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How Astrology Works
by Rohini Ranjan Bookmark and Share


Life is simple for those who can comfortably dismiss astrology as bunk, superstition and a global mental aberration;  a globally shared delusion that plagues some modern minds. Having said thus, the skeptics can then return to their lives with all the random inherent chaos as they continue to make their way through the foggy minefields that represent life and its uncertain realities for them. For the rest of us, presumably the majority - the strength of faith varies across the sample and in any given individual from one time to another as well; we must continue to seek the answer, the solution. Unfortunately, we are at an early stage of re-exploration during which we have seen the veracity of many of the astrological principles and for the most part have a certain degree of confidence in astrology possessing some validity as well as utility but cannot really explain to ourselves and to others how all of this comes about and works as it seemingly does.

Many attempts have been made towards explaining astrology, postulations ranging from the esoteric to the mundane. Sadly, some of the attempts have been overly reductionistic or too down to earth having been created to satisfy the physical framework, and not necessarily by those who are knowledgeable in either astrology or the scientific discipline they were borrowing from. This makes for some rather unconvincing and at times erroneous explanations making the exercise somewhat futile. I am sure that their hearts were in the right place, though.

Most of us are more comfortable with the physical realm and prefer to view the world as one with rather concrete dimensions where known (physical) matter and energies constitute the fence around the courtyard of personal reality. Thus we witness attempts towards explaining astrology as being based on gravitational effects or some sort of electro-magnetism. The simpler explanations utilize these energies as being directly responsible for astrological effects, while the more subtle and sophisticated frameworks depend on influences being switched or triggered by some form of physical force acting by itself or through resonance or some other subtle derivative. These make for some rather interesting theories, such as the one elaborated by Percy Seymore.

At the other end of the spectrum lie theological explanations, such as the concept of -devas- or godly beings which are represented in the physical plane as the planets and other astrological indicators. The spiritual beings and energies that are linked, yoked, coupled to the planets are then believed to be capable of influencing our lives and our earthly being. Some of us (mostly jyotishis or Indian astrologers) strongly believe that these -beings- are influencing us directly and actively while others believe that these influences indicate trends and time periods that surround us but might not necessarily be influencing us directly. We therefore have the oft-repeated adage: "Stars impel, but do not compel". While the concept of a glowingly radiant supernatural being holding our reins might be a bit difficult for the modern pragmatic householder to absorb in his belief framework, this could be a somewhat interesting way of describing the existence of a subtle force or phenomenon that links the wandering planets and us - some subtle, yet unidentified and certainly undefined form of influence that is awaiting identification by science in due course of time.

The construct of astrology is based on the following theoretical infrastructure. Based on ones time, date and place of birth, one captures a snapshot of the heavens as viewed from the earthly vantage of the epoch for such a birth. There is thus a personal orienting point, the ascendant which essentially is the point of intersection of the horizon at ones birthplace and the zodiac, the stellar path through which the rest of the solar system apparently moves along, as viewed from the earth. The movement therefore takes into account the actual motion of the planets around the sun (and in the case of moon - around the earth), as well as the modified view of same due to the earthly perspective. We therefore run into phenomena like retrograde motion of the planets, combustion and eclipses which are products of our geocentric view of the neighboring universe. Within this framework, the different elements (planets, signs, etc) hold certain relationships and associations and these association-patterns are then vested with specific attributes and represent effects and influences that form the symbolic logic and rules within astrology and are utilized to produce a reading.

The inescapable phenomenon then underlying astrology is that the different elements are related to each other and to our lives. This can be a simple construct where our being born in certain months creates sub-populations that would share certain similarities. These are the sun-sign based groupings or the 12 clans of the zodiac. Similar sub-groupings can result from our utilizing other factors, such as, lunar groups (utilized by jyotish), groups of ascendants or other planetary groups. These groups will contain larger or fewer number of people based on whether the astrological body is a slow-moving one or rapidly-moving. The ascendant being one of the rapidly moving indicators (on an average 2 hrs per sign) would result in all births taking place on a given day classifiable into a maximum of 12 groups (for equatorial births) and somewhat fewer groups as we move the birthplace towards the poles. Due to the tilted axis of the earth, some signs may not rise at all in extreme latitudes. The moon is the fastest moving body, so lunar groupings will produce cohorts that group all people born during a 2 - 2.5 day period into the same sign. Similarly, each sun sign birth group lasts approximately 30 days because from the earth we view the sun as traversing through a constellational sign in nearly 30 days. Saturn is the slowest moving planet in the jyotish framework (nearly 2.5 years per sign), so all those born during a given 2.5 year period would share the Saturn in the same sign in their natal horoscopes and we can thus group human society into 12 Saturn related subgroups. Unlike Indian astrologers, their tropical brethren include even more distant and slower moving planets like Uranus, Neptune and Pluto and can work those into the classification as well with increasing periodicities.

It would be simplistic to use these groups as the sole basis for classifying humanity because at all points during consideration of astrological factors we must remind ourselves that while it is convenient to view the horoscopic factors one at a time, they probably work simultaneously and the sum-total or more precisely the resultant of all the influences and factors ultimately determines our individual astrological picture and our specific traits and responses in life. Whether astrological factors influence our lives or indicate possibilities, one would need to incorporate the multiple factors that underlie our being into what we term the human experience or the life experience. Even seasoned astrologers often forget this and focus on one factor or a few factors overly and the cart of astrological reasoning risks getting derailed, as a consequence. This is why serious astrologers shrink away from what is somewhat derogatorily referred to as sun-sign astrology.

I once had the privilege of communicating with an astrologer from the humanist school (a tropical school of astrological thought). He explained astrology as being based on the analogy of a clock at noontime. We all know that the clock striking the noon-hour is associated with a lot of individuals feeling hungry and proceeding to address their natural need for seeking nourishment. It is important to note that the clock was not making them hungry, and yet by looking at the clock with the sun overhead, one could safely assume that a lot of people were hungry at that moment and seeking nourishment. Astrology could be working along similar lines and a given planetary pattern somehow became yoked with our behaviors, fate and destiny, etc. and the correlation between a specific astrological pattern or cycle and a human event, though not connected causally, could be responsible for the utility of astrology as a predictor/descriptor of human beings and their activities. The Jungian concepts are very attractive within this framework as well, in which all elements of the universe are connected; synchronicity results as a consequence of the inherent connectivities and may be utilized for describing and utilizing cycles or patterns and translating those into human endeavor and experiences.

To a certain extent it does not make much difference whether the astrologer tells someone: During such and such period, you will have an accident due to there being a difficult transit to your natal mars, so be careful! or During such and such period, there is a difficult transit to your natal mars and there is a likelihood of your getting involved in an accident, so be careful!- In either case, though the tone remains very different, an event that is negative and probably avoidable to some extent, is being forecast. If the implication is that the negative event is unavoidable, then astrological advice will really not serve any pragmatic utility and promote fatalism and defeatism. This raises a debate on its own as to ones fate being cast in stone and unchangeable or of ones experience being entirely fated while others may allow some degree of prevention or modification as being likely. The latter form the basis for remedial astrology that is a big part of jyotish, sometimes a bit overplayed, for that matter. This also takes into consideration the law of action and consequence, that is exemplified by the theory of Karma in Hindu thought or As you sow so shall you reap in Biblical thinking or similar adages that exist in other religions. Astrology cannot really cleanly divorce itself from this difficult and somewhat esoteric philosophy and sooner or latter, each conscientious astrologer would be forced to think along these lines and would have to incorporate this concept somehow into his or her framework of astrological belief.

Those of a theological and more accepting bent of mind will immediately see the consonance and relationship of this with the connectedness between the esoteric elements of our universe that are represented by concepts such as the akashic records and the circle of time or events in the future essentially being already in place and capable of being accessed in a non-linear manner (through divination) and other thoughts that can make the entire construct and concept of reality extremely complex because it would have to extend into realms beyond the physical and those currently known to science. The important point, though, is that if all of this is indeed true then there would have to be some intelligence that underlies this superficially chaotically-random universe that we inhabit. And, if this is true, then obviously the randomness and chaos is really a result of our lack of comprehension of the true and complete essence of this intelligence and its product - the creation. A somewhat circular logic but we know from direct physical experience that both the chicken and egg are real, and also connected in a cause and effect related manner! Astrology too is, for those who care to devote sufficient time and attention to its study and practice!

After accepting the law of karma and that the life experience unfolds over a large number of sequential appearances of the individual, one also needs to accept that there must be a very good reason for such a series of reappearances. The scholastic model, namely, that we revisit the earthly plane to learn more and often the same thing again and again does make sense. What does not make sense is the fact that nearly all of us have no memory of our past experiences and would it not have been more efficient if we knew our problems and deficiencies from earlier times? The wise ones remind us that it is not the mind but the soul that is learning and that most of us are aware of our selves only up to the mental plane and not any higher. It is almost as if the senior manager is more aware of the big picture reality than the lowly worker who only handles a piece of information at a time for processing it for upward transmission. But, while it is nice to feel being a part of a mammoth organization, the individual cannot be blamed for not experiencing any satisfaction or for not being able to make any sense of or real contribution to this process or System. With a sufficient degree of assumptions, astrology does provide some structure and sense to this schematic but does not really add to our experiential insight of the life and path of the soul that we are a part of. Perhaps intellectually, but definitely there is no real sense of understanding of all of this.

If astrological insight is combined with meditative insight, sometimes the picture becomes a bit clearer as one acquires deeper though still fragmented insight and understanding into ones personal quest and how it relates to the rest of the existence generally. This is not easy and takes time to develop and often does not leave us with any greater degree of satisfaction, in the end. Anyway, it serves as an effective tool for personal comprehension and does not represent a good or effective aid for making others understand this reality. Language, though adequately able to convey sequential concepts shows its limitations when attempting to explain something so complex as human experience and the mechanisms underlying the same as attempted to decipher through astrology or similar constructs. Let us not lose sight of the fact, though, that language is evolving in parallel with our increasing comprehension and yet may be the best way to define and describe it ALL in the long run.

I am convinced over the decades of my direct experience with it, simply through the veracity of the descriptive and predictive ability of astrology, that there is a significant synchronicity in the geocentric astronomical movement and positioning of the astrological indicators and the -human experience.- The synchronicity had been in my face long enough and frequently enough to not be noticeable without ignoring it entirely dishonestly. Why and what connects human life with the rules of astrology that are based on the movement of astro-indicators as viewed from the earth is not directly known. But so were not the distant celestial objects before radio-astronomy. The absence of evidence is not necessarily any evidence of absence! The fact that for the most part the geocentric vantage (as opposed to true astronomical positioning from a heliocentric or galactocentric vantage) has a better concordance with the astrological synchronicity is probably a hint and not a deterrent towards the veracity of astrology. The why is not known, yet, but the if is not in question for anyone who has sincerely, honestly and consistently studied and experimented with astrology, even for a few years. 

Despite those astrologers who are engaged in camp wars and waste their energies in arguing for the supremacy of their school or zodiac, others are beholden in awe at the marvel of very different vantage and rule-structures that still make it possible for different schools to come to similar astrological conclusions through using different conceptual frameworks and rules. On the one hand this highlights the enormous width and scope of human reasoning, and on the other makes one aware of how much the horizon of knowing really extends beyond ones horizon of cognition and current knowledge. To me, personally, the redundancy of the knowledge systems that different schools of astrology represent - despite their very large differences - indicates that this is a message that is important and the universal intelligence makes sure that we get it one way or another, through portals of cognition and comprehension that we know little of in our infantile state of cognitive evolution. If we can only put aside our territorial scythes for a moment we shall realize (paraphrasing a very wise astrologer friend and guide of mine) that the bird of divination (knowing) has two wings: logic and intuition; remove one and all the bird can do is go round and round in circles, as it pivots around its shadow - its ego, never even taking off the ground, while the blazing sun of true knowledge shines directly overhead.

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