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So what is ‘Traditional Astrology’? I am not a big fan in calling it ‘traditional’ because traditional is a matter of perspective. I have no doubt that in the 5th century BC Omen Astrology was ‘Traditional’. In the 18th century Renaissance astrology was ‘traditional’. ‘But if we take its simple definition to mean, ‘pertaining to time-honoured orthodox doctrines‘, then I can call it ‘Traditional’.

Perhaps I should start by saying what it is not! It is not Modern astrology which is heavily influenced by modern psychology, particularly of the Jungian archetypal schools, and often with a humanistic New Age philosophical outlook. It considers the entire natal picture and houses as nothing less than an evolutionary progression of the native where the astrologer regards everything as having a heavily subjective quality, idea, attitude or motivation. Any semblance to Classical astrology is only superficial.

If we limit our astrology to psychology, we deal with secondary personal idiosyncrasies alone and we no longer see the individual as they are involved with universal circumstances. It is medieval astrological philosophy that in fact recognized that a human being has the possibility of choice because of the confrontation of the rational soul (intellect) with the animal soul (passion). Since the stars signify that relationship between the two parts of this soul; therefore, an individual will choose what the stars indicate.

As Abu Ma’shār wrote in the 9th century,

“All seven planets, by the agreement or disagreement of their conditions, share in the indication for the conditions of every individual in this world, whether small or great, though some of them have a greater indication over some genera, species, or individuals than others do.” [1]

And what are these conditions he was speaking of?

“…their indication for the differentiation of the species and of the individuals resulting from every species and individual, their indication for the composition of each natural individual, the mixing of the form and the ‘natures’ in ‘natured’ things, the agreement of the animal and rational soul with the body,..” [2]

There are several major differences in how classical astrology dealt with particular qualities of an individual and how modern astrology does. First off, modern astrology discusses astrology in purely psychological terms, whereas the ancients discussed it in philosophical terms. Secondly, classical astrology meant to make a person self-aware, but in modern astrology that has been interpreted to mean ‘self-improvement’.

The problem with ‘self-improvement’ is that it is oxymoronic; it requires a constant effort to get something one thinks one lacks and it necessarily entails constant effort to be something other than what one already is. This constant search to self-improve, limits the individual to their own resources and denies them their place among the universal circumstances.

On the other hand truly knowing one’s self, as presented in classical astrology, is a goal that is achievable. Through self-observation and discrimination we can know what we are. Along with this knowledge comes knowledge of one’s function, purpose and operation. The various techniques the medieval astrologer has at their disposition are proof positive that motivation and psychology mattered to them. The methods speak towards the individuality of the native and through them we can understand how things tend to lock an individual into a given level of operation with others for example. We act according to what we are! What we do demonstrates what we understand; i.e. what our state of knowledge and understanding is. If a person wants to alter their “being”, then one has to alter their behavior and what they do, not their self-image.

Philosophy and religion can lead us to know our function as a species; i.e. as a human. The goal of the classical astrologer is to help discover an individual’s purpose and function and bee able to suggest alternative, productive courses of action that could help the individual thrive objectively and so be happy.

[1] Part I, Chapter 4.15a (p.101) – The Great Introduction to Astrology by Abu Ma’shār – Translated by Keiji Yamamoto & Charles Burnett, Brill 2019.

[2] Ibid. Chapter 4.14a (p.101)

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