Astrology: An Hermeneutic Art

With a certain regularity discussions, sometimes hotly debated, about the efficacy of different house systems, but also other aspects of astrological practice are reopened. They are like the proverbial phoenix rising from its ashes. Such discussions are good as they help maintain a certain rigour and prevent complacency. I appreciate them, as good argumentation gives an impulse to rethink the how’s and why’s of my astrological practice. The only inhibiting factor in such discussions are participants who are unwilling to listen to opposing views. The conviction of having found the perfect method, unmatched by all others can lead to stagnation, and makes a fruitful discussion impossible. The assertion, “My method works, all others don’t” is based on a false premise. It is not the method that works, it is the skill of the astrologer who practices it that makes it ‘work’. I would like to explore this closer.

Astrology is an hermeneutic art, not to be confused with hermetic (which is another topic). What is hermeneutics? The the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō) means ‘translate’ or ‘interpret’.  On this theme Aristotle wrote an important work, Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας (Peri Hermeneias) ‘On Interpretation’. In the opening chapter he gives a fair description of what the foundations of interpretation are:

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images.

A basic astrological premise, since its inception, is that celestial happening has meaning and that this meaning can be read. The movements of the planets are a form of celestial script and the astrologer reads this script.

“On Interpretation” has a very strong grammatical basis (I can’t go into much detail in this article but you may find the text here. Read it!). The grammatical structure of language enables us to form logical and coherant statements. But we must give order to the words we use. If I say: “Venus – Aries – domicile – Taurus” , each word stands alone but there may or may not be a connection between them. There is neither true nor false, there may or may not be a logical connection. But if I say: “Venus in Aries is not in her domicile, that is Taurus.” Then I bring them into logical connection with one another. I have also engaged in the first step of interpretation. I have brought Venus in relation to both Aries and Taurus. She is in domicile in one but not the other.

Now we can return to our original discussion. The argument that most astrologers use the house system that they first learned or that is in consensus with their affiliation to a particular group or for which they have tables is descriptive but it is not valid for establishing the correctness of the method used. It is the skill of the astrologer alone and not the method that is the basis of interpretation. The method is like the isolated words in the example given above. It is the astrologer who makes the connections, who brings noun, verb, adjective, present, past, future and conditional clauses together. This means that all methods can be effective, and that the basis for a fruitful discussion is what each method can and cannot do, whether there are limits or not, what a refinement of each method entails. So for example wholes houses may give a very good basis for the interpretation of a natal chart. That might be enough for one astrologer, also for his or her client. Another might want to refine his interpretation and add a quadrant house system, of her or his choice. Yet another might add the outer planets, when they seem to have significance for the chart at hand. Yet another might look at the midpoints of the planets in detail. And yet another might decide to look at different harmonics of a chart.

I for one will not sit in judgement over a particular method, as that is a futile exercise, instead I would prefer to explore it and see if yet an unseen vista of a chart might unravel before my interpretive sight.


6 thoughts on “Astrology: An Hermeneutic Art

  1. That is an excellent post, Thomas! Congratulation! I am exceedingly happy someone writes about it at last. To my mind, it is high time we left the paradigm of ‘working or not working’ behind ourselves as it leads nowhere, and to be honest, everybody can almost rightly claim his favourite ‘works’ but it ends up in confusion. I have also tried to challenge the principle of ‘work’ for astrology on my blog some years ago but it is not in English. So a little fresh air is really welcomed!
    Surprising, but this hermeneutic approach is a sort of contemporary with astrology. Roger Beck, a renowned historian of religions introduces the idea of ‘star-talk’ in his The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire which is actually based upon some ancient views. Details are available on Google Books: chapter 8 contains the main discussion but there are several most interesting passages as well.

    Egyébként a hermeneutikai megközelítés nagyjából egyidős az asztrológiával. Roger Beck egy Mithras-misztériumokkal kapcsolatos könyvének jelentős részét szenteli a csillagbeszéd témájának. Ezek szerint az asztrológia felfogható egyfajta kommunikációként is.

  2. Hello Osthanes!

    I am extremely pleased to hear that the paradigm, ‘working or not working’ also gets on your nerves! 🙂 It is an interesting parallel that hermeneutics had its origins at about the same time that astrology was going through a major formative period. Thank you for the reference to The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire. The astrological symbolism that permeates the Mithras Cult is truly fascinating. I will certainly look it up at google books!

    Some Magyar added to a comment brings a bit of spice! And even if one doesn’t understand it straight off, it is a wonderful demonstration of three hermeneutic semantical ‘constructs’ 😉
    Magyar is on my list of languages I would like to learn.

    Thank you so much for your comment,

    best regards,

  3. Hi Thomas,

    when the time finally comes to learn Magyar i advise you to find someone who knows the language but was born or raised in an English speaking country. That way they can find similar sounding words in English to aid in proper pronunciation. Eg, Magyar is pronounced thus:

    ‘Mo’ (as in ‘mo’dern), gy (as in Jack), & ‘ar’ as in (‘or’acle). ‘A’ is pronounced as a brief ‘o’ eg Boston.

    i am assuming you are US artehr than English otherwise i would use different word examples.

    cheers 🙂

    PS having done a lot of research into ancient Magyar history/myths, i suspect the interconnectedness of human-kind was much more common than generally thought thogh waxed & waned due to war etc. Also the language is mathematical & has science built into it. Some experts believe it is related closely to Sumerian, not only via language but also myths, & other anthropological areas. Other languages or cultures also have connections to Sumeria.

  4. Hello Rob,

    I am familiar with both British and North American accents of which there are quite a few. Not to mention New Zealand, Australian, South African accents… 🙂

    Thank you for your comment. I gather you are familiar with the book “Hamlet’s Mill” which more or less supports the thesis that Ancient Cultures all over the world have a common cosmological-mythical core.

    best wishes,

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