What happens when I do an astrology reading? The immediately striking element is that I am quite quickly able to say things about the other person that I could not have known, broad delineations of their character which would not apply to most people.
I usually ask people to tell me as little as they can about themselves to start with, so that I can carry out this delineation process with as few preconceptions as possible.
And, generally speaking, it works.
And what also strikes me is that much of what I say comes from the symbols themselves, something objective that any competent astrologer would say. Of course, I am also bringing my own divinatory ability to the task, and putting it in a way that no other astrologer would, that maybe in its own mysterious way tells the other person something specific that they needed to hear.
In The Moment of Astrology Chapter 10, Geoffrey Cornelius says that “When we interpret a horoscope, it is always a new one-off situation, completely new and individual. We never study averaged populations, just as we never meet average people. The remarkable thing about our astrology, therefore, is that we also expect the next one-off and completely individual horoscope that we study to answer to the canons of interpretation of astrology – which mysteriously they generally turn out to do. Yet those canons have been shown over and over again to have no relevance whatsoever for large-number populations of cases.”
One of Geoffrey Cornelius’ principal contentions in The Moment of Astrology is that astrology’s basis is divinatory and not scientifically provable. In this I agree with him, and it is a very important point that raises profound questions about the nature of knowledge. But chewing it over, I decided that each horoscope is not completely new and individual. The person I am doing the reading for is completely new and individual, but I will be saying things that will apply to most people with, say, 7th House Sun in Aquarius.
Every astrologer knows this. We know, for example, what Librans tend to be like. And yet, as Cornelius points out, whenever statistical studies have been carried out to prove, for example, the general character of a sign, or the compatibility in synastry of harmonious Sun-Moon aspects, the contention fails to be proved.
The logical argument that Cornelius seems to be presenting is that since large-scale statistical testing always fails, there is nothing ‘objective’ to the chart, so each reading must be unique and incommensurable.
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But what about ordinary non-scientific human observation as a measure of truth? What about, for example, the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, where Jane Austen declares:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
People place value on these lines, or they would not be so well-known. And yet could their truth ever be proved scientifically? Particularly as it is an ironic truth, pointing to how rich bachelors are seen through the lens of self-interest, rather than how they are in themselves.
If I was asked in a scientific survey if I thought Jane Austen’s lines were true of me in this ironic sense, I might say,“Well, I have no reason to think about that subject, and if I were to, it would depend on what mood I’m in and how honest I’m being with myself.” You could possibly generate some sort of statistical result with such a survey (as some academic astrologers are now doing with their ‘quantitative methods’), but I can’t see that it would tell us much.
And I think it’s the same sort of thing with, say, the commonly understood qualities of Librans: in our experience they are true enough of the time to say something general about the sign, but they don’t apply in an obvious way to all Librans.
So why do the truths about Librans, for example, break down under statistical analysis? For a start, they are not easy to define in the measurable way that science needs. Beyond that, I don’t know, and actually I’m not sure how much I should care. Statistical truth is a recent innovation that tries to reduce truth to numbers, to explain quality in terms of quantity.
Is the onus on me to justify the objective truths in astrology in statistical terms, or is the onus on the statisticians to justify the applicability of statistical methods to a qualitative, divinatory craft like astrology? I think the onus is on the statisticians, they are the pretenders to the throne of knowledge, and I don’t think we should be afraid to stand up to these men of numbers.
The fact that astrology fails to work in quite a spectacular way when statistical methods are applied, does not mean there are no objective elements in the astrological chart. It means that statistical methods do not work when applied to astrology. Watch this space: centuries in the future, when Neptune and Pluto no longer conjoin in Gemini, we will be freed of this shadow of facticity.
As suggested above, astrological truths are more akin to the truths of, say, a novelist, or even a painter: observations rooted in personal observation of people and nature that turn out to have wide applicability, truths that we recognise, yet which we would all express differently, or may be unable to articulate at all. I have no doubt that these truths would fail the statistical test as well, though it seems absurd to think in such terms.
Humanity got on fine for thousands of years using the power of ordinary observation to acquire knowledge and wisdom. These days, true knowledge is in the hands of specialists with their equations and lab experiments. The power of people to see and understand through their own observation needs to be reclaimed. The different characters of the astrological signs can be understood through ordinary observation, and the dismissal of this sort of truth by statisticians is part of a wider disempowerment of people's abilities to observe and understand.
The characters of the astrological signs are observable, but the original source of this knowledge is divinatory.
When I am doing a reading, I am using my human experience of people and how we work; I am also drawing on something in myself that I can’t put into words that often hits the nail on the head, that resonates, if you like, with the story of the other person’s life as they see it, that maybe even changes that story. (Is what I’m saying factually true? Maybe, or maybe it’s not relevant. Are there such things as facts when applied to human lives, or just stories?) And there is an energetic dimension too. There is at best a communion that allows the spirit behind what is said also to have an influence, to transform.
So there is a personal divinatory ability that comes from somewhere that is perhaps best not analysed, much as a writer may be reluctant to talk about his or her creative sources. There is a mystery at the heart of astrology that is also the mystery at the heart of life, and our words need to be supportive of, and expressive of, that mystery. Rather than impudently dismissing that mystery, as statistics can be used to do.
But there is also an objective or collective divinatory process going on via the symbols in the chart. Divination is not just a personal thing, we are tapping into something wider than ourselves. We are tapping into a level where people are not separate, where understanding, like a spark, jumps through the ether between minds.
And the symbols in the chart, and the rules of interpretation, originate in this collective divinatory ocean.
To understand how astrology works (and I think that understanding will always be limited), we first need a measure of philosophical subtlety. The mind provides a model of reality that allows us to function. It gives us categories such as space and time and left and right and subject and object, me ‘in here’ and the world ‘out there’. And we tend to take these categories to be real rather than as models. It is the function of any spiritual discipline worth its salt to help the practitioner to begin to see through these categories.
A bit of reflection, therefore, begins to break down the hard subject-object divide, as we begin to see its mind-created nature. And it is important to bring this reflection down from the realm of ideas and into experience, otherwise it means little. Which is why I always recommend ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’, a book in which brain dysfunctions are shown to lead to a breakdown in this mind-created reality, that appears to us to be so real. This book had a shock effect on me when I read it in my twenties.
With the subject-object divide softened, it becomes easier to seee that inner and outer can influence each other – more than that, that they are profoundly interconnected, they co-create and mirror each other. This is the reality of Neptune.
Hang on. Neptune, did you say, that gas giant a billion miles away, what has he/it to do with it?
But Neptune is much more than just a gas giant a billion miles away. One part of the human mind describes him like this. A divinatory meaning has also arisen that is collective. Did that meaning come from the human mind or from the planet out there? I don’t think one can say, as the divinatory world is not sharply divided into subject and object.
All we know is that that meaning arose and it resonated and it has perhaps even gained power over time through collective usage. Rather like when I pick up a tarot card, I can feel a power in it, something in me is being activated, and it seems to be to be a power that has grown through collective usage, through the power of human intention.
And it is the same for ‘the canons of interpretation of astrology’. They are essentially a collective divinatory sea rather than a set of rules: any astrologer can draw on this sea, even a computer can draw on it. But the more the canon is approached in the spirit of rules – as a computer has to do – the less that divinatory power and insight can flow through.
So in reading a chart one is using both one’s individual divinatory ability, at the same time as drawing on the collective divinatory ocean of symbols that is the essence of the written tradition.
This collective divinatory sea is the objective aspect of astrology, that enables astrologers to have a common understanding. But it is a fluid, subtle thing, with its origins in the co-creative nature of human consciousness and the ‘outer’ world. That is ultimately why statistical testing of astrology fails: not because astrology is not true, but because science tends to divide reality into hard, simplistic categories that miss the subtleties of the creative level of consciousness.
Science is a ‘let’s pretend’ situation: “Let’s pretend that reality is ‘out there’ and material and fully amenable to rational analysis.” There’s nothing wrong with approaching the material world in this way. It has achieved some great things, and produced some very interesting models of reality.
But they are models, can only ever be models, and predicated on a rigid subject/object divide (which quantum physics has admittedly undermined, though not to the extent of breaking down in a widespread way the simple certainties about reality that science provides, and that people often seem to need.)
Astrology can only be understood when the subject-object dichotomy is softened. Quantum physics maybe has a chance at understanding the subject, classical physics not so.