|Astrology and scholarship|
The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues), and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question.’ To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge – to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour – this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. – C. S. Lewis: The Screwtape Letters
In the western world, astrology as an academic discipline taught by practising astrologers is a thing of the past. The last European chair in astrology – at the University of Salamanca in Spain – was abolished in the early 1800s due to lack of student interest. In more recent times, academics have studied astrology (when at all) only as a cultural and scientific fossil, and some openly declare their disdain for the ‘wretched subject’ they spend their lives investigating.
Not surprisingly, a number of contemporary astrologers have developed a sour-grapes attitude towards academe. New Age practitioners may feel that academics are too mundane to understand a ‘spiritual’ subject like astrology. Some traditionalists, on the other hand, like to claim that astrology is a hands-on craft that could never be comprehended by scholars in their ivory towers.
As both a practitioner and a scholar of the tradition, I rather find the two perspectives mutually enriching and meriting each other’s respect. Scholars do not have to believe in astrology to understand it, but they do need to take the subject seriously. If they cannot, their time would be better spent studying something else. Astrologers for their part – traditionalists in particular – need to recognize the great debt that their art owes to academic scholarship, not least for preserving, editing, translating and publishing astrological texts of bygone eras. Serious studies on the history of astrology can only benefit those who wish to revive the tradition.