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the observer
observed pt 1

the observer
observed pt 2

the observer
observed pt 3

philosophy &

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Vilanova 1998






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home    consultations    courses    ideas    irish astrology        Bill Sheeran

This three part series appeared in 2001 in the AstroTalk Online magazine. It combines my consideration of Ireland's national horoscopes with a discussion of some distinctive features of astrology when applied to a collective level. In addition, my thoughts on the role of the astrologer in determining the form of the astrological process are given an airing.

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The Observer Observed part 2, page 1

In the first part of this essay, I mentioned two key points which have a bearing on the practice of mundane astrology. Firstly, for the astrology of nation states, the focus of attention is on a country's overall process of political and social development. A little bit of thought makes clear that there is no one horoscope which can act as an autonomous and inclusive map for a nation and her people. Unlike the situation for natal astrology, a nation of people do not appear from the womb at a given moment.

On the other hand, events which help create or maintain structures that support and give form to a society often do have recognisable beginning points. Typical examples would be revolutions, the voting in of a new government, the legal [time established for the] enacting of a new Constitution, and so on. Such events do draw attention to specific moments in time, and so horoscopes can be calculated for them. I would suggest that these event charts form a family, with each horoscope acting as a marker for a significant moment in the historical lineage of a nation's story. Although it contains diverse elements, this family of horoscopes constitutes a flexible unity whose collective relevance persists in time. New charts can become part of the family as time passes, while others may fade from significance. But whatever, the family unit remains.

A movie analogy
The conventional practice of natal astrologers in focusing on just one horoscope was imported into mundane astrology during the 20th century. In seeking the blueprint for nations, astrologers went about identifying when various countries gained political independence and autonomy. These are then considered to be the horoscopes for those countries. To take one recent example, the horoscope for Madagascar is calculated for June 26th, 1960, 00:00am BGT (-3:00), set for Antananarivo 47E31, 18S55, which is the time when she received independence from France. There are lots of people in Madagascar who are older than 41, and who were alive and well before this horoscope came alive. This is rather incongruous, as the situation implies that the national chart, in conventional astrological terms, can have nothing to say about their experiences prior to 1960. Instinctively one would begin to think about possible earlier charts. For example, the time when the French first arrived on the island.

Again, a connected series of points in time begs to come into focus. These could be visualised as frames in a movie which, when run, presents the story of the people living on that island. Particular events in the movie may be especially significant, including the moment of independence. But that frame in itself does not tell the whole story. Instead it may be seen as the beginning of a new sub-plot, which runs in parallel to and becomes intertwined with several others which started earlier in the movie.

Using this movie analogy, one moves away from the static quality of a single relevant horoscope into a consideration of processes among a multiplicity of related charts which together constitute a unity. This unity reveals within itself an open-ended story of the dynamics of becoming. At the same time, on its surface, the unity of horoscopes describes (through the persistence of its relevance in time) a state of being. This polarity of being and becoming is mirrored analogically in our sense of ourselves as being the same persons we were during childhood, while acknowledging that we are also not the same as we were then. The American nation persists in time, but is not the same as it was 200 years ago.

Natural and Judicial astrology
Now to the second key point. The current and in my opinion limiting use of single horoscopes for the births of nation states is a radical break from traditions in mundane astrology prior to the middle of the last century. This shift brings into view a primary tension within the broad sweep of astrology between its 'natural' and 'judicial' forms. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they are at the same time quite distinct.

Natural astrology today is most evident in astro-meteorology, financial astrology, earthquake prediction, and so on. The tools used would include observations of eclipses and comets, the Moon's rhythms, and real-time aspects in planetary cycles such as the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, among others. These are all closely related to 'real' astronomical phenomena, and lend themselves to consideration in terms of causal models. In the past these celestial events would have been central to political mundane astrology also. The key point about this type of astrological work is that the astrologer's role is that of observer and reporter. Observations were (or are) compared with past records, and conclusions are drawn. The emphasis is on watching astrology in action in an almost physical sense.

Judicial astrology, of which natal astrology is the prime example, is a different kettle of fish. The astrologer here is not merely reporting on the basis of real celestial events, but making judgements which result primarily from the interpretation of symbols. The use of the zodiac and houses is more prominent, as are non-astronomical techniques such as secondary progressions and transits to planetary positions which are more imaginary than real. It is more the astrologer than astrology in action here.

The astrological picture is, in effect, created by the choices the astrologer makes in terms of techniques. But it doesn't stop there. The astrologer's interpretation will be influenced by cultural conditioning, the level of understanding and knowledge of the context being investigated, personal prejudice, and even the nature of his or her psyche. In short, each astrologer will have his or her own preferences and style.

Implications of the dialogue between psyche and symbol
The reference to psyche is important here. The dialogue between psyche and symbol is personal and subjective, and in its own way is quite mysterious. If a symbol does not 'speak' to your psyche, then it has no meaning. The meaning imparted to a symbol in a textbook tells you what it signifies to several or many other people. However, Chiron, to use one example, doesn't 'speak' to me from a horoscope, no matter how many books I read on the subject. So it's not on my palette, and I don't paint pictures with it. For others it has a powerful field of meaning, and of course they are right to incorporate it into their interpretations. What is important is not what is on the symbol palette, but whether the astrologer is able to glean useful insights when using it.

One can take this further. There are a whole range of techniques we can choose from, different zodiacs and house systems, even different astrologies. If one ignores the role of the astrologer, and focuses solely on the tools the astrologer uses as a means of understanding what astrology is, this plethora of options creates problems. Often techniques or tools can seem to be mutually exclusive (such as the sidereal or tropical zodiacs). The quest then starts to identify which is the correct one, creating a lot of argument and wasted energy. There is no objective right way to do astrology. How can one dismiss a whole sub-continent's tradition out of hand simply because it doesn't fit western notions of a universally applicable system? Astrology is not like science in this regard. As mentioned above the judicial astrologer, far from mimicking the neutral detached role of the scientist, is centrally involved in creating the astrology. Idiosyncrasies of style and the breaking or making of rules are to be expected. The only real judgement one can make is whether or not one feels the insights generated by an astrologer have a useful applicable value.

An illustrative example
I'd like to illustrate all these points with an example based on my work in researching the mundane astrology of political processes which provide the framework for the history of Ireland. This island lying off the north west coast of the European land mass contains two separate 'nation states'; the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland. While the island and its people have a cultural and political history which extends back into the mists of time, the partition into two states only happened 70 years ago. In recent decades, the tension generated by the implications of the partitioning border erupted into a tragic 30 year conflict which is only now in the process of resolution.

I started working on this subject in 1992, prompted by an urge to understand political and social developments in my own country (the Republic of Ireland), alongside growing fears about the way the conflict was escalating up in the North. As my previous astrological experience was in natal astrology, I went looking for the 'correct' national birth charts, assuming that such things existed. On consulting Campion's Book of World Horoscopes, I was thrown into confusion, as there were three charts for my own country, all contained within a time frame of 35 years. One was for an event which wasn't associated with a political birth of any kind, but a proclamation of independence [made] at the start of a failed uprising in 1916. Another was for the first semblance of political autonomy for 26 of the 32 counties in Ireland, which occurred as the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922. And the last was for the birth of the Republic of Ireland in 1949. Which was the horoscope I should be using?

Copyright: (2001) - Bill Sheeran         | next |