Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon

By Roy Willis; Patrick Curry | Go to book overview

9
Divination Today

The Big Picture

It is time to review where we have been so far. As we have shown, the history of astrology, both ‘internally’ and ‘externally’, strongly suggests the overall development Weber called ‘disenchantment’. And this notwithstanding its complexity, nor the fact that at any one time in that history there are coexisting countermovements; nor the absence of a teleological and thus ‘necessary’ movement toward some sort of predetermined goal. From its origins as plural and local divination that is, a dialogue with fate or the gods when ‘concrete magic’ was not yet undivided into spiritual or subjective and material or objective astrology underwent a lengthy and uneven process of progressively more rationalization, abstraction and naturalization, initially Platonic but predominantly Aristotelian/Ptolemaic, into a single ‘Machine of Destiny’, until the ‘natural’ part was absorbed by the still more efficient modern Megamachine, whereupon what remained was redescribed (whether positively or disparagingly) as ‘supernatural’. Overall, this process has entailed a significant impoverishment of symbolism, and consequently its potential for enchantment, whose hallmark is existential wonder.

Among the ironies involved is the extent to which astrologers themselves have helped to bring about this situation. As susceptible as anyone else to the seductions of the universalist (latterly modernist) promise of power, they have cast astrology as a misunderstood and unjustly unrecognized science, dealing with knowledge of an astrally determined future: a caricature at best, and an outright betrayal at worst. Of New Age gurus we might perhaps expect it; but even among those who seek to return to traditional astrology are some who maintain, without a trace of irony, that it offers a perfect system which can potentially be applied with guaranteed success. To do so requires ignoring Lilly’s (1985 [1647]: B, 397) own insistent advice: ‘… the more holy thou art, and more near to God, the purer judgement thou shalt give’; ‘Discretion, together with Art …’; This emphasis on discretion, i.e. wisdom, in the practice of judicial astrology the kind that requires judgement is exactly the opposite of episteme and system. On the contrary, it is metic, and allows for enchantment.

By the same token, Lilly (ibid.: 192) also advised the astrologer that ‘you must know how to vary your Rules wherein principally consist the masterpiece of

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