Astrology, Queen of the Sciences?

I’ve started reading a fascinating book on Arabic astrology which the author, Dr. Liana Saif, has recently made available for free download.

Just reading the first chapter, a few things have clicked into place regarding the usefulness of astrology as a “queen of the sciences.” Which is really to say, as a science of imagination.

The respectable west currently investigates the imagination by way of semiotics, deconstruction, and all those French -isms. The mode of these investigations-- and they dominate completely wherever higher learning is funded-- is scientific, like that of astrology. But they are confusing and fail to connect with lived experience. This is because they presuppose that imagination is like infinite Cartesian space (picture 3D graph paper), and has no relationship with time.

A Cartesian ideology-- the economics of copyright, say-- works by suppressing the imagination. It considers an imaginal object, occupies a point in Cartesian imaginal space from which to consider the object, and does whatever is necessary to fix the object and especially the point in space. “In this discipline, we study that object from this point of view.”

A Cartesian science of imagination does not suppress the imagination, exactly, but it deals in the same space. It will say one of these kinds of thing: a) “those two objects are really one object”; b) “that one object is really two objects”; c) “here’s a space that also has objects”; d) “there are two points of view, and B is preferable to A”; or e) “there are infinitely many points of view.”

Point e) is the ground metaphysic. As a result, none of these sciences of the imagination can relate meaningfully to each other. Nor do they relate meaningfully to the living world, except as far as they can alter the operation of Cartesian ideologies.

This really, really pisses me off, because as a young person I went to an elite university where I thought I could learn a meaningful science of imagination. People need imagination. They need it to relate meaningfully to their lives. Some of us have an aptitude or calling to make imagination more available or useful to people.

Semioticians love to parse advertising for what it signifies, what it tells us about discourses and so on. You can write lots of papers that way, because there are lots of ads and lots of discourses.

They programmatically ignore that the methods of advertising are not arbitrary, but employ a refined knowledge of one (admittedly limited) area of imagination. That is, people who are paid by capital to get results from the imagination do not presuppose an infinity of viewpoints. An adman’s paradigm is limited and technical, but it ultimately draws on Renaissance Platonism for its metaphysics.

Why do admen have a better metaphysics of the imagination than universities? It really, really pisses me off.

Anyway, this was about astrology. Astrology is important because the sky is the best ground we have for the imagination. It has lots of particular lights that make shapes, are mostly always the same, and change in patterned ways over time. The changes are uncountable but finite and patterned. Telling stories about the sky is probably the best way humans have to conserve cultural knowledge.

In other words, all those isms are fourth rate astrologies. They try to get away with using Cartesian space rather than the actual sky. The results suck.


The first chapter offers an explanation from ninth century Arabic astrology for why/how MB type and birth chart are both astrology but are independent factors.

The heavens govern the world in two distinct ways, as a formal cause and as an efficient cause. (The language is from Aristotle.)

This means that, first, the heavens determine (formally cause) how the elements combine with each other to make shapes and species and types of object. The world is populated with kinds of object that all have elemental signatures stamped on them by celestial influence. Ruby. Dog. Human being. INFJ.

The heavens also and separately exert influence (efficient cause) on the particular things that come to be, and on the general “way things are.” Particular rubies and dogs and INFJs come to be at particular times and are influenced by the heavens at that time, according to their nature.

The influence is by virtue of the elemental signatures in the things, so the two kinds of cause interrelate and speak the same language of “signs” to the astrologer. But they are distinct from each other.

This is where the geometry of three comes in: the heavens mediate between INFJ A and INFJ B, or INFJ A and dog B, or INFJ A and world, to govern their possible patterns of interaction in a given time frame.

You’re preaching my language here, @Sparrow

I’d even go as far to say that making “imagination more available or useful to people“ is my spiritual Mission Statement!

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Wow, that was fast @Sparrow!

Are you experiencing the same weird time distortion effect as I am; that seems to have dramatically accelerated the normal steady tic-toc flow of moments into something infinitely faster?

The best way I can explain this is by comparing it to the video for Madonna’s Ray of Light. IMHO this is her crowning masterpiece of spiritual insight:

Well, I was for a day or two! And seem to have felt wretchedly hungover since. At the same time it’s as though a great peaceful nothing at all is happening, like a thousand fridges suddenly stopped buzzing.

You’re right that Our Lady there captured how it usually is when I create something-- nine pins bowled over and a whole kingdom appears in a flash. I remember writing a journal-length article for a grad seminar in one 24-hour blitz, after some suitable wool-gathering at the library. The electrical continuity of spirit, mind, and nervous system is plain to me.

The dance she does at the end is one I unwittingly copied for a scene in my last play!

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And synchronicity strikes again, with this excellent article on Astrodienst about the faculty of imagination and it’s vital role in astrology:

Superb article and timely, @Stewart, especially as it articulates some of the hesitation I feel about astrology as highest science, namely the crucial importance of not-knowing in applying it. The cycle element is also key.

Further Aquarian adventures:

Western astrology has a close relationship with the idea that ultimate reality is “up there.” Whether conceived as the plenum, the Infinite (Arab), or the World of Forms (Platonic), or the Ain Soph (Kabbalistic) the story goes that what we have down here is only a reflection of it.

Or we have the doctrine of the microcosm, in which the human being alone is like the cosmos.

That’s Platonism and it’s incomplete, tried and found wanting. Astrology shouldn’t be taken as idealism by other means.

As neat and unsurpassed as astrology is as a mode of intelligibly accounting for the world in a way that is negotiable by the imagination, I see instead an animist ontology in which the subject matter of astrology is subordinate to the spirit world that is directly accessible to the imagination. In context: astrology is the science being used, but what actually happens when it is practised, as described by the article’s author, is an imaginal encounter between the astrologer, the querent, and the spirits of the planets and stars.

In other words, the Infinite is below and all around, even if the best science for negotiating it treats it as being Above.

This is illustrated in the Arab synthesis, and in particular the role played by those uneasy creatures called “angels.”

You might say, in an idealist account, that an angel is a being that acts only as formal cause. We’ll recall that the astrological influences occur twice or in two different ways, formal and efficient. The organisation of manifold kinds of being on the one hand, and the interaction of all these beings in time on the other hand.

So there might be an angel, Ruby. It would have its being in the stamp of celestial influence on rubies. It would not directly be an explanatory factor when you consider the interactions of rubies with other objects. But, because it’s the mediator between a ruby and the heavens, if you could “meet it,” it could maybe tell you some things about rubies. (The modern corporation actually has a lot in common with this idea, and may in fact derive from it.)

We would learn things about these angels and how they interact in stories of “elder days,” or an earlier age. The governing story is of a Fall, which explains how and why these angels came to this world bringing celestial influences with them. One such story, of course, is of the Watchers who lusted after the daughters of men. Reading Tolkien’s work is maybe the simplest way to understand how this works-- Morgoth and Gandalf are both “angels” in this sense.

You can already see, maybe, why this spirit-model approach to the forms is more useful than that of idealism: Ruby is definite and particular and enters the human mind in a way that is compatible with narrative structure. Idealism, by contrast, gives us the uncountably many angels on the pin.

But carrying on: what’s even more remarkable is that people actually see and meet angels. They’re big and scary and have lots of eyeballs on their many wings. “Sometimes they blow trumpets.” :wink: No one meets a Form. So an angel is not just an astrological mediator between heaven and earth, it’s also a spirit, and not just any spirit but one with, in theory, a home address and a mythic history and intelligible relations with other named spirits. A person can interact with an angel either spirit-to-spirit or in astrological mode. This makes them a powerful kind of intellectual mediator.

Another interesting thing about the Arab synthesis is that it exists alongside the presumed existence of the Jinn, who are much like human beings in the overall scheme of things but have a separate, mostly non-overlapping existence and their own relationships with God. Kinda like ethereal Neanderthals. (Say that ten times quickly!) They are quite precisely like the fairies of European lore. Jewish folklore is a bit more judgmental and glosses them as “demons,” a term that is confusingly also applied to other kinds of being. C.S. Lewis has a great compact book called the Discarded Image that describes how medieval Europe made sense of all these beings.

Anyway, my point is that sophisticated astrology can coexist with equally complex spirit ecologies to which lore and imagination and “grandmother stories” are the best guides, and when astrology was at its most robust, it did so. The clean, closed-off idealist iteration of it is something of an offshoot and on its own has, I think, less explanatory power.

But none of this is to say we need to adopt the Arab synthesis, that would be sort of silly and hipster. Closer to home, we could take Jung as the first pioneer of a new synthesis: “the unconscious” is essentially the spirit world of animist cosmoi, and to the extent that he developed astrological/scientific tools for investigating and understanding it, much more important is his revelation that it’s real, way bigger than we can know, not grossly subject to our understanding, and navigable by way of the imagination.

All very arcane but I feel it’s a necessary point to make before getting too far into astrology’s scientific scope.

This is a superb summation of where Astrology sits as a type of “Higher Science”, @Sparrow!

I was going to write something along these lines but simply haven’t had the time to do it justice. Nor would my piece been as comprehensive and detailed as yours!

I’m at work now, so look forward to thoroughly immersing myself in your essay during my free time. For now though, I’d just like to add that this is pretty much how older societies (and even some modern ones, including India), place Astrology in the hierarchy of knowledge.

In other words, as a holistic or general “scientific” discipline which provides a comprehensive theoretical model from which many sub-disciplines of more empirical or practical application are derived. The primary methods or tools for refining, challenging, expanding or refuting models at such a high level of abstraction include (among others) intuition, thought experiments, imaginative enquiry and the accumulated empirical or statistical evidence obtained from extensive experimentation under a variety of different conditions.

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I look forward to your thoughts as I press on with my reading! And yeah, that’s precisely the sense in which I’m using “queen of the sciences.” I think the phrase was originally applied to theology, which for a couple of centuries played that role.

As I go I hope to use shorter words and more pictures.

Rather ironically, astrology itself has a symbolic terminology for distinguishing between the abstract and concrete forms of knowledge and perceptual enquiry.

This relates to the four mutable signs and their ancient planetary rulers, Jupiter and Mercury.

Abstract = Jupiter (Sagittarius and Pisces)
Concrete = Mercury (Gemini and Virgo)

There’s a lot more to it than this of course, but it’s a great example of how astrological concepts can be used to define and categorise ideas in a similar way to modern theoretical models.

I find this all very interesting. I’m listening. :popcorn:

There’s also one ancient astrological technique which offers the possibility of obtaining accurate and specific answers relating to concrete questions about real world matters.

This is probably the closest astrology gets to the modern idea of science as a method for answering questions about reality and making predictions based on probabilities. The technique is known as Horary astrology and unlike, say, the interpretation of a birth chart, comes with a strictly defined set of rules to follow when answering a question.

The origins of these rules are lost in antiquity, so I can’t say how “scientific” they truly are. And even using these rules and principles, the interpretation of a Horary chart can still be fiendishly complicated for the novice student!

But there’s something about this technique, when correctly applied and interpreted, that defies our modern, rational understanding of how the universe works. I am still learning and practicing how to do this technique, but recently have been able to get some extraordinarily accurate and specific results on several occasions.

The most recent was the most extraordinary, so I’ll explain later in more detail and maybe also post the chart I used.