Astrology by Hand Week 3

Last week, I mentioned that we would examine the issue of whether astrology was a form of magic. We’ll do this, but before I get there, I want to look at the issue of psychological and humanistic astrology, and how it stacks up with regard to the matter of astrology as a challenge to science as we know it.

Also, I have been receiving emails about some of the ideas raised in the first two weeks of this series. Within the next few installments, I will take some space to talk about some of those emails.

Humanistic and Psychological Astrology

In the twentieth century, especially after World War II, a new kind of astrology came into existence. Its roots can be found even before the war in the work of Dane Rudhyar and Marc Edmund Jones, but flourished after the war, especially in the 70s and 80s. It was a particular kind of psychological astrology that not only sought to use astrological methods for personality evaluation, but to use astrology as a kind of roadmap for individual development.

This new astrology I am referring to is astrology as a tool for understanding human potential. In time, this kind of astrology has become broadly known as humanistic astrology, a term coined by Rudhyar and his disciples. In this article I will be lumping psychological astrology (insofar as it has human potential as goal) and humanistic astrology together. There are some differences in style, but the same comments apply to both.

This kind of astrology is satisfying in many ways. It speaks to our need for self-understanding; it fits in with the general ideal of human potential; and by stressing growth and increased awareness, it liberates the astrology client from very depressing and counter-productive ideas of fate and destiny. I think that we can say that humanistic and psychological astrology is a most useful development, and I do not want what I am about to say to be considered in any way a detraction from its merits. The issue that I am discussing here is not whether this kind of astrology is good, bad or indifferent, but rather how it fits into the issues that I am addressing here.

Humanistic Astrology Emphasizes Experience, Not Objective Reality

In general, humanistic astrology (and for that matter all kinds of astrology that emphasize character and personality rather than fate and destiny) seems to pose a less serious challenge to the scientific paradigm than traditional astrology. It has been proposed by many psychological astrologers that the only reason why one can discuss fate at all in a birth chart is because a birth chart indicates psychological predispositions, and these in turn influence the way we see things and how we react to them. The chart indicates fate only insofar as fate is the result of either perception or behavior. ”Character is destiny.” According to this model, nothing can possibly be indicated by the birth chart that doesn’t have its origins in the individual’s behavior as influenced by the individual’s perceptions and experience.

For example, a traditional textbook might say that Saturn conjunct the Moon in the Fourth House indicates a difficult early life and the likelihood of a parent who was not very nurturing. A humanistic text might not disagree with the quality of the effect but would emphasize that the cause of the psychological effects of the astrological combination was the individual’s experience of early life, not necessarily the reality of that early life. According to this model, the chart does not describe objective reality as much as it describes the individual’s experience. And for the record, I want to say that there is a great deal of merit in this viewpoint. But I am not sure that it is the whole story. We’ll come back to that.

Humanistic and Psychological Astrology Seen as More Compatible with Science

Humanistic and psychological astrologies do present science with the birth chart dilemma as described in the first two installments. And because most practitioners of these kinds of astrology do use transits, progressions and directions, these astrologies also present many of the other challenges to the scientific viewpoint that I have already mentioned. But there is a perception, I believe, that an astrology that limits itself to the nature of subjective experience, in which most, if not all, of the phenomena take place within the individual’s psyche, makes astrology more compatible with science. And it is certainly believed that it makes astrology more compatible with depth psychology.

Astrology and depth psychology both speak the language of myth and fable, which arise entirely out of human consciousness (or more accurately human unconsciousness). For the most part, except for in the belief of some of the more radical Jungians, this language does not come from nature, as it exists independent of human consciousness. This is actually quite different from astrology, which suggests that the language of myth and fable does have roots in nature apart from the human psyche.

Rightly or wrongly, many humanistic astrologers have connected their practice of astrology to psychology, a discipline generally regarded as intellectually respectable. This brings up a difficult issue. Have some astrologers wedded themselves to psychology in order to give themselves a sense of legitimacy that they would otherwise lack? Perhaps some have. But I do not regard this as a principle cause of the wedding of humanistic astrology to psychology. It is simpler than that. We are all people who live in the turn of the twentieth to twenty-first century. We have been raised in the contemporary worldview as much as anyone else. This means that we ”believe in” science, even though we may question some of its tenets and some of its consequences, both philosophically and environmentally.

Next Week: I will examine some of the ways in which we contradict our own efforts to make astrology fit in.



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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