Kafka wrote: 'There is no way. What we call the way is just hesitation.' This is certainly true of the study of astrology. How easy it is to read another book, fooling ourselves into thinking we are learning something, when more often than not reading that book is a way of avoiding doing the one thing that will teach us something. That one thing is work. The student is far better advised to select a small number of books and do some serious work on them than to run breathlessly forward, chasing the mirage of knowledge through new book after new book. There are not that many books that are worth reading!
Here are a few that are. Some are overtly astrological; some are not. They all repay study. I will add to this list as I find time and inclination.
Truth and Tolerance, by Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
This is, by a country mile, the best modern book I have read on astrology. Unsurprisingly, the author doesn't discuss advanced techniques of astrological method. He does give a profound and lucid analysis of the vital philosophical difference between traditional and modern thought, thus making clear what it is that separates the western tradition of astrology from not only the astrology of the moderns, but also the Hellenic, Vedic and Egyptian astrologies that are so much en vogue today. The beginning of wisdom...
The same author’s The Spirit of the Liturgy contains a remarkable chapter on sacred time, which says more of truth about astrology than do most astrology books.
The Guide of the Perplexed, by Maimonides
Despite the author's vociferous condemnation of astrology, the astute reader will find much of value here. A wonderful read: like having a wise old uncle sit you down and tell you endless amounts of marvellous stuff. Project Hindsight published a letter on astrology written by Maimonides, in a slender volume that also includes his birthchart. The letter was almost certainly not written by Maimonides and his date of birth is not known to within two years. Apart from that…
On the Six Days of Creation, by Robert Grosseteste
This product of a most remarkable mind explains so much about the basic building-blocks of astrology. We use them all the time, but how much better can we use them if we understand why they are as they are. Grosseteste has many of the explanations we need.
Tetrabiblos, by Ptolemy
Ptolemy’s reputation is grossly inflated, I suspect from a desire among astrologers to find someone who could be invested with authority as ‘the’ astrologer as Aristotle is ‘the’ philosopher. You can no more learn astrology from Ptolemy than you can from an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But because he has such a reputation you do need to have read this, even if only once and quickly. R G Newton’s The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy discusses how Ptolemy massaged his observational data of fixed stars to fit a pre-existing theory. Unfortunately the author exhausted his supply of inspiration in coming up with that great title.
Christian Astrology, by William Lilly
Accept no substitute: this is England's contribution to astrology. Read it. Study it.
The Copernican Revolution, by Thomas Kuhn
Not only gives the clearest account I have come across of the Ptolemaic model of the solar system - that's what we're working with, so we might as well understand it - but is an invaluable corrective, written from inside the scientific establishment, to the untruths we are taught about how and why this system was pushed aside by the heliocentric model.
Astrological Judgment of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick, by Nicholas Culpeper
There are books that will teach you more about astrological technique; there is none that will introduce you to its author in so forceful and delightful a fashion. Culpeper was quite a character; his personality shines from every page - and no other astrological writer shares this bizarre sense of humour.
Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, by Macrobius
One of the most influential books in the history of the west. Cicero's Dream of Scipio is an account of the soul's journey through the spheres of the planets to incarnation here. Macrobius elaborates.
Celestial Philosophy, by John Worsdale
Also known as Genethliacal Astronomy: two titles, same book. This is definitely not one to read. But if you want to learn about prediction from the natal chart, it is one to work with. A series of natal charts, concentrating on the timing of death, illness and serious accident. Worsdale’s method fits where it touches, but this remains a useful resource: pull apart his judgements, argue with what he says, fill in what he doesn't say.
The Book of the World, by Abraham Ibn Ezra
Abraham Ibn Ezra is one of the few astrologers to have turned a critical intelligence to the material passed down to him. For doing that he stands at the very top of my astrological pantheon. You won’t learn anything spectacular in the way of technique from him, but the questions he asks of the authors he reviews are a lesson to us all. The Book of the World is him at his best. His biblical commentaries are also well worth reading. Maimonides advised his son not to bother with any commentator other than Ibn Ezra: high praise indeed.
The Fated Sky, by Benson Bobrick
At last! A history of astrology that is readable and written by someone who knows what he's talking about. Bobrick's starting-point is to accept that astrology was widely used - so why was it used? What did astrologers offer their clients? This is one that doesn't demand chart analysis: read and enjoy.
The Discarded Image, by C S Lewis
An informed and (very) sympathetic discussion of the model of the universe with which astrology works. Lewis has the gift of making complex ideas seem so simple, while providing regular flashes of great profundity. As the title suggests, his Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature is of greatest interest for those with a passion for literature. Lewis, however, is so soaked in the thought of past ages that it sheds much light on what we are doing as astrologers. Astrology cannot be practiced in an intellectual vacuum! Chapter III treats the same material as The Discarded Image, but much more briefly and with interesting differences in emphasis.
The Anachronism of Time, by Iain Mackenzie
As astrologers, time is what we work with. So it behoves us to understand it. Mackenzie, who is much influenced by Robert Grosseteste (see above), starts from the statement that we cannot foist ideas of temporality onto God. Adhering scrupulously to this idea, he builds a logically coherent model that explains all the phenomena we encounter while practising astrology. Not, of course, that such was his aim. A brain-stretcher, but well worth the effort.
The Noble Revolt , by John Adamson
Without some understanding of the age in which he lived, we cannot possibly understand William Lilly’s work. John Adamson’s The Noble Revolt is a long but extremely readable account of the dramatic events through which Lilly lived. The author does play to the gallery a bit, but his reading remains a convincing one, using newly mined sources to supersede previous accounts. I recommend this most highly.
The Causes of the English Civil War, by Conrad Russell
Conrad Russell’s The Causes of the English Civil War is one such superseded account, but remains worth reading for the sheer pleasure of spending time in the company of Mr Russell, who is one of that select band who can be relied upon to reassure you whenever you have doubts that there is intelligent life on this planet. Other modern writers in that aristocracy include Cardinal Ratzinger, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Menachem Kellner. I would happily read their collected shopping-lists.
The Experience of Defeat, by Christopher Hill
Christopher Hill suffers from being trapped inside the intellectual dogmas of his time, but inside that straitjacket is a fine historian struggling to get out. His The Experience of Defeat is a powerful piece, showing just how shattering the Restoration must have been for those, like Lilly, who had believed the suffering of civil war was prelude to the dawning of the Christ's kingdom on Earth.
Planets, Stars & Orbs: the Medieval Cosmos, 1200-1687, by Edward Grant
Is long and it won’t have you breathlessly turning the pages to find out who dunnit, but the author has made a fine job of making difficult material as readable as can be, without sacrificing sense. Full of interesting stuff.
Editing Early Modern Texts, by Michael Hunter
Is far more interesting than the title suggests. It has much to say about how the works of Lilly and his contemporaries were written and published, and as such is a helpful aid to understanding them. His An Astrological Diary of the Seventeenth Century is unfortunately far less interesting than the title suggests. If, though, you are visiting Rye – and Rye is a pretty place, well worth a visit – there is (at least, was when I was last there) a good bed & breakfast in Jeake House, the home of that diarist. If the owners have cut back the ivy, you can see his birthchart set in a tile high on the front wall.
Sexual Astrology, by Martine
Compulsory reading! This is, beyond all doubt, the most entertaining book on astrology that has ever been written. I could try to describe it… but why not just read it? You know you want to.