Open Letter to the Astrological Community…
Are We Free to Discuss
Astrology’s Real Problems?
By Glenn Perry
A lie can travel half way around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Rumors and allegations have been swirling since I gave a lecture on the sidereal zodiac in India last month. I thought it might be helpful to share my perspective and address an issue that goes beyond questions of scholarship and cultural sensitivity. Most people in the west hold the right to free speech and the values of free inquiry as sacrosanct. However, I have learned from recent experience that the right to free speech may not apply when people are confronted with speech they don’t like. The reasons for this are complex, ranging from cultural imperatives to wounds we’ve suffered as a community. But first, some background.
An International Incident
I am a member of The International Association for Astrological Research (ISAR). Until this past month, I was also their research director and ethics chair, having been on the ISAR Board for sixteen of the last twenty-one years. This February, I went to an international conference in India and presented my research on a topic of significance to the global astrological community: “the two-zodiac problem.” A verbatim transcript of the talk is here, or you can see it on YouTube.
The lecture was a straightforward, even-tempered reading of a paper that concluded with an opinion that the sidereal zodiac is a historical error. Only 30 minutes long, it was but a brief summation of a 9000-word article submitted to the conference organizers months earlier and published in the conference proceedings. The article itself was the product of years of research, containing 39 references to noted authorities on the origins of the zodiac. A more recent version has just been published in the ISAR Journal (Vol. 47, Issue 1, March 2018).
As the lecture generated considerable controversy, resulting in my resignation from the ISAR Board, the following is a synopsis to provide a context for the discussion that follows.
At the inception of the Babylonian calendar in the 1st millennium BC, the solar year was divided into four seasons of three months each with the equinoctial and solstitial points located in the middle of months I, IV, VII, and X. This later became the basis for a twelve 30° per/sign zodiac organized around the equinoctial and solsticial points.
Midway through the 1st millennium BC in pursuit of greater computational accuracy in measuring planetary positions, Babylonian astronomers consolidated approximately 17 to 18 irregular constellations along the ecliptic into 12 equal, sharply defined 30° sectors called zodiacal signs.
While signs were defined in reference to the fixed stars, the constellations themselves were anchored to the equinoctial and solsticial points at approximately 10° sidereal Aries, 10° sidereal Cancer, 10° sidereal Libra, and 10° sidereal Capricorn. Hence the Babylonian zodiac was a hybrid, neither fully tropical nor sidereal but a combination of both. In effect, the cardinal constellations were seasonal markers. Wrapping the cardinal constellations around the equinoctial and solstitial points made it easy to identify the start of a new season, for it began on the day the Sun rose in that constellation.
For most of the 1st millennium BC, signs and constellations were conflated. There was no need to make a sharp distinction between signs, constellations, and seasons since it was assumed their linkage was permanent. Zodiacal signs were metaphors of seasonal processes occurring in nature. Aries is spring-like as nature is heating up and new life is sprouting, bold and fresh. Libra is balanced, just as the duration of light and darkness is perfectly balanced at the start of autumn. Scorpio is transformational as leaves are turning colors, falling to the ground, and nature is dying. Capricorn is winter-like, signifying when nature is maximally contracted, days are short, and austerity is required.
The starry heavens comprised the ancient calendar and were a means for organizing time into discernible segments and qualities. Later, zodiacal signs came to have additional meanings that went beyond their correlation to seasonal processes. Yet, all such meanings were self-consistent with their original, root meaning in nature. From the foundational meaning of Aries as the start of spring, for example, analogous meanings were derived pertaining to birth, new beginnings, assertion, fighting, and war.
When precession of the equinoxes was discovered by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in the 2nd century BC, the implications were staggering. Constellations and seasons were not in a fixed relationship to one another, as had long been supposed; rather, seasons were wedded solely to the equinoctial and solstitial points. Moreover, these points drifted relative to the backdrop of the fixed stars at a rate of 72° per century, which meant that seasons and constellations were increasingly divergent.
To assure that sign meanings retained their original connection to the seasons, and that calendars would remain accurate over time, the signs were divorced from the constellations, which drifted away like the first stage of a rocket that had served its purpose well. Henceforth, the cardinal signs began with the equinoctial and solsticial points: 0° Aries (vernal equinox), 0° Cancer (summer solstice), 0° Libra (autumnal equinox), and 0° Capricorn (winter solstice). This was the tropical zodiac.
At about this time, the tropical zodiac migrated to India, which had no zodiac of 12 signs, nor any horoscopic astrology with planets, houses, or aspects (though it did have a system of 27 nakshatras, or lunar mansions). By the 2nd century AD, virtually the entire corpus of Hellenistic astrology had been transmitted to the east. What didn’t make the trip was knowledge of precession. Hindus initially copied the Greeks in linking the cardinal signs to the equinoctial and solstitial points. But there is no mention of precession in Indian astrological or astronomical texts until the 10th century AD, more than a thousand years after Hipparchus discovered precession in the west.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, after the transmission of Hellenistic astrology to India was complete, the vernal point and 0° sidereal Aries were roughly in correspondence. Only dimly aware of precession if at all, it was easy for Hindu astrologers to make the mistake of measuring planetary position strictly from the fixed stars with only passing reference to the equinoctial and solstitial points. Evidence suggests they assumed, as had the Babylonians before them, that signs and constellations were essentially the same―twelve 30° sectors that would remain in a fixed relationship to the seasons forever.
By the 10th century, however, the vernal point had precessed some 10° backwards relative to the fixed stars and was now in the constellation Pisces. It became obvious that the original correspondence of sidereal Aries to the vernal point no longer held. Having become habituated for a thousand years to the notion that the constellations were the true powers, they adopted the sidereal zodiac officially and abandoned any reference to the vernal point as the start of the zodiac.
Meanwhile, in the west, it was increasingly accepted that constellations never had the power or meaning that early humans projected onto them. Their presumed influence on earthly matters had merely been an illusion based on a misperception of the actual cause of seasonal processes. The true cause of the seasons was the earth’s axial tilt (obliquity) relative to its orbital plane, a phenomenon that would not be fully understood until after the Copernican revolution of the 16th century.
Most importantly, while zodiacal signs are abstract principles rooted in nature, their meanings arise from the phase relations (angles) they constitute in earth’s orbital cycle, evidence for which is that houses and aspects derive their meanings from the same angles as the signs to which they correspond. The earth-Sun annual cycle, the 24-hour diurnal cycle of earth’s axial rotation, and the synodic cycle between two planets, are all divided into 12 sub-phases within a 360° cycle starting at a definite point―the vernal point (signs), the eastern horizon (houses), and the conjunction (aspects). In short, the meaning of signs, houses, and aspects share a kinship based upon the angle they have in common. Libra, for example, is analogous to the 7th house and the opposition, as all three are comprised of the same 180° angle.
The upshot is that in astrology, all meaning is an angle. Constellations have nothing to do with it.
This was essentially my argument. The zodiac originally served a calendrical purpose, and calendar keeping is the foundation upon which astrology rests. Zodiacal signs are phase relations of earth’s annual orbit about the Sun, which is subdivided into 12 angles and anchored to the equinoctial and solstitial points. Once Hindu astrologers rejected the linkage between signs and seasons, their zodiac became unmoored, drifting into space in abandonment of a 2000-year tradition that had always connected the zodiac to the cardinal points, however loosely. In the most controversial slide of the lecture, I noted:
Yet, the sidereal zodiac hangs on, a vestigial organ once relevant to our Babylonian ancestors but no longer in accord with our current understanding of the cosmos. The sidereal zodiac was effectively terminated by the tropical zodiac, but like a ghost haunting its executioner, casts a troubling shadow over our profession.
Several people objected to likening the sidereal zodiac to a “vestigial organ”, thinking it was disrespectful. Yet, it is an apt metaphor. The original, twelve 30-degrees per/sign zodiac of the Babylonians was a fabric of constellations hung upon the equinoctial and solsticial points like dressing on a frame. What became the exclusively tropical zodiac necessarily evolved out of a dependency on stars for measurement. But once precession was discovered, zodiac signs were severed from the constellations and the sidereal component eventually became superfluous, like a vestigial organ. In saying this, no disrespect was intended. It’s simply what happened.
That the sidereal zodiac “casts a troubling shadow over our profession” is also true for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that clients and the larger public are confused about what to believe. Recently, a complete stranger confided to me (we sat in adjoining seats on a plane) that she received readings for herself and her four teenaged children by a Vedic astrologer who told everyone that they were not who they thought they were; that is, they had different Sun signs from what they had always believed. It caused considerable upset for the family and precipitated a shared identity crisis. Their “felt sense” of the accuracy of their Sun-sign was contradicted by the Vedic astrologer’s authoritative pronouncement that the tropical zodiac was wrong.
Of course, the Vedic astrologer had every right to assert what he believed to be true just as a tropical astrologer would if the situation were reversed. The point is that many people are confused and upset. They want to know what to believe; they want to trust astrology and astrologers. But if we cannot decide something as fundamental as which zodiac is correct, why should they trust us? As with every field, the truth matters. Ideas have consequences. If there is a sound argument based on historical facts that one or the other zodiac is incorrect, then that argument should be made.
After I returned from India, what happened next was extraordinary. My lecture ignited a firestorm of protest amongst western astrologers who attended the conference. Several charged that the lecture violated ISAR’s ethics code.
A.8.a. Different Approaches
Astrologers respect approaches to professional astrology that differ from their own and the traditions and practices of other professional groups with whom they work.
In a coordinated campaign, a half-dozen or more astrologers wrote to the ISAR Board demanding that I be removed as Ethics Chair under threat of canceling their membership. In effect, ISAR was being extorted to punish me, and in effect, to silence me.
The allegations were that I had “belittled and attacked my hosts,” that my talk “degenerated into name calling and arrogance,” that “a vehement tone emerged,” and that my “rudeness” and “aggression” may have “sabotaged a promising dialogue between the two astrologies.” The problem was that all the accusations were demonstrably false, as anyone who reads the text or views the video can see.
Within days following the talk, Facebook was ablaze with similar allegations of my being rude, insensitive, intolerant, disrespectful, and aggressive toward my Indian hosts. It was a contagion of scorn and derision spread by social media contact. One individual went so far as to attribute quotes to me that were entirely fabricated.
After thoroughly reviewing the matter, none of my fellow Board members thought I had done anything unethical. Allegations that my lecture violated ISAR’s ethics code were dismissed as unfounded. No one asked, suggested, or pressured me to resign from the Board. Nevertheless, the resultant outcry put the ISAR Board in a tough spot: defend me and lose members or punish me and retain members.
After much consideration, I thought it best to resign because I didn’t think the ISAR Board should be in that position. And I couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t be again. After all, I had a history, which several people on Facebook had already brought up. “Glenn has done this before,” they charged. “He attacks traditions he doesn’t like.”
The question arises as to why positions I’ve taken are so upsetting to so many. There are two possibilities, and they are not mutually exclusive. The first is that I am simply a bad person guilty of all charges. The second is that the astrological community is thin-skinned and hyper-defensive in response to perceived criticisms.
The first possibility warrants an admission. It is my view that people are responsible for repetitive experiences they attract. After all, this is implicit in astrology, for every variable in the chart symbolizes both a facet of character and a characteristic event. Such events start in childhood and extend into adulthood, always of the same pattern―yet, each new episode provides a vehicle for the further integration and development of the person. Since I teach this to my students, I can hardly deny it’s also true for me.
In my chart, a key configuration is Moon Sagittarius in the 8th exactly opposed to Mars Gemini in the 2nd. I grew up in a family with a mother who refused to admit the truth that she was alcoholic. Even when severely inebriated, which happened regularly, she would deny that she was drunk. If confronted with the obvious, she attacked me for being a bad son and saying things that were viciously untrue and deeply hurtful. In other words, she played the victim, seeking to induce guilt in her accuser. She was successful; it was crazy-making. And since no one else (sister, father) was willing to intervene, it left me in a state of guilt-saturated, perpetual anger. I felt frustrated and alone in attempts to heal a family wound that vastly exceeded my capacity.
In retrospect, I can see that this pattern of childhood experience fits my chart perfectly. In short, it’s me, not just my family or mother. It’s my karma, and it bears consequences that unavoidably extend into adult life. Later experiences with my astrological “family” recapitulate the general pattern. Noting problems that require honest confrontation, I set about exposing them, but this merely triggers angry denials and denunciations. Howls of protest echo my inebriated mother’s counterattacks whenever I confronted her. And just as I felt unsupported by my sister and father, so I feel unsupported by my astrological colleagues, with rare exception.
Clearly, this pattern of experience is the externalization of an inner state; as within, so without. Whatever residual anger is left over from my early years now manifests as frustrated attempts to engage others who oppose my efforts to address problems in the field. What can we make of this? Traditional astrologers might solemnly pronounce it’s a tragic fate from which there is no escape. Evolutionary astrologers might proclaim it’s a just karma earned from misdeeds in a prior life. I would not argue with either. But I would add that the degree to which I’m aware of the pattern empowers me to make choices in how I respond to it―choices that I otherwise could not make―and that makes all the difference.
I believe inner and outer conditions are synchronistically related and constitute a feedback loop that facilitates learning. One thing I’ve learned from my pattern is that I can’t force people to see things they’re unable or unwilling to see. As a child, I tended to take it personally, as if my mother’s denial and counterattacks were evidence that either I was “bad” (hurtful, crazy) for confronting her, or she was bad (uncaring, dishonest) for denying the legitimacy of my pain. In retrospect, I can see that we were both in tremendous pain. My mother’s defensiveness toward me wasn’t personal; it was in the service of protecting her from overwhelming guilt. My perceptions and feelings were sound regardless of whether she could validate them.
Likewise, if certain of my colleagues become upset with positions I’ve taken on various issues, I can’t take it personally, and there’s no point in forcing the issue. But neither can I assume that my perceptions and feelings are invalid. That someone gets upset over someone else’s opinion is not prima facie evidence that a wrong has been committed. There are plenty of historical examples that attest to this. Darwin’s work was upsetting to Christians who believed in the literal truth of the Bible; Copernicus’ work was threatening to astronomers who were deeply attached to a geocentric view of the cosmos. Both were reviled, hated, and ridiculed by their colleagues. I’m not comparing myself to Darwin or Copernicus. What I am saying is that just because people get upset with a viewpoint does not necessarily constitute a moral lapse on the part of the presenter. An argument may or may not be immoral (dishonest, depraved) but should be assessed on its own merits, not on whether people are pleased with it.
The challenge (and opportunity) in responding to hostile feedback is to deepen empathic connection with one’s detractors. While this is not easy when you’re up against the wall, recent events have given me pause to reflect: am I truly rude, divisive, and arrogant? Or, is the astrological community hyper-defensive in response to perceived criticisms? In whichever way the question is answered, there can be no progress toward resolution without compassion for self and other. I must accept I make mistakes; I can be blunt, opinionated, and combative; I can overstate my case. But this does not exclude the possibility that there’s an external problem as well. And if so, the work lies in seeing the connection and keeping my balance in addressing both.
Upsets and Allegations
The following is not intended to relitigate prior offenses, but to put in perspective an issue that I think has broader implications for us as a community. In 2002 at a NORWAC Conference, I interrupted and corrected a speaker during his lecture when he made an untrue, inflammatory comment about an article on astro-ethics that I had just written for The Mountain Astrologer. I regret interrupting the speaker. It was wrong. But the situation was more complicated than appeared. With oversight from the ISAR Board, I had recently created the ISAR Ethics Code, which was the backdrop for the article the NORWAC speaker had referenced during his talk. In that code, an injunction stated:
D.3.g. Claims About Past Lives
Astrologers who interpret chart symbols in terms of possible past lives assure clients that such interpretations are speculative in nature. Such interpretations do not induce unnecessary guilt or fear in the client, or state with unjustified certainty that the client is suffering from the consequences of an alleged past life action. Likewise, when writing articles or books that contain statements about past lives and astrology, authors disclose the source of their information and acknowledge the speculative nature of their claims.
This section was intended to address the questionable practice, common in books and computer-generated reports, of making pronouncements about the meaning of configurations in terms of past lives. Often these “interpretations” were of a highly negative nature without acknowledging that the interpretation was entirely speculative. Since consumers had no way of differentiating meanings grounded in observable data from those that were made up whole cloth from the astrologer’s imagination, they were in a vulnerable position if they were told, for instance, that Venus square Saturn indicates a karmic debt due to “selfishness” and “misuse of love” in a past life, and that in this life the native would be doomed to “limitations, disappointment and loneliness” in their quest for love. Mind you, this is an actual interpretation from a well-known book one can still purchase.
As a psychologist, I was troubled by these and similar interpretations of past lives currently being marketed by the astrological community. So, in addition to the section in the ISAR Ethics Code, I wrote an article highlighting the dangers such practices held for vulnerable clients. I did not state in the article (nor do I believe) that past-life interpretations are inherently unethical; rather, I asserted that astrologers should admit such interpretations are speculative. Once again, the article was well-researched and respectfully argued with 21 references to various authorities. And once again, it was met with howls of protest and demands for apology from astrologers who identified with the practices critiqued. Chief among these was the NORWAC speaker whose apparent intention in giving his lecture was to embarrass (and silence) the author.
In 2008, a similar situation unfolded following an article I wrote for the NCGR Research Journal titled “From Ancient to Postmodern Astrology”. There had been a resurgence of interest in traditional astrology during the prior two decades, which was partly in response to the sloppy, vague and imprecise nature of humanistic, psychological astrology that had emerged in the 20th century. Yet, the traditional techniques being recovered tended to be rigid, one-dimensional, and fatalistic, as characterized astrology in the first and second centuries. My intention in writing the article was to encourage caution in the uncritical acceptance and application of practices that originated 2000 years ago. By analogy, if modern dentistry became the beneficiary of an archaeological discovery of lost dentistry methods from year 2, we might expect the profession to be somewhat reticent in applying them immediately with modern patients.
Again, the article was extensively researched with 41 references to authorities on the evolution of astrology. It dealt strictly with ideas and practices, not persons. Yet, once more, there were howls of protest and slashing, vituperative attacks on my character and scholarship. It was as if I touched a nerve that triggered some deep, primal anger unrelated to the merit of the article. The lynch mob erupted in full force.
What’s curious about these responses is that I generally receive favorable reviews for my work. Among the hundreds of articles I’ve authored during my 40 years in the field, only three sparked controversy: questioning whether past life information can be ascertained from birthcharts; reviewing concepts in traditional astrology that lead to fatalistic interpretations; and critiquing the underlying rationale of the sidereal zodiac. In effect, I challenged certain practices that I thought were theoretically and/or ethically questionable.
The offending articles are invariably characterized as “attacks” but are actually critiques, which is a legitimate form of academic writing. ‘Attack’ derives from the language of war and entails aggressive and hostile action against a person, group, or belief. The goal is subjugation of the enemy. Conversely, a critique is a detailed analysis, assessment or evaluation of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory. The goal is discernment of truth. While a critique may contain some criticism, it is not an attack unless the reviewer is so over the top with bitterness, hostility and condemnation that it clearly crosses the line.
It’s worth noting that when someone accuses you of attacking a tradition that you’ve merely critiqued, what’s actually happening is they’re attacking you for doing the critique. A good example is a recent 90-minute YouTube video of my 30-minute India lecture. It was created by an astrologer who, it seems, has harbored a grudge that goes back to the aforementioned 2008 article on traditional astrology. Ten years later, he’s still out for revenge. In the video, he starts with plunging the dagger and spends the next 90 minutes twisting it.
Looking Beyond the Self―Astrology’s Shadow
In the wake of my lecture in India, one astrologer suggested that perhaps I embody the “shadow” of the community. I’m not exactly sure what she meant, but if the astrological community has a shadow, I suspect it has to do with a sense of badness and wrongness that’s been inculcated by centuries of scorn from science, academia, and the church.
Recently I read an article about Syrian migrants flooding into Germany and causing severe stress on that country’s resources. Yet, any citizen who complains about Germany’s open-door refugee policy is immediately denounced as a Nazi. In effect, Deutschland’s shadow is its shame from WWII atrocities committed by actual Nazis. Contemporary Germans polarize to that identity by exclaiming their virtue as a compassionate, inclusive, and welcoming nation. And I believe they are, but they’re also hyper-reactive to any behavior that could be construed as racist.
The psychology of present day Germany illustrates how inherited shame can be a powerful force in constellating a collective shadow and shaping compensatory attitudes. As astrologers, we have inherited shame, too. We’ve been condemned by the church for nearly two millennia; rejected by science and banished from the University for three centuries; and are continually mocked by the media. Surely, our collective shadow is a deep sense of moral and intellectual inferiority. How could it be otherwise? Though I would be quick to argue that our shame is unwarranted since any objective person who takes the time to study astrology recognizes its validity.
In some ways, astrologers live in a world similar to my childhood family. Unable to admit her shame, my mother tried to get me to think I was crazy, that my perceptions and experience were merely imagined, that I was wrong in what I believed to be true. The psychological term for this is “gaslighting”, which occurs when someone is manipulated into questioning the validity of their feelings and perceptions, and ultimately their sanity. Likewise, the guardians of the dominant paradigm in western culture have a vested interest in sowing doubt within the astrological community. For if it turns out we’re right, the old paradigm will topple. The stakes are high, and the guardians are not likely to relinquish power without a fight. Gaslighting is their weapon of choice. Centuries of ridicule and scorn have left deep emotional scars upon the psyche of the astrological community.
Astrologers are so accustomed to defending themselves from external attacks that it makes self-evaluation difficult. Ostracized from academia, we are largely untrained in critical thinking and research protocols. The result is an insular, self-protective mindset that tends to proclaim all views as equally valid, an untenable position that no other field would ever presume to take.
This was brought home during a Facebook discussion following my lecture in India. One astrologer was astonished that I critiqued the sidereal zodiac before an audience of Indian astrologers. “I can’t imagine that an Indian astrologer would be rude enough to criticize the tropical zodiac,” she sniffed. “Besides, who is so arrogant as to presume something doesn’t work in astrology?”
Her statement speaks for itself. Every knowledge claim, every method and technique, “works”. Such an attitude compensates astrology’s shadow―the fear that nothing works, that we are fools, that our detractors were right all along. To keep these fears at bay, an unspoken but powerful taboo has arisen: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological.
So, what happens when the taboo is violated? What happens when one of our own questions the validity of an accepted astrological doctrine such as the sidereal zodiac? Jung called it enantiodromia, the tendency for the psyche to flip into its opposite; to be possessed by its unconscious. In our case, the persecuted becomes the persecutor, projecting upon the wrongdoer its own sins and attendant shame. Scapegoating is the technical term, the most dramatic example of which is the public lynching of individuals accused of rape or murder, impulses that are repressed within the psyche of every citizen. Figuratively speaking, a lynch mob is any angry group that leaps to punish someone they believe has committed an egregious offense, the potential for which they deny within themselves. By definition, the lynch mob exterminates its scapegoat without due process. In this case, it kills the critic.
It seems to me that what we’ve been witnessing on Facebook and in letters to ISAR excoriating the author is a classic example of a lynch mob seeking a scapegoat. One astrologer even suggested I should be killed; others that I be banned from astrological conferences forever; another called me a sociopath. The reactions were so extreme and disproportionate to any actual offense that I cannot help but think there’s more going on than meets the eye. What happened following my lecture is an ancient, primitive, and frightening phenomenon that seems rooted in a community’s need to expiate its shame and guilt by finding a scapegoat and engaging in an act of ritual murder.
A Pervasive, Irrational Bias
In subsequent discussions on Facebook that dealt with statistical research, I was struck by the pervasive bias amongst astrologers that both zodiacs can work. There was no particular logic to these pronouncements; just a fervent conviction that somehow both zodiacs must be valid. At first, I suspected this was due to an aversion to telling an entire group of believers that they are wrong. But I think now it has more to do with the aforementioned taboo: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological.
I take it for granted that every field makes mistakes. This was driven home during my years in graduate school. I learned that the history of science is littered with the corpses of discarded theories, some of which were around for thousands of years before being pronounced defunct. This is how knowledge advances; there’s no shame in it.
Because I believe two zodiacs that contradict one another cannot both be right, my inquiry began with a question: could a mistake have occurred that resulted in a splitting of one zodiac into two? I then endeavored to determine where, when, and how the mistake might have occurred. This seemed a more logical way to proceed than leaping to the warm and fuzzy conclusion that both zodiacs are correct and then coming up with a tortured rationale for why this is so. We should at least be willing to consider that one side or the other is wrong if that’s what the evidence indicates.
For the Sidereal Zodiac to be Valid
What would it take for the sidereal zodiac to be valid? Let us consider the matter, but first there are some facts to face. That the constellations were originally linked to the equinoctial and solsticial points is beyond dispute. Likewise, it seems self-evident that sign meanings are rooted in their association with seasonal processes from which later, analogous meanings were derived. We also know that the Babylonian New Year began with the first new Moon closest to the vernal equinox in the constellation Aries. Since it heralded the renewal of life, the vernal equinox (spring) was a natural place to start the year. However, the stars that formed the backdrop to that date in the 1st millennium BC were irrelevant since they would only be there temporarily. Within a thousand years, an entirely new group of stars would surround the vernal point. Yet, the meaning of the vernal point does not change; spring is still spring. Clearly, what gave tropical Aries its meaning―vitality, boldness, spontaneity, fresh starts, an instinct for survival―was its association with the vernal point, not the constellation of stars that surrounded it.
For the sidereal zodiac to be valid, we would have to assume that by some miracle the stars that comprised the constellation Aries had then, and will continue to have forever, exactly the same meaning and effect as the period of time indissolubly associated with the vernal equinox. In other words, the meaning and power of sidereal Aries is entirely independent of the vernal point and will continue to have the same meaning and power long after the vernal point has precessed from it.
Moreover, by this same miracle coincidence, every other constellation had exactly the same quality and meaning as the season to which it once corresponded; and would continue eternally to have this meaning despite no longer being in alignment with the season to which it corresponded when the zodiac originated. This implies, for example, that the 30° sector of stars surrounding the winter solstice in 500 BC had a meaning and power that just happened at the time to be a perfect match to the quality of winter that is indissolubly associated with the sign Capricorn―conservative, cold, formal, a penchant for structure, and so on. Even after the constellation Capricorn no longer coincided with the winter solstice, its attendant stars would continue forever to confer winter-like attributes to anyone born with the Sun in that constellation. This is what the sidereal zodiac requires us to believe.
The sidereal argument (if it can even be called that) begs credulity. The claim that star groups have eternal meanings and powers consistent with the seasons to which they corresponded when the zodiac first originated is farfetched, to put it mildly. It is more reasonable to assume that constellations were artificial constructs, expedient groupings of stars that provided a visible means for measuring planetary positions and forecasting seasonal changes. In all likelihood, myths and meanings projected upon constellations derived from the misperception that they were causal factors in determining seasonal conditions and analogous sociological phenomena.
In saying this, I realize I am violating astrology’s first commandment: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological. Yet, even in the truncated form presented above, I would think any reasonable person would perceive there’s a certain logic to the argument. It’s rationale, coherent, defensible. So, why not simply have a respectful conversation about where we might disagree? As we shall see in the following section, it’s not so easy anymore, for anyone.
A Postmodern Straitjacket
It would be naive to think that astrological debates are not subsumed within a larger, cultural matrix that establishes rules for what is permissible to think, say and do. When I was at graduate school in the 70’s and 80’s, my first courses were in epistemology and the history of science. Our professors wanted us to learn how to think critically and, ultimately, tackle unsolved problems in a chosen topic area. Research would ideally culminate with presentation of a paper at a conference, which might spark further discussion and debate. If someone disagreed with a presentation, they were encouraged to attempt to explain, using logic, evidence, facts, and substantive arguments, why they disagreed. By the 1990’s, all that began to change.
This change has been the subject of numerous studies in itself. Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was a bellwether and heralded a wave of similar books including Bruce Bawer’s more recent The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. Bloom, Bawer, and other authors assert there’s been a breakdown in norms governing academic discourse over the last decades, especially regarding tolerance of opposing views. Some speakers invited to college campuses are demonized to the point that students are coddled and insulated in “safe spaces” from speech they find threatening―or, more ominously, these speakers are prevented from even entering the campus due to violent protests.
All of this is traceable to the rise of a pernicious doctrine―postmodernism―that not only has infected college campuses but also western culture as a whole. Postmodernism started as a legitimate corrective to the excesses of modernism but eventually morphed into a caricature of itself, as so often occurs with compensatory movements.
Essentially, postmodernism divides the world into oppressors and oppressed and sees all discourse as a power struggle between them. Oppressors are those in a position of power; the oppressed those who comparatively lack power, which is invariably defined as a consequence of victimization by the powerful. The oppressed are never in any way responsible for their own condition. They are, by definition, victims.
The power of truth to shape moral behavior is undercut by postmodernism’s core edict: there is no final truth, merely points of view originating in different places and times. All truths are rationally equivalent; all acts are morally equivalent. Nothing is right or wrong except thinking makes it so, and there is no privileged perspective. Tolerance reigns supreme over all other virtues and renders superfluous any sort of moral judgment. Intolerance is the only real crime. Fairness and equality supersede evaluations of superior/inferior, better/worse, or any form of hierarchy based on merit. Inclusivity and diversity supplant meritocracy. Equal opportunity is replaced by equal outcome; everyone gets a trophy because feeling unequal is not an option. In short, protection of feelings takes precedence over discernment of truth.
Postmodernism is a form of absolutism that presumes a position of superiority over conventional ideologies (religious and political) that are uniformly defined as authoritarian, dogmatic, and oppressive of minorities. Otherwise known as ideological fascism, it has spawned the “I Am Offended” movement like cholera on an infected ship. That postmodernism is itself merely a perspective is largely unrecognized by its exponents. Yet, to the extent it remains unrecognized, it compels allegiance under threat of being labeled morally inferior or mentally ill―selfish, heartless, racist, misogynistic, colonialist, supremacist, islamophobic, xenophobic. The list goes on.
Clearly, postmodernism has found its way to astrology. The chief complaint regarding my talk in India was that it was insensitive by virtue of my conclusion that the sidereal zodiac is an historical error. Again, in the world of postmodernism, judgments of right and wrong are divisive, offensive, and downright mean. Some critics alleged that I assumed a “posture of cultural superiority” and displayed “blatant disrespect for the culture of the people in whose home he was a guest.” One astrologer even charged that my talk exemplified colonial powers oppressing the local natives.
I was fully aware of the sensitivity of critiquing the sidereal zodiac while in India. However, it seemed to me that protecting Indian astrologers from challenging views is akin to treating them as children. It’s the worst kind of condescension because it cloaks itself as moral superiority. And that’s the paradox: to not give the talk would be insulting to Indian astrologers, for it implies they are too weak to tolerate disagreement and too ignorant to engage in reasoned debate. I categorically reject this view.
One might think that an international conference is the proper venue for discussion of problems that transcend cultures and remain unsolved within a field. But western astrologers, well-versed in the “I Am Offended” movement, screamed I should apologize for offending my hosts! In doing so, they were marching lockstep in obeisance to the postmodern ethos that feelings are more important than truth.
A Wizard Attacks
One western astrologer who was present at the lecture was especially offended. This astrologer, who likes to dress up in wizard’s clothes and call himself “Merlin”, wrote an open letter to the astrological community about how “shocked and dismayed” he was in response to the delivery of my lecture, as well as its content. His harangue is worth consideration because it demonstrates the extremes to which some astrologers will go to silence speech they don’t like. Although a tropical astrologer, he has made public his conviction that both zodiacs are valid; thus, he has turf to defend, and is willing to do so by denigrating the character of those who openly disagree with him.
He begins by criticizing my first slide, a cartoon depicting a beleaguered elephant on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office saying, “I’m right there in the room, and no one even acknowledges me.” Of course, it’s a metaphor of the two-zodiac problem. The wizard thought this was “appalling” and demonstrated “blatant ignorance and disrespect” for Indian culture given that I shared the stage with a statue of Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed god of the Hindu faith. Yet, had he read the accompanying article published in the proceedings of the conference, he would have noted that I wrote:
I’m thinking this could be Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant Headed God. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As we gather on these pages to discuss astrology, which is rooted in the zodiac, it is perhaps fitting that Ganesha should be seeking therapy for his experience of not being acknowledged. For his predicament symbolizes a difficult topic we often try to avoid, perhaps out of politeness, or simply because of its mind-numbing complexity. Yet, he also symbolizes precisely those attributes necessary to face it, if not resolve it.
My decision to use the cartoon reflected my faith that Indian astrologers have a sense of humor and a capacity to appreciate metaphor. I also had faith (wrongly, it turns out) that if someone is going to criticize my position on the sidereal zodiac that he would take 40 minutes to actually read the article on which the lecture was based. He was certainly aware of its existence.
The gist of this astrologer’s criticism was, in his own words:
Astrology must be inclusive, not exclusive. Just because a technique or theory doesn’t work for you is not reason to take it away from those who use it successfully.
Apart from how a technique or theory can be taken away simply by questioning its validity, the wizard’s argument implies that if someone uses a technique and believes it works, then it does work; if they believe the theory that the Moon is made of green cheese, then it is made of green cheese. Practice and belief equates to truth. Case closed. By this logic, we would still be using leeches to treat patients with pneumonia.
My critic’s thinking epitomizes the attitude that all views in astrology are equally valid. And since no one is ever wrong, there is no permission to ask hard questions, challenge certain presumptions, or offer arguments as to why one view may be more correct or helpful than another. Instead, there is a circle-the-wagons mentality and an attempt to silence unwanted speech through disparagement and ridicule. According to this astrologer, he was “horrified” by my behavior; I am divisive, ignorant, rude, disrespectful, judgmental, guilty of “infantile thinking”, and have “damaged our community.”
He alleges that many of these charges have to do with the “tone” of my delivery―how I say things rather than what I say. But I think this is disingenuous. What is actually meant by tone is any statement that disagrees with a statement by someone else. We’re back to the central taboo of astrology: no criticism allowed. When detractors criticize my tone, I suspect this merely conceals the true source of their animus, which is the nature of the lecture itself―a critique. For a critique violates astrology’s first commandment: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological.
Conflating academic discourse with bad behavior is essentially a gag order on discussion of important issues we face as a field. Hurling slurs, vilifying, and name-calling doesn’t enlighten, inform, or educate. Indeed, it undermines those goals by stifling speech around precisely those topics that should be debated.
The wizard’s own thinking on the two-zodiac problem is instructive on multiple levels. First, he makes a number of trivial and baseless criticisms, such as citing a slide that states there are 28 nakshatras. Wrong, he trumpets! There are only 27! Actually, there are two systems, one 27, the other 28. These and similar allegations illustrate how apologists for the sidereal zodiac will leap at any opportunity to pick holes in my argument even while doing so from a position of ignorance.
The wizard’s most thunderous reproach focuses on my citation of Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction. Aristotle’s Law states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. If this is so, I argued, then two zodiacs that assign different meanings to the same dates cannot both be true, since they obviously contradict one another. But the wizard evokes the wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics as an illustration that Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction is wrong. Subatomic particles appear to coexist simultaneously as both particle and wave! It follows that the zodiac can likewise coexist simultaneously as both a seasonal and a constellational structure!
This all sounds very profound until you disrobe the wizard’s argument and reveal the vacuous reality underneath. Wave-particle duality does not refute Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction, the critical part of which is: “in the same sense at the same time”. In quantum physics, whether light is perceived as a particle or a wave depends upon how the experiment is set up. An experimental setup cannot depict light as a particle and a wave in the same sense at the same time; it can only measure one or the other. As Werner Heisenberg put it, “We do not study nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
More importantly, whatever legitimacy the wave-particle duality may have on a subatomic level, it does not uniformly extend to the macro level of planets and stars. As has been often stated, quantum mechanics doesn’t contradict Newton’s laws, it merely corrects them at the infinitesimally small subatomic level. The upshot is that wave-particle duality does not disprove Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction; nor does it offer any support for the extended claim that a single zodiac can propagate in both constellational and seasonal forms. Despite the wizard’s protestations, the inherent contradiction of sidereal and tropical zodiacs cannot be explained away through banal allusions to the paradoxes of quantum mechanics; you cannot sprinkle pixie dust on your keyboard and utter the magic words “wave-particle duality” and expect, Poof! ―a 2000-year old problem will simply disappear.
As an illustration of Aristotle’s Law, a more telling example is the Ptolemaic conception of a geocentric cosmos versus the newer Copernican heliocentric model. For thousands of years, it seemed that the Sun moved round the earth, and virtually everyone believed it to be so. But Copernicus proved it was an illusion; it is the earth that orbits the Sun, not vice versa. His model utterly contradicted the earlier conception and there was no going back.
This is but one example, but it makes the case that contradictions of the sort we are dealing with here―two zodiacs that assign different meanings to the same dates―are inherently irreconcilable. Both cannot be true. The fanciful nature of the wizard’s attempt to salvage the integrity of both systems highlights the lack of critical thinking that pervades the field. “Let’s be inclusive,” he seems to be saying; all apparent contradictions are simply misunderstandings; all statements that seem to disagree are, in fact, equally valid. No one is ever wrong about anything. But this is sheer folly. The notion that astrologers are not prone to the same errors as every other field is simply a defense that compensates astrology’s shadow: the fear that we lack all credibility.
Despite its populist appeal, there is a certain desperation in the wizard’s line of reasoning, like a man flailing about and sinking ever deeper into a quagmire of inanity. Conversely, I’ve been accused of thinking “like a skeptic,” the arch enemy of astrologers everywhere. While I would be the first to admit that some skeptics go too far (atheism, scientism), I would add that astrologers don’t go far enough (gullibility, wishful thinking). There’s a middle ground where self-monitoring and evidence-based practice is critically important for any profession that aspires to legitimacy. We can’t have it both ways: bemoan our current status as the gold standard of superstition while at the same time steadfastly refuse to question anything a fellow astrologer asserts as true.
The Importance of Research
Astrology cannot proceed as a real profession if we do not remain open to refutation. The primary advantage of scientific inquiry lies with its efficiency. Hypotheses can be tested, retained, or discarded according to their merit. Knowledge thus accumulates that is relatively free from erroneous assumptions. In effect, research is a kind of corrective procedure, an intellectual screening process that eliminates fallacies, deceptions, and general errors of thinking so that they do not tangle up our accumulating body of knowledge and lead us astray.
Now, I want to address a side issue that sprouted from the lecture I gave in India. It pertains to the implicit delegitimization of what in the social sciences is called ‘qualitative research’, which is the methodology I applied in researching the two-zodiac problem. Several detractors allege that my lecture was completely lacking in “objective, empirical evidence”. But what does this really mean?
Research methods can be roughly organized into two broad categories: quantitative and qualitative, each of which defines evidence differently. Quantitative methods involve statistical analysis in an attempt to establish a connection between a causative (or corollary) factor and event-outcome in terms of a precise numerical value. Conversely, qualitative methods make no attempt to measure or count, but rather try to increase our understanding of a phenomenon through descriptive analyses and interpretive procedures that build a complex, holistic picture of the topic under study.
Whereas quantitative methods are ideal for the study of relatively simple systems that are self-contained, such as exist in the hard sciences (physics, chemistry), qualitative methods are more appropriate for complex topics that involve multiple, intersecting factors that evolve over time, like human beings. For this reason, qualitative methods are typically utilized in social sciences like psychology, anthropology, and history. It follows they are also appropriate for astrology. For example, a qualitative method might explore how different sectors of the sky came to have discernable meanings for human communities. How did these meanings evolve, and for what reasons?
The format for a qualitative study follows the traditional approach of presenting a problem, asking a question, collecting data to answer the question, analyzing the data, and answering the question. The question, in effect, is the hypothesis, which is a sort of provisional theory, guess, or supposition that must eventually be researched to determine whether evidence supports or refutes it.
For example, my approach to the two-zodiac problem began with the question: could a mistake have occurred that resulted in a splitting of one zodiac into two? From this, I derived the hypothesis:
A mistake occurred at a particular point in history that resulted in the splitting of an original zodiac into two separate, contradictory zodiacs, only one of which is valid.
The nature of one’s hypothesis is the most important factor in determining methodological approach. To test my hypothesis, I decided the hermeneutic method was most suitable. Hermeneutics is a qualitative method that focuses on interpretation; explanation refers to the meaning behind the analysis of data. This meaning, in turn, is evaluated in terms of whether it confirms, disconfirms, or leads to revision of the hypothesis.
Hermeneutics allows for analysis of a phenomenon from a variety of different angles in hopes of arriving at a broad, comprehensive understanding. The researcher gathers relevant factual data, analyzes it inductively, infers its meaning, and describes the results in persuasive language―that is, in terms that attempt to convince the reader of the rightness of the interpretation. The purpose is not to prove the ultimate truth or falseness of a given doctrine, but to affect our degree of belief.
In researching the two-zodiac problem, my objective was twofold: 1) discern whether there is historical evidence from various texts that lead one to reasonably conclude a mistake occurred that resulted in the splitting of an original zodiac into two contradictory versions; and 2) determine whether evidence supports the hypothesis that one or the other zodiac constitutes an error.
First, I collected data pertinent to my question. This included anthropological studies of the Neolithic period (10,000 – 2000 BC), archaeoastronomy, origins of the zodiac as revealed through cuneiform tablets, the history of western and eastern astronomy, Babylonian mythology, the development of calendars, Hellenistic astrological texts, and relevant parts of contemporary astrology.
Second, I analyzed the data in terms of the “hermeneutic circle,” a dialectical movement that goes from interpretive hypothesis, to evidence, back to hypothesis, and round and round. In so doing, my hypothesis was continually adjusted in light of new data until sufficient information was gathered that allowed for a reasoned conclusion; that is, an interpretation that connects the dots and gives a coherent meaning to the evidence. This is hermeneutics. This was the method I utilized in doing my study.
I have taken some time to describe the hermeneutic method in order to address the question of what constitutes evidence? In qualitative research, evidence can be any verifiable factor that is pertinent to the hypothesis, such as statements in authoritative texts. Such evidence is then utilized in building a case and arriving at a conclusion. Conversely, in quantitative research, evidence is defined strictly in terms of statistical results; that is, evidence is the outcome of the experiment. For example, Robert Currey writes:
In the scientific method, evidence should be empirical, not historical assumptions and claims that are debatable. He provides no objective evidence.
Currey further asserts that my argument was “simplistic” while admitting that he never read the actual article. Naturally, a 30-minute lecture would have to be simplistic in comparison to the 9000-word article on which it was based. More importantly, Currey seems to ignore the meaning and value of evidence in the broader context of qualitative research. While the conclusion of any study is debatable if one can come up with a better argument based on existent evidence, to suggest that that my conclusion is based only on “historical assumptions and claims that are debatable” is misleading because it delegitimizes the very real evidence on which the argument was built.
There are many evidential facts disclosed in my article that are not mere assumptions. For example:
- Obsession with equinoctial and solsticial points was ubiquitous in the ancient world, as reflected in the alignments of sacred monuments.
- At the inception of the Babylonian calendar in the 1st millennium BC, the solar year was divided into four seasons of three months each with the equinoctial and solstitial points located in the middle of months I, IV, VII, and X. This later became the basis for a twelve 30° per/sign zodiac organized around the equinoctial and solsticial points.
- The Babylonians began their year at the new moon closest to the vernal equinox in the constellation Aries.
- Zodiacal signs, constellations and months were often conflated in cuneiform tablets during the 2nd half of the first millennium BC.
- There was no 12-sign zodiac in India prior to importing Hellenistic astrology in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
- The Greek astronomer Hipparchus discovered precession in 134 BC.
- There is no formal mention of precession in any Indian astrological or astronomical text prior to the 10th century, 1000 years after Hipparchus.
- Signs, houses, and aspects uniformly derive their meanings from multiples of 30° angles, which are phase relations within whole (360°) cycles – annual, diurnal and synodic – that have nothing to do with constellations.
I could go on, but the above should suffice to make my point. While these facts require further elaboration and synthesis to appreciate their significance, that they constitute objective evidence in support of my hypothesis is relatively certain in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
It is difficult to know whether Currey’s criticisms are solely due to a preference for quantitative methods, or because he thought my lecture in India culturally insensitive. As he put it, “Tolerance of diversity within the practice of astrology is not a PC posture, but rational humanity.” This implies that a speaker is intolerant merely by concluding on the basis of historical evidence that a doctrine is in error. Once again, protection of feelings takes precedence over discernment of truth.
One seemingly fortunate development in the wake of my lecture was the launching of the Kepler Conference Online Research Forum for discussion of “The 2-Zodaic Problem”. However, their opening statement reads:
At a recent conference in India, controversial claims were made for the superiority of the western, tropical zodiac over the sidereal zodiac used by Indian astrologers. Ironically, this claim directly conflicts with the evidence we presented in our lecture at the same conference. We introduced a range of experiments using sound research methodologies, that lead to very different conclusions. Unfortunately, in all the debate that has raged ever since, there has been little to no recourse to any evidence whatsoever….So we invite everyone affected by this controversy to please join us in an open-minded, even-handed, evidence-based investigation of this ‘problem.’
The organizers seem to be implying that only experimental, quantitative “sound” methodologies have merit in addressing the two-zodiac problem. Other methods (namely, qualitative) offer “little to no recourse to any evidence whatsoever.” But as we have seen, this depends on how you define evidence. As Courtney Roberts put it, “At this point, we’re really only interested in empirical evidence and solid methodologies. In my experience, most people vastly overestimate the power of their own ‘reasoning’…” Courtney may be right about people overestimating their capacity to reason. She also seems to be saying that reason and evidence (facts) are dichotomous; but if so, this is a false dichotomy. For reason’s as dependent on facts as a tree its roots. Without facts, an argument cannot long stand and will topple over when faced with the stiff winds of opposition.
Further, in a call for papers to be presented at the Kepler 2019 Conference, there appears to be the usual bias toward the co-validity of both zodiacs.
We actively encourage cooperation between Western & Vedic astrologers and seek to build upon the results and relationships established in Kepler 2.0 & our forums on the 2-Zodiac problem, especially projects identifying the relative strengths and weaknesses, and the combined potentials of both systems.
The above statement seems to be predicated on the presumption that both zodiacs are valid, which is precisely what is at issue. While bias is implicit in the nature of a research question, it’s another matter to state that a conference is primarily interested in research that validates the belief that both zodiacs are equally true. I could be wrong about this, and it may be that Kepler Forums are not biased against qualitative approaches to the two-zodiac problem, and they are equally open to research that supports one or the other zodiac being invalid. But if so, it would be helpful to make this more explicit. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that there are a number of researchers who, in testing each zodiac with quantitative methods, found support for the tropical zodiac but not the sidereal―Robert Currey, Kyosti Tarvainen, and Vincent Godbout among them. There is allegedly research that leads in the opposite direction as well, but I do not yet know enough to comment further.
It is unfortunate that in an area where we could be inclusive as a community―astrological research―there seems to be a snubbing of qualitative approaches, as if they have no value or relevance to the two-zodiac problem. Yet, the two methods are not mutually exclusive. Experimental results are often used as components of qualitative studies and, vice versa, qualitative studies can lead to experimental designs for more focused inquiry. The two methods are complementary, with each having its own strengths and weaknesses.
Although I believe there are inherent difficulties in testing the validity of tropical and sidereal zodiacs via experimental designs, I would not discourage anyone from trying. The larger point is that evidence comes in many shapes and forms and is not limited to experimental results. With qualitative methods, reason connects facts and places them in a wider, more comprehensive framework. Facts become pillars in a structure of meaning. This view holds that a conclusive understanding cannot be grasped by a myopic obsession with the concrete results of particular experiments, for this misses the forest for the trees. Truth requires a capacity for abstract thought, an ability to connect the dots, to see the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
It is worth repeating that astrology cannot proceed as a real profession if we do not remain open to refutation, by whatever method. Such a critical and discriminating approach to knowledge assures that our “truths” will continue to evolve.
I will always look back on the India lecture as one of the proudest moments of my life, not because people liked it, but because the ensuing outrage underscores how much courage it took to give the lecture in the first place. If people disagree with my choice to give that lecture in India, that’s okay; we can agree to disagree. But to take it to another level and publicly excoriate the speaker and demand his ouster as Ethics Chair in an organization he’s served for 16 years; well, that’s symptomatic of a deeper issue. So long as protection of feelings takes precedence over discernment of truth, our freedom to discuss astrology’s real problems will remain compromised.
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