About the Site: Astrology’s First Thousand Years

This site begins with a working hypothesis: there’s a correlation between certain celestial states and events that we observe from Earth, and certain states and events occurring on Earth.   More briefly, “as above, so below”.  This hypothesis has not be disproven. Social scientists have debunked astrology only so far as being successful in indicating that people are impressionable enough to believe just about anything about them, and that Sun sign astrology descriptions and Sun sign horoscopes are typically vague enough to avoid falsifiability and apply to just about anyone. There is an above/below correlation but from a scientific standpoint it tends to involve mostly insignificant or obvious relationships of causality, i.e. that the alteration in the Sun’s ascendancy (from the tilt of the Earth) causes the seasons, the Moon creates the tides, sun spots foster genetic anomalies, etc.

As the scientific worldview tends toward materialism, physicalism, and causality, a correlation between a “celestial sign” and a “human perception/interpretation” of states or events seems magical and preposterous. However, I will argue, through my astrological work itself, that this is exactly the case: that the skies speak of events through signs in much the same way that humans use language. In other words, that the universe is rational and lingual, beyond the human instance, and that humans have historically struggled to  understand its language. This is “the Word”, “Logos”.  The science (in the original sense of collected body of knowledge) of astrology is the human race’s collective attempts at decoding – our grammars of the universal language or languages. Human beings have been putting together these grammars in all parts of the world since we could observe and record.  The passion for constructing these grammars drove some of the most important advances in math, physics, optics, computing, and philosophy of the ancient, medieval, renaissance, and early modern world.

Unfortunately, even the best grammars we have of the universal language are rudimentary compared with our grammars of human language. Still, the first task of the astrologer is in comparing grammars and choosing ones that are the most accurate and complete to work from.  A successful candidate for an astrological grammar must have three features:

1. The astrological grammar must be sophisticated enough to encompass a huge variety of experience. For instance, modern Sun sign astrology with its focus on a feature that changes once each month and in birth charts is shared with everyone born in the same 1/12 of the year fares very badly in this sense, even just as a description of a core personality of a person from the Sun sign in the birth chart. Ted Bundy, Walt Disney, Bruce Lee, Woody Allen, Stalin, John Kerry, Jim Morrison, and Ann Coulter don’t strike anyone as being of particularly similar core personality on account of their sharing the Sun sign Sagittarius. Such an overly generalized astrology with a whole of description for when the sky says 12 different things is so lacking in descriptive potential and credibility that it is little wonder that the popularity of the system causes skeptics so much ire and throws astrology into such a bad light. To some degree, this lack of sophistication is a problem with most modern western astrology, but not as big a problem as it has with the next necessary feature. There are many astrological grammars (virtually all horoscopic astrological systems of the pre-modern world) that do possess this feature though, and a couple astrologies of the modern world (Cosmobiology, Uranian, and asteroid astrology which use midpoints, asteroids, and other points to achieve greater complexity), so those serious about astrology are pretty much forced to explore more ancient systems and/or more complex modern systems.

2. The astrological grammar must be clear enough to distinguish opposites, such as  tendency toward more positive or more negative perceptions of events, and prioritize or order signs in such a way to interpret novel and specific meanings. There are those that believe that astrological signs give indications regarding unseen psychological realities that can manifest in myriad ways depending on one’s mental state (i.e. psychological astrology). However, if the signs cannot predict anything specific about the mental state that they are supposedly commenting upon, including cannot indicate if the state is pleasant or unpleasant, and instead comment upon a presupposed abstract plane of reality behind and beyond both the mental and physical experiences which may or may not impact those experiences, then it fails to have this feature. Much of psychological astrology lacks this feature, as it tells people who or how they are and they are assumed to be/have those traits even if they are not prominently expressed or materialized in any specific area. This is a feature that is dear to those that study ancient astrology, as ancient astrological systems took great pains to try to distinguish signs that indicated pleasant circumstances from unpleasant ones, as well as to distinguish the relative prominence of signs, their specific complex relationship with other signs, when such signs would be activated and in which areas of life they’d be more active, and so forth. This is strongest in all ancient forms of horoscopic astrology and weakest in all modern forms of astrology, especially psychological forms of astrology, which are the most popular forms of modern astrology today. Uranian astrology, Cosmobiology, and asteroid astrology have hundreds to thousands of additional symbols in their vocabulary but often these additional symbols create more ambiguity and confusion rather than less, as prioritization and judgement regarding positive/negative direction of the complex groups of symbols become nearly insurmountable. Many that are drawn to those modern systems for their sophistication are then also drawn to ancient systems for their guidance in hierarchy and judgement.

3. It must have enough of a degree of falsifiability and culpability in order to allow for development and progress. This is related to the two features above but also separate in the sense that it requires a progress-oriented system, rather than a dogmatic one. While an astrology that lacks sophistication and is too ambiguous is not falsifiable, making progress in the further development of the grammar impossible, an astrology that makes clear and specific predictions and is wrong most of the time or in very key ways but is adhered to for dogmatic reasons fails to have this feature. The need for this feature is felt the most in classical astrological circles where dogmatic adherence to a specific historical grammar is common. There is a certain beauty in attempting to use a grammar used hundreds or over a thousand years ago, like reviving a long dead tongue, and some astrologers make their living attempting this sort of historical re-enactment. However, the successful development of astrology requires a bit more of a “beginner’s mind” than the notion that we’ve found the one true key. If we had found the one true key then astrologers would be able to predict nearly all major events on Earth with ease and skepticism would be much harder to come by. The truth is that astrology needs a lot of work. The ancient corpus is large, varied, and detailed enough to provide some grammatical bits that are sophisticated, clear, and falsifiable as a starting point, but they are also varied enough in substance (many astrologers differing greatly in their favored bits of grammar and their methods of prioritization even in the first few hundred years of horoscopic astrology) and quality (certain bits just work and others just don’t) that we need to test things out, throw things out, and develop other things as well. For instance, one of the most valued bits of grammar for astrologers employing medieval and classical grammars is the belief that planetary “dignity” by sign is one of the most important indications of how beneficial the planet’s indications are and that more dignified planets in a chart signifies a more powerful and/or dignified person (this notion goes back to Firmicus Maternus of the 4th century CE).  However, this is a patently silly notion that is debunked by a few contradictory pairs of charts, such as the chart of the very successful Ted Turner who has most planets ill-dignified and the very unsuccessful and depraved Jeffrey Dahmer who had most planets very dignified.

Hellenistic Astrology

My own pursuit of better astrology has led me through a number of astrological systems to the very root of horoscopic astrology itself. Around 100 BCE, astrology underwent a radical transformation from omen lore to that based on charts of planetary positions (i.e. a horoscope) relative to the earth at a specific point in time and place oriented around the rising point (note: the rising point was known as the “horoskopos”, from which we get the word “horoscope” which is also used to refer to the chart as a whole). This transformation is believed by historians of science to have taken place in the Greek-speaking world (i.e. Hellenistic) in or around Egypt, and to have spread quickly around India and the Mediterranean , eventually diverging into two separate horoscopic traditions. The earliest books on this horoscopic astrology, from the first 1,000 years CE, are also among the largest, densest, most varied, most sophisticated, and most systematic works of astrology ever produced.

Initial attempts to study these earliest strains of horoscopic astrology were frustrated by the fact that very few of the texts were available in modern languages. Most of the texts have just become translated into modern languages within the last 30 years. Initial translations were of texts by figures more influential in the context of science and history, such as the translation of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, as Ptolemy had a strong impact on ancient astronomy, and the Astronomica of Manilius, as it was written in verse.  These texts are dense and full of specialized terminology which many translators, even some of those who were historians of science, were not equipped to deal with. In this materialist scientific age, there is also very limited interest in the content of these texts. Now that most of the key early texts have been translated, there are still many barriers to their study, including a lack of good secondary literature. an often dogmatic classical astrological community which gives the impression that the early texts are uniform in opinion and lacking in variety, modern misconceptions that ancient astrology is rigid and predictive of doom and gloom or of external events only (i.e. lacking flexibility and lacking indications about personality/psychology), and the sheer immensity of the literature (requires great time and effort to study).

Fascinatingly, as the earliest authors became translated it became clear that they already differed significantly in worldview from each other, and in terms of many features of the astrological system, while having many features in common. This suggested that by the 1st and 2nd centuries CE (when the earliest complete treatises we have were first written), the astrological tradition was already entrenched enough for there  to be a deep common vocab and set of principles, but also rich and varied enough that authors could write information-dense treatises that now translate into hundreds of pages in English in which each author favors some different little bits of the astrological grammar and each includes a little something not found in the others. In other words, at that time, feature number 3 was very active in astrology. Astrologers didn’t pass things on in prestine condition and stick to them dogmatically, but were expanding and developing a basic alphabet in myriad ways. Some astrologers had a particularly strong focus on weather, temperament, and the elements (Ptolemy, 2nd century CE), some on natal chart indications but also electing good times to start things (Dorotheus, 1st century CE), some more on in depth static natal chart indications about people (Firmicus Maternus, 4th century CE), and others on a large number of predictive and timing techniques (Vettius Valens, 2nd century CE).  They also differed so much in terms of worldview that some were physicalists who believed celestial events caused changes by effecting the elements (Ptolemy), others felt celestial events merely signified things (Valens), and notable astrologers included varied figures from mystics and nomads, to lawyers and physical scientists.

Much of this variety and richness was trimmed away as we progress through the middle ages, and by the High Middle Ages in Europe we see much more uniformity, leading many to believe that the best survived and the excess went to waste.  However, it is unfortunately the case that the best did not survive. Feature number 3 seemed to become less important as time went on and certain important figures were increasingly lionized, leading to a more authoritarian, less critical approach to astrology. For instance, there was increasing reliance on planetary dignity, a conversion to a different way of looking at astrological houses, a loss of some key concepts that were used to distinguish tendency toward pleasant vs. unpleasant effects in ancient astrology, and a greater emphasis on astrology for divination (horary astrology; casting a chart for the time a question is asked to help provide an answer), and a greater emphasis on distilling indications down to one planet through numerical means (co-called almutens or “winners”), all of which led to what I believe I can show to a tendency toward less sophistication and less accuracy, for greater clarity. By the early modern period (e.g. 17th century Europe), there were figures who popped up to try to critically reform astrology to make it more accurate (most notably Morin and Kepler), but they did so working with an already very paired-down system, and without access to the much earlier richer corpus. It is my opinion, that today we have the advantage of thousands of pages of grammar to work with from the first thousand years of the astrological corpus which are the most valuable and varied starting points from which we can develop our astrology.

This Site’s Mission

I cannot prove astrology. I can only show evidence that some bits of grammar are better than other bits of grammar; indications that something is indicating what it’s supposed to and something else is not. The purpose of this site is to do just that. I use Hellenistic and early medieval astrology as my ground for exploration because I firmly believe it is most fertile. Its first principles are the most profound and convincing starting points, and its corpus provides numerous alternatives to compare and test along the path of exploration. I firmly believe that if you take this journey with me, opening yourself up to the working hypothesis, and taking the time to learn the language and work towards its development, your worldview will change. The realization that this universe can “speak”, communicating through abstract signs, is no small revelation. It changes everything.

My name is Anthony. I’m a father, a skeptic, a linguist, a believer, a businessman, and a believer. I’m not a professional astrologer. This blog was a labor of love for me a couple years back but got maimed when I transferred to another host. I’m very busy, so it will be slow-going as I refresh and publish my prior articles and press on with some new ones. I hope you’ll join me on this journey toward a more exciting, more critical, more ancient, and more application-focused approach to astrological development.



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Ancient Hellenistic and Persian Astrology in Practice