- Apr 1, 2004
Regarding a review of what is available in traditional astrology, the following two books are by Theosophists. They have been grouped together because they display a similarity of approach:
"The Principles of Astrology" by Charles Carter (1925)
"A Student's Textbook of Astrology" by Vivian Robson (1922)
A "Principles of Astrology" was exactly what I had been looking for. Just as one might learn the principles of music or mathematics, so I'd hoped the principles of astrology could be taught in the same way. A 'principle' is rather like a concept. A concept brings together different ideas and experiences under the same group. A principle should do the same, acting as a framework or 'handle' to provide the means to deal with many apparently dissimilar bits of information.
Unfortunately, Charles Carter's book ought to be called "A Summary of Astrology". The opening chapter, "Astrology and its Subject-matter", is about as close as he comes to elaborating any 'principles'. In it he provides a brief introduction to the greater detail elaborated in the rest of the book -- but nowhere are any 'principles' expounded.
Not long after beginning the book I came up against something I can only describe as a 'deadening' feeling that I found both odd and perplexing. Charles Carter was clearly quite an educated man, and quite serious about his subject. Nowhere does he include any novel ideas nor does he treat his subject ineptly, and yet I continually found myself with the experience that, in spite of the accumulation of information contained in the book, there was something most definitely missing in it. Much of the book amounted to lists of psychological attributes, but without any indication as to how they were arrived at. For example:
"The Fiery Element comprises Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. Its function is self-assertion and active manifestation. It is positive, forceful, self-confident and aggressive...The faults are such as spring from too robust, vigorous, and exuberant life...pride, arrogance, course animal spirits, and a lack of sympathy for the weak."
The above makes much sense when one is aware he is describing what finds expression as the Choleric temperament, and when one has a clear conception of what the Choleric temperament is. But nowhere does Charles Carter indicate where such attributes come from, why they were chosen, and how the reader can find their way to understanding the basis on which any such statements are made. These would be the principles the book's title promises. The problem for the reader is that, without some indication as to how the source of such information can be found (by oneself), it is impossible to judge the reliability of what is presented.
The need of any enquiring reader (and this applies to any subject, not merely astrology) is to be able to sift what the reliable information out from the chaff. Unfortunately, Mr. Carter's book does not facilitate this. And the further the book continues, the more increasingly complex it becomes, and the more the reader is left wondering where the illumination will come from.
The "Student's Textbook of Astrology" by Vivian Robson adopts a manner of presentation and an overall tone very which is very much the same. The book begins with what are presented as 'principles' but are really bald statements regarding the signs, the aspects, the planets, houses and so on. Nowhere is there any indication of the source of this knowledge, or of whether the writer has sought to ascertain its reliability, or of how the novice can verify its reliability. And again, after the opening chapters, the reader is presented with yet more lists of psychological attributes, the significance of various combinations of aspects and so on.
What makes Robson's book worth mentioning is that it includes a chapter entitled "Esoteric Astrology", making specific reference to reincarnation. Robson calls this esoteric astrology 'Astrotheosophy'. (The book was published in 1922 and so perhaps this was the Theosophical Society's response to the Astrosophy that was emerging from Dornach.) It is perhaps most telling to note that the 'esoteric' content outlined in this very brief chapter is not incorporated into the book as a whole, but rather tagged on at the end. Incorporating the esoteric aspect would have required Vivian Robson to thoroughly reappraise traditional astrology. That he did not do this means that he regarded traditional astrology as distinct from esotericism.
Lest anyone think I am merely seeking to disparage the Theosophists, I must say that this is not my intention. The Theosophists were for the most part educated people, and the books produced by them were at least written with a certain degree of seriousness; there is none of the sentimentality that often accompanies popular astrological writing. Unfortunately for both writers, the seriousness displayed is that more usually associated with bookkeeping. However studious they are in their endeavor to include all that has been passed on in the way of traditional astrology, neither of them displays any degree of insight into their subject matter. It is very telling when, for example, Vivian Robson writes, (regarding the signs):
"...the following classifications are important and should be memorized."
The same advice is repeated elsewhere in the book. Without understanding, of course, there is no option but to memorize the available information. Yet reciting from rote is no substitute for understanding. What is more; it is does not facilitate intuition. No access can be gained to the inner content of astrology in this way.
Both authors approach the subject in this manner. When astrology is approached in this way -- through long lists of unexplained attributes, which one is expected to memorize -- it becomes ossified. This I think explains the rather 'dead' feeling that occurred to me when I began Charles Carter's book, yet couldn't put my finger on; even the best of the traditional astrologers are essentially 'curators' of a dead wisdom, rather than any source of genuine knowledge.
All of this provides for an uneasy relationship with what falls under the heading of 'tradition'; the days of accepting spiritual knowledge on trust, belief or faith are over. Any spiritual knowledge that is presented in this manner is not knowledge at all, but its opposite. Reading imparted astrological knowledge ought to be like reading what is imparted by spiritual science -- acting as a gateway through which intuition can function. And when it does not do so, it is necessary to ask why.
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