People have a lot of ideas about Astrology. Not all of those ideas always match! The view that has always made the most sense to me is of Astrology as a symbolic language - at least in the modern way that we tend to use it today.
A symbolic language means that, quite simply, the symbols used in Astrology tell us something. There are various symbols including signs (signs of the zodiac) and planetary symbols and even the individual shapes that make these up - the lines, circles, semicircles, for example - even these symbolise something. Each symbol stands for something and when we translate the meaning of that symbol and make the something relevant in a context, then we can start to make Astrology useful.
There are two views that frequently come across from people who are curious about Astrology, or have formulated some ideas about it, but who may not have looked into it in any great depth - for whatever reason. And why should they, unless it's something they want to use in some particular way?
The first view probably comes from ideas about ancient cultures and this is that the planets in Astrology have some sort of power within them, which gives them a causal relationship with people and events here on Earth. The danger of this view is that, reducing it down, it can make it seem as though people are just victims of fated. The idea that everything is "written in the stars" is linked with this view. It is perhaps quite a romantic view, some would say spiritual - but it cannot be more than a view or belief, because there is no scientific evidence to support the theory that planets (or stars) cause anything. There is some argument for a relationship between the Moon and the tides - and this can be stretched to maybe make a link between the Moon and water in humans - but this really is unique to the Moon alone!
The second view is more typically modern and that is that Astrology is somehow scientific. It is a view usually not held by scientists! However, that does not mean that every single scientist puts no store by Astrology - just that they would be unlikely to associate it with being scientific. It is perhaps easy to see why anyone might assume that there is some sort of relationship between Astrology and science, though. After all, the Greek's who contributed a great amount to the subject historically, thought they were treating it that way. It is perhaps also easy to assume that Astronomy and Astrology are one and the same thing. The fact is that, for ancient people, for a time, they were. But there has been a schism in the history of Astrology, which means that it is considered as a separate subject from Astronomy.
It is important for us to remember, then, in any modern practise of Astrology, that planets are first of all observed through the practice of Astronomy (as physical objects in the sky) and then studied by Astrologers and understood symbolically through the practice of Astrology - the reading of the language of the planets, signs, houses etc. This is usually through numbers and symbols in charts (circular diagrams plotting out the placement of planets in zodiac signs at any one time) or in tables and books such as Raphael's Astrological ephemeris, which list out those planetary positions on any particular date.
Conclusion: As Astrologers, if we are asked are planets causal agents, we really have to admit that no, they are not. Sometimes the way we talk about them - and even think about them - can make it sound like we're saying that they are causing something. But it is not true to say that a planet causes anything. Astrology is a symbolic language and it reflects what is happening around us. It is descriptive of situations, characteristics and energies. It may sum up the flavour of a situation, if we choose to read its language and interpret it. But it does not cause the situation. If we are asked if Astrology is scientific, equally, we have to say no, it is not. There is a lot of recording of data, tabulating and mathematics involved in the gathering the information we need in order to cast a chart, ready for our interpretation of its symbols. And, over time, we may observe similarities with regard to the translation of those symbols. In fact, Astrologers have done this for years and some of them have written down and passed on agreed "meanings" or interpretations for specific sets of symbols. We can read these in our text books and through other literature, or we may observe and share them in our discussions with one another about our practise of Astrology. Planets are simply part of the symbolic language of Astrology that Astrologers can become fluent in - with practice!
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