The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 29, titled:
Branches and Traditions of Astrology
With Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on April 21, 2015
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released December 28th, 2019
Copyright © 2019 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is Tuesday, April 21, 2015, and this is the 29th episode of the show. It’s approximately 6:19 PM, here in Denver, Colorado. In this episode of the show, I’m going to talk about the different branches of Western astrology, as well as some of the different traditions and different subsets of astrology in general. So first, just a few pieces of news.
First off, I wanted to say to all my listeners, thanks for listening. I’ve been trying to research different ways to improve the show and expand the user experience recently, and one of the things I’ve been looking into is different applications that you can use to listen to the show on smartphones.
One of my favorite ones that I found so far is an app called Podcast Addict. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts on this app. You can download it for free. There’s a free version and a paid version. The free version has a little ad at the bottom, but it’s not really a big deal, and then the paid version for $3.00 has no ads.
But it’s a really cool app because you can download the app and then you can search for a podcast like The Astrology Podcast, and then it will display all the different episodes along with the proper images that I have set for each episode. So it’s kind of cool app to just download onto your phone in order to listen to different episodes of the show on the go.
Another app that I would recommend using that we recently got added to is a more popular app called Stitcher. Stitcher allows you to sign up or download the app and then you add a bunch of different topics or shows that you like. It’ll mix together different episodes of that show and let you know when they come out, so it’s also kind of useful and interesting. I don’t like the interface quite as much as Podcast Addict, but I know that there’s a huge user base for Stitcher. So if that’s an app that you already use then you’ll be happy to know that The Astrology Podcast is now available there.
And then, finally, if you use an iPhone, of course you can use iTunes in order to listen to The Astrology Podcast there. I just wanted to mention that because it’s a great way to listen to the show and to follow updates because with those apps, you can subscribe and receive new episodes as soon as they’re available, so definitely check those out. I’ll have some links on the main page for this episode on the website.
Other than that, in terms of news and events, I’ve just returned from the AFA conference in Tempe, Arizona and it went very well. I spoke there and gave talks along with Benjamin Dykes, Demetra George, Deb Houlding, and several other speakers, and it just turned out to be a lovely week for everybody involved.
I also got to see some talks by Austin Coppock–he gave a great talk on the decans–who I interviewed for his book last fall. Joy Usher gave a great talk on sect, Eve Dembowski gave a great talk on horary, and Kenneth Miller–who I’ve also interviewed on the show–gave a great talk on Indian approaches to electional astrology. So I definitely recommend checking out their conferences again in the future.
One of the things that I was impressed by is that they just have an amazing library there. I got to check out the AFA library at their headquarters, which is a large building that they’ve owned for several decades now, and they have what easily has to be the best astrological library in the world.
Part of the reason for that is that the late astrologer James Holden–who I talked about in a previous episode with Demetra–his entire library of astrological texts that he built up over the course of 60 years is now part of the AFA library, and then, more recently, Demetra George donated her entire astrological library to the AFA as well. So you have the combined libraries of these two great scholars of astrology, as well as whatever books the AFA itself already had there, such as original editions of William Lilly’s Christian Astrology and other stuff like that. So if you ever get a chance to visit the AFA offices in Tempe, Arizona, I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Other than that, in terms of events coming up, one month from now, I’ll be speaking at the Northwest Astrological Conference in Seattle. I’m doing a pre-conference workshop on zodiacal releasing that I’m very excited to give. So definitely, if you’re in the area then you might want to look into signing up for that.
I also recently announced that I’ve decided to swing by New York. I’ll be on the East Coast in June to give a lecture and a workshop there. I’m also going to be giving an intensive on zodiacal releasing and timing peak periods in a person’s career and life direction in this day-long workshop in New York, and the space for that is limited. We’ve only got space for about 15 people, so once that fills up, there will be a cut off. So if you’re in the East Coast/New York area then you might want to look into signing up for that. I’ll have links on The Astrology Podcast page for this episode to find out more information.
And then, finally, the OPA retreat, where I’m doing a three-day-long intensive on zodiacal releasing and timing peaks in a person’s career and life direction, space for that is limited to just 10 attendees. We’re about half-full for that right now. We’ve got 5 people out of 10, so it looks like it’s going to fill up pretty quickly over the next month or two. So if you’re interested at all in attending that event, I would recommend looking into it and signing up soon.
All right. I think those are the main pieces of news that I wanted to mention before we get into our main topic, so now we can really move into it.
So what spurred this. I’ve been wanting to do this topic for awhile, but recently I read an article in a journal that came out where the author tried to define astrology. He made a valiant effort, but ultimately, I felt that the end result was somewhat inadequate. He was trying to define astrology but also define other types and other traditions of astrology. There’s nothing that will light a fire under somebody else or under you than reading somebody else’s work on something and saying, “Hey, I could do better.”
So that’s kind of what I wanted to with this episode. Not because I want to be a jerk and make fun of somebody, but because I, myself, am very much interested in defining different concepts in astrology. There’s something that’s particularly interesting and important to me about how we define what we’re doing as astrologers and how we define our technical terminology and how we define the different areas of the subject, or the different approaches to the subject. Some of that probably has to do with having a Mercury-Saturn conjunction in my chart and the idea of how you convey concepts through communication, what sort of boundaries and limitations, and what specific words you use in order to convey those concepts can be very important.
This was also really emphasized to me or has become more important to me over the past 5 or 10 years, for one, due to my involvement with ancient astrology and the process of trying to revive and recover some of the ancient traditions from translations of ancient texts from languages such as Greek and Latin and Arabic, and other languages such as Sanskrit or Hebrew.
You often find that there are points of debate over what an author means when they use specific words sometimes in a specific order, or specific combinations of words in order to define basic astrological concepts. Sometimes you think that if you first glance at a sentence, you’d say that seems pretty simple and straightforward. But in fact, sometimes with some of these definitions, the more you think about it and the more you really look into it and try to think carefully about each word that is used in order to define a concept, the more you realize that some basic ambiguities can really slip into the terminology that we use.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s really important to be very deliberate and very careful about coming up with specific definitions and how we define certain concepts because it’s very easy to end up with two completely different interpretations of the same sentence just based on the ambiguity inherent in any sort of word, or any words in just about any language. You can do things in order to avoid that by being a little bit more deliberate about choosing your words carefully and carefully defining what you’re talking about.
One of our challenges in modern astrology is clearly defining our subject matter and then clearly defining the different applications of the subject matter and clearly defining the different approaches to it. I probably should have given an example. One of the examples that I’ve talked about many times in the podcast in the past is how there’s three different definitions of the Void of Course Moon that are present in the tradition right now, and at least two of them are basically just different interpretations of the same sentence.
Just about everybody gets the definition of the Void of Course Moon from the text of William Lilly–who was an astrologer that lived in the mid-17th century–and he basically says that the Moon is Void of Course when it doesn’t make any other aspects in the sign that it’s currently in. He just says it doesn’t make any other aspects.
For one group of people, the modern definition has come to mean that the Moon is Void of Course when it does not complete any other exact Ptolemaic aspects while it’s in whatever the current sign it is at the moment in the chart that you’re looking at, and then as soon as it moves into the next sign, it’s no longer Void of Course. Whereas another group of astrologers has interpreted that as the Moon is only Void of Course when it is no longer applying within orb of completing an aspect within whatever sign it’s in regardless of sign boundary. So the difference there is that one group is saying the orb doesn’t matter; all that matters is whether the planet completes an aspect while it’s in its current sign.
And then another set of astrologers reading the same passage has interpreted it as meaning the Moon is Void of Course if it does not complete an exact aspect and if it is not within orb of completing. So whatever subjective orb you’re using for the Moon, if it’s not within that orb to complete an aspect then it’s Void of Course regardless of the sign boundary.
That’s not a very clear example, but it’s an example where different astrologers sometimes have different interpretations of the same passage, and because of the ambiguity that’s inherent sometimes in our terminology, you can come to completely different technical doctrines that have wildly different applications in terms of how we actually use the techniques if we’re not careful about defining our subject.
So in order to start out this discussion, I want to start by giving a definition of astrology, or giving my definition of astrology, which I’ve developed over the course of the past 10 years by reading different definitions of astrology and feeling uneasy with many of them, and feeling that a lot of them are kind of inadequate. They aren’t typically broad enough to encompass the entirety of the field and the entirety of what people actually do when they use the term ‘astrology’. What somebody in China is doing if they’re using astrology and using ancient Chinese astrology versus what somebody in the United Kingdom is doing when they’re casting a horary chart and what they’re doing when they’re practicing astrology, one of the issues is that sometimes the definitions of astrology aren’t broad enough to encompass things like that.
The other major issue is that they often are so specific that they are focused on a specific type or a specific conceptualization of astrology, and in doing so, they don’t realize that they’re not accurate because they’re leaving out this whole other group of what other astrologers think. So I guess that, again, runs into an issue of not being broad enough. But that second part has more to do with, typically, the people that define astrology outside of the astrological community aren’t very familiar with it, so they don’t realize that they’re coming up with faulty definitions of the subject.
So my definition of astrology, I outlined and defended in an article on my blog a few years ago, on the Horoscopic Astrology blog, which I’ll link to in the comments for this episode, on The Astrology Podcast website. My definition of astrology is that it is simply “the study of the correlation between celestial objects and earthly events.”
That’s a really broad definition, but the main point that it really has to cover is the notion that there’s some sort of correlation between celestial objects and between movements in the sky–or the placement of certain celestial objects in the sky–and a presumption of some sort of connection between those movements or those placements in the sky and things that happen on Earth. So something happens in the sky and then there is a corresponding or a correlating event that is correlated with that event on Earth.
That sounds like an overly-broad definition, but one of the things that I was trying to deal with is the fact that most definitions of astrology are only focused on the causal conceptualization of astrology where the planets or other celestial objects are thought to directly or indirectly influence events on Earth and actually cause those events to happen.
For example, many of the definitions of astrology say that astrology is the study of how the celestial movements or how the planetary bodies cause or influence human affairs on Earth. Dictionary.com says that astrology is “the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary says “the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.” And then, finally, The Oxford Dictionary, “the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world.”
The issue here is that virtually all definitions of astrology, especially those from outside of the astrological community are based on an assumption that all astrologers believe that the planets literally cause events to happen on Earth. While it’s true that there are many astrologers who hold that position and hold that belief, it’s also true that there’s a large, other group in the astrological community that holds that the planets and stars can act as signs or symbols or omens of events that will occur in the future or are occurring now, without necessarily being the causes of those events happening. And for that reason, it’s inappropriate to include in your basic definition of astrology the presumption that the planets have to directly influence events or influence humans in order for it to be considered astrology.
So that’s one of the things that I deal with in my definition of astrology by simply saying that it’s the study of the correlation between celestial objects and earthly events because then it’s broad enough that it encompasses both categories–both those people who believe that there is a correlation between celestial and earthly events because the planets and the stars are literally causing the things that they correlate with to happen, and the other group who thinks that there’s a correlation between celestial and earthly events due to some unknown reason such as synchronicity. Despite the fact that there’s a correlation, there is not necessarily a causation, at least in the sense that Mercury going retrograde is not causing you to lose your wallet on a specific day, but it’s only acting as a symbol or an omen of that specific event in your life.
So that’s our starting point. Our starting point is the basic definition of astrology, which is overly-broad. But what it makes up for in being overly-broad is that it tends to be more accurate in encompassing these two different approaches to the subject that tend to be held by different astrologers. After that point, we can go into our main focus, which is branches of astrology. Here I want to focus on the four major branches of astrology. I guess I should say from the outset what we’re talking about here primarily is Western astrology, and I’ll define what that is more here in a little bit.
Generally speaking, in Western astrology, there have always traditionally been four major branches of the subject and that’s still basically true to this day. Branches of the subject are the main applications of astrology and this is different than the traditions of astrology, which are different–I want to say practices–but they’re different types of astrology that were practiced in different eras and include different conceptual models and different technical models, different techniques that are unique to those traditions.
Branches of astrology, for the most part, are just applications of the subject that can be used regardless of what tradition you’re in. While there are different traditions that emphasize specific branches or specific applications of astrology, for the most part, any of these branches could be used in any tradition one way or another.
Let’s go into the four major branches of Western astrology. The first one is mundane astrology. Previously, in Hellenistic astrology, it used to be known, and in some academic texts, it’s still referred to as ‘universal astrology’ or ‘general astrology’ based on the Greek term that Ptolemy and other astrologers used in order to refer to it. Nowadays, it’s universally referred to as ‘mundane astrology’.
Mundane astrology is the application of astrology to study large groups of people, such as cities and nations, as well as natural phenomenon that apply to large groups of people, such as weather and earthquakes. Mundane astrology is the type of astrology that applies the most broadly to large swathes of people. It’s not really focused on the individual, but instead it’s focused on the collective.
For example, falling under this branch of astrology would be the different types of astrology that study long-term, historical cycles, and historical astrology itself is a kind of subset of mundane astrology where people will follow different long-term, planetary conjunctions and planetary cycles of outer planets that take decades and sometimes centuries to complete or to recur. For example, in traditional astrology, they would use the Jupiter-Saturn cycles which were divided into levels. But Jupiter and Saturn conjoin or make a conjunction approximately every 200 years, and some of the traditional astrologers, the ancient astrologers noticed that the conjunctions would tend to take place in the same elemental triplicity for about 200 years each.
Every Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, for example, would take place for 200 years in one of the fire signs–in Sagittarius or Aries or Leo–and then after that it would move to another triplicity for 200 years, and so on and so forth, so that it would take almost a thousand years to go a complete way through all of the triplicities. As a result of that, they would develop these broad historical schemes about what the different Jupiter-Saturn cycles coincided with in history. One of the things that they used these cycles for was predicting things like the birth of new religions or the appearance of new religious prophets, for example, in the early Medieval Arabic tradition.
In modern times, outer planet cycles in mundane astrology tend to be focused on other outer planets, such as Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. One of the most famous examples of that is Richard Tarnas’ book, Cosmos and Psyche, where he focuses a lot on some of the outer planet cycles and the different time periods in history that the great conjunctions and other planetary alignments coincided with, such as the birth of different philosophical or religious groups at different points in history, and generally, just broad trends in the development of Western civilization that coincided with major planetary shifts and alignments.
So that’s basically mundane astrology. It’s just taking planetary alignments, especially long-term ones, and looking at them from the broader context of societal trends and different trends in terms of nations and countries and things like that. Other subsets that fall within this branch are things like studying the birth charts, in some instances, of countries or of cities, trying to predict the future of a country based on the birth chart of the founding of that country. For example, a lot of people attempt to find the birth chart of the United States since it was started around a certain time period and then make predictions about the future of the United States based on that chart, and so on and so forth.
There’s many different subsets within mundane astrology and within the other three branches of Western astrology, but the general point is that this branch itself acts as an umbrella under which there are many different applications and many things that you can do, under the general concept that the movement of the planets at different points in time will coincide with major changes to groups of people or to parts of society or to entire societal structures; that’s the general premise underlying mundane astrology.
Next is the second branch. The branches are not usually sequentially numbered, although you could make an argument about the next two and what place they should fall in. But the next branch that I usually number ‘number two’ is natal astrology. The way that I define natal astrology is the concept that the alignment of the planets at the moment of a person’s birth will indicate something about both the nature of their life as well as their future. So both the quality of the person’s life as well as specific events in a person’s life can be determined to some extent by looking at the alignment of the planets at the moment that the person was born.
This is the type of astrology that came next after mundane astrology. First, in Mesopotamia, they developed mundane astrology and they were practicing that for several centuries. Then at some point, by the 5th century, they had developed the ability to make an ephemeris; essentially a book of planetary positions that’ll tell you where the planets were in the past as well as where they’ll be in the future.
Not long after the invention of that, we find the introduction of the concept of natal astrology partially because if a person comes to you as an adult, in order to know where the planets were at the moment they were born, you really need a book that lists those planetary positions. And if you don’t have anything like that then you’re out of luck, unless you happen to be there witnessing the specific positions of the planets at the moment of the person’s birth.
Natal astrology is probably the most widespread type of astrology nowadays. Typically, most people when they think of astrology, they tend to think of natal astrology. That’s partially because of the prevalence and the widespread use of Western astrology, but also, the specific subsets of natal astrology that become useful in that context, that have become more popularized, such as Sun sign astrology; the notion that the position of the Sun on the day that you were born has something to say about your overall character and personality, and perhaps your future to some extent. I think most people are aware of Sun sign columns. But natal astrology, at least generally, when it was developed in the Mesopotamian tradition and then later in the Hellenistic tradition included all of the planets as well as the concept of the houses and aspects and other somewhat more advanced concepts like that.
Natal astrology, of course, is a huge branch of astrology. It’s probably the most not just widely-known, but also, widely-used, and it has the most subsets within it since there’s many different things that you can do with natal charts and there’s many different applications of natal astrology. You can do things like synastry, which is where you compare, for example, two different people’s natal charts. You can do transit analysis to a natal chart, such as looking at where the planets will be on a specific day in the future and comparing that to where they were at the moment of a person’s birth.
You can do all sorts of other timing techniques in addition to transits and other subsets, such as astrolocality, which has been developed more recently, which is figuring out how a person will experience different parts of the world or different locations based on if you relocate the chart to different cities in different countries, and where the planets would be placed if the person’s natal chart was adjusted to those locations. Essentially, there’s a ton of different applications of natal astrology, but all of them get tied back to this basic premise of the natal chart and natal astrology in general, and this broad notion that the alignment of the planets at the time of a person’s birth will indicate things about the quality of the person’s life as well as their future.
So that’s the second branch of astrology. The third branch of astrology is nowadays typically known as electional astrology, although it’s really more properly known as ‘inceptional astrology’. The reason for this is because in this third branch, the premise is–depending on how you want to frame it–it takes the concept of natal astrology and says that it’s not just people who have birth charts, but instead, events have birth charts and countries have birth charts. Basically, anything that starts or is born at a specific moment in time, you can cast a chart for that moment in time and it will tell you about the quality of what was started at that time as well as its future.
This is why inceptional astrology is the more accurate term because there’s an application of this type of astrology where you can do it proactively, which is electional astrology. You take the notion that if the alignment of the planets the moment that something begins indicates something about its future, then by that logic the astrologer should be able to pick specific moments in the future that would be more positive or more auspicious for certain types of things in order to guarantee a more favorable outcome for whatever the person is trying to accomplish.
So to manipulate when to start something or to achieve a more positive outcome, or in order to achieve a specific type of outcome by manipulating the beginning that’s essentially what electional astrology is, and it’s tied into this broader concept of inceptions or of inceptional astrology, which is just the notion that the chart cast for the beginning of anything indicates things about its quality as well as its future.
It’s just tied into this basic concept that the potentiality of anything is embedded in the moment that it begins, and for that reason, you can cast a chart either proactively–which is an electional chart–in order to pick or choose a specific moment in the future to begin something, or you can cast a chart just passively–an inception chart–for the beginning of the venture in order to see what the outcome will be, even if you’re not manipulating that or going out of your way to choose a specific moment to begin something. You can still cast a chart to look at the moment that something began even if it was in the past in order to study its future.
Within that, of course, within this third branch there are many different applications. One of them that we talked about earlier was casting a chart for the founding of a country. Many people use the July 4th chart for the United States in order to make predictions about the future of the country. You can cast charts for the birth of countries. Many modern astrologers cast charts for the start of businesses and companies as a part of an application of business or financial astrology in order to predict things about the future of a company and its success or failure.
Other people use electional astrology for things like timing when to get married and picking a specific chart or a specific alignment of planets for two people to get married or sign a contract. Another application that I’ve talked about in previous episodes has been using electional or inceptional astrology to study presidential campaigns; the idea that when a person announces and launches their presidential campaign, the alignment of the planets at the moment that that happens will tell you about their success or failure in the future. It’ll tell you about their potential for success.
There’s many different applications of electional or inceptional astrology because it’s essentially anything outside of natal astrology, outside of studying the moment of a person’s birth. It’s any other type of birth or beginning, any event or any venture that has a clear beginning that you can cast a chart for. So a clear beginning meaning primarily a specific moment in time, like saying that I’m getting married tomorrow, hypothetically, at 5:30 PM. It has a specific time where you can cast a full astrological chart, a full horoscopic chart with the Ascendant, and the houses, and aspects, and planets, and so on and so forth.
Most Western electional astrology is based on being able to cast a complete chart for a specific moment in time. Although certainly the broader idea and the broader application of the technique also allows for a more general application (e.g., if you have to take a trip or fly to a different country on Monday or Tuesday, which one of those days, broadly speaking, would be better based on the positions of the planets, even if you can’t control the exact time of departure). So electional astrology can be used very specifically, primarily to study exact birth charts of events and ventures, or it can be used more generally just to study different points in time that are more or less auspicious for different types of things. It’s essentially the same application, it’s just a matter of whether you can use the exact time or whether you can only look at a specific day or what have you, so that’s the third branch.
Finally, the fourth branch is horary or interrogational astrology. It’s more commonly known as horary astrology today, but in the Medieval tradition, it was originally referred to either as ‘interrogational astrology’ or as ‘questions’ because it’s essentially the astrology of questions. The astrologer casts the chart for the moment that a client asks them a question, and based on the planetary positions in that chart, they’ll be able to tell them what the outcome of the question will be. Sometimes the chart will describe not just the nature of the question that was asked at that time, but it will also describe the outcome of the question.
This is a type of astrology that I’ve talked about a few different times in the past. I had my own unique argument previously that horary didn’t develop until the Medieval tradition, and I’ve had to go back and revise that over the course of the past year or two after evidence came out that there was at least one reference to it in the 1st century text of Dorotheus, where Dorotheus clearly seems to have referred to casting a chart for the moment that somebody asks you a question about an event if you do not know the time that the event itself actually occurred. So part of my inference from that was that horary partially developed out of inceptional astrology as the next best thing. If you couldn’t get the time for the actual inception or beginning of an event, you could cast a chart for the moment that one of the concerned parties comes to you and asks about that specific event.
After that point, it seems to have developed and become this whole separate branch on its own, so that horary is generally regarded as a full-fledged, separate, fourth branch at this point rather than just a subset of electional or inceptional astrology, even if initially it may have begun in that way as a next-best inceptional chart. Nowadays, there’s people who will practice horary almost exclusively, so that it has almost its own status as a fourth branch. Traditionally, by the late Medieval tradition, it was viewed as a fourth branch of astrology and there’s many different applications and many different subsets within that branch in and of itself.
That kind of brings us to the end of the first section of this, which is the four branches of astrology: mundane astrology, natal astrology, electional astrology/inceptional astrology, and then the fourth branch which is horary/interrogational astrology. There have been other applications of astrology that have developed in modern times, but for the most part, you can really find a way to fit just about any of the newer applications of astrology under one of these four branches. Even though there’s been some question about whether it needs to be expanded at this point, I haven’t really seen any good arguments for expanding it beyond the traditional four branches. Just about every application of astrology I can think of at this point or every type of astrology fits under one of these four branches.
There are other things like rectification, which really is just a subset of natal astrology because you’re just trying to figure out what time a person was born if you’re rectifying their chart, so that just takes you back to the concept of natal astrology. There’s synastry and composite charts, but those still just involve the natal charts, so that’s like a subset of natal astrology again. There’s all sorts of things like this where while there might be new applications of astrology, or new ways that it’s being used, in most cases, all of those will fall under one of these four branches.
So that brings us to the next section, which is traditions of astrology. When we talk about traditions of astrology, first, we have to distinguish our main focus. Our main focus here is going to be defining traditions of Western astrology. And I say that because that narrows our scope a little bit, although not too much because, as you’ll see, the tradition of Western astrology has actually been very long and had several different distinct phases.
When I’m talking about traditions of Western astrology, part of what I’m talking about is different phases in the development of Western astrology in different eras, which are unique, while not fully independent. Sometimes a person can go back and just practice that specific type of astrology and be semi-independent from all of the other traditions.
The other thing is that Western astrology itself can be contrasted with other types of astrology that developed in isolation from it, such as Chinese astrology. For the most part, my understanding is that Chinese astrology developed independently of Western astrology, although recently I’ve seen there may have been some interaction where some Western texts on astrology may have found their way to China and influenced the development of astrology there. But for the most part, Chinese astrology seems like it has its own philosophical and cosmological presuppositions so that it’s distinct.
Similarly, Mesoamerican astrology developed in complete isolation on its own. So this includes things like Mayan astrology from which we got the Mayan calendar thing surrounding 2012. That type of astrology also obviously developed in isolation from what was going on in China or going on in Mesopotamia or Egypt and it has some interesting things about it, but we’re not necessarily going to go into it because it’s a separate tradition from Western astrology.
And then finally, we also have Indian astrology which itself is unique and has a very broad tradition that is in many ways very different from Western astrology. Although, as we’ll see, Indian astrology out of all of them is the closest cousin to Western astrology because of some interactions between India and the West in ancient times. Let’s talk about the different traditions of Western astrology of which there are many different subsets.
Our first subset, or our first tradition, if you trace the history of Western astrology all the way back, is Mesopotamian astrology. Mesopotamian astrology is the type of astrology that developed in Iraq and the surrounding areas in what is known as ancient Mesopotamia, somewhere around 2000 to 1500 BCE. So we’re talking about 3,500 to 4,000 years ago from the present time.
The type of astrology that developed here originally was primarily mundane astrology. So they were primarily just recording astrological observations on tiny, little clay tablets; they would record them as omens. And there’s some debate about this, how much of this was from empirical observations versus how much of this was from theorizing what certain celestial omens in the sky meant in terms of events on Earth. They would record things like the eclipse of the Sun in a certain part of the sky will indicate the death of a king. Eventually, over time, over the centuries, they built up these large libraries of astrological observations and astrological omens on these tiny clay tablets. And as things progressed, astrology started to get more complex and get more further developed. They started coming up with different concepts and ideas and things got more advanced.
I don’t want to give a full history of astrology here because I’ve done that elsewhere, and I don’t know that it’s fully necessary here, so I’ll hold off from going into all of the details. Suffice it to say, Mesopotamian astrology developed about 4,000 years ago. It was practiced all the way until approximately the 1st century BC. At that point, what happens is by the late Mesopotamian tradition, they started to develop more advanced concepts of astrology.
They developed the concept of natal astrology. They developed planetary significations and meanings, so that they’re starting to group the planets into different categories such as benefic and malefic. There may even be some rudimentary concept of aspects starting to come about, although it’s not clear. They’ve already developed and standardized the zodiac to include 12 signs of 30 degrees each. Although, at least as far as we can tell, most of the qualities that later became associated with the zodiacal signs did not exist yet at this point in the Mesopotamian tradition, but nonetheless, their astronomy and their astrology is growing increasingly more and more complex.
So that’s Mesopotamian astrology, approximately 2,000 BC to about the 1st century BC. Around the same time, we have ancient Egyptian astrology being practiced from approximately 2,000 BC until about, again, the 1st century BCE. Ancient Egyptian astrology focused on the decans, which were dividing the ecliptic into 36, 10-degree segments, many of which were associated with specific fixed stars.
This is something that I talked about pretty extensively when I interviewed Austin Coppock about his book on the decans that came out just last summer, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time going into. But the main point is just that Egyptian astrology was practiced parallel to Mesopotamian astrology around the same time period, from about 2,000 BC to about the 1st century BC.
Then we get to the next tradition, which is Hellenistic astrology which appears sometime around the 1st century BCE. Hellenistic astrology was practiced until approximately the 7th century CE, so for a good seven or eight centuries. And what happened is that both Egypt and Mesopotamia, the two geographical areas we were talking about–their independent astrological systems being developed prior to this time; the zodiac in Mesopotamia and then the decans in Egypt–suddenly were conquered by Greek-speaking rulers.
Basically, Alexander the Great’s armies came out of Europe and conquered Egypt and then Mesopotamia, and as a result of that these two different cultures got merged together in some sense and there was a lot of exchange going on between the two of them. The result of that is that a couple of centuries later, we have the emergence of a new type of astrology, which is Hellenistic astrology, and Hellenistic astrology really represents the birth of most of the basic concepts of Western astrology. So at this point, we get the introduction of the fourfold system of Western astrology which has persisted since that time, which is the system that involves the planets, the signs of the zodiac, the 12 houses, and finally, the aspects.
So that fourfold system shows up at this time with the beginning of the Hellenistic tradition in the 1st century BCE; that system is then practiced for the next few centuries. One of the interesting things that happens is that by the 2nd century, there’s a lot of trade that was going on between the Greek-speaking people in Egypt and Rome. By this time, the Romans had taken over most of the Mediterranean, including Egypt, and the Romans were trading and had boats that were going from Egypt to India back and forth each year, and so, there’s a lot of trade going on.
What appears to have happened, or what some scholars think happened is that there was a book on Greek astrology, on Hellenistic astrology, that went from a trading ship in Egypt over to India and was translated into Sanskrit, and then the astrology that was contained in that book got merged with the indigenous astrology from India–which was based on the 27-sign, lunar zodiac known as the nakshatras–and then that lunar astrology was merged with the Greek astrology that they got from the translated Greek text and it created this new type of astrology in India.
Indian astrology basically was practiced from approximately the 2nd century CE all the way to the present, and there’s many different subsets of astrology within India, in many different traditions of astrology that we don’t necessarily have the time to go into. For example, there are distinct phases, where there’s a distinct phase of early Indian astrology. And then there’s a distinct phase of Medieval Indian astrology where they’ve got the influx of some texts in Arabic that are being translated into Sanskrit–and that creates the Tajika tradition around the Medieval period–and then we have some developments later on after that.
But generally speaking, Indian astrology is the type of astrology that was practiced in India from the 2nd century CE all the way through to the present. One minor thing that I should mention quickly here is a debate that’s come up in recent times over the naming convention of Indian astrology. I’m still working out how this happened, but a minor annoyance of mine is that Indian astrology today, especially in the West, is often referred to as Vedic astrology. That’s a little problematic because one of the things about Indian astrology is that it’s very much tied into the religious beliefs in India; it’s very well-integrated into Hinduism.
And so, many of the practitioners of astrology in India and many Westerners who adopt the type of astrology that’s practiced in India also convert to Hinduism. Part of the general religious assumption is that astrology was revealed to astrologers in ancient times by divine seers in the Vedic period. So there’s this general assumption based on religious grounds that Indian astrology is extremely old and is very much tied in with the religion.
In recent times, some Western astrologers started this movement–and I’m under the impression, or I’m told at least by some Indian astrologers themselves that it was originally a Western thing–to start calling it Vedic astrology in order to really push this point that it was the original form of astrology in some sense, or at least to push the point that it’s much older than many academic scholars say that type of astrology is.
So there’s this debate, and it’s kind of a touchy debate because it’s tied in with religious issues of what to call Indian astrology. I prefer to call it Indian astrology because it’s the type of astrology that was developed in India; it’s primarily practiced in India. Even if you’re practicing it outside of that the central focus of that type of astrology is that it originated in India during a certain timeframe, and it carries with it many of the cultural and religious connotations of that culture, in the same way we call it Hellenistic astrology because it was developed during a specific timeframe in the late Hellenistic period, and it carries many Greek and Egyptian cultural connotations with it. Similarly, I think Indian astrology is the most appropriate designation for general discussions about this topic.
One of my personal objections to calling it Vedic astrology is there’s not a lot of evidence that Indian astrology was practiced as far back as the ancient Vedic texts, which are 1,000 or 2,000 years BCE, when most of the evidence seems to indicate that Indian astrology developed much more recently, sometime around the 1st or 2nd century CE. So calling it Vedic astrology is a bit problematic because then you implicitly acknowledge what may be a mistake in historical argument about Indian astrology being much older or much more ancient than it actually is.
This is also tied in with a separate debate about whether Indian astrology was influenced at all by Hellenistic, or by Greek astrology, which some practitioners of Indian astrology really argue, not aggressively, but they’re against the idea that Indian astrology was influenced by Greek astrology. They say that, if anything, Greek astrology came from and was influenced by Indian astrology.
So we’ve got kind of a delicate situation there in terms of what to call Indian astrology. Some people use a completely different convention; they call it Hindu astrology. That was much more common earlier in the 20th century; they referred to it as Hindu astrology. I don’t know if anybody still uses that terminology today. I’m not sure if Hindu astrology is even fully appropriate as a designation either because then it presupposes that anybody practicing it is definitely a Hindu.
While in the vast majority of instances, I’m sure that that’s the case. I’m not sure that that’s always the case, and therefore, it may not be appropriate to call it Hindu astrology if the person practicing it isn’t necessarily Hindu. And if Hinduism isn’t necessarily a required prerequisite to practice that specific type of astrology then that may not be a good term for it or a good definition to use. So your two definitions that you can use for this are Indian astrology or Vedic astrology. I’ve explained why I prefer to use the term Indian astrology, and you’re free to decide which you would prefer on your own.
So that brings us back to the Western tradition. Hellenistic astrology was practiced from the 1st century BC to the 7th century CE. Then what happens is we have the fall of the Roman Empire and the loss of learning in Europe as well as a few other things. Eventually, we have the onset of the Middle Ages and then we have a revival of astrology by the 8th century. This is when we get the beginning of what’s usually referred to as Medieval astrology. Medieval astrology is practiced from approximately the 8th century through the 13th century.
There’s two different, semi-distinct phases to Medieval astrology. The first phase is the Arabic tradition where we have a new empire–the Muslim Empire–that grows out of Saudi Arabia and grows to take up most of the Mediterranean and parts of Southern Europe, most of Persia, parts of Northern Africa, and so on and so forth.
So it becomes a huge empire, and astrology, initially, for a couple of centuries really flourishes there in the 8th and 9th centuries because Western civilization had declined at that point, or at least the Roman Empire had declined and astrology went with it. But the new Arabic Empire was very much open to Western learning and Western wisdom, and they made great efforts to translate a lot of the older texts on astrology that were written in Greek and Latin and Sanskrit and inherit some of that wisdom, or some of those astrological techniques and revive them.
So what happens is we get this revival of astrology during the early Medieval period, around the 8th century. It flourishes there for a couple of centuries. And then by the end of this, by the 11th and 12th century, what happens is that astrology starts getting revived a little bit in Europe, and a bunch of European scholars start flocking to Spain in order to translate texts from Arabic into Latin.
And so, this is where we get the second phase of the Medieval tradition, which is the Latin revival of astrology in Europe, where a bunch of these scholars start translating a bunch of Arabic texts into Latin, since Latin was the educated language in Europe at that time that everybody spoke.
So that’s Medieval astrology, which is 8th century to the 13th century with a subset where the early part of it is the Arabic tradition and the later part of it is more of the Latin tradition. Then after that we get another tradition where we don’t really have a very good name for it. I’ve settled on Renaissance astrology following Christopher Warnock essentially.
Renaissance astrology is, roughly speaking, from about the 14th century to the 17th century. So it’s not fully coinciding with the Renaissance necessarily, but most of the other suggestions for names for this part of the tradition aren’t very good. Somebody suggested calling it Elizabethan astrology, which kind of applies to some of the astrologers like Lilly, but not very well for some of the others. It’s essentially the type of astrology that’s bookended by the invention of the printing press and the proliferation of astrological texts that came about in Europe as a result of that. And then at the tail end of it, in the 17th century, it’s bookended by the decline of astrology in Europe and the loss of interest and essentially recognition of the subject, where astrology started falling out of the universities and out of favor in intellectual circles.
The early astrologers of the 14th and 15th century, there’s a few notable ones, but the main one that Renaissance astrologers tend to be focused on is Wiliam Lilly in the 17th century. Around 1650, he published Christian Astrology, which was the first English language book on astrology; the first complete English book on astrology.
It’s interesting because we get the first English book on astrology right at the very end of the Renaissance tradition, then astrology falls into obscurity for a couple of centuries only to start being revived again in the late 19th and early 20th century. So we get this century or two of not much happening in the astrological world or astrological community, and then eventually we get a revival of astrology in the early 20th century. This becomes what’s generally referred to as modern astrology. From the early 20th century onto approximately the present time, in the early 21st century, is essentially modern astrology.
Modern astrology is unique partially because of the discovery of new celestial bodies, such as the outer planets. So it’s the type of astrology that occurred after the revival of astrology in the 19th and early 20th century and after the scientific revolution with the discovery of new astronomical and new celestial bodies, such as the discovery of Uranus and Neptune and Pluto. So modern astrology incorporates new astronomical concepts and astronomical bodies, such as the outer planets. It also incorporates new concepts as well, such as depth psychology and other things related to character analysis.
Within modern astrology we have many different subsets, such as psychological astrology. We have the different forms of what can broadly be referred to as esoteric astrology. There’s many different things called esoteric astrology, but most of esoteric astrology is different subsets of Theosophy and spiritualism that was revived in the 19th and early 20 century and the general New Age movement which led to different types of spiritual astrology.
We also in modern astrology have the invention of Uranian astrology and cosmobiology, which uses things like midpoints. Uranian astrology at least uses hypothetical planets which may or may not exist. They use other things such as antiscia, which is to some extent an ancient technique, although they use it in new and innovative ways.
We also have the introduction of other concepts such as astrolocality, which is finding different places for a person to live on the Earth based on where certain planets will be more prominent in their birth chart. We also at some point later in the 20th century have the introduction of things like Michel Gauquelin’s Neo-Astrology, which is the idea that we should completely rebuild astrology anew based on only those factors that can be proven statistically, or proven in a scientific context, and that we should get rid of any pieces of astrology that cannot be demonstrated statistically.
Of course, we also have the development and invention of Sun sign astrology as a unique concept on its own. Some people started writing astrology columns for newspapers, and Sun sign astrology was just a good way to standardize astrology so you could write it for the masses. That became a very popular and a very well-known form of astrology in modern times, even though it’s only one piece of the broader astrological picture or broader piece of astrology. So that’s modern astrology essentially from the early 20th century to the present.
And then finally, we have a new thing–and I don’t really know if it’s even appropriate to attempt to define it here–but some people, myself included, have been calling it post-modern astrology. The revival of traditional astrology over the past 20 years or so through translations of ancient texts has led some people to go back and start practicing some of the types of astrology that were used prior to the 20th century, such as Renaissance astrology, or Medieval astrology, or Hellenistic astrology.
So some people are going back and practicing those traditions in isolation, so that they’re only practicing those traditions, and they consider themselves to be a Renaissance astrologer, or a Medieval astrologer, or a practitioner of Hellenistic astrology, or what have you. Whereas, other people are taking some of those traditions and the concepts that they’ve learned from them and then merging them with some modern techniques, such as the outer planets, and that’s leading to a synthesis between older forms of astrology and the newer forms of astrology.
The question is what comes after “modern” astrology? 20th century astrologers often refer to themselves as modern astrologers, so the question is what comes after this now that there’s a revival of older forms of astrology? Some people, almost tongue-in-cheek, refer to it as post-modern astrology, but I’m sure somebody will come up with potentially a better name for it at some point in time. But for now, it’s just whatever the type of astrology is that’s emerging right now that comes after the type of astrology that developed after the revival in the 20th century.
So those are the main traditions of astrology, and that was kind of a long overview, but the basic gist of it is the traditions that you need to remember and know about are Mesopotamian astrology, which is from 2,000 BC to the 1st century BC, then Egyptian astrology, which is also approximately from about 2,000 BC to about the 1st century BC. Then there’s Hellenistic astrology, which is from the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE. Then there’s Indian astrology, which is approximately from the 2nd century CE to the present.
Then there’s Medieval astrology from the 8th century to the 13th century. There’s Renaissance astrology from the 14th century to the 17th century, and then modern astrology from the 20th century to the early 21st century, and finally, whatever the present is, which we’ll refer to as post-modern astrology for our present purposes.
So those are the different traditions and branches of astrology. As you can see, the traditions of astrology, the different traditions of Western astrology, primarily relate to different eras in the history of astrology. There were certain types of techniques that were practiced during those times and there were certain branches of astrology that were often emphasized or sometimes present or sometimes completely absent. But for the most part, the traditions, they designate different time periods, but also oftentimes have different cultural implications as well as different philosophical implications about the types of philosophical and religious and cultural concepts that come along with those time periods. There’s something about the culture of those time periods that becomes relevant with each of those traditions. So those are the traditions.
And then, of course, as we talked about earlier, we have the four branches, and many of those branches were present in different forms, in different traditions, except in Mesopotamian astrology, they primarily did mundane and then later in their tradition some natal. In the Hellenistic tradition, they did mundane, they primarily focused on natal, and there was some electional and inceptional. We have only a tiny bit of evidence for horary, so we don’t have much evidence of how they would have practiced that.
In Medieval astrology, by that point, we have all four branches. We have mundane, natal, electional, and horary. In Renaissance, we basically have the same thing, although there’s definitely a shift, especially by the time of William Lilly. Many people commonly say that Lilly is really good with horary, which he addresses first, but he’s not as strong with natal astrology, so there’s more of an emphasis on horary astrology in at least the Renaissance astrology of William Lilly.
And then finally, in modern astrology, we have all of the branches, but at least in some of the subsets–for example, psychological astrology–there’s much more of a focus towards natal astrology because of the focus on psychological analysis, so other branches, such as horary especially do not show up as prominently. And even to some extent, electional and mundane astrology get downplayed a bit in modern astrology because of more of the focus on character analysis and psychological analysis through the birth chart.
So in different traditions, different branches of astrology are emphasized, but for the most part, for the past 2,000 years, all four of the primary branches have been present to some extent or another.
That’s my brief overview of the four branches of astrology and the different traditions of Western astrology. Some of the details are a little bit unclear I’m sure at this point since this wasn’t supposed to be a detailed lecture on the history of astrology, although I have given that before, so you can look that up. I think there’s a lecture for sale on the sidebar of The Astrology Podcast that shows the development of Western astrology through the lens of the Uranus-Neptune conjunctions which occur about every 175 years, which is a more well-put together history of astrology. Here I was just trying to give you some familiarity with the terminology used to refer to the different traditions as well as the terminology used to refer to the four branches of astrology.
In later episodes, it would probably be good to come back to this theme of defining specific concepts. Now that we’ve defined the broadest concepts–which are the four branches and then the different subsets or the different traditions of astrology–we can talk more freely about the definition of some specific astrological techniques and concepts, and see if we can come to a clearer definition of some of those things at this time.
I’ve already done some of that, for example, with my discussions of the Void of Course Moon in the past, or my recent discussion about reception with Ryan Butler just a few episodes ago. But I’d like to come back to this again just because defining some of these basic concepts is so important. If we don’t clearly define them then some of the concepts can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted in the future as they’re passed off to other generations and as they’re passed off to other cultures.
And one of the things that’s interesting right now is that so much astrology is being revived right now in the English-speaking world. There are so many translations of ancient texts that are being revived now by traditional astrologers that are speaking English or are native English speakers that it’s interesting seeing some of those concepts being translated into other languages, such as Chinese, or such as Spanish, or German, or what have you.
One of the things that I’m interested in being very careful about is just being clear about how we define the specific technical concepts that we’re using in English. That way, when other people try to translate those concepts into their own language, they have a really clear guide to go off of, and there’s not as much room for ambiguity.
I guess your homework assignment then is to think about some of the basic concepts that you use in astrology and how you would define that if you had to write a definition of it, which is something that I’m in the process of doing frequently through my website, theastrologydictionary.com.
So if you had to sit down and write a definition of aspect, what is an aspect? How would you define that? How would you need to define it in order to avoid any ambiguity or any misunderstandings regarding what you are trying to convey?
One of the things that you’ll find is that that’s actually sometimes a lot more difficult than you think it is to define a concept without any ambiguity or without any misunderstandings. So try to do that and try to define some basic concepts and see what happens and let me know what your results are.
Okay, that’s it for this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Thank you very much for listening, and I’ll see you next time.