The Uranian Observer (published in The Mountain Astrologer 2001)
The Varieties of Astrological Thinking: A Return to the Astrology Museum*
by Bruce Scofield
*Disclaimer: The editors of this magazine were unable to find an address or phone number for this alleged institution and thus take no responsibility for what they believe to be a fantasy, or poetry of the imagination, on the part of the author. The factual content about the various branches of astrology does seem to be correct, however.
Readers of TMA may recall my previous visit to Cleveland's International Museum of Astrology back in 1994. They might remember that I toured the Hall of the Planets, ultimately getting toilet paper stuck to my shoe in the Pluto exhibit. I ended up under the central dome of the museum where the walls and ceilings are covered with frescoes of the ancient astrologers - Ptolemy, Valens, Dorotheus, and Thrasyllus, along with verses from the Astronomicon of the great Roman poet, Marcus Manillius. I had also stopped over at the museum store and picked up some gifts. (My son really liked the Al Morrison action figure I bought him.) On the way out I banged my head on Saturn's rings, which everyone entering and exiting the museum must pass through, and swore I'd never return.
Well, it's been 7 years, a quarter of a Saturn cycle since then, and there I was again in Cleveland, stuck at the airport. My Continental flight had been cancelled and I was walking from gate to gate in the airport with no purpose other than to kill time. No way was I going to sit down and drink beer for $8 a bottle. Finally, I said to myself, "Dude, you're a Cancer, come up with another tax deduction. Why not go to that damn astrology museum again and write off the admission, lunch, and the taxi." That was all I needed to hear. Bye bye airport.
Apparently a lot has changed since my last visit to the museum, but not that entrance. This time I scraped my head on the second ring. It occurred to me that this really low entrance was a hazzard and that by now some disabled person would have sued them for flagrantly violating the Americans for Disabilities Act. But then I realized that anyone in a wheelchair would just breeze on by - it was actually perfect for the handicapped, midgets, and kids. Anyway, after that ordeal I paid my admission and took a look at the new tour brouchure. The biggest change was that they've added an entire wing dedicated to the four major world astrological traditions, each one of them having sections devoted to the various specialites. I thought that I'd explore these new exhibits and learn about the varieties of astrological science and art.
The largest part of the new wing, the Hall of World Astrology, is dedicated to Western astrology, and it was there that I went first. As you enter, amongst decorations suggestive of the ancient Near East, you must first choose between two doors. On the left is "Natural Astrology" and on the right is "Judicial Astrology." Ptolemy (circa 150 AD), the greatest scientist of the ancient world divided the subject of astrology into these two main categories. Natural astrology (also called universal astrology) was the more scientific of the two. It includes topics like astrometeorology (astrological weather predicting), the effects of the Moon on the tides, agricultural astrology, earthquake prediction, the patterns of climate change, etc. When I was in graduate school I did a paper on astrometeorology and came to understand how important natural astrology was to the field. Some of what was originally a part of natural astrology has now been usurped by the geosciences, but much of it lies intact, waiting only for some brilliant minds to pick up where 17th century astrologers like Johannes Kepler and John Goad (who wrote a major work on astrometeorology) left off some 300 years ago.
I poked my head into the natural astrology door and glanced briefly inside the room. On one wall was a small collection of ancient and medival weather apparatus and some alchemical laboratory tools as well. On the other wall were several displays, the most elaborate being one devoted to the work of Frank A. Brown, Jr. Brown was the biologist who pioneered much research into biological clocks. This display even had the original oyster shells (the oysters had long since died) that he had rigged to record their daily cycles. Brown found that their rhythms were synchronized to the Moon, and if you moved them to another location, they would make an adjustment to where the tide would be in that location. Other scientists found the idea that an organism could actually respond to the Moon, without seeing it or feeling the water move with the tides, was very disturbing, and for a time Brown was ridiculed. He was ultimately proven to be correct, however.
The room for judicial astrology was much, much larger and I spent nearly two hours going through it. This is the branch of astrology that considers the implications of planetary positions on people - natal, horary, electional, mundane, and medical astrology. The old Catholic Chuch had a much harder time with this branch of the subject than it did with natural astrology, and it still does, though the battle has been taken up mostly by fundamentalist Christians. Academic science has even more problems with it, and a number of self-appointed attack dogs that call themselves skeptics are dedicated to erradicating the field. Basically, they've got a gun pointed to astrology's head and they are demanding that astrologers cease speaking of astrology and science in the same sentence. Defining the subject as a kind of poetry of the imagination is OK with them, however. Fact is, exactly how the planets affect a person is still a mystery. There's no scientific (i.e. mechanical-causal) explanation - for now, at least, and very few people are even looking for it. But this hasn't stopped astrologers from developing techniques to further the art of deducing information from the chart at birth. If anything, it has freed them from doing boring research and allowed them to cultivate social skills that go beyond those commonly found among scientists.
My first stop in this large, high-ceilinged, room was a small temple modeled after the one dedicated to Athena Nike that still stands in Athens, Greece. This exhibit is dedicated to classical natal astrology. Don't think for a minute that classical astrology is dead, on the contrary, it is very much alive. Just 20 years ago only four ancient astrological texts had been translated into English. Today there are dozens. We have only begun to scratch the surface of this body of information, the core of Western astrological tradition.
As I entered the temple, I passed between two columns on which two small plaques had been placed. These indicated that contributions to the exibit were made by Project Hindsight and Arhat, Rob Hand's classical astrology project. Next to an actual 1,000-year old copy of Ptolemy's famous book, the Tetrabiblios, were several framed horoscopes, the square kind that date to the Roman era. In a corner decorated with Egyptian motifs was an exibit on Nechepso and Petosiris, the names associated with a famous ancient work on astrology that goes back to roughly 500 BC. There were also a number of informative displays in this area offering biographical information on ancient astrologers (including Ptolemy, Valens, and Maternus) and their methods. An actual water clock, and some sand dials, and several astrolabes, had a display of their own. In combination, these devices allowed one to first note a point in time, based on where a planet was in the sky (the astrolabe), and then keep a steady time afterwards (the clocks). The exhibit on ancient astrological philosophy was unfinished, however, which disappointed me very much. Astrologers in general are so practical, and apparently they've been that way for millenia.
The next exhibit was one on mundane astrology. This is a curious branch of the subject that has some overlaps with natural astrology and goes back to the orgins of astrology itself. In this exhibit, however, only the study of countries, cities, and other political entities are presented. Climate and weather, which some place in this category, was not to be found here - this topic was in the hall of natural astrology. Strictly speaking, the first astrology was mundane astrology. The astrologers of ancient Mesopotamia were concerned about the fate of their kingdom in general (here's where weather comes in - they needed to know how their crops might fare) - only later was the chart of the king or other prominent individuals calculated and interpreted.
During medieval times Arab astrologers added much to the tradition of mundane astrology, mostly because natal astrology was forbidden by religion. Gradually, mundane astrology as a separate branch of astrology became formalized and concerned itself with the fates of political entities and also the interpretation of historical cycles. The largest display in this exhibit was one that tracked the 20-year cycle of Jupiter and Saturn conjunctions over two thousand years. You could see how these two meet about a third of the zodiac behind every twenty years, and that this retrogradation of these conjunction points makes a full cycle in the zodiac about every 800 years. The ancients were particularly interested in when this long cycle moved into early Aries - they called this the grand mutation.
Next in my tour was the horary astrology booth. Horary astrology, which is the branch of the subject that answers specific questions, also goes way back to ancient times. Dorotheus of Sidon (circa 75 AD) wrote a book on it. It makes sense that this branch would develop early on when you consider that most people born back then probably hadn't a clue as to what time, if not what day, they were born. Natal astrology presents problems in regard to the time of birth. With horary astrology a client merely asks a question. The astrologer notes the time and makes a chart. Next comes the interpretation, and for this a large number of rules have been discovered and adopted over the past two millenia. I've used horary at times in my practice and find that when someone is very emotionally charged over something, and asks a coherent question, the chart for that moment is very revealing. In many cases I've been able to give very exact answers and sometimes offer very precise timing. One of the most interesting uses of this branch of astrology is finding lost objects. The rules of the horary are such that planetary positions can be interpreted in terms of direction, height, and timing. Fascinating stuff. Oh, I forgot to say that the horary booth was like a phone booth with a picture of William Lilly (1602-1681), perhaps the greatest practitioner of this branch of astrology, on the front. You go into it, close the doors, and speak your question. A chart for the moment appears on a screen and some text appears below it. I asked it where the men's room was and it told me south and either 20 minutes or twenty weeks from now. (Interestingly, I found myself standing in front of a urinal about 20 minutes later!).
Right next to the horary booth was the electional astrology control board. This hands-on exhibit looked at first like a recording studio mixing board, but on close inspection it was a series of dials that allowed one to change the various parts of a chart that appeared on a large screen in front. A digital display below it gave out the date, place, and time. Electional astrology is the branch of the subject that concerns itself with selecting (i.e. electing) the best times to do things. Like its sister horary astrology, it goes way, way back to ancient times. Cornerstones of cities were laid at times "elected" by ancient astrologers. Ships were launched by the stars, too (remember, these were the days before insurance companies). Being a control junkie (though only a hobbyist) I've always loved this branch of the subject. I toyed with the exhibit for a while and had myself a really good time. In only a few minutes I elected a time to leave for my next vacation. I put Jupiter conjunct the Ascendant, which trines Mercury in the ninth. The ruler of the ninth, Venus, makes a quintile to Jupiter and a sextile to the Sun in the 11th. I made sure that the Moon was not void-of-course and would make a favorable last aspect to Uranus. This will be a great vacation, though I have to wait until June 14th of 2016 to take it.
I passed briefly by the medical astrology laboratory exhibit. There was a bust of Hippocrates and one of Galen, both ancients who used astrology in their work. Back then an astrological chart, called the decumbiture, was cast for the moment that a person took ill and went to bed. In other words, the time you committed yourself to the horizontal position was used as a viable chart. By reading it, the physician was able to figure the type of illness, its treatment, and its duration. Medical astrology and herbal remedies go way back, too. There was also an excellent display of herbs and their planetary correspondences at this exhibit. A large woodcut of Nicolas Culpepper (1616-1654), to whom we owe most of our knowledge about these things, dominated this display. At this point though, I was on my way to the men's room and didn't dally.
After visiting the men's room, which looked like a Roman bath house with zodiac tiles, I proceeded to the next major exhibit which was dedicated to the sideral school of astrology. This is the branch that advocates the use of the sideral zodiac, not the tropical zodiac that nearly every Western astrologer takes for granted. I think the reason why this exhibit was placed next to the ancient astrology exhibits was that some of the founders of this modern movement were fascinated by the ancient history of astrology. Cyril Fagan (1896-1970), who might be called the father of sidereal astrology, wrote a book called "Astrological Origins" in which he argued that the exaltation degrees of the planets (i.e. the Sun exalted at 19 degrees of Aries, Moon at 3 Taurus, etc.) were meant to be used in the sidereal zodiac and not the tropical. This implied that everyone who was using these dignifications (to quote G. Dubya Bush) was doing so at the risk of being completely wrong. For many years Fagan wrote a column for American Astrology magazine called Solunars in which he developed his ideas on ancient astrology, mostly with an Egyptian slant. He also wrote extensivley on techniques like solar and lunar returns. His work was among the best in technical astrology during the mid-20th century. Other leading siderealists like Rupert Gleadow, Donald Bradley, and the late A.H. Blackwell had short biographies and photos displayed nearby.
The siderialists have raised a very interesting point about the zodiac, one that has connections to Hindu/Vedic astrology and also to attacks on the subject from skeptics. It all has to do with the precession of the equinoxes, the wobbling motion of the earth's axis that has the effect of moving the first degree of Aries (of the tropical zodiac) backwards through the zodiac of the stars (the sidereal zodiac). These two zodiacs were coincident roughly 2,000 years ago but have now drifted apart, some say about 26 degrees apart. This slow backwards movement of the signs is the basis of the shifting of the ages that lies behind the notion of the coming of the age of Aquarius. Hindu astrology uses the sidereal zodiac for all its work and has a name, the ayanamsa, for the gap between the two zodiacs. Skeptics have long attacked astrology for using the wrong zodiac, or so they think. In the final analysis, though, the zodiac is really a reference plane. The planets are the real action figures.
The second part of the Hall of Western Judicial astrology was very different. No more classical motifs, pillars, busts, or woodcuts. This section was devoted entirely to the 20th century, the time when astrology made a roaring comeback. Although you could barely hear it, the sounds of Gustave Holst's The Planets Symphony were coming out of spherical ceiling speakers disguised as planets. Holst was an English composer who actually knew something about astrology, and he got the essence of each planet exactly right in this, his most famous composition. Each of the planets (except for Pluto, which wasn't discovered when he wrote it) has its own piece of music. There's no question in my mind that his piece on Saturn is the best of them all. It starts really, really slow and then reaches an endlessly repeating climax that seems to take forever to fade out. I once read that Holst himself thought this to be his best work. No one else seems to think so, however. Jupiter is the one that is typically performed by orchestras today.
First stop in this new section was the Uranian Astrology exhibit. Uranian Astrology is the American name for this branch of astrology. In Germany, where this amazing branch of astrology was born and grew, it is called the Hamburg School. A large photo of Alfred Witte (1878-1941), the founder of the this movement, dominated the exhibit. Around him were photos of some other leaders in the movement - and there was even a photo of Hitler, who was not a friend to astrology. Witte and his followers took a few of Kepler's ideas about harmonics, plus some ideas from classical astrology like the antisia (reflection points from the Cancer/Capricorn axis), added his mental genius, and created an entirely different method of reading charts. The logically designed display clearly pointed out that the key to Uranian astrology is found in an understanding of planetary symmetry. Aspects are just one form of planetary alignment, midpoints and reflecting axes are another. What astrologers who use Uranian Astrology do is locate common axes in a birth chart around which planets are equally spaced. The combination of planets involved in an axis will describe the action of the axis. If a natal planet occupies the axis, or a transiting or directed planet enters the axis, it become "charged" by the planetary symmetry around it. I've found Uranian astrology to be an excellent tool for rectifications and for electional astrology. There's an even weirder side to this brand of astrology - mysterious, undiscovered planets. Witte and his pal Freidrich Sieggrun discovered a number of moving points in the sky that act like planets, so they gave them names like Hades, Cupido, Admetos, Zeus, Kronos, Appollon, Vulcanus, and Poseidon. Although there are others, only these eight became part of the official methodology.
Next was an interesting display on relationship astrology called "Co-Astrology." Synastry was presented as a technique for comparing charts and evaluating compatibility. Also in this section were examples of composite charts. These charts, derived from two or more natal charts, are really charts of midpoints. For example, take the Moon position from two natal charts, add them up and divide by 2 and you've got a midpoint that is called the composite Moon. The same thing is done for the other planets and houses. Next to the composite chart display was one on the relationship chart, which is a chart for the midpoint in time and space between any two births. Those who have worked with both these charts will have noticed that both produce similar results.
Next to this display was one on locational astrology. It consisted of a few photographs of the major contributors to this field, people like Edward Johndro, Gary Duncan, and Jim Lewis. Most of the display consisted of maps and in the center was a large globe onto which the current positions of the planets were projected. I stood there transfixed, watching the lines of planetary angularity shift across the continents on this slowly turning globe. As I drifted into a kind of sleep, I noticed that Neptune was rising around this time here in Cleveland.
The Dane Rudhyar Memorial occupied a prominent position in the hall. Rudhyar (1895-1985), could be said to be the father of modern psychological astrology, and one of the very few astrologers that has approached the subject from a philosophical perspective. His 1936 book "The Astrology of Personality" was probably the first major astrological work of the 20th century that was up to academic standards. When I first began to study astrology in 1967 (as a hippie) I came across this book and soon realized I didn't understand that much of what he was writing about. This motivated me to go back to college, study philosophy, and get a degree, which I did. The display was filled with his bizarre artwork and if you pressed a button you could get to hear samples of his orchestral and piano compositions (Rudhyar was also an avant garde composer). Dane Rudhyar was also the founder of humanistic astrology, and this aspect of his work was represented by a collection of quotations from his many writings on the subject.
When I reached the end of the long, curving Western astrology hall I found myself back in the central part of the new wing and headed over to the Vedic astrology exhibit. Vedic astrology, which was once known in the West as Hindu or Indian astrology, has its own name, Jyotish, which means "science of light." It even has its own god, an elephant man with four arms. Like Western astrology, Vedic astrology has quite a long history, one that has roots that go as far back as three to four thousand years ago. Formalized Vedic astrology, however, appeared around 500 AD, and has ever since held an esteemed position in Indian culture. Like Western astrology, Vedic astrology also has many subcategories, including electional and medical astrology.
I peeked into the elaborately decorated Hall of Vedic Astrology and breathed in the rich smell of incense. Behind multi-colored draperies were small, but very ornate shrines to the major astrologers in this tradition, including Aryabhata, Parasara, Varahamihira, and many others, most of whom I had never heard of. But what really caught my attention was the remedy/souvenir stand located right in the middle of the hall. This was a really interesting exhibit - or was it a commercial enterprise? Whatever, the stuff they were selling was fabulous. Gems, copper bracelts, incense, little figurines. You could even get your horoscope read for a small fee, right there - presumably this would make you a more informed consumer. It was an interesting mixture of spirituality and capitalism and it reminded me of an Indian restaurant where, after you've completely finished ordering your meal, they tell you that you should order bread - for an additional cost. Still, the Hall of Vedic Astrology, with its tapestries, inscense and candelight, was an incredible sight to behold and I told myself that if I ever came back, I would make time to see the whole thing.
Back out in the center of the new wing again I walked over to the Hall of Chinese Astrology. Like Vedic astrology, China has had its own distinctive brand of astrology for milennia. Some of it bears a resemblence to Mesopotamian and Hindu astrology, like the lunar zodiac (28 signs of 13 degrees each) but much of it is totally different. And much of it is completely foreign to Westerners because Chinese astrologers have been very quiet about what they do, in part for political reasons. Some readers may wonder why there is no Tibetan or Burmese astrology hall. These are actually represented in the museum, but the exhibits are apportioned between the Vedic and Chinese halls. It does seem to be the case that these other traditions are, for the most part, derived traditions, composed of fundamental elements that originated in either India or China.
Ancient Chinese astrologers worked with the cycles of Jupiter and Saturn extensively and created a kind of numerological astrology from the numbers generated by these two planets. First of all there's the cycle of Jupiter, which is 12 years. Then there is the cycle of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions which occur every 60 years in nearly the same part of the zodiac. Then there are the 5 elements common to Chinese alchemy and Feng Shui. What the Chinese did was to combine the numbers 12 and 5 to reach the number 60 (five cycles of 12 years equals 60 individual cycles). Now what they did was to apply this concept to the years, which all of us should be able to grasp if we've been reading our Chinese restaturant placemats. The 12-year cycle is simply what most of us believe is Chinese astrology, period. But there are five elements in Chinese astrology and five cycles of the 12-year cycle must occur before we're back where we started, so each cycle of 12 years is different from the next. And there's also a 10-year cycle that runs 6 times during this period as well. This cyclic-numerological concept was also applied to months, weeks, days, and even hours. In Chinese astrology, one is born into one of 60 categories in each of four primary time periods - the "four pillars of destiny."
To a large extent, Chinese astrology is an astrology based on blocks of time that have meaning, like the planetary hours of Western astrology and the day-signs of Mesoamerican astrology. But the Chinese also had other unique properties to their indigenous astrology. They used a polar orientation, not an ecliptic (zodiac) based system of planetary or time measurement. They had a 28-day lunar zodiac, and they did use horoscopes. But I didn't get to see any of this. The entire Hall of Chinese Astrology was blocked off, and had apparently been that way for some time. I spoke to a museum guard nearby who said that the exhibit had, in fact, never been officially opened due to some diplomatic problem with the Chinese government.
Finally I stood in front of Hall of Mesoamerican Astrology, the last of the four major world-class astrological traditions. Mesoamerica was the cultural region in which the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples lived and still live. The origins of their unique astrological system, which most consider to have developed in isolation (diffusionists contest this) from the Asian land mass, go back at least 2500 years. After passing through the corbelled arch entrance way I found myself facing a small pyramid, modeled after the one in Chichen Itza, that apparently contained the exhibits devoted to this astrological tradition. Like the Chinese system of 60 permutations generated by the numbers 5, 6, 10, and 12, Mesoamerican astrology, at least the astro-numerological part of it, was based on 4, 5,13, and 20. There were 20 main signs, called day-signs, and 13 numbers that cycled until the 260 possible combinations were generated. This number, 260, is like a lowest common denominator for planetary cycles. It fits in with the cycles of Venus, Mars, the Moon, and also the eclipse cycle. I went over to the display on Venus and stared at the figures of Quetzalcoatl, the god who represented that planet. Every 584 days Venus passes between the earth and the Sun (astronomers call this the inferior conjunction) and it nearly always seems to coincide with some kind of mess in the affairs of men, often involving the taking down of leaders and the crashing of planes. This sort of Venus-based astrology was a major part of ancient Mayan astrology and the display included several pages from the Dresden Codex, one of the four Maya books (out of thousands) that wasn't burned by the Spanish friars. It's a shame that so much about Mesoamerican astrology went up in flames, but some survived and there is an oral tradition that has kept parts of the sytem alive and well in rural Guatemala.
After taking in a few of the exhibits, I peeked around the back of the pyramid. I had heard the sounds of people laughing and talking in Spanish and thought I'd investigate. A few Mexican guys were back there, sitting on folding chairs grouped around a cooler full of Dos X's cerveza. I walked over to them, said hi, and they offered me a beer. One of them was connected with the Mesoamerican exhibit at the museum and we got into a conversation about astrology. He told me that a new codice (ancient manuscript) had been discovered that seemed to have some astrological information on it, but nothing on it had been published yet. The others were waiters from a Mexican restaurant nearby - the back of the restaurant faced this small courtyard on the museum grounds. Once I got settled, the conversation, driven by consumption of cerveza, turned to political philosophy. I don't remember much about what happened next, except for something about enchiladas and a wild taxi ride back to the airport in a 1975 Volkswagen.
So that was my second visit to the International Museum of Astrology. It's an education, for sure, but don't forget to duck when you enter. Anyway, I had a good time that afternoon and I learned a few things - I hope you did too.