My View on the Modern Planets (and Human Nature, Too)

Last night on social media was kinda interesting.  Not too long ago, one of my favorite traditional/Hellenic astrologers Chris Brennan whom I follow on Twitter retweeted the following:

To which I replied publicly that simplicity is the highest form of elegance, with this simple diagram I made for my geomancy book:

Even if I made this specific image, the diagram itself is a traditional one that’s been in use for hundreds of years in Europe and the Middle East as a teaching aide to demonstrate the balance and symmetry of how the planets are assigned to the twelve signs of the Zodiac: the luminaries go to the brightest times of the year (in the Northern hemisphere), then the planets are assigned in their usual solar system order outwards, such that dark Saturn is given to the signs Capricorn and Aquarius, the darkest times of the year (again, in the Northern hemisphere).  All this diagram shows is exactly what @dahlia_anara posted in a graphical format.  Growing up, it was a mystery as to why the planets were given to the signs, but then, this sort of diagram seems to have been all but forgotten in modern texts; had I known about it in my early baby-ccultist days, this would have made everything make a lot more sense a lot earlier on.

For some reason, my sharing this image turned kinda viral, and some people were even put at peace by just seeing it; while it’s nothing more than a teaching diagram, it does reflect an underlying balance of the astrological cosmos, so I can get it.  Of course, with it being shared and favorited by so many, it did spark a few discussions and conversations, one of which was about why Saturn is the planet that gets that last position and not, you know, any of the planets that have since been discovered in modern times past Saturn.  This, of course, touches on an important, lively, and active debate (which doesn’t always remain good-hearted) on the approaches of modern astrology versus traditional astrology, and of course, I know you know that when I have Thoughts and Opinions, I let them be known.

Before I continue, let me preface this with the following disclaimer: what follows is my own personal view of astrology and its symbols that reflect my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, as informed by my studies, experiences, and works in astrology, geomancy, and other subjects.  Because I recognize that my practice is not your practice, and that my views are not necessarily representative of universal truths, you’re still free to hold any well-reasoned, well-researched, informed, and sound opinion, research methods, or approaches to astrology you want.  Understood?  We good?  Good.

Simply put, I don’t think the use of the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) and asteroids (Ceres, Pallas, Chiron, etc.) are necessary to the practice of astrology, and while they may have some use, they’re by no means of large importance to me for several reasons.  The most physics-based of these is that many of these objects move so slowly through the Zodiac that they’re not of incredible importance for individual persons.  While the Moon changes her signs every two or three days, and Saturn just over every two-ish years, the trans-Saturnians shift their degrees and signs so much more slowly that two people born in the same seven- or twenty-year period will have identical or similar locations.  For mundane astrology, this is potentially useful, because these slow-moving planets are more helpful in defining whole generations of people or zeitgeists rather than how individual people form in their own individual lives; once the zeitgeist established by the slow-moving planets is understood, one can inspect the relationships that the planets from Saturn on down with the slow-moving ones to see how one relates to such a zeitgeist.  In both a phyiscal and spiritual sense, the slow-moving trans-Saturnian planets occupy a place between the planets proper and the fixed stars; yes, they still shift like planets do, but slowly enough to be imperceptible on a reasonable timeframe, much like the light of the fixed stars.

Of course, this is all on top of a more fundamental astrological reason why I don’t find the use of these modern planets particularly helpful: astrology was already complete before the formal discovery of Uranus in the late 17th century ce.  In the seven thousand or more years that astrology has been practiced since the earliest foundations of Egypt and Sumer were laid, we’ve had more than a little time to see, plot, experiment, test, and record our observations and theories with the stars, and though refinement and elaboration, astrology became as complete an art of science (in the old sense of “knowing things”) as anything ever could.  The methods of astrology that have been passed on down to us are elegant, balanced, and established on numerological and divine harmonies that together form a complete, interlocking system.  The system already works, so as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Writing this post also reminds me of a similar post I wrote from the very earliest days on this blog, back from when I was still in college.  The points in there are basically the ones I’m raising in the present post, but there’s one bit I wanted to highlight as well:

We’ve had 6,000 years to build up our knowledge of the intra-Saturnians, while we’ve had just over 200 for Uranus, 150 for Neptune, and not even a full century for Pluto. Finding the full meanings for these planets will take a lot more time than we’ve given it, and finding appropriate uses for them will take even longer. I’m not arguing for a static and legalistic school of astrology, but I don’t think that astrologers have been doing the right thing for their art for the past two centuries. We should be using traditional astrology as a stronger foundation than we are, but instead we’re assigning meanings to the planets “because it feels right” or “because it’s intuitive”. What happened the last time you tried to prove an answer on a test, or a fact to a judge, with “because it feels right”?

Bear in mind that these planets are only very recently discovered and, while we can tap into our millennia’s experience of astrology to more quickly divine and refine the significations of these outer planets or asteroids, what we do know about them pales in comparison to what we know of the older symbols we’ve been using from the start.  Again, from my older post:

However, even until the early 20thcentury astrologers had not reached a consensus; Alan Leo wrote in 1909 that “Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested”. As for Raphael, there is evidence to believe that he may have been writing just to get published: he wasn’t a good astrologer by anybody’s measure, and was more of a magician selling charms than an astrologer. He often didn’t provide reasoning or logic for his claims, and what he argues against is often borne out instead in practice (like the use of terms).

So, even over a century after Uranus’ firm discovery that it was a planet, astrologers still hadn’t figured out what to do with it in its entirety.  Trying to incorporate new symbols into an ancient system is difficult and time-consuming, especially for the first few introductions when the process of incorporation is still poorly understood, but at the same time, it bears remembering that the occult community wanted to keep up-to-date and “scientific” by bringing in whatever theories and discoveries they could from modern science to make their own arts seem more respectable and well-grounded.  Trying to bring in Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the asteroids, and everything else modern science says exists into the art of astrology was an attempt at doing just that, but they ended up shattering some of the symmetries and balances that kept the system in check and functional in the process.

Plus, like I said before, astrology was already a complete system long before what we know as “modern astrology” came onto the scene.  Consider: while modern astrologers often give Uranus the ownership of electricity, computers, astrology, and change, all these things already had ownerships in the old system: Mercury ruled all sciences and arts of the mind, including astrology and alchemy, as well as devices and means of communication, like computers; Mars would have ruled over power generally, and Jupiter (through his mythological connections with thunderbolt-throwing Zeus) would have been a natural fit for electricity generally, with Mercury (again) for circuitry and wiring; the Moon rules over changes in general, along with the flighty nature of Mercury.  To shuffle these things from the old planets to the new doesn’t really do much except introduce duplication into the system generally; at best, we can use the outer planets for very specific needs, like specifically giving Neptune to the seas and to seafaring specifically even if these would have been naturally ruled over by the Moon and Mercury, but at worst, this serves to bring confusion into the system of correspondences and obscures the logic of why certain planets have domains over the things they do.

This points to my last, and most fundamental, complaint about modern astrology, and especially the viewpoints of many who use it (badly).  Many often say that, as humanity has continued in its existence, we have undergone processes of spiritual evolution, and so need more and newer planets to reflect that, being such progressed, evolved beings now than we were.  The only evidence I can see that agrees with that is the development of what John Michael Greer calls the “civic religion of progress”, which is a very modern, very peculiar cultural notion that humanity can only change in one way: onwards, upwards, and strictly for the better, that all change is inherently better than what we had before.  As JMG points out, consider smartphones: they may get more complex and support more functionalities, but they get more costly and damaging to make, often more fragile, with more restrictions and burdens on them than what we had in the past.  This isn’t progress, even if it is change.  I look around at the world generally, and I see that a lot has changed: we have more and more accessible and cheaply-made clothing, more cars and means to move, more weapons and more explosive or damaging types of them, more means of communication, and so forth, but underlying all that?  I see the same humans underneath it all that have been around since the first human could be recognized as such.

Yes, we have developed elegant, complex, and abstract philosophies, governments, civilizations, technologies, but these are all window decorations to the real humans who, after all these countless myriads of years, still need to breathe, eat, sleep, shit, fuck, love, fight, kill, speak, learn, wonder, wander, live, and die.  I read ancient Greek, Chinese, and Mesoamerican philosophers, historians, and graffiti artists who bicker and complain about the same damn things that we bicker and complain about nowadays on the Internet about our fellow man.  The names and places we know, the media and languages we use, the projectiles we use to kill and hunt, the clothes we wear and rip and mend may have all changed over the years, but our underlying understanding of the human condition and what it means to experience humanity has been relatively unchanged the world over.  In short, humanity has remained more-or-less unchanged since we first came around, changing on the whole neither for the better nor worse.  That’s why, even in our modern and “evolved” time, we still turn time and again to the help and wisdom of our ancestors and to traditional, indigenous, and truly ancestral systems of knowledge, because not only have all those who have gone before us experienced everything we do now, they also had more time to process, understand, and correlate everything, and have since joined all the others who have done just that.

Spiritually evolved as a species my sedentary ass; individuals can certainly get to the point of spiritual development where they undergo such fundamental changes, but by that point, they’re no longer human and no longer bound to this mortal coil of humanity (cf. Buddha, Christ, spirit guides, orisha, etc.).  Plus, consider that, biologically speaking, sea sponges are just as evolved as humans are; trying to claim that humans as a whole are now “spiritually evolved” in a way we weren’t before is just forcing the notion of progress onto humanity simply because time has elapsed, ignoring what it is we are, what it is we do, and where it is we live.  But, yanno, if all you do is sit in a classroom all day without paying attention to the teacher or doing the classwork, you’re not going to get better grades by virtue of just sitting at your desk longer than anyone else.  It takes Work to get better, and not everyone does that Work, much less our entire species, and much less than that in an automatic process.

In that light, it makes even more sense how complete the system of astrology really is without having to bring in the modern planets and points in the sky.  If humanity hasn’t appreciably changed, as I claim and see that it hasn’t, then why should we need to change the models and systems of our realities to reflect some misguided sense of progress and evolution that hasn’t happened?  Astrologers have gotten along fine and have gotten accurate results in prediction and understanding people for thousands of years without incorporating them, so I see no reason to change the system, break its balances, and introduce needless confusion into the mix.  There’s plenty that can be innovated, discovered, or invented in the systems of traditional astrology without having to make it “modern”, just as how geomancy can be extended in its techniques and skills and understanding without bringing in new figures or elements into the mix.

Now.  All that said, do I think the modern planets and asteroids have no use at all?  No, I don’t.  I don’t think they’re necessary to practice astrology or magic, since everything they could represent is already represented by the main seven planets, but they can offer insights and specific details that can be helpful.  When I look at a horoscope, I treat the outer planets and the asteroids like I do fixed stars: I give them a very tight orb, and I don’t consider aspects unless they’re exact or approaching an exact degree.  When I interpret them, I first use the main seven planets to get an idea of what the chart as a whole is about, then I look at the outer planets and asteroids (when they matter!) to get a deeper idea of what the seven main planets are talking about.  I don’t look at an aspect between, say, Mars and Neptune and go off about this relationship willy-nilly; I first look at how Mars, Venus, and the Moon act, and see what such a relationship between Mars and Neptune clarifies amongst all that to see what specifically is meant.  That, I feel, is a more responsible way of using the modern planets, but again, the only benefit it affords is a specific insight to a specific detail to other factors already present and more clearly visible in the horoscope.  Helpful?  At times, sure.  Necessary?  By no means.

And, of course, don’t forget that “more evolved” or “newer” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”, and that the more things change, the more too do things stay the same.  Just as Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

In Terms of Another

A computer is a mechanical and/or electronic device.  It takes in electricity and input from a device like a keyboard or a mouse or a touchscreen, and uses electricity to perform logical operations on input.  The output is redirected and is used as further input or is used to display information on a device like a monitor or printer.  There are lots of models to show how computers work, from the mathematical (why input becomes particular output), physical (how supplied electricity is transformed into motion, light, or sound), and logical (how input and stored data is manipulated in an abstraction of a machine).  It does not, however, make sense to describe how computers work in terms of biology with cells, protein folding, evolution, and so forth.  The two are completely separate systems of knowledge and use different abstractions, terminologies, definitions, and assumptions.  Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to describe the involuntary actions and processes of a human body in terms of formal types, data representation, or logical operators.

Languages rely on complex rules of word formation, ordering, and meaning, collectively termed grammar and semantics.  An English sentence, such as the one you’re currently reading, is made intelligible through the rules of English grammar and the meanings of English words according to an agreed-upon dictionary.  It doesn’t make sense for an English sentence to be analyzed according to the grammar or lexicon of another language, like French or Chinese, because the rules and definitions don’t apply.  Comparisons can be drawn, and translations can be performed, but you can’t simply drop an English sentence into a Chinese input terminal and expect to get any processing done.  Further, you can’t analyze or make sense of an English sentence if you’re trying to describe it in terms of multivariate calculus.  The two are just radically different systems of knowledge with different purposes, uses, languages, and so forth.  They’re both useful and necessary, sure, but not in the same way, and can’t be used in place of each other.

So, given this, it annoys me when people try to make me explain, justify, or validate magic or the occult in terms of the laws of physics or other physical sciences.  It’s like trying to explain a computer in terms of biology, or English in terms of calculus.  You’re asking me to explain something spiritual and inherently non-physical in terms of the non-spiritual and physical?  I can’t do anything with that.  I don’t have the tools, the rules, the definitions, the terms, the background for what I need.  I can use philosophy to illustrate some of these things, sure, and religion to make sense of other things, but that’s like the English sentence/Chinese grammar situation above.

Am I saying that magic is completely detached from the physical world?  No. Am I saying that magic has no effect in the physical world, nor any measurable metrics?  No.  Magic does affect and can effect the physical world, but doing so can’t be described in an entirely physical model, because magic doesn’t directly affect the physical world like how observable physical processes do.  Magic assumes the backdrop of a chain of manifestation, it assumes things that aren’t physical and can’t (always?) be detected physically.  If you’re asking me to explain something spiritual and non-physical, and only allowing me physical explanations to do so, you’re setting me up for failure.  If you want to discuss spiritual matters, then let’s use spiritual methods, languages, and definitions; we can draw parallels or comparisons between the spiritual and nonspiritual, physical and nonphysical, and that’s awesome.  But I can’t explain something in terms of what it’s not and what it can’t be.  If you want to talk to me about spirituality, let’s talk in spiritual terms, or at least allow for the possibility of spirituality.

I understand that atheism is a growing worldview and mindset of modern people, and there’s a good reason why: it makes sense.  It makes do with the tools and observations we have at our disposal and starts from there to make sense of the world.  If there’s no evidence for something, it doesn’t make sense to believe it if there’s a simpler explanation out there that, even if it’s theoretical, if it’s plausible, it can be accepted (Occam’s razor).  However, just because there’s no evidence in the Universe for a particular thing doesn’t mean that it’s evidence against that particular thing, either; just because there’s no meaning supplied by the cosmos doesn’t mean that meaning is completely denied, either.  Plus, modern science is not the be-all-and-end-all of all knowledge: we are constantly discovering new things all the time, and we are constantly revamping or reconstructing our current models of understanding to make sense of more stuff.  Further, we try to use a consistent system of logic to prove that something is true, “consistent” meaning that a well-structured proof with true hypotheses will yield a true conclusion.  It is impossible that a consistent system of logic can prove all provable things; in other words, I know something that’s true and you can’t show that it’s true (Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem).  In order to prove that something-unprovably-true, you need to use another system of logic, another kind of science.

It even gets me more riled up when people say “let’s establish empirical reality here” and try to dismiss my point of view out of hand.  First, “empirical” means “known through experience or experimentation”.  In my experience, magic works, nonphysical entities exist in some nonphysical form and can be interacted with in nonphysical (and sometimes physical!) ways, and there are worlds and phenomena that exist and can be interacted with nonphysically.  In my repeated experiments, under a particular setting and environment, I can call up angels or demons and chat with them or achieve some goal or desired end.  This is my experience, this is my reality that I work with.  If you want to disregard my reality, fine, but don’t try to argue with me about it.  My experience is not your own, and your experience is not my own.  If you want to try to convince me that something doesn’t work, try doing the same experiments I have and obtaining the same experiences I have, and then get back to me.  Trying to use “objective reality” to dismiss my experiences doesn’t really work: (a) everything has to be perceived in some way or another, leading to a subjective experience of reality (b) “objective numbers” obtained by tools made by mankind also have to be interpreted, and are obtained by machines that return numbers geared for a specific physical phenomena that doesn’t capture all known or experienced knowledge, but only a highly-specific subset of desired (subjective) knowledge (c) the models of “objective reality” don’t reliably account for the experiences that I and countless other people have.

Don’t try to ask me about my worldview if you’re just going to dismiss it.  It’s apparent from how you refer to me and my hobbies, that don’t influence or affect you, how you feel about them.  Feel what you want, please!  But if you don’t know about occultism, if you don’t want to know about occultism, and if you’re dead set against the possibility of occultism, don’t try to have me waste my breath or keystrokes to explain myself.  If you’re just going to call me crazy, save all of us the time and do so, and let me ignore you in peace.  If you don’t want to listen to me, ignore me!  I’m not going to be offended.  Magic isn’t for everyone.  Neither is any given religion, neither is art, neither is philosophy, neither is any given sport, neither is any given field of science.  But they all have worth, they all have meaning, and they’ve all been around for thousands of years for a reason.  Don’t try to discredit any one of them just because it doesn’t make sense in another one.

I don’t believe and work with this stuff for the hell of it.  What I do isn’t random and it isn’t haphazard.  What I do is researched, contemplated, discussed, planned, worked out, described, and analyzed.  The results I get are compared to my expectations, previous results I’ve obtained, and the results of others.  If I were crazy, I sure as hell wouldn’t be putting in as much effort or documentation into what I do.  If I had multiple personality disorder, I must be unique in being able to control when I talk to a particular alt-Polyphanes under certain circumstances.  If I were just deceiving myself, it’s gotta be a pretty damn big deception on a NWO-conspiracy-scale to be documented and discussed for as long as there’s been writing, and longer.  What I do isn’t physical and isn’t geared towards the physical or mathematical.  I wouldn’t use algebra to generate a change in consciousness; I wouldn’t use a computer to explain to me how to be happy.  Why ask me to explain spiritual things with physical processes?  It doesn’t work. I use physical and material processes to affect the world in terms of energy and matter; I use spiritual and mental processes to affect the world in terms of thought and spirit.  The two don’t mix.

It largely comes down to an issue of worldview and values.  If you believe that the ultimate expression and mode of reality is material reality, and that only material reality is the only thing of value and worth, awesome.  That’s not my philosophy, and I don’t expect my own philosophy to be yours.  My philosophy is that material reality is only one part of a grander part of reality, with each part being interactive and interactable.  If that’s not your philosophy, awesome.  But don’t try to say, explicitly or implicitly, that your worldview or philosophy is better than mine, because you don’t have the grounds to do that.  Logic doesn’t work in terms of things of worth or value, and I would hate to see someone supposedly so rational and logical to be so illogical in their approach and discussions when they continue to claim to be even more logical and rational than I am.  Hell, even more than logic, what I want is open-mindedness.  You don’t have to accept that what I do is sensible, you don’t have to accept the background or frameworks I’m working with, but please accept that it’s not baseless, not without cause, and not without effect.  Ascribe whatever physical explanation you want to it, be it psychological or pathological or whatever, but know that in doing so you’re trying to compare, not just apples and oranges, but apples and anvils.

In the words of the archdruid John Michael Greer:

The apotheosis of this sort of thinking is Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Clarke, who was among the best of SF authors; it’s hardly blameworthy that he shared misunderstandings of magic that were all but universal in his culture. The point remains that since magic does not do what technology does, and vice versa, the Third Law should properly be renamed Clarke’s Fallacy; no matter how advanced a technology may be, it does the kind of thing technologies do—that is to say, it manipulates matter and energy directly, which again is what magic does not do. I’d like to propose, in fact, an alternative rule, which I’ve modestly titled Greer’s Law: “Anyone who is unable to distinguish between magic and any technology, however advanced, doesn’t know much about magic.”

There.  My obligatory occultist’s rant on being accosted by hardline atheists.  I’m allowed to rant on my own blog, after all.  If you want to talk to me about the possibility of magic in a spiritual setting, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I’d be up for that.  But let’s keep stuff within the same discipline and language, alright?  Thanks.