Last summer, I went to the Ginza Festival which is held every year in Chicago. It was a wonderful experience, and I hope to go again this year. During the festival, there were various performances based on traditional Japanese performing and martial arts, one of which was a taiko (drum) performance by the Midwest Buddhist Temple Taiko Group.
At the beginning, one of the artists gave an explanation of the art form. He talked about the tradition surrounding taiko, and if I remember correctly, about the history of taiko performing groups in the United States. He then explained that the next selection was changed from a traditional selection. At this point, I tensed a little. I expected him to talk about creative innovation and improving the selection. What he said next was far more impressive to me. He said that the selection was changed to adapt it to what the present performers were actually able to do well, as the traditional selection was too difficult for them.
This struck me as the right attitude to take towards tradition, not just in performing arts, but in astrology. The traditional understanding of the passage of time is that it is unfolding from the center and perfection, and thus, is a process of decline. That is the true meaning of the term evolution.
While people have become more adept at living in and manipulating the material world through technological advancement, they decline physically, mentally, and spiritually. In astrology, we now have computers to calculate charts for us, but we have largely lost the ability to perform complex calculations by hand and our ability to memorize large amounts of material. I, for one, am not capable of memorizing thousands of aphorisms, let alone applying them in a meaningful way.
In addition to the normal and natural process of decline, in the West, there have been substantial breaks from the philosophical foundations of astrology. Of course, the Enlightenment was a recent break from tradition. Over two thousand years prior to this, however, the Abrahamic religions also broke from the older tradition, declaring all former forms of belief idolatry. I intend to discuss this more in later articles, but by that time, many of the former traditions had sharply declined and had not adapted well to the more limited spiritual and intellectual capacity of humans. This had an heavy impact upon the astrology of the Medieval period and the Renaissance. Astrologers had to take care to frame their work so as not to be accused of idolatry and not to run afoul of the Church, particularly in the written records that they left behind. While we can not know this for certain, I would imagine that this made the work of our forebears seem much more mechanical and worldly than it actually was.
So, in the West, astrologers are contending with a tradition that has declined naturally over the ages and with two major breaks in this tradition. Project Hindsight and many Classical and Traditional Astrologers are working hard to retrieve and translate many of the older texts; however, texts alone can not recreate the knowledge that has been lost.
So, does that mean that all is lost and that we can not practice astrology? Absolutely not. There is still a lot that we can do. While the taiko drummers may have had to adapt their performance, it was still amazing and exciting!
So, what can we do? Like the taiko drummers, we can proceed carefully and with humility. I do not think that we can recreate the astrological practice of the past. Too much has been lost, and too much has changed in our world. While we have texts, in the West, at least, we do not have an unbroken line of knowledge that has been passed from teacher to student for thousands of years. On the other hand, we can acknowledge that our forebears were our superiors and avoid the temptation of trying to “improve” and “innovate” with new techniques.
I think that the best road to follow is the middle course of adapting our work to what we can do and to the realities of this day and age. We can also, as much as possible, weed out the “innovations” of the post-Enlightenment period.