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A personal view on whether astrology will survive, prosper or decline

I have had a long standing view that astrology is in decline.  From my perspective, it peaked in the the mid 1980s, and went downhill ever since.  To illustrate this, in the 1980s you could go into a bookshop, and see shelves that were packed with astrology books, by mainstream publishers.  And subject matter was often technical – harmonics, midpoints, rectification.

This growth in astrology was driven by early baby-boomers.  When I was teaching astrology in the early 1990s, it was amazing how many of my students were born in 1946.  Their guru was also born in this year, and she was Liz Greene, who stormed into prominience in the late 1970s with her book Saturn: A new look at an old devil.  Being born in 1962, and a late baby-boomer, I wasn’t quite on the same wave length as my students, and I wasn’t a big fan of Liz Greene’s work.  Still, I did have the honour of shaking her hand.  It was in 1987, when she gave me my diploma at the Faculty of Astrological Studies’ Autumn conference.

The late 1980s was also interesting because it was peak psychology.  Those born in 1946 loved their Jungian astrology, and they were often in therapy themselves.  And of course Liz Greene, who herself is a Jungian analyst, ruled the roost.  However there were problems.  I went through the Faculty of Astrological Studies’ diploma course, and I remember seeing a client with an Indian background.  I waxed lyrical about his personality, and at the end of our reading, he asked me whether I could recommend a good astrologer.  The astrology of the 1980s had almost forgotten about prediction.  Though I should say, in defence of Liz Greene, that she did predict the collapse of Communism, on the basis of the outer planet aspects current in the late 1980s.

As we moved into the early 1990s, things started to change.  The consensus around psychological astrology was starting to break.  The person largely responsible for this break-up was an old woman called Olivia Barclay.  In terms of influence, she was probably one of the Twentieth Century’s most important astrologers.  She was a traditionalist, who publicized William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, that first came out in the 1640s.  Olivia, in spite of living in the UK, was probably more popular in the US, and she played a big role in the rediscovery of traditional astrology.

However, Olivia did have a negative influence.  She helped end the collegial spirit in astrology, the idea we are all working on the same wonderful project.  There was an increasing split between psychological and traditional astrology, and I believe that this fragmentation intensified over the following decades.  In terms of my own role in, I did Olivia’s correspondence course in horary astrology.  To begin with the course was one long argument.  I remember one comment she put on my homework: “You are only interested in arguments.  I am interested in the truth”.  She was a Sagittarian, by the way, and I am a Gemini.  But by the time I completed the course I was completely indoctrinated.  The psychological approach I had learned at the Faculty of Astrological Studies had been flushed out, and I was better able to deal with clients who wanted concrete predictions.  I also took any opportunity to attack psychological astrology, and for a year or two I took on the role of Olivia’s attack dog.  Mars rising in Taurus, I suppose.

The early 1990s was also important because there was a recession, certainly in the UK.  The First Gulf War was followed by a crash in property prices, and people had less money.  At the time I had my own astrology school.  I thought, after six months, that it was going well, with full classes.  Then suddenly, it fell off a cliff.  At the same time the astrological publishing industry collapsed.  It became virtually impossible to get books on astrology published, unless you did it yourself.  Actually, and amazingly, I did manage to get two books published by an imprint of Penguin in the mid-1990s.  This was because my co-author, Barbara Dunn, was astrologer for Cosmopolitan.

However, there was one area of astrology that did very well in the 1990s.  And that was premium rate horoscope phone lines.  If you were a newspaper or magazine astrologer, you recorded premium rate lines, which made a huge amount of money.  This meant that the only astrologers making a decent living were the ones who were doing columns.  And getting a column was like winning the lottery.  It didn’t help, in the UK, that a few famous names had the whole thing sewn up – for example Patric Walker and Jonathan Cainer.

Through the 1990s and 2000s there was a broad decline in astrology, though we did see Olivia Barclay’s vision starting to be realized.  Although I don’t know the full details, it was probably important that veteran astrologer Robert Hand and ARHAT took a big leadership in the rediscovery of traditional techniques.  I should also say that I am looking at things from a British perspective.  The US is a much larger territory, and it is easier in America for niche interests to survive and prosper.

Fast forward to 2020, and there is a evidence of a massive revival in astrology.  Recently the press has been full of articles about millennials getting into astrology, perhaps because it provides meaning in an uncertain world.  Furthermore, there has been an explosion in knowledge about traditional Greek techniques, that is often spear-headed by younger astrologers, such as Chris Brennan.  Olivia Barclay didn’t know about many of these techniques, but I do believe that modern traditional astrologers owe her a big debt, for starting the ball rolling.

You would have thought, as the world goes into crisis, that astrology is going to take off in a big way.  However, we shouldn’t forget the recession of the early 1990s.  It caused a huge amount of damage to astrology, as I have just described.  What about the 1929 recession?  That’s interesting.  In 1930 a British astrologer, R.H. Naylor, had a column in The Sunday Express.  In October 1930 he wrote “A British aircraft will be in danger”.  In fact, the paper with his prediction hit the stands on Sunday October 5.  That same day a British airship, the R101, exploded in flames in Beauvais, France.  Short-term, his career was made, and he got himself a regular sun sign column.  Maybe his star sign forecasts helped the British people make sense of the economic downturn, and how it affected their lives.

However, one could argue that sun sign astrology is not real astrology. At best it is a few wise words, which are appropriate to any situation, at worst it’s fluff. And when the real crisis came, in the form of the Second World War, Naylor lost his column.  War is a serious business, and astrology is an irrelevance.  However in Nazi Germany there were people who took astrology seriously, including top Nazi Rudolf Hess.  In 1942, on a whim, he got in a plane and flew to Scotland.  He thought he might be able to broker some kind of peace between Britain and Germany.  The Nazi regime thought that astrology might have influenced his decision, and as a result astrology was banned.

The present crisis is still to play out.  It will definitely cause a reset in the  astrology world.  The idea that astrology will become some millennial lifestyle accessory will bite the dust – because it is not a time for triviality.  And in the short-term, it will probably become more difficult to make money out of astrology, unless you’re an established player.  Also, with Saturn moving into Aquarius, and a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in December 2020, styles and tastes are going to change.  The kind of astrology that is popular now may not be popular in a few years time.

I appreciate this article is full of generalizations.  Feel free to comment, correct and disagree.


{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Bruce MacFinlay April 4, 2020, 3:39 pm

    Very interesting article – despite, as you say, “generalisations”. The history of astrologies popularity and decline is very valuable I find. I have been studying Astrology and all exciting gems within it since teenage years and I will soon be 62 (22May1958 – Asc-19.38-Scorpio). Without reviewing history we have no understanding. A joy to know the past, learn the lessons which indicate future probabilities. The 80’s were exciting. Like the “Thunderbirds” TV Show – “anything can happen inthe next half-hour” … dan dan dan daaaan.

    • Archie Dunlop April 4, 2020, 6:48 pm

      I think the modern history of astrology is important. I take the view that last important innovation in astrology was the cosmobiology of Witte and Ebertin. After that, it is a desert. I am currently trying to work out what will happen to astrology next.

  • Bruce MacFinlay April 4, 2020, 3:42 pm

    Also, thanks for a great informative article – loved it.

  • Ian Delaney May 9, 2020, 12:10 pm

    The problem with astrology as I see it is that the technical side (which you refer to as being in vogue in the 1980’s) seems to have been largely ignored. Instead we have the persistence dominance of Sun sign forecasting/typology which on the one hand merely caters to sensationalism, and worse reduces the subject to an absurd level of simplicity.

    When I completed formal diploma studies in 1998 I arrived at the awkward realisation that traditional methodology often fell far short of actually explaining what was going on the chart and why. It was also apparent that a lot of pioneering work had been done in the area of midpoints and harmonics by the likes of John Addey, Michael Harding etc. and this witnessed the publication of works which really broke new ground.
    The issue here is that despite the promise these methods held, they never seem to have caught on in a big way.

    Where astrology needs to toughen up its act is to start asking awkward questions about the accuracy and reliability of the methods that it takes for granted. It also requires more of an intellectually rigorous approach that can demonstrate where effects are actually emanating from, whilst still acknowledging the spiritual side which it seems has also been ignored in favour of the vague psychological model which captivated so many minds.

    • Archie Dunlop May 10, 2020, 9:10 pm

      Going back to the 1980s, this was the last time that astrology was collegial. People accepted each other’s approaches, and there was a general open-mindedness. So people learned about midpoints and harmonics, but they didn’t necessarily use them. While studying at the Faculty, I did Mike Harding’s class on midpoints and harmonics, which I enjoyed. However as far as I can see, few people have any interest in them. Right now I use midpoints, and I am happy to adopt the hypotheticals. In partiuclar, I find Hades words very well. This means that I have to develop a philosophy of astrology that can incorporate the hypotheticals. As to why midpoints and harmonics didn’t catch on, they lack the imagery of the regular horoscope. They step away from the security of signs and houes, and you’re left with something like:

      HA = AS/VU = AS/MO = VE

      It’s not very fuzzy, is it? But I think it describes Donald Trump’s charisma very well, and how it is interlaced with a fundamental meanness.

      Midpoints are analytical, which is not what the masses want. It is kind of sad. I go to the astrology Reddit, and see people asking about astrology and sexuality, and not once do they consider analyzing the VE/MA midpoint. It seems very basic to me.

      • Ian Delaney June 3, 2020, 12:29 pm

        Archie, your reply kind of hits the nail firmly on the head! I had been scratching my head for some time and wondering why more astrologers were not paying midpoints any attention.

        I have in mind writing a book on the subject, which at present is a work in progress. It will not be another COSI but more a personal reflection on how I have experienced midpoints in my own life and that of others.

        The problem as I see it is that astrologers have no consensus about how influences in the chart actually operate, or where they are coming from. If someone has Saturn on say So/Mo or As/Mc but have no grasp on midpoint theory, how then are they going to account for a strong Saturn?

        An example of this that comes to mind is a recent article I read about the late millionaire John Paul Getty. He had a direct midpoint hit of Mo = Ju/Pl. The article was steeped in Ptolemaic language about rulerships, dispositorships and the like to explain his great wealth, but to my mind these methods cannot be reliably proven and do not stand the test of scrutiny. Nothing at all was said about this midpoint combination, or the fact that he has Pl = As/Mc to within a few minutes of exactitude. If you ignore these factors, you are missing valuable information.

        Going on your last point, it is concerning to me that astrologers are catering to “what the masses want”. At the expense of sounding aloof or elitist, astrologers should be aiming to fine tune and raise standards within the subject, and not merely be content with accepting and propagating received wisdom. Regrettably, this seems to constitute the majority of what passes as astrology nowadays.

        • Archie Dunlop June 3, 2020, 6:02 pm

          The trouble is that astrology has broken down, and one person’s opinion is no better than another’s. Furthermore, information is take from the internet rather than books. I think this is an important point. People don’t seem to like reading books any more, and of course with astrology you need to read books. These books can be expensive, at least seem expensive. There are people out therefore who proclaim a serious interest in astrology and don’t own an ephemeris. If they don’t own an ephemeris, then they are not going to own COSI… or Rules for Planetary Pictures. I love Rules for Planetary Pictures, by the way. It has an almost oracular nature.

          As far as midpoints are concerned, one of the main takeaways I got from Mike Harding’s course in the 1980s was the importance of SU/MO and A/M. The example Charles Harvey gave of SU/MO was Janis Joplin. It was a chart that didn’t make sense, until you took into account her JU=SO/MO. You can read the description in Working with Astrology. However, I am not saying that you have to use midpoints. I just looked at Getty’s chart, and actually, it is very simple. He has Saturn in Libra in the 9th. Well, actually, if you use whole sign houses, it is in the 10th. And indeed exactlu square the Ascendant. It is a very strong Saturn, exalted, a diurnal planet in a diurnal chart, above the horizon, in a masculine sign. I think the 9th makes more sense than the 10th, in the sense that Getty enjoyed travel, was a linguist, and made money through overseas contacts.

          I don’t know about MO=JU/PL, but perhaps NE=PL=A/M says it all.

          • Ian Delaney June 3, 2020, 8:32 pm

            I really wish that Mike Harding had written a more substantial follow up book to Working With Astrology which is now over 30 years old. I do have a copy of his later work Hymns to the Ancient Gods in which he proposes the intriguing theory of zodiacal “memory” but I found it a little too heavy, especially as I have no education in psychology.

            His 1989 book which he co authored with the late Charles Harvey is badly in need of expanding but so few authors in the astrological field have ventured into the areas that this publication touched on. For example, over the past couple of years I have been looking at coalescents which are really a harmonic version of midpoints. I have found that the fractional harmonic values of certain pairs are as powerful and revealing as their zodiacal counterparts, and sometimes interact with midpoints in longitude in odd ways. I need to get these ideas out on my blog site when time permits, but it is difficult to get other astrologers on board so I guess this might be a lone project!

          • Archie Dunlop June 3, 2020, 8:48 pm

            The weird thing about midpoints is that they didn’t really survive the full transition to the computer age. This is strange, because before computers, midpoints were a nightmare to calculate. But also before computers, there were barriers to entry. You needed a basic level of mathematical proficiency to be an astrologer, which you no longer need. So pre-computers, the kind of person who enjoyed hand calculating things might be the kind of person who enjoyed playing with laminated dials. With the advent of computers, the barriers have gone, and it’s a free for all.

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