Astrology | Editing | Awesomeness

Translating Early Twentieth Century Source Works

In 1997, looking out of the large windows into the courtyard at Columbia River High during German class, a realization dawned on me. I had been reading a book called The Great Year, recommended to me by my German teacher, Gary Lorentzen. It was written by his friend Nicholas Campion, and it was the first book that really got underneath historical narratives and showed me a new way to think about temporality and ideology—and astrology. Gary had also recommended a few books by another colleague, Patrick Curry. What all these men had in common was a practicing knowledge of astrology. But Nick and Patrick were focused on the English history of astrology, and I was obsessed with German. Sitting there, just barely fifteen, a bolt of lightning hit me, if I become fluent in German, I could grow up to become the authority on the German history of astrology. And basically every choice I’ve made since then has been in line with that vision.

Now I write on the other side of spending a year in former East Germany on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship (1998-1999), on the other side of pursuing my PhD in German from UC Berkeley (2004-2012), and chasing it with an MA in History of Astrology (2012-2016), and finally embarking on the actual work: translating the sources I used over the course of my education.

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Weimar Republic SourcebookTony Kaes, my dissertation advisor at UC Berkeley, was fond of creating compilations of source works. He focuses on the history of film and the Weimar Republic. Every time I taught English-speaking students about the history of Weimar culture I used Tony’s Weimar Republic Sourcebook as a textbook. It was filled to the gills with small, inaccessible texts that had never appeared The Promise of Cinemain English before. He and his co-editors constellated them around various topics germane to the subject, which resulted in a very rich overview of an era using primary sources. A genuine article. And as a teacher, and immense resource. He has recently come out with a new tome gathering smaller texts around the history of film, The Promise of Cinema. (Which, for anyone who has spent hours in the microfiche rooms trying to root through the various film journals of the 20s knows, is another great contribution to the field. No more craning the neck in front of those oddly back-lit screens. Plus! The translations are ready-made to cite in your English-language articles). These two books are indispensable resources for the German scholar and also for bringing people who will never learn German into a solid understanding of what German culture has contributed to the world.

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The material I have discovered over the two decades I’ve been working on this topic is rich. And it would be absurd to expect people to learn German to be able to access it. Much of what I have collected, I’ve had to buy from used book stores and antique dealers. I would say I’ve invested at least $3,000 in books and journals. Libraries simply do not value what these texts have to offer. Philip Graves, my colleague in Europe knows all too well the cost of collecting these types of materials; he’s got the largest collection of astrological historical texts in the world! And while some historians (mostly Ellic Howe) have examined this period in detail, the primary sources remain behind the linguistic barrier of German. I aim to provide access to the primary sources so that other scholars and astrologers who only know English can have better access to them and read for themselves.

Last week, I announced my intention to translate astrological source works that are currently in the public domain, and I already have 26 amazing folks supporting this effort (thank you!). As I work through these texts, I aim to publish them in a similar vein as Tony’s two source work projects. Patrons who support me at the $10/mo level and up will get all copies of everything published. What’s more, as this next decade proceeds (and if the copyright laws do not change), more and more material will start to become available. In 2018, foreign-published material from 1923 will enter the public domain. In 2019, material from 1924, and so on… As we approach 1926/1927, we hit a zenith of astrological publishing, and I’ll have heaps to do. Right now I am starting with a text from 1915 about the astrology of WWI.

If this project excites you, and you want to get in on the play-by-play and learn as I go, please support it through Patreon. This is a project with deep historical scope that will far outlive any topical podcast or horoscope column. My vision is that unborn generations will be able to look back on this and benefit from what they can learn about this rich period of astrological history. And I also hope that it provides an alternative to the known English history of the early twentieth century, so that the German/English linguistic barrier may be overcome and the astrological community can come to know itself and its past better.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades getting ready for this moment. Now I’m inviting you to join me in helping make it happen.

Interview: Christopher Renstrom on Trash Astrology

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This autumn, Christopher Renstrom reveals Trash Astrology! He recently took some time to chat with me about what that means. In this interview, he shares some of the juicy morsels he’s uncovered so far and makes a great case for pursuing the underbelly of astrological history. Let’s dig in!

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JZ: What is “Trash Astrology”?

CR: “Trash Astrology” is popular astrology. It is astrology that is generated for the masses in publications and venues that are not regarded as “serious” or academic astrology. Always done on the cheap, trash astrology first appeared in America in the almanacs, dream books, and secret books of knowledge that were published in the pre-Revolutionary and Federalist period. It has evolved along with our media so that it is now a mainstay of newspapers, fashion magazines, websites, blogs, apps, and more. Continue reading Interview: Christopher Renstrom on Trash Astrology

Curious about planetary hours?

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The planetary hours are a simple and effective ancient astrological technique to optimize your life. They are a historical form of astrology based on observation, your specific location, and thus your lived experience. This technique does not depend on charts, so you can begin to use it right away. This September, Astrology Hub has invited me to provide a free online workshop teaching you the ins and outs of planetary hours.

Continue reading Curious about planetary hours?

Walter Benjamin, Literacy, and Astrology

“To read what was never written…” learn the role of astrology in Walter Benjamin’s philosophy.

Known more for his theories on history and the status of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, German philosopher Water Benjamin (1892–1940) also wrote about astrology. This workshop examines the overlooked role that astrology plays in his body of work.

First we begin with establishing the context of astrology in Germany during the Weimar Republic, a period of severe turmoil in German history. Then we explore Benjamin’s writings on astrology. Along the way, we will cover topics such as allegory, the history and culture of early modern Europe, graphology (the art of interpreting handwriting), and optical technologies such as photography, cinema, and the newly invented planetarium.

Benjamin suggests that an alternate observational reality is at work in astrology versus astronomy, one that lies at the foundation of the human capacity to read the world, form language, and eventually become literate creatures. This course will show how Benjamin’s focus on “reading what was never written” radically shifts our understanding of how we read and, also, how we read as astrologers.
Participants will emerge from this workshop with a deeper knowledge of astrology in pre-World War II Germany, its role in Benjamin’s philosophical work, and new perspectives on how literacy and astrology are intimately bound up with one another.

Astrology and Publishing: An Astro Chat with AYA

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On Thursday July 28, the kind powerhouses at the Association for Young Astrologers invited me to chat with them about astrology and publishing. Our conversation veered along myriad pathways, including the history of astrology, the creation of the Maggie A Nalbandian Memorial Library in Seattle, and of course, a lot about my own pathways through publishing and what I do on the daily in that arena. Towards the end, our conversation generated suggestions for future research (future publications!) in our field. Enjoy!

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Astro Darts with AYA

Hit your target with astro-publishing! Dr. Jenn Zahrt is a dynamo in the esoteric writing, editing and publishing game, and has offered to share her knowledge and experience with us in this Thursday night chat. Do you have a great idea, but not sure how to get it into print? Wondering which outlets you can shop it to? Who your target audience is? Considering self-publishing? Dr. Jenn’s got advice to help you hit the mark.

Jenn is the editrix and co-founder of Rubeo Press, who published one of our previous speakers, Wade Caves,in his annotated editition of William Lily’s autobiography. For more information on Jenn’s background and services, please visit her site: http://jennzahrt.com/

For more information on Rubedo Press: http://www.rubedo.press/

The event will be from 9pm – roughly 10:30pm Eastern, 6pm – 8:30 Pacific.

Please join this talk from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/885501029

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States +1 (408) 650-3123

Interview: Dr Alexander Cummins on Geomancy

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Dr Alexander Cummins drops the wisdom at Kepler College again tomorrow. This time he’ll be teaching geomancy for astrologers. Wait, a second, teaching what? If all of this sounds confusing to you, never fear, this week I got a chance to sit down with him and pick his brain about his workshop that is happening TOMORROW! Even if it’s short notice and you cannot attend, it will be recorded, and you can add it to your arsenal of awesome.

Here’s what the good Dr had to share with me:

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JZ: What does a knowledge of geomancy add to an astrologer’s toolkit?

AC: The shortest answer is that geomancy offers astrologers a chance to develop more nuanced understandings of their own symbols. Geomantic divination operates according to what Renaissance occult philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa calls ‘use and rules of astrology’, which we might think of as the symbolism of astrology – especially the planets, the zodiacal signs, the houses of the heavens, and their various essential dignities and sympathies and antipathies –without any actual astronomical data. Each geomantic figure is awarded a zodiacal identity, and each planet rules two figures. By tracing how geomancy comprehends the expression of these forces and virtues, astrologers broaden and deepen their engagement with the vital organisational principles of the cosmos.

A concrete example is perhaps useful. So, Jupiter is generally said to rule the geomantic figures of Acquisitio, Gain, and Laetitia, Joy. We are perhaps very used to the notion of Jupiter as expansive and wealthy; but this rulership of joyful exuberance is not only a matter of being ‘jovial’ but also well-attested in pre-modern humoural notions of Jupiterian sanguinity. Furthermore, when we look at the figure of Laetitia, it is often interpreted iconographically to be a wedding arch. This extra context of public religiosity, joyful celebration, and the beneficent role of state or church officials, reminds us how appropriate it may be to speak of the wedding as a locus about which all of these Jupiterian forces cohere.

Laetitia Geomancy

Not only that, but the figures – which somewhat resemble four-lined versions of I Ching hexagrams, with each line made up of one or two dots – can also be used to understand each other. So the figure of Laetitia upside down reads as the Saturnine figure Tristitia, Sorrow. The inverse of Laetitia is Caput Draconis, the Dragon’s Head, a figure of auspicious spiritual beginnings (attributed to the North Node), whereas the inverse of Tristitia is Cauda Draconis, the Dragon’s Tail, which signals fundamental endings and blockages (and is, unsurprisingly, the South Node). As such, geomancy offers astrologers further exploration how astrological symbols operate in a wider variety of manners and with more specific forms of interrelation.

Finally, I would add that geomancy – not reliant on ephemerides – allows an astrologer to quickly cast a figure or whole chart of figures on the fly using anything that can generate odd or even numbers for the one- or two-dotted lines of a figure. Dice and even coin flips are very traditional means for doing this, for instance. This allows a rapid deployment of astrological expertise in the moment. More philosophically, I believe this aspect of geomancy reminds us that astrological forces are not merely present abstractly in the sky, but are grounded in the very soils of the earth, ever-present to us and responsive to our questions.

Geomantia_web

JZ: Your explanations remind me of a poster designed by my friend Kiyan Fox for Ouroboros Press (above). He has combined the geomantic figures with astrological significators. It is a beautiful design, displaying complex symbols. Is it hard to learn geomancy?

AC: No. If you understand the astrological virtues of the zodiacal signs attributed to the geomantic figures already, you have already done most of the necessary heavy lifting of learning geomancy.

The four lines of the geomantic figures remind me of a bass guitar, in the sense that it is one of the easier instruments to pick up and sound pretty good pretty quickly, but also one that both demands and rewards a lifetime of practice, development, and mastery. That earthy melodious backbeat –supportive of overarching harmonies as well as able to provide the funkiest of breakdowns, the bouncing fills of nuance and detail, and occasionally, yes, crushingly heavy revelations! – is also, I think, nicely illustrative of various powerful qualities of geomancy.

JZ: Nice analogy! Rock star geomancy! What frame of mind, or worldview, does one need to adopt to become a good geomancer?

AC: I think a good geomancer sees and works with the elementary realities and results of astral virtues; you know, played out in real time in the real world in real problems and solutions. This is certainly not to suggest astrologers or other diviners are ‘too theoretical’ or ‘not practical’, by any means! It is simply to affirm geomancers divine in the mutability and stability of concrete events, interactions, roots, and experiences. It contains in its ‘quadragram’ figures ideographic representations of the way the natural world is constructed and amalgamated from the four classical elements. Furthermore it traces transformation and coherence as one of the rawest and yet sophisticated engagements with these elements. It is a practice one returns to again and again, just as our apprehension of the four elements is refined over a lifetime of reflection and practice. If you will forgive me speaking Qabalistically, geomancy utterly beholds Kether in Malkuth: the highest in the lowest. A geomancer understands that the sub-lunary realm holds the sparks of the stars’ imbued virtues as much as the stars speak down to us of terrestrial events.

JZ: Can you tell me more about Agrippa?

AC: Try and stop me. Born in Cologne, the (in)famous Renaissance occult philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim attended the university there, studying various forms of occult philosophy (such as alchemy, Christian cabala, and angelology) as well as demonstrating a precocious talent for languages. He began teaching at the University of Dole in 1509, and a year later sent the abbot Johannes Trithemus – himself regarded as an excellent occult philosopher and cryptographer as well as a senior clergyman – a draft of the work he is now best known for: the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, an encyclopaedic summary of early modern magical theory. By the end of his life, Agrippa was (as Christopher Lehrich puts it) ‘one of the most influential magical thinkers of the Renaissance’ and was ‘for the next two centuries continually cited (positively or negatively) along with Paracelsus as a founding thinker of the magical schools of thought’. Indeed, his name became a very byword for scholarly intellect, occult expertise and magical power: in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the eponymous (anti-)hero pledges to become ‘as cunning as Agrippa was, / Whose shadows made all Europe honour him.’

JZ: How does geomancy fit into Agrippa’s work?

AC: Agrippa declares both that ‘no form of divination without astrology is perfect’, and that geomancy is ‘the most accurate of Divinations’, which – especially coming from him – is high praise indeed. Geomancy, owing to the ease with which figures can be generated, may effectively turn almost anything into one of its ‘Celestial figures, viz. to those sixteen’ while also ‘making judgement after an Astrological manner’. Agrippa seems less inclined therefore to say geomancy is some sort of offspring of astrology, as that these sister-arts spring from the same essential premium mobile: ‘For whatsoever is moved, caused or produced in these inferiors, must of necessity imitate the motions, and influences of the superiours, to which, as to its roots, causes, and signs it is reduced.’ Laying aside the pre-modern Golden-Chained language of ‘superiors’ and ‘inferiors’, this clearly shows that geomancy was at least as well regarded as astrology by Agrippa and his contemporaries. Onkel Heinrich actually seems to have been onto a significant turn in Renaissance divination: by the end of the sixteenth century, although a latecomer to the market, geomancy handbooks such as Christopher Cattan’s imaginatively-titled Geomancie required multiple reprints as they consistently sold out.

JZ: What is the most useful way geomancy enhances your life and your work?

AC: It is quite simply one of my main go-to on-the-fly divination systems. I use a method similar to tossing four coins, or I use consecrated dice, and can thus arrive at an answer in the seconds it takes to hunker down, touch the ground, mutter a short prayer and throw my tools. It is fast, concise, direct, and (as I am fond of punning) both grounded and gnomic.

One more specific and more magical methodology in which geomantic influence plays out in my own practice is in the use of dirts from various (often planetary) locations. As I have said, geomancy counsels us that the powers of the stars are present not merely at certain times, but in certain places: there is a terroir of astral virtue which can be engaged with by the enterprising sorcerer. I have written on both specific magical usage from my life and work, as well as on broader philosophical occult approaches to such a ‘dirt sorcery’ in an occasional column of the same name.  (Read more here & here)

JZ: What is the one thing someone needs to understand about geomancy?

AC: One thing? Hmm. The emergence of intricacy from iterations and interrelations of simplicity, perhaps. Or: that the very ground of this divinatory epistemology is enlivened through the inspiring soul of an organic and living cosmos. Or: that there are spirits of geomancy one can work with in order to develop one’s practice alongside studying what books there are available.

Let me try to summarise those three into one. So, if you only need to understand one thing, it is this: Geomancy might seem simple, especially to seasoned astrologers, but contains within its sixteen enspirited figures layers upon layers of interaction that rapidly crystallise into nuanced gradations of significance, available to all and any.

JZ: Fascinating! Thank you for taking the time to clear up some of the mysteries. I look forward to your workshop!

AC: Pleasure!

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Find out more about Dr Cummins on his blog, and his other blog,
& sign up for his workshop buy the recording at Kepler College:

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And if yr really itching to get him in orbit, check out his book:

Dr Cheak and Dr Zahrt eat Dr Cummins book

RodTV: Astrology Today

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Cape Town and spending some time with my good friend and colleague Rod Suskin. This year Rod launched a new project, which he’s calling RodTV, and he interviewed me for Episode 20! Hope you enjoy our conversation:

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As mentioned in the interview, Verdant Gnosis Volume 2 launches TODAY
at the Viridis Genii Symposium in Damascus, Oregon!

Verdant Gnosis, Volume 2

The Minotaur & The Petroglyphs

As winter gave way to spring, I found myself in Boise, ID, surrounded by a motley crew of seekers, finders, obliterators, world creators. We holed up in a tiny house for a weekend, and probed the universe for questions, answers, and yet more questions. We laughed, we cried, we grew. And we dispersed just as we arrived.

Douglas Bolles, our host, took some time recently to catch up with me after our Boise Sync Summit on his podcast 42 Minutes. Along the way, he got me to spill the beans on my philosophy of astrology and explain some of my more radical ideas about the subtle sentience behind the sciences of the stars.

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He took us on two major excursions: first, to Celebration Park, to poke around the petroglyphs, and then to a local labyrinth near our Summit HQ. I enjoyed the starkness of the first landscape, the old rocks, sturdy in the steady wind, tiny blades of grass raving under the harsh rays of Sun.

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Celebration Park petroglyphs

Labyrinth in Boise, ID

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And as our group of thirteen entered the labyrinth, one broke away and the twelve others held hands as we wound ourselves in and out, one/many (12), solar (12)/lunar (13), snake, egg, limits without limits, spontaneous organization, ripples without end. After returning to Seattle, I noticed that I had come back changed:

Minotaur shadow

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Find out why in my 42 Minutes interview.