Astrology and the Internet
Until recently I was the only person online where I work, and now there’s two of us and more to come. It may be that this is a kind of stage in the internet revolution. Probably almost every company with 40 or more employees has someone online, and probably everybody knows somebody who’s online, or at the least knows someone who knows someone. Brandi Jasmine was talking awhile back about an internet astrology something or other, and it struck me that we’re the world’s largest local group (second largest if you count A.A. separately). After all, we interact more regularly than people in most “local” groups, and isn’t that the whole point of the internet phenomenon? You may be the only person in Lower Podunk, New York who has a particular, specialized passion, or the only one in your circle of acquaintances in the big city, but on the internet you can discover one or several who are just as nutso over that particular thing. And in that way we reach critical mass. If you have enough people thinking about a particular thing, and interacting together, the knowledge they construct together is driven to a new level.
I think a key factor in scientific revolutions, and in cultural revolutions in general, is intensity of communication. One factor in intensity of communication is population density. The Greek miracle was, I suspect, to some extent a demographic phenomenon. I remember how surprised I was when I read a book on demographics once, and the author mentioned how densely populated (what we now call) Greece was, that the Greeks were able to take on the Persians because they had the manpower. Greeks lived, in short, in relatively close proximity to lots of other Greeks, and they apparently talked a lot to each other. As prosaic as it sounds, I think that’s a key to cultural development.
I read an article/interview once about Ilya Prigogine, brilliant chemist and philosopher, and the term “bifurcation” came up. It apparently refers to a relatively sudden change of state in a system which has absorbed enough energy to pass some kind of threshold of excitation. Water flowing from a faucet is an example. It stays smooth for awhile as you increase the flow, then suddenly breaks up and becomes turbulent. Boiling water is another example. First you get a wave action as heat is applied, then the waves double in frequency, and then a threshold is reached and you have apparent chaos. “Apparent” because underneath the chaos is a deeper, more subtle, more complex order, and this kind of increase in complexity is apparent in human systems also. It was pointed out that cars on a freeway, below a certain density, move independently of each other, but when that density is reached a bifurcation occurs and after that every car is affecting every other car.
This quickening of interaction which I believe has led to past bifurcations in the intellectual sphere doesn’t stem only from population increases. The experimental revolution in mid-seventeenth century England was fueled by the discussion groups, Boyle’s “invisible colleges”, which began springing up in London around 1645. Passionate advocates of the “new philosophy” were able to find others of a similar mindset, and the fruit of their intensified interaction is, for better or worse, the science-based society we live in today.
That is, early modern science began exactly two Uranus-Neptune cycles ago. I’ve been studying this cycle historically for several years now, beginning with a reference by a favorite thinker (T.S. Kuhn) to a second scientific revolution. Kuhn’s wording (“centered in the first half of the nineteenth century”) made me realize that “the” scientific revolution and Kuhn’s second scientific revolution had coincided with successive conjunctions. Later I realized that science and art somehow interpenetrate during these periods, most notably with the simultaneous emergence of Gothic architecture and Scholasticism during the 1130s and 40s in Paris, but also if less visibly during other Uranus-Neptune conjunction periods. Art historian Erwin Panofsky, in Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, names an amazing series of these cultural efflorescences, amazing because they fall like a metronome at Uranus-Neptune intervals: the Carolingian Renovatio, which was roughly centered on the conjunction of 794; the Anglo-Saxon and Ottonian Renaissances, roughly centered on the conjunction of 965, and from another book an account of a deeper, more structural change, a Feudal Revolution, at around this time; the Twelfth Century Renaissance, which was constituted not only by the birth of Scholasticism and Gothic architecture (among other things), but also by the rebirth of astrology; the Early or Proto-Renaissance, exemplified by the stunning advance in three-dimensionality and realism in the art of Giotto during the first decade of the fourteenth century; and “the” Renaissance of the late fifteenth century (opinions will vary regarding the timing, of course).
I don’t know now, having not researched these matters in enough depth or detail, whether each of these periods was characterized by a quickening of communication, but the signs are encouraging and in one instance seem unambiguous. Paris in the 1130s and 40s was where the intellectual action was, where students and teachers flocked together, where the university as an institution began to cohere out of their comings and goings and affiliations. Now come forward over 850 years and five complete cycles to the present, when we find ourselves in the midst of a similar quickening.
Is it cause or effect, or something else entirely? I don’t know. What I do know is this: The internet makes possible interactions that otherwise would not occur. It facilitates the transformation of abstract, theoretical “groupings” – the set of people on earth passionately concerned about a particular thing – into real groups of people interacting with each other, prodding each other, cross-fertilizing each other, critiquing each other, encouraging and supporting each other.
So yes, I think something important is going on now, even if I understand it only vaguely (at this time), and I think whatever’s going on might have special significance for astrology. Astrology shows up strikingly in several of these Uranus-Neptune-timed transformations, most notably during the Twelfth Century Renaissance, when a flood of translations made possible the rebirth of astrology along with much else. And the dates of those translations form a silent commentary (from Jim Tester’s History of Western Astrology): a single translation in the late 10th century, another in the late 11th century, two or three during the 1120s, swelling to a flood during the 1130s (especially the late 1130s) and 40s, and then gradually tapering off, not unlike a bell-shaped curve.
My historical meanderings have suggested to me that these transitions last about twenty years, with a five or six-year crisis phase more or less centered within the period as a whole. That would suggest that the crisis phase of the current conjunction, which began (I think) in 1989, has pretty much run its course, and that this sense of mounting global crisis will begin to ebb within the next twelve to eighteen months, although that doesn’t mean the fireworks are over. It also should mean that whatever significant is happening in astrology is happening now. The point where internet accessibility is equivalent to today’s telephone accessibility is a few years down the road, but the shift in thought patterns resulting from the shift in social dynamics is occurring now and will be working itself out for years to come. Such changes facilitate the emergence and acceptance of fundamentally new ideas, and I will not be coy and say I don’t know what those ideas might be. I have very clear ideas about what astrology is and what it could be, but I also find such things excruciatingly difficult to talk about for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. However, presumptuous though it may be, this is meant not only as a commentary but as an illustration, albeit severely condensed and lacking scholarly apparatus, of what it might mean to approach astrology empirically, rather than deductively, as astrologers normally do.
The point I need to stress is that these historical developments have to appear in context as part of a pattern, a recurrent effect, otherwise we have nothing. Things happen all the time, not just during Uranus/Neptune conjunctions, and most of the things that do coincide with the transit don’t have anything to do with it. Let’s say you have something to eat, that’s an event that occurs during every Uranus/Neptune conjunction, but we don’t consider it relevant because, while we do eat during every Uranus/Neptune conjunction, we don’t eat only at those times. Eating is a recurrent, thus rhythmic activity, but with reference to the diurnal rather than Uranus/Neptune cycle. We have to see the rhythm first, then specify what “it” is that keeps recurring against the background flux, and finally then show that a particular event or development is a manifestation of that recurrent factor. Consider Panofsky again (see above).
Here we have a striking instance of the same “thing” recurring at regular intervals, and that “thing” is a renaissance or renascence according to Panofsky. That raises the question, what kinds of developments did Panofsky see as constituting a renaissance? In what sense were these periods like each other and different from the longer stretches in between? I used the term “cultural efflorescence” because it seemed to me that Panofsky was describing a recurrent flowering of the arts, both in the sense that there was more being done and that the best of it was better than at other times. But I also used the term because “Renaissance” tends to be associated with the arts and humanities, whereas I think the scientific revolutions of the mid-seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries are additional recurrences of this same “thing”. Which brings me to:
Julienne Mullette offered the following historical observations, to wit: “The Uranus/Neptune conjunctions of the past seem, indeed, to herald major shifts in consciousness, and in the communication of that consciousness. 623 BCE saw Isadore of Seville, who was important in preserving Greek scholarship and in keeping astrology popular. He was also responsible for “ORIGINUM SIVE ETYMOLOGIARUM LIBRI XX,” an encyclopedia of arts and sciences. An encyclopedia represents, certainly, the collecting of information to make it available to the many. For instance, at the time of the 794 conjunction, paper-mills started functioning in Baghdad, and Euclid was translated into Arabic. Both of these events signify potential for opening up and spreading information. In 965 the Abacus was introduced. In 1307 the wearing of eyeglasses grew tremendously. What does this have to do with anything? Well,…if you can’t see to read, your access to information is limited. Having glasses also extends the period of life when one can continue to read, and not only to read, but to see the world, one’s surroundings.”
All of these developments need to be put in context. What was the nature of the period centered on the conjunction of 623 and in what sense was it similar to other Uranus/Neptune conjunction periods? The period from 400 to 900 was in general a period of decline in Western Europe. Was the period around 623, like the one around 794, a temporary reversal of that decline, perhaps a mini-Renaissance? Or should the period 400 to 900 be seen not as a decline, since the peoples involved were largely not the Romans, but as a period of gradual advance from relative barbarism for the Germanic peoples who had overwhelmed the Roman world? Who declined? Who advanced? Just thinking out loud.
What was the significance of the paper mills and the translation of Euclid? Was the Arab world, or at least that part of it, experiencing a cultural revival or breakthrough? Was there a specific reference to something like that in the text(s) Julienne consulted? This is useful information, because thus far my investigation has been Eurocentric, except for noting that the Hegira, Muhammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina which marks the beginning of the Muslim era, took place in 622, and that a major power shift in China took place during the 1640s.
The introduction of the abacus likewise needs to be put in context, and in this instance the relevant material lies ready to hand. In Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (by Frances & Joseph Gies), the authors write:
“Gerbert adopted the cosmology of Ptolemy as the most reasonable of those available and reintroduced two ancient but neglected devices for classroom demonstration: the abacus or calculating board, a set of counters arranged in columns for performing arithmetic (i.e. an early computer; shades of the internet!), and the armillary sphere, a representation of the cosmos by an assembly of balls, rods, and bands. Gerbert may also have employed the astrolabe, known to have reached Christian Europe from Muslim Spain at about this time.”
But these developments themselves all need to be seen in a larger context, and the authors provide it by quoting from Richard Dales’s Scientific Achievements of the Middle Ages:
“The tenth century, though on the surface a time of invasion, cruelty, barbarism, and chaos, is nonetheless the turning point in European intellectual history in general and the history of science in particular.” I had already come to pretty much the same conclusion on the basis of other sources, but it’s nice to see it spelled out. I’ve also been fascinated for some time with Gerbert of Aurillac (ca. 945-1003, Pope Silvester II from 999-1103) and the role he played in the revival of ancient learning. Gerbert traveled to “the northeastern corner of Spain in 967…[where] his purpose was to master the mathematical sciences, which were apparently more highly cultivated there (by virtue of the proximity of Islam) than anywhere north of the Pyrenees.” (From David C. Lindberg’s The Beginnings of Western Science.) Around 972 he moved to Rheims. R. W. Southern writes in The Making of the Middle Ages: “The works which he wrote, the methods of teaching he devised and the pupils he taught at Rheims became the most important factor in the advancement of learning in northern Europe during the next two generations –particularly in enlarging the scope of the study of logic and in forwarding that reconquest of Greek thought that was the foundation of the medieval intellectual achievement.”
Gerbert was the intellectual jumping off point, but (again) what was the social context? What intellectual currents made Gerber’s quest thinkable and other Europeans receptive to the new/old learning he offered? What was going on during the 960s? What was going on from, say, 1297 to 1317, the 20 year period centered on the conjunction of 1307? Why did the wearing of eyeglasses increase tremendously? What happened? Julienne’s justification of its relevance seems forced. I think it would be more revealing to show in general terms how this period is similar to other Uranus/Neptune conjunction periods, and then, if the facts permit it, show how the tremendous increase in the wearing of eyeglasses was cause or consequence, or in some way related, to this general development.
I don’t use signs anymore but I did find it useful to situate the Uranus/Neptune transitions in a Neptune/Pluto framework, although I haven’t pursued the idea very far. It does seem to correspond roughly to historical eras: early antiquity from about 575 BC until about 80 BC. Late antiquity from 80 BC until about 407 AD (when the German tribes broke through along the Rhine and flooded into the Empire). Early Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, from about 407 AD until about 900 AD. Then the High Middle Ages, the Early Modern period, and our own Twentieth Century, which being the first century following the most recent conjunction, and the first following the unification of science and technology, may be as bizarre and unprecedented as it sometimes feels to us.
When I was first learning about the period of origination of the Gothic cathedrals, my impression was that this style emerged during the 1130s and 40s. But later I read that Gothic architecture supplanted Romanesque around the end of the century, which didn’t make sense. It all fell into place when I was subsequently reading Panofsky’s account of the parallel development of Gothic architecture and Scholasticism, which not only emerged at the same time but also experienced similar turning points at the same times. One of those turning points was around 1340, and when a digression mentioned Giotto all became clear: “The most characteristic expression of this subjectivism is the emergence of a perspective interpretation of space which, originating with Giotto and Duccio, began to be accepted everywhere from 1330-40.” In other words, the *birth* of Gothic architecture, on the one hand, and the new, more naturalistic art on the other, each coincided with a Uranus/Neptune conjunction, but in each case the new style didn’t become dominant until several decades later. Note the parallel with Christianity, which doesn’t become historically visible until about 200 AD, although it had been born almost two centuries earlier.
I’m concerned with questions like: How do I know astrology is valid? If it wasn’t valid, would I know it? How? How can I tell if a particular technique or method is valid? Assuming there are things as yet undiscovered, how can we best discover them? And finally: What can we do to facilitate astrological progress?
The internet enables people with comparable interests to find, feed, and push each other, and when that happens knowledge production accelerates tremendously.
Julienne Mullette wrote: “I am convinced that astrologers cannot, or should not, continue to work in isolation. I am convinced we have to come together . . . to carry astrology to the next steps. . . . What is Astrology’s Genome Project? What do we do next? What do we need from each other? How do we go about the next shift in our consciousness? We need working groups of people coming together on various projects. Subject/topic oriented and focused groups, working on seeding each other and inspiring each other to jump-start astrology from the feel-good stuff we do now, to the much greater level work which could be done. It would still feel good…in fact, it would, I think, be extraordinary. Sort of like the difference between humming in the shower, and singing in a great choir.”
Nice point at the end, but the subject/topic oriented and focused working groups reminds me of a command economy, and we know what happened with the Communist command economies. You can’t organize and preplan insight. All you can do is give it room to happen. In a market system people who can do each other some good are able to get together, and all these micro-decisions by individuals allocate resources much more efficiently than Central Planning. The internet is a kind of market economy of ideas. Because it’s organized into topic areas it’s easier for people of like minds to encounter each other. When that happens it leads to interesting “correspondersations” as the individuals involved present, develop, and clarify their viewpoints.
Here’s a fragment from one of my conversations: I’ve been trying to walk the line between rigid reductionism and mindless New-Ageism. I don’t think there are effects or influences being propagated, nor do I subscribe to synchronicity, which hides ignorance behind a fancy term, or sympathy, which strikes me as a form of magical thinking. The idea I’ve been playing with is this, that life needs rhythm in order to live. How can the various processes which constitute it coordinate with each other, other than by being organized in time? But if life processes are organized temporally, what does life use for a timekeeper? The obvious answer is: the planets. My supposition is that life on earth uses the planets as a kind of temporal skeleton around which to organize itself. I would suggest that the “meaning” of Saturn isn’t intrinsic to the planet itself (and then beamed down to earth) but is simply the result of evolution on earth. Set the evolutionary clock back to zero and you’d again end up with a temporally coordinated set of processes, but they wouldn’t be the same processes. Saturn wouldn’t “mean” the same thing, nor would the other planets.
This view assumes that organisms are able to “read” planetary positions and track planetary movements, but is agnostic with respect to how they do so. Neither is it a theory of what has actually happened. It’s more of a response to the supposition, stated as a certainty by many of our critics, that astrology is in principle not the sort of thing that could be true. I’ve tried to imagine a way that it could be “true” that doesn’t totally violate my (current) sense of how the universe “works” and which doesn’t retreat into obscurantism or magic, and that’s enough for now. It does have theoretical implications as far as the content of astrological theory per se is concerned, but I’m not going to get into that.
I think the internet facilitates collaborations as well as more complex interactions. People getting together with who they want to get together with is the invisible hand stirring the intellectual broth on the internet. We need to facilitate such interactions, and the best way to do that is to create groupings, both formal and informal, on the basis of common interests, and by talking and listening to each other, which is what we’re doing.
Alas, the hundredth monkey is a myth, and to think I cited it so many times before finding that out. It seems Lilly of dolphin fame read an unexceptional observer’s report and saw in it what he wanted to see. He was gullible and self-indulgent, and I say that only because I hesitate to accuse him of outright dishonesty.
-by Dale Huckeby
This article was originally posted in three parts to the Festival mailing list in Feb-Mar 1995. In its original form it included fragments of conversation and discussion from other contributors and was titled “Astrology and the Internet”.