Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blavatsky and Astrology

The Swedish astrologer Martin Gansten has posted a paper of his from the Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Sophia Centre Conference, published by last year by Nicholas Campion.  His paper, “Reshaping karma: an Indic metaphysical paradigm in traditional and modern astrology,” contains a description of the development of modern astrology from Theosophical circles, especially through the figure of Alan Leo.

With the introduction of new scientific paradigms, interest in astrology declined drastically on the European Continent during the 17th century. At the same time, the art was enjoying an unprecedented popularity in England; but a few decades into the next century, fashions had changed even here, and only the occasional enthusiast was left. It was not until the late 1880s that the first stirrings of a movement to popularize astrology were felt, a movement which was largely the creation of one man: William Frederick Allen, soon to be better known as Alan Leo (1860 – 1917). Leo’s efforts proved successful in the way so common to popularizing ventures: by altering the thing popularized to the point where one has to ask whether it is, in any meaningful sense, the same thing at all, or rather a new product marketed under an old label.

Astrology was only one of Leo’s two great enthusiasms, the other being Theosophy as taught by Helena Blavatsky and, later, Annie Besant – teachings which in themselves were intended as a popularization of the esoteric or ‘occult’ truths supposedly contained in all ancient religious traditions, although couched mainly in eastern terminology. Leo’s life project was to unite the two by reinterpreting astrology as a spiritual doctrine, or, in the words of Wilhelm Knappich, to strip it of its scholastic-Aristotelic dress and shroud it in ‘the shimmering magic cloak of Indian Theosophy’ instead.

The work of another influential Theosophical astrologer, Dane Rudhyar, is also credited. Gansten, who also teaches at Lund University, points out that Blavatsky’s ideas “contrast sharply, however, with the ideas of karman and transmigration present in the Indic religions,” which should come as no surprise as she rules out metempsychosis, the going backward into an animal form by a human, and that karma cannot be propitiated by rituals and priests. The rest of Martin Gansten’s paper can be read here.

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