Theory of Geocosmic Coincidence
© 1999 Curtis Manwaring
There have been many arguments both for and against astrological influence. Skeptics and believers are both often missing the point in many of the arguments presented. I am often asked if I believe in astrology. When you are through reading this article, I hope you will see that belief is not really the issue, but a red herring disguising mistaken assumptions. After elaborating on the evolution of astrological ideas, and arguments both for and against, I will attempt to give a reasonable explanation for what lies behind astrological thought.
The first written records we have on the subject show astrology that is not very similar to what we now recognize as being the established practice. Instead of fully worked out star maps showing the positions of the heavens at the time of inception of a birth or event, there are text fragments about some upcoming event such as; "When Mars overtakes Saturn, the king will lose the throne" , or "When Jupiter and Saturn meet, oh what a crop of mummy wheat".  These prognostications in the form of omens are a clue as to the origins of astrology and what seems to be a universal cross cultural need to map the expectations of ones environment. Astrology was necessary for farming and telling time and became the basis for most calendars and also the foundation of civilization itself. Predictability meant survival; and in a time before wrist watches, the sky was one of the few means available for knowing or planning when something would happen.
Aristotle and Plato are at least partly responsible for reinforcing astrological thought when they attempted to define time. Aristotle's definition: "Time is the number of movement with respect to before and after."  At that time one of the few things conveniently numbered for purposes of time was the heavens. Plato from the Timaeus: "...But he [creator] had in mind to make a certain movable image of eternity, and while arranging the heaven, he makes an image of eternity according to number... in order that time should be created, the Sun and Moon and five other stars, which are called planets, were created by him in order to determine and watch over the parts of time...".  From this we can see that the early roots of the calendar were constructed upon the 7 planets; specifically that the motions of the Sun and Moon became the year and month, and that the 7 visible planets also were given days of the week. We can also see that astrology was not just a way to make existence more predictable but it had become a centerpiece of many religions. This historical fact is one of the reasons keeping scientists from effectively debunking astrology. It is even more deeply engrained as a form of measurement than the english system, which is also why scientists had such difficulty switching us from the english to the metric system.
One of the first records we have of someone attempting a rational explanation of the workings of astrology (besides Aristotle) is in Al Kindi's treatise "On the Stellar Rays" first published a little over 1200 years ago.  It explains in great detail how the stellar rays interacted with various elements as they passed through space into contact with an individual. This work was very influential in creating a belief in astrological "magic". Medieval astrologers took hold of the idea of a physical cause for astrological influence (in addition to a corrupting of the elements based upon Aristotle's theories). Scientists should be aware that extremely few modern astrologers think astrology has a purely physical basis. In fact, I have never met anyone who holds to this belief.
Now that we have a general idea of how astrology came to be, I would like to examine some of the criticisms of skeptics:
- The planets are not in the constellations that astrologers say they are in.
In all of my years researching this subject, this has to be the most common complaint I've run across. The first time, I realized there was something wrong was as a 12 yr old with the newspaper horoscopes in one hand and a copy of "Sky and Telescope" in the other. The map clearly showed the Sun in the constellation of Cancer when the newspaper said Leo. It threw me into considerable confusion then, until I stumbled upon something called the precession of the equinoxes. This is caused by the Moons gyroscopic like gravitational pull upon the earths equatorial bulge, trying to flatten it out with respect to the Moons orbit. This bulge is parallel with the earths equator and the celestial equator. The ecliptic is the Suns apparent path against the background stars, and intersects 2 different points on the the celestial equator called the equinoxes. These 2 points (the vernal and autumnal equinoxes) gradually drift backwards at the rate of about 1 degree every 70 years (interestingly enough about one lifetime). The modern tropical zodiac is based upon the vernal point defining 0 Aries. There is also the vernal point defining 8 Aries and possibly one for 10 Aries of the tropical variety. The sidereal zodiacs, of which there are many, adhere to some semi arbitrary boundary based upon the background stars and would not be in conflict with the above complaint made by astronomers. However, it does not stand as a proof that astrology is nonsense, partly because the theory that stellar rays somehow influence behavior is not adhered to. The sub-argument that only one zodiac can be correct does not necessarily stand either, since the rules for interpreting the two different types of charts vary greatly. As to which sub-type of zodiac is most accurate is for research to determine. There is also an interesting biblical reference in Ezekiel of a "wheel within a wheel" reminiscient of two zodiacs interacting.  If it weren't for the discrepancy between these two types of zodiacs there would be little foundation for zodiacal ages. The vernal point is now precessed to the tail end of constellational Aquarius which is why it is said we are entering the "Age of Aquarius". Two thousand years ago the vernal point was entering the back door of constellational Pisces and exiting constellational Aries, which is typified in Christ's statement that "I am the alpha and omega" (the beginning and ending of the zodiac) and also in the fact that he was the sacrificial lamb/ram after which christians became "fishers of men" (Piscean Age). Perhaps because there are so many zodiacs it can be said that measuring sociological events and human behavior cannot be said to be an exact science and that reality is somewhat duplicitous, but physics and mathematics have their own inconsistencies to deal with and cannot lay claim to being an exact science either.
- The 12 signs cannot possibly cover the depth of all human behavior. There are more than 12 types of individuals.
This is an objection based upon newspaper horoscopes. I agree that the 12 divisions alone is much too crude to be of any real value, however it is interesting to note that psychologists used to classify individuals into 3 divisions: mesomorph, endomorph, and ectomorph. The astrology that most serious practicioners use however has millions of possible combinations and requires an exact birth time.
- Since Copernicus proved that the Sun is the center of the solar system, Ptolemy's world view of planets traveling in epicycles and deferents affecting the earth astrologically is disproved. 
True, Copernicus was correct from a gravitational point of view, but I have never heard of any theory that gravity is the main determination of astrological correspondence. The Suns being the gravitational center does not mean that the earth is not the center of our experience. Common sense says that it is. Astrology is a model describing our consciousness not our weight (with the exception of Jupiter crossing the ascendant ;>). Ptolemy's model being disproved does not mean that astrology is disproved. However there is now heliocentric astrology for those of you whom the Sun is the center of experience. It is a matter of relativity, and also one of consistency as we shall see later.
This type of argument, (discredit the author or proponent of an idea, and the theory falls) is more common in science than we would like to think. Note the controversies of Galileo and Darwin for example: Galileo was excommunicated from the Catholic Church because he stated that Jupiter had 4 moons traveling around it (among several other things). Later inviting the clerics to view the truth through his telescope; they would not. (It was critical that the earth be the center of the universe and Jupiter being the center of its own universe by inference of the moon's orbit was heresy.)  I can just imagine what excuses they might have made not to look through that telescope: faith is more important than knowledge, the Bible says what is true therefore your telescope is an instrument of the devil, etc... As late as the 1990's the Church was still arguing whether to remove his heretic status! Little has changed in the human heart. The scientific method itself reminds us to evaluate an idea upon its merits alone. With the weight of politics upon sciences' back, it is little wonder that Saturn travels so slow ;) If you didn't get that, contemplate why there is a little Saturn logo on the lower right corner of the Sci-Fi Channel.
In the middle ages there were several skeptic arguments that we would barely recognize as being an issue today. This is because the Ptolemaic world view was widely held in scientific and religious circles until about the time of Copernicus. What follows is a brief summary of the Ptolemaic beliefs of importance that shaped medieval arguments against astrology:
- The earth is the center the universe, surrounded by 9 perfect spheres. The 9th heaven (primum mobile). The 8th heaven which consists of the fixed stars. The 7th heaven and inward are the planets in chaldean order. 
- The sublunary sphere refers to the elements and the earth itself which is subject to generation and corruption. The elements of earth and water move in a straight line down, fire and air in a straight line up. The "ether" also known as the quintessence (5th element) was incorruptible and moved in perfect circles. 
- The planets' retrograde motion was accounted for by epicycles and deferents (a perfect circle whose center is on the path of the larger deferent), not by parallax. 
Note the emphasis upon perfection and order. This issue became equated with the difference between good and evil (perfection being good, disorder being evil). As the Church became more powerful, an emphasis upon astronomical perfection and order was expected for science to be accepted. It is doubtful that the Greek philosophers made these moral judgements, but recognized the imperfection as "hule", which is the undifferentiated material of the universe.  Alchemists recognized this imperfection as the "prima materia" which was to be raised to a higher level. The Ptolemaic world view became the center of religious belief systems and are an important factor in understanding medieval arguments against astrology.
I will attempt to summarize some of the more interesting medieval arguments from Bonatti's Liber Astronomiae. The idea being that the arguments illustrate just how much thinking has changed in the last thousand years. When the accepted premises change then the arguments shift focus. You will note that neither the thesis nor the rebuttal will have much bearing upon the current state of affairs, but what remains constant is the self interest involved:
- The planets have signification concerning universal things only (therefore an individuals destiny is not foretold). 
Since Bonatti was a contemporary of Thomas Aquinas, I assume this argument comes from the Church's insistence that God's will is universal (though I could be mistaken). Bonatti's response was typically aristotelian, explaining that if we are made up of the 4 elements and are bound up in them with the elements of the earth, that we are as subject to generation and corruption as anything else in the sublunary sphere. This argument was more convincing in medieval times than now, since it was based upon established science.
Added Sept 19, 2004: The above argument stating that only the universal is foretold and not the individual is interesting in light of recent developments in the restoration of Hellenistic astrology. Robert Schmidt has said that the basis for the lots (arabic parts) is to make an analog in the mind of the cosmic soul concerning universal matters so that they can be brought down to the individual level: that to think that the planets themselves directly represent personal matters would be considered hubris by the Hellenistic thinkers of the time.
- The heavens signify only two things: the necessary and the impossible, but not the possible. 
This argument bears a resemblance to the Hellenistic portrayal of the 3 types of fate: heimarmene, anangke and pronoia, the Greek philosophers saying that anangke (Saturn) was astrologically determinable, but not heimarmene. Though no reason was given as to why the above argument was given, my guess is this; that because the heavens do not vary from regularity, they do not signify the possible, only the rigid extremes, the impossible and the necessary. Bonatti's argument was rather long. He gave as proof the behaviors of various species, that what is necessary for each species is characteristic of each individual (such as that birds fly). In essence, he says that between the necessary and the impossible is the middle which is possible, and between the necessary and the possible there is judgement (for instance which bird will fly when). Equating necessary with natural, the motions of the heavens are natural, and therefore judgements of them are true and useful. Not exactly an objection likely to be thought of by modern skeptics.
- The science of the stars is not able to be known by anyone. 
This objection is based upon the fact that there are so many stars that the astrologer cannot possibly know the effect of every one upon the individual. Also it was supposed that there are many stars in the 9th heaven which are invisible that imprint but cannot be ascertained. Bonatti responds that the whole of the heavens is contained in the 12 signs and if the 9th heaven has stars in it then there is no motion in it which due to its uniformity can be discounted as making any changes in terrestrial affairs.
- The science of the stars is damned because foreknowledge of things induces only sorrow or terror at what will happen. 
This objection makes sense to the modern as well as the medieval intellect. Bonatti's rebuttal focuses on the fact that fate is not immutable, that if you discover some terrible thing approaching that you can prepare for it. Modern astrologers knowing the value of properly counseling clients will avoid any kind of rigid statement on what will happen, and stick to either statistics or metaphysical principles.
In all of these arguments an assumption of what the theoretical basis for astrological influence was made; whether rays, a corruption of the elements, etc... This brings us to what I think makes astrology work. I discount the validity of rays except in the case of the Sun causing sunburn. In a sense, I would discount a cause and effect scenario almost entirely, except for the effect the Sun and Moon have on the seasons and tides and the weather. Because all of life follows a pattern, no matter how complex, it is possible to map various accidents linking them to any other type of indicator, not necessarily just astrological. For instance, it is possible to take the incidence of violent crime and correlate this to the rate of ice cream consumption. There will most likely be a positive correlation between these two correspondences. However it would be absurd to suggest that ice cream consumption would cause an increase in violent crime. It would not be absurd to suggest that the hot weather provided a greater probability that both of these events would happen concurrently. Some might suggest that this is synchronicity theory. I would say that only in part that it resembles this or perhaps Paul Kammerer's work on coincidence.  Synchronicity however, makes the statement that somehow the two things that are alike coincide or those bearing a resemblance belong to the same archetype. I contend that none of this has to be the case in order for any divination system to work; the accidents need only be consistent with themselves, not eachother. This consistency builds an expectation, linear, not parallel, as in synchronicity.
Taking an individual born at a certain time, there are nearly an infinite number of various factors to map against, but some would be more absent and some more prevalent. It is said that we are a product of the times in which we live. Using the outer planets as the more general times signifying political and sociological circumstances, it is possible to map a calendar more complicated than the Gregorian calendar, with the use of astrology. This is nothing mystical in itself. The popes in instituting various calendars actually set up a template for sociological behavior helping a mass self fulfilling prophesy to manifest. The cycle of the Sun representing the yearly cycle and the Moon the monthly cycle presupposes certain types of behaviors, etc... grouping these possibilities in the form of statistical sampling from a closed box. While there may be an infinite number of possible behaviors in any given instance, there is only a finite number of behaviors that are useful given a set of circumstances. The point is that astrology is useful not so much for determining absolute causes, but for showing insightful patterns into our own behavior. It does not matter if the stars cause these things to be so or not, but you will be more successful in predicting trends than just letting guesses happen by chance and that makes it useful. However if you are looking for absolute or primary causes based upon first principles; I believe they are determined above the heavens.
1. Paraphrasing typical statements from several sources.
2. As stated in Alice O. Howell's Jungian Symbolism in Astrology.
3. See Aristotle's Physics, Bk. IV, Ch. 11, pgs. 292 - 293.
4. See Plato's Timaeus in the Collected Dialogs, Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Princeton University Press, pgs. 1166 - 1167.
5. Al Kindi. Treatus on The Stellar Rays © 1994 Robert Zoller, through Project Hindsight, Published by The Golden Hind Press.
6. Book of Ezekiel 1:16.
7. I first heard this one at a star party at the Syracuse Astronomical Society back in the mid 1970's, by Dr. Gunther Wessel. One that will stay in my mind forever because it caused me to think very seriously about the validity of astrology for several months.
8. Astrology and Prediction by Eric Russell, © 1972 by Eric Russell, Drake Publishing, see pg. 74.
9. Summarizing statements from several parts of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos.
12. This is Schmidt's opinion mentioned in the 2nd PHASE Conclave lectures.
13. Guido Bonatti. Liber Astronomiae © 1994 Robert Zoller, through Project Hindsight, Published by The Golden Hind Press. See pg. 12.
15. Ibid. See pg 7.
16. Ibid. See pg. 18.
17. Schmidt's brought up Kammerer's work as a possible alternative to synchronicity.