What is Astrology?

1. Introduction

The Milky WayIf you live in a city, it is easy to forget how magnificent and marvelous the night sky can be. The few stars that are bright enough to be seen pale in comparison to the sparkling array of manmade lights spanning bridges, climbing buildings, or flashing by on the freeway. But if you are ever lucky enough to be far from civilization on a clear, moonless night, it is easy to understand the fascination and awe that all cultures and all religions have felt toward the celestial wonder of the stars and planets.

Astrology was born from this wonder. It found structure in the cyclic dance of the planets across the skies and meaning from the regularity of the seasons.

There are many misconceptions about astrology.

First, astrology is not the newspaper horoscope. What the majority of people know about astrology is a simplistic offshoot that could be called “what’s your sign.” This got its start in the 1930’s when H.R. Naylor, a British astrologer, published an article in The Sunday Express interpreting Princess Margaret’s chart shortly after her birth. The article was wildly popular and Naylor, knowing a good commercial venture when he saw one, began offering a regular column using interpretations of the Sun in a particular sign. The practice soon spread and now there is scarcely a newspaper or general audience magazine in the Western world that doesn’t have its astrology column. While this type of popular Sun Sign horoscope is fun, it is not very useful.

Even though they share the same names, astrological signs are not the same as the astronomical constellations. 

Western geocentric astrologers use tropical (earth-based) calculations to create a chart or a map of the sky viewed from a particular time and place here on earth. This map uses the astrological signs as a coordinate system that begins with the Spring Equinox. Unlike the constellations, each astrological sign is exactly 30 degrees in width. The planets are located in a sign based on their longitude in relation to this astrological zodiac.

The tropical zodiac is based on the relation of the earth to the sun and uses its position to mark:

  • the equinoxes when the Sun is directly over the equator
    • 0 degrees Aries - the vernal (spring) equinox
    • 0 degrees Libra - the autumnal equinox
  • and the Soltices, when the Sun is at its most northern and southern points:
    • 0 degrees Cancer - the summer equinox for the northern hemisphere
    • 0 degrees Capricorn - the winter equinox for the nothern hemisphere

Another misconception is that astrology represents the worship of the stars or the belief that the stars are the architects of our fate, about which nothing can be done. Again, not true. Astrologers believe believe that we can discover a meaningful relationship between the position of the planets at a particular moment of time and ourselves.

How does it work? Why does it work?

Astrologers don't have an agreed upon answer. But they have many of the same questions as critics of astrology. Some questions astrologers ask include:

  • Is there a meaningful relationship between living beings here on Earth, the very large environment of our solar system and our visible universe?
  • Are inner states influenced by, correlate with, or created by planetary position and relationships?
  • Is astrology merely a type of word play that uses a dense set of symbols? 
  • What parts of astrological interpretation can be measured through research that uses the scientific method?
  • Is astrology a type of divination? Is astrology both scientific and divinitory? 
  • Is prediction in astrology more like a psychological diagnosis, a weather or economic prediction, a psychic prediction, or just an intuitive guess based on the astrologer's understanding of human nature?

Astrologers do not agree on any one answer to these questions. But they do believe that there is value in being aware of the rhythms and cycles of the solar system as reflected here on earth. This proposition does not fit into our current science. While there are a few suggestive research studies, they are not sufficient for the majority of scientists who still automatically dismiss astrology.

Different astrologers have proposed different descriptions of how astrology works. Some describe it as a synchronistic activity or that there is a correlation between celestial movement and terrestrial events; some state there is an as yet unknown physical mechanism which creates a relationship between planetary motion and human events; some describe astrology as a divinatory system; and some state that regardless of whether or not there is any reality to astrology, there is a strong psychological value to the use of astrological symbolism.

Psychology and counseling astrology do have common ground. However, psychology attempts to discover the condition of an individual through exposing his/her behavior in relationship with inner states of being; astrology explores an individual by examining his/her life events and circumstances. 

Whether you view astrology as a vital, living tradition, or a relic from our past that has no place in modern society, it is inescapable that astrology’s development and symbolism have enriched our culture for over 2,000 years. The development of philosophy, psychology, astronomy, mathematics and science all owe a great debt to astrologers. The symbols of astrology are embedded in much of the world's great literature and art. The meanings of these symbols are embedded in our language. Therefore, regardless of what one believes, there is value in exploring how astrology has been and is being used.