Divination and the Stars
One way to begin to answer to this question is to look at astrology’s origins in, and as, divination, and the worldview implicit in such a practice. There is already an excellent discussion of this subject by Geoffrey Cornelius (2003) which will unavoidably overlap with ours, but another promising starting-point is offered by Alby Stone in an extended essay on wyrd, the Old English term for ‘fate’. Stone points out that in the understanding of North European paganism, the idea of fate was very far removed from its subsequent common versions – whether later (postHomeric) Greek, Christian or secular, and later scientific – as an inexorably predetermined and objective truth. Rather it combined the concepts implied by the three nornir or Fates: worth (the value a life has by the time it ends), death (as the price of life which must eventually be paid by all), and that which, at any given time, will come to be. But the latter can change. As Stone (1989: 22–3) notes, with profound implications for astrology, ‘The shaping of destiny did not stop at birth … fate was perceived as a steady, ongoing process, only fully completed at the end of a lifetime.’ To anticipate a connection to be developed below, this understanding of fate closely resembles that of Max Weber, who argued that ‘every single important action and finally life as a whole … signifies a chain of ultimate decisions through which the soul, as in Plato, chooses its own fate – that is, the meaning of its doing and being’ (quoted in Scaff 1989: 92).
Why? Sometimes fate is identified just as the will of the gods, but in other cases, as H.E. Davidson (1981: 133) writes, ‘it is the gods themselves, as well as men, who wait upon [the seeress], and seek to know what is hidden from them by a greater power still, that of Fate’. But ontologically speaking, in either case the powers concerned can always (so to speak) change their minds.
There is another reason too, this time epistemological. The very act of cognizing and recognizing one’s fate changes it, the paradigmatic instance of this being the act of divining: a ‘foretelling’ the reception of which cannot but affect what it foretells. (This is true even if, as with Oedipus, the efforts to evade it are instrumental in its realization.) Thus every prediction is necessarily also an intervention. While this truth precludes any fantasies of perfect and complete foreknowledge, it entails