Towards a Living Tradition

arithI wrote the following open letter to the astrological community not so long ago. It explains in many ways how ISCA came to be.

This is a purely editorial piece – my first and probably my last. It’s meant to raise some issues I think need to be discussed in the astrological community. My remarks should not be construed as referring to any particular individual. It’s an open letter to the astrological community and all interested readers.

The resurrection of several texts from the Hellenistic and medieval period in particular have contributed to a renaissance in astrology. Many of these sources were unavailable for one reason or another until the last three decades. This is a wonderful time to be an astrologer.

Unfortunately this new knowledge has helped to create an atmosphere of elitism, expressed most strongly in those who know the least.

We have cases of ‘famous’ teachers teaching predictive astrology who have never accurately predicted anything. When asked for the specifics of a given prediction they become vague and reluctant to connect it to a specific astrological event, sometimes even contradicting themselves in the process – granted such cases are the extreme.

Common English words are translated into Latin to add that special patina to an otherwise mostly empty vessel. Of course, the programs offered by these astrologers are very expensive, so the recipients of the diplomas, degrees and titles naturally become defensive if any of the techniques they learned are in any way held up to scrutiny or their brand name questioned. This is not conducive to astrology as a living tradition.

Try to imagine going for a reading with William Lilly or John Dee only to find certificates on their wall declaring them competent . It doesn’t work that way and it never did. Mentorship is a necessary and wonderful thing, but the greatest astrologers we have even known didn’t have a brand name mentality and usually had many teachers.

Putting letters after your name might be useful for lawyers and physicians, but has little or no meaning in astrological life. William Lilly consistently refereed to himself as s student of astrology. Of course, some students are more advanced and experienced than others, but students they remain. Let us not also forget that the form of astrology based on Lilly is now referred to as the “real astrology.” Yet we can well argue that Lilly had already broken with the very Tradition he is supposed to embody in more ways than one. Simple observations of differences in methodology from one master to the next , no matter how subtle, should alert us to the fact that the tradition is not monolithic

The study necessary to be a great traditional Astrologer is immense and takes decades. One doesn’t just take a course in Hermetic or Neo Platonic philosophy and then claim to be a Classicist. .Obviously you are not going to get a full understanding of Neo Platonism without being thoroughly familiar with Plato.

If you embrace the Hermetic Philosophy you will need to know a great deal about the various forms of Hermes. You will need to have a full grasp of the cosmology that lies deep in the roots of Traditional astrology. In fact it can never be separated, otherwise you will never be anything more than a mechanic. Astrology without spirit and soul is nothing more than parroted dogma. It cannot ultimately work and it certainly cannot produce anything useful to the soul. There is a pervasive aversion to the idea of soul, perhaps as much as of psychology.

Many Traditional astrologers have somehow got the idea that astrology is purely utilitarian. This is an enormous overreaction to the excesses of New Age astrology, which in fact has no coherent foundation at all. – as psychology perhaps, but not astrology.

In India, the knowledge is often passed down from generation to generation. But this transmission, no matter in which culture it occurs, does not produce photocopies. Mimicry is anathema to any Art. What we need is emulation and a deep understanding that Astrology is a living Art. I have seen far too many so called traditional astrologers cling to dogma and find themselves superior, thus negating the ability to learn anything.

As for myself, I have studied for over forty years. I’ve been blessed by many, many great teachers. I had an extraordinary master of yoga as my teacher at the age of sixteen. I subsequently read the Upanishads, the Rig Veda and any Indian sacred texts I could find. Later on, I practiced Tibetan Buddhism.

The wisdom and beauty of these traditions astounded me, but what amazed me even more was how much they paralleled the western tradition. It’s been said that Buddhism is the closest thing to Gnosticism in the West, a sentiment with which I heartily agree. I sought my Western ancestry and found many marvelous things. We have all but forgotten our sacred roots. Through all this, astrology was never far away from my focus.

I spent a decade in Academia studying Greek and Roman Classics, Ancient History, philosophy – particularly Hermetica and Platonica. My Doctoral studies were on Marsilo Ficino and the School of Alexandria. It was my great pleasure to go on and profess the summation of these studies I’ve found that none of this has conflicted in essence with my Druidic roots to which I feel a powerful bond. I make no special claims other than those required of any astrologer who has mastered the Art to the extent that I have. .

Not everyone would have the opportunities I’ve had and my studies have taken me beyond what is required of a great astrologer. We can measure a great astrologer in any number of way : first he or she will enjoy a high degree of accuracy and a strong spirituality complete with humility . It’s not our doing that we have great teachers or extraordinary opportunities for transference of wisdom. Gratitude is an appropriate attitude, arrogance is not. He will be devoted to a lifetime of study.

Contact with our ancestors in one way or another is a great necessity. From them we receive knowledge wisdom and inspiration. This is probably the greatest forgotten gift of modernity.

It’s not my intent to offend anyone and I recognize many wonderful teachers of the Art. These things needed to be said and I hope they stimulate some fruitful discussion in the astrological community

P. James Clark

[This site is under construction. If you require information or have questions regarding  ISCA, please contact classicalastrologer@gmail.com]

3 comments on “Towards a Living Tradition

  1. Clelia says:

    Peter, your open letter is wonderful: I´d like to have written it myself!
    I have one only thing to say and you probably meant the same when you named your post Toward a Living Tradition. A good astrologer is also the one who is able to think and not only to repeat. Our ancestors left many roots but is up to us to understand the deep meaning of some of them. I´m not in favor of cheap innovations, however and perhaps we are not in the right time to innovations because the majority do not yet fully mastered the tradition.
    What I mean is that it is important to understand what underlies the traditional rules and protocols. And it is important to have an open and investigative mind to turn the tradition into a living creature, not a dead language.
    Congratulations for the new blog!

  2. Pablo Ianiszewski says:

    Dear Peter, I feel akin to what you point out. I think your words are brave and accurate. I look at them like a good star to guide us along the way. Surely this may attract controversy, but it’s better to be honest than complacent with mediocrity. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Pablo, thank you for you kind words. I’m no stranger to controversy, but while I expected this article to ruffle some feathers, I think I got more positive comments than one might expect. However, to the best of my recollection, it was mostly traditional astrologers responded. Some modern astrologers clearly didn’t like it, but they probably didn’t know how to respond.

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