01 March, 2013

Fate, Providence, and . . . Astrology?

Recently, Monsignor Scott Rassbach wrote an insightful blog post on astrology. This is not so much a response to the Monsignor's post but is somewhat inspired by it. It likely wonders around a bit, and doesn't necessarily come to any real conclusions, but you're probably used to that by now.

Fate may be, if somewhat over simplistically  defined as that which we must do, and is classically seen as being determined by one's natal horoscope and the ways in which it interacts with the movements of the stars and planets after birth. It is the organizing principle set forth over the realm of generation by all superior organizing principles, from the One down. Providence, on the other hand, is the free divine giving that is over and above Fate. In short, Fate determines, Providence sets free.

The late Platonists hold an interesting view of the relationship between Fate and Providence. Iamblichus, in particular, writesthat Fate and Providence were the same thing. The problem lies not in Fate, or the stars or evil archons but with us and, more specifically, our perspective. Taking this into consideration we might say Fate is Providence seen from below.

How does that work? The late Platonists have a fairly robust view of free will, but one that applies to the soul more than the incarnate life that soul may project. Souls may freely choose whatever life they project, even if it is not "proper" to them, running outside the lines of the soul's immutable and divine essence. Iamblichus and Proclus give various examples of it, such as a Solar soul projecting a Mercurial life. To complicate things, a soul can project a proper life but one that will have improper activities, such as a Solar soul engaging in a Solar life but having Lunar activities. Their examples are much better than mine, this is just my sneaky way of trying to get you to read them.

Why does a soul do this? Typically, the answer is because the soul is "impure." In Neoplatonic terms this means that through the soul's necessary with matter, it has come to identify itself as material and hulic accretions have formed around the soul's pneumatic vehicle, the soul's interface between material and spiritual realms. This, in turn, prevents the souls from participating the divine Intellect and knowing itself. So, not knowing itself, the soul makes unhealthy decisions. And that makes things worse.

What does this have to do with Providence and astrology? Here's the interesting implication about the soul's free will and ability to project a particular kind of life. Not only can it do this, it does so in a particular way. In terms of classical thought, which sees life as being determined by the stars and the gods whose bodies they are, in order for a particular life to happen, it must be born as a particular time and place, and this is what the soul does. If the soul has projected an inappropriate life that is reflected in the person's horoscope. In effect, the soul has sealed the fate of this life by projecting it as it has. That life is organized as nature and Fate dictate based on the rules Fate itself has to follow, and it typically does not turn out completely awesome as the soul is attempting to fit itself into a whole shaped for another.

But a soul can also choose to project a life in accord with its essence and "leader god." The mechanics are the same and that life is locked into its Fate, but that Fate is one absolutely in line with the soul's overall purpose and essence, it's telos. The soul that regularly does this is the purified soul, one engaging in demiurgy and following its leader god. It understands its place in the grand scheme of things and willfully goes along with it, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of others. This becomes not a life of dictated Fate, but of divine Providence, wherein the soul, and its projected life, participate more intimately with the divine benefits while it engages in shared rulership of the realm of generation.

The role of astrology is interesting in all this. While astrology may be used to predict some things, and the later Neoplatonists were somewhat dubious as to its overall effectiveness as a human form of divination, the idea of needing to transcend one's horoscope is now called into question, or at least requires careful consideration. We might argue this is exactly what material theurgy is about. Through this kind of theurgy we come in contact with our leader gods through having purified our souls, coming in contact with our personal daimons and making ourselves more like how we really are, which in turn allows us to better participate Providence.

But escape Fate? Not necessarily during this lifetime. From the Platonist's perspective the movement of the stars, cannot be changed, and should not even if it could. But we can change our relationship to them and how we view what happens in our life. This doesn't so much change Fate and it changes us. The pure soul does not escape Fate either, mind you, but has set it in motion to its benefit, transforming Fate into Providence by a proper choice of projected life. But that's what we've been saying from the start. Fate and Providence are a matter of perspective. This doesn't magically make a crappy life wonderful, but it does perhaps set our understanding of it in place, and sometimes that can make all the difference.

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