general public.  The public would be delighted.  At the moment all they get is a cacophony of astrologers all asserting different subjective opinions, so they think astrology has no credible substance.

    When I say a science of time, I mean science in its original sense. Scientists would tend to reject it as mere philosophy, but there is a fashion trend tending to sideline this once-prevailing view.  The emergence of a multi-disciplinary alternative view, particularly within younger generations of scientists, accompanies the paradigm shift.  Certain parameters will define the metaphysical territory of any science of time that can interface consistently with astrology.  Nature must be defined as the home planet environment that we experience (not, as physicists understand nature, to include outer space), and human experience of the temporal continuum must be assumed to be structured by the cycles of the solar system.

    Traditional astrology provides an ad hoc theory for describing the changing qualities of the time we experience, but this can be improved by incorporating a theoretical structure that endows astrology with a consistency of meaning.  This new structure ought to be consistent with the traditional framework.  Identifying an archetypal structure to time cycles serves this purpose:  no longer is it merely the signs of the zodiac that are given meaning by the 12 unique combinations of elements and modalities; houses and aspects can also be rationalised by means of the same logic.  The appearances of the traditional primary components of the horoscope are thereby saved.

    Dane Rudhyar seems to have intuitively seen this, without making it explicit.  However he did advocate a focus on cycles in the process of change.  In 1936 he wrote that "essentially life is cyclic motion".  This may seem a metaphysical stance, but I have read books by specialists on biological clocks where it is asserted as a biological truth.  "Astrology is philosophically meaningless unless it rests on a thorough understanding of cycles and of the creative potency of every moment - especially those 'seed-moments' which become such by reason of their being the points of departure of cycles." [1]

    "The new philosophy of Time, or of the Cycle, is yet to be written." Rudhyar wrote that he does not intend to provide it, but "a mere sketch of those of its aspects which refer more especially to psychology and astrology."  "Every cycle can be interpreted structurally as being composed of beginning, middle and end."  But these divisions "are to be understood in a metaphysical sense".  He describes the beginning as the period of germination of a seed, after which "the energy which was in the seed keeps operating" and "has now become a process.  This 'process' is the fundamental reality of the 'middle' of the cycle.  By the term 'middle', however, must be understood the whole of the becoming:  The entire series of moments that occur between the initial moment of emanation and the final moment of consummation." [2]

    "Astrology is rooted in the mystery of time.. the universe appears as a grouping of causally related elements in an abstract matrix which now is called space-time, or the continuum.  In such a theory the essence of space completely absorbs the reality of time, which merely becomes a fourth dimension of space.  As Bergson pointed out in his great work "Creative Evolution", the time of science is purely mathematical and has no intrinsic vital value.  He then tried to approach the reality of time, which he expressed by the term 'duration'." [3]   Which prompts consideration of the following definition...

ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA:  process philosophy

    A 20th-century school of Western philosophy that emphasizes the elements of becoming, change, and novelty in experienced reality; it opposes the traditional Western philosophical stress on being, permanence, and uniformity. Reality--including both the natural world and the human sphere--is essentially historical in this view, emerging from (and bearing) a past and advancing into a novel future. Hence, it cannot be grasped by the static spatial concepts of the old views, which ignore the temporal and novel aspects of the universe given in man's experience. Foremost among the many modern thinkers who have contributed to process philosophy have been Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead.

    It remains to be seen how evolved this philosophy has become, but it does seem to be complementary to Smuts' philosophy of holism, which Rudhyar did explicitly acknowledge and integrate into his modern theory of astrology (see p.52-56, 58, 125).  "Thus the science of cycles.. Cyclology is to the science of wholes what mathematics is to modern physical science. Mathematics analyzes space, cyclology analyzes time - real time, the time of the living and the whole.  The former starts from a strictly causal, intellectual, external (in General Smuts' sense of the term) viewpoint of the universe, conceived as extended in an abstract space-time continuum, in which time is interpreted as an extra spatial coordinate.  The latter starts from a synchronistic, holistic, internal view of the universe conceived as 'in-tensed' in a cyclic psycho-biological time, the unit of which might be called the 'quantum of duration', viz. the creative moment.  The moment is creative inasmuch as it releases the power needed to make wholes.  It is a sort of 'photon', as it represents a unit of release of that whole-making energy which is the innermost reality of time." [4]

    "In astrology, all measurements begin with the first point of independent existence;  in the case of a human destiny, the first breath." [5]   This rationale is consistent with traditional horoscopic practice.  Rudhyar later comments that "the main differences between the astrological and the psychological approaches is that while the latter sees nothing but the "process of becoming whole" as it unfolds in Bergsonian duration through myriads of transformations, the former claims that the ultimate wholeness reached at the end of the process is already there at the very beginning of the process, but only as an abstract ideal and a mere potentiality." [6] The premise is that the 'seed' in the moment that launches a (whole-making) process is some kind of plan that is inherent in natural time.  This plan seems to exist at that deep, informational level of nature where the archetypes come from.  I find it best to conceive it as a blueprint, a pattern which constellates the archetypes in an overall configuration in order to compose the whole which is launched into development as the process gets under way.  The horoscope depicts this pattern.

    Ancient astrologers used a horoscope to divine the prospects of a birth of a person or a city.  Their premise was that the configuration of the heavens somehow was a portent of the destiny of whatever began in the moment. "Every moment of time is creative of a particular quality which is, figuratively, stamped upon any whole reaching the condition of independent existence at that moment.  The quality of the moment and the quality of the wholeness of the whole are identical."  That's how Rudhyar translated the premise into modern terms in 1936.  We can go a little further and postulate an archetypal pattern that produces planetary cycles and configurations synchronously with an invisible 'imprint' of unique quality and schedule of development imparted to any commencing process. Along with sub-atomic particles, the archetypes of nature emerge from the realm of potential as the pattern of the solar system unfolds in time.  In each microcosm that begins a process, the originating pattern manifests as "both energy and structure.  The structure remains unchanging, as the blueprint does during a building operation.. In other words, the idea of the building is the archetype.  It conditions the building-operations.. When the building-operations are completed, the blueprint has become substantialized  into a concrete body." [7]

    Rudhyar lamented that "traditional astrology is satisfied with stating the way in which a birth-chart (or horary, or progressed chart) is to be erected, and to tabulate the traditional meanings attached to every aspect and position, mixing up rather hopelessly psychological, physiological and purely divinatory concepts.  Of the rationale of the elements used in passing judgement (positions, aspects, etc.) very little is usually said." [8]   More than two Saturn cycles later, nothing has changed.  Interpretations offered by astrologers are unconvincing at best and incoherent and banal at worst because they have yet to learn the language properly.  A more standardised set of keywords will be compiled once astrologers realise that these are generated in consciousness by familiarity with the archetypes that underlie the symbols.  Tradition retains a focus on the symbols, and while some associated historical meanings are fairly accurate, many are not, and this produces hit-or-miss interpretation.  Progress requires going deeper than this, and will only be enabled by a focus on those archetypes that the components of the horoscope represent. What do they really mean?  An attitude of enquiry is necessary.

    Rudhyar wrote that "the philosophy of Time, which is the necessary background to a vital and holistic presentation of astrology, finds its expression essentially in two factors:  viz., the Moment and the Cycle". [9] Mundane astrology provides traditional methods of utilising cycles to give meaning to time periods.  The results remain unpersuasive because different practitioners pursue their personal artistry in interpretation, and little consensual meaning is detected by the public observers of their assertions. If a contemporary approach were instead adopted, using the archetypal cycle as decoding device, a similar interpretive language would become familiar to practitioners, and the consequence would be the relatively objective description of the meaning of a time period produced by the similar (if not identical) descriptive terms deployed by the various interpreters.

    The synchronicity depicted by the horoscope, a correspondence of pattern between heaven and earth that is produced by a unitary origin, is a microcosm which is a unique part of the passing of time on Earth, the latter being a continuum which is a macrocosm.  If we regard the relation between moment and continuum as being primary, and the relation between event or psychological state and planetary configuration as secondary, we may get closer to a contemporary science of time that can form the philosophical basis of a contemporary theory of astrology.  This primary relation is holistic:  part to whole.  The whole (continuum) is the temporal context of life, a fundamental, if unrecognised, part of our natural environment.  It must be stressed that this is Gaian time - it is a continuum which is itself a minor local space microcosm of the space-time continuum described by physicists and astronomers. The latter is a macrocosm conceived as a universal context.

    The fact that astrologers derive meaning from the Earth's temporal context, whereas astronomers and physicists use a universal temporal context, is a crucial difference from which many misunderstandings arise, such as those involving the definition of the zodiac.  Comprehension of environmental context is vital to enable the development of any contemporary formulation of astrology.  Nature, life, and personal experience all derive from it. Anchoring their theory on such a sound basis would be a smart move for astrologers.

    "Man models himself on Earth, Earth on Heaven, Heaven on the Way, and the Way on Nature"  (Lao Tzu, ca. 6th century BC) [10] An evocative thought, but I'd rather it signalled a more explicit message, even if simply that the same underlying pattern generates the phenomena of each realm.  Since our right-brain hemisphere evolved to provide us with pattern recognition, how might we make this capacity more conscious? Marshall McLuhan's focus was the media, but his daughter's is nature, and she has an answer...

    "Ideas about the universe and one's place in its structure are frequently conveyed through the intricately constructed world of correlation that often takes place in the natural world."  "Thinking by correlation means recognizing causal, complementary, parallel or reciprocal relationships between two or more entities.  It also means perceiving a pattern that can manifest at different levels and in a variety of ways."  "The use of correlation allows the grand patterns of Nature and being to be grasped." [11]

    She cites this oft-quoted insight of the distinguished anthropologist Gregory Bateson:  "The pattern which connects is a metapattern.  It is a pattern of patterns.  It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalisation that, indeed, it is patterns which connect." [12]

    What strikes me as useful about this concept of metapattern for astrology, is that it enables the microcosm to be linked to the macrocosm somewhat more explicitly.  The moment can be seen as a connecting node in the metapattern. Likening the metapattern to a web, or net, each node is linked by strands to others, and thus embedded in the context of the whole network.  This image may prove helpful as analogy.  Moments are not just sequential in the astrological world-view:  the same moment may give birth to events anywhere on earth simultaneously.  The relation of part to whole, moment to continuum, is spatio-temporal in context.  Each microcosm has its place in the order of the macrocosm.  This ordered relation of part to whole is the consequence of the metapattern which produces the whole.  The pattern we see, that the horoscope represents, is just a momentary glimpse of a local manifestation of the metapattern.

    In the 1980s the holographic paradigm was touted as the best new model for natural philosophy, and it still seems useful, if not essential, to a systems and process focus on the forms produced in nature and the universe. The essence of this view is that the pattern of the whole is contained in each part.  The relevance for the astrologer is that this provides a metaphysical basis in the new paradigm for the traditional belief encapsulated by the hermetic maxim 'as above, so below'.  Each moment contains the pattern of the local cosmos at that time.  The pattern conveys meaning at the archetypal level to those able to decode it.  The traditional scheme for this decoding incorporates an archetypal structure of natural time cycles.  This is the zodiacal archetype, the 4x3 matrix of elements and modalities that has been used since ancient times to provide the metaphysical basis for the unique meanings of each sign of the zodiac.  In even more ancient times it was used as a purely mathematical device to create a calendar by combining the months and the years.  It was depicted visually as 12 equal divisions of a circle, but understood as 12 equal divisions of a cycle.  It is the reason that the 12 houses of the horoscope were given meanings analogous to the 12 signs of the zodiac, since the divisions of the diurnal cycle were deemed to be analogous to those of the annual cycle.  Likewise, the aspects were conceived as 12 equal divisions of an archetypal phase relationship cycle between planets.

    The zodiacal archetype functions as a metaphysical frame of reference for astrologers, enabling interpretations of time periods to be ascertained on a trans-cultural basis.  It allows the arbitrary meanings projected on planets and signs of the zodiac by local cultures and individual practitioners to be disregarded.  For instance, Aries may have meant merely Spring to Ptolemy, but to anyone else at any place and any time it means cardinal fire! Likewise the conjunction, the start of any natural cycle that provides duration as a context for human experience, is seen as a genesis of emerging archetypal quality that colours a period and endows that quality on any commencing process. Extending the logic to the successive phases, we can apply a temporal pattern recognition to our experience.  This recognition requires a reality check if we want to achieve a reliable body of knowledge. It involves matching theory with real life experience via situational case studies.

    The horoscope provides a map of an event, freezing moment (time) in relation to locality (place), and the complexity of the map derives from the traditional astrological frames of reference.  However once the astrologer recognises that the zodiacal archetype provides a common matrix of unique meanings for each of 12 phases that compose any natural time cycle, all those that are frozen in the horoscope can be decoded on the same consistent basis.  Interpreting the positions of the many hands of the solar system clock then becomes a more consistent process, and when practitioners rely on this instead of arbitrary projections and local cultural traditions, we can expect the primary meanings contained in the language of astrology to condense on a consensual basis, with interpretations of both horoscopes and time periods made by different practitioners trending toward agreement instead of the traditional disagreement.


[1]  The Astrology of Personality, D Rudhyar, 1936, p.114. « Text
[2]  ibid., p.117. « Text
[3]  ibid., p.59. « Text
[4]  ibid., p.60/1. « Text
[5]  ibid., p.49. « Text
[6]  ibid., p.467. « Text
[7]  ibid., p.134/5. « Text
[8]  ibid., p.149. « Text
[9]  ibid., p.91. « Text
[10]  The Way of the Earth:  Encounters with Nature in Ancient and Contemporary Thought, TC McLuhan, 1994, p.18. « Text
[11]  ibid., p.31. « Text
[12]  ibid., p.19  (from Bateson's Mind and Nature, 1979, p.11). « Text

To cite this page:
Dennis Frank: Astrology Considered as a Potential Science of Time
All rights reserved © 2001 Dennis Frank

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