I cannot jump into this review without a brief manifesto about my approach to the subject and where I am in my study of it.
I have been a practising Neopagan magician for 12+ years now, and for most of that time, I had purposely avoided detailed study of Hermetics; in common with many Pagans, I found it overly complex and heavily burdened with the distortions of monotheism. I favored a more organic and for-want-of-a-better-word shamanic approach. Eventually, however, I had to admit that the edifice of the Western Esoteric Tradition (WET) was just too large to keep dodging around, especially if I admitted how many pieces of it I was already using despite my supposed distaste for the whole.
I then encountered the Ordo Templi Astartes (OTA), with its very intelligent re-Paganization of Solomonic Magic, and since I could no longer pretend such a project was impossible, I started following along with the parent organization (Church of the Hermetic Sciences) in its Associate Member program.
Although I am still a beginner in the study of astrology itself (further along than an IRAB, but not much past IR3B), I have certain clear understandings:
1. Astrology is the basis of much of the WET, and as such, contains an enormous amount of esoteric lore, operating at multiple levels.
2. Horoscope symbols, and the horoscope itself, describe a map of the Self, and the propensity for certain types of experience. Psychological and elective astrology make sense in their proper contexts, whereas predictive astrology generally fails.
3. Attempts to present astrology as a modern scientific endeavor stripped of its esoteric roots are doomed. It cannot be sold to materialist skeptics in any form, and without the esoterica, it’s an empty and decadent glass bead game.
And now, cathartic rant behind us, we can examine the book.
This is a rather small volume compared to many introductory astrology books. At 140 pages, it is intentionally lean, so that it can serve either as introduction or practitioner’s handbook, like the other titles in the Concise Guide series. The book is up to the usual Weiser standard for manufacturing quality, but the design and cover art are pedestrian.
This book is my introduction to this author’s work. A little Internet research reveals that she has been very active for a long time as a teacher, lecturer, and reader, and reveals her esoteric slant.
The primary audience for this book is people who are learning astrology, and who prefer a rounded approach that does not shy away from astrology’s Hermetic roots and Jungian associations.
Practical Astrology covers the elements first: planets, signs, houses, and aspects, in considerable detail. In its approach, it is reminiscent of Robert Hand’s Horoscope Symbols, with perhaps a bit more mythos and esoterica than Hand uses. Then there is a short chapter on how to analyze a chart, followed by an in-depth case study of a celebrity chart. The analysis chapter made me instantly aware how much I had missed from the beginning of the book, so I may be in for another reading, or at least some review of terminology, before I try to move on.
Some confusion is normal. With 12 signs, 10 planets, 12 houses, and 9 aspects, there’s a lot to remember and great potential for confusion upon first looking at a full horoscope (esoteric hint from a good source: keep your eye everlastingly on the Moon). The subject needs to be on this order of complexity if it is to serve its purpose.
Speaking of being able to review the material: this book is lacking an index. Time will tell how serious this gap really is. Perhaps the straightforward organization and prevalence of nice concise charts will serve the same purpose.
This is an excellent small book for the beginner, and may well become a favorite of many experienced practitioners. The book covers no “advanced” topics such as synastry or progressions; this could not be done well in a concise guide in any case.
In the discussion of the Moon, she repeats the common Neopagan analysis of Moon Goddesses related to phases of a lunation and of life (an analysis that, as far as I can tell, has no antecedent older than Graves’s The White Goddess). In doing this, she cites Artemis, Hera, and Hekate instead of the usual Artemis, Selene, and Hekate, which is jarring, since Hera has celestial associations but is not Lunar.
Costello also continues the common confusion about the use of the Caduceus of Mercury as a medical symbol. The Rod of Asklepios, a simple staff with one serpent coiled about it, is the proper medical symbol.
If you are looking for a sound introduction to the symbols and usages of astrology, and are not put off by a proper leavening of Hermetic and Jungian viewpoints, this is a good first book. If you are planning to read charts for fun and profit, you will need other books to get a fuller grounding in how to synthesize charts and do the other tasks expected of the professional or advanced astrologer.
The Weiser Concise Guide to Practical Astrology
Priscilla Costello, Edited by James Wasserman
Weiser Concise Guide series
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
B&W white charts throughout
May 1, 2008
[Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, usw.]