Traditional astrology has a bad reputation.It’s hard to discuss it without getting stuck on the grim determinism that traditional astrologers were supposed to have ascribed to, a nightmarishly linear and choiceless march to the grave. Indeed, the difference between traditional and modern astrology is most commonly identified with the extremes of the Free Will/Fate debate, with “modern” standing for “Free Will” and “traditional” standing for “Fate.”Yet this is not entirely fair, or accurate.
These philosophical extremes have been present for virtually the entire recorded history of astrology, with different authors presenting different positions.Each period presents a complex intertwining of choices and obstacles, destiny and decisions.Taking the time to understand how people in different places and periods saw this tangle is wonderfully educational, as it opens our eyes to different astrologies as the complex systems they are.
In the spirit of dispelling misconceptions and encouraging exploration, I’d like to present a small offering on how predictive techniques, philosophical positions and therapeutic solutions intersect in modern and traditional astrologies.By traditional, I refer primarily to Vedic, Hellenistic, Arabic, Medieval and Renaissance astrologies.
One universal difference between Modern and Traditional astrologies regards the different techniques used to understand the present and assess the future.
Modern astrology’s primary prognostic technique is transits, where the changing configuration of the heavens is laid across the static natal chart.Here we see the natal chart, a person’s seed pattern, alternately challenged and reinforced by the changing position of the planets. The natal chart, seen as a map of our proclivities and patterns, is pushed and pulled, activated and suppressed by changing circumstances.The transit method draws a picture of an individual either consciously or unconsciously navigating a sea of changing influences.Given this prognostic paradigm, it is easy to see why there is so much focus on choice amongst modern astrologers.
What Hellenistic, Arabic, Medieval, Renaissance and Vedic astrologies all have in common, technically, is less emphasis on transits and much more on a body of techniques commonly referred to as “Time Lords.”Some of the better known Time Lord techniques are Releasing from Spirit/Fortune, Annual Profections and Dasha-Bhukti. In Time Lord techniques, a given planet or house in the natal chart is activated at a certain time during a person’s life.When a planet is “lit up” like this, its significations are amplified and it will play a spotlighted role in both the inner and outer life of the native.
These Time Lord periods are built into the chart, an innate series of periods and shifts. The logic behind Time Lord techniques is like that of a living creature, programmed to grow up to a certain size, reach sexual maturity at a certain age, and so on.Vedic Time Lords are seen as the karma inherent in the chart ripening and flowering. It is the staged and inevitable externalization of what is present in seed form in the natal chart.
Some of the philosophical differences between modern and traditional astrologies can be found in this technical difference.Many traditional astrologies are concerned with the flower unfolding of its own logic (Time Lords), while much modern astrology is concerned with negotiating a series of passing influences (transits).A reliance on transits inherently biases one toward a more choice based approach to astrology, while dependence on Time Lord techniques can lead to a more determined perspective, like the biological inevitability of puberty.
However, it is a mistake to understand Time Lord techniques without also examining how the astrologers that used them attempted to alter the implied outcomes.
In many ways, astrology is a diagnostic art.We look at charts to assess the tangle of forces competing and cooperating to structure a person’s life and psyche.Inevitably, we find issues, problems which we would like to change, whether it is a psychological tendency such as a bad temper or a material situation such as a propensity for poverty.In medicine, after the diagnosis is made, a cure or treatment is prescribed.
For the majority of astrologers working in the West right now, that cure is therapy, usually a mixture of archetypal psychoanalysis and counseling. Therapy aims to better understand the nature of the natal chart in order to facilitate meaningful psychological shifts, while in counseling one strives to illuminate the nature of transiting conditions in order to understand how to interact with them most wisely.Therapy and counseling make perfect sense for an astrology that sees self knowledge (natal chart) and an awareness of conditions (transits) as being primary.
Like modern astrology, the natal chart in traditional astrologies is understood to have certain advantages and issues programmed into it.Using Time Lord techniques, one can see when these problems and potencies are likely to take center stage.A variety of techniques have evolved to help people to get the best and avoid the worst promised by these methods.
One is the talismanic approach.Here we see the long standing tradition of wearing stones that resonate with the problem planets. This method is still practiced in Vedic astrology today but is historically present in Western astrology as well.Other talismanic techniques, using substances other than stones, are applied to similar ends.
Another method of addressing the significations encoded in the natal chart is the use ritual methods.In Vedic astrology, these are the “puja,” ceremonies performed by a Hindu priest and dedicated to a specific planetary divinity.These ritual dedications to planetary principles are also found in the Western tradition in the form of planetary magick, but these practices are poorly understood today, having been forced underground in the West during the series of Inquisitions and Witchcraft acts.
Outside of full-on ritual practice, there is a large body of meditative techniques explicitly connected to the planets and used to facilitate a better relationship to them.Mantra, visualization and energy work have all been used to change the way that we connect with the planetary spheres, shifting both inner and outer realities as a result.
The talismanic, ritual and meditative approaches are just three examples of the arsenal of “cures” used in traditional astrologies to help us see the best, rather than the worst, results flower during Time Lord periods.There are also herbal and alchemical methods, karma-yogas, planetary and stellar chi kuing, and a bevy of other interesting approaches.These methods are not a replacement for therapy or counseling, but rather an adjunct to it- and a rather convenient one at that, as many of the “cures” do not require the presence of an astrologer like therapy does. A client may take up a daily regimen of mantra practice or invest in a talismanic piece of jewelry, allowing them to take a greater level of ownership over their dialogue with the planets.
With a little investigation, the caricature of traditional astrology as a grim, decision-less nightmare quickly evaporates.As the foul mist of preconceived notions clears, we are left with an emerging vision of dynamic and multi-faceted systems, similar but also very different from the astrology of today.
But what is the astrology of today?It is an increasingly diverse field, populated by methods and paradigms that stretch across the globe and deep into history. The various modern Western schools of astrology are but one point in the great, global tradition of Astrology. The astrology of today is not a single tradition, but an unprecedented collision of many traditions.We stand at the precipice of a great cross-pollination, and it would be a pity if flimsy caricatures kept us from engaging with it fully.