zur Übersicht Erkenntnistheorie

Does astrology need the stars?

What the ancient system of thought is all about

Astrology is dealing with symbols. That is to say, we should not understand the planets and signs too literally, concretely. The stars are signposts, references to a metaphysical realm. They are indicators, similar to a thermometer measuring a certain degree; it is neither the temperature nor its creator! The stars are similar to the pointers of a clock showing us hours and minutes; the pointers, however, having nothing to do with time as such. The stars do not generate our personalities or fate. The celestial objects are the physical representatives, they are to some extent the copies of transcendental (invisible, immaterial) energies. Those otherworldly principles reign in Plato’s realm of ideas; they are comparable to the mystical numbers of Pythagoras, to the biblical Elohim, the emanations of supreme divine unity. (Astrology always saw itself in such religious-ritual context.)
In astrology we see the collective unconscious archetypes at work. The constellations are metaphors, revealing primordial patterns, whose meaning is superior to earthly existence. The cycle of the zodiac is an allegorical display of life’s fundamental factors; it's kind of a shorthand encoding of the processes of becoming and decay.
Since they refer to all planes of manifestation, astrological patterns have to be abstract. Because of the multiplicity of their meaning the cosmic letters are inevitably vague, open, ambiguous and inexact - one of (uncomprehending) science’s most serious objections. Because of this lack of concreteness the message of astronomical reality has to be translated; the symbols have to be related to someone or something - a direct, linear conclusion not being possible! Appealing to our brain's right hemisphere, i.e. to our imaginative side, astrology is more of an art than a science. It is a “cosmic art of explanation” (Knappich), an “intuitive science” (Steiner).
In this system of knowledge analogy is the keyword. Our axiom says “as above - so below”, or “macrocosm = microcosm”; this being known as the rule of the Emerald board. The astrological hypothesis assumes some basic relationship between events in the sky and on earth which occur simultaneously. Epistemologically, here we see the idea of the “unus mundus” at work, of some universal magic reality, i.e. the belief that in the world all objects fundamentally are bound together. In the Middle Ages people called this connection “kinship”, “sympathy” or “harmony”;“resonance” and “vibration” are the equivalent modern (quantum physical or esoteric) terms. In the Hermetic conception of the world every occurrence is meaningful. If things are happening at the same time (or even at the same place), they cohere inwardly.
The precondition of everything born into time and space is its prior existence (as germ, seed) on a metaphysical plane. All beings on earth are somehow “planned”, anticipated - there is no space for pure chance or empty senselessness!
In his pioneering work the Suisse psychologist C.G. Jung has formulated the principle of synchronicity. Its basis is one of simultaneity and sense, ignoring the borderline of matter and spirit - all events and persons are interrelated. In Jung’s view the relationship between stars and man is a parallel or correlative one; in any case its nature is acausal. In his reasoning on the how and why of astrology Jung used words like ‘coincidence, correspondence and equivalence’ (a homogeneity with regard to a hidden, subconscious meaning).
time in its quantitative aspect forming the basis of the qualitative aspectAstrology is an instrument measuring time’s quality - in contrast to today’s prevailing quantitative view. From an astrological perspective a single minute may essentially differ from the next; thereby every instant is “pregnant” with specific contents - symbolised by the constellations. That is why the moment of birth is seen so important - it's representing the “typical” features of the individual born at that time. According to the rule of “the beginning is containing the end” the birth chart comprehensively describes a person’s character and future life. (The point of conception being only relevant to the period of pregnancy - a cycle which is completed by the time we definitely enter this world.) To Goethe man was an “engraved form which is developed in living”; because of this kind of “forming” the very first cry is decisive. The ritual of celebrating one’s birthday is not just a sentimental act of reminiscence: when returning to the birth position the individual’s sun (and his quality) is re-energised (this the technique of the solar rests on).
But let us be careful: we should not attribute to the planets the capability of “engraving” character traits. The horoscope is just a signature of dispositions and task designations - nothing more, nothing less. "Causation" works the other way round and not the way it feels: It is not “because of” Mars-Saturn that I permanently face resistance, that I am confronted with mysterious obstacles in all my activities. The starry heavens are like a tape: they are recording or noting down (in the book of life) our psychological constitution. Discovering the reason of your success or failure in the heavens is seductive and can easily lead to the evasion of personal reponsibility! Basically, something can only happen to me, if I am receptive or ready for it; whatever I attract subconsciously will manifest. (Our incarnation’s time and place was selected purposefully; the higher self presumably intending the soul to develop latent qualities, in order to become more rounded, whole and loving.) It is a great riddle and a miracle, how the heavenly movements are able to simultaneously and specifically reflect so many phenomena and processes of individuals... Yet, “evil constellations” in no way are responsible, if something goes wrong. A “wicked” transit does not cause a crisis - it is simply an indicator!
The answer to the frequently asked question “freedom or determinism?” is: both-and. We are free on the level of the spiritual self (as indicated mainly in a chart’s fourth quadrant), but bound with respect to our subjective needs and wishes. We are conditioned by thoughts and actions, imprisoned by body, ego and mind. But in any case our psyche or innermost nature takes priority; this (essentially free) self being the primary cause, the determining agent behind everything we do or what happens to us. The solution to all our problems depends on when we come into contact with that sub- or superconscious source...
Nowadays astrology’s principles of effectiveness are seen working on an interior plane, i.e. psychologically. The planets correspond to psychic “organs” - a view very close to Paracelsus’ concept of an astral body. In this context chirology is an interesting example: in its system the planetary energies are written into your hand. In the art of palmistry the psycho-physical meaning of Mercury, Jupiter and so on, has been detached from their ecliptic positions. Here, astrology’s symbols are features, factors of destiny totally independent of the ephemeris! (In his historical investigations T. Schaefer pointed out that in its beginnings astrology did not have any astronomical basis.)
We all know those typical astrologer's idioms like “there my Moon is running short of food”, “person X obviously needs more Saturn” or “her Sun should be strengthened”. This kind of terminology implies that astrological symbols are ciphers of certain psychic functions. Conversely, working with this cosmo-psychological code, the soul’s mechanisms are perceived in a more conscious and differentiated way – thus, astrology is also a path to self-knowledge and self-development or initiation.
Rudolf Steiner described spiritual science as “finding again metaphysical contents in the physical world”. Similarly, in their enquiries into empirical realities, the academic disciplines, hermeneutics and phenomenology, are trying to recognise an object’s very specific structure and meaning. They are attempting to see the hidden sense, the order behind the phenomena observed. ”Verstehen” (comprehending, understanding) is central in their methods. “People explain nature, but the soul has to be comprehended”, Wilhelm Dilthey programmatically formulated his maxim a hundred years ago. He did not feel physics or biology to be adequate in the fields of human science (e.g. in history or psychology).
The difficulty with these metaphysical sciences is that in their processes of research the objects studied cannot be separated from the observer. There is no objectivity in the traditional sense of meaning any more! In order to really understand someone else (finding yourself in a counterpart) one has to become personally involved; you can no longer remain neutral and untouched. This process is demanding thorough reflection on your own attitudes and emotions (which nobody likes to change)...
The concept of the spiritual sciences is a holistic one (including body, soul and mind). Human values play an integral role, and every person is considered capable of growing. In the sixties and seventies Dilthey’s ideas have been revived by the movement of Humanistic psychology - just think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Rogers’ concept of empathy or Gendlin urging you to sense and focus on the meaningful moments of your flow of “experiencing”.
Astrology has got all the features of a spiritual science; it is meeting all the criteria necessary (the principle of analogy being the metaphysical tool par excellence). And in many respects the ancient doctrine of the stars is surpassing modern world’s ways of knowing: astrological teachings could provide any research with a unique system of orientation... On the one hand the astrological system is amazingly clear, on the other hand the number of the symbols’ possible combinations is uncountable. In former times astrology - like theology and philosophy - was a science underlying the others. Properly understood (as archetypes, inconcrete patterns of creation), its simplicity and diversity could immensely fertilise all sorts of inquiries. The different analogies could give central hints - Kepler’s finding of the orbital laws being the most convincing proof.
Astrological research is a two-level or dialectical process: the astrological concepts help us in comprehending facts and events; the observations collected do correct the abstract theories, and so on. But what about truth? We all know astrology to be explicitly geocentric and the individual subject to be the starting point of such "research"...
In the history of science objectivity has always been a question of definition - depending on the scientific community’s internal collaboration or agreements. Today scientists are calling this procedure - somewhat pompously - “intersubjectivity”; in fact this is simply a (more or less reflected) collective opinion; a sum or average of individual subjectivities – which cannot avoid deceit, thereby truth by no means is guaranteed! Outside influences need not be as extreme as the ones Galilei was exposed to - but no type of research is free from prejudice, none is agitating in a vacuum.
Since the subject is any experience’s starting point, principally there is no real objectivity - even a (honest) scientist would concede this. Pure perception (of “the thing itself”) is not possible. All empirical research is subject to certain (mostly subconscious) assumptions - called ‘categories a priori’ by Kant. Knowledge can never enter our minds directly; it is always mediated, either by gauging or by existing structures of thinking.
A person’s subjective evidence is different, but, in no way less valid than a so-called scientific result! Interestingly though, inner life is the anchoring point of modern Transpersonal psychology. Here in the course of a psychotherapeutic process all emotional elements are transformed and transcended - in order to finally arrive at objective, mythological truths. In spiritual sciences, "objectivity" means: finding again metaphysical structures or themes (e.g. a horoscope’s configuration) in an individual case.
Academia won't listen; but for all kinds of research astrology's explicit - yet not forced upon - system of classification might prove extremely useful. By following the ancient wisdom of the stars the seeker is more likely to find the right path. Its solid theoretical system of reference could aid the natural sciences in minimizing unnecessary trials and errors. Astrology’s essence is trans-subjective; its archetypal truths could even prevent us from sliding into subjective opinions, into arbitrariness or irrelevance!
The phrase “paradigm shift” was coined by philosophers of science like Kuhn and Feyerabend. Globally speaking, every paradigm is a special view of the world - fundamentally different to other viewpoints. Accordingly, the natural and the spiritual sciences cannot be compared directly. They are totally independent (“incommensurable”) of each other; they are both theoretically and practically incompatible. Each paradigm has its own type of perception, its typical methods of research, its own efficiency and truth, its specific terminology - and its own empirics or “proofs”. Whenever two paradigms seem to speak the same language, the implied meaning of the words used is different! Since every single paradigm is a unique description of man and his idea of life, no outside view can examine or even refute such a conception. This has to be taken into account when any attempt to judge astrological knowledge is being made. Attacks from the sciences, or churches cannot hurt astrology at all, because all outside evaluation is irrelevant! The continuing confusion surrounding astrological concepts of causality is quite an instructive example: to astrologers causality is more like finality, i.e. related closer to the future than to the past. Unfortunately, ordinary man at the end of 20th century cannot comprehend this “crazy” idea – even though containing the promise of growth... Astrology states that we are not influenced as much as we think by negative experiences resulting from childhood or former lives. Our destiny or higher self (fourth quadrant) is mainly concerned with what we should be - i.e. with our potential‘s realisation (the stubborn ego being the reason for the difficulties and conflicts arising).
astrological medicine - the zodiacal signs corresponding to different parts of the human body Astrology has a “logic” of its own. Though it is of an indisputable clearness and immanent conclusivity, this logic is not of a classic, Aristotelian, digital nature saying “if-then”, “yes-no”, “either-or”. Perhaps we should call this type of thinking “pre-logic” or “ana-logic”. In any case it is a “non-logic”, i.e. quite a difficult concept for the Occidental mind to grasp. Astrology’s mere thinkability is an affront to contemporary thought. To the modern mind any “truth from the stars” is something extremely irredescent, irrational and primitive - interestingly, this is also the most fascinating aspect of that “archaic” relict of science’s history. Moreover, according to Jung, this seems to be the way the psyche functions. The reality of our inner world is a mythic one!
Today‘s prevailing paradigm is demanding a science to be nomothetic, i.e. setting up general rules - rules which are universally valid; valid for any time and place. Accordingly, recognising causal laws and thereby “objectively” explaining (plus forecasting) phenomena is science’s main purpose. And empirical tests are seen as decisive proofs of a hypothesis. Furthermore, adequate checks are expected to be repeatable or standardized, experiments have to be carried out with all the conditions strictly controlled.
Naturally, the spiritual sciences cannot meet those criteria, and neither can pre-rational astrology. But we may ask: Are modern scientific axioms at all appropriate in the area of human affairs? Does any psychology that just measures apparent behavior actually grasp its subject? “Science is telling us a lot. But it should not overstep its range; it cannot tell us anything about our innermost nature” (Steiner). Only idiographic methods (which are oriented toward the individual) can really conceive the typical in man. Today’s mechanistic, cold technical sciences are excluding essential themes in their reckoning. In scientific thought we are cut off, reduced beings: There are no values, no faith, no happiness, no love; our organism only quantitatively differs from an animal or a machine!
On closer examination the natural sciences are not doing very much better than spiritual ones. In practical research they do not follow those severe rules either, they do not obey their own postulates. Perhaps judging science by their own fruits - like the atomic bomb, the pollution of the environment – isn't fair. One serious objection, however, cannot be refuted: science’s causal-materialistic thinking cannot shed the past. In science's thought principally a change for the better is not possible, there is no chance of a fundamental evolutionary leap (at this point Darwin fails).
Furthermore, ordinary people (and scientists) do not realise that because of the findings of quantum physics, the material world is no longer existing in its former simplicity and definiteness. Things are not as stable and secure as they seemed to be. Nuclear particles flee from being grasped, the borderline of matter and energy proves a fluent continuum, everything is connected with everything else. A researcher and the object he is studying obviously do interact; they are not independent of one another, there is no spatial seperateness any more...
(Note: We should distinguish science from the precious mental skill lying underneath, the latter being quite an important development of the collective consciousness. The attitude of exploring and questioning is pretty much “up-to-date” - a necessary precondition of what we call the conscious “I”. Criticism and scepticism overcame the naive belief in the gods; the gift of checking and testing eliminated our mental dependence, our captivity in myths and mysticism. These great capabilities should fertilise the spiritual sciences, too. The modes of exactly observing and differentiating, of analysing and abstracting could also be used in order to recognise regularities and uniformities on the metaphysical planes. Instead of carelessly destroying every sense and wholeness, modern man should utilise his exacting mind in a more constructive way. Instead of ignoring or denying the mere existence of immaterial spheres, our talent of rationality could also thoroughly examine the different spiritual objects’ particularities. (Isn’t it time for the “I” to become an adult self, and cease behaving like a childish ego?))
Today statistics are being recognised as science’s main criteria. People - positivistically or naively - believe that a theory may be verified or refuted by means of probability. Yet, upon closer inspection we realise statistics to be just another kind of accumulation or (non-compelling) hint. Nothing is said about the how and why of the correlations found: what does a specific connection look like, what causes should we seek behind the phenomena observed? By definition, a “significant result” can never be a hypothesis’ absolute proof; in statistics any statement is only true to a specific degree. You cannot exclude alternative hypotheses; there may even exist totally different or previously unconsidered relationships; so the epistemological value of statistics is null and void. Forget their cogency and validity. (On a statistical basis researchers are only allowed to state that “certain tendencies exist”...)
Human sciences are confronted with these fundamental questions: “Is there any possible quantification of individual peculiarities? Are anonymous, bare figures able to grasp a human being’s uniqueness? Can the psyche be operationalised (measured) in a way that does not distort the essence?” Regarding astrology, every statistical test has to reduce symbolic width and fullness. The symbols‘ characteristic complexity and wholeness is lost as well as the personal context which is its reference and which is so important when we are dealing with existential topics like death or healing. In fact, the effects shown by statistical tests are minimal, even Gauquelin’s results are not at all convincing.
In any case, the idea of cosmic chance governing the world is opposed to astrological axioms. “God doesn’t roll dice”, Einstein said. Statistics are based upon the supposition of accidental distributions; every act of testing implicitly maintains the concept of a chaotic universe... That is why we should not expect from that corner any statement supporting astrology. Figuratively speaking, a nihilistic devil would do anything but prove God’s existence!
Sometimes the sidereal zodiac is made use of by astrology's opponents in order to point out that the “star-gazers” are totally wrong. In the eyes of astronomers and other scientists they still adhere to a zodiac which is already 2,000 years out of date; the actual zodiac having shifted almost by a complete sign.
How can astrologers reply to this? Firstly, the argumentation is caught in the trap of concretism, i.e. equating or confounding the symbols with the stars. Secondly, the astrological (tropical) zodiac is referring to the ecliptic (the sun-earth relationship). (A planet’s position “line-of-sight” can also be neglected. The ancient astrologers had been quite aware of a fixed star’s declination or deviation from the ecliptic. Bare appearance, the so-called “true position” was felt to be irrelevant; astrological interpretation has always been based on a celestial body’s projection onto an ecliptic degree; the latter being the most important factor - the earth’s orbit or ecliptic circle quasi mediating the diverse cosmic energies.) Precession and the speculations surrounding the Aquarian age only have meaning on a very large scale. In ordinary astrology (the kind of astrology used in daily practical work) zero degrees Aries will always be identical with the spring equinox; zero degrees Capricorn with Christmas time or the winter solstice, and so on. The tropical zodiac is a purely geometric construction: a division of the sun’s (or earth’s) annual path into twelve equal parts, twelve ideal (not real) sectors of exactly thirty degrees. Essentially, astrology is a mathematical model of reality; its system is a kind of refined abstraction. In this mental conception, the factual, concrete sky is secondary. Astronomical insignificance is most evident in the different methods of directions and progressions. Also, the house systems used do not need any stars because they are derived from the earth’s rotation. In a similar way to the zodiac which is based on arithmetic considerations of the earth’s annual movement, house systems are distilled out of the earth’s daily rhythm. (The four quarters/ quadrants and twelve houses are not symmetrical because of differing length of days caused by the inclination of the earth‘s axis. This is probably why, for ideal reasons, we should use equal houses.) Mathematical proportions, symmetries and harmonics are all decisive in the cosmic order - as Kepler pointed out in his magnum opus “harmonices mundi” (wherein he extensively examined the area of astrological harmonies or aspects).
The event oriented Babylonian astrology did value all the bright fixed stars - especially when their ecliptic position was close to a planet or horoscopic axis. However, in the beginning of astrology the astronomical signs of the zodiac did not play an important role. Celestial patterns showed great differences in size anyway (none of them were exactly thirty degrees in length). They were considerably remote from the ecliptic belt, and their number was far beyond the archetypal twelve... Probably, because of their gigantic distance, the fixed stars went out of fashion. The planets are our next neighbors and therefore they became the most meaningful factors in interpretation. The fixed stars (of the signs, too) in most cases belong to distant parts of the galaxy; moreover, each sign’s composition is extremely inhomogeneous. The solar system, on the other hand, is a compact model, a concise framework that a science can best work with.
Strictly speaking, all the constellations the ancients could discern in the skies were pure projections. To a more critical (or more imaginative) person the heavens would reveal completely different forms and figures. By recognising the zodiacal signs, human perception is connecting the star clusters’ scattered points to a whole - this mental construction process being directed by the unconscious (quite similar to the mechanisms we notice in psychology’s widely used projective tests). Our ancestors believed they saw angelic or animal beings in the sky which in actuality originated from the depths of their souls (from the collective unconscious). The legends and myths of pre-civilised cultures were expressions of creation’s different phases and energies. The zodiac was thought to be another manifestation of the primordial principles: The ancients felt that the cosmos was populated by all the transcendental powers which ruled life. They painted their firmament in archetypal colors!
Quite a number of astrologers have been influenced by the prevailing materialism. This has lead them to the belief that the planets operate in a similar way to electric radiators whose physical rays will be proven in the future by science. Such astrologers are regarding the “astrological factor” as one among many. They think heredity, environment and education should also be taken into account... Yet, this view erodes our paradigm’s stable fundaments, ripping off symbolic multiple layers and wholeness! Whoever speaks of “the stars’ influence” implicitly belongs to the hostile scientific camp, whose position is diametrically opposed to astrology (the latter dealing with the software, the hardware being pretty irrelevant).
Cosmic radiation may exist, but this energy can only be registered in a very crude, non-specific way - hence in our search for a person’s individuality we may neglect it. H. Kloeckler (German astrology’s classic) remarked: “Surely there is an abundance of relations between cosmos and earth. But, sunspots, influences of the moon, etc. are absolutely insufficient for establishing any astrological connection. From physical objects only physical effects or things physically explicable can arise. Physical reality cannot explain anything emotional or spiritual; the (fragmented) material world is not the cause of inner meaning or ethical values. Today astrology’s possibilities are generally negated. Yet, this is only science’s fault - for inexplicability does not fundamentally mean any refutation of realities!”
In our view, that kind of astrological reasoning is absurd. A soul’s characteristic features, its delicate qualities and complicated emotions cannot be impregnated or injected at birth. We are not a raw CD to be burnt and filled with all the input necessary in a flash!
Let the poor results of academic psychology’s research be a warning to serious astrologers: the material correlates found by now have not been of any real help in diagnosing a person’s inner state. For example, the patterns of EEG or REM recordings (indicating brain currents or eye-movements, resp.) are pretty undifferentiated. The measurements do not allow for any conclusions with regard to a thought’s or a dream’s contents. Brain physiologists were not successful, either: their famous localisation theory (linking the brain’s regions with certain mental functions) finally reached a dead end. Human consciousness’ phenomena are too complex to be registered or even explained in a mere quantitative way!
Conclusion: Astrological mechanisms of functioning will probably remain mysterious forever. Yet, a final scientific explanation for electricity, gravitation or magnetism, does not exist either - which has not stopped anyone from harnessing these energies. Astrological symbols presumably refer to psychic (i.e. primarily unconscious) contents. Their link to the physical plane is an indirect one (via the psyche). The mechanisms of the stars may be seen as essentially “projective” or “magical”. Astrology’s mystery is to be found at the crossroads between the internal and external world, where spirit and matter, character and destiny meet... Or, should we again assume that personified powers are existing both within man and the planets, like people did in the Middle Ages, in the Cabbalah (calling them angels)? In Jungian psychology such “mystical radiation theory” would even make sense. Yet, renouncing any belief in “influences” is the more honest decision. Talking about “analogies” instead of phantastic, nebulous “causes” is the more modest and sound (i.e. scientifically acceptable) way. Pragmatically, we should use astrology as another instrument of profound knowledge (this is miraculous enough).
Contrasting other mantian systems and oracles the wisdom of the stars has one inestimable advantage: its unequivocal empirics. The interpretation’s factual basis is exactly observable, calculable and - most important of all - in no way depending on the interpreter. Moreover, astrology’s system of categories is the most differentiated (complex, multi-dimensional) we know. In comparison, academic psychology’s models and typologies are primitve and simple. We can of course decipher a specific time’s quality (i.e. the constellations’ message) by many methods and instruments. (So, in principle, though paradoxically sounding, “astrology does not need the stars”.) For example, you might gain deep insights into an individual’s personality, karma and dharma by intuition or channeling, without making that detour of arithmetic and reasoning... However, those short-cuts or direct glimpses ‘behind the curtain’ have several serious disadvantages: they are unsystematic, difficult to repeat, hardly controllable and verifiable - i.e., they are not at all satisfying to a modern, critical mind.

(written in 1996)