Henry J. Gordon’s unpublished masterwork:
a cautionary tale?
– August 26, 2010
Among the strong personalities of the early 20th century astrological community in the United States (and a fine example of the popularity of the scientific-rational approach to astrology in the 1930s), Henry J. Gordon is hard to forget once you have encountered his voice.
Today he is probably best-known for writing an additional preface to the posthumous second edition (1939) of H. L. Cornell’s mammoth dual-columned tome ‘The Encyclopaedia of Medical Astrology’, first published in 1933.
He seems indeed to have been a close colleague and associate of Cornell.
Other than that, he is also quite well known for his work ‘The Rectification of Uncertain Birth-Hours’, which ran through two editions.
However, he had altogether more ambitious plans afoot for the publication of a work on medical astrology that would eclipse that of his mentor. I quote from an announcement heralding the series, in 1937:
“The Long Heralded Works of Dr. Henry J. Gordon on ASTRO-PATHOLOGY Comprising Twenty-four Volumes on This Subject, Are About to See the Light of Day.
“The world’s greatest exposition of Astro-Pathology has become a reality with the presentation of this subject in the form of an entire library, the Alpha and Omega on this branch of astrology, together with a complete course on Anatomy and Physiology of the human body, with innumerable drawings and charts.
“Twenty-four volumes on Astro-Pathology, ca. 200 pages each volume¹, 1,000 actual charts of classified diseases and ailments, both physical and mental, with a complete course of instruction on Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology will be offered for the first time to the earnest students of the Stellar Doctrine….
“Its contents represents the practical observations of 15 years’ actual experience in this field.
“The author was the first man in modern times to hold a bona fide professorship on Astro-Pathology and Astro-Mathematics in a registered and licensed university devoted to the Healing Arts (1927 to 1931) in which Astrology was tentatively used for diagnostic purposes with great success.
“It is the writer’s opinion that Astrology will eventually be recognized through this branch of Astrology; this theory finds support in the fact that more and more reputable physicians and surgeons (the N.A.A.² counts 23 surgeons among their members) consult astrologians when they are confronted with obscure cases and for the election of propitious times for operations….
“The first two volumes on Astro-Pathology… deal with the groundwork and serve as an introduction into the Realm of Astro-Pathology and are ready for distribution….
“The author has accumulated sufficient material for approximately 84 volumes on this subject. It may be of interest to the students of Astrology to know how Dr. Gordon took up the study and defense of the Stellar Doctrine.
“Some 20 years ago, when he was engaged in the practice of oral surgery in New York… he was induced to consult the “foremost” (?) Astrologette of that decade³, with the result that he lost all his money, practice, home and family. He received the customary mimeographed bunk and junk that is passed on as astrology.
“After the smoke had cleared away and there was nothing left, as the ashes were turned into ashes of vengeance. Astrology to him became the bunk, pure and simple and he was not backward in telling everybody about it, until one nice day, in the midst of a party, he was asked if he knew anything about astrology. No, he didn’t. So, he was advised to look into that “matter” and come back after a year or two. This advice was accepted and the study of real astrologia sana began.
“Soon Dr. Gordon found out that there was nothing wrong with the fundamentals of astrology, but that there were very few astrologians who could be relied upon.
“Dr. Gordon is recognized today as the outstanding authority on Astrologia Sana (sane astrology), a factor that was borne out during the third international convention in Hollywood, Cal., where he was unanimously elected as the president of the N. A. A., which position he still maintains.
“He is the editor and publisher of the Official Journal of the N. A. A. and also the president of the Academy of Astro-Pathological Research, Inc..
“The price of each volume is $6.00. Members of the N. A. A. and other bona fide astrological associations, duly affiliated with the N. A. A. or the A. A. P. R., receive a 33% discount. Only one set each member.
“Obtainable through Gordon Publications, Ltd., 1125 So. Normandie Ave., Los Angeles, Cal..”
¹- that would be 4800 pages in total, which if even if we are generous enough to count Cornell’s densely-packed, many-lined dual columned pages as being the equivalent of four normal pages each still amounts to an advance of about 25% on the total extent of Cornell’s work.
² The National Astrological Association
³ That decade would be the 1910s. In New York, could that possibly be anyone other than Evangeline Adams, unless Ellen H. Bennett was still alive and practising there? Whichever of them it might have been, apparently Henry Gordon is claiming to have paid her for speculation advice and then to have lost all his money as a consequence.
Gordon goes on to list the planned contents of all 24 volumes with a paragraph each. After the two introductory volumes he has already described, he heralds a tome of ‘Practical application of [the introductory volumes] in actual diagnosis. Illustrated with 50 horoscopes of actual cases’.
Then we are promised ‘Organic hereditary deformities and malformation of organs’ followed by ‘Acquired organic deformities’, then four volumes dealing with functional disorders of ‘the entire alimentary tract’, six volumes tackling ‘insanity cases in the various categories’, four volumes on ‘criminals in the various manifestations’, one on cancer, one on syphilis, one on tuberculosis, and one on ‘barenes… absolute and acute’. Finally, ‘Longevity’.
As if these 24 volumes on Astro-Pathology were not ambitious enough, he goes on to propose five more volumes on other facets of astrology for subsequent publication: ‘Dr. Gordon’s Astrological State Board Questions and Answers, containing 1,012 astrological questions and answers, divided into 12 subjects’ followed by ‘What Happens to Your Horoscope When You Travel?’ and ‘Mundane Astrology, containing the 52 charts of all independent nations of the world’. Then ‘How to Determine the Natural Span of Life, according to the Pyndrayurdaya System, adapted to the western zodiac’. And finally ‘Pertinent Answers to Impertinent Attacks Upon Astrology’.
Clearly some of those latter proposals have ended up being developed independently, in some cases very much later, by various other astrological authors. But what went wrong? Why did this great series stall?
In all, Gordon managed to publish just the first two of these twenty-nine planned books, the two introductory volumes on Astro-Pathology. The official print-run for both was limited to 500 copies, so you don’t see them for sale all that often. The illustrations in the second volume have been pasted on by hand, making production quite labour-intensive.
Because Gordon labelled his book on Rectification No. I in his series, the two introductory volumes on Astro-Pathology are officially Nos. II and III respectively in a planned run of thirty volumes of which but three appeared.
Was Gordon recklessly overambitious? Did he run out of time and money for his project amid a slow initial public response, or did he fall sick under the weight of expectation he had delivered upon himself?
I wonder what became of his unpublished manuscripts and case notes. Either they are languishing in a private home somewhere, unbeknown to the wider astrological community, or they were donated to a library and filed away with little fanfare, or, more unfortunately, they may have perished with their owner, the victims of unsympathetic heirs, just like the notes of fellow medical astrologer the late Duncan Macnaughton (a.k.a. Maurice Wemyss) towards Volumes VI, VII and VIII of his ‘The Wheel of Life’.
I think that Gordon was probably referring to his general approach to the subject as a whole, not only the medical part of it, when he aligned himself with Astrologia Sana.
As far as I can gather, the notion of Astrologia Sana was coined by Lord Francis Bacon in a short treatise of the same name that appeared in his ‘De Augmentis Scientiarum’ in 1623 (according to Ann Geneva in ‘Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind: William Lilly and the Language of the Stars’, Manchester, 1995). Geneva states (p. 77):
“Bacon wished to remove from astrology its emphasis on nativities and to formulate a system for establishing astrology on a more empirical foundation. To this end, Bacon proposed a series of what he termed ‘future experiments’, by which generations of researchers would collect evidence of weather, for example, and correlate it with planetary positions and aspects.”
Bacon’s treatise was quoted from and discussed in some detail by keen astro-meteorologist A. J. Pearce in 1879 (‘The Text-Book of Astrology Volume 1’, first few chapters), very approvingly, while the basic two-word concept was also cited with implicit approbation on the title page of G. Wilde and J. Dodson’s ‘A Treatise of Natal Astrology’, Halifax, 1894.
So I think Gordon was essentially aligning himself with the empirical scientific intellectual tradition in astrology!