Astrology by Hand Week 29

Astrology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

First of all, happy new year to you all, and happy new millenium. Yes, I am a stickler for the math and insist that since there was no year zero in the usual calendar, the year 2000 was the last year of the twentieth century.


Back to the past. Astrology had not completely died out in the eighteenth century. The main representatives of the art in England were the Sibley brothers, one of whom, Ebenezer Sibley, published a large textbook of astrology in the late 1700s. This was the first book since Partridge’s time that covered astrology to any degree of completeness. It is a fairly traditional book, but reflects many of the ”reforms” made by Partridge and suffers from serious cultural crisis.


Sibley was an eighteenth-century man, apparently well-educated, trying to fit astrology into the world-view of Copernicus and Newton. So his text contains an off mixture of medieval and modern reasoning. Sibley was also the first to cast a chart, sort of, for the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which he published in his book.


His text has been severely criticized by later astrologers for its inadequacies, but I am not sure that anyone could have done much better at the time. The Sibleys were nearly alone in England and I am not sure whether there was anyone at all on the continent publishing astrological material. There were certainly none out in the open. I have seen one French manuscript dating from the eighteenth century. It was never published.


The Revival: Three Phases

In the early nineteenth century the ”revival” began. I use quotation marks because it is customary to regard what happened in the early nineteenth century as a revival. For myself, I regard the nineteenth century more as a period of ”survival” than of ”revival.” There were few improvements and little effort to go beyond Partridge.


The twentieth century was the period of the real revival. It is not until then that three things began to happen that constituted a revival. First, astrology began to make adaptations to modern times and to find some kind of spiritual and philosophical voice for itself. This began with the combination of theosophy and astrology by Alan Leo and others in the early twentieth century.


The Second Phase

Second, astrology began to evolve again, not merely to preserve some small fragments of the past. This happened most powerfully in Germany and France in the 20s and 30s with the Hamburg School, cosmobiology and some very excellent early scientific work in France. This continued after World War II in Britain and the U.S. The modern siderealist movement of Cyril Fagan and Garth Allan began in this period. In the U.S., Dane Rudhyar and Marc Edmund Jones founded humanistic astrology with its emphasis on astrology as a tool for the development of human potential.


The Third Phase

The third phase of the revival is actually the one that can be most obviously associated with the term ”revival.” The first two phases were part of a revival of astrology’s vitality. The third phase, which has been happening since the 80s, is the revival of the study of the authentic tradition as it was before 1700 without Partridge’s ”nozzle.” This is the very thing that we have been talking about in the last couple of weeks.


How We Got Here

Okay, here is the point of all of this. Astrology did not evolve to the point where it is now as a science evolves. It did not grow through the testing and trial of new ideas with the discarding of old ideas that were found wanting. Astrology ”devolved” until the twentieth century. That is, it lost content due to historical accidents and ignorance.


The loss of its intellectual foundations in the late Renaissance meant that the training of astrologers deteriorated. The study of astrology had once included people like Cardan, a leading mathematical pioneer of this day (mid-sixteenth century), Kepler (who definitely believed in astrology’s validity and simply wanted to reform it), Napier, the inventor of logarithms and so forth. After that, however, there were no well-educated and highly-trained astrologers until the twentieth century. Thanks in part to the new age and its thirst for all things alternative, the last part of the twentieth century has been the first time since the sixteenth century that first class and well-educated minds have gotten into astrology even though astrology is still considered a fringe activity!


In Lilly’s time, one could get a first class education from the remaining practicing astrologers and some very comprehensive texts written in Latin. In modern times, few astrologers (few persons in any field for that matter) can read Latin and, far fewer, Greek. So until the recent spate of translations, we have not even had access to our own tradition.


Next week, I shall continue this a bit further and take up the issue of the relationship between traditional and modern astrology.









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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