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Astrology's Paradigm: Its main Axioms and Implications
by Richard Vetter

Ed. N.: This article was previously published in Ken Gillman's Considerations (volume XV number 4, November 2000 - January 2001).

In the sixties the historical scientist T. Kuhn coined the conception of different "paradigms". According to him a paradigm is a specific scheme or way of thinking; it's sort of a mental frame or pattern –a research program directing generations of scientists in their ordinary doings. A paradigm provides the scientific community's basic axioms; all conceivable questions and answers depend on its premises. The prevailing paradigm is the glasses everyone is looking through. It defines the categories of perception that people need in dealing with reality. Because of its broad acceptance (within the scientific community) the paradigm is the motor of all research's progress. Yet, the paradigm's inherent model of reality inevitably also limits the scientists' results – for one just can't see what one is unable to imagine!

Whenever a paradigm's faults and errors (anomalies) become obvious – which in astronomy occurred following the new discoveries that came with the introduction of the telescope – the dominant world-view will slide into a crisis and finally break down. That is how the Copernican Revolution and the paradigm shift from Newton's mechanics to quantum physics took place.

Principally you can't compare two paradigms' basic assumptions. They are incommensurable (i.e. incompatible) since each was established from fundamentally different "laws". They are rooted in diverging modes of perception and cannot understand each other's language – even when using the same terms or symbols.

Every paradigm has specific ideas and methods. It forms its own kind of theories and bears its own fruits or empirical "facts" by means of its own special measuring instruments. From the (ignorant) viewpoint of one paradigm the results of another are inevitably wrong – they will be based on some quite "absurd" presuppositions. Unfortunately, we possess no external (objective) criteria for that precious thing we call truth – so we can't really back one position; for example, we can't prove the Bible's arguments in its dispute with science. Every paradigm has its own kind of logic and reasoning; accordingly, we must call each paradigm coherent and plausible in its way – though it may describe and explain a world and its phenomena that is totally different to our personal view.

Without doubt astrology is such a unique paradigm. Though in its several thousand year-old history the theories about planetary influence have changed a lot, astrology's essence has nevertheless remained the same. At different times astrology's contents have been viewed differently – but its central axioms have remained. The starry wisdom's pillars are:

Astrology has its law of analogy in common with all mantic or divining methods. Its symbols are metaphoric; they function like parables and rely on some parallelism between heaven and earth. Microcosm and macrocosm, inside and outside, things are in accordance to one another – there is an essential equivalence, a special kinship on the level of sense and meaning. Yet, the kind of similarity between the things above and below is not a fixed one; a constellation's level of realization or factual manifestation is not determined. Nature in this regard proves quite inventive, creative and manifold – though the observed phenomena are always consistent with the actual planetary configuration, that is, all the things occur according to the underlying symbolic pattern. We cannot prophesy how an analogy will become realized in every detail; exactly testing and validating a constellation's effects is a fruitless effort – for the cosmos is smarter than the human mind in detecting and producing totally new equivalents.

The law of accordance does not talk about causation; analogies do not tell of unequivocal heavenly causes and earthly consequences. The principle of "above and below" is a descriptive one: the structure of the atmospheric powers, the relations and connections of the diverse existing energies can only be described, and then only in an intricately differentiated way. As a result, grasping and naming a constellation's meaning is more useful and important than mentally or empirically analyzing it.

The reason why someone or something reacts to the cosmic conditions is usually explained by natural philosophical terms like "affinity" or "resonance". The medieval myth of the music of the spheres (which isrooted in the Pythagorean tradition) states that a soul's chords will sound whenever the chords in the planetary harp that accord to it are plucked. Modern authors say that the only things that can befall me are those that I am receptive to or ready for, those I am unconsciously attracted to. So causation goes the other way round, it doesn't begin with the stars and planets but with the unconscious self.

Thinking in analogies is older than astrology; it is at least older – and more important – than the astrologer referring to astronomical data. As T. Schaefer has pointed out, historically the first chart – the Mesopotamian liver chart – didn't need any stars and their diligent observation. Yet, the ancients were already making use of astrology's typical system of correspondences!

Time's quality is the second pillar astrology's model is based upon. This is actually the central axiom of every oracular method (like the I-Ching or Tarot systems). In this view time is not considered an empty container that may be filled with any content. Time is not a river senselessly passing by; it is not a clock just ticking indifferently. Time is seen as being full of meaning, it is some kind of transcendent, unlimited reservoir; it is seen as being pregnant with all potentialities, with all the seeds of creation – and in every moment one or the other is born or actualized. In this sense time may be equated with absolute being or eternity, whose otherworldly concentrated substrata get unzipped along this world's quantitative time axis, thus becoming visible and siezable to everyone.

During a process of the time's contents being manifested the astrologer is able to detect specific cycles and rhythms. He is able to see some repetition of the same, extended or reduced (cf. the transits and directions), even though a constellation's physical realization may differ enormously. On the abstract level of sense and meaning there is no doubt about a moment's content – it is quite definite and clear. Yet, its concrete manifestation may put on many garments.

From an astrological view, events happening at the same time are interrelated in a non-causal way – a principle C. Jung called synchronicity. Thus persons and things (or planetary cycles) are connected to one another; and there is an inner correspondence or coincidence – though to a layman's eye they seem to have nothing in common. The time and place of an occurrence is not irrelevant or accidental; its specific attributes depend on hidden (occult) processes and developments. Astrology's code tries to decipher this cosmic bell's toll.

Because of time's quality the moment of birth is absolutely crucial; the eminent moment of a being entering into earthly existence will inform the astrologer all about a person's qualities and endowments. Like a vintage, each individual born at a specific time will bear that moment's unique characteristics, its typical aura and flavor. As his life progresses the person will give shape to the special contents of the moment of his first cry. "The beginning contains the end," the Emerald Table's affiliated concept says. This is an Uroboric idea (the snake biting its own tail), saying that a development's starting point, its course and its results are inseparably bound up with one another.

The quality of numbers is the third central axiom. To a certain degree numerical quantities, that is, enumerations and arithmetic procedures, are necessary for astrologers – the tables of the ephemeris and the results of computer calculations become the basis for any interpretation. Yet – another Pythagorean idea – figures and numbers are predominantly considered metaphysical entities that transport some profound meaning.

Just as in numerology, the numeral "one" stands for something whole and complete, and this corresponds to the Sun and the conjunction aspect. The numeral "two" is symbolic of things that are split or separated, of something tossing back and forth – and these are also typical features of the Moon and the opposition aspect, and so on. Such qualitative view of numbers were still customary four hundred years ago – which is why people then and in earlier times considered the term "mathematician" to be a synonym of the astrologer's profession.

Detailed geometry is the point wherein the knowledge of the stars differs and distinguishes itself from other mantic systems. Yet, the astrological conception altogether isn't just a reflection of the firmament's given or observed facts: the horoscope is a sort of a typification, a stylized model of astronomical realities. By it all heavenly bodies become related to the ecliptic – their actual declination or latitude doesn't really matter. And the ecliptic is not depicted as an ellipse but as a perfect (Platonic) circle. It is criteria like proportion and symmetry that are decisive in astrology's system. (Kepler deserves the greatest accolades because of his sublime geometrical and harmonic explanation of the astrological aspects.) For aesthetical and theoretical reasons the Sun's annual path has been divided into twelve equal – ideal, not real – parts of exactly 30º. Similarly the earth's rotation has been dealt with: every day is seen to consist of twelve phases or houses (of approximately two hours). These duodecimal systems mathematically are composed of "three times four". In general, the figure "four" stands for structural categories of being, i.e. the elements and quadrants. And the figure "three" signifies dynamics — cardinal, fixed and mutable (houses or signs); Doebereiner's triple-step evolution (jumping from the third to the first quadrant, going on to the second and finally reaching the fourth) is another illustration of this numeral's inherent energetic moment and drive.

Whenever in a beginners' course a student of astrology counts a chart's weight of the elements, this is already an engagement in astrology's specific geometry. Whenever we simply differentiate the planets' distribution dualistically – regarding east and west (of the meridian), above or below (of the horizon), positive-negative, active or passive – this is already the gate to interpretation. For in astrological thinking these simple numerical categories (one, two, three, four…) are each coupled with certain meanings. Let's consider this paradigm's links and further implications:

First of all, there's a great closeness to the traditional esoteric systems. Alchemy and the Kabala especially use similar symbols; they also explicitly refer to the mythical Hermes Trismegistos and his doctrine "as above, so below". To historians this isn't astonishing at all: both astrology and esoteric thought were integral parts of syncretism; the Mesopotamian astral cult and the gnosis reached Europe together. The Hellenes succeeded in decisively systematizing the oracle of the stars; yet, despite their mental penetration astrology remained a mantic tool – it still was and still is a method essentially based on interpretation, one that depends on some attribution of sense and meaning to the constellations. (By the way, every thorough examination of the belief in the stars cannot help but extensively honor its long history and tradition; on the other hand, being aware of your origin is also a precondition to knowing who you are – and where to go.)

The esoteric philosophy is based on the idea of the Uni Mundi – a kind of a universal magical reality wherein all objects and beings are mysteriously bound together. To modern (scientific) thought this all seems rather indistinct, dreamlike, not to say childish imagination. That ancient conception could be pretty real, though: only archaic ideas like the Unio Magica can explain astrology's laws of cause and effect. Astrology's mechanisms of functioning take place on quite a "primitive", primordial level of creation – a level where body, soul and spirit are still unified; a level where matter and energy/consciousness, character and destiny, the inside and outside world, are not yet differentiated. From psychology's viewpoint this is an area that is deeply (collectively) unconscious; it is a reflective or magical-projective level of being – one in which every (more or less conscious) yearning immediately comes true, as in Bastian's land Phantasia.

Since its beginnings astrology has been intimately interwoven with belief and religion. The teachings from the stars were always embedded in some supernatural cosmology. In ancient times the fixed stars were equated with the gods; in the Middle Ages people thought angels lived on the planets. Up until now in every non-European culture astrology has been an integral part of the religious philosophy. There was and still is an (American) Indian, a Taoist, a Hindu, an Islamic, and – last but not least – a specific kind of Christian astrology. Mithraism, Christianity's alter ego – from whom the celebration day of Christmas was stolen – was truly an astral religion. Great teachers of the Church (Thomas Aquinas or Luther's companion Melanchthon are two examples) taught and believed in astrology; as did some bishops and even popes. Ecclesiastical iconography showed Jesus Christ (as regent) amid the Zodiac. The philosophical system of the Florentine Neo-Platonic Ficino could be called Christianity's highest spiritual reconciliation with so-called paganism. Christian Medieval society's strata were thought to be a copy of the order above. (We may feel the social conditions of these times were pretty miserable, yet people felt safe and sheltered within their cosmos – very unlike the rootlessness of modern man.)

The astrological concept fits in perfectly with man's belief in some higher being. In dealing with astrology's phenomena we are almost forced to assume some entity or level beyond, one that directs all the things and processes in the material world. How else could this complex, breath-taking order that encompasses both heaven and earth have come into being? Only something inconceivable to the human mind is capable of coordinating this universal, wonderful clockwork of persons, situations and destiny.

Values also are an essential part of astrology's paradigm. The importance of values is already implied by the eminent position of "quality" among astrology's central axioms. In every round and whole system there is no way of being one-sided; in every comprehensive theory we cannot ignore life's totality. In a holistic model like astrology every statement also contains its opposite to some extent: a paradox that inevitably guides us beyond the visible, towards metaphysical qualities and values.

In the astrologer's pragmatic daily work value judgments are omnipresent: some aspects and transits are seen as favorable, others less so (in view of the whole). The counseling job especially aims at identifying the individual client's "best", according to current time's contents. For there are many ways to realize analogies: we can "live" a constellation's content on a so-called higher or lower level, we can live it in a more or less conscious or "redeemed" way.

In the Eastern philosophies of karma and kismet there is no real evolutionary progress. Yet, in astrology, which is after all a typical product of the occidental mind, we are always trying to make things better; we are always driven to reach some higher evolutionary step. Christian eschatology or the psychology of crucifixion tells us the positive side of problems and difficulties. This attitude has become firmly rooted in our collective unconscious. Thus modern psychological astrology in every situation tries to be constructive, too. The astrologer encourages his clients to move towards more consciousness, towards more integration and wholeness. Astrology's message says: go ahead and unfold your unique potential!

Matters of destiny and destination have always been a part of the astrologer's duties. The chart is more than a shorthand description of an individual's character and endowments. It also tells us about associated existential circumstances; "person = destiny" the formula says. Yet, this need not be seen as something that is awful and negative; our "destiny" need not be absolutely predetermined. We aren't the helpless prey of some monstrous fate; we are the masters of our own lives. Subconsciously at least we are the directors of the whole play in which we are taking part; we chose the – necessary but optimal – conditions we need in order to evolve.

In former times astrology provided the psychological typology that was most widely accepted. Just remember the Aristotelian doctrine of the elements and temperaments. Or think of the medieval conception of melancholy – which was equated with Saturn and his peculiarities. To Paracelsus the soul was an "astral body". Our body's organs were the planets (similar to the Indian chakras). Between these inner power centers he saw some complex interaction – actors in a play not unlike a modern psychodrama. Nowadays Jungian psychology and the movement of Humanistic Psychology known as gestalt therapy refers to that ancient tradition. This is contrary to the mechanistic psychology of Behaviorism, for in the humanist view man is capable of inner development and growth. So-called individuation or self-realization is considered to be the supreme value and ultimate goal of all emotional crises and processes.

Astrology's symbols are very similar to the products of the unconscious: to modern man both are quite "irrational", dazzling, vague and ambiguous. Jung's term "archetype" – which he empirically distilled out of myths and dreams – can be transferred to the planets and zodiacal signs without any serious theoretical problems. Both the archetypes and astrology's principles are primordial images; their effect is an impersonal (or rather suprapersonal) and numinous one – this is especially so for the trans-Saturn planets. Both can be viewed as unspecific patterns or schemes of doing and feeling. Astrology's symbols can also be seen as the collective spirit's dimensions or categories – thus giving order to the soul's world. Last but not least the horoscope is symbolical of the self, symbolical of the whole and complete person. Interestingly, the chart is usually illustrated in the shape of a classical mandala: it is composed of a square (the quadrants) and a circle – an alchemical metaphor that promises the substantial possibility of the diverging traits' synthesis on some higher level.

The research tools and the ways of knowing that humanistic psychologists use are also akin to astrological counseling; they usually apply qualitative methods (like individual case analyses). And let us not to forget that intuition is extremely important to both therapists and astrologers.

Astrology is not a natural science but a spiritual one. Whereas the natural sciences are in search of universal laws, the spiritual sciences primarily deal with things that are unique and special. Whereas in a natural science's sterile experimental situation the researcher is seen clearly distant and separate from his object, in the spiritual sciences' enquiry the observer cannot help but be personally involved. The research methods of phenomenology, hermeneutics – and astrology – are trying inwardly to understand the essential content of a topic or person. They want to detect the very specific structures of meaning of an individual object. In these spiritual sciences the researcher is trying to emotionally find himself in his counterpart; there is no knowing apart from being, there is no knowledge apart from our personal experience and realization. In order to provide understanding to our subject we must allow ourselves to be touched and moved – especially regarding our individual faults and weaknesses!

In this sense astrology is more art than science. The chart is similar to a poem, a piece of music or a painting – the astrological code is not some sort of biochemical formula. A chart's symbolism needs interpretation; its contents need active mental penetration, some kind of conscious articulation by an "astral artist".

Interpreting symbols is a deep subjective matter. Every interpretation or counseling depends on the astrologer, the chart's owner and the setting, the time when this occurs — and on the interaction of these factors. In astrology's view the quality of time is permanently changing. Besides, because of the many analogies possible, how a constellation will manifest cannot be foreseen. So, at different points in time and space, the "truth" the astrologer discovers may also vary. Astrological findings often cannot be generalized. According to astrology's paradigmatical presuppositions the only way that our process of research and interpretation can start is with the biographical – that is, with the individual, and the subjective facts that are then provided. This is the only way to finally reach any objectivity or suprapersonal truth.

Yet, as Goethe reminds us, "everything transient is just an image". It is the interpreting astrologer's highest duty to perceive the primordial patterns and structures that are at work beneath what is superficially visible and audible. Interpretation is a process that encircles the essence of a specific problem or topic; the analogies and associations that arise as things become successively clearer guide it. In this way the subjective elements of a person or situation can be transcended – by way of patiently and continuously alternating the abstract (symbolic) level with the level of concrete manifestation. This is how some deeper, general, "objective" truth of the point in question may come out. This is how in the counseling situation so-called "subjective evidence" is taking place – the chart's owner feels "hit" by the astrologer's interpretation; he feels recognized, understood and supported – because some "higher" instance within (sense and destination) has been touched, because the client's individual theme has been placed into some greater, more comprehensive, archetypal context.

Astrology has nothing in common with science. The natural and the spiritual sciences belong to fundamentally different worlds. In many respects they are diametrically opposed. They don't understand each other; each is full of criticism and skepticism regarding the other. They have totally different conceptions of objectivity and truth – and should stop their futile quarrel. Starting from different points and going towards different ends, the competition between their paradigms doesn't make any sense.

Yet, science cannot avoid reproaches from outside for being selective and reductive in its proceedings. Science's quantitative methods of measuring and testing can only grasp small pieces and single parts of the complex whole. Science treats living organisms and cyclic processes in the same manner as it does solid and dead materials. The experimental method, which by definition is standardized (repeatable any time and in any place), fails when it is confronted with unique or individual phenomena. Science is especially unable to handle empirical data that are interwoven with a qualitative conception of the moment and the numerals.

Enquiries by means of questionnaires are also an inadequate method for testing astrology. Astrology's symbols do not behave "correctly" in a scientific sense: they are complex and interactive; they are not linear and unidirectional like the characteristics of ordinary matter. Moreover, they do not obey the commands of classical logic; they are full of contradictions and opposites. And the chart's owner may live the symbols' contents in an active or passive way, he may realize them physically or emotionally – yet, whatever happens will still be in accordance with the underlying primordial principles or archetypes. However they manifest in life, the symbols' internal consistence is never lost; yet, a symbol's contents cannot be put into simple categories of A, B and C!

Because of its quantitative view of numbers statistics are most inadequate to test the truth of astrology. The primary supposition of statistics – that accidental distributions are present everywhere – is fundamentally opposed to the astrological conception. After all, the starting point of every statistic is kind of a chaotic, senseless and Darwinist universe; ontologically, in this world of probabilities there is no room for any finality so there can be no conscious orientation towards some higher goal (or self). The larger the quantity of data that is collected, the higher the scientific status of the statistics, the less important and appreciated the single individual becomes – despite the individual being the original source and point of reference of the data. In statistics particularities are systematically excluded and eliminated; statisticians euphemistically call this procedure "neutralization" or "anonymization". In statistical testing all the things that are unique and special will fall outside of the table – though, in astrology's view, individuality is the world's central buildingstone.

In the past decades the paradigm of the natural sciences has become visibly shaken. Physics, the spearhead of science, after having provided for countless civilizing comforts, has been particularly upset. Physical science has reached the frontiers of time and space, and in doing so its tight causal-mechanistic categories have been overcome. In some experiments of quantum physics the postulated strict separation between the subject (investigator or setting) and the object that is being examined can no longer be maintained. As a result, the prevailing paradigm, which has dominated our thoughts and actions for centuries, is gaining new dimensions. Room is again being made for the ancient concepts of spirit and psyche, which in fact never could be completely banned from the human sciences – even from those that are technically oriented like modern medicine.

That's why the phrase paradigm shift is in everybody's mouth now. Yet, since Kuhn's days the concept "paradigm" has been generalized and somewhat changed. Popular science exaggerated and inflated the meaning of "paradigm shift": in the beginning the term's use was limited to single sciences like physics; later it became overloaded ideologically and became equated with some decisive turning-point of the occident's scientific philosophy in general. Today it is a sort of slogan and a synonym for the dawn of the New or Aquarian Age, and it is associated with the decline of Western egoistic-materialistic and technological thinking. This hippie idea of a universal revolution is moreover filled with great expectations regarding political, economic and social improvements.

Astrology's flourishing will surely accompany and support such far-reaching spiritual change. Yet, the stars' teachings will only be able to play an active role in that process if we are aware of their specific presuppositions. Astrology shouldn't unconsciously or even opportunely submit to that seemingly modern – but fundamentally incompatible – paradigm of quantities and causalities. If astrologers strictly keep to the base lines of their holistic model, they will not be able to talk of some "astrological factor" – something believed to be effective beside heritage, environment, etc. Measuring the planets' physical radiations – in order to recognize their "influences" – is an absurd proceeding, anyway.

Those astrologers who are not firmly rooted within their paradigm's ground may run after scientific and social appreciation. But the key for astrology's revalorization is in academic psychology's hands. According to Kuhn this comparably "young" science hasn't formed a paradigm of its own yet. There is no consensus within the psychological community regarding their objects and methods of research. In order to find such common ground I guess the first thing would be to throw away all those statistical testings; psychologists – like astrologers – should liberate themselves from that unnecessary inferiority complex. Academic psychology should accept imaginative theories and conceptions like "the archetypes"; the process of "projection" should also be examined thoroughly. Academic psychologists should no longer arrogantly ignore the soul's spiritual dimension and its magical aspects. (Sadly, as yet they have been unable to define their science's subject – the soul!) These types of advancements in psychology could pave the way for the better understanding and social acceptance of astrology.


Patrice Guinard, Astrology: The Manifesto, CURA, 2000

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The University of Chicago, 1962

Richard Vetter, Lebendige Astrologie: Struktur und Logik eines schöpferischen Weltbilds, Basel, Sphinx, 1989

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Richard Vetter: Astrology's Paradigm
(Its main Axioms and Implications)
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