PRELUDE TO A HISTORY OF ASTROLOGY
The history of astrology is the history of the successive transformations of man's attitude to Nature: — external nature, perceived through sense-impressions; and as well, internal or "human" nature, the sum total of those physiological and psychological phenomena which somehow man calls his own; saying, "my" body, "my" soul, "my" mind.
What today is usually called astrology is the result of a particular phase of this relationship between man's conscious ego and Nature. Though this phase may have lasted hundreds and thousands of years, it was preceded by other phases of perhaps greater significance; and the purpose of this book is to show that a new phase is just now beginning. Mankind is changing radically its outlook upon external nature — witness the startlingly new concepts of modern science concerning space, time, matter, and the universe. The psychological outlook is being just as fundamentally transformed. Man is meeting "life," within and without, on new terms. Astrology reflects the quality of this meeting, interprets it in functions of actual behavior, gives it significance in both a very fundamental and a very practical way. Astrology is the most significant index to man's practical philosophy of living. Philosophy per se speculates about life and man. But astrology, in every age, characterizes, directly or indirectly, the deepest quality of man's actual response to life.
Philosophies have succeeded philosophies. Likewise the astrology bequeathed to us by the nineteenth century was but one of the many astrologies which man has projected out of his need for a practical understanding of and adjustment to life. Moreover, as various types of philosophy have always existed simultaneously in man's effort to interpret reality at various levels of thought and intuitive perception, so in every period — at any rate during historical times — astrology has been divided into more exoteric and more esoteric systems. This division must not, however, blind us to the fact that "esoteric" and "exoteric" represent merely two ways of expressing, at any time, the basic keynote of an epoch. It is more important to know what the keynote is than to find out whether it is expressed exoterically or esoterically.
The astrology which is in vogue today originated almost entirely in the work of the Alexandrian astrologer, Claudius Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos (or Four Books on the Influence of the Stars). According to Temple Hungad: "Ptolemy was born at Pelusium, Egypt, in the first century A.D. He gathered the written observations left by the students of importance who preceded him, and enriched and augmented them after many years of personal research. These facts are set forth in his Great Construction, consisting of thirteen books containing the sum total of the knowledge on the phenomena of the world and the universe in general. This was the first complete and comprehensive document on the economy of the world, and the ideas therein demonstrated are often referred to as the 'Ptolemaic System.' Just as did the Great Construction contain the geographical and astronomical, so did Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos embrace the astrological knowledge to be acquired; and, although written in Asia during the first century, this work became the cornerstone of astrology in Europe after intellectual light had begun to dawn there." (A Brief History of Astrology — by Temple Hungad).
We shall return later to the subject of medieval astrology in Europe, which has in some of its aspects greater depths than that derived from Ptolemy; but our first task is to understand the position occupied by this writer. In order to do this we must extend our inquiry and note that at certain periods of the world-history great upheavals come which transform the very essence of civilization. We may call them "Dark Ages." At any rate, they are periods of transition separating from each other two ages. And it is interesting to realize that at the very beginning of these periods, before the "Dark Age" really sets in, men always appear who, as it were, sum up and focalize the knowledge of the then closing cycle in writings (or monuments) which become the very seed and foundation of the culture which arises later, as the "Dark Age" becomes illumined by a new spiritual-mental vitality.
Such men then become the channels through which the old is conveyed to the new. Their works contain all that the new will probably ever know of the old; which — and this is important — does not mean however, the total wisdom of the old, not even the best of the old, but only what the new will be able to assimilate of the old. Numerous examples can be given. Confucius is the typical one, summing up as he does ancient China. Archaic China is know almost solely through what Confucius preserved of it. But, let us not forget, it is archaic China as Confucius understood it. Likewise very little is know of Pythagoras’ musical ideas, save as they were transmitted to us by his distant follower, Boetius, in the later Roman empire. For a long time Plato and Aristotle meant for Europe almost the whole of Greek learning. The Spanish Kabbalists of the eighth and ninth centuries have given us, as Kabbala, what they knew and understood of the old Hebrew mystery-knowledge. And in every case we know the archaic wisdom and living philosophy only through the minds of men who, being the end-products of a civilization, necessarily had lost the feeling of what this living philosophy and practical wisdom meant for the men who were the originators of this civilization.
It is not our purpose to discuss such matters at length; but it is nevertheless imperative for anyone who cares to understand the vital meaning of astrology to grasp the above-mentioned facts. For thus only can be avoided the tragic mistake of believing that the astrology presented to Europe by an intellectual Alexandrian was the astrology which measured the very pulse of ancient mankind. Ptolemaic astrology is the end-product of the East Mediterranean-Greek culture, and can only be understood in function of the intellectualism of this culture. This intellectualism has molded the mind of Europe in nearly all its aspects. Aristotelianism and Ptolemaism are the results of this Greek era after it had lost the living contact with the spiritual tradition of the Orphic period and even of Pythagorean philosophy after it had turned away from the soil whence archaic man drew power and instinctive wisdom. If we want to understand the living essence of astrology we must forget Ptolemy and the type of medieval astrology from which present-day astrology is mostly derived, and reach to the earthly vital depths of archaic mankind.
A very remarkable series of articles by R. Berthelot, L'Astrobiologie et la Pensee de l’Asie in the Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale, 1932-1933, which we recently came across, is to our knowledge the best, if not the only study which has been made of the vital origins of astrology. It is not made from the astrologer's standpoint, but from that of the development of human civilization and human attitudes to life in general. Hence its great significance; for it is absolutely useless to try to grasp the meaning of ancient astrology unless one places astrology at the very center of the culture of the times. The so-called "Histories of Astrology" today available in print are rather useless; are in fact quite misleading. They enumerate a few disconnected facts and names without giving any idea of the living reality of astrology. No wonder, then, that the cultured man of today shrinks from considering seriously such a pseudo-science!
The following pages should not in any way be taken as a history of astrology, years of research by specialists being needed before the scant data which are scattered in many books, often untranslated into any European language, could be critically examined, compared and correlated. What we wish to do is merely to present a sort of historical background, very general in its outlines, which will help the reader to get a new approach to astrology, and thus to be better able to grasp the meaning of our reinterpretation of the basic meaning of astrology as a living and practical philosophy of psychological fulfillment and integration. What the ordinary astrologer offers to our present generation is not only far from coming up to the mental level of the intelligent thinker; it is, moreover, often decidedly nefarious and psychologically disintegrating. The living astrology of all times can, however, be said to have as a basic keynote: integration. And we claim that any astrology which does not bring to man a message of integration is an adulteration and a perversion of true astrology.
The Animistic Stage
Primitive man lives still in the womb of Nature. His entire life is an experience which is at the same time psychological and physiological, because he is as yet hardly able to differentiate the outer world from the inner, the objective from the subjective. He is so completely one with Nature that he constantly finds himself dissolved into natural phenomena, now projecting his infant selfhood into them, then building them into his psyche as states of consciousness which by a process of unconscious identification he calls his own. Levy Bruhl has used the term "participation mystique" to describe this or a similar process of psychological identification with objects. (1) It corresponds to an attitude to life which can also be designated by the word animism.
Animism makes of all material objects "spirits," and materializes psychic facts into objective entities. Everything is animated by a spirit, whether it be a tree, a mountain, the sun, a star, or even instruments made by men, as for instance a sword, a house. On the other hand, every inner feeling or emotion is an "astral" entity, which has come into the soul, and which can be expelled from it by appropriate magical practices.
Nature, inner as well as outer (both being one to the primitive), is thus a chaos of entities, acting and reacting in the most awe-inspiring confusion. It is a vast jungle in which the only law is that of self-preservation and survival. Where physical strength fails, cunning steps in; or intimidation. Soon, however, a certain sense of causality arises in man. He realizes that certain facts always follow others. He begins to "name" not only things, but relations between things. The only relation he knows personally is that of blood-kinship. Thus a crude mythology is created, where natural forces and elements mate and bear progeny.
All the while, however, the dominating emotion in primitive man is that universal emotion of the jungle-fear. What one fears is called "evil." Evil entities must be propitiated, or overcome by ruse, or restrained by magic. The main principle of magic is that of "sympathetic action." By acting, behaving and appearing as a bear the magician identifies himself with the bear; or rather he brings to a focus the identity which exists psychologically between himself and the bear. Being one with the bear, the magician can thus use the "bear spirit" to his advantage and gain ascendancy (through this transfusion of instinct, as it were) over any bear. Moreover, he also comes to know the "name" of the "bear spirit" and thus works magic in two ways. First, by uttering willfully the name of the bear he gains control over the bear. Also this control is enhanced by the fact that generations of tribesmen have used this name magically, and when it is uttered the combined power of those tribesmen (very much alive as ghosts or spirits) backs up, as it were, the magician's power.
At the animistic stage of development, man refers everything to himself and to his fears or his desires. He projects his reactions to things into the things themselves, which become personified images of his impressions. If he is moved, there must be a mover whose very nature is to move him in this way. That which causes fear must needs be a fearful being; that which gives joy must be a bounteous entity. In this sense the whole life of man is psychological, for he lives in a world peopled by the very projections of his own reactions; but these reactions are almost solely physiological and biological. Thus psychology here means really an extension of physiological reactions; the psyche being but a diffuse aura around the biological human entity, an emanation thereof.
The Sun and the Moon are known as the givers of light. Light and life become inseparable, for darkness and night but too often mean death. Sunlight dispels fear, brings to the senses a clearer perception of objects. Thus the Sun is the great life-giver. As to the Moon, it hides a mystery. It waxes and wanes. Its light surrounds the jungle with an uncanny glow. It is changeable, mysterious, like woman. Yet its phases are soon noted down. The sense of periodicity and time is aroused by its cycles. "Spirits" are best evoked under its light, which light excites man's imagination. The Moon becomes the power of magic, the power of all mysterious operations.
With the Sun and the Moon, and probably later with the brilliant stars, man also feels a vague identity. He feels them, tries to become ever more one with them, to become instinct with their essence. Sun, Moon, stars are "great spirits." Some stars scintillate with a strange glow. They seem ominous, evil, as they rise — like the eyes of tigers and panthers seen through the forest. Stars are like eyes of fantastic animals in the dark jungle of the sky. There are men who feel strangely attracted to some particular stars. Perhaps they were born as those rose or stood high overhead. And we come down to ancient Chaldea, or perhaps even before in Atlantis, when men lay upon the ground, facing the stars, absorbing into their souls the rays of a particular star, identifying themselves with it, to know its essence and feel its exalted life. This star-worship (or rather star-identification) parallels the cult of the totems. Totems are mostly animals, like the bear, the eagle, the deer — but may also be stars, and even clouds and mountains. Totemism is still alive among many so-called primitive races, even among the American Indians, and it should help us to realize some of the meanings of archaic astrology at the animistic stage of development.
Then it is not, as later, the motions of the celestial bodies which are the most important, but the life-quality, with which every single one of them is endowed. This life-quality, the characteristic particular to the star-deity, is essentially derived from the quality of the light of the star. Curiously enough, we are not so far from a classification of stars on the basis of spectrum analysis! Only instead of using a prism to determine the quality of the light, objectively and analytically, primitive man experienced subjectively this light, and projected back into the star the result of this psychic identification.
As for the Sun, the determination of the characteristics and power of this life-giver is made easy by witnessing the changes which take place in the vegetation. But with this idea of correspondence between earthly biological phenomena and the motion of Sun — and also of Moon — we come to a new phase of astrology which may be characterized, following M. Berthelot's example, by the term vitalism.
The Vitalistic Stage
According to the vitalistic conception, Life is in everything, interpenetrates every entity, every substance. It is a vast, universal ocean of energy in which all that is "moves and has its being." This world-viewpoint originates in mankind when the primordial fear of nature is somewhat overcome, when what we may call symbolically the "jungle" is left behind, and men become either cattle-breeders or agriculturists. Nature, in other words, is in the first stage of domestication. It becomes a "home," and within this home Life is seen to flow with the majestic sweep of its season, waxing and waning like the Moon, ebbing and flowing like the Nile or other big rivers whose waters mean fertility.
Animism reveals man as merely one among the myriads of entities struggling for subsistence; trying desperately to overcome fear by identifying himself with the feared object, or with the fire and the light that save his life, placating evil by sacrifices: a creature of chaos, with dim perceptions, yearning for a grasp of some sort of knowledge which will enable him to face the myriads of hostile entities with equal strength. He must understand these entities singly, know their nature, name them. Consciousness gives power. Naming the foe means already overcoming it . . . which is, in fact, the principle back of Freudian psychoanalysis, at another level. On the other hand, vitalism presupposes that at least a part of nature — within man as well as without — is conquered and utilized. Security of a sort has been attained.
However, this domesticated part of nature must be watched carefully, protected from evil, made fruitful. The land must be tilled; the cattle must be cared for. The keynote is no longer exclusively defense, but production. There are still enemies; but they do not attack man himself as much as man's property. The problem of property becomes then paramount. Production depends on property. Human life depends upon the safe-keeping and fructifying of property; and soon, also, upon the continual expansion of property. This applies also to the inner nature of man. A portion of man's being, or "psyche" has become "domesticated," that is, made conscious, prolific with ideas and knowledge. Consciousness must be preserved, safeguarded against the possible in-rush of evil forces from the "unconscious" (the jungle within). It must be cultured, just as the soil must be cultivated and the cattle attended to.
Cultivation, breeding, culture — all these things mean one thing: working in harmony with and, to some extent at least, controlling life-processes. Life in the jungle state was mostly a collection of evil entities. Life at the vitalistic stage is a force which can be either good or evil; a force which pervades all things, operates in all things. There is no way of opposing it, for it is all-powerful. But knowing the law of its cyclic increases and decreases, working in harmony with its tides, man may utilize Life. He may produce instrumentalities, magical formations which attract this life-power, and by means of which nature may be made fruitful. Such magical formations become "sacred." They concentrate the diffuse lifeenergy, either to reinforce or to destroy the individual or any product of nature.
At this stage of human development astrology becomes supremely important. It does not deal any longer exclusively with celestial entities as separate beings to be worshipped and placated — even though this animistic attitude remains still the main feature of the exoteric, popular astrology. The new astrology of the vitalistic period deals especially with an understanding of the periodicity of life-processes. These, experienced in the growth and decay of vegetation and of natural entities in general, are believed to be controlled by divine agencies which are identified with Sun, Moon, planets — and to some extent with stars.
Astrology becomes a study of the universal mystery of periodical dynamic transformations, which is seen to be the very essence of Life itself. The ancient Chinese symbolized this law of natural transformation in their series of hexagrams constituting the Yi King, the Book of Changes. This is, however, obviously a later and more abstract transmutation of early astrology. Vitalistic astrology may have been born in ancient Chaldea, where it studied first of all the celestial phenomena associated with the changes of the seasons. The movements of the Sun and the Moon became the basis of the astrological system. But these movements are considered not principally as celestial phenomena in themselves, but as pointers to the dynamic changes of the solar and lunar life-force as expressed on Earth. Nomadic races, depending on their cattle, seem to have emphasized the lunar periods, because these correspond more with the periods of animal life, and with sex and procreation through mating. Agricultural races, on the other hand, emphasized the solar cycles which correspond to the cycles of vegetation. From these basic solar-lunar correspondences came by generalization the great "Law of Analogy," which is the very foundation of all occult science.
The Law of Analogy presupposes a universal agent permeating the entire universe — a life-substance or life-force filling in all space; filling in the dome of the heavens, as well as the domus (domicile, home) in which the tribal group lives, procreates and dies but to renew and continue itself through blood-propagation. The tribal home becomes a small replica of the universal home bound by the spheres of the stars. The Earth is the microcosm; the universe, the macrocosm. It is only later, in Alexandria and in the Middle Ages, that man, the individual being, is considered to be the microcosm. Then astrology is individualized. In ancient Chaldea and China it refers only to the Earth and to the State or community. The State is the microcosm, and the Emperor or King its Sun and center of life.
In such agricultural states, built in vast plains, the framework of all living is produced by the four great moments of the cycle of solar changes: the equinoxes and solstices. These are indissolubly associated with the four cardinal points of space. Consider ancient China, around 2000 B.C. The capital and the palace of the Emperor within it are oriented to these four points. The palace has four sections, each corresponding to a season. The Emperor lives in the East section during the spring, in the South section during the summer, in the West section during the fall, and in the North section during the winter. (2)
This four-fold division is obviously associated with the idea of duality and sex. The Chinese build their cycle of change upon the alternate waxing and waning of the two principles Yang and Yin, masculine and feminine. This dualism is transferred by correspondence to the dualism of day and night: the Sun, lighting the day; the Moon, lighting the night. The female animal has periods of heat and of indifference, just as the Moon is either bright or dark. Astrology is thus based on purely biological concepts. It is dynamic, vital. It explains the causes of all biological phenomena on Earth — later of all social phenomena, as in Chinese civilization, in which social organization, politics, music and all culture are ruled by the pattern of harmony revealed by the movements of the celestial bodies, themselves considered to be the vehicles or symbols of the Divine Powers which collectively represent universal life.
On this vitalistic foundation, however, a more mental superstructure grows progressively, as centuries roll by. Planetary cycles are added to those of the Sun and the Moon. More and more the priests who record, tabulate, compare and study the movements of the celestial bodies realize the abstract values involved in their cyclic revolutions. The idea of "precise changeless numerical ratios" takes hold of the mind of men whose profession it is to be symbols of order and law to a humanity still gripped by the fear of elemental forces. The notion of Heavenly Order becomes the one great security against the chaos of elemental nature, still so apparent in storms, inundations, droughts and cataclysms of all sorts. An archetypal, divine world of Order is shown in the Heavens where every object moves according to immutable laws. Man's task is then obviously so to operate upon the "earth" (the soil and cattle, but also his own earthly instinctual nature) that it becomes a perfect replica of the celestial Order.
From such premises two basic needs can be deduced: the need for a calendar determining at first solely the time when all agricultural operations must be performed (sowing, harvesting, etc.), and the days which are favorable and unfavorable to any such operation; then the need for an Ethical Law determining how man is to deal with and to cultivate his own nature, his own earthly being; how man is to behave in relation to man within the framework of the State — if this State is to conform to the celestial law. Thus, in ancient China we see the Emperor as high-priest of this celestial religion, mediator between the Heavenly Order centered around the Pole Star (where resides the great God of Order) and mankind. He is assisted by four astronomers who together with him determine the agricultural Calendar — besides establishing a "moral-social law and musical scales, music being the agency whereby the earthly State may become tuned up to the "Harmony of the Spheres" (also a Pythagorean idea). Music includes tones and ritualistic dancing as well, for there again the principle of duality must reign. Bodily motions harmonized to musical tones and rhythms — such a harmony symbolizes and magically calls for a corresponding harmony between human emotions and celestial motions.
The Emperor is the fixed point of reference for all ethical social measurements, as the North Pole is astronomically. His voice is a paragon for all tones; his body, for all measurements. All roads are measured from the center of his palace, where he lives; or rather, because he cyclically changes his residence, where stands the tomb of the Great Ancestor, the origin of the State. The Emperor is the One Man, the One Individual, the One Mediator through whom the Order of the Heavens is infused into the State. He is thus the Supreme Astrologer, or rather he is the very Condensation of all Heavenly Virtues, and his four astrologers through him are able to partake of the mystery of the Heavens.
This represents a perfected stage of astrological civilization; but — is it not astonishingly like the Christian religion, on a different plane? For is not Jesus the Christ the One Mediator between mankind and God, the One Spiritual Individual (being the Only Begotten Son), the paragon of all celestial virtues, the only fountain of salvation? And are not His Apostles and the popes by apostolic succession the dispensers of His wisdom, the establishers of a Church militant, which is to become a replica on earth of the Church triumphant in Heaven?
Christianity came at a time of great psychological chaos, when a new world was being born out of the ruins of the EastMediterranean past, when Greek intellectualism and individualism had led to utter psychological confusion. The Christian Church became then the symbol of a Heavenly Order, the only security in a period of chaos, the one integrating force in a welter of passions and decadent perversions. But so was the astrological State of Chaldea and of China the only security against elemental chaos. The cyclic courses of the celestial bodies alone were tokens of a universal Order. The knowledge of the solar and lunar motions alone could save man from ruined crops — which meant starvation and chaos. What this astrological knowledge represented is shown by the fact that in China the fall of the first dynasty of Hia is said to have been caused by the failure of the imperial astrologers to announce an eclipse. Whenever, because of incomplete knowledge of celestial motions, a planet did not appear exactly where expected, this was taken to foretell chaos and ruin to the imperial house. If the rulers failed to know accurately the celestial happenings, the only bulwark against chaos was destroyed, and the rulers had to go. They were to be the Integrators, the Organizers, the Custodians of the Universal Order. If they failed to know that Order, they proved themselves unworthy. They had to be overthrown for the very salvation of the people. (3)
On the biological plane of agricultural operations, and on the plane of ethical and social organizations, astrology was, then, the Great Knowledge which alone insured security and that spiritual trust in a Cosmic Law without which no civilization is possible. It was vital, living knowledge, for at every step it filtered into the operations of all life-processes! It was the Science of life, or, as M. Berthelot says, Astrobiology — the science of a life conceived as archetypally ordered and cosmic, operating identically in the microcosm, Earth, as in the macrocosm, the universe.
The Change of the Sixth Century B.C.
Then man began to develop a new basis for living and to know himself as an individual, a free being; and a new jungle arose at a higher level, the psycho-mental level. This meant the start of a new cycle of human development, calling for a New Astrology, a new understanding of Order, of Cosmos, of God.
This momentous change occurred, archetypally as it were, during the sixth century B.C.; the time of Gautama the Buddha, followed by Lao-Tze and Confucius, the last Zoroaster and Gushapt, Pythagoras and, later, Plato — to mention only the most outstanding spiritual figures of this critical time which marked a potential reversal of all human values. Twenty-five hundred years later humanity is trying to bring into actual and organic manifestation what was then a mere potentiality.
The main significance of the change, as far as this present study of ours is concerned, is that the emphasis which had so far been exclusively placed on physiological matters began to be transferred to psychological values. Everything before 600 B.C. was based upon the human "body." Since then, more and more, a new foundation has been raised, and almost everything is sooner or later to be focused upon the human "psyche" — using this term to represent man's inner nature: mind, soul, and their various activities and functions, conscious and unconscious.
Everything was, of old, centered upon the body — including all spirituality. For the body was not then what it is to us Christians. It was the pure vehicle of instincts and of the spirit, but only potentially the vehicle of spirit. Spirit was asleep in the body and had to be aroused, made active — this being the basis of the pure archaic form of Hatha Yoga before the sixth century, B.C. This arousal could be induced by control of the life-force, through breathing, sounds and ritualistic postures or movements — but also in relation to cosmic processes involving Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. In the Kundalini Yoga, man is understood as a system of vital centers or whirls of energy which correspond to these celestial dynamos, the planets, and Sun and Moon. Finally the life-force is completely transfigured by its marriage with Spirit and the thousand-petalled lotus blooms, the Sahasrara chakra; that is, the solar system is transcended and the myriads of stars shine, chrysanthemum of the Heavens, the Cosmic Rose — while is heard the mystery sound, Nada in Sahasrara, the Voice of the God that dwells within the Pole Star.
In other words, what the Chinese State as a whole was to be, the Yogi sought to fulfill in himself, as an Individual. To the Chinese Emperor corresponded the "Ishvara-in-the-body," the "Jewel in the Lotus" of Tibetan lore. Astrology here meant practical spiritual development — but spiritual development through the body, through the human earth made perfect and cosmic in the likeness of the celestial harmony.
It seems to us a mistake to believe that the old Kundalini Yoga and similar methods of development referred to psychological facts — as C. G. Jung apparently believes. If it did, it was only after the reforms of the Buddha. For then the chaos of the world was shown not to be overcomeable through means which were almost entirely psychological and rational, or suprarational. And a new type of astrology soon began to develop: alchemical astrology.
Alchemy, when not perverted or materialized, is an attempt to do with the human psyche what the Chinese Emperor was supposed to do as supreme Ruler of Agriculture and Establisher of the Calendar. Its purpose is to raise psychological crops and to domesticate the wild herd of human desires. The Yoga of Patanjali and the mental training of the Buddha dealt more specifically with the mental processes. "Yoga is the hindering of the modifications of the mind," wrote Patanjali. But Chinese alchemy, along the lines pursued by the Taoists, and European alchemy, from Geber to Boehme via Paracelsus, are more particularly dealing with the energy-aspect of the psyche, or we might say, with the soulnature of man — its purification, redemption and fructifying by the "virtue" of Christ, or in another sense, of Tao.
In alchemy the human "earth" to be tilled and transmuted until it bears forth the immaculately-born "Son of God," the Christ-body, is symbolized by metals and by planets. The processes of transmutation are symbolized by "codes" which are either series of symbols drawn from natural agricultural processes, in China; or interpretation of incidents of the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, in European alchemy (especially with Boehme). The Secret of the Golden Flower translated from the Chinese by Richard Wilhelm, as well as the archaic Yi King, will show what the former are. The latter can be studied in Boehme's writings and those of older alchemists.
The use made of astrology in alchemy is largely symbolical. But in a sense astrology is always symbolical when properly understood. All depends upon what is meant by "symbol." Algebra is also purely symbolical, and yet algebra and higher mathematics have made possible modern science and the age of machines. Astrology is fundamentally the algebra of life. But its applications are as numerous as the types of life it coordinates, integrates, and to which it gives the significance of Order.
The old Chaldean astrology was based on the principles of correspondences — purely symbolical principles. True, the Chaldeans did believe that planets were the bodies of gods according to whose dictates the universe was run. But this was merely an interpretation of astrological symbolism. The symbols were interpreted as gods because man's consciousness was essentially physiological and biological, because his objective and subjective worlds were still very much confused, and there was no clear-cut division between what was physiological and what was psycho-mental; because animism had still very strong roots in man's consciousness.
As mind developed independently, especially after the sixth century B.C., as abstract thinking began to separate thought from its concrete life-foundation, the biological valuation of "practical utility" receded into the background, and the interpretation of "pure knowledge," "pure science," was given to astrology. Then it became astronomy. This, as M. Berthelot points out, occurred preeminently in Chaldea; while in Egypt the transformation was more characteristically from ceremonial magic to spiritual ethics. In China, the old agrarian interpretation gave place to a social-ethical one. In India, what used to refer to the body and to the life-force within the body (escape from the jungle-world of men's senses by a process of detachment and unification of energies), came to be applied to the mind. In Greece, the old Orphic religion also became transmuted into Pythagoreanism.
In every case what occurred was a change of level, a change of interpretation. The personal God became (theoretically and potentially only!) an impersonal Law or Principle of Order; just as in original American democracy we see the idea of personal Kingship give place to that of an inviolable Constitution. "In America the Law is King," said Thomas Paine. At the same time and for the same reasons the principle of blood-relationship, which represented the only bond valid to a humanity focused at the physiological level, began to be challenged by a new type of human relationship, the spiritual brotherhood including men (and at times women) of different bloods and races. Witness the Buddhistic Sangha, the Pythagorean sodalities, the Gnostic brotherhoods (whence the Catholic monastic orders), and finally such brotherhoods as those of the Druzes in Mount Lebanon (originally composed of mystics of all races).
Unfortunately, yet most naturally, such a tremendous change of level could not possibly be operative among the masses. The tragic thing was that even the elite of mankind failed to live up to the potentiality of the vision opened up to it by the Great Teachers of the sixth century B.C.; and the five or more centuries which followed are the story of the relative failure of mankind to adjust itself to a new level of being. Whether in China, or India, or Greece, or Persia, the result was the same, the depth reached varying, of course, with each civilization.
In Greece, mind turned into mere analytical intellect, wisdom into sophistry. Individualism developed in an unbalanced manner, and humanity entered a phase of large-scale psychological chaos, with the usual result of physiological disequilibrium, sensuality, perversion, etc. This led, by reaction, to popular Christianity, and in India to the Bhakti movement and Mahayana Buddhism. A wholesale psychological revulsion against mind set in, and religions of feelings and love, devotional and compassionate, swept over the world.
In the meantime astrology had experienced a deep transformation. It had ceased to be vital and necessary to the collectivities as a principle of order, because the growing domination of the intellectual rational principle enabled man to project speculatively his own order into the world. But — and this is the important point — the rational order of the intellect is of a different quality than the biological order. The intellect is but an instrumentality which helps man to raise his consciousness from the physiological to the psycho-mental level. It cannot fill a human life with vital significance. It creates a separative kind of individualism, based on analysis but not on synthesis — and all life is synthesis. As individuals became more and more the important thing, astrology began to cater to them and to their fears. Then its long cycle of outer degeneration began. It became increasingly, on the surface, mere fortune-telling — while the deeper phases of astrology found themselves reborn, as already stated, as the foundation for alchemy.
The turning-point came probably as astrological ideas swept from Chaldea westward; first "through the Babylonian sage Berosus who founded a school about 640 B.C. in the Island of Cos and perhaps counted Thales of Miletus (639-548) among his pupils." (Cf. Encyclopaedia Britannica "History of Astronomy"); and, even more definitely, during the middle of the fourth century B.C. (according to Bouche-Leclercq and others). While in Chaldea, as in China, astrology was mainly a matter concerning the community or the state, with the King as center and guiding principle of the state, in Greece, and later, in Rome, the practice of making individual horoscopes developed. Astrology fell soon into the hands of commercially-minded people, who came rapidly to be known as charlatans. In Rome, these were called first "Mathematici," then "Chaldeans," and, just as in modern times, so much trickery or foolishness became connected with their practice that they were at times forced by imperial edicts to discontinue their trade.
In ancient India an official astrologer was attached to every village- community, and it appears that one of his functions was to cast the horoscope of the new-born children of the high castes. But in this case the practice had a very ritualistic and physiological or biological significance; for marriages were often made by comparing birth-charts, and even the connubial life was regulated by the stars. In other words, here again we find a biological type of individualism in operation. The bodies of the individuals (of the high castes) had to be "cultivated," or in fact bred, so that they might become perfect instruments for the release of the spirit. Racial purity was another expression of the same ideal; and it was forced by circumstances, for Aryan blood had to be carefully preserved, or else the overwhelming mass of non-Aryan people in India would have corrupted the race type. This would have meant physiological chaos. Thus here again astrology served as a means to bring — or to keep — biological order; as a defense against elemental nature and as a technique of developing the "domesticated" nature, i.e., nature true to the celestial pattern represented by the Manu, the great divine Ancestor. Such a biological problem arises always when a more or less nomadic race living on the highlands invades the plains teeming with a decadent humanity.
There are, however, no evidences that the individualization of astrology and its use for personal purposes in Greece and Rome had a similar physiological basis. There may have been an archaic type of Greek astrology connected with the Orphic mysteries, as there was an archaic Egyptian astrology connected with ceremonial magic; but to our knowledge no traces of it have been preserved. It is evident, however, that Pythagoras used astrology in relation to music — and there perhaps we should have to look for the origin of the ethical-psychological-alchemical astrology of later times.
Such a type of astrology — which must be sharply differentiated from the type to which Ptolemy refers — is an attempt at bringing some sort of psychological order into the inner natures of men who had been unbalanced by the new emphasis which Greek civilization (and similar manifestations in the Orient) had placed upon the intellect. It is true that classical Greece had also stressed the elements of physical beauty and bodily form. But the Greek cult of the body was esthetical — not biological, or "occult" in the sense of the early Hindu yoga. The Greeks worshipped form and proportion, not the organic life that made and that sings within the body-earth. They were ideologists, and finally estheticians.
It was the impact of this previously unknown ideologism, which deals with order, form, measure as abstractions valid on their own mental plane without the necessity for a physiological foundation or even context, that shook the human world — and destroyed the vital meaning of astrology. Astrology had discovered the order that is within the sphere of biological phenomena. It was the promise inherent in nature — outer or inner — that the apparent chaos of natural energies can be resolved into a cosmos; that therefore prevision based on law is possible; that the living future can be deduced from the living past. Now men were beginning to deal with an abstract order; no longer with cosmos within nature — living cosmos — but with ideological patterns, with logic.
Greek logic killed the meaning of physiological astrology. If man could make his own order abstractly, and satisfy in that way his innate yearning for security, there was no longer vital value in trying to search painfully for order within outer nature. Man could command order. He could project it outwardly — which means estheticism — out of his own self, his own mental self. He could make the world again out of ideas. What an incredible revolution! Before that time, ideas were merely connective links between natural phenomena concretely perceived. Now they were said to live in their own world, a world where man also could dwell far away from the realm of natural chaos and of biological fear. Such a conception transformed the entire human outlook in a way which it is very difficult for us moderns to appreciate, especially as most of what we have known of the archaic ages was more or less rewritten, or for the first time recorded, after the sixth century B.C.
If order was existing in an archetypal world outside the world of biological nature, then the thing to do was, of course, to leave the latter and its fears — and to enter the blessed realm. The Buddhists attempted to do that by meditation, by severance from physiological life, and by a thorough mentalization of the body. This was quite different from the "archaic" yoga which was an attempt to rouse the vital spirit in the body, to free it from sensebondage and "jungle" fever, and integrate it to a point of perfect unity with the "God that dwells in the Pole Star" — as the Chinese had it. The Greeks looked for an escape from the tragic world of nature and its passional fate by pure thought, pure esthetical contemplation and "platonic" love.
Finally, when these types of escapes ended in ratiocination and sophistry, or in the absolute selfishness of a fallacious nirvana, then a strong psychological reaction set in, and religions of feelings arose: the Boddhisattva ideal of compassion, or in India and Persia the bhakti ideal of a love — so personal in its ecstasy as to be expressed in symbols taken from the most sensual passion; or the Christian ideal of charity, sacrifice and martyrdom. These religions had also a world freed from the sufferings and fears (now become "sins") of earthly nature; but this world could only be attained after death. It was the "other world;" and its entrance was guarded by the Church, without recourse to which man was confronted with a still more horrible realm of fear and chaos — hell. It is true that archaic religions did often imagine a world of gods to which mortals might be admitted after death, but the significance of this world was entirely different psychologically from that of the Christian "other world." For the latter gave a pejorative and sinful meaning to anything connected with physio-biological nature, which is the important point. Then faith, blind obedience, love, became exalted; exalted against natural biological living. Thus the long story of repressions began, the divorcing of the spirit from the flesh. Men lost the solid order of natural instincts and were unable as yet to reach another solidity, that of a higher order of life at the psycho-mental level. They therefore found themselves dwelling in an intermediate realm, a realm peopled by the results of suppressions, denials, thwarted feelings and intellectual sophism — a psychological jungle indeed.
In this jungle, as in any jungle, there was fear. Monstrous creatures, incubi, succubi, evil forces crowded it; no longer physiological creatures connected with earthy elements, but products of sins, of self-deceptions and of biological starvation. From this arose a psychological type of animism. It is true that the Church offered order and security to those who entered her realm. But how many monasteries did really keep the jungle out?
Yet the Church was a refuge, a token of the possibility of a supernal world to which she alone led. And therefore the Church took the place of astrology. It did so with many festivals and ceremonies arranged with great order throughout the year — in fact duplicating the old biological festivals based on the astrology of the archaic era. It did so for its consecrated children with a daily series of masses, prayers, services, extending through night and day. All these church ceremonies represented the Christian year, the Christian zodiac (now inhabited by saints and archangels), the Christian cosmic order. Observance of those ceremonies kept the jungle away from the soul.
But it was still astrology under a different garb! Astrology without the name. The wheel of the zodiac was replaced by a system of permutations of the four elements: hot, cold, dry, humid — not unlike the Chinese Yi King. To those permutations corresponded the many festivals of the year, some liturgy appropriate for those, and to them were attached, as symbolical illustrations, episodes of the Gospels. (4) Boehme was to extend the same system, using alchemy as a foundation — not unlike that of the Chinese Taoists.
There came, however, during the Middle Ages (especially after the eleventh century) a great renewal of astrological ideas proper, which, while repudiated and combated by the Church, still came more and more to control the minds of the period. This astrology was the result of the "psychological animism" already mentioned; and it can be generally characterized by the term Kabbalistic. It was linked very definitely to various forms of ceremonial magic, and came to Europe, mostly, it seems, through Spain and from centers of Arabic culture, especially perhaps, Fez, in Morocco.
The origin of this trend of astrology, essentially magical, appears to have been a mixture of Egyptian and Hebrew traditions. The books of Hermes Trismegistus, compendium of Egyptian gnosticism, were partly a foundation for it — and presumably a great number of oral traditions possibly descending from the old Mysteries, Babylonian and Greek. At any rate, we find there a rather curious mixture of elements, many of which are not altogether fortunate. That which once had been a vital function in archaic society appeared after the great psychological transformation of humanity as an inferior function (to use the terminology of Jung's psychology). It was the old magical idea of animism translated to the chaotic "astral" realm in which the collective psyche of the Middle Ages was so definitely centered. Thus the element of fear was strongly present. The magician uses a sword to combat the evil spirits, protects himself by magical circles. Yet fear is often in his heart, and the door is thus opened to psychological disintegration. Witness the horrors of ceremonial magic in Europe, even to this day.
Such types of magic, pure or impure as might be the case, used astrology consistently. According to Kabbalistic ideas, the Universe consisted of ten concentric spheres, each sphere being under the influence of one of the ten Sephiroth, or Emanations from the Absolute. These spheres were in order:
The Primum Mobile
The Sphere of the Zodiac
The Sphere of Saturn
" " " Jupiter
" " " Mars
" " " Sol
" " " Venus
" " " Mercury
" " " Moon
The Mundane Sphere
Each of the planetary spheres presided over a certain section of human affairs, and the man who wished to succeed in these affairs had to know the mystic symbols of the governing planet and the names and attributes of the operating genii. (Cf. E. Y. Pilcher — Two Kabbalistic Planetary Charms — Society of Biblical Archaeology — 1906.) Magic squares were also used, and talismans were made to secure the offices of the spirits or the influence of the planetary spheres.
What these genii were supposed to be can be seen from the following excerpt:
"The Creation of Life by the Sun is as continuous as his light; nothing arrests or limits it. Around him, like an army of Satellites, are innumerable choirs of genii. These dwell in the neighborhood of the Immortals, and thence watch over human things. They fulfill the will of the gods by means of storms, tempests, transitions of fire and earthquakes, likewise by famine and wars for the punishment of impiety. . . Under the Sun's orders is the choir of Genii, or rather the choirs, for there are many and diverse, and their number corresponds to that of the stars. Every star has its genii, good or evil by nature, or rather by their operation, for operation is the essence of the genii. . . All these genii preside over mundane affairs, they shake and overthrow the constitution of States and of individuals; they imprint their likeness on our Souls, they are present in our nerves, our marrow, our veins, our arteries, and our very brain-substance. . . They change perpetually, not always identically, but revolving in circles. They permeate by the body two parts of the Soul, that it may receive from each the impress of his own energy. But the reasonable part of the Soul is not subject to the genii. It is designed for the reception of God, who enlightens it with a sunny ray. Those who are thus illumined are few in number, and from them the genii abstain; for neither genii nor gods have any power in the presence of a single ray of God. But all other men, both soul and body, are directed by genii, to whom they cleave and whose operations they affect."
From Hermes Trismegistus (quoted in The Secret Doctrine, I, p. 294)
Here we have a typical attitude, probably of Brahmanical lineage, according to which nature is conceived from the animistic point of view, as something evil, something from which (because of its changeful, unsteady, monstrously prolific and unmoral quality) man must escape. There is a part of man's soul through which man can contact That Which is changeless, attributeless, limitless — the Self. As the contact is permanently established, man reaches safety. The jungle becomes harmless. The genii, good or bad, can no longer seduce, delude or attack man. He is an Illumined One.
The Kabbalist, on the other hand, ordinarily pursued another tactic. His task was to master these "astral" forces. He was the magician of the jungle. By propitiation (through physiological or psychological sacrifices) or by command (using a knowledge of the Names and Signatures of the genii) he made nature subservient to his will. This, of course, is just what the modern engineer does. The latter may have nothing but contempt for the magician — but the fact remains that the two basic attitudes are the same; for the formulas of the chemists are the signatures of the elements — except that they are arrived at by a process of intellectual analysis, while the Kabbalist's hieroglyphs are the result of a process of psychological identification. But what is still more important, the results attained by the controllers of nature's forces are in the end often similar. The magician commanded genii, but soon became their slave. He had to feed them with his own soul. His creatures devoured him. And today this society of ours, made up of actual or potential engineers, has become obviously the slave of its machines, of all the instrumentalities and agencies by means of which it commands the elements.
Such an analogy will, of course, seem beside the point and untenable to most people; but if one realizes the cleavage which has occurred for so many centuries between the physical world ruled by the intellect and the world of the psyche left in a state of chaos reminiscent of the primitive jungle, in spite or because of moral systems and codes of behavior — then one may see all things in their proper relationship. Modern science belongs to one side of the chasm; and all the so-called occult or esoteric systems, plus modern psychoanalysis and its derivatives, to the other.
If Kabbalism and the type of astrology used in its magical practices represent a sort of psychological animism, the true kind of alchemy stands for what we might call "psychological vitalism." Alchemy does not try to renounce nature and to center consciousness, as it were, outside of it, on the high peaks of the soul; nor does it try to command it by compulsion and the exercise of intellectual self-will. It assumes a universal life-substance which fills in the whole universe, physical and spiritual. It sees man and the universe as two examples of the same basic harmony of principles operating in and through this life-substance, and aims at establishing man at his own level of manifestation as a perfect cosmos, just as the universe at its level is a perfect cosmos. Evil is due to the fact that the respective spheres of man and of the universe become mixed, as man ceases to be a mere part of universal nature and becomes in his own right a cosmic whole.
This explains why in archaic times vitalistic philosophy considered the earth as the microcosm, and in modern times alchemy, its counterpart, considers man as the microcosm. Before the sixth century B.C. man was not actually a microcosm, but only, in a sense, the fruition of the earth. Even so, few men really are microcosms! But since man found in himself, independently from nature, his own principle of Order, his own Measure and Proportion, the Idea, the God within — then man can be said to be, generically at least, the microcosm.
"To understand correctly the meaning of the words alchemy and astrology, it is necessary to understand and to realize the intimate relationship and the identity of the Microcosm and Macrocosm, and their mutual interaction. All the powers of the universe are potentially contained in man and man's physical body, and all his organs are nothing else but products and representatives of the powers of Nature. . . If I have 'manna' in my constitution, I can attract 'manna' from heaven. 'Saturn' is not only in the sky, but also deep in the earth and in the ocean. What is 'Venus' but the 'Artemisia' that grows in your garden? What is 'iron' but 'Mars'? That is to say, Venus and Artemisia are both the products of the same essence, and Mars and iron are both the manifestations of the same cause. What is the human body but a constellation of the same powers that formed the stars in the sky? He who knows what iron is, knows the attribute of Mars. He who knows Mars, knows the qualities of iron. What would become of your heart if there were no Sun in the universe? What would be the use of your 'vasa spermatica' if there were no Venus? To grasp the invisible elements, to attract them by their material correspondences, to control, purify, and transform them by the living power of the Spirit — this is true alchemy."
Franz Hartmann, Paracelsus, pp. 287-288
The following quotation shows, even more than the preceding one, the difference between vitalistic and animistic astrology (in the modern sense), for in it Paracelsus himself, one of the greatest figures in European history, denounces the popular attitude toward astrology, which was then very much the same as it is today, and as it had been also in the last period of the Greco-Latin world:
"No one needs to care for the course of Saturn: it neither shortens nor lengthens the life of anybody. If Mars is ferocious it does not follow that Nero was his child: and although Mars and Nero may both have had the same qualities they did not take them from each other. It is an old saying that 'a wise man may rule the stars' and I believe in that saying — not in the sense in which you take it, but in my own. The stars force nothing into us that we are not willing to take; they incline us to nothing which we do not desire. They are free for themselves and we are free for ourselves. You believe that one man is more successful in the acquirement of knowledge, another in the acquisition of power. . . and you think that this is caused by the stars; but I believe the cause to be that one man is more apt than another to acquire and to hold certain things, and that this aptitude comes from the spirit. It is absurd to believe that the stars can make a man. Whatever the stars can do we can do ourselves, because the wisdom which we obtain from God overpowers the heavens and rules over the stars. . . Man's soul is made up of the same elements as the stars; but as the wisdom of the Supreme guides the motions of the stars, so the reason of man rules the influences which rotate and circulate in his soul.
"The planetary influences extend through all Nature, and man attracts poisonous qualities from the moon, from the stars and from other things; but the moon, and the stars, and other things also attract evil influences from man, and distribute them again by their rays, because Nature is an undivided whole whose parts are intimately connected. . . The sun and stars attract something from us, and we attract something from them, because our astral bodies are in sympathy with the stars, and the stars are in sympathy with our astral bodies; but the same is the case with the astral bodies of all other objects."
Franz Hartmann, Paracelsus pp. 309, etc.
This expresses clearly the idea of the exact correspondence between the macrocosm whose principle of order is "God" and the microcosm, man, whose principle of order is "reason" — or the "God within man." The life-substance circulating and differentiated within both macrocosm and microcosm is one and the same. The Light is the same, whether it shines as Sun and stars, or as the radiant centers within man's psycho-mental organism — once the latter is built by a long process of psychological integration. This is the Great Work of the true alchemists, the process of "individuation" which is the goal of C. G. Jung's psychological work, the birth of the "Living God" as a contemporary mystic-occultist Bo Yin Ra speaks of it, following the tradition of Meister Eckhart and Boehme.
In the meantime, of course, during the centuries which led from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and up to the present day, astrology, as the Greco-Latin world had bequeathed it to us through Ptolemy, flourished in the courts, among the merchants eager to increase their wealth, and wherever man's insatiable curiosity for the future — as an escape from fulfilling the present! — held sway. Whenever an astrologer succeeded in foretelling some striking death, birth or calamity, he became famous, a favorite of kings; but when his prophecies failed in some notable instance disgrace became his lot. Nostradamus, physician of King Henry II of France and a favorite of Catherine de' Medici, William Lilly, born in 1602, and his pupil John Gadbury who died in 1691 — and many others whose names can be found in various modern works on astrology, continue the tradition of Ptolemy, adding here and there, but without bringing in any new element of importance. European "classical" astrology is a spiritually lifeless rebirth of Greco-Latin intellectualism, as is practically all European classicism. The entire progress of humanity is then concentrated upon pure intellectual analysis and physical "scientific" experimentation. The vitality that was in astrology is now centered in astronomy. Man's reason plays at recognizing itself in the outer world, which it makes in its own image, just as primitive man's psychic sensitiveness projected itself into a world made in its own image and peopled with "spirits" and deities with human moods. Recently electricity and radioactivity broke the spell and led man to the startling concepts of twentieth century physics, to Einstein's theory of relativity, to the quantum, and to Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy. This means the birth of a new world of thought, widely open to the Unknown and Unknowable, which the last centuries had hoped to kill with the magic sword of Reason. It is this new world which is now demanding an account from astrology.
Astrology must be reborn and must perform again for our modern world, made chaotic by an unbridled and false individualism and by the sudden opening of psychological dams, the task of practical integration which has always been its own. Wherever the correlated motions of Sun, Moon, planets and stars are used to bring order into the confusion of our everyday world — there is astrology. The type and range of the phenomena of nature which astrology correlates, interprets and makes significant in terms of a cosmic principle of Order, change age after age. At first they were physiological and elemental. Now they are to be essentially psychological and mental. But the fundamental work of astrology remains the same. It is to reveal the "Harmony of the Spheres" at whatever level man's consciousness is centered. It is to carry the symbol of Order wherever man finds chaos. In modern terminology, it is the algebra of life.
1. Levy Brohl, Les Fonctions mentales dans les Societes inferieures (Paris, 1912).
2. Henri Maspero: Le Chine Antique II Chap. 1.
3. The Greek historian Megasthenes (302 B.C.), describing the duties of the Brahmin astrologer, adds, "The philosopher who errs in his predictions observes silence for the rest of his life." A list of the qualities expected of an astrologer, found in the old Sanscrit texts, is quite appalling.
4. This can be seen especially in books written by Syrian authors; for Syrian churches had remained closer to the biological foundation of the ancient East; while the Roman Church had become more intellectualized under the influence of neo-Pythagoreans and neo-Platonists. Cf. The book of Bar-Hebraeus called Ethicon, and many others (thirteenth century).
The Astrology of Personality