Difference Between Astrology and Astronomy
One difference between astrology and astronomy is that astrology attempts to relate the motions of the sun, moon, and planets to the realm of human affairs, while astronomy considers those bodies (and others in the heavens) in their own right and in relation to one another, not to people.
Where the art and the science converge is in the agreement that the other bodies of the solar system affect the behavior of our own planet. Pluto, the tiny twin-planet farthest from the sun, for example, was discovered because of unexplained perturbations in the orbits of the others.
I assume all can agree that what affects our planet also affects us, since we dwell on its surface and are made of its stuff. No person living on Earth can deny the effects of day and night (the earth’s turning) on our exitence. In the temperate zones of the planet, our affairs are also shapped by the orbit of the tilted earth round the sun (which we experience as the seasons). What’s more, lunar effects on earthlife are noted in every tidewater chart, and lunar effects on the human psyche are at least reflected in our language, in words like lunacy, lunatic, looney [bin], and even looney toons, though the observations giving rise to insanity’s association with the moon are lost to us.
Astronomy leaves me longing to know how I fit in the big picture. It teases me with the truth about the origins of my own existence, but the carrot in front of my nose leads me far from my own experience and into mathematical estoterica. Astrology, as conventionally practiced, tantalizes me, too, but leads me into a dazzling confusion of value judgments which often seem more fanciful and capricious than grounded in any familiar reality.
In an effort to find the middle ground between the two (and indeed to reconcile my own tyranny of reason with a craving for personal “meaning,” for want of a better word), I’ve studied some of both disciplines and have finally lost my appetite for carrots. Instead, I’ve brought my rudimentary knowledge of astronomy and my musings about astrology to my subjective experience of looking at the sky with my own two eyes and living with awareness of its great rhythms.
Where I live, the high desert of rural northeast Nevada, has mattered hugely to this enterprise. The seasons are extreme here, the summer warm and often blindingly bright, the winter bitterly cold with nights too long. And the sky is enormous and uncluttered; there’s little smog, few urban lights, and virtually no trees.
In observing, I’ve been aware of how much technology and specialization have cost us as individuals. We believe “we” know so much more than our ancestors about most of the natural world, but it’s not “we” who know, individually; rather we’ve deferred our knowing to “them,” the mysterious “they” out there who speak the language of mathematics and know the proper taxonomies for naming and classifying everything from plants to stars, or the other “they” who have special “secret” information and maybe psychic abilities.
My own observations have inclined me to become ever simpler in my conclusions. Day and night affect me. Seasons affect me. And Mercury retrograde in 2018 will affect me. The light of the moon indeed makes a difference to my evenings and nights, and, yes, to my mood as well.
The fruits of my subjective study began to express themselves in Astrology: A Retelling, which tapped as much into my poetic sensibilities as my reasoning. In the course of work on that project, a light has dawned. I’ve discovered that all my probings point to the issue of time itself, its relativity and its rhythms. The astrology work remains unfinished. (I may resume that work once this digression is complete.) What commences here rests upon solidly upon it and begins anew.
In a nutshell, what I came to was this:
We see the same cycle replicating itself everywhere in nature:
In the day we have dawn, noon, sunset, midnight.
In the seasons of the sun we have spring ( like dawn), summer (like noon), autumn (like sunset), and winter (like midnight).
In the phases of the moon we have the new moon (like midnight and winter), first quarter (like spring and dawn), the full moon (like noon and summer), and waning quarter (like sunset and autumn)
In the plant world we have the sprouting of a seed, the growing of leaf and stalk, the blooming, the going to seed, the dying, and then the cycle begins again. In animal life, too, we have similar phases.
We have names for 12 exactly equal phases of the Cycle, which everywhere repeats itself, the names we give to the 12 seasons of the sun in the northern temperate zone, but they could as well describe 12 phases of any cycles here on earth, including life cycles:
- Capricorn (winter solstice, echoic of midnight and the new moon) followed by conception of the next cycle in Aquarius and Pisces.
- Aries (spring equinox, echoic of dawn and first quarter moon) followed by Taurus and Gemini
- Cancer (summer solstice, echoic of high noon and the full moon) followed by Leo and Virgo
- Libra (autumn equinox, echoic of sunset and the last quarter moon) followed by Scorpio and Sagittarius
Why we’re prone to dividing time by twelfths (as we do the year and the hours of the day and night) is the topic for a different discussion. Here, we simply stand on the ground of tradition.
There is nothing esoteric or mysterious about the names listed above or the seasons they represent (that the names also apply to constellations is the result of historic alignment of equinoxes and solstices with arbitrary groupings of stars). Capricorn is always, precisely the 1/12th of a year following winter solstice, the darkest day of the year; Aries the 1/12th of a year following spring equinox; Cancer the 1/12the year following summer solstice; and Libra the 1/12th year following autumn equinox. Each of the four seasons is divided in three equal parts.
Our experience with the seasons and the capacity for metaphoric thinking make it fairly simple to ascribe attributes to each one of the phases, in the same manner I did on the Astrology web site.
The duration of our days and nights, our measure of hours is entirely a function of the speed at which earth turns. Most any other planetary home in the universe would give us different days, maybe none at all. The length of our years is an product of earth’s orbit round the sun; a year is also earth-specific. The tilt of our planet gives us seasons. These rhythms very likely apply no where else in the universe.
But more than this, our close neigbhorhood in the cosmos is our own solar system, each body obeying its own rhythm and each affecting the rhythm of every other. It’s an incredible clock, an awesome series of rhythms we live inside of. The cycles of the earth’s turning and orbiting are merely the most obvious, but all surely affect us, perhaps subtly, or perhaps so completely and surely that the effects hover beneath our awareness.
Summer lures us outdoors and makes our travels easy, while winter inclines us to retreat and be still. The full moon makes the night friendlier and brighter; the new moon makes nocturnal navigation nearly impossible. Of course, we compensate with air conditioning and electric lights, but still we feel the effects, even if we don’t consciously notice them any more.
The time of day, the season of the year, the phase of the moon all affect my outlook, how I perceive myself, others, and life in general. The season in which I “jumped into” life (I’m thinking here of jumprope) seems to have imprinted itself on me and conferred a sort of native outlook. I’m an autumn baby, born in afternoon, under an old moon; my native outlook is very different from that of a person born at dawn in spring under a waxing moon.
If you doubt the imprinting at birth, look at this chart representing hits to the various pages of the Astrology site. I think it’s safe to assume that if a person reads nothing else she will read the page describing her own sign. If this is so, autumn people (those reflective souls born at the twilight of the year) and Pisceans (those born in the year’s predawn) are most interested in astrology; summer people are by far the least.
And my age, my current season of life, also confers an outlook. This way of thinking inclines me to tolerance for those different from myself.
Astrology has long been used to characterize people based on the configuration of planets at the time of birth. What results is a rather static definition of attributes along with, perhaps, a set of instructions about how to prevail (remain constant or in control) through a series of planetary transits during one’s life.
Definitions of ourselves are often interesting to us when the arrive, but before long even the most flattering definitiions become traps, threatening to box us into attribute and disallow growth and change. And sustaining our will and purpose through transits and phases is a very different intention from living inside of and in harmony with natural rhythms. A crude example of the difference in intention is this: winter is coming; we’ll have to import tomatoes from Mexico. Or, winter is coming; it’s time to eat smoked meat and grains and nuts and roots.
What the planets and moon confer on our days most clearly are rhythms, a great synchrony of rhythms. In synchronizing ourselves with those rhythms, we attune ourselves to the medium in which we find ourselves awake and living. I suspect such alignment awakens our best potentials and allows fulfilment with the least possible resistance.