Despite numerous cyber-postings, articles and wagon-loads of information that already exist on the Worldwide Web, as well as in print and transmitted by word-of-mouth (yes folks, that mode still exists and quite effectively, I may add!), the confusion that smolders in otherwise brilliantly-lit minds and their unrealistic expectations about what astrology represents or can do, is mind-boggling! There still prevails the magical attraction towards the aura of mysticism and divinatory aggrandizement around what to many has now become an organized, 'logical' and almost cerebral pursuit neo-jyotish! People apply logic to the deductions and symbolism prevailing in astrology; they try to seek and often successfully draw rational links between astro-indicators and their influences in our lives, using common day logic and sometimes logical constructs leaning precariously on mythological symbolism.
There are some individuals that are really convinced that there is no room for anything but the left-brained thinking in astrology, at least that is what they claim publicly, as they tout about astrology being a science; others are not so sure, and a few even admit that openly. On the other hand, a few who claim to be curious about astrology but are in the wait and watch mode, and are really closet-skeptics revealing themselves at times when their 'expectations' are not met. Others, who though sympathetic to astrology and astrologers, have a very unrealistic view about its capabilities, or are too hasty about absorbing the entire construct. These are individuals who have the potential to learn but lack in patience.
To some extent, prominent astrologers, old and new, paid or volunteers, bear some of the responsibility underlying this miasma of misunderstanding and misinformation. Nearly all astrologers admit that no one they know of who is using astrology is right all the time. Nor are scientists and technicians (epidemiologists, psychologists, sociologists, medical scientists, meteorologists, heck - even space scientists and physicists and engineers, for that matter!). Claimed percentages of success for astrologers/jyotishis vary from 70-82% (how did they figure out the 2% difference (!) I don't know and am just quoting what I have read in postings!). These are anecdotal accounts and no systematic study has really been conducted or reported, lest I be misunderstood or worse misquoted in fragments of what I write! Quizzes here, predictions on the web there, or in newspapers that no one reads until the astrologer quotes, evidence lies here, there and elsewhere in bits and pieces.
A reasonably well-organized study in Canada known as the Hamilton Project, carried out a couple of decades ago with western astrologers doing cold reading (only birth data) showed miserable results (Astrology Science or Superstition: Eysenck and Nias). The same happened when they did the studies that led to the Barnum effect using psychological profiles and university students. No comparable jyotish study of that caliber has ever been conceived, or conducted, although stray challenges from one jyotishi to another have floated in cyberspace from time to time, with little or no response presumably due to technical reasons from what I can surmise! Further complicating the claimed 75-82% success is that it does not use any kind of weighting about the significance of what was predicted. Surely, something as significant as losing a loved one in an accident or during a child-birth, or a professional success or failure would be a lot more important than predicting a minor illness, a minor escape from an accident or a minor windfall, I hope. This kind of examination has never been carried out in a significant or meaningful manner, to my knowledge.
Recently a jyotish site, with at that time 1500 to 1600 members, has carried out some attempts at having members, mostly new to intermediate students of astrology (they are generally the only daring kind on the scene for challenges such as these!) respond to nearly-cold reading quizzes for retroactive readings (e.g., Find what happened on June 26, 2003 to this nativity?). Only five to ten individuals (usually the same ones!) respond to such challenges. Similar challenges have been posted at many sites over the last ten years or so. Same level of response! Even during the 5-7 years from the mid-90s, when the growth of jyotish information and its dissemination was at its peak and a lot of truly brilliant intellectual energy was flowing in at least in the realm of cyber-jyotish, there was very little of the experimental and research attitude, let alone research attempts. Attempts were dowsed by religious fanaticism or similar mumbo-jumbo and basically anything goes, we are too feeble-minded to even attempt or try to examine this wonderful, cosmic reality kind of attitudes! Then came the period when people got really protective of territories created thence and despite the plethora of techniques and complex skeins of logical matrix - the main stream remained/remains apathetic and peri-meteric in their approach (sounds less condescending than 'superficial'). It is hard to separate the factual from the fictional (or in some cases perhaps imaginatively hypothetical) astrology.
The apathy and lack of a large number of intense minds applying themselves to jyotish is not surprising. There still exists a significant stigma in society about astrology in general. Very few individuals are drawn to its light due to a genuine, consuming and lasting interest. It still has the 'gypsy' aura of black magic, of mumbo-jumbo and I don't blame the general public but even amongst the practitioners of the Grand Craft. A large amount of what is written - what with the sun-sign and moon-sign columns in prestigious research journals of astrology, and also in pioneering beacons of jyotish research writing media such as Late B.V. Raman's Astrological Magazine from Bangalore, and the entertaining but vacuous books and booklets by authorities (with less nutritious value than pop-corn for the already well-read enthusiast) who is to blame the casual reader regarding their poor impression about the field of astrology that we are so convinced of and dedicated to.
In contrast to the 60s and 70s when some of us were learning astrology, I find a lot more impatient expectation in current day students (regardless of age) in getting and following a cook-book approach to astrology. They are convinced that there *is* (some of you old-timers can tell, I cyber-teethed on CIS!) a sacred and secret set of principles that if followed will lead to a bomb-proof reading. They lazily expect others to first prove that astrology is worth their time and attention! Imagine if that were the case for other disciplines, engineering and medicine and law and political science and by Jove, paleontology would probably have chaired really marasmic professors waiting for a student to come by! What dedication amongst the neophytes so eager to learn!
There have been more than a few attempts at repackaging astrology, and jyotish - whatever is available about the discipline - in that kind of packaged framework and with some success. But, over time, as experience of the revved-up learners grows, they run into road-blocks and speed-bumps which make them wonder, ponder, even stumble and some sadly eventually give up. It is this 'natural selection' aspect of the business of astrology that, I have always instinctively felt, has protected astrology from falling into wrong hands for all these eons! Some very revered modern jyotishis have openly and in a somewhat elitist manner worried about this and have often quoted Varahamihira and Parashara and others of having cautioned about giving the gift of astrological knowledge to the unworthy, spiritually-inadequate students and seekers, but I have always been very secure about this being a somewhat paranoid territorial human folly for maintaining possession, control and power, what little can be exercised on the thin sliver of the converted (of the 6 billion that inhabit this earth)!
There is nothing that is more dangerous in this world than the formula for the nuclear bomb, and that all will admit is more readily available to the populace than are jyotish secrets. Hark! The world is still here is all I want to remind you, despite our fears voiced in the daily press or elsewhere for decades and decades! Share freely, you Jyotish gurus and teachers and trust not just in the power of jyotish but also in its purifying properties as its follower practices and matures, which I hope you have personally experienced? The practice of jyotish can change one gradually, only in a positive way. In some cases it takes longer if too many malefic planets are influencing the personal indicators, but ultimately ... it is probably going to be the nuclear bomb rather than jyotish and its secret powers that could potentially take out this world and its 'civilization'!
If, like me, you have followed for some time the astrology scene in the cyber reality as well as the paper-reality, I see more stability on the western astrology scene than on the jyotish side of things. Sure, individual mortals move on, as they make room for others and so on, but the significant mainstream of teachers has been more constant on the western side than on the eastern side. Just an observation! Perhaps the jyotish scene is evolving as technology is improving its dissemination and perhaps that could be the reason. There is also the esoteric, mystical, religious, everything-can-be-fixed remedial shadow that keeps dogging jyotish - a shadow that has or perhaps cannot be questioned or confronted readily or openly, yet. The hypocrisy is obvious! Pick either the religious, faith-based almost superstitious thinking OR stick with the slightly more realistic and logical framework. One cannot have it both ways.
Jyotish literature is freely available and nowhere in the astrology classics is there a mention of 'wearing' gemstones as being capable of remedying karma! In the past, rich landlords and kings used to make gifts of gemstones to priests and other perhaps more worthy causes. Gemstones had been associated with planets to promote that sattwik, supportive practice. Pray tell me: How does giving a chunk of ruby in gift to a poor monastic and pure priestly being - if I wish to improve my sun- equate with wearing the same chunk of ruby on my third finger in all pomp and glory to accompany the other three rings I am adorning my body with, at the same time? Is karma or Whoever represents the Hindu counterpart of the Saint of the Pearly Gates fame, that inane? I suppose there is some good karma in sustaining and providing for the livelihood of the internet gem-dealer, and as a secondary good karma, supporting your credit card dealer or paypal, but, come-on people, honestly! And, tell that to the hoards of eager karma-fixers who want a remedial gem prescription, including science-heads, engineers, doctors, teachers, even jyotishis of many years who should by now really know better! A doctor friend of mine once told me long ago, how disappointed his rural patients used to get unless he prescribed at least a vitamin to them or some medicine even if they did not really need that probably to make up for that long arduous bus ride they took from their village to the city hospital, only to find out that they simply had a case of *nerves* or no life-threatening organic disease and that no chemical remedy was really necessary!
Over the last ten to fifteen years, the cyber realm of internet has literally exploded with some overheated, overworked computer hard-drives serving as reminders of there not being any unmixed good! Jyotish lists and websites and creative expressions of sharing have sprung up all over the place. While many sites are for business and promotional in nature, there are in this desert of commercialism, a few oases of knowledge and research. Charts get discussed, sometimes properly and thoroughly but even at other times, you can at least walk away with one or more charts to study and examine, sometimes with an associated email address for follow-up if such is entertained or welcome. But, by far, most of these discussions are carried out by explorers, beginners or intermediate students of jyotish. Some of these are well-versed in technical knowledge but haven't had the drive, chance or patience to sit down and study charts, enough number of charts anyway to really count as experience. Brilliant otherwise, their questioning and expression of problems in jyotish are wonderful, and jyotish is a good ground for such questions, but little true knowledge emerges without the practical focus or resources. Rather than replay or rehash some brilliant or rare technique or epithet, or an entire review on ancient books of questionable vintage or purity, it would be more educational if just charts were discussed, against the backdrop of tenets. Howsoever obvious or logical sounding, if the combination does not pan out in a chart then of what value is it to the learner in the next astrological adventure that they face when someone draws their chart in front of them and asks for instructions and guidance through the rest of his or her life, in fifteen minutes or less? It is naive to assume, and many do, that what is given in astrological books, original, translated modern versions and rehashed accounts borrowing unabashedly from original sources and generous others may not consistently come through in real slices of life, the charts that are not often discussed in modern exchanges and almost never showed up in so called classical texts! Somebody, please go figure this, already!
I think some of the biggest modern gifts to astrology and jyotish in particular have come from the software savvy astrologers. Nearly all astrology calculation software came about because the individual had a love for or knowledge of astrology and had the necessary programming skills. Many different flavors show up in the software and though none of them is perfect, but then, nor is this world! Add to those ventures and attempts to help out, the few databases that exist and at least one of which has serious potential for research applications, namely AstroDatabank, these are all very exciting developments, something that was hard to imagine as recently as 30 years ago! While we drive these folks crazy with our demands for more and more improvements, all of us astrologers of any and all cloths should take a moment to thank individuals like Michael Erlewine, John Halloran, Michael Boender, Andrew Foss, Andrew Haydn, Das Goravani, Lois Rodden and Mark McDonough and many others.
The tools are pretty much all there, but my general feeling is that the research component from the calculation software is not really improving as much as the horoscope calculation routines! I think this is driven by user demand and what is lacking from the research scene is user participation! If the relatively small user-base actually begins to use these tools and tries to push these to their limits, inadequacies would emerge glaringly and programmers will be motivated to focus on improving those areas of their products and as a happy corollary, the days of 'cheesy' reviews would be over. Cheesy reviews that indicate that the reviewer has not really tested the product hard and probably does not have the know-how of what is really needed in terms of calculations or research. Sad is the day when product reviews begin to sound suspiciously like a reworked promotional flyer that is taken off the programmer's website! People bitch about the inadequacy of research features in available commercial software. It is because they do not provide feedback. And the feedback needs to come in large numbers because if it is only one or two users pestering the software programmer, he or she cannot be faulted for thinking that it is not a popular 'need' and so he cannot be blamed for making a business decision about how much time to spend into that part of the project, as he or she turns a deaf ear to the 'nag' who just won't go away! And, if the silence of the users indicates that there is not really any interest in improving the research capabilities of these software, then what could be sadder for the future of astrology?
Some Interesting Data on Retrograde Planets
On asking several individuals, it seemed to be the general impression that mercury would be one of the commonest retrograde planet in horoscopes. On the other hand, I had the feeling that slower planets overall probably clocked in more days of retrograde motion than inner and faster planets, Venus and mercury, but never really looked into it. Just to fulfill my curiosity, I decided to look this up in the Astrodatabank software (newer versions like 2 and 3 have a Vedic version of the databank too.). For quick explorations like these, I use the Rodden database with data quality A and up. Using that filter, I got 19192 charts (private individuals, celebrities, pretty much all walks of life the good, bad and the ugly, with the following distribution:
Mercury 6.4% times retrograde in these charts
Venus 5.2% times retrograde in these charts
Mars 7.5% times
Jupiter 22.4% times
Saturn 26.1% times
charts with at least one planet retrograde = 52.3%
One can assume that in half of the charts seen, at least one of the planet would be retrograde with the likelihood of the planet being Saturn > Jupiter > Mars > Mercury > Venus.
Looking at the percent of times that the ruler of a house was retrograde, I got a range from 8.8% to 13.3% (Ruler of XII least likely, ruler of VII most likely and ascendant clocking in at 9.5% times)
Benefics (Venus, well associated mercury and Jupiter as per the software which is rigid in this respect!) were 17.5% times retrograde, malefics (nodes, Mars, Saturn, ill associated Mercury, Sun) were 8.4% times retrograde in the 19192 charts examined.
Just to cream the software a bit more, I looked at the percentage of charts with one of the inner planets retrograde (12.6%) or one of the outer planets retrograde (46.7%), Situations where one of the inner or one of the outer planets was retrograde brought the percentage to close to 50% (not surprisingly).
I looked at the situations where a planet was in its own sign and retrograde. The following pattern emerged:
Mercury - Gemini 0% Virgo 100%
Venus - Taurus 30% Libra 70%
Mars - Aries 42% Scorpio 58%
Jupiter - Sagittarius 55% Pisces 45%
Saturn - Capricorn 52% Aqua 48%
As you can see it is not uniformly distributed with something very interesting going on with mercury in this sample of 19192 charts! I don't know why mercury was never retrograde in sidereal Gemini!