Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Astro Fundamentalism

Cleaning out my e-mail (a good Mercury retrograde activity), I ran across a posting that I had done almost three years ago to an astrological e-zine. I wanted to share it here, with the names omitted to protect the innocent (or guilty). A contributor to that e-zine had said, "[T]here is a tendency among at least some exponents of ancient astrology to assume that (1) astrology originated with omniscient, divinely inspired ancient gurus; and (2) that one's character and fate are fixed at the moment of birth. At the very least this viewpoint is implicit in much of ancient astrology."

Let me address (2) first, before I return to (1). If there wasn't something "fixed" at birth, then we wouldn't bother with nativities! So the question is really: how much of the birth moment represents inexorable fate? I would certainly agree with the gentleman's characterization that classical and Vedic astrology both on average assumed a greater quantity of fixed than modern astrology, but let's remember that individual astrologers always varied in the extent of their adherence to this idea. William Lilly, in his rather (in)famous horary on his stolen fish, started with a not promising outcome, and then showed how he applied electional astrology to maximize his recovery. Had Lilly believed in the immutability of his horary, he would not have tried. Other horaries he presented also have subtexts of this same idea: I don't like the predicted outcome, so what do I do to get one that appeals to me more?

What is sometimes not recognized by modern astrologers, however, is the extent to which Western astrology, and especially modern Western astrology, has been affected by going through 1700 years of a Christian lens. It is precisely this Christian viewpoint - the need for free will so that we can "freely" choose salvation or damnation - which has made this whole discussion such a hot spot for much of that time. "Free will" can be seen as a tenet of Christianity.

I think much of what the poster may be objecting to crosses a major cultural and religious divide - and that's where we return to point (1). In the Indian culture, Vedic astrology is a part of the sacred teachings! Astrology, although certainly not the full system, pervades the Vedas, especially the Atharva Veda. In parallel to Christian beliefs about the Bible, these teaching were laid down by - dare we say it? - divinely inspired teachers, also known by the name gurus.
Because astrology is within the sacred sphere, its teachings are divinely inspired.

Now, at Kepler College we may (and do!) study the transmission of astrological ideas back and forth between Mesopotamia, the Hellenistic regions, and India, so that we would not tend to look at any past pronouncements on astrology as being any more divinely inspired than, say, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. However, the mind-set of a culture where astrology is sacred is very different. And I think this cultural divide also explains why so many of the American and European Vedic astrologers do not approach their astrology in quite the same way as the direct biological inheritors of the practice do: Westerners do not come to Eastern material through an Eastern lens, but a Western one. Which then raises the point: if a Vedic astrologer is coming to
this position from a deep religious belief in the sacred nature of his or her astrological findings, who are we to criticize that belief? It is one thing to point out differences resulting from cultural divides, it's another thing to attempt to apply names, such as Fundamentalism, when those names may not successfully cross the cultural divide either - or at least have the pejorative connotation on the other side.


y said...

Good post.
In my experience with "new age" astrologers, they are the more foundamentalist of all, specially the ones who always talk about "spiritual evolutionism".
And the ones who start to blow up a fusel every time they talk about "free will" for a strange motive are who most strongly believe in scientific determinism, like psychological, genetichal, economichal... go figure !

Chris Brennan said...

Excellent post.

You should post more often Lee. You know, during those frequent periods when you have lots of time to kill.