Pseudo and metaastronomical representations
Conference Horoscopes and History. Horoscopes as astronomical sources
The horoscope is a form of popular Astrology, and that is why it shows so many features of a pseudo-science, where scientific knowledge is replaced by symbolic wisdom. The astronomy which is used in the interpretation of horoscopes is mostly fake or at least was at its origin. This point might have been dissimulated in later times when real astronomy was reintroduced progressively in the chart.
Many factors testify in behalf of our position like planetary rulerships, directions and Ascendant - which is another name for horoscope.
The attribution of planets to zodiacal signs is typical of pseudo-astronomy. The fact that this system is exposed in the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy is not enough to refuse such a judgment but on the contrary might throw some doubt about the authenticty of that work. It is indeed of little importance that the five planets known in the Antiquity are dispatched symetrically (thrones) to the position of Sun and Moon in Leo and Cancer, the fact remains that we have here a system which affords to combine a real planet with a virtual planet, instead of having only real bodies to connect.
Indeed, to say that Mars is the planet of the sign Aries is a way to indicate that when the sun for instance crosses the sign of Aries, it is as if the sun was in aspect with Mars. That means that you do not have to care where really Mars is to introduce this planet in the interpretation and so on and so forth with Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn or Venus. The only celestial body that one has to know are the lights, that is Sun and Moon, which belong to a very elementary form of astronomy in comparison with the use of real planets, receiving their light from the Sun.
There probably existed an astrology based only on Sun and Moon relationships, which was much more antique than planetary astronomy, a rather sophisticated approach of the Sky, unacessible to the laymen. In order to confer to this primitive astronomy a certain prestige, one introduced planets but just in a symbolic way. Hence we have also the exaltations - certain signs only (which differs from the thrones) being given a planetary ruler - the decanates or the terms which attribute planets to smaller areas, according to a certain order so that the planetary significations can be largely and diversely exploited in spite of a lack of real astronomical knowledge.
Another advantage of such a process is the fact that there is no piece of the zodiac which would be, at any time, void of planets, which is not always the case with real planets which might be inequally distributed and therefore let areas, as it were, unattended. Such a balanced result might, as a matter of fact, be quite precious for the astrologer who has to make daily or weekly predictions, in the sense of modern press hosrocopes. Moreover, a planet is present in two places at the same time. For instance, Mars is master of Aries and Scorpio, which belong to very different areas of the Zodiac since the rulerships system states that each planet has two signs, while Sun and Moon have only one. Let us mention also exaltations, which attribute one extra sign to each planet. So many completely virtual planets in the horoscope and so few real bodies !
It is true that one finds horoscopes including real planetary positions but this seems to us rather redundant. One could have expected that such an introduction of real factors would have eliminated the old symbolic conventions, which is what rulerships are. But, in general, this is not what happened and one has in the chart a complexe mixture and juxtaposition of virtual and real astronomy, which generates a hybrid form of astronomy.
Another example of fake astronomy in horoscopes concerns what is called directions (see Rüdiger Plantiko, On dividing the Sky) and has to do with predictive technics. When one wants to make a prediction, one has normally to study at what time (day, month, year) such or such aspect occurs between the positions of the real planets in the horoscope and the positions of the real planets for a specific date, in a more or less long time in advance.
But the horoscopes work on a different basis, as virtual as the rulerships system, that is with the help of the directions. Instead of studying what will become of a sky many years in advance - which demands a certain expertise in astronomy - one will artificially create .a new Heaven, where every planets has the same progression, that is without any respect for the real velocity of each planet in particular.
One classical process is to state that one day equals one year (which might refer to biblical conventions) so that when one studies the position of planets ten days after the birth, it will give us an hinsight about the situation ten years later and so on (secondary directions) so that the astrologer will not have to make complex calculations but will stick with the study of the evolution of the planets in the days following the birth.
In practice, such a system does work, at least it affords to fix certain dates and so the astrologer can do his job in good conditions, without having to use real astronomical data.
What is once more typical is that the growing astronomical knowledge of the astrologers has not canceled the practice of directions. The astrologer can mix real astronomical movements of the planets (transits) and fake progressions of the planets.
Ascendant and Houses
The word horoscope originates with what is called the Ascendant or rising sign. The form scope indicates something which can be seen, visualized. But, in practice, the ascendant has just become a mathematical point, corresponding to no astronomical object. It was probably originally a fixed star ascending at the horizon at the time of birth. The whole House system is build on the basis of the horoscope and that is why the word horoscope finalled gave its name to the entire chart.
Fixed stars as a matter of fact were easier to situate than planets since, by definition, they are not supposed to move. Moreover, the number of stars is considerably more important that the number of planets.
But what are the astrological houses ? One should recall that the word house (domus) can alos designate the sign - domicilius - attributed to a planet (see rulership, supra).
We shall pass to another facet of the problem that we consider, i. e., the astrological houses. In that case, the question of pseudo-astronomy takes another expression, at another level. What will interest us now is the analogical system which is articulated to the Houses. In general, planets which stay in the upper part of the horoscope are said above the horizon and planets in the lower part, under the horizon.
Significations have been assigned to each House. On what basis ? Why Death, for instance, to House 8 ? This house stays in the upper part of the horoscope while death has more to do with what has to be hidden; to be burried is to be placed under the earth. One could say the same about House 9, which has to do with long trips. When one has to travel, one disappears and once mor, this house, which is located in the upper part of the chart is analogically in connection with the lower part.
Besides, one does not understand why houses are counted in a reverse sense to the actual movement of the planets so that a planet passes in fact from house 12 to house 11 and so on and not from 11 to 12.
What happened, then ? It seems that at a certain moment, the House system has been reversed, probably due to a lack of understanding of the symbolic basis of such an organisation. This was the result of ignorance.
Actually, horoscopic astrology does not even need to take into account the course of Sun and Moon. Tarot game is indeed derived from the horoscop and one finds references to astrological houses in major arcana. Geomantic divination is also derived from the Horoscope and uses astrological houses. In the same way that astrology created a fake astronomy, divination created a fake astrology and in his introduction to Tetrabbiblos, Ptolemy condemns this pseudo-astrology which is also a pseudo horoscopy.
The divinatory side of Horoscopy is made clear by the use of charts concerning not births but special moments of life. At first, the horoscope, as we said, was the rising star at the time of birth, it was supposed to study the interaction between the new born child and the sky. But progressively, it became accepted to erect a chart for the moment of a question (hence, it is called Horary Astrology), of a dream or whatever. The connection between astronomy and biology was then broken. According to James Herschel Holden (What will happen next ?), Horary Astrology came first. The problem is that the natal chart does not change and is a constant reference while the horary chart has a limited value, since one needs a new chart for each time one questions the astrologer. It is more likely that one would interpret each horary chart in connection with the natal chart (radix). Actually, it is likely that some astrologers, unable to get the proper data for the time of birth thought sufficient to erect a chart for the moment of the consultation, giving therefore to their clients of the same day more or less the same chart. In that sense, indeed, natal horoscopy was less easy to handle than horary astrology and was replaced by this type of astrology.
Besides, it is quite typical that modern Astrology, though tending to be much less predictive has kept nevertheless most of the technics of predictive horocopic Astrology, as tools to study the personality of the client and not so much his destiny.
Borrowings to astronomical metalanguage
Under the term of pseudo-astronomy, one has also to consider the astronomical metadiscourse, that is structures which do not correspond to a material or visible object but which nevertheless play a certain role in the astronomical practice, which has a mathematical side. For example, we have the lunar nodes, which are intersection between the Moons’s cycle and the ecliptic. These nodes have become part of the horoscope under the name of caput and cauda draconis. In indian astrology, these points are known as rahu and ketu.
The zodiacal signs are also part of the astronomical metalanguage. The begining of Aries, in western astrology, at least, does not corespond to any astronomical body since it is the vernal equinox. Nobody can see it and the division in 12 signs is also perfectly virtual, there is no concrete frontier between two signs.
Indeed the zodiacal signs have nothing to do with the constellations bearing the same names. Constellations have been abandoned in favour of (tropical) signs which do not even coincide with the new moons, that is the conjunction of Moon with the Sun, every month (the word month coming from moon).
By metaastronomy, we mean more precisely all the conceptual tools which help the astronomet to accomplish his job but which nevertheless do not correspond to material data. The case of aspects is typical: aspects between planets only serve to localize a planet, it is just a convention since it is a measure of space (angles of 0°, 90°, of 120° etc). The astrologer will confer to such intervals significance : one speaks of good and of bad aspects, which will influence quite strongly the interpretation of horoscopes.
One could also mention the question of the constellations, which are an artificial division of the sky. Although comprehending a certain number of fixed stars, constellations by themselves belong to metaastronomy. As a matter of fact, the name of the zodiacal constellations tends to play an important role in the interpretation of each planet in the natal chart. We actually have two schools : one which connects to each sign one of the four Elements, a planet or more and one which focalises on the picturesque zodiacal symbolism. (Ram, Scorpion, Waterbearer, Scales, Lion, Twins, Bull, Crab etc).
Let us not forget the names of the new planets which of course belong to metastronomy - those names have been proposed by astronomers, not by astrologers. But the astrology give an enormous importance to the names which have been chosen, considering those attributions as oracles.
Fake material in Esotericism
The question of the fake material is by no means limited to the astrological or horoscopical field. Fake material is connected with Absence. When somebody or someting cannot be reached, it is replaced by substitutes. Idols are a substitute for the real thing, for the gods or the kings who cannot be approched like planets are too far to be seen or properly studied by the profane, the one who cannot enter the temple of knowledge. Another esoteric example of such a pseudo-production is certainly Nostradamus, since a great part of what is attributed to him and published under his name was not his. For instance, Jean-Patrice Boudet has underlined the presence of false astrologers in Symon de Pharés’s work and one knows, since Casaubon, about the pseudo corpus hermeticum. The searcher in esotericism has by all means to carefully investigate that dimension of substitution.
Actually, horoscopes represent a particular moment in the History of Astrology. We have here the influence and expression of popular astrology upon learned astrology. One of the major problems of the astrological knowledge is its syncretic mixture of both dimensions, syncretism being a failure to eliminate what is not any longer viable in spite of its historical significance. One interesting point is the late introduction of newly discovered planets in the horoscope, during the last two centuries, Uranus having been discovered in 1781, which shows that astronomical data have been reconquering the horoscope but also appear nowadays within the archaic rulerships system, with attribution of certain zodiacal signs to Uranus, Neptune (1846) and Pluto (1930).
Horoscopes appear as a typically astrogical artefact, using astronomy in a very specific way, and actually refering more to astronomical significants (signifiants, in French) than to the astronomical signified (signifiés in French), to use a linguistic formulation. Horoscopes include a large amount of fake Astronomy - the case of Chinese Astrology is quite developed in that orientation - mixed with real Astronomy. Anti-astrological literature has of course focalised on this side of the astrological knowledge, throwing the baby with the water of the bath Kepler tried to eliminate this artificial astronomy from the chart.
Paris, June 30, 2004
Jacques Halbronn :
- Ptolomeo y las astrologias del Tetrabiblos, Primeras Jornadas Internacionales de Historia de la Astrologia en la Antiguedad, dir. Quintano, Barcelona, Beros, 2001.
- Comparaison du Tétrabible attribué à Ptolémée et de la Mathesis de Firmicus Maternus, Homo Mathematicus. Actas del Congreso Internacional sobre astrologos griegos y romanos, Dir. A. Perez Jimenez & R. Caballero, Malaga, 2002.
- Article Nostradamus, Dictionary of Gnosticism and Western esotericism, Leyde, 2004.
- Documents inexploités sur le phénoméne Nostradamus, Feyzin, Ed. Ramkat, 2002.
- Recherches sur l’Histoire de l’astrologie et du Tarot, in Nicolas Bourdin, Le commentaire du Centiloque de Ptolémée, Paris, Ed. Trédaniel, 1993.
- Le monde juif et l’astrologie, histoire d’un vieux couple, Milan, Arché, 1985.
- Mathématiques Divinatoires, Paris, Trédaniel, 1983.
- La communication du savoir astrologique, in La Magie et ses langages, Dir. Margaret Jones-Davies, Lille, PUL, 1980.
- The revealing Process of Translation and Criticism in the History of Astrology, in Astrology, Science and Society, dir. P. Curry, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 1987.
Tous droits réservés © 2004 Jacques Halbronn