The Path – February 1893


Some writers, in order to avoid what seems like fatalism or predestination in astrology, have denied that the planets possess any inherent influence or exercise it upon the human race. They do not question the main features of astrology, nor do they, like many materialistic and scientific authors, dismiss it as visionary and unworthy of examination. They admit that the directions at which the planets arrive with regard to each other seem to tally with certain events which happen in the life of the native. But they claim that this coincidence is due to the fact that the planets are only markers, and that they indicate things which occur without their active interposition. They are thus merely recorders of Karmic effects. At first sight there appears to be much weight to this argument, since none can deny that we fashion our own selves and by our own actions bring upon ourselves certain results either good or evil. To deny volition would be to deny the law of Karma. We must insist upon a certain amount of free-will; without it, existence has no reason and humanity no hope.

We are, however, brought face to face with the perceptible facts of astrology; and these will not down even to save a theory. It is evident that the sun and moon exercise a direct influence upon the material world. It would be absurd for us to attempt to explain the tides of the ocean by saying that the moon did not cause them, but was only an indicator; or to say that the sun's heat did not produce the summer, but was only a coincident record of that season. How much simpler is it for us to imagine that each of these orbs of the solar system is continually pouring down upon us its astral waves, just as it sends down upon us its ethereal rays of light! And then, moving on in endless procession, as it were, new angles are constantly being formed, new positions are momentarily being developed, and consequently new effects are being produced.

This is the natural view to take. It is the one adopted by all astrologers that have ever lived. But how is it to be reconciled with the law of Karma, which says that all actions are the result of other actions, and good and evil conditions are caused by good or evil conduct? This seems a perplexing question, and no doubt it has puzzled many young students, especially those who have never given much attention to the subject of astrology and who do not have any clear idea of its relation to the Theosophic philosophy. In order to understand that relation, however, it is only necessary to obtain a just understanding of the principles of astrology so far as fatalism, or determination, is concerned.

Let us see what is meant by fate. In Zadkiel's Grammar of Astrology, chapter 10, entitled "To judge the future fate by the figure of the heavens at the moment of birth", occurs the following remark:

The word fate does not here imply inevitable fate; for though the planets produce a certain influence on the native's affairs, yet that influence is capable of being opposed by the human will, and may by that means be entirely or greatly mitigated. If, however, it be not attended to, but allowed its full scope, it will then certainly produce its full effect; and the reader must remember that astrologers in predicting events always presuppose that the last circumstance will be the case.

We see here that there is no absolute fatality. On the contrary, each person is given an instrument known as the human will, with which he may oppose the evil influences and may take advantage of the good. To be explicit, the planets are continually shedding down their astral rays upon us, and according as they make certain angles in the course of their revolutions, so do their influences become good or malefic. But there is no necessity, no absolute law, that we should succumb to those influences. It is, on the contrary, our duty to oppose them when evil, just as it is our duty to turn away from every temptation. And the human will is all-powerful. When well developed, it can avert evil equally as well as it can magnify good.

We thus see that there is no fatality, but only a tendency in certain directions which, when evil, we have to combat. Let us now try to learn how this may be reconciled with Karmic law. The latter supposes certain acts as a result of previous acts. But no explicit time is given by any authority on the subject as being the date when Karma takes effect. There is an old Hindu aphorism saying that Karma acts after two days, two fortnights, two years, or two lives, which is equivalent to saying that it has no stated season, but comes whenever the occasion is ripe. We can, then, very easily suppose that Karmic action takes effect in accordance with the principles of planetary motion. In other words, if a given result is to take place, it will wait until in their regular revolutions the spheres have reached a certain combination answering to or corresponding with the event. The planets are not markers; they influence. But they only exercise that influence in accordance with the law of Karma.

Now, as to the extent of that influence, it may be said that it is limited. Some people are much less affected by planetary positions than others. This, as has been previously suggested, is due to the extent to which they have cultivated the will. Most people, it is true, respond promptly to their astrological directions. Some succeed in opposing evil influences to which the majority succumb. There are a few — a very few — who have risen above the planetary suggestions, and whom evil does not harm. Such have evolved themselves beyond the astral plane, and are no longer subject to Saturn. For it should be known that astrology acts only through the astral form and upon the astral plane. It is therefore only concerned with humanity in its lower stages. It is exoteric and base to that extent. Whenever we can as a race pass beyond the limitations of the flesh, astrology can no longer be a science. It teaches us at present very much about our organization, and is indeed one of the keys to a knowledge of the universe. Rightly understood, it is of inestimable value. Wrongly looked at or used for evil ends, it is worse than ignorance. No doubt it has been in the past very often employed for selfish ends. Let us hope that the students of the future will have a better aim, and will turn astrology into a means for helping and enlightening the race rather than to employ it as a mere money-making agency.

It is not generally known that there are three sets or kinds of astrological directions, each producing certain effects, yet all dependent to a considerable extent upon each other. They may be described briefly as primary directions, secondary directions, and local transits. The latter are extremely simple and are generally employed by professional astrologers. They are based upon the direct motion of the planets around the sun. While to the observer of the heavens night after night the planets which are visible appear to retain about the same relative position to each other, in reality they are moving onward at varying rates of speed, and each night take a slightly different position. While our earth completes the circuit of the sun in one year, it takes about thirty years for Saturn to finish its orbit. Each planet has a different motion. Hence the combinations of position that arise daily are practically infinite. The local transits are the transits of one planet over the place of another in any nativity. They produce the minor events of life, the daily cares, annoyances, triumphs, and joys which every one has, but which do not as a rule produce any lasting effect. If, however, there is a coincidence of several evil transits at about the same time, particularly if the primary and secondary directions are also bad, then serious results may be expected. It is said that even primary directions cannot take effect without having transits of a similar nature to work through, and on this many professional astrologers ignore primary directions altogether, claiming that the local transits furnish all the data required for making predictions. In reality the reason for such omission is the difficulty of computing such primary directions. Local transits, on the other hand, require no mathematical skill or labor. The positions of the planets from day to day are given in every ephemeris or almanac that is published.

Secondary directions are also comparatively easy to compute, although it is difficult to explain the nature of their influence. They are said to be "merely the aspects formed by the Sun or Moon within a few weeks after birth by their proper motion, in longitude, in the heavens". But this definition fails to convey any meaning to the ordinary reader. I would therefore add that in astrology each day is but a micro-cosmic aspect of a longer period, and in a nativity each day succeeding birth is regarded as equivalent to a year of life. Thus the tenth day after birth will show events that will happen in the tenth year, the twentieth day the twentieth year, and so on. Most astrologers use the secondary directions; and, in fact, it is said that the old Arabian astrologers used nothing else for their prognostications. Certain it is that, however inexplicable it may appear, the secondary directions are generally reliable. Their effects are short-lived, not lasting over two or three weeks at most.

Primary directions are what prove the stumbling-block for nearly all would-be students of astrology. They require very complicated and abstruse computations, and one must be acquainted with logarithms and sines and tangents in order to make any progress whatever. Hence most modern professional astrologers discard them altogether, and even speak slightingly of them. In fact, Raphael openly advises against their use in his latest Guide to Astrology. But all the older astrologers considered primary directions as being of primary importance. They bring about the great events of life. Marriage, death of parents, bankruptcy, professional success, are all denoted by them. Sometimes the influence of a primary direction is so great that it will last through several years. Hence these directions should not be ignored. It is no doubt true that a primary direction cannot act until there is a suitable combination of local transits for it to act through, but that does not give us sufficient ground for depending entirely upon the transits or even upon secondary directions.

The principle upon which is based the doctrine of primary directions is the same macro-cosmic and micro-cosmic idea which underlies the secondary directions. The earth turns upon its axis every twenty-four hours. In that time each planet apparently travels completely around us, making a circuit of 360 degrees. As in 24 hours there pass over the meridian 360 degrees, in one hour there will pass over 15 degrees, and one degree, being equal to one-fifteenth of an hour, is therefore equivalent to four minutes. Hence an error of four minutes in the time of birth will cause an error of one degree in right ascension, or of one whole year in the life of the native. It should be explained, however, that there are two methods of computing time. By the Ptolemaic system one degree equals a year of life. The Placidian theory, while more complex, has much to recommend it in the way of exactitude. As there are only 360 degrees in a circle, and as there are 365¼ days in a year, it follows that to take a degree for a day or for a year is not, strictly speaking, correct, although much more convenient. According to the Placidian rule, the right ascension of the sun is added to the arc of direction, and then to this-are added the actual degrees and fractional parts thereof, in proportion as the days are actually longer or shorter. By this method a degree is sometimes greater and sometimes less than a year of life, but it is always proportional to the exact length of the day as shown by the ephemeris. Zadkiel and most modern astrologers employ the Ptolemaic system of measurement. The difference between the two is so slight that it does not cut much of a figure either way. . There is one fact, however, about astrology which cannot be two strongly dilated upon, and that is the necessity for ascertaining the exact time of birth. Astrologers who pretend to set up horoscopes, merely guessing at the hour of birth (in the absence of definite information), know very well that their predictions are extremely precarious. While the difference of a few hours does not affect materially the local transits — and it is from these that they draw their deductions — the difference of one minute in the time of birth will cause an error of three months in the time of any subsequent primary event, and an error of four minutes will throw a prediction out an entire year. Hence it cannot be too strongly urged that the first and greatest necessity in the casting of nativities is the determination of the exact time of birth.

Fortunately rules are laid down in the astrological books by which the true time of birth may be obtained. Without that knowledge astrological prediction is futile, striking here and there perhaps a few unimportant details, but leaving out all of the main and determining events. With a knowledge of the exact minute of birth the astrologer may confidently set forth all the leading and minor occurrences of life, may warn of impending danger and prepare people to take advantage of fortunate incidents and epochs in their careers.

The Path