Why astrology and medicine are not enemies – Angela Voss
Human beings have two quite distinct ways of knowing, and always have had – except that during the last four hundred years or so, one particular way has become super-dominant, exercising an authority (especially in the West) which has come to determine our assumptions about how everything happens. I am talking here of course about the normative rationality that pervades our culture – a universal, cause-and-effect paradigm of reality – which has a strong tendency to critique, ridicule or even demonise that other, more intuitive or imaginative sense which has traditionally been expressed through sacred or symbolic narrative, ritual, prayer, or divinatory act.
Before our Enlightenment philosophers cut the telephone wires, as it were, between these two modes, they were deeply related and complementary stances towards the world, comprising a holistic model in which investigation and experimentation in the natural world were in no way opposed to the sense of meaning actively accessed through religious forms or creatively expressed through the arts. There was a kind of knowledge that lay beyond the domain of the natural sciences which could ‘tune in’ to the bigger picture – call it divine if you will. The most important aspect of this second kind of knowledge is that it depends primarily on mythic or symbolic discourse to open out its meanings, which are unique to individuals, and this brings with it a sense of connectedness to a deeper order. This process has always been experienced as deeply healing, because it allows the mind or imagination to bring the physical world – and physical body – into alignment with a deeper purpose, through a narrative of holism, integration, and, dare I say it, soulfulness.
Having studied and practised astrology for over thirty years, I am now dedicated to the use of such holistic models within the academy, particularly for the investigation of the nature of the kind of knowledge revealed through the imagination. The fact is, the ultimate rationale of astrology is fundamentally different from the ultimate rationale of conventional Western medicine. It is a system of meaning-making through symbolic inference and allegorical interpretation of patterns which happen to be those of planetary motion though the signs of the tropical zodiac. It is based on a world-view in which levels of reality interconnect through a kind of sympathetic resonance, unprovable in the language of materialist science – although more amenable to concepts of morphic resonance, or universal mind. Astrology speaks mythopoetically, amplifying and interpreting both inner and outer experiences with meanings which have been woven into the fabric of its tradition for millennia. It enables people to make sense of their lives, their illnesses, their relationships, through its powerful evocation of time-cycles and archetypes. Its truth does not lie in some objective force ‘out there’ in the universe, coercing people into predetermined action, although it undoubtedly has an empirical dimension. Rather, its truth lies in the ability of the astrologer to facilitate revelatory insights which allow an individual to create a meaningful life-story. When this happens, healing follows in its wake, as has been well documented by practitioners of narrative and arts therapies.
It is not difficult to see how bringing this kind of vision to complement conventional medical diagnoses and interventions would be entirely beneficial to the patient. It is not only accomplished through astrology – homoeopathy, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and other complementary forms also embody the framework of ‘signatures’ or correspondences in their practices and widen patients’ contexts. I would like to stress again – this is not in contravention to scientific premise, it is a shift into an entirely different epistemology, one which has become negated in our culture as having any value as positive knowledge.
To illustrate in practice how astrology might complement a conventional approach, I’d like to introduce my colleague Nicola Smuts-Allsop, who is a fertility astrologer and works extensively with the medical establishment. Here is her personal perspective:
“In my view (which is not the view of all astrologers), astrology can be seen to work as a very sophisticated placebo. By that, I don’t mean to suggest that there is anything gimmicky or untrue, or deliberately deceitful about it. If we define placebo as a “meaning response” then astrology can contribute to creating such a meaning response through myth and narrative, symbol and archetype in a similar way to psychotherapy and other narrative healing modes. In fact there is more than enough evidence to suggest that medical science is already employing “meaning response” therapy at the same time as delivering drugs and conventional treatments. Would it not benefit the patient to consciously employ some of these meaning response therapies too? Medical science has a tradition of reducing patients to statistical data, thus eliminating a sense of individuality or uniqueness in a diagnosis of their illness. Astrology redresses that, and honours the unique nature of the patient and what their illness might mean to them in terms of the meta-narrative of their lived experience. Medicine often suppresses symptoms without paying attention to the cause of the illness, pain or depression, whereas astrology can comment on the condition of the patient’s soul experience or their emotional response. I practice fertility astrology, that is, I use the client’s birth chart to diagnose possible predispositions healthwise, then offer them a three year plan for the next potentially fertile times, during which they could try any treatment that is required, medical or natural. There is a large amount of astrological commentary in the medical writings of Galen, Hippocrates, Aristotle and others, on which I base my diagnostic statements, and some I have come to develop as a result of anecdotal feedback from my clients.”
Astrology is not a religion, but it does engage the imagination, and we all know that the power of the imagination, when applied with firm intention and strong desire, can achieve miraculous effects. We also know health is not just physical, and it is high time that we stop rejecting the very techniques that will help us understand the role of our physical symptoms within the larger scheme of self-knowledge and life purpose. We need to heal the terrible split that has occurred between our empirical and our imaginal lives, and open a creative dialogue between them. This of course extends much further into the question of literal versus symbolic attitudes in both science and religion, which is beyond my scope here. But as Iain McGilchrist has pointed out in his authoritative book The Master and his Emissary, metaphor after all is the primary means by which human beings make sense of their world – and astrology is one of the most magnificent, and empowering, metaphors of world culture.