Disenchantment – and Re-enchantment
It does not take any great perceptiveness to see that even allowing for all its unevenness and complexity, there is an overall tendency or direction at work in the history of astrology. There need be nothing teleological, predetermined or absolute about it for this to be the case. Nor is it contradicted by such partial retrogressions as the Neo-Platonic/Hermetic and later the modern depth-psychological schools, arising partly as a kind of of Romantic resistance to the more rationalist and materialistic approaches (Aristotelian/Ptolemaic, and later scientific); and all the more so when one considers the compromises the former has accepted.
This process is precisely the one famously identified, on a much larger stage, by Max Weber: ‘The fate of our times is characterised by rationalisation and intellectualisation and, above all, by the “disenchantment of the world”’ (quoted in Scaff 1989: 224).1 Weber’s work has been very influential, having been taken up and developed by members of the Frankfurt School, within the anthropology of religion, and elsewhere (for example Horkheimer and Adorno 1994; Bauman 1992, etc.; Grauchet 1997; and see Lambek 2002). Michel Foucault arguably not only addressed many of the same issues but arrived at highly compatible (albeit provisional) answers. Its contemporary manifestations have also recently been anatomized by James C. Scott (1998), who follows the logic of ‘high modernism’ in architecture, politics and ecology. Despite these subsequent developments, however, Weber’s original thesis (or at least the aspect of it we shall take up here) retains its cogency today – perhaps more than ever – so we shall briefly summarize it before turning to its specific relevance for astrology.
Weber (1991: 139) characterized this rationalization as purposive or instrumental, and solely concerned with means as distinct from ends. Its central tenet is the belief that ‘there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. This means that the world is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse to magical means to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technical means and calculations perform the service.’ Note that what is important is the belief, especially when collective and institutionalized.2