The Four Astrologies
Recently, someone asked me the precession question. It is one of about four questions I hear over and over again from people who are curious about astrology despite having been taught to be skeptical of it. I have already answered it here and so I don’t need to answer it again, but it leads to another interesting question: if the seasons and the constellations no longer line up, and if Western astrologers use the seasons, why do Vedic astrologers use the constellations, and how come both systems work? Don’t they contradict each other?
All over the Earth, people have observed the sky and discovered correlations between those observations and their own human lives. The body of knowledge that grew out of that study is astrology. Four distinct astrological traditions emerged in different regions, mostly isolated from each other—Western, Vedic, Chinese and Mayan. It should be no surprise therefore, that different peoples observed and measured differing phenomena.
The Mesoamerican peoples (Incans, Toltecs, Maya, etc.) derived a lot of meaning from the cycle of Venus. They conceived of Venus as a warlike, male deity called Quetzalcoatl, who went through a death-and-rebirth cycle paralleling Venus’ shifts from morning star to evening star and back. By contrast, Mesopotamian peoples (whose traditions spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome and finally up into Europe and then the United States) conceived of Venus as a beautiful woman, a seductress and lover. Modern Western astrologers that come from that tradition interpret Venus in a natal chart as an indicator of relationship and don’t much use the morning/evening star perspective. These two perspectives are about as different as it’s possible to be, and yet both perspectives have worked in the context of their traditions.
Similarly, Vedic (Hindu) astrologers use the constellations as the measure of sign placement for a planet (a planet traveling against the backdrop of the constellation Aries is said to be in Aries), while Western astrologers use the seasons as their measure (a planet traveling through the patch of sky where the Sun is in early spring is said to be in Aries). The measurements may be different, but as long as they are used consistently, and as long as their results are applied and interpreted within the same tradition that has used those measuring sticks for thousands of years, they are valid. What does not work is to mix apples with oranges, for example to use Vedic measuring sticks with Western interpretations, and vice versa.
Differing Traditions, Differing Measures
The problem of the equinoxes is not one of differing ways of measuring phenomena. Two ways of measuring can come up with different results and yet both be valid. Suppose you gave two scientists, a mathematician and a chemist, the same problem: define the pertinent characteristics of this chocolate bar. The mathematician might measure the length, width and height of the bar and calculate its volume by displacing water with it. The chemist might analyze the chemical content of the bar and report the temperature at which it melts. What the two scientists choose to notice, observe and measure about the chocolate bar will be different and will be given by their scientific traditions and what those traditions deem important. The scientists may even argue about which measures are the most significant.
It’s the same way with astrology. Different traditions have noticed, observed and measured different pieces of astronomical information and have come up with different ways of interpreting that information. But all around the globe, astrologers have made use of the skies to interpret human lives in ways that are meaningful and useful to the people they serve, despite these seemingly fundamental differences. Traditions do not continue for thousands of years unless they help people survive.
The Real Point—Why Astrologers Do It All (And Please Pass The Chocolate)
But all this is merely data. Add to it the truly exciting thing that astrology does: use of this data in human lives. Astrology is one part science and one part art and it is the artistic/interpretive aspect of astrology that distinguishes it from astronomy. Astronomers might have you think this is astrology’s downfall, but I believe it is astrology’s greatest glory, because the best use of astronomical data is to apply it to astrological interpretation in ways that benefit and improve human quality of life.
Vedic and Western astrologers don’t spend much time arguing about the precession of the equinoxes and the way it has led to differences in types of data gathered. Astrologers would rather move on to using the data to improve human life because for them, the proof is in the pudding. If a tradition works for your clientele, you use it, that’s all.
Similarly, how long is one going to stand around measuring and chemically analyzing a chocolate bar? That soon becomes boring, for the real point of a chocolate bar is, does it serve its intended purpose? Wouldn’t you rather stop listening to someone who is overanalyzing the bar and instead eat, savor and enjoy its melty, chocolatey goodness?
I thought so.