This cyclical world-view, in which things happen over and over again is embodied in the favourite reactionary slogan 'There's Nothing New under the Sun' and is routinely used to belittle all achievements which might make people's lives better while also reinforcing the idea that Man is a base animal who only responds to cruelty and force. This cyclical universe was most famously depicted in the Swastika, of course, and is in reality, nothing but political wish-fulfillment. A classic symptom of the poverty of reactionary thought. If it can be called thought.
Which is why there are always far more classified adverts for mystics in right-wing publications than in progressive ones (if any). And many more column inches devoted to this kind of mumbo jumbo.
And before anyone tries to put a fag paper between religion and Mysticim, ask The Endtimers if the future is predetermined or in the hands of mankind. They are Christian, Jewish and Muslim, after all.
The political power of mysticism lies in the fact that there has to be a secret code or lore to the understanding of The Cycle and predicting its stages. This secret is naturally too dangerous for anyone but a semi-devine sect with special 'gifts' and 'crafts' to have access to. They, in turn must be protected and nurtured and feared as befits their elite status. The member of the sect who succeeds in monopolising the lore becomes the natural leader, in constant touch with the very workings of time and space. The Divine Leader, repository of all justice and wisdom is created. All others are inferior by definition, but those nearest are less inferior, and most likely to survive and prosper, thereby promoting the myth of the lore even further. And so a rigid, exclusive hierarchy is encouraged, relying on inequality and fear to maintain itself. And there are publicly funded 'courses' in Tarot-Reading and Astrology in adult education establishements all across the country. You don't hear the Daily Mail complaining about that.
Every week, evening classes of the bewildered are solemnly instructed in the 'science' of knowing the future, based on the date of birth of the subject. Conveniently forgetting that life begins, and is susceptible to the 'Astral Forces', nine months previous to the birth, a fact the Bronze Age codifiers of Astrology were'nt sure about. This throws all their municipal calculations completely out of the window, but they never notice. Now while they may have had some excuse for this oversight 3,000 years ago, there is none now except the desperate desire to escape from the real world and trust in any nonsense, as long as it is delivered with authority.
I wonder why there is so little tabloid outrage at fascism being taught at the taxpayers expense and peddled everyday in print. After all, these harmless bits of fun are promoting a very Un-British, anti-democratic world-view. The evening classes by Madam Arcaty and the endless columns for the hopeless are, in their turnip-headed way, the Madrassars of Suburbia, and every day their assumptions are backed by the most popular newspapers and the richest men in the world.
Perhaps this is their idea of promoting a British Identity. A nation of gullible sheep, accepting every disaster and injustice as divine inevitability. But how different is that from the 'Inshallah' used to justify the actions of the suicide bomber?
Melvyn Bragg. 'In Our Time. 'Renaissance Astrology'
While accepting that this was entitled 'Renaissance Astrology', I was nevertheless disappointed at the failure of the programme to examine the political uses of astrology throughout the ages, which would surely have answered the qustion of why it survives in spite of centuries of scientific refutation.
In his essay on WB Yeats and other places, Orwell (who else?) notices the correllation and sympathy between cyclical, closed exclusive systems of thought dependent on trusted custodians of the keys to supernatural knowledge - and reactionary thought in general. A world in 'there is nothing new under the sun' and which everything is predictable given knowledge of the secret code is not compatible with any notions of human progress. This, combined with a predictable nostagia for feudal trappings in general makes astrology and predestination highly attractive to fascism and other methods of political stagnation and reversion. As happened to Yeats, who abhorred the idea of progress, and also, in a more refined form, to Joyce in Finnegan's Wake with his infatuation with Vico (when Joyce 'went off his coconut' according to Orwell). Orwell mentions that fascist magazines of his day were always full of advertisements for clairvoyants.
It is true that astrology is a coherent system, and therefore attractive in a pseudo-aesthetical sense, and therefore marketable in the popular press, and therefore profitable. But how could it be anything else? It is essentially cyclical, and like the most succesful logos, possesses an ordered graphic symmetry which it seeks to impose on the world. Like a popular soap opera of the cosmos. Or the swastika.
Symmetry is comforting, but, as Orwell points out, the enemy of human self determination and struggle, and therefore anathema to political action. It's message, suitably enough, is Resistance is Useless. Or, put more cosily, Know Your Place. Or less cosily, Arbeit Macht Frei.
I thought when Reagan was mentioned that we might be getting somewhere, but then we lapsed back into the same cyclical acknowledgment of the continued existence of this superstition, while refusing to examine its modern appeal, which is a political question, the ignorance of which (in its literal sense) has led ultimately to the subsidy of this cyclical narcotic quasi-philosophy by the taxpayer in numerous sponsored community education classes across Britain. Which naturally gives further validity to the superstition, and reinforces the notion that people are ultimately unable to shape their own destinies. As Orwell says:
"...the theory that civilisation moves in recurring cycles is one way out for people who hate the concept of human equality. If it is true that 'all this', or something like it 'has happened before', then all science and the modern world are debunked at a stroke and progress becomes forever impossible. It does not much matter if the lower orders are getting above themselves, for, after all, we shall soon be returning to an age of tyranny."*I was disappointed at the failure of the programme on astrology to examine its political uses throughout the ages, or to blow away the smokescreen that Kepler, Brahe and Galileo all seriously practiced astrology, and therefore endorsed it.
The fact is, of course, that they did it for the money. Their feudal patrons required cosmic endorsement of their actions, and used every means they thought available. There is no evidence that the predictions they were paid for were correct. It is no surprise that these pioneers and codifiers of post-Classical European science, the people who broke the bonds of superstition, actually grew up under it. Newton was still trying to make gold from manure until he died. He is often referred to as The Last of the Wizards. Darwin dithered for decades from revealing his discoveries because of his residual religious feelings and fear of the outrage which would greet his destruction of theological law.
This is an old and ridiculous drone of an argument. It assumes that the people who have new ideas have already completely rejected the ideas they are in the process of overturning. That they somehow knew the existing orthodoxies were absurd before they made the scientific discoveries which disproved them. Which is not only absurd and a hilariously gross misconception of how science works, but which also assumes that that Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton were not influenced by the societies they grew up in. Which is another ideological twinning with fascist thought.
* 'W.B. Yeats' Orwell's Collected Essays.http://www.george-orwell.org/W_B_Yeats/0.html