The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 383, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Abi Millar
Episode originally released on January 22, 2023
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 1, 2023
Copyright © 2023 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hey, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is a recording of an interview that I did with a journalist named Abi Millar who’s a science journalist that is writing a book titled The Spirituality Gap where she’s gonna explore a range of different spiritual practices and examine how people make sense of life in the modern world. So as a science reporter Abi was approaching the subject from more of a skeptical perspective, but she said that she hoped to maintain a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness. She asked me if I wanted to do an interview for a chapter of the book that’s gonna be on astrology, and I said that I would agree under the condition that we could record and release the discussion as an episode of my podcast, which she agreed to do. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to record an episode with somebody who is skeptical but curious about astrology and to sort of demonstrate how I would personally answer some of the questions about astrology that naturally come up in that context. In some ways this is a continuation of a similar approach that I took in Episode 288 of The Astrology Podcast, which was entitled “Explaining Astrology to Non-Astrologers.” And if you enjoy this episode then I’d recommend checking that one out as well. All right, let’s get started with the interview.
CB: Hey, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Joining me today is Abi Millar, and we’re gonna be doing an interview where you have some questions related to a book that you’re writing about a number of different things. So could you first, you know, tell me a little bit about yourself and about this book that you’re working on?
ABI MILLAR: Hi, Chris. Well, thanks for having me on the podcast. It’s really nice to speak to you today. So my name’s Abi Millar. I’m a British journalist, and I’m working on a book called The Spirituality Gap, which is going to be published by Duckworth Books in late ‘24, early ‘25. And the book is sort of profiling different forms of spirituality that have emerged as a traditional religion has declined; so astrology’s obviously one big example. I’m also going to be looking at practices like tarot, Reiki, even psychedelics, meditation. And yeah, so that’s why I’m speaking to you today. I thought that you’d be a really interesting person to speak to for the astrology chapter.
CB: Cool. Awesome. And you’ve done a lot of journalism. Your journalism has focused on science reporting primarily in the past up to the point.
AM: That’s correct, yes.
CB: Okay, got it. All right, cool. Well, why don’t we start with your first question where I think you wanted to ask about my background, right?
AM: Absolutely. So I’m really interested in why you became an astrologer and what your own journey towards it involved. So at what point in your life did you discover astrology? And what was it about it that appealed to you or convinced you of its relevance?
CB: Sure. So I discovered astrology, advanced astrology beyond Sun signs—I think everybody has some basic familiarity of Sun signs relatively early in life—but I discovered it late in my teen years, the concept of birth charts. It was around the year 1999 and it was the turn of the millennium and I started studying some books on Nostradamus and got into some New Age things, and one of the things that I discovered through that was the concept of the birth chart and transits and the idea that astrology was more complex than I thought previously. And I really began studying it very intensely from that point and decided that that’s what I wanted to focus on and study, including going to college for that after high school in order to focus my studies on astrology. And while I eventually stopped and sort of fell out of interest with some of the New Age and other types of things that I was focused on up to that point, astrology was the one thing that stuck with me because I thought that there was an empirical component to it that I could validate through repeated observations. So that was the reason why I decided to continue pursuing that and focusing on it, in addition to just that I found it really fascinating the concept that that should work at all, or that the concept of a birth chart could work at all.
AM: That is really interesting.
CB: Yeah, I mean, realistically, as a normal, Western person that has always had an interest in, you know, science or has a genuine interest or grew up learning basic things like that, you know, we grow up in a cultural circumstance where there’s not really a place for astrology and that’s not really something that we think should work or does work. And yet, for some reason, seeing that it did, there was something very fascinating to me about that, that something like that could work and what that said about the nature of the world and cosmology and all sorts of things like that. And I found some of those questions so fascinating that I just wanted to pursue that and try to take it as far as I could.
AM: Poking at the cosmology of it, I mean, that’s something that I’m really curious about. So for the time being at least I’ve characterized myself as a skeptic when it comes to astrology, although I will say I’m very open-minded at the same time. And my main reasoning for that is even if, as you say, it does work, I can see no reason why it should work. So can you tell me a little bit about the sort of cosmology or worldview that underlies it? And why exactly should the position of the stars at the moment of somebody’s birth tell you anything about what’s gonna happen to them in life?
CB: Sure. Yeah, I think the basic definition of astrology, my basic definition and my summary of most traditions of astrology and what they all have in common is this basic premise that there’s persistent correlation between celestial movements and earthly events, and that’s it, that’s the basic definition of astrology. And there’s different branches of astrology or different applications of astrology that take that basic premise and apply it in different ways. For example, the oldest form of astrology is mundane astrology, which is that major celestial movements will sometimes correlate with major events on Earth that affect lots of people.
For example, like if an eclipse happened in the ancient world and then a king died at the same time that would be viewed as a correlation between a celestial movement that happened in the sky that then affected an entire city or kingdom or what have you. And that premise is also extended to other concepts or other branches such as natal astrology, which is the premise that the alignment of the planets at the moment that an individual is born will say something about both their character, the nature of their life, as well as their future. And I think that’s the type of astrology that most people are familiar with, but all of that just goes back to the basic premise that there’s a correlation between celestial movements and earthly events.
AM: Yeah, so that’s really interesting especially because, as you say, there’s an element of empirical observation involved there, which ties into a question I had of whether you consider astrology to be a science, per se. And I know there’s some kind of debate over what constitutes a science vs. a pseudo-science, where do you draw the line between the two. But do you feel like it’s missing the point to be talking about astrology in scientific terms at all? Should we be thinking about it more as maybe an art form or as a religion? Or is it really a kind of scientific pursuit as far as you’re concerned?
CB: I mean, well, you’d have to answer the question, first, is the premise true? Like are there actually correlations between celestial movements and earthly events? ‘Cause if that’s true then it’s reflecting something about a basic property that’s occurring in nature, and therefore, that is something that’s sort of within the purview of science to the extent that science is just trying to understand the nature of the cosmos and understand the nature of different things that are actually occurring in nature, different phenomena. So I think to that extent that it’s studying something, a legitimate property in nature, it’s scientific in what it’s trying to accomplish. But whether it’s developed based on the principles that are usually applied in a modern scientific setting, like the scientific method, then astrology’s not usually developed or practiced in that context because astrology hasn’t been part of universities or the mainstream scientific paradigm for several centuries now. So it wouldn’t constitute a science in the sense that it’s not usually being practiced in that sort of strict scientific context.
AM: And you say that it hasn’t been treated as a science for a few centuries. My understanding of astrology—which is fairly basic—is that if you look into the distant past, astrology and astronomy were treated almost as two sides of the same coin, or they were the same discipline before eventually they diverged and astronomy was continued to be seen as respectable science, whereas astrology didn’t. And I know you’re a lot more well-versed in the history of astrology than I am, so I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about what happened there.
CB: Sure. I mean, I don’t know if there’s a debate about this, but there’s a common presumption in texts both on the history of astronomy and the history of astrology that astrology and astronomy have always intertwined and that they used to be one and the same in the ancient world. And I think there’s a certain extent to which that’s true, to the extent that there have been famous astronomers who were also astrologers like Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century or later Johannes Kepler or even Galileo. But I think there has always been somewhat of a distinction where astronomy has been about the observation and measurement of the heavens, while astrology is about the study of the correlations between celestial movements and earthly events, and those are kind of distinct things. Even though they’re both, you know, focused on a similar area—they’re focused on the sky and they’re drawing on similar data—there’s still a distinction there. One of the objections I’ve had is that they’ve not always been one and the same, even though they have somewhat parallel paths due to the common things that they’re drawing on to a certain extent. So I guess I wanted to say that first just to establish that. Does that make sense?
AM: Yeah, it does, it does.
CB: Yeah, and I think that’s why, you know, part of my argument for that is that, on the one hand, while you have famous, you know, astrologers like Ptolemy who wrote a work on astrology, he also wrote a separate work on astronomy, and those were sort of separate books basically rather than just like combined treatments of astrology and astronomy. And I think if there had been absolutely no distinction between astronomy and astrology that, you know, those would have been merged much more or treated at the same time rather than being treated separately. So, you know, that’s like a minor point but it’s kind of an important point perhaps even though they were more intertwined. And if you go further back into the Babylonian tradition, you did have these long traditions, sometimes family traditions of people going out and looking at the stars every night and doing observational astronomy, but also then sometimes writing down correlations of events that happened on Earth at the same time. And maybe astronomy and astrology were a bit more merged at that point, but centuries later, when they’re writing separate works on astronomy and astrology, I think there’s at least some divergence already happening there relatively early on.
AM: Interesting. And why would you say it was that astrology actually fell out of favor, whereas astronomy itself didn’t?
CB: Sure. So one of the issues is that the fall of astrology had a lot more to do with a paradigm shift that occurred in the Renaissance, especially during the relatively quick succession of events that changed our cosmology. And that kind of rendered the cosmology that had been used up to that point obsolete and astrology was kind of like an incidental casualty of that in some ways. So it’s like you have a scientific paradigm that exists all the way up until that point—not even just that scientific paradigm, but that cosmology or worldview is suddenly overthrown and astrology just happened to be connected with it up to that point, so astrology becomes just like an incidental casualty of that. ‘Cause one point that’s important is it’s not like all of a sudden, you know, people did a bunch of scientific studies in the 1700s that suddenly showed that astrology was statistically not valid or not true. Like that’s not what was happening at that point—and that’s usually how scientific things are established in modern times, whether you determine if something is scientifically valid or not valid—but instead it was that there was this shift in the worldview of how the cosmos works that suddenly changed. And astrology up to that point, for a number of centuries, had been taking that worldview for granted as part of its assumption about why astrology works and that becomes part of the reason why things changed all of a sudden. Does that make sense? So there’s other pieces to that that I’ll explain, but I just want to make sure that what I’m saying up to this point makes sense.
AM: Absolutely, yeah, it does.
CB: All right. So the other part of it is that part of why that happened is that our astronomical cosmology up to that point, up until the Renaissance, was partially based on Ptolemy’s view of the cosmos which put the Earth at the center of the solar system, and this became sort of the foundational paradigm for astronomy up to that point and was a rationale for the situation of why the planets were doing what they do and moved in the ways that they did. And Ptolemy wrote this really major astronomical work in the 2nd century that all subsequent astronomical works and works on cosmology then were based off of. And he was able to do that partially because he improved the practiced of astronomy up to that point, and he was able to create a new paradigm for astronomy that worked really well, or at least worked better than the system up to that point, and therefore, established his astronomical works as like the best paradigm and best approach and the easiest and most effective approach to take for astronomy and predicting where the planets would be in the past as well as the future up to that point, so everybody followed and emulated Ptolemy after the 2nd century.
But Ptolemy was a polymath and he, you know, specialized in a number of different fields. He also wrote works on optics, on harmonics, on geography, and he also wrote a book on astrology. He was kind of like a genius or a polymath, and he was trying to create this almost unified scientific view of the world that tied together all these different fields of knowledge that were matters of science at that point, to create a scientific paradigm that took into account or made room for all of those under one umbrella. So one of the ones he tried to do that for was astrology as well. And part of what he tried to do is he tried to justify or explain astrology within the context of the prevailing scientific paradigm in his day, which was in the 2nd century. So part of what he tried to do was explain astrology within 2nd century causal cosmology, which believed that there were sometimes influences or effects that were coming down from the planets that were affecting things on Earth, and that became part of his justification for astrology just because that was the scientific concept that made the most sense at that time.
So the analogy is kind of like if there was a scientist or a polymath today in the early 21st century—like a Neil deGrasse Tyson or somebody like that—who came up with a justification for astrology within the context of what we currently know about science and how the world works. Like let’s say he took some parts of Einstein’s theory of relativity and he merged it with some current prevailing ideas about quantum mechanics, or whatever we currently think we know about quantum mechanics. And then that explains or provides some current justification for astrology so that it’s not just a matter of people applying astrology and it working, but all of a sudden there’s a broader paradigm that makes sense within our current cosmology about how it could work.
Because that becomes one of the biggest objections, and it was one I know that you raised at one point where you said that you had a consultation with somebody and it worked—or at least it seemed like they did a good job and that astrology worked—but you assumed it must be confirmation bias and rejected it. You said that there’s no way that this could work, or you don’t understand how this could be possible within the context of what you currently know, so therefore, it must not be true, even though you had that personal, subjective experience of feeling like maybe there was something there. So that’s basically what Ptolemy did, he created something that was true at the time.
But imagine if that paradigm was created today by a scientist. A thousand years from now, our current scientific understanding of the world is disproven because they’ve created or they’ve come up or discovered something new about the nature of the cosmos and it creates a new scientific paradigm at the time, which then, incidentally, throws out the old paradigm. But if some people had rationalized astrology based on that paradigm from the early 21st century then astrology would accidentally get thrown out as well, just as an incidental part of the cosmology because people had too closely associated their broader explanation for how it could work with just some current scientific paradigm. Scientific paradigms are always shifting every few centuries because our understanding of science and of the world is always, not preliminary, but it’s sort of temporary based on what our current data and current understanding is, but it’s always subject to change and growth and revision.
AM: I see what you’re saying. And is that an argument for not really being too bothered by the underlying cause and mechanism? Is that an argument for saying, “This appears to work because according to the evidence I’m looking at, it seems to work?” and sort of disregard even needing to understand why? Is it an argument for that perhaps?
CB: To a certain extent I think it’s important that we come up with an overall justification and cosmology for astrology but it’s not the main thing; the primary thing is just to establish whether it works and what you can do with it. In the same way that, you know, I can use a microwave to heat up food without necessarily knowing the scientific details of how microwaves work and the science underlying that necessarily. You can be an operator of a piece of technology, like a car, without necessarily knowing the mechanics fully behind a car in either a scientific or even a sense of becoming a mechanic who could build or take apart a car and then rebuild it or what have you. There’s a certain extent to which most astrologers or people are using and participating in something that we think is a legitimate property of the cosmos without necessarily having all of the answers for why exactly it’s doing that. Because if it’s true that it works, it’s obviously gonna be a huge thing that needs to be justified and explained within a broader scientific paradigm, but that doesn’t mean that you have to have that in order to use it or just observe the phenomenon for what it is, if that makes sense.
So I have my own personal views, and each astrologer comes up with different philosophical and cosmological or scientific reasons for why they think it works based on their current understanding of the world and based on the current prevailing, you know, perceptions about how the world works and how cosmology is set up. But there’s a certain amount of when it gets to those ‘big picture’ questions that it’s a little bit beyond the scope of any individual person and what their personal rationale is and whether that’s the only singular rationale or whether it’s, you know, not necessarily.
AM: Okay, to go back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier with ‘it functions more akin to a science or akin to a religion’, for you personally, do you believe in astrology because of the empirical evidence that you sort of see? Or do you feel there is a leap of faith at some point along the process?
CB: No, I can say really definitively that I wouldn’t practice astrology if I didn’t think it worked and if I didn’t continue to have that perception reaffirmed sometimes even despite my skepticism of being surprised. And I think it’s an experience that a lot of more professional astrologers have of being continually almost surprised and sort of like entertained the fact that this works at all, or the fact that you do see these correlations over and over again; but I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t continue to do this if I didn’t think it worked. And I think that’s actually a common misconception especially amongst professional skeptics where sometimes it’s framed that astrologers know somehow that what they’re doing doesn’t work, and they’re just doing it in order to rip people off or make money or lie to people or something like that, and that’s like an outsider’s view on things. I think if you spend like five minutes in the astrological community you realize pretty quickly—you know, whether these people are, you know, deluded or crazy—they genuinely believe that what they’re doing is valid, and that they’re practicing something that’s a genuine property of the universe. Whether or not that’s correct is sort of a separate thing, but, for me, I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t think that it was actually working.
AM: Oh, yeah, I mean, having talked to astrologers I don’t doubt for a second that people are genuinely serious about this. I suppose I’m more curious about where the belief comes from. And so, yeah, I did, as you mentioned, have my own birth chart read by an astrologer, and I was really struck by how much it resonated. Yes, I suppose where the challenge for me lies is I don’t know whether any birth chart that was given would also have resonated because you’re dealing with archetypes here that are somewhat universal. And if I had given a completely different birth chart full of the same kind of universal archetypes, would I have had the same kind of gut reaction that, “Yes, this is correct, this is about me?” So I don’t know whether I’m making sense here, or maybe birth charts are a lot more specific that I’m giving them credit for. What’s your take on this?
CB: Yeah, I mean, I thought your reaction to that was really interesting ‘cause in the original question that you wrote, you said, “I had my own natal chart read recently and it does seem uncannily accurate.”
CB: “But without understanding the causal mechanism, I’m inclined to put this down to confirmation bias.” And I thought that was really interesting because it meant, at least in your perception, there was something there where it seemed like it was working, despite your initial preconceptions before going into it that surely this shouldn’t work or shouldn’t do anything. ‘Astrology shouldn’t work’ is the presumption that most normal people should have going into something like this. But then you’re confronted with an experience where for some reason it does seem to be working, but cosmologically or philosophically, you still had this presumption that it can’t work or that you don’t know a mechanism for why this could work. There’s an assumption then that your perception must just be faulty and this is still wrong, and therefore, you should reject it despite having that experience.
I thought that was really interesting ‘cause there’s like an element of almost faith there, ironically, that’s leading you to reject it, even having seen some evidence to the contrary. And it almost felt like an issue of faith there to a certain extent because you believe so strongly in the perception going into it that it can’t work that you’re willing to disregard your own perception that it might or that it could. I’m not putting that on you necessarily or attacking you and saying that, but it’s interesting for me just reflecting on your reaction to it ‘cause I think a lot of people in your position would have a similar reaction. A lot of people with a science education or a more skeptical bent or approach to things would have a similar reaction to it, but it was something that was interesting, I don’t know, to reflect on of why and if those motivations are correct or what the actual truth is, you know, since we’re coming from different perspectives.
AM: No, I’m not necessarily rejecting it either, I’m very curious about it. I’m just kind of wondering where my own sense of resonance comes from. Because for me, I suppose it’s easier to kind of think to myself, “I’m probably having this reaction because it’s archetypes and because I can use my creativity and imagination to sort of work out how these archetypes apply to me,” but I wonder whether another one would apply similarly. So it’s kind of easier for me to sort of think that than it would be to, I guess, I have the whole paradigm shift in my mind. But I definitely don’t want to reject it out of hand. I’m just sort of curious to explore more of it a bit, I suppose.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I know confirmation bias is an issue and that’s a thing, I think especially the more generally something is written. For example, if we’re talking about a newspaper horoscope that’s just maybe a sentence or two, and if it’s something that’s written so generally that it could be applied to anyone, there’s no way to validate that really, there’s no falsifiability, then, yeah, you can run into issues with confirmation bias. But when you get into more advanced forms of astrology, even though they’re still speaking in a language of archetypes—which sometimes can be more broad because archetypes can be multivalent—there’s different ways that an archetype can manifest in specific ways that are still true to the overarching, umbrella concept. I don’t think that when you’re doing these more advanced forms of astrology that use a birth chart that it usually is stated so broadly that you can’t determine whether that’s an accurate statement or not. And usually when this argument is brought up about confirmation bias and the horoscope argument is mentioned, that just becomes sort of an explanatory mechanism to explain away how people could have the perception that astrology is working without it actually being true.
But as anybody that does consulting astrology on a regular basis can tell you, if you sit down with a person and you start talking to them about their life, if you start saying things that are not true to a person about their life, the vast majority of people will be very quick to tell you, “No, that’s not an accurate statement,” or “No, that doesn’t resonate with me.” So there is a way in which there’s a falsifiability, or there’s a way in which astrologers actually do find out pretty quickly if something they’re saying is not true or if the astrology is not working, or if their interpretation of it is not good. So, again, there’s explanations outside the astrological community of how to explain astrology away that it’s not working, but it’s based on an assumption that people will always just take something for granted about their life as being true if it’s said to them. But in actual practice or actual experience that’s actually not true. People will be very quick to reject something if it doesn’t fit or doesn’t resonate or doesn’t accurately reflect their life.
AM: That was interesting. I was wondering if you knew if there had been any research to that effect. I was thinking, for instance, if you gave people a selection of birth chart analyses and sort of said, “Can you guess which one of these is yours?” And then if you repeated that a few times, more often than not, people got it right, I suppose that would seem to me an argument that there’s something to it just based on current scientific methodologies. Are you aware of any research to that effect at all?
CB: Yeah, there were some studies like that that were done in the ‘80s, like some small-scale studies. One of the issues that you run into though with studies like that is that they need to be replicable under a very controlled set of circumstances. But one of the issues is that because of the lack of university support and because of the lack of standardization within the field of astrology, there’s a huge degree of variability in terms of the training and the skills amongst different astrologers and the approaches amongst different astrologers when they’re reading charts. And I think for something like that to be truly done well—there were some haphazard studies done in the ‘80s—that you would have to have a certain amount of knowing who the participants are, knowing that they’ve had good training in astrology, and knowing that they’ve also had similar training in astrology in order to make sure you’re controlling most of the variables involved. And most of the time when I’ve seen studies like that it’s just picking sort of randomly random astrologers that may not have even been in the field for more than like a few months or a year or something like that and then just seeing how they do. And that’s not really a good way to do a study like that, but there’s studies like that would be interesting.
There’s another one that I’ve been working on, which is a rectification study. And the idea behind this is that if the premise of natal astrology is true the birth date and time and location of your birth will create a birth chart that will emphasize certain planets and certain signs of the zodiac in a person’s life, and that an astrologer can read that chart and it will accurately say things about a person’s life. One of the things that sometimes people run into is that they don’t have a birth time recorded, or they have a birth time recorded but it’s rounded to the nearest hour; it’s like approximate or something like that. So one of the processes that astrologers have always had to learn eventually is called rectification, which is where an astrologer takes a person’s birthday and they have, let’s say, an approximate birth time, and they try to reverse engineer the chart to establish what the correct birth time is based on events that are known about a person’s life.
So that actually I think would be a more interesting and compelling test if you had like a decent group of astrologers that were well-trained in rectification, and you have an astrologer that’s sitting in front of a client and they’re able to ask the client questions so that it can accurately reflect in an actual consultation. And then the astrologer has to correctly infer whether the person was born at one time during the day or if they were born an hour or two later. They have two birth times in front of them and they have to choose the correct one; so that’s another version of that test. But one of the issues is, you know, obviously the astrologer has to be able to talk to them and ask questions about the person, and I know that there can be accusations in that context about cold reading or other things like that, so you’d have to control for different variables like that. And that’s a similar issue with even just sitting down and reading people’s charts ahead of them ‘cause sometimes people try to control those variables by doing other things, like making it so the astrologer can’t talk to the person directly. But I think that then takes it too much out of the natural element that’s necessary or closely tied into how an astrologer normally works, so it doesn’t quite work in the same way.
AM: Actually that’s really interesting. And would you like to see more large-scale research studies conducted in this field generally? Or do you feel like trying to prove things scientifically is kind of beside the point?
CB: I was much more interested in this early on, and I was much more actively interested in things like that. But because of the lack of standardization in the field and some open issues about different areas of astrology, I’ve focused more over the course of the past 15 years on going back and understanding the history of astrology and trying to understand where the system came from and what its theoretical principles are and trying to reconstruct as best as I could why astrologers use the different techniques that they do today and what the rationale is for them, what the philosophy is, also trying to recover some techniques that were lost. Because over the past 2,000 years astrology has changed a lot as it’s moved from culture to culture and language to language, and it turns out that there were some things that were lost and there are other things that were added during the course of that process. So, for me, I’ve been focused more on trying to come up with and create a better form of astrology that’s more effective in doing some of the things that it wants to do or claims to be able to do. Because if you can do that then you can create a system that’s gonna be better at regularly being able to pass tests like the rectification test or the chart comparison test or what have you.
AM: Okay, that’s really interesting. So another big thing I wanted to ask you about was whether or not astrology is predictive because I expect there are probably different interpretations of this too. But do you see astrology itself as something that generally has potential to make predictions for the future? Or do you view it maybe more as a form of, “Well, they’re a tool to make sense of events by or a set of archetypes to understand ourselves by?” Is it actually predictive or not?
CB: Yeah, I’ve always argued that astrology is inherently predictive to some extent. Astrologers have debates about this and the extent to which things are predetermined, or to the extent to which astrology is predictive, or the extent to which astrology should be used for prediction and whether that’s helpful. There’s been a split in modern times between psychological astrologers who want to use astrology primarily as a helpful tool within the context of counseling or psychology. Therefore making predictions is not necessarily the best use of it in that context, and instead they’re just using it as an additional lens or an additional angle in order to help people from a counseling standpoint.
But there’s other astrologers that focus more on the potential of astrology being predictive, and if it is predictive, how far they can take that and what they can do with it; or the perception that making predictions is the only way that will ever legitimize astrology to the public or in scientific context or what have you, so that it becomes their mission to try to do it that way. In my view, I think astrology is inherently predictive because if the basic premise of natal astrology is that the alignment of the planets at the moment a person is born has anything to say about a person’s future character or events that will happen at some point in their life, then that means in the basic premise there is some underlying assumption that it has some predictive potential, even in the most restricted sense. So therefore, yeah, I think astrology is inherently predictive.
AM: Great. And so, can you give me any specific examples of how this mundane or predictive astrology has functioned in recent years? Like, for instance, were astrologers able to see COVID coming?
CB: Yeah, there was a French astrologer named André Barbault. One of the issues in doing different types of predictions is astrologers make predictions primarily by paying attention to astrological correlations as they’re happening and going back and studying past events when there’s been a specific planetary alignment and then what events occurred in the world at the time of those planetary alignments. And then they project that out into the future and say, well, if this planetary alignment coincided with this in the past, then by extension when this planetary alignment reoccurs in the future, it should coincide with a similar event, right? So there’s different astrologers though that have different interests or different specialties in terms of what type of events they want to go back in the past and study or the extent to which a person has gone back and studied historical events in the past; because one of the points is that not everybody is a historian. Like you actually have to have a genuine interest in history or studying biographies or studying different phases of human history—different types of events—in order to go out of your way to study certain things.
So all of that was a preface to say there was a French astrologer named André Barbault who was very well-known and very well-regarded for his work in mundane astrology—which is making predictions about world events, as well as studying historical alignments and events in the past—and he had made a specific study about the astrology of the pandemics; so he went back and he studied a bunch of planetary alignments in the past. And I have this quote from him; this was in an article that he wrote in 2012. And what was interesting about André Barbault is that he actually died in 2019. So he died before the pandemic occurred and he made this statement, this prediction in a specific article where he studied pandemics and the astrology of pandemics historically and past alignments, and he went back and looked at different ones.
So what he said—let me see if I can share this. This is from a previous episode that we did at one point I think in 2020 talking about his predictions. But he said, “Going back to the pandemics and going back to the past century, the four crises of 1918, 1954, 1968, and 1982 are obvious, the two considerable being the first, the famous “Spanish flu” which is said to have claimed 25 million lives, and the last one in…AIDS, which is even more devastating and continues to be deadly. Since then, there has also been a small influenza surge in 2009, against the last lowest cyclical index [of] (2010). We may…be in serious danger of a new pandemic at the 2020-2021 mark, at the lowest peak of the cyclical index of the 21st century, with the quintet of outer planets [gathering] over a hundred degrees, a conjunction [of] Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto can [be] more specifically…[this is translated from French, so that’s why the English is a little rough].”
And he continues, he says, “And even specifically, lend itself to the “tissue” of this imbalance. [Nonetheless], this configuration can also transfer its core of dissonances to the terrain of geophysical disasters, [which] ultimately sparing the international affairs scene, Nature and Society being indiscriminately affected.” So yeah, I mean, an astrologer studied the history really closely and went back and compared previous pandemics; and one astrologer who did that, who was reputable, did issue a statement ahead of time about COVID, so that would be a recent instance of something like that.
AM: I mean, that’s really quite impressive. And generally among the astrological community was there a sense that we were heading up to some kind of disaster, even if we weren’t quite sure what it was going to be?
CB: Yeah, I mean, on my podcast, when we did our year ahead forecast, one of the funny things was, you know, we’re sometimes trying to relate this to people’s lives and how individuals are going to experience it. And so, one of the things we said in our year ahead forecast that we recorded in November of 2019—when we were talking about March of 2020—that we made a joke about at the time that ended up being weirdly prescient. We said, “There will be no hugging in the third week of March of 2020,” and we were sort of joking and laughing about it in that context. There was what you might classically think of when you think about astrology just an alignment of planets all in the same spot in the sky that looked very difficult, and one of the primary things is that it was a conjunction of Saturn and Pluto. And the last time that Saturn and Pluto were conjoined, for example, was in the early 1980s, which was around the time of the widespread understanding of the AIDS epidemic and things like that. So you had sort of a recurrence of the same thing, and, yeah, that was one of the ways that we talked about it ahead of time at the time.
But if you go back and listen to astrologers and their 2020 predictions you’ll understand that most astrologers were concerned about it being, you know, kind of a tough year just in general. But different astrologers also have different approaches to how you should talk about what looks like negative or difficult things coming up frankly because astrologers get worried, especially psychological astrologers get worried about the negative psychological impact of making bad predictions about the future. Most astrologers are actually concerned about psychological well-being and saying things that are gonna be helpful and things that are gonna be productive rather than just freaking people out or rather than doing something that’s gonna have a negative psychological impact on people.
So, for me, from a philosophical perspective, what was interesting about 2020 a little bit was seeing the other side of that. For so much of the late 20th century psychological astrologers focused so much on doing no harm with astrology and not making negative statements in astrology, even when things looked bad, that in 2020 we sort of saw the opposite side of that. If you don’t say what you see and if you hold back too much then you’re gonna get the opposite of that, which is that people are gonna turn around and say, “Why didn’t you say how bad this was gonna be?” or “You didn’t predict this,” or something like that when that might not be necessarily the case. So it was an interesting ‘as a community’ thing that was learned about the other side of that after several decades of the community going on the other side of just trying to be productive and helpful and do no harm; but it was like the other side of you can do harm by leaving things out or by not being as explicit as you could be perhaps.
AM: I see. So there’s a whole ethics aspect to it that I hadn’t really considered. Yeah, I know you cover this in a lot more depth—I think you do a monthly forecast, don’t you, of what’s coming ahead. Do you have any big predictions for what’s coming up in the next few years? Maybe not only disasters if that’s gonna bring in an ethical element—but any sort of general predictions?
CB: Yeah, I mean, I just did an episode in terms of mundane predictions in November with my friend Nick Dagan Best where we talked about this thing that pretty much all astrologers have been talking about for quite a while now based on a historical observation about the planet Uranus. And it’s more of like an American phenomenon, but it’s just an observation that in history the planet Uranus was in the sign of Gemini during pretty much the entire period of the American Revolutionary War, so the United States was founded with Uranus in the sign of Gemini, or in other words, in a specific spot in the sky. And then Uranus is on an 84-year orbit; so it takes about 84 years to do a complete cycle around the zodiac and come to where it started.
And then when that happened, 84 years later approximately, Uranus went back into Gemini for six or seven years ‘cause it spends six or seven years in each sign of the zodiac. When Uranus returned to that sign from when the country was founded, it almost perfectly aligned with the period of the Civil War in American history. So it was this hugely, again, tumultuous period in which the United States was involved in a massive war and there was a sense of real conflict. So then 84 years after that Uranus does another cycle all the way around the zodiac and it comes back to where it started, and very closely it came back to where it started in 1941 for, again, about seven years, which then roughly coincided with the US involvement with World War II and being involved in another massive war and a massive turning point in terms of US history, and in terms of, you know, what the US was before World War II vs. what it was after that point.
So astrologers have long noticed that correlation because it’s pretty striking looking at it in history. But the other part of that is that it’s almost been 84 years again, so that transit is actually due to come up again in 2025. And Uranus is gonna go into Gemini in 2025, and it’s gonna stay there I think until about 2032 or 2033. So, you know, that’s one of those instances where, again, we’re just looking back at past correlations between celestial movements and earthly events and starting to draw data that there’s been a similar correlation of major wars. You know, two of them were external wars and one of them was an internal war, a civil war, but nonetheless, they’ve been major conflicts. And so, by extension, we could kind of expect that there would be another major defining conflict that would take place between 2025 and 2032 that would be on the level of World War II, the Civil War, and the American Revolutionary War. So that’s one of the most interesting, although startling and not super happy observations that I’ve been tracking in terms of mundane astrology recently, but it’s one that we’ll find out pretty soon over the course of the next decade if that correlation holds up and continues to be true.
AM: I certainly hope not. But based on the way things are going, I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me too much. So not necessarily another civil war, per se, but it could just be an escalation of the kind of divides we’re seeing at the moment maybe.
CB: Yeah, well, what’s funny is we originally did this episode 10 years ago. Nick Dagan Best, the guest that I had on for that episode, had published a book about it in 2012, or maybe it was actually 2013. But it was still about a decade or so ago we did that episode and at that point it was even further removed from reality. We couldn’t see how that would be relevant at all, but we still just noted the correlation historically and noted that we were getting close to it about a decade later, so that we had some trepidation going into it.
And so, what was funny about returning to that topic again now is that we have, you know, a much clearer sense that there’s a few possible ways in which that could manifest that are suddenly clearer now that we’re much closer to it, in terms of there being both internal division within the country and recent events in terms of attempts to, you know, overthrow or interrupt the democratic process and other internal issues like that, but then also the recent explosion or return of external conflicts, like with Russia, or even to a lesser extent, with China and things like that.
So, you know, just focusing on that one correlation we can’t say just using that single one what specific manifestation it should be. But then a question is if there ends up being some major war, will that be sufficient as a demonstration? Or would that be sufficient to somebody like you of, “Okay, there’s something going on there, this might be worth investigating further? We might not know why that’s doing that, why that’s working that way or how that could be possible, but it would rise to the level of that’s genuinely interesting enough that perhaps we should put some research into that area of whatever is going on there in terms of the world and in terms of cosmology and things like.”
AM: Yeah, that’s really fascinating. My next question, I guess somewhat related to that, is what does astrology have to say about the relationship between fate and free choice? I’m sure there’s probably different schools of thought on this. And, yes, I know determinism vs. free will is kind of a question that cuts through the heart of philosophy anyway, maybe nobody has any good answers. But from an astrological perspective, does having our fate written in the stars mean we haven’t got the ability to change things necessarily? What’s your take on that?
CB: I mean, I want to be careful. Every astrologer has different views on fate and free will and some of that’s influenced by their approach to astrology, and it’s also partially influenced by their personal philosophy or their religious beliefs or their cosmological beliefs or different things like that. And to the extent that I’m speaking as a representative for the astrological community or all of astrologers, I don’t want to focus too much on my personal view on that. But I will say that if the premise of astrology is true, as we’ve said—especially if the premise of natal astrology is true that the alignment of the planets at the moment a person was born has something to say about their character and their future, even though as a baby they haven’t really developed that yet—it’s saying something about the potentiality of the individual and the potentiality of their life before it’s fully manifested. And to the extent that we’ve already established then that that’s true that astrology is somewhat inherently predictive then it does imply that there’s more about individual lives or there’s something about individual lives that might be fated or predetermined, or that there might be some concept of fate that does actually exist in the world and that astrology somehow is a means or a tool or a technology for looking into that.
And actually in my book pretty much the most important central thesis of my book is that somebody around the 1st century BCE created a system, specifically the system of Western astrology that’s still used today, 2,000 years later; they created a construct for using astrology in order to study fate in a person’s life and that’s part of the purpose of astrology in general. So broadly speaking, I think that’s the answer but different astrologers have different conclusions about even if things are partially predetermined or partially fated and how far that goes. Does that mean that everything’s predetermined and everything’s fated? Or does that mean that there’s just certain things that are predetermined in a broader sense?
And there’s a lot of different conclusions about that, you know, which partially then gets connected with how you’re practicing astrology and what you’re using it for because if you’re using it in a more psychological sense then you might have a more limited view on fate. There’s some people that believe that an astrological chart only pertains to their character or psychological things, whereas there’s other astrologers that say that the chart can actually describe concrete, external circumstances and events in a person’s life. So you’re gonna have different views on fate and fated-ness depending on what your approach is to that. And even in those two approaches there’s gonna be, you know, wildly different approaches to just determining how much things are predetermined.
AM: Okay, fascinating. Yeah, so I gathered your background is in Hellenistic astrology, which, as I understand it, as you’ve been kind of alluding to, maps closely onto Hellenistic philosophy. So I was wondering how these older forms of astrology compare to the styles that are popular today, and what the value is really of understanding the historical basis.
CB: Sure. So the answer to that is twofold. On the one hand, the value to studying the historical basis is that even though there were long empirical traditions of astrology in Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq going back about 4,000 years and there were long traditions of astrology in Egypt for about 2,000 years, those traditions intersected and were merged in about the 1st century BCE in Hellenistic Egypt, and there were a bunch of additional concepts and techniques and other things that were introduced at that time to create a sort of system for interpreting birth charts, and that’s the system essentially that’s persisted over the past 2,000 years. And that system was created around the time of the Roman Empire, but then eventually the Roman Empire rose and fell and then astrology was transmitted at that point to the Arabic-speaking world, to the Islamic world, around the 7th and 8th centuries, and then astrology flourished there during the Middle Ages, but then eventually it was transmitted back to Europe through translations from Arabic into Latin. And then eventually people stopped writing Latin and started writing astrology books in other European languages; the first major English textbook on astrology was written by William Lilly in London in 1647.
So my point is just that astrology over the past 2,000 years was transmitted a bunch of times from language to language and culture to culture, and while the astrologers would always look back and draw on the previous philosophical and empirical and other traditions that they had access to in translation up to that point, they often had a limited number of translations to draw on, so they couldn’t always draw on the entirety of the previous astrological tradition. And so, they would miss things or things or things would get forgotten about or left out, and there were a number of techniques, sometimes predictive techniques, that help astrology to be more effective predictively that weren’t transmitted. So part of the focus recently in the astrological community over the past three decades has been going back to recover older astrological texts from the Renaissance and Medieval and Hellenistic periods to translate those texts into modern languages, to reconstruct and understand the systems that they used—because they often used systems that were somewhat different than what we use today—and then find ways to integrate that information into whatever the current prevailing astrological paradigm is, so that’s the value to that.
The way in which ancient astrology is different is that it tended to be a little bit more geared towards prediction as opposed to just character analysis. And even though modern astrology, especially ‘pop’ astrology, is primarily focused on character analysis and telling you things about, you know, your actions or your psychology or things like that, that’s actually a very recent phenomenon that’s only occurred over the past century, where astrology shifted to being largely about psychology, which kind of matched the rise of contemporary psychology in general over the course of the 20th century. But prior to that time astrologers were more focused on making concrete predictions about a person’s future. And so, part of the advantage of going back and studying ancient astrology is the potential at least of recovering a system that should be more capable from a predictive context, which then naturally is gonna be helpful when astrologers are trying to do tests or other things like that.
AM: But it sounds to me like in a sense astrology sort of follows the intellectual trends of the time. In the past, it was much more focused on prediction and that kind of thing, or prevailing philosophies, and today it’s much more psychologically-focused. Would you say that’s the case?
CB: Yeah. Part of the reason why astrology was so popular—it’s a little hard for me to tell in the Hellenistic period; it’s like a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario, but Stoicism was super popular in the ancient world around the time that astrology became really popular. Although it’s not really clear to me if, you know, astrology became popular because there was already a prevalent philosophy that said that everything is predetermined; that you should accept all events that happen in your life as having the same value because it’s not a good idea to get overly-depressed if bad things happen or overly-excited if good things happen, but instead to maintain a sort of equilibrium. And then there’s this system that comes along that tells you what your future is so that you know what you have to accept in the future and can not be caught off-guard by anything that happens.
And I don’t know if astrology became popular because Stoicism was already popular or if Stoicism became popular because astrology was already becoming popular during that period because they’re kind of intertwined. But there is definitely a sense if astrologers are normal, everyday people who are just existing in whatever the contemporary world is, and they’re practicing within the religious or scientific or philosophical paradigm of their times, whatever those paradigms are they will try to adapt their views on astrology to that paradigm; yeah, but then those paradigms change. But the point is just that, yeah, the astrology is often very reflective of its times. And that actually, in the history of science, has been the initial rationale over the past century for why many academics have justified going back and recovering a lot of ancient texts on astrology or doing studies on ancient astrology within the context of the history of science. They argue that the astrologers in their interpretations of charts and other things like that are always reflecting to some extent the contemporary viewpoints of their times, sometimes much more so than any other ancient source that you can find because they’re consulting with everyday individuals, and they’re trying to make statements about those people’s lives.
AM: Oh, that’s super interesting. And so, another area I was curious about was obviously our understanding of the universe, scientifically speaking, has evolved in the last recent years. We now know that the universe to be vastly bigger than, say, we thought it was 2,000 years ago. And obviously we know there are exoplanets. There’s so much else going on astronomically than what we were aware of in the past. So has that affected astrology at all?
CB: I mean, extrasolar planets and other things like that don’t necessarily affect astrology. One of the things that has affected and changed astrology has been things like the discovery of the outer planets, for example, like the discovery of Uranus and Neptune and Pluto. You know, astrologers had a system up to that point where for 2,000 years they only drew on the seven traditional ‘planetary’ bodies, or seven celestial bodies; the visible planets which in the night sky just look like, you know, stars, just like every other star. But then over a long enough period of time, if you keep paying attention to those stars, you notice that they move through the night sky unlike the other stars. So for many centuries astrologers only used the planets that were known.
But then all of a sudden when these new planetary or new celestial bodies were discovered that could be seen only through telescopes, astrologers quickly did start trying to study those planets in charts and look at what they correlated with in history, and then developing an understanding of what those new celestial bodies meant based on those empirical observations; and then from that point forward they became integrated into the system as just new components. And those new components didn’t erase everything that came before up to that point, but they just added additional variables that were useful in reading charts. So that’s one of the ways in which astrologers sometimes adapt and astrology changes based on new scientific or other developments.
AM: Okay. And I remember reading a few years ago that NASA had identified a thirteenth zodiac sign, and for that reason everyone’s Sun sign had shifted by one or something. I saw this in a magazine so I’m not sure how credible it is. But do you remember reading the same thing? Has that seriously affected astrology or not?
CB: No. I mean, you’ll see the story come up in the news periodically. It comes up every few months or every few years, the same exact story will go viral; it’s a little mixture of a few different things. On the one hand, it’s a bit of skeptical propaganda to sort of mess with astrologers to a certain extent, but it’s also based on a misconception about the difference between the tropical zodiac that Western astrologers use which is aligned with seasons vs. the sidereal zodiac that is based on the constellations. And it’s based on a misperception that most of the public has, which is that the signs of the zodiac are based purely on the constellations, when in fact Western astrologers for the past 2,000 years have very consistently been using a system that measures the distance between the equinoxes and the solstices and then divides that circle into twelve segments, twelve equal segments.
That’s the system that astrologers have been using for their reference point of what they call the signs of the zodiac over the past 2,000 years and that hasn’t changed. There’s nothing about that that’s shifted to the extent that the equinoxes and the solstices are still exactly where they are today, where they were 2,000 years ago, or 4,000 years ago or what have you. So it’s actually not true that within that context that anything’s changed about the signs of the zodiac as they’ve been used over the past 2,000 years. It’s just a thing that, again, sometimes outsiders or skeptics like to bring up what they perceive as a mistake or a shortcoming. Like they assume that astrologers don’t know basic astronomical information about how the seasons align with the constellations and that astrologers are just mistaken about these things, instead of realizing that astrologers are deliberately using this specific reference system that has to do with the equinoxes and the solstices, and these other points about the constellations aren’t necessarily relevant in that context. That’s like a sort of complicated version of that.
But if you look back, you’ll see this story goes viral periodically like every few years, and it’s a click-bait title where it’s framed as, “This is a new discovery and NASA has just discovered this and astrologers have been wrong,” or “Everything has shifted.” And the point underlying that is either something that’s sort of sensationalist on the one hand, or it’s coming from a perspective of trying to make people doubt or question the validity of astrology and make astrologers look like idiots that don’t know basic facts about astronomy or something like that, which is just untrue. But yeah, I would research that and look back and just see this same news story going back like decades and coming up over and over again and always framed in the sense of this is some sort of new discovery that changes everything, but it’s never coming from within the astrological community; it’s always coming from sources that already reject astrology to begin with. So there’s a question about whether they’re actually the ones that are the arbiters of, you know, the techniques that astrologers are using and whether that’s actually true or appropriate.
AM: Well, thanks for clearing that up. I thought it seemed a bit strange, and as you say, ‘click-baity’. I’ve seen the same thing a few times and thought there was probably a bit more to it than met the eye with that one. So yeah, I appreciate your response there.
CB: Yeah, the one a few years ago, the last major version of that, I actually traced it back—‘cause I talked about it in a podcast episode at the time—and it was just this random blog that was one of those blogs that’s just trying to get traffic, sort of like a tabloid or something like that, like a celebrity tabloid. And it just created this sensationalized story saying that NASA had discovered something new, but it’s like NASA didn’t announce anything new. There was nothing that actually went back to NASA announcing or saying anything. They were just trying to generate traffic onto this website in order to sell ads, but then somehow they were actually able to make it go viral. Typically, when a normal person that doesn’t know anything hears that but has even a slight interest or belief in astrology—or let’s say just their Sun sign—they’ll click on that thinking like, “Oh, my sign has changed,” or something like that, and it generally does generate views and traffic and that’s why it goes viral so often. But if you trace back the origins of it, it’s often to somewhat questionable sources, or at least it was in that instance.
AM: Yeah, you kind of mentioned there are a lot of people today who do have a passing interest in astrology, perhaps more so now than I’d say there were a few years ago. And I’m certainly seeing astrology’s everywhere in terms of memes; there’s so many memes about people’s rising signs and Moon signs. And I think a certain understanding of astrology has entered mainstream awareness more than it has a few years ago maybe. And I’m curious what your views on that are and where you think this has come from.
CB: Right. And I wanted to talk about that ‘cause that’s one of the main questions you had about astrology and the approach that you were taking in your book. I wanted to clarify something about that that’s really important to understand, which is that I don’t know in your original question if you were thinking that this was a byproduct or connected with the pandemic. But one point that’s really important when it comes to astrology is that the sudden rise in the popularity and this sort of new generational interest in astrology amongst younger people—which is part of what it was—that started actually before the pandemic. It started back in the 2017 and 2018 timeframe; I actually did a podcast episode on it back then where I talked with two other astrologers. It started with The New York Times in late 2017 and early 2018.
The New York Times published this article saying, “What’s with the recent rise in the popularity of astrology?” And then something happened at that point where it created this sort of cascade or this domino effect where all of a sudden a bunch of other publications then started publishing articles also asking and noting the recent rise in the popularity of astrology. And what’s funny is if you go back and listen to my episode about that—I think it was from early 2018, like January of 2018, I talked to two other astrologers about—I was kind of skeptical at the time about whether it was true that there had been a bump in the popularity of astrology, or if this was just sort of like a media thing saying that there was. For example, I noted at the time that books on astrology—like if you go to a normal bookstore—the publication of astrology books had been dwindling over the past decade. Most bookstores used to have a shelf of astrology books, if not a bookcase, but I noticed that books were just becoming less and less on astrology, and less and less popular at bookstores; although I wasn’t sure if that wasn’t just a byproduct of the publishing industry struggling in general.
But we, in this episode early 2018, kind of debated whether it was true that astrology was becoming more popular, and I was a little skeptical at the time. But then over the course of the next year, it became really clear that, no, something actually had really shifted because all of a sudden astrologers were seeing this influx of a lot new younger astrologers, especially in their 20s, into the astrological community, and that continued to increase from 2018 to 2019 into 2020. So one of the things that I wanted to note is just that that shift and that sudden increase in the popularity of astrology started well before the pandemic, and it wasn’t just a side effect of the pandemic, or of people, you know, searching for answers during a really difficult time or something like that. It was something, whatever it was due to, that started well before then.
AM: Interesting. And do you have any sort of big, overarching ideas of what it might be due to?
CB: It was some sort of generational thing ‘cause it was especially people in their 20s. I started studying astrology in 1999, and then I started interfacing with other astrologers in person in the astrological community when I started going to a school for astrology in the mid-2000s. And I started attending conferences in my early 20s, and for the longest time I was always the youngest person at conferences and I would very rarely meet other young astrologers. And I even became involved in and eventually became the president of an organization that helps to advocate for younger astrologers or helps to provide them with resources in order to encourage more young astrologers to, you know, pursue education in the field, or at least if they chose to study the subject, just to provide a context to welcome them into the community and help them attend conferences by providing scholarships or other things like that.
But there were actual articles from back then from the older generation of astrologers who tended to be the baby-boomer generation, who were born in the 1940s, and to some extent the hippie or the counterculture generation who came of age in the 1960s, and the last time there was a huge influx of younger astrologers into the community was in the 1960s and ‘70s. And then after that point there was this large generational gap and for the longest time that older generation of astrologers was always asking, you know, is this it, is astrology dying out, or will there be a younger generation that comes in and takes over at some point?
And I have quotes from astrologers in the mid-2000s actually asking and reflecting on that question, then suddenly there was some sort of generational change and it happened in the 2018, 2019, and 2020 timeframe, a bunch of younger people came into the community. I’m sure there’s some astrological reason for it or something like that. I have a hard time with practical reasons. I mean, the only practical thing that I could point to is, you know, ten years ago, if you asked somebody what their zodiac sign is, that would mean their Sun sign, right?
CB: That’s what most people I think our age would associate with that question. But nowadays most people know their ‘big three’: their Sun, Moon, and rising signs. And part of the reason for that is there has been a shift; the technology has changed and the availability of free software or apps in order to calculate your birth chart have suddenly seen a rise, first starting with websites. For example, when I got into astrology in 1999 there was just one website where you go to get a copy of your birth chart calculated. But over the course of the past twenty years now there’s just a ton of different websites you can go to for free to get that calculated; so that was one step. But then over the past decade we’ve also seen the rise of mobile apps, like different apps that a person can download and install on their phone that’ll calculate your chart or will tell you what your Sun, Moon, and rising is.
And that’s another instance where it’s kind of a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario because I don’t know if the apps became popular on their own, and therefore, everybody could then know their Sun, Moon, and rising and that raised interest and awareness and consciousness of astrology. Alternatively, it’s equally possible that it’s just that those apps became super successful because there was this larger generational interest in astrology and the apps just were able to ride that wave. But whatever it is I do know that, generally speaking, because of the availability of apps and websites and free options for calculating your birth chart that there’s been this public shift in the conception of astrology where now people know more about it and they know that it’s a little bit more complicated than what a general person knew astrology was like ten years ago, to the extent that ten years ago they only knew about their Sun sign. Now they know there’s at least three different zodiac signs that make up something about their personality.
So, you know, I think that’s part of what’s changed things and maybe that creates more of an on-ramp potentially to discovering the birth chart and discovering that astrology’s more complicated than you initially thought. And more people therefore seeing that and discovering the advanced forms of astrology then perhaps get interested in it and decide that that’s something they’d like to study further in the same way that I did, in terms of wanting to see how far they can take it or what kind of predictions you can make with it or what have you.
AM: And that idea you said of the original, hippie, counterculture having a kind of comeback is something I’m exploring in other chapters of the book as well ‘cause I am seeing it in a few different ways. Yeah, hippie ideas seem to be revived in some sense, so I feel that there is a kind of element of that. It’s interesting to see how that intersects with technology, for, you know, the younger generation today. So I definitely will look further into this.
CB: One of the things I’m nervous about, one of the shifts I have seen is I did notice a decline in skepticism over the past decade. And when I say ‘skepticism’ I mean the professional skeptical community; like I don’t know how familiar you are with that. I feel like when I originally came into astrology and originally was studying for the first ten years in the 2000s there was a much more robust scientific skepticism community that had very specific designated leaders like James Randi or Michael Shermer or other people like that, and they had, you know, conferences and magazines and podcasts and blogs and other things that were very active and very aggressive about going after things that were viewed as being pseudo-science or were viewed as being against scientific thinking. And I felt like that community was much more robust in the 2000s, and I feel like something happened over the course of the past decade where it kind of fell apart or became less robust.
I know that there was the loss of certain leaders—like James Randi, for example, passed away—or others got caught up in political issues like Richard Dawkins and some of the shifts and different things due to social changes; even to a certain extent, Michael Shermer got caught up in some of that. And I don’t know if that’s the reason, but it just seems like for some reason there was a weird timing there where astrology was getting more popular and there’s also been a decline in skepticism. And, you know, from my perspective as an astrologer, there’s probably some specific generational markers for that or outer planet markers, and there’s some that come to mind that I think about; but that’s sort of a separate explanation for observing the phenomenon of seeing both of those communities change over the past decade.
AM: And you say this concerns you? Would you and the astrological community want there to be a thriving skeptical movement alongside it? Is that something you actually would like?
CB: I mean, I would. Ironically, as an astrologer, I’m kind of skeptical about a number of things. I entered the community through a more New Age, and to a certain extent, a somewhat conspiracy theory avenue where there was some stuff that I got into at first that I later realized was not true and was not an accurate reflection of reality. And so, I’ve often been interested in skeptical stuff, and I’ve even attended a skeptic conference once called Skeptic Camp, here in Colorado. And I think there’s a value towards skepticism because sometimes that’s really important and necessary, especially in a time period in which, you know, misinformation and people just accepting different things from social media has become so much more prevalent, and where people aren’t taught critical thinking skills to a certain extent, or least a time when critical thinking skills are more necessary and important for society than ever.
Yeah, there’s a certain extent where having a more robust skeptical community would maybe be a good thing societally, and even to a certain extent for astrology. Because I don’t think astrologers should always take everything for granted and they should question and they should not just take astrology as a faith or a religion or a belief system. And I don’t think most astrologers do, but it’s always good to have some check on that tendency or what have you. But on the other side of that, as an astrologer, there’s also a downside to that, which is there’s nothing worse than somebody that has an ideological reason for feeling like it’s okay to attack somebody else or who’s approaching things from a purely ideological reason even if they have no firsthand experience with things. And in my experience of interacting with most professional skeptics that make a job out of it or make that a hobby of some sort, it becomes more of an ideological thing.
Most of the ones that I’ve interacted with aren’t very familiar with astrology, and if you ask them some basic questions about the subject, it becomes really clear most of the time that they haven’t really studied it. But they’re still adamantly convinced or sometimes even militantly convinced that it’s wrong, that it’s not true, and that it’s a bad thing; but also that astrologers are actively harming or trying to rip people off. So they have almost an ideological justification for doing anything they can to stop them or to mess with them, to troll them, or to do other things generally to stop that from happening because they truly believe that astrologers are up to no good, and they’re like bad people that are hurting people, which is not necessarily the case; and it partially stems from their lack of familiarity with the actual astrological community.
But there’s something about that piece of things that I’m not looking forward to, and I do suspect that there’s gonna be a shift at some point in the next decade. I partially think it has to do with Neptune going through Pisces over the past decade, and that’s gonna shift here in a few years. And I think that might be one of the changes—a shift in the skeptical community starting to make a bit of a comeback at some point and starting to reorganize and reorient themselves in whatever the new timeframe is that we’ll exist in and moving beyond whatever the previous approaches had been from the 1990s and other things that were appropriate then that maybe aren’t working as well now.
AM: Interesting. Well, one of the big themes that I’m looking to cover in my book is to what extent and in what way spirituality can coexist with critical thinking. Like can we bridge the two? Can you be a skeptic and at the same time be involved in a certain kind of spiritual practice? I’m not sure whether you would even call astrology a spiritual practice. But yeah, so to what extent can they coexist? I think we’re perhaps on the same page about wanting there to be an element of critical thinking in all of these enterprises.
CB: Yeah, I think that’s really important in whatever you’re doing, to have a certain element of critical thinking. And to not take things for granted has always been one of my main things. Just don’t take anything for granted. I try not to do that with my audience. I try to assume when I do a podcast that they don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. And so, I have to introduce it from the ground up and then get to the more advanced things. But also, with myself, I try to strive on a regular basis not to take things for granted and to try to research or get to the bottom of things. Even for news stories, if everyone on social media is saying something happened, just trying to get back to the source and read it firsthand myself so that I understand at least what the basis is of the public opinion that’s formed. Yeah, I don’t think astrology is—what was the way that you phrased that? Like a religion or spirituality?
AM: A spiritual enterprise. I’m not sure whether that’s accurate to say that.
CB: You know, this is debated in the community, but I think at the very least, even in the most restrictive sense, that astrology, if it works—and if you’re using it or practicing it, or if you’re observing it happening firsthand—that it does raise philosophical or cosmological or spiritual questions about the world and about what we’re doing here and what this means, you know, does fate exist, or destiny, or all of these other things. It certainly raises all of those issues and naturally leads one to contemplate them, and to that extent it does start interfacing and getting into an area of religion and of spirituality and belief, which is like the broader way of how we contextualize our lives and what our meaning and purpose is here.
And the problem with astrology is that it really straddles both fields and has a foot in both fields. It’s not entirely scientific and it’s not entirely religious, but it has elements of science to the extent that it has this empirical component, but then it also has these religious and philosophical components at the same time. And on the one hand that’s a downside to astrology or a downside to being an astrologer in society because astrology then is actually rejected by both camps typically. You get rejected both from a scientific standpoint—that it’s not scientific enough, or it’s not validated within our current worldview or by the current scientific studies or what have you—but then it also gets rejected oftentimes from a religious standpoint as well.
For Christianity, for example, it was originally rejected partially through issues about fate and free will because Christianity really emphasized free will. And to the extent that astrology was partially saying that things might be more predetermined, it ran up against the religious orthodoxy of things. So that puts astrology in a really precarious position in society where it’s on the outs of both religion and science. But then also at the same time probably one of its virtues is that it’s very unique in that sense to the extent that it could have its foot in both worlds and could potentially bridge both worlds. To whatever extent that’s true, that raises some really interesting possibilities that, to me, at least, make it even more interesting, even if it contains or carries some drawbacks.
AM: That’s really fascinating. That’s something I’m gonna have to think more about. And so, I’m aware I’ve taken up a lot of your time already, so I’ve only really got one final question, which is a big, open-ended one to finish with. Are there any big misconceptions about astrology that you’d like to debunk?
CB: Are there any big misconceptions? I mean, we’ve talked about so many of them at this point. I mean, I think, you know, the biggest one from skeptics is just the idea that astrologers are cold reading people, or that they’re malicious, or that they don’t believe in what they do, or other things like that. Or that astrology only works through confirmation bias or things like. And I think so many of those things are just misconceptions or preconceptions or prejudices and assumptions rather than people looking into something and having a firsthand experience and deciding for themselves that it’s true or not true. And I realize, you know, putting controls on things and doing things in a controlled scientific context because of a fundamental belief in the fallibility of human perception is part of the scientific method at this point in time, but there’s an extent to which I think it’s important for people to actually study things themselves instead of taking for granted what somebody else says.
So often, so many things, like the thirteenth zodiac or the confirmation bias thing—people that are in a more skeptical mindset will tend to just accept these arguments and repeat them but they haven’t actually looked into it themselves. So I think I would just encourage people to look into it themselves and come to their own conclusions rather than accepting something that somebody else says because then that ironically becomes almost a matter of faith, even though the person doing it thinks that they’re following the more scientific method or the scientific viewpoint. And that’s a way in which, you know, there’s a weird contradiction in society to a certain extent about the science vs. faith issue at this point. Are there any other misconceptions that you can think of in astrology that we haven’t addressed?
AM: No, nothing in particular. I mean, I suppose, as you say, ten years ago, if you ever thought about astrology, and you were thinking about their Sun sign, it’s pretty easy to kind of refute. Not every Taurus is gonna have the same day, therefore, astrology’s not true, you know.
AM: But I feel like we probably have moved away from that and most people nowadays are aware that it’s a bit more to it than that.
CB: Yeah, I guess that actually does a raise a point ‘cause we’re still at that level in that most people, their understanding of astrology is still fundamentally about character analysis, and the idea that now instead of just having one sign and whether that sign matches your personality, you have three signs and whether those match your personality. But I think actually the more interesting thing about astrology, the thing that everybody really needs to investigate is the most fundamental timing technique in astrology, which is the concept of transits. You take your birth chart—which is the positions of the planets at the moment you were born—and then you see what happens in the future when different planetary alignments happen in a person’s life, especially during important events in a person’s life. And what will happen is that at important planetary alignments in the future that match up with your birth chart, important events will happen in your life; that’s one of the basic premises of predictive astrology and the concept of transits.
And I always wish that more people understood that concept and would investigate it for themselves because that’s really the concept that has to be investigated if one wanted to determine if there’s any validity to astrology. Can you predict events with transits? Or alternatively, have major planetary alignments at specific turning points, like important turning points in your life, actually lined up in a way that symbolically spoke to that situation or described it accurately? Like when a person had their first child, or when they were recognized for an important award, or when they got married or other things like that—the planets should be lining up and showing that important turning points would happen at that point in your life. For some reason, from the perspective of astrologers, they do.
And I think if more people—especially more smart, educated, even skeptical or science-minded people—investigated that and then saw those correlations they would be startled by it, but also some of them would be so fascinated by it that they would probably choose to investigate it further as well. And then at some point we’d probably get another Ptolemy-type figure who’s like a polymath or a leader or somebody that has training in a number of other scientific disciplines who could help to create a sort of unified theory that could find a place for astrology in contemporary cosmology, you know, better than somebody like myself who’s more of a historian, or better than some other astrologers who are horoscope writers or something like that. You know, astrologers actually need that, and I think it would be good for the astrological community if more people that thought at high levels like that and had training in other types of sciences were helping astrologers to figure things out, I think that might be a good thing for the community and the world in general.
AM: Do you see anybody coming up like that at the moment, or is that the pipe dream?
CB: No. I mean, there’s always periodically different people like that that are operating or doing astrology or have a side interest in astrology. Most of the time the biggest problem is just that that’s like career suicide for anybody to be publicly open about their astrological interest or astrological studies. So you’ll get people like that that have a personal interest in it or a personal study, but then it’s only occasionally that you’ll get somebody that actually tries to integrate that into their career. Richard Tarnas, for example, wrote in the early ‘90s The Passion of the Western Mind, and it became a very popular college textbook for studying the changes in Western thought through history in philosophy and science and everything else.
But then it turned out that he was actually writing that as kind of like a precursor to this other book that was studying the history of astrology that actually showed how important turning points in Western thought and scientific paradigms had actually coincided with specific planetary alignments in the past. And he published that book in 2005 or 2004 as a major thing, and a lot of people were surprised that he sort of came out as an astrologer. But yeah, it sort of takes things like that but it’s kind of a risky move for a person to do that. And only certain people find themselves in that position where they have the luxury of doing that, whereas others, I think it’s more of a private thing.
AM: I see. It’s interesting you use the phrase ‘come out as an astrologer’ there because the other astrologer I spoke to used exactly the same phrase talking about herself. She almost had to ‘come out’ to publicly state that she was into this.
CB: And I need to actually clarify that because I don’t want to get in trouble because I know astrologers do commonly use that phrase because they have a similar experience oftentimes of trepidation. Sometimes astrologers develop this as a hobby or a side interest, and there’s a certain amount of risk that’s involved in becoming public, either with their employer, their social circle, or even their family about their interest in astrology. And there’s a certain amount of risk sometimes in a person being open about that because then they become the subject sometimes of presumptions or criticisms. There’s all sorts of potentially negative assumptions that a person might make about you if you say that you do astrology, that you practice astrology, or you’re interested in it.
Like a skeptic will think you’re an idiot or you believe in a lot of things that aren’t true, or you’re actually actively against scientific progress, or that you’re ripping people off. A religious person might think that you’re, you know, in league with the devil, or you’re doing witchcraft or other things like that. So astrologers do have a certain amount of risk, but at the same time, you know, using that phrase is a little tricky because it’s not usually the same amount of risk that a person who’s gay has in terms of coming out and being open about their sexuality. And I want to be clear that I’m not, by using that phrase, fully trying to equate the two or trying to say that astrologers have the same level of potential difficulty in terms of that. But it’s just an analogy that sometimes astrologers use because of the similar feeling of fear or trepidation about being open with people in their life about what they do or what they believe because it sometimes has major downsides to being open about that.
AM: Yeah, that was definitely the sense I got from her as well. Though she did say that it had gone a lot better than she thought and people are very receptive to it, which, to me, sort of speaks to this increased popularity of astrology among our demographic today perhaps.
CB: Yeah, I think it’s definitely better than it used to be at different points. I mean, from a religious standpoint it seems like that’s becoming to a certain extent less of an issue, and maybe that has to do with society becoming less religious to a certain extent, or at least certain orthodox views not being as prevalent as they were before then. And yeah, there’s greater acceptance among younger people. But on the other hand, you will still run into some issues where if you say that there’s still definitely people who don’t have favorable views of astrology. I mean, I think most scientific polls I’ve read said that only something like 25% or in the range of 25% of people ‘believe’ in astrology. And there’s kind of an issue in terms of the phrasing of what that means by ‘believe’ in astrology. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with or at least nervous about whether that’s an accurate reflection of what it’s trying to figure out.
But even that aside, if that’s true, that’s only about a quarter of society that thinks that astrology might be a legitimate phenomenon, and that leaves a whole 75%, or let’s say, 70% if we went up to 30% of belief in astrology. That’s 70% of the population that doesn’t think that that’s a legitimate phenomenon or thinks that it’s evil or that it’s harmful or anti-scientific. So yeah, that gives you some interesting perspective in terms of just thinking about the consequences if you are open about that and what the statistically likelihood is if you meet a stranger and tell them you’re an astrologer and what their reaction to that is gonna be.
AM: Well, there’s certainly a lot more to it than I thought there was when I began researching this subject. Because I had quite a superficial knowledge of it to begin with and I didn’t appreciate the level of depth that actually goes into it. And I’ve really enjoyed the conversation with you. You’ve cleared up a lot of my own misconceptions about it. And I feel like I’ve got a lot to investigate further here, so I really appreciate it.
CB: Yeah, thanks for approaching me with these questions and for being open to recording this. I like having discussions like this because part of my goal as an astrologer has always been trying to figure out how to explain what I do to people that aren’t familiar with this subject. And so, I kind of like or relish the opportunity. You know, sometimes there’s science educators—like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye, or to a certain extent, at one point, Richard Dawkins, or people like that—that try to explain science to the public to people that aren’t familiar with it. And I always felt like we needed something like that in the astrological community, so I’ve tried to a certain extent—amongst many other roles—to play that role. So thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss some of this today and to help express some of my thoughts about how it works and what the astrological community is about and other things like that.
AM: I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
CB: Yeah. All right, well, good luck with the book. Let me know when it’s out. And I look forward to reading it.
AM: Thank you. I look forward to listening to your podcast more.
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If you’d like to learn more about my approach to astrology then I’d recommend checking out my book titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune where I go over the history, philosophy, and techniques of ancient astrology, taking people from beginner up through intermediate and advanced techniques for reading birth charts. You can get a print copy of the book through Amazon or other online retailers, or there’s an ebook version available through Google Books. I also recently published a new translation of The Anthology of the 2nd century astrologer Vettius Valens, which is one of the most important sources for understanding the practice of ancient astrology. You can find that by searching for ‘Vettius Valens, The Anthology’ on Amazon or other online book retailers.
If you’re really looking to expand your studies of astrology then I would recommend my Hellenistic astrology course, which is an online course on ancient astrology where I take people through basic concepts up through intermediate and advanced techniques for reading birth charts. There’s over 100 hours of video lectures, as well as guided readings of page texts, and by the time you finish the course you will have a strong foundation in how to read birth charts, as well as make predictions. You can find out more information at courses.TheAstrologySchool.com. I also recently launched a new course there called the Birth Time Rectification Course where I teach students how to figure out your birth time using astrology when the birth time is either unknown or uncertain. You can find out more information about that at TheAstrologySchool.com.
Each year the podcast releases a set of astrology calendar posters for the coming year, and we’ve just released our 2023 Planetary Alignments and Planetary Movements Posters, which are now available on our website at TheAstrologyPodcast.com/store. There you can also pick up our 2023 Election Astrology Report where Leisa Schaim and I went through the next 12 months and we picked out the single most auspicious date for each month using the principles of electional astrology. You can get that at TheAstrologyPodcast.com/2023report.
And finally, thanks to our sponsors, including: The Mountain Astrologer Magazine, which is a quarterly astrology magazine which you can read and print or online at MountainAstrologer.com. Finally, thanks also to the Northwest Astrology Conference, which is happening May 25-29, 2023, just outside of Seattle. This year’s conference is going to be a hybrid conference where you can either attend online or in person. Find out more information at norwac.net.