Thursday, May 22, 2014

Astrology and Astrologers Put to Test

A book I read some years ago, Under One Sky (2004), brainchild of Rafael Nasser, contains the biography of a woman, completely unknown to twelve well-respected astrologers. Each astrologer was tasked to give their "blind" interpretation of the anonymous woman's personality and life history, with only her birth data for guidance. Each used their own specialised system:
DEMETRA GEORGE - Asteroid Focus
KEN BOWSER - Western Sidereal
ROBERT HAND - Medieval
ROBERT SCHMIDT - Hellenistic
STEVEN FORREST - Evolutionary
WENDY Z. ASHLEY - Mythological

The astrologers specified how and why they reached the conclusions they did.

The subject's biography is stated in detail, by the woman herself - a little wordy for my taste. I discovered her identity later (see here).

As I read the biography I picked out a few key points which, in my opinion, ought to come through loud and clear in an accurate interpretation. These were: world travel; academic ability; spirituality; health problems/accidents; relationship with her father.

It wasn't as easy as I'd imagined it would be to see clearly which astrologer had come closest to describing the anonymous woman. Some astrologers were overly wordy, somewhat woolly too in places! Finally I concluded that one astrologer who used the sidereal zodiac, and one who used the tropical, delivered the best, clearest, and most accurate reports. I'll refrain from naming names, because my opinion could differ wildly from another reader's.

For astrology-minded readers this is a fascinating book, I learned one or two things from reading it:

1. Both tropical and sidereal zodiacs can work, in the right hands.

2. Too many words muddy the waters, even when the writer obviously has style and flair.

3. A light touch is best.

4. Not everything is shown in a birth chart, even when experts translate.

5. Basic, bog-standard tropical astrology can be as accurate as the most complex specialised methods, or use of a variety of different celestial bodies, or myths.

A discussion about the book at the Skyscript forum dating from 2010 reveals a variety of opinions on the interpretations, and some disappointment on the performance of astrologers involved in the book's experiment.

Whether interpreting birth data in such a "blind" situation is a fair test of either astrology or astrologers is open to question. On the surface, and to any reader with little astrological knowledge, it might seem to be a reasonable test, but I have doubts. Almost everything in astrology is open to more than a single, black/white interpretation. Expecting a "blind" reading to be more than part-accurate at best would be placing an unnatural strait-jacket on the ancient art. We humans do not fit into astrological strait-jackets (though a few out there in Washington DC might benefit from being strapped into a regular one).


mike said...

A natal chart is a template of a person's potential at the time of birth...the individual's free will directs that energy as time continues from birth. Free will is affected by the environment. As I stated in a recent post, astrology may benefit from video gaming techniques of continually processing transits, progressions, and real-time data to constantly update the effects on the personality and forecast events.

A singular event or a series of back-to-back events can dramatically alter an individual's personality and future for good or ill. Yes, some of these events can be determined by considering the effect of transits to the natal chart, but often the individual's free will utilized in a negative fashion can cascade downward. Consider a person that decides to try heroin for the first time, then becomes addicted, then turns to crime to fulfill the habit as their health declines and family unit deteriorates.

Sidereal and Tropical astrology share many of the same factors...subtract 23* from the Tropical positions to derive the Sidereal positions. It's more a matter of which SIGN a planet or house cusp is in. The planets' aspects are identical, whether calculated in Tropical or Sidereal, so I would anticipate both yielding similar results. Either method requires a "house cusp" calculation, which is dependent on the astrologer's choice of calculation and is subject to error.

This reminds me of Philip Pullman's "Dark Materials" series. Lyra Belacqua's golden compass (alethiometer) that only she can "read" to portend and navigate.

"Pullman earlier proposed to name the series The Golden Compasses, also a reference to Paradise Lost, where they denote God's circle-drawing instrument used to establish and set the bounds of all creation:

Then staid the fervid wheels, and in his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God's eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe, and all created things:
One foot he centered, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure
— Paradise Lost, Book 7, lines 224–229"

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thank you, as always, for your thoughts on this.

It was a valiant effort on the part of the astrologers involved, and the compiler of the book - with the best of intentions and expectations, obviously, As you've remarked, so many factors, variable and imponderable were involved, so there was never likely to have been any better outcome, even using a different set of astrologers. Perhaps with a less complex character as "guinea pig" results might have been somewhat clearer and nearer hitting the the mark exactly.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Just yesterday, I was remembering how dismissed I've felt after some of the astrological readings I received from competent, even gifted astrologers whose *general* astrological insights I continue to respect and learn from.

It was as if what made me unique, my gifts, talents, strengths, vulnerabilities (and struggles) remained invisible and out of reach to them. And instead of feeling encouraged, I felt smaller, diminished, and underestimated by several of my encounters.

To some extent, I think it must have something to do with the finer points of my (and everyone else's) chart and how they combine, as well as what some astrologers refer to as the "Dark Goddess" energy (True and Mean Lilith, Eris, Kaali, Hekate, etc.), which can't be accessed or understood solely through the intellect, no matter how brilliant the astrologer.

Then too, there are midpoints, Fixed Stars, even the Draconic chart to consider - I think it all depends on what's prominent in an individual chart; there are so many layers to astrology *and* people. Different astrologers have different specialties and areas of study and expertise - it helps a lot when an astrologer is either familiar with whichever archetypes and aspects are strong in a particular person's chart or else is open to exploring new and unfamiliar territory. Because I believe in free will, I also don't think we can *ever* judge someone's character just by looking at a chart. Maybe some of what makes us unique is meant to remain mysterious, unknowable.

At one (critical) point in my life, I paid for three different professional readings by three different astrologers and not one of them commented on my intuitive/psychic (or spiritual) gifts, my ongoing struggles with technology or my strong faith and passion for social justice, though to be fair, all three recognized how "sensitive" I am to energy and two of them told me I was a "healer" - something I kind of laughed off at the time but which makes more sense now.

Astrologer Joyce Mason, at the Radical Virgo just posted a great piece, "The Role of Feelings, Inklings and Hunches in Conversations about Astrology Charts":

In it, Joyce writes about the value in *listening*, which is what having a conversation is really all about. While not impossible, it isn't nearly as likely to happen when looking at a computer screen or piece of paper - we're all more than the sum of our parts! In that respect, a good astrologer is a lot like a good doctor or healer. More than an abstract intellectual exercise, it takes great *humility* to really see and hear someone, to put aside our ego and intellect and get to the root.

While Joyce never gave me an astrological reading, per se, years ago she did a Tarot reading for me which was very validating.:)

mike (again) said...

I haven't read the book, but I did look at and there were interesting, but conflicting comments. One stood-out regarding the astrologers providing personality profiles, yet Joyce provided a chronology of her life...I reckon it was left to the reader to interpret Joyce's personality via her chronology. The bio provided on Nasser's site indicates that Joyce was not typical of the average.

Editorial reviews on Amazon:

"A fascinating, rambunctious, moving, nakedly revealing testament to the swarming vitality of modern astrology." -- Rob Breszny, "Free Will Astrology" column, Jan 2004

"Shows that despite (astrologers') differences, we're all traveling the same road to enlightenment. Read on!" -- Michael Lutin, Vanity Fair astrologer, 2004

Do you think that Breszney and Lutin actually read the book?! LOL

It would be interesting to have twelve psychologists read Joyce's bio and provide their "scientific" analysis and conclusions. Would the psychologists have the same end-point conclusions regarding Joyce's mental status and recommended treatment plan?

LB said...

Adding ~ I'm not dissing the book you mentioned or the astrologers' attempts to understand the person whose chart was used - assuming it was done with the person's permission. It's an interesting and useful exercise and I'm more than a little curious whose interpretation resonated the most.

My point was more that I think any approach that depersonalizes the client (and process) has its limits.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Thanks for your observations. :-)
I agree that a personal consultation, with any expert practitioner, in any field, has to be preferable to dealing with something via written material, pen/paper or online. I doubt that any of the astrologers involved in the experiment detailed in the book would disagree on anything you've proposed.
However, the experiment was set in the way it was so that many readers of the book could observe. It was a kind of flawed experiment, granted, but one which, if astrology works at all, should bring forth some evidence, if not totally accurate and clear evidence.

To be very candid, I think most people expect too much from astrology - maybe I do too, but I'm expecting less as I go along through the years. There is definitely something going on - always said so, always will - but I have grave doubts that it is exactly as experts define it or have been led to believe by the ancients.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ LOL! I think Breszney and Lutin were supporting their colleagues, just cheer-leading! For my money (which I paid in full for the book) they were over-stating the case by miles!

Yes, that would be a good follow-up - having psychologists' opinions.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Agreed on all counts. Though I haven't read the book, I can see where it would be an interesting experiment, even if I wouldn't want to be the person they were analyzing!

On a separate but related issue and just to clarify (in case anyone is confused by my comment), Joyce Mason at Radical Virgo is a different person than the Joyce mike is referring to - the subject of the book, "Under One Sky".

Out of curiosity, I checked for an asteroid named "JOYCE". As I left my comment, asteroid Joyce (5418) was at 17 Virgo, *exactly* opposite the transiting Moon conjunct Chiron at 17 Pisces. Not coincidentally, one of Joyce Mason's special areas of interest and expertise in astrology is Chiron.:0

Astrology never ceases to amaze me, most especially in helping me to understand myself.

LB said...

mike and Twilight ~ Reading the discussion at (thanks, mike!) was very validating. It helped me to better understand my own disappointing experiences during past readings. Regarding the book, "Under One Sky", given the parameters of the exercise, it was very brave of the astrologers to even take it on.

My takeaway from all this is that in seeking to understand someone with the goal of helping them to better understand themselves, the vehicle we use (astrology, tarot, psychology, medicine, etc.) matters less than our willingness to discern and listen with humility - ideally, it's a mutual exchange. In some cases, it might also be true that being a great thinker and/or teacher doesn't necessarily translate into being a great listener or interpreter.

Very thought-provoking post, Twilight.:)

Twilight said...

LB ~
I'm happy you found it interesting, LB - and thank you once again for your own thoughts and additional valuable pointers.