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[Culture/Spirituality] The Library Of Esoterica: Astrology

We are delighted to present an interview with Andrea Richards, the author of a new Astrology book published via Taschen, in a series exploring esoterica.

The core intent of our series of books is to help introduce traditions and practices which encourage self growth, intuition and individual exploration. - Jessica Hundley (Editor: L.O.E)

Photo: Manzel Bowman (©Taschen)

Before religion, before civilisation, early humans were looking to the heavens, viewing the Sun, the Moon, and the stars as deities. Before light pollution, the night sky would shine down to our ancestors in all of its glory, appearing as a cosmic gateway into another dimension of existence.

Milky Way Galaxy, European Southern Observatory

By studying the sky ancient humans were able to predict the changes of the seasons and track the movement of celestial bodies in relation to the earths movement, exemplified in the extremely precise alignment of ancient monuments to solstice events and their connection to astronomical cycles.

Karnak Temple, Egypt, 2000 BC (Photo: David Dagner)

Naturally over thousands of years a belief system was developed in association with astronomy, as the ancients believed that nothing was random, and everything had a purpose and significance. Babylonian culture is credited with the modern birth of Astrology around 1800 BC, with the first compendium compiled around 1000 BC. However the Sumerians before them had a knowledge of astronomy, and it's also argued that earlier neolithic temples, and even cave art, is associated with a study of the sky.

Hellenistic Zodiac, 200 BC (Image: Staso Forenbaher)

The belief that the stars and planets impact energetic events relating to the earth and human experience is at the heart of the astrological belief, and can be understood philosophically in the ancient Egyptian proverb:

As Above, So Below. (Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus)

Interest in Astrology once again flourished during the 1960's with the growth of hippie culture, resulting in many of the pseudo-scientific cliches still held today surrounding Western interpretations of horoscopes and astrology that have lead many to be suspect and suspicious of it's teachings, having detracted from the mystical and divine origins of the ancient belief system. However to those who understand Astrology as somewhat of an ancient art form, perhaps or perhaps not ascertaining to numerological synchronicities, it remains an awe inspiring gateway into the perspectives of early humanity.

Read on below for our interview with 'Library Of Esoterica: Astrology' author Andrea Richards, an incredible insight into the context surrounding the book.


Where did your journey into astrology begin ?

As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up ----- I was fascinated by the planets, the stars, their stories, and the unknown universe around us and I wanted to explore it. In college, I was a Religious Studies major, so I started studying all kinds of religious traditions, including more esoteric ones like Ufology and Theosophy.


Mythology and cosmology were always the big draw for me: the stories we tell to explain how we got here and the weird fact that so often, these very different ideas shared certain symbols or had some kind of weird overlap. Also, as the daughter of a minister—my dad was a military chaplain for 23 years—spirituality and belief were central in our home. It was just part of the culture I grew up in, around the church, in this case, Christian, but also because we were in the military, I was also exposed to other faiths.

From the get-go, I entered a world with a certain amount of enchantment, I guess—a belief that there was some kind of link or divine connection between the world we see and what we don't. To me, astrology is just another articulation of that connection—a brilliant, fascinating tradition that has been passed along through generations and is shared by many cultures. It's a wonderful tool for making sense of the world and our places in it; it's a reminder of how small our parts are in this grand story of life, and also how interconnected we are to each other and to the big, natural world around us.


How long did it take you to develop your book for the Library of Esoterica & how did the project come about ?

The fabulous series editor, Jessica Hundley, who is the visionary behind all the books in the Library of Esoterica, approached me about writing the volume on astrology because she knew I had long been interested in esoteric thought, and also because she wanted a journalist to write it, so that the book would truly be an introduction rather than an insiders take. Too often subjects that have any kind of spiritual bent are put in the unfair position of either being dismissive or proselytizing—there's rarely a middle ground.


It felt important to me to treat astrology as I would any other subject, with curiosity and a desire to learn about its history and practice over the years, as well as its cultural influence around the world. So the text is a journalistic take on the subject, which I think works well with the book's incredible images, which are more evocative and transportive. In a way, the text is the ground you stand on when you gaze at the sky. And ultimately, for me the writing became transportive too, thanks to the incredible insights that were shared with me from a variety of experts that generously allowed me to interview them for the book—a mix of astrologers, astronomers, and historians. And the art, oh my golly, the art! It absolutely transports me.


What authors, movements, themes have inspired your work the most ?

There are so many incredible astrologers out there now, writing amazing things! And here in Los Angeles, one resource not to be missed is the Philosophical Research Society, which has a wonderful library with a singular collection, plus the most generous and knowledgeable team of librarians. The team at TASCHEN was also incredible, from the series editor, Jessica Hundley, and Nina Wiener, to the designer, Nic Taylor and Lisa Doran.


Tell us about the book itself and what people can learn from it ?

The book is a visual history of astrology that celebrates thousands of years of astrological practice and traditions, with more than 400 images—from Egyptian temples and illuminated manuscripts to contemporary art from across the globe. Astrology celebrates the stars and their mysterious influence on our everyday lives.


Is there a particular period in history that inspired you the most ?

Researching the long history of what is mostly called western astrology led me to learn more about what happened after Christianity started suppressing the practice of astrology after the fourth century. All this knowledge was preserved and expanded upon by scholars in the Islamic world, who made these incredible scientific advancements that we are still benefiting from today. I didn't know anything about this incredibly generative time, mostly because of the limits of my Eurocentric education! But it brought home for me a fact that we see time and time again throughout history: astrology grew alongside the sciences; it wasn't in opposition to them! Astronomical discovery was central to development and practice of astrology. These are sister traditions, astrology and astronomy, science and mystery!

Personally, I'm really inspired by the late 19th century and early 20th in American religious history—when you really had the birth of the "new age," in terms of Spiritualism and Theosophy. H.P. Blavatsky is such a fascinating figure and I think she really influenced much of what we are still seeing today in terms of esoteric philosophy and traditions. Also, what a woman! I could read about her antics all day long. A true character.


What are the common misconceptions when it comes to Astrology ?

That it abolishes the concept of free will and that it is fundamentally opposed to science. Neither of those are true in my experience or understanding of what astrology is.


What are the origins of astrology and why is it still valuable today ?

Wow, both of those questions are super complicated! The origins depend upon what specific tradition of astrology you are talking about or what area of the world you are talking about—there are so many versions! It really makes my head spin. But the idea that the position of the planets at your time of birth could reveal something, which is the basis of the natal chart or casting a horoscope, appears to have come from Western Asia (Mesopotamia) around 400 BCE. But before that various cultures and peoples had been using the stars for divination.


I'd say astrology is still valuable today for many reasons, the first of which is that it continues to fascinate us and inspire! Look at all the incredible art in this book—that alone gives me reason to say it's of value. But also I think astrology is a wonderful tool for self knowledge and a handy lens for trying to understand human behavior. It helps us locate ourselves as players in a larger story.


Are you inspired by the occult / esoteric ? If so, how would you describe this realm of knowledge and the benefits of studying it ?

Absolutely! I'm 100 percent a seeker. There's a great statement in the back of all the LOE books that talks about the mission of the series to provide an inclusive introduction to these esoteric traditions, and I'm so down for it! So much of the "esoteric" or "occult' is actually all around us, we either don't notice it or don't recognize it. But once you learn about these traditions, you see their influences everywhere.


While I was working on the book, I went to L.A.'s Central Public Library downtown to pick up some books I'd ordered and I looked up to see the gorgeous globe chandelier that hangs in the building's rotunda. It's got the zodiac around it—it's something I've walked under many times but never thought about. Signs and symbols are all around us, portals to other times, places, thoughts, but we have to recognize them. We have to take the time to learn where they come from and what they mean so they can transport us. And that's the benefit of studying esoteric traditions and philosophies, they truly are transportive. And they also allow us to learn from the past, and hopefully they expand what is possible in the future.

Zodiac Chandelier at the Central Library in LA (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library)

You can follow Library Of Esoterica on Instagram: @thelibraryofesoterica

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