The Two Faces of Astrology - 2
I. An Astrology of Information
The word information
has lately become a keyword because the passion for new data and the classifying of these data, called facts, is one of the dominant traits of the modern technique-worshipping mentality. The "how to" books sell by the millions in a society in which knowledge is most often equated with the possession of computerizable information and memorizable recipes. In order to be made available, information has to be recorded in some manner. It is recorded by means of signs
Anything that conveys definite information to someone can be called a sign if it deals with a fact or series of facts belonging to the level of reality that the person being informed can perceive, comprehend, and become actually related to. A road sign informs the driver of a car that definite conditions on the road can be expected, or that a particular type of behavior is required (slowing down or a special state of watchfulness), or that a definite number of miles have to be traveled before a particular city is reached. When a new machine or drug is bought, the buyer usually receives with it information concerning the use of what was bought. Words which describe a person's behavior or the shape and color of an object in terms of perceptible data are also signs. If, however, instead of clearly indicating precise features the words can and are meant to only suggest or evoke
states of consciousness and feeling, or the presence of supersensible forces or conditions, such words become, symbols
— and I shall presently define the meaning I give to this term, symbol, and its implications.
Signs fulfill a most basic need in any social mode of existence: the need for communication among the members of a community, or eventually of a particular
, even if widespread, culture. The more complex the society, the more precise the means of communication must be; the more any doubt as to what the signs indicate must be eliminated, and, therefore, the more technical the character of the information. In our very complex and largely artificial kind of society, demanding the use of ever more intricate techniques, human beings have their attention constantly aroused by a multitude of signs or indicators. Nearly every change of situation we are to meet has been catalogued and described by specialists in factual, clear-cut terms. We live in terms of a "knowledge" of what we are to expect — in terms of precise sequences of sequences of cause and effects. When the word "meaning" is currently used, it refers to the strictly defined "indication" of what can definitely and unquestionably be known about something — something from which the knower is separate as an observer or a detached operator.
This kind of knowledge is communicable to everyone whose mind is able to learn and memorize the rules on which it is based and learn what the signs indicate that were used for the communication. When astrology is used strictly as a means to convey definite information, it is also considered to be such a form of knowledge. The position of a planet in a particular zodiacal sign or natal house, or its aspect to another planet, is known to indicate a variety of definite conditions or events. The "knowing" is traditional, inasmuch as it is based on transmitted records of generations of astrologers who (it is believed) established and checked the validity of the indications. It is memorized as well as consensus knowledge. We may also call it "factual" knowledge, and prove its validity by impressive statistics. The question one must ask is, however: what does the word fact
Etymologically this word refers to something being "made" (factum
in Latin). What a person experiences may or may not be accorded the status of being a "fact" by other members of his or her society and culture. This status relies upon the common acceptance within a particular and at a particular time of history of the personal experience of all people supposed sane, or at least sufficiently trained or intelligent to be able to pass judgment. To the extent to which an individual's experience differs from the experience of the people of his culture, his or her "facts" may be considered by them to be fantasies or psychotic illusions. They fall outside of the field of knowledge of the community. If they are taken seriously by some people, it is not as "facts" and as "signs" indicating some aspect of a commonly perceptible and Intelligible reality, but instead as "symbols" evoking the possibility of the existence of another kind of reality
. Facts do not have in themselves an evocative character; if for some people they have such an evocative character, they have become symbols.
These two words — sign and symbol — should be clearly differentiated from one another, otherwise different fields of experience, different levels of consciousness and different kinds of use are unintelligibly mixed; and the inevitable result is a confused mind. Similarly, when astrology claims to be able to state that every position of and relation between celestial objects indicates a clearly definable event or character trait, such a kind of astrology deals with "signs" (indicators) conveying more or less precise information, but not with "symbols". The astrologer who considers astrology a symbolic language whose function is to evoke possibilities of changes in the process of growth and transformation which is human life, and to deal with the meaning of the successive phases of this process from birth to death, cannot logically use, according to set traditional rules, astrological data as indicators of knowable facts. In other words, the consciousness of this astrologer and that of the followers of
"classical" astrology operate at two different levels. Both levels, I hasten to say, can be considered valuable. Each is valuable if
it answers the need of the person asking for astrological advice or guidance. As we shall see later on, the most difficult problem confronting an astrologer — or in his own field, any psychologist — is how to become aware of what the need of the seeker is, and what his or her consciousness is able to respond to and wholesomely assimilate.
Valuable as both approaches undoubtedly can be, it would be, I believe, very unwise to underestimate their differences. They are differences not only in the technical aspects of the practices, but also differences in the temperaments and mentalities of the astrologers who are inwardly impelled to follow, or at least find themselves more at ease in following, one mode of interpretation or the other. The great majority of college-educated people all over the world have been trained to depend almost entirely on precise technical procedures and memorized interpretations of specific data or factors essentially separate from each other.
For example, most astrologers take for granted that each planet has a definite character which it retains in all
circumstances, somewhat as a human being is believed to have an inalienable and basically unchanging individuality. This is the atomistic approach. But the astrologer who holds a truly holistic position sees a planet as a symbol of a function which has meaning in terms of the whole solar system and, therefore, is fundamentally involved in a web of relationships with other planets. Similarly, such an astrologer approaches and deals with his or her clients in relation, if not to humanity, at least to their community and culture, whether they passively accept, rebel against, or are quietly determined to overcome the pressures and question the value of the models that culture or community always seeks to imprint upon all its members.
In the first case — the atomistic approach — the astrologer deals with "signs" or indicators which always retain their basic character. The positions of these indicators — planets, nodes, midpoints, Parts, etc. — provide the astrologer with more or less clear-cut, yet theoretically reliable, information; and if the astrologer is scientifically inclined, statistics can be used to prove the validity or scope of the information. The client can therefore be given this information, possibly with a nicely scaled list of probabilities for the future. What the client feels about the information, how he or she will be able to handle or assimilate it, does not bother the astrologer very much; all he or she may try to do is to stress the positive rather than the negative implications of the "facts" — the objective information given by definite data whose traditional or statistically demonstrable validity is more or less established.
Such an atomistic astrologer behaves like any scientist or technologist normally does. The scientist discovers a "law", analyzes the components of a particular situation, and with no great interest in the ultimate consequences of what he has discovered, simply formulates a "truth" which the technologist-engineer will apply, if he can profit from the invention, or if he is paid by a firm to create new and sellable products.
Such an analysis of the astrological situation (when approached along the lines of objective information and technical discovery of what are considered facts and laws), may seem to many students or fans of astrology rather crude and unsympathetic. This was, nevertheless, exactly the way in which astrology was practiced in America before a more psychologically-oriented approach developed after the 1930s.(1
) A good astrologer did not have to meet the client, whose life-circumstances he or she usually did not know or care to know. Merely on the basis of the time and place of birth the astrologer had to provide information as to what was going to happen to the person, what profession was indicated in the chart, what the financial and health situation would be, etc. To this, later on, was added an expected analysis of "character" and the "strengths and weaknesses" of the person writing or personally asking for information.
This kind of information is in no way different from what General Eisenhower, planning the Normandy invasion in 1944, asked of weather experts and intelligence officers. The General then had to make his decision according to the facts he was given. He and his army were completely separate from these facts, just as for a traditional astrologer the client is separate from his or her birth-chart-an immortal, rational soul finding itself in an essentially alien situation on this earth in order to "learn some lesson" or to "work out his or her past karma," then to "return home" at death.
In saying this I am not passing judgment on the validity of such an approach and of the religious or metaphysical premises on which it is founded. It has been, and in many places for many people still is, the traditional and official approach. The consciousness of these people has been formed by it, and they may be able to respond only to it. What I am merely slating is that another approach is possible, and that today the specific character of the time and of the "human condition" makes the determined and insistent actualization of such a possibility a matter of crucial importance. It is, I believe, of crucial importance in all fields of human activity; and astrology today has become a significant field because it answers a basic need of modern men and women: the need for a new meaning to their lives. To impart this meaning, symbols are required, great symbols that — now as in all periods of human development — are integral parts of human experience and in their togetherness and interrelatedness constitute a profoundly meaningful mythos
This is still the way astrology is practiced in India, in most of Europe and even in America. Return
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