Originally, October 23, 2007
From the desk of Samuel Reynolds
Many times, I’ve had people ask if astrology is an art or science. Ultimately, I look at it as a craft, but I think it is more an art than a science. I know many other astrologers would disagree, which for me, testifies more to its art than to its science. This is more than just a light-hearted question, however. I think if one comes to think of astrology as a definitive science, like chemistry, one is also bound for some deep disappointments and prone to more surprising results. Let me explain.
Astrology is the art of stellar portraiture, which is capturing a moment as seen in the heavens. The moment could be the moment of a birth, the starting of company, the posing of a question, the start of a marriage, or the end of a life. The mechanics of the drawing is not something with which the astrologer has to be concerned. It’s already drawn out by God, if you will, and replicated in symbols by your trusty astrology software program. (Although there is something to be said for the practice of doing a chart by hand as the astrologer was, indeed, offering a portrait in her own style.) The artistry comes in how and what is “seen” and “shown” by the astrologer. This is about more than just interpretation.
For instance, it is rather jarring when an astrologer does a “different” kind of chart for someone other than how they’ve known it, if they have before. For instance, when many people signed up for the Astrology Career Institute, I would offer them replicas of their charts using Whole Sign Houses. Whole sign houses use a whole Zodiac sign, starting from the sign of the ascendant, for each subsequent house. There are no intercepted cusps and all the house cusps have the same degree starting them, 0 degrees. However, this was jarring for a number of people as their planets were shifted from one house, where they had grown accustomed to seeing it, to another. It gave them a different portrait than they had seen. Likewise, a similar, but perhaps more jarring thing, happens when someone uses a completely different zodiac, like the sidereal zodiac. A person may have a lot of stake in being one sign; however, it is very likely that they’ll move back a sign when using the sidereal zodiac. So, if you were born a Gemini, using the “normal” tropical zodiac, then you may be a Taurus using the sidereal.
There are also other ways to show other things to be seen in a chart than what’s commonly done. I have an astrologer friend who feels a very well known astrologer committed an immense injustice to her and her first session with him because he didn’t use Chiron, a planetoid, in his reading. She feels that it would have provided more insight into her life than what he actually dispensed. Many others feel the same way regarding not using asteroids, and another school of astrology would insist on using a set of hypothetical planets, like Vulcanus, Zeus, Vulcan, and perhaps a host of other hypothetical or pseudo-planets you’ve never heard of.
So what does one do? This is why I view astrology, at some level, as more an art. From the way you set up “house” with a house system to what planets you use (or don’t) would be analogous to an artist’s palette and his or her style. An artist could offer a portrait for someone in cubist, impressionist, modern, post-modern, surrealist, or any gallery of artistic styles. It’s similar in astrology. I might like for my physical portrait to look like a photograph, but I might just like as much an artistic rendition that’s more cubist. One might reveal traits and thoughts that I might not have seen if I focused on just one style. The same experience is true for the artist, and this is what’s important for the astrologer to realize. What’s disorienting for many novice astrologers is that there is NO ONE WAY or true RIGHT WAY to offer a stellar portrait. When people elect to take their essay exam for ACI, they ask which house system they should use. I always say the one that makes them comfortable. I can see why this is unsettling to people. People want a way to do something that doesn’t depend on fancy, whim or style. If that’s you, then astrology may not be the art you desire or the science you need. In fact, this is why I don’t feel astrology is a science at all.
If we consider astrology as a science, then we have to fulfill a few pretty steep requirements for it to be considered as such, which no astrology has yet to fulfill (to my knowledge). One mainstay of scientific thought is that results should be replicable, by another researcher using similar methods. This is where things get tricky, for two key reasons. Astrology seems to resist replicability and its methods, as I mentioned above, are so diverse. For instance, one moment can have several different layers of meaning and importance for two different people. Add the question of HOW I should look at that moment, i.e. using the sidereal zodiac, the Regiomontanus house system, or only seven planets, and you see even different layers than another astrologer. In science, if I come up with a formula to make a drug, then any other chemist can use the same chemicals to make the same drug. What’s more, even if one were able to get astrologers to use the exact same methods to delineate a chart, they may not all arrive at the same conclusions. This is largely because the true “material” of astrology is not actually material; it’s spiritual. Science is largely concerned with the material nature of the universe, not the spiritual or experiential nature of it. It is true, though, that science is used in astrology. It is important for astrologers to recognize the astronomy in astrology, but that’s just as true for artists to recognize the chemistry involved in most of the substances they use to create. Nonetheless, the artistry of the science used in astrology becomes even less of an issue when we consider the craft of the art.
When we pay attention to any endeavor at the level of craft, this acknowledges that we are attentive to both advancing our skill set in that endeavor and deepening our own internal experience of it. As I’ve intensely studied astrology, I’ve come to see that it’s more than just learning and practicing technique. It is realizing that we use tools that provide us with keys to unlock our divine potential and nature. By careful contemplation, we can become more skillful in recognizing the likely nature of astrological signature and their relevance in our lives and the lives of our clients. Like Michelangelo believed that he was more releasing a sculpture from a block of stone, as we grow as craftsmen astrologers, we’ll no longer seek to infuse our beliefs and ideas into a chart, as much as correctly perceive what’s there. This comes from just as much an internal change as the external acquisition of skills and tools. It is in this sense that I believe that it is impossible to diligently study astrology without cultivating a spiritual life. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in organized religion or not. Or if you believe in a literal God or not. I think it’s most important to believe in the connectedness of all things and see that in yourself and your astrology. In this regard, you come to recognize all your “divine” attributes while still fully being human. This is true holiness. In fact, celebrated medieval astrologer William Lilly may have said it best when he said, “for the more holy thou art, and more neer to God, the purer judgment thou shalt give.” Craft, at this point, isn’t just about skill, but also character and action. May we all become better at this craft of speaking for stars.