Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Traditional Astrology"?

After 15 years of using the term "traditional astrology" as a label for the astrology practiced in Europe between 1200 and 1700 without incident, all of a sudden this definition is WRONG!

Everyone must now get in line with the new orthodoxy, which is since "traditional" is good, then all astrology (with the possible exception of modern, at least for now) is now "traditional". After all if there is a tradition of astrology, then certainly Hellenistic astrology must be part of that tradition, therefore it is "traditional" too.

Let me first say that, thank goodness, for the most part we live in societies where we are all free to use whatever astrological terminology we wish. I have no problem with astrologers setting up their own web sites, discussion groups, blog, Facebook pages, etc., and changing around whatever definitions or terms they wish. What I object to is being deprived of freedom of speech on my own website, discussion group, blog and Facebook page. I've been told, in effect, that I am wrong and that I have an obligation to change how I speak, act, write and teach.

So what's going on here? My main goal in using the term "traditional astrology" is to try and have an accurate label and all be on the same page when discussing different types of astrology. Astrology in the West does basically divide itself chronologically and in terms of technique and philosophy into several internally coherent and consistent systems.

Astrology appears to have originated in Babylon and Chaldea circa 400-200 BC and diffused to the Graeco-Roman world. Graeco-Roman astrology circa 200 BC to AD 400 is generally referred to as Hellenistic astrology. Astrology was practiced in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, and then diffused to the Islamic civilization of the Middle Ages, there circa 800-1000 AD a new type of astrology, a new synthesis of Western Hellenistic and Persian astrology with Syriac and Indian astrology, was created. This Arabic astrology was the basis of European astrology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The difference is mostly one of simplification as astrology moved forward in time.

So "traditional astrology" is the term I use for European astrology of the Middle Ages and Renaissance or European astrology as practiced between circa 1200 and 1700 AD. Clearly one could move a bit earlier or later, one can always argue over specific boundaries. Nevertheless medieval and Renaissance European astrology is a unified and coherent school and system. Traditional astrology as a term is much less of a mouthful than "European astrology of the Middle Ages and Renaissance" or "European astrology as practiced between circa 1200 and 1700 AD"

Astrology then essentially died out in Europe circa 1700, due to the "Enlightenment" and the rise of atheistic/materialist views of reality. When astrology was revived in the late 19th century, it had lost much of its technique and ability to predict. The fusion of Jungian psychology and New Age thinking gave rise to modern astrology, predominately concerned with psychology and almost entirely focused on natal astrology.

So, basically what we have are 3 general areas of Western astrology, that is Hellenistic, Traditional and Modern astrology. These areas are quite distinct from each other and use very different techniques and methodologies, though of course they have a family resemblance. When I first started practicing traditional astrology, 15 years ago, different astrologers used different terms for it. Zoller, since he focused on Bonatti, said he was a "medieval" astrologer. My main horary teacher Lee Lehman used the term "classical" astrology, though I felt this was confusing because classical usually meant Graeco-Roman and thus there was confusion with Hellenistic astrology. My original horary teacher Carol Wiggers used the term "traditional" astrology. This made sense to me.

However, the other major astrologer, John Frawley, using the term "traditional" astrology had a different twist on it. Frawley speaks of "the Tradition" and this concept is clearly very important to him. See his Tradition article. I'm still not entirely sure what he means by it and this is not what I am talking about when I say "traditional astrology", for me it is just a synonym for medieval and Renaissance European astrology.

Next, the term "traditional astrology" has developed some cachet, some prestige. I think this is due to the efforts of many astrologers, Frawley, certainly, perhaps myself, but more to the fact that traditional astrology is unsurpassed in its predictive power and accuracy and unusual in that there are significant numbers of astrologers who don't mix and match, but practice only traditional astrology.

When we look at what astrologers actually do in their practice and what methods and philosophy they espouse, in my opinion, there really are only 2 kinds of astrologers, traditional and modern. Modern astrology is built on a buffet style, grab bag approach. All other types of astrology are just giant bone heaps that can be mined for little nuggets of technique. The modern astrologer assembles their own personal bricolage of methodology and creates their own personal synthesis. Nothing wrong with that, if one is an astrological genius on the level of Abu Mashar or Mashallah. I know I'm not, so I prefer to stand on the shoulders of giants, our illustrious predecessors, another reason I am a traditional astrologer.

So with this in mind, my view is that there are no actual Hellenistic astrologers, because no one actually practices with all of their technique being Hellenistic. Many so called Hellenistic astrologers are simply modern astrologers with a higher percentage of Hellenistic technique than is normal, with modern and traditional methods also mixed in. Same with Mayan, Celtic, etc., etc. Basically these terms become the equivalent of a designer label, purely for prestige, without accurately describing the contents. This is what the new orthodoxy wants to do with the term "traditional" get the prestige, but make the term meaningless as an accurate label of technique. Traditional is now supposed to mean everything other than modern and no doubt the moderns will argue that they are traditional, too, if the term gets any more cachet.

I was a traditional astrologer when that term was meaningless to most astrologers (it still is actually) or when it was a red flag to various modern astrologer bulls. That it has picked up some prestige is nice, but that's not why I use the term, I use it because it seems to me to be a useful way to label a particular school of astrology. I will continue to use the term "traditional astrology" as I have for the past 15 years.

Others are free to disagree, everybody can think whatever they wish on their own time and in their own space. But that means I get the same freedom not to be hassled, pressured or harassed on my discussion group, blog, etc. Let's grant each other the right to disagree and respect that right. Once everyone has made their opinions clear, refusing to stop arguing, continue to put pressure on those that disagree with one's position is profoundly selfish and disrespectful.


David Cochrane said...

Christopher, thank you for this excellent paper. I have a suggested modification to your categorizations of astrological systems.

You wrote that "there really are only 2 kinds of astrologers, traditional and modern. Modern astrology is built on a buffet style, grab bag approach." I suggest that you divide modern astrology into 2 kinds: psychological and harmonic. "Harmonic" astrology in this context includes systems like cosmobiology which are based on a simple celestial geometry and very few underlying principles. The harmonic systems have very a very clear theoretical framework and are similar to the modern sciences in that they are models based on very few underlying principles. There are a sufficient number of cosmobiologists, harmonic astrologers, etc. to include this as a significant astrological movement, and it is radically different from both the modern psychological and traditional systems. Research using harmonic astrology has produced results which have gone further than traditional and psychological astrology in obtaining replicable measurable results in both natal and predictive astrology (e.g. reseach by Theodor Landscheidt, John Nelson, myself, etc.) Regardless of whether one finds the modern harmonic astrological model attractive or valid, ignoring it as an important and distinct astrological system results in a categorization of astrological systems incomplete. I can provide links to papers and videos which receive a very large number of views and thus indicate that harmonic astrology is an important and relatively distinct astrological model.

Again, thank you for your excellent paper and many contributions to astrology. I have my point clear and as you have wisely counseled, I will not continue to argue. :) I hope that my suggestion is helpful.

David Cochrane

Christopher Warnock, Esq said... a traditional astrologer, this sure sounds modern, but the wonderful thing is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion! Let a hundred flowers bloom!

Bruce Scofield said...

I can't resist making a pile of categories.

I. Western Astrology (natural and judicial)
A. Ancient
1. Mesopotamian
2. Hellenistic
B. Traditional
1. Medieval
2. Renaissance
C. Modern
1. Psychological/Theosophical
2. Symmetrical (Witte)
3. Harmonic

Christopher Warnock, Esq said...

You know I like this categorization! I do fall into the trap of making value judgments about various types of astrology with my own area best of course, but really what categorization should accomplish is a way to understand and accurately label different areas. But again, there's no need to impose an orthodoxy here, everyone can do their own thing!

Barb said...

Thank you for summing it up so nicely! I understand it all so much better now. Even though I consider myself a traditional astrologer, I use a whole whack of different techniques. Everyone does really, so I think just using the 2 divisions is the least confusing. Or, better yet, why not just call oneself an 'astrologer', and leave it at that.

Christopher Warnock, Esq said...

Ultimately everyone gets to decide for themselves how they want to label things, including their astrological practice. However, it becomes confusing if one's label seems out of whack with one's actual practice. I am free to call myself a Japanese astrologer, but since I am of American nationality, WASP/Greek descent, living in the US and don't speak or read Japanese, one wonders how accurate this self labeling is. Everyone else is free to disagree with our self labeling as well!

My problem with the term "astrologer" by itself is that this ignores the fact that there are very different schools of astrology. What do you like to eat? "Food", doesn't give us much help in deciding what restaurant to go to.

Barb said...

Yes, I see your point. If I'm going to a restaurant, I certainly want to know what kind of cuisine the chef is offering. Most of the people I run into who want readings have no idea of the differences between any of the 'types', however, and they don't really want to know. They just want a reading. The more sophisticated or educated client would indeed want to know where one was coming from.

Christopher Warnock, Esq said...

Exactly! Now if for some reason Tex-Mex becomes prestigious and a burger chef starts claiming that burgers should be classified as Tex-Mex, therefore he is a Tex-Mex chef, then the point of the label is lost.

David Cochrane said...

Just want to say I like Bruce's pile of categories too. And, yes, let a hundred flowers bloom! :)

Lance Michael Foster said...

Bruce's taxonomy looks very useful.

Could one then add:

II. Eastern Astrology
A. Chinese

III. Amerind Astronomy
A. Mayan
B. Aztec

and so on..