Sunday, December 07, 2008

Is there a political dimension to being an astrologer?

Now that my Kepler College Commencement address has been published on YouTube, I thought some of you might enjoy the text.

©2008 J. Lee Lehman

Since this graduation is being held in the shadow of a US election, it seemed to me that this would be an excellent time to discuss politics – or not!

Back in 1989, the United Astrology Congress was held in New Orleans. Just before the Congress started, there was a press conference, attended in part by the New Orleans Times Picayune. Carol Tebbs and Rob Hand were there, and I'm sure said great things about I don't remember what. However, in the midst of all the wonderful things said by the astrological representatives, one of the reporters asked a question along the lines of: if what you say is true, then why is astrology ridiculed by so many people, including scientists. It was at that moment that my Mars-Pluto rising stood up, and I made a statement to the effect that, one of the major problems with astrology is that astrologers themselves do not recognize that the status of astrology is a political issue, and that the position of astrologers in our society is completely analogous to the position of gay people before Stonewall.

My statement drew some rather pained looks from some of my esteemed elders. But I, unlike they, knew just how gay New Orleans Mardi Gras could be, so I actually appreciated the irony that the reporters probably understood my statement a little more clearly than some of the astrologers present.

So now, a nodal cycle later, I would like to examine the question: is the astrological community like the gay community before Stonewall, and, if so, what does this mean for the future of astrology?

So I'm not going to hold you in suspense my answer is yes, there are some interesting parallels:

  1. Like gays, you generally cannot spot an astrologer on the street – thus, astrologers have the protective coloration so that talking about being “out” about your interest in astrology is a completely comprehensible concept.
  2. There is a substantial conservative religious community the reviles both homosexuals and astrologers. Within this context, the practice of either can be considered a sin, although it may be easier to cure one from performing astrological acts.
  3. An astrologer may find it difficult to tell his or her family. What will they think? Will they be able to admit this to their friends? Will relatives stop talking to the person?
  4. An astrologer could lose face in social circles for admitting this.
  5. An astrologer could be harassed or even arrested.
  6. An astrologer could observe parents stopping their children from Trick-or-Treating at the astrologer's house
  7. An astrologer could experience job discrimination or delays in promotion because of her or his interests, and this is legal, because belief in astrology is not something for which there are anti-discrimination statutes.
  8. Kepler College has had an accreditation application turned down summarily because we use the “A” word.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is discrimination, and it's ugly. If free speech and free inquiry are precious to academia – and on paper, they are – then this kind of behavior is an abomination. So why does it continue?

This is the second part of my thesis: one of the reasons it continues is precisely because the astrological community acts like gays before Stonewall. Gays before Stonewall mostly rejected the idea that discrimination against homosexuals was a political issue that could be dealt with through political channels. So gays socialized with gays, created gay ghettos, developed signs and passwords, and styles of dressing to advertise to other gays – while those signals were mostly ignored by the straight community. And gays learned how to pass – by cover dates, and other means – all to allow of a level of social acceptance – even if that acceptance was only a lie.

The second year of Kepler's existence, we had one student who could not even last out one term because her family was so appalled that she wanted to study astrology. This is real.

What do we hear over and over when we come to Kepler symposia, or astrological conferences? People saying – wow! It's so wonderful to be with other people who think like I do. This is a mark of discrimination.

Are you afraid to admit to someone that your favorite color is blue? That you like weaving? Who you favorite band is? Whenever you are afraid to admit to who you are, one possible cause is discrimination. It's not always the cause – there can be other reasons to be afraid. But when you see your colleagues and friends with the same interests going through the same process, this is a sign that this issue has a political dimension.

But granting that it does, why should we care? After all, this is grossly more trivial than discrimination against blacks or women, as we have seen all too clearly in this presidential season.

The reason that we need to care is that damage to the psyche by hatred and self-hatred is a fundamental form of abuse – and it affects both abuser and abused.

How can you expect to develop a true profession in an environment where a substantial number of practitioners are afraid to admit what they do to a stranger? How can we move forward when we feel compelled to accept every crumb of coverage from the new media, no matter how biased or sniggering? How can you expect to be able to be proud of your degree from Kepler College when people can mock the very idea that astrology can be studied academically, except by non-believers? How can we have the kind of voice that demands that accreditation agencies take us seriously? These gains can only occur through the political process. In fact, our work through Kepler College, and Nick Campion's through Bath Spa and Lampeter have opened that dialog within academic circles: but those ripples have not gone far enough.

My friends Frank Kamminy of the Mattachine Society and the late Barbara Gittings of Daughters of Bilitis were among those who stood up in the late Fifties and early Sixties to protest a status of homosexuals – at a time when most gays told them to sit down and shut up. And notice there yet another tell-tale sign of political discrimination: the naming of societies like Mattachine or Bilitis were euphemisms – like the use of “geocosmic” or “the study of cycles” by astrologers to tone down the reaction to the “A” word. But who, really, is being kidded? A couple of years ago, Zero Population Growth renamed itself the Population Connection, because they thought that doing so would “open doors.” This is surely no harbinger of success!

In reality, it took about a Saturn Cycle from 1969 for gays to achieve a level of critical mass, so that, for example, when Kepler College opened in 2000, gender preference was largely irrelevant. But it wasn't too many years before that where you could hear whispering by some members of the audience at astrological talks by gay or lebian astrologers. Or when certain gay men in astrology felt the need to talk about marriages long departed, or girlfriends as real as Harvey, the Six foot invisible rabbit. And of course, in larger society, the issue of gay marriage continues to divide, even as “The L Word” has become a popular TV show.

When will astrology begin its march toward political acceptance, and how will it happen? I don't know. But long term, if Kepler College is to succeed, then happen it must. The absence of freedom is tyranny, and as a liberal arts institution, we are devoted to the arts of free men and women. How can we teach and manifest those arts when we ourselves are not free, or at least attempting to free ourselves?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Predicting Death

Recently, an Australian newspaper ran an a question asked to their regular "Cosmic girl" Yasmin Boland about whether death could be predicted. She answered:

Why do you want to know? Some astrologers do claim there are ancient methods but i've never tested them. If you're really curious, contact Lee Lehman at - she's an expert in early astrological techniques - you could test out the theories on some people you know who've already passed away and then ( if you dare) on yourself.

Now, as a result of this, I have received some inquiries! But not, I might add, from crazies, but from people who are earnestly asking questions. Twenty five years ago, I might have blown these questions off. But twenty five years ago, neither of my parents had died. And of course, I was twenty five years closer to immortality than I am now!

So what do these "ancient" methods say about death? There are several Hellenistic and Medieval calculations that collectively said several things relating to death:

  1. That there is a way of measuring vitality in the chart, and that this measure can be turned into an approximation of the length of life
  2. That the birth chart does speak to the manner of death, at least in general terms
  3. That methods for looking at "accidents" (i.e., events) to the persons life have to show a trigger at a critical time in order for death to occur.
Then, there are the stories. The Renaissance astrologer Jerome Cardan is alleged to have predicted the day of his death - and then died on that day. His critics claimed he committed suicide in order not to be wrong. But then I think of the story of the Chinese sage who, upon seeing influences in his Chinese-style chart that indicated death, took it upon himself to retire to a secluded place in the country and meditate for the year. He emerged more popular than he had been before.

Any time one discusses the subject of death, it's reasonable to point out that the demographics of people's life expectancy have shifted dramatically since these techniques developed. As there is not some radical discontinuity in the components of a birth chart then vs. now (presuming that we choose to examine the chart without the outer planets that have been discovered since), then the conclusion is that either the techniques were bogus all along, or that they were showing something other than necessary death - something like possible or probable death. This idea even applies to my specialty, horary astrology, where it is possible to ask a question like, "Will I die in my 52nd year?" or "Is this diagnosis of cancer fatal?" When I see a chart laden with the classical arguments of death, I am really seeing a probability statement - and my answer at that point is generally that, had you been living in the 17th century before modern medicine, then yes, you would have died.

When I have conducted classes where I taught people this death method, and then everybody examined her or his own chart, a large portion of the class had inevitably lived past the point where they "should" have died. However, most of these students recalled events in that year that were circumstances such that, in that hypothetical 17th c. case, they would have died. Instead, that moment became a turning point, or at least a component of who that person became after the event.

My conclusion from this is that all of us are confronted with "opportunities" to die far more frequently than we think. In infancy and childhood, those windows are passed by for reasons outside one's immediate "control" - one's socio-economic class gives better nutirition, a fatal scenario is averted because of a medical intervention. Later in life, other factors come into play, including one's own will to live. And will to live is a variable thing, based among other things on one's psychological state of mind.

I believe that both of my parents died when they encountered circumstances such that their will to live was broken. Watching them, watching their pain and their process, certainly brought home to me that if, as astrologers, we spend our lives focused on the moment of birth, then we have to consider the endpoint of life just as surely as the beginning.

Years in advance, I would have been hard-put to predict an actual year of death for them. But then, one of the things which is a basic requirement is an accurate birth time, and I didn't have this on either one. However, when time telescopes and you know you're coming down to the wire, whether this year or next, this month or next, or this day or next, the techniques telescope as well. My partner's mother was diagnosed with cancer about five months before she died - and I was able to predict the death to within one day of exactitude at that point. But had I been asked a couple of years earlier, I would not have been able to be so precise. And as it turned out, Dad visited us two months before he died - and my partner asked a horary about death, and that chart was accurate to within a week - and Dad hadn't been diagnosed with anything at that point.

The first time I was called upon by a client to predict death, it was just after AIDS had achieved public recognition - and I had already lost an acquaintance to it. A guy I had never met contacted me and said he had been diagnosed - and asked me what his prospects were. I had never seen so many indications of death as I did in that chart. But being much younger then - in life, and in my profession - I didn't know how to say this. So what I did say was, if you want to live, this is the level of change you will have to make in your life - and the amount was massive. What's more, what I said was actually completely true, given the chart. I didn't believe he could do it, and he didn't - and he died.

On the other hand, I've been wrong. A woman several years ago asked about when her mother would die, because her mother had become a significant burden on the entire family. I didn't have an accurate time for the mother, so I attempted to read it off her daughter's chart. It didn't work. But the daughter became involved in helping a former partner go through terminal cancer and death. Sometimes the chart shows the topic, not the subject.

Just what is it in a chart that shows death? Like with most of astrology, there's always more than one possible configuration. I can absolutely see the value in calculating and examining these "windows," especially if by that means one knows when to be especially vigilant.

But we also have to acknowledge that death is inevitable. None of us will cheat death in the end. As a life lesson, however, I keep thinking of that Chinese guy. Planning and acting before reaching the terminal stage may open the space for a change in consciousness - this time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Re-constructionist?

For years, I have been urging people to read a very interesting book about the American presidency by Rutgers University professor Stephen Skowronek:

The Politics Presidents Make : Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997.

Skowronek's thesis is that there are four types of presidencies: re-constructionist, articulating, pre-emptive and disjunctive.

The idea is this: there are presidencies that lay out an agenda for the country that lasts for years after that president is out of office: this is the re-constructionist type. What is important in Skowronek's model is that this applies to the political party as much as the person. The last re-constructionist president was Reagan, who set the agenda since 1980 with his vision of what the presidency and the country should be. The party represented by a re-constructionist president sets the agenda for that period.

An articulating presidency is one where the president comes from the same party as the re-constructionist one. This president doesn't so much set a radically new agenda, as find ways to extend the mandate already delivered. George H.W. Bush was an example of this.

A pre-emptive presidency - Bill Clinton - is where the party out of party wins an election, reacts to the prevailing agenda, but does not succeed in overthrowing it.

A disjunctive presidency - we can now hopefully say George W. Bush - carries the mandate way past its logical conclusion. This is the president most likely to be reviled by historians and contemporaries alike as a "bad" president.

Now: it seems more likely to me that Obama is a re-constructionist than a pre-emptive type: I certainly hope so. Everything which he has said about his vision for America suggests this.

When I first read Skowronek's book in its first edition, I immediately graphed out his classification of presidents and tried to ascertain an astrological cycle. I failed. I suspected that was likely the case from the start, because each one of these cycles is of different length. The last re-constructionist before Reagan was F.D. Roosevelt, and so that one ran from 1932-1980. The latest one, I hope runs from 1980-2008. But in thinking about this, there's no doubt in my mind that the Saturn-Uranus opposition coupled with Pluto's sign change certainly provide enough planetary energy to represent a serious disjunction!

I do think it is incumbant on astrologers to begin to explore more serious models for predicting and understanding the presidency than simplistics impressions of natal charts - often, without even having good birth data, because there is such a temptation to do something. As I have said in my own work, I'm delighted to be wrong this year - but then, I have quantified from the beginning that my method has an error rate - in this case, it was 18%. We must learn to only consider ourselves right when we are right for the right reasons.

I raised in my post yesterday that question of how we should view this fascinating interface between the personal and the mundane. Coming to this understanding is going to require adding more components in than just another astrological technique. I would nominate Skowronek's work as a potentially fruitful addition to our thought process.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New President - Same Astrological Questions

It's USA Election Day, and like millions of my fellow citizens, I voted early. So now, I have nothing to do but wait. I am in the odd position of having predicted one, while voting for the other - so I have guaranteed myself an interesting time this evening.

So now, it's time for the next phase: predicting whether this will be a one-term or a two-term presidency. I first began this exercise after the 2000 election, when I attempted to find a way to cope with the results. So I decided the examine the inauguration chart as predicitive of this difference between length of presidencies. And further, I started the exercise, not with the first inauguration, but with the establishment of the "modern" party system by Andrew Jackson - the system of spoils, as it has been called. So the earliest inauguration in my database was 1824.

Working with the inauguration chart has certain challenges from a mundane perspective, but these are precisely the challenges that should whet our appetites as astrologers. First, they always take place at a date and time mandated by the Constitution. Starting in 1949, Inauguration day is January 20th of the year following the election. Prior to that, it was March 4th. In either case, the time was noon. This, by the way, sets up one little tempest in a teapot right there. Most astrologers treat the time of the oath for the presidency as the actual time of office. It's doubtful that that would stand up in court, so to speak. Go back and read the Constitution and the amendments - then see what you think. The oath is just the public ritual.

However, the date and time do put a number of restrictions on the interpretation of the chart. The Sun sign, Ascendant and Midheaven are essentially fixed. So any predictive work from these charts has to be based on something other than, say, the Sun being in the 10th house.

So to begin my study, I decided to compare the inauguration charts of one-term vs. two-term presidents: and see what spilled out. The first fact that we need to know is that, in this system, there were 22 one-term presidents and 11 two-term presidents through George W. Bush. I began by studying the phase angle between all ptolemaic planets in the 8th harmonic. Where there was a difference, I am showing it here, plus commenting on the placement in the 2009 chart.

1. Moon-Mercury

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

I also examined a number of these combinations for presidents who either died in office, or resigned (i.e., Nixon). It's a small sample, but perhaps worth considering.

Comparing these two graphs, none of the two-term presidencies had a Moon-Mercury phase of 90 or 180 degrees. The most comment phase for the two-term was 270: the closing square. Remember that these are phases, not aspects: the phases correspond to the phases of the lunation cycle in modern astrology. The phase angle for 2009 is 270. While this would be the top choice among the two-term presidencies, 270 is not an uncommon phase in the one-term presidencies. So score this one either not predictive or slight nod to two-term. The died/left office had a high correlation with the 0 phase.

2. Sun-Mercury

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for died/left office:

The Sun and Mercury by definition can only be in one of two phases, because the geocentric angular separation can never exceed 45 degrees. What was suggestive here was that, among the two-term presidents, there seemed to be no difference between the two phases. With the one term presidents, the 270 phase was half as common as the 0 phase. The 2009 phase is 0, so either we consider this no prediction, or a slight nod to one-term.

3. Sun-Jupiter

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

The shape of these two distributions is quite strking. In the one-term presidencies, there are no cases with the Sun-Jupiter in the 90 degree phase - while that is the most common phase for two-term. None of the two-term show the 0 or the 270 phase. 2009 has the 315 phase. This is a call to one-term, as 315 is more common than average (the horizontal line) in the one-term, and less than average in the two-term.

4. Sun-Saturn

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

Like the Sun-Jupiter, the phase angles here show a different distribution. The 90 phase is the most common for the two-term: the one-term group have that less than average. For the one term group, the 0 phase is the most common, while the two-term show that one less than average. The 2009 chart has Sun-Saturn in the 90 phase, so this is a prediction of two terms.

5. Mercury-Mars

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

Here, the main differences are that two-term presidencies show greater than average distribution in the 90 and 180 phase, while the on-term group show greater than average distribution in the 0 phase. 2009 comes out 0 phase: this predicts one term.

6. Mercury-Jupiter

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

The two-term group has 90 as the most common phase, with no examples of 0 and 315. 90 is uncommon in the one-term group, whereas 0 and 315 are average. 2009 is a 315 angle; this predicts one term.

7. Venus-Saturn

Here's the graph for one-term presidencies:

Here's the graph for two-term presidencies:

The one-term distribution shows the most frequent phase as 90, with 135 less than average; the two-term group has 135 as the most common, with 90 less than average, and 225 non-existent. 2009 has the phase angle of 135, predicting two terms.

So much for the phase angles. There are other distributions as well. Here are a few that I have already worked with.

8. Syzygy prior to Inauguration

Those of you who have followed my presidential party prediction model will recall that which syzygy: i.e., whether the prior lunation is a full or new moon, may be a predictive factor. So it made sense to examine it here as well.

In the one-term group, there's no difference in which syzygy preceeds the inauguration, whereas the two-term presidencies have a preponderance of full moons. 2009 is a full moon, which means it's not predictive.

9. Retrograde Planets

It made sense to examine whether there was a difference in the distribution of retrograde planets between the two groups.

You will observe on the last two graphs that I have also inserted a category for "died in/left office." And it will be readily apparent on this graph that retrograde placements seem overly abundant in the "died in/left office" category: at least for Jupiter and Mercury. There do seem to be some differences in the distributions between one-term and two-term, but not regarding this year's retrograde planets: Mercury and Saturn. However, as we have just observed, Mercury retrograde is pretty common in the inaugurations of those who died or left office: Mercury retrograde appears 44% of the time in these charts.

10. The Quadruplicity of the Moon

It is extremely common in horary to read relative timing off the quadruplicity of significant points in the chart. And what can be more significant than the Moon? Here are the results.

In the one-term presidencies, a cardinal Moon is most common; in a two-term one, a mutable Moon is. It's interesting that this is the pairing: cardinal for short-term makes sense, but mutable (or common as it used to be called) implied that two-terms is "common" or average - which it is not. Oh well. In 2009, the inauguration Moon is at 29 Scorpio. As fixed works out to be about the average point for one-term, whereas it is less than average in two-terms, I rate this an argument of a one-term presidency. And fixed is uncommon in died/left office, so this is another argument against that scenario.

So I got this far, with one-term leading two terms by 4-2. But I wasn't happy. One major factor is that 33 elections is not really that many, and unlike my party prediction model, I don't really have a track record for using the sum of these factors to correctly predict and outcome. So I decided to examine more factors.

11. The Quadruplicity of the Ascendant Ruler

Because the the noon charts erected for either March 4th or January 20th, there have only been two Ascendant rulers: Moon or Venus.

This one has a really distinct distribution: and one so extreme, that it's really compelling. Clearly, when the ruler of the Ascendant is mutable, there's a high likelihood of two terms, whereas cardinal and fixed look like one-term. The fact that this is so extreme is very important, because, most likely, some of these factors are not really that predictive. But this one looks like it could stand up. In 2009, the Ruler of the Ascendant is Venus in Pisces: so this calls a two-term presidency. As I said, this made me sit up and take notice!

11. The Quadruplicity of the Midheaven Ruler

If the Ruler of the Ascendant is significant, then why not the MC, as the MC is the king in the old mundane systems?

Frankly, the distributions here don't suggest much of anything, because, in all cases, cardinal leads the pack. In 2009, the MC ruler is Saturn in Virgo: mutable. By the way, the two MC rulers that have happened historically are Jupiter and Saturn.

12. The Quadruplicity of the Part of Fortune

Again, this is not a particularly compelling distribution. One term presidencies are more likely to have the Part of Fortune in a fixed sign. In 2009, the Part of Fortune is in Pisces, so this one doesn't matter anyway this year.

13. The Quadruplicity of the Part of Fortune Ruler

To understand what to do with this graph, remember that there have been twice as many one-term presidencies as two. So when I tell you that in 2009, Jupiter is Aquarius, what we do to compare the graphs is to take the frequency of fixed in the tw-term presidencies and double it - this produces 8. This is taking the 11 two-terms and normalizing them to the 22 one-terms. Now we compare 10 to 8: and the difference is not that big. No call here.

14. The Quadruplicity of the Ruler of the Moon

What is immediately obvious with this graph is that one-term presidencies generally don't have the dispositor of the Moon in a mutable sign. As for the other quadruplicities, the effect is not that great. In comparing 22 one-term presidencies to 11 two-term, the number of two-term occurrences needs to be doubled to be of comparable size. In 2009, the Moon is in a cardinal sign. So: the cardinal number for this comparison is 6 (3 times 2), compared to 9 for the one-term: so a cardinal dispositor favors a one-term presidency.

15. Which Planet is the dispositor of the Moon

In doing the quadruplicity of the Moon's ruler, I noticed that among the two-term presidencies, Jupiter seemed to be the most common dispositor. So I decided to break this out by planet. Here your see the three distributions top to bottom: one-term, two-term, died/left office, with the planets in the Chaldean order, starting with the Moon itself.

The one-term presidencies favor Saturn as the Moon's dispositor more, while the two-term ones favor Jupiter. As the dispositor of the Moon in Scorpio in 2009 is Mars, there is no prediction from this factor this time.

So here we have it: ten factors which show a different distribution between these different presidential groupings. Of those which are predictive in the case of 2009, there are five arguments in favor of a one-term presidency, and three in favor of a two-term presidency. So my prediction based on these factors is for a one-term presidency. But I am really struck by the opposite prediction using the quadruplicity of the Ruler of the Ascendant.

What I have presented is the beginning of a model. Frankly, I would like to have a lot more factors.

One final note. Both my prediction here, and my prediction of the election itself, are based on mundane factors only. In other words, both these models imply that there is a current at work at the time of each election, and that the people who step into these roles of candidate or president do not contribute to the outcome: the die is already cast. Now, I have to say that I don't entirely believe that. If Barack Obama wins (and it would certainly be my personal preference), then one way of expressing this would be that his personal chart contains one or more configurations which allow him to rise above the mundane stream. Perhaps that's the next interesting study: what marks an individual to beat the odds? Both these mundane models very much imply that there is a script - and that oftentimes, the candidate simply reads the scripted lines, and the play moves effortlessly to Act IV. But not always. So what is this spark? At the moment, we don't know - but it certainly is an interesting question.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sarah Palin and Pluto in Late Sagittarius

Many of you may know that I predicted that John McCain would win this election (you can see a "summary" of the prediction on YouTube ( While my model is quantitative, I thought that there would likely be some last religious fundamentalist as Pluto retrograded back into Sag. I guess we have found it in Sarah Palin's nomination. While I have to admit that there is a certain entertainment value to conservative Republicans learning how to say "sexism" in a complete sentence, there is also the challenge - is a Pro-Life feminist really a feminist? My gut is to say "free speech," but what about her whole package of beliefs? For a somewhat different historical approach, you might like to read Sommer's article at,pubID.28410/pub_detail.asp. Is Palin then just a repackaging of conservative feminism?

The rest of my thought about Pluto in late Sag for the election, followed by the ingress into Cap just afterwards, is that whoever is elected will be elected under one premise, and have to govern under another.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Two Books on the Culture of Medieval Islam

Griffith, Sidney H. The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Gutas, Dimitri. Greek Thought, Arabic Culture : The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th Centuries). London ; New York: Routledge, 1998.

I believe that, if the astrological community is to be viewed seriously on the outside, it has to collectively learn how to behave critically. This means thinking about thinking, among other things. And this means that we have to learn how to critically examine our own authors. Which is a short-hand way of saying that what we should not be doing is praising those works which “agree” with our personal viewpoints, while dismissing or trashing those that don't.

Until we can achieve this level of understanding, we look like a cluster of Christian heresies from the 4th or 5th century CE, each lovingly transmitting its own opinion of the nature of Christ and God, while condemning all other beliefs to Hell and damnation.

As an exercise in presenting this idea of the critical approach, I'd like to contrast two books that cover roughly the same historical period: one of interest to astrologers, as you will shortly see.

The period of the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258) marked the consolidation of Islamic power after the first political dynasty, the Umayyads, who had ruled since the Prophet's death. The first century and one half of the Abbasid period included the great period of translation of Hellenistic material into Arabic from Syriac, and then Greek. This material included virtually the entire corpus of Hellenistic astrology, as well as massive quantities of other Greek natural philosophy and medicine. This translation movement then sparked a highly creative and productive period of commentary, as Arabic-speaking philosophers (Muslim, Christian and Jewish, as well as some remnant Zoroastrians) digested the material, commented upon it, and then developed new ideas of their own. This period also significantly opened up transmission of Indian ideas to the West, as Muslims increasingly became involved in the wars and politics of the Indian subcontinent. From an astrological standpoint, the Abbasid period marks the transition from The Hellenistic and Sassanian forms of astrology into what is first called Arabic astrology, then Medieval astrology, the latter especially as the Arabic works in turn are translated into Latin primarily in Spain and Italy, especially from the time of the 12th century.

Gutas' work has taken barely ten years to become a classic. I am not saying this because I “like” it, but because it has become an extremely influential work to historians of this period. This means that any subsequent work about this period would be considered suspect if it did not refer to Gutas' work. I should add that Gutas covers the translation of astrological works quite overtly. As is typical of the period (of historians of science) , Gutas does not attempt to minimize the role of astrology in the society and natural philosophy of the time, although neither does he discuss the content of the works in the way that a practitioner would.

One of the things which is so intriguing about this particular time and place is that Muslims, Christians and Jews were able to work together so cooperatively. While politically, there was no question the Muslims were at the top of the heap, their fellow Monotheists were able to contribute substantially to the intellectual life of their shared culture.

Having said this, what is also intriguing is that the Muslim political policies made conversion to Islam desirable – but not compulsory. This was way more of a carrot approach than the stick employed by the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and their successors in Spain. The net result is that, from the time of the Umayyad conquests through the next five centuries, the Muslims went from being a tiny minority in their conquered lands to a huge majority – and largely through the voluntary conversions of individual Christians.

Gutas did not cover that issue within his work: it simply wasn't the subject of his study. It was to address this political dimension that I wanted to read Griffith's book.

The contrast of writing styles could not be more extreme. Gutas has a clear, factual writing style that is easy to follow. By contrast, Griffith' writing is filled with run-on sentences and hyperactive footnotes that seriously mar the readability of the text.

Further, I cannot say I really know that much more about the transition of the Islamic Empire from a numerically Christian-dominated zone to a Muslim one. Griffith's major development is to emphasize the development of apologetic writing – an odd name to someone outside the field, but a technical term for the “defense of the faith” writing of the Christian hierarchy to defend the spiritual superiority of Christianity. These writings were meant to discourage conversions to Islam – which we know statistically they failed to do. He does present some evidence that the different Christian sects managed to cobble together an entente of mutual interest – and that is something worth noting. However, I came away from his work still wondering how significant these apologetic writings really were to the intellectual life of the time.

Will Griffith's work become a classic like Gutas'? I seriously doubt it. I think its major flaw – apart from stylistic – is that it actually represents a rather narrow study masquerading as a larger topic. Had the work been clearly labeled as a study of Arabic-language Christian apologies, it would have had the benefit of matching its title. But the implication of a broader river instead of a deeper, but smaller stream, leaves the reader unsatisfied.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Alethiometer and Horary Astrology

So I admit it – I was quite intrigued by Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials – the books, not the movie. Frankly, I fail to see how any movie version of these books – especially book three – can even begin to do the book justice, because the anti-clerical, anti-Christian tone is simply too dicey for a Hollywood production: unless they grasp the essentially gnostic tone of the story, and understand that the Authority is a stand-in for the Demiurge, and not necessarily any statement on higher reality.

But apart from religious scruples, I was fascinated by the alethiometer. The alethiometer stands in as the perfect form of divination: divination that is the truth, if only one knows how to read it. Further, we note the fascinating change – Lyra can read it perfectly as a child, but at the change to adolescent - which is such a huge factor in this series – strips her native ability. After the change, she must rely on books and a painfully long learning curve to achieve the result that came naturally such a short time before.

What is the lesson here? I think it may actually be the same lesson as why each individual's daemon assumes one single form upon entering adolescence: the truth that the alethiometer reads is parallel to the truth one sees about oneself.

To children, adults are arbitrary beings doing arbitrary things. Adults are, so to speak, forces of nature. Meanwhile, children are beings in the process of becoming. Adolescence and early adulthood is the time that a child becomes “fixed” into an adult. And it is in the period of early through middle adulthood that the personality is the most fixed. And here in lies the key to the alethiometer.

Lyra's questions to the alethiometer either ask about what has already happened – or what will happen. In this sense, the questions she asks (and the others ask other alethiometers) are exactly analogous to those horary questions I encounter daily. Divination is about what you don't know – and you may not know about it even though it has already occurred – or because it hasn't occurred yet. The past you don't know is exactly like the future that you cannot know.

But there's the machine – and then there's the diviner, or reader. As a child, Lyra is free to associate symbols, and intuit the meaning. And she obviously has a talent for this: that's what makes her so special. With maturation come passions – passions unlike anything she experienced before. Emotions become complex. And in that complexity, she loses this native ability, just as Pantalaimon loses his ability to change shapes. And I believe this happens to the daemons not because they cannot change, but because their humans cannot bear the fluidity of change.

It is into this universe of fixed personalities that adults learn to read the alethiometer using books and fixed methods. It is described as a lifelong process. In teaching many students horary astrology, I am struck by how hard it is for many to creatively break the rules. It's an odd universe, the process of divination – one is constantly confronted by the curious juxtaposition of needing to have a really good rule book – but the also the ability to know when to transcend those rules. It was this conundrum that I attempted to address when I titled my book The Martial Art of Horary Astrology – because, like the good horary astrologer, the good martial artist has to practice the rules until they are absolutely instinctive, because only then will one be able to know when to ignore them. Slavish following of the rules produces a fighter who is completely predictable, or a pedestrian interpretation.

Curiously, this flat-footedness seems to most be a part of early to middle adulthood. One is too caught in trying to look good, and so one over-asserts oneself and one's ego into everything. It is only as one gets older that one truly begins to see the commonalities within the fierce assertion of individuality – and then one's interpretation becomes more fluid.

So if it takes a lifetime to “learn” the alethiometer, is it because it takes a lifetime to break down the mask that one so carefully builds up? What does that say for the mask that fractured that “childish” native talent in the first place? And what does this say for prediction in general? It has been my contention that horary operates in the reality that, while we always have free will, it's simply easier to not exercise it. It's always easier to do what comes "naturally" than to have to consciously think about alternatives. I would suggest that therefore horary - or the alethiometer - works best for young to middle-aged adults. Because that represents the life-phase where the armor is hardest - and I don't mean armored bear here! As to older adults, the question is really whether that person is clinging tenaciously to the armor, or accepting its inevitable dissolution.