The venue for this talk was on the Lido, one of the islands off shore from Venice. The conference was housed in the the cinema complex used for the Venice Film Festival. My talk was in the main auditorium, a very lavish space with capacity for several hundred people. I was scheduled to start at 9:30am on the Sunday following on from the conference 'party'. Needless to say, the place was virtually empty - maybe 20 or 30 in the audience. It was a strange experience. Standing behind a lectern on a huge stage a long way from the front row, detachment from the meagre audience was completed by the fact I had to read my paper. This was true for all speakers, and I think it had to do with the multi-lingual translation process. Whatever, that is the reason why I can include a copy of the text here.
Astrology and Unpredictability
A talk given at the 2nd CIDA International Congress, Venice, Italy October 1997
Astrology tends to be identified with the zodiac sign Aquarius. Before the discovery of Uranus in 1781, Aquarius was ruled solely by Saturn, but today, for western astrologers, it is also co-ruled by Uranus. These two planets symbolise opposing but complementary themes, such as permanence and change, conformity and non-conformity, constraint and freedom, predictability and unpredictability, etc. It is somewhat paradoxical to have this pair living together under the roof of Aquarius.
Astrology has been with us for many thousands of years, but it is only in the last 200 or so that the Uranian archetype has germinated in the collective psyche and moved in to set up house with Saturn. This is a very short length of time in the life span of astrological awareness. The question I'd like to explore in this talk is whether or not the Uranian principle has been integrated within the practice of astrology during this brief period. In other words, has astrology fully embraced the archetype of freedom and unpredictability?
The astrological meaning of Uranus to some extent derives from the quality of events which coloured the period around the planet's discovery in 1781. It was a time of revolution and upheaval, of transition from being subjects under a monarchy to a new status as citizens in a republic. Europe was in turmoil. It was also a time of unprecedented advances in science and technology, when the promise of the classical scientific revolution of the previous century was being realized. Nothing seemed impossible.
The 18th century is also called the Age of Enlightenment, a period in European culture during which an optimistic belief that reason is the best tool for illuminating the human condition dominated educated circles. This theme permeated not only science, but also the philosophy, music, arts, and literature of that time. The Enlightenment added a dynamic energy to the new era of Modernity which was born during the previous century. It broke the dominant influence of faith, religious dogma and received truths among the educated and privileged classes. The non-rational was banished to the dustbins of magic, superstition and mysticism. As Immanuel Kant once suggested, the motto defining the Enlightenment should be ''Dare to Know''.
Accordingly, Uranian symbolism constellates around the themes of change, destabilisation, revolution, innovation, humanism, radicalism, and the questioning of authority. Coupled with these are qualities of unpredictability and the unexpected, electrical flashes from out of the blue. These were the conceptual vortices which emerged in European cultural consciousness at that time, and which had great influence in many different areas. Of course there was resistance to these changes from established and traditional structures in society. After all, the Saturnian principle also has a life in our cultural dramas, and was not about to embrace this uninvited guest with open arms.
Nonetheless, despite the resistance, the slow process of integrating this new reality principle got under way, and by the 20th century it became well entrenched in the western cultural landscape, acting as a driving force which pushed the evolution of Saturnian structures into more appropriate forms. But did this process of integration of the new perspectives have any effect on the traditions and established structures of astrology at that time, and has there been any real evolution of astrology since then?
The fact that serious astrology had faded from view when the Enlightenment began to flourish is highly significant in this regard. It had already been rejected as belonging to the disappearing pre-Modern world. Astrology offered no stimulation for the intellectually inclined person in comparison to the exciting alternatives. When Uranus was discovered, astrology was at possibly its lowest ebb in a very long history, utterly at odds with the prevailing cultural climate. The Enlightenment's love affair with reason ensured that an already very weakened astrology remained well and truly on the cultural periphery. There was no place for belief in planetary powers, occult influences or astral divination in the new vision. My feeling is that under these conditions, the chances of astrology itself undergoing any degree of radical reform (apart from its virtual disappearance) were minimal. Although Uranus had made its way into the symbolic vocabulary of those astrologers who were active in the early 19th century, the structures and approach remained the same as ever. In fact some of these practitioners were at the forefront of a radical anti-modernism, resolutely sticking to the pre-modern view.
However, several decades later, this anti-modern attitude blended in well with the spreading Romantic movement, a reaction against the Enlightenment which happened in the first half of the 19th century. A new wave of enthusiasm for imagination, inspiration and spiritual exploration took hold in the culture, especially within the visual arts, literature and music. Interest in the occult became fashionable, and astrology was given a new lease of life. The Astrology eventually regained a foot hold on the back of Theosophy, allowing it to re-emerge among the urban educated classes of late 19th and early 20th centuries. However the re-vitalised astrology was as pre-modern as ever, this time suffused with esoteric notions imported from eastern philosophies. Instead of undergoing a Uranian reform, astrology experienced a 'Neptunian illumination', following the discovery of that planet in 1846. It is true that there were a small number of prominent astrologers who recoiled in distaste at this new esotericism, and who attempted to present astrology as an exact science, but they had little impact. These attempts were more an expression of a Saturnian rather than Uranian urge.
Copyright © 1997 Bill Sheeran | next |