Where is the objectivity in astrology? Is there an interesting sense in which astrology is “more objective,” or “more impersonal,” than other divinatory arts?
While it’s certainly true that at any given moment, the stars are where they are, in a way that does not depend upon us in any way, the astrological houses have quite a few personal and subjective elements about them. And even the significations of the planets leave quite a bit of room for intuition and inspiration in their interpretation.
There are at least two types of personal elements in astrological interpretation: those which are “personal” to the native, the nation, or the querent for whom the chart is cast, including the position of the Ascendant (and related considerations in horary astrology, such as the particular time when a question is asked, and for which the chart is then cast), those which are “personal” to the astrologer, including house division, and the selection of the appropriate meanings of a planet or aspect, from among their wide range of possible significations. With these latter elements, the astrologer uses her best judgment—along with, in many cases, a generous helping of intuition and inspiration—to understand the relation of macrocosm (the celestial sphere, and the positions of the bodies therein) to microcosm (the person or nation in whose life those influences are to find a particular, concrete manifestation).
In this essay, I’ll be focusing mostly on the latter, “personal to the astrologer,” element, though I will have a few things to say about the former as well.
First and foremost, we are confronted with the relativity of house divisions. While the stars themselves are where they are, the houses are drawn quite differently be different astrologers, to the point that a planet might be one, two, or (very occasionally) more houses away, depending on whether the houses are based on whole signs, on equal 30° divisions from the Ascendant, or any of the various quadrant-based methods (e.g., Placidus, Regiomontanus, etc.). And yet astrologers who prefer different house systems nonetheless manage to make accurate predictions, even about the very same nativity, or the very same mundane ingress.
Even if we could somehow agree on the One True House SystemTM, the house positions themselves, in any given chart, would still be based on the location of the observer. This is a key part of the astrologer’s answer to the objection, “But wouldn’t everyone born at the same time have the same horoscope?” No, because the houses begin from the Ascendant: the projection onto the celestial sphere of the eastern horizon at the point where the person is born. Likewise for mundane astrology, the study of planetary and celestial influences on the course of nations. Here, the chart is cast for the moment of each of the equinoxes and solstices—which occur at the same moment no matter where in the world you are—but the houses are again drawn based on the location of each nation’s capital, which will be importantly different. And thus, the celestial influences at that time will manifest in quite different ways in each nation.
No astrologer, no matter how talented, will ever see the entire picture of the entire, larger macrocosm. It’s just too all-encompassing. There’s too much there for any of our human minds to comprehend in a single glimpse. (And even if, in some mystical rapture, we did attain a moment of such total comprehension, human language would be too frail, too limited, too woefully narrow and particular, to express in words everything that we had seen.) And so the astrologer will focus on certain relevant or salient points, to the exclusion of many other things that are also written in the stars. She will form queries according to a particular question, a particular interest.
Consider the way that the answer to every horary question someone might ask would be written in the heavens at the very same moment. Here, it’s obvious that the astrologer must focus her attention on the influences and indications relevant to, say, a lost possession, while ignoring those relevant to a love interest, a child’s health, a court proceeding, a business transaction, or an inheritance. In other words, the very same macrocosmic pattern—the very same configuration of the planets—will cascade down to earth in uncountably many specific, particular ways.
On the other hand, because of the perfect harmonies of the spheres, the same message is often written in the stars more than once. In fact, this is a standard “test” for the strength of our predictions: do we have multiple, mutually reinforcing indications that all point toward the same result? Because of this, different astrologers looking at the same chart might come to the same conclusion for quite different reasons. Each of them sees one, but not all, of the ways that that result is written in the stars.
Nonetheless, it’s quite possible to be simply wrong. No matter how you stretch it, a superior square from Mars will never be pure, unbridled joy and bliss, free from all conflict or tension. It just doesn’t work like that. Sure, that superior square from Mars can play out in quite a variety of ways, which may be more or less unpleasant or unwelcome, more or less difficult to deal with. The conflicts may be productive, the tension may resolve to the querent’s benefit. But they will still be present in some form. Put another way: each planet has a core range of significations—where the notions of “core” and “range” are both critical to a full understanding. There is a common core, however hard to fully capture in words, that delimits or restricts a planet’s significations: there are boundaries, such that a planet can’t just mean anything at all. And yet there is a genuine range, within which different aspects of a planet can become more or less apparent, more or less significant, more or less important, in any given context.
And to return to our starting point, there is yet another place for what looks very much like an intuitive or inspired element in astrological practice. I know of well-respected astrologers who use more than one house system. This might look like “cheating,” but at its best, it can be an honest reflection of the fact that they, like any of us, cannot see the whole picture all at once, through any single lens. Any house system we choose will inevitably obscure certain features while revealing others. So the choice of house system in any particular case can, at its best, be a function of genuine intuition, or a result of inspiration from (or dialogue with) the astrologer’s higher self, guardian spirit, or patron deity, who watches over the work.
As a small postscript, let’s compare the divinatory art which is the most dear to my own heart, and in which (as of this writing) I’m the most proficient: geomancy.
In my experience, many of the same patterns of objectivity and relativity play out in geomancy as in astrology. Each geomantic figure has a core of meaning and significance, which distinguishes it from all of the other figures, while still leaving room for a wide range of contextually-dependent interpretations. In the clearest geomantic charts, the same message is given in multiple, mutually-reinforcing ways. And while the boundaries between the houses are clearly delineated, with only one figure appearing in each, the interconnections between houses, as formed by “passing” figures, leave important room for intuition or inspiration, in seeing where to blur the boundaries and where to reinforce them.
So in both of these divinatory arts, we find both an objective core, along with a wide and genuine scope for more personal elements, whether intuitive or inspired.
(This was originally written as a comment in another forum; I repost it here in slightly altered form, both for greater visibility, and so that I can find it again later!)