What is Astrology?
So, what is astrology exactly? Everybody’s heard of it. Just take a look in any popular newspaper or magazine and you will certainly find some sort of “horoscope” within its pages. For serious people, it is almost considered indecent to have any interest in astrology. That kind of stuff is for non-educated and superstitious people who are ready to believe in just about anything.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This sort of opinion is very common in our pragmatic times. But how it could be then that the greatest minds of the past, whose findings, ideas, and illuminations make the foundations of contemporary science, were actually devoted astrologers? They used astrology in their research and many of them have written the whole books on astrology. It would be impossible to list them all because before the 17th century astrology was an inseparable part of higher education. However, here is a sampling of a few:
The Prominent Astrologers of the Past
Ptolemy (2nd century AD) was one of the founders of both astronomy and astrology. Ptolemy is honored by astronomers for many different things, but he is also the author of Tetrabiblos, the first comprehensive astrology manual.
Al Biruni (10th – 11th centuries) created a number of works devoted to medicine, geography, physics, and astronomy, but he is also the author of the “Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology”, which is basically a thorough astrological tutorial.
Paracelsus (15th – 16th centuries) was a legendary healer who considered astrology an important part of his art. He wrote that a doctor who doesn’t know astrology is a “pseudo-medic” and that the remedy is found in the sky.
Tycho Brahe (16th century) was hailed as “the King of astronomers”, while simultaneously working as an astrologer and an alchemist. Brahe was able to reach the highest precision in astronomical measurements, but also spent time writing astrological almanacs for the King of Denmark, as well as interpreting the natal charts of his children.
Johannes Kepler (16th – 17th centuries) was a great astronomer whose laws are now used to calculate the orbits of spaceships. In his first astrological almanac, Kepler predicted an exceptionally cold winter and an invasion of Turks into Austria. When everything happened exactly as he predicted, he became known as a prophet. He criticized the vulgar astrology, similar to the kind we can read now in newspapers and magazines, but added new elements to the theory of true astrology.
Karl Gustav Jung (19th – 20th centuries) was a famous psychologist and psychiatrist who seriously studied astrology and used it in his work. One of his astrological experiments became widely known.
Not a bad collection of minds, right? Who would dare to say that these people were incompetent and superstitious? So, perhaps there is something more to this astrology business over and above the ubiquitous magazine “horoscopes”.
Astrology as an Applied Philosophy
That which is below is like that which is above that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.
Emerald Tablet by Hermes Trismegistus (Isaac Newton’s translation)
The words quoted above came to us from an unimaginable antiquity containing the source, the essence, and the aim of astrology all at the same time. The abbreviated version is used more frequently: As above, so below. One way to understand this is to realize that it is referring to the unity and mutual reflection between the macrocosm, the universe, on one side, and the microcosm on the other side. Microcosm here can be interpreted in a number of different ways: it can refer to a person with his or her unique life; a state, a society, or a factory; basically any integral system of our world — they are all different projections of the same macrocosm.
Such a global worldview is good for philosophy that describes all things in general and doesn’t delve into the nitty-gritty of everyday life. This is where astrology is unique: it projects philosophical concepts onto our lives, daily chores, health issues, relationships, onto the processes going on in human society, onto weather, earthquakes, floods, and so much more. The areas of application for astrology are numerous.
Astrologers of the past considered astrology to be an art, but it also has many mathematical and technical elements that do not fit our contemporary understanding of art. Many contemporary astrologers strive to prove that astrology is a science — and it was indeed one of the three Great Sciences of antiquity — however, astrology will never conform to the Procrustean bed of the contemporary view of what a science entails.
In my understanding, astrology can be defined in a most comprehensible way as an applied philosophy. Astrology offers a special, cosmic perspective of the events happening in our lives. It gives the events an orderliness, and because of this, it can help us to find a solution for a predicament, or — since astrology provides an understanding of the moving forces behind events — to make a prognosis.
Traditional astrology has a number of branches, of which the main ones are discussed in the next section.
The Main Branches of Astrology
Traditional Astrology has three main branches:
Natal Astrology deals with human life on the level of individuals and its main tool is a person’s birth chart (aka, natal chart, or the horoscope of birth). These refer to a map of the sky drawn for the moment of a person’s birth as viewed from the birthplace. This branch also contains synastry, or the astrology of relationships, as well as astrological healing.
Mundane Astrology studies the life of large communities of people such as cities, countries, and nations, as well as the world as a whole. In this branch, we are often unable to establish the moment of birth of such an entity. After all, when exactly is a city born? Therefore, some special varieties of astrological charts are used. This branch also contains political astrology, astro meteorology, financial astrology, and astrology of business, as well as the smaller branches that study various cataclysms such as earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, etc.
Judicial Astrology was almost forgotten by the 20th century and only relatively recently was it reborn. This is a mysterious branch, which is as far from science as it can be, and is very close to the ancient magic. The best-known disciplines included in judicial astrology are hoary astrology, where a chart is cast for the moment when a question was asked, and elective astrology, which teaches how to select the best possible moment for various humane initiatives.
The Horoscope, aka the Natal Chart
All these branches and disciplines share a common tool,the Horoscope. A horoscope is a schematic picture, or map, of the sky at a specific moment of time as viewed from a specific location on the Earth. Some examples include: horoscopes of birth, which are calculated for the moment of people’s births and for their birth places; horoscopes of important events; or horoscopes of the equinoxes (vernal or autumnal) calculated for specific locations.
This is exactly where “what is above” joins with “what is below”: the map that depicts the state of the universe is used to understand a human being, or some other microcosm.
The word horoscope was used, and used properly, for many centuries, if not thousands of years. Nowadays, however, it is so often and widely misused by applying it to just any kind of astrological and pseudo-astrological writing that Western astrologers rarely use it. Instead, the word chart is used: a natal chart, a chart of a nation, a chart of a Vernal Equinox and so on. I will be using both terms interchangeably so that readers can begin to have a clear understanding of where the word “horoscope” truly belongs.
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