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The Astrology Podcast

Ep. 447 Transcript: Prophecy and Power, with Patrick Curry and Nicholas Campion

The Astrology Podcast

Transcript of Episode 447, titled:

Prophecy and Power, with Patrick Curry and Nicholas Campion

With Chris Brennan, Patrick Curry, and Nicholas Campion

Episode originally released on May 7, 2024


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: theastrologypodcast@gmail.com

Transcribed by Teresa “Peri” Lardo

Transcription released May 19th, 2024

Copyright © 2024 TheAstrologyPodcast.com

CHRIS BRENNAN: Hey, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Joining me today are historians Nicholas Campion and Patrick Curry, and we’re gonna be talking about Patrick’s landmark book on 17th century astrology titled Prophecy and Power: Astrology in Early Modern England, which was just recently republished. So hey Nick and Patrick – welcome to the show.



PC: Thanks very much.

CB: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining me today. So this is an exciting moment to be talking with you both, because this was a pretty significant book in terms of the history of astrology and in terms of historical discussions about astrology, especially in an academic context. It was published in the mid- to late 1980s, and you’ve just decided to republish it after all of these years, right?

NC: Yeah, sure, we’re doing a second edition through the Sophia Centre Press. I mean, it’s substantially unchanged; we just have a new foreword. But Patrick’s text is completely unchanged. We thought, “Don’t tamper with something which works so well.”

CB: So what year was the book originally published?

PC: The book was originally published in 1989, and shall I give you a little bit of the background to it?

CB: Please. I’d love to hear it.

PC: Well, I did my PhD in the department of history and philosophy of science at University College London in 1987; I finished that in 1987. And so I basically turned my thesis – not all of it, but most of it – into the book on the same subject, and that was how Prophecy and Power came to be published by Polity Press in 1989. And of course, that was nearly 40 years ago, so it must have some life in it because it’s just been published in a second edition thanks to Sophia Centre Press with a new foreword by Darrel Rutkin, a really excellent new foreword. And so that’s how it came about from my point of view.

CB: Yeah. And in the meantime, so much scholarship has been done on astrology. And Nick, your also landmark two volume history of astrology came out in the late 2000s, titled A History of Western Astrology, Volumes One and Two, which covered part of that period but also gave a broader history of astrology as well.

NC: Yeah. When Prophecy and Power came out, I had restarted my academic career, so Patrick and I met probably around 1980, and Patrick was just getting into doing his PhD, which I didn’t do until 1997. But we both had a shared love of the history of astrology, and back then in London, there was a nucleus of people who weren’t academics who were sometimes astrologers who were beginning to realize that it was necessary to understand astrology’s history, and there were several other seminal academic works coming out. So I began to work on my book around the mid ’90s, and it turned in – yes – to a rather massive book on the history of Western astrology because I find it difficult to know what to leave out. Because once you start to look at the topic, it has so many tentacles that reach so many areas, so —

CB: I know what it’s like to write a massive book. I know that issue you struggled with.

NC: Yeah, with your Hellenistic Astrology.

CB: Yeah. So yeah. And you published that finally in 2008 and 2009. What influenced you about Patrick’s book, or what did you feel was significant about it now in retrospect that led you to want to republish it, Nick, as part of the Sophia Centre Press?

NC: Well, historically, it was the case that astrology by many academics was regarded as somehow a taboo, and even a taboo to talk about it on occasion. And so histories of astrology would frequently have some sort of ritual denunciation of it, and the great example was the denunciation of astrology as a wretched subject. And a move against this began with important works like Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic and Bernard Capp’s epic book on 16th century almanacs. And so Patrick’s book almost Christanized this process by saying we can look at astrology in terms of what astrologers were doing, their own what’s been called a universe of discourse, without seeking the need to project modern debates back and talk about astrology as a superstition or pseudoscience, but look at it in its own terms – what was happening? So that’s what inspired me and that’s what I took forward in my own work.

PC: Can I speak to that?

CB: Yeah.

PC: Yeah. For me, I wanted to refuse the temptation historians and sociologists succumb to for so long to second-guess astrologers. And say something like, “Well, they thought they were doing this, but actually they were doing this other thing which was delusional.” Because it seemed grossly unfair to me, because in the present time, we could all be in that position. So there should be symmetry of approach to people in the past and to people in the present. And that position was being taken up at the time I was working back in the ‘80s by social studies of science. We said, well, we’re gonna have to bracket the question of what actually is scientifically true and observe how scientists behave and what their practices are and how they come up with the definition of what’s true, whether it is true or not. So that was influential for me because I was in a department of history and philosophy of science.

The other thing that played into my determination to be even-handed was E.P. Thompson, the great socialist historian E.P. Thompson’s work, especially his book The Making of the English Working Class, which evolved into something called history from below. And in the introduction to his book, he said he is determined to rescue the laboring poor, the urban working classes, the followers of prophets at the time from the enormous condescension of posterity. And I thought, “Absolutely – that’s it.” Astrologers – I just, in a sense, added astrologers to the list of people who had been treated with the enormous condescension of superior thinking, right thinking, in their own estimate, posterity. So those two influences came together very nicely and impelled me to say, “Okay, let’s take astrologers as seriously. Let’s take astrology as seriously as they did, and then look at what they did, what meant a lot to them, how they behaved, how they thought.” And that was very helpful.

CB: Yeah. And it seems different. It seems like there was shift that occurred around that time where earlier histories of astrology sometimes, in order to maintain academic credibility, would sometimes have to pepper their accounts of the history with frequent reminders that they don’t believe —

PC: That’s right.

CB: — in the subject or that —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — they found it absurd. Like Bouché-Leclercq’s famous work on Greco-Roman astrology from 1899 where he has like, jokes throughout it about how astrology’s not – silly, or other things like that. It seems like there was a shift at some point where that started becoming unnecessary over the past 40 years.

PC: Yeah. I mean, the general term at the time for that sort of history was “whiggish” history, in other words, the idea that there was a predetermined goal of history, which is complete scientific knowledge and therefore astrology fails that test. It wasn’t moving in the right direction supposedly. And as a result, the same historians you just mentioned felt obliged to treat astrology not as a thing in itself, but as a failed version of something else – a failed version of religion, a failed version of science, a pseudoscience, etc. Whereas I wanted to say it’s a thing in itself, like ultimately everything is and should be treated with that kind of seriousness.

CB: Right. I was really surprised, actually, in rereading the book how you really set a program for that like, right at the very beginning in the introduction or in the first chapter of saying that that’s how you’re going to approach things, which seems so obvious now 40 years later, but it wasn’t obvious at the time necessarily.

PC: Yeah. No, that’s right. That’s right.

NC: There’s another word that comes to mind connected with what Patrick’s been talking about and what historians thought, which is the word “dabble.” Say you have an otherwise now respected figure from the past, because they were a scientist or a scholar, and their astrological practice is termed as “dabbling.” They “dabbled” in astrology.

CB: Right.

NC: Either that or they did it for money, or because they had some sort of royal contract or employment that required them to do horoscopes on the side, whereas of course they didn’t really believe it. They had to take the money, and if they did it without being paid or required as part of a contract, they were just “dabbling.” And yet, we have from the period that Patrick’s writing about the examples of Johan Kepler and Galileo, both of whom took astrology extraordinarily seriously. And so I think that is now sufficiently well understood for them to be treated as taking astrology, you know, in its own terms. They were both astrological reformers about whom the people that Patrick’s writing about in 17th century England would be well aware. But that old view is something Patrick helped dispel.

CB: Yeah. The downplaying or tendency to downplay not just its importance, but also the actual practitioners or famous scientists and astrologers like Kepler, who is both attributed that of both downplaying it but also of having only done it for financial reasons or something like that, which ignores the personal charts and work that he did with astrology throughout his life.

NC: That’s right.

CB: All right. So let’s focus on the period, though. So this book primarily focuses on astrology in 17th century England, which is an enormously interesting and fascinating period to study, because it seems like by this time, astrology starts being really well-documented. Because I’m thinking – I’m comparing it with like, my own specialty tradition of Hellenistic astrology where we have so little documentation in terms of the survival of, you know, a handful of major astrological manuals, but often like, the dating of certain astrologers is a little sketchy. We don’t have private correspondences or other things like that. But by the time you get to the 17th century, some of the lives of some of these different astrologers are so well-documented that it’s amazing the huge amount of material that you had to draw on.

PC: It was very rich, and I did a lot of that archival research in the Duke Humfrey’s Library in Oxford, which of course is an early 17th century building. So, you know, as a North American, it was pretty much like being in heaven. I was in a 17th century building reading 17th century letters in the Ashmolian collection. It was a great honor to be able to do that. And yes, there’s a lot of documentation, and of course all the almanacs, which were in Capp’s work, did such a good job of looking at. You could get quite close to some of these people, and I did in the course of the research. I felt quite close to them like I knew them, at least to some extent, which you can do when you have that kind of resources to draw upon.

CB: Right. So there’s archives where, so you’ve got not just personal correspondences of astrologers with famous figures, but also the fact that they were all publishing almanacs and that even just the practice of publishing almanacs had become so commonplace gives you a lot of documentation of like, what they were doing or saying in individual years.

PC: Yeah, that’s right. And of course, you know, perhaps in a way the most striking about that period is you have this flourishing of judicial astrology, horoscopic astrology in particular in the 1660s and ‘50s and ‘60s. Well, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Followed by this collapse, which was extraordinarily rapid for historical changes. And my starting point was something like, well, it can’t be that everybody thought astrology was true and then within the space of a few years they decided that it wasn’t true or they realized – even worse – that it wasn’t true, so they all changed their minds. No, there had to be other factors involved, and that’s where the social and political changes of the period started to kick in. Not in a crude, deterministic way, but just those changes that had formerly made a welcoming environment to astrological speculation and so on suddenly became much less welcoming and tended to shut it out, which I think is perfectly plausible. There’s nothing extraordinary about saying that.

CB: Right. So the 17th century was both a peak and like, a high water mark for astrology, but also ended up being the period in which it began a very rapid decline —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — in Europe for the next couple of centuries.

PC: Yes, exactly. That’s exactly right, yeah. It was a heck of a time for astrology.

CB: So one of your central – I think maybe the central thesis in the book seems like it is that to the surprise of maybe like, earlier narratives from historians that mainly attributed the downfall of astrology to the scientific revolution and this assumption that astrology was scientifically disproven experimentally at the time, that instead part of what happened at least in England was that it got tied up in politics and power dynamics that happened around that time, which then had an effect on the perception of astrologers. Is that correct —

PC: Yes, that’s —

CB: — is that roughly accurate?

PC: That’s exactly right, in the Royal Society and people like that, the natural philosophers of the day – later called scientists – were part of the same sort of maelstrom of social and political and cultural changes that were going on. Nobody was standing outside that and making things happen or manipulating things, including the scientists.

CB: Yeah. That made me, it gave me a real – I felt like there was a lot of parallels with astrology today in different ways. It was hard for me to not look at that, because part of it was that each astrologer had – there was a civil war in the 17th century, and different astrologers were on different sides and would sometimes color their predictions based on who they favored —

PC: Sure.

CB: — and that’s, you know, that’s an issue I think that astrologers have run into in different periods. Nick, that’s something I think has continued to be the case in different ways. Like, for example, you documented in one of your books, you know, Joan Quigley, for example, working for the President Ronald Reagan.

NC: Yes. I actually think Joan Quigley is an example of an astrologer who did try to stick to the astrology. I mean, she was – it was an extraordinary situation in that she was advising nominally the most powerful man in the world. But if you read what she wrote, and also I did meet her and see her lecture after the whole story was recovered, she was merely taking the astrology and then saying to Reagan what he should do, some of which was very interesting. Like, at the time of the Iran-Contra scandal when there were the expose of illegal arms sales in Central America, she said, “Don’t say anything.” Which reminded —

CB: Right.

NC: — me of advice to the Babylonian kings to stay in the palace. But if you look beyond —

CB: I loved your —

NC: — Joan Quigley – yeah?

CB: I loved your emphasis of that. That was such a brilliant point that always stuck in my mind how you made that parallel with Joan Quigley told him to be silent for like, 60 days, and that you picked out a parallel in the Babylonian tradition of ancient astrologer from like, 700 BCE who had told the king literally, you know, don’t go outside, don’t do anything during this time, that there’s such a parallelism in that astrological tradition going back thousands of years.

NC: Yes. I don’t know if Joan Quigley was aware of that tradition, but she certainly expressed it very well. I was going to say that I think the problem of astrologers using their predictions to promote a political point of view is still very strong, and if you surf social media and so on you’ll see astrologers saying this or that is going to happen, and clearly invoking astrological factors to support their point of view. And if we go back to the 17th century, I think an additional factor in the civil war era was that there were two warring sides, and it must have been for many people an incredibly disruptive, frightening period to find in England, you know, 1642 to 1649, your country torn apart and then the king executed and then a very strict, puritanical regime. So I’ve just been rereading some of William Lilly’s work, he being of course one of the most prominent astrologers of the time, and what I feel like Patrick said he knew the people he was talking about, I really feel I’ve come to know him. He’s now like an old friend. I can feel that he’s wanting to put things into print, but not wanting to alienate the royal faction or the parliamentary factor, either of whom might win, and then take some kind of revenge. So I really think that that was a serious issue then. You know, an unstable, uncertain world that they were operating in, at least, in that civil war and republican period.

CB: That’s huge, and that’s – I think that’s one of the most subtle but probably important and striking things I’ve read in rereading that treatment in Patrick’s book, but just that each of these astrologers because they were in such a tense social and political climate had real pressures on them in terms of their predictions not just mattering but also sometimes being threats to their lives based on what they would say or not say, and therefore sometimes there was both internal self-censorship, which can still be the case today. But also there were major issues with external censorship during that period as well.

PC: Oh yeah. I think at the risk of being banal, the bottom line to all this is that it’s a human activity. These are human beings we’re are talking about, placed in circumstances as we are that we’re not entirely in control of and can’t manipulate the outcome of. So astrologers are human beings; that doesn’t – so it’s a human activity. That doesn’t mean that you can say anything you want to. It’s not a relativist point like that, because you’re constrained by the tradition and by the astrological tradition and the astrological rituals, and they have certain definite parameters and tendencies and instructions and so on. You can’t just ignore those and still be considered to be a good astrologer, or perhaps an astrologer at all. But it does mean that there is that element of uncertainty, which is as relevant in Babylon back in the day as it is in 2024, and astrologers aren’t exempt from it.

CB: Yeah. Well, and it also made me think of – it’s actually more of a recurring theme than I’d realized, self-censorship, because I thought of immediately Firmicus Maternus in the 4th century. He writes an entire textbook about astrology and applying it to charts and looking at eminent charts, but right at the beginning, he says very clearly, however, the one chart you can’t look at is the emperor —

PC: Right.

CB: — and he goes so far as to claim – and actually, astrology doesn’t even apply to the emperor, and then he goes on. And obviously, that’s not true, and astrologers have a very long tradition of looking at the charts of eminent people. Valens even has Nero’s chart as one of his chart examples. But Firmicus obviously is trying to be very careful, because he’s in a position that could be very dangerous.

PC: Absolutely. So I think if you’re reading somebody like William Lilly, you can tell that his sympathies are largely parliamentarian. They were largely with the Roundheads, although very much not with the Presbyterians. But at the same time, even Lilly wasn’t entirely consistent. I think there’s an episode in which Charles the First applies to him for advice, and he actually goes so far as to try and help Charles escape prison that he was in at the time. So he had some personal sympathy with the King. There’s no reason why we should expect complete consistency of him anymore than we should of anybody else.

NC: I think that another thing that struck me about William Lilly on rereading him is that he was, in my view, a devout Christian, as devout as anybody else. I remember Patrick – I don’t know if you were aware of this or remember it, but back about 40 years ago, there was a view on the title of William Lilly’s Christian Astrology that he called it Christian Astrology because somehow he wanted —

PC: Yeah.

NC: — to —

PC: Cover his —

NC: He wanted to cover his back.

PC: Yeah.

NC: But I’ve rather changed my mind on that. The texts that I’ve been reading analyzing recently was his 1644 text on the comets of 1618 and the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions. And there’s constant appeals to God, scripture, and so on, such as you might find in many other tracts of the time. And then I’m thinking, well of course, God’s power over the universe was not questioned.

PC: No, that’s right.

NC: He was a king of the universe. And so that wouldn’t be questioned anymore than now, you know, we’d question gravity.

PC: No.

NC: And so I’ve come to sort of see him much more in terms of that context, and therefore being aware – and not of the need to appease maybe Christian critics of astrology, but almost to appease God himself. Say to God directly, I’m saying this about the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction or the comet or whatever.

PC: Subject to correct.

NC: Yeah. Subject to the fact that you created the stars in the first place.

PC: Yeah.

NC: They are your creation.

PC: Divine correction, yeah. No, I think you’re right, Nick. While we’re on the subject of Lilly, I’d like to just mention that I was asked to do most of the early modern astrologers for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography quite a few years ago now, and that included a long entry for Lilly. And my concluding sentence – I looked it up again. My concluding sentence for the entry on Lilly in the DNB was “Lilly was a genius at something – judicial astrology – which modern mainstream opinion has since decided is impossible to do at all, let alone do well or badly.” So I wanted to remind people of trying to understand Lilly that they have this obstacle in their way unless they’ve really looked into it, whereby the question for example, “Was Lilly a good astrologer or a bad astrologer or a genius at astrology?” – which I happen to think he was. But the question cannot even be asked in modern mainstream opinion, because it’s impossible to do astrology, therefore you can’t do it badly or well. I’m talking about elite mainstream modern opinion. Now that may be changing very very slowly, but there is this difficulty with Lilly, but once you get past it, I think it’s easy to see, yes, he was absolutely exceptional as an astrologer. His skill – not just his rhetorical skill but his interpretive astrological skills – were amazing.

CB: Yeah. As I was rereading your book, I was struck by what a unique figure he was. And you can understand better what a towering figure he was in being this sort of not just archetype of an astrologer during that time, but being a leading figure that other astrologers perhaps looked to —

PC: Oh, absolutely.

CB: — you know, reverently. But he was just doing all these things because he wasn’t just the author of the first major English language textbook on astrology in 1647, but he also was writing an almanac regularly and issuing predictions that thousands and thousands of people were listening to and being influenced by.

PC: Yeah.

CB: He was doing private consultations constantly with people from all different social classes. I mean, he really was a striking figure if you just imagine like, being an astrologer in his shoes in the middle of a civil war where you’re being torn between two different sides.

PC: Yeah. And I think in some slight indirect confirmation of what you just said is provided by the fact of the friendship, the deep friendship, between Lilly and Elias Ashmole. And Ashmole, after all, was firmly royalist – definitely in the other camp. But these two men were the closest of friends, and one of the things they shared deeply was of course their understanding and love of astrology. That’s a nice human touch, I think, in my opinion.

CB: Yeah. And Ashmole would go on to be one of the founders of the Royal Society, right?

PC: That’s right, yeah.

CB: All right —

NC: And Ashmole actually protected Lilly, didn’t he, when the —

PC: He did. He came to —

NC: The monarchy was restored.

PC: He did, very much so, that’s right. Yeah.

CB: Right. That’s really important. So Lilly found himself in danger or even thrown in jail or put on trial a couple of times, but in some instances, he was able to get help from people in high places to protect him, basically.

PC: Yes, that’s right. Yeah.

CB: One of the things with Lilly that I thought was interesting going back to the censorship point is there were restrictions on what could be published leading into that period for the first almost half of the 17th century. But part of what happened with the flourishing of astrology is that some of those censorship restrictions were suddenly loosened up or disappeared for a brief period of time, right?

PC: Yeah. John Booker, who was a pretty wild astrologer, found himself as the official censor for a while under Cromwell, so it was pretty much anything goes at that point.

CB: All right. So there was an astrologer in charge of the, that was the one who could approve things, and then also just the civil war itself and there was something about that that changed things at that time as well, right?

PC: Yeah, oh yeah. Sure. Lilly’s – I forget how many platoons or regiments his worth was compared to, but it was several, because his words were taken so seriously. His prophecies were taken so seriously. And yet by the time this was all over so to speak with the Restoration, the same phenomenon, his huge influence and the extent to which he was taken seriously counted very heavily against him. And I’m sure you’re aware of this, but the term “enthusiasm,” which of course literally means to be filled with a god, became after the Restoration a serious criticism, an insult, even. “Oh, you can’t count on so-and-so; he’s enthusiastic,” meaning he’s given to wild political and social ideas. And Lilly was – along with other astrologers – was very much associated with precisely what had brought them to fame in the first place. So if there’s a moral, it is you can’t trust history.

CB: Well, I thought that was actually interesting as a parallel also as just sometimes there can be almost quasi-revolutionary social or political movements. Sometimes astrologers can get involved with those, but then sometimes the power dynamic can shift to the other side, and astrologers can find themselves suddenly in the camp that’s not in power at that point, which can result in reprisals. I guess that was one of the sort of lessons I took from that.

PC: Yeah. I mean, one of the – this is not a jolly lesson to take home, but I’m afraid that one of the take-home lessons from my book is when things on a big scale socially and politically and culturally, you know, you can’t expect to turn that around, certainly not as an individual, not even as a group of people. So you had these attempts to reform astrology in order to save it in response to the changes that had taken place. It really was after 1670 or ‘80 would have been hard to find an astrologer who didn’t say they were reforming it in some way, even along Aristotealan lines to make it more “rational” or in terms of natural philosophy with John Goad and his astrometeorology and so on. In a sense, these attempts were all doomed. Fair play to them for trying, but nothing could save the astrology that they had. Nothing was ever going to. You would have to come up with a new kind of astrology perhaps, which eventually happened, of course, with the psychological astrology of the early 1900s. That was a new kind of astrology on the back of another major change, which brought psychology to the fore. That was an entirely new development and astrologers were quick to move with it. But to think that you can actually effect major change through astrology, I’m not too big on that idea, if you see what I mean.

CB: One of the reform movements that was interesting also was a back to Ptolemy movement of —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — let’s go back to this, the oldest text that we have access to, and they noticed how different it was sometimes compared to other texts they’d inherited from the medieval tradition. And so some of the astrologers tried to strip astrology down to just what Ptolemy did.

PC: Yes, there was an attempt to return to an original purity of astrological interpretation, which – well, you have to be pretty careful with stuff like that.

CB: We’ve seen that recur also in modern times. The two of you actually were witness to that. I was actually surprised by, in your book, already there were some things that I thought came later in terms of discussions about astrology as divination or horary, things like that that I thought originated in the ‘90s but actually, you’re already aware of and citing some articles related to that by the ‘80s.

PC: Yeah, there was an interest in that direction, sort of wildly different direction from moving in towards Gauquelin’s inspired scientific probity. In a way, it’s testament to astrology’s richness that it can move in so many extremely different directions.

CB: You know, that’s a great point. That’s an exact parallel where in the late 20th century, we had both of the same movements. You had the attempt to go towards a “scientific astrology” and you had an attempt to go back to the ancient sources movement, which is a perfect parallel with what you were documenting in that later half of the 17th century where there was a sort of Make Astrology Scientific and Empirical movement, and there was a Take Astrology Back to the Sources movement.

PC: Yes, that’s right.

NC: I think it was another sort of reformism in the early 17th century as well. So we have the, you know, Take It Back to Essentials like, go back to Ptolemy, but we also have the empirical ideas of Kepler, who rejected the zodiac, rejected the 12 sign houses, even though I think when he was called upon to perform astrological work, he would use the richness of astrological technique to a degree. But in theory, he said what we have to do is look at planetary cycles, look to historical precedents to see what occurs when two planets are in aspect, and then build up a picture like that. And I was struck by this, because Kepler was writing in the 1610s and 16-teens, and his work was getting through to the English astrologers. So for example, Kepler revived, I think he revived this from Valens, the idea of day for a year progressions so that, as you know, the second day after life was equivalent to the second year and so on. And Lilly applied this to mundane predictions, and he did this in 1642. And so I’m thinking that, you know, Kepler’s work was clearly filtering into England; I don’t know if Lilly read that particular text of Kepler’s directly. So another way I’ve begun to see Lilly is not just as a, not a simple modernizer, but like so many modern astrologers do, they’re eclectic or syncretic. They take one technique from here and one from there and bundle them all together. And I think that this probably happens with astrologers in their 20s now.

PC: Absolutely.

NC: Bit of Hellenistic astrology, a bit of evolutionary astrology, bit of this, bit of that. And so I think that was going on as well, so one can identify like, almost ideal trajectories looking back at the past, reforming in different ways. But then you’ve got a lot of people who are in a sort of middle position and not so clearly defined.

PC: Yeah.

NC: And instead using whatever’s there.

PC: I think that’s most of us. And of course —

NC: In every aspect of life, actually.

PC: Yes, yes! Improvising like crazy.

NC: Yeah.

PC: Of course, there was also some resistance to Kepler’s idea among astrologers at the time. I remember one astrologer referring to Kepler as “that witty man.” Of course and by “wit” – that was an insult to call somebody “witty,” meaning, “yes, yes, very clever, but not sound.” And that hasn’t changed either. We still have sort of thing going on.

CB: Some of the bickering and the fights between the different astrologers were legendary. That’s the other part that’s very entertaining about 17th century astrology and how well documented it was was there were some pretty legendary sort of knock-down, drag-out like, fights between some of these different astrologers, right?

PC: Yes, absolutely, particularly for example between George Wharton who was a leading royalist astrologer and Lilly. But then when the parliamentary victory was complete for the time being, Lilly rescued Warden from jail and probably being executed. So there was this loyalty among astrologers that when the chips were down that seemed to transcend politics most of the time, which I think is rather good thing.

CB: Yeah. That seems crucial. And also one of the things you document in one chapter that I thought was striking and this has to be a first, but that there was a period of what, like 20 years where there were astrology meetings basically that occurred where a group of maybe —

PC: Oh yeah.

CB: — 40 astrologers would meet up semi-regularly.

PC: Yeah. The Astrologers’ Feasts, which is probably one of the, my favorite parts of the book because it’s just a lovely period piece. I mean, how nice it must have been for them to be able to have a big feast once a year, a big event in public without having to do it secretly or privately, and invite pretty much everybody, friends and enemies alike, and then have a sermon after the feast to listen to. I mean, that must have been a great thing to be able to do. And of course it came to an end when it couldn’t be sustained. And with hindsight, we can sort of see, oh, you’re not gonna be able to carry on doing this forever, mate. It’s not gonna pan out that way. They didn’t know that. They thought, well, we’re probably gonna have these feasts forever. No. And the last few were quite poignant, because by then, not only was the temper of the times against being openly astrological, but a lot of the astrologers of the earlier generations were dead, of course. So yeah, that’s a favorite episode of mine.

CB: Yeah. There was like, a changing of the generations where —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — you lost many of those astrologers, and I sort of thought that was poignant also just because I can see some of that. There’s been this new generation of astrologers that I’ve seen come up in the past several years where suddenly there’s this huge influx of younger astrologers into the field, and then at the same time, we’ve started to lose some of the astrologers from the generation that came in in the 1940s. And that made me think sometimes just about different generations of astrologers coming and going and the overlap occasionally between them. But sometimes there’s those shifts from one generation to another.

PC: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. We are seeing that.

NC: Patrick, just in relation to this you know, generations changing. You know, you introduced Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in the book. So are you saying it’s the case that fundamentally as astrologers died off so astrology died off? Which would be a kind of Kuhnian thing to say.

PC: Well, different versions of astrology maybe die off. I think Kuhn’s central point, which Max Planck the physicist had stated years and years before Kuhn, was that ideas about the truth don’t – the basic way they change is that a certain generation who sees things a certain way dies off, is replaced by a new generation who sees things differently. But of course, in the case of astrology, that’s not entirely true because the extraordinary richness and I want to say durability of the astrological tradition, such that if you really get to grips with the astrological tradition deeply enough in any particular respect of it, you will sooner or later encounter all the other respects, which embody different paradigms and different perspectives on the same subject, namely the meaning of the stars. And I think that’s a real treasure about astrology; it’s something to really value. It’s very unusual.

CB: And one of the points you make in the book that – you say that it’s not possible to say anymore that astrology died because even though there was this decline, astrology lived on in the 18th and 19th centuries in almanacs and different practitioners that carried on part of that tradition until it was eventually revived in the late 19th and early 20th century?

PC: Yes, that’s exactly right. I mean, horoscopic judicial astrology largely retreated – largely is a generalization – retreated from London, from the big metropolitan centers to the provincial towns and was carried on as part of the practices of people like surveyors, headmasters of schools, geologists, amateur astronomers, and educated people but not part of the sort of metropolitan elite. And it carried on very nicely there until it made a metropolitan comeback starting with people like Raphael and Zadkiel and so on in the sort of occult revival. But it certainly never died. What did die in a sense was what I call philosophical astrology was absorbed by natural philosophy, for example, by Newton, and what couldn’t be used, which tended to be the occult in the sense of magical stuff, was excluded and dropped. So that was a pretty big change, but below them all at the popular level, the level of Old Moore’s Almanac among the laboring poor, it was as if nothing – all that stuff was on the surface. Nothing had changed at all if you go down far enough, so to speak, in the social ladder. So its fate was much more complicated than it used to be. So many historians used to talk about the death of astrology; it’s ridiculous oversimplification.

NC: Interestingly, we’ve got that same social intellectual stratification of astrology that’s continued through the 20th century in terms of popular astrology, which has tended to be focused – before things all went online as they’re happening now – in the days of the heyday of print media, women’s magazines, teenage girls’ magazines, and newspapers aimed at the populace. Whereas you know, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the British Daily Telegraph and so on – no horoscope columns. And if astrology was mentioned, it would be as some sort of funny story.

PC: Yes, that’s exactly right.

NC: So that development that you’ve just observed happening in the late 17th or the 18th century has actually sustained itself even though astrology in the, you know, 1900s and now became a lot more popular again, part of a more mainstream in a variety of forms.

PC: Well, a lot of psychology astrology, particularly perhaps Jungian psychological astrology, that’s still around, and this is something practiced by or believed in, if you prefer, educated people who are certainly educated. Lots of PhDs and whatnot. But again, I would say on the whole, they’re not among the opinion-formers and movers and shakers who read the newspapers that you just mentioned that don’t have any astrology. So there is still a lot of social complexity and intellectual complexity to the picture.

CB: One term that you’ve mentioned a few times is judicial astrology, and it brings up a distinction that was very common in the 17th century but that’s not as common today, and I was wondering if you could expand on that.

PC: Well, I think that the keymark of judicial astrology is to do with individuals, so – and the fate, shall we say, of individuals. Now that was always for milenia contentious because it seemed to potentially infringe free will, divinely granted free will. So if you are predicting an outcome for somebody, you could be overriding their free will to exercise that and determine their own outcome. Or you could be seen as infringing on God’s ability to determine what is gonna happen to that person, and of course that was like a really dangerous thing to do to claim that kind of power. Whereas with the natural astrology is more to do with collectivities, the weather, agricultural crops, natural cycles and so on; it’s not as such an individual phenomena. So I don’t know if you wanna get into this now, but I mean one interesting point that Darrel Rutkin makes in his foreword is he criticizes me for my definition of astrology as being too broad.

CB: Okay.

PC: And do you wanna get into this now?

CB: Yeah, let’s do it. I did notice – I thought there was a – you do put in the original version of the book in 1989, you did sort of put forward a definition of astrology, and I think that definition is a little bit different than one – maybe you finetuned it later —

PC: Yeah. I finetuned it later.

CB: So what are your definitions of astrology?

PC: Well, so just to come back to Darrel for a minute, from his point of view, there is no astrology without horoscopes. I mean, I don’t have a strong position on that. I can see the point of saying it, and yet —

CB: That there’s no astrology without charts, without a birth chart, or —

PC: Corect. Some kind of charts. It more or less says that in the foreword.

CB: I mean —

PC: I’m not sure I agree with that. It certainly wasn’t my original position. My original definition in the book is – of astrology – was, “any practice or belief that centers on interpreting the human or terrestrial meaning of the stars.” And then a few years later for an encyclopedia that I cannot now find, I said, “astrology is the practice of relating the heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth, and the tradition that is thus been generated.”

Now, those definitions are deliberately broad, and the two things I wanted to avoid – the reason I wanted to make them broad is I wanted to avoid two restrictions that are very common in definitions of astrology that I feel are too restrictive. One is you’ll notice that the way I’ve defined it, that no causality is required. I never, I haven’t used the word “influence” once. Personally, I think talking about influences of the stars is asking for trouble, because you’re opening the door to the scientists to say, “Well, oh, influences? Okay, well, of the four known forces of the cosmos – gravity, electromagnetism, and so on, which one is the astrological? Can you show me that?” No, of course we can’t. So I think causality is asking for trouble, although I don’t want to exclude it. There may be a kind of natural astrological effects along the lines that Gauquelin started to discover and that Graham Douglas is still working on defining. But I don’t think it should be required.

CB: Well, and there’s just going back to ancient times, there was a long-standing debate about whether astrology worked as a result of the stars acting as signs of future events —

PC: Exactly.

CB: — or as causes. So any definition that doesn’t encompass that there’s a long-standing debate in the astrological community between the mechanism for astrology is an inadequate definition, but —

PC: Right.

CB: — that’s one of the advantages of your definition is virtually all contemporary, I don’t know, like, dictionaries or even scientific articles overlook this issue or this distinction, and they —

PC: Yes.

CB: — all frame it as astrology is the study of celestial causes.

PC: They do, and that’s a mistake, because it is a huge and long-standing debate; you’re exactly right. And I come down on the signs rather than causes side of the debate, but I don’t wanna exclude causes from the definition, but I also don’t wanna require it. And —

CB: Right.

PC: — the other thing I wanted to leave out was any requirement for prediction. Again, I don’t wanna exclude prediction, but well, actually, I kind of would want to exclude. I’m very dubious about predicting future events. But in any case, I don’t think astrology depends on predicting future events. It can be entirely about asserting the truth of a situation now and here, and there’s no problem with that. So again, as with the causality, I don’t wanna exclude prediction, but I also don’t wanna depend on it, and that’s why my definition is what Darrel Rutkin calls “broad” or “too broad.” Well, it was broad for a couple reasons.

NC: And I just come back that. Because Patrick, your second definition from the history encyclopedia has become my sort of working starting point. And you use the word “relating.” And it seems to me that we can take that word a bit further. Now, if we look at the use of the word “causes” and “influence” in 19th, 20th century astrology as it’s used, it’s often used in terms of “Mars move here and influences that” or “causes that” —

PC: Yeah.

NC: — which seems to me to be a very impoverished view of the astrological tradition in which a planet caused something or influenced something as part of a total complex picture of the universe postulated by Aristotle Stoics in which everything was constantly influencing everything else and existing in chains of multiple causes. So I think that you’re absolutely right to frame your definition as you did. It’s suitably broad, which I think deals with the fact that astrology as we understand it exists in many cultures. But we have this problem of dealing with the impoverishment, I think, in modern astrology of views of the tradition which brings us back to the importance of understanding the history of astrology.

PC: Yeah. Good. Yeah.

CB: Right. For sure. So astrology – the later definition is “astrology is the practice of relating the heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth, and the tradition that has thus been generated.”

PC: That’s completely correct, yes.

CB: Okay. Yeah. I tried to do a broad definition as well, which is very similar to yours, which I’ve always said that astrology is the study of the correlation between celestial movements and earthly events, because I feel like in just about every astrological tradition, one of the core concepts or premises is that there is a correlation between celestial movements and earthly events, and that’s something that astrologers say is a phenomenon that exists in the world versus if somebody from let’s say a skeptical perspective, they would say that that phenomenon doesn’t exist. So —

PC: But for astrology, it’s a minimal – surely – minimal requirement. I don’t see how we can do without that.

CB: Right.

NC: And the source passage for that is in Plato’s Timaeus, isn’t it? Where Plato says the creator created the planets for the purposes of keeping the numbers of time. So the modern way of stating that is as correlations.

PC: Oh no, you’re not saying I agree with Plato, are you, Nick?

NC: Patrick, I think we’re getting there.

PC: Oh, this is a —

NC: Yes, yes.

PC: — terrible, terrible prospect.

NC: Forty years have passed. The time Moses spent in the desert, and you’ve been on a journey.

CB: So that brings up a distinction; it’s one that you emphasized, Nick, where you’ve emphasized in some of your books you try to frame it as a long-standing distinction between an almost Platonic strand of astrology versus the Aristotelian strand, which is the more causal version of astrology or naturalistic version. And I was interested, Patrick, in your book that this is something that came up that there were different astrologers that came down somewhat strongly in terms of that divide of it being either something that was more sign-based versus others where it was more causal. Or there were some astrologers that were more deterministic, whereas there were others that were more – or at least somewhat less deterministic including Lilly.

PC: Well, it’s interesting that one line of difference or distinction that can be drawn in relation to what you’ve just said, it doesn’t end up being drawn in an obvious place with the irrationalists on one side and the rationalists on the other. What you have is on one side, you have the more Ptolemaic or Artistotelean astrologers who claim or are keen to describe themselves as rational in the pre-scientific sense of rational, in the Aristotelian sense of rational which – don’t forget – held good for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was very old understanding of what it means to be rational. And very causal.

On the other side, you have the new natural philosophers who are increasingly dubious that there is such a thing as astrological causation as opposed to say gravity and so on. And you have the magical astrologers – well, the magical astrologers are in a sense just as causal as the other lot. It’s something they share with the natural philosophers. They are interested in a model which will enable them to understand the cosmos and exploit it and manipulate it and make certain things happen by an exercise in will and knowledge. And the key archetypal figure here is the magus figure of Pico della Mirandola, the male magus standing at the center of all these forces flying around and controlling them and manipulating them and so on. A masculine exercise of power, basically. So you have the natural philosophers and the magicians in a sense competing for who’s got the right to say that we have the knowledge that we need in order to control the universe supposedly for the benefit of mankind? And I do mean man-kind, which was very much Francis Bacon’s goal. And in the beginning, you know, you had this – in the Royal Society, you had magicians and what we would now anachronistically call scientists hanging out together. They were very much a mixture until it started to settle down and fall into two camps. So there’s interesting distinctions and lines to be drawn.

And they you have, or in a sense you have – I wouldn’t wanna put too much weight on this, but you could say you have divinatory astrologers, perhaps like Lilly and subsequent figures, who say something like, “I was interpreting this map, this horoscope, and the significance of the certain aspect pattern jumped out at me and communicated to me the point that” I don’t know, “this man has married for money and it’s all gone wrong,” or something incredibly precise like that, which really in a sense can’t be derived rationally from the chart because there’s just too many interpretive possibilities. How do you single on that one? And then that one turns out, let’s say, to be correct. Well, then there’s a sort of divinatory moment; there’s a sort of moment of wonder, like, wow. And the next question that follows it for an astrologer from the client is always, “How did you know that?” And of course, the only honest answer the astrologer can give is, “Well, I didn’t really know that. I did the best astrology I could, and that’s what came out, but it wasn’t actually me doing it in the end.” So you had this wildcard among all the power people and the rational people.

CB: Right. Well, and that goes back to the judicial versus natural astrology distinction, but that was —

PC: Right.

CB: — set up originally during the rise of Christianity. Christianity became very antithetical against astrology, especially due to theological reasons due to fate and free will. And so during the medieval period, they developed this distinction of saying, well, there’s certain types of astrology that are based on natural influences of the planets which is acceptable, and there’s other types of astrology that is not based on celestial influences that is judicial and therefore not within the realm of what’s okay to do and is more closely aligned with magic or —

PC: Yes.

CB: — divination, which the church doesn’t condone.

PC: Codified by Aquinas, of course, and if you are identified as practicing the second kind of astrology, you’re vulnerable to the charge of associating with demons, who are supplying you with this knowledge that you couldn’t otherwise obtain. Which was a serious charge.

NC: Sorry, I think one point of overlap here which calls for the need always to be fluid in our definitions is that Aquinas and that medieval Christian position allowed people to cast horoscopes so hence if I be judicial make judgments. It’s just that those judgments could not extend to any matter concerning the soul’s relationship with God or chances of salvation.

PC: Oh, that’s interesting.

NC: So they had to start off by saying, well, you’ve got a Mercury-Mars conjunction, so you’re gonna be a bit of a hothead. You might lose your temper and get into a fight. But for the, you know, the devout Christian person, they’d pray, they’d read the scriptures, and they would not lose their temper. So you could do a psychological astrology, but you had to start off from the idea of the physical —

PC: Yeah, you have to start with —

NC: — influencing the mind —

PC: — a disclaimer, don’t you?

NC: Exactly. There could be no celestial influence which directly affected the mind or the soul.

PC: That’s right, yeah.

NC: Which had to have that free untrammeled dialogue with god or via a priest, but with god and scripture somehow.

PC: Speaking as somebody —

CB: Right.

PC: — with a Mercury-Mars conjunction, I think that’s rubbish, Nick. No, I’m just kidding. I do have a Mercury-Mars conjunction, so your example is —

NC: I think we need to —

PC: — right on the money.

NC: Yeah, we probably need to do a survey of your close friends and colleagues to work that out.

CB: Yeah. Well, and I always thought from my perspective, from the Hellenistic tradition perspective, that the attempt to create this distinction between judicial and natural astrology was largely arbitrary, and it was an act of desperation where the tide had turned against astrology, and they were looking for any way to still give it justification and make it acceptable to practice it in a christian context. So I was always seeing that as something that was somewhat arbitrary as an act of desperation, but it’s interesting how much that distinction still mattered in the 17th century, and that people could get in trouble if you fell on the wrong side of that distinction.

PC: Yeah, that line was policed, but Nick is absolutely right. It was in practice a very complex line, and it was never – you couldn’t always be sure which side of the line you were standing on, but you had to be careful because it was policed. So I agree that I made that distinction too simple in my book, and it’s one of the things that Darrel Rutkin politely takes me to task for, and he’s right.

CB: That it’s too simple of a distinction between judicial and natural?

PC: Yeah. Needs to be complicated, especially in practice.

CB: Yeah. Well, just because such a distinction didn’t exist when it was originally developed, and so it’s naturally something intellectually that’s being foisted on it in retrospect in the medieval period. And that becomes the issue is just all of these different branches of astrology are using the same technical construct, so in the 17th century, you’re applying the same technical construct to study different things, whether it’s mundane or horary or electional or natal. There’s just this thin veneer of saying that if there’s celestial influences, maybe that influences the body, versus a horary chart that’s much harder to justify on physical grounds.

PC: Yes, that’s exactly right. Yeah. Because the line between judicial and therefore impinging illegitimately, theologically suspect astrology and natural was very fuzzy when it came to the body, because the body obviously influences the soul. But they didn’t wanna say it determines the soul. But if it influences, then as Nick suggested, then you could get away with saying, well, up to a point, you can say certain things like, yeah, if you have a Mercury-Mars conjunction, you probably are a bit of a hothead. And like, okay – is that okay to say? Yes, I think so, because of influence. But you see how complex it gets, how complicated it gets in practice.

NC: One example that we – I remember being talked about and where we were discussing this four decades ago is electing a horoscope for the launch of a ship. Some people did say you can elect the best horoscope you like for the launch of a ship, but if you launch it when there’s a low tide, it’s in the wrong place! And the ship is going to not go very far. So in other words, I’ve never resolved – that’s the paradox.

PC: Yeah. Absolutely.

CB: That’s good. I like that. All right. And sometimes religious authorities – one of the things you talk about in the book that there was a specific authority in charge of censorship, and they could shut down the ability of astrologers to print almanacs, but that was actually something… There was a specific year where that got worse, where the censorship, after disappearing for a decade or two, the censorship came back very strong after the civil war.

PC: Yes, I mean, it came roaring back with Sir Roger L’Estrange, who was the chief, the new censor, and he was really hardlined, and printers and writers of almanacs that were suspected of sedition at all would end up in jail if they were lucky. Of course, they were hyper – the authorities were hyper-senstive to this sort of thing. They just had been through a period of time in which the House of Lords was abolished. The bishops were all abolished, and the king’s head was chopped off. I mean, they were scared. So it was a restoration, but it wasn’t like everything went just back to being normal again.

CB: And the astrologers had tended to be on the side of – the side that ended up —

PC: On the whole.

CB: — cutting off the head of the king basically, right?

PC: On the whole, they were definitely on the revolutionary side, yeah.

CB: Okay. So then all of a sudden, the power shifts back to the anti-revolutionaries, and the astrologers find themselves in a really delicate political position.

PC: They do. And one of the long-term effects of this period, as you know too, Nick, is that with the idea that astrology was enthusiastic or was often coupled with the term “crack-brained,” i.e., it lent itself to extreme political programs and ideas and religious radicalism. Gradually over time, astrologers and those who were just interested in astrology came to realize that was a dangerous and unpopular position to take. So in a way, we could say that the politics – astrology had been deeply political. The politics were beaten out of it over time, to the point where in the modern world, if you said something like – and this has been the case for quite a while, I think – “Oh yes, astrology’s very political,” you’d be met with incomprehension. “How is it political? Why is it?” That’s not taken for granted anymore.

CB: I mean, it didn’t, but actually it has come back very strongly in the past, especially the recent generation of astrologers if very politically —

PC: Yes.

CB: — oriented. And even I think, Nick, you’ve noted in the past like, a tendency towards… Through the New Age movement and things like that, astrology being associated with the left broadly speaking more so perhaps than the right, if we can draw such distinctions.

NC: I’m – yeah. I think that it can be both. So clearly, there’s a – from the 1960s – strong sort of counter cultural element in astrology arising from people who got into it then. But prior to then, I think it could be quite conservative. So for example, if we look at Joan Quigley, she was a member of the AFA, the American Federation of Astrologers. I remember a friend of mine taught me about how she went along to an AFA meeting in the late ‘60s, and she was all, you know, dressed in her hippie gear. She got to the conference to find everybody dressed in business suits and sort of, you know, Republicans. And then I think if we go back to the 19 late ‘80s which we’ve mentioned and we have the theosophists then and theosophical astrologers, of course they were very involved – some of them, some of the leading theosophists – in the anti-colonial movement in India and tackling social problems. So for example, Alan Leo, a seminal figure in the development of a theosophical karmically-oriented astrology, said the only reason he could find for why some people are born into poverty and some weren’t was karma. He was deeply troubled by social injustice, and so his solution was karma. So I think there is a study to be made of how astrologers maybe arrive at different political positions.

CB: Yeah, and how the political positions sometimes inform the astrology, and sometimes vice versa. But that’s part of maybe – the title of your book is Prophecy and Power, and power’s actually like, a central point in the book or a recurring theme. Why is that?

PC: Well, it’s kind of a delicate operation. What I’m trying to say is that the most philosophical or religious or cultural activities we do are entangled in power relations, because we’re social animals and we live in structured societies, so unavoidably, they’re entangled in power relations in which the power is unequally distributed. Some people have more power than others, obviously. But I don’t want to say, I don’t think it follows from that that the theology or the political statements or the cultural productions like books and art and so on are only the result of power relations, which is what Michel Foucault would have argued. I think that’s wrong. Entangled is one thing, but – I wanna resist any reductionism to the power – so affected, so astrological discourse let’s say certainly affected by power relations and circumstances and what’s going on at the time and what your values are, your political values and so on. But they cannot be reduced to those things. For one thing, you do, as I said earlier, have to respect the tradition if you’re gonna have the respect of your peers. You can’t just say, suddenly decide that Mars represents what Venus stands for and Venus represents what Mars stands for. You just can’t get away with that kind of thing. There’s a resistance to the tradition. And there’s a skill in – if you are gonna make changes, there’s a skill involved, which other astrologers on the whole will recognize. It’s not that they’re independent of power relations, but they’re just not completely dependent on them, not determined by them. It’s a delicate —

CB: Right.

PC: — balancing operation.

CB: That makes sense. Yeah, you open the book saying that astrology was inseparable from considerations of power just because of the interrelation, especially politically with some of the things that were going on.

PC: Yeah.

CB: So one of the other things that was happening – I’ve been trying to do some research into comets recently, because there’s like, actually a comet right now that’s passing by the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction that just took place. Like, a comet just crossed the ecliptic and passed over it. It didn’t end up being super visible, but in contemporary and modern astrology, there hasn’t been much treatment of comets in the 20th or early 21st century. But comets and things like that were actually treated much more widely in 17th century astrology, right?

PC: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I don’t know if you have a copy of Astrology, Science, and Society, but there’s a really nice paper in it by Simon Schaffer entitled “Newton’s Comets and the Transformation of Astrology.” You should maybe check that out, because all kinds of phenomena and effects were attributed to comets that we would say well, that sounds pretty astrological to me by people like Newton and William Whiston and so on. And I think that’s, you know, arguably that hasn’t stopped. It may have taken new forms, and the Astronomer Royal probably doesn’t do it anymore, but it hasn’t stopped altogether.

NC: I think we have two ways of looking at comets, two totally compatible ways of looking at comets in the early 17th century. One is that they were widely regarded as being spontaneous fires bursting out in the atmosphere. So Manilius, who obviously everybody read at the time, talks about fire being everywhere in the universe, and you know this because you got fire coming out the ground in volcanoes, you’ve got hot, bubbling water in hot springs, let alone shooting stars and heat from the Sun and so on. So you get volatile gasses in the atmosphere and they ignite. And sometimes they’re ignited because they go too close to the Sun. But at the same time, comets are unpredictable, so they’re outside the predictable natural flow of the planets, and therefore, they must be signs from God. Because anything unpredictable has to be there for a reason, has to be God speaking. And there’s a term applied to the response to comets in the early 17th century; we see this confessionalization, which is – it meant the people had to confess their faith. Not confess their sins, because they were doing that anyway, but confess their faith and would say to God, “It’s okay; I believe in you. I’m a good person.” And therefore to avert the noxious eruptions that might come from these fires burning in the atmosphere like stirring up plague, and inciting people to war and so on.

PC: Yeah.

NC: And that’s what Lilly was talking about in his 1644 tract, which was written in the early years of the civil war but it’s not quite clear whether the war’s going to continue. In its early days, is it going to be settled? No one knows it’s gonna end in the death of the king at that point.

PC: No.

NC: So it’s all very uncertain. He’s looking back to this comet in 1618 and saying, “What can this tell us about what’s happening now?”

CB: So he looked back to a past comet in order to understand one that was in the present?

NC: No, he looked back to past comets and also because for people interested in astronomy in Lilly’s time, there’s a big argument about whether comets were below the Moon – hence were they burning fires in the atmosphere – or above the Moon – were they some kind of star?

CB: Which goes back to Aristotle, because Aristotle was the one that introduced the atmospheric thing, which then caused an issue and made astrologers not recognize for a long time for some astrologers that they were a periodic phenomenon.

NC: That’s right. But the astrologers – sort of looking at Lilly, he didn’t mind if they were below the Moon or beyond the Moon and burning atmosphere or a star – they were just there. And so he saw them as a chain of significators going back to previous Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions to supernovas like the New Star of 1572, all of which could be bundle a chain of significators together, and you can then talk about prophecy and power. You can make prophecies in order to talk about the way that power is shifting.

PC: And don’t forget in terms of prophecy and power, the astrologers had in the 17th century, astrologers had a certain degree of real power. It was rhetorical power. They could influence the outcome of events. We haven’t had that for quite a long time, except for maybe the odd Joan Quigley here and there, but at that time —

CB: Right.

PC: — there was definitely a form of power that astrologers themselves were able to exercise.

CB: Right, because these almanacs had just huge readership —

PC: They did!

CB: Like, what was the largest? It was thousands and thousands of copies, so there were huge amounts of people that were reading not just the words but the predictions, because a typical almanac at the end of it would have a section where there would be actually predictions or prophecies about the future.

PC: That’s right. Yeah.

CB: So that’s the power that astrologers had is they had the power to influence the masses and influence all different levels of society. But with that power came some issues.

PC: Yes. Well, with that power, the exercise of that power had unforeseen consequences. You know, a great deal of history is about unforeseen consequences, and so the identification is the abuse of their – they were seen retrospectively as having abused their power to encourage radicalism and upsetting things and a world turned upside as it was said at the time.

NC: And Nicholas Culpepper, who was, you know, an out and out radical —

PC: Oh my gosh.

NC: — I think it was in his tract, Black Monday. He said he didn’t mind whether his predictions were true or not, so long as they gave comfort to the enemies of monarchy.

PC: Did he?

NC: So he just – yeah.

PC: Wow. Yeah.

CB: Yeah. So that’s, I mean, that’s really interesting, and there’s parallels of if a person, if your political views are the overriding thing even if the astrology is saying something else that you want your political message to be known —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — more so that you’re prioritizing that over whatever the astrology says.

PC: Yeah, it’s —

NC: For Culpepper, yeah.

PC: It’s a dangerous position to take, I think, though in the long run, because you lose the right to say, “The astrology says X, Y, Z.” If you say that it doesn’t matter whether the astrology’s true or not, then you are cutting yourself off from that rhetorical resource, which I think would not be a good idea.

NC: I don’t think many people would take the Culpepper view there; that was an extreme statement.

PC: It was.

NC: Because his overwhelming priority was the creation of a republic.

PC: Yes, that’s right.

NC: But I think for most astrologers it was and is their standard practice all over not to sort of consciously say, “Oh, the astrology’s not important because I’ve got to shape it for this political point of view,” but to almost assume that their political point of view is the correct one.

PC: Right.

NC: And then to say, “Well, look – the astrology genuinely does —

PC: Yes, exactly.

NC: — support —

PC: That’s what they did.

NC: — this position.” It’s…

PC: Yeah, that’s right.

CB: Well, and also part of the astrologer’s currency is the – and reputation is based on the accuracy of their predictions, so there’s naturally then gonna be a tension between the astrologer wanting to be right on the one hand, but then also the astrologer personally wanting their preferred outcome politically to take place as well, and sometimes those not being in alignment.

PC: Yeah, that’s a real tension I think.

CB: Yeah.

PC: Although I wouldn’t overestimate the extent to which the opinion that astrology is correct or valid or true depends on true predictions. I mean, I think that varies a great deal, and of course complexity of astrology – I almost think that the sort of in a way perhaps the Achilles’ heel of astrology is that it, is its complexity. It can become so complex that it fails to simplify your life, because it becomes as complex as life itself. So it’s like the ultimate map that Borjes in his short story said that his cartographer created the ultimate map that was so detailed and so precise that ultimately, it fitted over the reality, became and merged with the reality, in which case of course it’s no use anymore. So astrology has got to simplify to be of any use as a guide or as a help, and that act of simplification when there’s so many variables in play – well, it’s not gonna be easy.

NC: Yeah. So I think if we go back to the 17th century and we look at Lilly, it’s a good example because we’ve got so many examples of his work. In his horary work, he’s advising individuals and he does come up with precise judgments to exact questions like, you know, “Will I die? Will I marry?” etc., etc. But when you’re dealing with political forecasts, again, he tends to come back to this standard formula of there will be trouble for princes and plagues and great turbulence because you’ve got this massive complexity to look ahead politically.

PC: That’s right.

NC: It’s got how many variables do you have to consider?

PC: Well, exactly.

NC: And that again, within the astrological theory, you’ve got the horoscope for the king, the horoscope for the opposing king, you know, a zodiacal ruler for the country and so on. And so it becomes very difficult to say any more than —

PC: Yeah.

NC: — there’s trouble ahead.

PC: So if your prediction doesn’t work out, of course, it’s always open to you to say, “I forgot about this, the effect of a Mars retrograde in the 10th,” you know, or whatever. Of course there’s limits to the extent to which you can do that before people start to get suspicious that you’re simply covering your back.

NC: Well, and again, this is where, you know, I think we have to avoid the trap of saying, “Oh well, the astrologers were playing this game,” which was the standard historiographical view —

PC: Right.

NC: — and saying they were being totally genuine; it’s just the tasks they had set themselves was probably impossible except at very occasional circumstances.

PC: Yep.

CB: Yeah, I mean, as somebody who over the podcast, I do a monthly forecast episode where we look at world events and look at it through the lens of astrology over the past 10 years and has had to learn that form of astrology which is very different than natal astrology, reading some of your treatment of Lilly, it gave me great sympathy for what he was going through because of seeing an astrologer who was living in historic times nad was doing his best to accurately forecast and predict the future when you’re dealing with highly complex events that are affecting different levels of society, that there’s many different factors both personally and politically that are pressures on you. It was interesting understanding that from a different perspective, having that perspective of doing that in modern times where we have, you know, plagues suddenly breaking out in 2020. We have major political shifts taking place at different point with different people being elected or other things like that. There’s still a surprising amount of parallels of things that sound like ancient concepts, you know, of an eclipse happening and a monarch like, passing away or something like that or a president passing away or something. You know, a lot of those are still surprisingly relevant today, even if they sound like very simple delineations.

PC: Of course Lilly also had another concern, which was to keep his head on his shoulders.

CB: Right.

PC: And we don’t generally have that worry anymore. But on the other hand, it might be – you know, some astrologers might feel, well, I’ll pay that price. If I have that kind of influence, I’ll pay the price of having to worry about keeping my head on my shoulders, you know. Is it worth it? I don’t know.

CB: I mean, be careful what you wish for.

PC: Yeah, no I agree!

NC: Here’s an anecdote I’ve got from going back to the late ‘70s when the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Bhutto, had been imprisoned. And I knew a Pakistani astrologer in London, and I asked him about this because something I always try to extract from astrologers what they’re actually doing. And he said that he had been asked by the Pakistani government what the fate of Mr. Bhutto would likely be. And this astrologer explained to me that he had family in Pakistan. And this was, you know, the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq had just taken over. And so this astrologer told me, he looked at Bhutto’s chart and said, on the basis of a reading of the rules of Indian astrology, that Bhutto would meet a violent death.

PC: Wow.

NC: So he tried to be as neutral as possible, but he said that, then of course Bhutto was executed. So I’ve been mulling that over for decades, actually, since that happened, because in what position was the astrologer in? Could the astrologer have said, “Oh no, you know, Bhutto will die in his old age?” I don’t know what if the rules of the horoscope had not said that, but they genuinely said he will die a violent death. And how did he feel about having family in Pakistan who were potentially at risk? So there’s an example of an astrologer who was in the same situation as somebody might have been in England in the civil war republic.

PC: Interesting to know what significators he was saying that —

NC: Yeah.

PC: — on the basis of, you know, an afflicted Mars or a Pluto aspect or who knows.

NC: Could be.

PC: Yeah.

NC: Could be. Well, now we’ll never know.

PC: No.

CB: Yeah. So one other thing that you mentioned from the notes that Nick pointed out would be good discussion points but a distinction perhaps between the high, middling and low astrology that you make, and that because astrology was affecting all different levels of society that there were probably many different, a wide range of different conceptualizations of it as well as a wide range of let’s say proficiency or accuracy on the part of astrologers who were practicing it, where one of the things I noticed that was interesting in the book is sometimes you have astrologers reacting and acknowledging that there’s like, bad astrology being done out there, and that the field somehow has to be improved or there need to be better standards because of a perception that maybe there were some practitioners doing things that were not so good or unethical perhaps.

PC: Well, in that sense of course astrology – the position that astrology found itself in would not be particularly different than any other profession in the sense that there’s always a struggle to maintain some kind of standards internally. I think the distinction between high, middling and low astrology was intellectually useful or practical. It implied that the label of the laboring poor, which was the dominant part of society up until around the beginning of the first world war, that’s a long time, that there was a kind of non-horoscopic astrology centered on Old Moore’s Almanac, which was very much concerned with the natural world and natural cycles that these people’s lives depended upon, literally. Weather prediction and crop failures and diseases, and there’s a collective emphasis there.

Then in the middling astrologers, very much fewer of them, much more metropolitan or at least urban if not metropolitan. The people I referred to earlier as say, schoolmasters and surveyors and amateur astronomers and so on. We say “amateur” astronomers; they were very good astronomers – they were very serious. They just weren’t completely professionalized yet. And you had a lot of judicial astrology there and you had some continuing bitter arguments. I mean, whenever there’s more than two astrologers in a room, there’s gonna be arguments. And then at the top, you had a return to collectivity in a sense of philosophical generalizations, and here’s where the comets and the effects of comets came in. Because the effects of comets would not be limited to any specific individuals; they would apply to entire societies. And I still think by and large that tripartite distinction kind of holds up reasonably well.

CB: Yeah. And is it also connected to some extent with one of the things that’s notable about Lilly is that he wrote the first major English language textbook on astrology, and prior to that time, textbooks were written in Latin, which was the educated language in Europe for hundreds of years. But was there a desire partially on his part among Lilly or other contemporaries to almost democratize astrology or make it more available to people who only spoke English and didn’t speak Latin?

PC: Yes, there was very much a deliberate program, and alongside that, a lot of the pharmacopeia, the sort of the guide to medicines that was in Latin that was used by medical doctors in the mid-17th century, was kept in Latin partly in order to prevent people from dosing themselves because they couldn’t read it, and now a great deal of it was translated into English as part of a program to democratize access to medicine, access to herbs. Culpepper put a lot of effort into his herbals that common people could read and practice medicine for themselves without having to pay doctor’s fees. So it was an idealistic program at the time that astrology was very much a part of.

CB: So that’s another way in which power then is wrapped up to some extent is that there was a shift of power from —

PC: Away from the elites, yeah.

CB: Right.

PC: That’s right. And they hated it. They resisted it like crazy. As elites do.

CB: Right, the medical community in particular seemed to be really angry at the —

PC: Yes.

CB: — at Culpepper.

PC: Yes, absolutely, that’s right.

CB: Okay. So that then maybe is part of the reason then you have this surge of this proliferation of astrology and explosion of astrology for the next 20 years, but then I guess one of the questions I had is does sometimes the popularity of astrology – because it seems like astrology and its popularity goes in waves of periods of great —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — flourishing and then there’s a dropoff sometimes or a counter movement against it occasionally, which has many different reasons, but is perhaps some of the dropout partially related to just that it became something that was super popular and widely embraced then by much larger groups of people than prior to that point?

PC: Well, part of the process of what happened in the 18th century, which E.P. Thompson describes very well, is that the formerly tripartite division of aristocracy, middle class, and working class or laboring poor started to change slightly as the laboring people started to become moving into the cities and the middle class became much more influential and powerful. And so there was this kind of replacing that – the tripartite model was kind of replaced by a model of a double or a dual model of the plebian. On one side of the line is plebians, which are kind of combination of lower middle classes and working classes, and on the other side of the line is well, you could say the gentry. So it is an amalgamation of the upper middle classes and the aristocracy. Now when that start – to the extent that that took place, astrology became, except for among a very few individuals, astrology became firmly identified as plebeian, because apparently only those kinds of people were taking it seriously anymore. So astrology suffered greatly from that, not in the sense that there’s anything wrong with being taken up by so-called plebeians, but in the sense that it was deprived of the intellectual stimulation of higher education, for example, of being studied in universities. It became harder to study it in universities, harder to realize the tradition, harder to study the history of it among other things. And that didn’t start changing ‘til the upper portion of the dualism – the gentry part I’ve called, there’s another word for it, it’s not coming to me at the moment – started to get so complex that it broke into different factions and you have the Zadkiels and Raphaels back in London talking about astrology again. So you know, the twists and turns are complex, but astrology’s always stayed with it and reappeared again in some form or another. I have no doubt it will continue to do that. It’s incredibly adaptable.

CB: Yeah, and it goes through those waves, but there’s something —

PC: Very much so.

CB: — that persists —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — at the very least in the popular imagination. So as we’re getting towards the end of this last point, one of the things I was really struck by in your documentation is that the shift of the decline starts happening very radically. Like, we were talking about almost like a 20 year period here —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — between it’s like, Lilly publishes his Christian Astrology in 1647, and there’s like a heyday for a decade or two. But by 1660, the tides are starting to shift already very rapidly, right?

PC: Yes, that’s absolutely right. It was astonishingly rapid. One of the things that I wanted – one of the reasons why I wanted to study it to try to figure that out.

CB: Right. One of the points you emphasized – go ahead, Nick.

NC: I’m trying to think of the parallels in the modern world where we might have such culture shifts from which it’s very difficult to return. And one that occurs to me – nothing to do with astrology at all – is the change in status of gay people and gay marriage. So I think, you know, when I was young, homosexuality was illegal, and no chance of it becoming legal in the UK and across most of the Western world. And then a shift has happened —

PC: Yeah.

NC: — that has permeated the whole of our, or much of our society. I can’t speak for the USA, but in the UK, pretty much the whole of society at all levels such it would be very difficult to go back. So there are parallels, but still what happened in the 17th century with astrology was quite remarkable in the sense that it had this, the high point and then the high point straightaway giving way to this disintegration of intellectual respectability. The almanacs survive. Low astrology survives because its consumers don’t care about sophisticated theories of the universe or whatever. And they’re probably not bothered by evangelical Christian opposition to astrology. But at other levels, at the high level and the middling level, it’s, kind of doesn’t quite –  as you said, it doesn’t totally die, but it certainly gets knocked to the margins.

PC: Yeah. I mean, another example might be just consider the difference in dominant cultural values in the Western world between the late ‘60s and the mid ‘80s. Not a lot of peace, love, and understanding was left in the ‘80s, and that’s a short period of time. Not that peace, love, and understanding was ever dominant in the ‘60s, but it was culturally dominant, not politically largely. But that was a pretty fast change.

NC: It was a very fast shift, was it, from something that seemed in pop culture to be almost unassailable.

PC: Yes, that’s right. And we’ve had the ‘80s – now we’ve had the ‘80s ever since. It’s never gone away.

CB: Yeah. Well and in the astrological community, we’ve had something similar happen with a rise recently – because I remember when I came into the community 20 years ago or was attending Kepler, I was the youngest person there. I was 19 or 20, and there was a persistent question among the older astrologers from the 1940s generation of “where are all the young astrologers?” and even questions about, you know, “Is this dying out? Is this gonna die out with our generation?” I found a Noel Tyl article where he asks that question in like, 2004, 2005. But something happened in 2018, 2019, 2020 where there was just this huge explosion of popularity of astrology with the younger generation of people in their teens and 20s, and that’s happened over the course of past, you know, several years now since that time. But I often wonder when something like that explodes in popularity and suddenly is infused throughout the culture, is there a point at which it drops off or in which there’s pushback? Is there eventually, any time something becomes trendy, is there eventually gonna be some sort of like, counter trend? And so that was something I was interested in if that might be a parallel with what we’re looking at with such a short time frame of 20 years in the mid-17th century.

PC: Well, I think it would be good to be open to that possibility, to have the awareness that you’re talking about such that you don’t think, “Oh, well, this is happening; it’s gonna continue happening forever.” Probably not.

NC: I remember when there was all that conversation amongst astrologers who they’d got into astrology when they were in their 20s. They were now in their 50s, and they were saying, “Oh, where are all the young astrologers?” And my response was well, they’re probably there. They’re just not coming along to your meetings.

CB: Right.

NC: And subscribing to your journals. Whereas what’s happened in the last 10 years is social media has allowed a whole different form of communication, allowed people who didn’t have a voice in the old system to have a voice in a new way. So I’m always being asked by journalists why people believe in astrology or how many people believe in it, and this is the question that got me actually started on my PhD in 1997, being asked that question, realizing nobody knew. And I tracked statements by journalists back to about 1910 saying, “Suddenly everybody’s believing in astrology!” And so I realized it’s a recurrent journalistic story. And a current en vogue for this question began about five, six years ago with a story in The Atlantic. And so now it seems like every two months I’m called up by a journalist who says, “We’re writing a story why Millennials or Gen Z or whoever are suddenly all into astrology.” I could talk about, you know, why astrology is appealing, but I’m always cautious in saying, “Oh, suddenly there’s a wave of interest,” because what you might get is interest showing itself in a new way. And yeah, so I’m not sure. But it’s a really interesting question, and I’m always, you know, great research opportunity for somebody who wants to engage with it.

CB: I mean, I was skeptical as well, and I actually have a famous episode from 2017 or 2018 I did with two other astrologers where we discussed the question, “Is astrology becoming more popular?” because there had been a string of like, news articles claiming that. And I was skeptical at the time, because I pointed that one of the counter indications was there was a large decline in astrology books being published where I could see year after year them shrinking on the shelves that used to be full of astrology books, although I was not clear if that was due to less astrology books being published or it was just a side effect of the publishing industry itself starting to decline in terms of local bookstores. But I ended up having to eat my words, because there really was this weird influx and popularization of astrology that started happening at that time that became very clear in a year or two. And one of the things that I realized though is sometimes technological trends can be part of what leads to a new popularization of astrology. In this instance, there’s been a huge generational shift where everybody – it used to be common knowledge to know your Sun sign from let’s say like, the 1960s forward. But nowadays, a huge amount of young people if you ask somebody, “What’s your Sun, Moon, and rising sign?” they’ll know that, because it’s become very easy to calculate that using smartphone apps, which have become wildly popular. So there’s a shift where the general knowledge of astrology has expanded to not just your Sun sign but also your Sun, Moon, and rising sign. Even if they don’t know what that actually means, they’ll at least know what those placements are.

PC: Amazing.

NC: Yeah, no, I absolutely agree that – I think the technology change is so – we have the invention of printing, or the adoption of printing by movable type in the mid-15th century that then allows the production of almanacs. We have the invention of the 12-paragraph horoscope column probably in the 1920s. We have the 1980s, the end of the ‘80s, the creation of phone line horoscopes, so you can phone up your daily horoscope and so on. So the technology moves forward, and so I think that the quality of engagement with astrology, the extent of the nature of the media and so on changes, and the kind of engagement. What we don’t yet know is if there’s a change in the quantity. Because if we go back say, to 18 – where are we now? 2024 – 1824, how many people, how many households would still be buying an annual almanac? You know? So it’s an ongoing question, but it’s one that can always take us back to reflect on what happened in the 17th century.

CB: Yeah. Were there – it seems like astrologers are often at the forefront of new technologies, or at least sometimes are quick to jump on them to leverage whatever they’re doing with astrology. Was that – were almanacs essentially that in the mid-17th century in terms of – I know it was partially the lessening of restrictions on printed materials, but were almanacs part of that that helped astrology to proliferate at least in terms of the public consciousness?

PC: Very much so, yeah. I mean, to an unprecedented extent, I think. But that was partly the result of the breakdown of censorship.

CB: Right. And in terms of – do you see a reflection in the numbers of there being like, more almanacs during the heyday versus less afterwards?

PC: Yeah. There’s a pretty steady decline, I think. You’d have to check this with Capp’s book, although you could check it with mine; it’s been a long time since I read that part of it. But there was a steady decline, except for Old Moore, which went from strength to strength.

CB: Okay.

PC: But Old Moore by then was pretty depoliticized as part of the process that I described earlier. We just don’t – politics? I’m sorry; we just don’t go there.

CB: Okay, that makes sense. And then one last trend you documented was the Royal Society an attempt to establish a neutral, de-political knowledge at that time?

PC: Yeah, they had this idea that if they could just arrive at ideas about what was true or what is truth, such that any rational man would agree, that it would reduce disagreements and ultimately even warfare. Of course, it didn’t work because all kinds of people found all kinds of grounds that they claimed were rational to disagree. It was an attempt to sort of transcend the basic agonistic or struggle aspect of being a social animal as we are, and so it became just one more – in a sense the effort of the Royal Society became one more rhetorical power play in that sense. And I don’t mean that necessarily in a cynical way; they certainly believed in what they were doing. But it didn’t work in the terms that they wanted it to work, and it never could have.

CB: Sure. But at least initially, that acted as a stark contrast against astrology, which at that —

PC: It did.

CB: — was seen as highly politicized.

PC: It did, that’s right. And I mean, one example of this process would be gravity, which… Newton’s work usually – generalizing here, but – he never attempted to define what gravity is. He only concerned himself with what gravity does and the effects of gravity, and he showed that the effects in terms of the equation force equals mass times acceleration squared could be very precisely, numerically, and quantitatively defined. So in a sense, he said, “Well, we don’t need to worry about what it is,” and if pressed, he would say probably something like, “It’s God’s action in the universe.” Whatever. But we can show what it does very precisely and quantitatively. Can you do the same with astrology, they asked. No. Couldn’t be done. They tried so hard, particularly John Goad and Joshua Childrey, and to some extent Cadbury tried very hard. But of course, it just didn’t lend itself. It’s too qualitative. It’s too interpretive. It’s more of an art than a science in that sense. So they failed the test that the Royal Society set for them.

CB: Right. Some of them were trying to study astrology in terms of the weather as —

PC: Yes.

CB: — affecting natural phenomenon and others were trying to focus on increasing the quality of data collections by creating large collections of birth charts to study.

PC: Exactly. That’s right, yeah. That’s right.

CB: But these were like, desperate attempts to reform astrology, an astrology that was already in decline in terms of —

PC: Exactly.

CB: — not just the public but also in terms of intellectual circles where you have major figures of scientists like Newton —

PC: Yeah.

CB: — who was not into astrology.

PC: No, that’s right; he wasn’t particularly. He was very, very alchemy and biblical exegesis. Those were his two obsessions. Not particularly astrology as such. But of course, through the alchemy, there was a lot of astrology built into the alchemy, so indirectly, he was concerned with it. But he kept those pursuits, interestingly, very private.

CB: Right. Private. That’s actually a good point, because you document some of that as well that the shift of attitudes resulted in some public intellectuals who had private interests in astrology keeping those private —

PC: Yes.

CB: — or even attacking or criticizing astrology publicly but privately still using it.

PC: Yes, for fear of loss of reputation was one way that was put at the time.

CB: Okay. So that’s a really huge and notable shift in and of itself —

PC: It certainly is, isn’t it? Yeah, it really is.

CB: Yeah. All right. Well, I know we’re at about two hours, so I’m trying to think of some final points to wrap up or if there’s any major things that we meant to talk about or discuss. I mean, one of them to bring things around is just it seems like there’s something useful about knowing astrology or being aware of contemporary astrological trends with how astrologers think that’s valuable sometimes when looking at the history of astrology because of similarities between contemporary practice and practice in the past. And I guess that’s one of the things I’ve thought about a lot in terms of can astrologers or people with a background or interest in astrology do good work on the history of astrology? And that I think one of the arguments is that that can give them some insight that might be unique compared to somebody who isn’t aware of contemporary developments or how astrologers actually think.

PC: Yes. I mean, I think that’s a huge subject that you’ve just opened, and I’m not sure we can do it justice today.

CB: Sure.

PC: But I think perhaps on a future date, there’s a lot to be said about that, and specifically where the rubber hits the road was when astrologers started moving into the academy in order to study astrology academically. What was their experience? What – did they bring something? Did they learn something? Maybe both. It’s something we could talk about perhaps on another occasion that I think would be very interesting.

NC: I think it would be very helpful, because there’s… We’ve developed and explored all sorts of theories and methodologies within which one can sort of critically study the contemporary theory and practice of astrology and how astrologers themselves can participate in those studies.

PC: Yeah.

CB: Yeah. So now that it’s been 40 years and the book’s coming out, yeah, this is a milestone. So congratulations on the republication of the book and on its success. It’s amazing how influential that it’s been as your PhD dissertation originally and is that gratifying to see how that’s influenced the field over the course of the past 40 years?

PC: Well, it’s certainly gratifying and very surprising. I was not expecting this to happen, so it’s a pleasant surprise. I’m delighted that people are still learning something from it or getting something out of it. And I looked at it myself the other day for the first time in a few decades, and I thought, “Not bad.” So —

CB: Yeah. That’s a —

PC: — thank you.

CB: That’s a really good feeling to like, look at something you’ve written and go back and feel like it still holds up.

PC: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. So thank you for being able to talk about it today. I’m very pleased by the opportunity to do that.

CB: Yeah. Thank you. And Nick, in terms of your long-standing friendship with Patrick and your appreciation for his book, what do you think is so important to it or what’s your sort of final thought in terms of reflections of why you felt like it was important to ensure that it was republished and that contemporary people know about this book?

NC: I think probably two reasons. One reason is as I said at the beginning, it’s a significant step along the route to historians being able to look at the history of astrology in a non-judgmental way by considering, you know, who astrologers were, what they claimed, how they did it, and discuss this in the same intelligent thoughtful way that you would expect of any other topic. But also, in that the book focuses on this period of boom – reform —

PC: And bust.

NC: — boom and bust, exactly. And astrology existing in multiple forms in different levels of society and therefore being a complex phenomenon. It also serves as a guide to us understanding the position of astrology in nuanced ways, both in earlier periods and in the present day. So it’s a bit of a microcosm of a larger macrocosm.

PC: Nice. Thank you.

CB: Brilliant. Perfect. All right. Brilliant. Thank you both for joining me today; this was amazing. The book is being republished this month or when I release this episode in May of 2024. I’ll put a link to where people can find more information or purchase the book in the description below this episode. And is there anything else you wanna mention before we wrap up?

NC: We’ve set the publication date as the 10th of May.

CB: Okay.

NC: And it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon, but Chris, as you said, you’ll put those links up.

PC: Fantastic.

CB: Excellent. All right. Well, thank you both very much for joining me today.

PC: Thank you Nick. Thank you Chris. Thank you very much.

NC: It’s been actually a real pleasure.

PC: Yeah, absolutely.

NC: Yeah.

PC: Okay.

CB: All right. Well —

PC: Bye-bye then!

CB: Thanks everyone for watching —

NC: Bye Chris; bye Patrick.

PC: Yep.

CB: Thanks everyone for watching or listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast, and we’ll see you again next time.


If you appreciate the work I’m doing here on the podcast and you’d like to find a way to support it, then consider becoming a patron through my page on Patreon.com. In exchange, you’ll get access to some great subscriber benefits, including early access to new episodes, the ability to attend the live recording of the forecast each month, our monthly Auspicious Elections Podcast, which is only available to patrons, a whole exclusive podcast series called The Casual Astrology Podcast, or you can even get your name listed in the credits. You can find out more information at Patreon.com/AstrologyPodcast.

Special thanks to all the patrons that helped to support the production of this episode of the podcast through our page on Patreon.com. In particular, a shoutout to the patrons on our Producers tier, including patrons Kristi Moe, Ariana Amour, Mandi Rae, Angelic Nambo, Issa Sabah, Jake Otero, Jeanne Marie Kaplan, Melissa DeLano, Sonny Bazbaz, and Kwatsi Alibaruho.

If you’re looking for a reliable astrologer to get an astrological consultation with, then we have a new list of astrologers on the podcast website that we recommend for readings. Most of the astrologers specialize in birth chart readings, although some also offer synastry, rectification, electional astrology, horary questions and more. Find out more information at TheAstrologyPodcast.com/Consultations.

The astrology software that we use and recommend here on the podcast is called Solar Fire for Windows, which is available for the PC at Alabe.com. Use the promo code ‘AP15’ to get a 15% discount. For Mac users, we recommend a software program called Astro Gold for Mac OS, which is from the creators of Solar Fire for PC, and it includes both modern and traditional techniques. You can find out more information at AstroGold.io, and you can use the promo code ‘ASTROPODCAST15’ to get a 15% discount.

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.

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 a hundred hours of video lectures, as well as guided readings of ancient 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.

And finally, thanks to our sponsors, including The Mountain Astrologer Magazine, which is a quarterly astrology magazine which you can read in print or online at MountainAstrologer.com.