Where Does Astrology Belong? (Part 2 of 2)

by Nancy Humphreys on July 1, 2011

astrology - science or humanities?

Last time we covered why astrology is not deemed a true “science”. We looked at whether it “fit” into the the social sciences or the humanities.

We found that the modern “oracles of information,” i.e., librarians, disagree about this. Some view astrology as a subfield of philosophy, a field that belongs in humanities; others view it as a subfield of psychology, a field that now belongs in the social sciences.

Part 1 ended with these questions:

  • Where does astrology belong?
  • Is it part of the social sciences or the humanities?
  • Is it a hybrid of social sciences and humanities?
  • If so, does that make it something else entirely?

Let’s explore these questions and see where we wind up!

How does planetary influence on the individual work?


The basic idea behind astrology is that the “energies” of the other planets affect an observer or other entity situated on earth. Observing what the moon does to tides on earth, this idea can’t be utterly rejected, can it?

The moon and tides on earth

The influence of the moon on tides depends on where the tides are. Tides on the side of the earth facing the moon are affected more strongly than tides on the other side that faces away from the Moon. When the moon is closest to the earth, the moon’s energy affects the whole planet, but in differing degrees.

Moon and tides
in astrology, each of the planets affects people, places, and events on the earth too. You might suppose a measure of the distance from the earth, the size, or the density of a planet might affect the strength of its influence on the earth. But looking at how astrology “works,” it’s clear that the sizes of the other planets don’t matter, nor does density, nor do their relative distances from earth.
Each planet seems to have its own intrinsic energy and influence, all of them different from, but equal to the others. Strength of the planetary influences on the Earth is not affected by distance, size or density. But there is one set of binary variables that does operate to change the powers of each planet on an individual basis.
The strength of a particular planet’s influence on Earth is affected by its being either direct or retrograde in relation to earth. These two independent variables (i.e., mutually exclusive variables), direct and retrograde, are based on our human perception of the heavens, a perception we now know (from scientific study) is actually an illusion!
Heavenly phenomena in the sky appear to us to lie on a two-dimensional background of darkness. For example, we perceive the constellations as if all the stars in them lie on the same plane, i.e., they are each at an equal distance from us.
But we know from scientific study that the stars in constellations do not lie on the same flat plane we see. Some are much, much, further away from us than others. And if we moved to a different planet, we wouldn’t see the same sky and constellations.

Retrograde planets

Wikipedia says, Retrograde motion is in the direction opposite to the movement of something else, and is the contrary of direct or prograde motion.” In the context of astrology, “This [retrograde] motion can refer to the orbit of one body about another body, or about a point…”
The point the heavenly bodies are orbiting is our sun. All nine planets in our solar system orbit the Sun in a counterclockwise direction (when seen from the earth’s north pole.) Retrogrades occur because those on earth perceive that the other planets that orbit the sun (at faster or slower speed than earth) will, at times, appear to be moving backwards.
Retrogrades are a matter of perception of motion, not actual motion of the planets. For a planet to be be direct, it must appear to us on Earth to be orbiting in the same direction as the earth. When it does this, its influence is strong. The planet influences everyone and in the same way.
For a planet to be retrograde, the planet will appear to be orbiting backwards, away from the earth. Retrogrades are periods when the planet’s influence fades. The influence is felt only on the individual level, and each individual is affected differently from the others.
Yet, like the moon when it is actually farthest away from earth, planets that are retrograde are said to have the least influence on earth.
But here the analogy of the moon’s influences with planetary influences on earth moves into the metaphorical; it is not “real” in the scientific sense. There’s no principle like gravity involved. Instead, the specific planetary influences in astrology come from the names of each planet, names that are associated with deities in ancient myths.
The origins of these planetary influences are never “explained” by astrology. They are simply taken-for-granted. And this leads to a major problem with classifying the field of astrology. It is, at its very core, earth-centric.
What will space travelers do if they want to use astrology in space? Let’s digress from the question of where astrology “fits in” on earth for a brief discussion of this issue.

The need for a “universal” astrology

At least one astrologer has suggested that Earth needs to be included in the list of planets with astrological influence. To anyone who grew up watching Star Trek on TV, this seems a no-brainer. How would the people on the starship Enterprise use astrology when they are deep in outer space?
The astrologer, Cynthia L. C Wood, in her article “Earth and Taurus: Geocentric Astrologyʼs Missing Link,” in Mountain Astrologer (Dec. 2008/Jan. 2009) put forth an argument that planet earth is the ruler for Taurus and the second house.
Certainly that would solve the problem of space voyagers in our universe. But what of travelers to the unknown areas outside our universe? Well, let’s leave that question to the future! Back to our present-day question! Assuming astrology will not be left behind if humanity someday leaves earth…

Does astrology belong in the social science or humanities?

This is my answer. I think astrology does not really belong in the humanities. It is an “ology”. It is the study of forces bigger than the individual. And that links it more closely to the social sciences than the humanities.
But I think that if you want to put astrology in with the social sciences, astrology is much more like economics than like psychology.  Here are four similarities between these two fields.

Similarities between astrology and economics

Astrological forces appear to be quite similar to economic forces. First, of all, like economic forces, planetary influences are both exogenous, i.e., at work outside of individuals, and endogenous, at work inside of individuals.

(1) exogenous variables (i.e., forces) in economics

When I think of exogenous forces of economics I think always of the scene in John Steinbeck’s classic novel about the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath.

library science like economics
It’s at the beginning. There, mighty machines, so much bigger than any human being, are let loose by faceless bankers, to begin with a roar, mowing down farms and forcing hordes of evicted farmers to migrate to California. Just as now, faceless bankers were an exogenous force back in the 1930s. They changed the American landscape forever.

(2) endogenous variables (i.e. forces) in economics

But there is also an endogenous side to economics. Endogenous refers to forces for change that come from within. Economics also studies human behavior. Once thought to be based on a universal principle of “rational self-interest”, individual and group behavior is now seen as something that needs to be studied further to get a clue why people make the economic choices we do.
Economics looks at people as part of economic classes or groups based on demographics and geography. Astrology too can be seen as a field of study where astrologers look for astrological influences on people who share demographic, temporal, and geographic identities.
Here are two more similarities between these fields.

(3) correlation analysis in economics

Economics is fascinated by mathematical expressions of commonplace synchronicities. These mathematical expressions come from the field of statistics. In the field of statistics, synchronicity is called the correlation between and among events.
The difference between correlation and synchronicity is simply that synchronicity feels like it has significance, whereas correlation has to be supported by the thought (i.e., hypothesis) that it has significance. That’s because correlation is not a causation; it is merely the degree of association of one event with another. We have to think of a cause.
Astrology too is fascinated by correlations or planetary “aspects” among all the planets as they square, conjunct, and/or oppose each other in space. Each of these kinds of positive or negative correlations is said to affect the planetary influences on beings, places, and events on the earth (and perhaps on other planets too!)

(4) regression analysis in economics

In forecasting, astrology uses a technique of progression. This technique is much like the regression analysis used in economics. Astrological progression is where a birth chart for an individual person, place, or thing is compared with their chart at the present moment. In other words, it is a longitudinal study, a study over a set length of time.
In economics regression analysis is “a method of discovering the relationship between one variable and any number of other variables giving a coefficient by which forecasts can be made.” The technique is used by statisticians to forecast the way in which something will behave.
Of course, economists would roundly denounce such a comparison between their field and the field of astrology! Unlike psychologists, economists would not accept astrology as a subfield of their field, and rightly so.
Economics is concerned with the mundane, with things dealing with the economy: money, goods, services, and exchange. Economics is a down-to-earth field. Astrology, on the other hand, is an esoteric field! Astrology is from outer space!
So now we arrive at our penultimate question.

Is astrology a hybrid of the humanities and social sciences?

There is an uneasy Escher-like discordance between the universal forces and the individual impulses in the study of planetary influences posited by astrology. Is our fate “in our stars” as Hamlet mused; or is it in ourselves? Or both? Is there a bigger force than the stars or ourselves at work behind astrology? A force that simultaneously influences the planets and us?
Astrology shifts back and forth as if it is hybrid of the humanities and the social sciences—sometimes astrology focuses totally on the individual; at other times it focuses on groups of people and on society as a whole.
This is why, to find where astrology really fits in the scheme of human knowledge, I think we have to look at the broader class it belongs to. That class is the occult sciences.
Librarians, the modern day “oracles of information,” have swept the occult sciences into obscure corners within the mists of psychology (social sciences) and philosophy(humanities). As a result, astrology is now in a position somewhat similar to that fungi once had.
Fungi are neither plants nor animals. They bear some characteristics of each one but are like neither. That’s why fungi were finally placed in their own kingdom within the realm of biology. Fungi didn’t belong in the plant kingdom or the animal kingdom.
Astrology has some of the characteristics of humanities and some of the characteristics of the octal sciences, but it doesn’t belong in either kingdom within the realm of information. There’s a good reason for this.
When it comes to theoccult, always, when we try to classify things as this or that, there is some exception, some outlier, some being that is neither fish nor fowl. And that is the mystery that all occult sciences, such as astrology, and the even older I Ching (with its study of change and changes in the human society), exist to explore and express.

Astrology IS something else!

I Ching Bagua

The I Ching appeared hundreds of years before astrology. It is a 3,000+ year old occult science from China. It is part of an ancient religion called Taoism.


Like the direct and retrograde states of planets in astrology, the strength of the unseen influences in the I Ching are also determined by binary forces that are “opposites”. These forces are called yin (weak) and yang (strong). Yin and yang lines are the basic foundation of the I Ching system for classifying human knowledge.

Other well-known ancient occult sciences that involve the organization of human knowledge into classes are the tarot and the runes. All of these  ancient systems used symbols to classify knowledge contained within the occult sciences. In this, they have much common with the many modern classification systems used by librarians around the world.

This is why I think that these ancient occult sciences should be in the same broad class of knowledge as library science.

Where astrology actually “fits”

Just as with astrology, library science, which also calls itself “information science,” “knowledge management,” and “librarianship,” can’t agree on where to put itself either. In the Library of Congress classification scheme it puts itself last, in the Z’s. In the Dewey classification scheme, it puts itself first, in the 000s. What is library science? The omega or the alpha?

Library science, however, in a Uriah-Heep-like imitation of humility, views itself as just one of the “professional” fields of study, like law or medicine. But it is not like any other field. Library science is unique! It is the field that studies all of the other fields of study; in the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, the professional fields, and the technical fields.

Library science is not just “one of the boys” when it comes to knowledge management. Library science is king (or queen) of the hill.

It’s time to recognize too that that library science is an extension of the occult practices used by the ancients for information storage, access, and retrieval and for communicating with each other.

occult sciences like library sciences

Library science has its historical roots in pictorial and symbolic structures used for classification of occult knowledge by those who lived in the “non-reading” ages, i.e, the time and place before the widespread existence of books. That’s its past. The future for library science lies in its openness to new ways to classify information, new knowledge that as of now is only a “known unknown”.

Astrology and other ancient esoteric classification systems belong within library science. And library science belongs right at the top of our ambitious schemes for preserving, organizing and gaining access to all human knowledge about ourselves, our world, our universe, and the “great unknown” that lies within and beyond all of us.

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