What Astrology is Not

There is a particular and very common approach to astrology with which I have major disagreements. I call that approach Sun sign astrology.

According to Sun sign astrology, I am a Pisces because I was born between the eighteenth of February and twentieth of March in the particular year I was born, and this single fact is the most important astrological fact about me. Sometimes it is the only astrological fact, at which point it becomes newspaper column astrology, which isn’t any sort of astrology at all, really. Newspaper column pseudo-astrology uses words from astrology, but as we know it consists of little more than tidbits of generally decent advice that could apply to anyone and might apply to some people more than others. Oddly enough, I have fewer problems with newspaper astrology in practice because it at least has the value of a fortune cookie.

Sun sign astrology does look at more than your Sun sign, but sometimes only just barely. It looks at each of the other planets and the signs in which they are found, but that’s pretty much it. Let me show you.

This is how Sun sign astrology views my chart.

Sun: Pisces
Moon: Gemini
Ascendant: Cancer
Mercury: Pisces
Venus: Aries
Mars: Sagittarius
Ceres: Virgo
Jupiter: Pisces
Saturn: Sagittarius
Uranus: Sagittarius
Neptune: Capricorn
Pluto: Scorpio
Eris: Aries

Then you can find a book with a little section in it called, “Interpretive Guidelines for Mars in Sagittarius” which says something like:

Asserts self honestly, idealistically, energetically, impulsively, tactlessly

What one wants is guided by one’s beliefs, morality, and inspirations

Decisiveness and strong actions are motivated by one’s aspiration toward an ideal or a guiding vision of the future

Physical and sexual excitement is stimulated by adventurous activities

Initiative and drive are colored by an expansive urge for self-improvement and a restless need for exploration

This, by the way, comes from the highly influential Stephen Arroyo’s Chart Interpretation Handbook. The primary problem is that these above statements easily become the interpretation of Mars in Sagittarius. Notice how this so easy rolls off the tongue as a single meaningful concept. Sun in Pisces. Mars in Sagittarius.

I’ll make this clear. I am not a Pisces. Rather, the Sun was in the sign called Pisces when I was born. The Sun is in Pisces in my natal chart.

The Sun’s presence in Pisces of itself does not mean any particular thing, which is not to say it means nothing. I mean to say that a formula, Sun>Pisces, does not capture the full astrological significance of the moment in question and in fact may distort it completely. Some modern astrologers get this, of course, and they’ll say just what I’ve said, though it’s all too common to find websites and blogs and books that oversimplify the art to absurdity — planet + sign + (maybe) house = some simplistic description that is a combination of only these two or three things. This is what I call Sun sign astrology, and I generally dismiss it completely as uninformed and lazy.

So. Mars has passed into Sagittarius. What does this mean for you? Well, do you have any planets in the first degree of Sagittarius? Do you have any planets in the first degree of Gemini, Pisces, Virgo, Leo, or Aries? If so, which planet is it? How does this one aspect other planets in your chart? Which house is it in, how fast was it moving, is it oriental or occidental to the Sun, is the Sun above the horizon and it beneath the horizon or vice versa or some other way, and is this beneficial for the planet or not? How are the other planets aspecting Mars, and what are their situations and their essential and accidental dignities?

You see where I’m going. This is far too complicated and far too personal to write a simplistic post on Mars>Sagittarius.

Mars’ “influence” is an influence upon a given thing, given the nature of that thing. Mars’ influence on you is not based on the fact that it ingressed into Sagittarius, for the most part, but how it relates to your own natal chart in many complicated ways and is not based upon the simple blending of mythic archetypes in such a way that Mars>Sagittarius of itself has a wide overarching meaning, and a single particular type of influence upon the whole world in one sort of way whenever it occurs. What we can say is that Mars has left the sign of its rulership and a sign of its triplicity. What does this mean? Well, that depends on the rest of the chart, naturally, and whatever your other point of inquiry is. This is critical. No part of the chart stands in isolation. Trying to read a chart in isolation, without a purpose, will probably yield no results.

Mars Ingress

So, again, what does this mean? What does it mean that Mars will be in Sagittarius until the end of May? It certainly doesn’t mean that “Sagittarians” will get a boost of energy and motivation. It certainly doesn’t mean “we’ll be able to harness this fiery, fearless energy to make things happen.”

I’m not going to tell you what it does mean because you’re asking the wrong question. Thinking in terms of the Mars>Sagittarius formula is thinking about it in entirely the wrong way.

I’ve attributed this wrong thinking to laziness and ignorance, but that isn’t quite true, not entirely.

The planets’ “influences” are not like ordinary mundane physical influences. For example, the “influence” of the Sun’s presence in Cancer is not the same as the heat of its light on your skin in the middle of June — which is not to say there is no connection between the two things.

The planets do not cause anything. Or, rather, they do cause everything. Or, perhaps, we and everything else cause the planets. Things get messy if we approach this question this way, so… how about we don’t?

When it comes to astrology, causality as it is typically understood has no place. Ptolemy was wrong about many things on a theoretical level, at least according to our current way of perceiving the world, and I’m not just talking about epicycles. Saturn does not emit cold dryness, nor does Venus emit warm moistness, which then descends to Earth and influences the world somehow. Further, the planets do not cast rays, and do not influence Earthly affairs by way of gravity, or magnetism or any such thing.

Astrology is not founded upon physics. Astrology is not a physical science. It is not a thing like chemistry and it doesn’t need to be for legitimacy. Not everything needs to be “scientific”. We need to grow out of this crutch. We need to grow out of this dependency upon the scientific elite for permission to believe any given thing. We don’t need some “scientific” study to tell us what is and is not true; we can believe things in absence of a study, and we can believe things in spite of a study, which might be and very probably is incorrect somehow. I’ll save the rest of this for later. My point right now is that astrology is not Science as we know it. Astrology is, however, science.

There are no subtle energies beaming down from space responsible for the mechanism behind astrology. You are not going to uncover the secrets of astrology by a cold hard “objective” look at the “facts” of the matter, and a statistical analysis is unlikely to be fruitful. Why? Because astrology is not a science as we understand it. Astrology was ousted from the mythology of Science — that is, the belief system called Science — for very good reason. It doesn’t fit. As such, the methods of this belief system will not be a useful tool for analyzing the subject.

We find this in a number of areas, such as psi research and the like. One of the most interesting features of psi research is that the effect observed in a study will often peter off. The statistical significance of the findings start off rather large, but fall in such a way that when viewed as a whole the effect disappears and detractors can then say that the effect never existed in the first place. Why should this be? Sometimes you’ll hear people say that test subjects just get bored with the experiments or something similar, but I don’t buy that. Carl Jung and one of his associates performed a very crude astrological study and found this same effect. Very highly statistically significant findings petered out and the effect disappeared when all findings were taken as a whole. Very strange, isn’t it?

It’s also commonly said that a psi study will yield positive results if the researcher believes in psi and expects to find something and will yield negative results if the researcher does not.

I point out psi research because it is another example of something that is rejected by the Scientific belief system as we know it and resists analysis by the tools of the belief system. Perhaps you’re thinking of this backwards. It may be that these phenomena are rejected by the belief system of Science because they resist the tools of the belief system; the belief system is not directly responsible for the ambiguous results, as some may think I am saying. It may be that the belief system merely filters out what it can’t hold.

So my point. Astrology does not belong to the domain of Science-as-we-know-it. Yet still we apparently feel compelled, obsessively, desperately, to give astrology the perceived legitimacy of Science. Just look up David Cochrane for an example (the bio I linked to says he’s had promising results, but if you really look into it, you’ll find he’s a very frustrated man; none of those promises apparently get him anywhere despite his success as an astrologer in other ways). Oh, and I do know about the Gauquelin studies. I’m definitely not dismissing them.

Astrology is not a simplistic system of blending meanings attributed to the planets with meanings attributed to the signs, and the houses are not a second set of signs. There is nothing Aquarian about the eleventh house except for ankles.

I believe that Sun sign astrology is the other side of the coin of pseudo-scientific astrology. In my view, neither approach understands astrology and neither takes the subject seriously, but both views are natural given the historical context of our situation. Sun sign astrology unknowingly wants to live up to the attributions the Scientific belief system mockingly makes of it. Sun sign astrology aims to be stupid and lacking in substance because the collective belief system demands that something take up the necessary role of Thing to be Mocked and Ridiculed — such things as astrology, psi, and “alternative” medicine in particular primarily because they conflict with mechanistic materialist assumptions and because they remind Science of what it rebelled against three hundred years ago before it became its own orthodoxy and the very same monster living in its own closet.

Now the obvious question. If astrology is none of this, what, then, is astrology? I’ll get to that in another post.

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Author: cazimi3

Amateur philosopher, long-time monster trainer, and aspiring mad scientist turned starving artist.

6 thoughts on “What Astrology is Not”

  1. A fiery Piscean astrologer? I think I’ve found my magical partner in crime. No, just kidding, I really like your insights though. There’s this whole debate, call it a conundrum if you will, on whether astrology is a science or an art. Would we really do better if we had the added weight of scientific legitimacy though? Would we do better if the ‘wishing machine’ (look it up) was an industrially manufactured object? It might be hubris but I think that if I spent several years on it, I could probably come up with experimental procedures to prove the inability of spiritual denialists to grasp the totality of Nature. But what would we gain? Gods and forces becoming a part of the mundane? This would be the same thing as murdering poetry. Some states of mind are reserved for the irrational outsiders. I think it needs to stay that way, if only for being one of them. (Dionysus partially fuelled this comment.)

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    1. First, thank you.

      Next: aren’t there already plenty of experimental procedures that prove the inability of spiritual denialists to grasp the totality of Nature? The whole of quantum physics, for example. Then, of course, Goedel who shows that even mathematics can’t capture the whole of nature, or even mathematics itself. And then, most importantly, we have, among others, Chalmers and his Hard Problem of consciousness. The materialists themselves assert that our experiences are constructions formed of neuronal processes, but they tend to ignore that this assertion means they may theoretically have zero access to an “outside” also merely asserted to exist beyond those neuronal processes while, still, asserting that they have unique, privileged, and complete access to that objective “external” reality. It seems an unrecognized cognitive dissonance motivates their arrogance and exaggerated sense of self-importance. There may be a deep, dark, all-consuming terror at the bottom of the belief systems of people like Daniel Dennett. Krauss and Dawkins are just idiots, though.

      We would not do better with scientific legitimacy. We might well ask whether Science would have been better off to find for every discovery a confirmation of it in the Bible or otherwise within the confines of the teachings of the church. The answer is a solid no. I think you’re entirely correct that some states of mind are best reserved for irrational outsiders.

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      1. I’m surprised my original comment is so coherent considering what I had in my blood at the time.

        To be honest, I come from a materialist background and that somehow led me to a spirituality of nature. I’m not really knowledgeable on those modern philosophers but it sounds like they’re headed into the classic dead end of Pyrrhonism and Berkeley’s idealism. Solipsistic conceptions of consciousness end up being circular arguments. I’m in the middle on that debate. We are limited beings. Our perception is accurate but limited by our specific nature. At certain places, times and conditions, we can overcome some of those limitations and we tend to call them spiritual experiences. But how can we be certain that those are simply figments? Example: people tend to have experiences of visitation by similar beings while on DMT. Minute endogenous DMT production in the human brain is very possible. McKenna called those beings machine elves, others say that they look like the typical sci-fi aliens. I’m suspecting that both ‘machine elves’ and ‘aliens’ is the only part that our human brains add to it. We give that ‘something’ the mask but I’m suspecting that we’re not creating that something in the first place. It goes without saying that you can train yourself or be trained socially to block out all these experiences just like you can train yourself to open up to them.

        And you know, science is really too philosophically constrained to make it across this gap. Inspiration for example. Sure, it’s a component of neurochemistry but isn’t the fact that inspiration is an internal process triggered by solely tangible external events just a big assumption? That assumption fails to explain how some people might be inspired to the level of brilliance once in their lives and never reach that level again. If it’s only tangible external input and internal process, it would follow a rather steady repeatable pattern wouldn’t it? But what really enrages me is that if I went out publicly and said that I feel personally indebted to the Muses and Apollon for the inspiration that I receive, I’d have to carry the stigma of being a ‘woolly thinking new-ager’ or a ‘wacky artist’ or whatever little meme people come up with to quickly deal with something that doesn’t fit with their world view. These are things that basically did it for me. Turning rationality on science and seeing how many stupid assumptions are being made.

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  2. Yeah, your comment was really coherent. What did you have in your blood?

    I don’t mind the stigma of woolly-thinking new-ager, mostly. I think a large part of the reason for that is that people would expect exactly the opposite from me, as precise, skeptical, and logic-minded as I tend to be in everyday life. People understand that, and I can’t completely counter it even when I start to talk about the symbolism inherent in a Lunar eclipse. People do get confused, but that’s their deal.

    Regarding inspiration, I think it might be useful to turn a phrase you used around. It may not be that inspiration is a component of neurochemistry, but that neurochemistry is a component of inspiration. What happens in your brain is just the image of a thought, not its cause in the same way that a flame is the image of a combustion process but not its cause.

    In a book called All Things Shining by an author whose name I don’t care to recall right now, I read that the ancient Greeks tended not to view their perceptions as internal. Rather, their minds were conceived more like empty radio dishes looking out at the world, instead of taking the world in to individual, isolated private experiences as we imagine now, such that a mood, external to individuals, could overcome a crowd and cause it to do wild things.

    Also, I’m definitely going to talk about the Hard Problem and such in a coming post.

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    1. Too much of a local drink, similar to Pernod, that clouds up when water is added. Also clouds the mind and the day that follows. Deceptively sweet and leads to black-outs because of that.

      I don’t know if you’re talking about natural science and the ancient theories of how vision works, that held that eyes emit “rays of seeing” that were reflected back to us, basically making them something like headlights or Platonic idealism, where ideas exist in perfection away and outside of us and we’re mostly imperfect vessels of their reflections. I’ve always been implicitly on Aristotle’s side but I can’t say I’m settled on Platonic idealism yet. I can’t just dismiss the notion right off.

      By the way, you might be interested in Pythagorianism and Neo-Platonism, especially Iamblichus and Proclus. I’d love to write about that subject on my blog but I’d hate to give pointers to some people who might read it just to embellish more stories about their special connection to certain deities. Those currents had a working theory to explain why the above corresponds to below, which modern metaphysics doesn’t even bother to think about and just takes for granted. Sky daemons and Hecate-Moon as the gate-keeper between mortals and the Stars that I mentioned in the other comment is all from Iamblichus.

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  3. Okay, here’s the quote from the book I mentioned. “The Homeric Greeks were open to the world in a way that we, who are skilled at introspection and who think of moods as private experiences, can barely comprehend. Instead of understanding themselves in terms of their inner experiences and beliefs, they saw themselves as beings swept up into public and shareable moods. For Homer, moods are important because they illuminate a shared situation: they manifest what matters most in the moment and in doing so draw people to perform heroic and passionate deeds. The gods are crucial to setting these moods, and different gods illuminate different, and even incompatible, ways a situation can matter.”

    The author’s name is Hubert Dreyfus, by the way. The point is that we have learned to think “I am in here. I am inside of this.” Later in the book he shows that it wasn’t for several centuries that people became skilled at isolated personal introspection, as evidenced by a particular astonishment of one Christian monk about another’s ability to read silently — even without moving his lips! I’m not searching for that exact quote unless I have to.

    By the way, I am interested in neo-Platonism and Pythagorianism. I’ve read one book titled “The Neo-Platonists” and skimmed quite a few others, such as the Enneads and some of Iamblichus, but I haven’t sat down for a thorough study. What would be the best introduction to Pythagorianism you could direct me to? I’ve read plenty of things about Pythagoras, but nothing half as comprehensive as I’d like.

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