Astrology by Hand Week 27

Traditional Astrology

In my columns over the last several months I have made a number of references to ”traditional astrology.” Exactly what does that mean, and how is ”traditional astrology” different from ”modern astrology?” Well, first of all we have to understand that traditional astrology is not just one kind of astrology any more than modern astrology is. In modern astrology, we have what we could broadly call mainstream Anglo-American astrology, and also more individualized systems such as the Huber School, Uranian astrology, sidereal astrology, cosmobiology, etc.

Likewise, among traditional forms of astrology we have jyotish or Hindu astrology, the various systems of Greek astrology and medieval Arabic and Latin astrology. What I personally have been studying and working with is Greek and medieval astrology. However, there has also been a very strong upsurge of interest in Hindu astrology in about this same time period in which there has been the revival of interest in traditional Western and Middle Eastern astrology.

For the purposes of this column, I am going to define traditional Western astrology separately from Hindu astrology (even though it is also a traditional astrology). Traditional Western astrology is the astrology practiced in the Middle East and West prior to 1700. This definition is very commonly accepted.

Why Do We Want to Look Back?

Is there something wrong with the modern forms of astrology that causes us to have all of this interest in older forms? Well, of course nothing is perfect, and in astrology we have all been looking for ways to do astrology more effectively. And there is the element of curiousity. I personally like looking backward to see how things have been done in other times and epochs regardless of whether or not older methods might be applicable to modern times.

Other students of traditional Western astrology, as well as those who have taken up jyotish, are often heard to complain that modern forms of astrology are ”too vague,” that is, they lack definition and seem unable to make clear statements about anything. This is in part due to our efforts to escape from the limitations of the event-oriented, or ”fortune-telling” model. But I also suspect that it is a problem of some individual practitioners who do not want to be held responsible for making predictions that do not come true. After all, the more vague a statement is, the harder it is to tell whether or not it is true.

Is Traditional Astrology Clearer?

However, whether it is an intrinsic flaw in modern astrology that it seems to be unable to make clear statements, or whether it is simply a common problem that practitioners have may be beside the point. Many people are attracted to jyotish and traditional Western astrology because they perceive them as being able to make more precise statements—to be clearer. In part, this is because in their original forms both jyotish and traditional Western astrology are much more oriented to predicting events and external circumstances of a native’s life. Such predictions have the virtue of being clearly true or false. Here are a couple of examples from Johannes Schoener’s Three Books on the Judgment of Nativities, a text from the mid-1500s.

”The Sun in a praiseworthy place and the lords of the Sun’s triplicity in evil places, say that at the time of the nativity of the child the father would be well and fortunate, but afterward he would come to poverty.

If Mercury is under the rays in an angle in the aspect of infortunes, the native will be robbed or imprisoned.”

These are straightforward statements. They are either true or false, and it will be clear at some point in a native’s life which way they are. They do not leave much ”wiggle room.”

Students of modern astrology who believe that astrology should be about understanding human potential and growth will find many of the very precise statements of older astrologies quite horrifying, not only for their specific content, but also for the way in which they seem to circumscribe human life. Most of us value our freedom to develop in a manner of our own choosing, and statements like the ones above imply that (if they are correct) we do not have much freedom. One can argue (I believe rightly) that the lesser precision of the statements of modern astrologers is due in part to the fact that we believe that there is always more than one possible outcome to an indication and that we have the freedom to modify our responses.

So we have to ask the question: are people attracted to traditional forms of astrology because they have some kind of bogus precision? Possibly this is true for some, but I do not think that this is the whole story by any means.

Next week I will discuss how we got here and what it means for modern versus traditional astrology.


For further reading on the history of astrology, here is a book you may find useful.

A History of Horoscopic Astrology by James H. Holden, AFA, ISBN 0-86690-463-8.



Rob Hand, author of Planets in Transit and other works, is now involved in the translation and publication of texts regarding ancient and medieval astrology through ARHAT Media Inc.



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