Western Sidereal Astrology, with Kenneth Bowser

Western Sidereal Astrology

In episode 117 astrologer Kenneth Bowser joins the show to talk about the modern movement to revive the use of the sidereal zodiac in western astrology.

During the course of the show we discuss the sidereal origins of the zodiac, the revival of its usage in the west through the work of the 20th century astrologer Cyril Fagan, and some of the debates surrounding its relationship with the tropical zodiac.

Ken is the author of a book on this topic titled An Introduction to Western Sidereal Astrology, and you can find out more information about his work on his website:

www.WesternSiderealAstrology.com

Below you will find the show notes with an outline of some of the main points of the discussion, followed by links to download or stream the recording of this episode of the podcast at the bottom of the page.

Live Stream of Next Forecast Episode

Before the episode outline, one piece of podcast-related news:

We are going to do a live stream of the recording of the next forecast episode this Thursday, July 27, starting at 3:30 PM Mountain Time (Denver time).

This will be a live episode that we are going to stream through Facebook as we are recording it. The stream will appear as a post on my personal Facebook page around 3:30 that day once we start the recording. Here is the link to my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/chris.brennan.790

If you want to watch the stream through Facebook then you can just pull up my Facebook page that day and then you should be able to see the post once it is up. You may want to add me as a friend or “follow” my page as well, as it is not clear if that will make any difference in terms of being able to see my public post of the stream once I put it on my timeline.

Show Notes and Episode Outline

  • Earlier this month I interviewed Vedic astrologer Vic DiCara, who advocates the use of the tropical zodiac in Indian astrology.
    • Argues that this was originally what was intended in the earliest texts, and that it works better in practice.
  • As a point of contrast, I wanted to interview a western astrologer who advocates the use of the sidereal zodiac.
  • Kenneth is the author of the book An Introduction to Western Sidereal Astrology.
    • One of if not the most prominent proponent of this school in recent times.
  • Ken’s background and how he got involved in this.
    • Spent two years as a tropical astrologer, but then switched to sidereal
  • The revival of western sidereal astrology in modern times.
    • How did the modern sidereal movement develop in modern times?
  • Cyril Fagan (1896-1970) and his work
    • Born in Dublin, Ireland, and died in Tucson, AZ.
    • Revived the use of the sidereal zodiac in the west in the 20th century.
    • Started studies with tropical in 1916, but switched in 1944.
    • Concluded that zodiac was originally sidereal, and Greek changed it.
    • Wrote a number of books and articles.
      • Zodiacs Old and New (1950)
      • Symbolism of the Constellations (1962)
      • Astrological Origins (1971)
      • Wrote column in American Astrology magazine from 1953 on.
    • Known to have had kind of a fiery temperament.
  • What are the best arguments for using the sidereal zodiac in the western tradition?
  • The origins of the zodiac in the constellations.
    • Discussion about the Mesopotamian tradition.
    • Timeline of when the zodiac first started being used
    • Originally used 18 constellations that fall on the ecliptic.
    • 12 standard + Auriga, Orion, Perseus, Pleides, and Pisces split in half.
  • Zodiac standardized to 12 signs of 30 degrees each around 5th century BCE.
    • Academics often say that this was purely for measurements or convenience.
    • Started producing ephemerides around this time.
    • Natal astrology developed by 410 BCE.
  • Hipparchus and the discovery of precession in the 2nd century BCE.
    • The rate of precession around 1 degree every 72 years.
  • The difference between the sidereal and tropical zodiac.
    • How far out of alignment are they at this point?
    • Ken says about 25 degrees, using the Fagan/Allan ayanamsha.
  • When were the qualities associated with the zodiacal signs first developed?
    • Is it clear what the conceptual premise was for these qualities?
  • What makes Western Sidereal Astrology unique?
    • Is it essentially modern astrology but with the sidereal zodiac?
  • When did the western tradition go tropical, and was this a mistake?
    • Discussion about Ptolemy’s work in the 2nd century.
  • Discussion about the ayanamsha issue.
    • How do we know what point to start the zodiac from?
    • Western Siderealists generally use the Fagan/Allan ayanamsha.
    • Lahiri is used by most Indian astrologers.
  • Possible issue: the zodiac as an idealized division.
    • The constellations themselves vary in size.
    • Earlier this month Vic DiCara argued that even the sidereal zodiac is not necessarily aligned with the constellations. What is the response to this critique?
  • The origins of the exaltations.
    • The exaltations were thought to be Mesopotamian since the early 20th century.
    • In Hellenistic texts there were specific exaltation degrees.
    • Fagan found a year where the planets rose/set on or near these degrees sidereally, in 786 BCE.
    • He speculated that it coincided with the founding of a temple to Mercury.
  • Question from Chris: How much of western astrology originated the Mespotamian vs. the Hellenistic tradition?
    • Part of the siderealist logic is that since the zodiac originated in Mesopotamia it should remain sidereal.
    • Is it necessarily true that all of the qualities we associate with the signs originated in the Mesopotamian tradition when the zodiac was sidereal?
    • Or were some only developed later when the tropical zodiac was already in use?
  • The issue of Ophiuchus.
    • If the zodiac is based on the constellations that fall on the ecliptic, why shouldn’t Ophiuchus be used?
    • Ken argues that Ophiuchus is essentially already used or taken into account in the qualities of the co-rising constellation Scorpio.

Listen to This Episode

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Comments

  1. Would love an episode on fixed stars – their impact etc from the Western and Jyotish perspective. Some Western astros seem to place a great deal of importance on them. Just when one might think a planet is ok (benefic or improved by mitigation), here come the fixed stars added to the mix. This guest seems a likely person to answer these questions? Really enjoyed the episode.

  2. Thank you for the excellent interviews and astrological work you are doing Chris!

    I have a comment about the different systems of astrology as they relate to scientific knowledge that might help to explain why some astrologers get good results with sidereal astrology. It is not a matter of one system being true and the other being false. Since, I assume, astrology is a form of divination, and not an objective science, the symbol system a particular astrologer chooses is the one that will allow him to communicate with the Divine. I believe that Divination is a newly rediscovered valid form of acquiring knowledge that unlike other forms of epistemology is dependent on the PARTICULAR observer. This is similar to Quantum Mechanics that is dependent on ANY observer, but not a particular observer. And these two methods are contrasted with Classical Mechanics which is independent of observers completely. Thus, we have three methods of acquiring knowledge: 1) Objective Methods (i.e., Classical Mechanics); 2) Subjective-relative-to-an-observer Methods (i.e., Quantum Mechanics); and 3) Subjective-relative-to-a-particular-observer Methods (Divination). It is merely an assumption of naturalism that the last class of epistemological methods is invalid, just as it was for QM until it was irrefutably demonstrated to be the case.

    I would love to hear any thoughts you might have about this three-fold epistemological model.

    • Jen here, not Chris, and not at all scientific, but have observed the following that relates to your comment I think. When divining with Tarot cards, which seems much looser and less technical than astrology, if one reader assigns a certain meaning to a card and another reads it slightly differently, then the interpretation is divined through the subjective interpretation of the reader, which is a matter of synchronicity that necessarily involves the querent for a final understanding of the meaning. In astrology however, there are techniques that should be followed for a better, more accurate reading. The intuitive process is the gift of the reader as is the storytelling – the synthesis. There will be days though that all the preparation in the world cannot know that the real message that has the most impact for the native is one that is unexpected as is an observation of the reader made in favor of others, or which stands out on an intuitive level. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Does it resonate either in the moment or later, in retrospect? Then it is true. I suppose this would be viewed as anecdotal proof and will never be seen as valid?

      • Yes, I agree with your outlook Jen. In my understanding, a proper astrology or tarot reading occurs when the intuition of the reader meets the intuition of the querent. All the techniques, such as sidereal vs tropical, or the meanings of specific tarot cards, are the means toward that end. That is not to say that perhaps the tropical technique is the one that would work for most people in the Western tradition. Perhaps the Sidereal would work for more people who align themselves with Eastern traditions. That’s why I appreciated these last two shows that interviewed a Western siderealist and a Vedic tropical astrologer. These are people whose intuitions are aligned differently than the norm for their respective traditions.

        There is an interesting book that talks about this Divinatory aspect of astrology by Geoffrey Cornelius called ‘Moment of Astrology. Maybe Chris can interview him sometime?

  3. Grant Hanna says:

    I agree with Jen above, a fixed stars episode would be great!

  4. Christopher says:

    I wish Brenner would have approached this master Siderealist without the desire to disprove his work. Three points:
    1. Didn’t Mr. Bowser mention that the seasons are not of uniform length? If so, then the uniformity of signs Tropicalists depend on is just not there. If Spring and Fall are not as long as Summer, etc, then the 30-degree divisions of the Tropical Zodiac must be further abstracted from one or two reliable Cardinal points.
    2. Even if the Sun does create its own ayanamsa as it goes along from Cardinal point to Cardinal point, what compels all the other planets to be constrained within the Tropical ayanamsa? The other planets also appear to move up and down across the ecliptic. Why are there no ayanamsas for Saturn, Uranus, Pluto, etc? In the East, the Sun is not even the most important planet. Saturn is arcanely known as “the old sun,” for example, in Vedic Astrology.
    3. Tropicalists, so far, have only offered the argument that the “Sun is king of the Zodiac” or other such idealization. Also, how do the Tropicalists account for the question, “What is North?” Remember, our Spring is Austrailia’s Fall. We “observe” the Sun moving “North” of the ecliptic, but an observer in New Zealand sees it moving “South” of the ecliptic. So far, all they have offered is that OUR people (in the Northern hemisphere) see the “real” sign occupied by the Sun. ‘Seems kind of culturally egocentric.

    • Chris Brennan says:

      The purpose of this series on the zodiac this month was not to just have a one way lecture about a specific approach, but it was to have a discussion about the pros and cons of specific approaches by talking to experts who specializes in the approach and are comfortable both advocating and defending their position. This was a followup to episode 115 where I did the exact same thing with someone who was advocating the tropical zodiac, and I don’t recall you objecting to any of my critiques of Vic DiCara’s arguments in that episode, Mr. Gilbert.

      • Christopher says:

        I went back and listened to your interview with DiCara, again, because I wanted to check my original perceptions, and I must stand by my original critique. But how does my response to your DiCara interview relate to my response to your Bowser interview?? (But as I pointed out on Facebook, I DID respond to it on YouTube.) Anyway, I still think you were much more challenging to Mr. Bowser than Mr. DiCara, who I heard you pretty much just guide him along in explaining his theory, and, towards the end, helping him process his blow-up with Foss’s article, which you didn’t even challenge DiCara’s synopsis of. Neither did you challenge, as you did Mr. Bowser throughout your discussion with him, DiCara’s interpretation of foundational texts such as the Surya Siddhanta. Asking whether the text was used or how it was used is not the same as discussing the interpretation. I realize this is perhaps because you are not a Neo-Vedic specialist. You may have seen this well-researched discussion: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=10952 regarding the proper Zodiac for Vedic practitioners. For this to be a credible exploration of the different Astrology schools, you would have to include an interview with a prominent Vedic Astrologer; additionally, since you so strongly promoted Tropical placements in your debate with Mr. Bowser, you should present a compelling reason, from foundational texts, which might explain the most important break in Astrological history, and that is the suspension of direct observation of planets which characterizes Tropical Astrology, and why the other planets must occupy Tropical signs, when they are not necessarily duplicating the Suns’ ‘North’ and ‘South’ movements across the equator (if that is the correct term – but you know what I mean). Finally, at about 1:11:54, you mention that Tropical works best for you. You should present case studies explaining why Tropical placements are more predictive or accurate than Sidereal ones. Usually, an Astrologer will come along and challenge the Sidereal, and they are always well-versed in history and theory. But they usually ignore requests to test the veracity, side-by-side with a Sidereal arrangement. With one assumes authority in a public forum, one must be prepared to prove that one’s approach works. Wishing you all the best. C

        • Chris Brennan says:

          As I said on Facebook, you are offended that I critiqued some of Bowser’s arguments in this interview because you are an advocate of the sidereal zodiac, but you did not express any problems with my critiquing of DiCara’s arguments in the previous interview because you do not agree with his use of the tropical zodiac and you liked seeing it critiqued.

          I specialize in the same traditions and have read much of the same scholarship as Bowser when it comes to the topic of ancient western astrology, and so I both had more to talk about and more of an ability to see when he was making strong or weak arguments in this interview. However, I did bring up what I consider to be a very compelling counterargument in the interview with Vic, which is that he is basing large parts of his textual arguments on Medieval era Sanskrit astronomical and philosophical texts that may have been influenced by post-Ptolemaic Greco-Roman astronomy. If that is true, then it could potentially undermine a large part of his textual argument. Not being a specialist in that area though, I did not feel the need to belabor that point.

          I’m not really interested in engaging in the type of lengthy and obnoxious debates that you are having with others on my Facebook page right now, as I don’t really have the time or the patience to deal with some of your aggressive and sometimes obtuse comments, demands, and assertions. As a result of that, I’m going to end this discussion here.

          • Adam C. Madison says:

            Christopher raised some good points. My feeling after listening to both shows deeply is that you do side much more with Vic than Kenneth. But I would never expect you to admit that in a professional arena, nor should you.

            I couldn’t care less about the ego-infused prolonged back-and-forths, so agreed that it’s always a wise decision to steer clear of direct, unpaid polemic.

  5. Mark Cullen says:

    An excellent and very entertaining podcast. Chris had the difficult task of trying to be the neutral interviewer and simultaneously the advocate for the counter positions Ken Bowser made. But I think he pulled it off. Both participants are undeniably well informed and gave a spirited but respectful advocacy of their respective sidereal and tropical positions. I liked the way Chris and Ken agreed on a threefold rationale for supporting a position ie textual/historical, conceptual/philosophical and practical/experiential. That is a useful perspective for looking at numerous astrological controversies. Its all too easy for people to fall into tribal preconceived positions in this kind of debate and start rooting for Team Sidereal or Team Tropical. Anyway, I wanted to make this initial comment thanking Ken and Chris for giving a high quality stimulating discussion. I have some more specific comments on the textual and historical issues discussed in the programme which I shall make later here.

    • Adam C. Madison says:

      Agreed. The threefold authentification process was the brightest piece of wisdom in a two-part pod packed chalk full of them.

  6. Chris, I so appreciate this podcast, as well as the one you did with Vic DiCara. If only all interviews on controversial topics could be conducted with the grace, calm and erudition shown by you and your guests! There is so much to learn, we’ll never get to the bottom of it – thank you for presenting both sides of this complicated issue.

  7. Thanks Chris for another great podcast definitely the best debate yet between two great astrologers.
    Chris I have studied astrology both with your course and your book on Hellenistic astrology. But also studied western sidereal astrology thorough ken Bowser’s books and e-mail contact. I’m grateful for both your points of views and for challenging each other gently on your differences. Only through researching astrology in a clinical way will we ever be able to test the opposing zodiacs?
    For me on a personal level astrology charts seem to work so much better in sidereal context….for example Jefferey Dahmer (four planets in dignity in tropical) and Adolph Hitlers. Both examples are in Kens book on Western sidereal astrology.

  8. thanks chris and ken for having this conversation and sharing with all of us here – much appreciated!

  9. Excellent discussion! Learning more about Cyril Fagan, etc. was exciting. I think the parts where it bexame a kind of a debate was interesting and illuminating. It’s better to respectfully share different points of view rather than gloss over them, and that is what happened in this podcast. Excellent! Many thanks!

    Ironically, I have not yet found an elegant and complete explanation of how the sidereal zodiac fits elegantly within a modern scientific framework but I have found one for how the tropical zodiac does. Hopefully some day somebody will figure out exactly how the perfect 30 degree sections of zodiac signs fit into a sidereal framework. For anyone interested here is a video about this: https://youtu.be/2tFr8hNIjWI

  10. James M. Jensen II says:

    Thanks for having this. One comment re: Bowser’s bringing up Newton: Newton’s physics didn’t actually prove that the Earth is moving. I’m not sure whether this was recognized at the time (I suspect not), but Newton’s physics actually allow relativity of motion. For any two bodies, the math works correctly (i.e. makes the same predictions) no matter which is the fixed body and which the moving one, and you can always choose a third frame of reference relative to which they’re both moving.

    What Newton worked out – which was indeed revolutionary – was how the Earth could be viewed as the moving body in relation to the Sun without any of the problems that notion had previously posed. His most famous accomplishment was recognizing that every body is attracted to every other body in the universe, and that there is no need for a central point in the Universe for everything to fall toward, as ancient and medieval physics had posited. (IIRC, there was actually an argument made in the Middle Ages that the Earth had to be the center of the Universe, because if it wasn’t, it would simply fall until it was.)

    So, Newton’s real achievement, however it was viewed at the time, was the relativity of motion, negating this entire line of argument. Then when we take Einstein into account, time and couple of other things get relative (including, mind-blowingly to me, the mass of any given object).

  11. I would not go as far as to say that this was a particularly ‘enjoyable’ podcast. The tone reminded me a bit of the house system rebuttal podcast; that is, it made my morning commute a bit more squirmy. I liked Chris setting the table by noting the similarity in personalities of these edge astrologers: Dicara and Bowser. The podcast was heavy with the air of Mr. Bowser’s defensive posture, and his anticipation of attack, even when Chris goes into moderator mode to recap or reestablish timelines, etc. However, the podcast was very informative. Mr. Bowser makes a very strong case for his astrology, which comes across as precise and true. Less interesting was the weak attack against Hellenistic astrology. And, I found it to be poor form for Bowser to open the podcast by touting his 2016 Election prediction and attacking the host (in a back-handed manner) while in his host’s “‘home/domicile’. Squirm. Bowser’s tone is indicative of someone who has spent a lot of time on forums fending off trolls and defending his POV. When your argument is this good, who cares? Thanks for this and the history of modern astrology series Chris. Really well thought out and executed. Proud to be a patron!

  12. Adam C. Madison says:

    Vic DiCara was so much more eloquent, articulate, clear-headed, and decisive. Kenneth Bower had an annoying tendency to ramble without directly answering the question. He seemed far more insecure and defensive about his position than Vic.

    I can say next to nothing about the technical details of the two contrasting talks, but from a sheer learning perspective, I learned miles more with Vic’s talk than with Bower’s. This was certainly painful to get through. Studies be like that sometimes.

    Having said that, the creativity and courage to have such contrasts in guests and technique is what keeps the pod fresh.

    To that end, while it’s pretty obvious you’re not much into EA or Psychological Astrology, Chris, some top tier guests from those schools would seal the deal for me.

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