The Wisdom of the Stars: Thoughts on Astrology
People often ask me if I “believe in astrology,” a question I really don’t know how to answer. Of course I don’t. Asking people if they believe in astrology is pretty much like asking if they believe in the ocean or in snow or in food or something. It’s a dumb question. Even a more precisely articulated question, such as “Do you believe the stars influence us?” rather misses the mark.
A better question would be “Do you believe that we are part of the cosmos and that the cosmos is part of us?” To this one, much in the spirit of James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, I would answer in an ebullient and whole-hearted “Yes.” In fact, as I have proposed in all of my books, I think most of the problems we now face—environmental degradation, rapacious capitalism, adolescent socialism, isolation, a lifeless preoccupation with cyberspace—are precisely due to our having been estranged from the cosmos. The absurd assumption that we are somehow separate from the world which René Descartes inflicted on the West in the seventeenth century—a disorder that jumped into hyperdrive with Judith Butler and others in the twentieth—has done unbelievable harm to our humanity (and our planet and those with whom we share it). Nominalism and its inheritance, let me say (again), is complete bullshit.
As a biodynamic farmer, I plant by the sun, the moon, and the stars (a motif richly permeating the language of fairy-tales). In general, I plant leaf vegetables when the moon is in a water sign (Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio), roots in an earth sign (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), flowers in air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), and fruits in fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius). It gets a little more complicated than that, but that’s the idea.
It’s also pretty clear that animals respond to movements in the cosmos—breeding patterns, for example, responses to tides—but when it comes to human beings things become more complex. Here I hold to the maxim (variously attributed to Aristotle, Plotinus, and so forth) that “The stars incline, they do not compel.” The reason for this, is that we humans, due to our having an ego, have freewill: we can choose. The less liberated our thinking is from our emotions and our wills, however, the less freewill we have, which renders us closer to plants and animals in the degree to which the stars might influence us (especially for ill). I came to this insight not through reading, but from an actual study of astrology going back over thirty years. I am not at the moment a practicing astrologer (though I was once upon a time), though I do keep my eye on the stars.
Some people, especially my more orthodox Christian friends, may be aghast at such a confession. But astrology has a rich history in both Christianity and in Judaism (particularly in the Kabbalah). The Christian antecedents, obviously, begin with the Star of Bethlehem and the astrologers (magi, three kings, wisemen, whatever), but span the last two millennia, sometimes in the underground, sometimes out in the open. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how many traditionalist-leaning Catholics have emailed or messaged me about astrology—though they admit they’d never announce so publicly, as they fear it would decimate their traddie street-cred. (The same goes for Sophiology, incidentally.)
One of astrology’s “out” periods was during the Renaissance. Many a Christian humanist practiced astrology, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Kepler, Robert Fludd, and Marsilio Ficino among them (a comprehensive list could probably fill a small volume). In a letter to the great patron of the Florentine Renaissance, Lorenzo de Medici, Ficino, spiritual head of the Plato Academy as well as a Catholic priest, had this to say.
26 September 1480
“Lorenzo, today and also tomorrow, be on your guard; for Mars, passing into Capricorn, your ascendant, is seen to look with square aspect, today at Saturn and tomorrow at the Sun. Besides this, Saturn himself, the lord of your ascendant, has not quite passed through the rays of the Sun. For this last reason I, too, should take care.”1
Ficino, translator of Plato and the Corpus Hermeticum among many other contributions to scholarship, was no naive dummy. He knew very well the problems inherent to placing too much trust in an interpretive art and in 1477 wrote Disputatio contra iudicium astrologorum (Disputation against the Judgments of Astrologers) calling into question the practice of astrology. Then as now, unscrupulous practitioners of any art—medicine, finance, and politics no less than astrology—were plentiful enough to remind any potential customer that caveat emptor.
Of course, with the Reformation (and the Tridentine reactionarianism of the Counter Reformation) all of that slowly came to a halt, though it persisted in subterranean streams forever after denigrated as “occultism” or “esotericism.” As Ioan Couliano has written,
“In response to Luther and to Puritanism, the Church embarked on its own reform…. Far from consolidating the positions assumed by Catholicism during the Renaissance, this movement severed itself completely from them and went in the same directions as protestantism. It was along the lines of severity and harshness that the Reformation developed, from the Protestant as well as the Catholic side.2
I think it’s time to recapture a healthy relationship to the cosmos. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we need to subscribe to a heedless and superficial approach to astrology. But we do need to heal our relationship to this blessed Creation in which we live and move and have our being. We need to disrupt our sense of alienation from our own home. And the heavens are part of this home, as Blake so eloquently writes in The Four Zoas:
Thus were the stars of heaven created like a golden chain
To bind the Body of Man to heaven from falling into the Abyss.
And “abyss” is precisely the correct word.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at email@example.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.
1 Meditations on the Soul: Selected Letters of Marsilio Ficino (Inner Traditions, 1997), 166.
2 Ioan Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (University of Chicago Press, 1987), 194.