Varieties of Astrological Experience
At this point, let us take a closer look at the different astrological schools or subtraditions. Of course astrology has an immensely varied and complex past, and generalizations by definition may not apply to any particular individual case. So, for example, an astrologer could subscribe to the tenets of any of the following philosophies and yet actually practice a craft horoscopy which embodies a symbolic attitude, and thus invites divination. But it would be fatuous to deny any connection whatsoever between philosophies and practices. Particular discourses encourage some kinds of practice and discourage others; that is a great deal of their very point. So a scientific practitioner of horary astrology, for example, will not only be considerably rarer than most other kinds, but must perforce act secretly, or dishonestly, in relation to his or her own conscious beliefs – and to that extent, be hindered by them. And it is our business here to try to perceive and think about these things as clearly and sensitively as possible. For that, flexible, non-dogmatic categories, in an ongoing mutual relationship with social and historical evidence, are the most promising way to proceed.1
All the schools or streams of astrology that follow have contemporary forms, albeit some more implicit or covert than others. (To pick just one example, the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic metaphor of a determining ‘seed moment’ remains powerful among astrologers today, but it is rarely recognized as such.) In addition to this taxonomy, however, there is also what we may call ‘popular astrology’. That is the astrological discourse (both theory and practice) of those who consult, with varying degrees of avidity and confidence, the sun-sign colums and articles in tabloid newspapers, women’s magazines, websites and call-lines.
It is not our intention to address this subject in the detail it deserves here, but a few remarks at least are in order. First, popular astrology is vastly more widespread, per capita, than the kind of those who actually consult an astrologer, let alone those who practice it seriously for themselves and others. But it is also correspondingly much shallower: more evanescent, ineffectual, and unconnected with the rest of one’s life. However, it does not follow from the last point that it is therefore wholly inauthentic. Popular astrology draws on elements of, and is therefore related to, aspects of virtually all the other more serious and specialized kinds. Keeping pace with urbanization, it has largely replaced the rural kind so widespread until the beginning of the twentieth century. Although its content is thus different,