The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 226, titled:
With Chris Brennan and Nate Craddock
Episode originally released on October 8, 2019
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 October 27, 2021
Copyright © 2021 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is Tuesday, October 1st 2019, starting at 9:09 p.m. in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 226th episode of the show. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with astrologer Nate Craddock about whether astrology is antithetical to Christianity. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes of the show by becoming a patron, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. Hey, Nate, thanks for joining me today.
NICK CRADDOCK: Hey, Chris, thanks so much for having me on. It’s a real honor.
CB: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on, I’ve been wanting to and we’ve been talking about it since last November and then that accelerated a little bit, I think, it was in May after I released an episode where I discussed Christianity and possibly the role that astrology played in contributing to the rise of Christianity due to some views connected with fate and the Roman Empire around the first and second century. And that’s sparked a discussion and you had some thoughts about that, so now we’re finally getting together to talk about it a little bit. Maybe we should start a little bit by introducing you for those who aren’t familiar with your background and just talk about what your background is in astrology and other things in general.
NC: Sure, sure. Absolutely. So to give you some context for where I’m coming from in this conversation, I’m a traditional astrologer, I specialize in classical horary technique, a student of the school for traditional astrology, as well I am an ordained Christian priest, and I serve a congregation of the United Church of Christ, which is a progressive mainline Protestant denomination. I have a degree in divinity, which involves study of classical languages, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and I’ve been practising professionally since late 2017. But astrology has always been an interest of mine. And it has taken no small amount of effort and mental gymnastics and self-knowledge to come to a place where I am able to hold both my Christianity and my astrology with a sense of authenticity. Of course, that’s complicated as well, by virtue of the fact that I’m also gay. So I’ve got like two strikes against me in most traditional Christian circles already. So, I am very excited to share and to speak about this confluence of things that are very important to me in my life.
CB: Brilliant. Yeah, I think that’s perfect background in terms of having to, not having to, but certainly being aware of and understanding the pros and cons and the different sides of some of these arguments cause I know a lot of people have questions about that, especially Christians, and also especially if you don’t have background in the history and some of those things it can be even more difficult to deal with and sometimes you have to rely on specialists or what have you. So, in terms of my background, if anyone’s coming into this episode without knowing who I am or having listened the podcast before, my primary background is in ancient astrology, and I wrote a book titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune, which studies the emergence of Western astrology in the Greco-Roman world, especially around the first century BC through the seventh century CE, and I’m also a practicing astrologer, but I’m primarily approaching this from the perspective of Western astrology and Christianity coming out of the same social background and some of the interactions that they had in the Roman world during that timeframe. All right, so like I said earlier, I’ve had a couple of discussions about this in the past in the podcast, for example, Episode 49 of The Astrology Podcast was with Samuel Reynolds. And we talked about some responses to religious criticisms of astrology. So we’ve touched on some of this and my goal is not to completely repeat a lot of the things that we went through in that episode, I don’t think we’re going to but instead approach this a little bit more from a historical standpoint about some of these debates in the ancient world and the origins of Christianity and the origins of Western astrology. And like I said, the topic came up previously in Episode 205 of The Astrology Podcast, which was on the master of the nativity and the overall ruler of the chart. And part of what I talked about during that episode, I think, that sparked this discussion between you and I, Nate, was just this realization, this growing realization that I had over the course of the past decade that astrology became so popular in the ancient world and everybody believed that astrology, for the most part, everybody believed or the majority of people believed that astrology was a legitimate phenomenon. And there was a heavy belief in astrology was very intertwined with the concept of fate and pre-determination and the idea that astrology would tell you something about your fate and about your future. And in some versions of astrology, it was much more deterministic than it is today in the late 20th or early 21st centuries, that things were viewed as much more deterministic or much more fixed when you’re looking at your life through the lens of astrology. And I feel like that’s maybe true to some extent of traditional astrology as well. Would you say that’s like an accurate statement or it’s like maybe overstating the point?
NC: I think they would overstate astrology of the Middle Ages in the Renaissance. From my research and reading in that period, it seems like there is a sense that the chart, especially in terms of charts of questions, but also in nativities as well, it was essentially a representation of the path of least resistance. If you do not do anything, these are what your predilections are. This is what could happen if you don’t make any effort to avert a possible disaster. But again, that depends based on the particular writer as far as how much of a hardline determinist they’re going to be, which actually gets really interesting when you get into the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, where there is a growing rift between stripes of Protestantism with John Calvin and his successors going very hard in the line of determinism while at the same time repudiating astrology. And you have Martin Luther and his right hand man, Philip Melanchthon, who was an astrologer, arguing much more in the direction of more autonomy, more freewill, more synergistic participation with God in the salvation project. So that becomes a really tangled line of inquiry that’s not quite so easy to suss out as much as we would probably like it to be, at least in the 15th and 16th centuries by that point in history.
CB: Sure, definitely. And I mean, even in the Hellenistic tradition, there were certainly practices like electional astrology or even applications of magic to astrology which sought to make things less deterministic or more negotiable. And that goes back probably to the Mesopotamian tradition, even with the existence of propitiation rituals and the idea that there were things that you could do to negate or avert your fate or what have you. So that certainly existed, but at least in the early Hellenistic tradition, it was also coming out of the backdrop of Stoicism being a very popular philosophy from the third century BCE to the first few centuries CE, and that was a cosmological view in which everything in the world, everything that would happen in your life, was pre-determined to happen, at the very least from the moment of birth, and there were certainly some astrologers who held hardline or extreme Stoic views, like Menelius, for example, is one of the most famous or to a lesser extent, Vettius Valens and other authors like that. And that was, I guess, my main way of approaching this, is just realizing that there was a deterministic, a fully deterministic approach to astrology in the Hellenistic period around the time that Christianity arose and that that may have interacted in some interesting and weird ways that we don’t realize today because astrology is so just not deterministic at this point in time.
NC: Right. I think that determinism of any form has become extremely unpopular just in general culture, which has certain ramifications, I think, in the way that we practice astrology today as people whose practices are informed more by classical philosophy by the philosophy in antiquity and the techniques that emerge from that philosophical period within history. So it’s certainly something that those of us who are adjacent to the traditional revival or the revival of traditional astrology in the West should maybe spend a little bit of time thinking about closely. And I’m sure that this is something that most people coming into astrology at least spend 30 minutes on a lonely night thinking about, at least I would hope so.
CB: Thinking about what specifically again?
NC: Thinking about the level of determinism that is baked into astrology.
CB: Yeah, cause that’s always been one of my contentions is that the basic premise of natal astrology to some extent is deterministic because the premises that the alignment of the planets and other celestial bodies at the moment of your birth have something to say about the nature and the course of your life, to put it at the most simple basic definition, that’s always been my basic definition of natal astrology, which I don’t think anybody would argue. But that definition in of itself almost does imply that there’s something perhaps about your future that you might have a preview of at the very least from looking at your birth chart, right?
NC: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The way that I’ve come to talk about this, I think of a chart almost like a piece of sheet music. You give a Bach prelude to three different pianists, and they’ll all play the same notes and the same rhythms, but they’ll each have a very different interpretation of the piece. And it will sound different and have a different feel based entirely upon the situation, the context in which that piece of music is played. So you give one to a jazz pianist, and you’ll get that version, you give another to a classical pianist, you’ll get that version. And I think it’s very similar with nativities, you give one person a nativity that has Jupiter in the 10th house in Sagittarius, and they become a Hindu Rishi, and they grow up in India and that’s their path. But you give that same chart to somebody who grows up in Italy, they turn into the Pope, right? It’s not the same fate, but it is the same theme. It’s variations on similar themes. At least that’s where I’ve landed on this one. Yeah.
CB: What I noticed in my studies of ancient astrology and ancient philosophies and religions was that that seemed to be one of the main points of dispute between astrology and Christianity, at least in the ancient world, was the issue of fate and the issue of predetermination. Because, theologically, the idea of having a free will of sort was really important in Christianity for different reasons, right? Why is that theologically?
NC: Well, it depends on the theological stripe you’re coming from. And some stripes of Reformed theology, humans do not have any say whatsoever in whether they’re actually saved or not. Freewill is an illusion, and this would be the–
CB: So like Calvinism?
NC: Exactly. A hardline Calvinism suggests that God has already decided who will be saved and who will not be saved and there’s nothing you can do about it.
CB: Right. But that’s not weird, but let’s say not common view in terms of Christian theology, right?
NC: It’s not a common view in terms of Christian theology, but it is a view that does become significant in the development of late Renaissance astrology, especially in England, because William Lilly, of course, when he’s writing, he’s very involved in the political and religious climate of England during the 17th century. And the stripe of Christianity that is in power during that time, it skews towards deterministic Calvinism. So that is something that I think enters the picture at a certain point, but I don’t think it’s the majority opinion of historic Christianity, for sure. Historically, Christianity has made a strong case that an individual needs to be able to participate with God in their salvation vis-à-vis the exercise of freewill, choosing God, whatever that means. I don’t want to get too into specifics or into the weeds here but yeah, that exercise of freewill is important, I think, in the classical Christian articulation of how salvation works and what the mechanism is, but I’m not quite ready to say that that in and of itself precludes there being some external influence upon a person’s life vis-à-vis the nativity or vis-à-vis their raising, their situation, the accidents of life that they have no control over, that may or may not bring them to a point where they have the opportunity to exercise that freewill.
CB: Sure, right. So setting up the historical chronology, it’s like Hellenistic astrology comes together sometime around, let’s say the first century BCE as like a system that’s especially focused on natal astrology and especially focused on the idea that you can look at the birth chart and it will tell you things about your fate. And some of the more Stoically inclined astrologers like Valens held the opinion that the purpose of astrology was to know your fate ahead of times, that you knew what you had to accept about events in your life that would occur in the future. So that’s the backdrop in the first century BCE. And then Christianity comes onto this scene in the first century CE and initially starts out as a small religion or a small cult in the Roman Empire, a small monotheistic cult in the Roman Empire within the context of a broader, very diverse religious community, which is largely polytheistic in the Roman Empire. And then slowly over the course of the next few centuries, this what initially started out as a small religious group or a small cult, gets bigger and bigger and bigger until eventually by the fourth century CE, it becomes legalized, it becomes the official state religion of the Roman Empire, and then eventually becomes the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. And the rest is history. And at some point, in that relatively early on, we start seeing Christian authors disputing and attacking astrology. And especially from the second and third and fourth centuries, a lot of these attacks on astrology are attacks against the idea of determinism or the idea of fatalism and the idea that astrology is somehow wrapped up in these ideas of fate. And so it was out of that context that I originally had this question that I’ve been wondering about over the past few years, which is, is Christianity inherently antithetical to astrology because of some of those debates surrounding fate and freewill and the importance of freewill in Christian theology? And I realize after the Hellenistic period, after the fall of the Roman Empire when Christianity became the dominant religion in the West, that there have been many Christians who’ve practiced astrology and many ways that astrology and Christianity have been reconciled in different ways and continue to be reconciled and practiced in different ways in modern times. There was just this question that I always had in terms of the origins of Christianity, if there wasn’t something there which initially set up astrology and Christianity on a problematic footing, even if later perhaps they could be reconciled.
NC: Yeah, I think you’re hitting on a very important point there, Chris, because I think that there is enough evidence to suggest that, at least during the very early stages of the development of a coherent Christian theology, there was a decided tension between… It was really more of the concept of fate that was the issue. It wasn’t necessarily astrology, qua astrology the practice there of, that was the issue. It was the thing that astrology was predicated on, right? So, to kind of move in that direction, let me just begin by saying that the answer to whether Christianity and astrology are antithetical to one another really depends on how you’re defining the terms. Whose Christianity? Whose astrology? So that’s where immediately right out of the gate, we have complications in answering this question. And anyway, that’s going to be satisfying to somebody who wants me to open the Bible and point to a verse and have that verse say that it’s okay to do astrology or that it’s not okay to do astrology. Because there’s no solid testimony that you can just take out of context and proof text with to give yourself license to be an astrologer or to discriminate against astrology. Right?
CB: Right. And especially cause the Bible itself, like what we call the Bible, is a collection of different texts that were written by different people in different eras, and they have different, sometimes contrasting or sometimes wildly contrasting views on astrology.
NC: They have wildly contrasting views on everything. The Bible is not a single unified volume. There are themes that come up throughout each of the volumes of the Bible or each of the entries in the biblical canon, but I think you are certainly going to see things that contradict each other. And there are some stripes of Christianity which will bend over backwards to try to smooth out all the contradictions, I’m not one of those people.
CB: Sure, cause at the very least, it’s like all Christians would agree that there’s at least a distinction between, let’s say, what they call the Old Testament versus the New Testament. And that those are two almost different… Most denominations treat that as like a part one and part two of the Bible essentially, right?
NC: You could say that, yeah, I would be comfortable agreeing with that. But keep in mind too that for Jewish people, the Old Testament is the Bible, there’s no New Testament. And we also have to remember that Christianity began as a Jewish cult. For the first Christians, there was no New Testament, their Bible was the Hebrew Bible, and maybe some of the additional stuff that’s in the Septuagint. So, when we’re engaging with the biblical narrative, I think we do have to treat the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament a little bit different than we treat the New Testament. And I think there are some really interesting things that we get to from either of those that have different angles of approach in terms of how we address the question of what is the relationship between astrology and Christianity and how do we bridge that gap? Or is there even a possibility of bridging that gap?
CB: Sure, yeah. But it’s probably a good starting point, cause at least chronologically knowing that the Old Testament arises out of, like you said, a Jewish cult that was specifically though in Mesopotamia or in the Middle East during, let’s say, especially the first millennium BCE. And that some of the references to astrology that occur in the Old Testament that are often the most antagonistic or dismissive of astrology are reacting to what was Mesopotamian astrology, essentially, at the time which was practiced in like a polytheistic context. And part of the conflict there was the conflict with the new monotheism of the Jewish religion versus the polytheism that was being practiced in Mesopotamia, that was the social context of astrology at that time in the first millennium BCE, right?
NC: Right. Right. I think there is a really important angle that can easily get lost if we’re focusing purely on the theological conflicts that are there because there’s also an economic, a socio-economic conflict as well as a political conflict unfolding. So, history of the Hebrew people crash course. They start out in the land of Canaan, eventually following the events of the Joseph narrative at the end of the book of Genesis. And of course, this is the mythic history of the people of Israel. They end up in Egypt. And things are going great until they end up as slaves in Egypt, the freedom, the expulsion of the Hyksos, the freedom of the Hebrew people from Egypt is chronicled in the book of Exodus and baked into the memory of the Hebrew people is their experience of enslavement in Egypt under Pharaoh and his gods. So Egypt, of course, is the first empire that Israel has a run-in with. And then they get out of Egypt, and they rumble around the land of Canaan for a little while, commit some minor genocide, and eventually become the nation of Israel, the 12 tribes of Israel and Judah. And the events of the Old Testament, the events of the Israelite monarchy occur, and at the end of that period around, dates are not coming to me quickly right now. But around 780 BCE, Jerusalem is sacked by Babylon. And the Israelite people are then taken as prisoners of war to Babylon. So this is the second empire that they are now under. Of course, both of these empires have as part of their imperial machinery, their imperial cultic machinery, the use of astrology to support political power and to keep money flowing to the top of the pyramid or to the top of the ziggurat, as the case may be. So Cyrus the Great sacks Babylon in 550 CE, becomes the emperor of Persia. The first thing Cyrus the Great does he said, “Oh, you can go home now.” And so all the Hebrews go back to Palestine. And there they are until Alexander the Great rolls through and then all of the Hellenistic rulers and eventually the Roman Empire come through and conquer that area. So at the point in which Christianity emerges, the Hebrew people and remember too that Jesus is Jewish, he is distinctly a Jewish figure in the very early parts of Christianity, they have undergone so many different enslavements and imperial occupations that anything that even smells like Babylon is a byword. So things of course, like astrology are going to meet with really strong polemic in the writings of the Old Testament because they are practices that are endemic to conquering and occupying empires.
CB: Right, cause astrology, maybe it’s worth cause there’s different phases in the history of astrology and these two, it’s like the Old Testament, the New Testament are being written during very distinct phases in the history of astrology, where during the period we’re just talking about with like Mesopotamian astrology in the first millennium BCE, it was largely just mundane astrology, where it’s being applied to groups of people such as cities and nations. So if there’s an eclipse, there will be an earthquake or a famine or a war or plague or the king will die or something like that. And astrology is like a state supported event, especially in the seventh century in Mesopotamia, seventh century BCE. And it’s mainly the king employing groups of astrologers who are living around the country who are both observing the movements of the planets and the stars and other celestial bodies, but also writing down and making interpretations about what they think those movements mean, and then sending them to the king directly in order to advise about imperial policy. So, that’s what you mean when you’re talking about astrology being deeply intertwined with the politics of the day in that time period.
NC: Exactly, exactly. And the other face of this, of course, is the theological challenge posed by these Babylonian astral deities, the planets Inanna and Marduk and so forth, being team Babylon, whereas Israel has their god, Yahweh. And it’s important to note too, that in the early development of Judaism, Judaism did not start out as a monotheistic religion. It started out as a henotheist religion, which acknowledged the existence of other gods. So to the Israelites who were exiled to Babylon, yes, of course, Inanna and Marduk and all the rest of the gang were real, they just weren’t their god, they were foreign gods. And so the tension between Yahweh as the Israelites deity who has specifically chosen Israel as a covenant community, as a covenant race, to be in this, it’s known as a suzerain vassal treaty. So Yahweh is the boss, and Israel is the boss’s people. They set themselves up as being a counterpoint or an alternative to the empire that is ruled by, of course, the king of Babylon and his cortege of deities that accompany him and his people. So this becomes very much about maintaining a sense of national identity that’s rooted all the way back into the mythic promise that Yahweh made to Abraham, the mythic forefather of the Israelite people, to become a nation through which the entire world would be blessed. So these myths run very, very deep. These stories run very, very deep in the Israelite consciousness. But as they transition out of their Babylonian captivity, the writings of the Old Testament that exist at that point go through this redaction process, where they’re almost like edited to fit their understanding of monotheism a little bit better. You can go and google the documentary hypothesis if you’re interested in doing a deep dive on this, you can see how there are several different layers of text that in some places in the Old Testament refers to Yahweh as being one of many gods. Sometimes god refers to god self in the plural, which is really interesting. Sometimes there is a really strong monotheistic bent in how different divinities are spoken of as being blind or mute or just lifeless matter. But I think it all does feed into this growing sense of national identity and national exclusivity in some ways among the Israelites of the post-exilic period. Now where astrology fits into that, in terms of Mesopotamian astrology, again, as I was saying, there’s this idea that all of the planets are actual deities, that the Babylonian imperial cult works to propitiate for the benefit of the king but also everyone the king is in charge of. There’s also a really interesting dichotomy between the different anthropologies that are represented by the Israelite myth and the Babylonian creation myths, whereas in the Babylonian creation myths, humans are conceived as nothing more but tools to serve the gods, whereas in the Israelite creation myth humans are construed as creations that bear the image of God and participate with God in the administration of the world. So, team Israel, team Yahweh, wants to stay over there on their side with their understanding of who they believe they were created to be, and not get caught up or not fall prey to the star gods of the empire, who just want humans to be tools. And I think that there’s a strong case for that interpretive trajectory within the Hebrew Bible.
CB: Sure. So in the Mesopotamian tradition, the planets were viewed as manifestations of some of the specific gods, basically.
NC: That’s right and yes.
CB: And capable of sending messages to humankind about the intentions of the gods so that the purpose of the astrologers was observing what was going on in the sky as being omens or signs that the gods were attempting to send to humankind about their intentions.
NC: That’s right. That’s right.
CB: Okay. So that becomes one then in the ancient world in the Mesopotamian period of many different forms of divination that were taking place, and divination in that context was also not looked well upon, right?
NC: It was not looked well upon as long as it was outside the norms of authorized divination. One example of which is the practice of Urim and Thummim, which is essentially a form of cleromancy, where clergy and the Temple of Yahweh would cast lots to discern the will of God. That is documented right there in the book of Exodus. So divination was baked in to the Israelite tabernacle and later temple cult. However, what made that form of divination licit is that it was done in the name of Yahweh, whereas other forms of divination against which the Yahweistic cult were competing, were done in the name and with the authority of other deities. So that gets into that henotheism monotheism challenge that the Yahweistic cult is presenting or is grappling with during that period of history.
CB: Okay, yeah. And there’s actually an example of like cleromancy in the New Testament as well. At one point, it’s really there, and then subsequent scholars have tried to argue about how it’s not divinationand it’s something else.
NC: Right. But it’s divination.
CB: It’s like the apostles or something are casting lots. And what was the context again? I’m trying to remember.
NC: Judas after betraying Jesus to the religious leaders for a fee is so distraught by what he’s done that he commits suicide. And after the events of the crucifixion really settled down, the disciples at that point recall a passage from the Hebrew Bible that says, “Let another take his place,” which is from the Psalms. And so they say, “Well, since we’ve got this vacancy, let another take his place.” And so they were trying to figure out who was meant to take that place, and they came down to two names and then they couldn’t decide. So they prayed and they basically cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. So he became the replacement for Judas immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus and the suicide of Judas.
CB: Right, and the premise underlying cleromancy in the Greco-Roman world was the idea that through chance or fortune, that essentially providence in some way will cause the lot to fall and whatever it picks will be what was supposed to be, will be somehow the correct choice that’s somehow divinely inspired, probably in that context by providence or something like that.
NC: Exactly. There’s a passage in the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible that says, “No matter how the lot comes out, it’s God who is making it fall in a certain way,” or something like that. That’s a very bad paraphrase. But that’s certainly an idea that’s touched upon in the Hebrew Bible as well.
CB: Okay. So anyway, so going back, in terms of the Old Testament, Mesopotamian context, two primary issues are issues with potentially polytheism because the way that the planets are treated in the Babylonian or Mesopotamian tradition is as if they’re manifestations of different gods that are sending messages to mankind, and that’s already going to run into some issues if you’re starting to go in the direction of just focusing on one God. And then secondarily due to some of the political issues with astrology being part of the power apparatus of the ruling powers at the time, that becomes an issue as well.
NC: Very much so, and that point is something that carries over into the New Testament period for sure.
CB: Okay. Do you know any quotes? Are there any Old Testament quotes that come to mind in particular about anti-astrology ones that are worth mentioning within that context?
NC: There are none that come to mind in terms of specific condemnations of the practice of astrology, any quotations that come to mind immediately are not as much criticisms of astrology, but criticisms of planetary gods. So there is a passage in Ezekiel where the prophet decries the fall of Lucifer. And of course, in Greek, that word is Phosphorus, which is the name for Venus, right? So, of course, right there, you take that translation history of Phosphorus to Lucifer to Morning Star to New Testament apocalyptic literature and people start, through an interpretive lineage, to begin to associate Lucifer with Satan. So it’s step to step to step. And that’s how these ideas develop within Christian discourse over the ensuing centuries. Another one is in the book of Amos, you may have to cut my flipping through the text here.
CB: Sure. I’m just trying to glance through some different verses really quickly. Of course, all the astrologers love to cite the Genesis verse, “And God said, ‘Let there be light in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years.'” And so sometimes defenders of astrology will cite that and say, “Well, what kind of signs are the heavens supposed to be giving in that instance?” Let’s see. But most other things have to do with anti-fortune telling. Leviticus, “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it, you shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.” So right there, we have more of a general prohibition against fortune telling which I’m curious why that is from a religious standpoint. Why was fortune telling prohibited or banned in any way in this religion compared to, let’s say, mainstream, some of the polytheistic religions seem to have divination as a cornerstone. So for example, I’m thinking of even the Roman Empire, the early Roman Empire, they had ornithomancy or bird divination, and that was one of the official government roles was, I think, Caesar was head of the college of augurs, for example, at one point.
NC: Well, again, that comes to the issue of which divinity are you divining with? So when Israel was leaving Egypt and coming into Canaan, into Palestine, there were already many different extant cults there that had cultic practices like divination, like eating meat with the blood still in it, like temple prostitution. There’s an interesting parallel here to the way we can engage with maybe some of the Old Testament critiques of astrology, whereas in other parts of my life, I’ve had to engage with very similar critiques of “homosexuality” in the Old Testament canon, even though that concept was not a thing that was known to the ancient world. But I think on that point that you raised especially there, why divination is especially forbidden in the Levitical code, it’s not so much divination, qua divination, that’s the problem, it is divination accessing the knowledge and the input of rival deities to Yahweh.
CB: Okay. And maybe we see echoes of this come up later with the arguments about some of the later authors after the New Testament comes into play saying, “Yeah, astrology is real, but it’s work of demons or it’s the work of the devil or something like that.”
NC: Exactly, exactly. That’s exactly where that comes from.
CB: Okay. So more arguments that perhaps it’s a legitimate thing, but it’s coming from either deities that are not sanctioned or from forces that are not good.
NC: Yes, yeah.
CB: Okay. Did you find what you were looking for?
NC: I did not find what I was looking for.
CB: Okay. That’s fine. So to move this along though, that’s the Mesopotamian context which especially the Old Testament comes out of. But then there’s a shift because astrology changes by the first century BCE. There’s this confluence during the Hellenistic period of Mesopotamian astrology gets synthesized together with Egyptian astrology and merged with Greco-Roman philosophy to create this new version of astrology, this new synthesis called Hellenistic astrology. And by this time, natal astrology has become really popular. And it didn’t seem to exist prior to about… The first birth charts that we have in the Mesopotamian tradition aren’t dated until about 410 BCE. And then by the first century BC and CE, suddenly, this concept of natal astrology is super popular, and everybody’s doing it. And it becomes integrated into just life in the Mediterranean world in general. And it’s that concept that you can cast a chart for the alignment of the planets at the moment a person is born, and it will say something significant about possibly their future or their character, what have you. So that’s the context in which the New Testament is written. And that’s a much different context compared to the Old Testament because now we’re starting to get into some different philosophical debates about if you take natal astrology true as a premise, it means there’s some things that might be predetermined in a person’s life, and you start getting into issues about fate and freewill and things like that. And right away, this is already prominent, we can already see the shift in things in the nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew, right?
NC: Yes, we can absolutely begin to see that. I’m going to put a pin in the nativity story real quick, because I think that’s one of the arguments for astrology from the New Testament that I find very compelling. But essentially, what we have by the time we get to the New Testament era, and this would be about the first century, let’s say the first to fourth centuries CE, there are essentially three primary classical arguments that argue that Christianity and astrology are not combatical. The first is, well, it doesn’t work, it’s not real, astrology is fake. And pagans had been doing that for years before Christianity even existed. So that’s not really an exclusively Christian argument that gets picked up by Christian writers in about the fourth and fifth centuries. And that becomes a de rigueur critique of astrology that we still have today from various corners.
CB: Right. And then some of that is actually influenced where the Christian authors would draw on earlier pagan attacks on astrology from like the philosopher Cicero from the first century BCE or from the philosopher Sextus Empiricus. And some of their arguments are taken, which are just like pagan disputations that astrology is even possible by invoking things like twins or later precession and other things like that. And then some of those arguments get adapted, not co-opted, but integrated into some of the later Christian disputations.
NC: Yes, that’s exactly right. And I think the point there is that those disputations are not really interesting theologically to me in terms of speaking of the history of Christianity and astrology as they are emerging in the Mediterranean basin and that period of history. So if we take the astrology doesn’t work, we’ll take that argument, set it here for now, and maybe it’s there.
CB: Because the modern analogy is like invoking a scientific argument today. Cause that video actually we watched tonight where I just pulled up some random YouTube video and it was a modern contemporary Christian pastor who was saying that astrology is not compatible with Christianity. And that was actually the first thing he did, the very first thing he did is he actually cited science and he says, science has not validated astrology and says that astrology is not a real phenomenon. And that was his opening argument against astrology. And then after that, he went into theological arguments based on what the Bible says, but that’s the modern equivalent to what was happening in this first tier that you’re mentioning in the ancient world.
NC: Yeah. And as an adjunct comment to that, I’d be really interested to know what he thinks about the age of the universe and all of those other considerations as well. Based on that video, it seemed like he was more of a conservative leaning evangelical.
CB: Yeah. Well, that’s an issue in and of itself, which is just you run into a problem if that’s going to be your main or your opening argument as a Christian against astrology that science says it’s not real, because the Bible clearly treats astrology as if it’s real most of the time, for example, with the nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew and the Star of Bethlehem. And in other parts it just treats it like it’s real, but it’s evil. But you’ve got a real issue there if the Bible itself is treating astrology as if it’s some phenomenon that does exist.
NC: Exactly, exactly. Which brings us to the other main thread of argument against astrology within the Christian world in the first centuries of Christianity, which were namely that either fate is cancelled or that the planets are demons. You got two options there. So the first off is this idea that fate is cancelled. And out of the Stoic world, there are essentially two concepts of fate that emerge. The first is heimarmene, which is simply fate. This is what you got, deal with it. And there’s also prónoia. And prónoia is interesting because in English, we translate that word as providence. And often, Christians even now will talk about divine providence, they’ll talk about divine goodness that is guiding the universe forward into the future. And I think that can be an attractive theological posture for many people, but because of providence being the actual guiding factor that is something that exempts a Christian from astrological fatedness, whereas heimarmene is something that we get exempted from by virtue of baptism in many of the early Christian arguments against astrology. Heimarmene is simply the idea of fate that is almost random. We have no way of choosing fate, so your chart is your heimarmene. It represents the lot that you have been given in this life and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now the “astrology is the devil” brand of criticism is actually almost a subset of the “fate is cancelled” criticism.
CB: Okay. Can we dwell on the “fate is cancelled” one or are you just summarizing both of them really quickly and then we’ll go back to that one? Just because the “fate is cancelled” one is such a huge discussion point, I want to make sure we talk about that for a little while.
NC: Right. Well, I think we get there with the “it’s the devil” argument as well because the route that I’m going is essentially what… Gosh, what’s her name?
CB: Nicola Denzey Lewis.
NC: Yep, she identifies fate as being a force that is administered by demons. So I think these two arguments are actually one and the same. There are various definitions of what fate is or what the nature of fate is. Yeah. Where do you want to pick back up?
CB: So that became to me like a huge part theologically when you get into this, that is like the big question mark for me. And a lot of my thoughts over the past decade have really been influenced by the work of this one scholar whose name is, it’s different in different publications, but it’s Nicola Denzey Lewis or Nicola Francis Denzey. But she wrote this amazing book, and it was originally her PhD dissertation in, I think, 1996 or 1998. But she later revised it and published it through Brill, which is an academic publisher. And the title is Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity and it came out in 2013. It’s an expensive book, it’s like $100 book, but it’s such a good book and such a good treatment of the tensions between especially astrology and Christianity in the ancient world, but primarily through the lens of this issue of fate and the role that it played in astrology and how that caused a lot of tensions with Christianity, especially in the first few centuries, both in some of what we consider to be like the standard mainstream treatments of Christianity but also in some of the other ones like what’s usually referred to as like Gnosticism and other smaller Christian cults that didn’t end up being as successful in the long term. So I love her book and I really recommend everybody read this. But it’s influenced my thinking on this because she does this literature review where she objects to some of the ways that earlier historians of religion have characterized the emergence of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world and the role that fate and astrology played. And she tries to present a slightly alternate narrative. And I’m not sure if I go along with her narrative completely, because I think she ends up doing actually a really good job explaining how this theological issue surrounding fate became one of the primary things almost that made Christianity to me almost seemed appealing, or for the first time, I felt like when I read her work and the way that she explained how early Christian authors were trying to frame astrology and how they were trying to frame their own religion and their own beliefs. And what was appealing about that is it seemed like they were trying to frame it as if one of the primary things was that being a Christian would free you from fate and would free you from the influence of astrology, which was seen as one and the same and interchangeable. And for the first time, it made me really understand what the appeal of Christianity would have been and why it would have risen so rapidly in the Greco-Roman world to become the dominant religion over the course of a few centuries. And I know that you object to that and you think it’s more complicated than that, and that’s what I want to get into and talk about now. But that was where this discussion came from. It was largely through reading her book as one of my primary sources, but also understanding Hellenistic and Greco-Roman astrology as I do and how they approached and what the mindset was. But also seeing with clients in modern times, as astrologers are reviving some of these older forms of astrology, you see people struggling with some of these questions about fate and freewill and what are the implications for my life and why does this timing technique work so well in indicating the sequence of events in my life? And what are the implications of that? And do I truly have freewill and all this other stuff? I think there’s something very relatable seeing that happen now in modern times, but then projecting it backwards into the first century and imagining what just a normal person would have felt like if these different views were current in the mainstream, especially in terms of astrology being the dominant paradigm. And this notion that major things in your life are pre-determined based on your moment of birth, and then you have this new group that comes along and says, “Maybe they’re not, maybe you can get free of that if you do these specific things, and it will erase your birth chart.” Those are some of the ideas. I’ve realized that’s a lot, but those are some of the ideas that I’ve been wrestling with and thinking about in terms of this issue and the role that Christianity played possibly or at least some part of the role that it played in the ancient world.
NC: Yeah. It seems like the summary of that angle is essentially the acknowledgement that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon. And when I say astrology is a legitimate phenomenon, what I mean is that there is a consensus view that individuals have a fate that is determined by astral influences at the moment of their birth doesn’t necessarily mean that the act of reading a chart is and of itself the devil or something like that.
CB: Or not even influences cause it might not even be influence, it could be like signs or whatever that the astrology itself is somehow indicating your pre-determined events in your life.
NC: Right, right. Exactly. Denzey makes this really fascinating argument, and I think that she is not alone in making it for sure. But the way that she lays it out in chapter three of her book when she speaks about Paul is very interesting. For those who do not know, Paul of Tarsus was a convert to Christianity who began as a pharisee and had a very successful career as a teacher of Jewish law and as a persecutor of Christians in the early years of the existence of Christianity. And he went on to write a majority of the text of the New Testament. Some of the books that bear his name, we are pretty sure that he wrote. The rest of them, not so sure.
CB: What’s his timeframe?
NC: He would have been writing… Oh gosh, I think his martyrdom was in…
CB: Looks like they’re saying 64 67 CE.
NC: Yeah, about there. I was thinking 70 CE, but that would have been the destruction of the temple. And I can hear my seminary professors yelling at me from 12 years ago.
CB: And isn’t that approximately and so the major… I’m blanking on the word, but the things of the New Testament, the major documents in the New Testament were written in the few decades roughly around there just prior to that?
NC: Yes, the gospels were written… So the four gospels, which are the accounts of Jesus’s life, were written beginning in about 50 CE. Mark is the earliest one that we have, and we are pretty sure that was based on another text or another couple of texts that were collated into one volume. The latest gospel is decidedly the gospel of John, which has a completely different angle of approach than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Those three are called the Synoptic Gospels because they form or they essentially follow the same plotline. But John’s is much different. It’s organized theologically, and you can see in John’s Gospel quite a bit more engagement with this idea of fate and freewill, and where this idea of the influences that make astrology work are themselves demonic influences. It’s not astrology itself that’s the issue, it’s the influences that are the problem here.
CB: So the theory then is that those four gospels are written a few decades after the events in which they are supposed to be depicting theoretically took place, around the first century or first decade BC or maybe the first decade AD?
NC: Yeah, the scholarly consensus for the date of the crucifixion of Jesus is 33 CE. And interestingly enough, 33 CE also includes one of the only times on record when the entire Thema Mundi is backwards. Every planet is in its detriment. And it’s in about February of 33 CE. And S.J. Anderson, who is an astrologer that found that chart and it’s stuck out in my mind ever since hearing about it, because it’s just absolutely fascinating. Yes, so the scholarly consensus is that Jesus’s crucifixion is in 33 CE and immediately the Christian movement after that begins to grow. It takes a little while for the engine to turn over and for it to become a more widespread movement, but Paul of Tarsus is one of the main figures in creating what we know as Christianity today, Christian theology. And what’s interesting about Paul is that he never actually met Jesus. He just had a couple of ecstatic experiences and met the people who knew Jesus, so all of his experiences were third party.
CB: So Paul some Johnny-come-lately shows up…
NC: That’s the only time I’ve ever heard Paul of Tarsus described as Johnny-come-lately, but that’s exactly right.
CB: Okay, first century. Yeah.
NC: Yeah, yeah. So he’s active in the middle of the first century CE.
CB: Okay. And you said he was originally a lawyer, Jewish lawyer, who’s against the Christians, but then he has a religious conversion experience and then he becomes Christian?
NC: Yes. He has a religious experience which he talks so much about in the book of Acts. He tells people three or four times and this happened and this happened and now I’m the apostle to the Gentiles, deal with it. And we just let him. Okay, if you want to do this.
CB: Sorry for my ignorance on this, but is Paul one of… He’s not considered one of the four synoptic gospels, but it does become basically, his writings do eventually become part of the New Testament.
NC: His writings are primarily letters, they’re all letters. Everything Paul left is epistolary literature, which means that it is written to specific audiences with specific problems with specific solutions, but those letters, primarily the letter to the church in Galatia, is where we really see the core of Paul’s cosmological pessimism which articulates, “Hey, the world is messed up and it’s messed up because a bunch of incompetent demons are running it. And those incompetent demons might be the planets.” But he never actually says that the stoicheia or the elemental spirits of this world are actually meant to be understood as astrological influences. He just makes the claim that, “Hey, by the way, baptism is how you get out of this.”
CB: Right. And that’s the thing that I found the most subtle but compelling about one of the chapters in Denzey Lewis’s book is that she does a pretty good job, I feel, of drawing that out and saying that we’re supposed to understand that if we’re reading this in the first century context, when he’s talking about some of these things that are acting as oppressive influences on human life on earth at this time, that a normal audience would have understood that at the time to be referring to the planets.
NC: Right. Right. Exactly, exactly.
CB: And that brings us to the baptism thing, that somehow baptism was set to give you a new birth. And when he uses the term birth, he uses the term genesis, which is of course, if you look at astrological texts written in Greek in the first and second century like Valens, when he refers to a birth chart, he calls it genesis, which means nativity. So genesis was also a technical term for your birth chart in the ancient world. So when some of these ancient Christian authors are saying you get a new genesis from being baptized, part of the implication may have been like you’re getting a new birth chart in some sense.
NC: Part of the implication may have been that. That’s as strongly as I’m willing to go on that one. But you will see technical terminology related to astrology peppered throughout, especially the Pauline Corpus, but also in the Johannine literature, so the gospel of John as well as the three letters of John. And Chris, I got to tell you a story. When I went to UAC in 2018, I went to Demetra George’s talks, one of her talks, and I went up to her and spoke afterwards and shared with her a little bit about my background. And I told her that like, “I went to seminary, and I know Greek.” And she grabbed my hand and said, “Oh, thank you so much for learning Greek and being able to get into the New Testament, because so much of the astrological jargon is in there.” And I think Paul’s letters especially, well, especially in Romans chapter eight, so his letter to the church in Rome, there’s this wonderful passage at the end of the chapter. And he’s listing all of these things that have no power to separate us from the love of God. But the things that he lists, of course, are death and life and angels and powers and all this blah blah blah, but he also uses the words hypsoma and bathos. So neither exaltation nor fall are able to separate us from the love of God. So, you’d have to know astrology to really be able to get that sense from the text, which is why my take on this whole argument is that I certainly think that for educated Romans or educated Hellenistic Jews, who know the jingo of astrology, that would land for them. But I’m not convinced that average joe in the pew on Sunday morning is going to have the astrological background to know that hypsoma and bathos are technical astrological terms.
CB: I mean, it is an interesting though, just the fact that it’s the technical term for exaltation. It’s contrasted with the technical term for fall, which is funny that 2,000 years later, that’s still a technical term that we use today, and it’s just inserted in there. You do sort of wonder. And then of course, there’s also little obscure, I’ve read papers about little obscure Gnostic Christian sects like the Peratics, I think, is what they’re called, where they did seem to incorporate some astrological terminology into their theology and stuff in even more elaborate ways.
NC: Yes, yes, we do certainly have evidence of various Christian sects that use… There is one, gosh, I can’t remember the scholar’s name at all. I’ve got it somewhere in my email inbox. There is this wonderful research paper exploring the use of the Thema Mundi as a catechetical tool within a particular Christian sect. So we do know that there are Christians, there is evidence of Christian sects in the early centuries of Christianity, for whom astrology was much more of a positive influence. And I think we even have that today in some esoteric Christian sects. For example, the Rosicrucians, right, who were late 19th century, early 20th century, and they’re still around an active today, sect of esoteric Christianity who were really important in making astrology accessible in the early 20th century. So this is another situation, I think, in which the testimony is not unified at all. So you really do have to pay attention to who is speaking and what their motivations for arguing for or against a given perspective are in all of this.
CB: Yeah. And two points really quick, one, yeah, the Greek thing is really cool, and I wish there was more astrologers that would go back to school to learn Greek or had that background or even Latin or to a lesser extent Arabic or other ancient languages because it comes in handy, but this is one of the areas where, because the Hellenistic texts, the surviving texts on Greek astrology were written in the first century BCE through the seventh century CE, that’s the same essentially type of Greek that the New Testament is written in. So when Demetra taught Greek at Kepler College when I was there like a decade ago, for example, we used this book, The Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce, I believe is his name.
NC: Yep. Mm-hmm.
CB: Yeah, you got that one?
NC: I’ve got that one on my shelf.
CB: Which is just amazing because so many of the technical terms that they used in the New Testament are also terms that are used in the astrological text. So I always think of, for example, when we translated this passage from Rhetorius where he’s talking about the 12 houses and the significations of the houses and the different planets that have their joys in the 12 houses. There’s this one sentence that when we translated it as students, it said, I don’t know if it was a good translation, but this was the rough translation. It says, “And when the star of Mercury is present in the first place, he rejoices since the breath of life comes into being through the word.” And the word, of course, the Greek word is logos is what we’re translating as word there. But there’s just all sort of little terminology there that comes up in the New Testament. So you get this really interesting parallel when you have that background in Koine or New Testament Greek.
NC: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. And, we can speak more to this later, but I think that idea of logos as the ordering principle of the universe, I think that’s my point of departure for a pro-astrology Christianity or a bridge between the two worlds for sure.
CB: Okay. And what was the previous thing that you were just talking about before the Greek digression? Cause I wanted to make another point about that. I guess it was just one of the issues that comes up in some of the early authors like the one that we were just talking about. I think Paul is some issues with the idea of the body and like physical incarnation, and this not necessarily just being a thing that was restricted to Christianity, but we also see coming up in some of the Gnostic sects and even in Hermeticism is this real idea that when you’re physically incarnated into the body that that carries with it certain issues, and that it’s when you’re in the body that the planets and that fate have real influence over that. And this led to some later distinctions, especially in like later attempts to reconcile astrology and Christianity between saying, well, the planets have influence over the body, but you have free will or your soul or your intellect is somehow free of that. And it seemed like already we have some of those debates starting to come up really early in some of these like first-ish century Christian texts in terms of their preoccupation with like the body.
NC: Yeah, yeah. Body adversity or body aversity, not adversity. Let me try that again. Aversion to embodiment seems to be a really prevalent theme within Hellenistic philosophy for whatever reason. I haven’t quite figured out in my own reading and research, but it was not a feature of Judaism. And I think that’s one of the things that we absolutely have to keep in our back pocket when we’re engaging in these conversations is that Christianity started as a Jewish sect, which was not afraid of embodiment. That is something that, well, Paul’s Hellenistic priorities and his interchange with Hellenistic philosophy imported a lot of body problems into Christianity that were not necessarily endemic to the Judaism whence Christianity emerged.
CB: How would you summarize his like anti-body negativity? What are some of the features of that?
NC: Essentially, let’s see.
CB: Or, I mean, I’m trying to think, cause I know I can talk about in terms of the astrology, some of the negative implications of that where he…
NC: It essentially emerges from his assertion that the physical body itself is bound by law. And when Paul uses law there are a couple of different things that he means. In some cases, he means the Jewish law, the Torah, but in other cases, he means the law as administered by celestial spirits, by astral entities, by planets and stars and other forms of creation. So for Paul, his view is that, well, I think it can be argued that one possible view of Paul is that he views God and the experience of God as being separate from everything that is being administered within the realm of law. And I think you can go so far as to suggest that for Paul he is explicitly rejecting everything that smacks of law. He’s rejecting everything that has to do with the Jewish ritual law, which is very embodied and has to deal with bodies, he is rejecting everything that has to do with the law of fate, either pronoia or heimarmene, whichever definition of fate you’re using that is administered by created things, by created beings. He is dispensing with everything that restricts essentially the human mind from experiencing God. And for Paul, that was the body, and for many other religious traditions that also seems to be the body. But this becomes really challenging when we try to square that against the Jewish understanding of material creation as being fundamentally good. So if you go all the way back to the book of Genesis, God calls it, “Oh, that’s good. That’s good. That’s good. That’s good. That’s very good. The whole thing’s good from the very beginning.” And so there’s this clear rift in this first century emergence of Christianity out of Judaism where we start to get confused about what is the body? What is the role of embodiment? What is the role of incarnation? And of course, as a result of that, we’ve got 2,000 years of purity culture that we’re still trying to untangle and we’ve got all of this body nonsense that Christians embroil themselves in, in terms of sexual shame, in terms of prudishness and toxicity and all of that. So it goes quite a bit farther beyond the astrological implications of embodiment here.
CB: So this is one of the sort of areas where some of the ideas surrounding like sexuality being negative in Christianity sort of stem from is from this preoccupation with the body and like physical sensation and vices being negative things.
NC: Exactly, because those things are under the influence of the either inept or malevolent archons of this universe, of the cosmos.
CB: And that reminds me of there’s that famous passage in the Corpus Hermeticum, the very first Corpus Hermeticum, which is the most important one, where it talks about the soul descending through the planetary spheres into incarnation before you’re born and how it’s picking up certain qualities and especially certain vices from each of the planets and then it’s incarnated. But then you’re born and you live your life and you’re under the control of the planets and they have influence over you, especially through these different predispositions or character traits that they’re influencing in you. But then when you die, you ascend back through the planetary spheres and you give back these qualities to each of the planets. It’s like that’s part of the sort of cultural backdrop of some of those beliefs as well, in terms of different vices that the planets might have control over or ways in which they are influencing your physical body and physical sensations.
NC: Yeah, exactly. Which reminds me, I think Lynn Bell is getting ready to do a webinar on the seven deadly sins and the seven cardinal virtues as related to the planets, which might be a really interesting dovetail at that point.
CB: Yeah, that is actually a very nice connection actually cause many astrologers have sort of noted that there may be some connection between the seven traditional planetary bodies and the seven deadly sins.
NC: Yeah. That’s something that I’ve done some thinking with and I don’t have any solid opinions on, but it is a fun thought experiment when there are groups of seven trying to line things up.
CB: Got it. So back to this issue of sort of fate and how that’s one of the things being attacked. It’s just especially this idea of the body and physical incarnation being something that the planets have control over and that they have control over the physical world. And that’s one of the reasons why there might be arguments in some early Christian texts that maybe astrology is legitimate but that it’s not necessarily a good thing. And takes us into the next part, which is sort of :it’s the devil” argument.
NC: Yeah, essentially, the argument is that celestial beings variously called stoicheia, elemental forces, archai, exousia or dunamis, so rulers, principalities, authorities, powers, all these things populate the cosmos and these beings appear to exert some form of contingent control over a significant portion of the human race through three specific means. They control vice, they control human behavior, and finally they control law. And in the Pauline worldview, these beings act in direct opposition to Christ whom they, these beings, had crucified in their ignorance. That’s a direct quote from Denzey page 67 of her book. But essentially, the argument here is that these powers see everything that’s going on. And what Paul does interpretively is he takes the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as the crucifixion of this political criminal, and he magnifies it and blows it up to this cosmic thing, this cosmic reality, where it’s all of the powers that administer this realm, this temporal world, are the ones who crucified Jesus, who crucified Christ. And in that they prove themselves not to be paid attention to, they prove themselves not to have any ultimate authority because they of course all end up conquered in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. That’s Paul’s essential argument. Now the idea in that sense, and this is true of the epistles that we know that Paul wrote, his argument is that, well, Jesus is coming back really soon, he’s gonna finish fixing everything. So there’s gonna be this great conflagration and the world’s going to be set aright, and it’ll all be fine. And all these powers will finally be canceled. And you as an individual person, if you get baptized into the faith of Jesus Christ as preached by Paul, you get exempted from this power because you participate in the cosmic crucifixion and death and resurrection of Christ. And therefore, through this kind of exchange, you are no longer subject to the law that these rulers, principalities, powers are administering within time and space.
CB: I mean, that sounds pretty appealing to me. I mean, that’s my fundamental argument is that sounds really appealing. If some normal person who’s hearing that off the street, it’s like you’re using a lot of like technical terms and that’s all going in one ear and out the other, but what I’m hearing as a normal person is, does that mean I’m no longer subject to like Mercury retrogrades? And I mean, if the answer is yes, then my answer is sign me up for that. And I feel like if that’s even partially true, becomes a great selling point for not just Christianity but some of the other cults and some of the other religions that were offering sort of similar things, which is kind of like liberation from this broad like complicated cosmology that in some instances might feel very overbearing or very oppressive.
NC: Yeah. Yeah, of course. And I certainly think that it is a compelling argument. The reason that I don’t go all the way there, I do think it was a compelling argument for some people, I don’t think it was the main thing driving the growth of Christianity, simply because if that were the main thing, the escape from astrological pre-determinism, I feel like the text would have specifically said that in more straightforward language than having these kind of elliptical references to technical astrological terminology. And Paul never actually says that much in the text. He never suggests that it’s specifically astrological influences that you are getting exempted from. He does suggest that you are no longer slaves to the powers and the elemental rulers of this world, of this age. But what he means when he says that, scholarship is not clear on. There are some people who do take the interpretation that he is speaking about astral influences, but there are other people who are saying that, no, it’s the other religious traditions of this world that you’re no longer subject to or the spiritual traditions of this world that you’re no longer subject to. So I don’t think the evidence… For me, the evidence is not satisfactory that that is the main thing that is being communicated here, but I do agree with you that that is probably a compelling argument to somebody who ended up in church on Sunday morning in 85 CE.
CB: Right, and whatever the like first century equivalent of like Mercury retrograde was and wanting to be free of that. Yeah, and that was the point that we were gonna debate about that in terms of like me taking that side of the argument, and then you cause you feel like there’s other things that were appealing to Christianity and we don’t need to put it all on this like one thing of like getting free of the birth chart or getting free of astrology that Christianity had other good like appealing points to it that would’ve appealed to like a first century person.
NC: Right, I think Christianity, you know, in addition to of course the freedom from astrological determinism, it was essentially at its core a revolutionary community. A revolutionary community that was rooted in non-violent resistance to imperial power. For the very first few centuries of Christianity, you were not allowed to be a soldier and a Christian. If you had to wield lethal force as part of your job, you were not allowed to be baptized until you repudiated that job, until you left it. Christians gathered across lines of social status, of race, of class, of gender, of sex, of opportunity, rich and poor and sick, and really it comes down to all the wrong people being brought into one room and completely equalized, the rich with the poor, the able-bodied with the impaired, the foreigner with the citizen.
CB: All this like flattening of hierarchies in some way, non-hierarchical.
NC: It’s very non-hierarchical. Of course, there is a leadership hierarchy and we can talk about that and how that gets subsumed into the Roman course of honors later on in the development of Christianity. But at least at the very beginning, these people are communists. They’re holding all of their property in common, they’re selling everything they have, they’re living in community with each other, they’re giving their money to the poor, and there’s a really strong extra biblical testimony to the fact that these people were working for social reform and for the social good. And I think that is just as much of a compelling reason to why Joe on the corner would be interested in Christianity as much as the freedom from astrological fate angle is part of the attraction.
CB: Sure. So Christians are like first century hippies basically is what you’re saying basically?
NC: Oh yeah. Yes. They were first century hippies, and they were censured because they were crossing so many taboos. That was one of the reasons that they were persecuted by the Roman empire, of course, because they’re not afraid of death anymore. And if they’re not afraid of death, that makes them very hard to control. One of the taboos they regularly crossed was worshiping in graveyards because they had nowhere else to go. But part of the early Christian mythos was this idea of the defeat of the archon of death. And if we wanna talk archons, that’s the big one, that Christians were celebrating victory over in those first centuries of the existence of Christianity.
CB: Was death because of the belief of life after death?
NC: No, it was the defeat of death and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It wasn’t necessarily, “Oh, we die and we go to heaven and it’s fine.” It’s like, “No, death gets turned backwards. Death is canceled, and life does continue after death.” But there’s also this really strong belief in the first centuries of Christianity in the literal bodily resurrection, and Paul even talks about this. He talks about the transition of the body from being simply physical to something that is super physical, something that is completely unlike the bodies that we have now, but is both physical and spiritual.
CB: Oh yeah. Isn’t that one of the things that astrologers sometimes cite , is something about like an eclipse but an astronomically impossible eclipse at the resurrection of Jesus, and that’s almost like a citation or an instance of or an illusion almost to nature being turned on its head in some way through the resurrection?
NC: Yeah. That’s really at the crucifixion, there would not have been an eclipse. I think that is common apocalyptic imagery actually that’s drawn straight out of the Hebrew Bible. But yeah, essentially, there is this sense of like nature itself being inverted in the crucifixion and resurrection. And that is actually what a lot of the hymnody of especially the Eastern Orthodox Church but as well the Roman Catholic church today tends to celebrate and land on in the celebration of holy week in Easter is that it’s… It’s not as much about Jesus, oh, he died and we get to go to heaven and get our get out of hell free card punched, no, it’s that Jesus actually canceled death by dying. So yeah, there’s that whole tradition that I think is probably a bigger circle on the Venn diagram than getting out of astrological fate. But I think they are both valid attractors for sure.
CB: Sure. So maybe I should tone down the astrology is basically the reason that Christianity took over in ancient world and maybe adopt a more levelheaded like natural historical conclusion of there are many different factors and it was complicated and this may have been one contributing factor of many.
NC: That’s where I land, but you are welcome to land wherever you want, Chris.
CB: Okay. I’ll keep working on that.
NC: I’m not proselytizing.
CB: Sure. So let’s expand a little bit cause we’re almost finished with that part of “it’s the devil” argument. Cause one of the ones that’s really funny then historically is Saint Augustine who writes a few centuries later, and he is interesting cause he’s one the if you try to do… One of these days I wanna do an episode on just ancient Roman critiques of astrology and attacks on astrology of which there’s at least three or four major ones, which are Cicero, Sextus Empiricus, and then Saint Augustine, and Augustine is the latest. And his is the most interesting from a conceptual standpoint because he doesn’t try to like dismiss and say that astrology isn’t real, he says that it’s real, but he just says that it’s the work of the devil essentially or the work of demons. And even says or tries to claim that he was a former astrologer himself, which is really interesting in terms of his perspective that he’s coming at the subject at. So did we touch on this idea about like daemons and that being part of like the cultural context that was going on in this time period, that those were some of the things that were operating in terms of the environment or the law that was seen to be somehow keeping the order in check.
NC: Yeah, the whole idea of daemon is certainly subsumed into that first and second century critique of the natural order as it is.
CB: Where it’s like there was belief, especially coming from like the Egyptian tradition, for example, of these intermediary spirits that are operating between the world of man and the higher levels or even the planetary realms, that the daemons are like intermediaries and that there’s like good ones and bad ones, but that sometimes in some of those different traditions, those are almost like the operative power through which the planets are exerting some sort of influence on…
NC: Yeah, and that really is a further articulation of what we had already touched on in terms of the law, in terms of the powers and principalities that administer the law, that administer this kind of set of rules for existence in a temporal realm.
CB: And those are one of the things that John was like railing against then.
NC: That Paul was railing against, yes.
CB: Paul, okay. As part of is the daemons, but then again, first century audience would’ve understood that the daemons are potentially under the control of or administered by the planet. So then it becomes, again, potentially going back to this sort of broader astrological cosmology that’s being taken into account. And eventually like the concept of the daemon gets turned into something that’s almost entirely negative in Christianity, although we sometimes see traces of like the positive version of that with like the concept of like angels as intermediaries, right?
NC: Exactly, exactly. Within Christian theology, we have this idea of non-corporeal intelligences or non-human intelligences. Angels and demons are both that kind. So the closest thing that we have really to a daemon proper within Christianity is the idea of a guardian angel, which is this idea. And there’s not a lot of direct scriptural discussion of the idea of a guardian angel, but there is actually this lovely passage in the Acts of the Apostles that describes a scenario in which Peter, who is one of the original 12 disciples, is imprisoned. And he miraculously gets out of prison and people see him and they think, “Oh, that must be Peter’s daemon, that must be his angel. That must be this spiritual representative that kind of looks like him, but we know it’s not Peter cause he was in jail.” But it’s actually Peter. But there are also of course throughout the Acts of the Apostles, these kinds of angelic interactions that happen with non-embodied intelligences that are working for the good, they’re working for the good guys. So that is certainly something that has been part and parcel of Christian theology for quite some time. Of course the word daemon gets calced into the English word demon, but daemon itself does not necessarily mean a spirit that is evil, qua evil. It’s just a word for non-human intelligence.
CB: Right, or like a disembodied spirit of some sort.
NC: Mm-hmm, exactly, exactly.
CB: Okay. So but that again becomes part of that broader like cosmological stuff of like ideas that exist in the ancient world that are sometimes like tied into astrology and that sometimes are perhaps implied when some of these early authors are talking about getting free of all of this like complex machinery that you’re born into when you’re born into physical incarnation.
NC: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
CB: All right. You said you wanted to circle back at some point to the nativity story and the gospel of Matthew. Would this be a good time to touch on that?
NC: Yes, this would be a perfect time to touch on this because I think this is actually one of the arguments for astrology, one as legitimate phenomenon, and two as something that is licit for Christians to involve themselves in. So essentially, the gospel of Matthew has of course the star of Bethlehem narrative. Now the gospel of Matthew is written to a Jewish audience. And we remember of course that at this point in history, Judea is occupied by Rome and it’s during the time of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, who of course legitimizes his right to rule to be the August Caesar by publishing his horoscope. And he puts the Capricorn emblem on his currency. So people know, “Oh, he’s the emperor cause the stars said so.
CB: Right, cause they think like Capricorn is probably like his Moon sign or some people have speculated or maybe his rising sign.
NC: Exactly, right. And so we get this narrative in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel that has everything to do with–
CB: Really quickly, I hate to keep interrupting you. But to expand on that point, he published his horoscope because he may have received predictions earlier that said that he would be eminent as a result of that, as a result of his birth chart so that he felt like his birth chart and publishing it legitimized to some extent his reign, that this was predetermined and that this chart and the alignment of the planets the moment of my birth were very prominent and showed that this was meant to happen and I was meant to be the emperor of the entire Roman empire. So astrology was being used sometimes as a justification for authorities who are putting themselves forward cause we think in retrospective, Augustine is the first Roman emperor, as you know, just that was always gonna happen or something like that. But his rise and reign was very precarious and there’s like lots of instances where that could have gone wrong or where he could have not pulled that off. Him pulling that off and turning a democracy essentially into a dictatorship was quite a coup and him using astrology and publishing his birth chart was one of his means of propaganda and as of justifying his intentions to do that.
NC: Well, I believe that Julius Caesar was the first of the emperors to rise into the dictatorship, but of course, Caesar Augustus as a successor is still riding that and his reign of course is also imperiled by virtue of the instability that accompanies him throughout his life. So he publishes his horoscope to legitimate his rule. So that brings us to Matthew’s gospel, which is written to a Jewish audience who’s under the rule of Caesar Augustus and Caesar Augustus’s successors of course. One of the primary thematic ideas throughout Matthew’s gospel is the idea of the kingdom of heaven. And throughout Matthew’s gospel, the kingdom of heaven is set up as an alternative to the empire of Rome. So there’s this dichotomy between kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Rome, kingdom of heaven, kingdom of the world. Jesus as a good, benevolent, kind, self-sacrificing ruler versus Caesar Augustus as, of course, another one of these top of the pyramid figures. And so there is a really strong political case to be made for why the author of Matthew’s gospel included the Magi narrative at the beginning of that gospel as a nod to the astrological legitimation of Jesus’s position. So if you have these foreigners come into Judea and say, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews for we have seen his star at its rising at its anatole, and we have come to worship him.”
CB: Again a technical term from astrology.
NC: Exactly, exactly. We’ve seen his star and we’ve come to pay him homage. And Herod, of course, who’s the puppet king of Judea says, “Oh really, tell me more.” And of course his plan is to get rid of the little twerp before he threatens his throne. So there is this really strong political commentary within that astrological commentary that should not be overlooked to anyone who is reading Matthew’s gospel for sure. But the fact that the astrologers from the east are not condemned at all but in fact are the first people besides shepherds and poor people and livestock who find Jesus, I think that’s a compelling tee up for what I mentioned earlier about the whole Christian movement inviting all the wrong kind of people to the table. So these were foreigners, these were people who had no responsibility either to Rome or to Judea, but they’re showing up and they’re using these “illicit” arts to discover the truth. I feel like that’s a really strong justification for the fact that we can’t just put astrology in the bad pile if we’re trying to figure out, “Oh, is this something that we as good church going folk should be involving ourselves in or not? And so that for me is my initial point of departure. Here’s this really strong narrative that serves a powerful narrative purpose within Matthew’s gospel, and these people are not condemned for what they’re doing, but rather are celebrated as people who both find Jesus and pay homage and protect him by understanding that they need to get out of Dodge by way of a different road. It’s something that makes you sit and think with that idea for some time, for sure.
CB: Yeah. I mean, either at the very least like worst case scenario, if you were to take a purely historical and even like non-believer standpoint, we have this very early Christian writer, whoever wrote Matthew in the first century, who has this story at the very beginning of his work which gives an astrological justification for Jesus being like somebody who is really important and using astrology and the concept of natal astrology front and center in order to legitimize that this guy is potentially like the son of God or what have you. So it’s almost like worst case scenario you at least have that as a justification. Best case scenario, if you are like a believing Christian who thinks that this is describing an actual historical event, it means that there was some sort of astronomical alignment at the birth of this person, at the birth of Christ, and that three astrologers or it actually doesn’t specify there was three, but some group of astrologers from the east were literally led to the birth of Jesus and showed up there right from the start and gave him gifts and then left. And then actually avoided doing something negative to him which the king at the time was attempting to, to lead them into accidentally. Yeah, so that’s… And finally, not just that, but one of the things I noticed when I was watching recent objection is you have this issue with that story if you’re a Christian of if that actually happened, that it implies that that wasn’t like negative demons that were somehow involved in causing the star of Bethlehem to appear, that instead is meant and comes off like it was some sort of divinely inspired omen that showed up at that time that was indicating something good. And you really run into an issue there if you want to attempt to portray that negatively somehow. And I know that like later sort of Christian writers in a few centuries after Matthew, it’s always funny seeing them like desperately trying to spin this in like negative way or make this look like it’s not about astrology or the astrologers are not being sanctioned as the good guys basically in this story, which they clearly come off as. And so they’ll do funny things like read between the lines where it says that they avoided Herod by going a different alternative route to avoid him on the way out. And they’ll say, well, this means that so symbolically, they gave up astrology afterwards and just like really like lame attempts to reinterpret the story like that. But that aside, it seems like a story that both sanctions that astrology is real and paints the astrologers in a relatively positive light at the very beginning of Jesus’s story, essentially.
NC: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I think that this is where this conversation as to whether astrology and Christianity are antithetical really comes down to me because I think that there when we are… I’m gonna speak to 2019 right now, in light of everything that we’ve said over the past few minutes. When we are trying to do the reconciliation between Christianity and astrology now, I don’t think that we can necessarily just go back to Paul, go back to this first century cosmology that Paul is articulating and take that wholesale and pop it right here in 2019, because that cosmology I don’t think is as defensible today based on what we know scientifically, but also based on what we know in terms of expanding sense of integral reality.
CB: Are you saying that we cannot take every passage from the Bible and apply it literally in a modern 2019 context?
NC: I am saying that. So, Chris, in case you needed to hear that from someone with some skin in the game, no, you do not have to apply the Bible literally to anything really.
CB: All right. Well, that’s a little controversial, but I’ll go along with you there up to this point just for the sake of argument.
NC: Oh, of course, of course. But here’s the thing too, and this is my criticism of Paul’s cosmology and this whole argument that baptism exempts you from astrology. Baptized people with no knowledge of nor any interest in astrology still end up living out their charts. We’ve got lots of pope charts, where this is a great example and a couple of saint charts as well, because these are the kinds of charts that I collect. I think a great one is Oscar Romero who has Mars in Cancer directly on the Ascendant. And he, I believe, has the Moon in Sagittarius in the sixth house. Of course, Oscar Romero is a famous, he’s a saint now, and he was a martyr during the Salvadoran civil war for essentially speaking up for the people who were the victims of violence, Mars in Cancer on the Ascendant with the Moon in Sagittarius. He was actually shot and killed while he was celebrating mass by an assassin. And he made his entire stand on defending the poor, defending the people who had become victims of the violence in El Salvador. And those two placements in that chart, I can draw the entire chart out and draw that entire narrative out of. But of course he’s a baptized person who’s now a saint of the church who is living out his chart. So I think that Paul’s suggestion or Paul’s tentative or possible suggestion that baptism exempts you from your astrologically predetermined fate, I don’t think it holds water in evidence. And I feel like we could spend a lot of time looking at the charts of religious people who have been baptized and who have instead of being exempted from their fate have lived into the hand that they have been dealt with consciousness and openness and a sense of the divine at work in all aspects of their life. I think for me that’s where I land. And I also land on this idea which also comes from the Pauline corpus, but especially the Deutero-Pauline corpus. So Ephesians and Colossians where Christ is actively at work, redeeming the world and redeeming the whole thing, not just humans, not just getting humans into heaven, but rather bringing healing and wholeness to the entire world, to all of existence, to all levels and degrees and natures of existence, which would necessarily include the planets, which would necessarily include all aspects of the cosmos. And if you were to press me theologically, that’s what I would lean on, this idea of the entire restoration of the world so that the planets can take their right place once again as indicators of time. And they can correlate instead of cause, and they can offer guidance that is helpful and offer a window into the intentions of God for the world. I don’t know. It sounds kind of [shmarmy] and romantic when I say it like that, but I mean, that’s where I land and that’s where I start my reconciliatory process for sure.
CB: Sure. And also as a Christian but also an astrologer, one of your other positions is that even though you think astrology continues to work even for those that have been baptized, when you say work you still think and strongly believe, and in terms of your practice, you do not believe in a complete determinism or that things are completely predetermined or that there’s nothing you can do about it, but then instead that you have a certain amount of room and like negotiability and things like that as well, that’s another big component in terms of your philosophy and theology, right?
NC: I do, I do. I do believe that you have the ability to work within the constraints that you’ve been given. Whether those restraints are astrological or whether they are entirely mundane, I do believe that you have the responsibility to use what you’ve been given to your utmost to live life with as much virtue and as ethically as possible. And I think that this is one of the spaces I land, where I honestly believe that Christianity and astrology can serve each other, because if you know what your chart says and if you have been growing in a tradition that cultivates virtue and cultivates ethical action and cultivates responsibility for what you are doing in the world, you can merge those two together really nicely so that you are working to live out your chart in a way that, you know. Say you’ve got Mars and Capricorn in the 10th house, you know you’re gonna drive really hard at work, so what direction are you gonna use that energy to drive in? This is a very simple example. But what direction are you gonna use that energy to drive in? Are you going to run over people or are you going to use that power to lead, to build other people up, to treat other people the way they want to be treated? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For me, that’s where it comes down. And for me, Christianity, as much as it is a mystical tradition for sure is also an ethical tradition, and that’s where my concern lies. So we can certainly do a lot of speculation about the origins of astrology, we can do all of that, but for me, okay, how is that impacting the choices that you’re making in everyday life? That’s always my question. It always comes down to, okay, so what? How does that impact how you live in this world? How does that impact how you participate in the healing of the world that you as a Christian or you as just a human being? You don’t even have to be Christian to do this or have the opportunity to participate in.
CB: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it seems like we’re also getting here to a common thing that comes up with religions in terms of, are you trying to focus on the spirit, and especially like some of the ethical considerations in the texts that come from the religion that then are put into use as like principles in your life or guiding principles to help improve your life and make you a better person or are you focusing on this like line by line quotation of individual sentences from texts from like the seventh century through the first century that you’re gonna attempt very difficultly to apply very literally and to reconcile in your life, even though they’re often conflicting and not consistent and there’s not necessarily any way that any one person can follow all of those strictly to the letter necessarily, but that difference between like a literal interpretation versus following sort of the spirit of something in some sense.
NC: Yeah. I think that to attempt a literal interpretation of any sacred text does violence to the text speaking quite frankly, because there are things in the Old Testament, especially that were never meant to be taken literally, but we have people who insist that the earth is flat and only 6,000 years old. But so much of that was in the sense of poetry and it was written not as a scientific document, but as a theological document. I’m speaking of course, here of the Genesis creation narratives and other illusions to earth having corners. No, no, no, for me, the emphasis truly is on the formation of virtue and the participation in the divine life that in my own practice of Christianity emerges from participation in the sacraments and participation in the worshiping community. But I also happen to be universalist, which means everybody’s in but everybody’s in because there is this thing that is bigger than Christianity drawing all of us together in a community of love and healing that is taking a really long time to work out, but the universe is headed that way. And I do believe that, and I believe that same thing that’s drawing the universe forward into the future is crafting the narratives that the planets represent that we have in our charts that we get to work in consonance and harmony with, instead of feeling like we have to be enslaved to them.
CB: Yeah. I mean, one of the big things that comes up for me, for example, in reviewing some of the videos on YouTube that are out there like the one I watched earlier tonight was there seem… One of the most fundamental arguments I feel like I would make to anybody that’s trying to argue against astrology from a Christian standpoint would be, if God created the planets and the stars and if in any way it’s true that they’re sending messages or capable of conveying information about individual human lives that are sort of like emanating from the planets and the stars however you wanna define that, how would that not be coming from the divine in some sense? I think one of the arguments that I would make is that if you wanna argue that that they were created in that way, unless you wanna say that the planets themselves are evil, you’d almost have to start making a very negative cosmology about how the cosmology of the planets and everything else or nature is itself evil in order to pull off, not sort of attributing that to God.
NC: Which is antithetical to the Orthodox Christian articulation of the nature of nature. Which is essentially that nature is good, the created world is good. And I think this brings me to the ultimate theological task that I’m trying to figure out in my work, and I don’t have the answer to it yet, but this is the project I’m working on. If astrology works, which it demonstrably does, and Paul’s cosmology is wrong, namely that the material world is evil, which it is, with a couple of other things that Paul said because there’s a lot of Paul that… Come on.
CB: When you say it is, you mean that is Paul’s cosmology that it is evil?
NC: That Paul’s cosmology is incorrect, that the world is not evil, that the created world is not evil, then Christians and people of faith in general, whether or not they’re Christians, need to engage in a new theological task to figure out what’s happening here and not satisfy ourselves with the first century cosmic pessimism that Paul seems to articulate. Where I have really found a lot of exciting, possible roads have been in both historic and contemporary articulations of an integral worldview that acknowledges the unity of the spiritual and the material and the fundamental goodness of both. So we get a lot of that out of the Franciscan tradition vis a vis Duns Scotus and the ensuing Scholastic tradition with people like Thomas Aquinas and Albert The Great. We also get this wonderful articulation from Pseudo-Dionysius in the fifth and sixth century CE of the idea of everything in creation participating in the divine life, the life of God, according to its nature, everything from planets down to plants and everything in between. And then there’s, of course, this tradition from the Scholastic era, as I mentioned before, that the stars correlate but they do not compel, and that they are administrators of divine will and they are not evil. And that prediction is possible by way of conjecture, not by way of actually knowing the future. That would be what Aquinas argues. But I think what is most interesting to me, and this is a thread that I really want to chase, are some of the avant-garde theologies of the 20th and 21st century. One of which is the idea of emergence theology. Emergence theology essentially posits that divinity emerges from the synergistic operation of systems. So if we think of a human body, you can’t reduce it down to an individual system. Like the brain doesn’t work without the rest of the body, so God does not work without the rest of creation. And that’s something to really sit with. But I think that there’s a thread that we can kind of tug on there or at least a thing that we can play with, an idea that we can play with is that perhaps conscious human interaction with observation of astral phenomena actually generates astrological phenomena. So that’s an idea I’m playing with. I haven’t really landed on that. Don’t send me emails about it yet. But that is a line of inquiry that I’m starting to think about and play with quite a bit right now.
CB: Sure. And it’s interesting when you’re talking about that in terms of the first century preoccupation, the question about whether nature is ultimately good or whether it is ultimately bad because of the negative associations with like physical incarnation and the question of whether we’re gonna import those first century sort of negative views on the physical body and physical incarnation into modern times. It actually makes me think of some of the modern debates surrounding like even environmentalism and questions about like, how are you treating the planet? Are we treating this like this thing that’s important that we’re supposed to preserve? And there’s some like Christian groups who have gone in like an environmentalist route in thinking that taking care of the earth and whatever that means is in some ways like part of your duty in order to like preserve God’s creation versus others that sometimes think that the rapture’s coming or our time is limited here anyways, and so there’s no reason to really take care of this because we don’t want to be here in the first place. And our first goal is just like to get out of Dodge as soon as possible. So there’s no real reason to sort of take care of it when we don’t value it so much as we value the afterlife or what have you.
NC: And I will say right now that that idea that you have just articulated is one of the most insidious ideas that has ever been generated through Christian theology, is the idea that we do not have a responsibility to take care of the earth, because that is a clear repudiation of the entire witness of the scriptural canon. And it’s also creating manifest evil in the lives of people who are suffering the effects of climate change. I’m not trying to get off onto this tangent, but like man, I really feel some feelings about that. But yeah, if we go back to a kind of cosmic pessimism, of course, we’re not gonna care about the environment, of course, we’re not gonna care about the people who are lost in their wickedness and their sinfulness. Cause it’s about getting our ticket to heaven punched. And as long as we get in, we’ll be fine. So yeah, the return to a kind of Pauline or Pseudo-Pauline cosmic pessimism is not a good solution for engaging in this conversation, I think. But I think it is a really interesting way to start talking about how Christianity has some of these challenging things kind of lingering down at its roots. And we really do need to examine them and examine how those ideas make themselves manifest today in the social and political discourse in societies that have been really formed by especially Western Christianity.
CB: Yeah. What’s interesting just that those threads and some of those views and the tension between those views just goes back so far in some basic theological debates in the religion, and that it manifested in that way back in the day in the first century and was in the context of things like astrology and the planets, but then in modern times you can see echoes of that coming out in like those two different views.
NC: Exactly, exactly. Yeah. I think the astrology and law debate is just a symptom of that kind of impulse that we see in the first and second century CE. Now it’s about the environment, what’s happening right here on the surface of this planet much less those.
CB: Yeah. All right. Are there any other things that we meant to touch on in terms of our outline that we did not get a chance to touch on? I mean, I think the ultimate… What is the answer to our question if our title is still, is astrology antithetical to Christianity?
NC: My answer is no.
CB: Your answer is no? Okay.
NC: Based on my Christianity, my answer is no. I don’t think that Saint Paul would argue the same, but I think that is something that you should–
CB: But you think that Matthew might?
NC: I think that Matthew might. I think that he might, and I think that he would be in the good company of Christians throughout the two millennia of Christian history who have seen astrology, not as something to be feared, not as something to be banished, not as something to be extricated from society, but as something that can be a tool for cultivating virtue and a tool for serving people. And that’s where I land. It’s nothing more than a platform agnostic tool because it is legitimate phenomenon and it’s part of our natural world.
CB: Sure. And that’s probably the most important argument that you could make. Question is, is it legitimate phenomenon? And if you research astrology enough and you don’t just take it at the surface level of like Sun signs, if you actually look into astrology, people are often surprised at what they find that this thing that, you know, by all rational means, let’s just be honest, should not be legitimate phenomenon, but for some reason like it is, and for some reason it works, and for some reason there’s a correlation between celestial movements and earthly events. So it’s like if you sort of accept that, that it’s a phenomenon that seems to be occurring out there, then point two is that it’s a natural phenomenon that’s happening in the cosmos. And so your second question is gonna be then, is that something that was sort of divinely created or is that something that you’re gonna attribute to negative or sort of malevolent energies of some sort? And you’re gonna have I feel like a harder time doing that arguing that it’s negative or malevolent, but yeah, that’s a pretty good, I think, ultimate fundamental argument to make, in addition to what you said earlier, which is there’s just been countless prominent Christians in all walks of life who have incorporated astrology or used astrology or justified astrology over the past 2,000 years, which includes popes, which includes philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, which includes famous scientists like Galileo or Kepler, I mean, you can just go down the list of people who have been Christians that have incorporated astrology into their lives in positive ways.
NC: Yeah, and just regular folk like me and like many people that I know who are just using the wisdom of what’s available to do the best they can to navigate this life. And that’s what it comes down to.
CB: Sure. So the answer then is no, astrology is not necessarily antithetical to Christianity, and there are ways to integrate astrology and still consider yourself a Christian and still practice Christianity in an authentic way while still incorporating this other information into it somehow.
NC: Yes, yes.
CB: Brilliant. All right. Well, that might be a good point to come to as we wind down. Thanks a lot for joining me tonight for this discussion.
NC: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. This has been an absolute blast. I’ve had so much fun.
CB: Yeah. We have covered quite a bit of ground, and I’m sure we could keep going for another few hours, but maybe we’ll save the rest for a part two or a part three. So tell me a little bit about your work because you actually, I wanna mention first, even though it’s not the most pressing thing, but you actually have a podcast that you’ve been doing over the course of the past year that’s very relevant to this discussion to some extent, right?
NC: Yes. I am the host of the podcast entitled Jailbreak the Sacred, which you can find on iTunes and Google Podcasts, and you can also find at jailbreakthesacred.com. And essentially, it’s an opportunity for me to sit down and speak with all my spooky friends. But we have conversations about the process of finding a spirituality and a religious practice that cultivates the best of the traditions we inherit and also provides us with an opportunity to reevaluate and deconstruct maybe more toxic theologies or toxic ideas that we’ve inherited, but find a way to be an aware, a growing and ethical person all the same. It’s just been an absolute blast to have the folks I’ve had on. So I just finished season one, and we’ll pick up with season two in the first of the year. But all of the episodes are available on the website or on either of the platforms I already mentioned. And I definitely invite anyone to go and listen to those. I’ve got quite a few astrologers, a couple of priests, a couple of just folk who are just working in the world. And those are absolutely wonderful conversations.
CB: Brilliant. Yeah. I love that you’re doing it, I love the podcast. So people should look that up on jailbreakthesacred.com or just search in whatever your podcast app is for that title, and it’ll come up. You actually have a couple books coming out, right?
NC: I do. So I’ve got one coming out late November entitled Charted Territory, and that is part memoir, part instruction guide to traditional astrology. It’s framed as essentially how I figured out what the heck I was supposed to do with my life using traditional astrology. So the first part is a memoir, the second part is an introductory text to the basics of traditional chart delineation. So that’ll be available on Amazon and probably some other outlets on the 24th of November if everything goes according to plan. The other book I have coming out will be out on January 7th. And that is part of series put together by Sterling books on each of the 12 zodiac signs. And I have written the book on Sagittarius because I have a Sagittarius stellium and a Sagittarius mom. So I got to write quite a bit about that. So that was a fun project to work on, and I’m very excited for all the other authors who have books coming out in that series as well. They’ll all be available on January 7th.
CB: Yeah. I love that. Cause now in the future at conferences if it comes up, you can say, “Look pal, I literally wrote the book on Sagittarius.”
NC: Literally wrote the book on Sagittarius, and I should probably have put in the forward that at NORWAC this last year, Lynn Bell said I was Jupiter incarnate, so I feel like I know something about Sagittarius.
CB: Yeah, that should definitely be on the back cover.
NC: Or at least on like my resume or something.
CB: Right, awesome. And you also are teaching Latin classes to astrologers and occultists at this point.
NC: Yes. The first section of Latin for occultists starts the first week of November. So if you’re interested in signing up for that, it’s essentially a two-semester course of college level Latin. We will take you from not knowing how to read it or pronounce it to being able to read things in Latin over the course of about 40 weeks. This is an incredible opportunity if you’ve always wanted to study Latin and have not had an opportunity so to do. I’ve been using Latin day in and day out ever since high school. So I know the language and I’m really excited to teach folks. So if you want more information on that, there’s a syllabus and there’s a link to make a deposit and reserve your spot at soulfriendastrology.com/latin.
CB: Awesome. And that’s such a great skill to have. Cause if you know Latin, all of a sudden you can read just this huge library of astrological texts that have been written from the first century CE all the way through like the 17th or 18th century that you just in some instances can’t read. Like there’s texts that we don’t have translations of that you just literally cannot read unless you know Latin at this point. So having any ancient language like that really gives you a leg up in terms of your astrological studies in some instances.
NC: It also just helps you think more clearly really. It has some bleed through effects on other areas of cognition in life. So even if you have no interest in reading astrological texts in the original Latin, it’s still good to know Latin. You’ll get a higher score on your SATs.
CB: Sure, definitely. And you also do you’re practicing astrology and you offer consultations and other things through your website.
NC: I do. I offer consultations, natal, electional, pretty much everything. I don’t do a lot of synastry, my specialty is, as I mentioned before, classical horary technique, but I do offer natal consultations. And within this realm of natal consultations, my specialty is on vocational discernment. So the astrology of vocation and career and calling, that is where my heart is, that’s what I love doing, helping people figure out what they’re supposed to do so they can do it on purpose. So you can find out more information about me and all of my consulting offerings at soulfriendastrology.com and you can also connect with me on Twitter @RyanCaradog, which is spelled Caradog, C A R A D O G. Ryan is spelled R Y A N Caradog, that’s on Twitter. And you’ve probably seen me if you’ve seen the corgi photos. People come for the corgi photos and they stay for the astrology.
CB: Yeah, I definitely follow the corgi photos primarily, but then secondarily your brilliant astrological insights and other things.
NC: Thank you.
CB: All right. Cool. Well, people can find your website at soulfriendastrology.com. But yeah, keep up. You’ve come into the astrological community over the past few years with it just seems like and taken it by storm. So I just wanted to say good job and thanks for joining me today, and keep up the good work cause I appreciate everything you’re doing and everything you’re bringing into the field.
NC: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. This has been an absolute pleasure, and I’m so glad I get to contribute to the community and to the field in this way.
CB: Brilliant. All right. Well, thanks for joining me. Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast, and that’s it. So we’re signing off and we’ll see you next time.
NC: See you.
CB: Thanks to the patrons who helped to support the production of this episode of The Astrology Podcast, including in particular patrons Christine Stone, the Astro Gold Astrology app available at astrogold.io, the Portland School of Astrology at portlandastrology.org and the Honeycomb Collective Personal Astrological Almanacs, available at honeycomb.co.