Fate and Free Will in Astrology                              
There seems to be a subtexted but active "debate" among astrologers regarding the role of fate and free will in astrology.  With Bernadette Brady's article in this month's issue of The Mountain Astrologer, "Fate, Free Will, Horoscopes, and Souls," the debate may have been brought out into the open.  While this is not a response to Bernadette's article (I was contemplating writing this post before The Mountain Astrologer announced this topic), I have incorporated some points (and counter-points) from the article.

From my viewpoint, much of the debate has been generated by reactions of "New Age" astrologers to predictive astrology as practiced by "traditional" astrologers.  The New Age complaint typically is that traditional astrologers prescribe (or describe) our fate from one's horoscope as if it is an inescapable destiny.  Our fate, they say, is not determined by the stars (only suggested); we are not slaves to destiny, but free to modify our destiny by the choices we make.  Going even farther, our New Age brethren and sistren, would argue that we create (or at least co-create) our reality and that the horoscope ideally can shine light on the path to illuminate the easiest way we can change our reality by growing in consciousness.  In my opinion, while both schools may contain some grains of truth in their views on fate and free will, neither realize the extreme complexity of the matter and, so, both get it wrong. 

We can begin by saying, as Bernadette's article brings out by her reference to the positions of a number of Classical philosophers, that this question goes far beyond astrology.  In fact, it is one of the central questions with which philosophers and theologians have dealt over the course of millennia.  It is a question that is intimately bound up with "the Problem of Evil."  The conundrum goes like this: if God (or the Divine One Power), is Omnipotent, then how can He/She/It be Loving, because He/She/It allows evil and suffering to exist in the world while having the power to abolish it.  If God is Compassionate and Loving (and if being Compassionate and Loving is equated with remedying evil and suffering), then He/She/It cannot be Omnipotent (or suffering would have been ended) and, if there is a Power that God does not control, then He/She/It cannot really be God.  (My deep apologies if this dilemma is news to any of you.) 

How does the Problem of Evil relate to Fate and Free Will?  If the Divine is All Powerful, then everything that happens is happening according to the Divine Will, which means that everything is fated.  Jesus said, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are numbered," by which we can take that nothing is left to chance, nothing is beyond the Divine Will.  The Qur'an states, "Not a leaf falls but that He knows it.  And no grain is there within the darkness of the earth and no moist or dry thing but that it is written in a clear record."  That record is what is referred to as the Tablet and which Edgar Cayce identified as the Akashic Records.  The Adi Granth of the Sikhs similarly states that "Not a leaf falls but by his Hukum (His Order or Will)."  The Sufis, deriving from the Truth of Allah's radical Oneness--that there is nothing but God and that, consequently, the Creation, including our selves, is all Divine Manifestation--point out that it is impossible that anything could happen independently of God's Will.  As the Hindu mystics say, it is all the Lord's lila, the Divine Play.  Or, as some mystics have said, we are all puppets; the difference between the realized souls and the unrealized souls is that the realized souls know that they are just puppets while the unrealized souls think that it is they who are dancing.

Christian theologians, on the other hand, have attempted to resolve the conundrum by saying that while God is Omnipotent, He has created free will and has given it to humanity.   The theological implication of this doctrine also absolves God from ownership of evil, since evil can now be consigned to the free choices made by us human beings.  This has a certain logic (and, as we shall see later, in my opinion, a grain of truth).  If God is Omnipotent, then He/She/It certainly has the power to create free will, to share the Divine Power of choice.  For, if God did not have the freedom to create free will, to give up His/Her/Its freedom to create all of the events and circumstances of the Manifested World, He/She/It would be constrained by that inability and, thus, not All Powerful.  The seeming paradox, however, is that God ceases to be Omnipotent once the Divine voluntarily gives up His/Her/Its Absolute Power in order to confer free will on humanity.

This paradox, however, only exists when we assume that God and humanity are separate beings.  If we go back to the radical Monotheism of the Sufis, there can be no being other than Allah and so, while in one sense we are non-existent because only Allah exists, in another sense we exist only because He/She/It is manifesting through us.  In this sense, the Divine has given up none of His/Her/Its free will; He/She/It has only changed the locus of His/Her/Its complete freedom to choose.  Does this mean that we are free will beings co-creating our own reality?  Maybe only up to a point.

Enter karma.  Karma is frequently conceptualized as fate or as fate connected to our actions in past lives.  Actually, karma is a Sanskrit term denoting action and can also be conceived as the spiritual law of cause and effect.  Its premise is that every action has an effect or consequence and that the doer must, at some point in time, experience the consequence of each action performed by him/her.  Underlying this premise is the Truth that we are all One, so that whatever I do, I do unto myself.  The karmic law is exemplified in Jesus' saying, "As you sow, so shall you reap." 

Now, there is no Etch a Sketch option with karma.  If you do the crime, you do the time.  Period.  And karma does not just apply to the big bad deeds, or to the big good deeds--it applies to EVERYTHING we do.  We are reminded of the saying attributed to Euripides, "The millstones of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine."  It may take many lifetimes for a karmic consequence to manifest, but it will manifest, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  Or, to quote Jesus again, "You will never get out until you have paid the last penny [variant: You surely won't be free again until you have paid the last penny.]"  Included (big time) in what are actions are our desires and attachments.  If we have a desire, it will be fulfilled.  That is the consequence of our having that desire.  If we are attached to someone or some thing, we will be brought back to that someone or thing, some time, some where.  Of course, that desire may be fulfilled in a way that we never intended or long after we have stopped desiring whatever it was. 

With respect to predestination (or fate) and free will, the analogy of a chess game can be employed.  Let us posit this chess game within an environment that is, initially, karma free.  So, before we begin the game, we have absolute free will regarding our choice of whether to play the game or not.  Once we decide to play, however, we have accepted the constraint of the rules of the game on our free choice.  Within those constraints, we are free, with our first move, to move anywhere on the board.  This first move, however, constrains the next move and that next move constrains the move after that.  Gradually, the possible choices of next moves are more and more limited until, at the end, there are no more possible moves for the king who is checkmated.  Now, imagine a chess game being played on a board that is exponentially larger than our normal chess board compounded by the game being played on a mind-boggling number of levels or dimensions.  And, imagine that this chess game has already been played for aeons of time.  The same principle applies but, under these circumstances, the possible moves at this point in the game are extremely constrained, so much so that our next move has practically been dictated for us by all of the other numberless moves we have made in the past.  That is the reality of our karmic situation.

So, now, what does all this have to do with astrology?  Let's get back to the two schools with which we started off.  Traditional predictive astrology, at least at its extreme, sees the horoscope as a map of one's predestined fate and the task of the astrologer is to correctly interpret the map so that the events of the future can be divined.  Bernadette Brady remarks that Cicero described fate as the result of a cause that has been set in motion.  Cause produces effect which, itself, becomes a cause of another effect, creating a chain of determined events.  Cicero concluded that astrology could not be a valid predictor of fate because from a defined cause (i.e., the horoscope), there could only be one outcome and, obviously, there were different outcomes for people with the exact same horoscope.  Bernadette questions Cicero's definition of fate but it was not Cicero's concept of fate that was wrong; it was his understanding of the astrological symbol set.  If we view astrological symbols, together with their interactions, as signifying not definite outcomes but potentialities, then those who share the same horoscope but have different fates are simply manifesting different facets of the potential inherent in the horoscope. 

This concept--of that which exists being but the manifestation of potentiality--has a foundation in mystical, as well as in modern scientific thought.  Ibn al-`Arabi, a 13th century Sufi, spoke extensively of the created world being the selective manifestation of infinite potentialities which Allah, in His Mercy, brings into existence.  An implication of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is that all observable events derive from a field of possible events (a probability field).  So, if the horoscope signifies only a probability field,  an astrological prediction can be nothing more than one possible outcome within that probability field.  Does this mean that we are then free to choose how we will manifest the potential that has been given to us as symbolized by our chart?  No, not at all.  Because, potential is only a function of our uncertainty.  Our karma has predetermined a path for us.  We just don't know what it is.  Just because we cannot be certain of a particle's location does not mean that the particle has no location.

From our vantage point of uncertainty, we are allowed to see a range of potential outcomes suggested by the horoscope.  But our fate is not uncertain.  It has been determined by our karmas.  We are co-creating our reality but we have no choice but to co-create the reality that is our fate.  We choose--and, hopefully, we choose most positively--but, in reality, we have already chosen (not in some free astral space but by the actions we have performed) and we are now simply actualizing our choice.  Another way to see this is that, while the astrological horoscope presents a cluster of potentialities, which potentiality will manifest for a particular individual is already destined.

Bernadette Brady then distinguishes between determinism and fatalism, defining determinism as the belief that what has happened has been determined by fate (consistent with Cicero's definition of fate) and defining fatalism as the belief that what will happen is fated.  Bernadette's implication, saving the New Age tenet that we can be masters of our destiny if we only raise our consciousness to do so, is that we can believe in determinism (astrology's power to explain what has already happened) without buying into fatalism.  The distinction between determinism and fatalism is dissolved, however, if we examine the nature of time and causation.  If events up to the present moment have been determined, they have been determined, as Cicero says, through causes set in motion and, importantly, this is a chain of causation with each effect becoming, in turn, a cause to the next effect.  So, what does this mean with respect to future events?  The present is only a marker through time.  It once was the future and will soon be the past.  Therefore, there is no qualitative distinction between past, present and future; it is only a question of relative position in the flow of time.  If the present has been determined by events in the past, and the present is qualitatively no different than the past (in fact, it will soon become the past), then there is no reason the expect that the role of causation will suddenly change at the present moment or, in other words, just as the past determines the present, so the present determines the future.

From a deterministic and from a mystical viewpoint, the implication of this is that the future already exists.  Islam talks about the Tablet already being engraved and, from the Hindu and Sikh traditions, we can hear that our fate is stamped upon our forehead before we are born.  An explanation for this is that, if the Divine Exists in Eternity, He/She/It exists outside of time (and space) so that the entire fabric of time (our past, present, and future) appears to the Divine all at once.  Quantum physics also tells us that the future already exists.  So does Einstein's theory of the time-space continuum.  At one end of the continuum--absolute zero where there is no motion and, hence, no time--it is all space existing in the eternal present.  At the other end of the continuum--the speed of light--it is all time existing in a point (no dimension) of space.

Bernadette Brady also discusses the view of the Theosophist and astrologer, Alan Leo, that ultimately we must rise above our horoscope if we are to achieve soul freedom.  Her criticism of Leo's Dualistic approach of separating mind and soul is that it robs astrology of its relevance.  From my perspective, Leo is correct--as far as he goes.  If we see the astrological symbol set as representing an increasingly diversified probability field centered on a core, ineffable, essence, and if we recognize that, at their most transcendent level, each essence is a faceted expression of the Real, we can see that all astrological symbols (and, in fact, all horoscopes) proceed toward Unity.  If we view the soul's descent into manifested diversity as a function of a chain of choices that increasingly narrow the sphere of future choice, then our retreat back toward Unity would naturally result in our experiencing progressively greater freedom. 

This may seem as if it gives weight to the New Age view that, as long as we are progressing toward higher consciousness, we are free to create our own reality.  The issue is in recognizing, honestly, just where we are.  We have been playing this karmic game for so incredibly long now that, for the most part, even our choices are predetermined by our karmic conditioning, what to say of the events that we are destined to experience.  Even if we posit parallel sets of potentialities and that we can slip in and out of multiple dimensions of parallel choices, still which universes we will enter into is destined.  So, it is not so easy to rise above our horoscope and gain soul freedom.  Picture an almost infinitely large onion.  We can make transcendent choices and, when we do, we are able to peel away a layer of the onion.  Peeling away a layer does not make the onion disappear.  Peeling away a layer does not counteract the deterministic/karmic effect of all of the other layers that we have not yet peeled away.

Thus, while our aim may be to progress to the point where our horoscope is no longer relevant, that is a long way, leaving the horoscope still very relevant.  It defines our probability field, those potentialities that are, theoretically, open to us.  Which potentials will manifest is, for the most part, already destined.  The astrological chart shows us the pattern and potential but we cannot know in certainty what the concrete manifestation of that potential will be.  In the face of this fatalism, do we just give up?  Well, we are not check-mated yet, are we?--which means that we still have some degree of limited free will.  As with the future, we do not know which of our choices are destined and for which of our choices we can exercise some degree of free will.  The astrological chart symbolizes both the potentialities that will lead us into further entanglement and karmic bondage and those that will lead, step by slow step, to more soul freedom.  While most directions may be fated, in some we may have real choice.  Since we do not know which are which, we can prudently act as if all are free will choices--but without any expectation of a result. 

It is in this way that we can participate in the evolution of reality, the goal and the process at which Bernadette Brady arrives in her Mountain Astrologer article as a resolution to the fate-free will conundrum.  However, by participation, we mean something much more subtle and nuanced.  To assume that we can co-determine the evolution of reality, even within the democratized paradigm where our choices and their effects are constrained by the choices of everyone else, is to assume the existence of a collective free will.  However, if we individually lack all but the narrowest limited free will, how can pooling our choices result in an effect that is independent of destiny (unless by some intricately contrived device, each of our bits of limited free will choices were to lock together to drive destiny forward, such contrivance being itself an expression of the Hand of Destiny).  Rather, I think that our participation is that of an agent/observer.  As agent/observers, we participate in creating the destined reality open and aware, peeling at the onion, in harmony with our own destiny and the Destiny of the Cosmos. In the end, it all comes down to the puppets.  In the words of The Incredible String Band, "All the world is but a play.  Be thou the joyful player."
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