For most people, all they know of astrology, is Modern Astrology. Few have actually heard of Traditional Astrology, and fewer still know much about Traditional Astrology. I will here describe a few of the differences between these forms of Astrology.
Traditional Astrology, which noted Traditional Astrologer John Frawley terms, with some passion, the “Real Astrology” is that art form which has existed in the form we now practice it, for many hundreds of years, — and which began thousands of years ago, in the 3rd millenium BCE. Traditional Astrology, developing from ancient Babylonian origins, was always Divinatory in nature, and its divinatory nature is one of the most striking differences between Traditional and Modern Astrology.
Modern Astrology in essence has broken with the past, and does not find its basis in ancient astrological wisdom and teachings. The primarily psychological form of Modern Astrology began with Alan Leo , who was, as the Wikipedia article states, ” the first astrologer to argue for a loose interpretation of possible trends of experience rather than the specific prediction of events.” Thus, after Alan Leo, we saw a very significant change in astrology, in that ” what has been more recently called “event-oriented” astrology gradually receded in favor of character analysis and vague descriptions of possible areas of psychological harmony or stress.” Take note of the terms “loose” and “vague” in these quotes, as I think they are relevant. Modern Astrology does tend to give more “vague” interpretations — even if they are lengthy — whereas the interpretations given by Traditional Astrology tend to be more precise and specific.
In many ways, Modern Astrology can be more intuitive than traditional, and modern astrologers can often simply innovate their own approach. Modern Astrology is entirely psychological in nature — its focus is very inward, and it refers to sun signs and inner potentials, and can be cloyingly upbeat. As Robert Hand, an exponent of Traditional Astrology, says: “In modern astrology, nothing is bad, nothing is necessarily good, and all is love and light!” The structure of Modern Astrology is not well adapted to a world where bad things can happen, and so it too often produces milquetoasty interpretations and advice which could really apply to anyone at anytime, and hence fail to provide any real much practical guidance. Again, Robert Hand: “What modern astrology often overlooks, is that if everything means everything, then nothing means anything. It lacks any kind of symbolic rigor.” An ancient king of Spain sought advice from their court astrologers not because they wanted to know they were a dreamy Pisces with a sensitive heart, but because they wished to know if they should win in a war with the King of France and his military. William Lilly, the famous exponent of Traditional Astrologer and author of the Bible of Traditional Astrology called Christian Astrology (in those days there was a need to stay close to things Christian — aligning oneself with the occult arts could lead to loss of life!) at one point needed to find out who had stolen his shipment of fresh fish, and inquired of the planets to find out. These people had a real practical need for solid answers, that the fluff and stuff of Modern Astrology cannot provide. Frawley refers to Modern Astrology as “rubbish”, declaring it “a travesty of the science once practiced.” Victor Laude refers to it as “a pandemic of contemporary culture.” These criticisms may be overharsh — I prefer to take the view that Modern Astrology may have valuable things to offer — but that they are quite different from what is offered by Traditional Astrology, and again, what is offered by Modern Astrology tends to be loose and vague, insofar as it references “potentials” innate in the human psyche. Well in a sense, everyone has a potential for anything.
Even if we do wish to understand our own psyche, Modern Astrology often provides too much information, in too disorganized a manner, for anyone to gain useful advice from it. There are dozens of stars, planets and even comets and meteors and Modern Astrologers are using in charts now. It uses many more aspects than are used in Traditional Astrology -One has to have either a very good system or a focused intuition to know how to use what. Contrast this to the pared down simplicity of Traditional Astrology which uses only the 7 Classical Planets as rulers, and only the classical aspects (conjunction, sextile, trine, square, opposition, and sometimes the quincunx), and you have a neater and more straightforward method of chart reading.
Modern Astrology is often entirely intuitive, without any clear rules of interpretation for a chart (eg each person can potentially make it up as they go along…no reference to past tradition) , while Traditional Astrology is sometime employed along the other extreme in a very rigorous, by the book cookbook manner where its adherents declaim the use of intuition as too subjective. However, it’s my view that every chart requires at least some assessment to be made on an intuitive basis, and that the best way to practice Traditional Astrology, particularly Horary Astrology its core practice, is to balance traditional rules for interpretation (generally derived from William Lilly) along with an application of an educated intuition.
There are differences too in how one views house and sign rulerships, and house attributions. In Modern Astrology, for instance, the 8th house is sometimes viewed as the house ruling sex, rebirth, even financial and emotional support — and this is definitely NOT the way this house is viewed in Traditional Astrology, where the 8th house has entirely negative connotations of death, burdens (like taxes) debts, and losses. In Modern Astrology, the signs are all-important, but in Traditional Astrology, it’s the houses and the planets which are emphasized, not the signs.
While Modern Astrology is reluctant to conceive of a negative force in the universe, Traditional Astrology incorporates the concept of benefic or fortunate planets (Jupiter and Venus), and malefic planets (Saturn and Mars), as well as malefic aspects and houses. Saturn and Mars are not always malefic, nor the fortunes always fortunate, but this is a starting point, and these are very practical and realistic parts of Traditional Astrology that you won’t find in modern fluff.
As a form of astrology which I believe more accurately involves the energies of the planetary archetypes or deities, Traditional Astrology is also better poised than the Modern form to mesh well with Pagan-Magical orientations and those who are interested in working with these deities. In fact, many workshops I have attended at Pagan gatherings have emphasized the views of Traditional over Modern Astrology.