The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 288, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guests Ian and Shaye
Episode originally released on January 24, 2021
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released June 21, 2021
Copyright © 2021 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. It is Thursday, January 21, 2021, starting at 5:23 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 288th episode of the show.
So joining me today are Ian and Shaye from the Camp ReEducation podcast, and we’re going to be talking about the topic of explaining astrology to non-astrologers, or how an astrologer would go about answering some skeptical questions about astrology. So hey, guys, welcome to the show.
SHAYE: Hey, thanks for having us.
IAN: Yeah, thanks for having us on. We’re really excited to be here.
CB: Yeah, thank you. So the genesis of this episode is that you guys have a podcast called Camp ReEducation, which is available at campreeducation.com, and you approached me about being a guest on your show–because you do these episodes each month where you investigate different, sort of weird topics or weird categories, and then you sometimes talk to people or interview people that have a background in that subject–and we thought that it might be a good crossover episode that will appear on both of our podcasts. But could you guys explain a little bit what your show is about?
SHAYE: Yeah, sure. So Ian and I, we do what we call ‘camps’; they’re two-week immersions into various topics. And we’ve done all kinds of different things. The idea primarily is to challenge our preconceptions and our biases. Obviously, we all go through life and we all collect these beliefs. And so, our idea through the podcast is to challenge those beliefs and kind of examine where we got them from.
So we’ve done makeup. We’ve done demon-summoning. We’ve done 24-hour livestreaming. We’ve done QAnon, K-Pop, tons of things. Yeah, Ian and I just try and, I don’t know, understand why we believe the way we do and challenge those initial understandings and interpretations of the things that are.
CB: Okay. And I think I’m actually following the QAnon episode, so that’s a hard act to follow.
SHAYE: The timing was wild. Because as soon as we started doing it, the day that our first episode was released, the Capitol Building was stormed.
IAN: The Capitol was stormed, yeah.
CB: Oh, my god, yeah. And then it went from being like a fun, LARPing thing to people are actually trying to take over the government.
IAN: You know what’s so interesting is the week before, we read on all these message boards like, “We’re going to storm the Capitol.” “We’re going to Washington.” “We’re taking over.” And we’re just like, “These people are crazy. They’re not going to do this.” And then we watched it happen, and we were like, “Oh, my god, they were serious. They weren’t kidding.”
CB: Right. So did that make you want to go back and re-record the interview to be a little bit easier on it?
SHAYE: I don’t think so.
CB: No? Okay.
IAN: We hightailed it out of ‘QAnon-land’. We couldn’t leave that camp fast enough.
SHAYE: Yeah, basically.
CB: Okay. Well, I hope not to pull anything similar to you. I don’t have any coups scheduled in the near future.
IAN: So why aren’t we even here, Chris?
SHAYE: What are we doing?
CB: Exactly. So I like the premise of your show, because I respect the idea of not necessarily taking things for granted, or at least recognizing when you are and then attempting to educate yourself on a subject and then just seeing where you come out of it. Maybe you’ll have a different opinion or maybe you won’t.
But that kind of fits interestingly with a goal that I’ve always had, which is just learning how to communicate what astrology is and what I do better to people that don’t have any background in it. So part of my interest in doing this episode and part of my goal for our discussion is just to see how good I am at doing that, so let’s see what happens.
You guys are about halfway into your immersion right now.
SHAYE: Yeah, exactly. We do our first week and just try and figure out as much as we can, and then, normally, the second week of it, we bring in the ‘big guns’–you, in this case–to help set us straight. And typically, we make a lot of mistakes in the first week, so there’s normally a lot of cleanup to be done.
IAN: I think one of the things we hadn’t anticipated going into this project was just how hard it is to let go of beliefs and biases. You build your foundation of reality on a number of beliefs that you inherit passively, and then when you have to pull them out of the Jenga block that is your self-concept, you’re like, “Oh, my god, I have to put this back. The whole thing is coming down.”
CB: Yeah. One of the things that’s weird when it comes to something like astrology that’s been around for so long and influenced culture in so many different ways, it’s often hard to even realize how many different preconceptions that you have about the subject going into it, just because they’re so thoroughly diffused in different parts of our society when it comes to philosophy or religion, science or mathematics, or anything else. So it’s kind of interesting seeing what your perspective will be coming out the other side of that.
So you guys have already released episode one yesterday, and you usually do a three-part series on each topic.
SHAYE: Yeah. We actually just recently changed. We found that three weeks was just too much for people. It was too much for us, to be honest, just talking about the same thing, so we broke it down. So this will be the second episode, second and final one, coming out here next week as well, yeah.
CB: Okay, got it. So one of the questions I had to start, before we jump into your questions–and you sent me a set of questions already before we talked today–was, what’s your process when you get into a new field?
I know you guys have exposed yourself over the past week to different forms of astrology in order to see what you think of them. But how did you decide what to study or what to look into versus what not to, especially for such a large field?
IAN: Specifically, with astrology, and not the other things that we had covered?
CB: Yeah. I mean, I’m curious if you do have a general philosophy in general in terms of how you target if you have a limited amount of time–if you try to seek recommendations from authorities, if you try to just study whatever seems most relevant by googling it or something.
I guess that would be one of my concerns if you just jumped into astrology in general without any sort of advice or pointers or anything like that. There’s a lot of ‘pop’ astrology stuff out there, and then there’s different gradations of more advanced or intricate things.
IAN: I guess the first thing I do–and Shaye and I are a bit different. I think Shaye is more methodical, Shaye is more scientific, and I’m more interested in the cultural aspect. So I’ll absolutely dive in as a cultural anthropologist and be like, “What are we talking about when we talk about astrology?”
So for me, I went on a lot of forums. I watched a lot of documentaries. I read a ton of articles, blog posts, scientific stuff. Really, it’s more an interest in what astrology means to people, not necessarily the science of astrology.
For astrology, this is absolutely the approach that I took, and I think we both kind of took this week. Because astrology, like you had mentioned, it’s so huge and it’s so vast, and there’s so much we need to know. I don’t know that we could have completely dived in without some sort of guidance.
Some things were easier. With makeup camp, it was simple. We bought a bunch of makeup and we learned how to put it on. With demon-summoning, we bought a bunch of demonology books and learned how to summon demons. We did a camp on micro-dosing LSD, which was also pretty straightforward. We just microdosed LSD for 30 days and kept track of what was happening.
I mean, for this one, I think we looked first into the cultural phenomenon or the cultural aspects, and now we’re trying to dig into the mechanics, so to speak.
CB: Got it. Okay, that makes sense. And what have you done or seen so far? Where are you currently at in that process?
SHAYE: Well, I think in our first episode that we just released, it’s pretty clear that we are disenfranchised still. We’re having a tough time suspending our disbelief. We’re both atheists primarily–well, atheists, and I’m a Satanist as well–so we have these conflicting, strong, scientific backgrounds to our beliefs.
One of the early things that happened, in my process, at least, is that I went to Wikipedia. And there’s so many articles on Wikipedia; at first, I had a tough time finding the ones that were relevant to astrology. I am so curious to hear what you have to say about the astrology of Wikipedia pages, honestly.
CB: Yeah, there’s a whole thing there.
SHAYE: Yeah, I imagine. So many of them have this caveat somewhere in them–it’s like the disclaimer; it’s like the tobacco warning sign; it says, “Astrology is pseudoscientific. That’s what it is in a nutshell.” And for me, I take that and it’s really hard for me to not take that and just brush off my hands and be like, “I’m done; Wikipedia says it’s not real,” and let go, and that’s where I was the last couple days.
Right now, this is a little bit less about the studying; it’s really more about how do I shake that feeling, that just feels so inherently, “This is BS.” How do I go from there and just open myself up to this possibility that something is real? And so, that’s like this more emotional, internal struggle side that I’m having when dealing with astrology so far.
CB: Sure, that makes sense. Well, that raises a few things. I mean, one, I actually was very involved in editing Wikipedia pages and organizing different things, like an astrology project at one point for astrologers and just people interested in the subject, like historians, to help organize the editing of so many different pages that needed to happen on Wikipedia in the mid-2000s, circa 2004-2005. But astrologers lost a battle there a long time ago, where the number of astrologers on Wikipedia was far outnumbered by the number of skeptics and people that didn’t think that there was anything to astrology.
According to most polls, when they do polls periodically, usually the way it’s phrased is, “Do you believe in astrology?” Usually only 25% of the populous does and it skews in different demographics, something like that. But with Wikipedia, specifically, the skeptics were much more well-organized and tended to win the battles for the different pages on Wikipedia to the extent that a lot of astrologers, including myself, just sort of gave up and walked away from it at some point, so one of the things in terms of Wikipedia is just you’re going to get that perspective.
And also, even a lot of astrology articles get deleted because they’re viewed as not being important or not being worthwhile information to keep, which creates a kind of suppression effect, which is kind of surprising for Wikipedia, which is something that we don’t even conceptualize like that.
IAN: That’s really interesting. Usually, when we undergo these immersions, there’s always something that we don’t see coming. It’s like, “Well, I didn’t think I was going to end up thinking about this.” In suspending disbelief when approaching a subject, there’s always that barrier; and for me, it was the science.
The big question I kept asking myself this week is like, “Well, how much do I know about science?” Science is memetic in the sense that like, yeah, we get it. A study comes out and everyone’s like, “Mm, yes.” And it’s tough to admit, but I don’t know that much about science. Like, yeah, I get it; but in terms of my understanding of what it means for objective truth, it’s not on strong standing.
There’s certain sciences that without a moment’s hesitation I’ll believe. Like right now, for example, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and there are people that refuse to wear their masks, and COVID numbers are going up and the death number’s rising. So you can immediately see the correlation, and you’re just like, “All right, this is real. I believe in the science.”
Or like climate change and global warming, you can immediately see that and go, “Yes, this is real.” But for other things, it’s more like, “All right, I can’t really measure this myself. I can’t see this. I have to rely on a community and a process that I, myself, don’t know anything about.” You stake this claim and stand on this ground that you have no standing on yourself. You haven’t done any of the work, so you’re just like, “Well, I just trust this.” So that’s the kind of thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. How much do I even know about science when it says “ignore this.”
CB: Yeah. I mean, one of the interesting things about your project is that it’s admitting something going into it that people often have a very hard time doing–because it requires you to be humble–which is just identifying what you don’t know, or when you’re speaking about a subject that you actually don’t have much background in and acknowledging that, which is an uncomfortable thing to do. People usually want to default to at least putting on a pretense or appealing to authority or appealing to something.
But to go back to the Wikipedia thing, one of the issues with astrology is that astrology is traditionally on the outs with both science and religion, which is kind of a weird double-punch thing, where many religious traditions, like Christianity, are uncomfortable or anti-astrology; and also, astrology has been on the outs with the scientific community for a few centuries now.
So that creates an awkward situation when you’re coming to public discussions or when it comes to things like Wikipedia, because then you have both groups kind of ganging up on astrology, or astrology not really fully fitting into either one of those camps. And I know that that’ll get to some of your questions later about is astrology science or is it religion, but it’s just a unique field in that way, in that it finds itself on the outskirts with both of those.
SHAYE: If it’s okay with you, I want to jump into that now. You talking about this, I never considered the idea of identifying as an astrologer and then having this dual-fronted war against religion and science. I would imagine that you would be simpatico with the religious side and that those would go walk hand-in-hand.
But I guess if you’re thinking of a dogmatic, or a more dogmatic religious side, like the Catholic Church, I can imagine that they think it’s maybe heretical, or maybe that you’re claiming powers that don’t belong within humanity or something like that. So where does it sit then? If it’s not religion, if it’s not science–or is it both–what is its place then?
CB: I mean, it’ll get us into an extended digression that we might not want to go to yet. But one of the issues with astrology is it often straddles different fields, and so, it’s a little bit of both, and it actually falls somewhere in between. And that might be part of its basic definition that makes it unique and maybe even useful or worth studying in the world, that it does have a foot in both of those camps when it comes to science and maybe religion, or what we conceptualize as religion, as well as other fields.
But with Christianity, part of the history there that’s really interesting is that Christianity evolved during a period in the ancient Roman Empire when astrology was much more dominant. And at that point in time, astrology was much more deterministic and much more tied in with Stoicism and the idea that the purpose of studying astrology was to learn your fate, so that you knew what you had to accept about your future to prepare you for it ahead of time, and Christianity after the 1st century became very much focused on the concept of free will and the idea that you have a choice.
And that’s a central doctrine of theology and Christianity and that became one of the strongest points of antagonism, where once Christianity became more of the dominant religion, astrology was one of the first things to go, not just due to that, but I think that was one of the central things. So it’s interesting that that’s one of the reasons why, from a religious standpoint, at least in terms of Christianity, there’s a tension there. It actually goes back to the ‘fate and free will’ debate.
SHAYE: That’s funny, because I know Ian has been doing so much research into the free will stuff, and he really wants to pick your brain about that, I’m sure.
IAN: We had a conversation yesterday with an amateur astrologer, and the conversation that we essentially had about this was that religion essentially demands piety and faith; you’re supposed to have faith; you’re supposed to wait for God to reveal His plan. And astrology, as understood it, was essentially a cheat sheet. It was like looking in the back of the book and getting the answers more quickly, which is why there seemed to be this shunning of it within the Christian community.
But it’s interesting too, because when we talk about the free will thing, I do know that based on what I was reading for research, there was this push-and-pull in terms of religious philosophers trying to figure out do we have free will. Would God allow us to do things that are evil? Did God give us free will so that we could prove whether or not we love him?
And it’s interesting to kind of think about astrology in this context. Is astrology restrictive in this sense? Does it remove the question of free will? If your fate is, as you said just a moment ago, determined by the stars right?
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s a really big question. It’s something astrologers have been debating and there’s a lot of different points of view on. So I’ll do my best to balance trying to speak in general for astrologers as much as I can, also acknowledging that there’s many different subgroups and different positions that one could take, the same that there is in any field.
IAN: Well, before you answer generally, can I ask where do you personally stand on that? What are your thoughts on that, if that’s not too personal a question? I know that’s tough to answer; like, “Hey, take a couple minutes and just tell me what you think of free will.”
CB: Yeah. I mean, it kind of gets to some of your earlier questions, and I don’t know if you guys want to jump into those, because they build on each other quite well. But for me, the basic premise of natal astrology is that the alignment of the planets or the alignment of the cosmos at the moment that you were born has something significant to say about your life and your future. And if that premise is correct at all, even like 1% correct, then it would imply that there’s at least some things that the trajectory of which might be, you could say, predetermined to some extent, but to what extent is more of an open question; so that’s the question that you’d have to answer with astrology.
One of your first questions was how do you define astrology, and my definition of astrology is that it’s the study of the correlation between celestial movements and earthly events. And then the second one is my definition of natal astrology or the concept of birth charts, which is the premise that the alignment of the planets at the moment that you’re born has something to say about the future of your life.
SHAYE: Yeah, that’s one of the questions I want to dive into.
CB: I understand that that sounds like an absurd premise, or it sounds like a premise at least that shouldn’t be the case, or we don’t have any immediate reason to think why that should work; one of the things that I’ve struggled with then is in observing that. And one of the questions that I usually like to pose to people is not do you believe that, but have you observed that correlation as well, because I think it is something that’s observable and is worth looking into if you haven’t ever checked to see if that’s true.
But the thing that I’ve wrestled with is I have repeatedly seen that as being true. The question being why that should be the case–or what would that mean about the cosmos or the universe or our world if that was a true statement or true premise–and trying to figure that out has been one of my long-term things that I’m working on, and I think that all astrologers are working on.
SHAYE: So then where then does astrology fit primarily in your life? And is it a guiding principle that you use as a doctrine that helps you with all decisions then? Because we had this conversation quite a bit already with friends, with people that we spoke to just from the podcast, and we asked is this something you believe in wholeheartedly, pedal to the metal, these beliefs are true, or is it a grain-of-salt-type of mentality.
How do you reconcile these different opinions coming from so many different–I guess not even different opinions–different interpretations of the same field of belief?
CB: Yeah, and it’s tricky because, also, if you’re talking to friends or on the podcast, then there’s a whole range of different levels of people’s interest and background in astrology and what role it plays in their life and how much they’re familiar with it, or how much they think that they’re familiar with it compared to somebody else who’s studied it or has a PhD in the history of astrology or something like that. There’s all sorts of different levels that people are approaching that question from.
For me, it does play a major role in my life, although I usually try to center it primarily just on making decisions based on what seems to be the most sensible thing at the time, and I will check the astrology and just see and notice the correlations of what is happening at that point. If I make a decision and it ends up working out, what was the correlation with that versus if I make a decision and that turned out to be a huge mistake or disaster, what was the correlation with that and my chart at that time? And then I usually learn something from that going forward and that’s usually, most of the time, how I like to approach it.
IAN: As someone who grew up Catholic, there’s the joke about ‘Catholic guilt’. Is there ever a situation or time where you read something in your chart and it’s like, “Now is a good time to do something,” and you’re like, “I’ll do it later?”, and then something goes afoul or something doesn’t work out, and you’re like, “I really should have followed up on that? Is that something that happens fairly often, or is common?
CB: Yeah. I mean, it’s tricky because there’s different branches of astrology. There’s natal astrology, which is looking at your chart, your birth chart itself, which has something to say about your life as a whole, in its totality. And then there’s also timing techniques that you can apply to your life in order to attempt to find out when certain things will happen.
There’s a separate branch or application of astrology that’s known as electional astrology, which is where you cast a chart for the moment that you start a new, major venture or undertaking; and the premise is that the alignment of the chart or the planets at that moment will describe what you’re initiating and some things about its future.
So that’s been a branch that I’ve been more interested in lately because it’s just an extension of the concept of natal charts; it implies that it’s a property that’s inherent in time that applies to all major things that have a birth or a moment of origin. And to me, that gets more into the center of what astrology actually is and what it’s about, and it’s something about time having qualitative properties for some reason. I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate that better for a long time, but that’s the closest I can get to it at this point.
SHAYE: Interesting. So there’s this one question that I keep coming back to specifically, and you’re kind of touching on it with this idea of election–it’s electional astrology? Is that right?
CB: Yeah, to elect. The other word for elect is to make a choice, to choose. And electional astrology is the application of astrology where you choose to initiate an action at one moment versus choosing to start it at another moment. So for example, if I were to start writing a book today versus if I start writing a book–that’s more abstract. But let’s say I got married.
You get married to somebody, you’re officially now in a permanent, even legally-binding relationship. It’s the notion that the alignment of the planets could have something to say about the success or failure of your marriage based on getting married last in December, when there was the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction that everybody could see in the sky versus you had chosen to get married March of 2020, when there was an alignment of Saturn and Pluto and Jupiter and Mars in the sign of Capricorn that all lined up in the sky, which, in retrospect, turned out to be when the US had the lockdowns and the coronavirus swept through the world.
SHAYE: Wow. Well, then, it sounds like you’re saying that, even going back to what we were talking about before, that there’s a predictability to this; that you are divining. And I guess the idea of divination, which I keep seeing over and over again in this research, you’re divining things about the future. You’re even talking about time as a qualitative substance, I guess is what you said.
Point blank, if you had to describe it to me as a total noob, does astrology predict the future?
CB: Yeah, I think you can predict the future with astrology. And one of the most interesting and promising things about it is that if it’s true, certain moments of time have qualitative properties, especially certain planetary alignments, like the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, which just took place; it just happened in December, and it only happens every 20 years. They have a 20-year cycle where they go around the zodiac and then meet up from our standpoint. These two, little–what look like stars suddenly line up with each other in the sky, and then something happens, and you observe what events happen in the world that are major events at that time.
The thing is that if that premise is true, that the alignment of those two planets in December indicated or correlated with some events that happened on Earth at that time, that’s not the only time that those two planets aligned. But actually, if you wanted to, you could go back in history, in 20-year increments, and see what happened 20 years ago, in the year 2000, the last time Jupiter and Saturn lined up.
And then you can take that back and look and see what happened 20 years before that in the year 1980, and you can take that back centuries and just keep watching to see are there any events that happened that are similar or the same; and if so, if you accumulate enough of those observations, really empirical observations, about what happened on Earth that coincided with certain planetary alignments in the past, then what you can do eventually is you can project that out into the future.
And you can say, “Well, 20 years from now, astronomically, because the movements of the planets are fixed, we know where the planets are going to be in a century, or two or three centuries.” You can project that out and say, “I would expect this type of event to happen next time, 20 years from now, when that same planetary alignment occurs.” So that’s just one example, but there’s many different planetary alignments that are happening at different rates all the time.
IAN: Yeah. This might be a beginner’s error, but I feel like a lot of what I’m seeing in researching is that each planet essentially stands for something, represents something; and when it lines up with something else, it means something or it entails something.
One of the things I’m dying to know is, is that a real thing? And if so, how did that come to fruition? Where was that ordained?
CB: Sure. So it’s complicated because some of it is based on empirical observations of astrologers seeing that this alignment of planets coincided with this, either the last time they saw it in their own life–if it was something that happened like a year or two ago–or if they study history; if it’s a slow-moving, outer planet alignment, then just looking through history.
One famous book is Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas, and he went through in history. He wrote a famous book in 1990 called The Passion of the Western Mind, where he went through and studied the development of Western philosophy and Western thinking through history, and he won some awards for that book. It became a commonly-assigned, college textbook, but it turned out that that book was actually a precursor for this other book on astrology that he wanted to write, where he would show how major planetary alignments of outer planets coincided with some of those important turning points in history that he had just observed by comparing those planetary alignments to history textbooks and what we know about major shifts.
So there’s a part of astrology that’s empirical. It’s an inherited or accumulated empirical tradition of astrologers making observations and then writing those things down, and that goes back to about 2000 to 3000 BCE, when in Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, there were some sky observers who began noticing correlations in the sky and they began writing them down on clay tablets. And slowly, they accumulated these tablets and libraries over the centuries until it became just part of, not just an oral tradition, but a written, empirical tradition, so that’s half of it. And that, to me, is, broadly speaking, a sort of scientific effort, because it’s a type of empiricism of making observations and then writing them down and passing that on to see if those observations hold up in the future; so that’s definitely part of it when it comes to planets.
The other part of your answer though is there is a–and this ties into the background of astrology and divination–tendency to look at astronomical movements and then interpret them symbolically, using a type of symbolic thinking in order to interpret what that means. I’m trying to think of an example that’s not too complicated. I’m trying to think of a simple one.
So one of them is the 5th century astrologer Rhetorius, when a planet that was associated with marriage is said to be hidden or obscured by the Sun, so that you can’t see it with the naked eye. He interpreted it as meaning that the person’s marriage, at some point in the future when they grew up, would happen in secret; that there would be something hidden about the native’s relationship or love life.
Because the planet itself was hidden or obscured visibly, if you were to try to look into the sky to see it at the moment that that person was born, it was then interpreted as indicating that something would be hidden or obscured about that part of the person’s life. And that’s a major component to astrology in terms of how some pieces of it are developed, as it has to do with that basic premise that some parts of the natural world can have symbolic meaning that is relevant to people’s lives.
SHAYE: I guess something that’s hard for me to wrap my head around is I can see that you can look at an event like this and say, okay, the ‘marriage’ planet is invisible now, or it’s hiding behind the Sun, that must mean that there will be this thing here, or this event later in life related to marriage and hiding. I can understand thematically how those are tied.
I think what I have a hard time understanding–and maybe it’s just that there’s not science to back this up. Now even just saying the words “science to back it up,” I’m wondering if maybe I’m using the wrong language already.
But my question is what is the mechanism then that determines–or that that affects it? What physically happens from the planet being in this particular spot in the sky? What are the physics, the physical mechanics that affect my personality or my fate?
CB: Yeah, that’s a really important question. That comes to a really core issue that’s been a long-standing, 2,000-year debate in astrology–where it’s usually taken as either one or the other and it shifts over time, over history–which is the question of what is the mechanism underlying astrology. The debate, traditionally, has been framed as does astrology work as a result of causes or as a result of signs.
So are the planets and the stars and other astronomical phenomena that astrologers are looking at causing events to happen through some sort of force or some sort of unknown mechanism? Or are the stars and planets and other astronomical phenomena simply acting as signs through some sort of principle that’s not very well-defined?
Some astrologers, like the psychologist Carl Jung, attempted to formulate a definition or a conceptualization of it through the principle of ’synchronicity’, where he said that two things can coincide in time and share a similarity of meaning, and that connection between the similarity of meaning and the coinciding at that moment of time is sufficient for there to be a connection. There doesn’t have to be a physical mechanism that’s exchanged between them for there to be a meaningful coincidence of events.
That’s sounds very vague in general, but it’s basically just postulating that there may not be a mechanism behind astrology so much as it’s just the study of correlations of things that should be unrelated, but for some reason, they’re actually lining up in synchronicity with similar meanings at that moment in time.
IAN: Just out of curiosity–Shaye, I know I cut you off–but I’m just wondering. I looked through some of your podcast episodes as well, and I am under the impression that there’s a lot of different schools of thought on this. So in terms of what you just mentioned, my question is, how much consensus is there on this stuff? Are there a lot of competing ideologies about what these things mean, or is it pretty unified overall?
CB: The underlying problem is that most astrologers are just people that use a technology that they can see that works; they see the outcome and the results of it, but they don’t know how it’s working. In the same way, you or I could use a microwave, and we have some general idea of how it works and how to make it work by just putting the food in and heating it up. But if somebody asked you to explain the actual physical mechanism underlying why your food heats up in 60 seconds, I’d have a hard time explaining that, which is maybe slightly embarrassing, but maybe it just is a side effect of the things that we take for granted at this point in terms of technology.
Sometimes you can use something, let’s say, even just driving a car as a tool in order to get something done without necessarily knowing the full mechanics of how it works, because what’s most important for the end user is just that the thing does what it’s supposed to do or what you’re trying to do with it, regardless of if you know exactly how that happened. That’s the issue that you run into with most astrologers, and especially most astrology enthusiasts.
It’s not something where they’re–I don’t want to say thinking super deeply about the mechanics, but it’s not their primary concern. Just the fact that it works and you can do some things with it at all is in and of itself kind of interesting and takes a lot of time and focus. So there’s a lot of debates and there’s a lot of people that might have somewhat shallow responses to it, because they haven’t thought through their answers or looked through the history of the subject, because that’s really not their primary focus
IAN: I guess a natural progression for that too is beyond even just competing schools of thought. I know that there’s the Chinese zodiac as well, which is like a completely different system, where your personality is based on what year you’re born.
And I guess I’m just curious to know what–it feels weird to say–Western astrologers thoughts are on that. But how do these things complement each other, contradict each other? How much credence do you think one gives to the other?
CB: Yeah. I mean, there’s many different traditions of astrology that developed around the world, occasionally, independently. So for example, there’s Mayan astrology, which developed in the American continent, or in Mesoamerica, independently from Europe and the West and Asia and everything else.
But then when it comes to Europe and the Middle East and India and China, there were oftentimes indigenous traditions of astrology that developed there just by them repeating the same process of observing a correlation between celestial movements and earthly events and sometimes structuring it differently in the same way.
A really good analogy is that there’s different languages that developed in different cultures, that work in different ways, or have different grammatical syntax, but they still accomplish the same thing, which is communication. And it’s not necessarily that one language is better; there might be some languages that are more efficient for doing certain things. But just because there’s different languages, or one language is different, it doesn’t necessarily negate another language; it just means that they’re structured differently and they had different origins.
So astrology as a language is a common analogy that’s used to describe different astrological traditions and why they are different, and yet, can still be useful or valid in different ways, and I think that’s a worthwhile analogy. Another thing to mention is that on the European and Middle Eastern and Asian continent, there was a lot of3 exchange between different astrologies.
A lot of texts would go from one language or one culture and they would be transmitted to another, so there’s actually a lot more connections in the history of astrology between some of these different traditions than you would think or realize. And there may be some connection between Chinese astrology and Mesopotamian astrology that goes very far back; I’m not entirely sure. Chinese astrology is not something that I specialize in or have studied a lot, but there may be some slight background connection, and it may not be as completely independent as it seems like it is.
SHAYE: I want to bring us back a little bit to this question of the mechanism that’s behind it. I know you use this metaphor of how a car works, and I guess the point there is to illustrate that we know it works, but we don’t necessarily know how.
SHAYE: But I feel like we see correlation in these planetary happenings. So for instance, the example you give, again, about the two outer planets, Jupiter and Saturn, uniting; I’m not sure of the technical term for it. But we see this as significant and then we look for significance happening here. We say, “Okay, something significant is happening out there, where is the significance here?”
And I wonder if you’re looking for the correlation where there might not necessarily be one. I know this is something that probably goes to the root of a lot of questions. Is there a form of confirmation bias here, where you know—air quotes–”There should be something happening here. Okay, let’s go find it.” Let’s say, hypothetically, it’s 20 years in the past, something was supposed to happen. Where is the event?
I feel like that is a hard question that I struggle to overcome. How is this not a form of confirmation bias?
CB: Yeah, that’s a potential issue and a major obstacle, especially when you’re looking at worldwide events. There’s just so many things happening at any given time. If you’re looking to see if there is a4 correlation, you might be able to find it, or somebody could be accused of reaching and saying, “Well, this was the correlation,”and it’s not very strong, or not exactly what they were saying it was going to be ahead of time or something like that.
So confirmation bias is definitely a potential issue, and it’s also usually assumed to be by skeptics the primary thing. Usually, astrology is just written off as confirmation bias; I think that’s more of a danger when it comes to mundane astrology. When you’re dealing with outer-planet cycles and something that’s supposed to be relevant to large groups of people, and you’re looking at the world in general, there’s a lot of variables involved.
But that’s one of the reasons why I think paying more attention to natal astrology–which is a lot more localized and is actually typically what most astrologers, I would say 90-95%, actually specialize in–just the study of birth charts and looking at the correlations more in the context of an individual person’s life, the variables are not as big; and sometimes, it’s easier to see whether this statement that was made ahead of time about the assumption on what’s coming up ended up being correct or if it ended up being false.
Sometimes skeptics will frame it as it’s so generalized that you could apply it to anything or something like that. But in fact, while there is a generality about it–because it’s sometimes phrased or talked about in the sense of archetypes that astrologers are working with, broad archetypes, when they talk about the symbolism of certain placements–it’s actually specific enough, most of the time, that I think it’s pretty easy to say whether or not this statement or the prediction was true or whether it was false. So I don’t think it’s just a matter of confirmation bias, necessarily, even if that’s something you have to pay attention to and have to try to avoid if you’re trying to take astrology seriously and consciously and carefully.
IAN: It’s interesting that you mentioned confirmation bias. One of the things that we thought about a lot when taking into account natal astrology–we talked a little bit about free will–what we discussed was the ‘Pygmalion’ effect; this idea that if you’re told that you’re going to be a certain way, you’re more inclined to start recognizing those traits in yourself and focusing in on them or honing in on them.
And one of the things that I think turned us off about this idea of astrology was looking at our signs and some of these characteristics and it’s like, “I don’t want that characteristic.” You want to be the CEO of a company and then your sign is like, “No, you should probably be a janitor.” I feel like some of the signs are like, “You excel in these areas.” And those areas, especially living in the United States, some personality traits are more inclined to succeed more economically, whereas others, it’s like, “Yeah, you can be a teacher and make 35,000 a year.”
For us, these feel constrictive. We feel we would be pinned down by our astrological sign, and it feels overly-deterministic. I’m just curious as to what your thoughts are on that phenomenon.
CB: Sure. I mean, I think the issue with it being overly-restrictive or prescriptive, if that’s the right way to phrase it or right term to use…
SHAYE: I like that word at least.
IAN: Yeah, I do too.
CB: The issue is that that’s more of a danger with the generic pop astrology, because it’s trying to make specific statements and general statements that are applicable to people that don’t have a background in the subject; and so, they might be more liable to think that it’s more deterministic or more restrictive than it actually is. And that could be a potential downside to a popularization of astrology, which is astrology becomes really popular, and people have this perception that all Scorpios are like this, or all Geminis are like this, and it could lead to some negative things about people forming preconceptions instead of just getting to know people.
But once you get into the astrological community, in terms of intermediate- and advanced-level astrologers, that’s not usually how it works and that’s not usually how astrologers approach things, even though there is a sort of empiricism of astrologers taking into account the birth charts of people that they knew and what sort of character traits were associated with that or what kind of actions that person had in the past.
Usually astrologers are more careful not to assume immediately that the next person they meet that has the exact same placement is going to do that exact same thing. It’s just more of a general range of possible manifestations that are going to range from very constructive ones to very negative ones, but most of the time, fall somewhere much more in-between. So while that’s a danger, it’s another one of those things that are potential downsides, but probably doesn’t happen as much as one might worry that it could; especially with maybe proper education on the principles and the ethics of astrology. The ethics of astrology is a whole other subfield.
Did that answer your question? I feel like there might be another piece there that I didn’t get.
IAN: I do want to talk about the ethics of astrology briefly, because I haven’t heard that before and I’m fascinated by that, but I guess just more of how it works. That makes sense about pop astrology, because it’s true for pop psychology too.
IAN: ‘Daddy’ issues are an example of pop psychology, right? It’s like, “Ah, this is why you act this way, because your dad loved baseball.” So I’m curious, how would it work then from a professional astrologer? And then when you’re done with that, I probably will follow up with the ethics of astrology, because that sounds fascinating.
CB: Sure. I think it’s just that astrologers, actual professional astrologers–people that dedicate their lives to studying the subject and trying to figure it out and trying to do their best job, being conscientious about learning how to apply it–strive to form a balance; taking into account whatever presuppositions they have based on the astrology, when it comes to people in general or making statements or interacting with individuals one-on-one and balancing that with approaching people as people and putting astrology aside, and letting the actions of people inform you about their character and what the nature of your relationship is going to be like with them.
And finding a balance between those two things, I think, is something that most people who are actually into astrology strive to do and do a relatively good job of balancing. It’s just people that are new to the subject or have a very shallow understanding often tend to think that it should be used to categorize or to reject somebody; like if somebody’s using it for dating or something like that and was rejecting somebody because they don’t like ‘X’ sign or something like that. I don’t think that’s something that you would find most astrologers doing necessarily.
IAN: I think you just answered my question about the ethics of it as well, so that makes a lot of sense.
SHAYE: I do have a question about this, because I personally know people who do make the exact type of assumptions and decisions that you’re just mentioning, especially while dating. I personally know someone who says that they will not date anyone who is not a Sagittarius; as someone not deeply involved with the astrology community, I see that side more than I see anything else.
And then, it’s hard, because I understand that you’re saying, yes, with more education, you can come to this with a more rational and holistic approach. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right language, but a more all-encompassing approach to examining this question. But I almost wonder–the pop psychology aspect, it doesn’t seem like–oh, I’m sorry. I’m doing the same thing Ian did. The pop astrology aspect of this, it’s hard to imagine perfectly educating the entire world on appropriate use of astrology. And then I wonder, does astrology then lead itself to this tendency, an increased tendency maybe to stereotype people?
And there’s this quote that I just keep thinking about, and it’s just an amateur astrologer saying basically, “I don’t know you, but I believe something about you based solely on your sign,” or something like that.
CB: Right. Yeah, I mean part of the issue is that astrology died out in society in the 17th and 18th centuries and went into a low point from where it was really popular in the Renaissance to suddenly falling out of favor and getting kicked out of academia and no longer being viewed as a legitimate subject for a couple of centuries.
And then it had this revival in the 20th century, starting especially in the 1940s, when newspapers and magazines started running Sun-sign columns based on the premise that the sign of the zodiac that your Sun was located in at the moment of birth had something to say about your character and things like that and your future.
That was a revival of astrology that got more and more popular, because it’s easy to calculate that. All you need to know is your birth date. You don’t have to know your birth time or the birth location or where any of the other planets are; you’re just looking at one piece of your birth chart. So that’s how astrology got repopularized and that’s what most people think astrology is.
They tend to think that all there is to astrology is just that, and therefore, it’s easy then to form different misconceptions or come to different conclusions about it just based on that, which is something that’s common, that everybody does. Whether they’re fans of astrology who are using it or misusing it in that way with dating, for example, by saying they wouldn’t date a Sagittarius, or whether it’s a lot of skeptics that you run into. A lot of the basic skeptic questions that they formulate are based on the premise that Sun-sign astrology is the entirety of astrology, not being aware that it’s this much larger field that’s more complicated.
But the fundamental issue with that is that in the birth chart itself, the Sun is just one placement. The Sun sign is just one placement, and there’s eight, nine, or ten–depending on how you’re categorizing it, different planets–that could all be in different signs of the zodiac, that are going to put an emphasis on different zodiacal signs and different qualities at just the most basic level; so it means that the basic premise was mistaken. Thinking that any one person is only represented or is even primarily represented by one sign of the zodiac is not a true depiction of astrology. It’s just a very partial, incomplete depiction of one small piece of it.
So that’s one of the reasons why that approach of excluding ‘X’ sign from dating or what have you is a misconception and is taking it in a weird, inaccurate direction; but it’s just based on that lack of familiarity with it. And obviously, that’s something that comes along with how astrology was repopularized over the past century, and to some extent, that was a necessity for astrology; that’s how it came back again and still plays some role in different people’s lives and often ends up being an entry point.
Some astrologers occasionally will look into that, and then they’ll find out that there’s a Moon sign as well, or that there’s a Mercury sign; or they’ll discover the concept of natal astrology, and then they’ll start looking more into the subject to see what it’s actually about. So oftentimes, Sun-sign astrology is the entryway into the more advanced forms of astrology for most astrologers; in that way, it plays some positive role, even though it’s also sometimes playing a negative role at the same time. The good news is that over the course of the past 20 years, and especially even the past five years, it seems like there are some astrological concepts that are coming into the public consciousness or becoming popular that are a little bit more advanced.
So just in the past five years, it’s become more common for people to know not just their Sun sign, but also that they have a Moon sign and a rising sign. Some of that is happening as a result of websites that will calculate your birth chart for you for free, which used to be a thing either that astrologers had to calculate by hand, that would take an hour or two, using a bunch of different books and tables and astronomical things. In the 1970s, you could buy a computerized report that would take an hour to print out on an old dot matrix printer; but in the past 20 years, suddenly, it’s something you can get for free.
In the past five years, there’s popular apps where you can enter your birth data and suddenly you know your Sun, Moon, and rising right from the start, and that’s caused a shift where the discussions are becoming a little bit more advanced and a little bit more complicated, if you’re going from one factor of just knowing your Sun sign to, all of a sudden, everybody knows their Sun, Moon, and rising; you’ve just tripled your data points for what you think astrology is by default and how many signs of the zodiac you think are relevant in terms of composing somebody’s personality at a basic level.
IAN: One of the things I’ve enjoyed about studying astrology for the past couple weeks are these parallels; this triptych that you find in a lot of psychoanalysis and psychology; this idea of the ego, the superego, and the id; this idea of Lacan’s ‘The Imaginary’, the real, and the symbolic.
As we spoke yesterday with our other astrologer friend, who talked about Sun sign, your Moon sign, and your rising sign–something along the lines of how you see yourself and how other people perceive you–it seems to me there are a lot of parallels between psychology and astronomy; and one of the answers that we get when we ask people about this is that they’re interested in astrology because of psychology.
So what are your thoughts on that? And why did you pick astrology over psychology, with this interest in human behavior and personality and characteristics?
CB: Sure. That’s a type of astrology, or it’s a piece of astrology. Although we have to be careful because even though most pop astrology is oriented towards character analysis, by extension, psychology or psychological analysis, not all astrology or not all astrologers focus on character analysis or psychological analysis.
There’s other astrologers, like, for example, Richard Tarnas, who did that study Cosmos and Psyche, where he was looking at outer-planet cycles and how that’s matched up with shifts in world history at different points. That’s a separate branch called mundane astrology, which really isn’t primarily psychological in its motivations.
So I just want to clarify that not all astrologers are necessarily drawn to it due to psychology or choose to use it for psychological purposes, even though in 20th century astrology that was the main focus. And when astrology was revived in the 20th century, it was revived around the same time that depth psychology was getting going, and so, astrologers have tended to use it much more for character analysis and psychological analysis in modern times. But in ancient times, it was more predictive, even though that was a piece of it.
But one of your questions that ties into that that’s worth answering now is why do we have to ask and why not just focus solely on psychology and get right to the heart of it. And I guess part of the answer to that question is imagine sitting down with a psychologist or psychoanalyst that you’re going to talk with and try to work through some issues, or they’re going to try to get to know you and form some sort of assessment or psychological profile of you.
You’re going to attempt to work with them and the psychologist is going to attempt to work with you to understand some of your background and what some of your core issues are that you struggle with as a person and how that’s affecting you–what happened earlier in your life and how that’s affecting you now as an adult–and what ongoing patterns and things you’re trying to work out. When they start from ground one, they have nothing. They work from scratch, being completely in the dark about who you are as a person. And then they build up, to the best of their ability, in a one-hour session every week or every other week, some idea of who you are as a person.
But what if that psychologist had–not a cheat sheet–but a shortcut to understanding some of, even if it was only a small percentage of your psychological complexes, or some of the core factors that are still playing an important role, that are recurring themes in your life as a person from a psychological standpoint? Would that be useful to you as a psychologist? And would you use that or take it into account? And I think the appeal of something like–assuming it’s correct, or assuming it does have any legitimacy whatsoever–would be clear.
SHAYE: So I guess following up on this idea of just having extra information to help make an analysis, what about other forms? And maybe this is just totally out of the same field of conversation or the same topic, but what about alternative belief systems, alternative practices that deal with similar issues? I’m thinking primarily of tarot, because I’ve seen a lot of–just looking recently–correlations. Astrologers will also be tarot–I don’t know what you call those people; tarot people.
IAN: Tarot readers, I think.
SHAYE: Tarot readers. And also, what about psychics and palmistry and witchcraft? All of these various fields, they seem to be overlapping in the Venn diagram of–I’m not even sure what to call it. I don’t want to say ‘mysticism’, because I’m not sure if that’s offensive. Is that offensive, to say ‘mysticism’?
CB: I mean, maybe for some people, but not necessarily. There’s probably a better phrase. I don’t know–alternative spirituality or the New Age movement or something like that; although not all of that falls into the New Age.
SHAYE: Sure. Okay, well, then using one of those frameworks, what about tarot and psychics and palmistry? Are these beliefs primarily that you have personally? And do you think that those are compatible with astrology generally?
CB: Yeah. So I think astrology is its own thing, and is its own unique thing that does sometimes overlap or has interactions with other fields. One of the issues is that in the early 20th century, in the 1900s, when astrology was revived, it was partially revived within the context of the growing New Age movement and an interest in alternative philosophies and spiritualities, the Theosophical Society and things like that.
When astrology was revived, it was revived at the same time, under the banner of interest in a bunch of different alternative spiritualities and things like that. So that’s had an impact in terms of then those things being grouped together with astrology or often going hand-in-hand, even if they weren’t always like that in history, and even if they aren’t necessarily intimately interlinked, that you have to accept one in order to accept the other; that’s not necessarily true.
There’s astrologers that just do astrology and they don’t do any of that other stuff or have any of those other beliefs. There’s astrologers who are just straight Muslim astrologers. There’s some astrologers that focus on astrology from a statistical standpoint, like Michel Gauquelin, in the mid-20th century, who ran statistical tests of astrology. There’s some astrologers that just focus on the history of astrology or what have you. So there’s many different approaches. And even though there is overlap, it’s just partially due to the cultural63:18context in which astrology was revived over the past century.
So that being said, to the extent that astrology is a form of divination–and many astrologers view it as a form of divination–to the extent that it’s true, if astrology works, then maybe some of these other forms of divination might work as well or might be relevant. It’s one of those things where if something like symbolic thinking or symbolic correlations between planets and earthly events, if that can work, then some people then extend that to say that other forms of divination are based on a similar premise.
You shuffle the cards, and you pull out ’X’ tarot card, which is supposed to have ‘X’ symbolic meaning, and that meaning actually happens to coincide with this issue that you were thinking about at that moment in time, and describes it pretty well and tells you something about the future. My background isn’t in tarot, so I’m not explaining that very well, and that’s not something I’ve ever done much with. But I see that sometimes astrology can open people up to looking into other things like that, because it removes some preconceptions about what works or what doesn’t work; but it gets really tricky when it comes to things like psychics or tarot cards or other things like that.
One of the issues about astrology that keeps it grounded and makes it unique compared to other forms of divination is that the alignments of the planets, the movements of the planets is something that’s external and is predictable and is true no matter what, and will be true today just as it was 2,000 years ago, just as you can predict where the planets will be 2,000 years from now. So there’s this objective component to it that exists out there independent of anything else, and that’s not always true of other forms of divination or things like that; so it puts astrology in a weird, unique category, even if it’s partially based on divination.
In addition to the fact that there is some causal, physical mechanism underlying some astronomical things, I don’t think astrology can primarily be explained through some sort of unknown, causal mechanism; for example, the seasons and the movement of the Sun, and the effect that that has on the growth of plants and plant life, or the different seasons and the length of daytime and daylight that’s available during different parts of the year and things like that. So astrology has this weird thing where there are some causal factors that are relevant as well, which is not true in other forms of divination like tarot.
IAN: Yeah. This is kind of a point-blank question, but how do you think astrology can help people? I feel like it means something different to everybody that practices it or has an interest in it. This is just something I’m curious to hear from an astrologer, the way I might ask a writer how literature helps people.
CB: Yeah. There’s many different answers to that. I mean, one that I’ve thought of for many years, and I sometimes have debates about with my partner, relates to part of your background. But one of the things I think could be a conclusion from it that might be helpful or relevant is that if the premise of astrology is true, and especially the premise of natal astrology is true–that the alignment of the planets at the moment that a person is born has something to say about their future and the nature and the course of their life–it does imply that some things are a little bit more planned out, or there might be some sort of background code or matrix, or however you want to explain it, that’s running in the background, that sets up a meaningful sequence of events in a person’s life.
And to whatever extent that’s true, if it was true, it could imply that some of the events that take place in our lives are more meaningful and deliberate and purposeful than we would otherwise have any normal reason to think. It could be indicating some sort of broader sense of meaning and purpose to our lives, and that would be essentially what fate is. Some of the ancient philosophers, like the Stoics, described fate as a meaningful ordering of events in accordance with some sort of plan or some sort of rationale.
So in trying to think about what the underlying significance of astrology would be if it was true, one of the ways that I’ve tried to formulate that is just that if astrology was true to any extent, then it could imply that what’s happening in the cosmos and the events that happen in our world could be a little bit more meaningful rather than the alternative option, which is the typical prevailing one at this point in time, which is just that events in the world are meaningless.
We’re just specks of organic matter that’s floating around on a rock in the middle of the universe that came about as a result of nothing, and the only meaning that any of our lives has is the subjective meaning that we give to it; but otherwise, there is no objective meaning or purpose or reason for any of the things that happen in any of our lives. It’s all just kind of random, which is a fine position and normally would be my default position, but there could be something about astrology that could point to something else going on the universe, and that could be one of the greatest philosophical or scientific or other things that could be relevant about astrology in some deeper way.
SHAYE: So it’s a ‘meaning-making’ field of expression and study is what I’m hearing. It’s helpful by giving you a sense of meaning, if maybe you’re struggling. Is that maybe an appropriate way to summarize that?
CB: Yeah, I think that’s one of the ways that it could be useful or helpful, as it could show that there could be some meaning in underlying events in a person’s life sometimes, and something like that for some people could be felt as reassuring or helpful or good to know. An alternative option or alternative interpretation is that some people could find that that’s not good to know. They might not want to think about the idea that some events in their life could be predetermined or foreordained or what have you; that could feel constraining and could feel the opposite. I guess it’s just a matter of what events we’re talking about and what perspective you’re looking at it from.
SHAYE: Right. Well, it’s interesting too, because we did an immersion into demon-summoning, and we spoke with a high priestess. I imagine maybe some of your listeners are already rolling their eyes; they’re like, “That’s not real,” but we’re trying here. Basically, what she told us was that we were probably too closed off to feel the spiritual demonic forces at play, and I’m wondering if something similar might exist in astrology; my guess is no.
But I’m just curious–even if not believing in astrology, are there benefits? Are there astrological forces working on us even if we are closed off from it, from a belief-side, from a belief perspective?
CB: Yeah. I mean, I would say, as an astrologer, that whether you guys ever look at your birth chart or not–or look at your transits for different times in your life and what that would indicate about what types of events might be taking place–that will be happening and working out there in the background, like a mechanical clock. And even if you only ever look at the face of that clock and only see the two hands to tell you what time it is, there’s still a hundred gears working behind that that are lining those things up, whether you’re paying attention to the background stuff or not. So yeah, it can work even independently of people paying attention to it, I think.
SHAYE: I love that metaphor of the clock; that’s so nice. Especially thinking of orbitals and stuff like that, you’re thinking about rotations and planets. It’s really interesting to think whether or not you pay attention to it, one way or the other, the clock still ticks; I think that resonates with me.
CB: Yeah. I often try to think of what a metaphor is for astrology, and even though it gets cliched, there’s metaphors like that that are probably relevant about what it actually probably is if it’s true that it works; that it’s something like that, like a clock that’s working in the background. but it’s more complicated than that.
A better, modern analogy is it would be–not to get too out there–like The Matrix or something like that, where you could see the code behind reality that was showing you all of the bits and pieces that were describing what’s happening at that time; that’s kind of what astrology is, in a way. And if astrology was ever validated in any way that’s probably the closest analogy I can come up with to what it probably is on some level.
IAN: Sometimes when I think about the language used to describe how astrology is thinking about the planets and the universe and the solar system and everything that’s happening, there seems to be a personification or anthropomorphizing–if I’m pronouncing that correctly; I know what I’m trying to say. I always end up thinking of astrology religiously, and I can’t help but wonder if astrology provides moral guidance in the same way a religion might.
CB: Moral guidance? Could you give an example?
IAN: As Shaye said, I’m not much of a religious person, but there’s plenty of tenets in Christianity, like “love thy neighbor.” There’s more; I know there’s more. I don’t know them off the top of my head. But there are certainly tenets, rules, guidance provided by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and I’m wondering if there’s something similar in in astrology.
CB: Right. I’m trying to think if there is. I mean, the problem is that astrology itself is very neutral. There’s planets, they’re happening out there, and they’re correlating with stuff. I do know there’s another level and that’s really it; like full-stop, that’s it. It’s just this thing that’s happening out there in nature. It’s some sort of property of nature that’s happening, that doesn’t require awareness of it, but it seems to be operating below reality.
There are astrologers that sometimes try to develop ethical codes or codes of ethics, or try to draw conclusions from it, but that usually involves incorporating other religious or philosophical things that they put on top of it, such as ideas of karma and reincarnation and other stuff like that. Either they’re trying to draw conclusions from the astrology themselves, which may not be accepted by all astrologers, or they’re trying to import other preexisting philosophical and religious precepts that they they want to use in tandem with the astrology, but I’m not sure that that’s necessarily something that’s inherently being derived from the astrology itself.
IAN: I am relieved by the use of that phrase of it being neutral. I do know that while I was doing research, I encountered–I can’t remember her name–a relatively popular serial astrologist, and she was gushing about how the universe is on your side. In terms of my skepticism, I was like, “Um, I don’t know.”
IAN: But yeah, I do know that appeals to a certain audience. One of the statistics that we kept running into when we’re doing our research is that women are apparently more likely than men to subscribe to astrology, and we’re just wondering why you think that might be the case.
CB: Yeah, I can’t tell how much of that is something that’s natural or inherent to astrology, or if it’s only a result of just the cultural context of astrology and its revival over the past century and the way in which it was revived, as well as the way in which it was often marketed to women through fashion magazines that still carry horoscope columns, like Vogue.
CB: Cosmo, yeah; they’ve always had a section, but they recently expanded their section. And there’s no similar parallel section in–I don’t know, what’s a men’s magazine? Playboy or something like that? They don’t have a horoscope column from the guy’s perspective. I don’t know how much of that’s because women are naturally in some way more–a skeptic would say–susceptible to astrology; a non-skeptic or an enthusiast might say that women are more intuitive or something like that. I don’t know if any of those arguments are true, or if it’s just a side effect of our culture over the past century, and something about the revival of astrology and its orientation towards character analysis and psychology in the past few decades.
One of the funny things about that is that if you go back prior to the last century or two, all the astrologers in history were men. Women were not usually given the same education and didn’t have the same ability to study astrology at all. Astrology, you have to remember, prior to modern times, was something that required advanced mathematical and astronomical training in order to do the calculations necessary, in order to calculate birth charts. And so, if you go back in history, there’s actually a lot of famous scientists and astronomers–like Johannes Kepler or Claudius Ptolemy–who were also astrologers, because you had to be pretty good at astronomy in order to calculate the stuff necessary.
When I wrote my book on Hellenistic astrology, I tried to find who was the first woman that we know of that was a practicing astrologer. And even though astrology goes back to 2000-3000 BCE, the first one I was able to find wasn’t until the 5th century, and it was maybe Hypatia, who was the daughter of a famous astronomer at the time named Theon of Alexandria. She ended up being killed by a Christian mob who was riled up partially under the premise that she was doing weird stuff with astrolabes and something else, like demon stuff; that was at the point where Christianity was really on the rise.
And then the next one I was able to find wasn’t until the 9th century, and it was a princess or the wife of a king at the time in the Middle East, and her name was Buran of Baghdad. There’s a legend about her thwarting an assassination attempt on the king through astrological means, which may or may not be correct, just to give you an example. So historically, astrology tended to be something that was done by men, as far as we know, due to the educational restrictions on women through most of history. That it switched primarily to women at this point as consumers is an interesting reversal of what it may have been up to this point.
SHAYE: It is really interesting, because when I think about my first exposure to astrology, I think of being in middle school or high school and having my female friends come up to me, and the conversation would start normally that way; and that’s probably because of what you’re talking about, the Cosmo magazines or where it was marketed then.
But it’s interesting–I was thinking about it while you’re talking about it–that the historical trend seemed to be that astrology required a great deal of education until the modern era, and it was so tied to science and math; something that a lot of women didn’t have the same access to as we have now.
I don’t know. I’m struggling still to see where the switch happens there, and why it is that women now are such consumers of astrology. And it’s weird to use a capitalism term to talk about this; it really feels incongruous.
I don’t know. There’s something about it. I’m still working these ideas out, and I feel like there has to be something about toxic masculinity in there. It never felt like it was for me. I think I was always invited, but it was like an invitation that would be met with some ridicule.
CB: Sure. All of that being said, there may be something to–I don’t know. I tried to do an episode about this, but it started treading on issues about modern gender distinctions and discussions about men and women and different things like that. One of the things that’s put forward is maybe women are predisposed towards being more introspective or more inherently interested in examining their emotional state and how that’s affecting things or something like that.
And so, maybe the fact that modern astrology, when it was reconstituted, was not about hardcore prediction and the fact that Sun-sign astrology and pop astrology was more about character analysis and psychology, maybe that is something that appealed more to women than it did to men. And sometimes in the astrological community itself, once you get past pop astrology, there can be a tendency for men to get into it and be very interested in hardcore, predictive astrology and the idea that you can predict the future or control your fate or something like that, so that they’re trying to do something with it that’s more concrete and less self-reflective in some way.
I don’t know if that’s actually accurate, so don’t want to push that too far. But I’m just saying maybe it has something to do with different dynamics like that, if they exist between men and women. I don’t know and I don’t want to say for sure, because I’m not trying to get in trouble and start a major debate here.
SHAYE: I hear you.
CB: But who knows.
IAN: Yeah. This is something we’re not totally sure how to talk about either, but it is interesting and we are curious about it. And speaking of trying to do something concrete with it, one of the things that we read that was really, I don’t know, alarming, shocking, interesting was that Nancy Reagan apparently famously consulted an astrologer to help determine Reagan’s presidency toward the end of his second term. And if we think about astrology, what you would call–I’m sorry, not banal astrology…
IAN: Mundane astrology. Okay, I was like, “That’s not right.”
CB: Or electional.
IAN: Yeah. If we think about astrology in terms of helping determine the future, do you think astrology should play a role in politics? Should politicians’ astrological signs or their natal charts matter? What are your thoughts on that?
CB: Yeah. Well, let’s start with just the way you guys had formulated that question in the notes, because it was interesting and revealed part of the public sentiment towards it and a piece of 1980s’ political spin and damage control when that story came out that the Reagans were using astrology in the White House.
Part of the damage control that they came up with at the time when this story broke in the 1980s–because a disgruntled, former White House chief of staff wrote a tell-all book about it–the Reagan White House’s response was that this was just Nancy that was into it, and it was Reagan’s wife. It was part of her ’female’ failings after the assassination attempt that happened on him that she turned to astrology as a crutch, because she was so worried about his life and that was when he sort of got dragged unwillingly into it.
And the funny point about that when I researched this for Episode 68 of my podcast was they actually had a history of using astrology going back many years, all the way back into the 1960s, and had been documented doing things at weird times–like having him inaugurated at midnight or close to midnight or something–and all the reporters at the time were wondering why he’s doing something this public at such a weird hour of night; he had a consistent history of of doing that.
And then this astrologer actually came out and wrote a book about it, because she was kind of annoyed that they were downplaying her work. She said that she had actually been working with them going back to the very beginning of their campaign, and that she was sort of behind the scenes picking out times for them to launch his presidential campaigns, for him to sign major treaties, like a nuclear treaty with Russia, for debates between Reagan and Jimmy Carter. She picked out a date that she thought would be better for Reagan and not as good for Carter to help him win the debate.
So I just thought it was interesting, because the way the public actually thinks about that is partially based on the spin and the damage control that they came up with in the late-1980s in order to blame it on Nancy being a woman basically and it being part of her shortcoming; when in fact, it was probably something that they were both using together for many, many, years up to that point.
IAN: That’s really interesting. I don’t know; it’s weird too. If we think about the collateral damage that happened because of Reagan’s presidency and its policies, maybe the damage control is better than actually being like, “Wait a minute, who made this decision? Why did they handle the AIDS crisis this way?”
CB: Yeah. And that’s something, when I talk about Reagan, I always try to be quick not to endorse, because I don’t necessarily endorse his politics; but I’m just setting the record straight about the extent to which astrology was involved.
Interestingly, because astrology is also something that tends to be more associated with the left and with the New Age and alternative medicine or different things like that, there is this stream that shows up–most prominently with Reagan—that’s not necessarily tied to any one political group or anything like that. But to your point, yeah, that is a potential problem.
The other day, I tweeted–when everybody was trying to get the inauguration time for the exact moment that Biden and Harris took their oaths–during Reagan’s second inauguration, the astrologer Joan Quigley, she had him do it a few minutes early, because she wanted to put this auspicious Moon-Jupiter conjunction directly in the middle of the sky, or in the most prominent place in the chart possible. So if you look at his inauguration, he did it just a little bit earlier, before noon, than he was supposed to, in order to accomplish that.
And it is weird, reading his biography, how they called him the ‘Teflon’ president, because nothing would stick to him, and he never went down for any of the major stuff that some of his subordinates did, like the Iran-Contra scandal, which he honestly should have gone down for, but for some reason he didn’t. I mean, somebody could make that argument maybe it was because of all of these extra things that he was doing with the astrologer, who knows.
On the positive side, I do want to say signing that major intercontinental ballistic missile treaty with Russia, and the fact that the astrologer did help to pick an auspicious chart for it to ensure its success, could have been a positive factor that could have helped it to become a successful treaty and could have been a positive thing.
I don’t know. You could make positive or negative arguments either way in terms of Reagan’s presidency and its effect politically, and if astrology, by extension, was something that was positive or negative in terms of helping him or not.
IAN: That is super fascinating. That’s way more interesting than what we read, so thank you for setting the record straight on that, because that is way juicier.
CB: Check out Episode 68 of the podcast. I did a full, in-depth, deep-dive, two-hour thing into that based on a few years of research. And I always wished that it got viewed by more people, because it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds like it should be at first glance.
IAN: I’m already like, “Okay, yeah, I want to hear that.” But just taking it back to the question, based on the success of Reagan’s presidency, it sounds like you’re under belief– and maybe I’m making an assumption–that astrology should have a role in politics. Do you feel that way or no?
CB: No. Actually I did a blog for a few years called the Political Astrology Blog, from 2009 through 2013, during the first part of Obama’s presidency, where we followed politics. We collected birth times for candidates and made predictions about the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, different things like that, and checked in with past predictions that we had made to follow up on our success or failures.
And that was fun, but the more I got into it and the more I researched the history of astrology, the more nervous I got about astrologers getting into politics on that level. Oftentimes, when astrologers got involved in politics at different points in history, that’s when the bans on astrology start happening, and that’s when astrologers start getting themselves in trouble; and sometimes that’s what leads to astrology getting suppressed.
For me, making predictions and being right or showing off astrology and demonstrating that it’s a real thing by making successful predictions was not as important to me as just doing astrology, because it’s an inherently interesting thing in and of itself. So I went ahead and I closed down the Political Astrology Blog in 2013, after that election, because I didn’t want to keep heading in that direction; I thought it would actually be potentially dangerous for astrologers to become more prominent in that way in the future. I could see that politics was getting worse and worse, and I was worried about astrologers getting caught up in that.
SHAYE: So I guess following this line of thinking, can astrology then be used for evil or for wrongdoing? Can you be nefariously predicting on behalf of people who, I guess, are bad, for lack of a more nuanced and elegant term?
CB: Yeah, potentially. I mean, one of the potential downsides of it just being this neutral technology is like any technology, it could be used for good or for bad; it really just depends on who’s using it. Reagan, depending on your political affiliation and what you feel about his presidency, is a great example of that. Was he using that for good, or the astrologer who was trying to help him, was that counterproductive for the country as a whole? That comes down to one’s politics.
But definitely, you could use it for bad things, because it’s kind of a neutral thing in and of itself. It could go either way. It entirely depends on the person who’s wielding it and who’s using it. I should also add that they could try to use it for bad things and still fail or still not be successful; or alternatively, they could try to use it for good things, but still fail or still be not successful.
One of the issues with astrology is sometimes there’s an issue about how much control or how much power, if it does work, would it actually give you, effectively, or how much of an advantage does it actually give you versus how much is it just describing things that are going to happen anyway, that it’s not necessarily going to alter the outcome of.
SHAYE: That’s interesting. So even making the predictions might not make any difference, because it’s basically like saying the Sun will set tomorrow; there’s nothing you can do about it. The Sun will still set. So I guess maybe having the foresight of an event is advantageous to some, but might not alter the course of anything.
CB: Yeah, it really just depends. It comes down to the fate or free will issue. And it’s really hard to answer that question whether things are fully predetermined or whether they’re only partially-predetermined and there’s some wiggle room, or what the actual case is with that and that’s really hard to say sometimes.
IAN: It’s interesting that you mentioned the thing about the persecution, because when we were researching–again, I don’t want to necessarily use the term ‘mysticism’, but she wasn’t an astrologer; she was a shaman. The South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, was found out to be consulting with a shaman for political advice, and when they found this out, they impeached her and she’s in prison now.
CB: Oh, wow.
CB: I didn’t know that. What country?
IAN: South Korea.
CB: Oh, right.
IAN: I was there when they impeached her.
CB: Wasn’t that part of a cult or something like that?
IAN: In Korea, they call it saibi, which is basically like a pseudo-religion; it’s basically just an offshoot of some religious tenet. It’s like, “Okay, we believe some of these fundamental things, but we believe them this way.”
IAN: Yeah, that’s like a whole thing, because her father, or the shaman’s father, was the original mystical consultant for her, while her father was alive and a dictator, so it’s a whole crazy thing.
CB: Yeah, astrology and politics, and astrologers being on the inside with certain politicians or rulers, has a whole history. I mean, the inside is famous astrologers like Thrasyllus, in the 1st century, who was the personal astrologer to the Emperor Tiberius, the second emperor of the Roman Empire, and major instances like that, or later ones with Medieval astrologers serving kings or other things like that.
There’s also downsides. For example, the Nazis, in the 1940s, outlawed astrology and outlawed the printing of astrology books, and rounded up a bunch of astrologers and threw them in concentration camps, where some of them died. So sometimes the attempts to control or suppress astrology as a form of information that people want to control is another strong pull.
IAN: That’s really interesting. Well, I guess we’re kind of coming to the end of our questions and stuff. This has been super enlightening and fun for me, but I guess the verdict still stands. Shaye and I, I don’t know, I guess we’re just the kind of stubborn, bull-headed mules that we are. I think we still hold on to some skepticism.
What is something that you say to skeptics or people who are skeptical and don’t believe in astrology? Do you just like, “You know what, you do you, I’m going to do me; I don’t have time for this?” What’s your approach to that?
CB: Yeah. I mean, I used to be more caught up in that or trying to debate people that were overtly anti-astrology, which is kind of a difference. There’s a difference between running into somebody that makes it their life’s work or part of their profession is disproving things. They get a certain amount of investment in needing to be on that side of things if they’re part of the modern skeptical movement, which I think is different than having a healthy dose of skepticism that is trending more towards neutrality or just not knowing, or that sounding weird and that not sounding like something that should be true.
At this point, I would not blame you for not thinking it’s necessarily a legitimate phenomenon or having no idea if any of the stuff that I’m saying is true or has any validity. I’ve always tried to think about what would be the most impressive thing people should look into if they want to see if astrology is a valid phenomenon for themselves, and for me, the primary thing is just the study of your own birth chart, especially if you have an accurate recorded birth time.
It should be a two-fold approach of, on the one hand, looking at your birth chart itself and seeing if it is true that it describes you or your life, or the events of your life in any way, because it shouldn’t; the birth chart is just a two-dimensional diagram that depicts where the planets were located at the moment that you were born. And I think we can all agree that where the planets were located the moment of your birth should have no bearing on the day that you end up getting married, or when you become successful in your job, or when you get fired from something or something like that; it should have absolutely no relation.
So it’s just looking at the birth chart itself and seeing if it has actually anything true to say that’s not a reach and is not simply a matter of confirmation bias about your life, or your personality or other things like that, and then, secondarily, using the birth chart and applying some of the basic timing techniques to it.
Chiefly, one of the most important timing techniques is known as transits. You take the birth chart, which is where the planets were at the moment you were born, and then you compare later events in your life, and you see where the planets were when major events happened and if the planets lined up with placements in your birth chart in symbolically-significant ways; and if they do, then that actually confirms the premise of astrology to some extent. Whereas, if you don’t see a consistent correlation and it doesn’t seem to line up very well, then that would mean that you’re not seeing it and it’s not really something that is valid based on your personal experience.
I always wish more people would do that kind of experiment to see if it actually does have anything to say that looks valid about their life. I think if you do that honestly, then sometimes it’s hard not to see some of those correlations and think that there’s something going on there; and that’s always been the thing that keeps me coming back to it after 20 years of looking into it myself.
SHAYE: That’s so interesting. Hearing you say this, and considering myself still somewhat of a skeptic, I have to say that you’ve definitely, at least in this conversation, given me a broader framework; certainly a broader understanding of astrology generally.
Ian’s probably heard so much of this, but I’ve been learning so much about–I don’t know how to say it without something really nerdy–quantum mechanics and gravity and stuff like that. I’ve just been ‘nerding out’ a lot on my own time.
At first, I thought, okay, astrology might be related to some of these cosmological ideas of ‘grand’ physics. And then I was like, I don’t really think so. I feel like it’s more related to our solar system’s astronomy, which I think is still primarily true for the most part, from what I understand.
Now this new metaphor of ‘the Matrix’ or the clockwork underneath reality reminds me a lot of what I hear. And I have to be careful when I say this, because I know that a lot of people have used the idea of quantum mechanics, with little understanding and have misstated it in a ‘New Age-y’ way to imply things that quantum mechanics doesn’t say.
But my limited knowledge of quantum mechanics, partnered with my limited understanding now of astrology, is painting at least somewhat more of a colorful image that seems a little bit more real to me. I still consider myself a skeptic, but I do have to say that my opinion of it has shifted in this conversation, which actually feels interesting, and it feels good; I actually enjoy that aspect of it. I’m not just trying ‘toot your horn’.
SHAYE: I don’t want it to come across like that, but it’s an interesting conversation for me; it really has been.
CB: Good. Even though I more of a sign- or omen-based conceptualization of astrology–I think that’s primarily how it works–I’m hesitant to completely rule out some sort of causal explanation that could be related to quantum mechanics or something I don’t know, but that’s usually the point where people don’t pass further. They say there’s no causal explanation for that or way that that could be true, therefore, this subject can’t be true; therefore, there’s no reason to look into it further.
And I think that’s the stopping point for most people. That’s why I wanted to try to explain some of that, because that may not need to be the stopping point. And it might be worth looking into, even if we don’t fully understand precisely the mechanism underlying it; the mechanism itself may be different than what we’re usually conceptualized to thinking how things work as a result.
For me, I’ve wanted to try to explain it in this way or figure out how to explain it to somebody that is skeptical, because, periodically, in the history of astrology, sometimes there’s somebody who’s really smart, who’s like a polymath that tries to tie it all together and make it make sense in terms of modern cosmology and modern physics and philosophy and everything else–Claudius Ptolemy attempted to do that in the 2nd century, for example–but we don’t really have that yet today in astrology.
I’m really good with the history, and I try to think deeply about things, like the philosophy, to come to answers about some of this, but I’m not equipped to answer some of those broader things or figure it out, and I don’t think I’m the one to do that. But I hope at least at some point maybe there will be somebody that has some of that background, that comes in and is able to figure some of these things out and create the ‘grand unified field theory’ that we’re missing and would be necessary to place astrology on a more solid footing from a scientific and philosophical perspective in modern times.
So we’ll see what happens. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep trying to refine figuring out how to explain it to people as best I can, in a way that’s appealing or applicable or appropriate for all astrologers and all the different traditions and approaches that are involved. But I appreciate you guys for giving me this opportunity to try to have this conversation today, because it was a good exercise in attempting to do that.
SHAYE: Thank you.
IAN: we appreciate you taking the time to explain it to us and let us ask you all these questions. I know it was a lot, so thanks a lot.
SHAYE: Yeah, thank you so much.
CB: No problem. Is there anything else that we didn’t touch on or any lingering questions that you have, or things that we only touched on briefly that you wanted to go back to, just to make sure we’ve covered everything?
SHAYE: Well, there’s one little thing that I noticed in your speaking, and maybe I was just looking too deeply into this. But if I’m not mistaken, you said a few times, “if astrology is true,” and you use this framework of not saying emphatically that it is. And I’m just curious. Do you believe emphatically, yes, this is absolutely true; this is the foundation of our understanding and interpretation of the universe?
CB: Yeah, I wouldn’t do it, and I wouldn’t keep doing it. I would have stopped at some point if I didn’t think it was true. Well, it’s worth saying, because one of the reasons why I was open to having this conversation with you guys–but I was hesitant to use the term ‘skeptic’–is because one of the core skeptical assumptions that most professional skeptics have is that astrology can’t be true, and astrologers must know that it’s not true; and therefore, they’re just attempting to defraud people when they say that they’re using astrology to do various things.
So it creates this weird situation where their working assumption–not having interacted with many astrologers or done much in the astrological community or anything else–as outsiders is that astrologers are deliberately trying to rip people off and don’t think that it’s actually a legitimate phenomenon. And one of the biggest objections that I have to most skeptical critiques or treatments of astrology is it just takes like five minutes of being in the astrological community to realize that 98%-99% of the people within it think that this is a legitimate phenomenon, and they’re applying it to their life themselves on a regular basis.
Right away, you can tell that that skeptical critique being leveled at most astrologers is the generality, it’s not true, and it immediately gives away that this person isn’t very familiar with the practitioners of the subject that they’re talking about. But you guys approached this in a much different way, and that’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t sure if calling this a discussion with skeptics was right, because approaching it with some of those assumptions is much different.
CB: So yeah, I do believe it’s a legitimate thing, but I also try to pay attention too. I originally got into astrology partially through what you might call conspiracy theories and some New Age stuff. And over a period of a few years, I got more and more into astrology, and I decided to go into it and study it in college–especially in the context of the history of astrology–right out of high school.
And over time, as I got older, some of the conspiracy theory stuff I grew out of and realized was false or based on misinformation or 6other things like that, like stuff maybe comparable to the QAnon stuff even. But for some reason, I would periodically check in with myself and say, “Is this that, or is this a legitimate phenomenon?” and always try to keep myself as grounded as possible in continually asking myself that question. Am I one of those people that is just so dragged into a conspiracy theory–or a religion or a cult or something like that–that I can’t see through my own confirmation bias or other things like that? Or is this actually a legitimate phenomenon that’s happening for some reason, even though, from a completely rational and objective standpoint, we all know that it probably shouldn’t?
It’s been 20-21 years now, I still keep coming back to–despite checking in with myself–thinking that there is something to it, and that this is actually a legitimate phenomenon that’s happening. Therefore, my goal is to try to explore it and understand it as best that I can, but I try to stay grounded also because I’m always very aware of what it must look like to somebody from the outside.
It makes me cringe to think of so many people I probably grew up with in high school or other things like that who just think that I’ve probably lost it, or that I’m into this really lame thing if I’ve dedicated my entire career to studying Sun signs, or whatever their basic misconception is of what I do. Learning how to explain it to people that don’t have any background in it has been part of my goal, in terms of keeping myself grounded and making sure that I’m actually doing something that is legitimate in some way. So that’s the long way to answer your question about do I think it’s legitimate.
SHAYE: That’s so fascinating. The correlation also to the conspiracy thing is so fascinating to us. And I know we’re probably getting close on time here, because we’ve borrowed so much of your time already.
CB: I’m not in a hurry at all. This is actually very interesting. I know it’s late for you guys.
IAN: I have to think about how to formulate it, because I just thought of it; the answer that you gave in the last conversation made me realize something. I know, even our show, when we first learn about a subject, we’re a comedy/education podcast; comedy comes first and we joke about that. In our ‘part ones’, we don’t know anything. So we’re just having a good time; we’re taking the piss out of everything. And then in part two, we want to talk to people that actually know about this stuff and that’s the education aspect. Our conversation with you, not only are we learning, but, ideally, our listeners are learning.
And something that is interesting to me is it reminds me of when we were diving into demonology, in the sense that people are eager disprove that aspect of the legitimacy of that religion; and I feel like astrology, when I’ve been doing all this research, has to do a lot of fighting to have itself taken seriously. People are eager to believe in it, and philosophers, psychologists, scientists are all very eager to be like, “Shut up, astrology. Go over there. Everyone stop paying attention to it.”
And I’m just wondering, as an astrologer, what it’s like to be part of a community that everyone actively tries to de-legitimize or have thrown to the side or discarded, if you will.
CB: Yeah. I mean, it sucks, because it’s a marginal position to be in society. Like I said at the very beginning, you, in some instances, find yourself on the outs, both with mainstream science, as well as with many religious communities. But especially the scientific community, it sucks, because I’m otherwise pretty normal and like you guys.
I’m in my mid-30s and grew up in Colorado, in America, in the 1990s, and had a basic science education. I tend to be more liberal in my policies, in my politics, and more focused on science education and stuff being cool. I grew up with Bill Nye, and I like watching the Cosmos series with not just Carl Sagan, but also the recent one by Neil deGrasse Tyson; I’m like a fan of all of that stuff.
And it’s hard then being a fan of those things–and also, not just being a fan–but being ’pro’ some of those things; especially, for1 example, in the past year, with some of the coronavirus denialism and some of the conspiracy theories that popped up surrounding that. I find some of that stuff really offensive and really problematic.
So it’s difficult then knowing–despite being in that position where I’m, in many respects, very similar to most people in America, in terms of mainstream science education and beliefs and everything like that–that my views on astrology and my practice of astrology is something that would naturally strike most educated people as being really weird and being very potentially off-putting, or make them have many assumptions about me and what I must think about the world, or how out there I must be or whatever based on what their preconceptions of astrology are.
This is probably a chip that all astrologers have on their shoulder to some extent, and it varies from astrologer to astrologer. The desire to want to be taken more seriously or seen as professionals and having a legitimate, professional field is something many astrologers want, but it’s not something that’s possible. Unless you identify a mechanism for it, a causal mechanism that’s causing it to work–that could be replicated and demonstrated scientifically, statistically–astrology will never have that validation in terms of modern-day science; and therefore, astrology will never have that validation in terms of academia or philosophy or anything else. It will always be this sort of outsider thing.
So signing up for astrology, one of the downsides then–if you make that your profession or life’s work–is it puts you on the outside or the outskirts of intellectual history on some level, at least in modern times.
SHAYE: Yeah, that’s so interesting. You know, there was another question I had when we were talking earlier. And you mentioning astrology’s place next to science, specifically, why do you think it is that science rejects astrology in the way it does? Why do they not coincide? What specifically?
CB: It’s really complicated, because part of it just has to do with some cultural things that were happening during the Scientific Revolution, especially around the 17th century. One of the core issues about why astrology fell out of favor is–remember, I talked about wanting there to be somebody like a polymath or a scientist, like an astrologer version of Stephen Hawking, who could create a ‘grand unified field theory’ that would explain astrology and how it integrates with science and our contemporary understanding of physics and everything else. There was somebody that did that in the 2nd century named Claudius Ptolemy.
He was a polymath. He wasn’t just into astronomy and astrology, but he also wrote works on optics and geography, music theory, harmonics, and a bunch of other stuff. He created a cosmological theory for the world and for physics that also explained how astrology worked and how it fit in with the prevailing scientific paradigm at the time; and his system then took off and became the prevailing paradigm for many centuries after that.
Even though his model made sense in terms of the prevailing scientific paradigm at the time, one of the problems is that it placed the Earth at the center of the solar system. Placing the Earth at the center of the solar system is not necessary for astrology to work at all, but in his system, it kind of was required for the rationale to make sense.
So what happened is that through some of the discoveries that happened during the Scientific Revolution–one of them being the Sun being the center of the solar system–virtually overnight, his model, his ‘grand unified theory’ sort of imploded on itself and was disproven. People said, “Well, if that was true, then that means also that astrology is false as well, because our entire model for how it could work was just disproven overnight.”
And so, it was never that astrology was disproven scientifically by statistical studies back in the 17th century–that’s not what science was at that point in time, even though they were trending in the direction of experimentation and empiricism–but it was largely due to this shift that happened, where the previous model for how astrology integrated with science and physics was disproven; so everybody just stopped believing in astrology who was educated at that point. So that’s part of what you have to understand about why astrology is on the outside of science and physics. It’s because of that shift that happened somewhat radically or quickly in the 17th century.
Most skeptics and most scientists, if they ever ask questions about astrology or ever talk about it, they will reject it out-of-hand at the very start partially because there’s no known mechanism for it. The main hold up is the loss of Ptolemy’s model removed the mechanism for astrology, where he conceptualized astrology as working through the influence of the planets and the stars on Earth and on life on Earth. And everybody still thinks that’s the basic premise of astrology, that the planets and stars influence life on Earth based on Ptolemy’s precedent, even though most astrologers don’t conceptualize astrology in that way; but instead, they think about it in terms of synchronicity and symbolic thinking and what have you.
SHAYE: That’s a really interesting thing.
CB: That was kind of a long answer relative to your question about sciences. We have to understand it was never disproven necessarily; it was just that the cosmology changed. Eventually, later in the 20th century, there have been a lot of statistical tests, or there have been some statistical tests that have been run on astrology–not just statistical–but other tests testing astrologers and their ability to read charts, but none of the scientific stuff has worked out very well for astrologers.
There was one study that worked out pretty well for a while, which was the studies by a French statistician named Michel Gauquelin on the ‘Mars effect’. But even that was kind of a debacle, because at one point, he supposedly found a correlation between eminent athletes who, statistically, a large number of them were born with Mars either rising over the eastern horizon or culminating overhead at the moment of birth. He said there were statistically more eminent athletes born with this position compared to other positions.
He put his results out, and he asked for other scientific committees to attempt to replicate his study, because that’s what you would need to do to have it validated scientifically. And the problem is that one scientific skeptical group did it. They ran the study, and they validated it, and they came back with the same results. So then another skeptical group got involved, and they ran the study, and then much to their surprise and displeasure, they validated it and got the same results.
But what sucked about that is it ended up being a debacle, because their initial impulse was, “This can’t be true, because, astrology, we know, is false; we must have done something in the study wrong, so we need to not release the results,” so they tried to bury the results for a number of years. In the end, there was an exposé where one of the people that was on this committee that was involved in this was really shocked that they were trying to bury the results–because he didn’t think this was in keeping with good scientific ethics–and so, he wrote about it years later.
The point that he made was they didn’t need to do that, because it turned out there was a flaw in how they had replicated the study; and once they did it correctly, the ‘Mars effect’ disappeared and there was no statistical correlation with astrology; but despite that, they still tried to bury this study. If they had just published it that would have been the right thing to do, and then other people could have seen their mistake and fixed it, and it would have been fine.
But the fact that their initial impulse was, “Because astrology is wrong, we shouldn’t publish anything that confirms otherwise,” that hinted at something that was problematic about the basic underlying premise that they were approaching the entire endeavor from; and it’s something that I still think is an issue in terms of scientific testing of astrology in general.
SHAYE: Yeah, you have the bias there.
CB: Yeah. Well, the bias, and just the presumption that it’s not valid and other issues that sort of go along with that. Which is something you guys–not run into, but that’s interesting how you try to structure this in terms of checking yourself and your own biases going into things.
SHAYE: It’s interesting. Because even you just saying that, I think of all the different times where we’re like, “Okay, well, this has to be this way,” and then we look into it; and then even saying, “Okay, well, can I change my opinions and my belief system regarding, specifically, astrology? Can I actually believe in it? Well, I guess, if I reevaluate all of these things.”
And I’m thinking now specifically of the scientists you mentioned who chose to not publish their things–what would I do in that situation? I have this belief system; it’s rigid; it’s fixed. In a lot of ways, it defines me; I identify strongly with these set of beliefs that I’ve come to hold. And so, it’s interesting to see this effect, or this phenomenon happen in other places.
Of course it makes sense. We’re all human, we’re all governed by human minds that are fallible in similar ways, so it’s interesting.
IAN: Yeah. And just to ride your coattails, whenever we do these things, we always run into all these questions we didn’t anticipate. At first, it was like, “All right, what’s the deal with astrology?” By the end, I’m asking myself, “All right, how much do I know about science? What do I know about science? How much do I know about psychology? What do I know about psychology?”
I bumped into this article that said psychology apparently is having a big reproduction problem with most of its studies. A lot of them aren’t making it past 50% of these things that we kind of had built the foundation of psychology on. And it’s one of these things where it’s like, “Come on, man.” I started this because I was like, “What’s up with astrology?” and now, I’m like, “Is science real?” That’s not necessarily the debate, but it’s like, do I even know what science is? Is psychology real?
When I first started this my biggest preconception was just that astrology was a toolkit for people that wanted to get a pre-packaged description of their personality, for people that maybe don’t want to necessarily do the messy work of self-definition. That’s kind of how I walked into it; you should just go through astrology.
And now I’m kind of of the belief that the self just shouldn’t be defined at all. I think anytime someone asks what sign you are, what kind of person you are, you should just be like, “Let’s talk about literally anything else,” because no matter what you say, you end up putting your foot in your mouth and second-guessing whether or not that’s really who you are.
CB: Yeah. Some astrologers choose not to share their birth charts or their birth times for that reason, because they don’t want other astrologers to make assumptions about them. Although what’s funny about that is there’s this placement that keeps coming up over and over again that every astrologer I’ve met that doesn’t want to share their birth time has, so that even that in of itself may be a sort of predisposition, which is kind of ironic.
What was the last thing that you said, Shaye, before that? I thought that was a thread that was good to wrap up.
SHAYE: I was talking about the set of beliefs that we all hold and just trying to shake those and the difficulties with that. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about.
CB: Yeah, there was something there. It’s really hard, because, ideally, you want to be able to be humble and acknowledge the things that you don’t know going into any situation; and therefore, sometimes the best attitude to have is just, ’I don’t know’. ‘I don’t know’ is truly the neutral or the middle ground when you don’t have sufficient experience or expertise in a topic.
But it’s hard, because so much of the time, in the modern world, we need to be able to rely on authorities, and we need to be able to rely on something–on science or scientific authorities–in order to live and survive and do well, and thrive in the world and just get by; especially in the age of, for example, the coronavirus or something like that.
I don’t think just being like “I don’t know” is necessarily always healthy in some instances like that, when it comes to, “Should I wear a mask?” or pretty soon, “Should I get the vaccine or run the risk of getting sick with the virus in the future?” So it’s really tricky, because there’s a balance there of needing to find a middle ground between those two extremes.
SHAYE: Yeah, absolutely.
IAN: Yeah. From this point forward, “I don’t know,” is going to be my new, magic word. So again, Chris, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It was a great convo. I am walking away more knowledgeable than when I entered, which is always a win for me, so thanks again.
CB: Yeah, thank you. Very last question to both of you, do you know your birth times?
SHAYE: I do.
CB: You do?
IAN: Yeah, I know mine too.
IAN: I don’t know exactly. It’s relatively approximate, but it’s pretty close.
CB: No, it has to be exact. Some people get their birth time from their mother or from their parents, but because it’s kind of a chaotic situation, sometimes the parent’s memory can end up being off, and they can misremember the exact time; whereas, usually the birth certificate will have an exact time. And most of the time, taking other factors in consideration, that’s the best thing to go with. Do you know if your birth times’ listed on your birth certificates?
SHAYE: I don’t know. Now that you’re saying that, I’m like, “Yeah, I know because my Mom told me.” So I’m wondering now; I don’t know.
IAN: My Mom, I asked her, and she went, “5:37 AM to the minute,” and I was like, “You know?” She’s like, “I remember because you were huge, and it was painful.”
CB: Okay. Well, that’s pretty good. I mean, that’s pretty reliable then. It sounds like it would be…
IAN: Traumatic, yeah.
SHAYE: More so than mine.
CB: Can I give you both copies of your birth certificates, or your birth charts, I should say? Or would you like to either, on-air now or off-the-air later, get a copy of your birth chart?
SHAYE: I don’t know. Ian, what do you think?
IAN: I’m down to do it.
SHAYE: Yeah, let’s do it.
CB: All right. So I’m not going to make any statements about it, but I will at least calculate it for you, so we can go through the process. One of the things we didn’t do but maybe could have done to ground the discussion about what we were even talking about when it comes to natal astrology or birth charts was cast a birth chart.
Okay, so let me start with Shaye. And I’ll share my screen once I have the actual chart up. What’s your birth date and year, Shaye?
SHAYE: You know, I normally don’t give this out.
CB: Are you sure? Because I don’t want to pressure you. One of the ethics of astrology I’ve been trying to be more careful about is some people don’t want to share their birth charts or their birth times. Most astrologers are fine doing it, but I don’t want to pressure anyone into doing it, so it’s really okay if you don’t.
SHAYE: You know what, I actually would rather keep it a secret. I can tell everyone I’m 31–no, I’m 30. I’ll be turning 31 soon. But yeah, I don’t know why it is. There’s something about putting out my information now. I’m just like, “I don’t know, do I want that out there?”
We also just did a whole camp on privacy basically, through The Truman Show, so now I’m a little bit more skeptical.
IAN: I’ll do it, because I’m a ‘science slut’. I’ll do it.
IAN: I’ll fall on the ‘time grenade’.
SHAYE: I love it. Thank you, Ian.
CB: What’s your birthday?
IAN: It’s May 24, 1988.
IAN: My social security number is–no, I’m just kidding.
CB: Right. Blood type and Facebook password is also required.
SHAYE: Mother’s maiden name.
CB: What’s the birth time again?
IAN: 5:37 AM.
CB: And what’s the city that you’re born in?
IAN: Laguna Niguel, California.
CB: How do you spell that?
IAN: I think it’s N-I-G-E-L.
SHAYE: Ian, I had no idea you were from California.
IAN: How did you not know? We have a podcast together, man.
SHAYE: I really don’t know how I didn’t know this. That’s actually shocking to me.
IAN: Yeah, I’m not a Florida native.
SHAYE: I had no idea, okay.
CB: For some reason it’s not coming up. Let me google it and see.
IAN: Yeah, maybe I’m spelling it wrong.
CB: Oh, there’s a stray ‘u’ in there.
IAN: Curse you, Laguna Niguel.
SHAYE: It looks beautiful. Yeah, I’m looking at it on Google Maps.
SHAYE: I had no idea.
IAN: Yeah, we fell from grace, my family did. We became ‘swamp’ people.
SHAYE: Oh, wow.
CB: As long as I have this right–it’s May 24,1988, 5:37 AM, Laguna Niguel, California, right?
IAN: Yeah, that’s right. I used to remind myself how to spell it by calling it ‘Nick Well’.
CB: Nice. There’s that missing ‘u’.
IAN: Just like I spell ‘Wednesday’. I’m sorry, go ahead.
CB: I do that too. So one of the issues—and this is why the birth time is super important–is over on the left, the symbol that says ‘AS’, that’s your Ascendant or your rising sign, and it’s at 0 degrees and 0 minutes of Gemini, which means that it just, may be a minute or two earlier, flipped from Taurus to Gemini; and that would be something that would change your chart in a major way. I’ll animate it to show you.
IAN: Oh, cool.
CB: One of the cool things that astrology programs can do is that you can move the charts forward or backwards, so that you can look at what it was like either five minutes earlier or five years earlier or what have you. So this is your chart for 5:37. But if I move it back to 5:36…
IAN: Oh, it’s totally different.
CB: …it switches, and it flips, because the Ascendant moves into Taurus, and it changes the house placements of all of the planets. So what’s unfortunately annoying about that is then there’s going to be a genuine issue where you could have one chart or the other simply just based on if you happen to be born in one minute or another.
Normally, this is an issue if you’re like a client going to an astrologer, or if you became a student of astrology and wanted to study your chart on your own. One of your first issues is that you would have to employ a process called ‘rectification’ where you try to figure out which is the correct birth time by comparing the two and basically attempting to see which one fits you better.
CB: I’m just saying that, for you, that is going to be unique in creating a complication. Whereas, for most people, or at least for a lot of people, they would just calculate it, and if it was an hour earlier–if your Ascendant was at 16 Gemini–that’s not going anywhere; the difference of a minute is not going to change anything radical in your chart for the most part.
CB: But for you, this would be an issue in terms of studying the chart. You’d have to first make sure that you’re actually using the right chart, because you could actually be using the wrong chart. And that’s obviously then not going to be as impressive if you’re interpreting the wrong chart versus the right one, theoretically; again, if this is a valid phenomenon.
SHAYE: Wow, I did not realize it was this in-depth. I mean, I’ve seen these charts online before, but I didn’t realize that the minute…
IAN: The difference one minute can make. Yeah, that’s crazy.
CB: Yeah, so it’s really important. And that’s the difference between a Sun-sign horoscope, which is just the day you were born and the sign that the Sun was located in, which in this case is Gemini. We can see the Sun is the little symbol with a circle and a dot in the middle over on the left, and that’s in the sign of Gemini.
But then there’s a bunch of other planets and other celestial bodies. The Moon is down at the bottom of the chart, at 12 degrees of Virgo; so that’s in a different sign. Venus is in the bottom-left; it looks like the symbol for a woman or for a female, at 0 degrees of Cancer. And there was a conjunction of Saturn and Uranus and Neptune upping Capricorn in the top-right of your chart; that was a conjunction that was happening in the 1980s that coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union, that one astrologer, earlier in the decade, that did mundane astrology actually predicted several years in advance.
Yeah, so there’s a bunch of different planets, in different parts of the chart, in different signs. And then they also have different configurations to each other or aspects, which are ways that the planets interact with each other in different ways, which are some of the blue and red lines in the middle of the chart.
And then on top of that, it’s not displayed very well in this chart, but there’s different houses. There’s 12 different sectors of the chart, which are thought to represent different parts of life. For example, the 10th house is up at the very top of the chart and that’s supposed to represent a person’s career, because the top of the chart is where the Sun reaches at noon, in the middle of the day, when it’s at its highest and most visible.
So the top of the chart symbolically is thought to indicate where a person is most visible in terms of their career and their public life versus opposite to that, at the very bottom of the chart where we see the Moon. That’s the 4th house, which is the sector that has to do with one’s home and living situation and private life, because that’s opposite symbolically to the most visible or public part of the chart; so the opposite of that would be then the private life and where you live and where you sleep and things like that.
I wanted to mention that just because that’s you a breakdown of some of the components of the chart, but also, again, extending that idea of symbolic thinking and how some of these factors in the chart are based on symbolic interpretations of visibility being at the very top of the chart and being the most visible, therefore, representing your public life versus being hidden at the bottom of the chart and representing your private life or what have you.
SHAYE: Wow, there’s so much to it, it’s crazy. This happens to us all the time where we dive into a subject, and we’re like, “We’re going to learn so much in these two weeks.” And it’s true, we do learn a lot, but it’s crazy how deep astrology is.
Honestly, thank you so much, Chris, for teaching us everything you did and answering all these questions so thoroughly and giving us such a thorough and nuanced explanation for all of this. Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. Thank you so much.
CB: Yeah, thanks for the questions. Thanks for spending the extra time with me tonight. Yeah, good luck with whatever remaining investigation you do of astrology, or good luck in your investigations in general with the podcast in the future. I look forward to tuning in, so thanks a lot.
IAN: Thanks, we appreciate it. Take care. Have a good rest of the night.
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