Sunday, May 04, 2014

In Defence of Sun-sign Astrology

Sun-sign astrology isn’t always taken seriously by astrologers, as it takes just one part of the personality – the Sun – to make its predictions. Astrology, we may think, is far more complex than that, and it gives the subject a bad name when it is used in such a seemingly superficial way. After all, how could a single set of predictions apply to 1/12 of the population? It is an argument frequently used by non-astrologers to debunk astrology.

The answer, I think, is not to say well Sun-sign astrology is just superficial, and ‘real’ astrology uses more complex, individually tailored models.

Of course you can say more about someone if you have their full chart. But that is a retreat from what the real issue is here. At the backs of people’s minds – and even astrologers’ minds, we can’t help it – is a model of causation, a causal relationship between the planets and people’s lives, and making it more complex doesn’t make that risible notion disappear.

Non-astrologers are right to laugh at astrology if the causative model, which is central to modern understanding, is not addressed. And I think saying the relationship between planets and people is synchronous does not go far enough either. Synchronicity, which understands the workings of astrology as non-causal correspondences between planetary positions and people’s lives, is an improvement. It is an attempt to rationalise the subject, but it still begs the question as to why there should be these correspondences.

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Like any ‘spiritual’ tradition, astrology is essentially esoteric rather than exoteric. At its heart is an experience – the Secret Fire – which does not belong to the realm of rationality. Rationality is what we use to talk around this experience. Note I say talk ‘around’ rather than talk ‘about’. ‘Around’ is the most we can hope to do.

This is what is so difficult for the modern mind to understand, because rationality has become the ultimate arbiter of what is real. The servant has become the master, and no longer knows when to shut up, that this is where words end and all we can do is stand in awe.

Astrology that works and that has power always comes from this other place. The planets and their positions are a framework for this to happen, and as symbols they have earned their effectiveness, gained depth, through millennia of repeated use.

So Sun-sign astrology is a direct assault on the modern way of thinking. It does not have the complexity of the chart, with its illusion of rationality, to fall back on. For Sun-sign astrology to work, it has to be divinatory. Sun-sign astrology does use the other planets, there is a degree of complexity there, but the issue remains of how the hell can what you’re saying be true for 1/12 of the population – or at least, 1/12 of those who will actually read your column?

Rationally, it can’t work. But as divination, who are we to say what is and what is not possible, who are we to set limits on the powers of the gods? When you start calling on those other powers, you don’t know what is going to happen. And if something does happen, you have to trust it. Yes, this really will say something useful to that 1/12 of my readers born under the sign of Pisces.

Not that I have tried it myself, but having Moon in Sag, not knowing what I’m talking about doesn’t always stop me! Not all astrologers will have a gift for it. And often when I read the Aquarius ones, a lot of it seems to sail over my head.

And there’s certainly some stuff out there that isn’t very good. It is easy, for example, to look at the symbols and crunch out points that are too generalised and couched in ‘maybe this but maybe that’ – which critics rightly seize on as being widely applicable and probably not that useful. The Sun-sign astrologer needs to dare to be specific, and trust in the voice that says well technically it could be this or that, but I’m telling you it is this!

Think of a chart as a Tarot spread, and Sun-sign astrology as the Tarot card at the centre of the spread. Of course you can say more, and be more specific, with a whole spread. But you can also say a lot just from that single card, once you let go and let it speak through you. Maybe I’ll give Sun-sign astrology a go myself?


Moira said...

One can hit bits of the nail on the head by assessing transit action to a sun sign. You'll at least get a "how in heck did you know THAT ?" response.

Reading an interesting article by Dale Huckeby on the limitations of symbolic language to accurately describe astrological experience.

Thanks for reminding me to pull my tarot card for the week. The Queen of Wands is quite significant to this Venus in Aries transit!

Anonymous said...


Susan Miller: "People think it's predestination. It has nothing to do with predestination."

Amanda Petrusich: "She is careful, always, to emphasize free will in her readings - when properly employed, astrology doesn't dictate or predict our choices, it merely allows us to make better, more informed ones."

Mayan Calendar Report said...

Astrology is based on the seasons and the relationships between the planets (called aspects) and NOT what sign is located behind the Sun when you were born.
The signs of the Zodiac are merely symbols and metaphors that divide the year into 12 different and equal "seasons". This partition is based on the proportions of day and night or light and darkness experienced throughout the year.

Barry Goddard said...

I think you're being a bit fundamentalist here, Mayan Calendar report!

Richard Smykowsky said...

The fundamental problem that sun sign astrology creates is the over emphasis on signs of the zodiac. It is the planets themselves, including the Sun as a "planet", which underpin the action and rationale of this ancient divinatory system - a system based on light, appearances, motion, cycles. It is after all astrologos - "star speak" - and that meant the planets as "stars", the wandering stars communicating to us as agents of the divine.

Barry Goddard said...

Agreed Sun sign astrology is limited, and can give a simplistic impression of astrology. But I don't think there is a fundamental problem with it as a technique: you are talking about the Sun in a sign (and drawing in other planets as well behind the scenes), which seems quite valid to me.