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De Docta Astrologia: C.U.R.A.'s Book Reviews
by Shelley Jordan
Introduction by Shelley Jordan
CURA's Book Reviews 1st part (Smoller, Grafton, Woolley, Traister)
5. The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's View by Mark Kidger
6. Astrology: The Manifesto by Patrice Guinard
7. Therapeutic Astrology by Greg Bogart
8. Comets, Popular Culture and the Birth of Modern Cosmology by Sara Schechner
9. Secrets of Nature, edited by William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton
10. Ancient Astrology, by Tamsyn Barton
CURA's Book Reviews 3rd part (Faivre, Gee, Domenicucci)
5. The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's View
by Mark Kidger (Princeton University Press, 1999)
(reviewed by Shelley Jordan, Nov. 2001, Edition 15)
Science investigates religion with gentle diplomacy in astronomer Mark Kidger's study The Star of Bethlehem. While pondering the verity of the star's existence (is it a myth, a scientific actuality or an authentic miracle?) the author provides the reader with a cohesive, easily digestible education in the behavior of assorted celestial objects and phenomena.
Kidger notifies the reader right from the start that the star's appearance in the Bible is surprisingly scant. It is briefly mentioned in only one of the four gospels, in a few short verses in the second chapter of Matthew:
1. In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem,
2. Asking, "Where is the child who has been King of the Jews? For we have seen his Star at its rising and have come to pay him homage. (Matthew 2:1-2)
7. Then Herod secretly called the Magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
8. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child and; when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.
9. When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
11. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:7-11) (pp. 4-5)
The only other known reference to the Star is in a so-called Apocryphal Gospel, the Protoevangelicum of James. From these meager sources developed the rich and ubiquitous iconographic Star tradition which flourishes today, especially at Christmas. These familiar images had their origins in the first visual representation of the Star of Bethlehem, Giotto's early 14th century Adoration of the Magi, in which the star took on its familiar appearance as a brilliant comet hovering over the Nativity.
As Kidger acknowledges, the Bible is a book of faith, not fact. Indeed, there is grave doubt that Matthew the tax collector actually even wrote the gospel bearing his name. The Bible was written during an age when it was routinely expected that the births and deaths of great leaders would be accompanied by dramatic celestial portents. Therefore, Jesus by necessity would have required some kind of stellar fireworks to proclaim his birth, if he were to be seriously perceived as a credible leader of his time by the Roman population.
The Roman literary heritage of that era was replete with countless sky omens such as comets, strange cloud formations, and eclipses. Kidger briefly ponders whether the unknown author of the gospel of Matthew may have invented the Star out of sheer obligation to the Roman tradition, in order to give Jesus' birth the authentic divinatory ring expected by the pagans he wished to convert.
Kidger confesses that it is impossible to actually know the scientific foundations for something that was never recorded by eye-witness accounts. He also admits that such ancient reports based on second and third-hand information are typically distorted or exaggerated. Nevertheless, the author devotes the majority of the book to cheerfully solving "astronomy's greatest mystery", unprovable as it may be, using the minimal biblical information provided in Matthew as his exclusive criteria.
In treating the question "who were the Magi?", Kidger states:
The truth is that we know next to nothing about the Magi. In the traditional translations of the Bible they are usually referred to as Wise Men, although a recent innovation is to refer to them as astrologers, as in the New English Bible. In the New Revised Standard Version, "astrologers" is given as an alternative to "Wise Men" in the footnotes... The representation of the Magi as kings is thought to have been almost certainly related to the politics of the early church..." (P.168)
While attempting to reconcile religion with science, Kidger enthusiastically pursues a plethora of potential explanations for the Star of Bethlehem. Among them are meteor showers, Venus, comets, novas and supernovas. In his exhaustive efforts to deal with the nearly countless conceivable explanations for the Star, Kidger covers an historical and astronomical panorama of possibilities with clarity and brio. While sticking generally to the topic of the Star, he manages numerous digressions into the intricacies of calendrics, biblical scholarship, observational astronomy and its history.
In one of the book's most interesting chapters, Triple Conjunctions: a Key to Unlocking the Mystery?, we are inundated with a wealth of information on astronomical activity involving planetary conjunctions. These include rare triple conjunctions, in which two planets conjunct and separate, conjunct again during the retrograde, then conjunct one last time. Between 1800 and the year 2000, Mars and Jupiter conjuncted eighty-nine times, but made only two triple conjunctions, which occurred during 1835-36 and in 1979-80.
The triple conjunction of Mars with Saturn is even more infrequent. During these same two centuries, ninety-nine single conjunctions of Mars and Saturn are contrasted with only one triple conjunction of these planets.
In the last 2000 years, Jupiter and Saturn have made eighty-nine single conjunctions, but only a mere eleven triple conjunctions. Uranus and Neptune, however, which conjunct every 176 years, have far more triple conjunctions than single ones.
Jupiter and Saturn conjunct, on the average, every 19.6 years. When a rare triple conjunction occurs, it will always be followed by a normal, single conjunction about twenty years later. Typically, a series of single conjunctions will take place before the occurrence of another triple conjunction.
Rarely, a second triple conjunction may occur forty years following the previous one. This happened with the two most recent triple conjunctions: in August and October 1940 and February 1941, Jupiter and Saturn met three times. They were followed by another triple union on New Year's Eve 1980, and in March and July 1981. When triple conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn occur forty years apart, the next triple event will not take place again for several hundred years.
The first individual to deal with hypothetical speculations associating the Star of Bethlehem with triple conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn was Johannes Kepler, although his final theory asserted that the Star was, in his opinion, a nova. In 1825, the German astronomer and philologist, Christian Ludwig Ideler, misunderstanding Kepler's position, was responsible for promoting the popular theory that attributes the Star to a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
Although maintaining a scientific methodology, in the end, Kidger appears to be a "believer," caught up in the beauty of the Star's legend. By the time he has arrived at his personal creative solution for the Star's mystery, he has left behind his own simple textual criteria from the Bible, which explicitly described only one single stellar phenomenon's rise and set.
Dating the birth of Jesus to around March-April 5 B.C., he concludes that the religious portent in the Bible was in actuality a series of exceptional and symbolically significant astronomical events, a suitable chain of celestial pyrotechnics declaring the entrance of one of the world's most influential religious teachers.
According to his theory, the first heavenly omen to announce the birth of Jesus was a remarkable triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces in 7 B.C. He asserts a tradition known to the Magi, whomever they were, of the association of the sign Pisces with the Jewish people.
The second incident was a massing of planets in Pisces in February, 6 B.C. The third outstanding cosmic event was the occurrence of two portentous planetary pairings in Pisces on February 20, 5 B.C. consisting of Jupiter's occultation by the Moon, and Mars conjunct Saturn.
Last, the final sky hierophany proclaiming the great spiritual teacher's incarnation was a blazing nova (recorded only by Chinese and Korean astronomers) in February or early March of 5 B.C.
In the end, Kidger has solved the problem of the Star for himself alone. In his massive assumptive leap, the Star has somehow been transfigured from a solitary bright object's rising and setting to a series of rather sophisticated observations of astronomical events. Nothing in Matthew justifies or supports this imaginative, even flagrantly astrological, solution.
Nonetheless, his conclusion is forgivable for its uniquely astute collection of astronomical facts. Much of this book makes engaging and illuminating investigations and detours into various facets of observational and cultural astronomy. The rational probing for the objective reality underlying the sacred tradition of the Star provides a wonderful excuse for a full-blown inquiry into a variety of celestial activities. The solution, though, to this absorbing but unsolvable problem is really anyone's guess.
The reader with a secular bent might have a difficult time with the gravity with which Kidger pursues his earnest quest for the Star's legitimate explanation, but this book might make an inspiring and pleasurable Christmas gift for someone with a more doctrinal orientation.
(Note P. G.) But see my text : L'étoile de Bethléem (Un scénario organisé par des astrologues). English Abstract: "Jesus was born on September 15, 7 B.C. at around 6 pm in Bethlehem, under the opposition of the Sun in Virgo to the conjunction Jupiter-Saturn at its rising. This assumption explains the words of the magi to Herod: "We saw his star at its rising", which supports the supposition that this "star" had not yet disappeared and that it could be observed again, and the enigmatic metaphor of the Virgin (the text of the Gospel "born of a virgin" could be read rather "born in the sign of Virgo"). The simultaneity of the astronomical event occurred with the arrival of the Messiah, king of the Jews (Jupiter, the royal planet, beneficial, in conjunction with Saturn, the planet of the Jews). The symbol of Pisces would have been preserved as a form of recognition and a rallying sign for the first Christian communities. This is the "classic" theory of Ferrari d'Occhieppo (1969) - Hughes (1979) - Seymour (1998)... An indicator, however plausible, remains just a presumption; the union of several concordant indicators can be more convincing. My view is that this theory agrees with a second theory, of Essenian origin, which determines the maximum of "parts of light" for the 15th of September for each year (see Qumran ms 4Q186). Thus the birth of the Messiah has been anticipated and prepared for, and organized by the Jewish Essenian community - by astrologers - and the child has been educated for his future function as in the case of the future dalai-lama."
6. Astrology: The Manifesto
by Patrice Guinard (CURA, http://cura.free.fr, 2000-2001)
(reviewed by Shelley Jordan, Jan. 2002, Edition 16)
The Problem with Astrology
At this point in history - the beginning of the 21st century - when astrology should be undergoing a thorough renovation and re-evaluation, it is instead experiencing what seems in effect like an adolescent identity crisis. After the promising astrological renaissance of the 20th century, which gave us Dane Rudhyar's luminous philosophy, Dr. Zipporah Dobyns' stream-lined analysis and John Addey's harmonic theory, the excitement of astrology's innovative trends appears to be diminishing. Slowly sinking in the quagmire of its own linguistic rigor mortis and conceptual dead ends, astrology's creative growing tip seems stunted. Searching for a means of respectable integration into contemporary culture, astrological literature continually tends to adopt the rhetoric and camouflage of more socially and economically acceptable disciplines, such as psychology, statistical science, physics or any number of 'honorable' epistemologies.
Faced with astrology's frequent and boring repetition of antiquated doctrine, its shortage of creative thinking and its geriatric philosophical anemia stemming, incredulously, from its utter inability to get past the predestination and prediction issue, many practitioners have responded with a dangerously reactionary reversal of direction. A popular trend has become the mining of the sanctum of astrology's past, a worthy project in itself, but degraded by the ulterior and naive quest for the True and Lost Techniques of the Ancients, those illusory Golden Age methods of legend which are said to accurately predict the future. An alternative and equally futile effort to salvage astrology has been the tendency to justify itself with the language and concepts of scientism, which are, in fact, alien to the true nature of astrology.
Another serious disability of astrology's has been its age-old predilection for dichotomizing all its principles into categories of "good-bad," "male-female," and "light-dark." The roots of this bankrupt tendency are hopelessly tangled in astrology's enmeshment with religion; this dualism has clung like a tenacious barnacle to the underside of astrology's subconscious for millennia, dragging it through the mire with its illegitimate consort of shame - fortune-telling.
Fortunately, Dr. Patrice Guinard has now stepped into the foreground of astrological research with what may be some of the most revelatory astrological writing of this current era. An addition to the list of France's impressive lineage of major innovators, in the succession of Rudhyar and the Gauquelins, Guinard has developed his own vocabulary, definitions and methodology for explaining and illuminating our understanding of the astrological. He has formulated a new and visionary model for a tired discipline dangerously in need of fresh ideas.
Fully responding to the above-mentioned problems in astrology and, in fact, far more, Guinard's Manifesto is a complex and revolutionary work, part of a larger opus which includes his doctoral dissertation on astrology for the Department of Philosophy at the Sorbonne. Vast and multi-natured in its scope, the Manifesto is at once an eloquent and sound explanation of the nature and function of the astrological phenomenon - philosophically, psychologically and anthropologically - and simultaneously a vigorous polemic against the calcified orthodoxies of both astrology and the cultural mentalities which persecute it.
While calling attention to astrology's recent advances, Guinard warns against the exogenous one-dimensional approach taken by historians of astrology who proceed as if there were one astrology, and the endogenous damage done to astrology by the mass market production of sun sign columns and fatuous pre-fabricated chart interpretation packages.
My own personal encounter with the Manifesto generated an initial response of disbelief as I first read through the rich language of its authoritative pages. Disbelief became joy when I realized that at last I had come across some genuinely intelligent and seminal astrological writing - free, no less - with no strings attached and nothing for sale - and available to anyone who takes the time to read it on its website at CURA's tri-lingual online journal. I recommend that you print out its fourteen chapters - you will want to read it more than once to fully absorb its breadth and implications.
The Astral Matrix and Matrix-Based Reason
Central to an understanding of Guinard's Manifesto is the theory of matrix-based thinking. Also called matricial reasoning, this model of perception explains both the process by which astrological information is received into the personal and collective consciousness from planetary cycles as well as how the psyche 'thinks astrologically.' Matrix-based thinking is to be distinguished from the quantitative and causal logic of the empirical and scientistic world view, and the descriptive-interpretive modality of history or linguistics. Matrix-based thinking is a global process of coordinating psychic states, of experiencing relative "states of being" in a living cosmos which is an organic reticulum of interconnected multiplicities, which can be ordered by the psyche according to the innate, symbolic archetypal themes which permeate and condition consciousness.
There exists on its own terms an organizing astral matrix, which "structures psychic phenomena," unifying the planetary cycles of the geo-solar environment with the personal psyche by means of trace impressions (impressio), impregnations of evanescent imprints at the level of preconsciousness. In other words, the planets' activities within the naturally occurring structural fabric of the zodiac resonate as transitory interior states of consciousness. This is not a physical theory of astrological influences, which he distinguishes as cosmobiology, but an epistemological model of consciousness, unimpeded by dualism or quantitative scientific pseudo-analysis.
"Matrix or psycho-synthetic structure (astrological)... reveals the organization of potential reality... Impressionistic awareness (impressionaux) are not psychic states, but rather "minimal" forms, of archetypal nature, limited in number, which innervate those states." (Chapter 4)
This is not the discovery of a causal model for astrology - let the physicists worry about that, says Guinard. Astrology exists as its own structural model and needs to further cultivate and develop its own constructs. It is not an invention, but is a perceived and operational system; it exists in nature and would continue to operate even if there were no astrologers. The psyche is simply in resonance with the cyclical planetary environment. Guinard's structural approach perceives reality as a continuum of generally organized "elements forming a totality" in an interconnected web of relationships, which occur at the psychic level of interiority as well as in the physical spheres.
Concerning the phasic nature of the cyclicality of planetary periods and their impregnation of the psychic field, Guinard states:
"The cyclical structure is imprinted on the neural organization, which reproduces the periodic variations of the planets. Neuro-psychological integration of geo-solar rhythms translates itself into a continuous psychic stimulus – astral incidence – and into a structuring of the nervous system through pre-conscious mental states, which in turn give rise to psycho-mental representations." (Chapter 5)
In other words, the psyche is activated with subtle astrological symbols at the substratum of awareness, in resonance with the cyclicality of the planets. Astrology's object is one of structuring relationship between the human psyche and the cosmic environs within it which it is situated.
Guinard lays out three primary postulations of astrology:
1. The existence of a primary, psychic interior world which perceives and organizes information from the concrete, phenomenal world. The psychic states of this qualified interiority are the conceptual substratum of language and objects.
2. The interior world, called the psychic-astral by Guinard, is in a state of constant activity - forever animated and energized by the continual movements of the shifting planetary cycles. These planetary patterns create "impressionals" in the psyche, which take the form of transient infinitesimals of pre-conscious awareness infused into the subjective interiority.
3. Inherent in the psyche are structuring capabilities - conditioning milieux - which format the received astral information, organizing these pre-conscious awarenesses by means of an innate, naturally occurring quadripartite organizational process consisting of spatial houses, energetic planetary forces, temporal cycles and aspects, and the structure of the zodiac.
Guinard distinguishes between astral influences and impressionals, the fleeting pre-conscious awarenesses resulting from an astronomical signal. The impressionals are experienced as open-ended symbols - archetypal forms beyond reason which originate in the astral.
"The notion of the pre-conscious awareness liberates astrology from its servitude to an exterior psychology, be it psychoanalytic, behaviorist, phenomenological, gestaltist, existentialist or reflexologic. It is time for astrology to forge its own concepts." (Chapter 1)
Astrology and Science
The Manifesto discusses astrology and its position in relation to the prevailing scientistic orthodoxies of our day. Science, the new opiate of the people, is the current substitute for Christian religion and morality, and can be divided into three main categories, corresponding to the three modalities in which information impresses itself in the field of personal consciousness.
Reality can be perceived as an object - this perceptual mode generating the material, empirical sciences, such as biochemistry. Reality can be received as signs requiring interpretation; in this category falls the interpretive social or humanistic sciences, historic and hermeneutic in nature. Reality can, lastly, be received as impressions, states of being; to this category belongs the psycho-synthetic science of astrology, which "perceives reality in relation to the totality of psychic being."
Guinard continually emphasizes the global, non-dual and organic nature of consciousness, and that astrology is a system which is involved, not with events, but with states of consciousness, a position which liberates it from the predictive, outcome-oriented tendencies which have metasticized to nearly every facet of its practice. Prediction, which is considered by traditional astrology to be the supreme and consummate skill, is called the "siren's song" of the astrologers by Guinard.
In discussing the "astrophobia" of the scientific community, the Manifesto is thorough in its analysis and discussion of the common attacks against astrology, which typically reveal the attacker's "nullity" of knowledge and comprehension of the subject. Guinard covers all the well-worn arguments of precession, action at a distance, and the materialist argument which complains about the "imaginary" factors of the signs, aspects and houses. In his examination and refutation of the various forms that the "anti-astrological polemic" has taken, Guinard is at all times candid, passionate and convincing in his defense and exposition of astrology - unique among disciplines in its endless victimization.
"Rare are those bodies of knowledge, such as astrology, which must continually confront their detractors... In the context of modern society, astrology is held in scant esteem; its principles are denied any validity; its practices are ridiculed. It is called to account to justify itself vis-a-vis a variety of institutionalized presuppositions, customs, beliefs and skepticisms. There exists no universal manifesto against psychoanalysis, Voodoo, historical materialism or the immaterialism of Berkeley. No religious sect, doctrine or practice is so regularly vilified by the pontifications of the intelligentsia, nor is its voice left so willfully unheard by the skeptical deafness of those who claim to be the possessors of knowledge." (Chapter 7)
Attacks against astrology are often aimed, blindly, at its "parody", the mass market astrology of sun sign columns. Guinard goes on to suggest that astrology may present such a threat to the intellectual world because it might be a "true alternative to unidimensional thought."
The Manifesto as Astrological Literature
It is impossible for this reviewer to adequately cover the exhaustive complexity and poetic fire of the Manifesto. It is an entirely new astrological genre. One is left with the feeling that Guinard has allowed few intellectual stones to remain unturned in his epic analysis of astrology, its functional operatives and its role in society. The level of sophistication and learning represented by the Manifesto's discussion of astrology's most critical questions and dilemmas sets a new standard for future astrological thinkers and researchers. This is high-brow astrology at its finest, written in powerful academic yet imaginative language. For his brilliant vision, definitions and defense of astrology, Patrice Guinard is one of its most important and intelligent pioneers.
The Manifesto should be required reading for all serious students or opponents of astrology. At the present time, the Manifesto is not in print. It cannot be purchased or borrowed from a library. It is only available on the CURA tri-lingual website.
7. Therapeutic Astrology
by Greg Bogart (Dawn Mountain Press, Berkeley, California, 1996)
(reviewed by Shelley Jordan, Mar. 2002, Edition 17)
Therapeutic Astrology is one of the most lucidly written and convincing expositions of the therapeutic value of astrology in print today. Few practitioners are as qualified as Dr. Bogart to make the claims of astrology's efficacy in this arena. Professor Greg Bogart is the director of the Counseling Psychology Program at the Graduate School for Holistic Studies at John F. Kennedy University in California. His educational background combined with his many years of private practice as a clinical psychotherapist qualify Dr. Bogart as a leading practitioner in the inter-disciplinary field of psychological astrology.
His own private practice has been the testing ground of his theories, providing ample evidence that when used judiciously, astrology has the power to heal and illuminate the human psyche. Therapeutic Astrology is generously seasoned with numerous case studies from Dr. Bogart's own practice. These examples demonstrate the utility of astrology in identifying issues and crises which typically occur during the therapeutic process.
Bogart is refreshingly candid and intelligent in his writing and in his view of astrology, which is never heavily soiled with the usual superstitious innuendo and disaster-seeking, catastrophic underpinnings found in so much of the prevailing, commercial astrological literature. He is an excellent and articulate representative of the new breed of highly educated astrologers, who, following in the shabby footsteps of the bingo crowd, are bringing a new dignity, rationalism and spiritual purity to this perennial celestial symbolism. For instance, he asserts his enlightened observation that rather than looking at an individual aspect, which might be reactively perceived as either bad or challenging or flowing and easy, there are "increasing numbers of astrologers who view the specific aspect as less important than the nature of the two planets that are interacting." (page 30)
In Part I of Therapeutic Astrology, Bogart discusses the potential benefits and contraindications of applying astrological methods in a therapeutic setting. He suggests various therapeutic approaches which may be more successful with clients' specific chart issues. For instance, clients with a predominance of Gemini/3rd house issues may be more receptive to cognitive therapy, reframing, positive thinking, mental imagery, affirmations, mindfulness and mental concentration practices. On the other hand, Cancer and the 4th house are the domain of family therapy and psychoanalytically-oriented depth psychology, with its focus on family dynamics and emotional memories.
Part II examines planetary symbolism as descriptive components in the developmental issues confronting most individuals who enter into the therapeutic process. Bogart recommends that therapeutic astrologers in particular need to keep in mind that the developmental approach assumes human change and growth - that human beings are not static and limited by a fixity in their characters. "Astrologers especially need to remember this, for many hold the fatalistic view that the birth chart depicts traits that are permanently imprinted on us. While it is true that the birth chart does indicate enduring facets of character, we can learn to express the natal planets in new and more healthy ways as we evolve over time. The very purpose of studying astrology is to learn to change ourselves, to consciously express our strengths and overcome or minimize our weaknesses." (page 117) In one his more beautiful and lyrical phrases, Bogart discusses the possibility of helping a client "grow an interior Moon", which would consequently enable the client to become more nurturing, sensitive grounded and aware. (page 133)
Part III instructs practitioners in the application of transpersonal astrology as an aid to defining and resolving the emotional and spiritual upheavals experienced by many clients during the course of their therapeutic journeys. The transpersonal approach is an effective adjunct for the growing numbers of individuals engaged in the exploration of contemplative, meditative and spiritual disciplines. Remarking on the suspicious avoidance of astrology on the part of even the most progressive psychologists , Bogart describes the lacunae of maps of entry into the psychic states of individuals undergoing spiritual crises or awakening. Observing that the psychospiritual crisis can coincide with transits of Uranus, Neptune or Pluto, or with Pisces or 12th house activity, Bogart warns that the same symptoms which can accompany a spiritual awakening can also be indicators of serious physical or mental illness, and should be evaluated with caution by appropriate professionals.
Therapeutic Astrology is not only aimed at practicing psychotherapists and counselors. The increasing numbers of individuals who are discovering that astrology can be a useful form of "autotherapy" will be illumined by the clarity and practicality of Bogart's psychological and spiritual approach. Stimulating for all levels of practioners, this book is easily absorbed and digested by readers ranging from the curious beginner to the sophisticated professional.
In the wake of the Rudhyarian watershed, Greg Bogart adds his own broad-based experience, presenting an astrology that is able to catalyze and heal the spiritual and emotional transformations sought by clients seeking personal illumination or in the throes of metaphysical crisis. Calling the process of psychotherapy the most "popular rite of passage in the contemporary Western world" (page 21), Bogart presents the usefulness of the birth chart in the assessment process, the transformation of the therapeutic relationship, and as an aid in discerning the most appropriate approach with which to treat individual clients, translating the ancient symbols of astrology into a therapeutic language. This appealing book, written with a comfortable warmth and familiarity, is highly recommended for all levels, inviting even the most cautious skeptics into the astrological fold.
8. Comets, Popular Culture and the Birth of Modern Cosmology
by Sara J. Schechner (Princeton University Press, 1997)
(reviewed by Shelley Jordan, Jun. 2002, Edition 19)
Note: This review comes with a major digression and critique of contemporary astrology.
Lurking in the very language and theory of astrology lies a virtual repository of fear and trepidation. To this day, readers of astrology books are invited to anticipate the wide variety of potential disasters that bad aspects, difficult transits or negative progressions can serve up to the vulnerable and unprepared victim.
Sara Schechner's well-researched investigation into the history of comet lore and theory sheds a ray of light on some of the origins of this superstitious mentality. Comets, Popular Culture and the Birth of Modern Cosmology documents the devolution of the rational Aristotelian view of comets from natural phenomena into supernatural omens of catastrophe.
Comets were originally described by Aristotle as terrestrial exhalations that ignited upon reaching the atmosphere. By the Roman era they had degenerated into augers of doom and disaster. Comets, as extensions of the astrological arsenal, provided political and religious propagandists with visible, terrifying evidence that God was announcing His wrathful disapproval of humanity, and that harsh and brutal punishment would soon follow. The Romans became subject to waves of veritable comet hysteria. Numerous heads of state were proceeded in death by cometary visitors, sometimes all too conveniently for their conspirators, who found in the appearance of a comet an ideal time to do away with an unwanted politician or inconvenient intellectual.
The Christian world assimilated the catastrophic lore of comets, embellishing it with predictions of the coming Messiah and the Anti-Christ. Even Martin Luther, who derided astrology, was convinced that comets were manifest signs of God's fury and promoted their propagandist use as polemical weapons in the battles of the Protestant Reformation.
The chronic cultural neurosis generated by comets culminated in the 16th and 17th centuries, which witnessed the birth pangs of early-modern science. The Copernican world view was gaining power, while observational astronomy was being galvanized by Tycho Brahe and Galileo. The great epistemological rupture between astronomy and astrology had not yet transpired. Comet activity stimulated general anticipatory dread. Terror was pumped into the minds of the masses through the publications of comet-related broadsides, pamphlets and almanacs. These cheap and easily available publications announced disaster, famine, death and the coming end of the world.
While comets in particular were seen as violent instigators of crisis, cataclysm and ruin, humanity was at risk from other heavenly harbingers of evil. When clusters of celestial events occurred in close proximity across the carefully watched sky, collective hysteria was widely circulated throughout society. Cosmic phenomena, such as novas, great conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn and ever-ominous eclipses were guaranteed to provoke massive eruptions of public emotion. 
Schechner gives numerous examples of the terrorizing language of these auguries of misfortune that struck horror and fear in both the popular and educated cultures of early modern Europe. A prophecy circulating during the 16th century warned that
"after direful and bloody Comets ... there shall remain nothing for the future safe or healthy amongst Men...and nothing remain but Night, Destruction, Ruine, Damnation and Eternal Misery." (p. 46)
An astrologer explained that their baleful influences occurred because
"Comets distemper and inflame the air ... (and from them) will naturally ensue Death, Scarcity and Famine... Sickness, Diseases, Mortality..." (p.99)
Although it was believed for centuries that comets were the cause of misfortune, eventually the superstitious tradition of cometelogical forecasting dissolved in the psychologically sanitizing light of the scientific revolution. Schechner's book demonstrates how a fear-laden irrational doctrine became redeemed through the evolution of reason and observation.
However, the canon of astrological divination has survived, still heavily embedded with anxious warnings and predictions of disease, death, crisis and failure. The irrational belief that the sky can hurl suffering and misfortune at a vulnerable humanity has remained very much alive in modern astrology.
Today it is still relatively easy to find popular works that reflect astrology's preoccupation with calamitous possibilities. By merely pulling out an assortment of astrology books and thumbing through them, one can find echoes of the catastrophe culture alive and well and living in astrology.
One wary and well-meaning astrologer cautions her readers that under a Moon-Pluto transit it "is not uncommon for an immature and unaware female to be raped or sexually abused." (Transits: The Time of Your Life, p. 123, Betty Lundsted; 1992). She also warns that Saturn-Jupiter transits can "trigger an illness" (p. 70) She feels strongly about encouraging her client "to examine his life with an eye to dying" during Neptune-Sun contacts (p. 99).
Another astrologer is so thoroughly responsible that he warns his readers of the endless possible catastrophes and crises that can be suffered under any number of astrological configurations. Page after page announces the ubiquitously dangerous scenarios menacingly lurking around every corner. We are advised of the potential violent outbreak "with disastrous consequences and even physical violence" that can strike a person when Mars squares his Ascendant (Planets in Transit: Life cycles for Living, p. 260; Robert Hand; 1976). The hazardous aspect of Uranus squaring Mars can indicate "accidents", or "an illness that requires an operation" (p. 397). "Physical attacks can occur under" Pluto conjunct Mars (p. 501). But not to worry - it's only "under extreme circumstances (that) this transit can signify violent injury or violence at the hands of another person" (p. 501). Pluto squaring Mars is so malignant an aspect that "this transit can have considerable dangers if you do not handle it properly" (p. 502), and it does indeed indicate "danger of accidents" (p. 503).
Hand goes on to tell us of the hazards in even consulting a lawyer when Neptune is opposite your Ascendant, because this transit is "normally not a good one for dealing with lawyers ... you probably won't get a good deal if you hire a lawyer to represent you" (p.431). In fact, there are warnings of perils and impending disasters throughout most of this book. The view, not at all original or exclusive to this particular astrologer, is that life is risky, and that when malignant planets beam their negative aspects onto humanity, the potential for calamity is high. Only by proceeding with extreme caution and a vigilant awareness of the down-pouring of evil influences can the individual escape harm. Fear, insecurity and lack of control over one's destiny are the reasons one should consult astrology.
Some astrologers bring past lives into the picture to explain misfortune, supporting their views with statistics, no less! "About eighty percent of Fourth House Pluto individuals have a series of prior-life experiences in which their emotional needs have not been successfully met by one or both of their parents" (Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul, p. 85; Jeff Green, 1994). One wonders where he got these statistics...
Pity the poor individual with Venus square Saturn who's problematic love life is "karmic in origin on the debt side of the spiritual ledger." This person is doomed to "disappointments through love.....due to selfishness" He should expect "difficulties with finances" and advancing "loneliness and limitation" (Astrology: A Cosmic Science, p. 223; Isabel Hickey, 1992). We are also informed that Mars in Pisces is "not well-placed", but neither is Mars in Taurus (pp. 166-8). People with Venus in Scorpio "can be cruel or suffer from cruelty because of karma tied to the misuse of the love principle" (p. 160). Venus in Aquarius can't "feel happy" (p. 160). Again, page after page of negative, punitive influences emanating from the stars, forever being preached from paperback astrology books, the modern era's continuation of the superstitious broadside mentality.
One famous and authoritative astrologer says in his introduction that nothing "has done astrology more harm than ...prating about 'good' and 'bad' aspects". But then he goes on to say that the "inharmonious" aspects of Saturn to the Sun are "evil" for children, who may die, be sickly or suffer. This "affliction" can deny offspring altogether (The Astrological Aspects, pp. 13, 42; C.E.O. Carter, 1967).
Astrologers can be offensive. "Scorpio Rising has ... gained a rather negative reputation over the years, one which is not entirely underserved. No other Rising Sign can rival it for vindictive, ruthless, jealous behavior" (Chart Interpretation Handbook, pp. 104-105; Stephen Arroyo, 1989)
They can sound preposterous. "Nearly all with these Nodes (in Scorpio) have at one time touched the force of Witchcraft" (Karmic Astrology, p. 104, Martin Schulman, 1975)
Clearly, contemporary astrology is still saddled with an antiquated and dismal negativity, in spite of feeble attempts to clothe it in psychological rhetoric. Reading Sara Schechner's wonderfully stimulating history of a vulgar superstition purified by reason makes most astrology books seem pathetic by comparison. Many astrology books, like the pamphlets of the 16th and 17th centuries, have a stagnant and neurotic preoccupation with disaster, crisis and loss. Their contents can be psychologically damaging for impressionable readers. Perhaps astrology will one day undergo a cleansing and renovation similar to astronomy's during the Reformation period. Astrology is desperately in need of a metagnosis - a new mind set. How and when such a paradigm-shift will occur remains an unanswered question.
 In her discussion of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions, Schechner makes an error commonly passed around in scholarly works dealing with this confusing topic (pp. 80-82). The Sasanian theory of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle as an historical marker gained popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages. See David Pingree, "Astronomy and Astrology in India and Iran", Isis, 54, 1963, pp. 229-246. The transition between elements was viewed as an indicator of great shifts in religious and political institutions. The conjunction in Aries theoretically marked the beginning of an entirely new 800 or 960 year cycle, depending on the author. See Franz Rosenthal's translation of Buzurjmihr in Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah ; Bollingen Series 43, Vol. 2, pp. 211-213; New York 1958. These cycles are closely linked with milleniallist currents.
One particularly notorious shift occurred with the conjunction in Sagittarius in 1603, when the conjunctions returned to the fiery trigon. This was noted by Kepler in his De stella nova. However, some scholars, including Schechner, mistakenly state that the conjunction of 1583 took place in Aries, marking the return to the fire element. This is incorrect. The conjunction in 1583 occurred at 20 degrees of Pisces, and was the culmination of the watery series of conjunctions. The fiery series did not begin until the 1603 conjunction, and Jupiter and Saturn did not conjunct in Aries at all until 1702. Therefore the fiery series of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions began at this time in Sagittarius, not in Aries. It was launched in Leo in 820 BC, in 25 BC and 769 AD and thus seems to be erratic and to not at all coincide with the idealized theory.
Schechner is not alone in her error. In his magisterial work Rudolf II and His World, R.J.W. Evans gives the wrong year, saying that in 1588 "the world would again enter the conjunction of the fiery trigon for the first time in 800 years" (p. 278). He sites his sources as W.-E Peuckert, Die Rozenkreuzer, zur Geschichte einer Reformation (Iena, 1928) and E. Zinner, Bibliographie der astronomischen Literatur, 18 ff. Benjamin Wooley in The Queen's Conjurer, got the year right, but believed that the conjunction of 1603 occurred in Aries. (see my reviews in CURA on The Queen's Conjurer and on Laura Smoller's History, Prophecy and the Stars, which deals extensively with Jupiter-Saturn cycles.)
Schechner, getting the patterning of the signs wrong by reporting that the cycle of fiery conjunctions will begin in Aries (although that is what the medieval theory states), directs us to her source in footnote 57, page 250: C. Doris Hellman. Hellman is known for her translation of Max Caspar's authoritative biography Kepler, from which Arthur Koestler drew his exaggerated but entertaining The Sleepwalkers. Going to the book Schechner sites, Hellman's richly detailed The Comet of 1577; AMS Press, Columbia University, 1944, one finds information both vague and sparklingly clear on what may explain some of this confusion. Hellman writes that Tycho Brahe recorded two versions of his ideas concerning the infamous comet of 1577 and the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction of 1583. In his Latin version, he correctly writes that the conjunction occurred in Pisces ; in his vulgar German work on the same topic, he says it was in Aries. It seems that even the great observer himself erred in his astrological observations. The editor of Tycho's works, Dreyer, made no notation of this discrepancy. Hellman directs us to Otto Loth for further information on Al Kindi, an early transmitter of the theory of Jupiter and Saturn cycles, who got most of his information on the cycle from Albumasar. See Loth, "Al-kindi als astrolog" (Morganlandische Forschungen. Festschrift Herrn Professor Dr. H.L. Fleischer... gewidnet von Seinen Schulern... Leipzig, Brockhaus, 1875 pt. VIII: 263-309).
In reality, the patterns of Jupiter and Saturn are not nearly as elegant and geometrically perfect as the idealized tradition reports. To view a table of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions from the 6th century B.C. on, see Richard Nolle's useful site at www.Astropro.com. Thank you, Richard, for your help while I was preparing this review. I will write more on this topic at a future date. « Text
9. Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe
Edited by William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, U.K., 2001)
(reviewed by Shelley Jordan, Sept. 2002, Edition 21)
After several centuries of scholarly repudiation, it has become inescapably apparent that astrology and alchemy played key roles in the world view of early modern European thinkers. Secrets of Nature, MIT Press's elegantly packaged collection of essays, edited by William R. Newman and the venerable Anthony Grafton, is proof of the increasing academic interest in these previously shunned taboo areas. Credit must be given to these intrepid authors for shining their lights into the darker corners of intellectual history, only to discover a virtual embarrassment of riches.
Among the most interesting of the eight selections in this exciting volume, the introductory essay, co-authored by Newman and Grafton, relays an event which instantly underscores astrology's prominence and credibility as late as the early 17th century. Athanasius Kirscher's precisely accurate clairvoyant vision of an enemy invasion was explained away by his peers as an example of the brilliant polymath's esteemed skills at astrological prognostication. To the minds of the educated German classes, astrology was a far more acceptable solution to that disturbing prediction than the scandalous thought of an unholy psychic flash raiding the mind of a respectable Jesuit.
It is not unreasonable, in the light of the intellectual Inquisition persecuting astrology over the centuries, that Newman and Grafton approach their controversial subject with discretion, distancing themselves from their topic with several disclaimers. They remind us, lest we think they actually might believe in such "fetid authoritarian superstition", that although twenty to fifty percent of the citizens of the world's developed nations accept astrology, it really has "no currency in our skeptical, myth-shredding intellectual economy." Further, "in educated circles in the United States and Europe, astrology seems merely risible now. No member of the elite wants to be caught with an astrologer."
Newman and Grafton's telling of the mental breakdown of the great pioneering scholar Aby Warburg could at one time have been interpreted as a warning to other historians of the potential dangers awaiting those who engage in studies of the occult. Warburg was simultaneously fascinated and terrified by astrology. During his emotional crisis sparked by the tumult of World War I, Warburg "wandered the streets of Hamburg looking for dark-faced, ‘Saturnian' children to whom he would give chocolates in the hope of warding off the threat posed by the most malevolent of planets". Astrology's anti-rational characteristics affected Warburg like a contagious disease. When I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970's, I overheard fearful whisperings of similar tales and rumors concerning certain unfortunate scholars who approached forbidden mystical and magical texts such as the Kalacakra Tantra, only to allegedly experience psychotic episodes or worse.
This wide-ranging goldmine of essays covers a variety of current hot topics addressing the vital function of astrology and alchemy in early natural philosophy. In "The Rosicrucian Hoax", Didier Kahn disagrees with Frances Yates' hypothesis on the British origins of the Rosicrucian movement. Drawing on the research of Carlos Gilly, Kahn painstakingly disentangles the complex origins of the Order of the Rosy Cross, de-centralizing John Dee's role, and placing him in the elusive but complex compost of esoteric thought which gave birth to the Rosicrucian movement. With intensely meticulous detail, Kahn solves the mystery of the notorious Parisian Rosicrucian placard incident. The entire dramma giocoso originated as an adolescent hoax masterminded by the college student Etienne Chaume.
Articles by Germana Ernst, Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi delve into Girolamo Cardano's geniture collections and medical astrological practice. Many astrologers today are familiar with the dubious admonition against having surgery performed when the Moon is in the sign ruling the particular part of the body that is to be operated on. Grafton and Siraisi disclose the source of this pronouncement which Cardano considered to be a scientific fact based on "direct experience": the classic Arabo-Latin Centiloquium attributed to Ptolemy by the Islamic world.
Adding to the expanding literature on John Dee, N.H. Clulee examines the obscure Monas hieroglyphica. His chapter "Astronomia inferior" scrutinizes the transmission of alchemical ideas through Dee's inheritance of Trithemius' legacy, and his development of alchemy as a terrestrial astrology. Of particular interest to astrologers is Kepler's analysis of Rudolf II's birth chart in "Celestial Offerings" by H. Darrel Rutkin. Other articles by Loren Kassel and Lawrence M. Principe with William Newman respectively deal with Simon Forman's alchemical medicine and problems with the historiography of alchemy.
A comparison between the new academic astrological research and the literature generated by today's astrological practitioners results in a painfully sharp contrast. The high degree of fertile scholarship and depth of inquiry represented by this collection of exceptional essays puts most modern astrological publications to shame. Up until the scientific revolution, astrology, while not without its detractors, was the subject of study for many of Europe's leading men of learning. It is clear that following the 17th century, astrology got swept into the intellectual dustbin, while Western civilization's great thinkers went off into other more fruitful and opportune directions, leaving the field of the once sublime philosophy to languish in the hands of narrow and blind true believers.
The mass exodus of the learned from an unregenerate astrology created a vacuum resulting in centuries of astrological stagnation. With the exception of Rudhyar and a handful of other astrological scholars, the field has remained overrun with superstitious rhetoric, largely devoid of invention or creativity. Perhaps out of this current generation of academically trained researchers into astrology's past will emerge a new species of thinkers who, having observed some small grain of truth in astrology, might willingly sift through the debris of centuries to locate the renascent germs of an astrologia nova.
(Additional remarks by P.G.) The editors emphasize that no one can "explain the fact that between 20 and 50 percent of the population of the world’s developed countries, in western Europe, North America, and Asia, believe mildly or strongly in astrology, right now." (Newman & Grafton, p.2). But after the reading on this series of articles on Cardan, Kepler, Johannes Trithemius, John Dee, etc., it is still not easier to answer the question.
And the grasp of Nostradamus is inexistant. The Renaissance leader is not studied so seriously than some others : based on a insufficient reading of Dupèbe and Brind'Amour, let's mention the ignorance on the works and career of Nostradamus, supposed to have "created an efficient little boutique where genitures for clients across Europe were drawn up and interpreted" (Newman & Grafton, p.11), or to have learned astrology from "his father and grandfather" : "Nostradamus, another famous medical man and astrologer whose career offers many parallels to his [Cardan's one], claimed to have learned special techniques from his father and grandfather ..." (Grafton & Nancy Siraisi, p.93).
For a link to the book, see DIAL (second set, under Cardano).
10. Ancient Astrology
by Tamsyn Barton (Routledge, London and New York, 1994)
(reviewed by Shelley Jordan, Sept. 2002, Edition 22)
Embarrassing problems can arise when astrologers endeavor to be scholarly and when scholars strive to write astrologically. Such problems occur for Tamsyn Barton in her Ancient Astrology, winner of the 1993 Routledge Ancient History Prize. Despite the fact that "the image of astrology today discourages scholarly investigation", Barton valiantly attempts to disentangle the complexities of the techne of the stars, following astrology's development from its origins in early Mesopotamia through its later infiltration of such cults as Mithraism and Roman solar worship.
Barton seeks to desensitize herself and her reading audience from the knee-jerk reactions of revulsion commonly experienced by the scholarly world upon its confrontation with the perceived intellectual contamination produced by astrology's influence on the rational human mind. She announces early on in her book that her work will be free of the censure and discrimination typically found in books dealing with such a polluted subject, and admits to the high degree of complexity and confusion that astrology presents. We are grateful that she refrains from the usual boring condemnation of astrology in its failure to live up to modern scientific ideals.
Her predicament, unknown to her, begins in chapter 5, where she decides to cleverly analyze Prince Charles' nativity according to the rules of Firmicus Maternus and Dorotheus of Sidon. Her inability to correctly perceive the information contained in the chart itself leads her to repeatedly misinterpret her sources and the very astronomical facts on which the interpretation is based. She continually mistakes a waxing for a waning moon, analyzing the moon's placement in Taurus, though the diagram of the chart in the book clearly places it in Aries (it actually is in Taurus). She discusses Charles' Aries Midheaven and Scorpio I.C. (!); however at other times she gives him a Taurus Midheaven, apparently without seeing the discrepancy of her own error. In her confused description of the transits of Saturn, she has this planet transiting backward through the zodiac, from Virgo into Cancer over a four year period; in seven years Saturn will reach Taurus!
Barton's state of astrological illiteracy does not negate the value of her informative book, which has much to commend itself. She admits openly to the humiliation she experienced in her attempts at understanding the extremely difficult material she was facing. The issue here is that Barton is not alone in her befuddled inability to comprehend the complexities of astrology. Astrology is a highly intricate and problematic matter, leaving aside the whole issue of belief in the thing. Other scholars who are now approaching this topic share in her difficulties in "reading" the language of astrology.
Attempting to study astrology's history without fully grasping its theory and language is as dangerous as doing research on ancient Greece without knowing classical Greek itself. An understanding of the primary materials becomes impossible.
Likewise, now that scholars are finally approaching the topic of classical astrology and its position and influence on the historic past, it is of urgent importance that they lucidly understand the complicated details of this intricate area of focus. The literature cannot be comprehended if the very language itself is unintelligible. It would be most helpful if someone were to produce a clarifying and organized primer on classical astrology for scholars, written in a neutral fashion, without taking issue with the problem of belief.
Despite Barton's struggles with the comprehension of astrological theory, her book is richly crammed with edifying information and anecdotes on the literature and social role of early astrology, such as the story of one ancient astrologer, who, upon finding himself alive after forecasting the hour of his death, hanged himself to validate his own prediction.
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