Historian and collector Philip Graves has spent decades developing his own bibliographical catalogue and private collection of astrological texts, and probably knows more about what has been published, where and when, than any other person on the planet. Graves has now launched a project that will help the rest of the astrological community benefit from the personal commitment and financial investment he has made towards safeguarding important source texts from the history of astrology. Utilizing the original antiquarian printings in his personal possession, he is making his vast collection of works available in DVD collections, each packed with high-quality full-colour PDF reproductions of astrological works.
His series has been initiated with two DVDs that are currently available for purchase:
From Sibly to Simmonite - a collection of important source texts from the period of the 19th century English astrological revival (1784-1854) which includes over 40 volumes of works.
Godfather of Modernity: The Alan Leo Legacy Vol. One - Early Astrological Journals 1890-1912
A review of the Sibly to Simmonite collection is currently in preparation by Kirk Little, so my comments will focus on the content of the Grandfather of Modernity DVD, which includes the astrological journals that were edited or co-edited by Alan Leo in the first 22 years of his career. This voluminous electronic tone includes:
All 60 issues of 'The Astrologer's Magazine' edited by Alan Leo jointly with Frederick Lacey from August 1890 to July 1895.
The first 205 issues of 'Modern Astrology' edited by Alan Leo from August 1895 to December 1912.
The first two (of four) issues of 'The Astrologer's Annual', a short-lived publication that was issued instead of 'Modern Astrology' in December 1905, 1906, 1907 and 1908 only. As Philip explains in his Word file introduction to the collection, this particular publication is extraordinarily difficult to source, since it is not included in the typical bound volumes of 'Modern Astrology' magazine.
In all, the DVD contains 267 of the first 269 periodicals publications edited by Leo, which (totaling four and a half GB of electronic data) is as much as can be packed into a DVD which uses full-colour reproduction. The high quality of its content and production is one of the ways we sense that Philip is undertaking something more than a purely commercial enterprise, being driven by a desire to share his acquired wealth of specialized knowledge of the early modern history of western astrology, and his passion to preserve and disseminate to today's historians and astrologers its literary legacy. Books are much quicker to scan in monochrome, but often result in passages of course or illegible text, whereas these reproductions offer as authentic reproduction of the original as it is possible to get without holding the actual text in our hands. Graves has carefully ensured that every page and fold-out illustration has been fully captured and optimized for the best viewing experience, and has also included an invisible layer of OCR text for each page, so that researchers can search the contents for words or terms of interest. The DVD itself is also a high-end product - rated for a life of 100 years by the manufacturer, we can safely assume it will last at least until the technology becomes obsolete.
The compendium of texts is itself a treasure trove for researchers, or for any practicing astrologer who wants to understand the mindset and chart examples of the late 19th and 20th-century. Although Leo plays an active part in all the journals, there are valuable contributions from most well-known astrologers of the period, mostly from Britain but several from America or other places that were touched by Leo's efforts to establish a strong sense of community and fellowship between astrological practitioners. So whilst this collection gives insight into Leo's work and the social placement of astrology in his era, it also presents the work and opinions of other notable astrologers, such as AJ Pearce (Zadkiel), John Thomas (Charubel), Frederick Lacey (Aphorel), HS Green, Walter Old and Walter Gornold (Sepharial), Robert T Cross (Raphael), Edward H Bailey, and many others.
The journals brim with natal chart studies and easily digestible serialized explanations of astrological technique. I found it especially interesting for the published horary chart examples, and for the delightful demonstration of how the centuries may change, but not the willingness of horary astrologers to dispute each other's understanding of William Lilly's work. The internal debates of the astro-correspondents are fascinating to observe and very entertaining to read. In the days before the web allowed instant response or informal commentary on published views, readers had to wait with baited breath to see how 'Casael' would next respond to 'Candid's' latest implication that he didn't understand the horary technique he had demonstrated. That particular dialogue, always beginning politely, and with painful formality that only served to underline the barbed insults, spanned the letters page of several journals, bringing in reinforcements on both sides from Zadkiel, Raphael, and Sepharial before Alan Leo stepped in to remind the correspondents: "Astrology is not yet an exact science with hard and fast
laws; a good deal has to be left to individual judgment; and it should be
quite possible for doctors to differ without using hard words about each
By the time I read Leo's remarks, I was ready to put pen to paper myself - I had a lot to say and wanted to add my own view that everyone was getting something wrong about the technique discussed in that particular chart. From my outsider's perspective it seemed ridiculous to note how minor points of disagreements could escalate into all-out war, and yet I still felt myself affected by the passion of it, and forgot about the distance of time as came to realise how I liked and admired some of the correspondents and contributors more than others.
Alas, these men are long gone, but when you read their words and visit their world you realise that their spirit and enthusiasm for astrology is still very thick in the air. There is something particularly vivid about journals published to unforgiving deadlines, which allows us to see beneath the veneer of the polished perfection aimed for in published books. For some astrologers these texts will be handy resources to dip into now and then, for others they really are capable of making compulsive reading.
This particular volume is the first of a planned trilogy focused on reproducing the entire of Alan Leo's print legacy. The second volume will cover the continuation of 'Modern Astrology' magazine from 1913 through to the eve of the second world war, during which it petered out and was finally discontinued. The third will be dedicated to astrological books written or published by Alan Leo and his circle and followers.
In his world file introduction Graves states his hope that these 267 publications will make for fascinating historical source material for historians of astrology, science and society, as well as for astrologers themselves. I certainly think that is the case but it is now over to the astrological community to support Graves' work, and ensure that his efforts continue and bear fruit. Sadly, in my online search for information about this DVD, I found that very little detail was available about it, and I worry that a lack of active marketing will be a drawback to its success. Graves states an intention to establish a website (www.astrolearn.com) where full information on all his DVDs can be found, but currently this is inactive and the only place where his DVD's can be purchased online is via the AFA website which gives scant information about its contents. So word of mouth, reviews, blog comments and personal recommendations will all be helpful in circulating news that will help get this project off the ground. Orders can also be placed directly with Philip Graves via his personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want to make a general comment or query about the work he is undertaking, you can post into the thread he created about these texts in the Skyscript forum. If ever a pat on the back were in order, this is it, and I'm very excited at the prospect of what this project could lead to next. In the spirit of the age I would like to say "Well done Mr Graves. Sir -- your work is well done!".
Published online September, 2014
Notes and References
The first letter published by a reader signing himself as 'Candid' in the June edition of Leo's Astrology Magazine, 1893. [Back to text]