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ideas
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what is
astrology?
series

proposal 1
astrology is
what astrologers do

proposal 2
astrology is disconnected
from celestial reality

proposal 3
astrology is two-faced
(at least)


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What is astrology? - a series of short articles

Modest Proposal no.2: Astrology is disconnected from celestial reality

It is often said that the map is not the territory, and this is true. Maps are useful though. A geographical map presents the spatial relationships between noteworthy features in a real world landscape. This allows the map user to become oriented for navigational purposes, to plan journeys, and so on. On the other hand, it cannot tell you whether a river has dried up due to transient drought conditions. The map also contains information which is not related to any physical feature in the landscape, such as boundaries between countries.

The most common tool which astrologers use is the horoscope. This is often considered to be equivalent to a map. It is constructed using an ephemeris. This gives positions for the planets at a given moment relative to an agreed point which marks the beginning of the zodiac. However these positions, though accurate, in fact mark the locations of the planets projected onto the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the idealised centre line of the zodiac belt and represents the apparent path of the Sun's orbit as seen from the earth. The orbits of the planets are each tilted at different angle to the plane defined by the ecliptic. It is only as a planet in its orbit crosses the plane of the ecliptic that its position will be a true reflection of the information included in the horoscope. In other words, most of the time, the planets are not in fact where the horoscope says they are. What astrologers are working with is a set of coordinates which are derived from the physical location of the planets. The symbols in the horoscope do not literally reflect the physical positions of the planets which they symbolise.

This disconnection (technically speaking an artefact resulting from planetary latitude) has its consequences. A planet which looks as if it is above the horizon in a horoscope can in fact be below the horizon in reality, or vice versa.

There are many ways in which a horoscope or astrological techniques do not reflect physical reality. There are no big black dividing lines in the sky separating 12 zodiac signs or houses that are associated with various properties. Planetary transits are in fact observations of coordinates in relation to another set of coordinates derived from the solar system at some previous time. There is nothing physically real about this situation. Unlike a mountain on a map, a birth chart does not correspond with anything which exists in the material present. A progressed horoscope has no relationship with celestial reality whatsoever.

A horoscope is clearly not a useful map of the heavens. It does not correspond to the physical heavens and cannot be said to represent them. In which case, one might ask the question "What is the territory it corresponds with?".

The simple answer to this is "Whatever context the horoscope's symbolism is being mapped onto". A birth chart's symbolism is mapped onto a human being's life context. However there is no literal correspondence whatsoever between the horoscope and the actual physical circumstances of a person's life. There is no 'Mars' in a person's life. So the main tool of astrology, the horoscope, is disconnected from both the physical reality of the heavens and the physical reality of the context it purportedly represents.

Astrology deals with abstractions. The horoscope's symbolism represents a context which is itself symbolic. My birth chart does not represent me, but the concept of me, an abstraction of me, a symbolic me. Or as some astrologers like to put it, the horoscope is a map of potential. By definition though, potential refers to that which is yet to manifest, which has yet to become real.

The concept of 'planetary influences' in natal astrology betrays the metaphorical framing of astrology rather than astrology's actual nature. It is pointless to entertain the thought that astrology can be explained using causal mechanistic thinking. There is no astrological connection which physically connects me, or a country, or a horse race, or a horary question to the planets.

The horoscope begins its life as a abstraction from the heavens. At this point there are perhaps some tenuous connections with solar system reality. As soon as the horoscope is used for astrological purposes, the tenuous connection to celestial reality is completely broken. A major category shift occurs. It does not connect the context to the heavens; it connects the context to the astrologer. The horoscope exists in an abstract field of meaning and does not correspond with any material thing.

This observation has to be taken into account if one tries grapple with the issue of astrology's nature.

The contemporary astrologer who has written most convincingly and clearly about this issue is Juan Revilla. His notes on the nature of astrology are recommended reading for students and astrologers alike.


Copyright 2003 Bill Sheeran. All Rights Reserved.