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How important is it, really?...  

By John Townley, September 2014. 

When I was an astrology student, ten years before the advent of the personal computer, or even the digital calculator, my various teachers made quite a fetish of accuracy and precision. Endless adding and subtraction of logorithms of figures extracted from Raphael’s Ephemeris (or later, The American Ephemeris) combined with corrections for local time, distance from Greenwich, and other factors like precession and nutation eventually led you to a precise RAMC (right ascension of the midheaven) which you then looked up in a house table and interpolated down the the minute of arc at your precise local longitude and latitude. It was supposed to get a chart as accurate as possible before you started the less-accurate business of interpretation and possibly, shudder, rectification. It was also done to impress both astrologer and client alike – like, this is not some sort of mystic, psychic hocus-pocus, it’s got lots of calculation, complex rules, and instructions – it’s math and science, but linked with fate! Then, of course, the same astrologer would go on to read your cards, throw the I-Ching, or interpret the lines in your palm or your handwriting. 


Even before the computer, astrologers emphasized hand-hewn accuracy, poring over ephemerides and tables to get precision.

Now, of course, the chart is erected by computer, not one painful horoscope at a time but often slews of them in a batch, and most users (including too many who call themselves astrologers) haven’t a clue whether they’re accurate, or even know how to check that if they wanted to. And of course, the user often as not still mixes it up with some other sort of “reading”just  in case this literally pseudo-science doesn’t deliver something that sounds sufficiently inspiring or personally applicable.

Well, why not? Because, after all, astrology isn’t a science, no matter how accurate your chart, it’s a set of traditional interpretations of extra-terrestrial environmental patterns and cycles that may or may not actually be linked to terrestrial patterns and cycles, which in turn may or may not be linked to a particular individual or situation. And, the vast majority of the rules of interpretation come from a several-thousand year period before there was such a thing as a reliable mechanical clock, much less a chronometer accurate to the minute or second. So what’s the point in all this accuracy, and why make such a fetish about it? 

                    In classical and Renaissance times, with relatively approximate timekeeping, instruments just weren't that accurate.

A great deal of it can be traced to the very period when modern science, enabled by the advent of accurate mechanical timekeeping and more-precise observational instruments, came in and started selling a world-view of the universe as the ultimate machine, beginning in the seventeenth century. Apply that thought to astrology (which ancient astrologers never did), and it seems the gears of ineluctable fate grind very fine and of course you want to be deadly accurate to get it right. But that very scientific accuracy and the modern science it gave birth to also chased astrologers to the outskirts of town, where at best they attempted a residual mishmash of modern science and ancient philosophy. There, astrologers hung on by their nails into the twentieth century by trying to call it some sort of variant or expansion of psychology which itself might be at least a soft science, if not a hard one.

Determinism doesn't fit

The critical error has been, and still is, looking at astrological data as somehow, ultimately and definitively determinative, as if you could explain any and every event if you just got enough astrological detail on it. That misconception has only been encouraged by the advent of the home computer and the ability to fine-tune techniques to a hair’s-breadth in hundreds of different ways. If one house system doesn’t work out for you, then there are twenty more available to try your luck with. And there are multiple zodiacs, dozens more planets both real and hypothetical, and hundreds of ways to divide up aspects, not to mention tens of thousands of asteroids (and don’t forget the fixed stars, black holes, quasars, and galactic centers single and combined). There was a glut of this created in the 1970s, and recently there has been another explosion – I note that the latest edition of Cosmic Patterns/Matrix astrology software has just added over fifty more technique options just this year, all of which can be cross-combined. It’s truly staggering.  In fact, virtually every astrological technique that requires greater than a degree of accuracy on the Angles has been invented in only the last 100 years, the majority of that since the advent of the personal computer. And any possible real or imagined application they have is based not on large-scale scientific studies, or even generations of cross-fertilizing academic traditions, but the personal claims and experience of individual, modern real (or in many cases just self-alleged) astrologers.

With the blinding array of high-precision options available with all this, you’d think the answer to any question has got to be in there somewhere. It’s kind of like the monkeys at the typewriters, have at it long enough and eventually you get Shakespeare…

A false premise

But you don’t, because the premise itself is false. And that’s because astrological interpretation itself predates modern accuracy and the idea that the universe is a predictable machine. That astrologers should mix apples and oranges that way got them (us, I’m one!) fairly ostracized by both real science and most accepted religion and philosophy. Always a little behind the curve, by the time astrology had thoroughly adopted the new Cartesian, machinelike view of the world, science abandoned it for the indeterminism of quantum theory…which lately much New Age fruitloopery has attempted to cherry-pick without much success, while astrology never even got a proper handle on it.

  The arrival of the personal computer further cut astrologers off from the fluidity of the original astrological world view.

The fact is, Classical and even Renaissance astrology leaned on a much more fluid version of reality, both observationally and philosophically. Even the spheres of the heavens themselves didn’t move in lock-step with each other, but had paths of their own, driven by God (or earlier, the gods), including angels, demons, kingdoms, principalities and powers, and more. When they all got into synch, something really momentous would happen down here, and if not, not. It all was purported to affect us mortals in a fairly pyramidal way, from princes and kings on down to the peasantry – traditionally, the planets were always more concerned with the former than the latter. In a strange (and perhaps realistic) way, the ordinary person had more freedom from Destiny than the more powerful ruling classes, and Fate was ineluctable in a general way but fickle when it got down to specifics.

And if you look at astrology that way, as levels of environmental cycles upstairs which step down and link fluidly with ones on earth which then become the “tides of the affairs of men” upon a patch of which each individual uniquely rides depending on his/her initial conditions, then you’re much more likely to get something useful out of this ancient art. It’s really much more indeterminately “quantum” in the general sense, where a trend (a wave) doesn’t become a reality (a particle) until it actually happens as an event, after some small, unforeseeable resonance tips the balance and probability cascades into specificity – and then, strangely, events-at-a-distance can be spookily connected by astrological mutuality, for a brief moment at least.

The ancients looked up at the sky, measured and mulled over it the best they could with minimal gear, and after careful consideration of the realities of their immediate surroundings then did an often-accurate seat-of-the-pants analysis. Actually, a modern TV weatherperson does much the same, but with the whole of NOAA and the NWS to back it up (wish we had that sort of funding!), where at least massive observational accuracy does indeed count…and yet it’s still up to you to look out the door to see if it really is raining as predicted, and decide whether or just how you want to get wet…

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