Astrology is an important part of popular Western culture. Just browse through some general magazines and newspapers to see that. People often go along with the notion that the position and movements of the planets, against the backdrop of the night sky, tells them something about their personal lives. For many, a horoscope, based on their individual time of birth, might explain aspects of their personality and even predict significant events.
In astrology, each planet exercises a particular influence by its position and its aspects with respect to other planets. Astrologists give psychological distinctions to the various planets ruling over the 12 signs of the Zodiac. They say that some of these planets benefit us more than others. Yet, the position and motions of the stars and planets affect people by no scientifically understood mechanism of action.
Unfortunately, most horoscopes you see in the media only make vague untestable statements that can apply to almost anyone. On the other hand, astrologists do give individuals discriminating profiles and these have been examined in controlled experiments. But, these consistently correlate with personality, measured by other means, at a rate no higher than chance.
Sceptics say believers in astrology tend to selectively remember predictions that turn out to be true and do not remember those that turnout false. They further claim that astrological theory often shows poor reasoning and astrologists disagree among themselves.
All this doesn’t seem to matter to those many followers who do not claim astrology is a science with predictive power. Instead, they seem to want astrology to help them understand their personal lives in a way that transcends science.
So what is a fair-minded rational person to make of astrology? Has it something useful to offer even it cannot be called a science?
Night sky as symbolism
What interests me about astrology is its symbolism. I wonder whether it can illuminate something, about the various states of mind, we experience in our life’s spiritual journey. I am attracted to the idea that there is a correspondence of natural objects in the universe – such as stars and planets – with positive and negative states of human consciousness. The most general idea behind this is expressed in the Emerald Tablet as “as above, so below”.
“Although the concept of correspondences bears some relationship to analogy, metaphor, and symbolism, it goes far beyond that. What the ancients had was not merely the observation that the human mind can use something concrete as a stand-in for something abstract. It was an understanding that everything in the universe embodies something spiritual” (Jonathan Rose)
I would suggest the natural universe mirrors both positive and negative human states of mind. For example in the world of nature on our planet we find both gentle and fierce creatures, destructive earthquakes and beautiful geographical scenes. If so, it is not a big step to say that the qualities and positions of the planets also have some correspondence with human psychology. Therefore, I would suggest the planets do not directly influence us as such but rather mirror our inner states of consciousness.
For me, this symbolism can for example be seen in the sign of Aries the Ram.
Aries the Ram
In their book ‘Twelve Qualities of a Spiritual Mind‘, Harry Barnitz and Dawn Barnitz Potts point out that the sun enters Aries at the spring equinox. And so Aries initiates the season of spring, the warmth of new light, the beginning of the year in ancient times. There is a renewed awareness of being alive and a trust in the sustaining source of light and warmth. This reminds us of the life-sustaining power of love and light present in our minds. A new vision and inspiration. A state of mind awakening to something beyond the material. An intuition which is experienced on a regular cycle throughout life – each time felt on a deeper level.
The ram symbolises this quality of innocent trust in life. Astrologers claim that people born under the sign of Aries the Ram are visionary and creative innovators with an active imagination and deeply perceptive mind.
This initial state of spiritual awakening still has with it much of egoism. The ram also has connotations of aggression. Shepherds know that while sheep are generally a docile animal, this is not usually the case with rams, especially during the breeding season. Rams can be very aggressive and have been known to cause serious injuries.
And so astrologers say that those born under the sign of Aries the Ram, because of the ego-mind, are also likely to be fiery, and violent because of the planet Mars which is said to rule over this first sign.
If the positive and the negative go together then it is not surprising to find a visionary awareness of and innocent trust in a spiritually sustaining source. Also it is not surprising to find the opposite illusions derived from a proud and aggressive self-reliance.
My feelings about astrology
Astrology says the planetary configuration, at the time of our birth, mirrors our individual natural disposition and quality of feeling. This fits in with the idea that we each have a unique potential. The notion that each one of us can have a distinctive and useful function in the grand scheme of things.
I suspect that astrology has a fair bit to offer in terms of spiritual guidance along these lines. By coming to understand what feelings and desires are leading the choices we make in our daily life, we can begin to see a path before us away from the things of ego-mind.
Distortion of ancient wisdom over the ages
According to Emanuel Swedenborg, many thousands of years ago people knew the real meaning of the correspondence between the natural and spiritual. However, in the process of time, this ancient wisdom was distorted. Spiritual knowledge was turned into things like witchcraft and fortune-telling. However, it may be true that that there are still glimpses of ancient truths in the customs, fables, writings and religions of all lands. I wonder if this is also the case for some things said by astrology about the Zodiac signs and their relationship to the higher life of the spirit?
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on17th September 2016
Conventional modern medicine has made great strides, the main progress having been focussed on specially formulated chemical substances and sophisticated surgical
techniques with their high-tech electronic aids.
This has led to some truly amazing advances, but it has also resulted in specialisation and an approach to the whole subject of ‘health and wholeness’ which has been increasingly concerned with the ‘point of pain’ rather than the ‘person in pain’. This can result in the treatment of symptoms whilst an underlying cause may go undetected.
The person in pain
The human spirit that thinks, feels and experiences is neither chemical nor
computerised, but a living consciousness with non-physical (as well as
physical) dimensions. The realisation that beauty is more than skin deep is
equally true of health. The whole person is more than the outer physical shell.
There is increasing reason to question the underlying conviction of
conventional medicine that ultimately all disorders have a physical cause that
can be treated by surgery or chemistry.
Emanuel Swedenborg maintained that there is an intimate relationship between the human spirit and the human body; between the spiritual plane and the natural plane of
life. The spiritual plane is the plane of causes; the natural that of effects.
For anything to come into being it will have a spiritual origin. In the case of
diseases this can be due to a spiritual condition within ourselves or the
spiritual environment around us, or a combination of both. This is not to say
that it is all in the mind; very far from it.
A magnificent cathedral is not only in the mind, but its origin was in the mind. Its bricks and stones are a natural expression of those who built it; their sense of a sacred space – a
deeply felt spiritual reality of feeling, thought and imagination. If this is true of the buildings we inhabit, is it not very probable that it is equally true of the bodies we live in – the temple of the human soul?
To change a house to suit our needs requires thought and imagination as well as the right materials. It is surely reasonable to expect that both physical and spiritual action are needed to complement each other in health care too.
Inner and outer health
Emanuel Swedenborg, writing during the time of the early beginnings of conventional
medicine, whilst accepting it has value, points to deeper spiritual causes:
“Things existing in the natural world are nothing else than effects; their causes exist
in the spiritual world. … If the natural part of a person’s being were
separated from the spiritual part it would be separated from the entire cause
from which it has its being and so from all that brings it life. Even so, this
does not make it impossible for a person to be healed by natural remedies, for
the Lord’s providence works in co-operation with means such as these.”
(Arcana Coelestia sections 5711, 5713)
For some, the priority is physical health, with health and wholeness of spirit,
whilst acknowledged as important, seen as of lesser importance. Swedenborg
takes a very different view. He looks at the larger perspective of life that
only has its early beginnings on the earth-plane of existence. He seeks to show
us the over-riding importance of the health and wholeness of the spirit or soul
which lives on long after our bodily outer shell.
Divine Providence, he maintains, is concerned with our physical health, but this is of secondary importance compared with the inner needs of the heart, mind and life itself
which are not material at all, but spiritual.
The placebo effect
Modern medicine well recognises that disease, stress and anxiety are significant
health risks, and the list of ‘stress-related’ illnesses includes digestive,
coronary and cancerous conditions. Too often, however, the positive placebo
effect, where recovery takes place through faith in the treatment, even if
phoney, is simply seen as something to eliminate in a clinical trial. With
notable exceptions few have looked at this as a means of healing, when it is unquestionably
powerful in its potential effect.
In looking to use and understand this ‘effect’, a constantly recurring theme in
Swedenborg’s writings needs to be reconsidered. He maintains there is a
corresponding link between spiritual and natural levels of being. Many
recognise that effects emanating from our inner state, very similar to the
placebo effect, work in a variety of ways on our health.
Consider how the ‘spiritual pollution’ of personality caused by unresolved conflicts, worry,
hatred, envy and grief undermines not just spiritual well-being but, in time, physical health also. On the positive side few deny the effects of love, humility, forgiveness, peace and prayer in the promotion of health at all levels of our being. It is high time we accepted the challenge to outgrow the myth that our state of health is no more than the state of of the molecules of which the body is composed, and face the importance of developing inner health and wholeness. Diet has its place, but so does devotion, faith and forgiveness.
It is not a case of ‘either/or’ but the holistic ‘both/and’ that accepts and affirms the spiritual dimension in healing.
Those who are not healed
To penetrate the problem of those who ‘do the right things’ yet still do find
healing, whilst others do, we need Swedenborg’s clearer understanding of
underlying causes, and the relationship between inner and outer, between
spiritual and material. Spiritual growth and the unfolding of the real meaning
of our lives involves light and dark, good and bad, health and dis-ease.
All our experiences serve a use and for the many who cry ‘why me’ there are a few,
who like the Christ, say ‘why not me’. Whilst Swedenborg does not maintain
‘these things are sent to try us’, he is clear that they are only permitted if
it is possible for some eternal benefit to our spiritual health to result.
Copyright 2012 Clifford Curry
Posted on4th August 2012