Astrology and the horoscope: What it is and what it's not

The facts and the philosophy

Astrology is a language of symbols. As such, it works according to its own rules of coherence and meaning irrespective of the actual influence of the environment. But astrology is also the belief or assumption that something born or created at a certain point in time will carry through its entire life-cycle potentials and qualities that are determined by this time and place of birth. Astrology provides the map of this potentiality and says, "as above, so below". In other words, the symbols of astrology become meaningful through the cosmic map above: the position of the planets and their distances from each other at a given moment in time and space.

Looking at the horizon pictured below, what comes to mind? Vision, potentiality, beauty, mystery, perspective, beginnings, a "window to the world"? If so - good, for all these concepts are in some way the domain of astrology. And specifically, some of them are related to the important and particular astrological significance of the horizon. It's time to explain the notion of a horoscope. A horosope is not really a prediction of some kind, as one might think from reading one's daily or weekly horoscope. It is possible to erect a horoscope with the intention of future "prediction", but the common idea of a horoscope is misleading. Let's imagine a summer night, closing in towards darkness at some seaside location.

horizon at sunset

Out west, the sun is about to set into the ocean. Looking towards the east, darkness is slowly obscuring the horizon. Then, at 22.15 local time, a child is born at a hospital somewhere near the beach. Let's stop time at that very moment. Let us be equipped with superhuman vision and behold our cosmos, focusing on the movement of the planets across the sky, and record their exact position. Then we turn our gaze back towards the infant by the beach. Every individual is a mirror, reflecting the appearance of the solar system as seen from the earth at the time of that person's birth. This moment in time; this image of the sky held fixed in time becomes the horocope. The individual birth (natal) horoscope of that particular person. And this is what astrology uses to determine the essential characteristics of a person.

To most people, this is outrageous. Sure it is. Why would a sane, intelligent person even consider such a thing? Well, the world is outrageous. The peculiarities of personality, the reality of human consciousness, gravity, the atom, the inner experience of feelings - all outrageous. These are all to greater or lesser degrees observable phenomena, considered "real", yet remaining at the core inexplicable. The same idea goes for astrology, which I believe to be observable in its influencing individuality and circumstances, if not strictly scientifically provable. However, this is not an article of persuasion, but of explanation. I will leave "why" for a later occasion.

We're back at 22.15, summer night at the coast. If we look to the east and to the point of the sky presently rising to the horizon (through the earth's rotating around its own axis), we have what is called the ascendant. It's a very important and personal point of focus in the horoscope. The positioning of the ascendant in the zodiac (see below) is important, and so is the position of the planets in relation to the ascendant. This, in spite of its crucial status in astrology is something very few are aware of. What they think of, presumably, upon hearing "astrology" is their zodiac sign or starsign. The term starsign is reasonable only if we view the sun as yet another star. A more correct term is Sun sign.

However, the ascendant or horizontal rising point will not help us determine the Sun sign or for that matter the Moon sign of our baby. For that we turn again to the zodiac. To understand the zodiac we may think of it as twelve equally large intersections of space. It is the imagined band of animal symbols that surrounds the earth, based on the constellations and the "ecliptic" (the apparent annual path of the sun across the sky). Knowing the position of the Sun in the zodiac is not hard, since we have learned that it stays in each of the zodiac signs for a month's time in its yearly movement as seen from the earth (in astrology we use a pre-Copernican viewpoint, to emphasize that we're concerned with the perspective from earth). So we already know that this baby is, say, a Cancer Sun-sign. But to determine the relative position of the Moon and the other planets within the zodiac signs we need go to an ephemeris (table or map of the planet's positions) for 22.15 summer night, at the local place with the sunset. This is because the orbit of the planets are irregular and differ greatly in speed.

a natal horoscope or birth chart

Thus, the static circle of the zodiac signs is the background for all the dynamic, moving energies of the planets, and for the ascendant or horizon point of the sky. This, my friends, is the foundation for all astrological knowledge. When the position of the planets in the signs, as well as the position of the ascendant and the other "angles" in the horoscope is determined, what follows is interpretation and analysis. This is where astrology really begins, and here's the reason for all its controversiality. Had astrology stopped there, it would have been nothing more than astronomy (or a branch of it). Actually, in ancient times there was no way of distinguishing between the concepts of astrology and astronomy. Imagine the society of astronomers of today, hyperventilating at the risk of being associated with unscientific, superstitious fools such as astrologers. Gosh.

So, what does astrology in fact promise, and what not? The most important promise of astrology, given some truth to its premises, is the one of self-knowledge. In this respect astrology is a discipline, related to psychology, and the instrument of its analysis is the personal birth horoscope. In ancient times, astrology was a much more dogmatic discipline, mainly used in connection with events. It was thought to wield a definite power over all things, completely external to the phenomena itself. Astrology has since gone through dramatic changes. While predictive astrology is still widely practiced, it is percieved differently, and today most astrologers value the personality-illuminating power of astrology over its forecasting potential. To me, astrology as a method for understanding individuality is far more interesting than as any future trend divination tool.

Astrology is not a deterministic or fatalistic theory. It is so only to those who believe we are completely behavioristically determined by our own special psychological makeup. It never states (in its modern form) that we are at the complete mercy of the planets, destined to always behave according to the nature of our horoscope. Moreover, astrology is not a religion of any kind. It doesn't demand anything out of anybody, it does not rely on principles for what constitutes a good or moral life, it does not place responsibility towards any system or belief external to the individual herself. If you are wanting to have a more spiritual experience, then having a psychic reading would be a recommendation.

I'd like to illuminate with some wisdom from one of the leading astrologers of our time, Robert Hand:

"For whatever reason (and several have been suggested, including Jung's concept of synchronicity), the horoscope seems to act as a schematic diagram of one's intentions in life. It only shows what one is going to experience because one intends to experience it. It is a description not of what is going to happen (that is, destiny), but of what one is and what shape one is going to give to one's life."
(Hand, Horoscope symbols, 1981)

On the other hand, astrology is not a completely anarchistic discipline either. Hand rightly states that even though it may have seemed so, "astrology is in no way a retreat from individual responsibility".

I recommend anyone, irrespective of their level of scepticism (which is a good thing) to study astrology. You don't have to be a believer to see the beauty and the symbolical truth and value of astrology. Just as there are things to gain from pure fantasy and from the practice of creative association, there is wisdom in astrology also beyond its accuracy. And if there is truth to the idea that we are to a great extent creators of our own world, it is not far-fetched or outlandish to include astrology as one of these potential shaping layers of our own experience. For us who believe it to be something yet more significant, well, we may console ourselves with the insight that this realization is as "real" as anything else.

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