The Hermeneutics of Divination – or why astrology works

Last evening a friend asked how astrology could work if it’s based on the incorrect notion that the sun and stars revolve around the earth.  Fair point.  However it’s not the science but the symbolism of astrology that answers that question.    Here’s how it works.

The Fourfold Interpretation of the Symbol used in modern Western astrology is based on hermeneutics – a model of meaning and interpretation developed by Christians searching for meaningful ways to read the Bible.[1]    In this regard, reading an astrological chart is akin to interpreting a ‘divine sign’, which is the  literal meaning of divination.

Psychological astrologers like myself believe this is not so much about a chart as a ‘thing’ to be interpreted, but instead about the ‘interpretational act’ itself.  As we’ve learned from CG Jung, when you choose to interpret something as a symbol you will intentionally (albeit unconsciously) force your world to conform.

The four levels of interpretation used are as follows:

  1. Literal – the letter teaches you the facts – this level presents that which is an objective truth to be observed and verified.   It is an astronomical ‘truth’ that there exists a planet named Mars that takes 686.971 days to pass through the 12 signs of the zodiac.   Likewise it is an objective truth that you have Mars in Leo in the 10th house.
  2. Allegorywhat you should believe – this level expands the literal sense by pairing observed objective truths to subjective life events.  Here the astronomical fact that you have Mars in Aries in the 10th house is interpreted to mean that ‘you should be a reforming crusader in a highly visible public career.’
  3. Trope how you should act – this level reveals the context of the interpretation and allows you to interact with it.   The term ‘trope’ comes from the Greek tropos, to turn, as in the tropic of the Sun’s turning at the Solstices.  Moved by the literal and allegorical ‘truths’ you’ve observed and interpreted, you now turn toward that ‘truth’ and take the necessary actions to implement it.  With Mars in Aries in the 10th, you literally turn your life around by taking the steps necessary to become that reforming crusader so visible to the public eye.
  4. Anagoge what to hope for – this level, signifying the symbol as something through which the turn of the trope turns, is reflected in the astrologer’s desire to predict.   Here you enter the world of the daemon, which manifests as a power from outside rather like providence or fate.  Although you may have taken all necessary actions to secure your place as a reforming crusader in the public eye, powers beyond your control may block your way.  It’s through the predictive powers of astrology that you can weigh up your options and with that ‘vision’ of the future, choose how best to proceed.

[1] Origen (fl. 3rd century) is credited with first identifying this method.  He developed a three-level interpretation of literal, moral and mystical sense of Scripture.   His mystical level was later divided into allegory and anagoge.  By the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, the four levels hermeneutic had become widely accepted as the means by which Scripture was to be interpreted (although today fundamentalists have for the most part moved backwards in time to using only the literal level of interpretation).

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