By Dennis Elwell
best advice, when you are in a hole, is to stop digging. On the other hand you
can send out for a bigger shovel and sandwiches. I did not think a coherent
reply to my critique was possible, and have not changed that opinion. My regret
is that they should have produced more of the same.
are many points raised in the sceptics' diatribe that call for correction or
comment, but their number presents a problem. Because they have introduced so
much "new matter", as the lawyers say, mainly as challenges to myself,
my list of topics went off the page. To cover everything properly would be tantamount
to writing a book, so I shall confine this piece to specimen charges. There
are doubtless further topics which, should the "researchers" so wish
(and provided the webmaster has the patience), could be the subject of further
are apt to become tedious because there is an inverse law operating. If I declare
that in the antipodes they have everything upside down, there is no short answer
to match, only 500 words of relativistic prose.
As part of this exercise it is opportune, because its authorship and content overlap, to include comments on the critique of modern astrology posted by Ivan Kelly, with help from his friends, on http://www.rudolfhsmit.nl/a-conc1.htm . In effect this compilation shows how easy it is to take your pet aversion for a walk and let it bark at everything that moves. No, astrology is not a "finished" science, not all its problems have been solved, and yes there are anomalies and internal disagreements. Is it different anywhere else?
For the record
my observations on those chapters in Year Zero which purported to represent
the scientific view, I alleged that the "researchers" contribution
was not all it seemed. They sought to convey the impression that astrology had
been put under the lens of impartial scrutiny and had been found wanting, but
such evidence as they cited (1) on inspection lacked the authority claimed for
it, and (2) involved suppressing better documented evidence which would have
supported astrology. Their reply indicates that they are still in the business
the question of the negative evidence connected with earthquakes, I am again
dismayed to find the scholars fudging their reply in order to be able to conclude
triumphantly: "So much for Elwell's statement." It is sheer hokum,
as will be seen if I unpick it.
research was carried out into a specific claim not made by astrologers at all,
but by a fellow scientist, who claimed that the passing of Uranus over the local
meridian (a twice a day event) could trigger earthquakes. Of course astrologers
down the centuries have been interested in earthquakes, as in everything else,
and built up a picture of their cosmic correlations, in which the main player
was eclipses, in combination with a number of planets. I cited the observations
of the astrologer A J Pearce, pointing out that he made only incidental reference
then comes a ploy which, if this were a conjuring performance, would be called
misdirection. The scholars quote Pearce's affirmation that planetary aspects
do indeed excite earthquakes (which might have been inferred from his having
written a chapter about it) and counted the pages of the chapter so we shall
be in no doubt about the thoroughness of our author nor their own meticulous
approach. And lo, Uranus is indeed mentioned as well!
ploy is to take what your opponent says, dress it up a bit, and serve it back
as if you had introduced it yourself. And since you are introducing it, then
in must support your case, mustn't it? Highly recommended!
scholars then quote six words from the celebrated Alan Leo, namely that "severe
afflictions to Herschel ... cause earthquakes." One might be curious to
know what was omitted from this sentence. Since Leo calls Uranus ‘Herschel’
it must be from his earlier writings, but I have not attempted to track it down.
However Alan Leo's Astrological Manual on Mundane or National Astrology,
written by H S Green, has several pages on earthquakes, and Uranus is not mentioned
this to justify the innuendo that astrology falls down even on a phenomenon
as big as earthquakes. Why, oh why, do they have to labour it to seem to be
scoring a point. More pertinently, where is the scientific detachment which
might have led to them conceding the point?
a long-time student of predictive techniques, I was interested to read that
when Smit tested them in cases of accidental death the results were negative,
so I asked where I might be able to examine this obviously important research.
He replied that the work had not been published. Since he was originator of
the research I assumed he would know, and made my comments on that basis.
then Dean pitches in with his ringing "Wrong", and castigates me for
having forgotten ("a remarkably convenient lapse of memory") that
Smit's results had been mentioned at a conference he and I attended in 1987.
Presumably Smit's own lapse of memory was proving inconvenient.
exhumed the papers relating to that conference and saw that Dean had indeed
been allocated a 15-minute slot for a presentation on "Primary Directions
and Violent Death". It cannot have been that memorable, because the pad
on which I was making notes was blank save for the heading. I must have switched
off, because I knew that primary directions contain a number of unresolved problems.
problems are sufficient to disqualify their use as ammunition against astrology
in general. One is that no consensus exists on how they should be calculated.
Theoretically there are some half a dozen different equations, and indeed three
are mentioned by Dean in his own Recent Advances (p 189). Now that produces
an amusing Catch 22. If you are going to apply primary directions to a fresh
set of data you must presumably have already decided, on the basis of past experience,
which is the most reliable method. But that would be simultaneously to endorse
the connection between the planets and events, so that the failure of your new
data can hardly be used to bolster the anti-astrology argument.
made his choice from the selection, and one must conclude that it was on the
basis of past experiments. If not that, then what?
would you establish the most reliable method? Ideally with charts for which
the hour and minute are not in doubt, because in this system four minutes inaccuracy
on the clock can throw your indications out by a full year. This means you should
first rehearse your act with charts from the "mundane" sector of astrology,
for example like the 1801 chart used for the United Kingdom, where the time
try to solve the puzzles of primary directions from birth charts is inadvisable,
because even if there is confidence in the time on the clock, there may be doubt
as to what the moment of "birth" actually is, cosmically speaking.
Practically, the stated time might be the first time those attending the birth
think to look at the clock. Astrology is not always the first thing on everybody's
mind at such moments.
wonder experienced astrologers are hesitant to rely on the stated time of birth
until they have been able to confirm it by life-events. This process of "rectification"
becomes the basis of an attack on the astrologer Alexander Marr, who emphasised
its necessity. Our scholars sniff: "In other words, this astrologer found
it completely allowable to work towards a desired result. Any scientist following
such procedures would immediately and forever be disqualified."
Marr is cast into the outer darkness, let me protest that they have clumsily
misrepresented his position. Marr was not saying that in studying the astrological
indications at death it would be permissible to massage the charts, under the
guise of "rectification", in the direction of the result you hope
and expect. Quite the reverse. He is insisting that before you can place reliance
on the indications formed at a person's death, the chart you use must have been
first authenticated by reference to preceding dates such as marriage,
removals, accidents, and so forth. Of course it would have been damaging to
Smit's study to have admitted it could be based on unconfirmed data, so he naturally
rejected it. Yet when you look closely you realise that it was Smit who unwittingly
might have been working towards an unavoidably negative result, by his confidence
in unsubstantiated data.
few e-mails later, Smit remembered that his conclusions had also appeared in
Australia, in the four-page Astrologers' Forum, a non-profit monthly
sheet produced for the last 20 years by the dedicated Dymock Brose. To leave
us in no doubt about the importance of this event, the Forum is rather
grandly described as "internationally distributed", meaning that anybody
anywhere can pay the annual subscription. I have been unable to discover how
many copies were posted.
we detect an inconsistency here? Dean's conference presentation involved 62
cases of violent death, but the Year Zero cases were described as accidental
death ("nothing ambiguous here") [p.126], and the Astrologers'
Forum study was of 62 cases of suicide. Are we being careful?
over Smit's research might have been resolvable had the raw data been available.
His own remarks on this are pertinent. He wrote to me to say the raw data were
not included simply because the Forum is a four-page publication, and
as it was his contribution had to be spread over two issues.
these physical limitations, he could still have made the information available
in some form. But his reluctance to do so may be judged from the following:
"The normal rule in science is that every serious researcher will
be made available the raw data is they wish to have them. But nobody asked.
But besides, I would not give it to them for the simple reason that I was not
yet finished with the project; which is in line with another rule in science:
do not make available the data as long as the pertaining project is not finished.
Another thing that worried me (and still worries me): many astrologers tend
to be extremely good at working towards a desired result. Such astrologers will
always find something; but that is not how true research works.
I would only make these data available to astrologers who will work with a precisely
defined research design, which includes proper hypothesis, as well as statistical
analysis, and the willingness to have their results re-analysed in the
most rigorous manner."
will be the judge in that decision is not explained. It should be added that
the data he used were not collected by himself, but received from elsewhere, so proprietary rights were not an issue.
elaborate precautions invite comparison with Carter's The Astrology of Accidents,
a book which does include his raw data. Of that data, Carter notes: "No
cases are quoted unless I have reason to suppose that the time of birth is at
least approximately accurate. It will be clear that it would be impossible to
rectify a large number of maps, of which many are of persons whose lives, except
as stated in this book, are unknown to me" (p.7).
calculating directions to the date of the accidents Carter used his favourite
"symbolic" measures, and suggested that those astrologers who were
loyal to other systems should compare their results with his. Whatever the virtues
or otherwise of this little book, and however its contents will ultimately be
judged, one detects here the spirit of scientific openness.
question I raised in my critique was why Smit's negative results were quoted
in preference to Carter's positive results.
What gave them special merit, except that they supported the thesis that
astrology is worthless? The scholars answer that by rubbishing Carter, as of
course they must, and in so doing enter the realm of what Churchill called terminological
inexactitude. In his book Carter explains that he was using four directional
measures: four-sevenths of a degree, a quarter of a degree, an eighth of a degree,
but in the main the simple one-degree per year taken along the zodiac (p.42).
so he was. Yet I am accused of keeping quiet about the "multiplicity"
of Carter's time keys, and I quote: "... not only 1 degree for a year as
the basic arc (in either longitude or right ascension, and with or without latitude)
but also fractional keys obtained by dividing by 2, 4, 8, or if this is insufficient
then by 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and so on. No wonder that Carter gets positive results.
How can one take such fiddling seriously?"
scholars have mixed up this book with two of Carter's other books, in which
he advances experimentally the possibility of such "fractional" methods
(The Zodiac and the Soul, and Symbolic Directions in Modern Astrology).
might have supposed that Smit, having drawn a blank with his primary directions,
would have tested Carter's measures on his own data, to see if he too could
obtain positive results. But no. The only sequel, we are told, was that he discovered
"to his amazement" that his negative results were simply not accepted
in astrology circles.
people are easily amazed. Kelly (section 3) makes
much of the astrological community's attitude towards negative evidence, quoting
Robert Hand and John Anthony West, whom Dean accuses of irresponsibility because
of the "deliberate suppression" of such evidence in The Case for
Astrology. This is tommyrot. While negative evidence may have a marginal
academic value, those who are searching for gold do not want to have to wade
through libraries filled with details of where you failed to find it. Especially
if its quality compares with the evidence touched on above.
critics confuse negative evidence with contrary evidence, as does Kelly
in his summary. The difference need not be laboured. Those astronomers scanning
the skies for signs of alien contact have come up with negative results to date.
When you draw a blank you don't demolish your radio telescopes, and least of
all do you get hysterical because today's patient but unrewarded efforts have
failed to be given the recognition you think they deserve.
other matter should perhaps be corrected in passing. I deprecated Dean's falsification
of his own birth data in order to deceive astrologers. I am wondering if he
has lost track of the bogus charts he has put into circulation, because he denies
the existence of a chart which gave him an Australian birth. The Lois Rodden
collection included a chart, ranked as "A" status, for a birth on
Christmas Day (a nice touch) 1944, in Perth, W. Australia. This was the data
given to Mark Pottenger, and which was also circulated by the British data collector,
course it is defensible to expose the truth in such circumstances, even if Dean
whinges about his privacy being invaded, and that "an important test of
astrology" might have been compromised (!). I am not the culprit, incidentally,
since his correct data were published by Charles Harvey in Polarity (January
1991). But he has only himself to blame. When he reported to his "Skeptical"
friends that he had given out a chart purporting to be his own to astrologers,
and that their interpretation fitted him, it became very relevant to be able
to compare his genuine chart with the bogus chart, to ascertain whether they
were really so different, and why the astrologers might have been misled. His
genuine chart and the bogus chart just mentioned both have the Sun in Capricorn,
for instance, and his astrologer victims might pardonably have taken that as
their starting point.
exposure of any facts is sure to be unwelcome to somebody. The scholars sneer
at journalism, and indeed "make it up" might apply to the tabloid
prints. It was gratuitous to impute that I was ever that sort of journalist.
Early in my career I decided, like many others, that the truth should stand
on its own feet, and I have an instinctive aversion to those who would compromise
it, for whatever reason. Bear in mind that the first step in a totalitarian
regime is to shackle the media.
it is impertinent for Dean to try to justify his deviousness on scientific grounds.
There are limited circumstances, as in testing drugs or therapies, where the
placebo effect has to be ruled out, and the only way is to withhold information.
Even so, the ethics of the placebo make many scientists uneasy. Unlike new vaccines,
astrology can be exhaustively investigated in straightforward ways, but what
Dean does is not test astrology so much as try to expose the stupidity of those
who believe in it. He is no Jonas Salk.
third killer argument advanced by the scholars in Year Zero concerned
Dean's "reversed charts" experiment. Rejecting what still seem to
me to be valid objections, Dean points out that, in any case, I wasn't there.
Indeed. So was anybody else there to scrutinise? How would these closeted goings-on
in some Australian suburb rate on the Randi credibility scale?
contention throughout has been that the claims of the sceptics ought to be examined
with the same rigorous attention to detail they marshal to demolish astrology.
Can anybody seriously argue that the scholars should be in a privileged position
in this respect?
Research, and its methods
the astrological is everywhere, or it is nowhere. The question has been asked,
if it is everywhere, why is it so difficult to test? It depends what tests you
think are appropriate. There is the test of experience, somewhat informal certainly,
but supported by many thinkers from John Locke onwards. Speaking personally,
hardly a day goes by without some confirmation of the presence of the astrological.
A news addict, I habitually check events for their astrological credentials.
Unless astrology had repeatedly confirmed itself in this way I should have abandoned
it long ago. It has never been my livelihood.
such results can be shared with anyone interested, who will
judge whether astrological rules have been observed, and whether what
should happen is indeed happening. You step back from the microscope and say
"Come and look".
research needs to be done on a case study basis, because situations never repeat
themselves exactly, just as the heavens will never be the same twice. Thus the
early months of 2001 saw the brutal slaughter of cattle in the UK, in response
to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Sickening pictures of the pyres and
burial pits were flashed round the world. The astrological indicators were in
precise conformity with the situation, as the critics can confirm for themselves.
this research it is vital not to place too much reliance on isolated correlations,
which might have arisen by chance, but examine how they relate to other events,
at different times, different places, and also perhaps to the individuals or
institutions involved. You are thus assembling a jigsaw of interdependent items,
and the jigsaw can be as big as you care to make it. But the fit is generally
so knife-edge tight that chance becomes the least likely explanation.
in this case one was obliged to check for similarities and differences with
the previous UK outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 1967, and similar events involving
"mad cow disease". Here too the bovine sign of Taurus made its appearance
in ways that would occasion alarm. In the reality we occupy everything is connected
with everything else, a truth which astrology persistently confirms, so it follows
that one could go on tracing connections ad infinitum. The cosmos was first
with its World Wide Web, and (all unsuspected) is constantly downloading information,
along with endless links and hypertexts. To describe the implications as vast
is to understate.
course astrology is not alone in being a science whose meaning lies in multiple
combinations. They reach wondrous complexity in chemistry. Interestingly, I
believe Dean trained in this field, but as an analytical chemist, which
I take to mean he was isolating rather than connecting. This has been his approach
in astrology also, and explains why he and others have been barking up the wrong
tree for 25 years.
dare say the approach to validation that is congenial both to astrology and
"nature" itself may be more loose-jointed than a mechanistic view
of reality would like. But there are different standards of proof - we could
call them laboratory proof and courtroom proof. In both, mistakes are possible,
although in general they serve well enough. Both involve judgment, even more
so in the laboratory, where apart from any results that emerge, judgment has
to be exercised over what to test, and how.
gain an insight into Dean's cerebral processes when he implies that he had to
consult the "huge literature" on the subject before he could arrive
at the staggering realisation that people sometimes get it wrong (8.3). I accept
that Dean and judgment are strangers to each other. If evidence were needed
of the absence of any restraining judgment over his speculations it is his theory
of parental tampering, as the reason for the Gauquelin findings. Mature judgment
finds obstacles to accepting his conclusions, and I have explained mine to his
adversary in this scholarly spat, Suitbert Ertel.
the question of evidence it needs to be pointed out that Dean, especially, is
excessive in his zeal to straitjacket the phenomena, and unrealistic in his
standards of evidence. To overstress the virtues of "carefulness"
disguises the fact that progress in science depends more on leaps of imagination,
or even chance discoveries, than the hobbled steps which excessive safeguards
years ago Dean was instrumental in producing a paper offering guidance on how
to do research, a formula so rigorous that had one believed him research might
have stopped altogether. As it was, the method he advocated would produce only
evidence consonant with his own position. This document drew some observations
from a bemused Hans Eysenck, himself no stranger to the field. Eysenck damned
it with faint praise, commenting: "If you read it and follow it, no doubt
you may do better than without it."
(Refs to Eysenck here and in what follows are to duplicated sheets sent
out with Dean’s 'Panres' material.)
would not have endorsed the repeated assertion by the "experts" that
in general astrologers are not equipped to do proper research. He is refreshingly
more relaxed than Dean in his approach to statistics, and in particular questions
the insistent demand for random controls, which "for most purposes are
so. In my Cosmic Loom I present a few brief case studies which struck
me as suggestive, while not being proof of anything, but Dean deplores that
there is no mention of controls. He says: "It is easy to fool ourselves,
which is why we have to use controls, and why controls receive so much attention
in textbooks of research design. Elwell's failure to recognise this elementary
point says it all."
on the failure to recognise this elementary point Eysenck advises: "If
a referee rejects your article because you don't have a random sample, ask him:
'Why do I need a random sample?' Most probably he will have no answer. He simply
assumes that everybody has a random sample, so you should have one. This isn't
true at all."
is agreeable to be on the same side as Eysenck, who is nothing if not reassuring
towards us amateurs. He writes: "You can do very simple experiments in
astrology, which are adequate for proving or disproving whatever you are interested
in. They need the minimum of statistics and a minimum of application. They don't
need a computer or a whole hoard of computers. They can be done without much
training in anything. If you ask the right question, you are likely to get the
right answer, however ignorant you might be of advanced statistics. And if you
ask the wrong question, then all the advanced statistics and all the computer
facilities in the world will not help you to get the right answer."
having mentored some 200 PhD students during his career, Eysenck is not sure
research can be taught at all. "What you can teach is how to avoid pretty
obvious errors. But even that is not necessarily taught in courses of statistics.
If you look at the published articles in psychological journals, a high proportion
includes quite elementary statistical errors, which were not identified by the
referees nor by the editor."
my remarks on "Why the impasse?" I pointed out that it all depends
where you are coming from. You might say it depends on the questions you ask.
It seems to me that I and others have been asking one set of questions, and
researchers like Dean have been asking another set. It is a common mistake to
imagine that asking questions is easy, and answering them difficult, rather
than the other way about, but everything hinges on teasing out the right questions.
Nor is it helpful for one researcher to insist that his questions are the only
writes: "How can you ask the right kind of question? I have no answer to
that. I don't think I was able to teach my students that skill. Some of them
had from the beginning that kind of mentality. They instinctively knew what
question to ask. The others, who didn't, I don't think I managed to teach them.
I wouldn't know how to specify how to ask the right questions."
seems to me that persistently asking the wrong questions, without knowing it,
is how Dean and his fellow critics have misspent their time.
the way, talking of statistical errors, are we now to understand that some of
the computations presented with such confidence in Recent Advances have
become suspect with the passing of the years? Myself, I have always had reservations
about statistics, especially when they contradict common sense. The allegation
that they can be made to prove anything does have a modicum of truth, and how
to lie with figures is a skill all economists and politicians acquire. Therefore
it is a sound idea, when being browbeaten by statistics, to focus on the concrete
reality behind them.
instance the birthdays of army officers were investigated, to discover whether
they are more commonly born with the Sun in a sign like Aries - which they are
not. The trouble with tests such as this - and it applies to most I have seen
- is that they do not start from far enough back. First of all, and astrology
apart, it would be necessary to determine how far careers are an expression
of personality, or how far they may be influenced by other factors. At one time
the sons of upper class families had to choose between the Army and the Church,
regardless of their birthdays. Moreover there was often a family tradition towards
one or the other. Mind you, having been dragooned into the Army the Sun-sign
might contribute to what kind of officer they became.
Cattell decided that an objective evaluation of "greatness" could
be made by solemnly measuring the space devoted to each candidate in encyclopedias
(Cattell, Study of Eminent Men). Among the first hundred eminent persons
in world history there was only one woman, and you might instantly wonder if
she was Catherine the Great, or Cleopatra, or the Virgin Queen, or Joan of Arc.
In fact she was Mary, the sad Queen of Scots.
reason for Mary's undeserved promotion was that her history was so multifaceted
that she was written up at some length in the encyclopedias of different countries
and languages. Of course those who value statistical artifacts over good sense
would ask how else would you do it. To which the reply would have to be, why
do it at all?
Statistics are useful for handling data that naturally lend themselves to quantification, but the qualitative distinctions that belong to astrology, and other fields besides, can be distorted by being forced to conform to a strictly quantitative evaluation.
- cf Interview with Researchers EQQ3.6 - GP]
The art of facile objections
has to smile at the self-satisfaction with which the scholars presume to teach
astrologers their business. Objections raised on the basis that they know better
are apt to be their downfall.
is only into paragraph two of his Introduction when the discussion passes from
the cosmic to the comic. Consider this: "... The planet Venus is associated
with aesthetics, love, and an individual's sense of internal harmony. However,
we have discovered over the last century, that Venus is more like Hades, with
its blistering high temperatures, lava-covered landscape, and sulphuric acid
is the sort of statement you give a double take. Is it serious, or is it spoof?
The scholars seem to have an uneasy familiarity with the nether world, because
Dean (Recent Advances, p 4) refutes symbolism with: "Pluto is the
coldest planet yet is named after the god of the fiery infernal regions."
us overlook that Venusians find their climate rather languid, or that hell is
as cold as it is dark. Let us overlook that even on humble planet earth there
are microorganisms that excrete sulphuric acid (the archaea), and that the extreme
thermophiles live in water close to boiling point, as in fumaroles. Setting
those technicalities aside, this immaculate logic leads to the conclusion that
scientists are crazy to assert that the sun sustains life on earth, because
as we clever ones know, the sun cannot support life, being even hotter than
when have astrologers said the surface conditions of planets must determine
their astrological significance? Where are the arguments that lunar people must
have acne? Yet Kelly keeps doggedly on with: "The point is that most of
the symbolism modern astrologers use was created in times when the then astronomer/astrologers
had no idea whatever about the physical characteristics of the planets."
If they had no idea whatever about the physical characteristics of the planets
(and there is no evidence that they even cared) then the symbolism must have
arrived by another route. So what is the point of this objection, except to
create the impression that Science Knows Best?
sceptics have a lot of trouble with symbolism, and mix up several different
things. Symbols need to be distinguished from what are termed correspondences.
For example a gold ring corresponds to the Sun in its material, and Saturn in
its shape, but as a symbol of marriage it might be related to Venus. There are
also what might be termed organic unities. Mars is the red planet, yes, and
we now know that the reason is a surface rich in iron. Before that fact was
discovered, the astrologers had already connected Mars with iron, again by a
different route. And blood is red, yes, precisely because it contains iron.
If it lacks iron you are unable to express your Mars qualities! As part of this
organic unity is the role of iron in man's mastery of nature, his ability to
fashion machines and weapons.
the computer experts in the world gathered round the biggest computer in the
world, which was about to deliver its long-awaited answer to the question: "What
is the meaning of everything?" At last the printer stirred into action:
"Let me tell you a story... "
parables, symbols, images, the truth beyond the facts. It is the language best
fitted to survive translation from one age to another, from one culture to another,
and it does reach a high degree of sophistication in astrology. But you are
no more born with the faculty for symbolic cognition than you are born with
numeracy, and perhaps the congenitally literal-minded should leave it alone.
would be strange if symbolism were not deeply embedded in astrology, because
symbolism is inseparable from human consciousness. The "things" surrounding
us serve as symbols for something else. Even the car we drive says something
about us. I believe Ivan Kelly to be the same Ivan Kelly of Saskatoon renowned
for his collection of World War II German helmets.
past their usefulness, helmets might be treasured because they symbolise something.
If these are the same man, one would expect to find an unambiguous signature
of the helmets in his birth chart. However, he good-humouredly declined to divulge
his data. (Why is it, if the birth chart is meaningless, that critics are reluctant
to disclose this useless information?) But without revealing his data to the
waiting world, and assuming he has enough hands-on familiarity with astrology
(if not why is he writing about it) perhaps he could tell us what features astrologers
might seize on, in this meaningless diagram.
yet, why not have 20 astrologers play hunt the helmets (remember, I have not
seen the chart so I don't know what likely candidates there might be among its
configurations) to see how many arrive at the same conclusion, with their reasons.
It would be significant if all or most of them were found to agree in the same
falsehood. Such unambiguous, highly focused, tests might go further towards
confirming astrology than any tried to date.
it may be, sadly, that having to concentrate on the "factuality" of
the chart would puzzle today's astrologers. Kelly is absolutely right when he
says (section 2) that modern astrology has veered away from the specific and
testable towards behavioural dispositions, traits, and personality. The evidence
he cites is shaky, since most contemporary astrologers would cheerfully sign
up to Carter's 1925 statement, but modern students do not understand the confidence
of an earlier generation of astrologers in the ability of their science to produce
of the quality of the information to be extracted from a chart have declined,
which is why there can be objections on the score of the wrong chart serving
just as well for interpretation as the right chart, or people not recognising
their own chart interpretation. If the expected quality is non-specific a vast
area opens up for fudging and nudging.
courses today seem mostly to be psychological in tone, and client orientated.
(I often think, what a pity the Faculty of Astrological Studies got to Dean
first.) The shift from the concrete to the psychological is exemplified in a
study presented by that Faculty luminary Margaret Hone in her Applied Astrology.
A client had a problem, a conflict between love and duty. My own students would
have had to stand in the corner had they not instantly spotted that in his natal
chart the planet of love, Venus, was quarrelling with the planet of duty, Saturn.
Instead of recognising this “factual” key, and squeezing out its implications,
Hone launches into pages of psychological waffle, in which the existence of
the Venus-Saturn square is barely acknowledged.
to specifics facilitates the development of a practical astrology. If you can
identify the signature of your hobby or other interests in your chart you have
a useful marker, to provide hints about your unfolding relationship with it.
When Dean's true chart was published, there was speculation about what it might
imply for his personality. But moving from the contentious to the concrete I
am struck that he has spent almost a decade working on the theory that families
have cheated by mis-recording or intervening in the birth of their children,
and that this is the real explanation for the Gauquelin results.
might ask how the various elements in that theory translate into astrological
language, and here I would expect Dean to recognise the relevance of his Moon
opposition Neptune across the meridian, an axis itself associated with the parents.
Such obvious and concrete correlations are commonplace, and consistently serve
to strengthen belief in the ubiquity of the astrological. If I have been wrong
about this all these years I genuinely want to know. For the sceptics, needless
to say, such observations are worthless unless they measure up to some artificial
test situation of their own devising, and I am curious what that would be.
myself, the identification of such personal icons in the chart enables them
to be used as markers to test predictive equations like progressions. Thus I
have no hesitation with Hitler's chart in relating his Venus-Mars conjunction
to the suicide by gunshot of his beloved niece, and the shooting of his bride
before his own suicide. I would expect those dates to be confirmed by progressions
etc., which at the same time would be confirmation of their own validity.
found the marker for Dean’s theory in his chart, we must expect key stages in
its development to be indicated by progressions and so forth to it, thus confirming
the attribution. Thus his presentation of it seems to have coincided with progressed
Sun conjunct natal Moon, solar return aspects and so forth, but perhaps he should
discover this for himself, as he casts around for ammunition to refute what
penalty of the plunge into psychology which Kelly noted, is that the sense of
the suprapersonal nature of the astrological has almost been lost. Nowadays
astrologers find it hard to consider (say) the sign Aries in its own right,
without reference to its expression in human nature. Since astrology embraces
many things, its language is bigger than human psychology. In dynamic terms,
for instance, Aries represents a self-starting, urgent, forward-directed push,
which disturbs the settled equilibrium (Libra works to restore it); while the
following sign Taurus represents relative inertia (Taurus is the immovable object
and Aries the irresistible force), and the preceding sign Pisces represents
pendulum-style reversals of energy.
quotes a somewhat self-evident statement from a Dutch psychologist to the effect
that if you take 100 Aries people, they should have something in common, and
this commonalty should be different from 100 Taureans. Yes indeed. The problem
is how to demonstrate it, and to whose satisfaction. The suggestion seems to
be that the demonstration will be statistical, but against this I would expect
to be able to detect the Aries dynamic in every single one of the 100, provided
they were of reasonably mature years and circumstances had allowed their personality
to flower to some degree.
is important to understand that Aries is more than the "traits" incidentally
precipitated from it. What then is the true common denominator? I expect to
find in this type people who are strongly motivated in a forwards direction,
able to start things, given always to moving on rather than resting on their
laurels, with a capacity to put past troubles and failures behind them, who
function best with goals and challenges, who benefit from being associated with
a single forceful idea, who tend to brush obstacles and contrary opinions unceremoniously
aside, and egocentrically avoid being distracted by the concerns of others.
is a clear picture, a style you recognise when you see it - which however may
not be on first acquaintance. But how would you measure it? What if your psychology
is couched in trait words? Take "assertive", what does that mean?
You meet Aries people who would not be described as assertive, because their
conduct is the reverse of pushy, yet all the time they are ineluctably
carving out a path for themselves.
the other hand what could be described as assertiveness can be present in people
born in all the signs, because there are plenty of ways it can arise. The Moon
or ascendant could be in Aries, or a group of planets there, or Mars might be
especially prominent. Even Pisces, being somewhat impressionable, can surpass
all others for assertiveness if it is in a macho milieu, and so can Libra if
it is bouncing off a strong enough opposition.
aside, taking 100 members of the general population how would go about scaling
them for assertiveness? And having scaled them, how would you prove that you
were right? The tests used to define personality can be circular, in the sense
that a trait may be used to explain behaviour which itself served as the basis
for the concept in the first place. My favourite illustration: "Brenda
likes talking to others because she is high on the scale of sociability, and
we know this is a valid dimension because we can record how many hours she spends
may have to concede that what Aries people have in common, while visible enough
when you know where to look, is probably impossible to quantify on a traits
basis. The best approach is perhaps individual case studies, a method recommended
by Allport in his classic on personality (Gordon W Allport, Personality:
A Psychological Interpretation – 1937).
image of the Ram, that specialist in the head-butt, is an eloquent testimony
to the power of the forward thrust embodied in this sign. Kelly and company
want to give the impression that astrology is a quaking bog of uncertainty because
it embraces symbolism, but there are symbols whose usefulness as shorthand has
been endorsed by time.
scholars are intent on describing astrology as split on a number of unbridgeable
issues, a ploy which fools nobody except innocent bystanders. Internal differences
on concepts and techniques (which exist in every field of endeavour) are deliberately
exaggerated. The truth is the exact opposite: there exists a remarkable unanimity
among astrologers. Compared with what? Well, psychology for one thing: at the
last count how many different theories of personality were there? If you rejected
every discipline because not everybody sees eye-to-eye there would be no disciplines
observe this. If you skim through astrological textbooks and magazines you will
see the same monotonous chart format again and again, a circle divided into
12 segments with some 10 or 11 astronomically accredited objects scattered around
it. This really is remarkable, because according to the scholars astrologers
are supposed to be in bitter disagreement about what their charts should contain.
they arrived at that conclusion is a saga beyond belief. Astrologers have often
pointed out that you cannot justifiably isolate for study factors which are
glued to other factors. Rather than isolate, say, the Sun sign, and magnify
its importance, they insist that the whole chart should be considered. Scenting
blood, the sceptics demanded to know what was meant by the "whole"
chart. The clever ones had noticed, you see, that some charts include factors
which others don't. Sometimes quite a few more.
follows should be explained gently. When astrologers draw a chart they are mapping
the heavens, albeit in a very simple way. Compare the process with mapping the
earth. You can make a crude outline map of the continents or countries, and
put in a few dots for cities. At the other extreme your maps can become very
detailed, as you include more and more information, right down to the street
where you live. And you can make different kinds of maps, geological maps, population
maps, political maps, tourist maps - lots of maps, same territory. Nobody is
there to ridicule you for including this set of features, or excluding that.
The map simply records the information you want it to record.
the same with the horoscope. If individual astrologers want to include items
they have found useful, why not? The same discretion about what information
to include, what to exclude, is exercised in many activities, not least in writing
a piece like this.
is where it gets absurd. Kelly tells us (Section 4.3): "There are an incredibly
large, but finite, number of possible celestial patterns from which astrologers
have arbitrarily excluded certain components. For example, they may have chosen
to ignore the moons of Jupiter... " Quick, send back your map of Europe,
or Australia, or wherever you are, because it has arbitrarily excluded a certain
component, namely downtown Saskatoon. Astrologers will not lose any sleep over
leaving the moons of Jupiter to the astrologers of Jupiter, nor for that matter
will the weathermen heed the complaint that they have arbitrarily excluded the
storms of Jupiter's red spot from their calculations.
readers may wonder if they have strayed with Alice into Blunderland. They should
realise that the cynics will take hold of any stick to beat astrologers. The
reason is that there is more at stake than whether astrology works or not. What
is at stake is the view of reality described by rationalism and scientism, versus
the more liberal view to which most other people subscribe.
danger for the scholars is that by always scrabbling around for some new blunt
instrument they could discredit their legitimate and more surgical objections.
Dean and his colleagues succeeded in showing what astrology is not –
it is not a science easily susceptible to reductionist investigation. It may
be that the opposite of "reductionist" is "holistic", but
that word does not quite measure up to the phenomena we encounter, and maybe
a new term is needed. I could argue the case for astrology as "macroscience",
by which I mean that every phenomenon and every item of data is referred to
something larger and more inclusive, whereas the tendency to isolate is exclusive.
The critics' overall interaction with astrology through the years has been positive,
in the way a laxative is positive, forcing astrologers to shed notions which
had never properly been thought through. Dean's appearance on the scene
was timely, and I once told him that if he did not exist he would have to be
of maps, the knowing ones have noted that there are different ways to divide
the astrological chart into 12 houses. No agreement there then! Well, my atlas
contains maps drawn according to a dozen different projections, which means
there is no exclusively correct way to do it. Nobody suggests that cartography
is any the less credible because of that. It is perfectly feasible for the astrologer
to work with several house systems, and I routinely consult three or four -
you get different information from each, but different does not mean contradictory.
especially knowing one has pointed out that a popular method of dividing the
astrological chart (Placidus houses) breaks down in the polar regions. On this
score Charles Carter once retorted that he could not subscribe to the logic
that for something to work somewhere it had to work everywhere. And have you
seen what happens to latitude and longitude at the poles?
great divide is supposed to exist between the tropical zodiac, used mostly in
the West, and the sidereal zodiac, used mainly in India. (In fact I also take
note of a third zodiac, said to be the oldest of them all, the draconic, measured
from the moon's node.) What can this seeming confusion mean? Merely that it
is possible for different frames of reference to coexist, a situation accepted
without embarrassment in other disciplines, but if course fatal to astrology.
truth, the existence of only one frame of reference would be highly suspicious.
Human nature is not a one-dimensional cardboard cutout: there are complexities
and contradictions, and ironically astrology can be of unparalleled assistance
in their unravelling. We operate simultaneously on different levels, conscious
or unconscious, and might even be said to possess different selves. This can
be seen with celebrities, where the private face may contrast sharply with the
public face. Again, how we see ourselves is certainly different from how others
see us, and how we actually are might be different from both.
(Section 3) makes sport of the "time twins", Freud, a pioneer in his
field, and Peary, credited with blazing the trail to the north pole. The popular
image of Freud is as an intellectual, but he himself emphasised his affinity
with men of boldness and courage. Not unlike Peary-type men! He told a friend:
"I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador, an adventurer,
if you wish to translate this term - with all the inquisitiveness, daring, and
tenacity characteristic of such a man."
the benefit of non-astrologers it should be said that whichever zodiac is used
the main determinants of the horoscope, namely the patterns of the planets,
remains the same, with the zodiac merely adding a special colouration. In fact
you can do astrology without a zodiac.
this tropical/sidereal question, we may not realise that we exist simultaneously
but quite comfortably in two kinds of space. You will appreciate the distinction
if you visit Foucault's famous pendulum. Suspended from high in the ceiling,
the pendulum swings always in the same plane, but as it does the earth can be
seen to be turning under it. As you stand there reflect that the pendulum is
swinging in a different space, which has been called absolute space, or star
space, to distinguish it from the space relative to the earth. The twelvefold
division of the one gives rise to the sidereal zodiac, of the other the tropical
flip assertion that you can be an Aries in America but a Pisces in India implies
that an exact equation exists between the zodiacs, or in other words that their
spaces are identical. Regardless of whether you are in America or India, you
can be a tropical Aries and a sidereal Pisces, but which version of you
appears to predominate at any one time depends on a number of factors.
familiar tropical zodiac, which in psychological terms has been developed to
a far greater degree than the sidereal, seems to be more indicative of innate
qualities, and closer to the everyday you, from which you may never stray very
far. It is homocentric (which usually means egocentric as well) whereas the
star-self could be described as a cosmocentric version of you, your remit within
a wider scheme of things.
wonders if the West feels more at ease with the tropical zodiac because it has
developed a more personal consciousness, with individuals living more unto themselves.
In India the caste system seems to indicate that self-awareness is inseparable
from a larger not-self. Differences in ego-awareness may not only be geographical,
there may have been an historical evolution in the growth of individuality too,
explaining why, over time, the tropical zodiac has become dominant. Speculation,
okay, but interesting.
this reading, Freud and Peary would derive from tropical Taurus personal attributes
like stubbornness (or tenacity as Freud calls it), while sidereal Aries would
be their "go forth and conquer" mode. In the draconic zodiac the Sun
also falls in Aries. Incidentally, sidereal Aries can lay claim to Hitler, Cromwell,
Mahomet, Charlemagne, Marx, Lenin, Salazar, Robespierre, the Duke of Wellington,
Tito, Catherine II of Russia, and assorted other shakers and movers.
than confound astrology, the existence of more than one zodiac confounds the
attempts by statisticians to use signs simplistically.
It's those bumps again
of some mistaken belief, now discarded. It could be medical, or even scientific.
There are plenty to choose from. You then draw parallels between this vanished
superstition and astrology, and declare that astrology must eventually likewise
go into the dustbin of history. Dean has settled on phrenology to show how foolish
people can be, before the immaculate truth of science dawns.
Trouble is, phrenology did not last long, whereas astrology has been around for centuries, and is still gaining strength. Thus Dean's argument can be stood on its head. If phrenology demonstrates that an unsupported belief is liable to disappear, astrology's survival requires a more plausible explanation than Dean has so far offered. The obvious answer must be that something is sustaining it which failed to sustain phrenology.
astrology is more vulnerable than phrenology ever was. To read your bumps I
need your physical presence, and the transaction is strictly between to you
and me. Nobody can check my findings at a distance, or consult the record. And
nothing could make me more vulnerable than risking predictions, which fell right
outside the phrenologist's diagnosis of propensities.
case of phrenology is instructive, but not for the reason Dean thinks. For one
thing, it shows there are always different ways to say it. "Those phrenologists
must be idiots to imagine that different areas of the brain are specialised
for different functions!" Ironically it was the claims of phrenology
that stimulated the early neurophysiological discoveries, such as Broca's identification
of the speech centres in the brain.
you can ask scientists if they believe the planets exert the influence astrologers
claim, and there will be a resounding "No!" But if you ask whether
it is plausible to propose a universe of multiple interconnections, then at
least the theoretical physicists might not be so dismissive.
all boils down to this: In the end people will believe what they want to believe,
and the reason may lie less in the facts than in their own personality.
Dennis Elwell, 2001