The views of astrologer Prudence Jones

Guest Editor in the Astrological Journal 1996, 38(5), 281-284

Would Venus still bring experiences of love, beauty and pleasure to our horoscopes if it was called "Saturn"? Would Mars still make us decisive if it was called "Neptune"? That is, are the significances of the planets based on dispassionate observation of their effects, or on dogmatic symbolism which forces our observations to conform to our expectations? On what basis do we claim that the movements of particular planets are associated with events of various kinds? In the modern age we assume that the association of planets with particular qualities is based on centuries of empirical observation, of the ancients looking out and observing that for example Mars generally rose or culminated at the time of conflicts. But is h? Preliminary research (e.g. that of Michael Baigent in From the Omens of Babylon) indicates that this was not what the early Mesopotamians were doing at all, that the original meanings of the planets were not based on observation but on the conventional interpretation of a celestial script, the symbolic language of the gods. This was modified later on, but it still leaves the twentieth century mind with an uneasy feeling. How well founded, in our modern sense of being based on observation or experience, are the traditional meanings of the planets which we so confidently take as given?

In the modern age, the latest planet to be discovered was named after Mickey Mouse's dog. Yet Pluto predictably makes his appearance in our charts in his ancient guise as Lord of the Underworld, bringer of upheavals and guardian of buried treasure. How on earth can we justify this by normal scientific method? If the underworld effects are real, how do we explain them? Or do they not occur so reliably, and are we deluding ourselves with pious dogma? If the laner, does it matter? Can we defend a version of astrology which is not based on regularly observed correlations, on the famous "empirical method" of normal scientific procedure? A few years ago Geoffrey Cornelius (in The Moment of Astrology) put a strong case for reclaiming the divinatory aspect of our art. But with this and other rare exceptions, ever since the formulation of the laws of nature around the 7th century BCE, astrologers have tried on the whole to present themselves as scientists. But should we do so?

Such questions are part of any enquiry into the foundations of astrology. Foundations - the basic presuppositions we make in practicing our art - are what this issue is about (not history, as mistakenly stated in the last Journal). Questions about basics are often felt to be uncomfortable and often we don't want to ask them, dismissing them as trivial or time-wasting. But without facing them, we have no chance of knowing what place we should occupy in the world, much less of defending it against sceptics who ask precisely these question. If answered thoroughly on the other hand, such questions can set our discipline on a firm basis and enable us to practice it responsibly and to defend it against uncomprehending attacks.

This issue presents astrologers' encounters with such fundamental questions. Nick Campion's article gives an actual example of how modern astrologers are interpreting a new planet right now: astrological method in action. The intricacies of publishers' deadlines prevent me from listing all this issue's articles in the editorial, but here are some more of the questions we are looking at. What, first of all, do we mean by "astrology"? Do we include the applied astronomy of cosmobiology, weather forecasting and the practice of agriculture according to planetary positions? If so, it looks quite scientific. Do we include the study of planetary cycles, with its insight into social and economic change? Or do we continue ourselves strictly to the study of birth charts and their various directions? Do we include horary? Sun-sign astrology? Why - or why not?

The birth horoscope is one of the most difficult parts of astrology to justify to a non-astrologer. Why should the planetary positions of a moment in the past describe the supposedly continuing nature of an entity in the present? In the ease of a living being we might appeal to the idea of imprinting by the birth trauma, and the idea of a personal character which endures throughout life is so well-entrenched in popular thought that even psychologists seldom think twice about it. But no birth trauma occurs at the "birth" of a country, a company, a resolution, a domicile and so on, all of which astrologers confidently take as having their own natal charts. Here we are decisively entering the realm of the occult even by claiming that such entities come into existence, let alone saying that they are described by the transits of the time of their emergence. How do we justify our use of the birth chart?

Similarly with the zodiac signs; they rest on shaky foundations from the modern point of view. How in heaven do twelve 300 sectors of the ecliptic, measured from the vernal equinox but named after now-far-distant constellations, impart any qualities at all to the planets, houses, parts and nodes which we view against their background? Do they do so in fact, or is this wishful thinking? Some astrologers justify the signs (taking, usually without explanation, the Sun in the signs as their exemplar) as shorthand for seasonal characteristics. But this implies that their order should be reversed in the southern hemisphere, which seldom happens. And what, in any case, of horoscopes for equatorial latitudes, where seasonal change is minimal, but where, of course, astrology was invented? The signs remain a particularly sticky problem for astrologers, let alone for outsiders.

The houses are easier to explain if not to justify, and as I argued in several articles a few years ago (e.g. in Annabella Kitson's anthology, History and Astrology), they probably have their origin in the static division of local space, the fixed sphere of the observer defined by the horizon, meridian and prime vertical, rather than in the motion of the ascendant. But the problem remains of how we should choose and project such divisions onto the ecliptic. Are the quadrant systems of division only applicable to the Mediterranean latitudes where they were invented, and should we adapt one of the local time-measuring systems for more extreme latitudes (as I have argued elsewhere), or not?

In day-to-day practice, most astrologers give up any pretense to empirical methods when they assert the truth of symbolic associations such as the planetary rulership of signs, their faces, terms, triplicates and so on, all of which, however well-attested in giving answers to questions, belong in a completely different universe of thought from scientific method, the observed correlation of certain planets with certain types of event. We easily forget that it requires some hard thinking to justify both sorts of associations in one system. A non-astrologer might be prepared to consider planetary transits across the mundane sphere as a possible area of empirical investigation, but would surely have some difficulty with the symbolic significance of dispositors and other planetary dignities. Fr Laurence Cassidy touches on this discrepancy in his closely-argued article - including a Platonic dialogue! Nick Kollerstrom too presents a dialogue argtung the differences between science and astrology - differences which many astrologers glide over.

We can of course set up camp with the theologians and psychoanalysts as interpreters of meaning to the bemused, rather than casting ourselves as quasi-experimental scientists. Astrology then would be a symbolic system, complete in that it explains (interprets) everything, consistent in that it does not (significantly) contradict itself, though it might contradict other people's deeply-held beliefs. But why throw away mundane predictions, the stock market and the test of natural astrology, as well as the few but significant experimental results which indicate that astrology does have an objective, sharable, replicable component? Professor Eysenck's review [of the Ertel/Irving book] in this issue concerns just one of the parts of "natural astrology" we would be foolish to ignore. Notice however that psychoanalysts, who have little or no empirical backing for their dogmas, are seen by society at large as honorary scientists, and even theologians cling onto intellectual respectability by the skin of their teeth, when even more than us they stand completely outside the materialistic paradigm. Only a few mavericks like Richard Dawkins dare grasp the nettle and link all three anomalous disciplines together.

Even within astrology, our various systems don't agree either. In horary astrology the Moon's north node is a point of ill-fortune, but in humanistic astrology it is the direction of personal growth. A planet may be in Cancer in sidereal astrology but in Leo in tropical astrology. Serious astrologers often decry Sun-sign forecasts as some sort of unfounded gibberish, but Sun-sign techniques (turning the chart, transits to "turned" house rulers, lunations in "turned" houses etc.) are in fact part and parcel of standard astrological method. The rules of traditional, modern (post-Theosophical), sidereal, and local space astrology (with its sidereal ancestor Vastu-Shastra) are quite different. Yet how many of us have decided that we would be tropicalists rather than siderealists, traditional rather than modern astrologers (or vice versa) after any process of sober reasoning? Philosophers, who in modern academe have claimed the study of "foundations" for their own, might observe in their own jargon that our subject seems to be in the "paradoxical", "pre-revolutionary" stage of competing theories before a fixed paradigm of "normal" astrology establishes itself as the One Truth, in the way that, for example, modern chemistry pushed out alchemy and the search for phlogiston, the combustible gas. Astrologers, on the other hand, might perfectly well retort that they don't want to follow the monotheistic pattern of the One Truth anyway and are happier to develop a pluralistic version of reality, in which different views of the universe are appropriate for different occasions. That, however, would be a philosopher's reply. In this issue, JeffMeddle goes further than that and takes the ultimate astrologer's revenge, arguing that the philosophy of philosophers is actually a product of their natal astrology.

Astrology, nevertheless, remains a thorn in the side of modern thought, a way of thinking entirely outside the modern paradigm. This journal, produced in haste to a very short deadline, can only touch on a few of the issues involved, though it is probably fortunate that you have been spared long and thoughtful essays on ontological relativity or developments in the philosophy of science since 1953, if recent comments on the undesirability of philosophical articles are anything to go by. TheAA Journal has touched on foundational issues before, especially in 1991-3, but here I have commissioned a series of articles in the spirit of standard Anglo-American language-and-logic philosophy, inviting people to examine their most basic presuppositions and see what remains of them after thorough dismantling. This approach might just be due (according to Jeff Meddle's article) to my natal Jupiter in Taurus, but I think you will find most of the outcome unstuffy and rather exciting, even, perhaps, controversial and infuriating. My thanks are due to Suzi Lilly-Harvey for originally inviting me to be a guest editor, and to Robin Heath for honouring her invitation. Happy reading, and I hope that some readers might even feel stimulated to investigate the fifth AA Philosophy Day next spring.