On the Nature of Astrology and Research

Mark Pottenger

Over a period of several months in 1995 I received relayed fragments of on-line arguments about astrology and occasionally added my own comments. It became clear to me that most of the people involved in the arguments don’t even know what astrology or astrological research is. This is an attempt to clarify my view.

Astrology is a discipline that matches patterns in the sky to patterns on earth. The patterns in the sky can include anything that can be observed or calculated. Most astrologers work with the sky patterns of celestial longitude and diurnal (house or sector) placement of the Sun, Moon and planets. Beyond those basics, there are constellations, specific fixed stars, eclipses, planetary conjunctions, plane crossings, nodes, perihelia, aphelia, thousands of asteroids, and more. The patterns on earth also cover the gamut. Most astrologers work with the character and life development of individual people, but some also deal with countries, markets, companies, natural disasters (a word with astrological origins), elections, answers to questions, and more.

The most widespread form of astrological practice uses astrology to describe the character potentials of individuals and to identify periods in the life when certain psychological issues will be especially important. Individual character tendencies can manifest in many ways, and often will show in multiple ways during the course of a life. To give one very simple example, a person with heavy emphasis on a savior-victim polarity might play victim for some years as an alcoholic then shift to savior as a leader in AA. Every psychological principle has many possible faces in the world. A good astrologer can select the more likely manifestations by looking for common themes and repeated messages in the horoscope. Similarly, systems of progressions, directions and transits point out periods when certain psychological issues are in high focus, but the detailed external world manifestations can vary tremendously.

Various sciences have had an ongoing debate for many years about the relative contributions of heredity and environment (nature and nurture) to the character of individual people. Astrology simply broadens the definition of environment beyond the limits of the earth to include the sky. Astrology does not deny the existence of genetics or the family, but expands the viewpoint of what can be studied in trying to understand the world.

My personal view tends toward the mystical, that the earth and sky are an inseparable unity, but that is not the only viewpoint in astrology.

Astrological research is any attempt to understand the relationships between earth and sky. When related to individual people, it must cope with all the usual problems of subjectivity involved in psychological research, plus the problems involved in getting accurate birth data (many places don’t record time of birth, time zones have shifted over years, daylight time changes are subject to extreme local variations, recorded times can include errors, many records are unavailable due to privacy laws, etc.) and a whole set of complexities in patterns in the sky (varying planetary speeds and retrograde cycles produce extremely complicated patterns in celestial longitude which change with epoch, longitude patterns create even more complicated aspect patterns, demographic patterns—daily, monthly, and yearly—interact with planetary motions to produce more complexity, diurnal patterns are often dependent on latitude of birth, etc.).

Studies of single factors in isolation are tremendously difficult, partly because each single factor is such a small part of the complete picture and partly because of all the methodological complexities. Studies that test astrologers reading charts usually fare better.

The work of Michel and Françoise Gauquelin is a much argued over example of single-factor astrological research. In the 1950s, they found a pattern of statistically significant diurnal placements of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn at the births of members of the French Academy of Medicine. Placements just above rising (roughly 12th house and first third of 1st house) and just after culmination (roughly 9th house and first third of 10th house) were present more often than expected by chance for Mars and Saturn, and less often for Jupiter. These parts of the diurnal cycle are called key sectors or plus zones (two slightly different areas defined at different times), and diurnal placements measured in the way they suggest (like Placidus houses in 3-D) are now commonly called Gauquelin sectors. They did additional studies with several other professions (military, sports champions, painters, writers, etc.), studied patterns involving the same sectors between generations in families, and studied planetary patterns compared to personality as described by character trait words extracted from biographies of the subjects of the profession studies. As would be expected, the match to character traits was even stronger than to profession. They collected over 100,000 people’s timed birth data in the course of various studies. Their techniques have been repeatedly attacked by so-called “skeptics” a number of times over the years, but each replication that actually followed their guidelines has successfully come out with statistically significant results. Unfortunately, the possibility that patterns in the sky could have meaning on earth is so abhorrent to some people (I call them pseudo-skeptics) that every new generation of pseudo-skeptics has to be shown again that their objections have already been answered and the results are real.

The latest generation of pseudo-skeptics refers to the entire corpus of Gauquelin work as the “Mars effect” and writes as if the one study done with a few thousand sports champions was the only study. They also argue that the “effect” is too weak to be useful. Such attempts to make the results go away are rather ingenuous and miss a basic point: if any match between earth and sky is found, the field should be studied rather than ignored!

Copyright © 1996 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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