Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Moment of Astrology

After 25 years of learning astrology, I have just read my first book on the subject from cover to cover. It’s The Moment of Astrology by Geoffrey Cornelius. What gripped me was that the author was questioning and re-assessing the whole tradition as it has come down to us. He uses a fair bit of scholarship, but in the service of his central thesis, which is that astrology is a form of divination: the ‘moment’ of astrology occurs when the daemon gets involved with your reading of the symbols, and an inspired and unique interpretation takes place.

An authentic reading involves both skill in the craft AND this other, hard-to-define element.

I think it’s the most important book out there on modern astrology.

In no sense is it scholarship ‘from the outside’ to prove a theory ‘about’ astrology, in the academic sense. No, this is astrology from the inside: he uses chart interpretations as evidence, and proposes that a non-rational means of knowing lies at the heart of our craft. Scholarship is used to clarify and affirm, rather than ignore, this non-rationality.

While admiring the work of Ptolemy, the 2nd century definer of horoscopic astrology, Cornelius also to some extent deconstructs his work, and shows where later astrologers contradict him. In particular, he is concerned to de-literalise the moment of birth: the fact that an exact time is often impossible to ascertain suggests the necessity for a re-think. The birth of something is essentially a powerful IMAGE that astrologers use, powerful because that moment is held to contain the seed of all that comes after. But that is just one form of astrology.

Horary astrology, for example, which has often been treated as an outcast, is not like this. It is about asking a question and finding the answer in the chart for the moment the astrologer understood the question. And Cornelius gives some striking examples of horary working.

So the chart as the seed of something is not essential to what astrology is. Nor is even getting the right time for either a birth chart or a horary chart. As we all know, wrong charts often work!

The effect of this deconstruction is to remove the illusion of objectivity that is often there when we are dealing with a chart: when we learn astrology, it involves real planets with real meanings and rules of interpretation. And this gives the impression that astrology is ‘out there’ in the stars for us to read and interpret. Cornelius’ thesis, as I understand it, is that this is not the case. What we have is a set of symbols, on which the astrologer brings his divinatory consciousness to bear. And because astrology is not ‘out there’, each reading of a particular chart is unique, as many of us have experienced.

This is The Moment of Astrology, this unique, divinatory situation. And I think the title is a play on The Moment of Birth, which is what is usually understood as the moment of astrology: that exact moment that defines everything that is to follow, according to the Ptolemaic model, and which therefore suggests something ‘objective’ in astrology.

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The opening chapters of the book thoroughly chronicle the history of the attempts to prove or disprove astrology scientifically. And while there are some results that are worth a second look, by and large the proof that emerges is that astrology is NOT scientifically verifiable. One of Cornelius’ strengths is that he looks at facts in the face, and this is one of them. And he turns it around to lend weight to his thesis that astrology is divinatory rather than ‘objective’.

Another fact he faces is that Science has good grounds for not taking astrology and other divinatory arts seriously, in that the standard is often so lamentable. I think that if astrology were recognised as essentially divinatory, rather than vaguely 'objective', it could take steps to develop more of an understanding of, and training in, this elusive, yet all-important, faculty.

Cornelius brings in the post-modern position of current thought, which relativises and denies the possibility of solid, irrefutable foundations to knowledge. And consistent with this, maintains that his is not the only way of looking at astrology.

My view on that is yes, providing that our understanding of astrology is mythological rather than literal. So you may take the view that there really are energies ‘out there’ associated with the planets – why not? – but if that becomes literalised into ‘that lump of rock is causing events on earth’, then I think the nature of astrology has been misunderstood.

This is not a comprehensive review of the book, just a few central points. Another area that gets raised, for example, is time: we usually assume that astrology involves a coming together in time of heavenly and earthly events. But this is not so. It is another case of ‘wrong charts working’. Even, in one case, a horary chart from several hundred years ago casting light on a similar situation now. And the modern divide between subject and object is also explored.

The cumulative effect of Cornelius’ deconstruction of some of the foundations of astrology is liberating: it frees us to fully acknowledge the divinatory element that, I suspect, is what drew us to astrology in the first place. And it connects us back to the origins of the craft in omens and augury and dreams. BUT, he says, that was never about foretelling the future, it was about how to live well, how to live in accord with the gods.

And paradoxically, another effect for me of this deconstruction was to make the foundations of astrology more solid. And the reason is that it brings astrology back to divination, or inner knowing, which in my view is the only solid foundation there is in life.


Sara said...

What I take away from this article is that intuition gives a more productive result than anything else.

The cofirmation of the value of intuition is its use by science fiction and fantasy writers in imagining and creating other worlds and other universes, which have been for decades pooh-poohed by 'hard' science. And yet, 'hard' science has now confirmed the creation of other universes through a ripple in space-time created immediately AFTER the Big Bang. There is a photo (for want of a better word) of this ripple recently released by NASA.

So when Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were discussing what you might find on the other side of the door in the garden wall, they 'knew' about it intuitively.

Intuition is intangible but real, but when it is dismissed as inconsequential, those who dismiss it discard something that has real value, because you can't calculate it or weigh it or measure it or hold it in your hands.

Good article.

Anonymous said...

Astrology has two possible intentions: the objective characterization and the subjective prediction. Astrology utilizes a set of rules for characterization and most astrologers will achieve profiles in near-agreement with their peers, when considering one person's birth time or even their solar chart. Science and astrology differ in the requirement to predict is more objective, astrology is more subjective.

I have to assess astrology as having a set of known variables with their combinations approaching incomprehensible (a deck of 52 cards has 8.1 X 10^67 possible combinations!). Yet, from all of the possible considered combinations, a seasoned astrologer IS able to provide a BASIC blueprint by observing and interpreting the primary-ranking placements and aspects from the hierarchy.

Exact time of birth allows the natal chart with ascendent and house divisions, but a simple solar chart for the DAY of birth - usually a sunrise chart - provides essential planetary placements and aspects, except for the Moon's exactitude, to allow for a reasonable profile for that individual.

I believe that astrology is difficult to utilize as a predictive tool, due to the free-will factor of the individual, but predictive outcomes increase when considering the masses. Likewise, science tends to have the same difficulty forecasting events involving free-will. Both astrology and science perform poorly when a multitude of data variables influences an outcome. I'd have to say that the economic, social, political, and international trends of the past several years was best forecast through astrologers than scientists or experts-in-their-field.

Intuition has valuable merit, whether in the domain of science or astrology.

Anonymous said...

P.S. - The multi-outcomes and observer-dependent quantum physics is perhaps approaching the concepts proffered in astrology.

Anonymous said...

OK, one more P.S. - With the advent of extremely powerful computers, modeling has made prediction slightly more of a "science". Meteorology is a science, but due to the huge quantity of variables, modeling provides a method of forecasting with increased accuracy. The fields of economics and political science are utilizing modeling to increase accuracy toward prediction and understanding trends. Video gaming software has tremendous impact on these types of modeling as it starts with a know set of variables and constantly re-assesses with real-time feedback. Astrology is a type of modeling and may gain tremendously from software and insights provided by these techniques. Here's a link regarding video gaming technology to forecast future events:

clarelhdm said...

mmmm...though I think there is merit in allowing for fluidity in knowledge and having that knowledge in service to our experience, rather than the other way round, I think that post-modernism, so called, creates as many problems as it supposedly solves. Its dominance in the visual arts has led to a nihilism and loss of purpose in much contemporary practice. Though knowledge or truth may in fact be a chimera, we act 'as if' it is substantial, we have to. I think there is a benefit in both holding onto truth as if it is solid and concrete, whilst also being aware that it isn't. Anyway, the point I am trying to make (very badly perhaps) is that astrology somehow sits in this strange place between concreteness and intuition, but both ends of the spectrum are essential. Time may well be an illusion, but saying birth times don't really matter is probably a step too far in my book. There is a moment when an individual begins their independent existence. The mantra in the visual arts that everything is infinitely interpretable somehow diminishes that which we are defining, as if everything is a mere reflection of ourselves, a cypher for our consciousness. There is no other, no outside of us, just endless shadows and echoes of ourselves. I think that that is a narcissistic view of the universe. Likewise I think that to reduce the planets and the stars to simply our interpretation of them, is to diminish them and reduce them to mere echoes of ourselves. There is a mystery, of course, as to how things are separate and yet connected, but I feel there is more to the Universe than just my interpretation of it. It is bigger than me.

Mayan calendar said...

Without the astrologer, there is no astrology, and Geoffrey takes that idea to its logical conclusion: astrology gets all its meaning from the astrologer, and its cohesive picture of reality from the astrologer, who is the one perceiving the charts.