Evolution of Modern Astrology:        

Feeding the Phoenix

By the end of the 18th century astrology had taken a considerable beating which began when the work of astrologers such as Galileo and Kepler, intended to improve the accuracy of astronomical data, was used as an argument against its viability.  As enchantment with scientific data entered the scene, anything that couldn’t be explained by hard data was either dismissed as superstitious/religious illusion or disguised as such by the few who continued to use it.  Eventually, any interest or belief in astrology fell from the ranks of wealthy intellectuals, making it impossible for astrologers to find the employ of wealthy patrons.  As a result, they had to either seek another source of income or take the craft to where the money was, which was to those receptive to Patrick Curry’s “low” astrology, i.e. the lower echelons of society. 

During astrology’s prime these individuals, who would have been more prone to superstition in the first place, couldn’t afford the services of an astrologer, so when the opportunity presented itself they were easily drawn to something so compatible with their other beliefs.  Furthermore, uneducated individuals were more easily duped, opening up the field for charlatans.  This class of people was expanding as the industrial revolution took hold which ultimately opened up a lucrative market for almanacs, a mass-marketing approach which persists to this day, but also reduced astrology’s image for anything other than weather predictions to that of fortune telling.  Nonetheless, by the end of the 19th century astrology began to regroup, particularly with the rise of Romanticism which brought back a softer/gentler approach such as utilizing imagination and subjective emotional experiences for finding “Truth” and also embracing ancient wisdom as a potential source for solutions to the world’s growing problems.

Astrology wasn’t the only thing that had taken a beaten from The Enlightenment.  Revolutions and social upheavals had left behind a scarred and bloody battlefield where the need to introduce a more contemplative approach gradually evolved which culminated with the formation of the Theosophical Society in 1875.  This organization reintroduced the concept of integrating spirit and matter, a welcome change from the hard science approach which had dismissed anything that couldn’t be seen and/or measured.  Accomplished by Helena Petrovna Blatvasky, Henry Steel Olcott and William Quan Judge, this movement particularly attracted those who all along had believed in the spiritual side of life, including Hermeticists, Freemasons, spiritualists and Christian mysticists.  In reality, these groups probably had quietly continued to embrace astrology all along, but now it became socially acceptable to admit to such beliefs, which facilitated a strong interest in the occult, further indicated by the founding in 1887 of the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” by William Wescott, Samual Liddle, MacGregor Mathers and William Woodman which used astrological symbolism in their initiation ceremonies.[1]  A new rise in the study of the Kabbalah also arose at this time, another mystery sect which embraced astrology, popularized by Eliphas Levi.[2]

This “touchy-feely” paradigm refocused attention on the individual, which paved the way for William Frederick Allan (a.k.a. Alan Leo and probably not coincidentally a Freemason[3]) to resurrect the concept of using the horoscope to delineate an individual’s character, though this time leaving out the part about whether or not a person was destined for heaven, thus somewhat secularizing it as well.  Since the concept of having a wealthy patron had largely vanished thanks to major shifts in the social strata, the best way to make a living was through the masses, a concept demonstrated by the popularity of the Vox Stellarum in the late 18th to early 19th century, though its successor lacked the exploitation of Bible prophecy.  Leo’s “shilling” horoscopes of the early 20th century operated using “cookbook” astrology which is still popular today, largely because it makes astrology’s insights available to those who could not otherwise afford it.[4]

While Leo was instrumental in bringing astrology to the masses, the one who brought it back to the educated, esoterically inclined elite was Carl Jung who married the psychological principle of archetypes to astrology and most likely can be credited with adding the “collective consciousness” to the 12th House.  The sudden interest of academia, even though within a soft science, once again gave astrology respectability, thus making it an acceptable topic for the educated elite.  Jung believed that the astrologer was deeply involved in the process of astrological interpretation.  He aspired to discover a psychic counterpart to Einstein’s theory of relativity[5] (though quantum theory is probably more apropos), to at least partly answer the question of whether a falling tree made any noise when it hit the ground if there was no one there to hear it, i.e. the fact that an observer influenced the results of an experiment.  Werner Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle” was first published in 1927 and related to the dual nature of light as both a particle and a wave.[6]  As physicists have continued to discover more and more particles as energy and information vehicles it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch to see the means for planetary influence, though of course the majority refuse to go there.   

One possible exception may be Fritjof Capra, author of “The Tao of Physics” but he tiptoed around the subject of astrology as well.  Nonetheless, between Heisenberg and Einstein, suddenly science was treading into an invisible world where the arguments were purely mathematical and equipment to detect much less measure it had not yet been invented.  Thus, the unseen world of science was in step with the ideology of the Romantic period as well, which has continued into the modern era.  In an afterword to the second edition of “The Tao of Physics” Capra states “The notion of a basic ‘quantum interconnectedness’ was emphasized by Bohr and Heisenberg throughout the history of quantum theory.  However, it received renewed attention…when physicists came to realize that the universe, in fact, may be interconnected in much subtler ways than one had thought before.  The new kind of interconnectedness that has recently emerged not only enforces the similarities between the views of physicists and mystics; it also raises the intriguing possibility of relating subatomic physics to Jungian psychology and, perhaps, even to parapsychology…”[7]  I can’t help but wonder if Capra realized how much Jung was into astrology?

Another major contributor to the rebirth of astrology was R. H. Naylor, a British columnist whose delineation of the chart of newly born Princess Margaret published in the Sunday Express on August 24, 1930 further piqued public interest in the cosmic arts.[8]  Shortly thereafter various magazines began to appear in England and the United States with Sun Sign columns a regular feature in most newspapers a short time later as astrology began to gain popularity.  These were unstable times politically and economically making insights into what the future may hold clearly factors that helped promote interest at that time.

Opposition still existed, however, from the scientific community, largely because their collective opinion was that it could not be proven and tested to be true.  Freud attributed it to telepathy and as late as 2000 the physicist Robert Park said it was the result of a “breakdown in brain chemistry.”[9]  This, of course, could be feasible, should the vehicle for astrological influences ever be identified, but it’s interesting that someone who considers himself a “scientist” would make such a bold claim with less evidence than that provided for astrology’s validity.  One individual who attempted to bring astrological influences to the attention of scientists was statistician Michel Gauquelin who provided some hard numbers in an attempt to “prove” certain planetary placements in the horoscope related to career success.  This, as expected, received mixed reviews as well as numerous attempts to debunk or skew the results, showing that scientists aren’t as enamored with pure numbers as they claim.

In summary, astrology’s rise from its 18th century ashes to its current position worldwide evolved as once again the sands shifted toward a more spiritual approach to life.  While astrology had never entirely died, it did get very quiet for a spell though I assume its practice continued within secret societies which provided some measure of continuity and contributed to its resuscitation when the time was right, as demonstrated by the use of astrology by various prominent Freemasons over the centuries such as Ebenezer Sibly and Golden Dawn (a Freemason spin-off) members such as poet William Butler Yeats and A. E. Waite.[10]  That said, it was Alan Leo with his “cookbook” astrology who made it affordable for the masses and daily Sun Sign columns quickly followed as standard newspaper content worldwide; indeed, that may be the first thing beyond the front page that many individuals read, with horoscopes featured on most internet news sites as well.  While interest in this “low” Patrick Curry level is explained by these activities, Carl Jung gave astrology the academic boost it needed for Curry’s “high” level to take hold with his promotion of archetypes and their application to horoscopes in a more academic setting.  The archetype approach has proven effective and is greatly utilized by modern astrologers today, myself included.  Thus, astrology has once again arisen from the ashes, as bemused gods and goddesses from millennia past keep watch from the heavens above.

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[1] Campion, Nicholas “A History of Western Astrology Volume II”, London 2009, p. 236

[2] Campion, p. 234 - 235

[3] Campion, p. 234

[4] Campion, p. 231

[5] Campion, p. 255

[6] Tipler, Paul A., “Modern Physics,” New York 1978, p. 187

[7] Capra, Fritjof “The Tao of Physics” Boulder Colorado: 1975, p. 299.

[8] Campion, p. 259

[9] Campion, pp. 265, 268

[10] Campion, pp. 184, 236.

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