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A Treatise on Astrology, Liber 536 by Aleister Crowley, 1917

1. The General Principles of Astrology

The physical constitution of the Universe is the basis of the science of Astrology; and in order to explain from what principles we deduce our judgments of its movements we must endeavour to gain a clear idea of the nature of those movements.

Many people have an idea that the solar system is more or’ less spherical in shape. This is not the case. It is, roughly speaking, a flat disk. It whirls in one plane. The planets depart slightly from this plane, but only slightly. How this state of affairs came to be, has long been the problem of Astronomy, and it is not yet satisfactorily settled. But the general idea is that there was at one time, we do not know why or how, an enormous flaming mass revolving in space. In course of time certain heavier portions collected together by the force of gravity, and this mass being coherent, was flung off, retaining. however, its general movement with regard to space, but having also a revolutionary movement of its own in the same plane. This body constantly radiating its heat into space gradually contracted and solidified. This first body was the planet Neptune. It is by no means certain that Neptune is the most distant planet. Students of astronomy are well aware of how it was discovered. In calculating the movement of Uranus certain perturbations were discovered which could not be accounted for by any of the known planets. Astronomers were therefore led to imagine that there might be some other body yet undiscovered and probably beyond Uranus. Calculations were made to determine the probable position of such a body, which was then looked for with extreme care, and ultimately Adams and Le Verrier discovered the limits of its possible position with such accuracy that Galle of Berlin discovered it in 1846. Further observations and calculations show that there are still certain movements of Uranus not fully accounted for by Neptune; and there are also perturbations in Neptune himself which suggests that there may still be another planet outside Neptune. If 5Q, however, the distance is probably very great indeed. Our reasons for thinking so are based on Bode’s Law. Bode was a German astronomer who flourished in the last half of the eighteenth and first quarter of the nineteenth century and the law to which he has given his name is as follows.

If we take the number 4 and divide it by 10 we get the distance of Mercury from the Sun in astronomical units. The astronomical units being the main distance from the Earth to the Sun – add 4 to 3 and divide it by 4 and we obtain the distance of Venus; add twice 3 to 4 and we get .the distance of the Earth; add twice twice 3 to 4 and we get the distance of Mars; add twice twice twice 3 to 4 and we get the mean distance of the asteroids. This same proportion continues, multiplying 3 four times by 2 and adding it to 4, and then dividing by 10 we get the mean distance of Jupiter. Multiplying the 3 by 2 once more we get the distance of Saturn; yet again and we get that of Uranus. With Neptune, however, the law breaks down. According to that law the mean distance should be 38.8, whereas it is only 30. No real reason is known for this law, though it is hoped that light may be thrown upon the subject by further researches in celestial mechanics and the evolution of the solar system. The law was at least of this service, that it led to the discovery of the Asteroids, which are supposed to be the fragments of an exploded planet. No satisfactory explanation of the exception of Neptune to this law has been put forth.

The same process repeated itself several times, and thus were formed Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, the Asteroids, Mars, the Earth, Venus, Mercury. Many other bodies were formed in precisely the same way, but they lacked the principle of coherence in the same degree and, soon after separating from the Sun, themselves broke up into Asteroids and meteors, countless millions of which throng interplanetary space. Some of these bodies, moreover, behaved at first like the sun itself, and threw off smaller bodies of the class which we call ‘moons’. These were very small in comparison to the present orb, cooled quickly, and lost their internal revolutionary movement. The moon of the earth, for example, though it still revolves around the earth, no longer turns upon its own axis, and always presents to us the same face.

The important item in all this is that all these movements, complex as they are, and we have made no attempt to describe that complexity in detail, but merely to give a crude idea, take place in one plane of no great thickness and in the same main directions.

Now the fixed stars lie about the sun at distances immeasurably greater than even the farthest of the planets. It is impossible for the human mind to form any conception of the magnitude of space. These stars surround the sun completely; there is no part of the heavens in which they are not. But to resume the simile of the wheel, if we look along the spokes of that wheel, we shall perceive a narrow band of stars, and . these naturally group themselves into twelve constellations disposed at approximately equal distances. We pay more attention to these stars because they lie in the same plane as the general movement of the solar system, and their influence consequently combines naturally with that of the planets. Their effects have been studied from time immemorial with the utmost care and described by ancient astrologers. To these constellations names have been given. They are as follows: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces. These names are mostly those of symbolic animals. It is very fanciful to try to see any resemblance of these animals in the relative positions of the stars concerned. The names have been given because of the astrological significance thereof, and this is one of the many proofs that astrology is older than astronomy.

The materialistic school of philosophy has endeavoured to give the impression that we possess some real knowledge of the nature of the forces which we see at work around us. Such an impression is entirely false. All forces are essentially mysterious. We know from observation, comparison and measurement how they act. We cannot even form any reasonable conception of their true character. Let us take, for example, the force of gravity. In order to explain its action, men of science have been obliged to postulate a substance called ‘the ether’, They have been obliged to define this ether in mathematical terms. It is infinitely rigid, infinitely elastic, infinitely tenuous, infinitely imponderable. That is to say, it is not matter at all in any ordinary sense of the word, for it possesses qualities involving infinities and therefore is rather theoretical than actual.

In the same way nobody knows what electricity really is. There is a story of a professor who was declaiming to this effect before a class of students and wound up by thundering dramatically. ‘Does anybody know what electricity is?’ A student in the back of the hall, overcome by the heat or the discourse, had been half asleep. The last sentence aroused him and he sprang from his seat from habit. Then meeting the cold eye of the professor, he became embarrassed, stammered, ‘I knew, Sir, but I’ve forgotten.’ ‘Just my luck,’ retorted the learned man. ‘There was only one man in the whole world who knew and he has forgotten.’

If we take even so simple a phenomenon as the expansion of bodies though the action of heat, we are equally involved in mystery. There is a son of theory that for some reason the molecules of a body move more violently when what is called heat is applied to them, because heat is conceived of as a mode of manifestation or accompanying attribute of motion. But these molecules are themselves quite theoretical. Their existence has been invented in order to explain certain phenomena of chemical action. These imaginary molecules are composed of ye t more imaginary atoms, which were defined, as the name implies, as ultimate indivisible particles of homogenous matter, but that was just a century ago, and since then, all sorts of other phenomena have been observed which make it impossible any longer to imagine the atom as in divisible – hence has arisen a new hypothesis, that of electrons, and when you inquire of the physicist as to whether these electrons are matter, he may tell you that, on the whole, the least unreasonable theory is that which supposes them to be merely strains in the ether. In other words, the things which are, have been resolved by science into combinations of things which are not. If you ask a modern chemist or physicist for his definition of matter, he will reply to you in terms identical with those which were used by the philosophers of the Middle Ages to define Spirit.

The astrologer is more frank than the professor of other sciences. He does not endeavour to conceal his ignorance beneath an elaborately embroidered cloak of metaphysical phrases. He is content to accept the dictum of the Schoolmen, omnia exeunt in mysterium, [everything ends in mystery], by which they meant that if you follow any idea far enough – if you keep on asking how and why and what, instead of resting contented with a superficial, halfway explanation, the result is always the same. You reach the blank wall of the inconceivable. If there be any person of the present day so ignorant as not to recognize the value of astrology and base his judgment on materialistic groups, let him read Herbert Spencer’s First Principles In that book which ranks with David Hume’s as one of the most masterly treatises on nature, as seen by scientific scepticism, he will find it prove with admirable lucidity that no possible theory of God or of nature is satisfactory to the mind. Nay more, he shows that no such theory is even intelligible to the mind.

As practical people, we shall therefore do well not to worry ourselves too much about metaphysics. We had better acquiesce in the statement that everything is relative and confine ourselves to observing and measuring the forces which we perceive in action. It is not an argument against Astrology to inquire why does the movement of a certain planet produce certain effects. We do not know any more than the physicist knows why a nerve contracts on the application of an electric current. We do not wish to make so philosophical an inquiry. We are only concerned to inform ourselves as to whether it acts. Theoretical a priori considerations must not be advanced in astrology any more than any other science. Such considerations have been the curse of every science. They have done more to retard the progress of science than any other form of human folly. The reader should study the works of T.X. Huxley on this point. In former days people would begin their deductions from what they supposed to be an indisputable proof of the attributes of the Divinity. Whenever they came across a fact which appeared out of harmony with this preconceived idea of His nature they tried to explain away the fact, but as facts are ‘chiels that winna ding’ they saw that their castle in the air must tumble and consequently resorted to the expedient of burning any person alive who appeared interested in the discovery of awkward facts. Such a policy was naturally suicidal.

Now, astrology has nothing whatever to do with any theories of nature. Like every sane science, It contents itself with the true scientific method. Suppose we are on a shooting range – we sec a puff of smoke and hear a report. In another part of the ground almost immediately afterwards, we hear a bell ring or see a nag wave. There is no reason whatever to suppose any connection between these events. They may be pure coincidences. Suppose, however, we see the same thing happen a hundred times running or even suppose that we see the flash, hear the shot a hundred times and that on seventy or eighty occasions the waving of the flag followed, the situation becomes entirely different. We have, then, a right to say that there is, in all probability, some causal connection. It would however still remain incomprehensible. to us, why a flash in one part of the earth should cause the waving of a flag in another part. There would be nothing to tell us that there was a preconcerted arrangement between the shooter, the marker, and even if we were subsequently informed that such was the case, we should still be at a loss for the motives of such an arrangement, and in order to discover these we should have to dive into a dozen sciences, ballistics, history, ethnology, and I know not how many more. At the end of all that we should find ourselves up against the great metaphysical problem which we have already dismissed as improbable.

But it would be quite fair for the observer to draw certain practical deductions. If he noticed that the flag was waved immediately after the shot was fired on a thousand consecutive┬Ě occasions, he would be perfectly justified in predicting that the next time the flash came the flag would follow. This prediction, like any other, would not be a certainty. It would only be a very strong probability, but humanity habitually acts on probabilities of this kind. If I walk down Fifth Avenue, a motorcar may smash a wheel or skid or in some other way go wrong and interfere with my peaceful promenade upon the sidewalk, but I shall be a great fool if I avoid the sidewalk for any such reason. In other words I habitually predict that no such accident will occur. So far things have fallen out according to my expectations.

Now when an astrologer predicts that a person with Mars in the seventh house afflicted will make an unhappy marriage, if he marry at all, he is employing precisely the same qualities of sound reason and judgment based on scientific observation and comparison of innumerable facts. He has observed and noted and tabulated; filed among his papers are hundreds of horoscopes in which this position occurs and in every case, the person born with this position has been unfortunate in wedlock. He is, therefore, absolutely justified when he sees another such figure in predicting unhappy marriage.

It must not be expected that any responsible astrologer claims to be absolutely right t. There are extreme complexities in the study of astrology. It appears that there are certain unknown forces which may interfere with even the most probable judgment. There are times, for example, when a person may pass through very bad aspects without feeling any ill effects. For some reason or other, those aspects have not been excited to action. There are a dozen theories to account for this apparent irregularity. It is not possible in this brief introduction to go into them fully but there are so many and so subtle forces to take into consideration that it is occasionally impossible to divine astrologically why any given event should take place even when the matter is considered after it has happened.

There is another and exceedingly important point – ‘forewarned is forearmed’. If a person appears to be in danger of drowning, one can avert the threat by keeping him away from water. This is one of the most useful functions of astrology. It may be, let us grant, that the astrologer is mistaken, that there is not really any danger as supposed, but it cannot do his client any harm to act sensibly and every good astrologer is full of worldly wisdom and commonsense. These considerations apply specially in horary consultations when the astrologer is sought on account of some pressing anxiety or trouble; such natural good judgment as the consultant may possess is at such times interfered with by the disturbance of his mind and the counsel of the astrologer cannot be otherwise than beneficial.

However, it would be absurd to rate so low the claim of the astrologer to help mankind. On certain main points, such as the connection of the personal appearance with the sign rising at the time of birth or the position of the Sun in the Zodiac, as the influence of Saturn in the tenth house or Mars in the Ascendant, and a thousand others, the probability of cause and connection is so enormous that no sane person who studies the facts with intelligence and without prejudice, can fail to be convinced that astrology is a positive, constructive and all but infallible science.

Just as in fractional distillation, the first vapours which come over are very different in character from those which arise from the application of greater heat, so the successive formation of the planets has given them very varied natures. The subtle influence which is disengaged from them and shed upon Earth by their rays has been carefully studied and will be described in the pages of this book. There is nothing particularly repugnant to reason in this theory. One has the obvious analogy in better-known department of physics.

We have daily experience of the difference in the effect produced by the rays of the Sun and those of the Moon, and we have only to extend this conception in order to include the other planets. But there is an a priori difficulty in accepting the postulate that the aspects of the planets have any effect. Let us consider this matter carefully. What in the first place do we mean by the aspects of the planets? The aspect of one planet to another is the angle subtended at the eye of the observer by any two of them. Thus, when the Moon is full, we say that the Sun is in opposition to the Moon, and this means that if a straight line were drawn from the Sun to the Earth and produced it would pass through the Moon. Now, we do know that this particular aspect has an influence upon Earth, an influence due to that force called gravity. When the Sun and Moon are in opposition they pull in opposite directions, they counterbalance each other. The earth is consequently not pulled out of shape so much as when they are in conjunction and pulling together. The effect is measured by the tides. But this is not at all the doctrine of aspects. As the Moon passes away from the pull, these forces act at a gradually diminishing angle, and the effect upon the tides also diminishes in a gradual and proportional manner. The astrological effects do not work in this way at all. It is at the exact moment of opposition that the effect is produced. As soon as it is 15 or 20 degrees away, it no longer exists, and it is very puzzling, from the philosophical standpoint, why this should be so. Mars approaches the square of Uranus, let us say, and there is a tremendous earthquake. A week later the aspect has passed and we get, not as one might suppose, lesser earthquakes, but no earthquakes at all. One is tempted to say hastily that this is unreasonable, and it has been brought forward as an argument against astrology. Fortunately, however, we have a very good analogy in the science of optics. Take a pair of field glasses, put them to your eyes and look out upon the landscape – it is all blurred. Move the screw backwards and forwards, the blurring increases or diminishes somewhat, but there is one particular position of those glasses which is peculiar to their relation with your own optic lenses in which the image suddenly stands up, clearcut and luminous. A glass is either in focus or out of focus, and although a slight deviation produces less blurring than a larger one, yet there is a perfectly sharp line of demarcation. There are other analogies such as the phenomenon of the boiling of water; at 99 centigrade, water is still not boiling, at 100 centigrade it is boiling, and from a physical standpoint, there is more difference between the water at 99 and the water at 100, than between the water at 99 and the water at 1. However, we do not know why the rays of the planet only influence each other, only blend their action when they strike the earth at particular angles. The science of astrology is at present largely empirical. We know that certain events on Earth follow certain configurations of the heavens. We have observed these events so frequently that we feel sure that there is a cause and connection between them, but no astrologer pretends that he understands the nature of their connection. The reader will remember that David Hume, who has never been refuted, regarded causality itself not merely as unproved and unprovable but as inconceivable.

There is a school of philosophers called the Casualists who maintained that every event was a direct volition of the Deity. When the apple becomes detached from the tree and falls to the ground the reason is this: first, God wishes the apple to become detached; second, God happens to wish the apple to reach the ground. It is not only unphilosophical, they say, but blasphemous, as limiting the power of the Creator, to assert that one effect necessarily follows another. It is impossible to controvert this position by logic, however repugnant it may be to our commonsense to accept t it. The importance of indicating the possibility of such a position is this: to show that from a standpoint of pure reason, the statement that high tides are connected with the new moon is exactly as absurd as, not more absurd nor less absurd than, the statement that the conjunction of Saturn and Mars bodes ill for empires. If there is any distinction to be made between the logical quality of these two propositions, the logician has yet to be born who finds it. If we accept one more readily than the other, it is because it rests upon more universal observation, but it is perfectly empirical and the fact of our having a beautiful theory to account for it does not in any way strengthen the original credit it deserves. The reader may perhaps remember that Charles II asked the Fellows of the Royal Society why it was that if you filled a bowl of water to the brim, you could put a live goldfish into that water without spilling it, whereas if the goldfish were dead it would immediately overflow. They consulted upon the matter and quarreled violently over it in the manner of metascience, returning ultimately to the ‘merrie monarch’ with no less than nine learned and satisfactory explanations. It had never occurred to one of them to try experimentally whether the king’s statement was correct. The making of theories has been, from time to time, a great curse to science. The tendency is to generalise from insufficient evidence, and having formulated on hypothesis, to deny or neglect any facts which do not immediately fit into it. The demonstration of Immanuel Kant that the so-called laws of nature are in reality only the laws of the mind, is one of the most valuable contributions that was ever made to thought. It is not true that two and two make four – it is only true that we are obliged to think so.

The bearings of this are very important to astrology. What astrology needs is more human observation. The astrologer is obliged to reason from data which are often inaccurate, and sometimes deliberately falsified. He is asked, in short, to make bricks without straw. That he has produced so marvelous a pyramid of truth is therefore enormously to his credit. The method employed in this book will be strictly scientific. Facts have been collected, selected, coordinated, and deductions have been drawn from them with the most rigid adherence to the canons of truth, the method of science, and the rules of logic. Every statement is based upon the accumulated experience of centuries, as handed down by tradition and in treatise, and the fundamental knowledge thus acquired has been sifted again and again by applying to it the tests of evidence which accrues daily in private research. It is not pretended that such knowledge is final. It is possible that new facts may be discovered at any moment, which will modify the opinions hitherto entertained. As a case in point, the discoveries of Uranus and Neptune have gone far to revolutionise astrology. Many problems which have baffled the ancient astrologers have been solved by those events. There are still many unsolved problems in astrology. To give a simple example: Jupiter passing over his own place in the fourth house might bring inheritance. This might happen with the utmost regularity, four out of five times in a man’s life; the fifth time, no. Why? A dozen suggestions might be made. None of them might satisfy the intelligence. It is thinkable, however, that the discovery of yet another planet might offer a clear and obvious solution. Astrology is in the position of every other science. A great deal is known, but there is a great deal more which is not known. It at least ranks with all other sciences in the devotion and skill of its votaries, in their acuteness and intelligence, and in their desire to bring practical benefits to their own knowledge within the reach of every member of the human race.