Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Is Astrology for Real? Is it USEFUL?

Just last night I was teaching at the university, and our comparative religion course had advanced from dimmest antiquity to the 21st century.  In the context of talking about New Age thought, one of the topics I cover is very, very old - astrology.

To do this I used a very special book, Richard Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche:

Tarnas is a philosopher and cultural historian who originally followed the standard academic mindset of dismissing astrology out of hand as an old wives tale.  Fortunately, Tarnas has intellectual integrity and eventually realized he couldn't just dismiss astrology without proving it wrong.  Yet, to his shock and surprise, his decades of research on the matter have totally convinced him that our "modern" idea (of the last few hundred years only) that there's no relation between the heavens - the great "out there" - and the mind - the great "in here" - is totally wrong.

As he points out, modern man has been the victim of a historical process to deny the sacred aspect of the cosmos and reduce it to balls of dirt or fire floating in space.  Copernicus' discovery that the earth orbits the sun and not the reverse had this curious side effect, possibly because Catholic and Protestant leaders alike opposed his views.  

Before that you had St. Anselm's pseudo-theology in which the created world has zero importance (so much for ancient Christianity!), and later Descartes' declaration "I think, therefore I am", Newton's mechanical view of the cosmos, Darwin's reduction of life to biological accident and other developments that have conspired to affect how we see the universe and ourselves.

Perhaps, in the end, this will all be seen as just a long historical hiccup of sorts.  For his part, Tarnas goes over in detail countless examples of how astrological configurations have coincided with historical events and the lives of individuals.  

How Astrology Works:

One of the easiest ways to find out the basics on the Western astrological system is to watch this short video:

From the video you'll pick up at least two interesting tidbits:  the first is that there's a whole lot more to this system than the video could explain, and the second is that, given the complexity of the cosmos and the nearly infinite combinations of individual birth times with planetary orbits, ascendants, midheaven points and the rest, astrology considers you to be totally unique.  And if you're that unique, those horoscope columns in your local paper that pretend you and everyone in your sun sign will have a similar day are total garbage.  According to the rules of astrology itself, they're nothing more than meaningless entertainment for the masses.  

My Experience of Astrology:

In my late teens and early twenties I had much the same reaction as Tarnas toward astrology - the only way to find out if it was for real or nonsense was to learn how it works.  So I learned it to the point where I could cast a horoscope accurately and interpret it reasonably well.  My conclusions?

I found that as a predictor or analysis of character traits, a properly done horoscope was astoundingly accurate.  As a predictor of future events, though, it was less useful.  How come?  Probably because we always have 20/20 hindsight - we can look at an event, look at the astrological data and say, "no wonder!"  But if we try to guess how a particular piece of astrological data will manifest itself concretely in our own lives or the life of the nation, for example, we don't necessarily have much to go on.  

Of course, there are really two sets of objectors to astrology.  One set are those who consider it bunk simply because their culture has taught them to say that and they repeat the party line mindlessly.  The other objectors are chiefly Christians of various types, who may be more than a little thin on the history of astrology in Christianity and on ancient Christian cosmology too.

Several years ago I had an unusual conversation about astrology with an Orthodox Christian monk from Mt. Athos.  His reaction was something like, "That the cosmos has inherent order and that it affects us shouldn't come as any surprise.  Yet to say it affects our thoughts and actions is not the same as saying it determines our thoughts and actions.  That we would reject."

And the idea that astrology teaches that the cosmos controls your destiny is surprisingly widespread among people who know nothing about astrology.  In point of fact, it doesn't teach that at all.  It purports merely to show tendencies.  

Astrology and Personal Resilience:  Is It USEFUL?

That's a harder question to answer.  Can we understand ourselves better by having our horoscope done?  Probably.  Can we understand the people around us better by knowing the proclivities of their sun sign?  Yes, no doubt true in many cases.  

Can we use astrology to anticipate and avoid bumps in the road of life?  Maybe, but the jury's out on this one.  And the real question is how much effort would the average person have to put into understanding astrology and for how much of a "return on investment".  

So it may come down to this: how practical is astrology as a resilience tool?  Can it be made more practical?  

If you have thoughts or comments on this, feel free to jump right in!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


1 comment:

  1. Having grown up with scientifically minded, religiously grounded parents, I am open to many models of how to organize the whys and wherefores of life. Frankly, I think Gregg Braden's book "Fractal Time" explains the here-to-fore unexplainable very admirably.