We’ve come a long way in this series of lessons. Lesson 0 introduced the study of astrology and why astrology’s history matters. From there, we dove into the symbolism of the planets in Lesson 1. After the discussion of the planets we looked at ways that planets gain relative prominence in Lesson 2 and Lesson 3.
Lesson 4 introduced the zodiac and some of the various ways its signs are used. From there we discussed planetary aspects in Lesson 5. This was followed by a discussion of how topics are assigned to signs, first by the order of the signs in Lesson 6 on the houses, and then by lots in Lesson 7.
At this point, we’ve covered the major factors of the chart. It is important that you have a good handle on that material before proceeding. Future lessons will focus on much more complicated analysis of chart symbolism, assuming an understanding of basic signification.
After exploring all of the major factors for chart interpretation, you may feel overwhelmed. The truth is that there are so many factors that one can often come to a number of contradictory conclusions by cherry-picking among them. You now should have the ability to look at any chart and at least cherry-pick some factors that reflect the observed reality. That is a good chart exercise and shows your familiarity with factors. However, that isn’t enough. You’ve learned the vocab but not how to put it together to say something significant.
The 8th Lesson
In this multi-part 8th lesson, I provide the secrets to bringing everything together. This will be an in-depth discussion of how to hone the art of reading the chart, also known as delineation. Chart delineation involves much more than just delineating individual factors and summing them up. There are perspectives, secret principles, and strategies that distinguish true delineation from the amateur practice of cherry-picking.
The 8th lesson will prove to be the most challenging of all the lessons on the site. This first part of the 8th lesson will also be the longest, the most intellectually demanding, and the most challenging to preconceptions. So strap in and hold tight.
Unfortunately, most astrologers never take their art to the next level. They find the art of consistent and principled delineation frustrating. It’s much easier to quickly cherry-pick some factors that appear relevant. Without delineation chart interpretation faces insurmountable obstacles. We are gobsmacked by a thousand stray factors reflecting a million possibilities.
It is not enough to just wing it and say what jumps out at you; unless, of course, you’re confident you’re channeling some higher intelligence. What’s superficially evident from a cursory glance at a chart is also often just superficially relevant to someone’s life. The art of delineation is the necessary key to moving past just winging it.
Things are even worse if we just uncritically pile on every new midpoint, asteroid, and other factor people find significant. Don’t get me wrong. Those factors can be meaningful. However, how can we structure hundreds of factors when we don’t even know how to structure dozens of them? Learn to read what the chart says first with traditional factors and techniques. The basic factors and techniques have been around for over a thousand years. Focusing on them will make things clearer and give you a foundation upon which to build.
There are plenty of astrologers who will tell you that you will need to channel a higher intelligence to get clear information from a chart. A highly developed intuition or psychic ability certainly can’t hurt. Structured delineation is not as exciting as that, but should work well even for the psychically-deficient.
Actually, I advocate principled delineation, even for the psychically gifted. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to better understand how the language of astrology works.
It is my experience that a handful of conceptual “hang-ups” keep even experienced astrologers from progress with delineation. The concepts in this lesson are not hard to grasp but will challenge your assumptions about astrology. These secrets of astrological delineation will probably push you out of your comfort zone. I believe they can get you past the most common hang-ups. If you’ve hit a plateau in your study of astrology, then this is for you.
Principled delineation is the “art” of astrology. Improving at it can keep you occupied with astrology for a lifetime. It is ill-understood and little attention is given to it. I hope that in the segments of this lesson you will find some means of entering into this next level of astrological growth.
The Problem at the Heart of a Astrology: Some Examples
Before we press on to the secrets, we need to understand the gravity of the problem. Let’s look at a few charts that illustrate the dilemma at the heart of astrology.
We’ve discussed how the first house and Ascendant pertain to the individual born and their character. Here are a couple perplexing charts of serial killers. Pretend you are reading the charts blind (i.e. without knowing whose charts they are). If you did not know they were serial killers, what chart factors would jump out at you?
Dahmer’s Venus, lord of the Ascendant, stands out. She is a benefic and in her own domicile, giving her some additional oomph. The Moon also stands out. She is the most strongly advancing planet and is in the 7th house of relationships. We might also note that the Sun is the sect light and is in the 9th house of God.
Perhaps we’d conclude that this is a very loving, artistic, and partnership-oriented person. After all, the Ascendant lord is a highly dignified Venus. Similarly, the Moon shows the powerful role of the personal and humane, such as a stress on family. It is in the partnership-oriented 7th house. Therefore, a relationship focus seems implied.
Oh, but maybe we should also point out that he is quite the student of higher learning or a world traveler. The Sun in the 9th puts a strong focus on its themes of wisdom and travel. Mercury and Gemini there make it more rational, critical, and full of movement. This would seem to be a rational seeker of great depth.
Issues with Dahmer’s Chart
Of course, these conclusion would be wrong. Dahmer was a poor student and not a world traveler. He was a rapist serial killer who would play with dead bodies and eat his victims.
By contrast, cherry-picking in hindsight, we might focus instead on Venus being out of sect in the 8th house of death, in the bound of Saturn. Also, we would see the irrational Moon forceful in Aries with violent Mars in the 7th house of partners afflicted by Saturn.
What is the correct way to read the chart? Is the chart just a set of “possibilities” that Dahmer could choose from in his life? In other words, are these possibilities (shown by the symbols) contextualized and determined by Dahmer’s choices? One set of choices yields a loving and religious traveler, and the other a raping cannibalistic serial killer. Or is there contextualization and determination within the chart itself, pertaining to principles for structuring the information in the chart?
It is similar with David Carpenter’s chart. We find Jupiter, a benefic, as lord of the Ascendant. It is with Venus and Mercury, neither of which are malefic. Jupiter is in the 7th house of the chart, focused on partnership.
Some would be quick to point out that the Ascendant lord is in detriment and give that fact a lot of emphasis. However, they would have to structure the delineation similarly with Dahmer. That means putting a positive emphasis on his Ascendant lord in domicile in Taurus.
In such a case a very positive indication should prevent it from going to negative extremes, should it not? If not, then why should detriment be so bad that it makes a benefic (Jupiter) with no malefic affliction, in the 7th house, with the sect benefic (Venus), say such bad things about the character in Carpenter’s chart?
Another person may look in hindsight at the chart and say, well Carpenter has Mars as lord of the day and hour. This will tend to make Mars the soul ruler, or lord of the chart. However, that holds only with a quadrant house division and a particular 12th century compound almuten technique where the day and hour ruler get significant points. With that particular approach then both Dahmer and Carpenter have malefics as chart lord.
Does Context Matter?
Ah-ha, then of course they are violent because violent Mars is the soul ruler. However, Mars in Carpenter’s chart is in the benefic 5th house and in domicile, while in the bound of the sect benefic. Is everyone with Mars as soul ruler by the convoluted point-based soul ruler technique a killer, or even violent? Does the particular position of Mars (i.e. context) in the chart matter?
If it matters then how could one get such a bad impression of Carpenter’s Mars. Yes, it’s squared by Saturn but also in domicile, in sect, and in the 5th; certainly far from a worst case scenario. If its condition doesn’t matter much then everyone with Mars as chart ruler would be expected to be violent. Bill Gates’s Mars is very strongly the lord of his chart by the same technique using quadrant houses. But for OJ Simpson and Hitler we get Venus. Bruce Lee is Venus and Dick Butkus is Jupiter.
A Moving Target
I can hear you reason, “yeah, well that makes sense because Bill Gates is a competitive business leader and Hitler was actually quite artsy”. The issue of having a significator signify the personality one moment, the profession another, and someone’s legacy yet another, is problematic. A factor can signify a larger number of things, but this particular technique is for finding the dominant planet over the soul of the native. Presumably, it is supposed to reveal a great deal about the character and life path.
If you’re going to explain Carpenter’s homicidal behavior by his chart lord, then you need to explain why Bill Gates’s Mars in detriment ruled by a Venus in detriment and conjunct Saturn doesn’t imply such behavior. Also, why are the Sun and Mercury the two weakest planets for Gates by the technique? Certainly leadership, honors, achievement (Sun) as well as business, intellect, and technology (Mercury) have much to say about the life.
Notes on Almutem Figuris
I bring up the chart lord (almutem figuris or “winner of the figure”) technique to illustrate that astrologers often want easy solutions. Lord of the chart techniques varied considerably from astrologer to astrologer over two thousand years. However, some today suppose that a 12th century astrologer stumbled upon the secret formula to sum up the entire life path in one planet. This technique in turn relies upon using a specific house system and pointing techniques that are medieval.
Presumably, it took over a thousand years for astrologers to figure out the pointing and house cusps necessary to find the planet that characterizes the soul. And yet, the resulting technique yields a one size fits all approach. It is an even greater simplification than Sun sign astrology, and just as subject to willy-nilly interpretation.
Finding Someone’s Idea of Prominence or Finding the Soul Ruler?
Some make the assumption that the technique shows a planet that indexes the nature of your soul, holy guardian angel, or the like. That is quite a stretch. A better approach is to understand the context that gave rise to the chart lord technique. Astrologers were evaluating the factors that they thought were most important for making a planet prominent.
The technique considers quadrant angularity, rulership of important points with weighted pointing, and day and hour lordship. Those were prominence factors emphasized in the late Middle Ages. The technique is a shortcut for evaluating them.
We’ve already seen that planetary prominence involved some other considerations in Hellenistic astrology. The technique overlooks many of those things. I would say that the technique often leads to incorrect conclusions about the most important planets for matters like character and career.
One problem with this kind of shortcut pertains to the ambiguity of what were are considering. In the early lessons we talked about prominent planets and how their natural significations can be pervasive. However, here we see the additional assumption that a prominent planet is very dear to the character as well. The planet is influential in the life, sure, but in what spheres of life? More important yet would be to consider planets particularly prominent specifically in relation to the career or the character.
The other, more important flaw is that the technique doesn’t cover general prominence well because it is missing many of the most important factors for assessing that. For instance, I’ve noted how Mercury is very prominent in Steve Jobs’s chart, particularly for career, as it is stationing direct and is in phasis, as well as the ruler of the 10th, conjunct the twelfth-part of the MC, and more. However, Mercury is not prominent at all by the chart lord technique.
Cherry-Picking Versus Over-Simplifying
I mentioned hang-ups and we have seen two main culprits: cherry-picking and over-simplifying. These affect both traditional and modern astrologers. They are opposites in some ways but also both distract from the hard work of delineation. Of course, they can also be used together, as an almuten (point-based winner) can become just another one of the many factors to cherry-pick from.
Keep these two poles in mind in this article. We will explore in some detail why oversimplification is insufficient for delineation. The cherry-picker is actually a step ahead of the over-simplifier here. The cherry-picker finds factors that appear to match reality. The issue is that they do not do so in a consistent way. It is the approach of the earnest student with a beginner’s mindset still eager to learn and to try to find answers. Cherry-picking can be used as a stepping-stool.
By contrast, the over-simplifier accepts that a factor holds all the answers and then bends its interpretation to fit some aspect of reality. It is the approach of the “expert”. There is work going on behind the scenes that is causing the “soul” to emerge in some other sphere of life.
A good Sun sign astrologer could write an entire book, about the significance of your Sun sign in your life. Similarly, your character may not be Venusian at all, but Venus still makes sense to some traditional astrologer as your soul planet. Maybe your work involves Venusian matters. This is the traditional equivalent of the Sagittarius who doesn’t act like a Sagittarius but does love horses.
The problem is that when a factor is supposed to fundamentally refer to the character, it should be reflected in the character. If it instead is reflected in a hobby, job, parent, relationship, etc. then one should question the basic assumption that it is fundamentally about the character.
A factor can take on myriad meanings pertaining to myriad areas of life, according to context, both in the natal chart and across time. However, over-simplification involves seeing the factor as referring to something quite specific but hidden, such as the ego or the Holy Guardian Angel. When the factor’s significations crop up in other spheres of life, not directly related to the ego, character, or life path, then this is taken as indirect evidence of its activity in the ego or soul.
A Modern and Traditional Roadblock
Over-simplification is one of the greatest obstacles to delineation. One already assumes that they know what a factor signifies. This closes one off from the context right in front of one’s face. This approach of over-simplification in all cases looks for the sphere of life where a factor is evident. However, instead of considering that the factor is symbolizing in that sphere, it assumes the factor is symbolizing in another sphere, such as in the psychology, and is only “coming out” in this other area. This is usually due to a belief that the factor indexes an occult or hidden cause, as we will see.
It is a problem in both traditional and modern astrology. For instance, a Hellenistic character almuten of Venus may be seen as accurate for someone whose work strongly pertains to human sexuality, even if their personality is cold and saturnine. Again, the character almuten should be about character, not the content of one’s work.
Similarly, some traditional astrologers will depend on just one time lord technique. The assumption is that one technique directly indexes events in the life providing the whole story. As we’ll see context depends on the ability to use multiple techniques in systematic conjunction.
Notes on Confirmation Bias, Testability, and Extremes
As we’ve seen one can approach the two serial killer charts in a number of ways yielding very conflicting delineations. Which is the correct approach? Is astrology just about confirmation bias? No, as we’ll see.
Principled delineation tells you how to put the pieces of the chart together. In this way it is amenable to criticism and improvement. Certain ways of structuring the interpretation correspond with observed reality, while others do not.
In principled delineation all charts become connected. Extreme charts, especially of opposite extremes become the most useful ones for testing delineation. One should always look to apply a consistent approach to charts said to indicate opposite extremes. This keeps us from applying different rules to each chart.
Avoidance of Extremes
Many astrologers avoid extreme charts. They act as if they are not actually the charts of real people or don’t have much to say about astrology. I’ve even heard astrologers say that it is better to test with horary charts than natal charts. Nevermind, the fact that horary charts are faith-based, traditionally thought to be dependent on prayer and the sincerity of the request. Horary was used as last resort in traditional astrology considered much less reliable than natal astrology.
The same astrologers avoiding extreme charts say things like “only if this affliction is unmitigated would we expect a worst-case-scenario”. How do you know what a worst case scenario looks like if you don’t look at one?
Quickly Disproving Assumptions about Best and Worst Case Scenarios
You’ll find that often times what an astrologer considers to be the worst case scenario astrologically shows up without any issues. By contrast, the thoroughly mitigated OK situation shows up with a true real-world worst case, such as David Carpenter.
Embrace extreme charts, both positive and negative extremes. You will find that many of your assumptions about good configurations, bad configurations, and really bad configurations will be challenged. Look for answers and you will begin to see some of the secrets.
A final quick example that’s not from a serial killer. Steven Spielberg is one of the most successful and wealthy film directors of all time. However, he has Saturn in the 2nd house. Saturn symbolizes restriction and loss. The 2nd house signifies money. What is going on here? Are critics correct to point out that astrology makes no sense in light of this fact?
This chart and the others above justifiably raise some eye brows. What is missing in each case is an understanding of structured delineation. The dangers of cursory cherry-picking are clear. These charts are difficult and complex, but so are all charts, as is life itself. The over-simplifications of factors as modern psycho-social modules and traditional chart winners do no adequately address the issue.
We need to know how to read the complex language of the chart. Doing so we can really appreciate the significance of astrological symbolism and its ability to reflect the complexity of life.
Secrets for Organizing Chaos
At this point you should understand the grave seriousness of astrology’s greatest obstacle. How do we make sense of this complex and contradictory mass of signs in a consistent and structured manner? In this multi-part lesson, I will be presenting a number of secrets for doing just that.
Now, let’s start at the heart of the dilemma, the nature of astrological signs themselves. In the remainder of this lesson we will be zeroing in on what astrological signs are and how they signify. Please try to adopt a beginner’s mindset. Let go of what you think you know about how astrology works.
Secret 1: Factors as Language-Like Signs
The most radical thing that you can do to improve your ability to read the chart involves a shift in the way you view astrological factors.
I’m quite tolerant of different philosophical outlooks on astrology. Great strides have been made by individuals with widely varying philosophical perspectives. However, when it comes to the art of delineation, certain preconceived notions throw up barriers to progress. Therefore, the time has come to tackle the significance of astrological factors head-on.
Clarity on Signs
Many of the secrets of delineation depend upon a clear understanding of the nature of astrological symbolism. I think you will find my perspective on astrological symbols to be unusual. Many couch astrology within one or more philosophical, psychological, and/or spiritual systems. Factors and configurations springboard one out of the chart and into those systems for explanations.
Stripping Away the Superfluous
My approach is to deal with astrological symbolism in accord with the nature of astrology and symbolism. In other words, to strip away as much non-essential opinion as possible. We will consider evidence from ancient astrological practice and activation of charts through time to better understand the nature of astrology. Evidence from other systems using similar types of symbolic signs will provide insight into the nature of that symbolism.
This approach is liberating, flexible, insightful, and fertile. Liberating because astrological progress is not dependent on adopting a particular spiritual or psychological worldview. Flexible because astrology works with innumerable worldviews. Insightful because many secrets of delineation follow naturally from the nature of astrological symbolism. Fertile because it allows astrology to grow, improve, and adapt over time and space.
The broad objective of this lesson is a much better understanding of signs in the general sense. How do factors convey meaning? This understanding will enable us to see different approaches to astrology more clearly. You will be able to work your way through the common questions that come up about astrological meaning. This includes questions from skeptics.
The Foundation of Delineation
The more narrow objective of this lesson is to provide a foundation for better delineation. A view of astrological factor meaning is presented which puts the focus on the astrology. It allows for critical comparison between circumstances and indications. Indications are not cherry-picked symbol meanings but heavily reinforced and contextualized communications. Knowledge regarding symbolic meaning aids in understanding symbolic interaction and possibility.
We will start with an in depth look at signs. what they are, and what are their main types. The causal view, an alternative to signs, is also considered. The focus will be on the differences between symbols and indices, and how that difference pertains to astrological history and delineation. A focus on the weaknesses of the index view of astrological factors will give way to a closer look at the nature of symbols.
First, we will consider different broad types of signs. By understanding the different types of signs we can get to the heart of what different astrologers see in a chart.
From there we will consider the pros and cons of different views of signs from the standpoint of the astrological system. Here we will look at what manner of signs are optimal for astrological delineation.
Having chosen a view of signs on pragmatic grounds we will then look at potential objections to such a view. This includes a look at the role of gods in traditional astrology and the way terminology influences traditional astrological practice.
The Power of Symbols
After addressing the potential objections we’ll move on to consider some broader implications. How are symbols structured and how do they work? What implications does this have for astrological delineation?
Examples and Wrap-Up
Finally, we will briefly look at some charts, namely that of Steven Spielberg. The purpose of the analysis will be to highlight how different approaches to signs yield different interpretations. In doing so I will hint at a few of the secrets that will be addressed in greater depth in other parts of this lesson.
I think you’ll come away with a better understanding of astrological symbolism old and new. This information is as relevant to the traditional astrologer as to a modern asteroid astrologer.
Signs, Causes, and Sign-Causes?
The power of astrology has been variously attributed to causes and signs. A causal view has the planets actually causing events through some physical means. For instance, some unknown force or emission from the planets changes the physical circumstances on earth. By contrast, the sign view has the planets (and other factors) indicating, but not causing, circumstances.
A More Complicated Situation
Unfortunately, the dichotomy is not so simple. I will argue that the currently dominant astrological perspective is that signs themselves map to causes (i.e. factors index causes). In such a view the planets don’t directly cause events on earth but still directly correspond to significant causes of such events.
In such a view, astrological factors are intimately bound up with causes, without necessarily being them. The causes in such a case tend to be supernatural and/or psycho-social in nature. Astrological factors fundamentally indicate what such causes are up to.
This view in which astrological signs “index” causes is dominant in modern times. It is also held by many traditionalist astrologers. Unfortunately, it comes with some significant baggage, as we’ll see.
Even among those who don’t adopt a strong index view of factors, the influence of the index view is felt. For instance, there may be issues with seeing factors as having a fixed reference. There is also “typing” of people and circumstances based on a simple factor combinations, and a desire to schematically reduce meanings. These show influence from the index view and schema-based technical terminology.
By drawing out and clarifying a number of distinctions, you’ll see how the lens of the astrologer’s mindset shapes what they can and cannot see in the chart. This knowledge will go a long way in setting us up to approach the chart in a way that is pragmatically optimal. Recognizing a few key distinctions will go a long way in helping us to avoid common hang-ups. Ultimately, our goal is a clearer understanding of how to structure chart symbolism.
What are signs?
Signs communicate meaning without being that meaning. For instance, a drawing of a dog, or the word “dog”, can both signify the meaning of a dog. Neither is an actual dog. There is the sign and the thing indicated, but the sign is not the thing indicated. The word “dog” is a sign for a dog. A drawing of a dog also signifies a dog, due to a type of resemblance, but is not a dog, despite that resemblance.
Three Types of Signs
Signs can have meaning in many ways. We’ve seen two so far. We are going to consider a three-fold categorization of signs from semiotics (the study of signs).
Unfortunately, the technical terms used, “symbols”, “icons”, and “indices” are rather common terms. They have somewhat different meanings in common speech than in the context of sign study. Therefore, be mindful of my explanation of the distinctions between these three ways that signs signify.
The three broad types pertain to the extent to which the sign (the stimulus or signal) is intrinsically linked to what it signifies (its meaning). How is the meaning associated with the form of the sign?
Symbols and Icons
First, we’ve seen that there can be an arbitrary cultural convention. Words tend to be the prime examples of this. By contrast a sign can resemble what it signifies enough that it conveys the meaning in obvious way. Images of things are the best examples of that.
The word “dog” is an arbitrary sign. This arbitrary type of sign, based on a conventional association, is called a symbol.
Because symbols are arbitrary, the same symbol can mean very different things to different groups of people. For instance, in English, ’nay’ means “no” when asking for a group’s opinion, but in Korean ’nay’ (’네’) means “yes”. Therefore, the same symbol can mean quite opposite things in different cultures and languages.
Similarly, different symbols can mean the same thing to different groups of people. An example is ‘sí’ for yes in Spanish and ’nay’ (’네’) in Korean.
The second type of signs takes on its meaning due to a form of resemblance. Recall a drawing of a dog. This type of sign with some natural resemblance to the thing indicated is called an icon.
Unlike the word “dog”, a crude drawing of a dog can potentially convey the meaning across cultures and languages. This is because its meaning is not just from conventional use but actually evokes some salient features of a dog.
An icon as a type of sign is broader than just the visual sense though. In the narrow sense an icon needs to not be arbitrary and resemble what is signifies sufficiently to indicate it by its form.
Is the capital letter ‘A’ an icon for an ox? It was at one time. The letter A derives from a Semitic (Phoenician) glyph meant as a drawing of an ox’s head with the meaning of ‘ox’. That in turn may have been derived from an even more iconic symbol for an ox, an Egyptian hieroglyph.
Similarly, while Chinese characters rarely resemble the things they represent, many descend from more iconic predecessors. This movement from greater to lesser iconicity is typical of writing systems over time.
From Icon to Symbol
These examples are icons which became increasingly more abstract. In time they became symbols. The key distinction is when the meaning no longer becomes obvious based on the iconicity of the sign. The glyph does not acquire its ability to symbolize a mountain from its resemblance to a mountain anymore. Now it symbolizes a mountain primarily on the basis of conventional learned association with a mountain among the users of the symbol.
Many symbols are like this, having an original “rationale” based in iconicity that becomes more tenuous with time. Therefore, some symbols don’t have fully “arbitrary” meanings but rather ones with iconic rationale. This iconicity may be just tenuous or may have eroded over time.
As we’ll see, symbols are much more powerful for communication. This type of eroded or tenuous iconicity provides a rationale for conventional symbols. In a sense, it allows them to function as symbols with all the communicative power that entails, while giving them a privileged status.
Some signs are more iconic than others. Spoken language provides some of the best examples of symbols – extremely arbitrary pairings of signs to what they signify. If it were otherwise, then learning a new language would be quite simple. We’d already have a pretty good idea how a word for any given thing should sound.
Iconicity in Language
Still, while language is primarily symbolic, there are some types of sound symbolism quite common across languages due to its iconicity. For instance, the use of high vowels (think ‘eee’) for small things and low vowels (think ‘uh’) for big things. For more see the article, Iconicity as a General Property of Language.
In conclusion, a sign can exist on a continuum between a fully arbitrary symbol and a representative icon (drawing). When the iconicity is rather obvious and overt we can consider a sign to be an icon. A more tenuous or subtle iconicity (requiring an explanation) pertains to a symbol that is semi-iconic (iconic rationale or origin).
Iconic Rationale vs. Icon Itself
As noted, the key is whether the meaning would be pretty obvious to someone who has not learned the conventional association of the sign. Therefore, there is a key difference between a symbol with iconic rationale motivating its meaning (a semi-iconic symbol) and an actual icon.
An icon’s meaning is rather obvious based on resemblance. A semi-iconic symbol must be explained and learned. Consider which would better characterize astrological factors? Seeing Mars in the night sky, does its image immediately bring to mind war, fires, anger, and rashness? Can you tell someone to just find the star that looks violent and that will be Mars?
On the other extreme from arbitrary symbols are signs based on an actual causal or physical link with what they refer to. For example, you hear a dog bark coming from inside a house. This is a sign there is a dog inside. An even better example is the ability for smoke to indicate fire. This type of sign is called an index.
An index “tracks” or “maps to” the thing indicated. For instance, dog tracks themselves are an index of the dog’s travel. A satellite map indexes the important features of a location. Think also about a stock index which provides a number directly tracking the movement of the stock market. Similarly, your thermostat reading is a number that is not hot or cold itself but indexes (tracks) the temperature inside your house.
The key feature of the index is its intimacy with what it signifies. The index gets its meaning from that which it is contiguous with or causally related to. For instance, smoke is contiguous with fire and caused by it. The thermostat reading is caused by the temperature. To some astrologers, the planets are intrinsically linked to (contiguous with) aspects of the universal soul, or to the disposition of gods.
Keep in mind these three ways that signs signify. Understanding the differences between these sign types is crucial to understanding different types of astrology. Confusion between these sign types will lead to confusion when delineating.
Being clear on how specific astrologers and critics of astrology conceptualize signs is vital. It is needed in order to clarify astrological history and evaluate criticism.
Astrological Factors as Signs
Astrological factors are at the bare minimum a category of celestial signs indicating information about circumstances. Similarly, at a bare minimum the signs are symbols, with conventional meanings. These meanings speak of circumstances in the real world.
It is clear that iconicity was a strong consideration in the assignment of meaning to astrological factors. It is not that the meaning of factors is plainly obvious, as with a clear icon which doesn’t require one to learn the convention. However, the pairing of an astrological symbol to its meaning tends to be motivated by at least some subtle iconicity. Therefore, for now, assume astrological factors are semi-iconic symbols.
Names and Links
These semi-iconic symbols derive the bulk of their meaning from long-standing cultural convention. For instance, the name Mars for the planet brings a number of associations consistent with its traditional characterization.
There is also often a resemblance, sometimes tenuous, between the sign and the phenomena indicated. This iconic relation is what we say is the “rationale” behind factors. For instance, the red color of the planet Mars is a resemblance to anger, blood, and the like. These things associate with the god Ares (and later Mars) of mythology and the planet’s meanings in astrology.
Semi-Iconic Symbols in Astrology
It is similar with other planets and astrological factors. For instance, the distance and slowness of the planet Saturn has a tenuous resemblance to its indication of old age. Another example is the midheaven (high point) of the chart and the Sun (powerful) in their indications of leadership and recognition. These factor meanings were not selected arbitrarily, but due to their iconicity.
Discovery vs. Iconic Rationale
There are those in the astrological community who assume that astrological meanings were discovered over hundreds of years of testing. For instance, that the meaning of Mars (or Ares to the Greeks) was not derived at all from associations with the god Mars (or Ares) of mythology. Some even postulate that the mythological characterizations were shaped by the observed astrological effects of the planets. In such a view, the planetary meanings (and other factor meanings) in Hellenistic astrology were “discovered” through careful analysis of their effects.
Overlooking the Role of Iconicity
This view is erroneous and misleading. The gods that the planets became associated with had strong cultural associations well before the advent of Hellenistic astrology. Many meanings assigned to planets also clearly relate to the gods they became associated with. Furthermore those god associations were clearly motivated by some degree of iconicity, as noted above.
While iconicity didn’t fully determine the meaning, it did make an association with certain gods more well-motivated than with others. For this reason, many (but not all) conventional associations of the astrological planets follow from their names, which in turn show iconic rationale. This is an instance of iconic rationale motivating conventionalized association. It also argues against an assumed gradual empirical discovery of astrological effects.
The Compelling Rationale of Iconicity
Astrological signs can be given meanings arbitrarily, but are more compelling when there’s some iconicity. For instance, an astronomer can name an asteroid, “Linux”, without any thought given to its nature. This would be a truly arbitrary symbol for things associated with Linux.
We would probably be more content with the associations of an asteroid like “Phaethon” which has a rationale. Phaethon’s naming is semi-iconic as it makes the closest pass to the Sun of any named asteroid.
Constellations are similarly semi-iconic. They were used by some Hellenistic astrologers to signify things associated with their names and mythos. Some constellations were named after mythological characters while for others the names and shapes came first and the associations later.
The assigning of meaning to constellations is, to a great extent, arbitrary. Different cultures have had different constellations, seeing different things in the stars. However, constellations are also semi-iconic because the supposed image bears some resemblance, often tenuous, to its significations.
Hellenistic Semi-Iconic Constellations
To illustrate how the iconicity of a factor motivates its conventionalized meaning, let’s consider an early Hellenistic analysis of an event chart. In Greek Horoscopes (1959) by Neugebauer and Van Hoesen there are a number of early Hellenistic “katarche” (beginning) analyses pertaining to inquiries about journeys. They have been translated into English in that work. In such excerpts we can see Hellenistic astrologers making liberal use of the iconicity of constellations for interpretation.
Asclepius Indicates Medical Implements
“And because Virgo was a winged sign […] I said they were bringing some feathered things with them. […] Having noted that Asclepius was rising with the moon […] I said that they were bringing medical implements with them.” (Neugebauer & Van Hoesen, p. 145)
Asclepius here is the constellation Ophiuchus. That constellation is said to depict a man holding a snake. Asclepius was a demi-god of medicine who held a snake. The constellation of Ophiuchus was readily associated with Asclepius due to the man with a snake iconography. Through its association with Asclepius it astrologically signifies medical implements.
A Tradition of Assigning Associations
Greek works associating stars and constellations to characters and objects of mythology extend well past the 4th century BCE. The most famous of such works is Phenomena by Aratus (3rd century BCE). Please refer to Greek Horoscopes (noted above), the Astronomicon of Marcus Manilius, and the Phenomena (link below) for more examples of semi-iconic use of constellations.
Before looking at the interesting question of whether astrological factors map to supernatural causes, let’s look at causes themselves. Sometimes people posit a purely causal view of astrological factors. By this, I mean a view in which the planets themselves somehow emit a force, vibration, special light energy, quanta, or something else. Such a view is probably in the minority but has been very influential in both ancient and modern times.
This is typically the approach of astrology reformers as it is difficult to reconcile with the way astrological charts are read. There is simply no way to adapt the wide variety of astrology’s traditional symbolism to a purely causal approach.
Causal Accounts vs. Causal Possibilities
A serious causal account, rather than just some explanatory footnote about a possibility, must show how a factor causes what it signifies. For example, it much show that a planet can actually cause some chain of effects to occur leading to the specific circumstances read by the astrologer in the chart. This chain of effects must be able to influence some quality of a person’s character or important circumstances due to being born at a certain point in time.
What we see more often from astrologers invoking causality is the notion of a possibility for causality. In other words, they see some way that the physical laws of the universe do not prohibit astrology. Whether due to a feature of quantum physics or to the nature of musical harmony, they see that there may be a possible way of explaining astrology causally. Typically, they do not know the exact mechanisms behind astrological effects though.
A Truncated Language
In the causal view each astrological factor, even very abstract ones like a lot, must be able to cause physical changes in the world. Naturally, most factors like these are simply assumed to be meaningless by those adopting a causal view. They are unable to cause anything.
Similarly, in modern times such approaches tend to focus on the Sun through tropical signs of the zodiac, the lunar cycles, or the influences of the planets on solar phenomena. Those are factors based solidly in physical reality and with some measurable influence on life on earth.
Work on stellar causation is interesting and important. However, predicting sunspot spikes or average birth weights is not really astrology per se. This is the main weakness of the purely causal approach: you must abandon the bulk of the symbolic power, and actual content, of the language of astrology.
There is often a direct relationship between how seriously one takes the purely causal view and how basic one’s natal astrology is. In such a view, one should not take on complex natal configurations and factors lightly without having a good scientific rationale for doing so. If one does then it is fair for a scientist to call that person out for disguising reading signs (divination) as doing science.
The cleansing of all that is “just symbolic” is a causal requirement. When astrologers make a sharp distinction between factors that “can cause things” and those which are “just symbolic”, you can be sure you are dealing with a causal view.
Aesthetic Preference for Scientific Language
Sometimes astrologers confuse using scientific-sounding factors with doing more scientific astrology. For instance, I’ve met quite a few astrologers that claim their astrology is more scientific because it dispenses with signs, lots, houses, and other such factors.
An astrology based only on close planetary aspects, midpoints, and other geometric configurations using established solar system planets is seen by them to be a priori more scientific. An example would be seeing all systems other than Cosmobiology as unscientific. Some may even see geocentric astrology as less scientific – after all, the solar system is heliocentric.
Technical-Seeming Symbols with Conventionalized Meanings
These systems that attempt to appeal to science are still no less sophisticated in terms of their causal explanation than traditional systems. The astrologers have not established how the planets and their geometric relations can cause the things symbolically indicated by such configurations in the natal chart. These astrologers are still essentially reading signs.
Symbols Dressed as Causes
They may read signs against a compendium of what such signs indicate. Those indications may follow from some degree of iconicity of the factors involved and the configurations. Still, the semi-iconic signs indicate as semi-iconic signs do, rather than causally through some explicated and demonstrated mechanism.
Aesthetics Not Science
It is not causality that makes these systems seem more scientific. It is rather the assumption that the only valid signs are those that are heavily mathematical, logical, formulaic, and scientific-sounding.
This is an aesthetic preference for vocab that makes one sound more scientifically and technically educated. It has little to do with true scientific or causal concerns.
I love many scientific-sounding astrological systems and techniques, especially those of Uranian astrology. I myself also have a soft spot for astrology employing the latest technical discoveries from astronomy (could be about my natal Venus-Startek conjunction). Still, there is nothing about these systems that makes them more scientific than traditional astrology.
Ptolemy and Causes
Ptolemy’s Aristotelian approach to astrology got closest to the purely causal view in Hellenistic astrology. He viewed the planets and signs as productive of the different elemental qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry). Through these qualities the planets could influence the quality of the world. Things born at a certain time would then be influenced by the qualities present at the time of birth.
Ptolemy’s Symbol Cleanse
Ptolemy dispensed with many purely symbolic factors. He rarely assigned topics to signs by their order (i.e. houses). He also used only one lot (Fortune). However, many aspects of Ptolemy’s astrology remained symbolic without explanation; his use of the Lot of Fortune, profections, and primary directions for example.
We are fortunate that he didn’t take the physicalist theory too far or his astrology would’ve suffered even more. Ptolemy’s causal views of astrology were in a sense an explanatory afterthought. He attempted to cleanse his astrology of many of the more obviously symbolic factors. However, the causal view was not applied systematically to derive the delineations. Rather, conventional symbolic associations still ran the show.
Ptolemy Presented Physical Possibility Not Physical Account
In other words, Ptolemy actually read signs in his astrological work while positing that many of them may be working as physical causes based on the physics of his day. In doing so he made astrology palatable to intellectual skeptics of divination.
When it came time to read the chart, Ptolemy was not constantly translating between astrology and physics. He posited some physics behind astrology, stripped out some elements that sounded the most unscientific, and then proceeded to do sign-based astrology.
Leave Physics to the Physicists
Ptolemy actually failed to provide an adequate account of how astrological factors cause changes on earth. Additionally, modern scientific knowledge has shown such a causal approach to be inconsistent with the known laws of the universe. This underscores a major weakness of causal views of astrology: they must be consistent with current scientific models of the universe.
Given the advanced state of modern science, it has become much more difficult for one to credibly assert that physical causation underlies the astrology of birth charts. At this point, an appeal to physics and causation is more likely to invite ridicule from skeptics than a sense of plausibility.
Purely causal views of astrology are thus the type of views that are often the focus of critics of astrology. Ironically, the attempt to ground astrology in physics actually draws the most critical attention to astrology from scientists. After all, we should leave the physics to the physicists.
Ptolemy without Causes
This is not to say that one cannot adapt Ptolemy’s Aristotelian views to an astrology of signs. In fact, many other astrologers before and after also associated planets with elemental qualities. However, they didn’t need the planets to be the physical causes of those qualities.
Elemental qualities can be a part of the conventionalized network of related meanings a factor can signify. Mars signifies extremely hot and dry things as the fires of villages in time of war are hot and dry. Symbolic signs (think words) are flexible enough to have their meanings stretched into new domains (more on this below).
Conclusions Regarding Causal Views
In conclusion, scientific investigation of stellar causes is important and rewarding but is not astrology. It also does not adequately support astrological claims. Appeals to causation are typically designed to draw support for astrology. In actuality, they draw strong and justified criticism of astrology. They foster public confusion and misconceptions regarding the nature of both science and astrology.
From Ptolemy to Cosmobiology, scientific-minded astrologers often prefer scientific-sounding terminology. They posit possibilities and explanatory afterthoughts grounded in the science of the day. However, scientific-sounding astrology and appeals to causation obscure the practice of reading signs, often in a misleading or disingenuous way. Most importantly for the astrologer, they throw the baby (the rich language of astrology) out with the bathwater (the apparently unscientific practice of reading signs).
The Index: A Major Force in Astrology
So far the viewpoints have been pretty clear. There are signs, as in divination, and there are causes, approached by means of science. However, my experience is that the dominant perspective in modern astrology is not captured by either viewpoint. Actually, the dichotomy between signs and causes is too simplistic. It fails to account for a particular type of sign that is intimately linked with a cause. Unfortunately, these muddier waters are at the heart of modern astrology, and have some ancient roots.
An index is a sometimes confusing name for a sign that is connected with what it indicates by way of a causal or contiguous link to it. I mentioned how the stock index and the thermostat both directly reflect the state of something while simultaneously not being that thing.
You’ve probably heard people say, “what does it mean if your Pluto is in Scorpio?” or “how do Geminis and Leos get along?”. These statements reflect a view in which specific factors always indicate regarding some specific aspect or module of the character and psyche. The chart is akin to a collection of thermostats for characterizing psycho-social faculties.
As Above, So Below
A reflection in a mirror is a type of index. In that sense, we get to the heart of one of the most influential astrological aphorisms, “as above, so below”.
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes is estimated to be a 6th-8th century CE Arabic work. It encapsulates a view in which the movements of the heavens are directly reflective of earthly events.
“That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing” (Emerald Tablet of Hermes, Isaac Newton trans.)
Not Necessarily an Index
“As above, so below” doesn’t necessarily imply astrological factors are indices. It is perfectly understandable in the context of the heavens always providing signs regarding what is happening on earth symbolically. However, the strength of the wording of the Emerald Tablet is taken by many to hint at an intrinsic correspondence. It is as if every movement of every celestial body has a corresponding set of movements on earth.
The God Index
Very early on, we find the idea of an astrological factor as a natural extension of a supernatural cause. Probably the most ancient form of this takes the planets as being extensions of gods themselves. In depictions of Babylonian astrology, the planetary movements are sometimes said to have represented the activity of their corresponding gods. In that sense, the planets appear to be like indices of the gods.
What Kind of Extension?
Let’s be clear, to be a god index, a planet is not just a cogent symbol of a god. There must be the further assertion that the planet directly reflects the state of the god. It is an actual index on the god’s activity and circumstance. By the god’s activity and circumstance, reflected by its stellar extension (the planet), one makes predictions about what will happen. The quality of something born or begun reflects the disposition of the gods at that time.
We’ll return to this topic later in this article. At that time we’ll see that the Babylonian situation is more complicated. There is actually substantial evidence that the “planets as gods” notion pertains more to the role of icons in ancient religion than to a god index.
Gods of the Psyche: Psycho-Social Indices
19th and early 20th century psychology saw a resurgent interest in the activities of the gods. However, they were revisited as representations of psychological and social faculties/agencies. This view reached its ultimate astrological codification in the psychological and theosophical astrologers of 19th and 20th centuries.
Psychological astrologers, many of which were trained psychologists, splintered from the mainstream psychology of the time. They focused squarely on the soul, largely following the work of Carl G. Jung. For instance, James Hillman, a notable figure in archetypal psychology, promoted a polytheistic psychology, in which gods instantiate archetypes. These archetypes are the fantasies driving human desires, actions, and understanding.
Mapping the Mind
More generally, many astrologers also began to map the planets to forces underlying specific domains. For some there were “personal planets” that pertained to psychological domains and “transpersonal” which corresponded to social ones. To other astrologers all factors were essentially psychological factors. To some psychological realities could manifest themselves in exterior events under certain circumstances.
Characterizing the Anatomical Features of the Soul
This view is still pervasive in modern astrology where the Ascendant may be characterized as your personality mask, the Sun as your ego, Mercury as your communicative function, Mars as your drive, and so forth. Each is then characterized by the zodiacal sign they fall in, aspects, and so forth.
Each of these factors can be said to “map to” a specific psycho-social faculty, By understanding the characterization of this faculty in the chart and its tense or easy relation with other such faculties, one could theoretically grasp the major dynamics within a person’s mind and/or soul. “Character is destiny” as the saying goes.
A Million Manifestations
As with causal views, there are actually innumerable specific approaches and views which fall under the index category. From psychological approaches to polytheistic ones. There are even mixed causal-index views in which some sort of planetary harmonic ratio physically maps the planets to supernatural causes such as Platonic forms which experiential reality is imperfectly striving to approximate.
Traditional astrologers may see the chart as an index for traditional gods. Alternatively, they may see factors as indexing Platonic forms. Or factors could index something totally different.
A Type of View Not a Specific School
It is impossible to delimit the million specific instances of the index view. The index view is a way of understanding factor meanings. It is not a particular school of astrology. I find it the strongest, clearest, and most pervasive in modern astrology, but modern astrology does not necessarily depend upon it.
I’ve met modern astrologers who view the chart with less of an index view. Still, I find that such astrologers are very few. Traditionalist astrologers run a wide gamut which we’ll touch upon. Among most modern practitioners of astrology, traditionalist and modern, I find that an index view has strongly shaped the way they view the chart.
In all index approaches, whether traditional or modern, the key element is the mapping. Astrological factors must map to underlying spiritual, psychological, supernatural, or unconscious causes. The key is that factors map to actual things or forces (referents) rather than to meanings in a linguistic sense. When that is the case then the astrologer is seeing the chart as consisting of indices.
Any meanings, as in semantic senses, are ancillary to the thing that the factor references. For example, one could suppose that Mars can mean war, but that this meaning comes indirectly. It may follow from the fact that Mars refers to the real psycho-social or spiritual force behind drive, anger, and competitiveness. This spiritual or psychological factor is what is seen to be fundamentally referenced. It is that hidden force which can “cause” war circumstantially.
A Sometimes Subtle Distinction
The key distinction is between sense and reference. In one case (index) Mars means “that” and is pointing to a specific occult operative. Its sense is intimately bound up with a specific referent, “that” (god, archetype, etc.). In the other case (semi-iconic sign) Mars has a cluster of related and evocative senses.
Sense and Reference
The word “pig” doesn’t reference any particular ‘pig’ and may not even be referring to the animal. You may say it means a specific species of animal, but when someone calls you a “pig”, the same word is used, but that is not what is meant. It is juxtaposing part of the sense of ‘pig’ against you.
By contrast, if someone says “that pig” and points at a specific animal, then the word is referential. We can continue talking about what “that pig” is doing and will be considering the story of “that pig” to be indexing the pig’s activity.
The sense is a meaning that must be contextualized to refer to something specific. The index always refers to a specific thing – any contextualization is about description of that specific thing. When a factor always refers to some specific anatomical features of the soul or character, then it is an index.
Determinism and Indexing
The index is a deterministic type of sign, but still often leaves enough ambiguity for the will to play a huge role. It is deterministic because the chart always accurately reflects a spiritual or occult (hidden) reality. That occult reality in turn modulates the nature of observed reality. If it did not accurately mirror an occult reality, then it wouldn’t be an index. Instead, it would be symbols that can speak of a multitude of things, including the gods.
Interestingly, because the god index reflects an occult reality, it is not necessarily contrary to free will. For instance, things may be determined by the will of the gods, but spiritual practices may allow one to appeal to them. It is similar with the many varieties of psychological astrology. Character is not really destiny – it just has some influence upon it.
The Appeal of the Index
The index view of astrological signs has immense appeal for a number of reasons. It is little wonder that it is the dominant astrological paradigm. Again, its pervasiveness extends well beyond modern astrology to traditional forms as well, from tracking the gods to measuring karma. What are the reasons for its appeal?
Understanding Deeper Reality
First, it raises the stature of astrology from reading signs in the sky to the nobler activity of tracking and understanding the root causes behind our reality. We see the deep changes taking place underneath the surface of superficial experience. Astrology becomes not a divination system devised by humans but an uncovering of a deeper reality. Astrologers have privileged access to the inner mechanics of the world soul.
Second, it simplifies the astrologer’s task. The astrologer can be more confident about what a factor means because it means something very specific. The key factors (planets) tend to be modified in a relatively additive fashion.
Your Moon is in Scorpio, well then that is itself fairly intense, having emotions so connected to the drive (Mars) or of the character of Pluto (transformation) or the disposition of the mother goddess in fall hanging over you; depending on your school of thought.
In any case, the astrologer has a good idea what the Moon refers to and how it will be affected by sign, aspects, and so forth. However, symbols are not so straightforward, as the Moon in a certain context in a chart may say very little about the emotions and quite a bit about appearance, as it has a sense, not a reference, and the sense is altered by context. When a factor can have different referents based on context, in the chart and through time, such as the mother one year and the emotions the next, this greatly complicates matters.
An Alternative to Empiricism
Third, it speaks to causes which are themselves immaterial and non-falsifiable. It’s hard to say something “wrong” in an index view. One can be more or less rational, conventional, traditional, or believable, but its more difficult to say for certain that one is wrong. If it works for you then it works.
You are referring to gods, unconscious realms, or spiritual realities. Who is anyone to tell you that Pluto’s transit over a natal Sun didn’t yield a transformation of the ego? Just because something is not apparent, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. After all, there are times when it was apparent. When factors index hidden causes then subjective utility, especially in a therapeutic or spiritual sense, rather than consistent correspondence with reality, is the bottom line criteria.
Many in the astrological community have grown weary of black-and-white empiricism. Tired of experts telling them how they are supposed to see reality, they find a more subjective and occult approach to the nature of reality refreshing.
Motivates Spiritual Wisdom
Fourth, it leaves room for alteration of destiny by way of free will, spiritual practice, higher consciousness, or deeper understanding. As factors index hidden causes, so can our will, mind, spiritual body, gems, or consciousness interact with or transmute those hidden causes. Astrology becomes a significant impetus for deepening our spiritual practice and/or the depth of our philosophical understanding.
Connection to History
Fifth, the index view appears to have arisen right out of the ancient past and its mysteries. The association of planets to gods happens as soon as the planets are discussed and by disparate cultures. As above, so below is a timeless wisdom reflecting interconnectedness and mirroring between macrocosmic and microcosmic realities.
This ancient wisdom is confirmed by scientists observing similar structures among atoms and solar systems, for instance. Whether one incorporates traditional forms of astrology or not, astrology connects one with very ancient beliefs, practices, and symbols, which most vividly appear to have been a sort of god index.
Finally, and most importantly, the index is very intuitive. We live in a solar system that operates on a much grander scale than ourselves. We are tiny and insignificant in relation to the massive dance of the planets and stars around us. The idea of the index situates our tiny concrete reality of our lives within the grand context. Our little bodies are at the whim of the grand material context of the cosmos. Similarly, our minds are seen to be at the whim of the grand mental and emotive context of the cosmic soul, the grand psyche.
Conclusion Regarding the Appeal of the Index
In conclusion, the index view seems to have everything an astrologer needs. A key to a deeper reality, a simple and clear logic of correspondence, subjective rather than objective verification, a reason to grow as a human being, and connection with a mysterious past and the grand design of the cosmos. Its emphasis is on the interconnectivity of all things.
Furthermore, it is relatively immune to the criticisms of the nonbeliever. The complaints of the non-believer betray narrow-mindedness and a lack of lived spiritual experience. There are also so many specific varieties of index views that if you are unhappy with one you can try another, whether traditional or modern.
Why Analyze Its Appeal?
I have clarified the immense appeal of the index view to highlight how easily and convincingly it arises. It is not the fault of one “innovator” or school of astrological thought. Rather, it is immediately intuitive and appealing to anybody in the modern world faced with the realization that there is something to astrology. If experience has shown you to astrology’s door and you find the causal view problematic, then chances are you will embrace the index view to some extent, consciously or not.
By contrast, the view which I advocate is much less intuitive and appealing. However, it is also much more powerful when it comes to delineation. Therefore, it is worth the effort to investigate it.
Problems with the Index View
The index view is quite appealing and for very good reasons. However, it comes with substantial baggage and holds astrology back. Before exploring the many and serious problems with the index view, let’s clarify that it is the index type of sign, not the use of astrology in any particular spiritual or psychological context that is the issue.
That Which is Indexed
The baggage is not due to a straightforward modern versus traditional dichotomy. Nor is it due to issues with certain religious or spiritual traditions, such as polytheism or western magickal practice. The problems are not with Jung or archetypes or the use of astrology in therapeutic contexts. No, not at all. None of these things require an index view.
Astrology Doesn’t Rest Upon Your Spiritual and Psychological Views
It may seem paradoxical that I love the works of Carl Jung yet I dislike Jungian astrology. I love Jung and I love astrology, so what’s not to like about Jungian astrology; the best of both worlds, right? However, the issue with the index view actually pertains to the mapping, not to the specific type of spiritual or psychological material that astrology maps to.
I have no doubt that various psychological, spiritual, and religious approaches to reality have immense value. Many have deepened my experience of life. However, the issue is not with what is mapped but with the mapping itself. Because of the pervasive appeal of the index view and ignorance regarding alternatives, astrological factors get mapped in ways which are problematic.
The most obvious and straightforward problems with the index view concern plausibility. By plausibility, I mean that it is highly unlikely that astrological factors would be indexing anything. The index view is implausible as it rests on too many un-testable assumptions, astrology is human-developed, and indications are not falsifiable.
Too Many Assumptions
I have noted that at the bare minimum astrology depends on the view that astrological factors provide meaningful signs regarding real earthly occurrences. For instance, natal astrology requires that configurations at one’s birth say something about the circumstances of the life. This is a big hypothesis in itself and defies current scientific understanding. Therefore, on the face of it, it is implausible. However, by studying charts against life circumstances we gather evidence that at least this hypothesis is true: birth charts do say something about the circumstances of life.
Somehow celestial configurations compose a network of signs which we can read in a systematic fashion and say, “yeah, that meaning is consistent with what happened”.
There is something to astrology, as I, and many of those with experience in astrology have confirmed repeatedly. See the many articles on this site for vivid and compelling evidence. Therefore, at least this situation must hold, whether it defies current scientific understanding or not.
However, the index view requires substantial additional assumptions. First, one must believe in those things which the astrological factors are said to index. This may be gods, your personal daemon, some sort of spiritual caste system (I’m referring to the traditional “rank of fame”), the organization of the unconscious, etc.
Using a sort of circular reasoning, astrology is often used as the evidence for such things and such things are used as evidence for the importance of astrology. In this way, astrology is used as a tool of various spiritual, psychological, and philosophical schools of thought. This tends to make the real significations of astrological factors a matter dependent upon one’s spiritual beliefs. All of those beliefs are additional assumptions tied to very specific worldviews.
Enter the Guru
Do you want to understand what astrological factors really signify? Then come over to my worldview, says the guru.
This problem appears insurmountable on the surface. When factors map to hidden realities, one requires experts in those hidden realities to understand what factors really signify. We’ll come back to this, but for now I want to highlight the additional assumptions this requires. One can’t just believe in astrology, but one must take on a belief system compatible with astrology which leads to an understanding of it.
An Unbreakable Chain
Aside from the additional beliefs, one assumes an intrinsic correspondence between the factor and that which it indexes. With the index view one is assuming an eternal unbreakable bond between the factor and some hidden agency that shapes reality.
Taken to an extreme the assumption is that history completely recurs with the same identical overall celestial configuration. A gentler but similar view sees the strongest force shaping the ego being colored by the same overall energy repeatedly for one month on an annual basis.
Believing in the Glue
In any case, with the index view we assume that a one-to-one correspondence between the celestial and the hidden causes of earthly circumstance. The bond is rigid. Indications occur in the hidden realm, whether they manifest in a certain way or not. Ambiguity is not due to the fuzzy nature of symbols and the way they are shaped by context, both in the sky and on the ground, but to the hidden nature of that which is indexed and its interaction with our will, karma, and/or consciousness.
This is a huge additional assumption. It is not just that the sky can provide meaningful signs but that it is in lock step with the psyche or the spiritual realm as we assume it is structured from our first set of assumptions from our belief system.
Causation as a Refuge from Index Mania
Of course, many astrologers adopting a causal view know that the index view is implausible for this reason. They feel uncomfortable with the notion of invisible ties that bind factors to elements of belief systems, whether spiritual or psychological. They take refuge in the possibility for physical causation. Physical causation while without substantiating evidence and neutering of the astrological language, appears more even-headed than supernatural causation with mapping to these astrologers.
This highlights a type of ideological divide in modern astrology. Some who find astrology to have some validity assume that they’ve overlooked the validity of any number of other implausible things. They may fling themselves headlong and uncritically into a very complex network of additional beliefs. Others finding some validity to astrology and less comfortable with piling on more beliefs, seek possibilities in physical causation. A symbolic view tends to be overlooked for reasons I’ll explore later.
A Human System
Aside from demanding belief in additional occult structures and a mapping between them and the planets or other factors, the index view runs into plausibility issues pertaining to its history. The index view sees astrology as an uncovering of the deeper divine clockworks of the agencies behind reality. However, astrology developed slowly out of disparate elements and traditions, and with considerable contradictory elements. How is one to distinguish the divine revelations from the innovations which may be more dubious such as those instituted by the con artist?
The astrology of the Babylonians and ancient Egyptians bears little resemblance to later Hellenistic astrology. This is despite the fact that Hellenistic astrology borrowed many elements, such as the classical planets and the signs of the zodiac with some of their divisions. Perso-Arabic and Indian astrology of the late medieval period both inherited the Hellenistic system, sprinkling it with their own indigenous arts, and innovated significantly.
While Vettius Valens in the 2nd century used the classical planets, signs, houses, and aspects, he did not use dignity scores, the concept of “detriment”, and many other later innovations used by the late medieval European astrologers. Renaissance astrology differed considerably from the astrology of the 7th and 8th centuries. Various modern forms of astrology from psychological to cosmobiology differ still more considerably.
Are all these developments of equal value? Do they all work equally well? How do we resolve contradictory interpretations between astrologers of even the same time period?
Astrology is a number of human created systems with considerable variation and disagreement among astrologers. Even though the tradition of horoscopic astrology, from ancient to modern, east and west, has shared roots in Hellenistic astrology, the differences between its “dialects” are substantial.
Was the development of astrology a series of divine but partial revelations? Maybe these started somewhere in Babylonia and ended with some final revelation about the structure of the psyche? Is there some piece of validity in all astrological systems in an index sense, with some factors corresponding to some elements of the spiritual reality and others not, like many blind men describing an elephant?
One Correct Set of Indices?
These are important questions because at the heart of an index view is the notion that there is one and only one true language of astrology. It is the one that perfectly corresponds to the spiritual reality. That one need not have been fully uncovered yet, but still a given astrological system can more or less better reflect the true reality.
Does the tropical zodiac reflect the true reality or does the sidereal? Perhaps the tropical reflects an earthly set of agencies behind the reality and the sidereal a cosmic one? These questions arise within the index view due to the mapping of factors to underlying reality. Can they be resolved by someone who is not well versed in the nature of the hidden reality?
Revelations, Errors, and Con Men
As astrology was developed by humans, some of whom read fortunes for a living, there is considerable motivation for the con. By this, I mean to create additional significations or interpretations afresh in order to explain a case where the astrology doesn’t appear to work.
The innovation of the concept of “detriment” in the 6th or 7th century may have been a revelation of some deeper reality. Or it could have been an attempt to make sense of a chart where a planet being afflicted due to being opposed to its domicile just seemed a more reasonable explanation. It also could have even arisen due to any number of errors, such as in translation, understanding, or an assumption that it represented the earlier tradition.
There is a similar dilemma that arises with many other innovations, such as dignity point scoring, almutem figuris techniques, and the familiar correspondence between the planets and aspects of the psyche.
The plausibility of all these further human developments as revelations of how the chart maps to the true underlying reality is very questionable. Variation could certainly arise from a blind man and the elephant situation. However, it is also often the result of errors and deliberate self-service or deception.
To distinguish truth from falsehood we can take many approaches. Some stick to their guns in terms of how astrology and a given belief system integrate. Others trust based on the character and reputation of specific astrologers. Some other seek original instantiation/revelation as more virgin and less corrupt. Many others seek subjective verification from their own chart and those they are close to.
These are all reasonable responses to the dilemmas posed by innovation and variety. However, there are obvious issues with all these approaches when we are dealing with hidden realms of reality.
The most important issue with the plausibility of the index view pertains to falsifiability. When the chart indexes hidden realities with such an interconnected and immutable binding, astrology is always right. We know what the Sun maps too, we know what a sign maps to, and so forth. Therefore, these forces and elements of underlying reality are merging with each other and colored by each other.
A Sun with Little to Say about the Ego?
Indexically, it wouldn’t make sense to say, “in this chart the Sun has a lot to say about the personality, but in this one says a lot about bosses and very little about the personality”. When the Sun corresponds to the most significant force of the psyche, it will shape the psyche. This must be the case whether it emerges in quite the way you expected or not.
In an index view, we can say what a factor indicates regarding the hidden underlying reality. Unfortunately, we cannot say that it indicates something about objective circumstances.
Expert Insight Needed to Peer Behind the Curtain
Mars in Libra may say something specific about the disposition of the god or something specific about the disposition of a person’s drive. However, it does not say anything specific about what will occur. It may indicate an underlying push or force which is edging things in a certain direction but nothing about what actually happens. Only spiritual experience or psychological wisdom can provide deeper insight into what will happen.
This renders astrological indications non-falsifiable under the index view. They say something specific which those privy to the proper spiritual or psychological training can only grasp in a deeper sense. They don’t say something specific about observable outcomes.
Possible Tendencies but No Requirement of Realization
In some circumstances, they may say something about tendencies. When the asserted indications are about hidden realities, observation and statistical testing can provide only slight evidence for or against given interpretations. Ultimately, indications are not subject to any falsifiability because they involve relatively inaccessible realms and/or occult forces.
These three issues of implausibility; too many additional assumptions, human innovation and variation, and non-falsifiability; compound each other. When there are so many assumptions involved then you want to avoid novel innovations and you have a need to strongly confirm correspondences. However, the many changes and developments to astrology that have occurred and the difficulty of falsification make this impossible.
These three factors impinge on each other causing astrologers to reason in circles. The compound result is a dogma in which far too much faith is placed in experts who are above critical inquiry. It is for this reason that one of the more obvious problems of the index view, in all its myriad forms, concerns plausibility.
Still, this is not a fatal flaw for many astrologers. Astrologers already believe in astrology despite its implausibility. Without knowledge of a viable alternative view, astrologers will accept the flaws of the index view. Causal explanations are not often seen as viable for the reasons I discussed. Is there any other alternative?
The Only Alternative?
Astrologers with an index view tend to see such a view as the only alternative to a causal one. It is not that they are unconcerned with implausibility. They may see astrology as signs, and not even know they are adopting an “index” view of signs. This is because the different possible types of signs are not themselves examined.
Even among traditional astrologers, where that which is indexed tends to be less strongly defined or understood, the impact of indexing is felt. For instance, a traditionalist may see the relationship of astrological signs to the underlying reality as akin to symptoms of a disease. Symptoms of a disease are caused by or bound up with intrinsic hidden causes, and thus are indices of the state of the illness. There is simply a lack of awareness about an alternative view of signs in which they are not indices at all.
System Issues with Indices
Plausibility issues appear to be par for the course in the minds of most astrologers. But these issues relate to much bigger problems which impair the function of astrological systems. These problems become quite apparent when we compare the index view with a view of signs as symbols (semi-iconic symbols).
Let’s look again at assumptions, human developments, and falsifiability, comparing index signs with symbolic ones. What implications does each view have for the functioning of the astrological system.
Astrology without Superfluous Assumptions
Is it possible to do astrology without a huge number of additional assumptions about gods, psychology, intrinsic correspondence, and the underlying nature of reality? And it is desirable for myriad reasons.
When astrological factors are symbols, we assume only that they can provide indications consistent with their conventionalized senses and the context in which they occur. Those indications pertain to actual life circumstances.
Multiple interpretations are possible due to context and the fuzzy nature of symbolic structure. Still, it is not the case that anything goes, as meanings are conventionalized and contextualized. Additionally, while multiple interpretations are possible, interpretative approaches can be evaluated relative to observation. Therefore, interpretations are not all of equal truth value.
The Essential Assumptions
A symbolic view does not require the claim that any factor has a fixed reference with respect to something in the world, apparent or occult. In other words, a semi-iconic symbol view of celestial signs stops after adopting the the necessary astrological hypotheses.
For instance, we observe that the birth chart has the ability to indicate circumstances. This indication is not simple but relates to symbolic meanings contextualized by techniques for chart delineation and activation through time.
What we have to assume is just the same; just the necessary assumption to save the experience. Astrological factors have symbolic meanings which are contextualized by other symbols and in time to provide indications about circumstances. In other words, we assume what experience has required us to
We need not additionally assume more than astrology requires. For instance, we need not believe in the validity of a particular religious, spiritual, psychological, or philosophical persuasion. Similarly, we need not believe that the astrological symbols map to anything hidden or supernatural or that astrology reveals the hidden structure underlying reality.
In this sense, a symbolic view represents a dropping of unnecessary additional assumptions. These additional assumptions are deemed to be superfluous to the core astrological hypothesis.
Focus on Astrology
Astrological symbols can have meanings, those meanings can be contextualized, and that contextualized meaning can provide indications. The stress is on consistent principles for combination, contextualization, and activation of symbolic meanings to yield indications which reflect circumstances.
The world existed long before astrology. Yet an index view sees astrology as uncovering the temporal patterns and structure behind reality. These patterns existed long before the discovery of astrology.
By contrast, the symbols view sees astrology as a unique and powerful system of divination. Astrology is an inspired human innovation that is unbelievable in its implications. Yet, it was created and developed by humans. As such all systems of astrology are imperfect, being subject to both progress and corruption.
All Systems are Not of Equal Value
The systems of astrology are all of equal value from an anthropological standpoint but not from an astrological one. The birth chart when viewed from a symbolic perspective is subject to a number of different interpretive principles and practices.
As different interpretations yield different symbolic indications, varying interpretations can be judged against observation. Interpretations that do not accord with observation betray imperfections in our understanding of how to interpret astrological charts. The knowledge of imperfection is not a weakness but a strength necessary for progress.
The source of the faulty interpretation may be systemic. A particular astrological system may itself have features which prevent it from symbolizing accurately. However, more often the issue is with one or another interpretive principle, innovation, or method. In the best case, its just an indication that a little more fine-tuning is needed.
No Perfect Astrology
I myself went from modern astrology, to Uranian astrology, to medieval astrology, and eventually to Hellenistic astrology. For me the progression wasn’t one in pursuit of the oldest horoscopic astrology but the one which was yielding good interpretations with the least tuning required. There is no perfect astrology that requires only faithful historic reconstruction.
The assumption that all systems and developments are taken to be “inspired” and of equal astrological value is naive. It assumes that ignorance, deception, and human error can play no role in the development and propagation of astrological doctrine. People misunderstand things, make errors, and sometimes intentionally deceive. When spiritual beliefs are involved people also often display a zeal for converting others – astrology may just be a tool for that conversion.
Under an index view where factors map to causes behind the scenes, distinguishing the bad ideas from the inspired ones is nearly impossible. That is a dangerous position to be in.
Possibility of More than One Correct Interpretation
More than one correct interpretation may be possible pertaining to different systems of symbolic astrology. For instance, one using a tropical zodiac and another using a sidereal one, may come to similar correct conclusions through different interpretive strategies. While the same symbol in these cases may have a different meaning, the way in which it combines with other symbols within its own system could yield an interpretation that also accords with observation.
It should be noted, however, that the “possibility” of multiple correct interpretations does not imply that multiple interpretations are all correct. An interpretation that does not accord with observation is flawed. It may require fine-tuning or discarding.
Evaluation is possible with a symbolic view but nearly impossible with an index one. In an index view the signs represent a modulation of a real occult cause. Therefore, indexically either both zodiacs modulate in different ways or one is a false index and the other a true one.
In a symbolic view, some systems may simply be too rigid to be able to accurately speak of reality. For instance, a system that tries to symbolize the main facets of one’s psyche rather rigidly in terms of the state of planets in signs, with the Sun and Moon bearing most of the burden for explaining personality variance, is overly restrictive. It attempts to fit reality into human-derived boxes that the astrologers say it must conform to.
Understanding that astrology is an inspired human system we can consider whether a system is sufficient to symbolize observed circumstances or insufficient. For instance, we can observe that people born during a given twelfth of the year do not all have the same core personality. Therefore, we should be hesitant about adopting an astrology in which the most powerful factor for symbolizing core personality is the Sun’s zodiacal sign.
Similarly, while historical and financial cycles can be seen to exist, they are not quite as neat or as tied to specific factors as we’d like. Therefore, we should be skeptical of astrological interpretations that would entail that the major facets of history keep repeating like clockwork. For instance, astrologers in the Middle Ages with such views unsuccessfully predicted the end of the world a number of times to the annoyance of everyone. Astrologers today with such views keep predicting financial meltdown each year until proven right (even a broken clock is right twice a day).
Index views and views in which factors have a reference which is too rigid (which I’ll explore later) oversimplify reality in such ways. If things were so simple than anyone could do astrology and its validity would be plain for all to see. In the symbolic view circumstantial reality doesn’t have to swing in time to its planetary indices. Rather, interpretations are compositional, pertaining to a combination of sense and context in the chart and through time.
Requirement: Rich Signs
A system needs a rich set of signs able to speak of a wide variety of phenomena. Rich systems have not only a big vocabulary, but also redundancy (multiple symbols that have similar meanings) and flexible senses (one symbol can mean multiple things in different contexts). In other words, they must have symbols that are a lot like the vocabulary of natural languages.
Systems like Hellenistic astrology and Uranian astrology are extremely symbol rich. For instance, Hellenistic astrology has multiple symbols which can mean similar things, such as a planet and its twelfth-part or a house and a lot. This richness is a necessary condition for a system that has any chance of speaking intelligibly about the complex and changing circumstances of human life.
Requirement: Conventionalized Signs
A system needs a set of signs that are conventionalized. As with natural language, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to speak a language that only you can understand.
In an index view, the meanings of factors are intrinsic and it is up to us to uncover them. Perhaps statistical analysis will uncover them, and perhaps the planets mean something very different from what we suppose they do. These are possibilities in the index view because the chart indexes a hidden reality and perhaps the hidden reality or the mapping is different than we supposed. In such a view, we can adopt the opinions of experts or find new methods of uncovering meanings, perhaps statistically or iconically.
By contrast, in a symbolic view astrological factors have conventionalized meanings. The fact that we don’t know exactly who conventionalized them is a plus. Similarly, natural languages arise out of the fog of history, not as the product of a clear nameable inventor.
Redefinition through Modernization
Much of modern astrology redefined factors somewhat away from their long-standing conventionalized meanings. The sign Aquarius no longer had meanings associated with fixity, stability, air, Saturn, and Mercury, but instead was primarily associated with the planet Uranus and its associations in modern astrology. Do these redefined new meanings for traditional conventionalized symbols have the same weight of signification as traditional conventional meanings in circulation for a couple thousand years?
This is a valid concern from a symbols view. Languages change; are the new dialects as symbolically robust as the older ones? Are their innovations equally inspired? Do we have a means of evaluating this or is it simply a matter of preference for specific time periods and their worldviews? One means is to consider whether the new meanings arose in the context of an insufficient system, such as one that is rigid and non-falsifiable.
For some, planetary meanings need an update based on iconicity, based on our current knowledge of them. For instance, we could propose that Venus symbolizes scorching heat and poisonous gas; features of the planet. Shouldn’t we revise the meaning of Venus to mean hot toxic wasteland rather than love, beauty, and such things?
No, there are already conventionalized meanings for astrological factors. Some degree of iconicity formed the rationale for the bulk of the conventionalized meanings. However, semi-iconic symbols are not the same as full-on icons. The meaning of Venus need not follow rigidly from its iconic properties any more than the meaning of ‘ham’ must mean a dog bark (’ham, ham’ is the sound a dog makes in Albanian).
Iconicity may have helped in the assigning of symbolic meanings that were inspired, but the meaning is not “determined” by iconicity. Astrological symbols operate much like other symbols, such as words in a language, having conventionalized meanings.
Falsifiability as a System Requirement
Falsifiability is the biggest system flaw with index views. I’ve already explored the many reasons for this in the previous sections. However, the symbolic view is not faced with the same issues of falsifiability.
As noted, for the symbolic view the truth value of any interpretation can be judged against its ability to systematically reflect observation. As the chart is a set of symbols which describe circumstances, rather than indices which map occult realities, one can judge how accurate various interpretations are.
This is the true power of the symbolic view. It makes evaluation possible, which makes it possible to find weaknesses and evaluate alternatives. In short, a symbolic view makes progress in delineation possible. This is a blessing and a curse.
The blessing is a road forward to an understanding of astrology that was hitherto impossible. Given the amount of chart data and ideas from astrology’s history available today, modern practitioners have an unbelievable advantage in their studies.
It is because of this blessing that I cannot advocate any other view of signs than a symbolic one. The ability to evaluate interpretations and innovations is an essential one for improving any system. Without it, delineation is just a matter of copying someone else and poking in the dark.
This ability to evaluate interpretations is also a curse. You will find that astrology is much less robust than you may have previously assumed. Doing astrological readings for others is already on less confident footing when you must do the hard work of interpreting chicken scratch written in a foreign hand instead of assuming you know the underlying patterning of reality. When you see how rudimentary and primitive delineation practices have been throughout the ages your confidence may sink to even greater lows.
The symbolic approach trades the difficulty of understanding the secret structure of the universe for the difficulty of understanding a very complex language. You can fake that you understand the secrets of the universe and who’s to know. Every flaw you make in this new language will glare discordantly against your observations.
Symbols are shaped by context in a complex, but not arbitrary, fashion. The various parts of this 8th Lesson will provide you with the necessary tools for progress. With dedication you may progress far beyond anything I myself am capable of.
Some Objections: Responses to Probing Questions
Now that I’ve made a pragmatic case for adopting a symbolic view, let’s consider a couple important issues that are raised by this view. I’ll do this by providing extended explorations of certain expected questions or objections.
Q1: Didn’t traditional astrologers view the planets as gods?
The planets were named for some important deities in the spiritual traditions of astrological societies, such as the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. However, the view that the planets “are” the gods is often an over-simplification. The matter is complicated due to the powerful role of icons in ancient spiritual traditions.
Whereas an index is intrinsically bound to what it signifies and the symbol lacks that binding, the icon sits in the middle where it lacks that binding also but still resembles what it signifies. In many spiritual traditions resemblance in itself bestows a power of connection. This power of icons was very apparent in Babylonian spirituality.
Icons in Ancient Religion
Icon and index become harder to distinguish when we consider Babylonian spirituality, and that of many ancient religions. For instance, statues of people and of gods were thought to have an intimate link to the person or god represented. One could not approach a god directly but through its statue in its temple.
In this way, the god was immaterial but needed the material counterpart in the statue to be petitioned. Similarly, statues of kings could preside over meetings in place of kings or look over relatives married in other lands, as a sort of additional incarnate representative. Therefore, a god, and even a person, could be, in a sense, in multiple places at once. This was through the power of iconicity, as something resembling a person held a part of that person’s identity.
“Art seems to have been somewhat magical to the Mesopotamian mind. A representation of a person or a god was called an image—which was salmu in Akkadian—and it took on some part of the thing it depicted, almost as though it had captured a bit of the person’s soul. In sculpting the rock or the clay into a human figure, the artist gave it a kind of life. A ritual called “opening of the mouth” completed this transformation.” (Podany, 2018, p. 79)
This power of iconicity immensely pervades religious thought. From polytheistic fashioning of icons to saints cards, voodoo dolls, magical correspondences, and the prohibition of certain images in certain religions. It is easy to confuse for an indexing view.
“Just as a statue of a god kept in the god’s temple was the god, a statue of a king or even a commoner was, in some way, part of that person. A statue of a man or woman set up in front of a statue of a god could pray to the god on the person’s behalf. We know this because of inscriptions on the statues. A statue of a king could act on the king’s behalf as well. Like a statue of a commoner, it could be set up in a temple to pray to the gods for the king’s well being” (Podany, 2018, p. 79)
More on Icons
When we speak of the planet as the god, it is not the case that the planet is the god itself in an exclusive sense. Rather the planet is iconic of a god (or even of multiple gods). Through its iconicity it has become a sign of the god.
In fact, in most magickal and religious traditions iconicity plays some role. A united reality may be viewed as splintered in the earthly realm. We see connections between aspects of the various parts by way of resemblance. Therefore, resemblance (iconicity) connects multiple things together and points to their origin in a purer realm. This is how an icon of a god, a set of astrological factors, and some material objects are used to commune with deeper underlying forces. Similarly, external visualization and prayer (iconic and symbolic communication) is used to communicate intent to higher forces.
When X is Not X
This is an important distinction, the one between index and icon. We are accustomed to thinking of a statement that X is Y as meaning that X and Y are essentially and completely the same. The planet is in fact the god. We are not accustomed to the view that X is a spiritual icon of the power of Y; sharing in its spirit, due to some resemblance. This latter view, more consistent with Babylonian religion, sees the planet as a god icon that shares in the spiritual essence of the god, without necessarily being the god.
The Treachery of Signs
I know it is counter-intuitive to say, “yes, they call planets by the names of gods but that doesn’t mean they think they are those gods”. Yet, we refer to signs of a thing as the thing all the time. Someone points to a photo and asks “who is that?”, and you respond, “my sister”. But that’s not your sister, it’s an image of your sister. Recall Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images” with its pipe that is not a pipe, because it’s just an image of one. The drawing is an icon that is spoken of as the thing it represents. Icons are spoken of as that which they represent.
As I said when I introduced signs, a “sign” is something that represents something without being that thing. But we commonly refer to the sign as if it is the thing represented. And this is not just for an index. It is actually most common with an icon, yet occurs even with symbols. Symbolic signs that are comprised of a single symbol are prone to this. For instance, “tell me about your Chinese tattoos?” – “OK, this one is ‘love’ and this one is ‘discipline’.
The point is that a sign “communicates” that which it represents. As noted its actual relationship to that which it represents can be one of three types, on a sort of continuum. This is why understanding the distinction between index, icon, and symbol is so important. The fact that something is a sign of something else does not automatically imply it is an index of that thing.
In a spiritual context, a sign can do more than just “communicate” what it represents. It also communicates to and from what it represents. Understanding this extended communion of signs is crucial to placing ancient signs in the proper context. From sacred words (which are symbolic) to sacred images (icons) and relics (indices), signs held the power to commune with that which they represented.
Icon in Ritual
Communion via iconicity may be an important consideration for those involved in ritual and religious astrology who wish to move beyond an indexical view of the planets. Various planets can be powerful signs of various gods and entities. As with the use of other suitable iconic elements in such spiritual practice, the planet as sign, and the timing of its configurations, can play an important part in practice.
The planet need no more essentially index a god than a statuette of a god. Therefore, in spiritual situations where iconicity itself confers a spiritual link, one should be wary of confusing the icon with an index.
Disconnection with Practice
To be a god index, a planet is not just a cogent symbol or even an icon of a god. It is not just a conduit for communion. An indexing planet tracks the state of the god. By the god’s activity and circumstance, reflected by its stellar extension (the planet), one makes predictions about what will happen. The quality of something born or begun directly reflects the disposition of the gods at that time (as opposed to just providing “testimony” about it and other things).
However, celestial configurations in Mesopotamian astrology were translated directly into interpretations. This was typically done without the intermediate step of being translated into the state of the god as an explanation of meaning. When this happens the god index becomes insufficient as an explanatory concept.
Limited Explanatory Power
The god index has early roots in the iconic link between planets and gods, but we’ve seen how that link does not necessarily imply indexation. Furthermore the index view has rather limited explanatory power even in the context of Babylonian astrology.
Babylonian omens tend not to be based on understanding the circumstances of the god in the hidden realms and then translating this into an interpretation. Rather they are simply interpreted as symbolic of certain things and circumstances. When this configuration holds in the sky, this sort of circumstance is indicated for events on earth.
The signs are primarily said to indicate for various circumstances on earth rather than circumstances of gods. This is not predicted by an index view which holds that the planets are the gods and the configurations are their circumstances. Such a view predicts that prognostications would primarily be about the disposition of the gods, and only in a derivative sense about earthly circumstance.
The Heavenly Writing
In Mesopotamian astrology there are stories about how the gods constructed the heavens in such a way to provide signs for humans (much like God in the Bible). The metaphor of astrology as heavenly writing is apparent in places and inspired the title of a book on Mesopotamian astrology by Francesca Rochberg.
The symbolic view is consistent with such a heavenly writing approach. The heavens provide signs in a symbolic form, much like a written language.
Mesopotamian royal behavior toward interpretations indicates a symbolic rather than an index view of signs. If a sign indicated that the king would die, then it was taken to indicate such in the sense that a king dying event must take place. One could call someone else the king, have them recognized briefly as such in front of the people, and kill them, thus saving the real king. This is because the observation then fulfilled the symbolism – one observed that the king died.
By contrast, if the heavens indexed an occult reality, such as the will of the gods to kill the current king, one could hardly entertain escaping such a fate with charades of semantics. No, the Babylonians tended to view the interpretation as fundamentally about semantics, i.e. about sense not reference. This is why merely semantic measures, such as symbolic substitution, were plausible as remediation.
The indications of the planets are even more symbolic in Hellenistic and later traditional astrology. The planets are named for the gods but indications are not couched in terms of the situation a god finds itself and its implications. Rather interpretations follow from the symbolism of the factors. It is in Hellenistic astrology in which we get a real stress on the network of meanings that each symbol represents; a true flowering of astrological “symbolism”.
God as Part of the Sense, Not the Referent
Consider the descriptions of the planets with which Valens opens his Anthology. The Sun is associated with “the ordinance of the gods” (Valens, Book I, #1, Riley trans., 2009, p. 1). If all the planets index the gods then it would seem strange that just one planet symbolizes godly authority.
More puzzling is why Valens and other Hellenistic astrologers stress such lists of associations rather than emphasizing that the planets are the gods and show their circumstances. It is because their view of astrology pertained to what the factors symbolize, not to what they index.
What Jupiter Governs
“Jupiter indicates childbearing, engendering, desire, loves, political ties, acquaintance, friendships with great men, prosperity, salaries, great gifts, an abundance of crops, justice, offices, officeholding, ranks, authority over temples, arbitrations, trusts, inheritance, brotherhood, fellowship, beneficence, the secure possession of goods, relief from troubles, release from bonds, freedom, deposits in trust, money, stewardships” (Valens, Book I, #1, Riley trans., 2009, p. 1)
One can see that many (but not all) of Jupiter’s associations have some relation to the Greek god Zeus. Still, the meaning of the planet is not “those things associated with Zeus” but a long list of fruitful and pleasant things. Those things that the planet “governs” or which are within its “domain” are the matters that by its sense it can refer to in the world.
Urania and Hermes
When considering the question of whether a more symbolic or indexical view is keeping with the spirit of ancient astrology we should also look to the representative muse and deity of astrology for the Greeks.
The muse of astrology was traditionally held to be Urania. As we’ll see, it is interesting that astrology has a muse at all. All of the other muses pertaining to storytelling arts: poetry, singing, and dancing.
The deity of astrology is Hermes. Hermes was the messenger of the gods, swiftly delivering their edicts. He was also the god of symbolic exchange in all its varieties, from business to teaching.
Urania: Muse of the Heavenly Writing
The muses of Greek mythology were nine in number. They were considered the inspirational source for a variety of poetic and storytelling arts.
It is worth considering what each pertains to. Calliope is the muse of epic poetry. Clio is the muse of history. Erato is the muse of love poetry. Euterpe is the muse of lyric poetry and music. Melpomene is the muse of tragedy. Polyhymnia is the muse of hymns. Terpsichore is the muse of dance. Thalia is the muse of comedy. All 8 of these muses pertain to arts that communicate symbolically and have the capacity to tell a story.
Urania, the muse of astrology, may appear to be the odd addition. Especially, when we call her the muse of astronomy, as people do nowadays (ignoring her key ability of reading the future). However, when we view astrology as the art of interpreting the symbolic signs of the heavens – the heavenly writing – then Urania is no longer an incongruous addition to the list. In this vein, also recall that the earliest large works on astrology, Marcus Manlius’s Astronomicon and Dorotheus’s Carmen Astrologicum were written in verse.
Hermes: Messenger of the Gods
The deity of astrology, Hermes, also betrays an emphasis on symbolism. Unlike Saturn, pertaining to the deep structure behind things, Jupiter, pertaining to the heights of experience, or the Sun, pertaining to truth and clarity, Mercury/Hermes pertains to messages, symbols, complication, and multiplicity.
Astrology presents us with a complicated mass of symbolic messages from our universe (an intelligence greater than our own), brimming with multiplicity, requiring analysis and interpretation. Mercury and Hermes are fitting deities for the astrological pursuit if it involves symbolic signs. Are they as appropriate if the chart is indexing a handful of occult forces that shape reality?
In traditional astrology one will undoubtedly run across the concept of “testimony”. The use of language in which factors provide “testimony” about things is particularly common in the Perso-Arabic period. When analyzing any topic, such as marriage, various factors may contribute testimony to the matter. In other words, various factors have different things to say which you should consider in delineating the matter.
Factors with testimony are those which have some symbolic tie to the matter under consideration. Rather than the matter being settled by the state of one factor, as might be expected under an index view, multiple factors are highlighted which may have some bearing on the interpretation. In this sense an indication becomes “compositional”; constructed from multiple individual and distinct signs.
Testimony and Winners
Testimony often pertains to ruling or aspecting a house or factor that pertains to the matter at hand. However, it can also mean “generally any way in which planets may make themselves relevant to the inquiry at hand” (Dykes, 2019, p. 794, 4th entry for definition of Testimony).
An example is in order. If a planet rules and aspects the 7th house, and rules and aspects Venus, and rules and aspects the Lot of Love, then it has a quite a bit of testimony regarding relationship matters. Similarly, Venus, the Lot of Love, and the 7th house all themselves provide testimony about relationships.
Sometimes point-based techniques were used to try to mechanically compare which planets have more testimony over certain matters. This is because for some astrologers the planet with the most testimony (the winner; almuten) was thought to determine the overall tone. An early form of this is the predominator of Ptolemy which we used in a past lesson. Sometimes such approaches overemphasize the planets influential over relevant factors while overlooking the relevant factors themselves (that other type of testimony).
Testimony and Symbolism
While I recommend a different approach than the typical dignity-driven winners (almutens), the concept of testimony is an important one in delineation. It is also one that suggests a symbolic rather than an indexing view of factors.
What a planet “has to say”, or its testimony, about specific matters is determined by context. One could also possibly view testimony in an index manner; as about an accumulation of influences/symptoms that reach a tipping point. However, the symbolic view is a better fit for the verbal metaphor of “testimony”. It is also a better fit for the symbolic manner in which the relationships, such as the different types of rulership, are read.
Tradition and Symbols
In conclusion, the symbolic view of the chart is not at odds with traditional astrology. Rather, it gets to the heart of traditional astrology.
While the god-index has ancient roots, the ancients appear to have taken it much less seriously and zealously than astrologers today. They also did not place the gods in the psyche. The planets figured powerfully in ancient spiritual practices, but in ways that may be expected given their iconic significance.
Gods as Part of the Meaning
God associations remain useful today. They are superior to key words, evoking a plethora of planetary associations.
Still, from Hellenistic times onward, many astrologers have found it helpful to elaborate upon and clarify the network of planetary significations. They did not simply identify the planetary associations as identical to those of the god. Therefore, consider the god to be a part of the network of the meaning of the astrological symbol. Avoid too strongly identifying the planet with the god, and you will avoid mistaking images of pipes for pipes.
Taking Symbolism Seriously
Traditional astrologers were of varying philosophical and spiritual persuasions, over about a 2,000 year period. They tended to put more stress on preserving astrological symbolism than on their own metaphysical predilections for factor meanings.
Reducing the chart symbols to indices, whether of gods, aspects of personality, or archetypal forces animating the soul, is a relatively modern phenomenon. The astrological symbols mean a full range of association. An index only means what it indexes; with all other meanings being nonessential derivatives of that.
Q2: With a rich set of symbols and multiple redundancies, can’t you just make it up as you go along?
I have noted that the symbolic language is rich with multiple symbols that have similar meanings. For instance, one has Mars and the twelfth-part of Mars, both of which can pertain to violence. Saturn, as it pertains to hardship, death, and so forth, may also pertain to violence. If Mars isn’t reflecting the situation, then I could conceivably look to the twelfth-part of Mars, or Saturn, or Saturn’s twelfth-part, etc.
With so many possibilities, aren’t we just cherry-picking symbols to match circumstances?
Symbolic Richness and Conflicting Indications
This is the objection behind the reluctance of most traditional astrologers to readily embrace twelfth-parts, antiscia, and lots, despite the very ancient origins of these factors. These factors create a redundancy that many astrologers are not comfortable with.
Some astrologers think that each factor should have a very specific meaning without too much overlap or ambiguity. Others simply don’t feel comfortable with factors that are more “derived” and indicate things already “taken care of” by other factors.
What to do we do when these factors indicate one things while the so-called “primary factors” indicate something else?
Only Slightly Varying Meaning
While a twelfth-part position carries some slightly different connotations, including being more individual (due to faster change of signs) and more covert (owing to being based on sign division), it also carries the planet’s connotations. It is similar with lots, which often have more narrow connotations, such as the Lot of the Mother as opposed to the 4th place of family, but still with considerable overlap. Therefore, factors with very similar senses could potentially indicate very different things.
Redundancy is Necessary in Astrology
As I’ve already noted, redundancy is essential in an astrological system. This is because most of the interesting and novel facets of life do not arise with the same regularity as planetary cycles. We want astrology to tell us things of interest about a situation, not just reflect predictable hum-drum regularity.
When Saturn is in fall in Aries for 2 1/2 years, it is not the case that astrologers can really say much about the overall prevailing circumstances during that 2 1/2 year span of time (despite the fact that they will). Terrorist attacks on or with transportation systems don’t wait for Mercury to be in fall, or even retrograde.
Signal from Noise
In a symbolic view a symbol has the potential to indicate something but it doesn’t become significant, meaningful, or specific unless it is significantly reinforced by the context. Unlike in an index view, Saturn in Aries does not indicate anything specific about the world. In some specific chart it might, or it might be backgrounded by other factors. In a symbolic view, redundancy, the repeating of similar themes, helps to separate out the signal from the noise.
Rule of Threes
Returning to the concept of testimony, there is the concept that many similar indications must occur for something to be significant. Chris Brennan captures this notion with two quotes in his book Hellenistic Astrology (2017, p. 516) which I re-quote here:
“It is a good idea to observe one sign after another, and if two agree it is more hopeful, while with a third you can be confident.” (Aratus, Phaenomena, 1142-1154, trans. Kidd, 2004, p. 157)
“In whatever is signified, this must chiefly be noted: if it has only one testimony, it is routine (vulgare); if two, it will be stronger; if three, complete[…]” (Abu ‘Ali al-Khayyat, On the Judgments of Nativities, 50, trans. Dykes, 2009, Persian Nativities, vol. 1, p. 331)
Cherry-Picking versus Delineation
While factor redundancy makes the cherry-picker’s job easier, it is also necessary for serious delineation. It is required to determine the trivial sign from the significant one.
We will be embarking on the difficult journey of progress in delineation. We cannot afford to neuter the language of astrology by discarding redundant factors. It is this very redundancy which makes the language rich enough for us to embark on this journey hopeful of getting somewhere.
Call for Delineation
As I noted in the introduction, the emphasis in this lesson is on moving beyond cherry-picking to principled and consistent delineation. Therefore, we should acknowledge the potential for self-deception with cherry-picking as one more indication that delineation is vital.
We will be deepening our understanding of signs and how their indications are shaped by context. The possibility for indications to be muted or emphasized, and consistent or varied, are key strengths of the system, not weaknesses. Redundancy and variation, even conflicting variation, is essential.
The discarding of lots, twelfth-parts, and aspects by antiscia (among other things) represent a serious loss for any astrologer. Doing astrology without these factors is akin to trying to read a page with over half the words missing.
The twelfth-part divisions are nearly as old as the regularized zodiac itself. They were an ubiquitous part of Babylonian, Hellenistic, and Perso-Arabic astrology. Some Hellenistic astrologers regarded them as the key to the secrets of the natal chart. My own experience has borne that out, and this is evident in the many articles on the twelfth-parts on this site.
Ancient Vital Symbols
Twelfth-part planetary positions move much more quickly than regular planetary ones, so they are more individual. As we’ll see in another part of this lesson, this greater individuality can translate to greater significance.
Lots were used from the earliest strata of Hellenistic astrology. Their somewhat irregular method of determination allows them to provide new connections between signs and topics.
Antiscia aspects were emphasized by Firmicus Maternus (4th century CE). They find their roots in even earlier relationships between signs. They provide additional connections between planetary indications.
There are many additional subtle divisions and rulerships that were prominent in traditional astrology and are worth exploring. These included the decans, rulers of individual degrees, planetary hour, day, and year rulers, and many more.
When redundancy is a key to separating out the signal from the noise, then it becomes a reason to explore even more conventionalized traditional symbols. One requires a better reason than redundancy or conflicting indications to discard them.
Greater Rather than Lesser Significance
Significantly, subtle factors tend to carry the additional sense of being secret or covert. For instance, the twelfth-part of the Ascendant was traditionally also used in determining intentions in consultation contexts.
Due to this sense of not being obvious and the sense of greater individuality through quicker motion, these factors tend to be more significant and individuating than primary ones. Often Urania is willing to tell you some juicier things in private than in public.
Q3: The chart is directly determined by the celestial state, so isn’t it necessarily an index of that state?
This question gets to the heart of the counter-intuitive nature of the symbolic view. Any astrological chart is an index of the celestial state at any given time. The celestial state is the macroscopic perspective of some specific time and place. If an astrological chart indexes the celestial state of a specific time, and the composition of its signs is determined by that state, then aren’t its signs an index of the celestial state? How can they not be?
The Chart Versus Its Symbols
The key distinction here is that the chart is a type of index of time, but that does not entail that factors in the chart index what they signify. In other words, the question is not whether the chart factors index something, but whether the astrological meaning of the factors is due to an indexical relationship with what they signify.
Does Jupiter indicate abundance because it tracks the disposition of a god that confers abundance? Does Jupiter indicate friendship because it tracks a psycho-social motivating force that tends to produce friendship?
These questions are independent of the question of whether the symbol of Jupiter in the chart indicates the position of the planet Jupiter in the celestial state from a given perspective, which is a meaning of the symbol based on indexation.
An Indexing Container Containing a Symbolic Message
A metaphor is appropriate here. When I tell a story, the talking act is a type of index of my state at that moment. For instance, the pitch of my voice, my intonation, my accent, the language I use, the ideas conveyed, and so forth, all tell you something about me the speaker. They follow from aspects of my physical, emotional, and mental state at the time. However, the sense of the words that I speak do not symbolize as indices of me nor do they index anything in the world.
I could tell a story about who would win in a battle between a gryphon and a unicorn. The word ‘unicorn’ does not index a real unicorn somewhere in the world. It is not the case that by saying ‘blue unicorn’ some unicorn turns blue.
Words in language do not index the concepts that they signify. The speech act may index the speaker to a degree, but they are using signs that convey meaning as something other than indices. Their meaning will come from their conventionalized sense. Therefore, there is an important distinction between the state of the speaker and what can be conveyed.
Time’s Sign Language
Similarly, the chart may index time but the signs of the chart need not signify as indices. The chart reflects the state of time, but the chart or state of time also forms symbols which convey messages.
Consider time to be like a patient whose thoughts are hard to discern from its state, but can speak to tell you about its thoughts. The astrological chart is its state. The way the factors of the chart symbolize and the way in which those symbols interrelate is what time says. Time describes circumstances through the changes of its state, much like a person using sign language, but its signs are not indices of their meanings, just as signs in sign language do not index what they mean. Rather the signs of time, like those of sign language, are semi-iconic symbols.
In conclusion, the chart is an index of the celestial state at a time and place. However, the astrological factors derived from the celestial state do not signify as a result of indexing real or spiritual forces. They signify in a symbolic manner. In this way, the astrological signs are not a collection of symptoms of time but a collection of messages from time.
The Muse of Time’s Poetry
The idea that time can speak is very counter-intuitive. It sees the astrological chart as a collection of songs or stories rather than as a set of symptomatic data. To the Greeks astrology had its own muse, Urania. As noted, the muses were primarily about music, song, dance, poetry, and other such arts with the potential to tell stories. Urania tells stories too, through the celestial state, the poetry of the heavens.
A symbolic view of astrology’s language is one that acknowledges that the signs at Urania’s disposal have the same expressive power as those used by the other muses.
Q4: The astrological chart is determined by the celestial state so can’t we determine what it will say about any time to come?
The astrological chart is an index of time, and as such its messages appear predetermined. It is determined by the celestial state. We can predict a good deal about the main features of the celestial state in the future. Doesn’t this entail that we know all that time has to say about circumstances on earth, symbolically or not?
No. There are physical, symbolic, and contextual obstacles that make exact determination of any future via astrology impossible.
First, there is the basic issue of whether we can predict the celestial state in the future. We can to a great extent, but there are always unpredictable and chaotic pieces to the celestial state. Comets, chaotic orbital dynamics, new discoveries, and other such things can introduce novelty into the physical celestial state and these may also have symbolic meaning.
Furthermore, the discovery of chaos, and that even a simple three-body system can produce chaotic behavior, has complicated our view as to what humans can determine about the future physical state of things. Scientists now recognize that chaos is pervasive in the solar system. In other words, even our predictions about the future physical state of the solar system rest on assumptions that can potentially be upset by even minor undetectable events.
Second, there is symbolic complexity and cypher issues. We don’t yet know exactly what time is saying in an astrological chart. We understand the conventionalized meanings of factors pretty well, but the composition is an issue. That’s where delineation comes in. However, astrological delineation is difficult and still immature. This is our point of focus as astrologers: to strive for more accurate and systematically consistent interpretations of signs. Getting a good grasp on the nature of signs (what we are doing here) is a fundamental first step. This is one area where we can make a lot of progress but only if we are willing to suspend our belief in the dogma of the indexing views.
Third, there is the matter of context. By context, I mean the circumstantial context, rather than the symbolic one. Imagine we are in the year 1800 and a set of key mundane astrological charts speak of some coming new transportation technology at the end of the century. With no experience of the car, how would we know that this is what the charts referred to? Similarly, do indications of a difficult first couple years of life in a chart mean the same thing in a time and place where most children die before age 10, as in one where only 2% do? To say that the chart speaks of real observed circumstances is not to say that the message is context independent.
The real world context of an astrological message may not occur until the time comes. It is like knowing what someone will say but not knowing what the context is in which they will say it. Part of the meaning of any symbolic message is dependent upon the context of the time and place. We have no reason to believe that it is not the same with astrology. In other words, there is not just the astrological context in the chart and through timing techniques, but also a “pragmatic” context pertaining to the audience receiving the message in the context of their time and place.
Some Notes on Fate and Free Will
For all these reasons, especially context, I have felt that astrologers put the cart before the horse in discussions of the extent to which all events are fated. Everyone has their own beliefs in regards to these things, but I feel that astrology does not strongly support a specific position. Obviously, astrology implies some predetermination to major events and themes in life; a degree of fate or destiny for each human being. But what astrology has to say about the extent of this is a matter of dispute.
Suppose that no untoward event perturbs the general celestial state, that we can flawlessly interpret Urania’s story, and the future is constrained in such a way that Urania’s story must ring true. That is a big set of suppositions and it still leaves quite a lot of wiggle room for the will. Let’s work on doing better astrology first, to get a better idea of what the chart is saying and can say. Astrologers need to be much better at predicting the future, even broadly, before they can assume they have proof that everything is fated, determined by the past, leaving no room for the timeless present or the voice of the individual to butt in.
Some Notes on Possible Contextual Divergence
A symbolic view can grapple with the fact that astrological indications don’t mean exactly the same thing in all circumstances. For instance, perhaps if identical twins are born at exactly the same time (very rare) in the same place by the same mother, they still have different life paths. It could be that they experience very similar life circumstances with very similar timing, suggesting the same chart against different life contexts. Alternatively, the chart may not speak of each life but of both together, such that one is shown by the Ascendant and the other by the Descendant.
I am just speculating, but such things are at least possible within a symbolic view because one chart is symbolizing two diverging halves of the same root moment. One set of messages is contextualized for multiple diverging circumstances. When this is the case there may be special means of contextualization, such as the chart flipping (Descendant as Ascendant) possibility noted.
Q5: You mention evaluation against observation but what about subjective observation?
I mean evaluating astrology against observation, including when it comes to the personal or the spiritual. In traditional astrology factors can refer to personal, intimate, psychological, spiritual, and private experiences. Some things referred to will be difficult or impossible to confirm through any objective means. For instance, there is a traditional technique for discovering information about one’s personal daemon or holy guardian angel. This is beyond any sort of objective evaluation. We can get a sense of the validity through subjective means.
Exoteric Versus Esoteric
Thankfully, traditional astrology refers to circumstances in general, with all their facets. For this reason, one can test a given approach of interpretation that speaks of more objective circumstances before using similar approaches for subjective ones.
Esoterically inclined practitioners want to move straight to the esoteric in astrology. I think it is vital that one should focus instead on the exoteric. The exoteric will allow you to much more readily evaluate the validity of how you are interpreting charts. If you do not do so then you fall into the same traps I’ve noted for the index approach – it works and says something important because you assume it does, with blind faith. In other words, even if you adopt a symbolic view of the chart, if you concentrate exclusively on the esoteric then I suggest that you may be doing so to disguise the fact that you are interpreting the chart in a faulty manner, rather than because you are so spiritual.
For instance, I am skeptical of the particular 12th century technique used for assessing the holy guardian angel. It is not because I don’t believe in holy guardian angels or think that astrological signs can never speak of occult things. No, it is because it rests upon using a mechanized winner technique that I have found to be of little use when dealing with things I can see. Why would I suppose that an approach to interpreting charts that is poor for dealing with readily apparent circumstances works well for occult ones?
Modern Psychological Astrology
Many have found modern psychological astrology to be valid based on their own experiences. Aren’t I discounting those subjective experiences?
Interestingly, I came to astrology myself through modern psychological astrology. I didn’t believe in astrology, but began asking people their Sun signs as a joke. I was shocked when I was able on some occasions to guess someone’s Sun sign I just met. That is when it occurred to me that there was definitely something to astrology. Things haven’t been the same since.
My story is not unique. Many astrologers have picked up on similarities in appearance, vibe, mannerism, personality, preferences, modus operandi, life themes, and other such things among people who share significant sign placements such as Sun, Moon, or Ascendant. I remember that sometimes I would guess people wrong for Sun sign but the sign would be the Ascendant or Moon, or the planetary ruler of the sign would be prominent in the chart. These experiences reinforce the belief in the doctrines of modern astrology. Similarly, we have those experiences where something an astrologer wrote about a configuration rang true about a person or relationship.
Themes and Types
The issue here is not with the subjective experience but with the conclusions drawn from it. When factors index aspects of someone’s psyche, their personality structure for instance, then predicting specific aspects of a personality from the chart should be easy. However, it is not. There are individuals with the same Sun, Moon, and Ascendant signs that have quite different personalities. This is because these factors, the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant are powerfully important symbols in the chart, but are not indices.
All Pisces will have something Pisces about their lives. For some, the Sun in Pisces may say something about their appearance but not their personality. For others maybe something about both. Yet for others still it may say little about either. Another will have very Piscean themes in their career or their hobbies.
From an index view one sees 144 different major types of Pisces Sun people, based on their Ascendant and Moon sign. When even the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant together don’t suffice to create astro twins in personality, then we suppose it is due to the way these energies are expressed. One expresses the Pisces Sun ego energy in work, another in their appearance, another in their character.
Types or Different Messages?
A different perspective is that this variation in terms of the outlet for the energy is actually a variation in what the symbols mean in the different charts. It is not that one is a Pisces Sun and that means something specific about the personality structure. Rather, it is that a Pisces Sun is a juxtaposition of a symbol pertaining to power, influence, ego, and leadership with one pertaining to fluctuation, water, Jupiter, Venus, etc. Maybe the Sun also connects with symbols that pertain to appearance, vibe, or mannerisms, but maybe not. That Pisces Sun may connect to a whole lot of important symbols pertaining to the individual and their character, or it may just pertain to themes in their work life.
The difference here is that we don’t first assume we know what the Pisces Sun means for the person’s personality, then modulate our assessment based on where the energy finds an outlet. Instead, we are trying to see what the symbol means and what other symbols it associates with, so we can assess the story being told. It is expected that if you understand pretty well what the Sun in Pisces signifies that you will find some area of life where those significations are evident (i.e. the Piscesness of the person). The idea is to find that in the astrological chart rather than in our assumptions about the structure of the person’s psyche and how astrology maps to it.
The reason why this first part of the delineation lesson is so long, involved, and focused on symbol vs. index should be clear. The index view is ingrained in astrology, especially assumptions in modern astrology. The fact that people can be so “typed” with their astro-twins speaks to these assumptions. I held this same beliefs at one point. The light of consciousness is filtered through the major colored lens of the Sun sign, Moon sign, and Rising sign to produce a specific prominent color, a specific type of personality. Its an appealing and intuitive view. It is also one that will lead you toward popular dogma and away from delineation.
Please suspend judgment about what symbols mean for the individual and their personality until you’ve contextualized them in the chart. An indexing sign is viewed like a symptom. It is seen to directly convey information about a person’s reality, such as about their personality. A symbolic sign is not a symptom. It carries a complex and multi-faceted sense which requires a context to become significant and to refer to things. Therefore, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, the Sun in Pisces means a lot, while simultaneously meaning nothing specific on its own for the person who has it in their chart. It will gain a meaning for their circumstances by its context in the chart, context through time, and context relative to the broader circumstances of their time and place.
Q6: You Present a Time that Speaks as Resting on Fewer Assumptions than a Time that Indexes a Greater Reality, but Isn’t that Assumption More Far-Fetched and Fantastical?
I noted that the index view is intuitive. It is easy to imagine that the macrocosmic physical state reflects the macrocosmic occult state of things, both macrocosms situating the microcosms of our experiences. As noted, such a view requires the additional assumptions about the nature of the underlying or occult reality, how or why the planets index its operative forces, and how that underlying reality proceeds to determine or influence circumstantial experience. However, despite all of these additional assumptions, it is still easier to accept the connection as feasible. This is primarily due to the simpler and more impersonal nature of things involved. Additionally, many of the spiritual, metaphysical, or psychological assumptions about the structure underlying things are things we may already accept due to our own preexisting beliefs.
The indexing views do not require the universe to be able to convey intelligible thought with symbols conventionalized by human beings. While just one assumption, isn’t this one assumption, that the universe can symbolically communicate, far more fantastical than the myriad ones involved with indexing views?
Fantastical but Necessary
The symbolic view is indeed much more fantastical. The implication that there can be symbolic communion between human beings and the universe is a radical one. Fully symbolic communication is really only associated with human beings (iconic communication is found in nature aside from humans though; such as in bee dances, etc.). However, symbolic communication is a part of the natural world, as human beings use it and are part of the natural world.
In other words, we see clear evidence for symbolic communication as a component of the myriad communication strategies in this universe. Still, the leap to seeing the universe as a whole, or God, or Urania, etc. as being able to convey messages in symbols is incredible and difficult to accept.
Necessary and Unnecessary Assumptions
Yet, as I noted, this one assumption is the only assumption necessary to save the basic astrological experience. When we experience that the chart says something about reality and that its messages are organized in a symbolic fashion, then the only assumption required is that astrological factors can speak of circumstances in a symbolic fashion. Therefore, this assumption is of a very different basic character than the ones associated with the index view.
One is a necessary assumption given the basic experiential evidence. The other assumptions are speculations as to the underlying structure of reality or the psyche and about the way in which this links to the planets. As noted, they tend to rely upon experts and belief, and to be held to be true even if outward appearances do not support them. This is the difference between a necessary but fantastical assumption one can readily verify with study and a relatively easy to accept dogma of superfluous assumptions nearly impossible to verify.
Observations and Models
If you observe that humans can communicate with each other symbolically, something that did not occur prior to humans, then that is fantastical. However, the evidence requires the assumption that it is possible, despite the seeming impossibility of it. In other words, it is the circumstance, and you should strive to make sure that your scientific model of the world allows for it. If you model doesn’t allow for it then it is deficient, not the assumption. Therefore, it is up to others to determine why or how astrological communication can exist in the universe.
Astrologers need only provide evidence that astrology can symbolically communicate information about circumstances. These are observations of astrology and the ability of the universe to symbolically communicate. Observations of one of the most fantastic and incredible facets of the human experience in this world.
Agnostic About the Rest
We need not know why or how astrology is part of the universe. Time, language, and symbolic communication are themselves relatively still ill-understood. We can hope that investigations into these things accelerate with broader acceptance of astrology, but ultimately it is unlikely that astrologers will come to fully and accurately model how or why astrology is part of the human experience. Therefore, astrologers can remain agnostic about the way in which astrology can fit into the current understanding of reality.
At this time astrology doesn’t fit into it. By focusing on a symbolic view and exoteric phenomena, as well as how symbolic interpretation works (delineation), we show the world clear as day that the universe is speaking in symbols. Whether the world remains in denial or strives toward a more accurate model of reality is a product of our skill and their willingness to examine the observations.
Q7: What about Archetypes? Aren’t Archetypal Views about Symbolic Signs?
This is a loaded question as archetypes can be understood in so many different ways. I will keep my response relatively brief. Basically, the sense of astrological factors tends to have an archetype-like structure, but I find archetypes to be a concept that is more confusing than helpful in delineation. This is because archetypes are also often taken to be entities of their own motivating and shaping human behavior behind the scenes. Often, chart factors are seen as indexing archetypes, which in turn has the same issues as the other index views.
Archetypes in General
The archetype can be a very confusing term as it means something different in psychological astrology than in other fields. Also, different astrologers and psychologists tend to have different understandings of the term.
Archetype as Schema of Commonality
Archetypes in a general sense can refer to recurring motifs or clusters of associations or themes. Though the origins of the word (Greek “archetypon”) lie in a sense synonymous with prototype, referring to an original form from which another set of forms was modeled. We will explore the similar concept of “prototype” in some depth later in this article. For now, let’s look at archetype in the general sense as sets of associations and motifs in common.
There are often many similar themes and characters in folklore and mythology around the world. From this we can hypothesize abstracted types that given myths or characters instantiate: archetypes. These archetypes have arisen in different ways. Some due to cultural diffusion and others due to similar human experiences and psychology.
Scholars of comparative mythology, such as Joseph Campbell, have written extensively about archetypes in myth. Archetypes help one to organize and understand the infinite variety and trend in myth and literature. This variety fleshes out a much more limited and ancient stock of characters, themes, and plot types.
Gods as Archetypes
Similarly, on a spiritual or religious level we might consider gods to themselves not actually be spiritual agents but icons created by humans to represent categories of agency, spiritual or otherwise. Due to differences in cultural context and experience there are innumerable gods in the world and across cultures. However, there are inevitably some common clusters of features or associations between many gods in different pantheons.
The shared features among gods may be due to the fact that the gods approximate similar experiences such as of spiritual agencies. Cultural diffusion and universal psychological tendencies certainly also play a role in in the overlapping character of gods across pantheons.
Archetypes as Psychological Forces
Carl Jung, and other psychologists following his work, have taken the role of psychological universals to be paramount when it comes to literary, mythological, and spiritual archetypes. I feel that the influence of human psychology in shaping much of the structural and thematic universals of human stories is clear and uncontroversial. However, archetypal psychology tends to go a step further, in positing that archetypes are psychological forces.
Jung seems to have attempted to distinguish the shared, inherited, and unconscious psychological drives and structures that give rise to archetypes from the archetypes themselves. However, in archetypal psychology the archetypes themselves are the fantasies driving human desires, actions, and understanding. In other words, archetypes become unconscious psychological forces in their own right. Gods instantiate archetypes, as if the forces driving the psyche are the molds of the gods.
A view in which archetypes are psychological forces reduces innumerable gods to creative instantiations of the more fundamental reality of the psychological archetype. Assuming an underlying psychological reality to specific archetypes themselves is questionable. While there is significant commonality, and shared human psychology plays a significant role in that commonality, other shared experiences and cultural diffusion also play a role in the commonality. Additionally, archetypal features may arise from much more basic shared psychological drives and desires than those presented by archetypes.
There is significant diversity in pantheons too which can be steamrolled in such a view. All religion and spirituality becomes in a sense subservient to psychology. Archetypes become the new main gods, while gods become minor versions. The new main gods dwell in the realm of the soul, and animate the soul. Human behavior is motivated by the soul and thus spiritual narratives are recast in terms of the major gods (archetypes) of the soul and the way they shape character and behavior.
Conclusions About Archetypes
Archetypes are useful as a connecting principle. Often astrological factor meanings, associations of gods, and themes in dreams and stories resemble each other. Spiritually, they are iconic of each other through their resemblance, communicating through and beyond each other. They evoke and relate to common human experiences, striving, psychological motivations, and experiential themes.
Labeling archetypes though results in a sort of reductionism that can mislead; implying that there is a thing called the archetype that is itself the underlying reality of the astrological factor’s sense, the god, etc. We will see that this is akin to a substitution of a technical term for a natural term; a confusion of necessary and sufficient features as being the core of a sense when instead resemblance to some salient features is the real key.
Keeping the Broad Sense of Factors
We want to keep the traditional broad senses of astrological factors rather than reducing them to archetypes or any other specific thing they can be said to index. We do this to protect the sense and to avoid the neutering that indexation brings.
Note on Esoteric Astrology and Story-Telling
This is not to say that astrological factors and configurations are not evocative of various mythological, religious, and storied themes which are instructive. Astrologers have long taken various configurations that are evocative of such themes and stories as opportunities to explore, celebrate, and/or meditate upon such things and their lessons.
One traditional “self-help” or “orienting” way in which the symbolic language was used was to prompt exploration of the stories and themes it evokes. For instance, we see this in the timing of festivals and ritual. This is a more esoteric use of astrology but one well-rooted in tradition and a formative part of cultural experience, individuation, maturation, and wisdom.
Exploring Symbolic Meaning Through Language
Now we turn to the nature of symbolic signs themselves. Astrological factors signify as symbols, similar to words in natural language. Studying how symbolic signs work, especially in language, will prove very valuable in our delineation efforts.
Addressing Criticism of Symbolic Vagueness
Another important reason to explore the nature of symbolic signs in language pertains to criticism of astrology. Many of the criticisms regarding how astrological meanings are too vague, duplicitous, context-dependent, and stretchable apply equally well to words in natural language.
Communication errors and misinterpretations are possible and relatively common with natural language, so we can expect the same with astrology. However, the imprecise facets of symbolic meaning do not prevent us from being able to communicate clearly about things much of the time. Furthermore, as we’ll see, the fuzzy nature of symbols pertains to essential strengths rather than weaknesses for communication.
The Center of Meaning
We have looked at the three main ways that signs relate to what they mean: by index, icon, or symbol. We have concluded that astrological signs should be viewed as semi-iconic symbols. Again, these are symbols which tend not to be fully arbitrary. They have some degree of iconicity as the “rationale” for their meaning. For instance, a fast moving and changeable planet that sticks closely to the Sun gets associated with the god Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Now let’s consider how such a symbol connects with a specific meaning. We’ll be drawing strongly on work with the meaning of symbols in natural language. We’ll find that resemblance to something salient or important focal thing is not just a principle linking icons with their meanings, but is central to the way in which a symbol can evoke a whole network of meanings.
Multiple Meanings from a Salient Core
In natural language, word meaning is rather loose and its organizing principles are a little bit different than you may assume. An astrologer can learn a lot about symbolic signification by studying cognitive linguistics. John Taylor’s book “Linguistic Categorization” is the work I most highly recommend in this regard. Taylor, following Wittgenstein, points out how natural language categories are anything but well-defined Aristotelian sets of necessary and sufficient conditions.
Let’s consider how it is that words can take on a multitude of related meanings without those meanings necessarily reducing to an abstract schema of necessary conditions.
To paraphrase Wittgenstein, “What makes a game, a game?” It is not some specific necessary condition, but a loose resemblance to other games, from soccer games, to games of chance, to word games, and the game of love.
“How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: ‘This and similar things are called “games”.” (Wittgenstein, 1978, p. 33)
Wittgenstein asserted that natural language categories organize themselves around “family resemblances”.
“I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than ‘family resemblances’; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way.–And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family….” (Wittgenstein, 1978, p. 31)
Acquisition by Resemblance
Keep Wittgenstein’s insight in mind as it reflects how people learn word meanings in acquisition. Children, for instance, learn the word “dog” for an animal they see. Often, they over apply the word to a wider range of creatures, such as “animals”, before recognizing that a certain greater degree of similarity is necessary for something to be a “dog”. Then upon seeing an atypical dog they may hesitate to call it a “dog” due to its lack of similarity.
Usage and Resemblance
Beyond being involved in the way we acquire and make sense of new words, resemblance also plays a part in how appropriate it is to use a term in common situations. For instance, if someone says they want “some fruit”, it is assumed that they want something resembling typical fruit, rather than an atypical member such as a tomato or olive.
Similarly, one would not say something like “there are a lot of pesky animals in this kitchen” to describe a group of fruit flies, despite the fact that it would be “technically” correct in terms of necessary conditions. Insects are animals, but atypical ones (despite the fact that they are probably the most common ones).
Technical Terms vs. Natural Terms
These instances illustrate that natural language meaning tends to be based on resemblance rather than technical defined criteria. Within certain fields of study, terms are used for their precise meanings and defined in terms of necessary conditions.
For modern technical terms, there is a need to strictly define such terms. Furthermore, they often need to be defined in terms of necessary conditions that are physically motivated and verifiable. Usage in those fields then needs to be restricted to those definitions.
However, technical terms are the exception that proves the rule about resemblance. Scientists need to strictly and vigilantly define and restrict their terms precisely because natural language meaning does not tend to work in this way. Resemblance involves both fuzzy boundaries that are not strictly denoted and salient typical features rather than necessary conditions.
Linguistic research in the 1970’s showed that many language categories, while ill-defined on the periphery, tend to have some members that are more central than others. Much of the important early research in this area concerned color terms.
Languages vary in terms of their number of color terms. Additionally, speakers tend to vary in terms of where they draw boundaries between colors. However, there is a remarkable consistency when it comes to choosing the central members of a color category.
“If people of different language backgrounds are shown a colour chart or an array of colour chips and are asked to trace the boundaries of the colour terms in their respective languages, one may get an impression of enormous cross-language variability (as well as of variability between speakers of the same language; even the same speaker might perform differently on different occasions). […] If, on the other hand, people are asked to select good examples of the basic colour terms in their language, cross-language (and within-language) variability largely disappears.” (Taylor, 2003, p. 8-9)
Prototype Theory and Centrality
Color categorization research gave way to prototype theory. In this view, there is a central set of characteristics which is characterized as being more salient in some way. For color this salience might pertain to an aspect of our sensory apparatus. For other concepts, like dogs, it might pertain to the most common type of dog we’ve encountered or the dog that had the greatest emotional impact on us.
Saliency can take many forms, from sensory acuteness, to repeat exposure, emotional impact, cultural ubiquity, or some combination of these. As Taylor notes, a more accurate model of word meaning now sees prototype-based organization as just one way in which symbolic meanings can be organized. Still, the idea of organization around resemblance to some salient core (a prototype organization) serves itself as the sort of prototypical means of organizing and extending sense.
Prototype vs. Schema
Let’s return to the concept of natural terms vs. technical terms, but understand it more succinctly as the difference between identification based on prototype vs. that based on schema. Taylor notes that a prototype is best conceived in terms of the mental representation of a category’s “center” based on saliency. Schemas will be more familiar to those who view meaning in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, such as with technical terms.
I provide linguist Ronald Langacker’s comparison of prototype and schema categorization:
“A prototype is a typical instance of a category, and other elements are assimilated to the category on the basis of their perceived resemblance to the prototype; there are degrees of membership based on degrees of similarity. A schema, by contrast, is an abstract characterization that is fully compatible with all the members of the category it defines (so membership is not a matter of degree); it is an integrated structure that embodies the commonality of its members, which are conceptions of greater specificity and detail that elaborate the schema in contrasting ways.” (Langacker, 1987, p. 371)
Complementary Rather than Opposed
As Taylor notes, the categorization by prototype and schema are actually complementary rather than simply opposed. In acquiring the meaning of a word we will likely use a prototype approach in which similarity is the key. At the same time, based on the similarity between different instances we may abstract a schema of the necessary features that all members possess.
Both the prototype and the schema may coexist within the mental representation of a given category. In fact, we’ve seen this with the “fruit” examples I gave. One may know well the schematic features necessary for something to be a fruit (seed-bearing structure of a flowing plant). Still, one may resort to prototype identification in most non-technical situations, and have a pretty good sense that a tomato is a more marginal member of the category.
Why is the Prototype Somehow More Fundamental to Symbolic Meaning?
For a number of reasons, prototypes are, well, the more prototypical type of categorization. Following Taylor, some of the reasons are that the schema has limited application (many meanings have no schema that can be abstracted), degree-of-membership (prototype-effects) tend to occur even with seemingly schematic categories, and categorization by prototype appears to be developmentally prior to categorization by schema (acquisition).
In other words, categorization using resemblance along the lines of the prototype is a central facet of symbolic meaning. By contrast, categorization by schema is the mark of education and advanced or technical knowledge.
An Aside About Propaganda and Errors in Reasoning
As something of an aside, I wanted to note that even technical terms exhibit what might be termed at type of “prototype effect”. Natural language terms evoke a wide range of meanings encompassing many spheres of experience. One of the more salient aspects of many word meanings is their emotional significance and personal value.
When we make important moral judgments in life we tend to reason regarding those concepts that align with and those that oppose our values. These concepts then get “loaded” with emotional content. Extension of such concepts and categories, both in terms of resemblance and by technical substitution of necessary conditions can lead to all sorts of problems of reasoning.
Prejudice and Resemblance
One of the more familiar reasoning road blocks involves the natural way we categorize by resemblance. Having encountered “musicians” who abuse drugs, are bad with money, and womanize, we will come assume these are traits of most musicians in general. Encountering only old rich white male leaders during our life, we may come to assume that being an old rich while male is an important leadership trait. Racism, sexism, and other such things are rather natural human responses to cultural indoctrination, limited experience, and experience colored by cultural indoctrination.
We also tend to most notice the loudest, most extreme, and most obnoxious members of any given political faction. This makes it easy to associate other political views with those salient but non-representative members.
Roping In with Loose Similarity
In similar ways, knowledge of resemblance is often exploited in the political and cultural sphere to generate prejudice and a conditioned emotional response. From drawing Hitler moustaches on politician portraits to rephrasing what people say in uncharitable ways and saying “this is what she really means”. It is involved in both the propagation of racism and the propagation of the view that someone should be reviled as a racist if they oppose immigration.
The idea is that you can extend a category which exhibits a strong negative reaction, such as “rapist” or “racist” to other categories that don’t. The implication is that you should have just as strong of a reaction to all black people as you do to that rapist who happened to be black. Perhaps you should have just as strong of a reaction to the Norwegians limiting immigration into their country as to the Nazis who also limited immigration into theirs.
Technical Redefinition and Propaganda
I’ve noted how natural language terms tend to be organized around prototypes. However, even technical terms exhibit the prototype effect. This is because the prototype effect reflects how humans organize categories in their minds. This creates some significant issues when already loaded natural terms such as “truth”, “meaning”, “purpose”, “love”, “beauty”, and so forth become technical terms within a specific system.
Good Odd Numbers
Taylor notes that even such cut-and-dry technical categories as “odd numbers” exhibit a type of resemblance effect.
“If there do exist categories which are structured according to the assumptions of the classical theory – i.e. categories which are defined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, which exhibit clear-cut boundaries, and which permit only two degrees of membership (i.e. member and non-member) – then ODD NUMBER and EVEN NUMBER are surely amongst them. […] One would therefore expect that subjects, given the task of assigning degrees of membership in the categories ODD NUMBER and EVEN NUMBER, would judge all numbers to be optimal members of the respective categories. This is not what Armstrong et al. found. Of the various odd numbers tested, 3 was assigned the highest degree of membership in the category […]. Even numbers showed the same effect. 2 and 4 had the highest degrees of membership in the category EVEN NUMBER […].” (Taylor, 2003, p. 72)
Technical Resemblance Effect
In this case, the appropriate numbers were all at least considered “moderately good” members of the category, so there were no truly marginal members. Still, the better members were the ones that were closest to the numbers used to procedurally determine whether a number is odd or even (division by 2). Therefore, even technical categories will have more salient members. These members may be more saliently related to the identification conditions or procedures.
We have already seen that there can be some clashes between the technical term and natural terms categories for things like fruits and animals. A technical definition which is most useful within a given technical system of inquiry, such as botany, may be less useful in daily life, such as making a fruit salad. Things get much more complicated when such clashes involve natural terms loaded with emotion and value.
Propaganda by Centralizing the Marginal
You may be familiar with a character from the 2008 presidential election called “Joe the Plumber”. Joe the Plumber was technically a plumber. “Technically” as a hedge is explored in an example from a 1972 paper by George Lakoff “Ronald Reagon is technically a cattle rancher.” A plumber, like a cattle rancher, is a category which evokes a regular working class American. It evokes a laborer and modest means as salient features.
Joe the Plumber complained that Obama’s proposed tax increase which only raise taxes on American’s making over $250,000 would impact him adversely. What if Joe the Plumber was a plumbing business owner whose personal income exceeded over $250,000 per year? Only then would he actually be impacted by the tax increase, but would it still be accurate to reason about this as we would if a typical plumber had been adversely affected by the taxes?
Marginal Member but Center-Based Reasoning
In this case, Joe would be a marginal representative of plumber in terms of prototype, yet a perfect technical member. Unfortunately our value judgments in such reasoning are based on the salient characteristics of the prototype, not the technical category. We judge and feel passionately about salient exemplars, not about abstract schemas. Therefore, we must be very careful about extending value judgments that are based on prototype to all members of a category based on technical criteria, including marginal members who lack the features giving rise to the value judgments.
Judging A Whole Technical Category
This extends far beyond the Joe example. Pay attention to when people say things like “a racist is a racist”, “an astrologer is an astrologer”, or “a criminal is a criminal”. They typically do so to imply that someone who appears racist in a marginal unintentional way should be judged the same as vividly salient racists like Hitler or the KKK.
If someone studies astrology then one assumes they are like the typical astrologer. Should they be treated like they believe all the things people associate with a typical astrologer? That guy who stole the apple to survive is part of the category “criminal” which also includes murderers and rapists. Perhaps, the 19 year old who has consensual sex with the 17 year old girlfriend is technically a rapist in some municipality. The guy who pees behind the dumpster in the middle of nowhere may be labeled a sex offender.
Remember that natural terms have central and marginal members. Value judgments based on salient or vivid central members should typically not be applied to marginal technical members. This is equally applicable to avoiding prejudice and to avoiding too quickly categorizing others as prejudiced on marginal grounds.
Another interesting category effect pertains to the astrological types that I noted earlier in the article. It is not just that people prejudge a double Pisces or someone with Mars in detriment as if those factors say something definite about the person’s character. One also assumes that a person is a particular instantiation of the 144 major Sun-Moon-Ascendant types. You may miss what someone’s personality is really like while looking for circumstances that back up your typing.
Questioning Metaphysical Characterizations
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with the fundamental nature of reality. One of the more popular and influential metaphysical theses of the last century is physicalism, the belief that everything is physical, or in some versions, that everything supervenes on the physical.
What is of interesting is that in the last 100 years theories of meaning have tended to focus on schema, especially in the sciences and work in philosophy of language, with less serious attention typically given to the “resemblance” form of meaning. This is despite the fact that resemblance is actually the more pervasive principle in meaning making and meaning structure.
This has, on the one hand, led to a simultaneous judging of past attempts to characterize reality as pertaining to technical terms based on schema. For instance, Thales suggesting that everything is water is taken to imply that everything is water in the technical sense, H20. Obviously, Thales could see that everything was not technically water. Rather, water was the exemplar of the nature of reality, much as we would expect in a prototype-based characterization. For instance, that everything is in motion, characterized by waves, rates, and so forth. Water being something that captures the essence of the fundamental nature of reality.
We see similar modern attitudes toward elemental attitudes. How can everything be water, earth, fire, and air? People sure must’ve been really stupid to believe those to be the basic elements behind the nature of reality, right? Seldom are these viewed as radial categories, in which water, earth, fire, and air serve as exemplars to categorize divisions of reality. There are no sharp demarcations between them, but their centers are salient, and everything that is has a degree of membership in one of more of the categories.
Mis-characterized Technical Categories
On the other hand, the myopic focus on schema as the basis of meaning has lead to metaphysical theories that attempt to categorize everything into one technical category. The technical category is merely expanded to the point of meaninglessness. Consider a metaphysical theory that characterizes everything as fundamentally of one nature, physical, yet not taking the meaning of physical seriously. First, ask yourself how you decide what things are more physical and less physical. The fact that things can be more or less physical suggests a radial category, rather than a schema in which things are just in or outside the category. Is light as physical as a rock? Is open space as physical as a rock? Are the mathematical ratios defining gravity as physical as bones?
The category is stretched such that the physical includes particles of energy, dark matter, empty space, rates, and information. These things are not physical at all in the typical sense, yet all the things that appear physical supervene on them. That rock when closely examined is mostly empty space and arrangements of energy in given proportions with given rates of movement and change. How meaningful is it to characterize the nature of reality as physical, and then to characterize the physical in ways that are the opposite of physical? It is an error in reasoning and involves reasoning in circles. It is meaningless to believe everything is physical if your schematic characterization of physicality is completely at odds with the nature of the natural concept of physicality.
These sort of situations are the paradoxes of the learned; the sort of errors in reasoning that people make when they create technical concepts to better understand natural ones, without checking to see if they’ve defined the technical concept in such a way that it is no longer representative of the natural concept at all. There is a danger in such takes on reality. By characterizing everything as “just physical” our attitude toward it becomes similar to our attitude toward prototypically physical things. The mysterious spatial, mathematical, information, and ratio-based aspects of reality get overlooked, despite their more accurate characterization of reality. The miracles of biology, thought, and symbolic communication are almost like illusions. Value tends to get placed on the physical manipulation and exploitation of the world.
In conclusion, recognizing the radial and resemblance-based nature of meaning (I think of it as lunar and reflective) is not just useful for astrology but necessary for clear reasoning. It has long been viewed as an obstacle to clear reasoning, but those who ignore it are subject to believing that they reason with precise technical categories, while still motivated by their emotional and attitudinal reactions to their natural corollaries, even when they are incongruous. In astrology, understanding the natural structure of symbolic meaning allows us to see the potential meanings for a symbol which are shaped by context. Additionally, we learn to speak to criticisms of the imprecision of astrology which actually are applicable to language in general.
Extending the Center
We’ve looked at how meaning tends to cluster around a salient center based on resemblance. Now let’s consider how meaning can grow into a complex network of meanings. It may even break up into a chain of multiple salient centers, each with their own complex networks.
Polysemy is the term for when a symbol (ex. a word) has multiple related meanings. It is contrasted with homonymy which is when two words sound the same but have distinct unrelated meanings. Many, if not most, categories in natural language are polysemous. Rather than just one central prototype, they “exhibit a polycentric structure, i.e. category membership is a function of similarity to one of several prototype representations” (Taylor, 2003, p. 102). This is a chain of focal salient points, closely in line with Wittgenstein’s “family resemblance” idea.
Domains and Climbing
Often times the different meanings pertain to what is called different domains. Taylor (2003) has an extensive discussion of the numerous meanings of climb. He also notes the polysemous nature of prepositions and how that polysemy differs from language to language due to different focal features extended. The polysemy of prepositions and their role in metaphor was also extensively dealt with in the book “Metaphors We Live By” by Lakoff and Johnson which I recommend.
“Climb” means one thing when applied to a vehicle (“the train climbed the mountain”), but another when applied to a person’s action (“he climbed out of the tree”). It means something still different when applied abstractly, such as to prices (“the stores prices are climbing”). In one case something gradually ascends, in another it clambers down or out of, and in another it gradually becomes greater in quantity. Many meanings share upward motion, literal or figurative. However, some don’t (“climbing down the tree”), instead emphasizing clambering.
Astrological symbols are exemplars of polysemy in action. Recall Valens’s description of Jupiter:
“Jupiter indicates childbearing, engendering, desire, loves, political ties, acquaintance, friendships with great men, prosperity, salaries, great gifts, an abundance of crops, justice, offices, officeholding, ranks, authority over temples, arbitrations, trusts, inheritance, brotherhood, fellowship, beneficence, the secure possession of goods, relief from troubles, release from bonds, freedom, deposits in trust, money, stewardships” (Valens, Book I, #1, Riley trans., 2009, p. 1)
As I noted, many of the meanings could be seen to derive from associations with the god. The god was chief (high-ranking, justice, office, etc.) and was highly indulgent, lustful, and prolifically generative (love, desire, childbearing, etc.). However, all of the meanings don’t simply reduce to the god. For instance, we’d expect storms, thunder, infidelity, and some other such things to be emphasized more than many of these other meanings like “money”.
Therefore, the meanings are a family resemblance chain. There is a cluster around general goodness (benefic). Also a cluster around some features of the god. Additionally, there is generally a lot of senses which cluster around social standing, abundance, and wealth. All of these things relate to each other but without one concept necessarily representing the schema.
Gods and Archetypes
Astrological concepts don’t reduce to one single prototype, such as a god, but to multiple senses, often related to each other in a chain of family resemblance. This is one reason why a god (single prototype) and an archetype (a schema for a type of god) are both inadequate reductions of astrological symbols.
The god highlights one conceptual center, and an important one, but it is not the only one. It is also over-specified. Not all of the associations of the god are salient to the astrological symbol, and vice-versa. For instance, money and wealth were not salient to the god Zeus, but were to the planet Zeus (Jupiter).
Archetypes of gods are in the most concrete sense schematic characterizations of the type or role played by gods in their pantheons. They may, or may not at all, feature the characteristics salient to one of the centers of the astrological symbol. Like the god, they also miss the other centers of meaning which were not saliently associated with the god.
Again, I have emphasized symbols in language to illustrate that this isn’t a problematic situation but a normal one. Words are symbols par excellence. Their meanings are seldom reducible to one single sense which applies against all domains and in all contexts. Additionally, it is not the case that all meanings need share some core prototype or some core abstract schematic characterization for them to nevertheless be closely related. Rather than radiating from one center, often a chain of centers with some family resemblance develops.
Taylor (2003), following David Cruse (Lexical Semantics 1986), has noted that these different senses are like points on a continuum rather than dichotomous. This makes sense in terms of language change over time too as cases where “a non-central member of a monosemous category increases in salience to the point where it constitutes a secondary conceptual centre of the category” (Taylor, 2003, p. 106) have been well-documented.
Metonymy and Metaphor
Let’s turn to ways in which the category’s meaning gets extended and additional focal centers may arise. One of the greatest strengths of the symbol is its ability to extend its meaning into countless domains. A prototype structure is itself loose on the edges, allowing a symbol to be stretched to refer to things that “resemble” the center in any number of ways. That words behave this way has been exploited by poets since the dawn of human language.
Two processes that play a role in extending categories are metonymy and metaphor. It is worth understanding their importance and ubiquity in symbolic communication, to better understand the flexibility and sense of symbols in general, namely astrological ones.
Metonymy is the referring of one thing by means of something contiguous to or associated with it. For instance, “that’s a Jackson Pollack”, “table 3 wants a coffee”, or “there’s a lot of new faces here”. Any two things customarily co-occurring with each other can be used to refer to each other. Another example is referring to someone by the sign that the Sun was in when they were born. “That Sagittarius says she doesn’t believe in astrology.”
This is used in numerous everyday situations with language without a second thought. Similar to but lighter than metonymy is the use of an “active zone”. For instance, we “fill up the car”. We know that this indicates filling up the gas tank with gas, rather than the whole car. The gas tank is the implicit “active zone”. Filling up the car with luggage is in a sense atypical. Similarly, rinsing a car refers to a different active zone (exterior) than rinsing a mouth (interior). In this sense, context emphasizes a specific part rather than the whole.
New Salient Centers
Common metonymic usage of a symbol can give rise to a new center of meaning with the symbol. “Benjamin Frankin” or simply “Benjamin” can take on the related sense of a 100 dollar bill which holds his image. The “White House” has strongly taken on the sense of the leadership that dwells in that place. “Head” and “brains” readily refer to intelligence. “Red tape” can mean, well, you get the idea.
The active zone is a sleight version of metonymy, while metaphor is metonymy on steroids. As in that last sentence, metaphor allows us to juxtapose different senses onto each other with the context drawing out the salient features intended. The contrasting senses of being sleight and being on steroids (itself an instance of metonymy) are applied to the domain of metonymy. On the one hand, the active zone is not a “full” or “fleshed out” (all metaphorical) sense of metonymy because it is a whole used for part rather than one thing for another.
The Ubiquity of Metaphor
Metaphor conceptualizes one thing in terms of another but their connection need not be close. Rather, one thing can stand in for another merely to apply some salient part of its meaning against the meaning of the other thing. It is also extraordinarily powerful, making the steroid metaphor even more appropriate.
Our language simply drips with metaphor, usually without ever triggering any alarms. It certainly hasn’t taken much effort for me to load this section full of it.
Concrete for Molding the Abstract
We conceptualize abstract things in terms of concrete things. Not literally things made of concrete, but things which are more tangible. Take one of the senses of “concrete” for example which pertains to ideas “easier to grasp”. Oh jeez, I seem to be having trouble “getting my message across” without using metaphors. I guess my “point” is to “attack” the “position” that metaphorical use of symbols is somehow “odd” or “defective”.
No, words often have many senses that pertain to common metaphorical use. These metaphorical uses may actually be more common and salient than the so-called “literal” use. Additionally, we can create novel metaphors on the fly, which allow use to apply some salient meanings of one symbol to another domain.
Astrological factors are powerful when conceptualized as symbols. Much of it pertains to the power of metaphor. For instance, Mercury’s meaning easily extends into the domain of new technologies. The 7th house extends to new concepts of partnership and significant others. The 5th house of children and representatives may extend to representative creative works.
The meaning of factors is not just what some ancient guy said they are. Nor are they reducible to a single schema or single prototype. They have a conceptually rich set of salient focal centers of meaning which were conventionalized hundreds of years ago. Associations with gods were part of their origin but other salient centers were there as well. These salient centers extend radially by resemblance and into new domains by metaphor and metonymy.
One Meaning From Many
I want to explore one additional powerful facet of symbolic meaning, the fact that context can narrow meaning. We’ve explored how meaning clusters around a salient center and can be extended in various ways. Yet, when we speak a word we typically only convey a small fraction of its potential meaning.
The meaning of a symbol can be vast and complicated. The meaning of many astrological symbols certainly illustrate this. Yet, that doesn’t mean that all possible meanings of a symbol are expressed at once. Just like with words, the context draws out the specific sense which is active.
I’ve already touched on a couple ways in which this happens. The concept of the “active zone” is interesting, as it suggests that even a symbolic unit (in this case a noun phrase) for a rather tangible and specific thing, “my car” pertains to different parts of the car in different context. Washing my car and filling up my car imply very different active zones of the car.
Another means of selecting a sense which we already touched upon pertains to the domain. For instance, “fruit” will tend to mean one thing in a culinary context, another when shouted as an insult, and another in a botany lecture. Ambiguity can still arise, but a certain sense or certain sense are more salient in specific context. Therefore, context usually refers to the fact that certain domains pick out certain senses as the most salient or likely.
Metaphor and Partial Sense
The ability for a domain to shape the sort of meaning expected is not just a matter of conventional usage. Novel metaphors and poetic depictions rely upon the ability for us to figure out which portion of a sense is applicable in the context.
For example, consider “the group’s symphony of ideas quickly devolved into a war of them, and then a series of silent and bitter retreats”. It is not difficult to imagine the portion of the sense of “symphony” intended: harmonious, productive, complementary, flowing. You are not stuck thinking that they must have been putting together a four-part musical composition with a full orchestra. The word “ideas” sets a context which pulls out just a portion of the sense sufficiently. Similarly, we know what is intended by “war”.
Symbols and Partial Sense
It is important to understand that symbols don’t communicate all of their networked senses at once. The Sun is not your intellect, your father, your leader, your health, your achievement, and your ideal all at the same time. No, it’s senses give it the potential to signify such things. What is actually means pertains to context, including the specific context in time, not just in the natal chart.
The context of the natal chart may draw out certain senses and combinations thereof. Still, it is the context in time which shows when specific things referenced may come to pass.
Indices and Full Sense
This is surely counter-intuitive to astrologer’s today who are indoctrinated with an indexical view of signs. Venus in Libra is taken to mean a specific thing about the person who has it in the chart. It is taken that it must refer to some aspect of the person, which holds for all time, with Libra showing its modulation, modification, and characterization. Even with today’s traditional astrologers, they may be too quick to assume that Venus in Virgo equates to chronic relationship problems.
Partial Sense and Understanding Symbolic Potential
Astrologers may also take factors to be too fully specified. The 9th house is taken to pertain only to long distance travel while the 3rd to only short distance. Rather, than all cadent houses having travel as part of their sense, the 3rd and 9th most saliently, and the 9th most saliently pertaining to longer travel. The Moon and Mercury also pertain to journeys. There is significant redundancy and possible degrees of specification in astrological symbols.
Some astrologers also resist using twelfth-parts and things like that, suggesting they must first determine what they mean. They mean what the planets mean, plus with the sense of being covert and more quickly changeable. Quick change was most linked with the mind and thought in Hellenistic astrology. This is why the Ascendant, Moon, and Mercury were most relevant for the personality. One use for the twelfth-part of the Ascendant was for indications about intentions and thoughts.
One thing that is important about the twelfth-parts is that they can carry the additional sense of being covert or being more individuating, but they don’t always convey that. They also simply convey senses associated with the planets and these come out in certain contexts. In this sense, they provide an additional point in which the planetary senses can find a new reference in a different context.
Astrology and Language
Metaphors comparing astrology to language are common. Many astrologers will teach you the grammar of the chart or talk about how to speak astrology. The chart has symbols and these have meanings which relate to each other and modify each other, so analogy with language is easy.
We have seen that the analogy with language actually goes quite a bit farther than the typical casual resemblance. Astrology also resembles language in terms of the highly symbolic basis of its signs. With a symbolic basis comes much greater power, flexibility, and potential ambiguity than we’d expect with indexical signs. However, natural language also serves as a reminder that the problems with ambiguity are not insurmountable.
From Sense to Reference in Astrology
The symbolic view of astrological factors implies that factors don’t have a fixed reference. Venus doesn’t always refer to your sister, any more than to your loving nature. The challenge of delineation is to figure out what senses of factor combinations are communicated.
Venus has a very rich set of senses. Certain ones may be made more prominent in your chart by way of context in the natal chart. Others may be made more prominent at different times by contexts shown in timing techniques. Additionally, the age and place you live in also makes certain senses more prominent than others. These make up the context that takes us from a network of senses for a symbol to a communication referencing some circumstance.
Differences from Natural Language
Obviously, astrology is not the same as natural language. It is a different system of symbolic communication. One of its unique features is that it derives from the state of the heavens relative to a point on earth. Such a system must have significant complexity and symbolic redundancy to speak meaningfully about life’s circumstances. This is because symbols are on relatively fixed cycles.
Without indications from planets, their twelfth-parts, aspects, signs, fixed stars, places, antiscia connections, and much more the context would be thin. The message would be a set of slightly varying loops with little of interest to say. Only in the complexity and multiplicity afforded by symbolic type of meaning and rich contextualization can we achieve sophisticated communication. Let’s turn to that now with some examples.
As there are three more parts to this lesson, the examples here will be rather brief. We will take a brief look at the three charts noted in the introduction. While I analyze these charts, please consider how an indexical view of their signs would necessarily imply a different interpretation.
Steven Spielberg’s 2nd House Saturn
Spielberg was born on 12/18/1946 at 6:16 pm in Cincinnati, OH (time is AA-rated for accuracy).
Spielberg has the Moon (sect light) in fall, Venus (sect benefic) in detriment, Saturn and Mercury also in detriment, Jupiter peregrine, the Sun in triplicity but in the 6th house, and Mars exalted in the 7th house. I bring up these dignities not because they are important but to keep the lack of dignity, and in fact, negative dignity, of key factors in mind so as to realize the relative insignificance of dignity.
2nd House Problems
We will focus on the more puzzling position of Saturn in the 2nd house of money. Spielberg is a billionaire. Some astrologers view the houses as “indexing” the areas of life. For instance, that the state of the houses show the capacity for success, happiness, or achievement with their affairs.
Spielberg’s 2nd house would appear quite dismal. Saturn, the out of sect malefic, is in the place and retrograde. The Sun rules the place and is out of sect and in the 6th place, unaspected by its lord. If the 2nd house indexes the state of one’s finances then Spielberg simply could not be a billionaire.
Talking of Wealth
I’m going to foreshadow one of the other secrets of delineation. To speak about the general circumstances of an important matter in life ancient astrologers used special techniques. Delineating the house of money, or the planet of money, is not the same as delineating one’s wealth. This is because no factor indexes your wealth. Rather, you must have techniques that look at multiple factors and special indications to assess what the chart indicates for the person.
I will not be getting into the financial special techniques here, but merely want to draw attention to their existence. Special techniques for assessing indications of fame and power in the chart were looked at first, then techniques for assessing money matters. This is why a so-called difficult looking 2nd house and/or Jupiter and/or Fortune, do not imply bad money circumstance in general. Similarly, a difficult Venus or 7th house does not imply a cursed love life.
We see some abundance connections in the natal chart too. Cancer is rising which is the exaltation of Jupiter, with the Venus bound rising. The Ascendant actually applies to Jupiter. The Moon (sect light), Jupiter, and Venus are all together in the 5th house which pertains to material benefit and children. Note that Spielberg has 7 children (4 biological) and a large number of important “creative children” (his films).
Both benefics (and the sect light) are ruled by a strong and in sect Mars, exalted, and in a good house. Additionally, both benefics are in the bound of Mercury, ruler of commerce, and Mercury is in the bound and sign of Jupiter, lord of abundance.
I’ve noted that a symbol can have a salient sense in the natal chart without implying some permanent situation concerning that sense in the life. Here Saturn in the 2nd house certainly can signify money loss. Saturn rules the 7th and 8th houses. It also dominates the Moon which it is closely squares (and dominates Jupiter and Venus). Saturn is in the bound of Venus. Therefore, Saturn has some pretty strong repeat connections with money and partnership.
Mars is in the 7th house and rules the Moon, further signs of a link between difficulty and partnership. Again, I want to stress that Mars is in sect, in a strong house, aspected by the sect light and both benefics, and exalted. It can signify quite prominently and quite positively. Still it can potentially indicate difficulty because it can symbolize as a malefic as well.
The question we need to ask is whether this sense conveyed by Saturn with its ties to money partnership was ever realized in a dramatic way, and when.
Amy Irving Divorce
Steven Spielberg, despite the supposed state of his Venus, 7th house ruler (and a malefic in the 7th), and cardinal angles, has been married for the last 28 years to one woman. However, his first marriage ended with what was, at that time (1989), the most expensive divorce in history. His first wife, Amy Irving, received an estimated $100 million settlement in a controversial ruling. It was at the time half of Spielberg’s fortune.
Annual Profection: Saturn as Lord of the Year
In 1989, Spielberg was 42 years old pretty much the entire year (he was born in December of 1946). Age 42 marks an annual profection to Spielberg’s 7th house, occupied by Mars and ruled by Saturn. Therefore, Saturn was the lord of the year that year.
The annual profection highlights the 7th house (relationships) and Saturn (challenges) quite saliently.
Solar Return: Saturn in the 7th
The solar return at age 42 provides further confirmation of the message regarding Saturn and the 7th. Saturn was transiting in the natal 7th house at the time of the solar return. Additionally, we find Saturn transiting conjunct Mercury, bringing out Mercury’s senses pertaining to contracts and commerce in a problematic sense. Saturn is conjunct natal Mars, the ruler of both benefics and the sect light, which I had suggest connected to Spielberg’s abundance.
Note in the natal chart Saturn’s dominance of Scorpio and its positive indications. Here we see the solar return Saturn bringing that sense out in its conjunction with Mars. Additionally, we find return Mars square natal Mars and return Jupiter opposed to natal Jupiter, suggesting a contrast from the typical situation. The Moon is with Mars and both are in the public and judgement-oriented 10th house. I would like to add that Aries is Spielberg’s Place of Necessity, traditionally associated with trials and disputes.
Additionally, consider the distributors and aspectual primary directions at the time. Both the Ascendant and the sect light (Moon) were directing through the bounds of Saturn. The Ascendant was actually directing through the Saturn bound of the 2nd house, so this distribution of Saturn was making Saturn’s position in the 2nd particularly relevant.
The aspectual primary directions for the period leading up to and during the divorce also saw 7th house Mars (relationship contest) with the Jupiter-Venus (money and love) conjunction. Mars in fact directed to the very position of natal Venus the year prior and then to natal Jupiter the year of the divorce. Jupiter also directed to the square of Mars. These once in a lifetime directions set off indications of a relationship war leading to a money war.
Conclusion Regarding Spielberg’s 2nd House Saturn
In conclusion, the issue with Spielberg’s chart is not that the particular arrangement of symbols is not saying what it should say. The issue is with the belief that the chart factors index some aspects of the person’s life. The chart is not showing Spielberg’s potential happiness or ability to realize the affairs of his life. It is communicating innumerable things. Some messages are more obvious than others, but that doesn’t mean they are more significant.
In Spielberg’s case, both with his 7th house and his 2nd, as well as a number of dignity-related matters, we see the danger of assumptions of indexation. Spielberg’s 2nd house Saturn and Mars in the 7th had something to say. This most obvious message came out not only from multiple points of reinforcement in the natal chart but at the time when timing techniques also showed the proper context.
David Carpenter’s Benefic Prominence
The last example highlighted the flaws of the index view, the importance of special techniques, and the vital importance of timing. David Carpenter’s chart also highlights these things, as well as the importance of covert indications. When it comes to unusual or atypical circumstances, we don’t typically see them through typical overt factors.
David Carpenter was born on May 6, 1930 at 9:16 pm in San Francisco, CA (birth data AA-rated). He was born with Sagittarius rising and the Moon in the 10th house in Virgo, trine the Sun in Taurus. He was also born with both benefics and Mercury in Gemini, the 7th house. Both malefics, and Mercury, were in domicile at the time of his birth.
Carpenter is a rapist and serial killer. He’s had a miserable life, inflicted incredible harm on others, and has spent most of his life in prison. Take a good look at his chart before you presume you know what a “worst case scenario” of circumstance looks like in the astrological chart.
Twelfth-Parts, Lots, Antiscia, Day and Hour Lords
I have actually already analyzed Carpenter’s chart in great depth, so I will be mainly summarizing that analysis and referring you over to it. As I note in that article the twelfth-parts, lots, and antiscia speak volumes. Please see my article on Carpenter for more information and to see how these indications play out in the timing of important events. In the comments one reader also noted some important fixed star indications.
The twelfth-part of Jupiter (lord of the Ascendant) is conjunct natal Saturn. The twelfth-parts of the Ascendant and Saturn are together in the 6th house. Mars has its twelfth-part in the 8th house square to itself. 5 of the 7 planets have twelfth-parts in dark houses.
The Lot of Spirit is ruled by and occupied by Mars, while dominated by Saturn. The place is also the Lot of Boldness, which when connected with Mars was said to indicate numbness to violence.
The Ascendant and Saturn are antiscia each other. Saturn and Jupiter are contra-antiscia each other within a degree.
The day and hour rulers are Mars.
My more detailed analysis of Carpenter’s chart reveals that the chart did have things to say about Carpenter’s proclivities and crimes. These things were not obvious or overt in the natal chart. Such highly atypical circumstances rarely show up on the surface. However, an index view predicts that they would. We should expect a poor condition of factors to account for the poor condition of his life.
His chart not only supports the symbolic view of the chart but highlights an overlooked secret of delineation which we’ll explore in a future part. When you ignore subtle factors then you are ignoring some of the most important information in the astrological chart. They are insignificant in a causal view, less significant in an index view, and whispers about more directly individuating matters in a symbolic view.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s Dignity
Jeffrey Dahmer’s chart is another one which I have analyzed extensively. Therefore, I will also keep this example very short. You can find analysis of his chart here, here, and here. Still, more could certainly be said, especially in terms of the timing of events in his life. The analyses that you’ll find mainly concerned contrasting his chart with that of Ted Turner.
Again, as noted, astrologers speak of “best case scenario” and “worst case scenario” as if they know what they are talking about. They speak about them as if factors index matters in the life and they become modulated such that what appears to be a better case scenario in the natal chart translates to better circumstances in life. One of the main factors many astrologers examine for the condition of planets and the houses they rule pertains to what is called “essential dignity”. This “dignity” is often used to assess planetary and house condition, as well as planetary quality as defective (negative dignity) or dignified and laudable (positive dignity). The pairing of Ted Turner with Jeffrey Dahmer succinctly illustrates the folly of such an approach.
Dahmer’s Dignified Chart
Jeffrey Dahmer was born on 05/21/1960 at 4:34 pm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (birth data AA-rated). He was born with 4 planets in domicile, including his Ascendant lord and the rulers of both lights. In fact, both lights are also with their rulers in the same signs. Yet Dahmer’s chart with its emphasis on Venus in the 8th in Saturn’s bound trine Saturn in the 4th in Venus’s bound says much about the character and events in his life. As does Mars with the Moon in the 7th house.
As noted in my article on the twelfth-parts in the chart, they further emphasis the importance of these connections for the character. The lots also have much to say (Capricorn being the Lots of Love, Affliction, Boldness, and Death all together with and ruled by Saturn). The planetary day and hour are of Saturn and Mars. Additionally, Dahmer was born with Pollux (the star in the head of the following twin) on his MC which, by day, was said to indicate in Hellenistic astrology violence, rashness, and intoxication (all notable features of his life).
Note on Examples
These brief examples show clear flaws with viewing factors as indexing. They also hint at some of the other secrets to delineation, but we have just started scratching the surface.
In the remaining parts of this lesson we will delve into many more examples. For now, I want to impress on you the implications inherent in these charts and the problems they pose for “conventional modern approaches” to delineation.
Factor Delineation vs. Life Delineation
To progress one needs to break the habit of confusing delineation of factors with delineation of life. What a factor means and what is means for your life are two different things. The first is simple, and the second quite complex. Factor delineation doesn’t always show the status quo circumstances, potential for success, or personality structure in someone’s life.
Delineation of an area of life is difficult, involving special techniques, many of which are flawed and require improvement. In these lessons we’ve tended to focus on character. We’ve seen that a number of factors are involved. Delineation of factors is about understanding potential and salient senses which when brought out by predictive indications can speak about circumstances at some point in time.
I noted in the introduction that the symbolic approach is liberating, flexible, insightful, and fertile. When it comes to delineation its ability to provide insight and its fertility for progress are the most important. In the broader context it does much more. Enabling us to better contextualize astrological practice, past and present.
Astrological symbolism is seldom examined in a critical fashion using tools from disciplines focused on signs. Insights from semiotics (the study of signs, their use, and interpretation) are critical for clarifying our view of sign meaning.
One key distinction from semiotics pertains to the degree of closeness between the sign and its meaning. This distinction allow us to understand the implications and assumptions behind varying approaches to astrology. These include assumptions about the way the world works and astrology within it, as well as assumptions about how delineation works.
Icons in the Center
They also help us understand the critical role of iconicity. A true icon signifies what it resembles in such a way that its meaning is typically clear. But resemblance is also central also to our understanding of prototypes and the way meaning is structured. In extensions of the concept one may view every thing and type of circumstance as having varying degrees of resemblance to some prototypes, be they elements, gods, sefirots, etc.
In spiritual traditions, a resemblance (semi-iconicity), however tenuous, can confer communion with that resembled. They share in the same essence. In resembling each other they evoke each other and open a conduit. In astrology, a resemblance is typically related to the rationale behind specific symbolic meanings.
History and Progress
The symbolic view preserves the historical sense of factors while at the same time opening up avenues for development. Therefore, it is both traditional and radical.
We come to respect traditional descriptions and delineations are reflecting the sense of factors and the context of the time. Rather than parroting indications from a single factor from some ancient source as proclamations of fate, we see them as indications of sense and possibility. Only a whole lot of context (through delineation) can turn the senses of chart factors into indications about circumstances.
Misinterpretation is the key issue with symbols, as exemplified in language. Proposed principles and rules for interpretation are subject to being checked against circumstances. Interpretations can be wrong, calling into question aspects of the interpretive approach. Only when there is a clear litmus test for right and wrong interpretation, can one improve. We find this with whether an indication with reinforced activation accurately or inaccurately reflects circumstances.
Adopting a symbolic view, we found that we can look to language to better understand the way symbols work. Therefore, insights from linguistics, are helpful in understanding factor meaning and capacity, as well as compositional power and flexibility. Most helpful is evidence from cognitive linguistic approaches to meaning, categorization, and contextualization.
Many of the critical complaints about astrological meaning either do not apply to a symbolic view of the chart or are equally applicable to symbols in language. Are the ambiguous and polysemous features of word meaning insurmountable? Is it impossible to communicate anything meaningful or specific with words if they lack singular technical meanings or the ability to index physical parts of reality?
This has been a long and demanding portion of this series of lessons. Yet, I don’t feel it is beyond the beginner. After learning about basic factors and gaining some familiarity with charts, getting a handle on signs is the next step.
To combine factors together and work toward indications, you need conceptual clarity. There is a huge gulf to bridge between factor meanings and astrological indications. A clear and reasoned understanding of astrological sign meaning will go along way toward laying the foundation for that bridge.
A little understanding about signs will also aid you in spotting and avoiding the hang-ups that plague even seasoned veterans. Competing astrological dogmas will start aggressively clouding your vision as soon as you show your interesting and knowledge in astrology.
Observing the Index
The first going further exercise is to observe astrological discussions. Talk to some astrologers or go on to the web and social media. Look for discussions about fate, prediction, and so forth. Similarly, consider evidence of approaches where simple one or two factor combinations are said to provide indications. Also, examine approaches where one predictive technique is said to show, on its own, the contours of life’s ups and downs.
In each case, consider whether discussions show evidence that indexing is simply assumed. How would a symbolic approach clarify matters or alter the way a technique is used?
At this point I’d like you to examine as many charts as you can. I want you to focus not only on those you know, but on extreme examples. Look up billionaires, idols, and particularly fulfilled or happy people. Know what their charts look like. Look up murders, victims, the downtrodden, and the miserable. Know what their charts look like.
Filling in the Picture
Now think about the material from the last few lessons on factor meanings. Also, consider incorporating some additional factors, such as twelfth-parts and antiscia. Find symbolism in the chart that accords with real circumstances and events in the life that you are familiar with. Also, find symbolism that is very prominent but appears to conflict with what you know about the person’s life.
As we continue to probe the secrets of delineation you will come to a greater understanding of both sets of data – the indications that fit and those that don’t. You will also have some tools for working out the tough determinations. From there, timing techniques will provide further clarification.
If you’d like to know more about semiotic matters, then I recommend investigating the literature. Especially foundational is the work of Charles S. Peirce, but there is also quite a bit of good information online pertaining to sign typing and categorization. An internet search for sound symbolism or iconicity in language can also be revealing.
For exploration of symbol features by way of linguistics, I recommend the work of anyone within Cognitive Linguistics (with a capital ‘C’). Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is a really great place to start (especially the first 9 chapters). Linguistic Categorization by John R. Taylor is an essential work on the way that symbolic categories work. I highly recommend it and it contains references to many other important works in that vein.
Kidd, D. (2004). Aratus: Phaenomena.
Masha’allah, & al-Khayyat, A. ’Ali. (2009). Persian Nativities I: Masha’allah and Abu ’Ali. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press
Neugebauer, O., & Van Hoesen, H. B. (1987). Greek Horoscopes. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=kEgnLpm06zQC
Podany, A. H. (2018). Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization.
Taylor, J. R. (2003). Linguistic Categorization.
Wittgenstein, L. (1978). Philosophical Investigations: The German Text, with a Revised English Translation. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Featured Image is from Johann Heinrich Tischbein’s The Nine Muses, showing Urania Astronomy (1782); image is in the public domain; image has been cropped.
“The Treachery of Images” (1928-29) by René Magritte is copyrighted but is used here in fair use for educational purposes.
Image of Phoenician A (aleph) is in the public domain.
Image of the evolution of the sinogram for ‘mountain’ by Inkscape_logo_2.svg: Redrawn Inkscape logo by Andy Fitzsimon.Dagibit at en.wikipedia山-bronze.svg: Yug山-oracle.svg: Yug山-seal.svg: Erin Silversmithderivative work: Ju gatsu mikka (^o^) appelez moi Ju (^o^) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Discovery of the Emerald Tablet is in the public domain from Aurora Consurgens medieval manuscript, exemplar from Zürich Zentralbibliothek, Ms. Rh. 172 Parchemin, 100 ff., 20.4 x 13.9 cm, Saint Gall, XVe siècle, latin 10.5076/e-codices-zbz-Ms-Rh-0172
Marionettes Behind the Curtain (1903) by John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Urania mosaic by Raphael. Image in public domain.
Lekythos of Hermes is in the public domain.
Update 09/28/2020: The article was proofread and approximately 25 minor spelling and grammar errors were corrected. No material changes were made to content.