On the Study of Astrology

Camille Flammarion, The Atmosphere

I have always been passionate about Astrology, and studying Astrology is a part of my life, and it will always remain so. Having said that, I discovered early on that I can apply some of my skills to my learning process.

Since I am a Project Manager by trade, it comes naturally for me to organize and synthesize large blocks of data, so that they become more manageable and thus conducive to achieving a certain end result. Thus, I approached the matter of studying Astrology as a full-on research Project.

I started by spending a fair amount of time researching how one should approach the study of Astrology in general, focusing on:

  1. On the problem of Knowing
  2. History of Astrology
  3. Astrological Theory in Practice + Index of Astrological Doctrines
  4. Philosophical Foundations
  5. Problems in Astrology
  6. Future of Astrology

If you are here mainly for the Index of Astrological Doctrines, look no further and download it here. If however you’re curious to see my view on the problem of studying Astrology, please continue…

1. On the problem of Knowing

Personally, I believe that one can truly know (rather than have knowledge about) any one thing when one is able to grasp its roots, or First Principles. It is these first principles that define the thing that is investigated, and by identifying and understanding them one will understand and truly know that particular thing.

These first principles can be True or False, and generally False First Principles lead to false conclusions or beliefs (false knowledge or false belief), and True First Principles lead to True conclusions or beliefs (true knowledge).

I submit that this also occurs naturally in our minds, without our knowing so, since our minds also operate on first principles. We are not cognizant of this, but behind every thought or concept that runs through our minds there are first principles that sustain them. We inherit a lot of these first principles through the agency of the the world around us, education, culture, media etc. They may be true or false, but until we decompose them and extract the first principles from them we can’t really be sure that what we believe is true or false, regardless of what the mainstream view is.

I applied the same principle to the Study of Astrology, but in a reverse fashion. My starting assumption is that Astrology is True, and proceeded to slowly work my way to finding the First Principles that must also necessarily be true to support this statement.

As a parenthesis, this was a very tough milestone for me, since I’ve always been a kind of hardcore skeptic at heart, but going into this I knew I had to approach the matter from the point of view of Astrology being True, rather than False. I couldn’t approach a serious study of Astrology until I was able to make that mental switch.

Also, the current conjecture is that Astrology’s First Principles are related to Destiny, Free Will, Time and the Architecture of the Soul.

If Astrology is True, then, its First Principles will help us derive some True statements about the nature of Destiny and of the Soul. Which is kind of a big deal, and in my view Astrology is among the few (if not the only) capable of providing such verifiable statements (through the validity of Astrological delineations).

2. History of Astrology

Students and practitioners of Modern Astrology often forget or are unaware of the fact that Astrology has a History of its own, and that it has seen several critical stages and has developed in several separate streams in the last couple of millennia, particularly in the Eurasian continent. Why is this important?

It is important because it brings about the problem of having several sets of First Principles. Do these astrological streams have the same set of First Principles? Are they completely different? For instance, we have the following broad stages in Astrology as developed in the Eurasian continent (and neighboring areas).

Although I haven’t explored this in great detail, I believe that the grandparents of Ancient Astrology are the even more ancient Astral religions of our prehistoric ancestors. There is common thread here, but it remains to be explored more in depth.

Researchers of the History of Astrology have shown that these stages and variations are not sequential developments and do not represent an evolution of the Astrological doctrine, but rather different ups and downs experienced under the influence of the cultural, philosophical, scientific, political and religious background. You can read more about its history here.

Modern Western Astrology is not the epitome of Astrological thinking, but rather sadly a piecing together of some fragments from a long forgotten body of knowledge.

Simply put, one cannot derive first principle from Modern psychologically oriented Astrology. You can in fact derive secondary principles related to the psychology of human beings, but these are of secondary interest to me at this point.

The scope of this research is to identify the First Principles of the foundation of Astrology, which foundation I believe revolves around:

  • Babylonian Astrology
  • Egyptian Astrology
  • Hellenistic Astrology
  • Indian Astrology

Later Astrologies appear to be variants of these, building upon the original first principles. I have put aside Chinese Astrology for the time being, as a separate category, since I haven’t studied enough to form an opinion.

3. Astrological Theory in Practice

Vermeer, The Astronomer

In order for one to learn Astrology, one has to practice it. Thus, before I engaged in any kind of practice, I wanted to be sure I had a good understanding of the natal theory that I was to put in practice, so that later on I could hope to derive first principles based on experience.

For my particular learning process, I decided to initially focus on Hellenistic Astrology and later get into Persian/Arabian Astrology since this is one of the lines of inquiry where we can actually talk of some degree of development and consistency.

This is easier said than done. Most of the Hellenistic treatises that came down to us today contain parts of some hypothetical original doctrine attributed to a famous duo of antiquity: Nechepso&Petosiris.

The difficulty here is that most authors select a number of doctrines from the authors that they had at their disposal, re-interpret their doctrines, sometimes correctly, sometimes not, and then their work gets passed on to other authors who do the same. When Hellenistic doctrine passed to the Arabs, the translation/interpretation difficulties were even more challenging and lead to variants of the original concepts (they also excised from it most of the Hellenistic philosophical doctrine), that in turn got re-interpreted by later authors and so on.

Consequently, it is very difficult to say what the original doctrine looked like, but since this is actually one of the objectives of my research – to recover the original System of Hellenistic Astrology, as a commixture of Babylonian and Egyptian Astrology and Hellenistic Philosophy, I had to find a way to make sense of all the concepts and doctrines that are flying around in the treatises. This is how I started compiling an Index of Astrological doctrines that finally allowed me to take in the entire breadth of Hellenistic Astrology.

Since I have just finished it, I am now ready to really start my learning journey

Index of Astrological doctrines

The current version of the Index of Astrological Doctrines currently covers Natal Hellenistic Astrology, since this is the branch that I am most interested in.

I plan on indexing Persian/Arabian works next, and then expanding it with works from subsequent eras (Medieval, Renaissance etc.)

The Index consists in around 250 cross-referenced entries from 35 Hellenistic Astrology treatises, organized by categories and topics, and allows a comparative analysis of a given concept/doctrine through the various works/treatises that feature it, knowing exactly where to look for it, granted that you have a copy of these works.

The main headings of the Index are as follows:

  1. Philosophy
  2. Astronomical considerations
  3. Zodiacal Signs
  4. Planets
  5. Topical Places
  6. Conception
  7. Aspect Doctrine
  8. Lots
  9. Principles of Chart synthesis
  10. General Delineations on Topics
  11. Predictive Techniques
  12. Length of Life Techniques
  13. Miscellaneous lists, tables etc.

4. Philosophical Foundations

Raphael, The School of Athens

This quest was originally founded in part on a personal desire to understand Fate & Free Will, as expressed through an astrological doctrine of the soul, since I believe that only such a doctrine is capable of bridging the gap between the sensible and the ideal worlds, as defined by Plato in Timaeus.

I began my search with Babylonian Astrology, although there is not that much available literature on the matter, and as soon as I crossed the boundary into Hellenistic Astrology I realized that any such undertaking should be supplemented with a good foundation in a number of classical philosophical doctrines (at least for the Western development track):

  • Pre-socratic
  • Platonic
  • Aristotelian
  • Stoic
  • Neo-platonic

See the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hellenistic Astrology, for a primer on the main philosophical ideas and schools.

Philosophical inquiry is a prerequisite to this research, since the First Principles that I mentioned before are in fact philosophical principles, and in order to be able to 1) recover them and 2) validate/invalidate them you first need to be able to know and understand them in the first place, which brings us back to point #1 in this exposition – the problem of Knowing.

5. Problems in Astrology

This is a list of problems that anyone undertaking such a study will have to face at some point in time. At this point I will only provide a summary of what I have personally encountered so far, along with some links to further reading:

One small comment is due here. Even before I started this learning journey, I was troubled by the Tropical and Sidereal issue, and in order to better understand what is actually at stake, I designed a learning device that I call the Hermetic Astrolabe. It features elements from Babylonian, Egyptian, Hellenistic and Indian Astrology. You can purchase or read more about it here:

6. Future of Astrology

It is very difficult to approach this idea at such an early point in my research, but if I was to take a wild guess, considering what I have surveyed so far, and the ongoing movements geared towards the recovery of ancient astrological Lore, I believe there will be a lot more focus on these First Principles, because they represent a way of thinking than can cross over cultures, religion and time, and allow Astrologers to adapt their thinking and methods through the Ages and focus on a true development/evolution of Astrology for the generations to come.

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