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Medieval Worldview Explained

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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
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Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 12:57 am    Post subject: Medieval Worldview Explained Reply with quote

I was going to hold off on mentioning this book until I finished it, but what appears to be a hectic early autumn might prevent me from completing it for longer than I thought. On another astrology list a discussion of the Medieval world view same up, and several books were recommended to interested students to try to get a grasp on that topic. The Elizabethan World Picture by Tillyard was mentioned but another author was suggested that surprised me. The Book is The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis. Yes that C.S. Lewis. I’ll get back to him below.

I believe that the biggest obstacle confronting contemporary astrologers when they first come across traditional astrology is that they approach it the way they approach modern astrology, i.e. as a series of techniques. This is understandable because that is pretty much how modern astrology is presented: this aspect means this – that placement means that. The various schools provide slightly different viewpoints resulting in different slants on delineation, but the emphasis is on technique. Everyone recognizes the importance of the Ascendant and MC, the aspects, and meanings of the houses. “Synthesis” is the key. Those astrologers with the talent to put the pieces together are the ones who, in my opinion, give the most impressive delineations. However when they encounter traditional astrology for the first time, regardless of skill level, the things they notice are the differences in technique. The notice that the outer planets are not considered sign rulers, that planetary strength is given a great deal of influence, they see fewer aspects being used etc. This is broad brush, but I think the point is valid.

Differences are understood and objected to in terms of technique. “How can you say the quincunx is a minor aspect?” “What’s wrong with using asteroids? They exist, don’t they?.” “The essential dignities don’t ‘work’.” However, I’ve been taught that while there are differences in technique, that the world view of those practitioners we follow was not ours. And that to understand they way they looked at astrology, we must understand how they saw the world. John Frawley went so far as to say that if we look at astrology through a 21st century lens, the skeptics are right. It makes no sense.

So if we accept all that, then it is important to try to at least understand what it was that our ancestors understood. We need to understand what it means when we say, “Everything is connected.” And that is the strength of The Discarded Image.”

Lewis, for those who are either not familiar with him or might only know him through the Narnia series, was a Protestant theologian of considerable intellectual ability. His contributions range from children’s literature through scholarly contributions to theology. So what does this have to do with astrology? The very title hints at the answer. The “image” Lewis writes about is the medieval world view. Lewis’ book is meant as an introduction to medieval literature, and as I have argued that medieval astrology is not well understood if we don’t understand the medieval mind, Lewis argues the same for medieval literature. Therefore, his book attempts to fill that void. But there is a treat for astrologers, despite the fact that astrology, so far, is only hinted at in this work.

Lewis argues that there are three great medieval works that are major contributions to thought: St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologia¸ Dante’s Divine Comedy, and what Lewis calls The Model. This last is the most important to him and to us. He argues that the middle ages was a time of organization, i.e. putting everything that came before in order. We might say it is a great Virgo period. This is what St. Thomas did for theology in his Summa, and it is what Dante did for morality and salvation. The Comedia is nothing if it is not superbly organized. But both of these things depend on The Model for understanding. The Model is the backdrop of everything in the middle ages, and it is through the understanding of The Model, that makes the work of St. Thomas and Dante so compelling hundreds of years after their completion.

Lewis argues that the understanding of the cosmos has always provided a background for thought, then as now. Then the universe was presented as orderly, logical, and everyone was part of it and part of God’s plan. Today we see the universe as mechanistic and not beyond our capabilities to understand and even, to a certain extent, control. Right now we have people who think that they can control the weather by preventing everyone from drinking from plastic bottles.

He goes on to claim that The Model was among the greatest accomplishments of the medieval mind, and to understand it is to understand that world view. And from our standpoint, to understand it, is to increase one’s understanding of astrology regardless of how it is practiced. This might be one of the more important non-astrology astrology books.

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Joined: 08 Jul 2004
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Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks! Just the sort of thing I was looking for. I went right out and got it.

I always feel drawn to the medieval this time of year, leading into autumn. It has hit me especially hard this year.
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Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I found an example in this book that I'd like to share. Keep in mind that Lewis is not an astrologer arguing points for astrology. He is explaining the medieval world view using literature as examples, but the transition is not so difficult.

At the beginning of Chapter V titled The Heavens Lewis begins:

The fundamental concept of modern science is, or was till very recently [Note: This book was first published in 1964. Lewis died in November of 1963. His death received little notice as it occurred one day after the assassination of John Kennedy], that of "natural laws" and every event was described as happening "in obedience" to them. In medieval science the fundamental concept was that of certain sympathies, antipathies, and strivings inherent in matter itself. Everything has its right place, its home, the region that suits it, and if not forcibly restrained, moves thither by a sort of homing instinct.

Lewis then goes on to quote a passage in Chaucer and I'll only give three lines:

Unto which place every thing
Through his kindly enclyning
Moeveth for to come to

Enclyning is "inclining," of course, and implies a sort of "will or desire."

Later on Lewis writes:

Stones, by definition (Chaucer said "everything" - tc) could not literally strive or desire.

If we could ask the medieval scientist "Why, then, do you talk as if they did," he might (for he was always a dialectician) retort with the counter question: "But do you intend your language about laws and obedience any more literally than I intend mine about kindly enclyning? Do your really believe that a falling stone is aware of a directive issued to it by some legislator and feels either a moral or a prudential obligation to conform? " We should then have to admit that both ways of expressing the facts are metaphorical. ....

But though neither statement can be taken literally, it does not follow that it makes no difference which is used. On the imaginative and emotional level it makes a great difference whether, with the medievals, we project upon the universe our striivings and desires, or with the moderns our police-system and our traffic regulations. The old language continually suggests a sort of continuity between merely physical events and our most spiritual aspirations."

It should be noted that the subtitle of The Discarded Image is An Introduction to Medieval Literature. He is looking at the medieval view with an eye towards understanding its literature. But to understand the literature is to understand the minds that produced it. The last sentence quoted is key. The medieval explanation of science implies a connection between physical events and spiritual aspirations. Going back before the middle ages to Ptolemy we note the connection between the physical events that produce the "Quality of the Soul" in a chart and the spiritual aspirations, for good or ill, of the native. There is a connection between the two. That connection, due to contemporary language and understanding, is not possible. Contemporary linear thinking would require a physical connection from the planets to the person and I suppose to the person's spirit or soul for it to be true, something the modern mind finds incomprehensible, but that makes perfect sense to the medieval mind.

I hope that what I've written is as clear to the reader as it is to me. If not, I'll try again if anyone is interested.

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