Astrology FAQ

Astrology FAQ and History

One of the most interesting things about running a popular astrology blog is that Gryphon Astrology Blog is many readers’ first encounter with astrology beyond the world of sun sign columns. As a result, I receive a number of questions about astrology, some very basic, while others are more sophisticated. To make the answers available to all readers, I started this astrology FAQ, which represents more commonly asked questions and answers about astrology in general and astrology as practiced by me in particular.

Q:  What is Horary Astrology?

A: Horary astrology is an astrological method of divination which answers specific questions using a horoscope cast for the moment of the question. Here is how the horary process works:

You have a problem or a question. This question can be just about anything, as long as it is sincere and you have spent some time really thinking about it. Traditionally, one spent at least one day and one night thinking about the issue, mentally revising the question, and praying to receive the truth. You can see that a significant amount of time and effort is required. The difficulty of the process guarantees that the querent (the technical term for the horary questioner) is genuinely committed to learning the truth of the matter and that the question is not just a passing caprice.

Once you have honed your question to a fine point, you are ready to approach the astrologer. You send your email, pick up the phone, etc. The astrologer will cast a horoscope for the moment he or she understood your question, and typically set it for his or her location. This is what makes horary work, as a successful consultation needs a querent and an astrological interpreter. The resulting horoscope combines both; the question comes from the querent, but is set for the time and place the astrologer received the question. Only  once someone qualified to answer hears the question is it a real horoscope and can be interpreted. Asking the question to your cat would not make a valid horary, and would likely only annoy the cat.

Following this the process varies. Some astrologers will interpret the horoscope on the spot, while others analyze it on their own and contact the querent with the answer later. In my experience, the latter approach yields a more thought-out, in-depth result.

Q: How can Horary Astrology work?

A: It is strange, I know. It is almost as though the querent was fated to ask her question at just the right time for the planets to indicate the correct answer. This issue arises for any mode of divination; cards, flying birds, I Ching, geomancy, whatever you can think of.

Some believe in strict predestination; you are fated to receive a certain divinatory response because you are fated to ask your question at a predestined time and place, and will act on the oracle’s response in a manner preordained by fate. Strict predestination is not a popular explanation, as it completely removes human agency from the equation. Why bother doing anything, if the end result is already written?

Carl Jung developed his theory of synchronicity, which posited that “coincidental” events were not linked by causation, but rather by meaning. The world, from Jung’s perspective, follows a deeper order than is immediately evident. The question and the divinatory answer are linked by the meaning given to them in the querent and the astrologers’ minds. The question establishes a certain context to the reading, and the answer must make sense within that context.

Related to the Jungian perspective is the observation that humans are excellent and finding patterns and meaning. In this school of thought, there is no external source of wisdom providing meaningful answers to questions, but any response will be interpreted by the human mind in the way that most makes sense to that person.

Q: Is Western astrology better/more accurate/worse/less accurate than Indian astrology?

A: I confess I don’t understand the goal of this question. Western and Vedic astrologies are different systems that work within their different contexts. Is reading cards better than reading Norse runes? How do they stack up against reading livers? It entirely depends on the practitioner, doesn’t it?

Q: Where is Pluto?! And what did you do with Neptune, you crazed woman?

A: I use the outer planets (defined as those not visible to the unaided eye) as fixed stars; if they are conjunct something important, I take note, but otherwise ignore them. If I am feeling particularly generous, I might see if they are making a very close aspect to a key significator (e.g.: the Moon is a degree away from opposing Neptune), but generally ignore them.

Part of the problem is that the three outers, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, are largely malefic in their signification. This imbalances the existing system of two luminaries, two benefics, and two malefics, and the result makes for a dark universe, indeed. The fixed stars and constellations, however, are filled with malefic significations, and surely adding three more malefics to the mix will go unnoticed. This approach also neatly sidesteps the issue of whether Pluto is currently considered a planet.

The other major reason that I use the 7-planet system is that 7 is a sacred number recurring throughout nature, religion, and mythology.  We have the 7 prismatic colors, 7 tones, 7 dwarves, 7 days of the week, 7 deadly sins, the 7 Japanese Gods of Luck, the 7 days of Creation, 7 liberal arts, the 7 years of plenty and famine, the 7 churches of Asia to whom Revelation is addressed, the 7 orifices of the face, the 7 Islamic heavens, the 7 fingers/toes/pupils of the Celtic hero Cúchulainn, the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the 7 seas, and the 7 chakras. This is more an esthetic and philosophical decision, but I find it meaningful and pleasing.

Q: But what about electricity? And the atom bomb? And massively destructive biochemical wars? Don’t we need outer planets to represent these modern indications of progress?

A: Nope, and it’s pretty liberating. Take Neptune (please!), for example. In modern astrology, it represents, among other things, water, deception, dreams, idealism, and drugs. I would humbly propose that all of those things existed long ago, way before Neptune was discovered in 1846. Here is an example of how an old-school astrologer might classify the above items, depending on the context of the inquiry:
• Water – the Moon
• Deception – Mercury, the 12th house
• Dreams – the Moon, the 9th house
• Drugs – Moon (if they are wet and soporific), Saturn (because they are addictive and harmful), Venus (because they are pleasurable and seductive), 10th house (if they are used in medical treatment), 12th house (drug abuse)
• Electricity – the Moon (light), or Mars (because it burns you when you stick your fingers in the socket)
• The atom bomb – Mars
• Biochemical wars that can kill millions – still Mars, whether it’s spears & shields or germ warfare
• Idealism – Jupiter
So there you go: no outer planets or other wild stuff needed. It’s very Zen, very simple.

Q: Where does Western astrology come from?

A: In 1000 words or less: We don’t know where it started, but we know the ancient Babylonians used it way back in 2000 B.C. Some historians think the Babylonians invented it, but I strongly suspect it’s far older than that. The ancient Egyptians used astrology, and as the Greeks looked to Egypt for many things spiritual, the Greeks took the Egyptian astrology and modified it to fit it with their worldview. Since the Romans looked to the Greeks as the source for culture and education (see a theme developing here?), astrology really caught on in Rome about 100 BC. There are a few very good surviving works on astrology by Roman writers; Manilius (who writes of the horoscope of the Deified Augustus among other things), Thrasyllus (Tiberius’s court astrologer), Dorotheus (who wrote five books on astrology in verse), and of course, the famed compiler (though perhaps not an astrological practitioner) Ptolemy, who wrote THE book on astrology, the Tetrabiblos.
As the Arabic world became wealthier and more established in the 8th century AD, Arabs became more interested in the astrological wisdom of Greece and India. The Arabs took a very scientific approach to astrology, and connected its concepts to geometry, trigonometry, and the other sciences. One such integrative, encyclopedic work is Al Biruni’s Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology. During this time, many Indian astrologers visited Baghdad, which became a center of culture and learning in the 10th century (did you know that Baghdad was founded in an astrologically elected moment? And yes, its horoscope looks very bad these days.). Similarly, many Arabic astrologers journeyed in India and tried to integrate elements of Indian astrology with their own Greek-based astrology, for better or for worse. Some major names from this period are Masha’allah, Abraham Ibn Ezra, and Abu ‘Ali Al-Khayyat, all of whom wrote important treatises that survive today.
As the Arab world began to wane in influence in the Middle Ages, and the European civilization began its economic and political ascent, European scholars started studying old Arabic astrology sources translated into Latin. Some of the best-known medieval and Renaissance astrologers were Guido Bonatti, Albertus Magnus (who wrote:”There is in Man a double spring of action, namely nature and his will; and nature for its part is ruled by the stars, while the will is free; but unless it resists, it is swept along by nature and becomes mechanical.”), Cardan, William Lilly, and Placidus.
Then astrology fell into a decline with the rationalistic Age of Enlightenment, the major European universities stopped teaching astrology, and by 1700, very few people were interested in the subject. In the late 1700s, however, interest in astrology in the West began to resurface, with a small but dedicated following. With the discoveries of Uranus, Neptune, the planetary moons and asteroids, the modern, post-Enlightenment astrology looked rather different. By the late 1800s, the European Theosophists adopted astrology as their means of determining who, in addition to them, was spiritually evolved, and the likes of Alan Leo and John Ackroyd, among others, made their own mass-market style contributions to astrological knowledge around the turn of the 20th century. Since then, Western astrology has been heavily influenced by New Age and psychological theories, and has refocused from prediction to personality and “tendency” analysis.
The late 20th and early 21st century has seen a dramatic resurgence of traditional (pre-Enlightenment) techniques, aided largely by the commitment of translators who made ancient texts available for modern readers. The number and quality of old texts available today is unprecedented, and we would have to look to a pre-1700 astrological library to access some of the gems that we see today. The traditional techniques focus not on psychological and New Age analysis, but on concrete predictions and statements made about a person or situation. We are fortunate indeed to be living during this very special time for astrologers and lovers of wisdom.

Q: How can one-twelfth of the world’s population (based on Sun signs) have the same personality?

A: It doesn’t. Sun sign columns were invented in the 20th century (so they are babies as far as the ancient astrological tradition is concerned) to sell newspapers. They are entertainment, are not often written by actual astrologers, and are not very accurate. It’s fun to tease Virgos for being obsessive about details, and Scorpios about having lots of dark secrets, but the truth is, this is not astrology; it’s just a way to have fun and to sell media. But the public wants to believe, and millions read their Sun sign forecast in the paper religiously. I enjoy Michael Lutin’s Zen koan-like writing and 1990s web aesthetic, as his style gives Sun signs about the right amount of gravitas.

Q: Can you help me win the lottery? How many times have you won the lottery?

A: The answers are “no” and “zero.” A mastery of astrology does not give you ALL THE KNOWLEDGE, it just gives you a bit more insight than the average person might have. This can be disappointing for the public who really wants to believe that there are Secret Omniscient Masters out there. People are surprisingly eager to give up their power to someone who supposedly knows better. Predicting the correct lottery numbers would be a neat trick, though, so please let me know if you ever learn how.