Astrology, predestination and free will.

With regard to predestination and its conflict with free will, the debate has been quite extensive and heated. It is an exciting subject, with profound philosophical consequences, and for which I am asked with some frequency. As I am not a philosopher but an astrologer, I have to try to answer from the discipline that concerns me. My intention is to show that the relationship between fate and human freedom is much more fluid and permeable than it seems. Although the issue is not without controversy, a reasonable perspective is possible to reconcile both extremes. Let’s assume first that astrology poses a predictable universe model and therefore organized around a deterministic notion, although not necessarily causal. I refer to a determinism in the broad sense, not circumscribed to the strict logic of cause – effect that we inherit from the thought of Aristotle or from the mechanistic paradigm of Isaac Newton.

Astrological determinism is far from resembling that universe of watchmaking gears that emanates from classical physics. On the contrary, it is an organic determinism, more similar to the simultaneous interrelation of the organs and tissues of a living being. With exceptions such as that of Al-Kindi (801-873 AD), who was one of the most aristotelian among Arab astrologers, many celestial augurs rejected the theory of astrological causation or direct stellar influence, leaning rather on the idea of a synchronic confluence in which the events of heaven and earth occurred in a coordinated manner. The conception of a causal line was tempting for some, because it tended to resolve in reasonable terms the awkward situation of having to account for this strange oracle of magical-Babylonian origin. From Greek philosophy, which at that time was an expression of the most exquisite rationality, a causal link could be established between the stars and terrestrial life. However, astrologers less well versed in the Aristotelian and Stoic lucubrations continued to maintain a vision of concurrency and simultaneity of the celestial symbols. In this way, sustaining a deterministic cosmos does not necessarily imply a view of causality, as evidenced by Cicero’s famous definition of destiny in De Divinatione.

That vision of cosmic synchrony had some compatibility with a third position, much more archaic and magical-religious, where the celestial bodies are the visible face of the gods, whose will is manifested to men through the movement and position of the planets. However, the three versions have in common the idea of a pre-existing fate, which can be known in advance. In them the notion of an intelligible universe is also evident, whose action expresses a meaning and perhaps also a purpose. This intelligibility of the firmament opens up the possibility of prediction within a deterministic framework, or what is the same, within a knowable future of finite possibilities. This, obviously, comes into conflict with the ideological foundations of modernity, where the future is open, unknown, of infinite possibilities, and whose crystallization depends on the exercise of freedom. Therefore, the ancestral vision of a time with predetermined possibilities tends to be annoying for the mentality in vogue. But we will return to this topic a little later.

When I say that the astrological cosmos is predictable and deterministic, I mean that the ability of the astrologer to predict the events that lie ahead depends on a conception where the celestial signs indicate the quality of time and its propensity to manifest itself in concrete events. The mantic arts in general conceive a closed or pre-established future, since if it were not determined in advance it could not be the object of divination. Then a tremendous philosophical problem arises, because if life is predestined, what place has free will? And worse, if human actions are predetermined, what moral responsibility can be attributed to people for their actions? Well, these complex questions arise precisely by the same way of posing the question of destiny. Maybe there is another way to approach the problem.

The destiny or fatum is that supernatural power that imposes itself on the life of men with the force of the inevitable, guiding the events to an end not chosen, although not necessarily negative, since the destiny also can sometimes overcome the personal aspirations and expectations. In Orphic mythology this force appears in the form of Ananke, personification of the inevitable and the inescapable necessity to which both gods and mortals are subject. She was represented as a serpentine being, intertwined with her eternal companion Cronos, the lord of time. Thus, destiny and time extended throughout the universe, giving rise to the network of existence. Ananke was mother of the three Moiras, those primal goddesses who distributed fate to each being and determined the duration of the thread of life.

And what about free will? Few people are aware that, just as the notion of destiny has an undeniable pagan root, the idea of free will arose from the discussions of the Judeo-Christian theologians. The rabbis and bishops of the first centuries of the common era were very interested in debating with the pagans about this idea that the gods and / or the stars determined the course of human destiny, because this basic belief of paganism came into contradiction with the moral doctrine that makes man responsible for his sins. If destiny exists and it is inexorable, it was predestined that Adam and Eve should disobey! If so, the fault would be God’s and not man’s. Starting from this point, the theologians strove to throw down the idea of predestination, postulating that God had granted man the gift of freedom to act according to good or evil. By doing God’s will, expressed in the sacred scriptures, good was done and the salvation of the soul was achieved in the hereafter. But in the opposite corner, the Stoic philosophers, all of them heathens, defended a very different position; the universe is predetermined to the last centimeter by destiny, and man can only liberate himself interiorly from his mundane attachments to attain peace and happiness, since matter, time and space are subject to an inevitable causal determinism.

The debate between pagan philosophers and Christian theologians ended, argumentum ad baculum, with the triumph of the freedom of action proposed by the latter. Consequence of that is that in the western mentality, free will is a dogma of unquestionable faith, to the point of being defended by those who are opposed to the church, the synagogue, the mosque and everything that smells similar. It is a theological triumph unparalleled in universal history. But since astrology is an ancient science, in which elements coming from any culture made use of it, it could not but survive in its core that pagan and deterministic element. However, also the free will of theologians found a place in it. How is it possible? The intermediate position that reconciles both perspectives is known as “compatibilism” and is based on a mild determinism. It argues that destiny and free will are compatible to the extent that we assume a deterministic universe in which a subject capable of making choices between the options that are presented as a result of predestination operates. Finding that bulky wallet on the bus seat was clearly predestined, but it is my free choice to keep the money or look for an ID to return it to its owner. And although there are situations in which we have almost no choice, this does not deny that we have that freedom to choose most of the time.

From traditional astrology it is better to think in terms of choices than in absolute free will. The fact that we do not control time or the flows of becoming, and that much of the ups and downs of life were not desired or anticipated by us, shows that we live in a deterministic world, in which the vicissitudes of fate define fundamental issues such as the country and city in which we were born, the parents that we got, the woman we fall in love on that party, the illness that took us to the hospital, the collapse of our business in the middle of the economic crisis, or simply the day of our inevitable death. If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that the most important and determining events of our lives were not the result of our desires; they simply happened in spite of us, starting with the birth itself. All these apparent accidents that condition the events, coordinated with the symbolic text of the firmament, constitute what astrology means by destiny.

In the Middle Ages the renowned Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), theologian and Christian philosopher, tried to address the issue. After much caviling he proposed a maxim that is repeated again and again by astrologers: the stars tilt, but do not force. It was not strange that he was interested in it, since his teacher had been the famous Albertus Magnus, bishop and theologian, but also naturalist, alchemist, geographer, herbalist, astrologer and for that time, magician. The question of astrological determinism occupied the most brilliant minds of humanity for many centuries, enough proof that astrology is not a simple superstition of lots of ignorant people.

What Thomas Aquinas says is that the stars can not force you to proceed in one direction, but they do incline the events and forces of becoming to a particular side. The possibility of choosing, and not an absolute free will, will present us with alternatives. Or we let ourselves be dragged by the current of the astral river or swim against it. The will acquires a central role here, since only a man of tenacious persistence can persevere swimming upriver. Since a will of iron is not usual, in most cases the current actually drags people to where they have not chosen. Have you noticed that when carrying out our careful plans, the situation usually presents so many unforeseen events that the process and the result are never exactly what one had planned? A Turkish dervish once told me that effort belongs to man, but the result depends on God. It is a pious way of seeing it, in which the same truth that we raise is hidden. There is an interaction between what is predestined and what man chooses to do. Not always our choices lead to a satisfactory result, because they have entered into contradiction with destiny. Other times our actions flow with the river of existence, and in coordination with the sky, what is expected is obtained. Hence the advantage that gives the knowledge of the future, because if you know the quality of time is possible to choose the right moment to do anything successfully. This is known as elective astrology, a branch of the ancient astrological tradition that seeks to anticipate the facts and take advantage of that knowledge to obtain favorable outcomes.

Regarding the moral responsibility of people in a deterministic framework, by assuming the freedom that every human being has to choose the course of their actions against predestined events, we must also assume as an inevitable consequence that every conscious subject is fully responsible for their acts. Maybe in life we come across someone who drives us crazy, and our bad temper makes us prone to outbursts of anger, but that does not rid us of moral responsibility if we cause injuries in a fit. Then, in a deterministic framework, moral responsibility is much greater, because as alternatives are closing and limiting, our uncertainty decreases and we have much greater clarity to decide and assume the consequences.

There are people who, due to low social status at bith, have a much more limited degree of freedom. It is the case of poverty and slavery, which unfortunately continues to exist on our planet in a veiled way. Others are fortunate and are born under very advantageous conditions of life, where there is no lack of money or opportunities. The powerful fate, which the Greeks knew as Εἱμαρμένη (Heimarmene), decrees for some the easy and for others the difficult. While among the Hindus there is an individual karmic explanation to account for the apparent injustices of life, among the Stoics a causal determinism of a general or cosmic order is invoked; but both the fortunate and the unfortunate, in their different levels of freedom, have a certain degree, larger or smaller, to choose the nature of their actions. I have met dispossessed people with the most kind and compassionate nature, as I have met with the most cruel and malicious wealthy people. Of course, the opposite is also true, since there are poor people who take pains to harm the rest and wealthy people who try to help sincerely. Statistical frequency is not my issue. I try to suggest that in spite of the pre-established conditions, and often outside of one’s own will, there is also the possibility of choosing and being morally responsible for said elections.

At the beginning we noticed the evident conflict between the traditional view of destiny and the consciousness of individual freedom that characterizes the modern subject. Predestination upsets the contemporary mentality and poses a threat to our psychological need to feel completely free to satisfy our desires. I believe that in this there is a sign of a certain collective immaturity, a form of denial of experiences of frustration, but it is also the result of the efforts of the theologians and apologists of the first centuries of Christianity. Anyway, it is clear that the astrological predestination does not empower the astrologer to know everything beforehand, since there is the human potential to choose, and even, by force of willful tenacity, turn the course of events. Astrology determines categories or types of objects, people and situations, but can not predict anything down to the smallest detail. In this sense, it poses a categorical determinism that leaves enough space for the emergence of the human will. In particular, astrology is not going to tell us which is the favorite rock band of the subject that stole my bicycle, but with a Horary Chart it can help us by indicating the type of place it is in, if it is whole or was already sold in parts, and even what general appearance the thief has.

To explain the relationship between astrology, predestination and free will I usually use an analogy. Suppose we sail at sea. Our ship is exposed to the impulse of the marine currents and the winds, which drag it in a certain direction. They are the forces of destiny signed in the stars. However, as captains of the ship we can take the situation and be responsible for the ship, take the helm of the will and direct the sails of the intellect, using the winds and currents in our favor, in order to reach the desired port. Because navigating safely involves a good deal of knowledge, it is a good idea to have the navigation maps provided by astrology.

In this way, our attitude towards the inevitable depends completely on us, and that action is conditioning the possibilities of expression of our own destiny, so that we are not passive puppets moved by the threads of doom. On the contrary, we are participatory agents in the configuration of destiny, determining a part of it by the exercise of our degree of freedom in choosing our actions against the manifestation of the predestined. Then, that the universe is subject to determinism simply means that it is intelligible, by presenting an identifiable and understandable order for the intellect. Finally, it is important not to forget a fundamental principle. Fate, from the metaphysical point of view, must be transcended. Hence the search for platonic anabasis, that ascent of the soul through the seven planetary spheres to reach the empyrean, beyond the Saturn region, where time does not exist and therefore, the Ananke no longer rules. That is the final goal – or destiny – to which every man and woman should direct their ship.

3 comments on “Astrology, predestination and free will.

  1. Steven Birchfield A.M.A. says:

    Very nice Pablo! Not to get into a lot of discussion because we both know how provocative the subject can be, I did like the thought from Thomas Aquinas that since the creator is spirit and lives in a dimension where there is no time, but he sees what was, what is and what will be, then the stars are his record and we can read that record through the conceptual language that is astrology. In other words he knows what choices we make and the philosophy contains free will at the same time it explains how we can know what choices people make within their area of choice because most often our choices lie within a very narrow parameter like driving through a tunnel and we can only go so far in any direction. That is what the “accidents” of life produce. One of the fundamental considerations was what would happen (as seen by the house and ruler) and the outcome of that “accident” (as seen by the house ruler of the ruler). So that both “accidents” (what we have no choice in) and how we choose are seen in the chart which is the record written by the one who sees it all :-) Again very insightful Pablo!

    • Pablo Ianiszewski says:

      Thank you very much Steven! Your comment encourages me to continue on the wonderful path of serving the Divine Intelligence.

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