An Astrology of Religion and Atheism
Is there an astrology of religion? Can we look at a birth chart and tell if or when someone will come to believe in God or the supernatural? In this series, I critically ask that question by looking at the charts of more extreme cases (religious figures and outspoken atheists) using the basic symbolic tools of ancient astrology.
Please note that I’m not starting a series of posts on skeptics and atheists to in any way belittle them or marginalize them. This is simply an important and interesting area of traditional astrological inquiry. I’m not an atheist myself, but I do consider myself to be a skeptic. I’m certainly a critical thinker with a high regard for rationalism, empiricism, and falsifiability. While I’m not an atheist, I think theirs is a perfectly acceptable point of view. Does astrology entail theism? I’m not completely sure. There may be means of explaining astrology non-theistically.
The Rules of the Game: Ingredients
In this post, I just want to highlight a few features of the chart very quickly that would pertain to skepticism, dislike of spirituality, or bad experiences with religion. I may delve into some traditional special techniques for such things in subsequent posts, but here I just want to look at a few major general factors.
The factors I’ll look at are:
- Jupiter, natural significator of religion.
- 9th Place, house of God and religion.
- Mercury, natural significator of rationality and critical thought.
- Saturn, natural significator of doubt, fear, challenge, and rot.
Additionally, we will look at the rising sign (1st house) as symbolic of the self or individual in the chart.
Ancient Astrologers on these 4 Factors
Of the seven traditional planets, Jupiter is most strongly associated with religious faith and spiritual experience.
The nature of Jupiter is hot, moist, airy, and temperate. And he signifies the nutritive soul and life and ensouled bodies. […] And he signifies the wise and doctors of the law and just judges, and firmness and wisdom and intellect and the interpretation of dreams, truth and divine reverence, faith and the teaching of the law, religion, and the veneration and fear of God, charity, piety, also the unity of faith and its foresight, and the fitness of morals and responsibility. (Abu Ma’shar, Great Introduction to the Science of the Stars, Dykes trans., 2010, VII.9.1425-54, p. 240)
The Ninth House
The ninth house is called God. […] It signifies all things concerning the gods and kings and foreigners and dreams and religious observations. […] The good [stars] being in this house make good fortune in foreign places and pious persons and righteous in religious observance, especially if the ruler of the house is also well situated and in its own domicile or exaltation and not aspected by malefics. (Rhetorius, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 57, p. 87)
The ninth house was called God. It was strongly associated with religious observation, astrology, and philosophy (love of wisdom) since ancient times.
IX Friendship, travel, benefits from foreigners, God, king, magnates, astrology, oracles, appearances of the gods, mystic and occult matters, associations. (Valens, Riley trans., 2010, Book IV, Ch. 12, p. 80)
Mercury has a diverse set of significations, but most of them pertain to analysis, rationality, and communication. In the ancient world, one often performed such tasks through the church, so Mercury was often associated with religion also, but Mercury’s nature was known to be amoral and connected to its planetary influences.
Mercury bends with his nature toward the one who is complected to him […] And he signifies divinity and the oracles of prophets, sense and reason, speech and conversations and stories and the committing of them to memory. Also wisdom, belief and the beauty of learning, sharpness of character. And intellect and literature and philosophy and a gift of knowledge, also arithmetic and geometry and the measure of higher and terrestrial things. (Abu Ma’shar, Great Introduction to the Science of the Stars, Dykes trans., 2010, VII.9.1541-80, p. 257-258)
Saturn is not often explicitly connected with doubt in ancient texts. However, the overall nature is one of difficulty, challenge, and tangibility so doubt is a natural reading in connection with matters of belief.
Saturn also causes humblings, sluggishness, unemployment, obstacles in business, interminable lawsuits, subversion of business, secrets, imprisonment, chains, griefs, accusations, tears, bereavement, capture, exposures of children. (Valens, Riley trans., 2010, Book I, Ch. 1, p. 1)
The First House
And so, the domicile occupying the rising [place] is called the horoscope; the effect of this [is] over the body and life of a man itself, and all his undertakings. (Abu Ma’shar, The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, Book I, 109, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 71)
The first place (rising sign) is the symbol of the individual in the chart.
I the Ascendant, life, steering-oar, body, breath. (Valens, Anthologies, Book IV, Ch. 12, The Names of the Twelve Places, Riley trans., 2010, p. 80)
Strength, Weakness, Beneficence
These will be analyzed in terms of strength/weakness and benefic/malefic tendencies. All of the factors considered here are explained in the lessons on ancient astrology which are available on this site.
I will consider the following as major considerations showing a strength of a planet:
- Strongly Advancing (approaching the angles of the chart, i.e the Asc, MC, Dsc, or IC of the chart, within 15*) and to a lesser extent Advancing (more than 1/3 zodiacal travel from one angle to the next).
- Stationing Direct (the planet turns from retrograde motion to direct within 7 days of the birth).
- Being In Phasis (the planet moves into or out from the beams of the Sun, standardized to 15* from the center of the Sun, within 7 days of birth).
- Being in a Stake of the Chart (the planet is in the 1st, 10th, 7th, or 4th place, i.e. the Ascendant or the signs 4, 7, or 10 signs from the Ascendant counted inclusively, e.g. a chart with Scorpio rising has Scorpio, Leo, Taurus, and Aquarius as “stakes”).
I will consider the following as major considerations showing a weakness of a planet:
- Retreating (planet has passed an angle by more than 5* but is not yet 1/3 of the way to the next angle).
- Stationing Retrograde (the planet turns from direct motion to retrograde within 7 days of the birth).
- Combust (planet is within about 8* of the Sun at birth and is not in phasis).
- Being in a Cadent Place (the planet is in the 6th, 12th, 3rd, or 9th place counted inclusively from the 1st place/rising sign).
I will consider the following major indications of beneficence:
- Naturally of a benefic nature (Jupiter, Venus, and to a lesser extent the Moon and Sun).
- In Sect (if the Sun is above the horizon, i.e. a diurnal chart, then the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn are in sect; if the chart is nocturnal, then the Moon, Venus, and Mars are in sect; Mercury is of the diurnal sect when rising before the Sun, or nocturnal if rising after the Sun).
- In a Good Place (in order from best to not as good, 1st, 11th, 5th, 10th, 9th, 7th, 4th).
- With Jupiter or Venus (in the same sign) or regarded by Jupiter or Venus from the right side (i.e. a benefic is in a sign sextile, square, or trine from behind the sign containing the planet under consideration).
I will consider the following major considerations to show maleficence:
- Naturally of a malefic nature (Saturn and Mars).
- Out of Sect (i.e. if diurnal, then Moon, Venus, Mars out of sect; if nocturnal, then Sun, Jupiter, Saturn out of sect; Mercury as determined by rule above).
- In a Bad Place (in order from worst, 6th, 12th, 8th).
- With Mars or Saturn (in the same sign) or regarded by Mars or Saturn from the right side, or by an opposition, or within 3* (i.e. scrutinizing).
The Rules of the Game: Recipes
Our initial hypotheses are as follows:
- Jupiter and the 9th are significant for religious matters, so if they are weak then religion/theism is likely to be weakened in the person’s life and if they are made malefic then religion/theism is likely to be seen as “bad” in the person’s life. For Jupiter, this is as illustrated above, but for the 9th, this means a planet made malefic in the 9th or to a lesser extent a malefic that regards the place by square or opposition), as well as the condition of the ruler of the 9th.
- Mercury and Saturn signify rationality and doubt/fear respectively, so the stronger they are, the more pervasive their effect in the life. The more malefic they are, the more they are geared to destruction, attack, and controversy, and the more malefic they make the things they are associated with.
I have some measure of respect for James Randi, as I don’t like con artists, especially new age ones, and he works to expose such people.
Randi was also kind enough to give astrologers his birth time (though many have met it with skepticism, giving it a C Rodden Rating on that basis alone, even though other first-hand reports from birth certificates would get an A rating). I’ll take his birth information at face value.
Randi’s Chart Analyzed in Brief
Jupiter has none of the major strength considerations, and in fact is extremely weak It is retreating and cadent (in the 12th place, Taurus).
While Jupiter is naturally benefic, that is its only signification of beneficence. It is in fact made malefic by being out of sect, in a bad place, and assembled with the malefic, Mars.
Notes on Jupiter
Our initial expectation from Jupiter is that expansive spirituality and positivism is weak in his life and associated with bad things. Jupiter is associated with aggression and victimization (Mars), as well as loss, betrayal, and deception (12th place).
Fairly strong and Saturnine
The 9th, Aquarius, is not occupied by any planets. Its ruler, Saturn, is Strongly Advancing in a stake of the chart, which makes the place more prominent in this person’s life. The 9th signifies religion but also the seeking of higher wisdom in general. When the 9th is strong, a person tends to be a truth seeker. When Saturnine, they tend away from spirituality due to a strong dose of doubt and fear associated with spirituality and religion. Their doubt or various obstructions may hold them back from achievement in higher ed. In any case, this shows more prominence for matters of belief in this person’s life than Jupiter did, and it is showing particularly that a strong doubt and obstruction of belief is prominent and pervasive in this person’s life.
Saturn rules the 9th place and Saturn is malefic as will be discussed in the Saturn analysis. Additionally, Mars is square to the 9th place from the 12th. In terms of religion and belief, this signifies a hatred, challenging tendencies, contrariness, and overly critical attitudes.
Notes on the 9th Place
The tendency in the life is towards destruction of 9th place matters and towards their association with bad or difficult things.
Saturn is Strongly Advancing. In fact, is within 3* of the Descendant, i.e. setting right when the person was born. Saturn is in the 7th place which is a “stake” of the Ascendant.
Overall, Saturn is malefic. This is because it is naturally malefic, and here it is also out of sect. Saturn is not extremely malefic though because it is in a good place and Venus trines it from the right side. Therefore, Saturn is somewhat mixed in terms of malefic/benefic tendencies. This brings both fortunate and difficult circumstances in the life, at different times and in relation to different matters. Saturn is also trined by Mercury, the ruler of the 1st place of the self, on the right-hand side. Therefore, Saturn integrates harmoniously into this person’s sense of self and personality.
Notes on Saturn
We expect doubt and/or fear to be a powerful and pervasive influence in this person’s life, integrated with the conception of self, and mixed in terms of pleasant and unpleasant associations.
Mercury is not very strong, nor very weak in the chart. Mercury is in phasis, but also retreating and cadent. We say Mercury is more weak than strong. However, it also rules the 1st place of the self, so while not pervasive in the person’s life, it still is prominent in terms of their sense of self, personality, and skill set. Additionally, there are many more minor strength considerations, such as being with the Sun, ruled by the Sun, trine the Moon, and with a very strong ruler.
Mercury is a neutral planet, but is here out of sect, assembled with Venus, and square by both Jupiter and Mars from the right side. It’s complex, with a broad range of expressions. Given that it is a strong reflector of the person’s own moral range, we see quite a broad range from good to bad intentions and everything in between. This is always with a showy trickster type of expression due to Mercury’s nature and the strong public emphasis of the Sun.
Notes on Mercury
In short, he’s Mercurial, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but he is not a genius when it comes to intellectual and verbal matters. In other words, Randi is a skeptic (Saturn), not a scientist or intellectual (Mercury) for profession, though he was a magician (dash of Mercury, Venus, and Sun; trickster, art, and publicity; in the house of communications, the 3rd).
James Randi’s chart illustrates how basic techniques in ancient astrology can shed considerable light on the nature of someone’s belief. In future posts, we will alternate between using these same factors to consistently analyze the charts of both the religious and the anti-religious.
Most people are more mixed in terms of their degrees of belief and doubt than we see with ardent religious figures and outspoken atheists. For such a mixed indication, timing techniques can be used to discover periods of greater belief and greater doubt. Please experiment with this methodology in your own chart and those of people you know. Let me know how it turns out in the comments.
Ma’shar, A., & Al-Qabisi. (2010). Introductions to Traditional Astrology. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.
Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf
Featured image by ensceptico (IMGP3954) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons