What is “Traditional” Astrology?: some Thoughts

Astrology is a sacred science rooted in a “traditional” cosmology, that is, a cosmology that has a clear idea of the relationship between man and God. A traditional cosmology, indeed any traditional science, is like a bell. A bell is cast complete, in one form. One can play on it as often as is needed or wished and in any number of variations but any attempt to graft on any sort of attachment at a later date will only dull the clarity of the tone, or more likely, cause the bell to become mute. It is not possible to say, “We don’t like the bell, we’ll make our own.” The original material out of which the bell is made exists only in the bell and if the old bell were melted down and mixed with other (inferior) substances the new bell would likely crack in the casting.

The many “astrologies” of our time cover the bell to a greater or lesser extent with any number of accretions. It is the task of the discerning astrologer to remove these accumulations so that the bell that is astrology can sound clearly. But what are the criteria needed to accomplish this? Here we have to ask the question, “What characterises a traditional science?” This means asking what the bell is for and who made it. The tradition can answer this easily. The bell is for the glory of God and it was made by those who understood His Mystery (one need only consider the story of the Three Magi from the east, following the Star to Bethlehem). Anything that does not accord with this is likely to be an addition and so questionable.

Once, many years ago I had a conversation with a group of students out of an Arabian country. Their command of English, the language we used to communicate in, was limited. In order to clear up a few points, I looked up the meanings of a few words in a dictionary and wrote them down in Arabic. They were very surprised by this. It also posed a riddle. How was it possible that I, an who couldn’t speak a word, could write better Arabian than they, and not even understand a word? They said that what I had written was beautiful, a work of art and that they, who had been writing Arabian most of their lives could not come even close. I think the answer to the riddle is that I wrote the words not out of an understanding of the individual letters but as a whole image. A traditional cosmology is much the same. It is a homogenous whole, a unity and not composed out of individual pieces of knowledge, empirically gathered, that can be added or subtracted at whim.

There is indeed only one astrology. It is only a question of recognising it. That is a task of a lifetime. Once truly and completely understood, astrology becomes redundant, for by then we have gained an understanding that comes from the Holy Spirit itself. (like the Wise Men the star has led us to the Child in the cradle) Our astrology is a chapter in the book of cosmology. The book is in turn a mere glimmering of the Reality it reflects.

Dear Reader,
Like “The Eye of the Needle” some may find the content of this article provocative, both in the positive and negative senses. All articles found at altairastrology are an attempt to peel away some of the grime and to encourage you to think about what has come to be called traditional astrology or even astrology in general. From time to time the content will have to be looked at again and revised. It is by no means suggested that I or any guest writer of this site has reached that exalted state of complete understanding. The picture of the pilgrim is appropriate here. The imagery used above is Christian but I think that those truly grounded in the vedic, judaic or islamic traditions would find a similar formulation, in the language of their tradition, to what has been said above.

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3 thoughts on “What is “Traditional” Astrology?: some Thoughts

  1. I found this essay insightful and well-argued even where I did not agree with the underlying assumptions.

    I find the observations of Patrice Guinard particularly apt in this context (please forgive my extended quotation, but it is all germane):

    “The practitioner, who is often a pragmatist and takes the easy way out and is prompted by curiosity and a thirst for newfangled methods, tries “techniques” of the most disparate nature imaginable, thereby sacrificing the coherence of the totality. He seeks to satisfy the demand of a clientele anxious for comfort, or of a readership seeking sensationalism. The “But it works!” of the empirical process legitimizes every aberration. But it does still work, despite the scanty requirements made in defining adequacy in the interpretation of perceived reality. Moreover, astrological factors are chosen arbitrarily. There results no hypothesis about the possible functioning of astral incidence, nor even an internal logic that could justify the use of these factors from an astrological point of view. The astrologer examines a few charts, then talks about his “research.” He reads a few books and gives a few readings, then talks about his “experience.” He does nothing more than use some tools with a view to a specific application of astrology, i.e. the psychological interpretation of natal charts. Some such people come up with new techniques (very often simple modifications of previous ones) in pursuit of the same ends. An imaginary empiricism is the sole guarantor of their ostensible efficacy. All of this has little to do with astrology. It is a form of personal satisfaction, the subjective application of knowledge that lies outside the bounds: a small personal affair. How could such a thing interest universities? In point of fact, astrology concerns itself essentially with the general and only indirectly with the particular: it is a mode of thought, and a mode of the functioning of thought, a logic of perception.

    “The practitioner is not interested in learning: he believes that he already knows. He believes that his conviction about the existence of a reality to which skeptical minds remain closed excuses him from the effort of research. He does not think it necessary to know anything about his predecessors. He has no real model of astrology, only vague spiritual assumptions that seem to him to harmonize with this slapdash praxis. He forgets that the body of knowledge he uses arose from a conglomeration of heterogeneous and disparate techniques, dating from specific historical periods, that float today like driftwood in the harbor of one or another sphere of praxis, by reason of the mediated success of a particular author or the skewed translation of an ancient text, and not because comparative studies have been undertaken or because reflection on the logic of the totality has been engaged.

    “There is no such thing as traditional astrology; there are only models from the past, with great differences between them, products of particular cultures, schools of thought, or individual astrologers working in isolation. A conglomeration of these models is assimilated in the minds of some astrologers to represent a supposed tradition, astrologers who are often ignorant of historical reality. If the system of Ptolemy has left a preponderant mark in the astrological culture of Europe, medieval and then modern, it would deserve more than any other system the label “traditional” by virtue of the very special place it occupies within the framework of Hellenistic astrology. If astrology thrashes about impotently in the ghetto to which it was relegated in the Enlightenment, its circumstances are in part due to those who have taken up its banner. Astrologers should engage the terrains of history and epistemology: it is there that they will find their most formidable adversaries, as well as those most worthy of esteem. The first great modern adversary of astrology was not Pico della Mirandola, as one commonly believes, but rather Salmasius (1648).”

  2. Dear Andrew,
    This topic comes up with enough frequency to warrant some discussion. There are various “schools” even of “traditional” astrology. The question is to what extent this is justified and leading from that what do they have in common? As in the above quote I came to the conclusion that there is no “traditional” astrology. There is only astrology. This is where the metaphor of the bell comes in. I am fully aware that some of the assumptions and some of the conclusions will not meet with agreement. One of them is mentioned in the quote. I think that there is a homogenous coherent source for astrological understanding independent of the heterogeneous and historical nature of the body of astrological knowledge (I don’t discount this). I write not as an authority but as someone searching for a more complete understanding of astrology. That is why I say that everything offered at this site is open to revision. In a years time I hope that my insight will have deepened and it is such comments as yours which help. They are invaluable and I thank you for them. At the same time I hope that through the dialogue that arises that by reciprocation your insight and that of other readers is stimulated! Thank you Andrew. Could you please give the source of the Patrice Guinard quote? That would be very helpful.

  3. “I think that there is a homogenous coherent source for astrological understanding independent of the heterogeneous and historical nature of the body of astrological knowledge.”

    Je conviens complètement!

    The CURA site of Patrice Guinard:

    http://cura.free.fr/cura-en.html

    The source of the Guinard quote:

    http://cura.free.fr/12athem4.html

    “The goal for Corbin is to be able to seek freely the teachings of all the masters, but to be bound as no one’s slave. Nonetheless the gravity of the work must be acknowledged. One does not trifle with the alchemy of the soul.” (Tom Cheetham)

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