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In the Beginning . . .
How does astrology work? Astrology is more widely known and practiced now than ever before, and it is also just as controversial. As American astrologer Grant Lewi wrote in 1940 in his book Astrology for the Millions, "It [astrology] is 'believed' by a lot of people who know practically nothing about it; and it is 'disbelieved' by even more who know absolutely nothing about it."1
Lewi quotes Richard Garnett, a one-time curator of the British Museum who decided to study astrology to see if there was anything in it. "For his findings," said Lewi, "I turned to Dr. Morris Jastrow's article on astrology in the eleventh edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica." Jastrow said, "Dr. Garnett insisted that it was a mistake to confuse astrology with fortunetelling and maintained that it was a 'physical science just as much as geology' depending like them on ascertained facts and grossly misrepresented by being connected with magic."2
In the 1970s, a hundred scientists in the United States issued a public statement condemning astrology out of hand. None of them admitted having studied it; it just sounded ridiculous to them to have "the stars decide your fate." This statement, often made, sounds ridiculous to astrologers, too. Isaac Newton studied astrology in-depth and accepted it. When he arrived at Cambridge University, he was asked by an acquaintance what he intended to study and replied, "Mathematics, because I wish to test judicial astrology." When Newton was much older, he was challenged by Halley, of Halley's comet fame, because of his study of astrology. His reply was classic: "Evidently you have not looked into astrology; I have."
Let's shoot down the first myth about astrology. Star sign columns in the newspapers were first introduced by an American journalist in the 1930s. Although it is rationally impossible for every Sun-in-Aries person to lose their grandmother on the same day or for all Cancer Sun people to have a collective nervous breakdown, astrology columns have successfully helped sell newspapers and magazines ever since. An astrological birth chart set for the correct moment of birth is unique. People with Venus in Cancer will have a similar approach when expressing their feelings of love and affection; but whether they succeed in the same way will depend upon the geometric angles, which astrologers call aspects, made to other planets. These angles are unique to the individual's birth time.
In order to prove astrology is valid, it would have to be subject to stringent scientific examination and accepted statistical methods that involve testing its validity over and over again under the same conditions. What was left standing after rigorous investigation could then be accepted as proven and valid. Astrology's supreme disadvantage is that conditions never can be repeated. Every combination of angles and the Moon's position in a chart is unique.
My particular view is that the answer may be found one day when we have the technology to study magnetic fields and solar activity in much greater depth. The specifics of magnetism are far more complex than those of gravity. TheEarth's magnetic field is very weak when compared with gravity, but it could be supremely important. In astrology, each individual person represents his place of birth on Earth in geometric relation to our solar system at the particular time of birth. It may be dependent upon conception, but we have no known method of measuring that, yet!
My belief is that there is also a collective intellectual, egoistical pride at work here. I think Dr. Richard Garnett was right that scientifically or medically trained people would have their pride hurt if it was publicly known that they had studied, and found valid, something linked with magic or fortunetelling, and that it could be practiced by people who didn't necessarily have to have a scientific degree.
Astrology does suffer through being practiced by people who have not thoroughly studied it, who hang out their shingle when they have a half-baked knowledge of it, or who want to make a quick buck or known as being "psychic" or "spiritual," those two buzzwords of the New Age! Astrology is a subject one studies, and these days there are plenty of diplomas in many countries that offer worthwhile courses. It is also true that many modern astrologers began life as skeptics, I did!
Historically, we are in the company of Plato, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo (a practicing astrologer), Newton, and Jung, all of whom studied astrology. In his books Astrology and Science and The Cosmic Clocks, French statistician Michel Gauquelin (born in 1928) set out to disprove astrology.3 Instead, Gauquelin discovered an overwhelming statistical correlation in his data, which indicated planets rising just prior to the Ascendant or culminating just prior to the Midheaven were strong indicators of profession. "At the end of our second study," writes Gauquelin on page 156 of The Cosmic Clocks, "the evidence reproduced itself with stubborn insistence: as in the first group, the birth dates of the famous physicians clustered after the rise or the culmination of Mars and Saturn. An undeniable statistical correlation appeared between the rise and culmination of these planets at the child's birth and his future success as a doctor."
Gauquelin collected more than 25,000 birthdates. "Eventually, a more and more precise statistical relationship appeared between time of birth and professional career," he continued.
These results were later used to demonstrate that angular planets reflect dominant psychological traits of the person and therefore choice of profession. Astrologers had known and used this fact for years. Gauquelin also traced the lives of pairs of unrelated people born at the same minute in time in the same place in France. Their life events were parallel.
His studies were shown to have statistical procedural flaws, but they were still extraordinarily interesting to astrologers. The results were not statistically accepted, and he suffered much because of criticism. It would be interesting if this experiment with time twins could be carried out again, but it is quite difficult to do, requiring data from a timespan of decades. When we have college degrees in astrology, perhaps someone will make this the basis of his thesis.
One other vexing question is how astrologers could predict anything correctly without knowing the existence of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were discovered in the last three hundred years. Astrology, like other scientific and technical disciplines, has expanded as new knowledge has been acquired, empiric observation has improved, and ever more complex technological help has become available.
This has been the case in the study of any scientific subject you care to mention.
For those reading about astrology for the first time, I would describe it as being based on the angular relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the plannets as seen from Earth (astrological measurements are geocentric). Astrology uses the three great circles--the horizon, the equator, and the ecliptic--as the main circles of reference for locating a planet's position relative to any place on Earth.
Where did astrology begin? We don't know. The first surviving records date astrology from around eight thousand years ago in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which is now Iraq. We know this from cuneiform writing that was invented at the time, along with the lunar calendar, the first monetary system, the arch, and the brick. There was no stone or wood. Along with these inventions, the ingenious Sumerians devised the division of the circle into 360° and the sixty-minute hour. Astrology may go back even further. We know the Chinese, Mayan, and Indian civilizations independently used it for thousands of years.
About 8,000 years ago, the land between the two ancient Middle Eastern rivers was populated by the Sumerians, who called their land the Sumer. They later became known as the Chaldeans, a name taken from one of their tribes, the Kaldu. Later still, the Chaldeans became known as the Babylonians.
We know from the clay cuneiform tablets that they built great towers, or ziggurats, that were supposed to reach the sky, as part of their religion. The Tower of Babel (Babylon) of biblical fame was one such tower, reputedly around ninety meters high. Helped by the clear skies of the Middle East, their priests studied the heavens and noted the positions of the stars and the planets (up to Saturn) in relation to the Earth and wrote it all down. This heritage later passed to Egypt, India, Greece, the Arabs in Spain, and from them via the Romans to Europe.
Chaldean astrology was concerned with national rather than personal events--the annual flood of the two rivers, wars, the fate of their rulers, and so on. This tradition was carried on by the pharaohs of Egypt. Here again, it was the prediction of the annual flood of the Nile and the fate of their gods/rulers that was of supreme importance.
The Greeks were the first to link astrology with the psychological behavior of humans. They noticed that if a man was born when the Sun was conjunct Saturn, he was serious, saturnine, and critical. On the other hand, if the Sun was conjunct Jupiter, they called him jovial and optimistic. Their mathematician Claudius Ptolemy published The Tetrabiblos, the first astrological textbook that we know of, around a.d. 150-180.
In the eighth century a.d., skilled Arabic mathematicians and astronomers invented the abacus and used it to calculate astronomical data for astrology. Chief Arabic astrologer Albumasur wrote a book called Introductorium that found its way in translation from the Arabs in Spain, via the Romans, to Europe in the early Middle Ages.
In the later Middle Ages (when Pluto transited Scorpio), the Renaissance brought Greek knowledge to the Italian city states. Syphilis is reputed tohave arrived with the return of Christopher Columbus, and the bubonic plague (the Black Death) reached Sicily on its way to change European history. This was all very similar to our experience of HIV and AIDS when Pluto transited Scorpio in the 1980s and early 1990s.
In the early Middle Ages, astrology enjoyed respectability among the nobility and was taught at the great new institutions of the time. These included Dante's university at Bologna, which had a chair of astrology. Astrology was favoredby thee Catholic Popes. Later, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, England, Denmark, Sweden, and Bohemia all had court astrologers, Dr. Dee being employed by Elizabeth I of England. In Rome, astrology degenerated into corrupt superstition.
For ordinary people in early medieval times, astrology was often combined with the practice of alchemy and was mixed up with religious superstition. "Magick" abounded. So much was changing that people were frightened and confused and clung to anything that helped them. Values of the known world were completely overturned. The feudal system was crumbling because, after the Black Death, when millions of people died across Europe, serfs and lords alike had to work the land. The common people demanded their fundamental rights because, in modern parlance, it was an employee's market. With the advent of the Age of Rationalism and logical scientific thinking, humankind began to realize it had a fundamental will that it could exert to improve life conditions. People no longer believed they were totally powerless, that all that happened to them was due to God's will and fate. This enabled the state to challenge the might of the Catholic Church and even the pope, something unheard of before the Renaissance.
In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish churchman, published a revolutionary book, as he lay dying, that maintained that the planets and the Earth move around the Sun--the heliocentric theory of planetary movement.
Tycho Brahe, a Dane, born three years after the death of Copernicus, was an advocate of the geocentric theory (the Sun moves around the Earth). The telescope had not yet been invented, but Brahe's forte was regularly observing and recording the heavens with an incredible degree of accuracy, using his eyesight and such instruments as quadrants and astrolabes. His observations revealed that the tables, then in use to predict the positions of the planets, were inaccurate. His sighting in 1572 of a supernova explosion helped disprove the ancient idea that no changes could occur in the universe further out than the orbit of the Moon. Brahe's accurate data later enabled Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer and mathematician, to confirm the heliocentric theory of Copernicus. At the same time, Kepler gave us his laws of planetary motion. The first law states that a planet moves through space in an elliptical fashion.
Moving on to comparatively modern times, Englishman Alan Leo, writing in 1904, is credited with bringing about the modern revival of "serious" astrology. Astrology is a subject to "know about" rather than "believe in," he is reputed to have said.
Judgment was quite black and white in Victorian times, of course, and there was immense discussion about fate and free will; but even then, the catch phrase from the Temple of Delphi, "Know thyself," was the creed of Edwardian astrologers. They published dire warnings in the early astrological books against sexual and emotional excesses, and the planet Mars got very bad press.
A great change in the way astrology was used occurred in the twentieth century. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was realized that astrology need not be confined to births, marriages, and deaths, but has far greater psychological implications in terms of how individuals view the world, the games they are inclined to play to gain what they want from life, and the creative potential available to them. Astrology can help align the conscious with the unconscious and encourage acceeptance of all that we are and can be in life. This very acceptance removes a great deal of stress.
This has made astrology, when practiced ethically and well, potentially very useful to individuals during confusing and stressful times in their lives, and it can be of great benefit to parents with their children. The burden of responsibility for astrologers has also increased. We astrologers have in our hands an amazing tool to help people understand life; but to use it properly, we need to have not only a thorough understanding of astrology, but also training in counseling skills.
1. See the section "Why I Believe in Astrology" in Grant Lewi's Astrology for the Millions, 14th ed. (Saint Paul, Minn: Llewellyn, 1979) 1.
2. Ibid., 3.
3. Gauquelin's research is also explained in chapter 5, "Neo-astrology: Forty Years of Research" by Michel Gauquelin, in the book "The Future of Astrology--Essays on Astrology", edited by A. T. Mann (Unwin Hyman, Ltd., 1987).