Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Astrology Works Part 2: Imagination is Reality

Astrology takes the view that the various gas giants and lumps of rock that circle the Sun in some way describe, or reflect, or even, some would have it, cause events on this planet. How weird is that?

That is why I began (see previous piece) with what you might call a deconstruction of the literal mind, the mind that does not understand the metaphorical nature of language, and that facts and theories are stories. Language refers to things or events but is not the thing or event in itself. Often, if you go into the etymology of a word, you can see how the word refers to some characteristic of the thing or event. ‘Understand’ means to stand under. Intelligence comes from the Latin meaning to choose between. And then the words get reified, turned into static things: the understanding, the intelligence. Or we have that wonderful expression for the beginning of all things, the Big Bang. It’s a kid’s expression, it’s simple and colourful, it makes you think of a firework.

Words and ideas are a play on the surface of things that help us navigate and express and communicate. And the connection to the thing referred to is often at root poetic.

Mathematical equations are also poetry. They are a collection of symbols, often complex, that describe events. A bit like astrology! And yet we are led to believe that mathematical descriptions are the ultimate tests of the truth of our stories. No, they are just one more dance, one more story.

So if you are literal minded, then of course astrology appears as nonsense. How could a rock 2 billion miles away be in some way associated with the god of the underworld, and what are these gods and this underworld?

And of course the rock 2 billion miles away is seen as a ‘fact’, unlike the stories about it. But as I’ve tried to show, the rock 2 billion miles away is also a story. 2 billion miles, what is that? What is a mile? It’s a way we have of orienting ourselves in this thing called space, and describing relationships between ‘things’ in it. And there are 2 billion of them. 

Well you might as well say a zillion, it’s that big. If you counted upwards at 1 number a second without a break, it would take you 63 years to reach it. And it’s unbelievably cold there, far colder than anywhere on earth. And a year there lasts 240 of our years. Sometimes a bit of it glows red when it’s closer to the Sun. Wow, what a place. And no-one has ever seen it, not with their own 2 eyes, just through a looking glass that reveals other worlds.

So it’s a great story when you break it down and remove its facticity. And it’s a true story, like all stories are true that speak to our imagination. Anything that stirs our imagination has truth in it, it tells us something about ourselves and the world. As William Blake said, Imagination is Reality. Ironically, it becomes less true when you turn it into a fact, when you insist on ‘proving’ it with an equation.

So when I say story, I don’t mean ‘just’ a story. The word needs reclaiming from the modern ravages of facticity. And astrology is a collection of stories in this fuller meaning of the word. And because those stories have imaginative power, they tell us something about our lives.

That is why astrology works: because its stories have imaginative power. That is why Shakespeare ‘works’, that is why music ‘works’, that is why novels ‘work’: they touch us, and in so doing they tell us something about ourselves and the world.

But with astrology it's also more than that and less than that. The stories and descriptions are poetic, but there is also the divinatory aspect: how come the universe 'knows' that this set of stories applies particularly to you? That is what is mind-blowing and enchanting

Ad Break: I offer skype astrology readings (£60 full reading, £40 for an update). Contact: BWGoddard1 (at)

The starting point of astrology is that when an event occurs – usually a human birth – the universe at that moment reflects that event. It is like Indra’s net from the Buddhist tradition, in which the universe is likened to a vast net of jewels, with each jewel reflecting every other jewel.

Astrology says there is a profound sympathy between ourselves and the cosmos ‘out there’. Who could not be touched by that idea? It describes a benign and meaningful universe, with each part speaking of every other part. It is a Piscean idea.

I think if you’re an astrologer you’re not in a good position to criticise others for their strange beliefs, because ours are quite bizarre from a ‘common sense’ point of view. If someone believes the world was created by God in 6 days and that Jesus’ mother was a virgin, or that we were put here by aliens, or that the Moon is hollow, who am I to scoff?

Well I probably will quietly scoff if those stories are taken literally. That is the criterion, and it applies to any theory or story, including astrology if taken literally. But if any story has imaginative power for people, even though it may not for me, then it has truth in it.

When you have a reading, you are essentially being told a story about yourself, and if the astrologer is good at his or her job, the story will resonate with you. And if you are forthcoming about yourself, the astrologer will be able to refine the story into something even more resonant.

And the astrologer is drawing from the stories of each sign and each planet and House and synthesising them. Of course, a sign may not literally be a story, though you can find mythologies that reveal their nature, much as Liz Greene has done in The Astrology of Fate. But if you have say Sun in Pisces and the astrologer is saying that your inner goal is to become like the ocean, to experience the unity behind all beings and the compassion that comes with that, well then the sign is being used to tell you a wonderful story about yourself, one that you can live by.

And mysteriously, it generally resonates more for you if you are a Pisces than say an Aries, for whom a story about heroically taking up a cause, a wrong that needs righting, is likely to resonate.


MOBILE ASTROLOGER: I think it’s time for another UK tour. If any of you would like me to do some astrology readings your way in say Feb or March, let me know. I can do as few as 2 readings if you’re on my route. I’m low maintenance – I can sleep in my 4x4 – I just need a room to do the readings in. And I'm always affordable.