Five myths of modern astrology reviewed
– Written by Philip Graves
– March 11th, 2016
Here follows a brief presentation of five common narratives on the history of modern astrology that I have challenged and pushed astrological historians to revise by researching primary sources in the past twelve years.
Myth 1: Alan Leo was responsible for abandoning the traditional system of planet-based orbs, replacing it with a system of orbs fixed for all major aspect types regardless of the planets involved (except slightly larger allowances for the Sun and Moon).
This claim is demonstrably false with reference to the historical sequence of publications. It was Zadkiel I, Richard Morrison, in the early 1860s, in the first instance, who implicitly proposed this change in print, as published in Volume One (1861) of his two-volume Hand-Book of Astrology (p. 8):
“The perfect aspects are the most powerful; but they are found to operate generally when within about 5º to 7º; and, as regards the Sun or Moon, when within 10º”.
Morrison also lists the traditional planetary orbs briefly in his Astrological Lexicon (a succinct glossary of astrological terminology) at the back of the book, but his practical judgement is clearly embodied in the above quotation and differs radically from that tradition. It was all he had to say about the calculation of platic aspect orbs in the main instructive part of his book; and whether or not he meant it as a hard and fast rule (interpretations may differ on this), it certainly appears to have influenced the succeeding generation of writers, as we shall go on to see.
Opinions were divided for some time after, with the popular Raphael VI (Robert Thomas Cross) preferring the traditional orbs for decades to follow, as evidenced in the first edition of his two-volume Guide to Astrology (1877-9).
But in the very first issue of The Astrologer’s Magazine (August, 1890), the editors, Alan Leo and Frederick Lacey, collectively declare regarding the traditional orbs (p. 20):
“We do not agree with this; we limit the orbs to 5. (See Editor’s notes in September number as to this)“,
a position which closely follows after the lead taken by Morrison 29 years earlier. They add (p. 21):
“Another vexed question is the planetary orbs, some say that it is absurd to give 17º as the orb of the Sun, 12º the Moon’s orb and so on. We hope in our next issue to take this “orb question” in hand and thoroughly thrash it out and say what we find about it….”
They are thus acknowledging their awareness of existing dissent among astrologers on the traditional orbs before they give their own view. In the following issue, they duly reiterate (p. 45):
“We take the orb of five degrees all round, the same as that allowed by the old authors as the distance a planet operates on the cusp of any house”.
Yet, this was not the last of the novel opinions expressed in the late 19th century on the aspect orbs by any means. By the time that he publishes his Key to Astrology the following year in 1891, Cross (Raphael VI) has been brought round part-way to the reforms proposed successively by Morrison and the team of Lacey and Leo. In the event, he devises his own unique system that is perhaps best described as an idiosyncratic variation on a hybrid between the traditional and modern orbs (p. 11):
“The orbs of Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, when applying, are about 6º, and when separating from an aspect, they may be reckoned as 8º…. The Sun and Moon have larger orbs. You may reckon the Sun when applying as 12º, and when separating as 17º; and the Moon, 8º when applying, and 12º when separating from an aspect. These orbs apply only to the following aspects, viz., the conjunction, sextile, quartile, trine, and opposition. The minor aspects, viz., the semi-sextile, quintile and biquintile, I consider them only when the planets are within 2º applying, and 3º separating. The semi-square and sesquiquadrate are to be reckoned 3º when applying, and 4º when separating, that is, with the planets; the Sun and Moon may be allowed an extra 1º”.
By October 1891, H. S. Green, writing in The Astrologer’s Magazine under his regular pen-name Leo, reports (pp. 464-5), concerning the traditional planetary orbs, that:
“There are many astrologers who express themselves as dissatisfied with these orbs, and advocate a uniform distance of about five degrees for each planet. I do not profess to know for certain where the truth lies, but my opinion is that the orbs vary considerably for each aspect. The strongest aspects are undoubtedly the conjunction and opposition, and here, I think, the orbs which are given above are not much too large; but the margin of distance must be diminished for all the other aspects according to their strength. For the square and trine, I would allow about three-quarters of the usual orb. For the sextile, semi-square, and sesquiquadrate, I would allow from one-half to two-thirds the orb. The remaining aspects, semi-sextile, quintile, bi-quintile, and those others which are doubtful, I think, have no influence unless they are within one degree of being exact. Some such arrangement as this appears to be more in accordance with reason than the rule of allowing a fixed orb, long or short, for every aspect, whether strong or weak, indifferently.”
Green is thus going much further than Morrison or Leo and Lacey, and building on Raphael VI’s lead, by explicitly varying the orbs according to the type of aspect in multiple gradations.
In the following year (1892), Morrison’s view is echoed quite closely by his long-term successor as Zadkiel, Alfred Pearce, who had previously had nothing new to say on the topic of orbs at all, at least in his text books. Pearce, writing in his journal The Future, Vol. I, No. VII, August 1, 1892, bypasses the complexity of Cross’s and Green’s novel suggestions entirely, but adds detail to Morrison’s system, opining:
“The ancients considered that when an aspect was within half the distance of the orbs of the configurated planets added together, it was a platic aspect. We should not consider any aspect platic even, unless it was within 5º, if a major one, and within 2º if a minor aspect, except in the case of mutual aspects between the Sun and Moon, which are operative when within 10º in the case of a major, and within 5º if a minor aspect.”
Thus, in the early 1890s, several leading British astrologers were all proposing different variations on orb reform. Alan Leo’s voice, combined with that of Frederick Lacey in their joint statement in 1890, was just one of those voices; and there is no evidence that the others followed his lead slavishly even then. The available evidence also points to Lacey and Leo’s pre-existing awareness of dissent within the astrological community at the time of their statement in 1890, and it seems implausible that the practice advocated by Morrison 29 years previously had not filtered down to their knowledge in one way or another, whether through the written word of Morrison’s printed text, or through the grapevine of the astrological community.
Myth 2: Alan Leo bears the original responsibility for replacing traditional natal astrology with Sun sign-based astrology.
This claim is demonstrably false with reference both to the historical sequence of astrological publications by different writers and to the varied content of Leo’s own works.
At least three American astrologers moved in the direction of placing greater emphasis on the importance of the Sun in natal astrology before Leo did. Hiram E. Butler’s Solar Biology (1887) was the first modern astrology book to place a pre-eminent emphasis on the natal Sun, and also the first one to delineate the 144 natal Sun-Moon combinations, a lead also later followed by Leo.
Subsequently, Eleanor Kirk’s The Influence of the Zodiac upon Human Life (1894) and W. J. Colville’s Our Places in the Universal Zodiac (1895) were early examples of full-length books dedicated solely to Sun signs. Both predated Alan Leo’s only, shorter book of this nature, Everybody’s Astrology (1901), in the first edition of which pp. 3-60 are given over to the twelve Sun signs. In fact, they predated all Alan Leo’s books, most of which also incidentally cover far more ground than just Sun signs.
A measure of modern psychological Sun sign awareness was thus demonstrably established in both popular culture and astrological culture before Alan Leo’s first books appeared on the marketplace. While his influence was strong, his approach of giving relatively lengthy delineations of the Sun signs did not occur in a cultural vacuum.
Myth 3: It was under the influence of C. G. Jung in the 1970s that astrologers began to use reasoning by analogy from myth to determine the influence of previously unstudied celestial bodies, such as asteroids and Chiron.
This is a falsely modernist view of history. The development of astrological reasoning from myth had in fact already taken shape by 1930, with Llewellyn George’s articles on Pluto; and he was not an isolated case: in the early 1930s, several other astrologers writing on Pluto reasoned from myth too, notably Mabel Baudot[2a] in the pages of Astrology: the Astrologer’s Quarterly in 1931.
A telling extract from one of Llewellyn George’s articles on Pluto, in The Astrological Bulletina from late 1930, deserves citation at this juncture:
“Man has only just now become keen and capable enough to “discover” the planet and it will be some time yet before he becomes physically and mentally attuned sufficiently to manifest any reactions to the influence of its vibrations and in the course of time these will develop the ability to respond to its influence. In the interim researchers will be learning something about Pluto by means of analogy, that is, study of resemblance of properties or relations; similarity without identity; reasoning in which from certain observed and known relations or resemblances others are inferred; reasoning that proceeds from the individual or particular to a co-ordinate particular, thus involving both induction and deduction. In other words, analogy is specifically a resemblance of relations, a resemblance that may be reasoned from, so that from the likeness in certain respects we may infer that other and perhaps deeper relations exist. In fact, that is just what we have been doing in this article – comparing the known factors of Pluto with its mythological features and deducing its rulership of the sign Scorpio. It may be called masculine, stern, somewhat inscrutable, not itself malignant but dealing with high potencies; invoked by or responsive to music….”
At this point in time, Jung’s writings were unknown to English-speaking astrologers, not yet being available in English, and many others having yet to be written in Jung’s native tongue. Similar astrological reasoning from myth was already quite widespread in early 20th century literature prior to the discovery of Pluto. Not even Dane Rudhyar claims to have read Jung extensively before 1933. In his own words: “Around 1932-33, the first important books of Jung came out in English translation; they inspired me when I got them in 1933.”
Clearly, Jung was not responsible for the introduction of reasoning from myth in astrology. What’s more, his influence on astrologers writing prior to Dane Rudhyar’s rise to public prominence in 1933 was non-existent. English-speaking astrologers managed astrological reasoning from myth all by themselves long before Jung’s writings were even known by them.
Myth 4: Llewellyn George founded the Llewellyn Publishing Company, a great American success story, in 1901.
This claim is certainly false. He founded it in 1912. Until that date, he worked for the Portland School of Astrology, whose director and treasurer was the much more senior local astrology teacher Ida Hulery Fletcher. Her name appears prominently as the manager or director on all his books before this date, and in advertising for the school. This example is taken from the rear cover of L. H. Weston’s journal “The Astrolite”, March 1908 issue.
At the start of 1912, announcements were sent out to and published by the editors of Old Moore’s Monthly Messenger (the precursor to the British Journal of Astrology) (as pictured below) and of The Adept to the effect that Llewellyn George had ‘severed’ his connection with the Portland School of Astrology. It continued to be run solely by Fletcher thereafter, for several years, but George launched his own rival school, the Llewellyn Publishing Company and College of Astrology, in the same city (Portland) the same year (1912), and rapidly took it to a level of success that eclipsed that of the Portland School.
From the available evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that Fletcher bankrolled and founded the Portland School of Astrology, but employed George as a teacher, eventually promoting him to the status of “Principal Instructor”, until he decided to break rank with her and start to manage his own independent venture in 1912.
Myth 5: Dane Rudhyar originated Sun sign forecast columns in the 1930s by giving the idea for them to Paul Clancy.
This claim presently lacks any supporting documentary evidence and must therefore be regarded as unsubstantiated. Moreover, there is a wealth of circumstantial evidence against it. It appears likely to be based on an innocent misreading of an old interview given by Rudhyar, probably one similar to but in subtle ways distinct from his interview in Astrology Now No. 13, June 1976, in which he told Noel Tyl:
“Then, I encountered Marc Jones – I met him through a relative of his who was a friend of a woman I married at the time in 1930, and I realized then that you could use astrology from a philosophical, abstract and occult point of view; I was very interested in such a possible use. At the same time, I was studying Jungian psychology; my idea was to bring these ideas together, and that is why, as a result, Paul Clancy got interested when American Astrology was starting, and so I was with the development of popular astrology since its beginning. I was trying to give it a definite direction, which was a psychological direction which had never been given before. You see, people don’t realize that astrology in 1930 was entirely different from what it is now. For instance, some don’t realize that people never used to say, “I am an Aries”, or, “I am a Gemini”, or “I am a Leo”. This was unknown. Popular astrology was unknown. All the things that I developed came from the growth of American Astrology. That was the foundation, and American Astrology was divided into two sections – popular astrology and psychological astrology – I took the psychological astrology section, and Clancy and Grant Lewi took the popular astrology section. So astrology grew into a popularly accepted subject, which it never was before; it was only a small group of people, you know. As it grew, it grew in two different directions. The popular Sun-sign astrology, which was taken up by the newspapers and all that – and psychological astrology. And all that psychological approach to astrology is really based on those first articles that I wrote in 1933, ’34, ’35”.
By his own testimony therein, Rudhyar’s idea to combine Marc Edmund Jones’s philosophical astrology with Jungian psychology gained the interest of Paul Clancy when American Astrology (Magazine) was starting (which was in March 1933). He does not claim to have inspired Clancy’s Sun sign columns, which themselves had begun in the February 1932 issue of Clancy’s first astrological magazine, Astrological Bulletin.
Indeed, in the above quotation he expressly distances himself from any early involvement in the “Popular Astrology” side of American Astrology, which included all the Sun sign columns. What he is essentially saying here is that his serious philosophical and psychological astrology ideas were taken on board by Clancy and published with, meaning alongside, Clancy’s popular astrology output in each issue of American Astrology, with the result that they reached a large audience at an early stage.
Rudhyar did eventually begin to contribute the weekly Sun sign forecast columns within the pages of American Astrology starting with the December 1935 issue, continuing thereafter for about five years; but they had already been written by Paul Clancy in his various publications since February 1932, and latterly by Grant Lewi, long before Rudhyar’s first credit.
In the earlier issues of American Astrology starting in 1933, Rudhyar does pen one regular feature called “Seed Ideas” that gives pithy interpretative descriptions of each day of the coming month; but these are by design applicable equally to everyone, irrespective of Sun sign, and are not Sun sign forecasts at all. They coexist in the pages of the magazine with the Sun sign forecasts written by Clancy, who had in any case already been churning out Sun sign forecasts at great length in his previous magazines since February 1932.
What’s more, by his own testimony, Rudhyar did not even meet Clancy in person for the first time and present his ideas for future articles to him until the Autumn of 1933. It is therefore difficult to conceive how he could have influenced Clancy into producing Sun sign forecasts for the first time in February 1932.
See the fourth, fifth and sixth paragraphs of Rudhyar’s foreword to Moore, Marcia and Douglas, Mark Astrology: the Divine Science (1971) for how Rudhyar attributes the rise of popular Sun sign columns solely to Clancy’s initiative to popularise astrology in the early 1930s, which is to say, before he met Rudhyar. By his own testimony here, Rudhyar further contradicts any notion that he may have influenced Clancy into starting his own first Sun sign forecasts.
In summary, while it is apparent from his own testimony that Rudhyar was given a fairly free rein with his ideas in the pages of American Astrology from a relatively early stage after its launch in 1933, there is no evidence to indicate that he gave Clancy the idea for the Sun sign forecast feature in the first place before Clancy introduced it in February 1932, or that he had any part to play in writing them before the latter part of 1935.
While it is possible that the interview that originally gave rise to the rumour will eventually show up somewhere, no-one who claims to have seen it can recall where or when it was published at present; and if it does show up, there is in any case good reason to interpret Rudhyar’s words with a measure of caution in the light of the full known context of the sequence of publications and of his failure to credit himself with Clancy’s inspiration for initiating his Sun sign forecasts in February 1932 in any other context on the record.
It would have to be demonstrated from his quotation, if found, that he specifically suggested to Clancy before February 1932 that the latter should start to write Sun sign forecasts in his magazines. For this to be the case, he would have had to have done so by correspondence, in view of his consistently having stated that he did not meet Clancy in person before the Autumn (Fall) of 1933. This seems most unlikely when Clancy’s only known contact with Rudhyar prior to February 1932 was Clancy’s issuance of a request for permission to serialise Rudhyar’s series of pamphlets entitled “Harmonic Astrology” in the pages of Astrological Bulletin magazine, after the pamphlets were gifted to Clancy by a mutual friend, Ivah Bradley, without Rudhyar’s prior knowledge.
The purported “Part 7” of the serialisation of Rudhyar’s “Harmonic Astrology” appears in the June, 1932 issue of Clancy’s Popular Astrology, which would suggest that in all probability the first part was published in the December, 1931 issue of Astrological Bulletin. From the available evidence, it seems that before that time, Rudhyar had no knowledge of what was Clancy’s earliest publication. Why, then, would he have responded to Clancy’s request for permission other than to grant his permission and perhaps also to request payment?
While we might reasonably suppose that Rudhyar could have taken enough interest in how his work was being used by Clancy to subsequently obtain copies of the December, 1931 and January, 1932 issues of Astrological Bulletin, it takes a considerable stretch of the imagination to suppose that he would then have suddenly had, and conveyed back to Clancy by correspondence, the idea for the all-new genre of Sun sign forecast columns, in time for the appearance of Clancy’s first in the February, 1932 issue.
Rudhyar’s revealed approach to astrology in the pages of his Harmonic Astrology was extremely philosophical, abstract and serious. In that light, and when the Sun sign forecast genre did not yet exist, what reason was there for him to come up with it at that point in time and to propose it to Clancy as a future feature for his magazines? All the available evidence from the early years of his texts and articles on astrology (before late 1935) strongly indicates against Rudhyar having any real interest in or liking for such a casual popular approach to astrology as the Sun sign forecast column genre would espouse.
But even if we suppose hypothetically that Rudhyar had had this idea and sent it in to Clancy within a month of the publication of the first instalment of the serialisation of Rudhyar’s Harmonic Astrology, what reason would Clancy have had to immediately implement this suggestion, in his own writing, rather than politely declining, or at best, accepting on the condition that Rudhyar himself were to write the forecasts in the format he had envisaged? It seems extremely improbable; but even in the unlikely event that it had been the case, then why would Rudhyar not have openly taken credit for it upon any other of countless later opportunities to do so when he wrote or talked about the early years of working with Clancy?
The November 1938 issue of American Astrology features an article by Rudhyar entitled “Solar Astrology”. Here, Rudhyar classifies what he calls “Solar Astrology” into four types, of which the fourth is daily or weekly Sun sign forecasts, about which he says (p. 15):
“This type of forecast has been featured by the Clancy Publications from their inception, and it has proven so successful with a wide public that the feature has been copied by practically all astrological magazines – at least in America.”
He goes on to contrast these methods with horoscopic astrology, and says:
“[Horoscopic] astrology is the only one, practically, which I have practised in relation to individual persons – with a small sprinkling of “horary astrology” in cases where very vital concrete matters obtruded on the life’s horizon. I firmly believe that it is the best kind where an individual wants personal help and psychological advice. I might even say that it is the only safe and sound kind in such a case; and it requires from the astrologer a real knowledge of human nature and of modern psychology – in fact, the very same kind of equipment which is needed for the usual psychological analysis, especially that of the Jungian type.”
So he is clearly coming down on the side of horoscopic astrology as being the form he advocates in practice for astrological work. But he finally concedes (p. 93):
“In our present civilization based on mass-appeal astrology must necessarily operate on a “Solar” basis. Otherwise it cannot reach a large public which is psychologically ready and hungering for it. Yet, I believe that the highest and most valid form of astrology is horoscopic astrology which is the complementary aspect of modern psychological analysis – as I have shown in my book “Astrology of Personality”. This belief does not invalidate “Solar Astrology.” It merely limits the latter’s usefulness and logically acceptable scope. If anyone were to deny the right of existence to “Solar astrology” he would have, if he were consistent, to deny the same right to any and all forms of mass-knowledge, mass-propaganda, mass-guidance – be it religious, medical or even “scientific”.”
My reading from all this is that he is defending Sun sign forecasts purely on the grounds of their serving the collective hunger of the masses for some kind of basic exposure to astrological thinking (and perhaps making this case out of courteous loyalty to Paul Clancy who introduced them into the pages of his magazines, as he notes, from the first one he ran) – at the same time as effectively arguing that they are not proper astrology in the way he likes to practise it or advocates that others should do.
Had it been the case that Rudhyar had suggested the introduction of Sun sign forecasts into the pages of Clancy’s Popular Astrology or Astrological Bulletin before February 1932, his revealed relatively negative attitude to the genre, and his failure to claim any responsibility for it, in this extensive article just six years and nine months after the appearance of Clancy’s first Sun sign forecast column, would be entirely self-contradictory.
Finally, according to Kim Farnell’s research, independently verified by Christopher Renstrom, the first true Sun sign forecast column appeared in another magazine altogether, Your Destiny edited by William Franks in New York, in January, 1932, which is to say one month before the first one produced by Clancy in his “Astrological Bulletin”. This would imply that not even Clancy had the idea for Sun sign forecast columns first, but whether he came up with it independently of Franks is difficult to judge in view of the very tight timeline involved and the great distance apart from each other of Clancy’s publication operation and that of Franks within the United States. [Popular Astrology, Clancy’s immediate successor to Astrological Bulletin, as pictured above (June 1932 issue), was published from Detroit, and it would seem likely that Astrological Bulletin had been too, though this is unproven.]
 Article ‘Lessons in Astrology – No. 5: The Aspects, or Configurations’, starting p. 102
 Idea Publishing Company, New York (179 pp)
 Freedom Publishing Company, Boston (172 pp)
[2a] Baudot, Mabel ‘Observations on Pluto I: Pluto in Myth and Reality’ in Astrology: the Astrologers’ Quarterly Vol. V No. 3, Sept-Nov 1931, pp. 123-:
 George, Llewellyn, article on Pluto in The Astrological Bulletina No. 188, Oct.-Dec. 1930, pp. 81-6
 See for example Sepharial “The Science of Foreknowledge” (1918), p. 38.
 For the historical record, Clancy’s first magazine Astrological Bulletin was launched in May, 1931; and according to Clancy, writing in his regular questions and answers column entitled ‘Many Things’ on p. 19 of the January, 1934 issue of American Astrology, it changed names to Popular Astrology starting in February, 1932, continuing under that name until the final issue of September, 1932, after which Clancy did not publish anything until he launched American Astrology in March, 1933. There are no surviving copies of either early title in Worldcat-listed libraries; but recently I got in touch with Kris Riske, the Executive Director of the American Federation of Astrologers, on a hunch that the A.F.A. library was one of the only ones (non-Worldcat-listed) in the world likely to have retained copies of these early publications, and she investigated and confirmed this, reporting that the A.F.A. Library holds all issues from November 1931 to September 1932 except July 1932 of at least one of Clancy’s early magazines. She inspected them all and found that all from February 1932 onwards contain Clancy’s (unsigned) Sun sign columns, but those before February 1932 did not. The one surprise from her investigation is that the dates of the respective titles according to her account do not seem to conform precisely to Clancy’s own retrospective account given in 1934. She found that Astrological Bulletin was still running up to and including April, 1932, while Popular Astrology was running from that month onwards. It would seem therefore possible that for a short while, the two titles both existed before merging into one. The one issue I have here is that of June, 1932, entitled Popular Astrology and Astrological Bulletin, which lends some weight to this hypothesis. That issue, incidentally, features extensive Sun sign forecasts for all the twelve Sun signs, in two separate formats: for the month as a whole (as pictured above), and then broken down into shorter periods, for each Moon sign transit during the month.
 Reproduced at http://mindfire.ca/Astrology,%20the%20Divine%20Science/Astrology%20the%20Divine%20Science.htm
 http://www.khaldea.com/rudhyar/fromhtot_1.shtml (note that there is a mistake in this transcript, indicating that American Astrology commenced publishing in 1932, when in fact it was in 1933, and Rudhyar’s first personal meeting with Clancy the following Autumn)
 See Farnell, Kim “Flirting with the Zodiac: a True History of Sun-Sign Astrology” (Wessex Astrologer, 2007), p. 123