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Stoicism and Astrology - Robert Zoller
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Joined: 30 Sep 2005
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Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Posted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 7:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Waybread wrote:
Determinism isn't identical with stoicism, although they have much overlap. Determinists have to be careful to avoid the circular reasoning that runs like, "What had to happen did happen."

Its difficult to be too definitive about Stoic metaphysics. We have an immediate problem in regards the sources of our knowledge about Stoicism. We do not possess a single complete work by any of the first three heads of the Stoic school: the ‘founder,’ Zeno of Citium in Cyprus (344–262 BCE), Cleanthes (d. 232 BCE) or Chrysippus (d. ca. 206 BCE). Chrysippus was particularly prolific, composing over 165 works, but we have only fragments of his works.

We fair little letter better with so the so called middle Stoics such as Diogenes of Babylon (c.230 BCE –c. 150/140 BCE), Antipater of Tarsus (210 BCE–129 BCE), Panaetius of Rhodes (c. 185 BCE - c. 110/09 BCE) and Posidonius (ca. 135 BCE – 51 BCE).

The only complete works by Stoic philosophers that we possess are those by writers of Roman Imperial times, Seneca (4 BCE–65 CE), Epictetus (c. 55CE–135CE) and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121CE–180CE) and these works are principally focused on ethics. Most of our ancillary works discussing Stoicism come from sources which to various degrees are intellectually unsympathetic ie Platonist, Aristotelian, Epicurean, Sceptic, or Christian.

Stoicism seems to have gone into a steep decline throughout the Roman Empire during the third century CE. One explanation is the emergence of Neo-Platonism as the predominant pagan philosophy from this period onwards. Another factor was the increasing popularity of Christianity, and Manichaeism, especially in the eastern provinces of the Empire. Later Neo-Platonists and Christians seem to have had little inclination to preserve the early Stoic writings.

Still, I think we can say that Stoicism does appear to uphold determinism in terms of the world around us. However, while there is the pre-determined 'action' around us our psychological 'reaction' is where we can exercise a choice.

This article discusses the topic:

I think this quote from the article is very apt here:
A human agent is not like a billiard ball, which if struck must move off in a certain direction at a certain speed. When ‘struck’ by an impression, the agent can decide what to do, can decide to assent to it, and can decide what to do next.

Having said that our prior conditioning can make it very difficult to exercise any choice before we fall into a purely habitual reaction to a sense impression. This Stoic insight reminds me of what the German existentialist Martin Heidegger called the 'thrownness' of human existence which reflects the aspects of our destiny we have no say in whatsoever. Hence none of us have any say in the historical era we are born , the prevailing culture , the religious world view, and our immediate family, our gender or race etc. These can all have a strong influence on on how we perceive and react to the world around us.

Moreover, our recurrent choices can establish habit patterns which can be very difficult to break out of. Hence our consciousness is often a good deal less free than most people like to acknowledge in the modern west. This Stoic outlook is not a philosophy of despair but rather a realistic approach to how challenging psychological freedom really is.

I am not the first to notice there are strong parallels to Buddhism here. For example, the saying of Epictetus that "Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men's desires, but by the removal of desire." could just as easily have come from a Buddhist.

‘’As thou conversest with the heavens, so instruct and inform thy minde according to the image of Divinity…’’ William Lilly
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Posted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 3:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First off thanks for the links to the Radio 4 programmes. I used to listen to them live but tend to miss them these days. Secondly your own post and the link to the article I appreciate too . Both have helped to focus my own thoughts on these issues.
I do not have anything clever to add but did not Socrates say that there is wisdom in knowing you know nothing? Confused
Matthew Goulding
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Posted: Wed Apr 23, 2014 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Mark.

But the fact that we have to act to create what is fated makes one wonder, what if at some point one succeeds in acting completely uncharacteristic of one's nature and experience, would that be considered as fated? If not, then does that not mean that one is going against god? What happens then?

Probably causal determinism had more to do with stating the idea that everything has a cause; but they do not actually say that the things we did in the past, present and future are all already decided. So in the end we do have free will, but that we are constrained to a great degree by the causes that came before, and would have to work hard to break the influences of those causes.

But despite acknowledging the causes that came before, the Stoics still encouraged its followers to be virtuous, knowing that the difficulty of doing so will differ from person to person.

Mark, your mention of Martin Heidegger reminds me of Sartre's quote, "Man is condemned to be free". His argument was that he perceived there to be no creator, so we did not create ourselves, yet from the moment we walk this earth, we are responsible for our actions.

Regardless of whether there is a creator or not, it certainly makes sense to some extent. I do not remember creating myself, unlike when I play an MMO, where I really do remember logging in, choosing the gender and class, physical appearance, etc. In spite of this, I have to make choices in life, like whether to go to school or not, to talk to that girl or not, etc. Even when I choose to do nothing, I still have to take responsbility for my inaction, in many cases suffering the consequences of that inaction.

We exist, even when we have no conscious intention of existing, and we are condemned to choose, even when we do not want to choose.

Yet our ability to choose one thing over another is strongly restricted by the causes that came before; our past choices, our experiences, our perception, etc.

Removal of desire, huh? Perhaps. Desires breed expectations, expectations lead to passion and fear, passion and fear constricts freedom.


Socrates probably means that the more you learn, the more you realise how many things you do not know. For example, compare when you just learned ABCs. You only know ABCs and some basic vocabulary. As you read more and more, you realise how many more words exist unbeknownst to you when you just learned ABCs.

Interestingly, this was echoed in a song by U2, called "City of Blinding Lights". It goes:

The more you see, the less you learn,
The less you find out as you grow old,
I knew much more then, than I do now.
Interested in Hellenistic astrology? Visit my blog.

The appearance changes, but the essence remains.
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Posted: Thu May 15, 2014 5:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the fundamental question might be why are we here to begin with?

Someone mentioned times changing rapidly and the moral degeneration. Evilness and morality seems to be very intertwined with this thread; our choices and whether or not we really do have free will: if so, to what extent does this this free will effect the trajectory of our paths?

I think that many with an interest in a Spiritual Philosophy like Stoicism would find much of value in the Kabbalah. Kabbalah is not Stoicism, but in my exploration of it I was a bit shell shocked on some stark similarities. Most important to the subject at hand is fate. But there are interesting theories about the moral degeneration of society as well.

But first I think there are some basic standpoints that color my own views here. Firstly how exactly do we know for sure that we truly have free will? Maybe the choices we made (with our freewill) were simply part of the plan to begin with? Maybe the use of divination is simply part of the plan? Is astrology's main purpose to simply help one to know what will be fall them in their life? Capitalize on the good, diminish the bad? Or is its higher purpose to in fact validate what the oldest spiritual doctrines in history attest to? Seen within the grand scheme of things Neo- Platonism, Christian Philosophy etc. are quite young and innovative.

Question: Why do so desperately want free will? Is this desire for spiritual growth? Or does it stem from our own egoistic desires? Suppose that that this desire for free will is in actuality the raucous drumming of the ego? I think this is where the stoic notion of ones perceptions towards misery shine and it has many similarities to what Judaic Esoteric Doctrine teaches.

Finally, are the passages of the Bible meant to be taken literally? Maybe yes and maybe no. The Kabbalah makes the claim that the Bible is describing spiritual states. It uses objects, figures etc. from the material world because that is how we perceive reality, yet to imagine these spiritual states as such is (apparently) a gross error.

Even in the exoteric aspect of Judaism there are five levels of interpreting the Torah, the literal interpretation being at the bottom of the ladder.

So the passage "ask and it will be given" might not concern itself with the temporal desires of the ego so much as the soul and its growth.

The main idea here seems to be what our priorities are. When we speak of free will what we really mean is the avoidance of anything that makes us uncomfortable. Yet the sheer irony is that without knowledge of darkness one cannot recognize the light. Without such stark polarities it would be impossible for spiritual growth. When Christian Philosophy began speaking of free will this (to me) indicated a contradiction to God and the universe. The body compared to the soul is logically what a shirt into the body. Our perceptions matter because it is what fuels our intent. When things become dark we have the choice of bowing to Satan (Ego) wallowing in our misery with regard to temporal matters, or we can instead look inward, study, find ways of accelerating our soul growth. We would certainly have much less of a desire for such weighty considerations laying on a beach in Florida.

Is it possible that ones spectrum with regards to free will is directly related to whether they are exposed to astrology and what their particular focus is? I've noticed that for one to believe in something, truly believe, they need to do the techniques themselves, see and experience for themselves.

Logically certain choices are the result of external factors. Even if an argument was made for rising above our inner nature as pre determined by genes and the result of upbringing we have little control over the permutations of life. Or better yet other people, as they are what makes life, life. Often certain choices will be constrained by these external events.

With regard to free will here is a passage that can describe it better than I ever could:

Kabbalah states that four factors determine a person’s state at each and every moment: 1. source. This is the starting point, the spiritual gene- pool. But it is not a blank canvas. Think of it more as a wall that has been painted and repainted many times. The layers of previous coats of paint are there beneath the surface. Perhaps they cannot be seen or distinguished, but they are a part of the composition of that wall, always the starting point for the next layer of transformation, as a wall’s current paint is always the undercoat for the next coat. 2. unchanging paths of development that stem from one’s nature. This factor deals with the way we evolve as a result of our genes. These paths may refer to things we tend to like or dislike, our talents and other hereditary traits. 3. Paths of development that change under the influence of external factors. This is our attitude toward the external environment. Say you get a bad performance review from your boss at work. You may be upset and angry, and feel that the feedback is unfair, or you may decide your boss has your best interest at heart and told you what you need to do in order to succeed. Either way, the external event of your boss’ criticism will inevitably affect you and change you. 4. Paths of development of the external factors themselves. The fourth factor is the external environment and its continued evolution. To continue the previous example, if you chose to change your boss (perhaps by changing your job), this would expose you to a new set of influences, but these would be influences you have chosen to be under. As the four factors show, the confluence of a person’s origin, inner nature, unchangeable and changeable outside forces all contribute to our inner makeup. However, of all four elements, the only element we can modify is the fourth, our environment. But because the elements affect each other, by changing our environment, we can ultimately shape all other elements within us.

This is from one of many works by Laitman and is a very basic introduction for further study. Source can be found here:

What this passage means by environment is the idea of intent and focus. It does not imply the shaping of the material but what is within us. It involves the choosing of like minded people who wish to grow on a soul level.

The spiritual gene pool is basically where we left off in our spiritual growth in a previous life. The main idea at stake being our priorities: do we concern ourselves with free will? With Sex, family, money, power, intellect etc. Or do we concern ourselves with the soul and learn from the specific path that is set forward for us?
He conquers twice who conquers himself in victory (Publius Syrus)
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Posted: Fri May 16, 2014 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Tyler

I'm sure the Kabbalah is a very interesting topic in itself. Its clearly had a strong influence on renaissance astrologers and astrological magic generally. And it remains a spiritual philosophy that continues to inspire people today.

However, Kabbalah is quite a leap from Stoicism which was influential on astrology at a much earlier stage in its development. I think Kabbalah takes us too far away from the topic here.

So I would suggest opening your own thread on this topic or alternatively joining in the existing thread entitled 'Astrology and the Cabala' running here:


‘’As thou conversest with the heavens, so instruct and inform thy minde according to the image of Divinity…’’ William Lilly
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