Why Traditional Astrology?

On Magnum Opus Astrology, we will look at many real-life examples of horary astrology: the divinatory art of finding the answer to a question in a chart erected at the moment it is asked. Over the past thirty years, this ancient branch of astrology has enjoyed an amazing revival through teachers who have begun to rediscover its elegance and practical usefulness. In fact, the contemporary resurgence of horary has in a real sense been at the forefront of a much broader recovery of what is often called “Traditional Astrology”. This is the astrology rooted in the gnosis of the great wisdom traditions, embodied in their cosmology and inseparable from the arts of magic and alchemy.

Traditional Astrology is the predictive astrology of the Arabic, Greek and Latin language traditions as practiced between, roughly, CE 750 and 1500. The origins of traditional astrology lay in the astrology of Hellenistic philosophers who had integrated the miscellaneous astral omen lore of the ancient Mediterranean into a magisterial synthesis that by the late 4th century would be recognized as a sacred science throughout the Roman Empire. From around CE 500, massive political and religious restructuring led to the decline of astrology throughout Christendom. This decline was hastened in the Latin West by the loss of the technical apparatus, especially mathematics, on which astrological calculations depend.

Even so, astrology thrived in the Muslim Arab empire, which by CE 750 had already fully absorbed it as part of a programmatic assimilation of Greek learning to the emergent Islamic worldview. When, around CE 1100, the Latin West awakened to its own need for the sciences, a massive translation effort opened the door to the Arabic contribution, including their astrology. The Arabic astrology would thrive for the next three centuries, even as its Islamic, “oriental” origins made it suspect to an increasingly disdainful European intelligentsia. By CE 1500, this would lead to a campaign to purify an idealized Greek astrology, based mainly on the Greek scientist Ptolemy, from supposed Arabic accretions.

Late 20th Century scholarship has shown that Arabic astrology was largely faithful to its Hellenistic antecedents. The “purified astrology” of the Renaissance, in fact, reflected the biases of a growing rationalism and scientific methodology that would more and more lay an exclusive claim on the right to arbitrate truth and meaning. After the 17th century, the gathering strength of this scientific materialism would force astrology, now relegated to the realm of superstition, into cultural and intellectual backwaters. Having lost its moorings in the great tradition, astrology would seek legitimacy and intellectual coherence from ideologies – mainly Theosophy and psychology – foreign to its nature. The result today is an astrology largely reduced to a pastime, a shadow of what had once advised kings.

How do we return to the tradition? Traditional Astrology is learned through study. As an art, it is not so much Lunar (“intuitive”) as Mercurial and Hermetic, a wisdom tradition based on texts transmitted by a lineage of teachers, including the Hermetica, Dorotheus, Ptolemy, Firmicus Maternus, Vettius Valens, Masha’allah, Ibn Arabi, Guido Bonatti, William Lilly, Jean Morin and many others. These texts present us with a range of tested concepts and procedures that are rooted in an bona fide sacred cosmology. Adherence to such texts is not mere antiquarianism. With the greater Hermetic tradition, it reflects a truly intuitional knowledge that sound texts are alive with the voice of the Teaching. I commend them to you, as well as to those of contemporary teachers walking the same path: Robert Zoller, Sue Ward, John Frawley, Deborah Houlding, Robert Corre and many others.

Traditional Astrology is both descriptive and predictive. It seeks first to delineate what is in the chart – to describe what actually is (not simply what we think about what is) and what may be – and on that basis to predict accurately what will be. Without delineation, there is no prediction. But without prediction, delineation is denied its fruit. Since it strives for specificity, this predictive aim is much more ambitious than the forecasting styles of much modern astrology. Paradoxically, it is also more modest, since its ultimate purpose is to lead its beneficiaries to see that life in the sublunary world, no matter how miserable or how exalted, is subject to divine providence no less than heaven is.

Traditional Astrology leads us to a threshold where we may hear Wisdom crying out in the streets, “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:6)

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