A Problem with Modern Astrology

Astrology’s always been an interest of mine, but I haven’t had enough time to study it as much as I’d like. Geomancy, my preferred method of divination, was much easier to pick up and practice. The heyday of geomancy was before the 18th century, and though it incorporated a lot of astrological symbolism and technique, it wasn’t around for the advent of modern astrology. I’ve thus had to learn some traditional astrology, and not only is it more complex than modern astrology, I find that it makes a lot more sense. Compared to traditional astrology, there’s a lot of confusion and corruption due to a number of things: the bias of the Theosophical Society, the rush of astrologers to keep up with scientists, the oversimplification of Alan Leo, the generations of astrologers who repeatedly reinvented the wheel, and so on. The biggest issue I have is with the use and meanings of the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, collectively the trans-Saturnians. I’ll take Uranus as the focus for today’s post because of its associations with the Internet.

An astrologer by the pen name of Raphael, probably Robert Cross in the 1800s, first assigned Uranus to Aquarius. This goes back to at least 1883, but in earlier works he also managed to deny this or hold both positions at once. If it wasn’t him who came up with the idea, it was his astrologer friend John Varley. In 1828, Varley was trying to figure out what a malefic transit of Uranus (then still called Georgium Sidus or Herschel’s Star) was intimating. As the transit passed, he found himself to be surprisingly fine and well, when suddenly a house fire broke out and all of his property was destroyed. He thus associated it with unexpected happenings. One instance of anything is not enough to make a strong claim, much less the claim of a full rulership of a planet to occurrences or a sign, and especially only fifty years after its discovery in 1781. However, even until the early 20th century astrologers had not reached a consensus; Alan Leo wrote in 1909 that “Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested”. As for Raphael, there is evidence to believe that he may have been writing just to get published: he wasn’t a good astrologer by anybody’s measure, and was more of a magician selling charms than an astrologer. He often didn’t provide reasoning or logic for his claims, and what he argues against is often borne out instead in practice (like the use of terms).

Astrology is said to come under Uranus’ rule today, when previously it was held by the planet Mercury. Mercury rules astrology because astrology is a system of knowledge, and Mercury rules all intellectual acts or endeavors. Uranus was given rule over astrology by Raphael because it is prominent in a number of astrologer’s charts, a weak claim to make. However, this position was taken up by the Theosophical Society, since they claimed that the trans-Saturnians were “higher octaves” of the intra-Saturnian planets, such that Uranus was a “higher expression” of Mercury. Thus, higher octaves denoted spiritual evolution and progress, and people who were “evolved” had the greater fortunes of Uranus and the other trans-Saturnians in their lives. Guess who the “evolved” people were.

Uranus rules electricity, as they say, because they were discovered around the same time, which simply isn’t true. Electricity as a force of nature has always existed, and is ruled by Mars as searing heat and a force of destruction. Electricity as power was first described in 1600, and the laws of electromagnetic induction, the dynamo, and the transformer were developed after 1830, closer to the discovery of Neptune. People thought that this “new source” of energy needed a new planet, but electricity is neither new nor a source of energy. Electricity provides light and heat, but so does fire; the essence of the different energies, and their use, is the same. Electricity is another form of energy produced or manufactured from other fuels, much how fire is a form of energy released by combusting carbon. Similar arguments go for air or space travel and the reapplication of old technologies for new purposes: these things that Uranus has come to rule are already ruled by other planets and with stronger logic. There has been no essential difference between “new” technologies and “old” ones; nothing new under the Sun, as they say.

Computing, like mathematics and science, is ruled by Mercury, but modern astrology also claims it for Uranus’ rule. Uranus rules computers, computing, and the Internet because they run on electricity, they’re new technologies, and they deal with large-scale communication. As shown above, the first two reasons don’t hold up: power is power regardless of form, and computing is still computing whether it’s done on an abacus or on a supercomputing grid. Communication remains mercurial whether it’s a letter delivered by horseback or by SMTP, whether it’s an encyclical or a post on a mailing list, or whether it’s destined for one person or for many. Thus, computing and computers are ruled by Mercury, not Uranus.

Am I against the use of the trans-Saturnians in astrology? No, but I am against using them like the intra-Saturnian planets. The trans-Saturnians move too slowly to make much of a difference between individuals as the intra-Saturnians do. I think they work best in generational, dynastic, or mundane astrology, methods that describe whole groups of people or periods of time, instead of natal astrology where their use should be more restricted. Further, there’s nothing new under the Sun: everything that needs a significator in a chart already has one among the intra-Saturnians. Use of the trans-Saturnians in these ways makes little sense, especially when another planet has ruled something for millennia, when they’re not in the system of essential dignities, and when other bodies of occult knowledge haven’t accepted their use in ways similar to those of the intra-Saturnians.

We’ve had 6,000 years to build up our knowledge of the intra-Saturnians, while we’ve had just over 200 for Uranus, 150 for Neptune, and not even a full century for Pluto. Finding the full meanings for these planets will take a lot more time than we’ve given it, and finding appropriate uses for them will take even longer. I’m not arguing for a static and legalistic school of astrology, but I don’t think that astrologers have been doing the right thing for their art for the past two centuries. We should be using traditional astrology as a stronger foundation than we are, but instead we’re assigning meanings to the planets “because it feels right” or “because it’s intuitive”. What happened the last time you tried to prove an answer on a test, or a fact to a judge, with “because it feels right”?

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