Geography, as a subject, studies the lands and the inhabitants of Earth and is generally divided into two main branches, physical geography and human geography. It is one of the more holistic academic disciplines, at least in principle, and links the geosciences with the social sciences. As a scientific discipline geography can be a moving analytical focal point, in space and time that studies information about the surface of the Earth and the biosphere gathered from many other disciplines. Material from history, sociology, anthropology, geology, climatology and other environmental studies are used to make inferences and predictions about the conditions operating in either a specific location, or in regard to global studies. Geography in an evolutionary context assumes that the dynamics of any given region (or globally) will follow the principles of Darwinian natural selection operating on both the human and non-human components of the biosphere. As evolution is a process of change that operates over space and time, a means of measuring and evaluating space and time is potentially useful to the field. In this paper, directed to both geographers and astrologers, I review the common methodologies of natural and mundane astrology and speculate on their potential value as tools in the discipline of Geography.
Astrology and the Earth
Astrology is an empirical study of the correlations between celestial phenomena and events that affect natural and human conditions. It became a means of predicting weather and political processes in ancient Mesopotamia, a region known for its instability.1 Only during the 4th and 5th centuries B.C.E. was astrology applied to the individual, but that approach and its attendant methodologies have dominated the field ever since. We know much about how astrology was practiced during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as a number of works have survived, and it appears that a kind of astro- geography was a part of the subject material.
Proposed correlations between astrological symbolism and areas of the Earth date to Mesopotamian times when the identity of a kingdom was associated with a specific planet’s attributes. A more specific type of astro-geography is found in the writings of the Roman Stoic and astrologer Manilius (~50 C.E.) who linked parts of Asia, Europe and Africa with the twelve signs of the zodiac. Ptolemy (~150 C.E.), author of the first work on geography, also wrote a book on astrology (Tetrabibios or Quadripartitum) in which he addressed a few matters of relevance to this review. He organized the lands of the known world of that time in quarters (with the center in modern Turkey) and defined each of these in terms of the elements; fire, earth, air and water. Regions and countries in each of these designated quarters were labeled by the zodiacal signs that are “ruled” by its element. For example, the northwest quarter which comes under the element fire, includes regions ruled by Aires, Leo and Sagittarius, the three fire signs, which Ptolemy thought described these places and the people who lived there. Ptolemy’s ideas were passed down through the Renaissance and formed the basis for more recent models.
During the early 20th century several schemes or grid systems, generally called “geodetic equivalents,” that relate the signs of the zodiac to the globe were proposed. Systems advocated by Sepharial, Johndro and others translate the zodiac to the Earth’s surface, each sign occupying 30 degrees in longitude.2 The critical problem with this approach is in locating geographically a starting point. In most of these schemes this anchor point turns out to be Western Europe or Egypt. In Johndro’s system the linkage between signs and land changes over time at the rate of equatorial precession. These grids have been used for analysis of historical and political processes, weather, climate and geological disturbances. Arguments in support of one or the other geodetic systems are today based only on anecdotal evidence. How well these grids work in practice, or if they do at all, is a question that can only be answered through rigorous testing, and this has not been done.
Astrology is a symbolic language. It uses the planets and signs of the zodiac as primary symbols and it works as a kind of taxonomy that crosses boundaries in ways that are unfamiliar to the educated modern mind. Each planet has its own domain which has been defined in the same way for 3,000 years. Take, for example, the planet Mars. In astrology Mars signifies that which is hot, sharp, and forceful. In the material world it “rules” the color red, sharp pointed objects such as weaponry, the metal iron (from which weapons and sharp objects can be made), fires, blood, hot peppers, etc. On the social level it rules the military, war, violence, accidents, competition, expeditions, bold social initiatives, engineering projects, etc. On the personal level it rules anger, defiance, assertion, impulsiveness and intolerance – but also daring, courage, independence, autonomy, and problem solving. A country, region or city falling under the rulership of Mars would then be militaristic, independent and constructive and its bedrock may contain large amounts of iron. For example, Ptolemy placed Britain under Aries, which is ruled by Mars. Mars is considered the “ruler” of Aries, or one might say that sign expresses a similar principle as does the planet Mars.3 Geographical locations have most often been described astrologically by association with zodiacal sign.4 Ptolemy’s scheme, which has all signs ruling the center of the geographic world (in the centre) which he considered to be located in modern Turkey, is as follows:
- ARIES: Britain, Gaul, Germania, Bastarnia; in the centre, Coelê Syria, Palestine, Idumaea, Judaea.
- TAURUS: Parthia, Media, Persia; in the centre, the Cyclades, Cyprus, the coastal region of Asia Minor.
- GEMINI: Hyrcania, Armenia, Matiana; in the centre, Cyrenaica, Marmarica, Lower Egypt.
- CANCER: Numidia, Carthage, Africa; in the centre, Bithynia, Phrygia, Colchica.
- LEO: Italy, Cisalpine Gaul, Sicily, Apulia; in the centre, Phoenicia, Chaldaea, Orchenia.
- VIRGO: Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Assyria; in the centre, Hellas, Achaia, Crete.
- LIBRA: Bactriana, Casperia, Serica; in the centre, Thebais, Oasis, Troglodytica.
- SCORPIO: Metagonitis, Mauritania, Gaetulia; in the centre, Syria, Commagenê, Cappadocia.
- SAGITTARIUS: Tyrrhenia, Celtica, Spain; in the centre, Arabia Felix.
- CAPRICORN: India, Ariana, Gedrosia; in the centre, Thrace, Macedonia, Illyria.
- AQUARIUS: Sauromatica, Oxiana, Sogdiana; in the centre, Arabia, Azania, Middle Ethiopia.
- PISCES: Phazania, Nasamonitis, Garamantica; in the centre, Lydia, Cilicia, Pamphylia.5
Astrology then offers a kind of taxonomy which appears to the educated modern mind to require a lot of stretching, though those who use it believe it to be quite logical and concise. The difference of opinion is probably more a case of profound unfamiliarity with the subject and is certainly not a researched criticism since this has not yet been done in any formal way. In science, taxonomy is one expression of the need to create boundaries, and boundary making is what science is all about. The best taxonomies are ones that are reducible to mathematics, which takes out the subjective elements and makes the process more democratic and transparent. In astrology, the rulerships or domains of the planets and signs are not easily quantified, although that has been attempted several times by creating lists of descriptive words and sorting them out according to planetary rulerships. But this, at best, is only statistical. There are no units of planetary rulership and there are certainly overlaps when two planets combine their properties. In fact, the English astrologer John Dee, an early scientist, spoke facetiously of thousands of combinations that would have to be articulated to make astrology conform with experimental science. Still, there are many who find that astrological taxonomy is very useful and the subject continues to develop without any funding or institutional support from the dominant society.
In summary, then, astrology might best be seen as a symbolic language that organizes the experience of the environment into categories. Further, it can be seen as a mapping technique of sorts as it places regions, social structures, individuals and even time itself into categories. In this sense astrology is a mapping technique for dynamic systems and might be considered a legitimate approach to system science, something that has not yet been worked out.
In the modern period the application of astrological mapping techniques to the birth chart of an individual has become a common practice and constitutes a significant branch of the subject. There two primary techniques employed by practitioners. One, called astro-cartography (called astro-geography in Europe) translates the rising, setting, culminating (upper and lower) positions of the planets at the time of birth (the horoscope) to a map. These positions are those of the four primary angles in a horoscope (equivalent to the four directions) and bodies located on any of them are called angular bodies. For example, a person born with the Sun rising in New York, which would be an angular Sun, would not have the Sun rising (or angular) if born at exactly the same time in San Francisco which is three hours west. In astro-cartography, all the points on the globe where the Sun was angular at the time of birth are drawn as a line, likewise for the other astronomical bodies. It is assumed that the qualities of a given astronomical body are maximized at the locations where it is angular and this is the basis of interpretation. Considerable published anecdotal evidence supports that assumption.
A second form of astrological mapping technique is called local space astrology. In this method, the azimuths of the astronomical bodies at the time and place of birth are calculated and these are then projected onto a map with the birth location being at the center. Given the curvature of the Earth, the lines wrap around the globe, returning to their opposite starting point. Most practitioners use this method for local and regional, not global, analysis. Like astro-cartography, the lines of the astronomical bodies are used as indicators of conditions likely to experienced if movement or activities take place near them. In both astro-cartography and local space astrology the object of the analysis is to understand how relocation from one’s birthplace changes experience and possibly the priorities in a life, and this information is used to compute where a person might be more successful in various ways including better integration into a community.
Astrology was organized by Ptolemy into two main divisions, universal and genethialogical. By the Renaissance these were known as natural and judicial, the former dealing with the environment and social collectives, the later dealing with individuals and their issues. In the modern period natural astrology has more often been called mundane astrology and within this category astro-meteorology and political astrology (governments, laws, elections, etc.) have been continuously practiced. Much of political astrology involves the use of horoscopes of the founding of countries, cities, and noted persons (i.e. presidents, rulers) as a means of interpreting the present and predicting the future. The tracking of economic cycles has become an area in which astrological ideas are applied and some individual astrologers now earn a living by offering predictions. Very little research is conducted in these areas, however, as funding does not exist. Individuals who actually do research are generally not free with their knowledge as it is the basis of how they earn a living. It appears to me that, aside from the use of horoscopes, which tend to dominate nearly all branches of astrology, there are some tools that may be of use to geographers. The analysis of cycles using astrological models, which are quite sophisticated, can be applied to change over time.
Many believe they are the most accurate models of the evolution of individuals, collectives and systems.
Two similar approaches can be made in understanding cycles from the astrological perspective. One is measurement in terms of sequence, of which the zodiac is the best known model, the other is measurement by position, the stages of synodic cycles such as the cycle of new to full Moon and back. The twelve-sign zodiac, a grid that is used to map the spatial location of astronomical bodies, is a standard component of nearly all astrological methodology. It originated at least as early as the 5th century B.C.E. and probably much earlier. There is an issue in regard to the starting point of the zodiac and the distinction between signs and constellations. About two thousand years ago the zodiac constellations were, more or less, consistent with the equinoxes. The vernal equinox was then located in the constellation Aries. Due to precession, the equinoxes retrograde relative to the constellations at a rate of one degree every 72 years, amounting to a full sign in about 2160 years. Western astrologers have long located the first sign Aries at the vernal equinox and do not treat the constellations as relevant. The Western zodiac is then, a zodiac of signs, not constellations. Hindu astrologers use a version of the zodiac that is fixed to the constellations and does not change over time, except relative to the equinoxes. Western astrological interpretations of the zodiac are far more psychological than those of the Hindu tradition in which the zodiac is primarily a framework on which astronomical bodies are located.
If one uses a zodiac coupled to the equinoxes, then it can be described as a gauge measuring photoperiod, the changing day:night ratio throughout the year. The annual cycle expressed as a day:night ratio is like a sine wave with amplitude that increases with latitude. In the northern hemisphere, the wave begins with the day:night ratio being equal at the vernal equinox. The ratio of light increases to a maximum at the summer solstice and then decreases to equal again at the autumnal equinox. The second part of the year repeats the pattern except that the light ratio declines to the winter solstice and then rises back to the start of the wave at the vernal equinox. The zodiac divides this annual cycle by 12, a division that is thought by some to represent the closest approximation of the number of lunar synodic cycles (29.53 days) during that period. It is also thought that division by 12 was established because that number contains within itself clean division by 2, 3, 4 and 6 (see figure) and therefore incorporates these other wave patterns.
Whatever the reasons for the 12-fold division of the zodiac, it is organized in a very interesting way that appears to describe a cyclic process of movement from one pole to another and back again. Specifically, these poles are that of the individual and the collective. The first wave of the zodiac, from vernal to autumnal equinox, tracks the process of individual development. In Aries, the first sign which begins at the vernal equinox, marks the origination of the unit we will call the self; the self as primitive and novel. The second stage, Taurus, denotes the self in contact with the substances of the physical environment. The third stage, Gemini, is mobility; where the self-navigates its territory. Cancer marks the point at which the self is formed and established in its environment, and capable of reproduction. In Leo, full productivity is attained and re-creation occurs, in Virgo the self enters a stage of inspection and repair. At this point, at the autumnal equinox, a profound change occurs – the self as a unit is complete and merger with a larger collective begins.
In Libra, the self-encounters others like it, in Scorpio the consequences of this meeting become apparent and the loss of individual self begins through take-overs and domination. In Sagittarius there is the experience of other minds, perspectives, etc. and in Capricorn a kind of stratified, organized collectivity occurs. At this point the self is now functioning completely within the group. The next phase, Aquarius, is where a collective self emerges. In Pisces, the last of the signs, the individual self is completely lost and the collective completely dominates. Then, at the vernal equinox, the cycle begins again.
While the zodiac is generally used as a modulating framework for the Sun, Moon and planets, it is also used as a model for understanding any kind of biological cyclic process. It is thought by many astrologers that, because astrology in general is structured by number, it is universal and should be applicable to systems on any level.6 The 12 designations or stages of the zodiac are regarded as fundamental and in the same category as the division of tones in the scale and colors in the spectrum that the human mind perceives. The signs are thought to operate as archetypes, structures that are deeply embedded in human consciousness, if not more than that, around which organisms and systems strive to organize themselves. If this is the case, then the zodiac may be not only useful in classifying the primary tendencies of an ecosystem, a city, country or individual, but may possibly be more accurate than other human-created frameworks. Since Ptolemy, rulerships based on zodiacal signs have been proposed, most very similar (see above) except in regard to minor details. One such scheme, published by a well-known English astrologer of the early 20th century, links signs with countries and cites.7
Sign Rulership of Countries
- ARIES: Britain, Denmark, Galitia, Germany, Lithuania, Lower Poland, Palestine, Syria.
- TAURUS: Azerbaijan, Asia Minor, Caucasus, Georgia, Holland, Ire- land, Mozendaran, Persia, Poland, White Russia.
- GEMINI: Armenia, Belgium, Brabant, Egypt (Lower), England (West), Flanders, Lombardy, Sardinia, Tripoli, United States.
- CANCER: Africa (North and West), Holland, Scotland, Zealand.
- LEO: Alps, Bohemia, Cappadocia, Chaldea, France, Italy, Sicily, Coast of Sidon, and Tyre.
- VIRGO: Assyria, Babylon, Candia, Corinth, Crete, Croatia, Mesopotamia, Morea, Silesia (Lower), Switzerland, Thessaly, Turkey.
- LIBRA: Argentina, Austria, China, Egypt, Japan, Livonia, Savoy, Thibet, Burma.
- SCORPIO: Algeria, Barbary, Bavaria, Catatonia, Fez, Judea, Jutland, Morocco, Norway.
- SAGITTARIUS: Arabia, Cape Finisterre, Dalmatia, France, Hungary, Italy, Moravia, Provence, Spain, Slavonia, Tuscany. CAPRICORN: Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hesse, India, Illyria, Khorassan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mexico, Morea, Mecklenburg, Punjab, Thrace, Styria, Saxony. AQUARIUS: Arabia, Abyssinia, Circassia, Lithuania, Lower Sweden, Prussia, Poland, Piedmont, Russia, Tartary, Westphalia.
- PISCES: Asia (Southern), Africa (North), Sahara Desert, Calabria, Egypt, Galicia (Spain), Nubia, Normandy, Portugal.
Sign Rulership of Cities
- ARIES: Brunswick, Capua, Cracow, Florence, Leicester, Marseilles, Naples, Padua, Saragossa, Utrecht.
- TAURUS: Dublin, Franconia, Leipsic, Mantua, Palermo, Parma.
- GEMINI: Cordova, London, Louvain, Mentz, Nuremburg, Versailles.
- CANCER: Amsterdam, Berne, Cadiz, Constantinople, Genoa, Lubeck, Manchester, Milan, St. Andrews, Stockholm, Tunis, Venice, York.
- LEO: Bath, Bolton-le-Moors, Bombay, Bristol, Damascus, Portsmouth, Prague, Ravenna, Rome, Taunton. VIRGO: Basle, Bagdad, Cheltenham, Heidelburg, Jerusalem, Lyons, Navarre, Padua, Paris, Reading.
- LIBRA: Antwerp, Charlestown, Frankford, Fribourg, Lisbon, Speyer, Plasencia, Vienna.
- SCORPIO: Frankfort on the Oder, Ghent, Liverpool, and Messina. SAGITTARIUS: Avignon, Buda, Cologne, Narbonne, Naples, Sheffield.
- CAPRICORN: Brussels, Constance, Oxford, Port Said. AQUARIUS: Bremen, Hamburg, Ingoldstadt, Salsburg, Trent.
- PISCES: Alexandria, Compostela, Ratisbon, Seville, Tiverton, Worms.
The developmental sequence of the 12 stages is a primary feature of the zodiac, but there other and more subtle distinctions. These include the bi-polar rhythm in the zodiac from individual to collective, a product of division by two, and division by four using the equinoxes and solstices as boundaries. In addition to the four elements, an interesting component of the zodiac is its division into three qualities that link signs of the same element. Each of the elements has three signs, one of each quality. The three qualities are cardinal, fixed and mutable and are thought to describe three fundamental modes of operating in the world. Cardinal signs initiate and move, fixed signs maintain position, and mutable signs connect positions in space. These are highly descriptive categories and are used in assessing exactly how an organism (person) or system behaves relative to its environment.
Application of zodiac-derived ideas has been done in regard to a wide range of cyclic phenomena including ecosystems, specifically plant succession over time, and the evolution of human communities and civilization. In such cases, the cycle is started by the earliest invaders, symbolized by Aries, which begin colonization at the most basic level. Succession occurs, theoretically at least, in waves that roughly match the sequence of signs culminating ten signs later at Capricorn. Climax is then followed by breakdown and shift to a new cycle.
Symbolism of the Synodic Cycle
In addition to spatial labeling, astrologers have also looked at planetary cycles as a means of measuring and describing the passage of time. The Arab astrologers, in particular, were very concerned with history and they looked at individual cycles of Jupiter and Saturn (a steady 20-year wave) as generation markers and groups of these (a higher amplitude wave in the signal) as empire and era change indicators. In the modern period, close observation of planetary alignments and connections with meteorological, geological and social phenomena continues and sometimes forecasts are made. Planetary alignments are generally identified and interpreted by phase in a cycle and interpretation proceeds on that basis. For example, Jupiter and Saturn made their opposition in May 2010, ten years after their conjunction in 2000, these being two very different configurations, in terms of angular distance and also zodiacal position, of those two planets.
The analysis of cycles is based on the stages of any synodic cycle, that is a cycle involving two moving points in space, is a second astrological model applicable to geography. The classic synodic cycle is that of the Sun and Moon which begins with the conjunction (new Moon), reaches a culmination at the opposition (full Moon) and then returns to the next conjunction. The same sort of relationship is found with other synodic cycles such as Sun and Venus or Jupiter and Saturn. In a synodic cycle, as understood astrologically and in terms of human consciousness, the conjunction symbolizes emergence and the first impulse and movement towards the opposition. There is a crisis point at the first quarter (90 degrees) that is characterized by problems that are essentially internal. At the opposition comes another crises, this one symbolizing an awakening of objective consciousness. At the opposition the “promise” of the conjunction is realized, or it fails. The second half of the cycle, from opposition to conjunction occurs in a state of objective awareness and the crisis of the third quarter (270 degrees) is a crisis that is potentially resolvable through understanding.
The synodic cycle as a model of cyclic unfolding is typically applied to the analysis of individuals but also to socio- political events. In particular, the synodic cycle of Jupiter and Saturn mentioned above has been viewed as a zeitgeber of the collective and is even thought by many to mark generational shifts when they are opposed. The length of the cycle is about 20 years which is very close to the Hale solar cycle, the cycle of magnetic field reversals, which is generally given as 21-22 years. This cycle, in addition to the 19-year cycle of the lunar node, has also been suggested as a mechanism behind the 20-year drought cycle of the American Southwest as well as in other regions. The Jupiter-Saturn cycle was a major focus of Medieval Arabic astrologers who sought to quantify history as they understood it, and it was also used by the Maya and was the cornerstone of their Long Count calendar.8 In modern astrology it has been applied to changing political regimes and in the United States to the election of presidents. During the past century the conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn have been falling close to presidential election dates (1901, 1921, 1940, 1960, 1980, 2000, 2020) often marking an ideological shift from the previous administration.
Feasibility of Astro-Geography
In conclusion, the use of the zodiac or the synodic cycle model in organizing change over time, whether this is climate, ecosystems or human societies, may prove useful to those who are willing to experiment with alternative frames of reference. Further, the zodiac may be an effective taxonomy applied to regions, cities and communities both in terms of fundamental directives but also in terms of evolution. For example, a particular region may have certain qualities that are best described as those symbolized by Leo. This may be established by a geodetic equivalent, the environmental circumstances of that location, the dates of founding events, and the dominance of certain individuals who place their stamp on the human collective that inhabits the region. Such a region may be responsive to planetary conjunctions occurring in that sign which offers opportunities for historical interpretation and prediction.
The acceptance of astrological ideas in the larger scientific community is highly unlikely at this time. The taxonomic peculiarities of astrological symbolism require a different kind of mental training than that offered by modern educational institutions. It is the perception of patterns, not details, that is required in working with astrological symbolism and this is essentially the basis of holistic thinking. In the larger sense, holistic thinking does not favor a single part over any other. It is the whole and connections between things where attention is focused, and this approach does not facilitate a manipulative, instrumental, or profitable approach to nature. Prior to state supported capitalism aided by technology produced by reductionist science, holistic philosphies were more dominant and astrology as a discipline was better supported, at least by learned patrons. In modern capitalistic society, reductionist thinking has become the dominant mode as it operates most effectively in the short term for maximum return on investment. This historical situation, in which reductionism has essentially outcompeted holism, explains the decline of astrology during the 17th and 18th centuries and the lack of institutional support thereafter.
That being said, if astrological symbolism and taxonomy does indeed capture boundaries in nature on the order of the tonal separations of the musical scale or the color bands of the spectrum, both of which have much to do with the way the human brain organizes sensory data, they may prove very useful to geographers and other social and natural scientists – once they have an audience for such classifications. Any adoption of astrological methodologies by geographers would undoubtedly require rigorous testing which may result in a substantial transformation of these approaches. Astrologers would then need to adjust to circumstances in which traditional models may fail when tested and entirely new methods are devised, methods not necessarily developed by those exclusively dedicated to astrology, though it would be hoped there would be collaboration.
Bruce Scofield has been an astrological consultant, writer and conference speaker for over 40 years. He is the author of seven books and numerous articles on astrology. He has served on the education committee of the National Council for Geocosmic Research since 1979 as a member and as director. He holds an M.A. in history and a Ph.D. in geosciences and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts and online for Kepler College. His website contains a variety of astrology articles and an online calculation program on Mesoamerican (Maya and Aztec) astrology.
- Baigent, Michael, Nicholas Campion, and Charles Harvey. 1984. Mundane Astrology: An introduction to the astrology of nations and groups. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press.
- Campion, Nicholas. 1989. Astrological Historiography in the Renaissance. In Kitson, ed., History and Astrology. London: Mandala.
- Klinger, Lee. 2000. Astrological Correspondences in Human and Ecosystem Development. NCGR Journal: Winter 2000/ 2001.
- Leo, Alan.
- Ptolemy, Claudius. (c.150) 1940. Tetrabiblos. Trans. F.E. Robbins. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Rudhyar, Dane. 1969. Birth Patterns for a New Humanity. The Netherlands: Servire-Wassenaar.
- Rudhyar, Dane. 1970. The Pulse of Life. Berkely: Shambala Publications.
- It is noteworthy that the astrology developed in ancient Egypt at about the same time was not as complex and sophisticated, presumably due to the far more regular climatic and agricultural conditions of that region.
- See Baigent, et al., 1984, p. 294ff.
- The Month March occurs during the passage of the un through Aries.
- The signs, each of which are ruled by a planet, are really a secondary way of designating domains. The same sort of wide-ranging classification is done with the other planets.
- Ptolemy, Tetrabiblios, Book II:3. Of the Familiarities between Countries and the Triplicities and Stars.
- This is essentially the basis of Kepler’s major work “Harmonics of the World.”
- This list was assembled by the well-known British astrologer Alan Leo, who was a major figure in popularizing astrology during its resurgence at the beginning of the 20th century.
- The Maya katun or ~20 years is counted 260 times in the framework of the Long Count which began in 3114 BC and ends in 2012. It is thought that the Long Count constitutes a fifth of the precession cycle.