My notes on Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (1.1-2)

Through the stars we can do two types of predictions:

1) we can calculate the positions of heavenly objects. (“astronomy”)

2) we can interpret the effects of those positions. (“astrology”)

The first is fundamental to the second, and much simpler. We have discussed it elsewhere, so now let’s turn our attention to the second. Let’s discuss it in a scientific manner. Let there be no doubt that it can never be as certain and sure as the first, but let’s inquire as far as possible to understand how the heavens portend events on earth.

Whatever is complicated is easily misunderstood and slandered by the simple masses. It is difficult to slander astronomy, but easy to do so with astrology because it is so sophisticated that it almost seems incomprehensible. Or it may seem that the effort to foresee the inevitable is useless.

Before we discuss the details of astrology, let’s discuss its rational plausibility and it’s purpose.

Plausibility of Foreseeing the Future through Astrology
Anyone with a little consideration will agree that some sort of power exists in the universe. This power surrounds the earth. It causes changes in energies and gasses, which the change the solids and liquids and thereby after living things. The Sun, for example, moves through the universe causing changes in seasons and thereby affecting mating and migration in animals, fruition of plants, flowing of waters, etc. even the daily revolution of the Sun causes great changes in the earths’ temperature and humidity. The Moon, the nearest heavenly body, also has a very obvious effect. Most things change with the Moon: rivers, seas, and animals. The movements of other heavenly bodies also seem to affect atmospheric conditions, thereby affecting the world. The relationships (aspects) between all of them create still more subtle and sophisticated changes.

The Sun is obviously the most powerful, but the other planets aid or oppose the Sun in specific ways. The Moon is most powerful in this regard. And the positions of other heavenly bodies in various configurations also plays a role.

Considering that things which already exist are affected by the movements of heavenly bodies, it is not unreasonable to infer that new things are also affection by conditions at the moment of their creation. Indeed the better farmers and herdsman predict the outcomes of their agriculture from the quality of the winds as they plant or breed. We see that some simple foretelling of obvious positions of Sun, Moon and stars are common knowledge even for the uneducated. For example, even very dull people can foretell when the seasons will change – even animals can do so. This is a type of astrological prediction because it is the Sun’s movement that is responsible for such things.

But to understand more sophisticated and complex things requires more careful observation. Sailors, for example, can foretell storms and winds by observing the Sun and Moon in the heavens. They often err in their predictions, for they are merely approximating the astrological positions.

Then we can infer that if one could exactly understand every configuration of the planets and have a wealth of previous interpretive experience to draw upon, and is able to scientifically and intuitively synthesize the combined implications of these positions, then there should be nothing preventing one from knowing the atmospheric conditions on any given time at any given place. And then why might he not also be able to infer the temperament of an individual born under those conditions?

This solidly establishes the plausibility of astrology in a rational manner.

Saying that astrology is impossible is popular but undeserved. Mostly such criticism is a result of mistakes by people trying to practice astrology without sufficient instruction or skill. Another problem is that many people with claim to be astrologers and just use some charisma to tell people things which are obvious anyway.

We need not abandon a thing just because there are rascals misusing it!

But it is also true that even if one very carefully and sincerely approaches astrology he is still subject to many errors. This is due to the very nature of the thing he is trying to do. A human being is very weak, and the attempt to foretell the future is extremely ambitious. Every science is conjectural and cannot be absolutely proven. And in the case of astrology the fundamental tenants are based on very ancient observations and inferences which may not exactly be valid in the same ways today. Unless one very foolishly overestimates his ability to comprehend the incomprehensible, every astrologer must admit significant limitations.

For natal astrology there is a further complication: the different types of individuals will respond to the heavenly configurations in different ways – just as different seeds produce different planets even though affected by the same soil, water and sunlight. So the race, culture, etc of an individual create very significant variations in how to make astrological interpretations. Two humans born at the same time to different races or cultures therefore turn out to be quite different.

And there is also the question of the variables in the present. These will also change how a seed develops into a plant. So unless we can not only exactly know every astrological condition but also every cultural and individual conditions, it is not reasonable to say that a human can foresee every detail of the future exactly – especially not from astrology alone.

But merely because it is not absolutely complete does not change the great worth of astrology, nor should the likelihood or error dissuade us. When the objective is very lofty – as is the objective of astrology – we shouldn’t point out the mistakes but rather welcome and consider the merits of any progress or success.

We should not ask astrology to answer our every question in absolute detail, but we should appreciate and avail ourselves of what insight it can provide. And we also should not expect the astrologer to be accurate without knowing details of our life and background.

– Vic DiCara