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home    consultations    courses    ideas    irish astrology        Bill Sheeran

Astrology and Unpredictability

A talk given at the 2nd CIDA International Congress, Venice, Italy October 1997

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Since the 1930's, the more esoteric astrology has faded somewhat, to be replaced with a 'person centred' psychological approach, revealing the arrival of Pluto as a symbol of transformation within astrology's reality picture. Although we can see the influence of Neptune and Pluto in the way astrology has developed in the last hundred years or so, the impact of Uranus is not so obvious. Perhaps this simply indicates that the time was not ripe for the integration of the Uranus principle to occur. But that was 200 years ago. What about today?

In order to explore this question, it is necessary to ponder astrology's subjective nature. Mention the word astrology, and the symbolism of the planets and the zodiac come to mind. So does the correlation between planetary positions or cycles and the events or rhythmic processes which are part of worldly phenomena. But this does not define what astrology is. As astrologers, we know that there is a phenomenon in our experience which demonstrates the link between the rhythms above with the rhythms below. However, astrology is not this phenomenon itself, but instead is a record of our efforts to understand this phenomenon. I think it is important to make this distinction. What we call astrology has no external objective reality. It grows out of a subjective ground, and is the product of a collaboration between human consciousness and reality. Astrology is subjectively tied to the collective psyche of the culture in which it is practiced.

It is the culturally determined way in which we try to give form to our understanding of this link between the heavens and earth that gives astrology much of its character. Astrology is conceived and born from the penetration of this natural phenomenon by the spirit of a culture. It is a psychic construction projected onto an aspect of nature. This implies that as the spirit of a culture evolves, then so will the astrology which that culture produces. While one may be able to identify a certain inheritance of ideas between the Babylonian, Greek, Roman and modern European cultures, their essential spirits differ greatly. I would expect these differences to show in the astrologies from these cultures, whether in attitudes and approaches to the craft, or in terms of what astrology meant to the astrologers of the time. Even today, one can detect subtle differences in the flavour of astrology emerging from different parts of Europe. Astrology has a sociological dimension which contributes to its character, localized in particular times and places.

From this point of view, astrology is an open system. As such, its structures, processes and functions are able to evolve. It does not have a closed and fixed objective reality defined by a set of rules. At the same time, the truths we perceive in astrology do have weight and inertia. It has a strong tradition which is constantly re-affirmed by experience. Within a cultural or sociological context, this conservative tradition needs to be in a dynamic relationship with the drive towards innovation and novelty in order for vitality to be maintained. Otherwise astrology becomes a quaint museum exhibit.

If one accepts this, one would expect the emergence of Uranian consciousness in our culture over the last two hundred years to show itself prominently in the character of our astrology. I don't really think this has happened. The fact that we use Uranian symbolism in consultation work is not enough. The core issue relates to the integration of the Uranian archetype of freedom and unpredictability with the Saturnian concept of astrological determinism. This determinism is historically at the core of the astrological world view.

What do we really believe about astrological determinism? Is everything in principle predictable using the tools of astrology, or are there limits to what we can predict? Is there an astrological uncertainty principle?

There are many differing views on this issue. More psychologically oriented astrologers would suggest that free will and fate are intertwined, thereby constraining the ability to make specific predictions, and this does have a certain Uranian feel about it. They also often suggest that prediction is not the purpose of astrology, and I am somewhat sympathetic to this view in relation to natal astrology. But at the same time, it is a rare psychological astrologer who makes no use at all of astrology's predictive techniques. The issue of predictability also covers a broader area than that defined by psychological astrology. The point is that astrology does have predictive power whether or not we wish to make use of it. So what is the character of this predictive power?

In raising this question, it is most interesting to see the fashion among a growing number of astrologers for a more deterministic image than that presented within psychological astrology. For example the renewed interest in horary, with its strict set of rules and promise of answers; or the unprecedented western interest in Vedic astrology, which in its pure form is unashamedly fatalistic; or the enthusiastic exploration of re-discovered predictive techniques from ancient astrological traditions.

There are yet others for whom astrology is an effective form of divination. The astrologer is in dialogue with an aspect of reality that is beyond rationale, and beyond culture. The only limit to perceiving the future is the attunement of the astrologer to this higher realm.

I am not suggesting here that this diversity of perspectives is in some way unhealthy - on the contrary. But I do think that the situation is crying out for some kind of clarification or understanding, especially for the benefit of new students of astrology who have grown up in societies which clearly show the strong presence of the Uranian principle. Today's citizens are presented with an unprecedented range of options, alternatives and possibilities. The accelerated pace of change demands flexibility, and makes the concept of permanence slightly ridiculous. People's lives are not as mapped out in advance as they were in the past, when the rigid social order imposed serious constraints on one's degree of freedom. Surely these developments have some bearing on the question of predictability.

Copyright 1997 Bill Sheeran        | page 1 |  | next |