Graduation Speeches

2004 Graduation - Speech by Robert Hand: Liberal Arts and Astrology

Liberal Arts and Astrology

A Speech Given at the 2004 Kepler Commencement


Robert Hand

“The liberal arts through the lens of Astrology.” What exactly does this mean and what does it suggest for the future role of Kepler? The phrase “liberal arts” in Latin was originally artes liberales. Unfortunately when the phrase was translated into English, it was translated into English words derived from the Latin, not into truly English equivalents. They were, to use the old term, “Englished,” but not really translated. The Latin word ars, the singular form of artes, does not mean ‘art’ in the usual English sense. It means ‘skill.’ Liberalis actually means “of or belonging to freedom, relating to the freeborn condition of a human being.” Artes liberales thus means “the skills which pertain to, and are necessary for being a free human being.” But are we not all free?

We are after all Americans and Americans are supposed to be a free people. But, leaving the current political situation aside, no one is free who does not see the world with an expanded perspective, who cannot see possibilities beyond one’s own likely narrow upbringing, who does not see that there are other ways in addition to the old ways that might be more productive, more successful, and which might increase the range of one’s freedom of action. It is a also matter of being liberated from various kinds of subtle bondage. This might be bondage to the state, bondage to one’s family, bondage to one’s habits, or even bondage to one’s own preferences, preferences which do not arise out of the essential nature of the self. There is an old Buddhist saying. “Enlightenment is easy for those who have no preferences.”

“Through the lens of Astrology.” From what kind of bondage does Astrology liberate? If one pursues Astrology simply as a practical tool for handling life but otherwise lives life just like everyone else, Astrology does not do much to liberate. It just creates a kind of split personality that uses a form of magical reasoning when doing astrology but otherwise thinks and perceives like “normal persons” in every other situation. But when we look at Astrology as a complete view of the world and what that really represents, we come to realize that it changes everything.

Let us take the issue of Astrology and Science. Are they truly incompatible? Is the doing of Astrology, for example, incompatible with what a physicist does in a laboratory, or a biologist, or an astronomer? Although the practice of these sciences certainly does not suggest that there might be something like Astrology in the world, it also does not rule it out. But when we look at the view of the world, as opposed to practice, that many scientists have, a view of the world which actually does not necessarily arise out of their practice, there we have the conflict. This world view held by many, but not all, scientists has been aptly named “Scientism.” It has little to do with what the Sciences really are but rather has arisen out of the speculations of some individual scientists who have wandered out of their own fields into philosophy and tried to do philosophy. Like everyone else scientists are not very good at doing things that they have not been trained to do. But many elements of the scientific community have grasped hold of scientism as their philosophy, their religion as it were. And it actually is a kind of religion with all that that word implies in a Judaeo-Christian culture. They have set out to do battle with the heretics (namely, people like ourselves) and to annihilate them in the name of “right opinion,” the actual meaning of the word “orthodoxy.”

If one were to throw out almost all of Astrology’s methods, and leave only the bare idea of correlations between celestial motions and terrestrial events, it might be brought into conformity with Scientism. But beyond that, no matter how one understands Astrology, it is incompatible with Scientism. For the astrologers among us, think of progressions, directions, planetary periods, and that really “serious” problem, horary, a branch of Astrology that is so strange that even astrologers have had trouble accepting it.

So what are the tenets of Scientism that so conflict with Astrology?

  • All existence consists of a universe composed of matter and energy as these are presently conceived by Physics.
  • The various parts of this universe are separated from each other only by being in different locations in a time-space continuum.
  • All complex wholes can be completely understood by a complete understanding of the simpler component parts. This is what is known as reductionism, and even though it is contradicted by the findings of Systems Theory, it is still an habitual way thinking among many scientists.
  • Aliveness and consciousness are the result of accidental or random events in which matter and energy have combined to produce living and thinking systems.
  • Otherwise there is no living energy, force, or being in the universe. The universe is basically dead. Life is epiphenomenal, that is, essentially peripheral.
  • There is no meaning or purpose in any of this. It is all accidental. To quote a National Lampoon comedy album of some years back, “You are a fluke of the universe. You have no right to be here. And whether you can hear it or not, the universe is laughing at you behind your back.” This is the message of Scientism. But we will pass lightly over the fact that for the universe to laugh, it must be alive!

By contrast Astrology comes from systems of philosophy which include the following principles.

  • In addition to matter and energy there is Soul, Mind and Consciousness, however one may choose to define these. Like matter and energy, these are substance-like and are components of the universe as a whole.
  • The universe is a multi-verse in which there are several levels. The physical universe is just one of these levels. All of these levels occupy the same “space” in the time-space continuum. They are all right here! Perhaps a way of putting it is to day that these levels are separated by a dimensionality different from those that make up the time-space continuum. Therefore, one changes level by changing or intensifying Consciousness in a way that mystics and the wisdom schools have taught.
  • Complex wholes exhibit qualities that do not simply arise out of the component parts. The wholes are more than the sums of their parts. Such complex wholes are characterized by Oneness or perfect integrity which means that breaking them up causes something in their essence to disappear. I liked to characterize the soul by saying that your soul is what will not be present at your funeral, at least not present in your body.
  • Aliveness, consciousness, soul, and mind, again however one defines them, precede their material manifestations in living bodies. They have somehow contrived to manipulate physical law so as manifest themselves in a physical universe. If life forms have come to be by random processes, then these “random” processes have been “rigged” by Soul.
  • Aliveness, consciousness, soul, and mind are essential components of the universe. The universe teems with living power.
  • In the narrow way in which most people conceive of meaning, the universe may be meaningless, but most mystical religions believe that the universe is an end unto itself, something which is becoming more alive, the product of a divine dance or “God” playing and expressing joy. This is not what most people have in mind when they refer to the universe as “meaningless.”

You will not find any of this is in conventional astrology texts, ancient or modern. But you will find all of it in the writings of the philosophical traditions from which astrology has historically been derived. Except for the fact that I have used modern words and terms in this description rather than their ancient and medieval equivalents, everything that I have said here can be referenced directly to specific texts, texts from Platonism, Hermeticism, Pythagoreanism, Kabbalah, and so forth. And most especially there are reports of the experiences of mystics who have gone beyond ordinary reality into transcendent states.

I do not intend to disparage the training in Astrology that one gets from the best of the conventional Astrological schools. It is necessary and vital to the proper practice of Astrology. The relationship between Kepler and these schools is precisely that of the relationship between other liberal arts colleges and professional schools in the several disciplines. But this larger view of the universe, how it relates to Astrology and Astrology to it, cannot be found in the conventional textbooks and in the conventional schools. It is not their purpose. But it is a purpose that Kepler can and already does serve. The expanded awareness of the historical and philosophical roots of Astrology that Kepler provides means that no one who has had a Kepler education can look at the world in quite the same way as one who has not. Kepler is, and can be increasingly in the future, not merely an educational institution for persons interested in Astrology (for whatever reason), but an institution that can help to reeducate our entire culture.

Anyone who has understood the Platonic conception of the One, cannot fail to understand the importance of the holistic viewpoint, a viewpoint that treats of Oneness.

Anyone who understands the central (as opposed to regarding it as peripheral) role of Life and Mind in the universe cannot treat what we like to call “inanimate nature” in the same manipulative, utilitarian way as one who does not.

Anyone who understands that Astrology is an instance of something in which each human mind can communicate with universal Mind, may never again feel alone, nor feel purposeless and alienated in a dead, meaningless universe.

These are thoughts that are needed to save our civilization from itself. Kepler is a place where they can grow, flourish and transform our world. The skill of this kind of thinking is truly one of the artes liberales, freedom from the doubting of the value of life, freedom from despair and nihilism, freedom to enliven, to enrich and to enlighten the world. This is a liberal art created through “the lens of astrology.”