For several millennia, the desire to improve astrological predictions was one of the main motivations for astronomical observations and theories. Andreas Cellarius's illustration of the Ptolemaic System 17th century , which shows the solar system and signs of the zodiac with the Earth at the center. Astrology continued to be part of mainstream science until the late s, when Isaac Newton demonstrated some of the physical processes by which celestial bodies affect each other.
In doing so, he showed that the same laws that make, say, an apple fall from a tree, also apply to the motions of the celestial sphere. Since then, astronomy has evolved into a completely separate field, where predictions about celestial phenomena are made and tested using the scientific method. In contrast, astrology is now regarded as a pastime and a pseudoscience — though thousands of people around the world still invoke advice from astrologers and astrology publications in making important professional, medical, and personal experiences.
This, despite the fact that current horoscopes rely on outdated information! Planets have nothing to do with it. But that's not the point. If you want to get through to your believing sister-in-law or your uncle in Cincinatti, the way to do it is not to argue physics or astronomy, but to explain why astrology works. I tell this with my own story. When I was in elementary school, I practiced a form of divination that you could call bazookamancy. Back then, Bazooka Joe bubble gum was popular. It came wrapped in a little comic strip about Bazooka Joe and his gang. The wrappers were on the ground wherever kids littered.
As everyone knew, when you saw one, you stopped and asked it a question. Suppose we find that, out of all these 10 28 celestial combinations, people born with the sun in Aquarius aspecting Saturn in the 12th House are reserved, but those with the Sun in Aquarius aspecting Saturn in the 11th House are outgoing. In the general population, people who are reserved or outgoing are common, but those with any particular planetary configuration will be relatively rare.
The mismatch in occurrence makes our finding lack any clear meaning. Even then, our problems are not over. The same astrological factors are supposedly associated with many different things, including both positive and negative sides, which can be expressed in all sorts of differing ways. For example, together Mars and Neptune can indicate altruistic urges to perform good deeds, or, frustration and rage Vaughan b. Our interpretation of the meaning of factors in the horoscope is also qualified by other more earthly factors like the person's sex, level of maturity, age, culture and so on.
Furthermore, the same planetary configurations can mean different things depending on whether we are talking about a human being, a dog, a company, a country, or an idea. So we have complexity laid upon complexity, laid upon complexity.
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The extreme implausibility some would say impossibility of the ancients being able to correlate such diverse, complex, amorphous, aspects of reality together into one comprehensive package should reinforce our skepticism about astrology having any kind of basis in observation, and, on the same grounds, astrological claims could not have been refined over time by any empirical procedures. Here I come back to the shifts from tradition associated with modern psychological astrology. In the new psychological, the central relationship between celestial patterns and human beings is not with outward, observable patterns of behaviour and tendencies but rather with the unobservable, inner life of a person, or what Perry called the "psychic structure which underlies personality" Perry b, p.
Much of the following will be based on the writings of astrologer-psychotherapist Glenn Perry since he is one of the most prominent and representative spokespersons of the psychological astrology school. Perry , p. A strictly predictive astrology Whereas psychological astrology assists individuals in discovering how they are creating their own fate, predictive astrology merely describes fate without relating it to the inner, psychological life of the person. From this perspective, events have no meaning beyond being "good" or "bad".
To say that they are "karma" from past lives, to be suffered and endured or perhaps avoided through the cosmically informed counsel of one's astrologer , does little to help people live more constructively in the here and now. I believe that fate can be positively altered through a process of internal healing and integration. And their real value is that they stimulate growth in precisely those areas where the individual most needs to change. Further, it is not the job of the astrologer to tell clients what to do since planetary configurations provide:.
I do him a great disservice. I steal his choice, for it would be interfering in his fate to predict an outcome The important thing is not what is going to happen, but how he accommodates [to it] I believe our value as astrologers lies less in telling people what to do than in encouraging them to trust themselves and the Universe Perry , pp. Perry further tells us astrologers should help client achieve a "greater realization of their potentials [as revealed in the birth chart]" p.
How do we know when the individual has achieved this? When they are in a state of "health and wholeness" p. Other ways may be better The advice given by Perry is hardly unique to astrology. Much of the transcendental talk and advice given by psychological astrologers can be found in pastoral counselling and popular psychology check any book store , without talk of birth charts and astrological symbolism.
The crucial point is that Perry's comments about inner selves, etc. He capitalizes on astrology by using otherwise acceptable insights provided by others. It is likely that there are more effective ways of dealing with the existential and everyday issues of clients than what astrologers can offer.
Farha points out that most astrologers do not have training in crisis management or related fields, and neither are there astrological national standards that provide a baseline of ethical practice as exists in fields like counselling, psychology, social work, or other human services. Further, the providing of constructive council for living in the here and now, and the providing of meaning, along with ways of stimulating self-examination are very arguably more effectively done by practitioners in the emerging field of philosophical counselling see Marinoff ; Raabe ; Le Bon Given that many of the issues clients deal with are existential or spiritual:.
Philosophers are typically far better trained philosophically than their counterparts. They are therefore better able to help a client when it comes to clarifying her thinking, avoiding both logical and procedural mistakes in reasoning, ethical decision making, values clarification, questions about the meaning of life, and the development of a sound and reasonable personal philosophy Raabe , p. The astrological notion of potential may be more narrow than that advocated by humanistic philosophers and psychologists.
While our potentials may, from these other perspectives, be limited to some extent by our genetics and cultural opportunities, the astrologer adds a further limitation, namely, the potentialities "promised" in the natal chart. The astrologer Cornelius , p. If you're born says this school of thought, with a very powerful Saturn, then you have the potential for certain experiences [opportunities] of a Saturnine nature.
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Remember, however, that this is a velvet glove fatalism because you're still fated to have been born with a Saturn potential! This approach hasn't really solved the problem. Problems of the inner psyche Let us now turn to the symbolism that in modern psychological astrology purportedly reveals the inner psyche. Perry says:. A horoscope symbolizes the complex, evolving nature of consciousness For example, Sun square Saturn symbolizes a conflict between the need for self-expression and the need for self-control Perry b, p. Zodiac signs symbolize general, "fundamental human needs, or motivational drives, inherent in the human condition" Perry , p.
Note 16 The extreme problems of accounting for the relations between celestial factors and observable, relatively specific outcomes postulated by the traditional astrologer are further exacerbated by the psychological astrologer's additional conjectures. How do we know these things? How do we know such invisible psychological processes underlie the astrological symbolism?
Perry tells us such cognitive processes and structures are distilled from the composite descriptions associated with traditional astrological symbolism. For example:.
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It is difficult to see how it follows in the first place from the characteristic behaviours of a sign that one intrinsic motivational factor ties them all together, and even if the case could be made, a further case would need to be independently made for the particular human drives postulated by Perry.
He never clearly sets out how he arrived at these conclusions. No sets of studies of a quantitative or qualitative nature are discussed, nor is there any kind of an appeal to any careful examination of the astrologically symbolized behaviours by independent astrologers or psychologists to determine what one might infer from them. Other problems Furthermore, if only the whole chart will do, inferences based on parts are by definition meaningless.
An additional problem is lack of agreement on the characteristics or behaviours associated with each particular sign. While there is agreement on many characteristics associated with the signs and planets, the disagreements could contribute to quite different inferences about the underlying psychological structures symbolized.
Perry elevates psychological astrology to Biblical miracle status by further informing us that the dynamic relations between various psychological drives symbolized by the horoscope are "fluid and changing, varying in accord with situational specificity, developmental age, emotional maturity, and level of psychological integration" b, p.
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Further, "unlike the boundaries of physical objects, the contents and processes of consciousness involve meanings whose boundary regions are fuzzy Meanings are indefinite, arbitrary, relational and culturally embedded" Perry a, p. The fuzziness claimed by Perry would be one more reason why the astro-connections would be, at best, exceedingly difficult to establish, and one more reason why astrology becomes even more unfalsifiable.
How could psychological astroloy work? Despite Perry's appeals to consciousness, it is clear that no theory of consciousness based on physical processes can perform the role demanded. So Perry opts for dualism, the existence of a nonphysical, immaterial mind or soul. While psychological astrology is described as a theory of "extraordinary complexity and a model of consciousness" Perry a, p.
Instead we are merely offered tidbits such as: consciousness is a "non-physical system" a, p. Nowhere does Perry attempt to articulate the intrinsic nature of his version of the non-physical mind. While the notion of "soul" is a central part of many astrological positions, we are left with vague mental images of a non-physical, internal poltergeist that acts in equally mysterious ways, on the neurological structure and behaviour of human beings.
How does the mind come into it? Neither does Perry offer us any inkling as to the mediating role the non-physical mind plays between cosmos and psychic structure. The most we get are vague appeals to notions such as synchronicity which substitute one mystery for another, and sidestep issues of conflicting astrologies but fail to clarify issues of how this imprinting of the cosmos on the psyche takes place.
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This talk of souls and non-physical entities worsens the picture for astrology without bringing an increase in understanding. Since psychological astrology does not have a theory of its own regarding the nature of the inner psychological processes supposedly mirrored by planetary configurations, it rests mainly on those postulated by various psychodynamic theories. More specifically, Perry relates the birth chart to "conscious and unconscious processes, areas of repression and conflict, pathways of sublimation, transference dynamics, projections and the like" Perry b, p. Based on outmoded ideas Even if we contend that psychological astrologers have refined the crude approximations of traditional astrologers who themselves do not offer plausible explanations for their correlations , ths above case is difficult to accept.
The reason is simple. Twentieth century theorizing was influenced by a great variety of areas of research, including investigations into brain function, humanistic and existential schools of psychology, neuropsychology, artificial intelligence, physicalism and functionalism in philosophy, and so on. Further, the above psychic structure is based on psychoanalytic and humanistic psychological theories that since the 's have come under very heavy criticism.
Note 18 Psychoanalytic processes and concepts, alluded to by many psychological astrologers, have been described as nonfalsifiable because they are consistent with any physically possible human behaviour. In addition, the coherence of the theory is questionable, along with the controversy over its therapeutic effectiveness eg see Crews ; Grunbaum ; Spence ; Esterson ; Kerr ; Macmillan ; Webster ; McGinn ; Coiffi If the psychological structure symbolized by the planets and their interrelationships are problematic, the rest of the theory is on shaky ground.
What about cultural effects? Is human nature the same the world over? Do all people share the same underlying archetypes as some psychological astrologers contend? Granted that there are physical and psychological commonalities across cultures, but are cognitive styles and thinking processes the same? Some recent research suggest that people in the Orient follow different basic thinking processes than those in the West.