The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 53, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Geoffrey Cornelius
Episode originally released on November 24, 2015
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at email@example.com.
Transcribed by Gulsen Altay, Andrea Johnson, and Bill Turgeon
Transcription released August 31, 2019
Copyright © 2019 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, just after 9:00 AM, here in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 53rd episode of the show. For more information about subscribing to the podcast, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
This episode features an interview with astrologer Geoffrey Cornelius about his book titled The Moment of Astrology: Origins in Divination, which Rob Hand has referred to as one of the most important astrological books written in the past century. So without further ado, let’s get started with the interview.
All right, Geoffrey, welcome to the show.
GEOFFREY CORNELIUS: Right, Chris, it’s good to be on the show. Thanks for the conversation with you.
CB: I’m really excited to have you. This is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time because your book, The Moment of Astrology, is definitely one of my favorite books, and it’s one that affected me very profoundly when I first read it about 10 years ago in my early astrological studies.
So I wanted to talk about the book, and on the one hand, present it to my audience–because I think it’s a book that every astrologer should read–and talk about the basis of the book and explore some of the things that you give an overview of, some of the topics that you touched on in it. And then, maybe later, we can go more deeply into some of those topics just to cover both the audience members who haven’t heard of the book before as well as people who have read it and maybe want to go deeper into some of the concepts.
GC: Okay, that’s good, that’s good.
CB: Okay, my first question we should just start with is what is your general thesis in the book? You have a specific argument that you build up, but I wanted to ask you directly, what was the main thing that you wanted to convey or accomplish in writing The Moment of Astrology?
GC: Right. The real center of the book is the question of divination: what divination is and how we should understand it, how we should lay it out, and in particular, divination then as seen in astrology. So if I just use some words I use in the book itself, I start the book by saying that I offer a radical reinterpretation of the main part of astrological practice and I do that by considering horoscopy in the light of divination. So that’s a move that on the whole hasn’t been done, and so I felt that it was very important to open the question certainly not done within astrology.
CB: Yeah, I mean, that was huge. And the book was published in 1994 by Penguin Arkana, and your central thesis was that astrology is divination, and that it’s divination despite presumptions or despite the appearance, sometimes to the contrary that astrology itself is divination. And it’s hard now to view this almost 20-21 years later in retrospect because your argument has been so successful and so influential that it’s actually not necessarily as controversial of a statement today to say that astrology is divination as perhaps it was back in 1994. But in the context of that time period, I’m sure it was a pretty controversial assertion to make. Is that the case?
GC: Yes, yes, it was. A group of us had been moving in this direction. A group of us at the Company of Astrologers and before that the Astrological Lodge of London had been thinking this way–so it wasn’t just me thinking this–since the 1970s certainly. So really, Moment comes out of a whole order of thinking that a number of people were attempting to make. And it also comes for me out of a series of articles that were also called The Moment of Astrology, which were in a sense preliminary to this. They were published in Astrology Quarterly before the time of the first Moment of Astrology. So it came out of a maturing of a number of ideas and there were many influences on me that have led to this particular thesis.
One thing I do want to say that’s very important–not to give too limited a view of this–I try to make clear in Moment of Astrology that I’m dealing with one or admittedly an enormous part of astrology, which is its application in actual judicial judgments; this is my principal concern. I try to be careful not to say that this defines astrology full stop, the whole thing, because astrology is vast in its cultural composition and what it embeds in it. So if it is also a cosmology then the question of the relationship of cosmology and cosmogony in divination are absolutely intellectually fascinating.
But I don’t want to ‘queer the pitch’ by saying that I am offering the picture of the whole thing we call astrology, so I’ve focused on the issue of largely the reading and judgment of horoscopes. Any sort of inferential judgment from symbolism comes under that remit, but aspects of the cosmological dimension of astrology don’t necessarily come under that. And aspects of astrology that I absolutely cannot and would not ever want to deny that could be called ‘natural astrology’ aren’t necessarily part of my remit; I‘ve tried not to answer the question of the whole thing. So for instance, there are phenomena of astrology as encountered by Gauquelin, but also areas of cosmobiology that are about this extraordinary relationship with the whole of the heavens; there really are. And that goes beyond my thesis, so I do try to draw some boundaries.
CB: Sure. So you’re trying to revive the Medieval distinction between a type of natural astrology versus judicial or essentially divinatory astrology as a distinction and saying that your argument is mainly about judicial astrology which primarily applies to the casting of horoscopes, but there might be other natural phenomenon associated with astrology or perhaps natal or mundane astrology that could be relevant still that your argument doesn’t apply to.
GC: Yes, that’s a way of putting it. And in fact, I’m therefore a critic of whole-spectrum attempts to name the whole thing all in one go, which I understand the desire of many theorists to do that, but is my criticism of some approaches that then fail to satisfy. Either they don’t then satisfy the demands of whatever natural astrology would be, and they don’t satisfy the demands of judicial astrology.
And so, in that sense, John Addey’s tremendous project doesn’t manage to satisfy either end of the equation because it’s tried to put the whole lot together in one jump. In a sense, I’m being much more modest, and I am following, as you’ve indicated, a program of understanding that goes right back to the distinction between judicial and natural well-known in Medieval and Renaissance times, and it can be traced back earlier than that. And so, it’s not as if I’m completely reinventing the wheel.
CB: Sure. Although, to be fair, judicial astrology definitely covers or it traditionally covered a large swath of what we generally associate with Western astrology in terms of the four major branches, or at least many of the techniques that are implied within the context of those branches of natal astrology, electional astrology, horary astrology, and mundane astrology. So your argument is directed for the most part at the majority of the techniques I would assume that would be applied within the context of those branches, right?
GC: Yes, absolutely, it would be. Therefore it‘s radical every time astrologers interpret a horoscope. The question that is raised in Moment is of importance for them each time they’re doing that, yes.
CB: Sure. And one of your primary access points–and this is also one of the things that was very radical about The Moment of Astrology was that you used horary astrology as an access point for your argument. And you built up this argument, especially around chapters 5 and 6, that horary, although it can very obviously be viewed almost as a form of divination like Tarot or like the I Ching or other forms of divination—because you’re casting a chart for the moment that somebody asks a question or asks an astrologer a question and then you’re basing the interpretation of what the outcome of that question will be on the chart itself–that that’s similar to other forms of divination.
You actually argue that even though horary is most obviously divination, it actually points to the true nature of astrology in all of the other branches as well. Essentially, all of the other branches function in a similar way to horary in so much as they are also divination and therefore not as hugely different as we might think.
GC: Yes, you’ve got it exactly, and that’s a very important distinction you’ve made. I use horary as an access point. Many readers do on the first reading of the book assume that I’m building up a case for horary astrology, and this really isn’t correct, and I regret that in some ways. Historically, that came about because I and some of my colleagues in England were very inspired by horary, and the revival of horary, the revival of interest in William Lilly; we’re part of that revival. And in terms of craft practice that had such a liberating effect on my own practice of astrology that it’s very easy for me to view everything in that ‘horary’ light. But philosophically and methodologically, exactly as you said, I’m using horary to expose the nature of all interpretation in astrology; that’s absolutely correct.
One finds, you see, very interestingly how many authors of a previous generation who bothered with horary at all will call it ‘divinatory astrology.’ Marc Edmund Jones did. A great source of inspiration to me, Marc Edmund Jones, but he too names this as if it’s a distinct methodology, but it isn’t. Although it’s using particular approaches within it, its foundation fundamentally goes back to the same root as the moment of taking up a natal horoscope. There is a similarity that is not observed by simply calling horary ‘divinatory,’ so I of course challenge that particular distinction.
GC: It takes the meaning of divination wider than astrologers had perhaps realized, that’s the point.
GC: Just to extend that point, Chris, you mentioned the great branches of horoscopic astrology. In a previous cosmology of things, certainly prior to Copernicus and the Enlightenment, it would be very, very difficult indeed to pull out judicial astrology from a basis in natural astrology; they’d have an intimate connection.
So the cosmology, the physical cosmology of the world we’re in, astronomy and all its manifestations and its mathematics are all completely integrated, and judicial astrology is a part of that whole picture. So it is with the breaking down of the Medieval cosmos and the Ptolemaic cosmos and the old cosmology having been broken down, this judicial astrology and this peculiar ungrounded position really is waiting for reinterpretation, which this is an attempt at a reinterpretation.
CB: Sure. And that was part of not just the legacy but how important your book was in terms of the overall scope of the history of astrology. You were really taking it all the way back to a reconceptualization that occurred in the 2nd century, and you spend a lot of time talking about Claudius Ptolemy and especially his causal and naturalistic reinterpretation or framing of astrology.
Because it’s essentially the most influential astrology book in the history of Western astrology, his work has framed astrology–especially natal astrology and mundane to some extent–in this naturalistic context, so that we’re used to making that distinction between saying that horary is obviously divination but natal may have more of a natural component because it involves this biological element of the moment of birth, and that’s something that you really challenge. You really set out to critique and look at his model and his naturalistic reinterpretation of astrology and call them into question essentially, right?
GC: Yes, exactly. So in order to even undertake the project at all, Ptolemy had to be taken on. The question of what he’s given us, the legacy of Ptolemy, it’s extremely doubtful that astrology could even be as we know it or have any survival at all had that work not been done. Greek scientific astrology has given us a vessel and a vehicle for astrology. So absolutely, it’s a peculiar position to be in. There’s no possible way that I can dispel the truth that Ptolemy gave astrology for the whole of its history up to the time of the Enlightenment, and it is even now a carrier or a vessel of ideas for astrology.
the Ptolemaic prescription of astrology is an extremely powerful and effective one most obviously. My view would be that it’s only by rethinking Ptolemy that one can ask new questions, questions in fact that we need to ask in our era; we can only re-question it by going back that far. And that of course which I only hint at in Moment takes us philosophically back to Aristotle, which is an even bigger fish to fry that I don’t get around to in Moment of Astrology. But actually we’re talking about the Aristotelian construction of metaphysics on which astrology as we know it has rested for several millennia.
CB: Sure. And Ptolemy was certainly indirectly or directly critiquing the Aristotelian conceptualization of astrology which largely held that astrology works as a result of the planets acting as causes, either directly or indirectly on human life or life on Earth. Astrology works, according to Ptolemy and according to this, you might say, Aristotelian philosophy of astrology through the planets and stars and other celestial phenomenon, emanating some sort of influence that filters down to Earth and affects us directly. And this causal conceptualization of astrology which was not entirely but largely set up or initiated by Ptolemy in some sense is one of the primary things that you set out to critique in the book.
GC: Yes, yes, indeed. In fact, a ground text for astrology not often mentioned as such is Aristotle’s On Generation and Corruption because the model he gives there is thoroughly a natural, scientific, astrological model, and it secures astrology in many ways. There are of course many influences on Ptolemy; there is a Stoic influence on Ptolemy. But as you can see, by the way I address the problem, it’s particularly that Aristotelian formulation that I’ve taken up in Ptolemy.
There are other elements. Astrology always combines many elements of philosophy at any one moment in arriving at the way it is, as I’m sure you know. But by dealing particularly with that naturalistic causal model of Ptolemy, I felt that that was the most powerful way of opening up the question. And that in a sense is probably for me one of the most important parts of the argument of the book.
CB: Yeah, I think that’s the part that has definitely influenced the most people and was one of your most compelling arguments because that’s where the horary argument comes in. Horary is very hard to conceptualize in a naturalistic context because you’re just casting a chart for the moment of a question, which is something that seems very immaterial, and therefore not really something that you can conceptually justify as being the result of the influence of the planets in some sense, because it’s not clear what it would be influencing other than just a question which is something that doesn’t make as much sense.
You take that point where people have an easy time conceptualizing a horary chart as something that’s not necessarily being influenced by the planets per se–but is acting as more of a sign or a symbol or an omen of what’s transpiring at the moment of the question–and you apply that to natal astrology and say that contrary to the Ptolemaic foundation of astrology or conceptualization of viewing the moment of birth as being influenced by the planets and that being the primary thing that’s operative in a horoscope. You argue that the horoscope itself is actually just like a horary question in showing symbols or omens or signs for things relevant to a person’s life rather than planetary influences, you might say. Is that a right way to frame what your argument was?
GC: Yes, it is. That then leads inevitably to the discussion of the nature of symbol. Although I didn’t present it quite this way in the way I built up the argument in Moment, at several times it emerges in the argument that the ancient division between sign as symbol and cause is most fundamental, and it was addressed by philosophers. It goes way, way back, the recognition of that distinction.
And so, that means that understanding what it means to say that astrology is symbolic rather than natural/causal that equally moves into this area that I want to open up. Whether you name that divination or not is quite another matter, but the opening up of the question of what does it mean to have a symbolic interpretation as opposed to a natural, scientific sign being given to you, that’s utterly fundamental to the argument.
CB: Sure. And so, that puts you in a lineage with certainly discussions going back all the way to Neoplatonic philosophers like Plotinus, at that time when the Ptolemaic conceptualization of astrology was really taking over in the century or two after Ptolemy. You have Platonists like Plotinus railing against it and desperately making this plea to not view astrology in a fully causal context.
But then what happens is that he basically loses out and the next several hundred years of astrology are largely conceptualized in that way, at least in a broader philosophical or scientific context even if the practice of things like horary as framed as judicial astrology continued to persist. So your argument is almost returning back to something that people like Plotinus were trying to do and trying to emphasize and then reasserting that in the late 20th and early 21st century.
GC: Yes, exactly right. The position that I’m coming from has this quite obvious lineage back through Ficino and the Renaissance Neoplatonists, back to Hermeticism, right back to Iamblichus and to Plotinus, and then I would say effectively back to Plato; it’s how one would read Plato. One could derive the argument I’ve attempted to give in Moments from a Platonic interpretation, an interpretation of Plato, so it’s far from being a new argument.
You’re quite right that one of the themes I stress is that I think there was a turning back from taking on the central question of astrology in that period when astrology was under great attack. Like all pagan forms, it was under attack from Christianity with an enormous attack on it. So the pairing to my mind of Saint Augustine, one of astrology’s greatest opponents, and Iamblichus fascinates me.
So one generation on, a couple of generations on from Plotinus, we have the same understanding of the magicians represented by Iamblichus that’s utterly in contrast to the natural scientific understanding derived ultimately and producible through Ptolemy. And in a sense, magic and astrology have forever been in a way running on different paths from that very early time.
And so, in many ways, my interpretation of astrology is much closer to what could be called an interpretation of magia, of magic, than it is of a natural science obviously. So that’s why I opened the book with the dilemma of the Renaissance astrologers and the death prediction against Pico. That to my mind is a beautiful emblem of the dilemma that scientific-craft horoscopy faces.
CB: Sure. Yeah, basically the scientific question about whether one can validate astrology in a scientific context and the response to the testing that occurred in the 1970s and ‘80s where a lot of testing was done, there were a lot of not great results that came back as a result of that and that seemed to be part of the context of your book.
From my perspective, even though I wasn’t around at that time, it seems like scientific research was something that astrologers were very focused on or at least excited about in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And then when many of those tests came back sort of negative, there was almost this crisis that occurred within some of the deeper thinkers in the astrological community in the 1990s of how to respond to that, or how to deal with the disconnect between having this practice that seems to work quite well on a daily or on a personal basis, and yet our inability to validate it through the contemporary means by which people usually go about validating something as a real phenomenon.
Your book is one of the books that kind of shows up during that time period that attempts to provide an answer to that question or an answer to that dilemma. How much of that was a deliberate response to some of the things that happen with scientific testing in the ‘70s and ‘80s versus how much of that was something that just developed naturally or that you had already developed on your own?
GC: Yes, these things, there are always many causes out of which ideas spring. So I agree with what you suggested there in many ways, it is an important context for me. In a way, I use the science research experiments, especially the ones that are very qualitative about astrologers’ judgments, as another access point. So for me, I use horary as an access; I use this failure of objective empirical research as an access point to open up the very same question.
So in my view, the reaction of astrologers at the time was entirely weak on the whole. So astrologers, most of my colleagues didn’t seem to know what to do with it. I’m not saying I have the answer to how they should overcome this but that was certainly my view; it’s very weak. So instead of being driven back philosophically or metaphysically onto the foundations of what it is they’re doing when they make interpretations, they move back into fundamentally scientistic positions; there are some other positions, it isn’t the only one.
Although you say that there’s been a drop off of interest or belief that research can do things, it’s amazing how often it keeps popping up again. I see it in astrologers in ISAR and things. People keep reproposing statistical tests as if somehow, “Let’s have a more refined, multivariate model and we will find this, this and this.”
It’s amazing how people get sucked back into this position. And being sucked back into that position occurs because there hasn’t been a fundamental philosophical rethink about what astrology is. So in the absence of that rethinking there’s no other place to go but to think, “Let’s do more stats,” or “Let’s find some other super-spiritual model that isn’t touched by modern science that somehow explains it all,” but none of that leads to fundamental questioning in my view.
So I prefer to say that it was another access point because I’d have probably wanted to write something like Moment of Astrology even if there hadn’t been that experience with the science research materials. I’d have wanted to do something towards divination, but in fact it was waiting there like low-hanging fruit. That is to say the failure of the science experiments in a sense allowed me another point of access.
CB: Sure. And it’s definitely become sort of an answer for many people or many astrologers about how to deal with those difficult questions. In Garry Phillipson’s book, Astrology In the Year Zero, there are the former astrologers or the scientists who say that because they couldn’t validate astrology, they decided to stop practicing it, to get rid of it because they couldn’t validate it scientifically. Whereas part of your argument in the book basically is that if you actually understand what astrology truly is–at least in terms of the practicing of horoscopes and what astrologers are actually doing with it–then you would understand that attempting to validate it in that way is never going to work, or has no chance of being successful because it’s based on an entirely different principle in some sense, right?
GC: Yes, you’ve got it exactly correct; that’s how I used the science material to access this. But that still leaves big questions implicit in how you put that just then as to, okay, what paradigm do we access astrology under. And so, I then make several moves in the book to where divination becomes a concept that can contain a number of these different ideas.
So the movement towards omen reading, and especially my use of Lévy-Bruhl and that approach to participation mystique, is the sort of direction that I obviously want astrologers to look into; I want them to see their practice in this sort of light. That means that subjects like anthropology and parapsychology and things like that are much more likely to be fruitful for us than simply the scientific paradigm that has failed us so badly.
CB: And in terms of divination, you actually had a pretty strong background in that very early in your career even going into astrology, right?
GC: Yes, exactly. That really will help the reader understand where I’m coming from in approaching this book. So I subtitled it Origins in Divination, and I don’t think the play is often understood. I was trying to be perhaps too clever in that I’m also hinting that natal origins are also divinatory origins, as well as the fact that I’m making a cultural/historical statement that I see astrology as rooted in divination, whatever you mean by that word, in a cultural and historical sense; so its origin’s of two sorts.
So I was fascinated by divination from my early years. There’s a type of ‘male’ consciousness I think–I know I’ll get into trouble by gendering it in this way, but I do see it often amongst boys and young men. They become fascinated by the occult and fascinated by witchy and spooky things; well, I was in that category from quite a young age. So I was doing experiments of all sorts when I was a youngster, and I very early on got into Tarot. So in my undergraduate days, when some of my friends were going out partying and everything, I was doing Tarot readings. And they would ask my advice about their latest conquest and stuff like this, and I’d be there giving a Tarot reading about it.
GC: Very, very early into this stuff. And I was fascinated by symbol; I was fascinated by mind and symbol you could say as well. Now that meant I then went off into Qabalah; I’m very interested in those esoteric traditions. I then came across Jung. I became fascinated by the Book of Changes, I Ching and Chinese thought; and in fact, that was very, very formative for me, all of that before I ever got into craft astrology.
And so, naturally, because of the whole Western esoteric tradition, you cannot go anywhere without immediately encountering astrological symbolism. So it’s natural that magic and astrology are so linked, and yet horoscopy and magic are much less linked is an observation I do make. It’s very interesting how there’s a difference there, so I’d not even bothered. It seemed clumsy; it seemed unnecessary to what I’d come across from horoscopy. But then when I did see it, I did turn, and then I really plunged into horoscopy and it became a home for me. I began to see how it was connecting all the other things I’d been interested in.
So I’d come into astrology taking for granted divination, and it took me some time to realize how serious astrologers that I was with simply didn’t have a view that I could call symbolic. They weren’t treating astrology in this mode of symbolic interpretation of magia, or magical interpretation; that wasn’t the way they were coming. They were coming at it much more as an objective fact, “There it is to be decoded and the horoscope will give us ways of decoding this secret of the heavens, etc.,” so that was a surprise to me.
CB: Sure, especially because astrology is often lumped in with those other practices by outsiders.
GC: Oh yes, absolutely. But of course within esotericism, you see, the craft astrologer is a very distinct beast really. If I look at magical practice as a whole, there’s very little inductive divinatory form being used. There’s very little judgment being used that we would recognize as horoscopy. So symbolism is used to invoke planetary intelligences: fine as modes of initiation, fine all the correspondences the planets use. But you don’t so often get the magician understanding or wanting to work horoscopically, that’s even with some of the most important ones as well. That’s another whole topic, but that divide between magic and astrology has interested me greatly. So that’s another whole topic, but it’s a thread in Moment of Astrology, and I hope that helps the reader or somebody listening to this program to understand where I’m coming from.
CB: Yeah, I think that’s hugely helpful. And so, what time frame was that that you fully starting getting involved in astrology and made the transition into becoming an astrologer?
GC: It’s in my 20s that I plunged into astrology. And I give the story in Astrology in Year Zero, on Garry Phillipson’s site, that I had a chart reading from a young woman in Wales when I was staying in a little cottage off by the mountain [?]. And she asked me a few questions, and then she said some things about the Moon and a couple of other things, and I was very struck. I thought, “That’s really insightfuI,” I was very struck. And that terrible, terrible ‘male’ thing, I thought, “Oh, well, if she can do that I certainly ought to be able to do that,” and it just turned me at that point.
And I consulted the I Ching about whether it’s worth going on into astrology and things like that, and I took the decision that I would, and I took the plunge. And this too is typical of the ‘male’ consciousness entering these areas that I’ve already indicated to you. I really studied everything, I was so intense. And I was into house systems within a couple of months; I studied Vedic and things like that quite early on. I just tried to master the whole technical range that I could get my hands on very, very, very rapidly. I mean, I‘ve forgotten half the stuff, but I just did that intense thing with it; it fascinated me.
CB: This is the 1960s or 1970s? What time frame is it?
GC: Yes, I’d be in my 20s, so that’d be in the late ‘60s. My first move into astrology really then was to join up with astrologers at the Astrological Lodge of London; that was around 1970, ‘70 or ‘71. And then a little after that time that’s when I met some other friends and met Derek Appleby. And it was meeting Derek Appleby who really turned me on to the potency of actual astrological symbolism, and that was horary, you see. Horary really grabbed me quite early on, so it’s quite true I’ve been strongly influenced by horary astrology.
CB: And that’s a really important thread. That’s something I’m curious about because in retrospect–and sometimes in even some historical papers that have been written about the so-called revival of traditional astrology that’s often located in the 1980s–with the revival of traditional-style, horary astrology based on the work of William Lilly that was going on simultaneously, on the one hand, you have Olivia Barclay and her group reprinting it, but you also have the work that you were doing with Lilly’s work and the discussions that were taking place surrounding your group, the Company of Astrologers. But even before that, I’m a little curious about that.
It seems like Derek Appleby’s book on horary astrology was published even earlier than that. So there was already this horary element I assume or get the sense of that was already there in the UK prior to the full-blown revival of Lilly. Is that the case? How did that actually work out?
GC: Well, yes, it’s interesting. In many ways, why get into some of the historical politics here? But there has been some miswriting of it I’d say, or there was a misperception sometimes that occurred and that comes about because of factions in astrology itself, which I’m sure your listeners will know often happens.
CB: Sure. And yeah, set the record straight.
GC: Yes, the revival of horary in the UK is interesting because it really was down to the influence of Derek that this happened. Now Derek, he’d only come across the bastardized edition of what’s-his-name, Zadkiel’s horary. He had only ever come across Zadkiel.
CB: Okay, the reprint of Lilly.
GC: He also read Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson, so he’d been influenced by Ivy. And I think probably by the time we met him, he’d have seen Barabara Watter’s book, so he knew of the American horary astrologers. He’d also seen a horary in Prediction Magazine, and he just followed the method and come up with a stunning result that showed him some things. So this was all before the time we met Derek. He was a self-taught astrologer who’s already doing horary even when he entered into the astrology community, so he was a natural symbolist.
Now at that time, say very early ‘70s, very, very occasionally there’d be some mention of horary. It was very rare actually on conference programs or regular schedules; you would occasionally get somebody who’d come up with it. It had no great impact or traction; it just had no traction. So it would seem to be a bit odd and daft, or a bit peculiar or particular. It wouldn’t be that it would be doubted but it just had no great weight, and it was never very convincing what people were doing. So you’d get the horary very occasionally popping up but it really just didn’t appeal.
Now clearly then what we know has happened is that around the same time, we were also getting the desire to recover historical texts–the work of Arhat and things of this nature, the work of Rob Hand is really, really important here–so there’s a stream of things beginning to come together at this time. And because of the impact of the liveliness of Derek’s astrology–which really did turn a number of people on it; it isn’t just a romantic buzz on my part–a number of people got inspired by just the way he’d pick up a map and symbolize it beautifully.
And that then led to some of us researching back into Lilly, and my partner Maggie actually went to find a rare copy in the Guildhall Library in London. We got out various notes and began to see these rules from Lilly how to do horary. And so, that beginning of a recovery of Lilly happened very early on inspired by this other interest that we had from Derek, and that seems to then fuse together with the interest that’s coming in that period that’s a reaction against the psychologization of astrology. So this reaction begins to occur and horary gets picked up as part of the debate there.
Olivia came in very, very strongly and her work really did create a tremendous impact. But she was originally, in effect, a student of Derek’s, and she would put judgments she was trying to make to Derek for his views. Unfortunately, what happened was that Derek’s role in it tended to get discounted. And Olivia didn’t really–I’m not saying she turned against Derek, but she just went on and sort of left him behind, or felt that she left Derek behind at some point, and so she gives him no real credit in her Horary Astrology Rediscovered, the textbook she wrote.
GC: So the attention then tended to focus on Olivia’s work, so that’s part of the history that happened.
CB: Yeah, and I’m glad to get that from you just because I had noticed that because Derek Appleby’s book on horary was published in 1985 that makes it one of, if not the first book that was written as part of that revival. So it seemed like he would have been a very important figure, but I never was clear or hadn’t really heard enough of that story before.
GC: Yes, I tried to put out–I don’t know if you saw the reprint, but what’s his name, our dear friend from AstroAmerica?
CB: Dave Roell.
GC: Dave Roell. Yes, he got me to put a forward into his reprint of the book. I tried to make a little essay there which anybody who’s interested, I’d like them to see it in David Roell’s book. I put a forward, an introduction to the book where I actually describe this background as well as I can and try to recover some of Derek’s–the magic that he performed for us at that time.
You can see then in that context, me and some of the friends who later on formed the Company of Astrologers were a very active group in the lodge, so we’re in a sense getting carried into what we’re calling traditional astrology. I think, in my case, I overestimated the value. I felt to myself, “Oh, my goodness, if astrologers just see how good horary craft can be, it’ll really bring up and improve the quality of so much of craft horoscopy, natal horoscopy and everything.” I really thought horary would do great things. I realized later that’s a bit naive and that horary can become just as stupid as every other part of astrology can be if you’re not careful.
GC: So it’s not a ‘silver bullet’ that solves everything for us. But at the time, we were very inspired by the possibilities of horary, and I was therefore philosophically and intellectually inspired by seeing it as an access point to this deeper question of the nature of symbol and the nature of divination, so that’s why horary is such a powerful move in The Moment of Astrology.
CB: Sure, and that becomes the access point for the entire argument and a reoccuring point throughout the work. So yeah, that’s actually one of the things that’s very interesting and also impressive to me about your book–reading it now 21 years after you published it–even the revised edition, even though there’s been some revisions, many of your core arguments are still fundamentally the same.
But you wrote this book–this is 1994–before Project Hindsight has really published anything. You had already done so much historical research that you were able to formulate some of these arguments that are still true today, 21 years later, in a very impressive way that becomes part of the traditional revival. Your book is situated right in the middle of it, making this very important argument about astrology as divination. If anybody goes back and reads texts from the Hellenistic or Greco-Roman traditions 2,000 years ago, it’s quite obviously situated in that framework, so you were making a very true and very powerful argument, but one that people weren’t used to making.
People up to that point didn’t usually go that far back in order to see what astrologers were doing back at that time, but you seemed to take what ancient astrologers or traditional astrologers were doing as important, as part of the process of reconceptualizing astrology by just looking back at the history of astrology in order to inform and develop arguments about it. Was that unique? Did you feel like that was unique at the time, or is that something that just seemed natural to you, given more of your academic inclinations?
GC: Well, yeah, I suppose I did recognize the attempts I’m making were unique and also academically risky, so I’m going out on a limb with some of my interpretations as you probably realize. And so, I can’t necessarily on historical sources directly secure all of my main arguments. So with my interpretation of katarche–you pointed this out to me, way, way back; you questioned me on this and you’re quite right–it’s frustrating that I can’t find sufficient reference to the way I understand katarche in its all augural form.
I can’t find anywhere in the Hellenistic texts by astrologers enough evidence to really show that that there’s a strong augural component in their way of thinking. So one can make the general observation that the cultures of those days were imbued with an augural understanding as part of what the whole project is of lots of things they’re doing when they’re looking at things like astrology; I’d like more textual evidence of it.
My other move at that point is to invoke really much more anthropological evidence and also some classical material. So the idea of the katarche that does have historical roots, the connection with the early astrologers is most ambiguous, and it remains ambiguous. So that’s what I know in terms of historical thought and academic thought; lots of details need to be fleshed in to be sure about this.
My sureness about it is in a sense much more fundamental; it’s experiential, I suppose. One can easily be in an arrogant and stupid position here, it’s just that I sensed that I had some sort of nuance as to what it would be like to be diviners and augurs of a completely different era. I had the sense that I had some sort of inkling of that or some sort of instinct, and it’s out of that really that the projective name in katarche comes from. I do have interesting details to make about that, but as I’m sure you know, the argument can be put in so many ways.
And so, I know that many people who investigate Hellenistic astrology–and you’ve investigated Hellenistic astrology, so your view on this is really, really, really important and interesting to me–will contend completely with my thesis. Certainly, if you come off a strong Stoic position, you will contend with–it’s fairly Neoplatonic in some ways–the katarchic view. It fits one great tradition of Greek thought, it doesn’t fit all traditions of Greek thought. So the matter is open to argument. Even if we pitch our mindset back to the Hellenistic period…
GC: …then we have to rely on, okay, well, how does it actually work for us here and now? That becomes the other move one has to make which is an important part of a way of access that I try to enter in the book; how does it actually manifest for us here and now.
CB: Right. And your book became one of the first really impressive examples of the reason why it’s useful to look back into the history of astrology because there can be important technical and conceptual and philosophical insights that you can gain just by looking at what our predecessors were doing. But you can take that information and it sometimes has really practical effects on how we practice astrology today or implications for that.
And going back to something you said, I actually ended up being wrong about the origins of horary to some extent, in that I’ve now–as a result of the publication of the translation of Hephaistio of Thebes by Benjamin Dykes and Eduardo Gramaglia–had to recognize that there is actually a reference, or there was a reference to horary in Dorotheus, so my view on the origins of horary has actually changed and shifted in the past few years.
I still am not sure if it was quite as prevalent and may have had a period of development and building up between then and the Medieval tradition, but you can definitely see the proto-horary there at one point, and it is connected with the term katarche which became a very important term for you in the type of astrology you do in your practice, right?
GC: Yes, indeed. The word is a beautiful pointer to a whole way of thought or a whole way of understanding; so it’s one word, hopefully, with a proper historical understanding of it. So it is important for modern practice, the use of the term, implying a definite relationship with what one could call ‘divinity,’ or whatever that might mean, as opposed to a reading of a purely objectively-given order. So the implication of the one taking up the materials, taking up the symbol, becomes crucial to the whole act; astrology then being seen as a ritual act, not a scientific act.
So yes, the term is a very important term carried forward into modern practice. So as you say, it’s probably an unusual book I wrote in showing the importance of modern understanding showing a connection with ancient ways of thought, so in that sense, it is a historical project as well. But I’m cautious at many points and I realized early on that Dorotheus, certainly problems with texts of Dorotheus, that I don’t want to have to rely on only one reference and I’d like more references. So what you say is very interesting, Chris, because you were a critic of the idea in a way early on, so it’s interesting that your position is slightly modifying.
CB: Yeah, and what I remember saying, I still sort of hold by this too. Back at UAC in 2008, in Denver, my argument all along was that I was questioning whether you used horary as your access point in The Moment of Astrology to argue that all astrology is divination, and you drew on contemporary scholarship that generally thought that horary went back to the earliest strata of the Hellenistic tradition, to the 1st century. But once some of the books from Project Hindsight and some of the translations of Hellenistic authors came out, it became clear that horary didn’t seem to be as prevalent in the Hellenistic tradition as it was in the Medieval tradition. And so, I wrote a paper questioning the origins of horary astrology saying that it may have been a later development–which indirectly had implications for your work–which I’ve since revised and said that horary actually may have gone back, even if it wasn’t very prevalent, to the 1st century.
But my argument was always that that didn’t really affect your underlying premise because you could just as easily go back to the Babylonian tradition or the Mesopotamian tradition a few centuries earlier–which everyone universally recognizes and agrees was practiced within a divinatory context–and astrology was seen as divination in the Babylonian period unquestionably so that your argument still stands. And you could still even use the horary access point for making astrologers understand that natal astrology is no different then horary; so I guess it just became a sort of historical, brief point of difference.
GC: Right. That’s interesting you say that, Chris, thanks. Yeah, so where does that leave us in the overall scheme of things?
CB: One of the places that this brings us is to the contrasts that you make between divinatory astrology and let’s say natural astrology, or divinatory astrology versus what people thought astrology was that made the scientific question relevant. You try to make this argument that astrology is not just objectively occurring out there as a thing onto itself that has or requires no participation on the part of the individual, but in fact the participation of the individual just like in horary becomes very relevant.
And that’s perhaps a point of contention amongst horary practitioners as well, but your general thesis seemed to be partially that astrology–at least the majority of horoscopic astrology in terms of casting charts and making judgements about charts–had this participatory component as an important component, therefore was not completely as objective as we might assume it was, which is part of what raises issues in terms of testing it scientifically. How do you frame that? Is that the right way to frame that argument in terms of the objective versus subjective component in astrology?
GC: Yes. As you’ve realized, you’ve asked a question with enormous implications.
GC: One marker to put down for you is that a caution that I naturally have here is that even towards the end of Moment of Astrology, we touch upon the question of divination but I don’t try and go further at that point. So in a way, I’m saying a lot of the phenomena of astrology do not fit the model we’ve been working with; an easy point to demonstrate in a sense, and I spent a good time demonstrating it.
I then say that we’re in a position of looking at a number of other, several other moves that might begin to offer leads here, of which I invoke Jung at several points; Jung’s approach comes into it. I invoke the practice of divination, and I invoke the possibility of looking at the daimonic, the nature of intelligence, consciousness in things being a way of moving; each of these have good intellectual and historical form, each of these arguments.
Now I then say we also need to consider what hermeneutics, especially ancient hermeneutics can teach us. So that moves into this part of the book that many readers find very strange, the full-synthesis hermeneutic as a model. Now each of those really are not parts of a complete program by which I say, “Here you go. Here’s the overall polished view of how we should look at astrology.” They’re openings towards further discussion and that’s because I really cannot offer the complete picture.
I do know that the very difficult task of revealing the phenomenology of divination emerges at this point. How is it that Tarot readings do have an order of truth to them, sometimes an amazing truth? So do all other forms of divination; they show this capacity for truth-revealing. What metaphysical model do we have that can allow us to even allow the question of this? You see, we don’t easily have it, and so we fall into debates that are so much argued over, so much mileage in them, subject and object. Clearly, we fall into a territory that’s indirectly addressed as either subjective or objective.
Now we are hitting major philosophical problems here. And so, one thing I suppose I’m asking astrologers to realize is that they do have a practice, it can’t simply be reduced to straightforward objectivity. Don’t get thrown, please, by the fact that you haven’t got answers for the scientists and you can’t prove this, that, or the other. Do realize that you have actually an art or a craft of great beauty and great truth-telling power; realize this, and in a sense, there’s a sufficiency in that.
There are many ways that profound thinkers have opened up that material for you, none of which will give you the complete story of how you should approach this. So we face something that is a mystery. The foundation of astrology is in every sense of the word ‘mysterious.’ Accept that it’s a mystery and get on with it and see how it begins to open up for you.
So you see, that really isn’t laying down a clear methodology or procedure beyond this point, and that’s something I am very interested in intellectually in how one will develop from a position I leave things in Moment of Astrology. But it’s most important that people reading the book understand that I’m not trying to lay down any one correct answer out of the dilemma, but they first got to face the dilemma and not allow false answers to that dilemma.
And for us in modernity, a retreat to the Greek natural scientific is a false move at this point, but we should honor and see what it was that the Greek natural scientific allowed us to work with without saying that that remains our model. And in fact, we haven’t got a model in modernity. So we try bits of psychology, we try this, we try that, all of which are inadequate to the task in many ways, but I accept we’re all in this position as astrologers.
So I hope that makes some sense to you of the way I do seek to open up a number of ideas that engage me, accepting they’re not the whole answer; and they’re even inconsistent because that’s the position we’re in. But coming back to the point here, any honest examination of their own experience by experienced astrologers would soon show them that most of the answers that currently they have been given aren’t adequate to the task, but that doesn’t stop them doing astrology.
CB: Right. And one of the points that you make in the book is that attempts to make astrology amenable to science oftentimes result in having to strip it of many of the major components that astrologers actually use on a daily basis, so that it becomes something quite different and not as impressive because it becomes a very stripped-down version of astrology rather than what astrologers actually do when astrologers attempt to do that.
GC: Yes, Chris, quite so. And so, in the access point that I use of science and the science experiments, I know this sounds very close and personal in a way, but it is a strong, personal experience I’ve had of talking with some of those who put such faith in the science research–the statistical research experiments–and realizing the only word I could use, these guys have let themselves be ‘broken’ by this experience. They’ve lost their astrology, they can’t trust symbol anymore; now that’s desperate, you see. So once you go on that path, as I do say, the suicide experiment is an example of astrologers committing suicide is what it is.
CB: That’s a funny joke. Just to explain that for our listeners, one of the scientific studies that was done in the 1980s was organized by the NCGR in New York, and it was on astrologers seeing if they could tell the chart of people who committed suicide versus people who didn’t, but the test went terribly. And the joke, which is actually pretty clever, was that astrologers sort of committed suicide, in a sense, politically by submitting to this suicide test that they failed at pretty terribly.
GC: And also then spiritually and intellectually, instead of pulling back to the basic ground of experience and philosophy that they’ve got to enter, they didn’t have the equipment to do that for various reasons. So in a sense, on a positive note, you see, I would hope that the types of arguments I advance in Moment of Astrology at least give people some equipment to not get thrown back to the destruction of symbol so that astrologers aren’t thrown back.
CB: Sure and–sorry, go ahead.
GC: Well, I was going to say, in many ways, I’ve got a great sympathy with Rob Hand here. He certainly is very sensitive to the sort of things I’m saying. Rob’s prescription from early on was that there’s a craft of astrology that should be distinguished from some supposed science of astrology and that we get on doing a craft. People have done there woodworking and made boats out of wood without knowing all sorts of details of hydraulics or the biology of wood for centuries.
So you get crafts that are true and do true things for human beings, and in a sense, our astrology as practiced by ordinary astrologers is such a craft. It only goes wrong when demands are made on it, these unanswerable demands to answer to a paradigm that absolutely is a wrong paradigm. And that’s why the people who are more leaders of opinion in astrology, or thinkers in astrology or writers in astrology need to protect the practitioner from this sort of naivety in a way, but that naivety still comes bursting out.
GC: You still have people, good astrologers come up, they sort of look quizically at the New York suicide experiment which was pretty impeccably done. I mean, it was rated as really being meta-statistically sound, that New York Suicide Study. They still then say, “Oh, they didn’t take account of day and night,” or something like that, or day and night with this, that, and the other abstraction in it, technical abstraction; as if you were saying, “They didn’t take account of the 147th harmonic, that would show something.”
My god, a phrase I’ve always thought as magnificent from Marc Edmund Jones is the ‘infinite regression technique’ as a defense. The astrologer thinks, “There must be some further technique that I’ve missed that would have given me this,” and of course astrology is true; missing it entirely, missing the whole thing.
CB: Well, I’m actually curious about that. On the one hand, obviously your argument is that if they understood the nature of astrology, they wouldn’t have made that attempt in the first place because it would be doomed to failure no matter what. But you also made an off-handed comment that the lack of standardization in astrology, just in and of itself, even if astrology was true or could be demonstrated scientifically would already doom a study like that to failure because of the wildly-varying or differing levels of experience and efficacy that each astrologer would have in a study like that. I thought you were critiquing in the book even the basis of the study to begin with. So are you saying you’re not necessarily, that you think it was well-designed?
GC: That’s another big one, Chris, now this is important. I’ll have to answer a bit obliquely here, and I hope it makes sense to you. I struggled over the book, I think it’s called Under One Sky, which was a study of interpretations by 12 different astrologers of one horoscope. I don’t know if you know the book; it was published a few years back.
GC: And there are lots of issues I have with that book, but one thing I noted with interest was how about five or six of the astrologers all followed a basic modern traditional craft approach; that is very interesting. Now it’s often assumed that the argument I’m giving is “Well, anything goes. Anybody can say anything. It’s whatever they set up for themselves when they read the horoscope becomes the truth.” That’s not really so.
You see, we’re getting to this point here that there are certain conventions that traditional astrology has given us that appear to be coherent and appear to last and endure. Look at the Lord of the Ascendant, look at major applying aspects between planets–that sounds a bit horary there–but look at major aspects etc., etc., and then the fact that the planets’ meanings have a certain stability. There’s something very fascinating about this model of horoscopic astrology where there is coherence over many centuries of certain major methods and techniques. And interestingly, despite the wild confusion of modern astrology with its huge supermarket of techniques that everybody can just buy, on the whole, there’s a central core of practice that most of the schools teach and that most decent astrologers get on with. And they’re not necessarily particularly sophisticated, they like following certain rules.
So it is a fact that it isn’t true that anything goes because astrologers don’t work that way. Some astrologers do act as if it’s anything goes, but on the whole, that isn’t true to astrology. So there is coherence, and that coherence produces rubbish results statistically, we can be certain of that. And then there are styles of approach within these coherent approaches–yes, true; and the scope for the brilliant artistic and poetic and highly-intuitive move within that–but none of that is correctly described by the word ‘arbitrary.’
So you see, I don’t want to move into the position of that saying that the stats show the thing doesn’t work therefore the thing is completely arbitrary–it’s what anybody thinks at any time and somebody might guess about suicide or not guess about suicide, but there’s no coherent pattern to follow–that isn’t actually correct. And as I say in the section where I discussed the suicide experiment, I don’t have a doubt that there are certain times when you need to be shown suicide on fairly conventional significators involving traditional astrology, you will see the significators. You’ll see that Neptune afflicting or see a strong 12th; you know this stuff where you’ll get the things that tend to fit the textbooks.
So there’s a hermeneutic question of great interest there. There’s coherence and not arbitrariness, yet when tested objectively there’s nothing there. So what is it that is there in this coherence? You see, it makes this very interesting position of saying that astrology occupies a realm. After the time of Moment of Astrology, I much more became interested in this view, Qabalah’s view of the Mundus Imaginalis. Astrology occupies a different sensory domain which is an actual mode of cognition but doesn’t exist as either subjective or objective, but is true.
Now one’s entering into a realm of metaphysics at this point to even deal with this, and I don’t touch this particular argument, particularly in Moment, although it’s there latent in some things I say. You see, I want to immediately not allow the debate to go to arbitrariness as the answer to how it is astrology is actually working, that wouldn’t do.
CB: Yeah, and that’s really important. You anticipated one of my later questions which is one of your arguments seems to be in the book, especially in the early chapters, that there’s no objective validity to astrology. One of the implications I feel like I was often left with–and I sort of struggled with in terms of coming to terms with your approach or understanding the implications of your argument–is how can one technique or approach ever be said to be any better than the other if there is no objective validity to astrology?
And then as a separate point, it’s good that we’re getting into this because astrology as divination has become a common sentiment now amongst astrologers 20 years later. Although I get the feeling that sometimes this is done as a sort of defense for what might be interpreted as sloppy thinking or sloppy practice; that astrology is subjective and therefore you can’t say that your approach is any better than my approach or what have you. And so, I was always curious how you dealt with that, or if you had any concerns surrounding how some of your arguments were being interpreted.
GC: Yes, yes, I do. And in a sense, you can tell by the way I already answered on arbitrariness that I am very concerned with that. It’s easy the idea of intuition, say, being very powerful; then that means that that’s just anything that anybody likes to think is an intuitive knowing. There are a number of comparisons or analogies one can use to try and overcome this difficulty.
If you are, say, about poetry or music or art, it’s clearly not good enough to say, “Well, poetry is an arbitrary matter, anybody can write any piece of poetry,” because there is coherence. There’s something that happens whereby people are appealed to and learn how to be appealed to certain ways and forms of things, and those are real. So then you can say it’s very difficult to judge what is good as opposed to bad poetry, what’s good as opposed to bad astrology, but there is a certain knowing that comes with it.
There are a number of ways I put this. When a piece of symbolism is well-spoken, it seems to produce a response in anyone hearing it, certainly anyone educated to symbolism, where they say, “Oh yes, that’s just right the way you described that particular planet in that sign, in this horoscope. Isn’t that just right, the word you said?” a fittingness of words to the situation.
Now it’s very difficult to establish a straightforward objective criterion by which you say, “How can you then produce this effect? Give me the rules by which you do this.” That’s silly in way. It’s like saying, “Give me the rules by which I can write a good poem.” But that doesn’t stop the fact that there is such a thing as a poetic art, and poetry really does ring in people’s hearts. And what people regard then as weak poetry tends not to last and not to really impress so many people eventually. It gets at people being [?] nights, sort of sentimental; it didn’t work.
So there’s something there. The fact that it’s not attainable by the type of quantitative, objective approach we normally regard as leading to truth shouldn’t mean that we then abandon the idea it’s the truth in the coherence of the traditional way of working; one thing doesn’t follow from the other. So it’s just that we try to simplify what astrology is sometimes and ask about this or that technique.
For instance, Chris, you’ll probably have good technical and historical knowledge here. I remember years and years ago, the French astrologer Denis Labouré showed me the materials that in modern Indian horary astrology, Vedic horary astrology, there are two main schools: one has been influenced very much by the dynamic profections approach of Islamic and Persian astrology and dates from about the 11th century–our era that school came in–whereas as the much older and more traditional school goes simply by planetary placements you could say; it doesn’t use the dynamic profections in the way that we do.
Now you then say which is the right or wrong way of judging charts? It’s seen immediately as a completely misplaced question. There is apt mode of approach that occupies those astrologers in that particular tradition over that period, there’s another approach that comes in with its own claim and its own symbolism and other astrologers take up that.
The very same thing occurs over and over going with astrology. And if you don’t mind me just further expanding on that, we get that most obviously in questions of houses. Someone uses Koch or Placidus or Topocentric, and the question gets reduced to a ridiculous type of absurdity. You use that which then works for you and appeals and by which you can communicate to other astrologers, if that’s what you wish to do.
The matter cannot be answered by simply is tango better than a waltz; they’re both forms. You can do really bad tango. If you try a waltz in the middle of a tango, people who dance will say that you’re muddling up tango and waltz. Which is the best? Absurd. They’re two different forms or modes by which one has moved symbolically through the material. And they have that coherence and they have their curious way of appealing to the sensitivity of those who begin to appreciate these things or are dancers in the case of dance, or astrologers in the case of symbol. You know it when you see it; you can taste it. Does that little exposition give you something?
CB: Yeah, and it’s funny that you bring that up because that’s an issue that I unfortunately, in the past couple of days, have gotten myself embroiled in. So this episode will actually fall between an episode that I released previously which is a lecture where I tried to make a series of 12 arguments for why I thought whole sign houses was a good house system both historically and conceptually and from a technical or philosophical perspective. And that set up a firestorm of controversy with a few astrologers recently, so I’ll be doing a debate with Deborah Houlding about this issue of whole sign versus quadrant house systems tomorrow.
And from that perspective of what you were just saying that seems like a silly debate to have, but then on the other hand, I sort of wonder can we not draw conceptual or philosophical arguments. Should we not attempt to develop conceptual arguments or philosophical or historical arguments for the techniques that we use? Where do we draw the line in terms of attempting to–not validate what we do–but to attempt to have reasons for doing what we do and having the ability to talk about it or defend them on some level versus recognizing there’s something okay with the multiplicity of approaches out there? I mean, where do we draw the line?
GC: Well, yes, now you’ve got it. It’s fascinating that our comments fall, my comments there fall within the middle of that debate.
GC: The word ‘validate,’ you have to be so careful with it because what’s needed is the ability to bring out the beauty of a metaphor that one is using. So there is something very beautiful about the metaphor of the quadrants, but that’s not the whole story. The person using a quadrant house system, in my view, and the experienced astrologers that enter into these things ideally should have a sense for themselves of what is the symbolic difference between using, say, Regiomontanus and Placidus; they are different.
GC: Because they’re dividing up different circles in different ways that means, what do I symbolize the equator as, as opposed to what do I symbolize the rotation of the earth diurnally as? Because by asking that question, it’s not that Regiomontanus is either right or wrong; it’s that Regiomontanus achieves ‘this’ discrimination of symbol, Placidus achieves ‘that’ discrimination of symbol. Whole sign achieves ‘this,’ quadrant achieves ‘that.’ Again, rather than try to judge which is the best, you judge what is it that’s being symbolized or brought out by the move I’m now making with astrology.
So it’s why personally I make choices. I don’t like the continental way of laying out quadrant houses; I like the straight-up, ‘American apple pie’ with the Midheaven above your head. And I like Rudhyar’s rhetoric on this. Imagine yourself standing on the Earth’s surface. You’re not standing, leaning sideways like a drunk; you’re there with your head pointing up to the zenith. And I like that; I like that symbolism. That’s because I’ve chosen my symbolic framework within which I view my symbols. So you then begin to take the argument to quite a different place, and this applies at every single point with the methods of astrology where a wrong type of objective, empirical attempt is made to materials that are symbolic expressions, and it’s the symbolic expression one needs to tease out.
And so, I clearly have techniques I favor. There are techniques I favor and they make a strong rhetorical–they fit within conventions of modern tradition astrology and will tend to carry a reasonably strong rhetoric with them and a reasonable recognition by other astrologers. So I like working with other astrologers. When I do consultancy, I often do work with other astrologers on their astrology, and I’m quite happy to read whole sign charts. I try then to learn the conventions that the astrologer is using in that way of approach with their chart. You see, just as I do with any particular technique or method that’s brought to me, one can enter into its spirit.
So that’s the task. Enter into the spirit of the approach, which does mean the demand upon the astrologer is to have a symbolic as well as actual and practical understanding of the techniques they use and what they imply and what metaphor they are giving you. That is, I suppose, a demand I make of education of the astrologer.
CB: That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s actually a brilliant response to that. And it really just goes back to symbolic thinking, and like you said, good symbolism, and understanding what the symbolic implications are of different frames of reference or of different techniques. Again, that’s one of the things that’s really impressive about your book that it does, attempting to reframe the reader’s mind to start thinking about astrology in more of a symbolic context. And that’s where the argument for astrology as divination really comes into play and becomes really powerful in some sense, because it gives you a much better access point for understanding what you’re doing with astrology as well as approaching technical matters by thinking about it in a symbolic context.
And maybe that’s part of the answer, that even in ancient forms of divination and augury and things like that they’re drawing from what are objectively-phenomena–the flight of some birds to the left or to the right, or from the appearance of a planet; a planet that’s dark which is a malefic having a certain symbolic meaning versus the appearance of a bright planet like Venus and Jupiter having some other symbolic meaning–and then having perhaps more plausible symbolic reasoning based on that versus less plausible symbolic reasoning, let’s say. And there is something about that, while it’s at the in-between stage–between something entirely subjective and something objective–it is drawing on elements of both in some sense.
GC: Yes, yes, I really agree with you. Astrology is marvelous by being so rooted in an objective, observable cosmos that we then so easily–say I simply objective–not realize that that cosmos is inviting us to understand it metaphorically what it is for us; we’re engaged both subjectively and objectively at the same time. Yes, absolutely to what you said there.
CB: Brilliant. I was actually curious about this. I always thought that because traditionally Mercury was always associated with astrology–and because Mercury always plays this vacillating role where it can go either way, or sometimes it’s both in astrology–I always thought that was an interesting metaphor for astrology because of that middle ground that it occupies itself in the world, but do you?
GC: Oh no, no, I accept that metaphor very much. I probably have not particularly brought that out in the book, but I think that’s true. The interpretation itself involves both the subject interpreting and the object being interpreted. It’s essential to interpretation, this mystery of this crossing of these two realms. It’s such a failure of modern post-Enlightenment thought simply to demand the apparent objective as the standard of validation of everything. It’s an obvious error in a way. We, astrologers, above all should recognize that and not get caught in it.
CB: I’m curious how much you still focus on this; you reject a couple of things in the book. You reject what you refer to as ‘same-timeness’ as being a necessary or a vital component at all times to astrology. More importantly, you reject what you refer to as the ‘doctrine of origin’ as being this theoretical basis of astrology. But I am curious how much is that still a large part of something that’s very much tied into your argument because it partially involves rejecting the more external objective component to astrology. Where do you stand with that today, or how would you formulate that argument?
GC: Right. Now that’s another attempt at a point of access, the purely logical argument I use concerning the ‘same-timeness.’ So obviously, with The Moment of Astrology, the ‘anti-astrology signatures’ I call it, that’s an attempt to demonstrate quite clearly that the ‘doctrine of origin’ is not sufficient to cover all the cases we have in astrology as one simple thing.
So the ‘doctrine of origin’ is an absolutely wonderful, powerful metaphoric form–it’s a symbol, the ‘doctrine of origin’–and it’s a marvelous methodological container for our practice. It’s a fact that we will make the origin moment of independent human life be the most powerful carrier of metaphor for life as a whole, there can be no doubt about that. So I’m absolutely not in any way wanting to undermine origins in astrology, causal temporal origins, as a mode of approach. I’m just saying that it is not theoretically sufficient to ground the work to say this is how astrology works, so I use a key, and I know perhaps difficult idea in some ways.
But I say rather than taking the objective origin, realize that we’re talking about the presentation of symbol to consciousness which will normally occur in ordinary sensory reality with the ‘same-timeness’ added to it. Our consciousness is rooted in 3D space and this linear temporality of time; it’s how we constantly find ourselves. But what happens with symbol is symbol uses that, but on occasion, the symbol cannot be defined by that; that’s the point. And philosophically and logically it can’t be validated by that, and that’s why I’ve made an attack in the book. Hillman used the phrase–and I wish Hillman had understood some of these ideas in astrology in his marvelous understanding of things–’temporal literalism.’
We do an extraordinary thing: we’re very able to think as astrologers that use symbols. The one thing we then do is literalize the clock time of things–the clock time, objective moment of things–as if that is the guarantor of the truth of what we’re doing. It’s weird; we completely turn the equation around. So what’s seen on the hospital clock–I used that example in Moment–that is how something has come into consciousness as being time, as giving us a place where we can give ourselves symbols, but it isn’t whatever objective time is, which is itself a great mystery. Chronology hasn’t given us this symbol; our significance, we grant.
Heidegger uses the phrase that we are ‘time-ish,’ ‘being-time.’ Being does not occur in time, so it’s very important to understand; in fact, that’s Platonic as well. I know we’re touching very, very difficult conceptual points here, but breaking up that origins idea is very important in breaking up literalism in astrology, very important in breaking up a false notion of causality.
CB: Sure, and of something that’s objectively occurring out there regardless of the participation of the observer or of the astrologer. I think a large part of the emphasis of your argument there and what you were trying to accomplish is the notion that gets wrapped up in the Ptolemaic causal view of astrology that astrology is something that’s occurring out there constantly all the time, regardless of whether we’re looking at it…
CB: …whereas you view it as something that really doesn’t fully come into being in some sense until there’s somebody paying attention to it or attempting to look at it or use it.
GC: And that paying attention can also be cultural and shared by a whole culture. That’s most clear on something Iike the modern obsession with the Great Ages: Age of Aquarius, Age of Pisces. As you probably know–I don’t think I mentioned that in Moment, or mention it afterwards and elsewhere–in fact it’s quite a modern understanding, that idea of the Great Ages in the form of the Age of Pisces, Age of Aquarius. And in fact, it was about 1800 or something that somebody comes up with that.
So that marvelous picture I think shows an extraordinary truth. I very much followed Jung and the work that Rob Hand did on the same thing in iron. It’s a tremendous model, but of course its truth is something now observed, now true for us. Now that’s an extraordinary thing to say: so true for us, true collectively for everybody who thinks about Aquarius and Pisces in that way. Now then you say, well, does that mean it‘s not true? Well, yes, it’s true in another order of things: not simply subjective, not simply objective. So the subject/object split has a complete cultural dimension as well shared, which is why I hope it would have been one of your questions.
I think it’s a very important metaphor for astrologers to see what they do as language. And then equally by using the analogy of language for astrology, you get away from this trap: Is French true, or is English true? You say, no, you speak French or you speak English…
GC: …and they’re true. But where is the existence of the reality of French? It exists every time and only when it’s spoken. It doesn’t even exist in grammar books that lay out the rules of French; it exists when French people speak French. This is extraordinary and it shouldn’t be so mind-bending. It’s just the way modern philosophy and thought tends to set itself up, it makes it appear mind-bending. But it wouldn’t be seen as mind-bending in a different culture or in antiquity in the same way; I don’t think it would.
CB: Right, and the metaphor of astrology as language also helps perhaps to understand our earlier issue and discussion about different techniques and the efficacy of certain techniques that speak to some people versus ones that don’t, and perhaps there can be clearer ways to speak French or clearer ways to speak German or what have you versus ones that might be less clear or might not communicate as well.
GC: Exactly, yes. So these are, in an ancient sense of the word, ‘rhetoric.’ Astrology is a rhetoric by which things are then revealed, most extraordinarily revealed of course. So we’re then entering a level which is very much a domain of modern thought which hadn’t been connected, and I hadn’t done much work on this at the time of Moment.
But your idea that we construct narratives–and so each human being, each person with a natal horoscope constructs a narrative of their life–and the astrologer then is in an extraordinary position of helping the person negotiate the narrative of their life by using these symbols in the horoscope, most extraordinary.
You then ask what’s the truth of your story for any person, yours or mine: What it is the truth of your life? You give me your history, but that history oddly changes in its compass as you review it and see it again in the light of symbolism. So astrology is working on that level of narratives both cultural and individual, at every moment working with narratives; that’s the work of symbol.
CB: And that gets tied into a separate keyword that comes up a few times in your book which is something that you seem to rail against in some sense, which is this conception of the ‘machine of destiny.’ And there seems to be a certain humanistic, sort of freewill-oriented tone to your book that’s very important in tying together some of the other arguments, which is that you really associate determinism with more of the causal view of astrology, and that’s something that you really take aim at to some extent in the book, right?
GC: Yes, I do, I suppose, and that’s where I probably have a much more definite stand. Let’s put this in a compact formula. For me, astrology is probably the ‘queen’ of the forms of divinations. It absolutely is a most marvelous construction. Cultural and intellectual construction of thought, it is most marvelous, and it is most marvelous in its potential to reveal. So really in that sense, it compares very powerfully with other divinatory forms.
Now having said that, with this extraordinary power comes a deadly poison and that is a poison of determinism. This occurs to some extent with all chronomantic forms, like Chinese astrology is chronomantic. Anything that gives symbol to objective moments of time in the calendar can readily lead mind into this trap of turning things around or reversing things and thinking that the objective fact of the calendar–the time period that I‘ve seen–is that which is determining my reading of the symbol now. Instead of seeing it, I’m seeing that in the light of this symbol now; so it’s determinism. Any teacher of astrology will certainly encounter this in their students. What a killer trap it is. It’s why of the forms of divination astrology is so dangerous.
I know that sounds like a very powerful thing to say, but precisely on this point, that’s why I prefer students who have had a knowledge of other forms of divination which much more easily shake off that determinism. You certainly shake it off if you use Tarot much because you’ll realize that Tarot is actually bending to the narrative of the situation I’m in, even when I’m asking about questions that are of a long life history; and certainly with the I Ching that’s true. So most forms of divination that aren’t directly chronomantic will very easily show the practitioner that there is this fluid, context-based nature to symbolism.
But how did astrology as a context gets stripped out into objectification of the planet now seen objectively in time and in the ephemeris? That then leads to an attempt to believe that you have power by predicting objective things given to you simply by this act of objectivity. I’m not denying astrology the power to sooth-say and therefore predict, but that prediction doesn’t come from this objective machine; it comes from the power of the revelation of symbol, which is a very, very different thing.
CB: So the apparent objectivity of time that astrology is being associated with through the planets becomes sort of misleading because, in your view, it accidently can sometimes lead people to assume that they’re talking about something that is fixed and predetermined for all eternity.
GC: That’s right, that’s right, it does lead there. You see, that’s why I do have my arguments against the type of Stoicism of Manilius because it leads immediately to that sort of consequence. Stoicism raises huge questions, as I’m sure you realize. And Manilius isn’t the whole story of Stoicism, but there’s that type of deterministic approach which I find deadly in astrology. And so, in that sense, I do make a strong pitch on freewill which the katarche is; the idea that the gods are there to be negotiated with. And in fact, whatever we call ‘spiritual agency’ is not holding us down to some fixed plan but we are part of spiritual agency as well; you see, that’s a curious mix there.
GC: Which is why on the whole, magicians don’t bother with horoscopy because magicians are–whether rightly or wrongly or however confused in what they’re doing–working on spiritual agency directly, and astrologers never want to think that what they’re doing is effective as a matter of agency itself. You see, my whole point, which might sound overdone and overblown, but the astrologers predicting against Pico seemed not to understand that you curse somebody by making such a prediction. They’re cursing; they don’t even understand the concept of cursing.
CB: Right, that was one of the implications that you closed with in your very first chapter of the book. Pico Mirandola, who had written the largest attack on astrology ever in the 15th century, some astrologers in response looked at his chart and predicted his death, but in doing so they thought they were making an objective statement about something that would take place. But you feel like when you start getting involved and you start implicating yourself by making statements, you incorporate yourself and your intentionality has potentially some effect on the outcome.
GC: That’s right, and those astrologers–it’s three astrologers, Florence; well-recorded in Gaurico–predicted against Pico after he wrote a great text against the astrologers. They predicted his death before the 33rd year of his life, and he did die–he died young–and so, a huge debate about that.
Now what is amazing about that story–and I do make quite a play of it early on in Moment of Astrology–is a legendary amplification occurs until you get to the time of Sir Christopher Heydon and Gadbury beginning to say that the astrologers predicted to the very day the death of this man; such is the greatness of the art of astrology. You see, it fulfills a desire that can easily enter into astrology to have this type of power, and the astrologers if questioned would not be able to answer the question of, “Do you therefore wish this man dead, against all possibilities? Instead of curing him or helping him, do you wish dead in order to prove the efficacy of your judgments?” and that’s how Gadbury finally states it.
That inability to see that ethical, magical nature of the spiritual involvement of the astrologer in the material, the inability to see that regardless is the most negative consequence of one outworking of the Ptolemaic tradition. I absolutely do not blame Ptolemy for that because as Pico and Ficino show, it’s a misreading anyway of Aristotelianism to claim that type of oracular judgment, but there’s a terrible twist in astrology that’s led to that.
An ebb of that same undertow, of that same mood can infect astrology, and you really need a good understanding of either Qabalah or magic, a true understanding of symbolism, or of Jung indeed to counter that type of, I’d say, truly incorrect and damaging understanding.
GC: So it’s a very big target to take on in Moment. I don’t go on and go on about it, but it’s a thread throughout the whole text, which is my attack on that sort of determinism.
CB: Yeah, and I’d really love to have another discussion with you about that at some point maybe here on the podcast. I definitely have to admit sometimes falling into that because of my interest in the Hellenistic astrologers and seeing this other thread that was happening simultaneously that was quite separate from Ptolemy–which was the Stoic acceptance of divination on the one hand, but on the other hand, their view of things being completely predetermined–which has its most poetic expression in Manilius, but you also see it show up in astrologers like Valens. Although in the book, you clearly express that you feel like that’s a misapplication and a not-good manifestation of astrology; a distortion of what the astrology was up to that point rather than something that should be viewed as an objectively true approach onto itself. So yeah, I’d love to get into that and talk about that more at some point.
GC: Yes, certainly, this is one of the biggest debates in astrology itself really. What does one do? At least I’d like the reader or person thinking about the background of astrology using The Moment of Astrology to help them to see that there’s a very clear division between a katarchic approach and a more deterministic approach, and I use poor old Valens to expose that, who I greatly admire and respect.
And yet, in this I must take a different view philosophically. It’s as simple as that; it’s as a Platonist who will finally reject the Stoic position probably. But there are huge issues there, as you well know, and Stoicism is actually so little in many ways understood or properly referenced. There are many aspects of Stoicism, and I don’t want to just stupidly condemn whole ways of thought.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and we can get into that later and then you can condemn it. The very last point I wanted to ask you about–as I was reviewing some of my old notes about the book–is you actually make a statement at one point in The Moment of Astrology that the appeal to divination is not a simple attempt to retreat away from a causal and therefore testable scientific method of astrology to an acausal view–which some modern astrologers associate as sort of a modified version of Jung’s concept of synchronicity–which your partner Maggie Hyde has sort of critiqued in and of itself. But one of your points is that you don’t want the appeal to divination to simply be reduced to an acausal conceptualization of essentially the same thing, right?
GC: Yes, yes, but do I say it that clearly in the book? That’s interesting.
CB: I’m not sure if you say that but it’s like a sentence which I picked up as that implication at least.
GC: No, it’s not sufficient. Okay, I wish Jung had a fuller understanding of astrology; let’s put it that way around. Astrology doesn’t have to rely on even remarkable modes of thoughts such as Jung has given us to find its own way of understanding because its own way of understanding reveals itself to us in astrology, so to speak. So these reductions are always difficult for astrology and it’s not enough for us.
We need to intellectually engage with several different ways of thought both ancient and modern. And there are aspects of modern thought and modern hermeneutics that really we need to engage with, and in that way, our practice will become stronger. I’m not asking for reduction to any one particular model, so I hope that is clear. And there are problems anyway with using a model of synchronicity; as you indicate, it isn’t enough.
There is something extraordinary about the ‘doctrine of correspondences’ in the way that there are peculiarities of nature that do support the symbols of astrology. So I really, really don’t want to lose the possibility of a true, spiritual, natural astrology. Although I can’t put that together coherently with most modern arguments but I’m certain there’s an intuition that that must be so. So there’s no one solution here.
CB: Sure. Well, I think that’s probably the most intellectually reasonable position to take when it comes to hugely complex matters like this sometimes, rather than attempting to pretend as if one has all of the answers or can resolve every minute detail, but it’s a respectable position to put yourself in.
GC: Thanks, Chris, yes.
CB: All right. Yeah, this has been great. Thank you so much for coming on this show. This has definitely been one of the most interesting and thought-provoking and just definitely one of my favorite interviews that I’ve ever done on the podcast, so thank you a lot for doing this.
GC: Well, Chris, thanks for the opportunity to speak on it. You’ve asked some really, really great questions, so thank you very much.
CB: Great. Well, I hope everybody will go out, if they haven’t already, and get a copy of your book and read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions about The Moment of Astrology, which is published currently by Wessex. And then where can people find out more information about your work or what you’re up to?
GC: On my website which will be updated a lot better than it is now. But my website, I’ve got corrections and some addenda to do with Moment of Astrology. So if they go to www.astrodivination.com, that’s where they’ll find more material. So there are some little errors and little irritating things that I do put right. And if anybody ever finds errors they want me correct then I’ll certainly put them online. So that’s where to go for it, and I‘ve got some other ideas on there, another context.
CB: All right. Excellent. Well, yeah, people should definitely check that out. Great. All right. Well, thank you very much for coming on the show.
GC: Thank you. Goodbye, Chris.
CB: Thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.