Review by Angela Voss: The Real Astrology by John Frawley Apprentice Books, 2000
John Frawley is a practitioner of what he terms ‘traditional’ astrology. Although never precisely defined in his book, we understand this tradition to be that established more or less definitively by the Roman astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in his Tetrabiblos, and subsequently handed down via the Arabs to the medieval West, culminating (some would say) in the work of the great 17th century English astrologer, William Lilly.
This tradition can be usefully defined as the affiliation of astrological practice, i.e. divinatory judgement and interpretation, with the beautifully ordered cosmic vision of Aristotelian natural science—a model arising from the observation of the seven planets in their perfect spheres from the standpoint of a central (and stationary) Earth. For the classical philosophers and astronomers, this vision revealed a divine order of creation, the movements of the planets paralleled by events on earth in an intricate system of correspondence and sympathy.The neoplatonist Plotinus would describe the whole system as a ‘cosmic ballet’, each part moving in harmony with all other parts—and the wise man as the one who ‘in any one thing could read another’, that is, who could understand the signification of heavenly movements as indications of Divine intelligence at work. The neoplatonic position is elegant and clear; the stars have no wills, they are supremely indifferent—but humans may read their patterns as they might read a flight of birds in the sky, as omens or indications of present circumstances or future events. Plotinus rejects the astrologers’ attribution of ‘material’ characteristics to the planets, such as temperament, gender, beneficity or maleficity—they serenely follow their courses, and it is human beings who tend to ‘literalise’ and identify them with particular qualities as they observe corresponding effects in the earthly realm.