The Theosophical Forum – August 1941

WHAT ABOUT ASTROLOGY? — Charles J. Ryan

DR. Carl G. Jung, the eminent psychologist and orientalist, says in his The Secret of the Golden Flower (p. 43) that "there are some facts adequately tested and fortified by a wealth of statistics which make the astrological problem seem worthy of philosophical investigation," adding that "the fact that it is possible to construct, in adequate fashion, a person's character from the date of his nativity, shows the relative value of astrology."

He bases his opinion on the time-honored philosophy which sees the Universe as One in the full meaning of the word, a cosmos in which every part is linked in perfect unison or correspondence with every other part at any given moment of time, regardless of such mechanical impediments on the physical plane as the limit attached to the speed of light. The Divine Power, Sustainer of all manifestation, "God Impersonal," who is Here and There without distinction, Omnipresent, cannot be located in any point of space or in a "heaven" of simple minds, to receive messages that take measurable time to be transmitted. In regard to the significance of an astrological chart as an index to the cosmic conditions at the moment of birth as mentioned by Dr. Jung, we might crudely represent the principle by the idea of a ball of string composed of various colors and materials connected without a break. Getting hold of one end of the string would enable us to unravel the ball and discover the nature of the interior. Dr. Jung says "whatever is born or done in this moment of time has the qualities of this moment of time," however diverse and distant the contemporary events may be; and he concludes that astrology is one definite method of making connexion with and thereby of discovering the content of any given "moment of time." The reader is referred to Dr. Jung's book for the exposition of this important point; space will not permit fuller treatment here. Philosophical students of astrology, such as Dr. Jung and his school, believe that it has a basis of truth unfamiliar to the ordinary practitioner of the art. However, in the book mentioned above and in his Disintegration of Personality, Dr. Jung explains that astrology is not unique in its power to lift the veil of Isis, even if only a little. For instance, the Chinese method of divination by the "throwing-sticks" called "I Ching" has been effectively employed for at least 3000 years, and Dr. Jung describes a definite prediction obtained that way which he and a large group of psychologists personally witnessed, and which was perfectly fulfilled in due course.

Unfortunately, the line of study followed by the great majority of our "practical-minded" scientists is not in sympathy with that kind of research which seeks the more subtil aspects of nature, and anything savoring of "mysticism" (a much abused word) is suspect, even though backed by strong evidence and the support of brilliant minds. We are told by our contemporary astronomers, whose mathematical skill and profound researches into the physical aspect of the celestial spaces — their proper field — compel unstinted admiration, that astrology is a pure illusion, and that even the more philosophical and symbolical interpretation is no more than special pleading.

This attitude is natural enough in this "Age of Iron," and we can easily understand the difficulties that victims of our materialistic systems of thought and education, so-called, would meet in breaking through the mental observances in which they are enmeshed. Even in such a comparatively simple matter as telepathy the efforts of a few intuitive scientists to study it have encountered the same intolerance for heterodox innovations that Galileo suffered from when he rebelled against the overwhelming authority of certain erroneous teachings of Aristotle and thereby outraged the academic mind of his period.

Ever since the advent of the Theosophical Movement with its revelations of the Eastern knowledge about man and nature, a new spirit of inquiry into the Occult has arisen in the public mind, and already more than one so-called "superstition" has been found to be based on sober facts. While little is yet said openly, it is suspected that many scientists are feeling that the tides of thought are beginning to turn and carry Western mechanistic speculation from its cramped and insecure anchorage to what they erroneously fear to be a dangerous and uncharted ocean of unreality!

But in regard to fake astrology, just as in the case of quack medicine, scientists have a right and a duty to protest against both the well-meaning incompetents and the horde of charlatans who pretend to "rule the planets" for the credulous in regard to stock quotations, love affairs, lucky days, as well as the newspapers which publish fabulous predictions, etc. Quite lately, a Boston local committee of the American Association of Scientific Workers has started a movement to break public belief in astrology in any form, calling it a "current fad" and pointing out that "physical scientists are apparently without exception opposed to the teaching of astrology." It should, we learn, be regarded merely if at all "as an interesting stage in the historical development of science that has definitely been superseded as the nature of the universe became more fully understood." (We might mention that probably never did so many persons in Western countries take an interest in the subject as at the present time!) The Boston group says that the practice of astrology (presumably for hire) is prohibited in a few of our States, and it urges more effective and uniform legal restrictions. If this means the suppression of astrological magazines it suggests the danger of an un-American regimentation of thought at the bidding of a scientific bureau.

The Report issued by this group does not indicate a really impartial handling of the subject, and we feel that no investigation can be satisfactory unless it is conducted without preconceived opinions or bias. A real study of astrology should give particular attention to the reason why so many intelligent people are satisfied that it contains valuable pearls of truth even though encrusted by a perhaps unprepossessing shell. Is it not possible that the scornful attitude of astronomers toward astrology is largely responsible for its abuses, because an unbiased scientific study would have probably, to use another simile, cleared away the jungle of superstitions which have choked the good grain? Careful and intelligent persons who have obtained even a modicum of success in astrological research — results which exceed the possible amount allowed by the laws of chance — naturally wonder at the persistent opposition of the skeptics. For instance there is the French scientist and mathematician, Commandant Paul Choisnard, and his school, who more than forty years ago made a very elaborate statistical study of the dates of birth and death in the cases of very many thousand soldiers in military hospitals (where exact data were available) and found that the frequency of death in those cases where the transit of Mars was taking place over the position of the sun at birth was three times that of the general average. Careful observations like these and many others made by Choisnard on statistical lines, cannot be disregarded and classed as "medieval superstitions" by unbiased persons who know the facts. Perhaps some who have "come to curse may remain to bless" when they find that advanced students of astrology are familiar with the somewhat naive objections brought against it by most skeptics, and that they have even faced more serious objections than are suspected by the confident critics.

Investigating committees in other unwelcome fields of inquiry as well as astrology have followed the same course as this Boston group, and yet have failed to prove a negative. How many times have inventors and discoverers had to fight against every conceivable obstacle for recognition! For years the astronomical world refused to listen to the crazy, "superstitious" notion that stones — meteorites — could fall from the sky, in spite of clear evidence.

The latest recantation of the denial of genuine natural phenomena because they were "pure nonsense, baseless superstitions and old wives" tales," is of special interest in relation to the dogmatic condemnation of astrology still in vogue. We refer to divination for water or metals by the divining rod, or Dowsing as it is properly called, which at last has been studied by scientists using the technical equipment of modern physics, and reported on favorably. For a few decades one or two courageous scientists, such as Sir William Barrett, f. r. s., have dabbled with Dowsing, but rather suddenly it is becoming an accepted fact in nature which can be studied by scientists without losing caste. Of course the technique is brought into line with the terminology of modern physics, formulas of high-frequency radiation, interference patterns, polarization, etc., but the important point is that it is admitted that the time-honored methods and results were sound. Yet the editorial writer in The Scientific American magazine for February, 1941, who discusses the most important physical studies of Dowsing with approval and admits the validity of the art, renders little honor or even attention to the efforts of the courageous, practical and sober-minded men who have for so many years demonstrated their peculiar powers in face of ridicule and the opposition of academic scientists who condemned without proper investigation; although he does censure their illogical attitude. At certain times Dowsing was a dangerous practice. According to an old book in the British Museum, Mineralogia Cornubriensis, by William Pryce m. d., "Hooson says that the first inventor of the Virgula Divinatoria [the Divining Rod] was hanged as a cheat and impostor!" The editorial writer merely rejoices that any supposed mystery or "occult" atmosphere has been removed from Dowsing. Well, some may think so; but many of its "mysteries" are still unsolved, among others the curious fact that certain persons can respond to radiations from water only, others from one or another metal or metals, and some can get definite information from large scale maps without actually traveling over the ground! The influence of the phases of the moon has also been traced. No mysteries left in Dowsing, indeed" Studies on these lines bring up the ancient philosophy of sympathies and antipathies, of stellar influences and that terrible subject — the Occult!

In regard to another disputed problem, the reality of psychic phenomena, the story of the battle for recognition is instructive. Ever since the time, about a century ago, when critical attention was directed toward such things as the "spirit rappings" of the Fox sisters at Hydesville, N. Y., many efforts have been started by skeptics, singly or in groups, to prove beyond all question that mediumistic phenomena, haunted houses, apparitions, telepathy even, and in short everything that evidenced the existence of other planes of being than the physical, were absolutely non-existent. The reports of these skeptical investigators are instructive for they show that no final and unanimous conclusions were reached, and as it became clear that further study was needed to "prove" the negative verdict desired, a new committee and then another and another tried their hands. One result was, however, that many intelligent and unprejudiced persons became convinced that occult phenomena of one kind or another occur under certain circumstances and that they are produced under laws yet unknown to modern science, though strictly "natural." This is of course the Theosophical view, and by "natural" we include far more than the physical, however ethereal. From all that is suggested by experiment and from the teaching of the great occult Sages and Seers, it requires a high and rare spiritual development before these laws can be understood or controlled.

Quite recently The Scientific American started a new investigation into psychic phenomena conducted by a well-selected committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Dunninger, the famous exponent of the fine art of conjuring. This body has apparently not set out to "disprove" anything, but is looking for positive evidence one way or the other, the right scientific method. This committee may get more decisive results than its predecessors. In connexion with inquiries of this kind H. P. Blavatsky humorously comments:

If spiritualists are anxious to keep strictly dogmatic in their notions of the "spirit-world," they must not set scientists to investigate their phenomena in the true experimental spirit The attempt would most surely result in a partial re-discovery of the magic of old — that of Moses and Paracelsus Under the deceptive beauty of some of their apparitions, they might find some day the sylphs and fair Undines of the Rosicrucians playing in the currents of psychic and odic force — Isis Unveiled, I, 67

Is it not possible that the Boston committee which is seeking to expose astrology will find it a hard task to reach a unanimous decision in the negative, and that even the few authentic teachings that have survived in modern astrology from the wreckage of the ancient Mystery Schools may provide enough demonstrable evidence to show that it has a substantial foundation?

To judge by the number of books on astrology recently published there seems to be no lessening of interest in the subject, and it should be noted by the skeptics that most of them, though not alarmingly technical, are not of a kind to attract the uneducated and the unthinking. Mr. Marc E. Jones's How to Learn Astrology is not intended for the illiterate, the credulous, nor the vulgar fortune-teller class; it is constructively critical. The publisher correctly describes it as an amazingly simple book based on a new and striking method of approach to the subject, and particularly to Natal Astrology. It contains much of value in a small compass. The author starts by showing the beginner how to regard an astrological chart in the way an artist looks at a picture, first getting a general impression and then studying the larger details and so forth until at last he is sufficiently prepared to make a fair interpretation of the whole and to cast a figure. Certain general groupings or "patterns" of the planets in a chart, regardless of their individual significance indicate the leading characteristic of the "native," and these can be easily detected if this interpretation is accepted. It is certainly worth careful examination.

Mr. Jones accepts the position taken by Dr. Carl G. Jung, already mentioned here, and says "The time of birth, modified by the geographical place of its occurrence, can be translated into the pattern of the instant, as this is given individual and recognizable form in the kaleidoscopic heavenly motions" and can "be captured on a piece of paper" for study. Mr. Jones apologizes for being too "hopelessly philosophical" for some readers, but we believe he is right in expressing the subtil philosophical point which may appeal to philosophic-minded students of science who would certainly not be impressed by baby-talk or mere assertions. He shows that many generations of astrological devotees have distrusted "the academic mind" because of its conservatism and have unwisely refused to ask "the help which a careful scholarship might have given," but he very properly insists upon the need to employ exact scientific methods "without adopting the prejudices of the conventional scientists."

Dr. W. J. Tucker, editor of Science and Astrology magazine (London), in his The How, What and Why of Astrology takes a different point of view from that of Mr. Jones, and, we think, a less intuitive and philosophical one which inclines towards the mechanistic position and in which the doctrines of modern physics are called on to bear a heavier astrological load than they can legitimately bear. This appears in his criticism of "thoroughgoing occultists" in astrology who "merely account celestial phenomena and celestial bodies as signs and symbols of something which will happen months hence, or even years hence." Dr. Tucker calls this "insensate" for it is the stars and planets themselves which really affect human destinies. Such charged bodies, he claims, do this by producing variations in the magnetic field of the earth by their constant changes of position. Of course we know that from a purely physical aspect gravitational influences of the planets slightly affect the movements of the earth, and that the sun and moon have definite magnetic fields, but our information about planetary magnetism is very uncertain. Even the sun's magnetic field is so weak that it cannot be measured more than 200 miles above the surface, the photosphere.

In his rather brief reference to the Precession of the Equinoxes, Dr. Tucker explains that each sign of the moveable zodiac is a significator of character and has a powerful effect on different parts of the body, etc. Yet these Signs are, as he points out, "purely a mathematical proposition," "continuously shifting in respect to the stars," i. e., to the real stars in the real constellations which bear the same names as the abstract mathematical Signs. The Signs are only a mental picture, a geometrical figure which we project across the background of the sky in our imagination. Being moveable, they coincide only at very long intervals of time with the physical constellations from which radiations of light traverse abysses of space at a definite velocity, perhaps accompanied by induced magnetic fields. If these energies come from the actual stars what is it that radiates from the mathematical, non-material Signs and according to astrology is able to produce effects on people and things? Can it be something mental or spiritual, such as we can only deal with symbolically, and haltingly follow with our laboring minds? Is it intelligent?

The problem of the seeming independence of the moveable Signs and the fixed constellations has long been a thorn in the side of popular astrology, and the application of the "scientific magnetic field" hypothesis does not reduce the apparent paradox. If we said that students of the deeper teachings of Theosophy have some clarifying information, our author might object that we were introducing the scientifically tabooed subject of Occultism! Well, perhaps it does, and perhaps Theosophy can show that though the problem is a paradox it is not a flat contradiction.

When, however, we are asked to believe that the light rays "with their accompanying magnetic fields," coming from the almost infinite distances of the stars can combine with those of the nearby planets at the moment of birth "to set the paths of the electrons which compose the child's body into a fixed and definite pattern which appears to exist for the duration of its life" (p. 22), we feel that the difficulties are even greater than those of the paradoxical Precessional problem. How can the radiations which take only a few hours at most to reach us from the constantly moving planets arrive so neatly at the same moment as those which have traveled for centuries from the stars and yet which must blend harmoniously with them to produce a workable personality? Furthermore, we must assume that such a mechanical combination of physical magnetic fields can explain the infinitely complex structure of a human being without any "occult" factor being introduced! The Boston anti-astrological group not unnaturally disputes the suggestion that mechanical forces or influences can produce tangible effects on people because, as they say, "the walls of hospitals and other buildings where babies are born are opaque to all known radiations of stars and planets," a sound objection if we only refer to the scientific definition of magnetism and magnetic fields, and one that astrologers who want to keep in the good graces of modern physical science will find difficult to answer. The objection, of course, does not affect the "occult" interpretation of the activities of "nature's finer forces" which obey laws of another kind.

There are even more serious obstacles facing those who assert that human temperaments and moral characters are governed by stellar forces in any ordinary meaning of the words. We do not find scientists allowing for a moment that "magnetic fields" and so forth are intelligent in any shape or form, yet, if not, how can such mechanical factors creatively build up the infinite variety of combinations in the moral, intellectual, and spiritual character of a single individual? What have the scientist's "magnetic fields" in common with the emotions?

The difficulties in studying astrological influences greatly increase when branches of astrology such as those dealing with coming events, answers to questions, etc. (not included in either of the interesting books we are considering, which only treat of the birth-chart) are taken up without a recognition of the occult structure of the universe, of which the physical and material is but one manifestation. We fear that Dr. Tucker's laudable effort "to put the subject for the first time [! ] on a firm scientific basis" will fail unless he greatly deepens and widens the common interpretation of the word "scientific," which only too often means "materialistic" Fortunately for humanity, there are increasing signs that materialistic views are losing ground in some departments of science. We can see by such books as Dr. Gustaf Ströbmberg's The Soul of the Universe, and Dr. Knut Lundmark's writings on stellar evolution and consciousness that high-ranking astronomers are not all satisfied with mechanistic theories.

Dr. Tucker handles the difficult problem of free will in astrology with good sense. He says that "the astrological dictum, "Character is Destiny," only holds true when a man acts phenomenally as a non-moral being"; but man has been given free will and a moral self with which to combat the lower desires, appetites, and ambitions; and that "the operation of the will will act as a deflecting force; and this is something which will defeat any predictions which are based upon the arc of character-determinism." He divides man into three parts: (a) his character, which is determined, (b) his free will, and (c) his moral self. This is not far from the Theosophical point of view, but no explanation is offered for the alleged fact that we are obliged to accept a character determined by the action of "magnetic fields," for which we are not responsible, and which is often a very poor specimen. Without the factors of Reincarnation and Karman the character, and to a degree the destiny, perhaps, indicated by the birth-chart, would be purely a matter of chance and accident so far as the particular individual is concerned. Yet this is a universe of law!

Another point that needs stressing is that the character, however obtained, is only the temporary presentation of the limited personality, the mask, that the permanent Ego wears for that particular incarnation, Mr. Smith, or Mrs. Tomkins. Too many modern astrologers only think of the outer shell, the superficial aspect of the real man; but two well-known English students, Alan Leo and W. R. Old ("Sepharial"), who have exercised a profound influence by their philosophical approach to astrology, saw further; and Theosophists who are looking for more than signs and wonders in the heavens will not regret time spent in reading their works. Alan Leo, who took much from H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, must have had a strong intuitional faculty. He showed that while in Exoteric Astrology the planet ruling the ascending sign, and so forth, describes the personality, the "mask," the Lower Manas focussed in the brain, the student who can look deeper and discriminate will find indications of the Higher Self reflected even in the distorted form of the ordinary personal horoscope. It is seen as in a glass, darkly. Alan Leo works out the principle that in our higher nature we belong to the sun regarded as Divine consciousness, while the moon with its mental aspect symbolizes the limited and ever-changing personalities which feebly reflect the solar light.

As to the intrinsic value of astrology to those who desire to become true occultists, H. P. Blavatsky points out in her Occultism and the Occult Arts that the incidental appendages to real Occultism such as Astrology, Palmistry, Ceremonial Magic, etc., when not useless or misleading are only indirect and imperfect methods of trying to gain knowledge of nature. She also shows that the acquirement of occult arts is only for the present incarnation, while those who travel on the true Path gain ground that is never lost. Many students have verified this teaching by experience, sometimes by great suffering before they discovered that they had wandered from "the strait and narrow" Path of Occultism which is the training and purification of heart and mind, self-discipline, impersonal love, self-forgetfulness, leading to Self-knowledge and the opening of the inner Vision. There is, of course, no objection to the study of astrology as a relaxation for spare time, but it cannot be regarded in its present imperfect condition as of importance in the training of character. When it becomes more enlightened and purified astrology may help to break down materialism, but it would still be far from the true Esoteric Astrology which H. P. Blavatsky refers to in a well-known passage:

Astrology is built wholly upon the mystic and intimate connection between the heavenly bodies and mankind; and it is one of the great secrets of Initiation and Occult mysteries — The Secret Doctrine, II, 500


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