What is Traditional Astrology?
How Does Traditional Astrology Differ From Modern Astrology?
What are the different types of Traditional Astrology?
Getting Started in Traditional Astrology: Primary Source Reading List
Getting Started in Traditional Astrology: Secondary Source Reading List
Getting Started in Traditional Hermeticism Reading List
Getting Started in Traditional Astrology: Readings & Courses
Western or European astrology originated in Babylonia and Chaldea around 2,000 B.C. The planets were equated to gods and celestial events observed for omens. Most cultures observe heavenly omens, but Babylonian religion was particularly astral based and by 1,500 B.C. had collected systematic observations of Venus and other planets.
The key invention was Zodiac around 600-400 B.C. which allowed for precise description of location of planets and complex system of delineation. This horoscopic astrology diffused to Greece and throughout the Hellenistic world and became part of the science and philosophy of the Roman Empire.
With the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages in the 6th and 7th centuries, astrology was preserved in Byzantium and the advanced Islamic civilization of the Middle East. This astrology, enriched by the addition of observations and techniques, some from the Vedic astrology of India, passed to medieval Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. There it flourished until the Enlightenment and went of out fashion due to the new materialism and mechanistic philosophies introduced in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Over the 2,000 year span from the Greeks to the Renaissance astrology exhibited great continuity in technique and philosophy despite some significant changes. The phase of this astrology in Europe from 1200 to 1700 is referred to as traditional astrology while the first period, 1200 to 1500, is known as medieval astrology and the terminal period, 1500 to 1700, is known as Renaissance astrology. Here is more information on the History of Astrology in the Renaissance. Links to pages on a number of figures, prominent in Renaissance astrology, appear above to left.
The focus of traditional astrology was on outer events, rather than psychology (a science that did not come into existence until the 20th century). By using a myriad of techniques, traditional astrology was able to provide precise, accurate prediction of concrete events. Here is an example of the accuracy and precision possible with traditional astrology, the Disappearance of Chandra Levy.
From 1700 to 1900 astrology was practiced seriously by only a few isolated practitioners and much of the nuance and technique was lost. By 1900 with the renewed interest in the esoteric sciences reflected by such groups as the Theosophists and the magical order of the Golden Dawn, astrology came to be studied again.
In its newest incarnation, however, astrology came to be seen as a method of character analysis and psychological insight. The stars and planets provided a map of the psyche which proved very useful for self insight and counseling. Prediction, the raison d'etre of traditional astrology, was dismissed as either impossible, due to the considerable loss of technique or unethical. Modern psychological astrology introduced the use of the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, asteroids, additional types of aspects and a myriad of techniques using advanced computer software. Modern astrology is excellent for psychological insight, but cannot predict with the precise of traditional astrology.
Traditional astrology is divided into four main categories:
The Renaissance Astrology web site is the largest traditional astrology site, with information on a wide variety of topics as well as actual examples of horary, electional and astrological magic charts. This is a great place to start learning about traditional astrology! Check out our Youtube Videos which are a great introduction to traditional astrology and astrological magic.
If you are interested in reading about traditional astrology here is a booklist to get you started. You can also check out the complete list of books published by Renaissance Astrology Press. There are not many contemporary books written on traditional astrology, most were originally written in the Renaissance and Middle Ages:
One of the problems of a magical practitioner in the early 21st century is getting caught between running aground on the Scylla (google it!) of fluffy bunny New Ageism or being whirled into the Charybdis of academic magical scholarship. It's very tempting to be "serious" and start paying lots of attention to academic sources, after all they are the high priests of our society and their imprimatur (google it!) is necessary for legitimacy and prestige. Unfortunately, academic observers of magic are still required to reject its actual existence. This makes them very problematic sources of information when one is actually interested in doing magic. Hard to get practical tips from someone that insists the whole exercise is a pointless exercise in outdated superstition. So, I've generally used academic sources very sparingly, in the very beginning of study, simply to get my historical bearings. I hadn't even bothered to read anything new coming out of academia in the past few years, so it was a pleasant surprise to run across two new books in the UPenn Magic in History series that I can actually recommend.
The first is The Transformations of Magic: Illicit Learned Magic in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance by Frank Klaassen
Klaassen even goes to so far as to say that in his opinion, at least as far as the actual practitioners were concerned, that magic worked. Though I don't think he'd go so far as to endorse the practicing of magic by those in the contemporary world. Klaassen is one of the leading lights of the Societas Magicae, which is extremely frosty about actual practitioners. Their membership form, for example, asks either for your academic affiliation or a listing of academic articles published.
In any case, I did find Transformation of Magic very interesting and can recommend it because it gives a great amount of information about the split between astrological and Solomonic magic. I had thought that this was a modern phenomenon, but in fact, while astrological magic texts, mostly of Arabic origin, were popular in the Middle Ages, by the time of the Renaissance, the Solomonic style, ala Greater Key of Solomon, Goetia, etc., were all the rage. Very, very interesting!
I was then on a roll, and found another good new academic magic source, Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe by Sophie Page.
Here the focus is on the library of the Benedictine abbey of St. Augustine's in Canterbury, (yes England). Interestingly enough a significant portion of the monks had the time, interest and inclination to collect and presumably practice magic, alchemy and astrology. Very interesting summary of medieval and Renaissance magic and magical texts. Well worth perusing!
So let's just open the floodgates and look at the whole Magic in History series But I wouldn't buy it at the publisher, too expensive! Get Kindle or get used copies.
Here's what I like the most of the rest of the series:
Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer's Manual of the Fifteenth Century by Richard Kieckhefer
Oh, boy, this one really got me in trouble! This is a critical edition of a medieval book of magic, what Kieckhefer calls the Munich handbook of necromancy. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, while it includes the complete Latin, there is no complete English translation. Nevertheless, Kieckhefer gives a lots of information about the talismans, etc.
I got in trouble with the one talisman I made out of this book, a black Mirror of Lilith as you can see following the link. So while I can definitely recommend reading the book, I can't really recommend using it!
The next book I can recommend is Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of Central Europe by Benedek Lang
Again, by studying manuscripts and books in libraries, a great deal is revealed about the medieval and Renaissance practice of magic. Still, I'd love to have some actual critical editions of the magical texts discussed if not actual English translations.
Two more books in the series that actually contain translations of magical texts are:
Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic by Claire Fanger
This contains a translation of Bokenham's "Book of the Angels, Rings, Characters and Images of the Planets"
Invoking Angels: Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries by Claire Fanger
This contains an English translation of Antonio Da Montulmo's "Book of Intelligences" which is very unusual, giving instructions for invoking the spirits of the Zodiacal signs and intelligences of the planets.
So you can lose yourself for awhile in a wealth of academic material and even get some actual astrological magic or malefic magical texts!
The Hermetic Arts are astrology, magic and alchemy. I've never practiced alchemy, but if you are interested make sure you study traditional laboratory alchemy. As I said, I'm not an expert but here are some interesting contemporary books on traditional alchemy that are good as an introduction. All of these are contemporary texts, but still traditional in their approach. Principe is particularly interesting as he is a chemist!