The Issue of Objectivity in Astrology: Does Personal Bias Have a Place in the Practice of Astrology?

Lately I have seen a lot of arguments happening within the astrological community about “lack of objectivity.”  Originally these arguments began in Mudane Astrology circles where the focus is on world events.  But then the debate seeped into more general astrology discussions as well.  Here’s what typically happens:  Astrologer A disagrees with Astrologer B’s views about a world event.  So Astrologer A accuses Astrologer B of not being an objective astrologer while pronouncing that astrologers should “just do astrology and keep their own personal views out of the analysis.”  As you can guess, this conflict about objectivity began during the years of the Trump presidency and centered mostly on politics.  Pro-republican astrologers accused pro-democrat astrologers of being biased, and vice versa.  But now the debate has grown wider than politics to include other topics as well. 

If you are an astrologer and have been accused of “not being objective,” you’ve got lots of company.  The word is getting thrown around a lot right now on social media.  I myself have been accused of it here on this website.  And as I write this, there is a Twitter storm breaking out because the astrological icon Steven Forrest was attacked by another astrologer for not being “objective” because Forrest shared a pro-vaccine post on his own personal Facebook page.  

It is tempting to laugh and shrug off this conflict as yet another by-product of the current divisiveness in US politics.  No matter which side we are on, we tend to adopt the stance that: “Anybody who doesn’t agree with me and my personal views is BIASED!”  But there is more going on here than just a knee-jerk reaction to political debate and I would like to take this opportunity to dig more deeply into the subject of objectivity.

At first glance, the idea that an astrologer should be objective and unbiased sounds quite reasonable.  After all, if you go to see an astrologer about a problem you have, you hope that they will bring a certain degree of fairness and neutrality to the table, that they will not judge or criticize you and that they are cognizant of a wider perspective that goes beyond personal circumstances.  Of course this kind of balanced client-centered approach is positive and is something all consulting astrologers should strive for.  But aside from practicing a client-centered astrology, what does it really mean to say that astrology should be objective?  And is it even possible for astrologers to be free from bias? 

The hostile reaction toward “bias” assumes that an astrologer should be nothing more than an empty vessel who simply reads the chart without possessing any personal views or feelings and that the astrologer should exist in a kind of social and cultural vacuum, personally un-swayed by politics, economics, religion, education, sex, gender, race, creed or culture etc.  Furthermore, this stance also assumes that astrology itself is a source of pristine knowledge that in its true form is scrubbed free of grubby contaminants such as personal human opinion.  There is a LOT wrong with these assumptions and so I feel the need to start to unpack them a little more. 

Specifically, I don’t believe it is possible for astrologers to practice a purely “objective” astrology that is free from personal bias, and moreover, I don’t believe that astrology, as an abstract system of knowledge. is inherently objective, either.  Here’s why…

Does Objective Truth Even Exist?

Sociology is a field of the social sciences which spends a lot of time looking at the concept of objectivity.  And as a result, most sociologists have come to the conclusion that there probably is no such thing as pure objective truth.  Gasp!  No absolute truth?  How can that be?  Well, simply because human beings are not born into a social and cultural vacuum.  By virtue of being born at a specific place and a specific time in history means that human thought is always shaped by context.  This context is specific to one’s culture and geographic location and it also changes throughout time.  So sociologists spend a lot of time talking about how knowledge is culturally and historically specific.  There is no way out of this, either.  By virtue of being human, you are automatically locked into a biased perspective and can never be purely objective.  For example, ancient Greek physicians attributed disease to an imbalance in humors while physicians in first century China attributed disease to blocked qi meridians.  Later on, doctors in modern western society attributed disease to germs, bacteria and viruses etc.  All three views were specific to culture, geographic location and historical time period.  

Throughout history, much ink has been spilled on the topic of Absolute Truth.  Those who were philosophically inclined have beat their brows for millennia, arguing about the concept of ultimate truth:  Does it exist?  Is it possible that a pure truth exists “out there” somewhere, unsullied by human input?  And if it does exist, can the human mind even perceive it?  If the greatest thinkers of the human species could not come to any conclusive agreement on this subject over the course of thousands of years, I doubt Facebook and Astro-twitter arguments are going to have anything earth-shattering to add to this debate right now.

Meanwhile, in the modern era, science has spent a lot of time cataloguing how human perception of “reality” is colored by factors such as geographic location, race, class, religion, sex, gender, culture and able-bodiedness and how most of us are unaware of how these factors influence our perception of the world.  These factors create an invisible lens through which each and every one of us interprets reality.  The lens becomes a belief system which in turn lends itself to the verification of what appear to be self-evident truths.  However, most of us walk around as if this lens does not exist, thinking that we each have the birds-eye view on ultimate truth, when all we really have is a tiny and highly specific segment of it.  Truth, as they say, is relative.

Since astrologers are human beings, we also carry around our own specific socially created lens of the world that we use to interpret reality.  It is something that is built in to the human brain; we cannot simply decide to leave it at the door when we practice astrology.  And in our jobs, astrologers have to make judgement calls on what we believe are social and political facts.  To do so is not merely being “biased”, it is being human.  Lately, however, people in the USA disagree on the content of social and political facts, and so we suddenly have tedious arguments about “objectivity” in astrology breaking out.  

Even science, which is championed as a method that is the epitome of objectivity, is not purely objective and free from bias.  As philosophers of science will tell you, objectivity itself is a value: “The close examinations of scientific practice that philosophers of science have undertaken in the past fifty years have shown…that several conceptions of the ideal of objectivity are either questionable or unattainable. The prospects for a science providing a non-perspectival “view from nowhere” or for proceeding in a way uninformed by human goals and values are fairly slim….” (1)  As the writer Angela Potochnik notes, “Scientific research reflects the priorities, unquestioned assumptions, and blind spots of individual scientists and the broader cultures they participate in…Scientists’ and societies’ values shape what research questions are posed, how many resources are devoted to answering those questions, what the exact aims of the research consist in, and more.” (2)  In short, science cannot be completely objective because it is created and practiced by humans, who are inherently and inescapably biased. (3)

“But–!” I hear you say, “Astrology is beyond science!  It is the language of the cosmos!  It has a higher perspective!  One that goes beyond any shortcomings of the human brain!  It is totally objective!!”  Or is it?  Hear me out… 

Astrological Theory’s Built-in Bias

There is a public perception that astrology as the “study of the stars” is a purely objective system of knowledge.  To us little humans planted here on Earth, the universe appears so vast, so timeless, so silent and so seemingly impersonal that we conclude, correctly or otherwise, that the universe must be bias-free.  And by virtue of its connection to the cosmos, astrology is thought to be as bias-free as those very stars appear to be.  Furthermore, astrology (unlike other forms of divination that rely more on intuition) is connected with mathematics and this seems to legitimize astrology as being more objective and free from that nasty inconvenient little thing called human opinion.

But astrology, just like science, is a system of knowledge.  And all systems of knowledge are constructed by humans.  And as we have just shown above, all humans are inescapable biased.  So sorry to break it to you, but the astrological system you use is not as objective as you might think.  Don’t believe me?  Study traditional astrology for a while and you will start to see what I mean. 

Traditional astrology is the very foundation of our practice–even if you practice modern astrology, you are dealing with a variant of this ancient lineage.  Yet when we investigate traditional astrology’s geographic, historical and socio-cultural context, we immediately start to see some problems that contradict the view that astrology is a purely abstract and objective system that is bias-free. 

First of all, traditional astrology was devised by cultures who resided in the northern hemisphere and to this day astrology still disregards the seasons and the perspective of those who dwell in the southern hemisphere.  So right there we have a major problem.  Western astrology is not a universal system but one that is geographically specific, a concept which everyone in the astrological community loves to pretend to ignore, except for a few loud and very vocal Australians.  These ticked off Ozzies tend to make all the other astrologers rather uncomfortable and secretly wish that Australia would just go away because it makes us question the very tenets our astrological practice is based upon.  Since nobody in the northern hemisphere is very interested in solving the problem and no concerted effort has been put into the subject, the issue just drags on and on, decade after decade, with the result that every single person who practices Western astrology must do so in a state of cultivated denial about its so called universality and objectivity.  

Secondly, traditional western astrology, and here I am referring specifically to Hellenistic astrology (150 BCE-625 CE), developed its theory and methodology within the context of ancient Babylonian, Egyptian and Greco-Roman cultures.  And from there, traditional astrology was further influenced by the social norms and values of renaissance Europe.  As such, Western traditional astrology is fundamentally a patriarchal view of human affairs stamped onto the cosmos.  This fact has not escaped young astrologers who are fluent with the theory of intersectionality.  In the past few decades, young astrologers have pointed out the problematic situation of a system of knowledge that rigidly sorts planets and signs into binary categories of “masculine” and “feminine.”  Further, astrology’s house systems are fundamentally patrilineal, with the male seen as chief and the female as subsidiary.  For example, in traditional Horary astrology, the 4th house is unquestioningly assigned to the father, while the 10th is the mother.  This is because the 10th house is the derived 7th house of the 4th house, so this defines the mother as derivative— she is defined as the spouse of the father and she does not exist as an agent in her own right. 

No judgement here.  I am not throwing shade on traditional astrology.  I practice traditional astrology myself.  But I am just pointing out that its patriarchal bias is something that was created by humans and was there right from its origins.  There is no way to magically remove this patriarchal perspective from the system of astrology; there is no way to make the system bias-free.  And even if today’s practitioners have managed to find a way to use traditional astrology in a way that gives a nod to intersectionality, one still wonders what an astrological system completely devoid of patriarchal bias might look like.  So to sum up, Western Astrology is merely one method of viewing the world, and it works best in the societies where it originated because both the system and the societies are fundamentally hierarchical and patriarchal.

The Practice of Astrology as a Creative and Subjective Process

Chart reading and consulting with clients is a highly creative process that relies a great deal on subjective skills.  If you don’t believe me, go get an astrology reading from a computer.  You will most likely get a confusing hodgepodge of contradictory statements with no synthesis of analysis.  This is because unlike a human astrologer, the computer is not adding subjective skills to its analysis.

Despite the fact that astrological methodology is tightly constrained by an endless amount of rules within an ordered system, reading a chart properly still requires loads of subjective responses.  There is no way around this.  Since the astrological houses are composed of numerous facets within a single theme, the process of reading a chart constantly involves making subjective choices about which facet to focus on and which facet to ignore within any given house. 

To illustrate, during a consultation, the chart might show that the 3rd house is definitely a site of current problems for the client.  But as every astrologer knows, the 3rd house refers to a variety of themes including local travel, siblings and education.  So does it mean your client’s car broke down?  Or perhaps they had a fight with their sibling?  Or did they fail their exam at school?  The only way to know which one for sure is to either a) be a psychic or b) ask the client which one of the themes it is.  Since most of us are not psychic to that degree, astrology involves the need for feedback from the client.  Personally I would LOVE to have access to a more “objective” astrological method that could actually pin-point the correct facet of a house without the need for client feedback.  Wouldn’t you?  But sigh, all we have right now is an astrological system that requires us to be subjective in our practice.  Oh horrors!  There’s that nasty lack of objectivity raising its head again.

The Benefits of Bias

But hold on.  Who says bias is a bad think anyway?  Bias can be a super useful thing in astrological consulting.  Not all clients fit well with all astrologers.  Nor should they.  Usually, astrologers and their clients click better if they are on the same page when it comes to issues such as race, age, sex, gender, economic class, religion etc.  And let’s say that an astrologer has a previous career background working in the financial field–I would definitely want their “bias” to be operating if I booked a reading with them about my financial problems!  Similarly, astrologers such as myself have personal experience dealing with severe health issues and we can use that experience to help clients who are dealing with similar crises.  In short, my clients benefit from my personal bias.  And so will yours, if you are able to admit that you have biases in the first place and that they can be put to good use.

The thing about astrology is that the only way to become a good astrologer is to utilize your own subjectivity.  Aside from proficiency with astrological theory and methodology, what often separates a good astrologer from a so-so one is personal experience with transits.  Astrologers use themselves as study subjects first and foremost.  We live through the transits and discover how they operate and how they feel.  Then we apply that knowledge to our clients and to the analysis of world events.  Subjectivity is not a hindrance to the practice of astrology--it is a significant part of the learning process that cannot be skipped over or eliminated.  And since one never stops studying the craft, one never quits utilizing this subjective learning strategy.

Also I really just have to say that I cannot imagine what it would look like to practice an “un-biased” astrology.  The astrologer would have to resort to speaking at an archetypal level that is so abstract, so generalized and so removed from everyday life that it would fail to have any specific meaning for most people.  Some people might enjoy that kind of astrology.  But I know that I  personally do not.  

To Conclude:  Putting our Biases on the Table

So if we cannot escape bias and if bias can sometimes be a good thing, what should we as astrologers do?  Well, in the social sciences, it is customary to be open about one’s biases and get them on the table to start with so everyone knows where you are coming from.  This act also helps to dismantle the erroneous belief in objectivity. 

The social sciences tell us that it is impossible to divorce ourselves from the lens through which we look at the world, and that this lens is inherently shaped by such things as geographic and historical context as well as race, socio-economic class, sex, gender, religion, culture and able-bodiedness.  We cannot magically remove this lens when we practice astrology.  And furthermore, why would we even wish to?  Our personal position in the sociocultural milieu gives each of us a unique perspective that when put together in concert with other people’s views describes reality in a more complete way than any single perspective could.  But adopting this practice requires that we as astrologers each spend some time reflecting on what our position is in the social hierarchy and how our views are affected by that position.  Then we can grab hold of our biases and put them on the table in plain sight.  Ironically, only by admitting that objectivity is an illusion can we ever practice an astrology that comes close to being a little more “objective.” 

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So what are your views about the issue of objectivity in astrology?  How should astrologers handle personal bias?  Are you an astrologer who has been accused of being biased?  Leave a comment below!  Or you can click here to book Danielle for a totally biased personal consultation.

Notes

  1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Scientific Objectivity.  First published Mon Aug 25, 2014; substantive revision Fri Oct 30, 2020.  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-objectivity/#Intr 
  2. Potochnik, Angela.   Awareness of Our Biases Is Essential to Good Science.  Scientific American.  August 9, 2020 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/awareness-of-our-biases-is-essential-to-good-science/
  3. And if you want to go even further down the science/objectivity rabbit hole, you might end up at quantum physics and the tenet that phenomena can change simply by being observed.  It is the participation of the observer that actually creates reality, rather than simply just observes it.  “Reality” cannot exist independently of the observer.

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