The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 113, titled:
The Modern Revival of Astrology, with Nick Campion
With Chris Brennan and guest Nick Campion
Episode originally released on June 29, 2017
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Mary Sharon
Transcription released March 3rd, 2021
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, starting just after 12:21 p.m. in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 113th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a patron, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Dr. Nicholas Campion from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David about the revival of the practice of astrology in the early 20th century. Nick, welcome to the show.
NICK CAMPION: It’s great to be here, Chris. Thanks for having me.
CB: Yeah, thanks a lot for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. In my last episode, we actually did an interview with a friend about the life and work of the famous 20th century astrologer Dane Rudhyar and we talked about his work in reviving astrology in the 20th century. But in order to do that, we had to briefly gloss over the fact that there was a decline of astrology from the 17th century onwards. And then we couldn’t really spend much time talking about and contextualizing the revival of astrology in the 20th century, why it needed to be revived, or indeed how that happens. So, I thought that you would be a great person to talk to because you’re essentially the foremost historian on the history of astrology, both Western astrology as well as just astrology as a practice in the world in general, at this point, I think, right?
NC: Yes, I’ve got many friends and colleagues who probably specialize much more in areas in which they are the undoubted experts. But I think my particular contribution is to draw together strands and themes from the entire history of astrology and look at the big picture.
CB: Yeah, and I really appreciate your work because your work on the history of astrology and some of your books, especially one of your early books, Astrology, History, and Apocalypse actually ignited my interest and my love in studying the history of astrology of the years. So, I really owe you in terms of that and I’m excited about having this discussion today.
NC: So, thanks, Chris. That’s really good to hear. It’s teaching that actually makes all this work worthwhile. And students picking up the baton and then taking it forward as you were doing.
CB: Definitely. All right. Well, let’s jump right into the discussion then. So, part of the context is that astrology was flourishing in Europe during the Renaissance. But then by the time of the 17th century, there was a downward trend of some sort, right?
NC: That’s correct. And it was quite rapid. We’re really looking at Western, European, France, Germany, Britain, in particular, where astrology had been a vital part of Renaissance culture, Italy, as well, of course, and Spain. Astrology being unquestioned and operated at all levels of society and culture. And that was the situation which we had in the 1600 and the first few decades, the 1600s. By the 1700, all had changed sometime around the first end of the first part of the 16th century, around the 1650s. Suddenly, it was as if the Zeitgeist in Europe shifted. And suddenly, astrology was seen as a ridiculous part of an old world that people were leaving behind.
CB: Sure, and oftentimes, in retrospect, especially in contemporary discussions, this is usually said to have been due to the scientific revolution and science suddenly disproving astrology, at that point in the 17th century, but you’ve actually, it seems like in some of your works, you’ve pushed back on that narrative and pointed out that there were other social and political things going on at the same time as well, right?
NC: Yeah. Science only tells part of the story. These are the very, very early days of what we now consider to be science. Belief in God in Christian countries was universal. You have one or two people saying “I’m an atheist,” but it’s really just one or two people. The world was very different, almost unimaginable in modern terms and so science never disproved astrology. We have people in the 20th century who’ve done statistical tests that they claim, come up with negative results. For astrology, such tests didn’t exist in the 17th century. What seems to have happened is that astrology was attacked and became discreditable. And that’s the kind of astrology which requires the casting of horoscopes and the very, very detailed calculation of destinies and futures and possibilities. And the attack on that astrology was not nearly so much due to emerging science as to the fact that astrologers got some major predictions wrong. So, what we have to do, Chris is to understand a very useful distinction between two kinds of astrology. On the one hand, there’s what we call natural astrology, which deals with the seasons, with cycles, with rhythms, with the body, and then there’s what we call judicial astrology. It’s judicial because the astrologer makes a judgment. And the astrologer makes a judgement by looking at the horoscope of the birth chart or a chart cast for the asking for question. And often, the judgments they make can be very, very detailed, finding lost property, deciding whether to treat somebody’s illness, working out when they’re going to get married.
Now, the idea of a general connection, a natural connection between the stars, planets and affairs on Earth was universally accepted, nobody doubted it. But the idea that you could then move from there to saying, “Well, here, we need to treat you using this particular herb, or your last property is over there in the next field, where you’re going to get married at the age of 28.” A lot of people have always doubted whether you could go to that level of detail. And from the late 15th century onwards, astrologists made very, very few high-profile forecasts, which turned out to be wrong. And the critics of astrology then came in and said, “Okay, well, we all know there are these natural connections, but you can’t make these statements of detail.” And this is a process that is underway in the early 1500s. And the astrologers respond in several ways. Some of them say, “Well, those critics, they don’t understand astrology. They just don’t get it. They don’t really know what we’re doing. They carry on as before.” There’s another group who say, “Well, yeah, astrology does get it wrong. There are reasonable criticisms.” And so, what we need to do is go back to the old texts, look at the proper material and work out how to do it better and get rid of the newer material that we don’t like so much. And what they did often was they went back to the classical Greek texts, particularly to the great second century astrologer Claudius Ptolemy, and a lot of astrologers who are more recent than that, who’d come in, for example, from the Islamic world, they wanted to get rid of and go back to the real stuff.
CB: Right. So that was part of the back to Ptolemy movement where when there’s a conflict and doctrines between two techniques, oftentimes, Lilly will opt to go with Ptolemy rather than the later what he perceived as the later Islamic tradition or something like that, right?
NC: That’s exactly right. So, Ptolemy became the great authority you couldn’t disagree with and a thing later could then be more suspect. But there were other currents going on. Okay. Now, I think there’s two other ways in which this challenge has reacted. One was to say, we have to throw out all of astrology completely, and build an empirical astrology based on the observation of correlations between events and planetary cycles. And it was Johannes Kepler who took this up just immediately before William Lilly. And although he could work as a traditional astrology, he said, “Let’s get rid of houses, get rid of zodiac signs and just work with planetary aspects.” And he made sample predictions through the year and at the end of the year, he’d look back and see if they came out correct. And I think there was another trend as well, which was the magical. Often magic is considered something separate to astrology, but it’s just not. There is magical astrology. And I think this kind of astrology, it’s not often considered party’s astrological mainstream. I don’t know why. But it’s very much concerned with action. So rather than just reading horoscopes and make your forecast in the magical tradition, you act with it, you try to somehow alter the future.
So, I think that you’ve got that diversification going on. So, in the 1600s, you’ve got astrology being very diverse, astrologers arguing in different directions, with different theories and different ideas. And suddenly, this cumulative idea that making these detailed predictions of when you’re going to get married, or where your last property is, suddenly that seemed suddenly to be ridiculous. It was almost like there was a tipping point and people said, “We can’t take this stuff seriously.”
CB: Sure. So, there are moves towards reform already with people like Kepler, or to some extent, people, Lilly had their own ideas of what reform looked like. But by that point, the subject was already in decline. And to what extent did cosmological shifts that had been taking place contribute to the new status of astrology or the falling out of favor in intellectual circles?
NC: It did to an extent. And I think that the biggest influence was the invention of the telescope, Grant 1609, Galileo made his first-grade observations through a telescope, he wrote them up in 1610 and they had a real electrifying effect in intellectual culture in Europe. And so, I think what happened was that, when you draw out a horoscope, you draw in the medieval style, a square chart with lines on it, you’ve got the planetary glyphs on it, and then where the aspects are. And if you don’t draw them on, the planets got waiting. The horoscope, it can be analyzed in evermore complex ways. When you look through a telescope at the sky, you don’t see any of that stuff. You just see the planets moving. And not only that, through a telescope, you see the Venus has phases, Jupiter has moons, and Saturn has rings. So, the whole way in which the planets are represented previously, suddenly turns out to be incorrect or not really in line with the wonderful things that people were discovering. But a lot of people were upfront about the creation of a new astrology. This was not a complete rejection of astrology, many ways, but a reform. And there are people throughout the 1600s saying that we can make a new astrology that’s closer to a natural astrology dealing with more natural influences, cycles, empirical observation, and so on. It’s just that this wasn’t the time. The idea that the moon influences our psychological physical states was current in medicine throughout the 1700s. And that something is very difficult to challenge because the moon’s physical influence is so obvious. If you live in a coastal area, you can see the tides. So, it’s so obvious that it’s really natural then to say, “Well, it must affect our humors and moods as well.” So that idea didn’t disappear. So, the idea of natural connections between people and the sky, stars and planets just continued. It was the casting of horoscopes, which collapsed throughout all the cultures in Europe that have regarded astrology very highly.
CB: Sure. And to some extent, one of the things you talk about is that the cosmology of Claudius Ptolemy that was set down in the second century and which had acted as an explanatory not just an explanatory thing, but something that made astrology permissible because it could be rationalized in the Middle Ages in a natural context, but that by the time you reach the 16th and 17th centuries, where Ptolemy’s cosmology is suddenly disproven or seriously challenged that in and of itself, because astrology was so closely wrapped up in it also casts serious doubt on the validity of astrology at that point.
NC: That’s right, indeed. If astrology had been based on the idea of the earth as the center of the cosmos, and suddenly, the sun is the center of the cosmos, then a large part of its physical model is destroyed, actually, it collapses. Now, I’m not entirely sure whether that will… That’s not fatal for astrology, actually, because we can see the way in which astrology flourishes in the 20th century in the west, because people rationalize the fact that the earth is the center of horoscope in a different way. They say, “No, it’s the person that is the center of their own universe.” And of course, in India, even though the modern scientific cosmos is understood, the practice of astrology remains very much like it was in Europe, in the UK until the 17th century, it’s very parallel. There are differences, but in its complexity, and the way it works, it’s very parallel, and that flourishes in the modern world. So, there’s no essential reason why the new cosmology should have destroyed the old astrology. It was almost as if the old astrology was just somehow waiting to be pushed over.
And of course, on top of that, you’ve got centuries of hostility from conservative Christian forces, that the conservative ends of the church had always been very uncomfortable with judicial astrology, always very suspicious and wary of the idea that you could make detailed predictions using astrology, largely because it challenged God’s universal power to control the future. And so, I think they’ve been centuries of criticism. Traditional astrology had always had its critics, its opponents, and so the 17th century came along fine, it couldn’t stand any more criticism. Had not just conservative theologians against it, but also it had the new breed of astronomers and telescope users. So, it’s facing opponents on two fronts.
CB: Sure, so that’s part of the diverse social and political and scientific storm that eventually coalesces and leads to this decline of astrology in Europe in the 17th century, although there’s one last pocket of activity which is taking place in England with William Lilly and some of his contemporaries around the mid-17th century, right?
NC: Yeah. The mid-17th century, I think there was still a time when astrology was flourishing in France, Germany, equivalent cultures in Europe. But they were the last flowering. So, with William Lilly, it’s interesting that he published the first great astrological textbook in the English language in 1647. And of course, this comes close to marking the collapse of judicial astrology as respectable practice, well, a few decades later. I actually see Lilly as a bit of a reformer because I think he published Christian astrology, his great textbook, because he believed in education, and he published it in English because he wanted it to be accessible. So, I think I would class him as a reformer a little bit in that sense.
CB: Sure. And that makes sense and I actually had a question about that, because I think you refer to it as the first English language textbook on astrology published in 1647. And somebody, I think I had a reviewer when I cited that challenged me whether that was true, and I haven’t been able to really define anything else except for maybe pamphlets or something. But you feel pretty confident that that really is the first major textbook on astrology in English?
NC: I do. There are previous books on astrology in English, you’re right. There were pamphlets, there were books about astrology, but this is a major teaching manual. There are hundreds of example charts on mainly activities and already questions that a student can use to perfect their craft, following chapters that set out the basic delineation. So, it’s a very major teaching book. And I can’t think of anything equivalent prior to 1647.
CB: Right. So that is an important turning point, just because books up to that point were in Europe were usually written in Latin. So suddenly, you’re saying he writes this book in English partially in order to make it easier for normal people to learn astrology and then that way he acts as a reformer in some sense.
NC: Yeah, right, there’s a very close parallel with Thomas Culpeper, the famous herbalist and astrologer who also wrote in English for the same reason. So, Culpeper was a great radical. He was a republican supporter of the English revolution. I read one of his political pamphlets once where he said that he didn’t care if his predictions were true, or not, so long as they encourage the enemies of monarchy. And so, he got into a bit of trouble for publishing medical information in English because he was breaking the educated monopoly on it. The idea was that you have to be able to read Latin to possess such knowledge. Culpeper said, “No, I’m writing in English for everybody.” And so, this puts Lilly’s English writing into some context. They’re saying, “We want everybody to be able to have access to this material.”
CB: Okay. So, despite those efforts, and that late flourishing of astrology, it’s still basically on its way out in Europe and it reaches a low point of eventually in the 18th and early 19th century, right?
NC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, I think we should put the decline of the last few decades of the 1600s really. And then yeah, in the 18th century, there seems to have been a little tradition of the casting of horoscopes in England, which hung on barely. And I suspect there might have been other practices in Germany or France, but maybe the records are lost. Historians haven’t found them. But I would be surprised if there weren’t. This knowledge must have somehow hung on particularly, as other mystical magical currents continued, such as Rosicrucianism and occult esoteric strands in Freemasonry. So, I’d be very surprised if there was no other horoscopic astrology surviving anywhere in Europe. But as far as we know, at the moment, there’s just a little lineage surviving in England until we get to the end of the 18th century. And, in particular, a man called Ebenezer Sibly publishes another great textbook on astrology in English. And in a way, this is the first revival, if you like or the proto revival. From then on, from the 1780s onwards, we do then get a little network of people who are publishing books and talk about astrology. The fact that Sibly published his great book on astrology means that people must have bought it. So, there must have been a market maybe as a small market. But Sibly’s brother Manoa Sibly, also, an esotericist was a follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish visionary who argued that the spiritual kingdom of Christ had already begun. So, there was a culture of esotericists, occultists already around and present in the late 18th century. In fact, I’m sure it never died out. So, those people provided the basis for revival interest in the cost to give horoscopes.
CB: Okay. But in terms of the broader public perception of astrology or public consciousness, even though there may have been some fringe groups or fringe elements, especially in some of the esoteric strands that were keeping the practice alive, that for the most part, this was not something that was widely practiced, and there was certainly a decline compared to the flourishing during the Renaissance or during the previous centuries, right?
NC: Oh, absolutely, certainly, there was. I just think that a little bit more study needs to go into the esoteric cultish strands and how they were treating the subject. But of course, Chris, the one area of activity that was completely unaffected was the writing and publishing of almanacs to what you might consider to represent the popular astrology of the day.
CB: Sure. So, what did that look like in terms of the almanacs? And how are those used in terms of keeping astrology in the public consciousness?
NC: Well, almanacs were like newspapers published either monthly or annually. They contain records of information, weather forecasts, public holidays. So, some information is completely non-esoteric. They would all have contained astronomical information, so new and full moons, and some of them moved into being very strongly astrological. And sales were high. And remaining time made popular in every household had an almanac, purchased almanacs. And so, on that level, on that popular level, the astrology continued as before. So, if you spoke to somebody in the mid-17th century about a zodiac sign, or a planet being in a zodiac sign, a full moon, they would have known what you were talking about and might have assumed that this had some general significance. So, on that level, there was no change. A little bit like popular astrology now, you read a horoscope column, you maybe know what your birth sign is. You might take it very seriously or you might not. You might have an idea of what it means for you. But that’s about it. There’s a huge leap between that astrology and the level of detail that comes with the casting of a detailed horoscope.
CB: Okay, so we have the survival of this public or popular form of astrology with almanacs, but you don’t necessarily have hundreds or thousands of astrologers running around casting horary charts or natal charts, or even publishing some of the things that are necessary for that, like tables of houses and other things, right?
NC: Yeah, that’s correct. On that level, this culture of astrology, which was so ancient and which had been such a huge part of European cultural life for half a millennium, it just disappeared.
CB: Okay. And then, eventually, we get to the late 19th century, the late 19th and early 20th century, and we see this revival of interest in the practice of astrology start to occur. And this was happening within the context or maybe as a result of a rise in interest and other things related to things like the spiritualism movement, as well as the Philosophical Society and the beginnings of the New Age movement, right?
NC: It was partly. But again, let’s not forget the diversity. Right throughout the 19th century, there was always a few astrological pioneers who said, “Look, astrology has nothing to do with the esoteric, nothing to do with the occult. It’s scientific in the sense that you can plot the positions of the planets and you can make definite predictions from that.” You can work out when somebody’s going to die for a mechanical astrology. So that had its enthusiasts. And then, there is the very important esoteric current. We tend to focus on this in Britain with the rise of the theosophists after the 1870s. We need to remember what was going on in France as well, a very strong magical tradition in France and figures like the late 19th century, such as a life as Levi, who were practicing a magical astrology, performing a magical ritual when the planets of the moon beneficially aligned. But yes, it’s very much carried forward by the theosophists and really by one particular man, Alan Leo. At the time, if you’d said if you’d highlighted Leo like that, there would have been lots of other astrologers who would have said, “Oh, why is Leo so important?” And actually, had people who have got rather annoyed at the fact that he had such a high profile. But in retrospect, I think historically, we can see the way that he, through his publishing and his teaching, he helped create a wider appetite for astrology. So, he did a number of things, right? He worked through the Philosophical Society, which published his books. And so, he made astrology a part of theosophical culture. Okay, so the Theosophical Society was founded by Helena Blavatsky in 1975, in New York. And its mission was to revive all the important wisdom of the ancient world to prepare people for the coming of the next phase of spiritual development. And the term for that next stage that came in was New Age.
So, Alan Leo believed that astrology was essential to individual preparation for the New Age. And so, he went through a process of completely rejecting the idea of prediction in astrology, because he said, “Prediction only works for people who are ruled by fate.” And those are people who lack any spiritual awareness. So, you can work out when somebody is going to get married or get divorced if they’re just following their fate. But he said, “That’s not the point. The point about astrology is to teach spiritual self-awareness in order to prepare for the coming of the New Age, the Age of Aquarius,” which he thought would begin in the 1920s. And so, this drove him and it helped him create this culture, if you like. He founded societies, he founded journals, he founded organizations, and eventually, in 1915, he founded an organization called the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society in London, and that still meets every Monday, so far 100 years old. And that body, the lodge became the institutional heart of this revival of astrology in the western world. Other organizations were founded in Germany because the Germans got going into this as well, very importantly. And in fact, in terms of Germany, let’s mention Carl Jung, because he began studying astrology in 1910, which is five years before Leo founded the lodge. Leo died seven years after Jung began studying astrology, so Jung gets going as well. Even though Jung doesn’t write much about astrology, it forms a very, very limited part of his entire corpus of writings. The statements he made about it have become incredibly influential in terms of convincing people that astrology has a perfectly reasonable rationale, that it’s something that can inform people about their lives in a meaningful way.
CB: Right, and astrologers from the 1930s onward would use and sometimes appropriate Jung’s work as giving an explanatory rationale for astrology, although actually maybe before we get there. So with Alan Leo, it seems like part of the reason that he had such a pivotal role, or is attributed such a pivotal role in the revival of astrology is that he published a number of books where he tried to simplify astrology and make it easier to learn, but also through his connections with the Theosophical Society and their publishing branch, he was able to get them published pretty widely around the English-speaking world, but they were also translated into some other European language is I think, right?
NC: That’s right. That’s right. So, the Theosophical Society was probably the most successful New Age organization of them all. It’s spread across here, with branches across Europe, America of course, where it was founded and even, it became quite influential in India as well. Yes. So, this idea that astrology was a necessary feature of spiritual development was propagated by the Theosophical Society. And of course, as you say, Leo produced a much simpler version of horoscope reading. And so, in some ways, his interpretation is more complex because of all the spiritual levels he brings in, but the technical side of astrology becomes dramatically simplified. In fact, in this, I would say he’s partly following on from the simplifying tendencies of Kepler. He’s saying that the very, very complex technical procedures which are characteristic of medieval astrology, actually don’t get you anywhere, or they can make predictions if you are governed by fate. But if you’re not governed by fate, you need something looser and more flexible.
And so, Leo is partly responsible for moving the sun to the center of astrological interpretation. So, if you want to see an astrologer in the Middle Ages, then any one of the planets in the horoscope could be the most important. They might look at the ascendant, the ascendant might be in Germany, so they might say, “Well, Mercury’s the most important planet in your chart,” to simplify matters. But the astrology that Leo gave us is that in which the sun is invariably the most important planet. It’s the spiritual heart of the universe and the spiritual heart of every individual. So as a result of Leo, you can go to a conference of astrologers who all know how to cast horoscopes where all the planets will assign as a zodiac in them, but they will… And I’ve seen this on their conference badges have their sun sign, and perhaps along with their moon sign, a rising sign as well. So that shorthand that Leo encouraged has become very much a part of the culture of horoscope costing astrologers. And so yeah, that simplification, I think, has proved very significant because if there’s less to learn, in order to read a horoscope, obviously, more people can do it.
CB: Right. So, it makes it easier to pick up on the part of the student. And then he also had an innovative way of doing mass market astrology delineations as well, that probably helped in terms of the revival and popularization of astrology in the early 20th century, right?
NC: He did. He did. He wrote what we call shilling horoscopes. So, a shilling is a unit of currency in Britain, it’s no longer used now, but think of it as the equivalent maybe to about 10 cents. So, we could call these the 10 cent horoscopes in dollar terms. And he produced paragraphs for each possible astrological factor. So, Venus in the first house, Venus in the second house, Venus in the third house, and so on, Mars aspected to the sun, Mars aspected to the moon going through every permutation. And then he had a team of clerical staff who could fit these paragraphs together for people who had sent in their birth data with a shilling or their 10 cents. And this was the first venture we know of. So, it was the first venture of its kind that we know of. Certainly, perhaps it was the first. So, it’s a real innovative breakthrough. And it’s the beginning of what we now people came to call cookbook astrology where you can learn from book the different meanings of different zodiac sign and house placements and aspects and you can fit them all together, which I don’t think would have happened in medieval astrology at all. I think it would be a very different way of working.
CB: Sure. Sure. So, we can see then through those publishing efforts, and through that new type of mass market astrology, why he would have had such a huge impact and why he would be attributed with being such a pivotal figure in the revival of astrology in the early 20th century. There are… He wasn’t the only person though, obviously, that was practicing. And there are other figures like Sepharial and Marc Edmund Jones, who also played some role in terms of the revival of astrology in the early 20th century, though, right?
NC: Okay. Well, let me just give you an anecdote to illustrate this. At the time that Leo founded the Astrological Lodge, there was another astrological society in London, simply called the Astrological Society. And Leo was a member of it, and he was trying to get a lot of Theosophy onto the program. And all the other members of the society got really fed up with this and they said, “Alan, keep your Theosophy to yourself. We just wanted astrology, the nuts and bolts of it.” And they had a big meeting and the transcript of the meeting was published and Leo lost the debate. And that’s why he went off and founded the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society, a place where astrology and Theosophy could marry up. So, back in his own time, there were a lot of people who didn’t like his approach, but quite a few of the other leading astrologers actually were theosophist Orpheus optically interested. He mentioned Sepharial one named Walter Gorn Old, he was also very, very popular. He was a major friend of Madame Blavatsky’s. What I find interesting about him though, is that his astrology was quite mechanical in a traditional sense. He doesn’t seem to have a toll taken on the idea that one needed to use astrology to elevate oneself spiritually to prepare for the coming of the New Age. So, Theosophy had a different impact on his astrology, if any impact at all, I’m not sure if he did. But he was big, he was popular, he wrote books on everything, horror, astrology, weather forecasting.
And then Mark Edmund Jones, again, very important figure in the USA. And yeah also, very influenced by Theosophy, but he tends to be known for his mechanical aspects of his astrology now, so he’s credited with inventing chart shaping, for example, whereby if you just looked at the planets in the horoscope and nothing else, they cluster in different areas of the chart. They might be below the horizon or above it, or they’re all below and there’s one above the horizon, or they’re on two sides of the chart. And so, you interpret that shape. So, if you’ve got two groups of planets on either side of the chart, five planets on one side, five on the other, you’ll say, “Oh, here’s a person who’s polarized between different possibilities.” So, in a way, it’s a Mark Edmund Jones’ contribution. And the long run has become quite narrowed down, even though when he was alive, American astrologers regarded him as one of their really important figures. And of course, he’s also known as being partly responsible for the Sabian symbols.
CB: Right. So, why… I don’t know if this is a rhetorical question, or I don’t know if it’s an obvious question, but why were all of these figures’ theosophists? I like the anecdote you shared earlier, because obviously, it shows that there were some that weren’t, but it’s just so notable and striking. It seems like that in the early 20th century, so many of these people who we regard as influential figures in the revival of astrology, that they were attached to this philosophical or religious approach known as Theosophy. Is there a reason for that? That is probably notable, right?
NC: It is notable. I’m just going to digress a minute and look at the wider context. Okay, this is an age in which a lot of people are revolutionary socialists. And the idea of overthrowing the political and economic order in order to create a socialist paradise is very current, a huge number of people are involved in it. And there are, of course, the great revolutions in Russia, for example, and attempted revolutions elsewhere, including the USA. There’s trade unions, there’s demonstrations, there’s strikes as intellectuals. Now, what in my view, Theosophy represents is a revolutionary tradition for the people who actually question whether it’s going to make any difference to challenge the political and economic order unless you change yourself first. And so, because Theosophy predicts the coming of a new spiritual New Age, it also does away with the capitalist system with political borders. And so, when you read this, if you read what people said the New Age of the Age of Aquarius is going to bring, it’s going to be an end to political division, an end to economic injustice. So, you’ve got Theosophy offering a way forward to people who believe that the world needs to be reformed, but thought that change had to come from within. So that’s part of its appeal.
Now, quite a few of the people involved in Theosophy really believed this and we can quote Rudolf Steiner and Alice Bailey, both of whom have been responsible for generating innovatory kinds of astrology, coming out of Theosophy, astrology to do with the spirit. But there were others, like we mentioned, Charles Carter, and Margaret Hone in England, and of course, let’s remember Sepharial, who were not the least bit interested in the coming of a spiritual New Age. In fact, Charles Carter was quite dismissive of the idea. But [unintelligible] Cosmos gave astrology value and justification. And let me give you an example of that. It comes from Alan Leo. Alan Leo was appalled by the injustice in the Britain that he grew up in, where some people were born into massive wealth, and some people born into massive poverty through no choice of their own. And so, he decided that the only reason for this had to be reincarnation. And so that then gave his astrology some importance because your birth chart could enable you to look at who you were in this incarnation. And then the purpose of spiritual evolution, then becomes both to prepare for coming to the New Age and ultimately, your next incarnation. So, we’ve got very much the importation of Indian ideas there.
And I think that that sense that Theosophy gives astrology a value in an otherwise materialist, mechanical, scientific world is the reason why the Theosophical Society becomes this engine for generating astrology. It’s got on one hand, the revolutionaries put into it, the spiritual revolutionaries and on the other hand, the people don’t want to revolution, but still need some spiritual value in order to rationalize astrology in the new world. You talked earlier, Chris, about how the cosmological changes in the 1600s undermined astrology. Well, I think what Theosophy we’ve got going on is almost the restoration of a cosmology, spiritual cosmology to give astrology some rationale. So, if scientists come along and say, “Well, astrology doesn’t work because there’s no gravitational influence that could enable it to work.” And anyway, statistics show it doesn’t work. These charges can say, “No, you don’t understand where we’re coming from.” And of course, where they’re coming from is an alternate spiritual universe.
CB: Right, that actually makes a ton of sense because that would be a new element that would have been imported into Western astrology at that point, which is these Eastern ideas or Indian ideas of karma and reincarnation being imported into astrology via Theosophy, and become core concepts and Alan Leo’s core motivating concepts and Alan Leo’s philosophy of astrology. And I could see how that would reinvigorate or act as a rallying point philosophically for creating a new cosmology around astrology in the early 20th century. And that explains why then it got so closely tied in with the New Age movement, very early on in the early 20th century. And also, it’s interesting just because those are concepts that would have been foreign or were not present, if you go back a few centuries to William Lilly, or people like that, they weren’t talking about karma and reincarnation, but it really takes this core role in many of those early astrologers in the early 20th century.
NC: Well, exactly. So, if you go back to Lilly’s time, you couldn’t talk about karma and reincarnation because in a Christian context, you only have one life. They could still understand astrology very spiritually because let’s say, for example, you need to look at somebody’s birth chart, they really look at a birth chart. He’s still looking at the soul’s incarnation in this life. And that’s understood in the background. It’s just that there’s only the one life. When Alan Leo comes along and all the Indian art is flooding in, he’s saying, actually, it makes sense in terms of many lives, and it explains the problem of injustice. Why am I born poor? Well, because I deserve it because of my last incarnation or because there’s a lesson I need to learn. And actually, Christie’s ideas are very standard amongst modern astrologers. I did in the late 90s and early 2000s, for a few years, I went around astrology conferences, giving out questionnaires as part of my research. And amongst the questions I asked was, “Do you believe in reincarnation? And do you believe in karma?” And about 70 to 80% of the people would tick yes, I believe in reincarnation and 78% would tick yes, I believe in karma. The way you look at the people who tick one or the other, because some people tick one and not the other, then it’s in the high 90s. So, belief in karma and reincarnation is one of the strongest beliefs amongst modern astrologers, certainly in the USA and Britain, which is where most of my research was done. It’s just part of the culture.
CB: So, it’s in that sense, and then part of the revival of astrology in the 20th century has been a move towards or has been part of alternative religious, basically an alternative religious lifestyle of having religious beliefs of some sort, but not having them be the more mainstream Christian denominations that would have been more standard up to that point?
NC: Yeah, that’s right. I also did questions on my questionnaires to ask for religious affiliation. And what we find is a general tendency for many astrologers, who are probably now in their 40s, 50s, 60s, to have been born into a religious affiliation, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian or something if they’re in America and Britain, but then to have rejected it. And the option that most astrologers go for now, in terms of their spiritual self-definition, is what I call spiritual but nonaligned. And there’s a wider phenomenon here that theorists of religion talk about, which is they called privatization, which is the process whereby in the Western world, it became increasingly popular for individuals to draw on different spiritual traditions and not to be part of any particular groups. There might be a little bit of Esoteric Christianity there, and a respect for Christ as a cosmic figure, bit of Buddhism, bit of Native American spirituality. And so, people have their own spirituality and this phenomenon is pretty important amongst astrologers. I would say that if you asked astrologers, if they have all of these possible spiritual affiliations, if you ask them to be spiritual but not aligned fit, most would say, “Yes, that suits me.” So, they’re very spiritual. They’re not moving away from religion at all, but they’re moving away from so many people from established organized religion.
CB: And is that sort of mix and match approach to religion and spirituality, is that the legacy of the theosophists? I was reading modern scholar on Gnosticism recently, and they actually made an interesting comment that I thought was funny and appropriate, where they were talking about Hermeticism around the first and second century CE, and they said it’s basically an ancient version of the modern New Age movement, and that Hermeticism was a patchwork of a bunch of different philosophical and religious ideas that were common, or that were present in the ancient world and like Greco-Roman society at that point, and I thought it was interesting, external perspective to look at both Hermeticism and the ancient world, but also, what the New Age movement represents in modern times. Do you think that’s an outgrowth of Theosophy or is that just a trend where there’s always sometimes groups of people who mix different religious and spiritual ideas rather than just adhering to one specific approach?
NC: Yeah, there is a continuous current of esoteric ideas which runs up to the modern New Age movement back through Theosophy, back through Hermeticism, Gnosticism. And the literary origin of it in the Mediterranean world is the writings of Plato, who was very much concerned with the soul and its incarnation, and he believed in reincarnation. And the universe of Plato was based in consciousness rather than matter. He was an idealist. Ideas came first, matter emerges ideas, which is the opposite of the dominant idea we have in the Modern West. So, there is a continuity and of course, Blavatsky Theosophy filtered and picked up on all those hermetic and gnostic ideas and reframed them for the late 19th century. But, Chris, even then, when we look at organized religion, it’s also very diverse. So, you take a typical group of people say, who might go to a Roman Catholic Church, those people might be exposed to all sorts of ideas that don’t conform to what the Roman Catholic hierarchy thinks they should conform to. And I had a colleague who did one of the first PhDs in this area where she looked at a group of churchgoers in the United Kingdom and she found of course, they believe in ghosts, they might use astrology, all these things are just part of their worldview. And for them, there’s no contradiction between that and being a good Christian.
And so, there’s this term now people use, or terms such as popular religion, or vernacular religion, or folk religion to describe what people actually think and do, rather than what church or authorities anywhere say they should think and do. And then there’s an overlap here between you get in the healing world. So, you can get Christian charismatic healing where everybody’s being healed by the Spirit, and the boundary between that world and New Age spiritual healing is so thin and sometimes to be non-existent. So, I know of instances where there’s been Christian healing services attended by new ages, tarot readers and so on because they see no distinction there. So, if we look at the modern culture of astrology, then it actually, the boundaries not just between different kinds of astrology, but between astrology and the rest of the world are quite fluid, which makes me think of Dane Rudhyar, by the way, who you began this podcast talking about. Because Dane Rudhyar, who I think is significant to figure in 20th century astrology as Alan Leo was also an esoteric Christian, and believe that the coming of the New Age, the Age of Aquarius will be marked by what he saw as the rise of Christ consciousness and Christ being not the historical Jesus, but the pure cosmic Christ. So, Dane Rudhyar was very important because he also crossed boundaries. He innovated, he drew on these ancient hermetic gnostic teachings, he drew on Jung, and he innovated videos, had this powerful belief that the New Age was coming. So, I class him as one of the spiritual revolutionaries.
CB: Yeah, and in our last episode, when we talked about Dane Rudhyar, I was trying to, on the one hand emphasize the importance of his role in probably being the final figure and maybe one of the more important figures in setting the philosophical and conceptual foundations for modern astrology. But I wasn’t sure if I was almost going too far, or if I wasn’t going far enough in really emphasizing his role in doing that, especially in being one of the first people as far as I’m aware at least, one of the first astrologers who really, as early as the 1930s, in The Astrology of Personality started incorporating Carl Jung’s work on depth psychology into his astrology. Where would you rank him? You would say that he’s up there with Alan Leo, in terms of being one of the most important and influential astrologers of the 20th century?
NC: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And of course, a bit like Alan Leo, when he was young, people would not have seen him like this. And during his lifetime, he had his competitors, but history allows us to look retrospectively. And we remember some people and forget others, the people who we remember are those whose work is still current because people are still reading it and following it, so he’s very important. And Jung’s work had to be translated from German into English. And so, he was picked up by German astrologers, initially, unsurprisingly, and then was fed through slowly into the English-speaking world. I think we got the first astrologers being aware of it in the 1920s. And Rudhyar was a devout theosophist, very convinced in the truth of Theosophy and I think he saw in the new depth psychology a very parallel school of thought to Theosophy because Jung, just like theosophists, he drew on hermeticism and Gnosticism, even though Jung himself actually really didn’t like Theosophy at all. He thought the theosophists were shallow and didn’t know what they were talking about, but actually, he’s drawing on the same currents and so, Rudhyar saw this.
And for Rudhyar, the depth psychologists provided a way of working with the deep, psychic, spiritual levels that Theosophy dealt with. If you read Alan Leo’s books, some of them about his spiritual astrology, it’s not that useful and the same with Alice Bailey’s astrology. It’s difficult to read her books and then they will write now, how do I make use of this? Because Rudhyar was a very great student of Alice Bailey so he was immersed in this philosophical world. And my view is that for him then, people like Jung, like Carl Rogers as well, their aim was to be practical. They were developing forms of therapy. They needed to see patients and treat people. So, I think for Rudhyar, they gave this practical edge which Theosophy lacked. What Theosophy could do was say, “Here’s something about astrology for you to think about yourself.” But the depth psychologists answered the question of now how do I actually make use of this for somebody else as the professional astrologer?
CB: Sure. And one of the questions that came up in our episode on Rudhyar is he was so prolific. He wrote something between 30 and 50 books in his life plus hundreds of articles, and I actually was having a hard time thinking of another astrologer who was more prolific than Rudhyar, which made me tentatively want to say he might have been the most prolific astrologer ever or that I’m aware of. Do you know anyone that’s more prolific in terms of their astrological output than Rudhyar, or am I overplaying that a little bit?
NC: I know he was certainly very prolific. I’m going to give you a little anecdote though, that’s just a bit of a cheeky anecdote. Ronald Davidson, who was in the late 70s, the president of the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society in London. And he’s been around for a long time for 20s, 30s, and 40s. He knew everybody. And he once said, with a slightly mischievous twinkle in his eye, that Dane Rudhyar was paid by the word, and that accounted for his prolific output. So, there’s a bit of an interest in theosophical gossip. So, perhaps he was paid by the word, I don’t know. But he was certainly prolific. And yes, you can easily acquire a shelf full of his books. Yeah.
CB: Right, I had heard something similar from a bookseller once who told me that, and we talked about it a little bit in the last episode because it seems to be especially more prominent in his early works like The Astrology of Personality, where he’s just very, very wordy. And if that was patched together, partially from older articles that he’d written, then that makes sense to some extent. But the last thing about Rudhyar before we move on is just attic. I was curious, because I can’t tell. He wrote a lot of books throughout his lifetime, but I can’t really see if he was popular right away. It almost doesn’t seem like he really was that popular until that new generation of astrologers came in in the 1960s and ‘70s. And then suddenly, he was really in his heyday. Is that true? Was his influence really mainly towards the end of his life, even though he was writing since the 1930s or was his influence already felt at an earlier date?
NC: He definitely became the astrologer of the ‘60s counterculture because he was in California in the heyday of the ‘60s, the Summer of Love, he was involved, he was giving lectures. And so, I think that is when he entered his stride. I’ve got another anecdote here, Chris, that this is what I was told by Alexander Ruperti. Okay, Alexander Ruperti, was a Swiss astrologer who was one of Dane Rudhyar leading students and promoters. Ruperti was also a student of Alice Bailey. So, when Ruperti was young, in 1936, as an eager young astrologer, he was on the committee of the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society in London, and the president of the society with Charles Carter. And so, Ruperti got hold of a copy of The Astrology of Personality and took it along and showed it to Charles Carter. And I paraphrase what Ruperti told me but it was something like, “Charles Carter said to me to go where not to be such a silly young boy.” Because Carter’s astrology was quite tactical. He loved devising new aspects and this kind of thing, and he took a look at Rudhyar‘s work and just thought it was all just verbiage.
So poor young Alexander Ruperti, disillusioned, left the Lodge committee, never to return. But he told me this when he was in his 80s that I can tell it’s still rankled that he’d had this put down. So yes, I think that there’s almost a paradigm shift, isn’t there? An older generation of astrologers, like Charles Carter had to pass on and then Rudhyar [unintelligible]. And actually, I suspect that it would have been in the ‘60s that Rudhyar also would have begun to make a splash in theosophical circles in the UK as well. But yeah, he definitely rose to prominence. So, at the time of his death in 1985, he was the patriarch of astrology in English-speaking world. For a time, it had been him and Mark Edmund Jones then Mark Edmund Jones died. It was just Rudhyar as this great figure. And I think there is no doubt he is extremely influential because he came up with certain handy catchphrases, such as Person-Centered Astrology. It’s a very catchy phrase that astrology is centered on the person and their needs, not on what their horoscope says about them.
And so, like Alan Leo, Rudhyar thought you could make definite astrological predictions, but only for people whose lives are dominated by fate. As soon as people develop any self-awareness, there’s no point in making predictions for them because the predictions wouldn’t come true because people are directing their lives. So, Rudhyar helps engineer a shift where there’s a professional astrological consultancy, which moves away from telling the client you’re like this because you’ve got a moon Saturn square and you’re going to have an unhappy marriage, get divorced. Moves away from that into talking to the person about how they’re feeling and the state of their life and then reflecting on that through the symbolism of moon Saturn. It’s a different approach. And that I’m sure that’s a process which was underway. But Rudhyar was the person who helped steer that process and from that, we get all the modern astrological counseling techniques.
CB: Right. And so, and that really takes off during the explosion of popularity and astrology with the younger generations in the 1960s and ‘70s as part of the counterculture movement in the New Age movement, and then that’s also complemented with, we have the invention of the sun sign column earlier around the 1940s. And afterwards, its subsequent popularization of sun sign astrology, which people are sometimes surprised to hear what a relatively recent concept that is not necessarily the idea of a sun sign, but the emphasis on that and the use of that in a forecasting column in a newspaper as actually a 20th century development more or less, right?
NC: Yes, it is. And developed around 1930. There. You’re right, Chris. The idea of a zodiac sign is 2500 years old. But the idea of the 12-paragraph horoscope column developed in the 1930s. And we got two strands in this development. On the one hand, there’s the development of the newspaper astrology column, which begins in the 1930s in England and it begins with forecasts for the days of the week, okay, not the zodiac sign. The zodiac sign and the horoscope column and that sense develops in American Astrology, so magazine for astrologers edited by Paul Clancy. And there is even a possibility that Rudhyar wrote some columns. But for a while, I thought that maybe he’d come up with the whole concept, but I wouldn’t agree with that now. He may have written some columns anonymously in American Astrology and it then takes off. And interestingly, you get it for a while, as a little bit of uncertainty about it particularly in Britain. What happens in Britain and elsewhere in Europe is in the 1940s, in the Second World War, newsprint becomes very expensive and so newspapers shrink in size, so they cut out astrology. And astrology doesn’t return until the early ‘50s after the newsprint rationing is over. So, you’ve got incontinuity in America from the 1930s and the rest of Europe. It really got going by 1954, ’55. It’s that recent. And so, by the time in the ‘60s, you’ve got everybody saying, introduce themselves, “Hey, man, what’s your sign? I’m a Libra.” It’s only 10 years in the mid-60s since in Europe, the horoscope column became an established part of popular culture and then it gets going, and then you have the publication of some mega books, and in particular, Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs around, is that around 1969, ’68, ‘69?
CB: Yeah, I think it was 1968. And that is the highest selling, the bestselling astrology book of all time at this point. I guess we don’t have sales numbers on Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. But even despite that, I would think Linda Goodman’s book, which sold millions, millions of copies probably is the highest selling astrology book of all time, right?
NC: Yeah, she took a format, which was not particular to her and she, like so many people, pick up a format, give it a new spin. And, of course, the thing about her book is, it’s got this huge popular appeal because you can read about with Aries, not just what Aries is like, but your Aries boss, your Aries child, your Aries partner, and that personalized it and particularized it. But the one way I’ve talked about sun sign astrology is it domesticates the universe. And there’s a parallel with what’s happening in the rest of cosmology. So, in the late ‘20s, you get the idea of the expanding universe. Suddenly, the universe is bigger than it ever was before and it’s getting bigger and there’s hundreds of galaxies, thousands of galaxies, and we’re just this tiny speck. So, a scientific cosmology and astronomy creates this huge universe. And suddenly, astrology domesticates it. And so, you’ll see this in some of the early columns in the 1930s that talked about Mr. and Mrs. Taurus, and Mr. And Mrs. Libra, and suddenly you can imagine Mr. and Mrs. Taurus sitting at home in their armchair in front of the fire. And Linda Goodman takes that domestication and turns it to a global phenomenon. So, anybody can buy a book and they can think, “Oh, my teenager is behaving really badly and they’re a Virgo.” So, you look up my Virgo teenager, for example. So, yeah, the domestication of the universe is the way I see it.
CB: Brilliant, I like that. So, at this point, we just have the convergence of all these different threads, which leads to an explosion of popularity in astrology in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s part of the counterculture movement and the New Age movement. And then the aftermath is just this flourishing of astrology in the last quarter in the second half of the 20th century, essentially, right?
NC: Yeah. And then, of course, we get the development of the web. So, I did my doctoral research, beginning 20 years ago, on the extent and nature of contemporary belief in astrology. And back then, everything was still in print, newspapers, magazines, I asked people what they read, and I read what they read and that’s what it was all based on. And if you wanted your horoscope done, you went to see an astrologer. The highest tech thing an astrologer might do would be record the consultation onto a cassette tape. But I don’t think anybody really knows what’s happening with astrology at the moment. Because like so many other things in our culture, it’s all over cyberspace and the web and cyberspace and the World Wide Web, and related technology are changing every week. There are astrologers out there with their YouTube channels and like you with your podcast and so on. So, it’s really in a new phase at the moment and I think no one’s really got a handle on, which is not unusual, because there’s so many other things about our modern world that we’re constantly trying to catch up with.
CB: Sure. And if you compare this time period now or let’s say, the late 20th century, I think I saw most of the recent polls. I don’t know what the accuracy of this is, but usually it seems like when public polls are done, it usually says something like 25% of people in society believe in astrology, whatever that means. How would that compare to let’s say the 17th century? Would that be comparable? Have we seen a return to something comparable to what it was back then? Or does it still pale in comparison, even though it’s been a revival from let’s say what it was in the 18th and 19th century?
NC: The problem is, Chris, those polls don’t make sense because they’re trying to quantify something in binary terms, which is very fluid and nuanced. So, you ask somebody, “Do you believe in astrology or not?” To start off with, people answer questions like that partly in terms of who’s asking the question, but also, what is astrology? If you said to people, do you believe an astrologer can predict the date that your child is going to get married? They’d probably say no. But if you say to people, “Do you think that the characteristics of your zodiac sign have some relationship to your personality?” Then a lot of people are going to say, yes. So those figures of 25%, they’re mainly Gallup poll figures, and they don’t really stand up to scrutiny. Their attempt is to quantify qualitative life.
So, I would say now that if we’re looking at high levels of belief in astrology fluctuate, it always depends what you mean by astrology because back in the 1700s, then the casting of horoscopes had pretty much died out, but the idea that there were lunar effects on one’s mood with standard medicine hence the term lunatic. Certainly, for much of the 18th century. So, it always depends what you’re asking about. So, my view is that astrology is part of popular culture, but there are many different ways for astrologers to practice it and many different ways for everybody to understand it.
CB: Sure. But would you say in some broader sense from a societal standpoint, that there has been a resurgence in different beliefs in astrology or different practices of astrology in the in the late 20th, let’s say the second half of the 20th century compared to prior to that or compared to the 19th or 18th century?
NC: Yes, because we had obviously, the development of the horoscope column as a way of developing a new language of astrology. Now, here again, Chris, what people haven’t looked at, perhaps is because it’s too difficult now is to see what effect almanacs had throughout the 19th century on people’s understanding of astrology. If asteroids core material is being disseminated through almanacs, you might find if you talk to people, most of the population in the 19th century believe in astrology. So, I think we’ve got to focus on different forms of astrology. So, we’ve clearly got in the 20th century, a big revival in the casting of horoscopes. But even so it’s still a very, very tiny, tiny practice that engages a very tiny number of people. So, I would look at other ways in which astrology is changed. And so, for example, I think it’s very influential. I think Jung is very influential. So, for example, Jung makes astrology respectable amongst a whole class of people and a lot of the people who might otherwise not be interested in astrology, but who are very interested in a Jungian approach to the world, which includes astrology.
So, the picture is complex and constantly shifting. So yeah, we can talk generally about a revival of astrology in the 20th century. When we begin to look at how that revival works and what it is, then we see diversity and we see complexity.
CB: Sure. But we at least end up in a situation where, through those many different influence as in different threads, you have things like some psychologists in practice who might follow Jung, using astrology in psychological settings, or we have influencing politics, for example, where you get figures like John Quigley advising the president of the United States and working with his schedule using astrological matters, which is a return to the situation in the Roman Empire, where you have astrologers serving a similar advisory capacity or other little ways in which astrology suddenly appeared in somewhat prominent ways and different aspects of society in this strange and interesting way?
NC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And of course, actually talking about John quickly reminds me of something else about modern astrology, which is that you’ve got a much stronger appeal to women than to men. So, if you go to a meeting of your local astronomy club, it’ll be 90% if not 100% men. If you go to a meeting of a local astrology group, it’ll be 75%-80% women. It’s my impression. And so, I think another way to think about what modern Western astrology does often is it gives a voice to women. It’s a cliche in our society that men won’t talk about their feelings, but women do. And so, I think that often astrology can provide a very handy language for that discussion about feelings, about a universe of feelings and about a universe which acknowledges emotion and relationship as important central to human life.
CB: Sure, and that’s probably one of the biggest differences and changes in 20th century astrology prior to earlier is suddenly, we have astrology books, major astrology books that are being penned by women, whereas prior to the 20th century, if you go back typically, most influential astrological texts were written by men and then all of a sudden, in the earliest 20th century, you get figures like Elsbeth Ebertin in Germany, or you have Evangeline Adams in the US, who’s like [unintelligible] Margaret Hone would be an influential figure in the UK, right?
NC: Oh, absolutely. Margaret Hone Modern Text-Book of Astrology, very influential. For me, that book is now a really important historical text. It was the teaching book for the faculty of astrological studies for about 30 years, when the faculty of astrological studies was doing the most high-profile distance learning course, again, in the English-speaking world. So, you could go to classes in London, you could study the course, distance learning in America, and Margaret Hone’s textbook was the standard book. So yes, a woman who helped shape a generation of astrologers.
CB: Right. And that acts as a nice segue. Then into the final question that I had for you or final topic, which is just part of the aftermath of the flourishing of astrology in the late 20th century is that you have actually been part of a movement to develop, even though astrology fell out of academia centuries ago as a respectable study and there used to be like chairs for astrology at major universities and that’s no longer the case, you have been part of a movement to bring astrology back as a respectable topic of study from a historical standpoint, since this is such an important facet of culture, and of history and society to say that this is something that’s worthwhile and that needs to be studied in an academic context from a historical standpoint, right?
NC: Yeah, absolutely. It always has astonished me that there are some academics who’ve said that some subjects and disciplines and practices should not be topics of academic study, so yeah. What we do in the master’s degree and the other teaching that I run is, we look at the whole wide range of people how people relate to the sky is about to find it the skies of theatrical backdrop to people’s lives. But in very specific instances that does deal with the philosophy, practice claims, language, beliefs, ideas and lineage of astrology and we could deal with any culture in any time period as well.
CB: So, why is that important? Or from an academic perspective, why is it important to study the history of astrology?
NC: Because, in present times, it’s because it’s part of the culture of our society and quite a widespread culture. And also, if you look at India, or China as China emerges from the communist world, and non-communist Chinese people always thought that a very strong lineage of astrology and of course, in India, it’s such a central part of culture. But if you look back to the past, then because the pre-17th century idea of the world was one in which the terrestrial celestial environments are totally integrated, the stars, planets, people, all part of a single system, that astrology did have a lot to say about politics, it had lots about history, it was a topic for artists, for writers, it has religious overtones and uses. And so, to understand its history, its claims, its philosophy is really important for understanding the background of Western culture, and how therefore Western culture got to where it is now.
CB: Sure. And it shows up in so many different areas of society that it provides an access point for understanding those things, whether it’s like the arts, like I know, there’s been work on, like Shakespeare’s use of astrology and plays in a literary context. There’s the political context of studying political figures, or astrologers who influence political figures like John Quigley in the United States in the 1980s or going back to the first century in the Roman Empire, Emperor Tiberius and his work with the Astrologer Thrasyllus. I guess we’ve talked a lot in this episode about the influence of astrology on Carl Jung and that, in and of itself could provide a whole study in terms of his psychology or the ways in which that did or did not influence his approach to psychology. So, it’s really studying astrology partially as an access point for understanding culture and cultural developments better in some sense?
NC: Yes, it is. In fact, you mentioned Jung. In my master’s program, we’ve got nine modules. One of them is called Sky and Psyche. So, it deals with astrological influences on psychology and psychological influences on astrology as cultural phenomenal ideas as practices and so, we do actually have essay questions on Jung’s astrology in that module. So yeah, we’ll deal with anything from the ancient to the modern, and it brings alive a part of culture, a part of understanding the human relationship with the cosmos, which I think is tragically ignored. It’s part of life, part of culture, part of what people think and do on this planet. So, it’s really great to have and I think it’s important to be able to look at it.
CB: Sure, that makes sense. And from the perspective of, let’s say people listening to this show, so practicing astrologers, why would they want to study the history of astrology or what is important about doing that, that might be useful from an insider perspective?
NC: Yeah, I think that a lot of people practice astrology as a craft as something they do, they can do horoscopes for their family, their friends, their clients, it’s something that they do. It’s a practice. But for quite a number, they develop and need to reflect on their own practice. And that means finding out about the philosophy of astrology, the claims of astrology, its background, its context. Let me give you an example. The way in which astrology astrologers read horoscopes often comes with a whole set of understandings about the relationship between fate or free will, for example. Well, where those ideas came from and how they fit into wider currents of thought is not really dealt with by teachers of astrology and astrological schools. So, Rudhyar has a particular view of how people choose their lives and what they do, Jung had one more mechanical fate, astrologers have them. And these ideas can be traced back to Classical Greece and they’ve been influenced by modern Indian ideas as we’ve talked about.
So, I’ve known quite a few practicing astrologers who get to the point where they think, ‘I really want to know about where those ideas that I’m using, and articulating, and relying on to interpret horoscopes, where those ideas come from. What exactly is it that I’m doing when I look at somebody’s birth chart and say, “Well, you’ve got the sun here, the moon there at a transit of that planet?” What am I actually thinking about and saying when I do that?’ So, I think that’s what the program offers to astrologers is that wider scholarly reflective environment?
CB: Sure. So, if a person is interested in studying the history of astrology in an academic setting or in a more serious or rigorous way, where can they go? Could you tell us a little bit about the program that you run?
NC: Yeah, the program, it’s at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. We call the program cultural astronomy and astrology. And the reason we use both words is because until the 17th century, in Europe, there was no distinction between the idea of measuring a planet or wondering what it’s made of and attributing meaning to it. And we have nine different modules, I think in America we call them classes, and students take six of them and then go on from there and write a 15,000-word dissertation based on personal research. And so, the different areas we deal with in the modules what we teach, we teach the whole philosophical background about let’s say we look at fate, magic, divination, classical philosophy, modern philosophy, how they all provide context for understanding astrology, we look at astral religion, including in India, and non-Western cultures. So, we might look into sacred calendars, astrological imagery and pilgrimages. We’ve got a module where we look at, as I said, Sky and Psyche, we look at Jung, we look at ideas of sacred space and place. We’ve got a great module, we call Heavenly Discourses, where the students actually have to keep a sky journal, when the brief sub module is to guard over a period of a month every day and watch the sky, and then write reflective sky journal.
So, it’s a pretty innovative program and we’re just about to start within that a separate certificate on the history of astrology that would consist of three modules alone. It’s all distance learning. We teach using webinars. And it’s a postgraduate degree, so it’s a master’s degree. And there’s a wonderfully flexible feature of the British educational system, that you can enroll on an academic program master’s level without having a bachelor’s degree. Because we recognize that people require all sorts of life experience and skills that can fit them for master’s level studies. So, we’re open to applications from a wide range of people. We have people who could just start and do one module. They don’t want to do the whole program, just take one module and maybe go on and do another a bit later. So, we have flexible learning structures as well. But ours is the only course in the world that actually teaches this subject.
CB: Brilliant. Well, I’ll put a link where people can find out more information about that program on the description page for this episode at theastrologypodcast.com. And in terms of other resources for studying the history of astrology, you’ve had a huge output over the course of the past decade of astrology books starting with your definitive two volumes series on the history of Western astrology titled, History of Western Astrology, Volume I and Volume II, I think around 2008-2009. And then since then, you’ve published several other books recently as well, right?
NC: Yeah, that was astrology and cosmology in the world’s religions, which is New York Press, and that book takes a different culture the Americas, Australia, Polynesia, because I wanted to get away from the idea that astrology is a Western phenomenon, or perhaps something people also do in India as well. I wanted to say… And actually, every culture has a way of looking at the sky, the stars, the planets and relating them to human life. So that was that. And then I did another book Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West, that looks at my modern research, goes into what modern astrologers believe, that’s where I talk about the belief in karma and reincarnation, and so on. My most recent book actually, was about utopian ideas and New Age ideas with no astrology in it, but belief in the coming New Age, Age of Aquarius. And actually, I did have a little bit of a look at the history of the development of belief in the Aquarian Age, which would actually have quite an impact on the way people thought in the 60s and the development of the counterculture. So yeah, I’m prolific.
CB: Yeah, you’re getting quite up there. I don’t know. You might be able to reach Dane Rudhyar, but I’m not sure if you might fall slightly short.
NC: Yeah, I think I’m running out of words at the moment actually. I’m not going to equal Rudhyar. He’s going to keep his place.
CB: Sure, sure. For now, I don’t know. The history of Western astrology was quite a tome. That is the definitive book or two volume series on the history of astrology at this point, as far as I’m concerned, or anyone else is concerned. So definitely, I think people could check out Volume II of that, especially as a companion to this discussion, where you go into much more detail about just about every area that we talked about today. And then also, Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West also has a lot of great treatments of different topics that we touched on in passing here in this podcast, so I’d recommend people check those out. I’ll put links to them on the description page for this episode. But yeah, thanks a lot for joining me today, Nick. I really appreciate it.
NC: Great, Chris. It’s been really good talking to you.
CB: All right, you too. And thanks everyone for listening, we’ll see you next time.