Astrology is an important part of popular Western culture. Just browse through some general magazines and newspapers to see that. People often go along with the notion that the position and movements of the planets, against the backdrop of the night sky, tells them something about their personal lives. For many, a horoscope, based on their individual time of birth, might explain aspects of their personality and even predict significant events.
In astrology, each planet exercises a particular influence by its position and its aspects with respect to other planets. Astrologists give psychological distinctions to the various planets ruling over the 12 signs of the Zodiac. They say that some of these planets benefit us more than others. Yet, the position and motions of the stars and planets affect people by no scientifically understood mechanism of action.
Unfortunately, most horoscopes you see in the media only make vague untestable statements that can apply to almost anyone. On the other hand, astrologists do give individuals discriminating profiles and these have been examined in controlled experiments. But, these consistently correlate with personality, measured by other means, at a rate no higher than chance.
Sceptics say believers in astrology tend to selectively remember predictions that turn out to be true and do not remember those that turnout false. They further claim that astrological theory often shows poor reasoning and astrologists disagree among themselves.
All this doesn’t seem to matter to those many followers who do not claim astrology is a science with predictive power. Instead, they seem to want astrology to help them understand their personal lives in a way that transcends science.
So what is a fair-minded rational person to make of astrology? Has it something useful to offer even it cannot be called a science?
Night sky as symbolism
What interests me about astrology is its symbolism. I wonder whether it can illuminate something, about the various states of mind, we experience in our life’s spiritual journey. I am attracted to the idea that there is a correspondence of natural objects in the universe – such as stars and planets – with positive and negative states of human consciousness. The most general idea behind this is expressed in the Emerald Tablet as “as above, so below”.
“Although the concept of correspondences bears some relationship to analogy, metaphor, and symbolism, it goes far beyond that. What the ancients had was not merely the observation that the human mind can use something concrete as a stand-in for something abstract. It was an understanding that everything in the universe embodies something spiritual” (Jonathan Rose)
I would suggest the natural universe mirrors both positive and negative human states of mind. For example in the world of nature on our planet we find both gentle and fierce creatures, destructive earthquakes and beautiful geographical scenes. If so, it is not a big step to say that the qualities and positions of the planets also have some correspondence with human psychology. Therefore, I would suggest the planets do not directly influence us as such but rather mirror our inner states of consciousness.
For me, this symbolism can for example be seen in the sign of Aries the Ram.
Aries the Ram
In their book ‘Twelve Qualities of a Spiritual Mind‘, Harry Barnitz and Dawn Barnitz Potts point out that the sun enters Aries at the spring equinox. And so Aries initiates the season of spring, the warmth of new light, the beginning of the year in ancient times. There is a renewed awareness of being alive and a trust in the sustaining source of light and warmth. This reminds us of the life-sustaining power of love and light present in our minds. A new vision and inspiration. A state of mind awakening to something beyond the material. An intuition which is experienced on a regular cycle throughout life – each time felt on a deeper level.
The ram symbolises this quality of innocent trust in life. Astrologers claim that people born under the sign of Aries the Ram are visionary and creative innovators with an active imagination and deeply perceptive mind.
This initial state of spiritual awakening still has with it much of egoism. The ram also has connotations of aggression. Shepherds know that while sheep are generally a docile animal, this is not usually the case with rams, especially during the breeding season. Rams can be very aggressive and have been known to cause serious injuries.
And so astrologers say that those born under the sign of Aries the Ram, because of the ego-mind, are also likely to be fiery, and violent because of the planet Mars which is said to rule over this first sign.
If the positive and the negative go together then it is not surprising to find a visionary awareness of and innocent trust in a spiritually sustaining source. Also it is not surprising to find the opposite illusions derived from a proud and aggressive self-reliance.
My feelings about astrology
Astrology says the planetary configuration, at the time of our birth, mirrors our individual natural disposition and quality of feeling. This fits in with the idea that we each have a unique potential. The notion that each one of us can have a distinctive and useful function in the grand scheme of things.
I suspect that astrology has a fair bit to offer in terms of spiritual guidance along these lines. By coming to understand what feelings and desires are leading the choices we make in our daily life, we can begin to see a path before us away from the things of ego-mind.
Distortion of ancient wisdom over the ages
According to Emanuel Swedenborg, many thousands of years ago people knew the real meaning of the correspondence between the natural and spiritual. However, in the process of time, this ancient wisdom was distorted. Spiritual knowledge was turned into things like witchcraft and fortune-telling. However, it may be true that that there are still glimpses of ancient truths in the customs, fables, writings and religions of all lands. I wonder if this is also the case for some things said by astrology about the Zodiac signs and their relationship to the higher life of the spirit?
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems