What Is Astrology? (Part I)

doorway stars

by Ruth Hadikin

Part one of an essay written as part of the Foundation Programme for the Faculty of Astrological Studies, exploring whether astrology can be considered an art, a science or a system of divination, and what (if any) is the causal relationship between celestial patterns and life on earth…

I’ve always believed there is an underlying reality to the universe, which we do not see, yet has been described in many different ways and given many different names. None of which alters it’s essential nature. When we ask a question, such as “what is astrology?” our mind shoots off in many different directions searching for an answer. Maybe it’s a science? Maybe it’s an art? Maybe it’s a system of divination? Maybe it’s a cosmology…

The answer that we return with depends upon both our perspective and our capacity for perception. There is an old Indian story about four men washing an elephant: the one washing it’s tail described what he saw and said “it’s like this”! The one washing it’s back said, “no, it’s not like that at all, it’s like this” and so forth.  We all think we are seeing reality, yet we can only ever be seeing one small part of the picture. 

What if reality is one whole, of which science is only one aspect, art is another, language is another, divination is another, cosmology is another, and so forth? This theory is supported by quantum physicist David Bohm’s theory of a holographic universe [1]. All are equal aspects of the same whole, seen from different perspectives and using models created for different purposes. Much like different lenses on a camera or microscope that present reality through different magnifications, angles, or filters.

“Despite the inevitable backlash as old paradigms expire, we are now entering an age where scientific explanations and models of the cosmos are more in accord with astrological principles. In such a climate, astrology is emerging from relative obscurity to become once again a serious study offering a greater understanding of our true nature as inhabitants of a living cosmos imbued with sacred mysteries.” 

- Melanie Reinhart, Chiron, Pholus and Nessus: To The Edge and Beyond.

I believe ancient astrologers knew this and didn’t divide knowledge into separate parts as we do today. We can perhaps see evidence of this in the Pythagorean school [2] where students were apparently required to study music, mathematics and to practice ‘self-examination’ (meditation) in addition to astrology to gain a comprehensive and experiential understanding of how the universe works. There is a modern-day counterpart to this in the Tibetan system, where medicine and astrology are considered one of the "five fields of knowledge” [3] .  

Also from Tibet the Bön wisdom tradition, which is said to date back over 17,000 years [4] and is still active today, places great emphasis on the study and knowledge of astrological techniques as a valid method (science) for understanding the true nature of reality. I think there is great value in studying knowledge systems that didn’t experience the subjective/obective ‘split’ that happened in the West between astronomy and astrology.

In the Bön tradition [4] great emphasis is placed on cultivating clear perception: the ability to see reality exactly as it is. This means observing how our mental concepts can actually obscure our clear view. Masters of this tradition are said to be able to see clearly (even in the dark), and expansively (meaning they can perceive planets, even outer planets and beyond).


This is said to be possible because they are not using their physical eyes, but rather the ‘light of their clear mind’[4] (which we might think of as consciousness).  When we compare these systems of knowledge with what is known of the Pythagorean School and the origins of Western Astrology, we can see that there are some similarities. Namely, looking at the universe holistically and practicing some form of meditation to enable one to develop one’s capacity for perceiving subtle energy and light. 

At first this ability to perceive the universe directly might appear to make astrology redundant, but if this were the case why would the greatest masters and sages place such great importance on it? I believe it is because astrology is primarily a language that has developed over thousands of years to describe the infinite and subtle dynamics of light and energy that create universes. The origins of astrology may be subjective yet it is possible, with great clarity, for our experiential knowing to still be ‘scientific’ in that it contributes to our knowledge-base.


The origins of astrology may be subjective yet it is possible, with great clarity, for our experiential knowing to still be ‘scientific’ in that it contributes to our knowledge-base. 

The Dalai Lama has been meeting with scientists like David Bohm for many years to explore where subjective knowledge from experienced meditators and objective sciences, such as quantum physics, can work together to give us a fuller, more complete understanding of reality. He makes a very good case for valuing both subectivity and objectivity [5]. We already see a precedent of this in the psychological and social sciences, where subjective experience is valued and still considered ‘scientific’.  (continued in Part II)

That's all for now see you next time, and in the meantime... happy exploring!

Best Wishes,


Artwork: "Doorway To The Stars" by Josephine Wall


Soul Path Astrologer Ruth Hadikin specializes in supporting you on your own greatest adventure: using Soul Astrology to explore your Soul Path and Life Purpose. Read more articles like this in her free newsletter.

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