Today I have part eight in a series in which I'm looking at the beliefs on ancient astrologers. In this talk, I'll be discussing the dichotomy between secular humanism and spirituality in the ancient world, and how this might have had an impact on astrology.
Hi everyone this is Acyuta-bhava from Nightlight Astrology, and today I'm doing the eighth part of my series on the beliefs of ancient astrologers. In today's episode, we're going to talk about the dichotomy between secular humanism and spirituality in the ancient world and how this might have had an impact on astrology back then, and also how that has an impact on astrology today, especially how we think about ancient astrologers. So hopefully, this episode will serve to clear up some misconceptions that I think are pretty common actually. Reminder, if you haven't started this series from the beginning, I recommend doing that because a lot of this series builds each episode, insights and concepts are being built upon consecutively. But in the meantime, for those of you who are watching this series and need a refresher, I started doing this research some years ago, because as I was getting more serious about my commitment to the path of bhakti yoga, I wanted to understand what the most likely beliefs of ancient astrologers were and to understand whether they squared with the path of bhakti yoga, obviously, Indian astrology has a lot in common with bhakti yoga. It comes out of the same area of the world. Also, did were Western esoteric sis mystics, were they sharing similar values? That was really important to me to understand. And it was also important for me, because I was at one of those places in my career where it's kind of taking inventory? Like, what do I believe? What are my faith practices as an astrologer? How does astrology fit into my life as a spiritual seeker? And it was important for me to clarify this. This research, by no means landed me at some set of exact answers about what ancient astrologers believed, but it did give me a lot of insights and clues as to what the most likely beliefs of practising astrologers were in the ancient world and what has unified astrologers metaphysically, or spiritually, or theologically, over several 1000 years. Of course, there's been variations, one of the great things about astrology is that it's very flexible, and has served a lot of different, you know, people in different faith communities that have different beliefs and backgrounds. And I said, at the beginning of the series, you don't even necessarily need to be committed to one spiritual path to do astrology. People will do astrology, and they'll do it without any kind of attachment to spiritual beliefs, or a belief in God or the soul or anything like that. I can't say that I necessarily agree with that approach. But it's clear that astrology has been adapted by all sorts of people. And, you know, one can hardly argue with that. I mean, a lot of people will use it in a way that's just, you know, purely psychological with an almost agnostic view about the soul or God or whatever. And I have friends that practice that way. So I just want to be respectful to people's differences. However, again, the purpose of this series is to bring together the most likely beliefs that ancient astrologers had, so that we can look and take inventory and say, Hey, does this match up with my beliefs? Or does it give me some ground to stand on? And for me, it's done that so I hope it'll do that for you, too.
Okay, so today, secular humanism versus spirituality. Now, people toss around phrases like secular humanism, it's like, well, what is that? So I'm just gonna define it the way I've understood it in the way that my research led me to understand it. Very broadly speaking, secular humanism would be a way of talking about an investment that people have in the body, in the material world, and in the human experience, as though that is all that there is. Or as though there is nothing beyond that. There is no soul or God. Not even like let's say Buddhist conceptions that may not see an underlying self or essence or ontology or or God or something like that. It's it's not even that it's just look, I'm here to be a creature that is, I'm an animal, I'm a material creature, I don't know why I'm here, I'm gonna die someday, I'm concerned with the things immediately surrounding me. And I'm not saying that people that believe this way are bad. Obviously, it's not the way I live my life. But broadly speaking, people who are just wrapped up in the world and who have no thought or concern for spiritual or religious things. So we're just calling this broadly speaking, secular humanism. And I'm not meaning for that to sound derogatory or disrespectful. But we can all agree that there are groups of people in the world where if you start talking about spirituality, religion, the cosmos metaphysics, they're going to go, look, I don't know and I don't care. That's it.
So sometimes people imagine that the ancient world was full of magic and mysticism, and that once long ago, everyone was spiritual, and everyone was connected to a magical and spiritual universe and that we've lost that somehow. So the first thing to say is that no, that's actually not the case. We have always had a split between people who look at the world and see God Spirit or spirits or gods and the soul, or who see some call to spiritual life, to meditation to prayer to different forms of contemplative lifestyle, a reflective lifestyle life of even the mind even study and reflection about truth. There has always been a split between people who are called to such things and people who say, meh, not interested, don't know, don't care. So some people imagine that the ancient world was entirely mystical, and that's not true, we know that in the ancient world, there still existed, many people who would look at astrologers and go, that's a crock of crap, you know, just to put it simply right, they would look at astrology, or people going to temples or religion or spirituality of any kind, and with the sceptical eye, say, Don't know why you're doing that this, you know, you're, you're, you're chasing for invisible fantasies or something like that. So that's always existed.
The other thing that people imagine is that we only gradually became rational, sceptical, empirical rationalists, that long ago, everything was sort of mythological, pseudo scientific, and then over time, we sort of evolved or became more rational. And, you know, we kind of developed the the ability to be rational, but previously, we were just sort of primitive, superstitious, magical, etc. And this has led some to try to take a purely psychological or artistic perspective on astrology, as if we now have to find a way of using astrology in light of our modern rational knowledge, as a way of replacing some kind of outdated, primitive, magical, superstitious worldview. And in fact, that's not true, either. The practice of astrology was that, in the ancient world, there already existed that divide between people who were saying, look, you need to look at the world rationally, and not magically or not in terms of divination, or cosmology, or metaphysics or theology. So that, that divide between people looking at one another and saying, Look, you're just you're mythical, magical, superstitious, woowoo stuff isn't the way to think about reality, that same divide existed 1000s of years ago, as it does today. And so, it's just important to remember that because one of the things that can happen is we can start looking at the ancient world and saying, like, Well, you know, they had this way of looking at the world, and we now have this really enlightened, rational way of looking at the world. And so that means we need to somehow rationalise or bring up to date astrology, but the same kinds of arguments about rationalism versus superstition, or myths, magic and Gods versus reason that's been around for 1000s of years.
Naturalism exists also in ancient times in both the east and the west. Naturalism being the idea that you look at the world and you're not trying to get information about spirit soul, other realms, dimensions, beings, gods, the purpose of life or the universe, that you're looking at nature purely to understand the cause and effect relationship of physical phenomenon, that naturalistic way of looking at the world or a more empirical naturalist view, that existed 1000s of years ago, as it does today, side by side with people who were, you know, studying, you know, spiritual sciences. The other thing that's important to realise is that people who studied spiritual sciences in the ancient world were not purely living in some kind of mythical paradigm where there was no sense of allegory or symbolism that they took everything literally and only with a superstitious eye, you'll find modern, early modern astrologers acting as though that's what ancient astrologers were like, and they weren't.
You have people coming from Pythagorean, Platonic, Aristotelian, Neoplatonic traditions, Hermeticism, the Orphics, Stoics, Indian astrologers and these people are using math, they're using number they're using astronomy, they're using, you know, algebra there. So there's the place that astrology arises from, in the ancient world, was very well aware of the split between say, reason and magic. And then on the other hand, the spiritual sciences were also attempting to be rigorous intellectually and rationally. So if you if you study astrology at a very deep level, the philosophy rationalism, the astronomy, the number, the geometry. It's all there. And it represents a kind of marriage of myth, magic and reason. And a lot of people don't think that they think, well, the ancient world is just this primitive superstitious bog. And then gradually everything became more reasonable. The same kind of debates existed then. And an ancient spiritual sciences were also very reasonable and concerned with being rational as well. And in fact, in part to combat the perception that people have that you guys just believe in a bunch of hokum.
Hedonism also existed in both the east and the west, as did scepticism and empiricism. Hedonism, broadly speaking, just being the eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we will die philosophy I mean, I'm just you know, putting a funny twist on it, but that's the gist of it is just enjoy, indulge, gratify your senses. This is the only life you have, as did scepticism. Scepticism being the constant questioning of things and the tendency to cut away at axiomatic truths and and try to undermine assumptions that people are making in the reason oftentimes directly attacking religious or spiritual communities or groups of people that existed in the ancient world, and empiricism or that kind of natural empiricism, but looking at the world and saying, Look, I don't care about Gods, I just want to know what the world is made of, how it works and operates in a purely physical way. There's Minervas, about 630 BCE, who was a poet who likely wrote for the equivalent of drinking parties, he wrote, "What is life without golden Aphrodite? May I die when I no longer care for Secret Love and sweet gifts and loves couch? These are the flowers of life to be plucked by men and women alike."
So here he's saying like, no, What's life without pleasure, guys, and this is the kind of so that mood of like, look like you know, you guys all you Hetty talking about the cosmos and those people around, you know, 2500 years ago, who would have scoffed at that and been like, let's just drink guys. It's important to know that the ancient world is not so different from our world and the kinds of divisions that existed mentally, intellectually spiritually between people. Similarly, the Carvakas pronunciation again, questionable, an Indian School of materialist said this, "The enjoyment of heaven consists in partaking of sweet food here, and enjoying the company of damsels of 16 years of age, and also in enjoying the pleasures that are drivable from the use of fine clothes, sweet sense flower garland sandal and other such things." Sorry, I know that's kind of a little cringy. But there it is. It's a it's a hedonistic philosophy, just be here, heaviness here, just enjoying.
Now, again, some people may be watching this feel that way. And I don't mean to be attacking anyone. But this The point is that again, sometimes people will think that this modern divide that we deal with as astrologers, sometimes with people who are, you know, looking at us going, this is all woowoo, tinfoil hat stuff. Can you just be in your life and enjoy it, you always have to be thinking about the big grand picture and so forth. That same conversation existed a long time ago. Some people said that Moksha or liberation was simply dying, there's nothing else you just die. And that's it. Xenophanes as a sceptic, who rejected the gods and tried to stay away from all explanations that depart from the world of immediate sensation. And there's many other examples of secular humanists around at the dawn of horoscopic astrology who likely would have rejected the cosmology and metaphysics of our astrological ancestors. So even in ancient times, there were haters, sceptics, hedonist, those who didn't share the same beliefs that astrologers likely held or didn't feel that they were rational enough. And it's also quite possible that astrologers were, to some extent, mocked by people, like literally just like any other spiritual group could be, because they think, well, you're just out to lunch.
Why is this important to us as astrologers today, because it's good to recognise that, astrology was not a part of an ancient world where everything was spiritual, everything was mystical and perfect. And, you know, everyone, you know, sang Kumbaya on to the stars and participated in the most enlightened view of the cosmos ever. So you can come worship at the altar of the past. And that's a mistake. And even in those ancient times, the same kinds of scepticism or scrutiny that astrologers face. Now, they faced back then. And it's also true that astrologers were always striving to be rational, to be intellectual to be intelligent about the cosmology, and about the techniques. They were symbolists they had a very unique you know, hermetic view as above so below, it was reasoned through beautiful patterns of geometry, math, astronomy, the four elements. It is a system that was really deeply thought out and not part of some superstitious, mythic literalism. It's important to know all of those things because we face some of the same scrutiny and scepticism today that existed back then. And when I learned about this, it really made me feel better. It helped me realise that, you know, I'm not standing so far apart from the world that ancient astrologers lived in and from the same world that astrologers over the past several 1000 years have been in in terms of what kind of scrutiny that they've stood up to society or in relationships, or from people in the academies or what have you.
So at any rate, that is my talk for today, I hope you find it interesting to think about the comparison and contrast between you know, secular humanism and spiritualities, or spiritual schools of thought in the ancient world. Have a couple of episodes left, so stay tuned for more. I think there's two more left if I'm not mistaken. So I've been really enjoying this and I hope it's been helping you to feel like you have some ground beneath you and understanding what astrology is all about. We'll see you again soon. Bye.