Mundane Astrology


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Mundane Astrology

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Mundane astrology is the branch of astrology dealing with history, society, and politics. Traditionally, it had two main functions: First, to understand the past, and, second, to predict the future. Both functions, though, are subsumed within a greater purpose—to manage the present. Indeed, within the context of apocalyptic fears of political disintegration or global catastrophe, mundane astrology’s key task has always been to preserve peace, order, and stability. This, at least, was the goal of its cosmology. This is not to deny the existence of more immediate selfish motives, such as the need to gain political advantage over one’s rivals. Thus, there may be astrologers who operate according to one agenda, while their political patrons work to another.

As defined by Charles Carter, the most prominent British astrologer of the mid-twentieth century, in his book An Introduction to Political Astrology, “The aim then of Political Astrology is the study of all that pertains to the life of politically incorporated body, or nation. It must comprehend the cultural and intellectual life, the religious life, the economic, and so forth.” However, bearing in mind the blurring between the personal and professional, it may not always be possible to decide when astrology is mundane and when it is not. For example, if relationships are political (i.e., if, they involve power relationships between men and women, or adults and children), is a composite chart mundane? Also, the birth charts of politicians may be interpreted within the rules of natal astrology, but are clearly of direct importance in mundane work, while horary charts concerning political matters may be also considered mundane. Meanwhile, financial astrology, which is clearly mundane, has tended to evolve into a distinct discipline.

In the Middle Ages, mundane astrology had a narrower remit and was usually known as the study of “revolutions,” (i.e., the revolutions of Jupiter and Saturn around the earth), which together were seen as the main timers of history. The term “revolution,” used to describe political upheavals, is derived from the word’s astrological application. The Sun’s ingress into Aries was also known as a “revolution.” The three principle technical bases of the study of long periods in relation to Jupiter-Saturn are conjunctions, the casting of horoscopes for the Sun’s ingress into Aries, and the use of less frequent events, including predictable ones such as eclipses, and unpredictable ones such as comets or mock suns. New and full moons and planetary transits provided further information between these major events.

The term mundane is derived from the Latin word mundus, meaning “world.” In the first century the Roman writer Pliny wrote in De Natura Rerum that “the Greeks have designated the world by a word that means ‘ornament,’ and we have given it the name of mundus, because of its perfect finish and grace.” Mundus itself is a translation of the Greek word kosmos, meaning “world-order” and was probably first used by either the philosopher Parmenides or Pythagoras in the sixth-century b.c.e. The word can also be translated as “adornment,” the root of the modern word “cosmetic.” The Latin term mundi was used to describe the application of astrology to the world from the eleventh century onwards. (The first medieval Latin astrological text was the Liber Planetis at Mundi Climatibus, published between 1010 and 1027, and probably written by Gerbert d’Auvergne, who became Pope Sylvester II.) By the seventeenth century, the study of revolutions was also known as “Astrologia Munda.” The term “mundane astrology” itself first came into regular use in the nineteenth century and is the title of two “cookbooks” on the subject, one by Raphael and and the other by H. S. Green respectively, both written around the turn of the twentieth century.

While the term itself is modern, it is clear that the earliest known astrology was mundane in nature, being concerned exclusively with affairs of state. Indeed, in ancient Mesopotamia where, according to current records, the technical basis was laid for both western and Indian astrology, the entire cosmos was seen as one political unit in which humanity served the celestial deities, whose deputy on earth was the king. This notion of the “cosmic state is common to most religious societies and persists in the west, shorn of its astrological component, in fundamentalist Christianity. In Mesopotamia, though, the stars and planets were messengers, conveying divine wishes to humanity via the astrologers, whose job it was to scan the skies for signs or omens (i.e., warnings) of divine pleasure or anger.

The earliest Mesopotamian texts, which survive only in fragments, date from around 2200 b.c.e., and the earliest complete text, the Venus Tablet, detailing the political and global correlates with Venus’ rising and setting, dates from the eighteenth century b.c.e. Most existing written evidence, though, dates from the Assyrian period of the eighth to seventh centuries b.c.e.

Sargon II (reigned 721–705 b.c.e.) was the first of the new line of Assyrian monarchs known to have taken an astrologer on his military campaigns. An inscription from a tablet in the Louvre recording his attack on the city of Musasir, now in northwest Iran, suggests that the timing of his invasion may have been arranged by reference to astronomical factors:

At the exalted command of Nabû [Mercury] and Marduk [Jupiter], who had moved on a path in a stellar station for starting my campaign, and besides, as a favourable sign for seizing power, Magur [“the boat” = the moon], lord of the tiara [made an eclipse that] lasted one watch, to herald the destruction of Gutium. Upon the precious approval of the warrior Shamash [the sun], who wrote encouraging omens on the text that he would walk at my side … I mustered my army.

It is fascinating to observe the clear and logical manner in which the military arrangements proceeded. Mercury’s movements revealed the mind of Nabû, the Scribe, while Jupiter’s position indicated the thoughts of Marduk, the proprietary god of Babylon. Sin, the moon god, confirmed his colleague’s intentions, and lastly Shamash, the solar deity, indicated his agreement by giving a positive answer to a question posed via extispicy (i.e., through entrail divination). The gods’ intentions would have been clarified against previous events listed in the omen literature, and Sargon would have been informed that a majority of the divine council had approved his action. One can only imagine the crushing effect of the Assyrian army, which was one of the greatest fighting machines of the first millennium. The forces were armed not only with superior numbers and technology, but also with the knowledge that heaven was on its side, which, in turn, must have had an enormous effect on morale. With the sanction of the stars the Assyrian campaign assumed the character of a jihad, or holy war, and Sargon’s success no doubt convinced him that astrology was an essential tool in his political and military arsenal.

Documented examples of astrology’s supposed ability to provide military advantage exist from later European history. As late as the 1640s, a positive forecast from the astrologer William Lilly for either side in the English civil war was considered of more value than the force of a dozen regiments. Further, in spite of the substantial changes in astrological technique and interpretative style since Sargon marched at the head of his conquering army, astrology retains a strict logical procedure, matching each astronomical feature against a corresponding meaning in organized steps in order to arrive at a single conclusion.

The notion of a cosmic state in which the human polity is intimately connected to the celestial world survived into Greek astrology, reinforced by similar conceptions in Egypt, in which the Pharaoh was a representative of the sun god and an incarnation of the star Sopdet (Greek Sothis, modern Sirius), itself identified with the god and mythical king Osiris. Thus, the concept of the sky as an extension of earthly space (the modern signs of the zodiac were known as houses and the modern houses as places) survives from the Greek world, with each part subject to a ruling planet. The Babylonian concept of astrology as the reading of signs continued, but parallel with an alternative cosmology, derived from the fifth-and fourth-century b.c.e. philosophers Plato and Aristotle, in which God’s influence descended to Earth via the planetary spheres. Hence, the idea of planetary influences developed only within the context of a divinely ordered cosmos.

The overall framework for most western mundane astrology down to the present day, though, was laid by the second-century Greek astrologer Claudius Ptolemy in his Tetrabiblos (in Latin, Quadripatitium; in English, “four books”). In particular, Ptolemy revised the Mesopotamian system of equating countries to stars or constellations and identified 72 countries allocated to the 12 signs of the zodiac. He also codified rules for interpreting eclipses and ingresses, and these rules have been repeated down to modern times.

Following astrology’s revival in Europe in the nineteenth century, mundane astrology was still broadly laid down by Ptolemy. It was crudely predictive in that there was little concern with history, only with the future. It was crude because, while it relied on classical astrology, it had discarded the complex interpretative structure and multiple logical steps that allowed medieval and Renaissance astrologers to reach precise conclusions. This is not to say that this revived Ptolemaic astrology was more or less accurate, just that its interpretative process was much simpler. However, a series of highly inaccurate predictions did eventually provoke a crisis. These were the high-profile forecasts that there would be no war between Britain and Germany in the late 1930s, made by Charles E. O. Carter, perhaps the most respected astrologer within the profession in Britain, and R. H. Naylor, the most serious of the high-profile British media astrologers. The fact that there were also correct forecasts did not detract from the embarrassment.

The result of the forecasts, after the end of World War II, was a series of innovations designed to increase the efficacy of prediction. First, Carter proposed the creation of sets of data for countries in order to reduce the dependence on the Ptolemaic rulerships, a task he proposed in An Introduction to Political Astrology, which was completed in Nicholas Campion’s The Book of World Horoscopes in 1997. Second, in France, Henri Gouchon and André Barbault pioneered the use of outer planet (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) cycles to provide long-term timing measures. Later, in the 1970s, Liz Greene applied Jungian concepts of the collective unconscious, developing an interpretative structure that focused not on more accurate prediction, but on the derivation of meaning from astrological configurations. The result was a set of accurate forecasts of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union that suggested these postwar innovations might be effective.

In the modern world, outside of the Indian subcontinent, mundane astrology remains a marginal practice among astrologers, whose main concern tends to be with the psychological form of natal astrology. In addition, demand from politicians is low due to astrology’s poor standing, in spite of some high-profile patrons, notably former U.S. president Ronald Reagan and former French presidents Charles de Gaulle and François Mitterand. The popularity of mundane astrology among astrologers tends to ebb and flow with the level of global crisis: in the 1980s, few paid any attention to it, but the collapse of communism and the Gulf War of 1991–92 brought heightened interest, as did the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Writing during a similar period of crisis—the first years of the Cold War and the height of the Korean conflict—Carter argued in his book An Introduction to Political Astrology that mundane astrology “should logically take precedence over all other branches of our science [astrology], especially during the present epoch, when the life of the individual counts for so very little in comparison with that of the community, to which it is increasingly subordinated and by which is ever more coloured.”

—Nick Campion

Sources:

Baigent, Michael, Nicholas Campion, and Charles Harvey. Mundane Astrology: The Astrology of Nations and Organisation. 2nd rev. ed. London: Aquarian Press, 1991.
Campion, Nicholas, The Book of World Horoscope. 2nd rev. ed. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1999.
Carter, Charles E. O. An Introduction to Political Astrology. London: L. N. Fowler, 1951.
Pliny. De Natura Rerum. Book 2, III.