On the Art of Divination

Piero_di_Cosimo_(Piero_di_Lorenzo)_-_St._John_the_Evangelist,_c._1500

Piero di Cosimo (Piero_di_Lorenzo) St_John the Evangelist, c. 1500

At the Carter Memorial Lecture, given at the Astrological Association Conference and the Astrological Lodge of London, September 2009, John Frawley made the following comments.

“The idea that seeks perfection in the past – there was once perfection and we’ve fallen away since – is no more than the mirror image of the idea that there will be perfection in the future, if only we can piece together enough new stuff: discover enough new planets, for example. The story of the Tower of Babel should persuade us against this idea of a man-made perfection in the future. But when we see those who seek for authority in the past beating each other on the head with their weighty volumes, we see that reaching into the past brings us just as certainly to Babel.”

John the Baptist - Leonardo de Vinci

John the Baptist – Leonardo de Vinci

The address is concluded with the words “Truth is not back there  somewhere, nor over there somewhere, but only, always, and ever, up there.” He evokes the painting of St. John the Baptist by Leonardo de Vinci, with his right hand held up to heaven as emblematic of the traditional astrologer.

Undoubtedly this “beating each other on the head” is one of the greatest and most recent curses in astrological circles and there is really no reason why we should assume that the older something is, the better it must be. Antiquities do of course have a grat deal of value of their own. They show us where we come from and where we might be going. But antiquity is not the guarantor  of truth. We don’t believe that the newest ideas are inherently better, either.

The truth of the matter is that the longer we practise and study astrology and study the greatest sources, the better our chances are of using astrology as a divinatory method. One has to be careful about the sources we employ. The truth is that we would be very fortunate indeed to find a mere 20% of astrological theory to be of any useful purpose at all.

To put things in the simplest possible terms, modern astrologers subscribe to the theory  that more is always better. Every new asteroid discovered might be just the thing the fill the void. If a handful of asteroids helps us, then surely scores of them will finally paint the full picture and we will finally realise why we are the way we are, And how can there be any question that three Liliths are better than one.

The great divorce between Traditional and  Modern was perhaps most greatly felt in the ‘loss” or addition of Uranus. Neptune and Pluto. Indeed, for many contemporary astrologers, the outer planets are seen as the most significant and the significance of these was taken directly from the original seven sacred planets and luminaries.

Those who subscribe to Traditional or Classical Astrology face a rather different kind of dilemma: One soon finds out that Traditional Astrologers throughout history didn’t agree with each other. Of course, many of the differences are slight. But when we study horoscopic astrology from the Hellenistic period to the Seventeenth Century, we find that in some cases the differences are irreconcilable. They may negate one another altogether.

The process is an art. To be an excellent astrologer. one needs to read and understand to the best of one’s abilities what out forbearers wanted to pass on. We find that there are certain elements of the art that remain more of less constant – such as the association of Planets to Signs and the projection of mostly agreed upon specific archetypal constellations – although not necessarily universally understood. William Lilly very much admired Guidi Bonatti, but he didn’t follow him in every respect.

Further, sometimes famous astrologers break their own rules. Rather than accept these facts, there are some, like the ones Frawley mentions, who find the oldest and most arcane sources to beat their fellow astrologers over the head with. This is a form of snobbery that does little or nothing to further our art.

More puzzling are those traditional astrologers who have returned to using the outer planets in specialized forms of astrology, such as horary and the astrology of horse racing. Ironically these are mostly the followers of John Frawley, whose The Real Astrology seemed for a time to define Traditional Astrology as understood in the school of William Lilly.

The composer Gustav Mahler,  is alleged to have said that “Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame”

The fact is that neither uniformity or an insatiable appetite for the exotic for its own sake has ever been the cause of greatness, at any time in the history of the world. The one is born of fear and a lack of imagination and the second a sign of undisciplined self-indulgence.

This shouldn’t be the cause of undue anxiety or doubt in the process. We would neither expect nor desire that all painters throughout history used the same techniques or resorted to the same subject matter. No art worth seriously considering stands still. However, all great art is mindful of its place among the wider body of art.

To take tradition to a place of inspiration, we need to look closely at the idea of divination.

The Oxford English Dictionary defined divination as “The practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” The core term is “divine” or “divining.”

The concept of the unknown is something scientists can easily embrace, bur the term “supernatural” is associated with a lack of rationality and superstition and is therefore highly problematic to them. It infers a higher level of consciousness when applied to the idea of divination.

Albert Einstein’s familiar quote that “”No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” is germane to this discussion. The question becomes: how may we reveal something hitherto unknown to us by discerning its divine essence.

Jan_Cornelisz._Vermeyen_006 (1)The calling of Apostle John at the Marriage at Cana. Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen

The calling of Apostle John at the Marriage at Cana. Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen

My favourite Gospel is that of John the Divine. It provides a succinct, et immeasurably deep way in which the divine is manifest or “takes flesh” John was probably a Hellenized Jew, which means he would be have been intimate with the works of Plato and the concept of the creative word or Logos. It is regarded by many as the most mystical Gospel. Some have said it is itself Neo-Platonic in expression.

The painting at the head of this article depicts John the Divine standing in front of a chalice. This is in part an allusion to the an event at the Marriage at Cana  The serpent rising out of the chalice is a symbol of poison in this case and the blessing draws it out making the wine or water pure. The Logos is understood as a heightened sense of Wisdom.  It is the essence and origin of the light. Like all mystical writers. as well as more prosaic ones. John uses metaphors to convey his ideas.

” 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Marin V. Vincent does an admirable job of explaining the meaning of ‘Logos’ in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “Λόγος is from the root λεγ, appearing in λεγω, the primitive meaning of which is to lay: then, to pick out, gather, pick up: hence to gather or put words together, and so, to speak. Hence λόγος is, first of all, a collecting or collection both of things in the mind, and of words by which they are expressed. It therefore signifies both the outward form by which the inward thought is expressed, and the inward thought itself, the Latin oratio and ratio: compare the Italian ragionare, “to think” and “to speak.” The Meaning of ‘Logos’ in the Prologue of John’s Gospel Marvin R. Vincent,  vol. 2 (New York1887), p. 25

The metaphor is developed by reference to Moses .In John 3:13-15 we find ” 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The painting is executed by Piero di Cosimo (Piero_di_Lorenzo) in 1500 and the artist has portrayed John as a Renaissance Magus. The majority of his opus is decidedly Neo-Platonic The developed metaphor of the blessing of the serpent suggests a transformation by Divine blessing that brings forth wisdom out of venom.

di Cosimo he had a reputation for being highly eccentric and is perhaps best known for his “Portrait de Femme dit de Simonetta Vespucci” which features a benign looking serpent entwined in the the necklace. of a young lady, apparently a great beauty of Florence who also inspired Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”

Piero_di_Cosimo_-_Portrait de femme dit_de_Simonetta Vespucci_

Piero di Cosimo_ Portrait de femme dit de Simonetta Vespucci

If we apply this metaphor to divination, we already know that everything and every person comes to us from a divine source and the chart we use is like a mirror of the soul. It has the stamp of its origin, the Image of God. Interpretation comes as a heightened sense of consciousness or divine intuition. The master astrologers of the past usually prayed before reading a chart. There are many ways to do this and each must find their own way of opening the gate.

When we have drawn up a Nativity for example, we have the seed, or the particular vintage if you will, that can be read because it is Form.. in the Platonic sense – or the Logos in the more specific and mystical Hellenistic sense.

Once we know what we have to do, choosing a system that will best serve us is made much easier’ All the elements of our astrological palette may be selected, just as one choose the right brush, the wisdom of our ancestors and our own experience come together. There is no place for rote learning and fcertainly not for snobbery. Ours is a divine art.

I leave the Apostle James with the final words.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James. 1.17

 

 

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