The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 235, titled:
The Relationship Between Astrology and Magic
With Chris Brennan and guest Austin Coppock
Episode originally released on December 22, 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 Andrea Johnson
Transcription released June 17, 2021
Copyright © 2021 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today, Austin Coppock is joining me in the studio. We’re going to be talking about the recent revival of astrological magic and some of the–not ambiguities–but some of the ambivalence that I’ve had about that and some possible drawbacks with the revival, as well as some of the history and some of the positive things behind it.
So, hey, Austin, thanks for joining me today.
AUSTIN COPPOCK: Hey, it’s been a while.
CB: Yeah, it is day five of our marathon week of doing podcasts with Kelly. Kelly went to Boulder today to do a workshop, which is kind of insane at this point in the week, but all the more power to her.
AC: I mean, this was originally scheduled as our one day of rest.
CB: Right, this was going to be the ‘down’ day.
AC: Yeah, but we also decided to ignore the Lord’s Day to get some work done.
CB: So we’re a little bit deranged ourselves, but we had a topic that I’ve been kicking around for a while that I’ve been wanting to talk with somebody about. And I actually had a few candidates, but you were always the best candidate for this topic.
So as we’ve seen over the past year or two, I would say the concept and the practice of astrological magic–so not just astrology and not just magic, but the blending of astrology and magic–has suddenly become very popular over the past year or two amongst Western astrologers, especially I feel like amongst newer generations of astrologers. And that’s been a notable–departure isn’t the right word–but a notable shift I think that’s been obvious and very visible to everybody. Would you say that that’s at least correct as a baseline?
AC: Yeah, definitely. And I think we both probably noticed it at the same time, which was at UAC last year.
AC: So that would be a solid year-and-a-half. For me, it was at the live recording of the podcast that we did at UAC; I said some things about astrological magic and there was thunderous applause. And I was like, “Really?” Because astrological magic is something that I’ve been trying to figure out and working on since, I don’t know, in terms of doing formal operations, 2005-ish.
And for virtually the entirety of that time, nobody cared. I cared, and there were three or four other -old school’ weirdos on small forums that cared. But it seems like it’s gone from being a ‘weird kids in the corner’ thing to everybody. It’s obviously not everybody. It’s just our little, small part of the world, right?
AC: But yeah, the interest seemed like it spiked 500% in a matter of six months.
CB: Yeah, and even after UAC. Because the last time you came on the show to talk about this of course was not long after UAC, with the release of your book, which was a compilation of papers by different, sometimes very prominent astrologers on different topics in astrological magic. To me, that was a watershed moment. And it’s not that that was the turning point that influenced everything, but certainly, over the past couple of years, especially after UAC, I feel like things really sped up in that area.
AC: Yeah, The Celestial Art, available at fine internets everywhere was certainly fortuitously-timed. I wish I could say that I knew that that’s exactly when astrological magic would hit and that’s why we released it then–not true. And also, my wife Kait, maybe a month before that was like, “You know what? What if I do some of the astrological magic stuff? You don’t have time.”
I was on a project and had been working on getting that ready for maybe two months before UAC–and that’s her business, Sphere + Sundry. We thought it would be a good project worth doing, but within a couple months that hit that wave of interest immediately. And so, we got to see how interested people were, and I think Kait’s approach certainly made more people interested, but it also intersected with that, “Oh, this is kind of happening now.”
CB: Yeah. And let’s also be honest because it was also partially prompted by the discussions that we’ve had on the podcast. You came on to talk about your book and we promoted it. And certainly, once Sphere + Sundry launched, we’ve mentioned it and you’ve plugged it.
CB: So I feel in some ways that the podcast has certainly promoted some of that stuff to the audience and that’s influenced people a little bit. People have been influenced by your work and your wife’s platform.
AC: I’ve been talking about it for a long time; I was just used to not many people caring. Yeah, there’s a lot of co-creation, but the point I was making about Sphere + Sundry–what was interesting is there were two series that were done. No, there were three that were in the can already before UAC happened.
And so, it wasn’t like, “Oh, this is huge. I’m gonna get in on this.” It was like, “Oh, this would be a good project. And then just like with the book not being released specifically at the point in space-time that we thought astrology and magic would intersect, but it all seemed to happen within the same six months.
CB: Yeah, it was that Jupiter in Scorpio transit especially. I think a lot of us at the time weren’t fully, but by the end of that transit, I feel like we all were–not pinning it completely on that, but that certainly had a bit to do with it.
AC: Yeah, and I think the fact that it was Jupiter in Scorpio making all-year trines to Neptune.
AC: Because historically, if we just look at what people believe and what kind of things people are interested in when Neptune’s in Pisces, I would say it blows the doors open, but really it just kind of melts the doors.
To take one example from last time in American history–which I believe the ingress was the end of 1848 into about 1860-62–that’s when spiritualism exploded, where it became a normal and semi-respectable thing to get together and talk to ghosts on Friday night.
CB: Or to do seances and stuff like that.
AC: Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m referring to. And so, Neptune in Pisces in that 14-year arc is interested in opening people up to weirder things, and it seemed like that Jupiter in Scorpio intersection with that, that was planetary magic.
The year before it had been witchcraft; this year, it seems like Tarot has gotten that same bump. We can fit all of this within the Neptune in Pisces, but all the other planets are helping it with that agenda, or hurting it in different ways.
CB: Yeah, or even astrology. A couple of years ago, when all of those media articles were coming out about the sudden rise in popularity of astrology, I was kind of skeptical. But then after that year, that same year of Jupiter going through Scorpio, I really visibly saw the shift in even our audience for the podcast, and a lot of people in their 20s coming into the field suddenly during that time and astrology becoming more popular and more trendy in some ways.
AC: Mm-hmm, absolutely. Yeah, I don’t know if we’re in the wane of that and the world that that rise has created, or if it’s still rising, but we’re in it.
CB: Yeah, we were talking about the other night, the question of if that will drop off at some point and what that drop-off looks like exactly in terms of if something is popular and trendy for a little while, if it falls out of fashion, and who sticks around after that point versus who doesn’t.
AC: Right, and is there a backlash equal to the rise, or is it simply an elevator to a new plateau that’ll just hold for some time.
CB: Yeah. I mean, that’s always been my fear; I’m waiting for the skeptical backlash. Because the whole skeptical movement from my perspective feels like it’s taken a bit of a dive over the past few years in terms of its coherency and messaging and antagonism. Not that they’re any less antagonistic against astrology, but I just don’t feel like it’s been as much of an issue; whereas at other times in history that’s been actually a potential issue in terms of a rise in opposition to astrology either from skeptics or from religious folk of different sorts.
AC: Yeah, so there’s a couple things there. I would say, one, I think the reason that the people that call themselves skeptics right now aren’t doing very well is that there’s a tendency in this 21st century skepticism to just defend materialism as opposed to being skeptical of all claims of knowledge, which is what a good philosophical skeptic is supposed to do.
AC: They’re not talking about the egregious violations of the scientific method which have been happening in medical journals; it’s just “the weirdos are wrong.” They put themselves in a position where they’re just defending the system, and people are by and large increasingly aware of the imperfections in the system, so I think that’s part of why they’re not doing so well.
AC: I’d love to see a skeptical movement that returned to deep philosophical roots and was in a deep, epistemic humility. How should we say it–yeah, a humility before the project, in the face of the project of, “How do we know anything? Let’s start from the beginning and let’s be careful and let’s recognize that all claims to knowledge are fraught with danger.” But that’s not what they do.
CB: Yeah, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, honestly; and just trolling people that have different belief systems is the primary motivation for the foreseeable future.
AC: Yeah, and kind of the story of the internet–half the internet right now is trolling people that have different belief systems from every perspective, as much as I would like to say that ‘astro’ Twitter wouldn’t dare do such a thing.
CB: Yeah, they’re very high-minded folk. But returning back to the topic, I mean, that was a good point that, let’s say, 10 years ago or 15 years ago, when we started coming into the field and we were attending conferences, there were no talks on astrological magic.
And we should also mention–because I guess it’s also relevant and tied in here–there were also not really talks on traditional astrology. The traditional revival is relatively young, over the past 30 years, starting with the Lilly movement in the mid-to-late-1980s, then accelerating with Project Hindsight, and then not really being completed. Because the Renaissance and the Medieval tradition had their revivals, but the Hellenistic tradition and the completion of the revival of that was only completed recently with the release of my book in 2017 and Demetra’s book–what was it, earlier this year, in early 2019.
CB: Yeah, I don’t think that we can unpick the timing of the rise of traditional astrology and the return of astrological magic because in a full or a fuller textual restoration of astrology and then exploration of that textual restoration, you start seeing the connecting pieces to magic show up.
CB: Right, because otherwise we’re into modern astrology or 20th century astrology.
AC: You would see the Theosophist attitudes towards what they thought magic was show up.
CB: Which were an aberration, like maybe Aleister Crowley or something, kind of like early 20th century astrology.
AC: Yeah, I mean, Crowley ghost-wrote for Evangeline Adams. And actually I remember reading Crowley’s book–which we know through the extensive documentation of Crowley’s life–he wrote entirely on cocaine. It’s really good for the 1920s. If you read it, it’s solid. He’s actually considering Uranus and Neptune in the context of the older books that he’s read and thinking about, “How do I understand these within the context of an older tradition?” It’s shockingly good. I was prepared to pooh-pooh it.
CB: I always meant to go back and read the republished book by the OTO under his name to see what his synthesis was of the more traditional astrology books he was reading with the more modern approaches and to what extent his synthesis ended up influencing some of the subsequent modern Western astrology in that regard.
AC: Yeah, I don’t know if it was that influential. It reads like a good, first-half of the 20th century English astrology book with a lot of extra notes of careful thinking and reference to the tradition. It doesn’t read like Lilly.
CB: I actually have that right around here. So here’s the book that was republished in the 2000s, The General Principles of Astrology, and it says Aleister Crowley, with Evangeline Adams, edited by Hymenaeus Beta.
AC: Anyway, yeah, there’s Crowley; but most of the stuff that references magic in the late-19th, early-20th century material isn’t written by people who practiced magic.
AC: You have the Theosophists who have, we could say generously, a worldview that includes the practice of magic. It’s a paradigm where magic is possible, but you weren’t trained to do practical work as a Theosophist.
AC: And so, most references to practical work–like magic to get a job, get some money, be more attractive, whatever, all of the standard, practical things that people want–that wasn’t taught, and usually there was a lot of shade thrown on that in Theosophical literature: that’s evil, black magic because that’s magic for something that pleases the ego.
AC: And so, if you have a culture of people that won’t touch something with a 30-foot pole, they’re generally not the best for understanding or explaining the technical nuances of how to do that.
CB: Sure. And even the Theosophy stuff was dominating early 20th century astrology from like 1900 to, let’s say, the ‘50s, but then there was a definite shift. In the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, one of the big trends was scientific astrology, and there was a real movement in belief that we were on the cusp of demonstrating astrology from a scientific, or I guess statistical standpoint and a lot of energy surrounding that.
And sometimes when that happens in the astrological tradition, periodically, there’s a tendency to try to remove what’s perceived as the ‘fluff’ and just focus on the core pieces. And the biggest extreme of that is Gauquelin’s work, where he wanted to remove everything that he couldn’t validate through statistical models, which included I think removing things like aspects and the old, 12-fold house divisions system; and even there were some planets I think that he couldn’t get astrological correlates with.
AC: Yeah, it was angles and a few planets.
AC: I mean, I think you can see that to some degree from the distant past with the difference between a Platonic and Aristotelian approach to astrology, or with Ptolemy. There’s certainly, as my friend Gordon would put it, an attempt to ‘science’ astrology up in Ptolemy–get it shined up, put some chrome goggles on it.
CB: Yeah, because there were pieces of the tradition that Ptolemy inherited that he thought he could rationalize and could make sense in a more, almost mechanistic, causal astrological model, where the planets are influencing events to happen and you have a rationale for different techniques that astrologers use. But then there’s some techniques that either get downplayed or get rejected because they come off as too mystical or not fitting in with that broader project or scientific paradigm.
CB: So we have that, but also in the 20th century, we have the move towards psychological and character-based astrology eventually culminating in the works of people like Liz Greene and some of the Center for Psychological Astrology-type people, Howard Sasportas.
AC: Yeah, and I think that that intersects really nicely or that’s described in a way that’s relevant to magic very well by Richard Tarnas in his, I don’t know, super important–looking for better words than ‘super important’–but super important work, Cosmos and Psyche, where he talks about the process of disenchantment in the 20th century and how the world gets disenchanted, and the last refuge of enchantment is the purely subjective, which is the psychological.
And so, you can see astrology literally retreating from a model of an enchanted world to, “Well, we can’t do anything external with this astrology, but the psyche, the soul, the interiority or the consciousness is still enchanted and still worth doing and that’s going to be the scope for our work.”
CB: Yeah, that’s funny. I mean, that’s kind of ironic because then modern astrology is the opposite of traditional in terms of its orientation, in terms of trying to predict concrete, external events; and also, modern astrology is divorced not just from the traditional approach, but also from any remnants of the magical approach that still exist for the most part.
AC: Yeah, a purely psychological astrology is by definition isolated which is a problem. I don’t want to go into a critique of that.
AC: I don’t feel like I need to beat up on that. But Tarnas, in framing the disenchantment of the external world in the 20th century and the last refuge of enchantment, he identifies that as a problem. And part of his stated project in Cosmos and Psyche is an attempt to ‘re-enchant’ the world by, not by sprinkling fairy dust on it, but by showing that the relationships of outer planets consistently gives us shockingly similar periods of history.
We talked yesterday about what happens when Saturn’s conjunct Pluto, and we get shockingly similar themes every time. And so, he was trying to demonstrate that astrology is not just inside an individual.
AC: And I would say that if we’re to take on the project of the re-enchantment of the world, then the restoration of traditional astrology sort of does that. It does a lot of that by itself if you practice it, and then you see how it works and then you sit with the implications. Because when you see something like zodiacal releasing work as well as it works, you’re like, “Okay, well, there have got to be some other rules to the way reality works other than what I was taught in school or in college because this is way outside the explanatory models that I have.”
CB: Right. And as far as Tarnas went, he just posited synchronicity as an explanatory principle and maybe that the Cosmos is ‘ensouled’, I guess is where he took it partially.
AC: Yeah, I think that he did a great job of identifying the problem and sort of did some work to try to move in the direction of what he saw as a solution; I don’t think he solved the problem. I think you need a restoration of the rest of astrological history, and I think you need magic to actually solve the problem, which is well beyond the scope of one person’s efforts, no matter how talented or hard-working.
CB: Right. But Tarnas, I always saw his book as the high-water mark of modern astrology, of like the final–not the ‘final’, final form, but it was unadulterated by the influence of traditional astrology, the revival that had just started in the decade or two prior to that. And it represented a really good intellectual attempt to make the case for astrology to the public, to intellectuals especially, and to make it look palatable from that standpoint of if you’re gonna get one of our smartest guys and get them to make a pitch for modern astrology to intellectuals or philosophers or other people in the modern period, then Cosmos and Psyche is that book.
AC: Yeah, I agree with that, and I think that what’s ironic about that is it also, without meaning to, provides a perfect critique of the limits of a psychology-only astrology. And the core method of the book, which is taking slow-moving planetary pairs in order to look at history, is literally just a faithful extension of the primary method for looking at history which we’ve had astrologers doing for at least 1,100 years before that.
In traditional astrology, you look at Jupiter and Saturn as forming the bones of history because those were the two-slowest movers, and Tarnas extends that. And he wasn’t the first person to use this method, but we’ve got people, I don’t know, 40-50 years before him doing this. It’s literally: let’s take Saturn and Pluto; they’re both slow-moving. How did they form history?
So the method he uses to make his case is extremely faithful to the logic of traditional astrology, and that identification of the problem of the retreat of enchantment to pure subjectivity is in many ways a perfect critique of the limitations of the astrology that was happening in the late 20th century.
CB: Sure. So modern astrology reaches its final form in the ‘90s and the 2000s, and then we have this revival of traditional and older forms of astrology. And some astrologers start going back and looking at texts that were written prior to the 20th century and realizing that astrology was practiced differently back in the day, if you go back a few centuries.
So they started with the Renaissance tradition and the 17th century astrologers; they were writing the earliest text books on astrology in English like Lilly and some of his contemporaries. And then some of them, like Zoller and Hand, started going back and looking at, well, what sources were they drawing on, and they found sources like Bonatti in the 12th-13th century, Sahl and Masha’allah in the 8th and 9th century, and Ben Dykes published a lot of translations of those guys.
And then we had still others, like Robert Schmidt and James Holden, who went back and started translating the oldest Greek texts that survived from the 1st century through the 6th century CE, from the Greco-Roman period, and found the oldest forms of astrology that were practiced in the West back then. And sort of what has been revived and suddenly become popular again over the past decade are those traditional forms of astrology from the 1st through the 17th century, and some of the techniques and some of the approaches that they use.
But one of them that was very slowly revived and was part of what you stumble upon occasionally when you’re going through the tradition is this occasional overlap and intersection between the astrological community and the magical community because magic is not–well there’s a bit of a debate about this because it depends on who you talk to. But I see astrology and magic as two separate things that sometimes intersect and overlap in the astrological tradition, but they don’t always perfectly overlap because they’re not necessarily one and the same.
AC: Yeah, I would definitely agree that they are not one and the same.
AC: There’s a strong Venn diagram overlap, and there are certain kinds of magic and certain astrological things that only exist in that overlap; but there’s a lot of magic that’s not astrology, there’s a lot of astrology that’s not magic.
Yeah, that’s very consistent historically; you have a lot of points of intersection. And one of the essays in The Celestial Art, Lee Lehman’s essay, is a quick tour of the many points of overlap and intersection. And so, I can’t recall all of that because Lee came up with–I don’t know, it was so extensive that in editing, we had to cut it down. It wasn’t a list of every single known point, but it gave a great overview of the points of intersection and what those looked like; but you shouldn’t conflate them.
CB: So if we agree that’s a Venn diagram, can we define our two topics?
AC: Let me add one more thing to this because there’s an idea that was very popular–well, I don’t know if it was very popular but it was found in many places in Renaissance texts. And we could maybe make arguments for it being there earlier, but it’s really obvious in the Renaissance texts where you’ll see astrology, magic, and alchemy as three separate-but-intersecting disciplines.
And then all three are encircled by philosophy, meaning that there’s an understanding of the world which is implied by astrology, which is implied by magic, which is implied by alchemy, and understanding the way the world really works, which is the project of philosophy that encircles and connects all of those things. We would say ‘modern-speak’ that’s the philosophical implications of all of those, but they’re not the same thing; there is an encircling set of questions about reality that are implied by these arts.
CB: Okay. So my definition of astrology that I’ve always used and the best way that I’ve been able to come up with a concise definition is that it’s ‘the study of the correlation between celestial movements and earthly events’.
There’s probably a longer version of that that you could make–adding on provisos like how it relates to humankind or events on Earth or events in people’s lives–but my primary definition is just the study of the correlation between celestial movements and earthly events; because then that includes the primary, fundamental, underlying principle in astrology that posits that there is a correlation for some reason between celestial movements of the planets or stars or other celestial bodies and those movements and events or things that happen on Earth.
AC: Yeah, I’m really comfortable with that as a definition.
AC: I like that because that includes both the astrology that started in the Eastern Mediterranean and then moved West–well, went East and then it moved West. It includes Vedic astrology; it includes Chinese astrology. It would also include, shall we say, less ‘cathedral-esque’ astrologies, like planting calendars for days of the Moon, hunting calendars, etc., or where it’s like, “You’re gonna do better if you fish on this phase of the Moon.”
CB: Sure. And it also includes them, regardless of whether their conceptualization of the model for why there is a correlation is that it’s causal–that the celestial movements or bodies or stars or planets are causing events to happen on earth–or regardless of if it’s only a synchronistic model of that they’re just correlating with or acting as omens without necessarily being the direct reason or the direct cause that those events are happening.
So it side-steps that question, but instead just describes or includes in the definition the phenomenon that it posits, that there is a correlation whereas there otherwise shouldn’t be; and opponents of astrology would say there is no correlation between celestial movements and earthly events.
AC: Right, but the correlation comes first and then we can explain that or model that in a variety of ways.
CB: So how do you define magic then as different from astrology–or what is a similarly broad definition that we could give for magic, if possible? Do you have one?
AC: I don’t. I tend to try to break down magic into what are you actually doing because I think there are several subspecies of things that people would say, “Oh, that’s magical,” but that are very different.
So for example, we could take as one category work with divine forces, which overlaps with religion: how do you construct and enact a ritual effectively to a god/goddess or whatever divine force in such a way that that force comes down and changes either human beings involved or changes events in their lives in accord with whatever the requests are? That generally gets labeled theurgy.
CB: Okay, which in Greek means ‘god-working’ or something like that.
AC: Yeah, ‘working with gods’. And as you know, I’ve spent a lot of time with Vedic astrology over the last couple of years, and a lot of what gets described–because of its function as remedial practices–are really scaled-down theurgy. If you’ve got this particular configuration and it gives you these problems, you work with this goddess at these times in order to heal that or keep the difficulty level low. And so, theurgy, or ‘work with the divine’ is meaningfully different than a variety of explicitly practical operations. Not that theurgy can’t have a practical goal, but it can also have a non-practical goal.
It can have an Iamblican goal, where the primary goal is the further refinement and dignity of the soul. But then you’ve also got things like a Cunning Man’s Handbook or like a Swedish Black Book, where it’s like, yep, this is how you enchant your shotgun so that it won’t misfire, which has a different shape and a very different goal. Or sticking with that sort of Cunning Man, ‘rural, practical magic’ thing, yep, this is how you enchant your field; this is how you bring rain during a drought; or this is how you scare off the asshole neighbor, which is recognizably magic if it works, but is very different than like the full temple, ‘holy-holy’ theurgy.
CB: Okay. Let me throw this working definition that I have out at you, and just let me know how it sounds. So my attempt to make it similarly concise as astrology–the study of the correlation between celestial movements and earthly events–for magic is ‘the attempt to manipulate or influence events through supernatural means’. Do you think that would be accurate, yet still broad enough to encompass a wide variety of different practices that we otherwise consider to be magical?
AC: I think that’s decent.
CB: What strikes you the wrong way about it?
AC: So ‘supernatural’ is kind of a funny, loaded term. If I were going to try to boil it down, it’s looking at methods of action that have identity where–here’s the structure of it as I’m seeing it. With all of the magic that I mentioned there’s an identifiable action and there’s an identifiable result, but the means by which the action creates the result is not visible. So you do the thing…
CB: It’s hidden, or you could say ‘occulted’.
AC: Yeah. And so, you can speculate on it, and there are many theories about how magic works, but the reason that there are so many theories is that the ‘cause’ part is ‘occulted’. There’s a great quote from Peter Carroll who’s often recognized as the ‘father’ of chaos magic. He said, “Magic works in practice, but not theory.”
CB: Okay. So it’s an attempt to control or influence or manipulate events through a mechanism that might be hidden or ‘occulted’ in some way, through a mechanism that’s not fully understood or clear.
AC: Yeah, invisible.
AC: Yeah, manipulate, there is manipulative magic, but it’s only inherently manipulative in the sense that it’s changing. Crowley’s quick definition was ‘to cause change in conformity with the will’. And that’s good if you add that…
CB: I mean, that seemed pretty good.
AC: But then moving my hand becomes an act of magic. And in a grander sense, sure, it’s all magic, but I think it’s useful to differentiate the magic of me picking up a coffee cup with the magic of me or someone, let’s say, doing a healing ritual for someone a thousand miles away and then them showing market gains in health within a day. We would say, “Oh, that’s magical.” Me picking up that coffee cup on a day-to-day level, that’s not so magical–maybe in a deep, philosophical sense but only that.
CB: Yeah, and that’s where I was trying to throw in the ‘supernatural’ word, even though that’s a weird term to use and has a lot of its own loaded implications. But the notion that it’s not through natural means–it’s not through picking an herb or giving somebody a medicine necessarily–but through trying to bring in some other element that obviously seems outside of the natural world is tricky, but it’s outside of the natural sense of causation, of cause-and-effect.
AC: I’d like to stick to we can’t see how it works.
AC: There’s a lot of stuff that we can’t see that we don’t really have the right to say is ‘unnatural’, just because we don’t get it and just because we, with our limited senses, can’t perceive it directly; but it seems mysterious because we don’t pick it up with our eyeballs or ear-holes.
CB: Sure. Okay, well, let’s tie it into astrology then because that might help us more clearly to define it in an astrological context, where we have a specific set of things. In the ancient traditions, let’s go back to early astrology. We have astrology and magic developing in Mesopotamian and developing in Egypt, where they both have their own astrological traditions, and then they both have their own magical traditions. Eventually, at the point where we get certainly texts in the Hellenistic tradition that are recognizably Western astrology, I see and I kind of identify what seems like two different strands or two different streams.
There’s this one text by the alchemist Zosimus from the 4th century, and at one point, he starts quoting what seemed to be two astrological texts–one of them attributed to Hermes and another attributed to Zoroaster–and they seem to have been arguing or disagreeing about the concept of fate.
And their hermetic texts were promoting this idea that’s repeated by a lot of astrologers–like Valens and Manilius, and even Ptolemy mentions it in in passing–that the purpose of astrology, and especially natal astrology, is to learn your fate ahead of time and learn what events will happen in your future ahead of time so that you can accept it and prepare yourself in advance, to accept that which you cannot change the outcome of. That seems one of the few philosophical principles that almost all the astrologers mention; it seems like a large part of the purpose of astrology in the Hellenistic period, especially when approaching things from a more Stoic standpoint.
But then Zosimus cites this other text that seems to have been astrologically-attributed to Zoroaster, where it says that fate might be negotiable or you might be able to change your fate through magical or alchemical rituals, and that that might be part of the goal of astrology from that vantage point. And I’ve sort of identified that as another stream that was going on, and there we see in some ancient Greek magical texts that occasionally there are some magical rituals, where they’re appealing to certain deities and asking them to help change their fate, or you have the doctrine of the Master of the Nativity.
And Porphyry and Iamblichus talk at one a point about how some philosophers or some astrologers think that if you identify the Master of the Nativity, you can identify your guardian spirit, and then you can use certain rituals to attempt to communicate with your guardian spirit and ask them if you can change your fate. And Iamblichus then argues with Porphyry and says that doesn’t make sense because if the guardian daimon is the one who appoints your fate and is supposed to enforce it, then why would they change it for you, and there’s this whole back-and-forth that they have.
But anyway, I see that as part of the tension in the ancient tradition, where you have different approaches of some astrologers that are just saying the purpose is just to know the future and figure out what you have to accept, and others who might be saying, no, you can use astrology in order to change the future and make it differently than it might have been otherwise.
AC: Yeah, I would probably say ‘use’ rather than ‘purpose’; I think you can use astrology effectively for both of those purposes. And yeah, I think that is a long-running, sort of split within astrology, or what are you doing with the astrology, and there is that very strong, Hellenistic concern with fate–you know, fate, destiny, a couple of different words–and also with death and how do you have a good death. And that’s also connected with the Christ myth. That’s connected with understandings at the time of what happens to you when you die, where it’s not heaven or hell, but if you live heroically and die well, you get a better afterward.
And if we go back a little further, one of the Egyptian components to the multi-part soul is literally the name. And we don’t see it quite as explicitly in the Greek world, but the concern with the name, the concern with the name after death is important too. And so, all this stuff is of tremendous importance as can be seen from the texts.
AC: And so, if you think you’ve got a ‘shit’ fate, you are certainly going to be concerned with how do I change that.
AC: And to scale it down a little bit…
CB: I mean, that becomes the primary issue, right? The question is, can you change your fate? And if you know your future and you don’t like it, what do you do about that?
AC: Yeah. So there’s that on a big level, but I think that the more micro level is also highly relevant to this discussion and to the practice of astrology and magic. So let’s just say you don’t presume to know your fate in a grand sense, but you can see based on your techniques that the next year has a bunch of very specific challenges that look like it’s not going to go very well. And so, again, you don’t know what the destiny of your soul is but there’s a motivation there to use what methods you can get your hands on to make those things go better than they would. And that’s the question: How do I make that go better than it would and what are the methods?
And so, one thing that’s interesting about your definition of astrology and then what we ended up with as a good definition of magic is that with both of them, we have two data points with a mysterious linkage. And so, they’re both interested in exploring the concealed machineries.
CB: Maybe the study of outcomes is part of the crossover in some ways.
AC: Well, yeah, because we have an identifiable action in ritual and an identifiable result, but then there’s the mysterious causal link. And then with astrology, we have an identifiable planetary or stellar position and an identifiable outcome down here on Earth, but the linkage is, again, mysterious. There is a nice, kind of natural confluence of those definitions.
CB: I mean, that’s really interesting because some of the language that Schmidt drew out in some of the Hellenistic texts was they kept using this term katarche over and over again, or katarche, which means ‘inception’ or ‘beginning’ or ‘commencement’, and that astrology was the study of those inceptions. And then there was a correlating term that they always used to talk about the outcome or the result, or like in Ptolemy’s text, it became the ‘effect’ of the inception.
CB: So you have the inception and then you have the outcome, and that astrology was the study of those inceptions and outcomes, which like the birth chart itself, is an inception; and then the outcome is whatever your fate is in different parts of your life as a result of those planetary positions. Or in electional astrology, the inception, or the beginning of the event is the katarche and then the outcome is the result, as a result of starting at that moment in time.
AC: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I like this area that we’re operating in here. And so, magic–both as it intersects with astrology, as well as how it responds to astrology–is interested in increasing the degree to which we can shape the events and experiences moving forward.
AC: And so, from a magic perspective, I’ve encountered a lot of practitioners, less so lately, but I would say there’s a divide within magic as to what degree astrology needs to be considered. There are some schools that believe that if you have certain initiations where you do certain practices, then what the chart says becomes less valid; and some would go as far as to say that they become invalid, and there are a lot of different variants of that.
I know that there are some traditions that will replace the birth chart with the chart of a person’s initiation, which is really interesting because that doesn’t invalidate the pull of the planets; that simply allows you to get a different set of planets to pull on you.
CB: Right. It’s an interesting point that in a lot of the magical traditions in late 20th century astrology wasn’t incorporated that much.
AC: No, no. My experience of the English-speaking, magical world for the last 20 years is that there was actually a lot of hostility. I would say once you are drawn to astrology and you explore it, you find a number of things that are likely going to occur are not things that you necessarily had planned.
You have to be able to live with the knowledge that there are things which are ‘fated’, for lack of a better term, or things which you don’t have the power to change, but which nonetheless can be predicted with a fair degree of accuracy. If you are interested in magic, one, you’re probably more interested in increasing the amount of agency and power you have to shape your life internally–especially externally, but also internally.
CB: That’s a really good term that we should incorporate into future definitions: ‘the attempt to increase agency’.
AC: Okay, glad you like that. And if you’re learning magic that actually works, just like with astrology, there are a lot of people that learn ‘crap’ astrology and a lot of people that learn ‘crap’ magic. But assuming that you’re engaging with a legitimate branch/tree or tree/branch, twig/stem of the tradition, you’re going to learn things that allow you to have more agency; and so, on a very psychological level, that’s a very different experience.
And personality types are comfortable with one and not the other. People who are strongly concerned with seeing themselves as ’highly-agentic’ and feel great about learning new things are going to tend to reject being told that that’s not possible for you or you have to wait 10 years.
And then the more patient, introspective type that doesn’t mind having the limitations or the timescales that they can’t control outlined for them, they may not be super comfortable being told, “Oh, you can do all these things and you’re just not learning that.” So there’s a different psychology to each too. Especially when you’re looking at it at a full demographic level, when you’re taking 20,000 people in each category, you’ve got a lot of personality Type A in one category and a lot of personality Type B in another category.
And so, just on a personal level, I remember going to the first Esoteric Book Conference in 2008, meeting a bunch of wizards, and there were a lot of people who were very hostile to any of astrology’s claims. They were like, “No, you’re shitting on my ‘agentic praxis’.” They didn’t put it quite that way.And then, also, just come back to Crowley, the OTO–which he took over and then really reshaped–had a tremendous emphasis on will, on willing things; and that’s in his definition of magic; so it’s these things that come into being in accordance with the will.
And so, if you’re really focused on will, and everybody at your lodge is really focused on will, even though Crowley thought astrology was very interesting and spent a lot of time with it, that’s a very different thing. His thing, Thelema, literally means ‘will’. And so, you get a ‘will’ cult, and no, they’re not super excited to be told that, “Sure, you’ll have kids, but probably not until after your 36th year because you’ve got this Saturn position.” They’re like, “No, I can do it. I want to do it at 27.”
CB: Right. I think that’s bringing up something and bringing us back to a point, which is that one of the things I’m taking from this is that astrology is inextricably linked with the concept of fate. And even though modern astrology moved away from that and moved more into free will, more into humanistic astrology and more into character analysis and things like that, the concept of fate was still there; and especially the further back you go in the tradition, the more intertwined astrology becomes with fate, especially in the Hellenistic tradition.
And that was something I had to grapple with and was hard for me initially when I started learning Hellenistic astrology, that it was more prediction-oriented, and that it was better at describing concrete, external events that would occur in a person’s life and doing so accurately, which couldn’t help but bring up philosophical issues concerning fate and free will and how much control you have to change things that you see coming up in the birth chart. It becomes one of the central problems that anybody that starts studying traditional astrology has in some sense.
AC: Yeah. So ‘fate’ is a big word; it’s a hard word. It speaks to that which is unalterable. And so, the important question is, is everything in the chart fated, or are certain things fated and certain things tendencies, and that’s echoed in many ways by the old ‘Rule of 3’.
Yeah, you see it once, there will be a little bit of that. See it twice, yeah, it’s gonna tend strongly in that direction. See it three times, see the same outcome described three times in the chart with three different sets of factors and that will at least be experienced as fate, if fate is an event or a set of experiences that you do not have the power to alter. And that same thinking is in Vedic astrology as ‘fully-fixed’ karma, in which you don’t have enough time to alter within a given life, but then there’s this other stuff.
And so, I would say on a practical level, as a practitioner of astrological magic and other magic, and a practitioner of astrology, and having friends that are in that category, I don’t know anybody who believes that you can alter everything via the practice of magic or that you can rewrite the chart. The practical experience of the intersection of astrology and magic is figuring out what can be changed, how easy or hard it’s going to be, and when the best times for that are.
And so, in practice, a lot of it is changing what can be changed or what you do have control over. And I would also argue that part of fate is that we are fated to end up in control and having lots of choices in some areas of our life–that’s ‘positive’ fate, right?
AC: And then there’s the ‘de-agentic’ fate or the fate where we will be in a situation where we have zero control or absolutely minimal control. But you look, our predictive techniques also show you periods of time where a person will have all the power and the choices in the world. And so, what do you do when you’re in a place with high agency either because you have a lot of internal resources or external or both?
CB: Yeah. And I guess that brings us up to the central point of this, at least the first half of this episode for me, which is that I got into astrology and got into Hellenistic astrology and discovered a form of astrology that was really good, I felt, at describing different aspects of a person’s fate, both in a global sense, in terms of things that are outside of their control.
But even some of the time-lord techniques could accurately describe when the person would take certain actions that would have an important impact on their career, like in zodiac releasing. So it was startling in that it was describing not just external events but also sometimes the choices that a person was making out of what they perceived to be freewill.
AC: Oh, yeah. My experience of any meaningful definition of fate is that internal states are just as subject to that as external outcomes or events; because if you could completely control your inner experience, your state, you would make very different choices, right?
CB: Yeah. So from that perspective, it became important for me to develop and cultivate a philosophy that was consistent with that, which tended to emphasize more understanding and coming to terms with one’s fate and being okay with that–whether it’s good things or bad things.
And there was something elegant and beautiful about that, that it didn’t have to be this oppressive, negative thing, but instead could be something that was still useful and still helpful and still gave you some insight into the greater sense of meaning and purpose that your life had. And in that, it was kind of beautiful and kind of elegant and kind of useful and that was sufficient as both a practical practice in astrology, as well as sort of an underlying philosophy for it.
So the strand of the tradition that I ended up focusing on was the more Stoic strand of the tradition. And even in that context, practices like electional astrology often end up having more to do with knowing that if I start this venture at this time, this will be the outcome. And instead of necessarily manipulating it all the time in order to get a desired result, it’s just knowing and having a greater sense of ‘knowingness’ of what the potential outcome will be when initiating certain actions in order to have a greater sense of foreknowledge ahead of time, and therefore, a greater sense of acceptance in initiating any action at any moment in time.
So that’s a strand of the astrological tradition, but there’s also another strand of the astrological tradition where electional astrology comes in, and that seems to be the primary overlap with the magical tradition to manipulate outcomes.
AC: Yeah, I mean, if you want to do a giant, enclosing definition of fate, then it can be that the practice of astrological magic also is fate, the practice of electional is fate; but if you’re working with a less grand definition, then the ability to elect, to choose when to do something has an impact on the outcome. And if we’re using that definition of magic that we came up with earlier–where the you see what the act is and you see what the result is but you don’t see what the causal mechanism is–then electional astrology qualifies as magic, and on a practical level that’s a huge linkage point, historically.
CB: Yeah, I mean, it’s just a question of are you changing your fate by using electional astrology or are you not.
AC: Well, you’re observably changing outcomes. You know, it depends on how big your concept of fate is on a ‘lived’ level. If you do it at this time, you get one result, and you do it at a different time, you get a different result; that’s a choice with a meaningful difference in outcomes. I want to take the electional bit a little further back.
So using your definition of astrology which I really like–if I wrote mine down, it would probably be about the same–figuring out when to schedule ritual according to our relationship to the sky maybe is at the oldest strata of the usage of astrology; the usage of studying sky/human/world linkages.
CB: Scheduling, you said?
AC: Yeah, scheduling. If we want to go way back, we can see that the few ritual centers from the ancient, ancient, ancient world that still survive–because they’re made out of stone–are all lined very specifically to the sky. We see linkages as far back as Gobekli Tepe. And if we want to come forward to the still very old, we see the construction of the Great Pyramids; all of the pyramids to some degree are built with a specific relationality to the sky, and all these are ritual centers to some degree.
And I believe in the Rig Veda, there are some timing bits that are astrologically-oriented for when do you propitiate or when do you do ritual to ‘X, Y, or Z’. And so, that relationship between sky/human/world which turns into timing, which then turns into ritual, which has an impact internally or externally is as old as our records as human beings doing stuff.
CB: Yeah, and it’s hard because it’s also tied in with religious beliefs and just a broader religious orientation towards nature and the cosmos and things like that; and it’s often then hard to distinguish between what is astrology vs. what is magic vs. just what is religious ceremonies or things like that, but there’s a greater overlap.
So one of the questions I guess I have is not just can you change your fate, but is believing that you can change your fate in all instances healthy, or is there well a lack of acceptance of certain things becomes problematic at a certain point?
AC: Well, I would say believing that your choices don’t impact the outcomes in your life is extremely unhealthy.
CB: Yeah, and I know that that’s the default, modern take, and that’s why even me adopting the position that it could be unhealthy–the belief in a complete freewill that could change anything at any point in time–is usually the opposite.
AC: Yeah, I don’t like the freewill thing because I don’t believe in freewill. I believe your will is one ingredient of reality and that there’s the ‘agentic’ bit and then there’s everything else. And that sometimes, you have the ability to change a lot, sometimes you have the ability to change just a few details, and sometimes, it doesn’t matter what your will is; so we’re not free to write our story off the top of our head.
CB: I mean, I would go further than that though and say at the very least that probably many of the most important and pivotal events and life-defining events–that if somebody was to write a biography about your life–those things are going to be things that are fated.
Whether they’re things that happen to you as a result of external forces that are outside of your control or whether they have to do with internal things that you initiate or choices that you make on your own, the most important things in your life are probably going to be things that are predetermined through a nexus of different causes and outcomes, all having a confluence at specific points in your life and specific times.
AC: Some of them, certainly.
CB: You don’t think most of them are?
AC: I think it depends on the life. I think some people’s most memorable things, there’s so much intentional choosing and work that goes into it, where the outcome is a predictable result of those things. I think there are other lives where there are shocking and game-changing events which come into their life, which they could not possibly have called which really define the story. And so, yeah, I would say it depends on the life.
CB: I mean, that sounds to me like the modern astrologers that sometimes say that your level of consciousness or spiritual evolution dictates how your birth chart is going to be experienced and whether the outcome is positive or negative. And that’s a philosophy from the 20th century Theosophical Society that I really don’t like and a belief that sets up a sort of hierarchy that what you experience, especially in terms of negative external events is somehow your fault.
AC: Yeah, that’s not what I was saying.
CB: Much of the time, it’s something that’s outside of your control that you couldn’t have changed one way or another necessarily.
AC: Yeah, when I was talking about lives, I was just talking about observing different lives, and that some lives, you see somebody work really hard on a thing for 20 years and then they get a reward for working really hard on purpose and that’s what it is. There are other lives where somebody’s doing something, and then they’re in a car accident that puts them down a totally different path, and you see fate or chance playing the primary authorship role; whereas in other lives, just reading biographies, it’s very, “Well, I decided to do this and then that’s exactly what happened.” Now why there’s that difference in lives is a deeper question, and I think that if we look at people whose lives…
CB: That’s something we can see in charts though usually.
AC: Yeah, I agree. I think that people are set up at different levels of agency over their life, and then there’s a big difference in how much power over events you have at different periods in your life.
CB: Sure. But then if that’s something that’s indicated in the chart, and the chart itself is just a diagram, a two-dimensional diagram that’s cast–that depicts the alignments of the planets at the moment a person is born–that’s telling you whether you’re gonna have agency in your life between the ages of like 40 and 45, then it’s already operating within a premise that even your agency and the amount of it at different points in your life is predetermined in some sense.
AC: Right, but what you do with your agency isn’t necessarily described by that.
CB: I mean, it might be. In some instances, it is.
AC: Well then, it’s not really agency.
CB: See, I don’t think that’s true. I know that that’s usually the modern take, that unless I have freewill that is uninhibited and can be anything I want it to be and is not dictated at all by internal personality characteristics or predispositions, that it’s not truly free will. I don’t think that’s the case because we still experience the choices we make ultimately as we’re making them as a result of who we are and our background and everything else that goes into that. And that experience of making choices, as if we had a completely unencumbered freewill, seems to be more important than the question of whether or not it is truly predetermined in some sense ahead of time.
AC: Yeah, I don’t think will is ever unencumbered. I’m never taking a context-less, freewill position.
CB: Okay. But then if it’s not unencumbered, you would agree that it’s not fully free in the sense that it’s not fully indeterminant at any point in time.
AC: No, you’ve never heard me advocate for the freewill position. I’ve described ‘will’, but I’ve never said ‘freewill’; it’s always in the context of whatever the situation is. If we’re describing some lives and some periods of lives as having more agency than others, I would say there are periods where your will and the means to execute it are superior to what is facing you, and there are other periods of time where your will and the means to execute your will are less powerful than the forces arrayed against you; so that’s not free.
CB: And I don’t disagree with that, but I would say that that’s probably predetermined. Because you can often see the transits that a person is having at that time and the correlation they’re having in describing that, or the time-lord periods that are activated as indicating a period of greater prominence or greater activity in the actualization of the person’s potential and other things like that.
AC: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that that makes them fully predetermined, but it does mean that there are factors beyond our control which play into framing each situation.
CB: Okay. So for the larger events though in a person’s life, like let’s say a person meeting the person that becomes the love of their life and is married to that person for the next 60 or 80 years or something like that, I would consider that to be a major event in the person’s life, a life-defining event that is probably predetermined on a number of levels–especially from an astrological standpoint, to the extent that we can look at a person’s chart and find both natal indications, as well as timing indications on multiple levels indicating that event, especially at that specific point in time.
AC: Is it always predetermined? I feel like we would be lacking in epistemic humility to be able to say certainly that it is always predetermined.
CB: Well, the ability of the astrologer to say it is a separate issue; the ability of the astrologer to make specific predictions with what they have at their disposal is almost a sort of separate issue. But the question of whether on some larger, global scale there are machinations of fate that are working behind the scenes in both people’s birth charts–as well as the transits and the timing periods–and being able to see when the events happen, the astrological confluence of indications is always there and supportive of that. That implies that there might be some larger narrative or picture in the person’s life that is, yeah, predetermined to the extent that it’s being based on the birth chart, which should have no connection with what happens in your life 30 or 40 or 50 years later.
AC: Well, one thing I will say is I will see indications where partnership indicators are good after 32, and the person gets married at 27 and it doesn’t work out.
CB: Well, yeah. But the idea of partnership indicators that become good at a certain period is more of a Vedic thing, I feel.
AC: No. I mean, there are certainly timing techniques, but we are talking about astrology as a whole, so I think Vedic is relevant. But even outside of Vedic, we can look at a chart using purely Hellenistic techniques and we can say, “Uh, this period’s not great for partnership.” Things get good and stay good for a while–I’m just using 32.
Let’s say that there’s a macro shift in the Part of Eros. And so, things look great from 32 to 52, but they look not good at all from 20 to 32. And so, you will see people who get married in a period that’s not good for relationships, and they have the capacity to do that and it doesn’t work out; but they have the ability to make the choice to not finalize that union or to seal that union at a time that is not supportive at all. You see problems with the relationship…
CB: I mean, I think that’s a way of looking at it, contextualizing it; I wouldn’t contextualize it that way. I would contextualize it more as if they’re in a level-one Eros period that’s not great for relationships in their first 30 years of life, then they get into a significant relationship, but it doesn’t become the relationship with the love of their life.
Oftentimes, it’s just them hitting a brief, level-two, peak period for a year or two within the context of a level-one period that is not the most important one of their life. But then later at some point, they move into their 30s or 40s, they go into the level-one peak, and then shortly after that they get into a relationship that lasts for two or three decades.
I mean, that still has more to do, to me, with the overall context of what their birth chart indicated from the moment of birth and the periods in which they would have some of the most important relationships of their life vs. the periods in which relationships wouldn’t be the focus or in which relationships would not go as well for whatever reasons.
AC: So you don’t think people can act at a time that is not fated?
CB: I think that whatever actions they take at different times will be what was fated and what was indicated in the birth chart to begin with.
AC: Okay. Well, I mean, that to a certain degree invalidates all choices or just says that all choices are fated.
CB: Invalidates them in what way?
AC: In that they’re already predetermined.
CB: So it has to be not determined ahead of time in order to be valid?
AC: In order to be a valid choice. Because if it’s already predetermined, then you’ll experience making the choice, but it’s not really your choice. That’s not really a specifically magical thing–that’s all human choice. If all human choice is fated that’s sort of a separate issue than astrology and magic.
CB: No, that’s primarily where this isn’t coming from, going back to that text from Zosimus. There’s a huge strand of the astrological tradition which was just revived recently, which was the majority of the ancient Hellenistic authors who believed that all choices and external events in a person’s life were predetermined, and that the purpose of astrology was simply to gain familiarity with them ahead of time, so as to have a greater sense of acceptance of the bad events, as well as the good events.
AC: So then internal states aren’t fated in that model.
CB: No, they are fated.
AC: But then how can you gain acceptance? How can you change your internal state from rejection to acceptance? If that’s already fated, then you’re just along for the ride. The way that you frame that is it’s a practice to not change the external, but to modify the internal state by practicing astrology.
CB: Well, the ideal state I think was that if you’re an enlightened Stoic sage, then you would accept all events that are going to happen, whether they’re good or bad, with complete tranquility. But for normal individuals who are not enlightened Stoic sages, which is most people, you’re gonna have a really difficult traumatic event coming up–like let’s say the loss of a child or the death of a marriage partner at a certain age–having some idea of that might be helpful ahead of time, so that you’re not completely caught off-guard.
AC: And I would agree that that’s true. I would just say that you’re locating the agency in your internal state rather than in control of external events there.
CB: Yeah, I mean, certainly, it becomes more of an internalized thing, and that’s Stoicism in general in terms of mastery over your internal states.
AC: Right. So that means that internal states are then not fully subject to fate the way external events are.
CB: Well, no, maybe they are because maybe there’s some people that are more equipped at dealing with adversity. There’s going to be some people that are more inclined to saying, “No, fuck the concept of fate, I’m gonna go practice something else, and I’ll find anything I can to get out of this,” and that is probably something that you could see in the birth chart already in it of itself.
But that’s where the magical tradition comes in because then there’s automatically a whole group of people that say, “No, like fuck whatever the astrology is, I will do anything I can in my power, whether it’s something natural or whether it’s something supernatural in order to change this potential event that I’ve been told is coming up in my future.”
AC: All right, so we need to back up because that’s not what any of the astrological magic texts claim.
AC: That you can fully change your fate. There’s very little talk of rewriting one’s fate in the Picatrix, for example; it’s not in Agrippa. What we see are operations where if you do this, this will happen. And it says, “Allah willing,” in the Picatrix; so if the divine is with you, if God’s on your side. We don’t have a, “Well, if you’ve got this natal chart and this thing is happening.”
And that’s one of the things that’s actually a little frustrating in practice about–let’s focus on the Picatrix because it’s probably the most important single book of astrological magic; it doesn’t talk about your natal chart very much.
CB: The Picatrix?
CB: Yeah, it’s just electional for talismans for specific outcomes of things.
AC: Right. So if you want to do this, or if you do this at this time or this kind of time with these ingredients, you will get this result. I agree that earlier in the Hellenistic and Roman world, there’s a huge focus on this question of fate. And you see in several strands of Gnosticism, you have the Archons which determine life and the shape of things down here and are identified explicitly with the planets, and the whole Gnostic quest is to get outside of the Archons’ control.
AC: And so, in that era, you have a very explicit rejection of fate claims. But when we’re looking at the actual practice of astrological magic and we look at the texts, they’re not engaging with the fate claims of Hellenistic astrologers.
CB: I mean, in the Greek magical texts though, I have the papyri and the Greek magical papyri in translation, you can see magical rituals. And there’s one that gets cited all the time by this guy who is trying to make a petition, who was trying to use magical rituals in order to change his fate; and that’s definitely something then that’s more of a dominant theme in the Hellenistic tradition, the first few centuries CE.
And that’s not just coming from the magical tradition–it’s the magical tradition responding to the astrological tradition–but we also see that in the other religious traditions, like you mentioned, the Gnostics.
AC: Christianity itself is to some degree a response to that.
CB: Yeah, and that was in the episode that I did with Nate Craddock a few episodes ago, which was my realization over the past decade that the more and more I studied ancient Christianity and Gnosticism within the context of what was happening in ancient astrology, I realized that a good motivating factor for people getting into Christianity was the claim that they made that if you’re baptized, your birth chart is no longer in effect. You’re no longer under the control of planets, and your fate is no longer the same as it was when you were born–that you have a sense of freedom or liberation from fate.
CB: Right, so that’s more dominant then. You’re right though that later in the tradition, once we have the emergence of horary, electional becomes more dominant. And so, later the magical tradition becomes more focused on attempting to have specific magical rituals to have more localized, specific outcomes about specific actions and their outcomes, especially the talismanic tradition in trying to create talismans that will have different effects on your life by controlling or capturing the powers of specific planets for different reasons, and that’s what we see come up in the Picatrix.
AC: Yeah, when we talk about practicing astrological magic that’s what the practice has been. I don’t doubt that people were doing astrological magic earlier than that, but we don’t have a compendious record of what they were doing; we have fragments.
So in the Greek Magical Papyri, we have some bits that are very astrological, a lot that have very little to do with astrology. But the ‘working’ bible of astrological magic which informs the perspective on that that you see in the Renaissance and up to now–especially now because we’ve only had the Picatrix in English for about 10 or so years.
CB: Yeah. And here, from the Greek Magical Papyri, it’s just a little fragment–but it’s from this long piece of papyrus where he’s doing various magical rituals–but in part of it, he does some sort of incantation with different vowels and then he says, “Protect me from all of my astrological destiny. Destroy my foul fate.”
AC: Yeah, I know that one.
CB: “Apportion good things for me in my horoscope; increase my life, even in the midst of many goods; for I am a mere slave and petitioner and have hymned your valid and holy name, lord, glorious one, ruler of the cosmos of ten thousand names; greatest nourisher, apportioner, Sarapis.”
CB: So this is the earlier tradition where Hellenistic astrology is primarily practiced within the context of natal astrology and a largely overarching sense of fate and predetermination coming from the Stoics. And that’s where that initial debate that I was talking about was coming from in Zosimus, where he’s citing one tradition that’s fully deterministic astrology and learn the future ahead of time to accept it, and there’s another one though that’s emerging that’s learn your fate, but then try to figure out what you can change, and some of that might be in natal astrology.
But then there’s another tradition with authors like Dorotheus, where they start using electional astrology to try to control the outcome of specific things, like if you start a journey at this time, this will be the outcome vs. if you start it on this astrological alignment, it will be this outcome.
AC: Yes, if Mars is configured to the waxing Moon when you begin the surgery, there will be excessive bleeding and great danger to the patient. Just to be clear, I absolutely agree with you that there’s a huge concern with that during the astrological era, and there are two big answers and that there’s a little bit of a veering off or splitting from that point.
CB: Yeah. And I think this is where the magical tradition comes in because the magical tradition is the one, as a separate entity, where you then would start to have more overlap with the freewill and the electional astrology side of the astrological tradition that are looking for ways to, like you said earlier, maximize their agency, to increase their agency at different points in time.
And that’s where you start getting an overlap between the astrological and the magical traditions, and that really coalesced several centuries later in the main surviving texts we have, which is the Picatrix, which was just a book with lists and lists of astrological rules for different types of elections basically, right?
AC: Yeah. Well, it’s lists of different projects from different sources, and then it’s interspersed with commentary on how to think about all of this.
CB: So can you give an example? What are some examples of different magical elections in the Picatrix? More like talismans?
AC: Yeah. So one I’ll give an example of a species. One species would be at a time–I’ll just use Jupiter as an example–where Jupiter meets the electional criteria, which will be Jupiter on either the Midheaven or the Ascendant and it’s in its rulership or exaltation, and the Moon is in a good place to support the operation; and we’re in the planetary hour and preferably day, and there are no malefic planets configured either to the Moon or to Jupiter to interfere with that. Then you will craft a ring of ‘x’ metal and place within it a stone which is smoked with this particular incense and which has these figures carved within it; and then that will have ‘x, y, and z’ effects, which as an astrologer you’re like, “Oh, those are good Jupiter things,” right?
AC: And so, that’s one species of…
CB: A Jupiter talisman.
AC: Yeah, a Jupiter ring, and then there’s little stuff…
CB: But what would then be the goal for that?
AC: It would be to obtain the results that are listed, which we would recognize as bringing a positive Jupiter influence into the life.
AC: And then for each planet, there’s almost always more than one image and more than one project, if you will–you know, dark arts and crafts. And so, it’ll be like, “Oh, do it this way, with this image.” So one Jupiter image is of a bearded king sitting on a throne, each corner of which is supported by an angel, which is different from the image of Jupiter riding a lion with a thunderbolt or spear in his hand one would be for victory in battle, etc., etc., and then the other–I forget what exactly. I think the other one is just to be richer and happier than you otherwise would be would be my translation of it. But that’s one species of operation; there are also non-talismanic operations within the Picatrix.
This is where the line between what I described earlier as theurgic and astrological magic really blurs, where there’s a large section on petitions to the planets, where on a ‘good enough’ election for the planet–rather than this exquisite, perfect election you would see for a ring–you dress up a certain way, you make certain offerings, and then you read certain conjurations to the deity of that planet or however you want to put that. And then you will get some form of apparition and you say, “Hey, give me this,” and then you get that. What’s interesting about this…
CB: There’s a phrase for that: it’s making a petition to a deity?
AC: Yeah, it’s a petition. And so, what’s interesting about the language for that is that almost all the petitions, what they call the planet–there’s a lot of them–there’s more than one for most planets. But most of them start with, “Oh, planet who has these qualities,”–and there’s basically a listing of the qualities of its motion and light and the various things in human affairs and in the animal world and the natural world that that planet influences–and then it ends with, “Okay, and so your name is.”
And they will then say, “Okay, you were,”–I’ll stick with Jupiter; I don’t want to invoke Saturn–”Jupiter to the Romans; you were Zeus to the Greeks,” and then there’s usually four or five. And some of them aren’t all entirely accurate; it’s what the person who wrote that knew about those other cultures, but it’s recognizing that there is a divine potency hosted within that planet that gets to make decisions that is called different things by different people. And so, in Vedic astrology or just in Vedic thought, those would be the graha-devatas, which are the gods of the planets. They’re relatively low-ranked but they’re still powerful.
CB: Sure. So we see this most clearly in the Picatrix, which is the main…
AC: Yeah, all that was straight from the Picatrix.
CB: …astrological book of magic, and then we occasionally have intersections. That’s obviously one of the major intersections and confluences between the astrological tradition and the magical tradition in the Picatrix, where we see the electional astrological tradition in earlier authors like Dorotheus. Valens and Ptolemy, for example, are doing just natal astrology–Ptolemy does a little mundane–but they don’t otherwise do magic; it’s just straight astrological rules for interpreting birth charts and then making statements about what will happen in a person’s life based on that.
AC: Yeah, agree. And with Firmacus, you get a lot of street rules, but then he makes these asides that show a familiarity with ritual work, for lack of a better term. Yeah, so as I’ve said before, he’s talking about the decans; he’s like, “Yep, these are the rules for interpreting decans if a planet’s own decan has a strength similar to being in its own sign,” etc., etc.
And then he’s like, “Oh, and by the way, all the decans are host to tremendously powerful ‘intelligences’”–and we were talking about this the other day in the context of divisional charts in Hellenistic astrology–”and each of those decans has three spirits which have ‘x’ amount of powers.” And then he’s like, “Yeah, and we’re not going to talk about that.” In another place, he does give divine or daimonic names–not demonic, but daimonic names–that correlate to each of the decans.
And so, that shows, we could say, a ’spirit’ model of the sky, or a belief or a way of interacting with at least certain parts of the chart that is founded on the idea that there are ‘intelligences’ hosted there which we can have some meaningful interaction with.
CB: Sure. And I’m sure he was drawing on some different parts of the tradition, especially the Egyptian tradition, where maybe that was more relevant, where they were using the rising or culminating of decans to time different religious rituals at night.
AC: Yeah, that’s pretty Egyptian.
CB: That being said, Firmicus, otherwise, in his philosophical sections is one of the most overtly Stoic astrologers in saying that everything is predetermined and that you can’t change anything. So it’s like even though he’s influenced by that earlier tradition, he’s still taking it in the characteristically Hellenistic fashion of predetermination in terms of natal astrology.
AC: Yeah, I would say that it’s a little incoherent. And as much as you’ll hear me talk about Firmicus, I don’t think that Firmicus is great or we should do things like Firmicus all the time. I don’t treat him as a model. I think he’s really interesting because you see a lot of different pieces show up in his text.
AC: We certainly can’t praise Firmicus for consistency because not too much later after penning Mathesis, he goes and converts to Christianity and is a powerful advocate of this new salvific model, and condemns pagan practices like astrology.
CB: Yeah, I mean, really viciously attacks pagan authors, especially authors like Porphyry and others, once he converted to Christianity.
AC: At the end of the day, he was a Roman lawyer.
CB: Sure, and he’s very over-the-top in his prose pretty much the entire time. But anyway, those are examples of natal astrology and its pre-deterministic tendencies in the Hellenistic tradition, but in Dorotheus, we do have the start of the electional tradition, at least as far as the textual evidence is concerned. Dorotheus is one of the oldest electional texts that we have that’s largely still intact.
AC: Yeah, and for students of astrology, it’s a great introduction to elections.
CB: Yeah. Well, it’s literally the original introduction to elections from the 1st century CE, from probably about 75 or so CE. And then that book ended up being translated into a bunch of different languages, like Persian and Arabic, and then influencing virtually all subsequent traditions of electional astrology from that point forward.
AC: And I would just add, you can see Dorotheus’ first two paragraphs on how to do elections, that’s right there in the Picatrix. Look at the Ascendant, look at the Moon, etc., etc.–that’s all right there in the Picatrix.
CB: Sure. So Dorotheus, in the 1st century, it’s just pure electional astrology, which is just using astrology and saying if you start something at this time, with this astrological configuration, when the Ascendant and the ruler of the Ascendant’s in this sign, and the Moon is applying to these planets, this will be the outcome; or if you want this outcome, then you should start it under this alignment of planets, and he does it for different topics: like if you want to get married, if you want to build a house, if you want to start a journey, and so on and so forth.
AC: And sometimes he gives ‘good/bad’, ‘better/best’, ‘terrible’ parameters.
CB: Yeah, and some of them are retrospective. In modern times, we call it electional, but in the Hellenistic tradition, they just called katarchic astrology, which just means ‘inceptional’. So it included not just the proactive picking of events coming up in the future, but also the retrospective. If something’s already started, and you want to know how it turned out, look at the alignment of the planets at the moment it began; and then you can issue predictions about what will happen in its future.
AC: Right. A practical example of that would be when we look at the incorporation chart of a business to figure out whether we want to invest our money in that business over the coming year or not.
CB: Yeah, so that’s just electional astrology or just astrology though. It’s not until later, we get to the Picatrix, which is like 8th or 9th century CE, although it’s drawing on earlier magical and astrological traditions probably from Iran and the surrounding area.
AC: We don’t have a dating on the fragments that are reproduced within the Picatrix. We know when they were assembled into that volume, we don’t necessarily know when the pieces that were assembled were written.
CB: Okay, but sometime in the Medieval period at least, the book in the form that it’s in today comes together.
AC: Oh, yeah, and I’ve heard later. Early 11th I know is popular among scholars; it might be late 8th. I haven’t heard a good case for earlier than early 9th.
CB: Okay, so that’s one of the major times when astrology and magic intersect, but then we have other times. And it can diverge again in the sense that there’s later authors in the later Medieval or early Renaissance tradition that are just doing astrology, and there’s some authors that are just doing magic and it’s sort of separate. But then we have other major convergences of astrology and magic where it keeps going in and out. What were some of the later instances of major astrologers that were also practicing magic?
AC: Well, you can’t not talk about John Dee.
CB: John Dee, okay.
AC: And as far as just the pattern you’re pointing out, I think that we can follow that forever. And even if we’re looking at what fits in that broad definition of astrology, but isn’t this system that predates that Hellenistic synthesis, we know that Hellenistic astrology is drawing on Mesopotamian and Egyptian sky/earth correlations. And even though we don’t have it in explicit detail, we know that there was a strong ritual/magical context for those things.
CB: Sure. Yeah, that’s a good point that we couldn’t get into. If I was more versed in Mesopotamian astrology, we could definitely get more into that because astrology was one of the forms of divination in Mesopotamia out of many. Astrology was sometimes acting on its own, but sometimes was tied in with the ritual and religious context in Mesopotamia, which included things that we would classify as magic.
AC: Yeah. There’s a period in Mesopotamian astrology and magic and religion where the planets were approached as gods or as hosts to gods, which looks a lot like the petition structure that shows up in the Picatrix. And it’s important to note that the Picatrix comes out of Iran.
Basically, it was just barely into the Caliphate Empire and just over the border of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and it was actually a place where there were survivals of much earlier Mesopotamian magical religious practices that were going on up until the 11th century; the Temple of the Moon was still active there. And so, whether there’s a technical contribution there, there’s absolutely a paradigmatic contribution to the Picatrix, as well as an approach to celestial phenomenon contribution.
You see, for example, the earliest point where the decans show up is on the coffin lids of pharaohs 2,000 years before we have any astrological texts. And so, we see a division of the sky and a recognition of what’s in that part of the sky being mobilized or employed for magical means way before we have any of this stuff. I mean, we could even say that in terms of this sort of ‘weaving in and out’ that some of the early Greco-Roman, Hellenistic astrological texts represent a divergence of those two strands.
CB: Yeah. And I guess that brings us to the point, which is just, for me, it’s okay. Part of the point of all that was that astrology can be practiced outside of the context of magic, just on its own, and can be a perfectly valid technical practice, as well as philosophy on its own that’s independent from magic. And while there are occasional overlaps that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to practice magic or that you have to contextualize it in a ‘magical’ worldview in order to practice astrology.
AC: I think you need a worldview that, according to the modern materialist, would seem very magical to validate astrology at all.
AC: Even if it’s something as ‘weak sauce’ as just synchronicity–which I don’t love as an explanation because it’s really just calling, it’s really naming a phenomenon rather than analyzing it. But even if you’re saying, “Yep, there’s synchronicity,” you’re already outside of a rationalist-materialist paradigm and you’d be accused of magical thinking.
CB: Yeah, that’s true. I guess I would just said though that there’s a correlation between celestial movements and earthly events for some reason that we may not fully understand or a mechanism that we may not fully understand versus treating planets and celestial bodies as gods, in terms of propitiating them and treating them as ‘intelligences’ and things like that. That is a separate conceptual model, to me, that is different and has a markedly different orientation towards the world.
I mean, I realize there’s overlaps, and I realize there are not…
AC: The Stoic philosophy didn’t mean that a person was a materialist. It was about what you could control and what you couldn’t, and then what was the right way to approach life based on what’s real, but they didn’t say, “Oh, ghosts aren’t real.” You get an overlap of Aristotelian-Platonic philosophy with Stoicism.
And the Platonists are very clear that the planets and also stars–and also the rivers etc., etc.–are host to some form of intelligence, but yeah, there’s all this fate. And you can ask Jupiter, and Jupiter might have opinions, but it’s not going to change your fate, right?
CB: Yeah, and let’s just bring it up to modern times and turn the discussion fully towards now and the problem of now and my ambivalence over it. I have devoted my life for the past 20 years to astrology, and I had been entirely focused on that study with the incidental study of philosophy and history and everything else that’s necessary to go along with that and support that, but magic hasn’t been part of my study, and I see it as something that’s there that I could study at some point. It’s almost like a technique or something that I just haven’t gotten into yet, like if you hadn’t studied primary directions or something like that.
I realize it’s obviously much broader than that–and there’s a whole philosophy and other types of practices that go along with it–but it’s not something that’s drawn my attention or that I’ve been interested in, and I’ve been capable of practicing astrology independent of that. So part of the interesting place that I find myself in, in the revival of magic–and to whatever extent we’ve promoted it on the podcast–has just been the revival of something that I have no connection to at this point in time; and while I might at some point in the future, I don’t know what my relation is to that now.
AC: Yeah, let me just grab a few pieces of that.
AC: So you described it as a technique. Obviously, you don’t think it’s just one move, but I think that’s actually really useful in a certain way, especially in regard to astrological magic.
AC: So like I said before…
CB: Especially to the extent that you were defining it at the beginning, as the attempt to sort of…
AC: You act, and then there is a result–the middle is mysterious.
AC: So I want to try to stick with astrological magic because there’s a lot of magic that’s just in other categories. But with astrological magic, starting with the Picatrix–we’re centering on the Picatrix–there’s a lot of, “Do this at this time, and then you will get this species of result,” and so, that is very practical in orientation.
CB: Yeah, like an election or a technique; it is an election.
AC: Yeah, there’s just a lot to it because it’s not just the timing—there’s the ritual action, the understanding of the material, blah, blah, blah–but that’s very useful and I would say necessary to point out. A lot of magic, especially the bulk of what dominated the discourse on magic in the 20th century in English-speaking countries was what we could call ‘lodge’ magic which comes out of the late 19th century, early 20th century Golden Dawn and the OTO, where the primary goal of magic and magic in general is described almost explicitly within an initiatory framework with practical stuff being mentioned somewhere at the side.
AC: And that initiatory framework is, we could say, very non-practical in orientation very tied to certain viewpoints on what reality is and what the good is, whereas in the Picatrix, even the larger paradigmatic framing is much more, “Well, this is how this can work.” Rather than, “This is the entire universe and these are your ethics and this is what you should be doing within the universe,” the Picatrix, in the astrological tradition, is very results-oriented or very how to do an action and get a predictable result.
CB: Yeah, and everything that astrological magic has become in the past couple of years that’s become popularized in the astrological community is doing specific things at certain times in order to achieve certain outcomes.
AC: Yep. And again, it’s important to define that because you will find other magical traditions that have a wholly different or even opposite orientation.
CB: Okay, well let’s put those aside for now and let’s just focus on the astrological tradition for the duration of this; because I know we’ve been doing this for a while, so I want to make sure we…
AC: I would really like to stop and pee and get a cup of coffee.
CB: Okay. Let’s take a brief break, and we’ll be right back.
AC: All right.
CB: All right, let’s start again. So in this segment, we’re basically just getting through what was supposed to be the point of the first-half, which was outlining my reservations as somebody that’s coming from just astrology and is still just doing astrology and didn’t have any background in the magical tradition prior to ordering that, but also hasn’t done pretty much largely anything with astrological magic at this point, and I’m largely still content with that.
I don’t have any sense of urgency right now and that’s partially because so much of my philosophy of astrology has been trying to learn and understand the future, and just the process of doing astrology and seeing it work and learning about it is a lifetime thing in and of itself. Like there’s so much you could do there, you could spend the rest of your life just studying that, or even just sitting one small portion of astrology without ever getting to everything.
AC: Yeah. I mean, if your goal was to thoroughly, deeply, and as perfectly as a human mind could, just understand astrology, you would almost certainly fall short, right?
AC: And so, I have been a co-practitioner of astrology and magic for 20 years and, for me, the overlap is very important and interesting and a key part of my practice. It’s not that astrology is crap without magic, and it’s not that if you’re not an astrologer that your magic is crap. If you’re trying to do astrological magic, then you by nature need to be pretty good at both, but there’s lots of, I would say, value to astrology outside of that Venn diagram overlap.
CB: Yeah. And so, that brings up my three, basic objections, as I was trying to scribble them down really quickly, remember them in the break: one, what the public thinks and what their perception is of astrology on its own. Because astrology is already a field that has its own problems and its own image issues in terms of its place in society, currently in the present time, without adding the additional baggage of magic, which is one of my concerns.
AC: And I think that’s a historically-validated concern.
CB: Like Salem witch trial type situations, you mean?
AC: There were various periods of time where there would be legislation, where magic was completely illegal, but astrology within certain parameters was licit.
CB: Yeah, as long as it was natural or within the bounds of the science of the day and didn’t tread in the field of religion and other things like that.
AC: Right. But generally speaking, where we see legislation against these 9th house topics, astrology does better legislation-wise than magic does.
CB: Sure. And that’s still an issue in terms of the practice of astrology and the weird legal footing that it has today. Like right now, in the United States at least, it’s been doing okay for the past decade or two on free speech grounds; it’s not okay in the sense that it is not seen to have any scientific legitimacy.
And therefore, at the present moment in time, without that, it has a sort of unsure footing in society that I always get nervous about because I feel like things could change pretty easily, especially if the astrologer is really messed up; or if there was some sort of incident where somebody used astrology really inappropriately or really stupidly things could change pretty easily and pretty quickly. But maybe that’s just my own paranoia about that, having seen past historical instances of astrology falling out of popularity and suddenly becoming illicit again at different points in history.
AC: So I share that concern because it happens. Unfortunately, somebody who is representing themselves as an astrologer or is an astrologer will inevitably say something stupid. Unless we enact a nightmarish, totalitarian control of astrology, even then I don’t think there’s any way to stop that.
AC: But no, I I hear you. There’s a little bit of a, hey, I like being able to do this for a living. I like people being able to study this without it being a legal gray area.
CB: And also, I felt like it sucks that astrology doesn’t have any intellectual respectability in modern society, and I want to see it; because I think it’s a valid phenomenon, I would like to see it have that again someday. I would like to see a famous physicist or something who suddenly gets into astrology and says, “Hey, this looks like a valid property of nature that’s going on here. Why don’t we actually study it?”
AC: Well, that has happened, and he was laughed out of the ‘academy’.
CB: Who was that?
AC: I forget. He wrote a book on it, maybe 20-some years ago. But there are people within the ‘academy’ who are interested in these things and think they’re valid, and they know to shut up about it.
CB: Yeah, well, they have to keep it quiet because it’s not publicly-respectable. I mean, Tarnas was the closest I feel like we got to that, in that he wrote his first book that became super popular and became core reading in universities, which is The Passion of the Western Mind. But then that was always just meant to be a precursor or like a footnote to the main book he was working on, which was Cosmos and Psyche.
CB: But that book, Cosmos and Psyche, even though it’s been somewhat influential, and it’s brought some people into the field–because it ends up in the philosophy section of bookstores rather than just relegated to the astrology shelves that are dwindling year-by-year–Cosmos and Psyche still didn’t have the impact on academia or on the intellectual climate and its attitudes towards astrology that I think he was intending, at least at this point in time.
AC: Yeah, astrology has not become ‘academically licit’ as a result.
CB: Sure. So that’s not a reason in and of itself to keep magic separate from astrology or that it should, but it’s something that I think about in terms of…
AC: So let me jump in. As I said, historically, usually astrology does better in terms of acceptability than magic. I think we might be in a period where that’s actually reversed.
CB: You think magic is doing better right now than astrology?
AC: I think it might be doing better. I think the idea that we have some sort of hidden ability, that human beings have a hidden ability or capacity to influence events seems to be more popular and more accepted even that astrology is.
If you look at the number of people who identify as witches or who are interested in what they’re calling witchcraft, that’s basically I have a hidden potency, human beings have a hidden potency that can be educated to be more effective–that’s incredibly popular. And we could even put–even though it’s not part of the current cultural wave–we could put, 10-12 years ago, the phenomenon of The Secret into that category, into that very broad category.
AC: And I think Americans in general, because we live in a very competitive environment, are looking for any edge we can get, and that makes that very broadest possible category of magic more appealing. I think that magic is doing as well, if not better than astrology right now, even at a time when astrology’s doing great in terms of people’s interest in it.
CB: Sure, maybe. I don’t know.
AC: This is just observations.
CB: Let’s say, at least amongst intellectuals, I don’t think magic is doing better than astrology, per say. And astrology is certainly not at a high point with intellectuals at this current point in time, but it’s not necessarily going to be helpful. I mean, my other issue is does it work. And that’s where I invoke the ‘technique’ thing, where I treat it like a technique because I don’t know what its efficacy is; and not knowing anything, I feel like it could go either way.
My entryway into astrology was through New Age stuff, circa 2000, and I got into some books on Nostradamus that were very ‘New Agey’ and incorporated just the whole gambit of different, late 20th century New Age thinking and different things that were supposedly possible in that context. I was going through a pretty heavy Neptune transit at the time. I think it was like Neptune squaring my Sun, while Neptune was going through my 1st house, through my rising sign.
AC: Oh, so it was hitting all sorts of planets.
CB: Yeah, it was hitting all sorts of planets, and I was also more open to all those things. But also, once I started coming out of that transit, I realized that so much of what was in those books was bullshit, to put it politely, and astrology was one of the only things that I came out of that transit feeling like was still real and was still valid in terms of some of that stuff, and it made me more skeptical towards a lot of the claims that were being made by people in the New Age movement in general.
So instead of just being completely open and accepting of any claim that anybody would make about metaphysical or spiritual capabilities or anything else, while not immediately rejecting it, I would often adopt a much more careful, modest sort of attitude towards things like that…
CB: …before approaching them until I had my own personal investigations and experience. So I’m an astrologer, and I’ve been in astrology for 20 years, so I’m not stupid enough at this point to not investigate something and reject it out of hand before investigating it anymore.
So much of the time, the problem, the downfall of most skeptics is they honestly don’t investigate most of the things that they are against. They just get the ‘cliff notes’ version from somebody that holds a position of authority that they think is respectable, usually a leading skeptic, like James Randi, or whoever the other modern skeptic is that they’re following. They’ll repeat the same talking points that seem like good objections on the surface level, but that’s about as far as they’ll go in terms of understanding the subject before rejecting it.
So in seeing the downsides to that, I’m not going to be adopting a similar approach to something I haven’t investigated myself yet, but I do see that it could go either way in terms of some portions of it could be valid in other portions of it maybe could not be valid.
AC: Yeah, and that’s just responsible thinking.
AC: So let me respond; I think there’s a good parallel there. So I was never interested in New Age stuff because it always just smelled wrong to me.
AC: And so, you will find within New Age material the belief that it is possible to influence life events through mysterious means. You will also find the belief that it is possible to read these portions of the future through the relationship between heaven and Earth, so magic and astrology. However, if someone says, “Yep, you can read the future through the sky,” and provides you an insufficient technical education in astrology, even though they are correct in that that is possible, you will not be able to do it without the technical methods to do that.
And so, what I see when I look at a lot of New Age stuff is that belief that it is possible to influence events through mysterious or ritual means–that is correct. What I see is a massive deficiency of the know-how of how to do that. My early forays into magic were trying to figure out what do you do; it obviously wasn’t just ‘willing’ really hard.
CB: I mean, in New Age stuff sometimes there are claims to be able to do things that aren’t necessarily true and that was one of the issues that I ran into.
AC: Oh, yeah. As I said, I never had a ‘New Age’ phase because there was so much untrue that it just turned me off.
CB: See, I didn’t get that. I came into it at like 14 or 15, and it was my first exposure to all of those things, and I didn’t have the conceptualization that somebody could write an entire book based on a premise where they’re actually making up a story or lying. The premise of this book was that it was a regressive hypnotist that took somebody into a regressive hypnotism session, and it turned out that they were like a student of Nostradamus’ in a past life, and through him, they went about sort of interpreting all of his prophecies in a modern context to refer to all of these various things. I didn’t have the understanding at that age that somebody could just like make up stuff like that.
AC: And also, even if the person had a perfect recall of that life with Nostradamus, it doesn’t mean that Nostradamus was right about everything and it doesn’t mean that that student understood everything perfectly, but that’s a little aside. The point I was just trying to make is that, in my experience, just like with astrology, there is a huge knowledge component and technique component to doing magic that is effective on an external level.
A big turning point–it wasn’t turning, but a big upgrade point for me was when I got the first translation of the Picatrix into English, which was the Ouroboros Press version, before Christopher Warnock and Michael Greer’s Picatrix came out. I got it, and I was like, “Okay, it’s astrological magic. How does it work?” Because I had been trying to use the pieces of astrological magic that are present in the Golden Dawn tradition, some of which are Agrippan, in order to do astro-magic, and I had some interesting experiences and some on/off success and failure, but it was very inconsistent.
AC: But the Picatrix supplied the technical parameters and also the way that the ritual should be structured and the right way to put together a petition and all of the pieces, and after that I got extremely consistent results. And so, there was a big upgrade; I was like, “Oh, this is how you actually do it,” rather than trying to piece together things that were connected.
CB: But did you go into magic–whatever your introduction was–thinking that, “Magic is definitely a legitimate phenomenon that clearly already exists in the world, and I’m gonna find it?”
CB: Okay. Because the question, as an initial starting point, was, is this even a thing or is this not a thing that actually even exists in the world?
AC: No, I’ve always been interested in mysterious things. I was interested in the ‘corners’ of knowledge in my culture, like, I don’t know, is astrology real. It took me probably five years of doing astrology. It took me literally predicting a death to admit finally that astrology was real and I should totally take it seriously, and I had exactly the same experience with magic.
CB: Yeah, I think that is a valid orientation to come into the field of astrology with, for example, and I think it’s a healthy orientation to come into the field with the question of is this a valid phenomenon or not. And that’s why on the podcast, I’m often trying to frame almost every episode with the initial assumption that the audience members know nothing about this topic; let’s take it from the very start all the way through the intermediate advanced steps on this topic.
Because I’d like to be able to allow people to come into the field and give them a view of astrology where this could be a valid phenomenon, and this is what it looks like if it is a valid phenomenon, and here’s a perspective on this that you may not have seen before; but what it would take to get somebody from Point A of, “This may not be a valid phenomenon” to, “Hey, this actually may be a property in nature that I didn’t know about or I didn’t think could exist, but for some weird reason it seems like it does.”
AC: Mm-hmm. And I would say that if I think back to myself at 19 or 20, when I was tentatively poking these things to see how they reacted, I think that what you can do with words and what you can do with arguments is you can show the possibility, and you could show the validity of investigation. For myself, it was only through validation in my experience, over and over and over and over again, to the point that I couldn’t refute it with both astrology and magic, that convinced me.
AC: And that’s not something you can do for other people. I can tell you about my experiences, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same for somebody to tell you about their experiences, as to see it for yourself.
AC: And what’s interesting is the Picatrix, in the way that it refers to the various projects you can do, it uses experimental language over and over again. It says, “This is an experiment you can do. For this experiment, get a ruby. Compile an incense comprised of these plants. Pick a time like this.” But these are the experiments, you do the experiments under these parameters, and then you see what happens.
CB: Sure. And not all magic though in your view works, or at least not all magic is equally efficacious, right? Is there some magic or some schools where you feel like that that’s not a thing or that that’s not real or doesn’t work, or “I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s not a legitimate thing?”
AC: Well, I would say if it doesn’t work, then it’s not really magic.
CB: If it doesn’t work, it’s not really magic?
AC: If it says that it does something and it doesn’t do that, then it’s not really that thing. Just like if there’s a school of astrology that says that it can predict events and fails miserably, then that’s not really astrology, that’s something else.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I think there are individuals occasionally that will either pretend that they’re astrologers, but aren’t, like if they’re trying to rip somebody off. They say they’re an astrologer, but they’re like a psychic or something.
AC: Or they’re just megalomaniacal and delusional.
CB: Yeah, which is contrary to the claim of most skeptics that try to allege–not really knowing any astrologers–that all astrologers are just swindlers or using cold reading or trying to rip you off. But in reality, when you come into the field, the amount of people that you meet that you could actually classify in that way, that’s legitimately trying to use astrology to rip people off or use cold reading is actually surprisingly low if you were coming at it from that perspective, under that assumption.
AC: I don’t think I’ve ever met someone at an astrological conference that I would put in that category.
CB: Because they don’t go to conferences. People like that don’t go to conferences.
AC: Because they would get called out.
CB: Yeah, well, they’re also not professionals. They’re not moving in professional circles for the most part.
AC: Yeah, I would say the very worst case is I think some people who are astrologers are also kind of shady, but that’s an entirely different thing than being a charlatan.
CB: Yeah, okay.
AC: But what I will say is that there are some magical traditions that are very focused on getting clear results, and the culture of those traditions has a very clear ‘pass/ fail’ when you talk about an operation, or like, yeah, you accomplished it, but it did this weird side thing. Let’s go back and think about why that happened. And then there are some magical traditions that have initiatory aims. And if you want to accomplish practical things, a group with initiatory aims is not very concerned technically and paradigmatically with getting visible results; you don’t study with them if you want visible results.
As I said earlier, I started with the Golden Dawn stuff, and there are some pieces of that that I still use in practical work, but it was very difficult to figure out how to do practical work within those parameters. And I don’t necessarily think it’s because that’s fake and bad; it’s that’s not what that’s aiming at. And so, magical traditions, just like variations within schools of astrology, aim at different things, and you should be aware of what they’re aiming at and if that’s what you’re aiming at; because they’ll give you methods to hit that mark, not the other marks necessarily.
CB: Okay. Well, I guess at some point, maybe in the future; I don’t have any huge sense of urgency to do it at this time. But the investigation of whether magic is a legitimate phenomena is something I have to do at some point, but I don’t have a sense of urgency. And also, there’s a lot of techniques in astrology where I feel the same way, or even branches of astrology that I just don’t specialize in or don’t have an interest in specializing in, like medical astrology or something like that.
One of the issues with medical astrology is I see it as such a huge, complicated field because you need to also, ideally, be pretty good at medicine in order to practice that effectively, and that’s a whole field unto itself.
AC: Well, if the chart says you’re gonna have trouble with your liver next year, what does the liver do?
AC: You need to know what the function of the liver is and its relationships with the other organs and processes, or else you’re like, “Liver? Bad liver, bad, 2021.”
CB: Right, like there’s certain time-lord techniques. When I got into Hellenistic astrology, I learned several of them reading through Valens and started messing with different ones, but there were two that really stood out that seemed to work really well for me, which were annual perfections and zodiacal releasing.
So I decided to focus on and specialize in those, but there are other time-lord techniques that I just sort of left for somebody else to figure out and specialize in and figure out how that time-lord technique works, or if there’s a way to make it work more effectively than I was able to get it to.
AC: Like firdaria.
CB: Yeah, firdaria is a good one that some people use and think works really well; it’s just not something I’ve done much with, or ‘Quarters of the Moon’; Valens actually introduces that technique before he does zodiacal releasing. Astrology is so vast that nobody can master everything. You end up having to pick some parts of the system to specialize in and become good at and to focus on because you only have so much life and so much time.
CB: So yeah, at some point; my only other reservation is possible drawbacks or possible dangers in doing so. It seems like an area where, while there could be some advantages, if, hypothetically, it was real and you messed up, it could have some major drawbacks or some major, harmful side effects that you might not anticipate that could be pretty problematic.
AC: Yeah. So, one, I would say it is real. I would say I appreciate the careful approach to truth claims; I think there’s a lot of validity in that. Also, if you are going to start doing practical magic–especially if you’re going to start doing astrological magic–treating it as if it’s not real until it proves itself to you has specific dangers. If you’re dealing with the power to shape events or to make things go one way or another, then you have the power to make things go worse as well as make them go better.
And so, for me, and everybody else I knew who’s put a solid decade into astrological magic since we’ve had the Picatrix–we’ve been doing our experiments and comparing notes–we’ve all blown ourselves up; we’ve all done things. And what’s more common than just blowing yourself up, although that’s certainly a possibility, is you make a Spica talisman where you’re like, “Yeah, Jupiter’s on Spica, but Jupiter is so great I can ignore the fact that Mars is squaring it.” And so, you anchor that configuration, you give it a body in whatever gem, you wear that around and then you break your leg.
I made a thing, I don’t know, in 2009; the goal was to boost my business right–to make what I was doing more interesting and approachable and to get more clients–and I was super broke at the time. And because my 10th house is Ares, I involved Mars in Aries in this; there was some other stuff; it wasn’t just Mars.
CB: Okay. So you put Mars in the talisman in a day chart, by transit, in your chart?
AC: Yeah, and it had other things in it; it accomplished exactly what I wanted to do. However, what I started noticing is when I wore it, one, I would start sweating profusely within about a minute of putting it on; and two, when I was in public places, I would get much more hostile reactions from passersby than I normally would.
AC: This was particularly evident when I was in Los Angeles at the time. Homeless people would threaten to fight me almost every time I wore that out; I never had the experience of walking by a homeless person and them trying to fight me. You know, if you’re in an area with a high homeless rate, people yell weird shit at you sometimes, but I never had someone try to fight me before; and that happened multiple times while wearing that.
AC: And so, I didn’t blow myself up. It accomplished the primary goal of what that talisman was supposed to do, but it did a bunch of weird other stuff too.
CB: Right. So one of the potential downsides could be unintended consequences if you start bringing energies into your life…
AC: I think that’s a really good way to put it.
CB: Messing with parts of your birth chart by making something a temporary or a permanent part of your life, you could have unintended consequences that you don’t anticipate ahead of time.
AC: Yeah. And I have a friend who’s put in the time to become quite good at this, and she literally made a thing and broke her leg like the first time she wore it; she’d never broken her leg before.
AC: And the damage to the leg, in retrospect, we looked at the electional chart, and it was like, “Oh, yeah, the 6th lord is Mars. It’s in a hard superior square to the point being activated. Of course there was physical damage.
CB: So a proviso is you can’t go into something like that just fucking around, which is kind of the same with medical astrology. So one of the things I’m nervous about in dealing too much with that, even though there’s some parts of that that you can certainly study idly without causing too many problems–certainly, this more than any other area in terms of technical knowledge or things you may incorporate–there could be serious responsibility that comes with it.
AC: Yeah, it’s not just…
CB: Serious repercussions.
AC: Yeah, it’s something you have to think about. Let me take an example of something positive that could have problematic issues associated with it. So let’s say we make something that’s very benefic and one of the effects of wearing it is that you become absurdly confident. And so, generally, human beings prefer feeling confident to anxious and afraid, so that’s a subjective positive. However, you might make mistakes by being absurdly confident all the time.
And so, if you make a thing that’s supposed to give you support–support your faith in yourself etc., etc.–and you succeed and there aren’t side effects, even that success can have–you know, it’s a tool to use. And that especially comes up if you’re dealing with a talisman for Mars or Saturn, because as we know from astrology, the best possible Mars will still accomplish things which are favorable to the native in a rough ‘Mars-y’ way.
And so, for the Mars-Saturn things I have, I would never dream of wearing those around all the time. In a sense, Mars is to be better in ‘Mars’ situations, but preferable to that is to not be in a conflict situation.
AC: And so, the people that I’ve taught astrological magic, and to the degree that I’ve taught it, one of the things I say from the very get-go is as you’re learning, work with the benefics, because benefic mistakes have less consequences than malefic mistakes. But this is one of my concerns with how I see the idea of astrological magic being received…
CB: Right. We were gonna touch on that in the revival of astrological magic over the past couple of years. Even as a proponent and as one of the people who’s caused that in some ways, you also have some of your own reservations.
AC: Yeah, yeah. So I would say reservation one is just that if it’s power then it’s not inherently friendly or unfriendly, it’s how you do it.
CB: It’s not inherently good.
AC: Yeah. If there’s an ability to do, then there’s the power to fuck things up as well as the power to make things go better; and so, that requires in my experience careful study. Do a thing: one, did it work? If it worked, did it work the way you wanted it to?
Let’s say you’re working with, let’s just use Spica. If you did a Spica-working in order to accomplish a certain goal, not only did it accomplish that goal, what was the route to accomplishing that goal? And were there weird byproducts to that? What about the election and the way you constructed the ritual and the talisman created those weird byproducts, and what would you do next time? It’s not simply asking the planets to do you a favor and then they’re just like, “Sure, buddy,” it’s not that simple. You can fuck yourself up.
CB: And your experience is that everybody you know that’s been doing it for long enough has messed up and that’s part of the learning process, but they’ve messed up to varying degrees.
CB: Okay, because that’s part of the learning process. Part of the learning process in learning electional astrology just on its own–even if you’re just doing elections in general–is you’re always trying to place the benefics prominently, but you’ve got to place the malefics somewhere And depending on where you put them that’s going to be the area where you’re gonna have problems.
And sometimes, as you’re learning, you have to learn what is acceptable or what you can get away with versus what is just a deal-breaker. Just that process of observing your inception and what the outcome is is part of just a long-term learning process.
AC: Yeah. And just to temporarily bounce back to astrology and magic and what’s interesting to me about both these things, both astrology and magic were a way of investigating the mysterious in a way where I could get results and data, and then think about it and go back and do another experiment. Whether the experiment was reading, making a prediction based on a birth chart, or doing a ritual to get a result, both give you feedback.
So another issue that I’ve seen arise since more people are interested in this is conflating astrological magic with remediation. And so, one very common form that this takes is somebody says, “Oh, my Saturn hurts; it’s giving me all sorts of trouble; I’m gonna do a petition to Saturn,” and that’s not how it works.
CB: Okay. Because a petition can be more of an invoking of Saturn in your life rather than…
AC: It’s absolutely an invocation.
CB: So an amplification.
AC: Yeah. There are various addresses to the planets that you find in various texts. And some of them, we could say that there are varying degrees of hot and cold or arousing, and the petitions in the Picatrix are the hottest, most arousing orations that I’ve found.
And so, when you arouse Saturn, it’s to do ‘Saturn’ things. And if you’re like, “Hey, Saturn, I would like to live a life of ease and luxury,” that’s not what Saturn does. That’s not what you ask Saturn for; you ask the planets what they are capable of bestowing. And as astrologers, there’s not a difference in what the planets bestow in astrology versus astrological magic.
The Picatrix says over and over and over again, don’t ask the planets for what they don’t do and what they can’t do in the election; you ask them for what they can do. And so, let’s put Saturn in Capricorn on the rising and then the Moon in a supportive position to that in the day and hour of Saturn, and we’re like, “Oh, Saturn, will you please make sure that the flowers in my garden are the most beautiful in the land.” Does Saturn in Capricorn in the 1st house bestow beautiful flowers? No, absolutely not.
AC: If I’m gonna make this talisman to, I don’t know, keep out or eliminate the various pests that might prey on my flowers, then they could contribute to the goal of having beautiful flowers, but you don’t have Saturn for beautiful flowers. And so, you don’t do petitions to the planets to make them go away; it actually does the opposite.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I’ve always had a strong interest in the extension of electional astrology and just a strong belief that I feel that’s come to be confirmed over and over again that the concept of birth charts does not just apply to the birth of individuals but also to events–that when you start something, like a major venture or undertaking, the alignment of the planets and the cosmos at that moment will indicate something about the quality of what your starting at that as well as its future–and then an intellectual interest in when you start something major and bring it into your life that that chart for that thing starts interacting with yours in weird and interesting and important ways; that’s very similar to the very idea of making a talisman or something.
And the idea of making a talisman could just be an extension of electional astrology, but you’re trying to deliberately bring in a moment in time and capture that moment in time and bring it into your life permanently. And the idea that that might bring certain dynamics, or for lack of a better term, ‘energies’ into your life permanently from that point forward.
CB: I don’t know fully what the mechanism is underlying all of that, and so, that’s one of the reasons.
AC: Again, this is mysterious stuff–it’s astrology and magic.
AC: So you said that that moment of, how should we say, creating an interaction between yourself and what’s happening at a particular time and that starting to ’ping’ your own chart and its interaction with that time, that is something which is not written about in the Picatrix, but in the experience of doing astrological magic is so consistently present. There will be weird echoes of the type of work that you did, usually in the week following, that aren’t–let’s move off of Saturn; let’s do Venus.
So you do a big Venus thing and it has this specific goal, but then there will just be weird Venus synchronicities that happen over the next week. And even weirder, once you’ve locked down the election–here’s another thing: astrological magic is not ‘on-the-fly’ magic; it depends on elections
AC: And so, some people will be like, “Oh, is there anything next week to help me get a job? Because I need to do some magic to get a job.” Astrological magic is not the tradition for doing that.
AC: Maybe you could purchase a thing that was made at the right time to get a job next week, but there’s no election next week for making a thing to get you a job. But once you’ve locked down the operation, when it’s gonna happen, there’s a lot of prep.
And you’re starting to do your prep, you’re designing, you’re like, “I’m going to use this oration, blah, blah, blah,” you’ll start getting synchronicities of the nature of that planet leading into it. The experience of it is that planet-shaped divot in your timeline, and you’ll experience that change of angle; you’ll start inclining towards it in the days leading up, as well as in the days following.
AC: And again, I don’t know anybody who’s done a lot of astrological magic who hasn’t experienced that consistently.
CB: Yeah. Maybe that’s a good time to say–I mean, my incorporation of electional astrology may already fall under that category. And to the extent that I regularly use electional astrology in my life, I’m already incorporating some of those principles.
CB: And some of that is from a more ‘just for the sake of knowing standpoint’, of having a certain outcome in mind of what I would like to achieve by certain things and knowing that if I’m just paying attention to the astrological clock for that day, that if I start this action at this time that this is going to be one of the likely outcomes and these are going to be the positive sides and these are going to be the negative sides, versus if I wait two hours for this next rising sign, the negatives are going to shift to this part of my life and the positives are gonna shift this part.
And some of that is a more passive sense of just knowing the outcome or being able to anticipate it better and accepting that ahead of time, but in another instance, it is more of a deliberate act of, “Well, if I can push this even slightly in one direction rather than the other, then I should at least make the attempt to,” and sometimes seeing the positive results of that in the process. I mean, that is, in and of itself, just purely electional astrology, but if you wanted to you could argue that I’m already doing some form of astrological magic in doing that.
AC: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think that’s accurate. Yeah, very comfortable with that. Yet the experience of going hard on an election magically, to me, feels like a deep intensification of the experience of doing normal elections. I mean, there are some things that are different. There’s a certain ‘denting’ of time in a particular pattern that’s just a deeper dent, but it’s still the same category of experience. Let me give one example that I thought was really funny.
So I’ve worked with Tony Mack, who’s a jeweler, goldsmith, and astrologer. We’ve been doing talismanic projects for 10 years now. And I remember one of the earlier projects we did was when Saturn was in its exaltation in Libra, and I wanted a pyramid-cut black onyx for the stone; and in preparation, the only person that he could find who could do that kind of caught on that stone was this cranky old man who took like three-times as long as anyone else to do the work.
AC: So of course it had to be the cranky, old, slow man who cut the stone for the Saturn ring and then he was the only option. And on a practical level, it would have been great to get somebody who could just whip it out so we could be ready earlier, but of course it was the cranky old man who cut the Saturn stone.
CB: Right. Yeah, I mean, that’s really interesting because I think there’s probably some way of conceptualizing astrology and even electional astrology and that approach that’s purely just time-based, in this notion that time has qualitative properties, and there’s different moments in time in which certain qualitative properties are emphasized more or less, or certain, let’s say, archetypes are emphasized more or less.
And a way that you could intellectualize that, either in the magical tradition sense or in a religious sense–in terms of different divinities and however you conceptualize that–I’m sure there’s some modern physicist or something at some point who could completely conceptualize that more as dealing with time. That’s kind of where Jung was headed with synchronicity, where he was talking about time having qualitative properties and starting to have an intellectual justification of astrology that was almost purely that.
CB: Yeah, we haven’t defined that. Nobody’s ever come up with a universal model for astrology. We’re kind of actually waiting for somebody to come up with one that fully encapsulates modern thinking–not modern thinking. Usually, in different time periods, every few hundred years, somebody comes up with a model of it for astrology that incorporates whatever the current scientific paradigm is with some of the other philosophical and religious paradigms, and then that’s the model of astrology for a few centuries.
AC: Yeah, but we’re definitely not at that point right now.
CB: Yeah, we’re a little bit due for that.
AC: Mm-hmm, well, hopefully. Yeah, we have to use different models. A model that makes sense for astrology doesn’t necessarily make the same amount of sense for physics, and the physics model isn’t very useful for doing it; and it’s not just astrology and physics. I would say we’re at a point in the timeline of paradigmatic disunity or fragmentation; but yeah, some unity would be nice.
CB: So one of the other things you had listed at one point as a reservation was potential ethical hazards.
AC: Yeah, I have two that I’m concerned with.
AC: So one which pertains to all of magic is that just because you can do it, just because it’s magically possible, doesn’t mean that it is ethical. Just because you can bring about circumstances via planetary magic where someone’s house will burn down doesn’t mean that it’s okay to burn someone’s house down.
AC: A lot of the–I don’t even know if I would qualify it as thinking, but a lot of the talk in the 20th century insofar as it pertains to the ethics of magic, puts magic in a totally different ethical category than mundane action; like, “Oh, if you do it with magic, it’s you know it’s ethically worse.” There’s this Wiccan ’Rule of Three’ thing that I think is not true.
I think it’s actually very useful to put exactly the same ethical parameters on magic as you would on your normal life. If you think it’s okay to go burn someone’s house down with gasoline and matches–if we’re talking about magic, we’re just talking about the tool. If you don’t think it’s okay to harm people, then it’s not okay to harm people by magic.
CB: So there could be possible unethical uses of magic basically.
AC: Oh, absolutely. Again, I would say that magic is ethically neutral. Magic is a type of power, and what you do with power is not–using power is not inherently ethical. The most ethical thing that you can do, you can do things with power that do great good for a great number of people or great good for individuals and we could judge those as good, but you can also do things with power that are bad.
CB: Sure, and it’s the same with astrology. I mean, there’s ethical uses of astrology and you can use it in positive ways, and there’s also obviously unethical or inappropriate uses of astrology.
AC: Yeah, yeah. And so, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And I would also say–I’ll leave it at that. Magic doesn’t have a different set of ethics. If you think that’s wrong, if you think that that’s shady, underhanded, etc., etc., in normal life, then to accomplish the same thing by magic has the same ethical value.
And I would say that magic is a little bit more of a test of character because you can accomplish things without being caught, because the mechanism of causation is mysterious. So you might be caught if you took that can of gasoline and those matches, but if you could accomplish the same thing without having to go to the property via magic, it shows you that test of character; and you can see are you really an ethical person or are you just afraid of being caught.
CB: Sure. I mean, if something has that much power, it almost invites abuses of power more than you might think or than you might want.
AC: Yeah. So in cultures that regard magic as real, people are on the lookout for that. In cultures that regard magic as real, there are cultural mores as well as repercussions or even legislation around magic; because if you regard something as having, there’s a potential abuse of power. And so, in the West right now, there’s an interesting situation where a lot of people don’t think it’s real and that actually provides practitioners with the ability to get away with a lot if they’re not ethical; and it’s just a thing you know.
CB: Yeah, one of the things that does occasionally come up–and it’s been more frequent in the past decade–is astrologers are very open with sharing their birth charts for the most part; the only exception I ever find to that is occasionally I’ll meet somebody that ends up having Scorpio rising that doesn’t like sharing their birth data for whatever privacy reasons. But the only other exception to that that I find is occasionally I’ll run into somebody that doesn’t want to share their birth chart, and it turns out that it’s for magical reasons; because they’re concerned that somebody could use their birth chart against them somehow in a magical spell, and I’ve occasionally come across that.
CB: That’s a thing?
AC: That is a thing culturally. And I would say that you can use birth data to very effectively target a person and that is both positive and negative. Let’s say that you have a friend who hasn’t studied astrology and magic for 20 years and isn’t gonna be able to do the Jupiter ritual very well; but you really want to help them, so you’re going to do the work on their behalf. You want to make sure that as much of that goes to them as possible and using their birth chart to show the blessing where to go is very effective. It is not the only means by which you can target magic at someone, but it is an effective means.
I’m not too paranoid about it because if you spend some time surveying various magical methods, there are like 20 other good targeting mechanisms. Like even if you don’t have my birth chart, if you want to send something good or bad my way, you’ve got pictures of being on the internet; you have words that I’ve written; you have a recording of my voice; you have the letters of my name; like there’s tons and tons of other stuff. So I don’t get paranoid about it, and it’s not because you can’t use a chart to target people. It’s just that if you’re any good, you’ve already got plenty.
CB: Mm-hmm, okay. Yeah, it’s just one of the things I hope–I don’t know. Obviously, even just with astrology, there’s discussions that come up about the ’appropriate’ versus the ‘inappropriate’ use of if you know somebody’s birth chart placements, and there’s plenty of inappropriate ways that you can use astrology. I mean, sometimes just even in casual conversation, once you’ve been in the astrological community enough, unless you have a certain amount of familiarity with somebody, you don’t just invoke their birth chart placements.
AC: Don’t go, “Oh, yeah, that’s just your Moon in Libra.”
CB: Yeah, yeah. But people who don’t know those social norms and rules might transgress that unknowingly, accidentally.
AC: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
CB: Sure. All right, well, I think we covered most of the main things.
AC: I’ve got one other ethical consideration, which is tied in with one of my earlier points. I’ve seen a lot of people who I know didn’t know anything about astrological magic like six months or a year ago suddenly selling products from astrological magic workings. And I think part of this is that my wife, Kaitlin Coppock, who runs Sphere + Sundry, has made it look easy.
And Kait, for a lot of people, seemed like she came out of nowhere, whereas Kait’s been doing these projects with me for 12 years, and put her time in and has seen the mistakes. But a lot of people have seen the market value of, “What if my candles were magic? I could sell them for more. And on a legitimate level, wouldn’t it be cool to make these candles that I’m already making full of Jupiter magic?” And I see a lot of people who actually haven’t studied how to do astrological magic using bad elections.
And so, with a bad election, you have two negative possibilities. One is, eh, it doesn’t have much juice. There’s really not much magic to it, which is okay; at least it’s not harmful. But like I said before, the bigger problem with a lot of elections is that they bring weird side effects, like if you’re just doing it in the day and hour, and you haven’t even looked at the configuration of the planet. Let’s say it’s the day and hour of Jupiter, but Jupiter at that day and hour is in the 12th and opposed by Mars in the 6th; then the charts that that will have will actually create the opposite of the Jupiter effects that you want.
And so, it concerns me that people are selling the results of their magic without putting the time in to just do it right so that it’s powerful. But with astrological magic, there’s always the possibility of literally creating the opposite of what you intended to do, and so that concerns me.
CB: And creating something that could be harmful instead of helpful.
AC: Yeah, exactly. So for example, with a health example, creating something that’s supposed to be helpful for health but actually causes excessive dryness that facilitates dryness and inflammation because they didn’t see that the indicator was configured to both Mars and Saturn.
AC: And a thing I think we’re dealing with in astrology as well is people selling services before there the practice is in a place where they can be of aid to others, and that was part of our discussion yesterday. Well, there’s no simple, hard-and-fast rule, but we can’t say, “Oh, once you’re after your Saturn return, then you’re good enough.”
AC: But you need to have put some time in and struggled with it and seen the mistakes that you can make so that you don’t make those mistakes when you’re selling those services to a client, whether it’s like a talisman you made or whether it’s a consultation you’re offering.
CB: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s the discussion we had at the end of the December forecast. Because astrology is a largely unregulated field, and there’s never a clear point where somebody tells you exactly when it’s okay to start seeing clients, everybody starts at different points. And astrologers sometimes discuss some sort of a universal way to come up with a litmus test for when you can start becoming an official professional astrologer.
Sometimes people put age forward, but age isn’t really a good litmus test for that; but instead it’s more how long have you been studying the subject and how deeply have you been studying the subject, in terms of that being one of the primary requirements for how good you are and if you’re ready to start applying that to other people’s charts.
AC: Yeah, it’s an issue with the recent spike in popularity of these things. And it’s also a thing where you’ve got Millennials reaching maturity in a job market that’s not very awesome, and it’s like, “Well, what do I do for a living?” There’s a strong push to professionalize because there are not enough other good possibilities. I’m sympathetic to that pressure, but there’s still a responsibility to get to a certain level before you start selling your skills to other people.
CB: Yeah, and that actually brings up a point, which is, something I really don’t like and I think goes kind of bonkers in the Indian tradition is the remedial measures industry. Because Indian astrology is so integrated into Hinduism and is so culturally-acceptable–and because it’s integrated into their religious doctrines, as well as some of the medicine and some of the different forms of magic–it’s commonly believed that you can do things to remediate or to change or alter your birth chart.
And so, there is a whole industry surrounding either buying or selling stones that are associated with certain planets in order to emphasize those placements or de-emphasize them in your chart or other types of things like that. And while there might be constructive, ethical, conscientious people, there’s certainly tons of non-ethical or other types of ways that can go wrong because a huge industry is part of that.
AC: Yeah. Maybe something to look for if you really like the Vedic approach and you want consultations from that perspective, the way I was taught in the texts we worked with, there are always lower, almost zero cost alternatives. If you can afford a diamond for Venus, then great, that might be a good alternative. There are also semi-precious stones, which a semi-precious stone might run $10 for a stone on a ring. And there should be mantra or other ritual practice alternatives which cost you nothing except the time to do it.
And so, it’s not for me to set the standard as a whole, but I would say that there should always be a lower-cost alternative that’s provided. The answer should never be you have to spend $5,000 or bad things will happen to you. If that is the way it’s phrased, look for another practitioner.
CB: Yeah, because I do worry about that. In the very, very occasional things, you do see, even in the West, news stories about somebody who’s supposedly an astrologer but gets arrested for being fraudulent. It’s like their thing is claiming that a person is cursed and that it’s only if they pay $20,000 to them that they can remove the curse or something stupid like that.
AC: The first psychic reading that I got in LA, I went in and basically that’s exactly the scam that they tried to run on me.
AC: And I was like, okay, I don’t think better of psychics. It was funny. They were like, “I see you working with your hands in a couple years. And then there’s a bad thing that’s very nebulous and for $500, I can make that go away.” And I was like, “That’s cool, bye.”
CB: Wow. And for somebody like you it’s easier to go in and hear that and then just walk away. But there’s so many people that are impressionable or don’t know any better.
AC: Yeah. I would say, be like, “Okay, that diamond ring sounds good. What are the other ways that we can approach this? What are the low-cost alternatives for approaching remediating this rough period and you know?” And if they have no answers, I think that’s very suspicious.
CB: I mean, more broadly, I do wonder still, philosophically, as well as practically, how far can you remediate some things. Like are there some events in our lives that are going to be negative events that we experience as part of our fate, that are outside of the scope of remediation?
Like in the Indian tradition, when I learned under Dennis Harness at Kepler, we read some books by David Frawley where he talked about different types of fate and different levels of fate that you have or…
CB: Yeah, karma. Sorry, not fate, but karma, which is sort of roughly equivalent.
AC: When it’s truly ‘fixed’ karma then it functions identically to fate within the context of one’s life.
CB: Sure. But even then in that tradition, the Indian tradition, there could be certain karmas or certain things in your fate that are not avoidable in this lifetime, or that you can’t mitigate or you can’t put off till the next lifetime or what have you, but that have to be experienced.
AC: Yeah. Just because there are some things you can do, it doesn’t mean that you get to rewrite the story.
AC: And part of the technical proficiency in Jyotish is knowing how fixed is this thing and what can I do, and then what can I expect. There are some things that can be fully mitigated, but then there are a lot of things where I can take some of the edge off, but I shouldn’t expect to not experience that.
So one of the indicators is whatever planet is the Atmakaraka–which a very bad translation is ‘soul indicator’–that has a more central role in your chart. The way that I was trained was afflictions to the Atmakaraka represents suffering that is inevitable. You can still do some stuff to improve it, but you’re not going to be able to get around that pain.
AC: And I have several afflictions to my Atmakaraka, and I have done remedial measures–which I actually still do remedial measures to mellow that down–and I see a big difference when I do my practice and when I don’t, but it doesn’t negate it. It’s working with something that’s definitely there.
CB: Yeah. And I guess that’s where I wonder, bringing up the question I didn’t articulate earlier in this episode, but what is the value of attempting to or wishing you could change things versus what is the value of developing an internal tranquility to be okay with whatever must be?
AC: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So my experience of some of the remedial prescriptions that are given in Jyotish is that some of the practices actually have as a primary benefit facilitating the state of Mind where they can be accepted with tranquility.
AC: So for example, I have a bunch of Saturn afflictions, from Saturn to both my Sun and Moon. And so, I do a Kali practice–which Kali works on Saturn–most nights or every night, and what I find is that has made managing the suffering from the Saturn/Moon thing much better. It’s made me able to deal with that in a–what’s the word? In a tranquil matter; it facilitated that tranquility. And so, to a certain degree I think some of them will have external effects, but then some of them are simply facilitating that tranquility, which is a goal in the Stoic tradition as well.
CB: Yeah, to develop it like a muscle inside of you. And I guess the question is how much. There’s probably some healthy balance here, like with all things, in developing the ability to accept things that you have to accept, but also still not becoming completely passive in your life and trying to continue to push for a change and make change where you can, to whatever extent that you can in ways that are constructive in your life.
AC: Yeah, there’s a concept in Chinese medicine which I stumbled across a long time ago and always stuck with me, where there’s a yin will and yang will and that both are valid. And yin will is the ability to accept things and that’s seen as a capacity that can be trained and developed and is highly desirable because it allows you to have a better experience of life; then yang will is what we think of as will, where you’re going out and making stuff happen, and both are important.
CB: Sure. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. It seems like a muscle, the more passive form that you still have to develop, in that it’s not something that comes easily to everybody immediately.
AC: Right. And yeah, the Stoics weren’t like, “Sit around, and say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine’.” There’s practice, there’s reading, there’s thinking to develop the capacity of the mind to accept what must be accepted, or to accept what cannot be changed.
CB: Yeah, and I think that was the thing in astrology. A lot of the Stoic philosophers don’t talk about astrology because they have just developed that skill anyway on their own, and they don’t need anything like astrology in order to accept future events. Because if you are the enlightened Stoic sage, you’ve already at that point no matter what and you don’t need foreknowledge to do that.
AC: Right. You’re ready for whatever arises.
CB: Yeah. But then for normal people that, broadly speaking, want to be able to do that but can’t yet or aren’t fully there in terms of their level of philosophical enlightenment, astrology would act as that sort of crutch to help get them there.
AC: So there’s what makes sense once you’re a sage, but how do you get to sagehood?
CB: Yeah, or if you’re not at sagehood, but instead you’re just somebody that works their normal job–whatever their job is, like a 9-to-5 job everyday–and yeah, just wants to know what’s coming up around the corner.
Yeah, I think that was it in the ancient world. We have a different set of problems obviously today, and there’s different solutions. But I like that idea of finding balance between those two and that being a struggle or a pole where finding some sort of balance or equilibrium would be ideal.
AC: Yeah. And just to be clear, I think that development of yin will or those ‘tranquility’ muscles, that’s extremely important. And having access to an effective remediation tradition or being excellent at astrological magic does not remove the necessity and value of learning how to accept things. Because even if you have way more power than you ever dreamed you had, there’s still a lot that you can’t control.
CB: Yeah, I mean, it’s the same thing in the modern psychological tradition. Leisa and I have talked a lot on the podcast about how the emphasis on freewill and humanism so much that it accidentally can make a person feel bad about their chart if their life doesn’t live up to that because you give them a feeling inadequacy; like if only they had done this differently then they could have made the most out of those placements and get the positive delineation that the person is seeing instead of the more mediocre, even negative situation that they ended up with.
I worry about some people thinking about things that might have happened in their life or their fate, like if there was a major event, and if only they had done something proactively or done such-and-such ritual…
AC: If only you thought positively.
CB: Yeah, when it’s not always like that. There’s some major things in a person’s life or a confluence of events that you might not be able to fully remove or get rid of.
AC: Yeah. So just to stick within the Vedic framework that I’ve been educated in, usually it’s Jupiter, but it is the aspect of a benefic that has certain power, that shows that there will be access to a tradition–whether it’s a medical tradition or a magical tradition–that has the fix for that problem.
AC: And just as a side-note, if we’re looking at a mantra practice that is prescribed when a person has a physical sickness, what happens isn’t that the medical condition disappears, it’s that you do that practice for a couple weeks or 40 days or whatever and you end up finding the right doctor.
AC: And so, it’s not just this control thing where you’re like no more sickness, put the absurd wealth over here, all the happiness. None of the traditions that are actually engaged in magical dialogue or ritual dialogue with a chart claim that you just wipe away the birth chart and put all the fortune there.
CB: Yeah. I mean, there’s some indications like that in some of the Hellenistic delineation material of indications for extreme sickness, but then a mitigation that indicates finding help or finding the doctor at the appropriate time in order to heal that issue in your life or what have you.
CB: And the final thing, a point that just came up was of fate often being conceptualized in a negative sense. But fate is not always negative. It cannot just be a negative event, like a loss of somebody or the death of somebody in your life, but it can also be an extremely positive event or the most positive event in your life, like meeting your marriage partner or something like that and then falling in love and that being something that also might be inescapable in a way.
But the question of would you want to use your freewill to fuck up your own fate if you really could and if you want a give…
AC: Some powerful sorcery would be required, but you could do it.
CB: You think so?
AC: I don’t know if many people have tried. But no, that’s really important. And we were talking about the ‘fixed’ or dridha karma which functions identically to fate; that is used for all positive configurations as well as all negative configurations. This person can’t change being born rich, or they can’t change the fact that they have absurdly good fortune professionally. It’s like, one, two, three, check the D9, check the D10. Yeah, good luck trying to fail, right?
CB: Right. Yeah, I mean, that happens, it’s a thing, so it’s important. The other part of the fate discussion usually gets contextualized within the context of can I escape bad things and how oppressive or negative that sounds if you tell somebody that something negative in their life is something that you can’t necessarily get out of, or that they’ll continually have to deal with it. But the other side of that coin is there are also the positive things of if you have benefics in the 11th, you get a leg-up by your friends or friendship will often come to benefit you in unique ways that are not true of other people in their lives or what have you.
AC: I think the way people use language when they’re talking about that, they say ‘destiny’.
CB: Yeah, destiny has a more positive ring to it than fate.
AC: Yeah, even though we are literally just talking about storylines that we discover rather than write.
CB: Yeah. All right, well, I think that kind of brings us to the end of this discussion. I don’t know what else to touch on. I don’t think there’s anything else that we had written down that we wanted to touch on. Our main topic was just reservations, especially that I had, surrounding the revival of astrological magic in modern times and not really knowing where that’s going and not really knowing how I’m going to interface with it personally, but observing it from the sidelines to a certain extent and talking about where I’m at with this at the present point in time.
AC: Yeah, we covered quite a bit.
AC: And so, I guess takeaways: if you think it’s real then treat it with the respect of something that’s real. It’s not anything you want it to be, just like astrology isn’t anything you want it to be. Approach it with respect and care. And if you want to get good at it, then put the time in.
CB: Yeah. And also, part of it is I want to be able to continue to talk about it without it always being a full-on endorsement, but something that I think is interesting from an intellectual standpoint as clearly part of the tradition.
So there’s an episode I’ve been wanting to do at some point on the Picatrix itself, even though you and I have referred to it or done side discussions. I’ve been talking to Christopher Warnock about doing an episode just focusing on some of the magical elections in the Picatrix and what those actually look like from an astrological standpoint and what types of electional astrology they’re applying and what they’re trying to accomplish and wanting to be able to have that discussion, but first having this one as a precursor to that.
AC: Yeah, and I can’t think of a better person to have that discussion with than Mr. Warnock.
CB: Yeah, because he was the starting point, he was the lone figure for a long time in the early-and-mid-2000s who was doing astrological magic.
AC: Yeah, he was holding the torch when nobody else was.
CB: Right. And now there’s been this full revival, but he still holds that interesting place in terms of all that.
AC: Yeah. The story of the reintegration of the astrological magic tradition into the astrological discourse, when that story is told, he will have a very important role in that story.
CB: Sure. Well, people can go back and listen to one of my early episodes of The Astrology Podcast just in terms of recognizing his role in that. In 2012-2013, I had Christopher Warnock on in Episode 16 or something…
CB: …and we had a discussion really early on about astrological magic because I saw that as part of the tradition that I wanted to recognize, even if it was this minor thing that not a lot of people were doing at that point in time.
AC: The weird kid corner, which it was then.
CB: Which it definitely was circa 2012-2013. But it’s interesting now that things have changed, and having him back on the show next month will be interesting given that new context.
AC: I would love to hear his thoughts on the recent popularization of astrological magic.
CB: Yeah, well, I’ll definitely ask him and hopefully that’s something we can get into.
CB: Cool. All right, well, thanks a lot for joining me for this today.
AC: My pleasure.
CB: Yeah, there’s nobody else I would have wanted to have this conversation with, so I’m glad we got to have it.
AC: Yeah, me too. I’m glad we had this.
CB: All right, well, that’s it for this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Thanks, everyone for listening. Thanks to the patrons who supported us. Please give us a like and subscribe and all that other jazz, and we’ll see you next time.
CB: Thanks to the patrons and sponsors who help to support the production of this episode of the podcast through our page on Patreon.com: including patrons Christine Stone and Nate Craddock, as well as the Astro Gold Astrology App available at Astrogold.io; the Portland School of Astrology at PortlandAstrology.org; the Honeycomb Collective Personal Astrological Almanacs at Honeycomb.co; and also the International Society for Astrological Research, which is hosting an astrology conference in Denver, Colorado, September 10-14, 2020, and you can find out more information about that at ISAR2020.org; and the Northwest Astrological Conference which is happening in Seattle, May 21-25, 2020; and you can find out more information about that at Norwac.net.
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