Astrology – Research & Practice

In 1977 – the same year as the discovery of Chiron – the book Recent Advances in Natal Astrology was released, authored by Geoffrey Dean and Arthur Mather. Dean was a practicing astrologer who began to use statistical methods to examine traditional claims in astrology, and to discover correlations between astrology and behavior. Recent Advances is filled with one study after another, examining a variety of claims made by astrologers and astrology. These studies basically showed that there was no correlation between astrology and reality. (Note 1)

The publication of Recent Advances was a milestone in the history of scientific astrology leading to a flowering of research, primarily reflected by the journal Correlation and a robust research community on the Internet connected with amongst other the vibrant astrology association ISAR. (Note 2) To date no research has categorically confirmed the scientific validity of astrology. This of course contributes to a particularly edgy relationship between astrological researchers and astrological practitioners.

If you think that out of 1000 nurses there would be a predominance of Virgos, or out of 1000 fishermen there would be a predominance of Pisceans, you’d be wrong. If you think that astrologers can pick the correct chart out of a choice of three when given a description of each individual, you’d be wrong. Groups presented with a written interpretation of what was said to be their horoscope (but where the interpretation was exactly the same for everyone) claimed that their “unique” report was individual and accurate. There is no scientific proof that signs, aspects or any astrology is verifiable.

This has led to a growth industry of skeptics and skeptical organizations, like the CSICOP – the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – whose foremost figurer, James Randi, has had considerable success debunking psychics and astrologers. In the astrological community there is a great dedication by friendly researchers trying to find proof of the truth of astrology. Using huge databases of birth data like that provided by AstroDataBank it is possible to search for correlations on anything from alcoholism to murder. Research of this nature is an extremely complicated study involving higher mathematics, control groups and a knowledge of various astronomical anomalies, like the fact that Venus is semisquare the Sun for much longer periods than other aspects (which naturally has to be statistically compensated for). These researchers have come up with nothing that can be replicated scientifically to give convincing proof of astrology.

For actual practitioners of astrology, who daily witness astonishing correlations all the time, this can seem rather odd. But actually there are at least a couple of reasons why it is not. Scientific analysis when directed at personal experiences and aspects of consciousness is just not equipped to sift the complexity of the information that an astrologer manages to with the supercomputer of his or her mind. Scientific materialism is good when dealing with the material world but when dealing with the non-material world – for example in quantum physics – it is unable to come up with concrete proof of the absolute existence or non-existence of anything. Subatomic “particles” display properties of both waves and matter, and there existence is dependant on the conscious observation of the researcher. That much has been proved.

This is very similar to the conundrum that Buddhist philosophy faced 2000 years ago. Some schools claimed that matter existed of itself, whilst others claimed that it was only an expression of mind (the Mind-only school). Refusing such extreme points of view, the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna stated that neither the one nor the other view was right. He propounded the view of “dependant-arising”, stating that nothing existed of itself as an independent entity. Everything owed its existence, or was dependant on, something else – even, or especially, the consciousness of the individual.

Understanding the concept of dependant-arising provides the key to how or why astrology can be said to work or not. Statistical research leans towards removing the astrologer from the equation, removing the focus point for dependant arising. For example, on the ISAR discussion forum I have been engaged in a dialogue with a researcher whose research questions the validity of tradition astrological concepts like combustion (when a planet is within about 5 to 8 degrees of the Sun), and the dignity, detriment, exaltation and fall of planets. This researcher points out that having Saturn in fall in Aries in no way prevented Einstein from being one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century. (Note 3)

It did not – but does this say anything at all about Saturn in fall in Aries? To really know the answer you have to look at Einstein’s chart:

Albert Einstein: 14 Mar 1879. 11.30 Ulm, Germany. 48N24 20E00. AS 11.38 CN
Time from birth certificate. (Astrodatabank)

It can be seen here that Einstein has Saturn in fall, conjoining Mercury, and also conjoining Venus in detriment – all in Aries. But Saturn actually rules the 7th house, and conjoins the 4th and 5th house rulers, which says more about partners, childhood and children. It is worth noting that Einstein was born with a misshapen head (Aries) and thought to be mentally retarded in early childhood (Saturn/Mercury). He also had a baby girl, born out of wedlock, who mysteriously vanished. Another child died in a mental institution. (Venus rules the 5th house) This was surely the source of much sorrow for him, and more so for his wife.

Furthermore, according to his letters to his wife, they worked together on his relativity theories. But we don’t hear much about her, do we? Saturn in Aries was not so good for her status. (Note 4) His wife Mileva writes “all that fame does not leave a lot of time for a wife. But what can be done, one person gets the pearl and the other just gets the shell”. (Note 5) Einstein had several mistresses, which led to a temporary separation from his wife. Later, after Einstein moved to another city to be together with his mistress, he ordered his wife to join him and presented her with a list of rules, with commands such as, “you must answer me at once when I speak to you.” I beg to suggest that this is a pretty good description of his Saturn/Mercury/Venus conjunction in Aries… and there is little dignity there. By the time Einstein leaves his wife, Mileva is 44 and chronically ill. Einstein is 40, a world-famous figure and remarried – but he never again produces physics that can compare with the work of 1905, which he did together with his wife.

The point here is that the method of research is simply not equipped to discern the nuances of house rulership and its specific channeling of human character. Furthermore the astrological researcher in question refers to Einstein’s Sun/Saturn conjunction, but the orb is over 10 degrees and the Sun is far away in Pisces. There has been no compensation for strength of orb or dissociated houses. And that tends to be the nature of research. The higher the research sample the more difficult it is to make allowances for the individual refinements indicated by the birth chart. Research of this nature bears within it the seeds of failure, as influences in horoscopes are taken out of astrological context. The greater the number in a sample group, the more the returns are diminished.

As astrologer Mark Urban-Lurain from the Kepler College of Astrologer points out in a study of research in astrology: “The key to delineation lies in synthesizing the various components into a cohesive whole.” To get the full meaning of a planet in the birth chart, a huge number of influences have to be factored in. Venus generically represents love, but in Einstein’s chart it is placed in the 10th (love with professional colleague). It rules the 5th house (children, questionable affairs), the intercepted 11th house (concealed love bond to friend). Finally, aspects modify its influence. This synthesis of components is extremely detailed and the factors increase the complexity of research astronomically.

Generally, the mesh of the research net that at present tries to extract relevance from astrology is too coarse. I don’t know whether it is possible to develop software that can make allowances for all this, but until this is done, this type of research can at best be considered just a form of experimentation and training. What research of this nature cannot do – it cannot be used to modify an astrological rule or tradition. Really it goes without saying: how can research which has failed to prove any aspect of astrology be turned around and used to modify astrological techniques?

There is another approach and it is exemplified by an extraordinary PhD written by Kirstine Munk
(Note 6). This 350 page document is a caring and observant portrayal of modern astrology together with the astrologers and clients that make the subject a living tradition today. One of the fascinating things about this PhD is the space given to brilliant modern astrologers to propound there views… and they are really worth reading:

“Cooperation with nature brings happiness – any fight against nature is doomed to fail!” – Hjelmborg & Kirsebom.

“Astrology doesn’t work, but astrology makes astrologers work.” – Christian Borup

“[You say] I really hope that your life is a mess in the moment.’ And then they say: ‘Yes, it is’. And then you say: ‘Oh, good, because it is meant to be. You are meant to be feeling this. You are meant to be feeling that. You are meant to be going through all of this. You are in perfect astrological health. You are in perfect rhythm with your fate and your cosmos. You are meant to be going through this. There is nothing wrong with you.” – Bernadette Brady

And there is much more – from Michael Lutin, Darby Costello, Steven Forrest – and it makes you proud to count these wise and caring people as colleagues.

Kirstine Munk concludes amongst other things:
“While the use of astrology seems rather misguided if it is conceived of as a ‘scientific’ system, the conclusion to be drawn from my research is that astrology is a divination system which bears strong structural similarities with other types of ‘wisdom-divination’ found throughout the world. Astrologers … aim not at describing the world in empirically falsifiable terms, but rather at creating a divinatory session conducive to empowerment and transformation. For astrologers, reality is a symbolic prima materia which can be molded by the clients, because the clients’ perception of their reality depends on the perspective from which they see their world.”

Whilst I am not completely sure that I accept this conclusion – I do believe that astrology will become a predominant world view at some point, not least because of the work done by researchers – it is a fruitful angle for a skeptic to approach astrology, instead of using scientific materialism as a yardstick. Munk goes on with a clear exposition of the nature of knowledge:
“Almost all claims of knowledge are today phrased in the form of hypotheses. Knowledge claims can be true, but they are always open to revision, and the provisional character of knowledge gives privilege to knowledge forms that appear inspiring and personally relevant.”
Astrology is for many inspiring and personally relevant, which is why it has almost the same popularity as Christianity as a search word on Google. She goes on:
“I have suggested that astrology may in fact be a good coping system, because of its emphasis on empowerment. Clients may not have chosen the situation they are in, but they can choose how to handle the situation they are in. They are, seen from the astrological perspective, divine junior partners in a meaningful cosmos.”

Getting back to the concept of “dependant-arising” as a view on the nature of reality, it is clear that Kirstine Munk’s PhD on astrology fully embraces the validity of astrology as a transformative meeting between the astrologer and the client. I have also written on this subject in my latest book (Note 7) pointing out that the more distance created between astrologer and client, the less transformation that will take place. Only by creating unity in duality can essence be realized. Because of the rational nature of the mind, we see things as dualities – matter/energy, subject/object, body/mind – whereas the true transformative experience takes place when these polarities merge. Kirstine Munk calls the ability to create this unified field between astrologer and client “intersubjective consciousness” and says after experiencing first hand a number of consultations:
“If intersubjective consciousness was not established, the consultation had failed in the sense that it would not be able to initiate change in the client.”
Munk goes on to say:
“The intersubjective theme has been investigated by psychologist Daniel Stern… His intention has been to find out what constitutes the moments of transformation in psychotherapeutic processes, and he concluded that change only occurs in moments described as intersubjective meetings between the therapist and the patient.” This is what dependant-arising is all about.

What Kirstine Munk does not address in detail in her PhD are other aspects of astrology such as Mundane. Concrete events occur in the world which are not transformative processes based on intersubjective consciousness. They just happen as history unfolds. The Twin Towers fall as Saturn opposes Pluto across the US Ascendant/Descendant axis. The Berlin wall comes down after one complete Saturn cycle, and as Saturn conjoins Neptune in Capricorn. We land on the Moon with a Uranus/Jupiter conjunction of the Super Galactic Center. Russia’s history is predictable according to the 35 –year Saturn/Neptune cycle… the list of mundane correspondences to astrological events is endless. This can be a very fruitful area of astrological research.

Even in the personal consultation, there is more to it that intersubjective consciousness. Accurate prediction is also a factor, and a factor that is measurable if researchers can develop the tools to do so. At any rate, I am sure that astrological researches will not stop researching, and that methods will improve, databases expand and one day the holy grail of replication will be achieved, so that even skeptical scientists will be confronted with evidence they cannot refute. And make no mistake, when that day comes, world consciousness will be transformed.

Adrian Ross Duncan. 16th August 2007.

1. Minor correlations were found, particularly results by Michel Gauquelin that seemed to indicate a high prevalence of relevant planets in specific houses for successful sportsmen and other professionals. Another factor – the “Tenacious Mars Effect” – also shows astrological correlations with sports stars. However, these effects are disputed by skeptics.

2. ISAR – the International Society of Astrological Research – has Ray Merriman as its president and branches all over the world.

3. Information on Einstein was drawn from biographical notes from AstroDataBank.

4. Letter to Helena Savic 1909. See: http://www.pbs.org/opb/einsteinswife/milevastory/married.htm

5. Download this document here and give yourself a treat: http://www.humaniora.sdu.dk/phd/dokumenter/filer/Afhandlinger-93.pdf

6. Astrology: Transformation and Empowerment. 2002 Red Wheel/Weiser

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