Astrology and Celestial Poesis

I listened today to an episode of Chris Brennan‘s The Astrology Podcast, in which he talks with astrologer Sam F. Reynolds about Sam’s appearance on a TV show called “Bill Nye Saves the World” from Netflix.

It was a pretty good episode. There was some strong, and useful and thought-provoking back-and-forth between host and guest, centering on the question of whether or not astrology is a science; whether or not there’s empirical evidence for it working (as a middle ground of rigor between anecdotal — “story-based evidence” on the more literary side; or scientific — “big-data-based evidence”); and whether or not any astrologer should get into debates with scientists (or science evangelists) on the subject of whether or not astrology has validity.

I’m really enjoying reading Chris Brennan’s book, Hellenistic Astrology, of course.  Chris’s points in the show were also well-taken: that it’s potentially problematic to ‘give ground and surrender’ right away (my summarization of his words, not a true quote) by agreeing that astrology is not a science.  If one finds oneself in debate with Bill Nye or any other scientist or science-apologist, maybe conceding that astrology isn’t a science right away isn’t wise.

But on the other hand, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Sam Reynolds had to say.  One thing in particular resonated: the idea of astrology as a language, rather than a science.  Chris Brennan seemed to find this particularly objectionable, because he felt that this undermined the validity of astrology, especially in the eyes of scientists.  However, Sam argued that this helped astrology fit into the realms of literature and poetry more effectively. He called astrology celestial poetry — which I write.

And this brought to mind my regular fascination with the medieval seven: the Liberal Arts (plus philosophy), which I find myself returning to again and again:

  1. The Trivium, or three ways, of language:
    1. Rhetoric
    2. Grammar
    3. Logic
  2. The Quadrivium, or four ways, of mathematics:
    1. Geometry
    2. Arithmetic
    3. Music
    4. Astronomy

It occurred to me that Astrology is a bridge between 2.4 in the above list, and 1.1-3.  One takes the observable data about the sky — the geometry and arithmetic in motion — and use the various degree-coordinates as variables in an equation. These are the placements of planets, signs, and houses; and the resulting aspects between them.  The resulting numeric-coordinate variables are compared with a database of possible text-values, e.g., Mars means this, and Venus means that, and the relationship they both have with the Sun in Leo means this other thing.  The sky, in other words, yields first a set of abstracted number-values and variables… and then it yields a set of words.

Which brings us from the quadrivium, the four-way crossroads, to the trivium, the three-way crossroads.  It brings us from the realm of mathematics into the realm of story-telling, and unites the the two realms of language and mathematics.

When a poet tells a story about themselves, it’s autobiographical poetry.  When a rhetor, an epic reciter, tells the story of the Spear-Danes, they’re reciting history.  But when an astrologer reads the stars for a client, they’re creating a real-time story about time and space in which the client is the protagonist and principal character.  Each and every one of us is the hero of our own birth charts.  That’s who we are — the chief character in our own story.

And that’s why the idea of Celestial Poetry resonated so strongly with me. Because you can buy the celestial poetry I’ve already written:

But Sam Reynolds’ comments also provide me with a way of understanding what I think about astrology.  I don’t believe the stars rule our destiny, for example; Marsilio Ficino, the great Renaissance translator, mystic and magician thought that there were coincidences and correlations between human experience and the motions of the heavens because both were being moved and adjusted by the same invisible forces — and thus astrology is simply a matter noticing and reading the obvious but temporary signs left in place by the road-repair crews — you can see the traffic cones and the diamond-shaped orange signs, and you can see the lane changes plainly enough.  But it doesn’t mean you know who ordered them to put out the cones, or when the work is done.

But literature — poetry, storytelling, song, history — always carries with it some level of validity and meaning.  It’s a way of making sense of who we are as humans. It’s part of the reason I’ve written all those astrological poems, for example — because I’m interested in the idea of cycles of time and changes in the world as a result of changes of time.

So I feel as though I finally have a way to explain and explore astrology in other people’s charts beside my own that makes sense for me — I’m not trying to defraud people out of their money or their time; rather, they’re offering to let me tell them a story about themselves, and about the world they live in. They want to hear their own heroism, their own doubts and failures as a hero, and the moment when they stand and find the courage to do what must be done next.

This is, after all, the reason why so many people go to see astrologers — at moments of crisis or difficulty in their lives, they want to have a sense of how the next part of the story plays out.  They want some predictions that they made the right choices, that this part of the story resolves, and that life does in some fashion go on.  Maybe those are the answers they get; maybe they aren’t.  Either way, though, they’re looking for celestial poetry — for a way to connect the raw celestial mechanics of the heavens above, to their own story and their own meaning.

They are looking for the ways in which the apparently-uncaring Cosmos has written their story into the very movement of the stars.  And that feels like a worthy skill to develop — not just to be a writer of poetry, but a writer of poetry that joins the heights of the farthest heavens to the depths of a person’s soul. There’s no telling whether it will ever win prizes or collect fame or fortune — but maybe it will shine starlight and moonlight on a person’s heavy spirit, and give them a light in a dark and wild wood where the way is otherwise lost.

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