By Robert Hand, MA
Plato, Especially with Respect to Astrology.
We first see evidence of applications of philosophical principles that could be relevant to astrology in the writings of Plato (.428 - .327 BCE). We may also see them in the fragments left by the Pythagoreans, but recent scholarly work has questioned the antiquity of these fragments such that they may be after Plato rather than before him. So we will start with Plato who, in any case, was strongly connected with the Pythagorean tradition whatever it may have consisted of in these early days.
In Plato’s writings we see two themes that are important to the development of a philosophical or religious astrology, his idealism, and his philosophy of astronomy and religion. Both of these are part of the foundation of any system of esoteric astrology all the way up to and including modern, theosophical, esoteric astrology.
"Idealism" as applied to Plato and to philosophers in general does not refer to "ideals" in the modern ordinary language sense, such as when we call someone an “idealist.” Rather it refers to a philosophical principle which holds that ultimate reality, that which truly exists and consists of eternally true principles, does not lie in the visible or material world of the senses, but consists of realities that are accessible only to the intellect (the intelligible) even though they are the source of patterns, forms, and the shapes of things accessible to the senses (the sensible) in the physical. To an idealist Mind (not limited to one person’s mind, but Mind in general) and what it can perceive is more real than what we seem to perceive in the physical world. And an aspect of Plato’s idealism was that anything that behaves according to mathematical principles and seems to be governed by law must be closer to the “real” than things which do not.
The ancients noticed that stellar motions, especially those of the “wandering stars” (known to us as planets) behaved according to mathematically describable patterns. This made it clear to them that these entities were not only “higher” in the literal sense of being far from the center of the earth, but were also higher in the scale of existence because they behaved more according to mathematical principles than the apparently crazy, unpredictable events of the physical world on earth. Thus planets and stars were closer to the divine, and more “real”, because they were comprehensible to intellect, than things on earth and whatever had to do with matter. The important duality implicit in all of this is the duality of inner versus outer, that which exists inside of Mind versus that which exists outside of Mind and is perceptible by the senses. Note that this is precisely the esoteric versus exoteric split. Plato’s philosophy gave priority to Mind over Nature.
Now when we say ‘mind’ here, we have to understand that this is mind removed, or “purified,” from all influences arising from the body, from material concerns, from emotions and instincts. It is in the true sense of the word rational mind. What Plato and other ancients meant by ‘rational’ may not be, and usually was not, what modern authors mean by rational because in modern times the word and concept ‘rational’ has been hijacked by one particular philosophical school which has defined ‘rational’ according to its precepts and all other forms of rationality are declared irrational. Plato’s and the general ancient conception of rationality was much broader than ours. According to modern rationality astrology is irrational; according to Plato and the ancients it was not.
To sum up, with Plato "reality" lived in Mind, not in individual mind, but Mind as a whole. The stars and planets, which moved according to rational principles, were more real and therefore more divine. Observing or contemplating the heavens put one in touch with the divine. In a very real sense, Plato’s philosophy is the foundation of all forms of esoteric astrology.