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Toward a Definition of Astrology

Michael Munkasey, © 1996

Last Updated: Feb. 17, 2013

Opening Statements

Astrology is a complex subject which is rapidly gaining in recognition and popularity. This growth begs for a more formal definition of what it is, and what it is not. Astrology is not easy to define because it is part craft, part art, part science and part written and oral tradition. Astrology embraces branches which view what it is and how it is to be practiced in quite different ways.

This begging need for definition also asks who has the right to use the title "Astro­loger," and what should the minimum expected level of ethics be for astrological activities. Assump­tions about astrology are currently being made with­out regard for its traditional defini­tions and practices. This is leading to a dilution of traditional ideas and standards and brings serious implications.

I think of astrology as showing three quite different facets. These are as a:

- language

- set of tools (e.g., planets, signs, houses, etc.)

- facility for determining human or event insights.

There are two quite different ways to define astrology: through Function (tech­nique) or through Practice (application).

- Function, or technique, implies that the definition centers on how the various astrological tools are used. Examples of definition of astrology by function include such schools of thought as: Cos­mobiology, Hindu, Uranian, Tropical Placidian, Medieval, the use of Degree Symbolism, etc.

- Practice, or application, implies that the definition embody the various applications used. Examples of definition of astrology by practice include such schools of thought as: Humanistic, Natal, Esoteric, Psychologi­cal, Compatibility, Mundane, Horary, Shamanistic, Religious (e.g., The X Temple of Astrology), Art Forms (e.g., Astro-Drama), etc.

It is important to note these distinctions when discussing how astrology is to be defined.

The advantage to definition through function is that various schools of thought and practice remain independent from the definition. The disadvantage is that practitioners may find themselves working in more than one area and thus the minimum standards required to practice are more complex.

The advantage of defining it through practice is that practitioners can easily switch among various functions or techniques. The disadvantage is that different schools of application could become a part of the definition. This could imply that the people who tout this practice then become part of the definition.

The fields of engineering and medicine are also complex. Engineering divi­des along lines of prac­tice such as mechanical, civil, electrical, computer science, electronic design, etc. The only relationship among some of these fields is their commonalty with the ideas of design and production. Each of these fields has their own professional organizations, accrediting practices, newsletters, etc. They also have colleges (e.g., the school of electrical engineer­ing) devoted to educating students in their practices.

The field of medicine divi­des into obstet­rics, internal medicine, ophthalmology, urolo­gy, radiology, etc. Their commonalty is a dedication to healing. In daily practice we recog­nize that if you need eye care, you do not go to a radiologist or an urologist. If we want a bridge or a building built we do not go to a computer design engineer. Yet, there are civil engineers who use computers. They just don't advertise them­selves as being experts in computer design.

Both the fields of medicine and engi­neering have done good jobs of educating the pubic about their various branches. There is an important lesson to be learned from this by those wishing to call themselves an astrologer.

In medi­cine a student takes four college years of general medical courses, four years of medical school courses, and then special­izes and practices in a field for a number of years before being examined and certified for public practice. There is both a state and a national certification process.

In engineering a student takes spe­cific courses in college but is qualified to practice in a field as soon as he or she passes an accrediting exam (e.g., obtains a civil engin­eer's license).

Licen­sing is also a requirement in the field of medicine, and a doctor is licensed for his or her particular field of interest. In both fields profession­al organizations are strong and encourage active membership for on-going educational practices.

Using these fields as an example it makes sense to divide astrolo­gy in a simil­ar manner, that is along the lines of practice. The ideas which unite the astro­logical fields include the use of solar system planets, zodiacal signs, as­pects (or harmonics), the personal sensitive points, houses, fixed stars, other solar system bodies, and long precessional cycles as basic tools. Astro­logical practices include psychological, predictive, business, synastry, esoteric, etc., divisions of fields.

Within psy­chologi­cal there are branches for counsel­ing, astro-drama, mythology, etc. Within predictive there are branch­es for horary, electional, the use of oracles along with or as a horoscope, pro­gres­sions, etc. Business ideas include both mun­dane and business applica­tions. Synas­try includes both counseling for inter­personal relationships and coun­sel­ing for company / employee interactions, etc. Esoteric includes prac­tices of astrology associated with religion, ritual, soul development, studies of past Master's teachings, stone circles, reincarna­tion, natural settings, rhythmic move­ment, etc.

Such diver­se parts to astrol­ogy are currently causing confusion among the public as to what astro­logy is as a practice, and who has the right to call them­selves or to practice as an astrologer.

Specifically omitted from these particular fields are practices which cause qualms among some astrologers. These can include the use of tarot cards (or a similar oracle) as a chart reading vehicle as opposed to using the traditional astrological tools while still retaining the title "astrologer"; the primary use of intuition as a vehicle for interpre­tation of a horoscope or oracle -- as opposed to studied practice; and the mixing of techniques from various oracular practices along with astrological symbols.

Few, if any, standards exist today within the professional practice of astrology to differentiate among practitioners who place large outdoor advertising signs depicting red-painted hands with symbols of Jupiter or the Moon imprinted thereon; or with practitioners who take the time to gain experience and accreditation in using more traditional astrological chart reading methods.

If professionals in the field of astrology are to follow the successful public edu­cational practices used by medicine or engineering then these people should start to identify themselves not as "astrologers," but as "Natal Astrologers," "Electional Astrologers," "Business Astrologers," etc.

I am deliberately NOT addressing the issue of accreditation. Accreditation is a totally separate issue from a definition of astrology. There can be no move­ment to­ward public recognition of the practice of astrology without an adequate defin­ition of what astrology is and what astrology is not. There can be no move­ment toward an adequate scientific test of astrology without a definition of what astro­logy is and what astrology is not.

Accreditation involves the exami­nation and licensing of people to ensure that they meet certain levels of educa­tion and competence in their chosen field of practice. Definition of these fields allows any person to identify with the techniques and specific practices in which they choose to develop competency. This paper is about definition

The implications of what is being presented here are quite large. Should it be decided or shown that astrology is a language or a set of tools, then efforts toward the "scientific proof" of astrology make little sense. No one is trying to scientifically prove that German or French, or a hammer and wrench, are scientifically valid.

Requests for a "proof" of astrology are often mixed with trying to determine how astro­l­ogy works. Scientists do not test the validity of German or French. Rather they use German or French in situations to determine various aspects of our physi­cal nature. In a similar way, asking if right or left handedness, or one's hair color, is provable through astrology may be the wrong type of question to ask. Rather one should ask questions like "How does a skilled Horary Astro­loger use his or her tools to arrive at answers?" "Are the answers so derived cor­rect?" What is meant by the word "correct"? "Are such practices reproducible in other contexts?"

Suggested Definitions

Astrology is a practice designed to help people understand themselves or events, their current life situations, and their strengths and weaknesses. Astrology uses certain tools which are called the: solar system planets, zodiacal signs, aspects (or harmonics), the personal sensitive points, houses, fixed stars, other solar system bodies, planetary nodes, and long precessional cycles.

Astrology as a language. In English grammar we have nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. In Astrology we have planets, signs, etc. There is a correlation between these two ideas. That is, planets can be thought of as having a noun, adjective or adverb depiction. Etc. See "The Astrological Thesaurus, Book One, House Keywords" by Michael Munkasey for a fuller explanation.

An astrologer is a person who has studied the tools of astrology; knows and understands their definitions, applications and limitations; and can interpret a chart using them to answer questions or provide insight.

A chart is a traditional, symbolic and stylized diagram which uses at least three of the astrolog­i­cal tools depicted in a recognized manner. A natal chart depicts a birth, a horary chart a horary question, etc.

A horoscope is one of the tools that astrologers use, sometimes called the rising sign. The map or chart, often miscalled a horoscope, is just that: a map or chart of the various astrological tools drawn in a traditional way.

Planets. It is best to stick with the traditional astrological planets before adding in other bodies like the asteroids, newly discovered solar system bodies, hypothetical planets, etc. While these can work, and often in dramatic ways, the use and understanding of the traditional astrological planets should come first.

These are: the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Nodes. Nodes are derived from the intersection points of a planet's orbit with the plane of the Ecliptic. Each of the planets has both a North Node, and a South Node. These are opposite to each other in space. Nodes can also be measured in Heliocentric (Sun at the center) or Geocentric (Earth at the center) positions. Nodes can be determined by their "average daily motion" position (not recommended) or by their "true" position (recommended). The most commonly used and shown Node in astrological practice is the geocentric Moon's Node.

Personal Sensitive Points. Abbreviated PSPs. There are seven PSPs, or eight if you include the Moon's Node, which belongs included with the PSPs. Each of the PSPs has a focus (or main) side, and an opposite side. In my opinion an astrologer should learn and use the main side first.

Each of the PSPs is a real and definable point in space. These are not theoretical constructs. They are each powerful in their own way, and should not be ignored in astrological practice. Popularly there are two PSPs which are shown in the chart: the Ascendant (ASC) and the MC. The names of the other PSPs are the: Equatorial Ascendant (EQA); Vertex (VTX); Co-Ascendant (CAS); Polar Ascendant (PAS); and Aries Point (APT).

No one of the PSPs is any more important than any other. They are all important. The MC serves as an "anchor" for the chart, in that the MC connects the astrological chart to a point on the Ecliptic which becomes the foundation for orienting the chart in space. The MC represents "time" and the ASC represents the "horizon". The MC and ASC are also referred to as the chart angles, because they set the framework for erecting a chart diagram.

Aspects and Harmonics: These are two words which refer to the same idea, although they are slightly different in meaning. An aspect is the angle between two planets, or a planet and a PSP. For example, if Jupiter and Saturn in a chart are 47 degrees and 23 minutes apart, then that is their aspect (angle). The eighth harmonic (division) of the 360 degree circle of the Ecliptic falls at 45 degrees (360 divided by 8 = 45). Thus one could say that in this example there is an 8th harmonic aspect between Jupiter and Saturn.

Not all harmonics have to be whole or real numbers (integer numbers, e.g. 5, 16, 243). There can also be harmonic intervals with numbers having a decimal point (real numbers, e.g., 3.49, 1.392, 41.67). Real number harmonics can become a useful tool. The practice of "arc-transforms" uses real number harmonics, and it is a very powerful aid to finding a chart's power points.

Astrology can be divided into fields of practice, such as

Psychological Astrology

The use of astrological knowledge and tools to counsel people to help them understand themselves, their role in life, their strengths, weak­nesses, etc.


The use of astrological knowledge and tools to counsel people in inter­personal situations.

Business Astrology

The use of astrological knowledge and tools to counsel people in busi­n­ess, mundane, political, event, or historical situations. This includes the study and interpretation all forms of market cycles.

Predictive Astrology

The use of astrological knowledge and tools to answer people's questions about future, present, or past trends, select times for propitious astro­log­i­cal influences, etc. This includes horary and electional methods.

Esoteric Astrology

The use of astrologically based knowledge to help others identify with their culture, background, self, soul, etc. The use of and mixing in of various oracles along with the basic astrological tools may be acceptable.

Medical Astrology

The use of astrological knowledge and tools to counsel people concerning their medical situation.

Rectification Astrology

The use of astrological knowledge and tools to determine the time of a birth or the time of an event.

Cycle Astrology

The use of astrological knowledge and tools to forecast weather, sun spots, natural cycles in populations, etc.

Others (These require further development and definition)

Conclusions - It is Time ...

It is time to seriously address what astrology is and what astrology is not. If astrologers choose to follow the lead of the fields of engineering and medicine then it is time to start defining our various fields of practice, as well as the minimum educational levels acceptable within each field. It is time to start organizing astrology along these fields of practice. It is time to start educating ourselves and the general public about the differences among these various fields. It is time to start organizational groups within these fields. It is also time for the teachers and leaders in astrology to identify themselves and their students as "Medical Astrologers," or "Natal Astrologers," etc. The word "astrologer" has simply become too general to use as a one word definition.

What I have intended here is to open a community-wide discussion about the definition and role of astrology. Because we lack such a definition, along with its acceptance, we open ourselves to criticism from many different angles. A definition of what astrology is and what astrology is not is becoming increas­ingly necessary. Once such a definition is decided then it needs to be adopted by all astrological practitioners. This could take a long time, perhaps twenty or fifty or more years. I hope that my preliminary thinking can help bring some order to a very complex subject.

Michael Munkasy
Michael Munkasey has University degrees in Engineering and Management. He is a Vietnam Veteran and worked for over 30 years in the areas of Public Transportation, Medicine and Air Traffic Control as a computer systems analyst and data base specialist. He has the highest Professional Astrological Certifications from all major US astrological organizations. He started his astrological studies in 1969. He was a member of the Board of Directors for NCGR for 22 years, and authored their Constitution and By-Laws, initiated their SIG concept, and set the standards for their research approaches. These days he maintains for sale an extensive data base of information on companies traded on the major US stock exchanges. He also has had books published on Midpoints, Houses, and Uranian Astrology. Michael received the 2008 UAC Regulus Award for "Discovery, Innovation and Research".