In the course of avoiding writing, I mean researching my book I ran into a fascinating account of a real astrologer who flourished in the Regency period.
He was John Varley who lived from 1778 - 1842. He is much better known to the world for his other claims to fame. He was a well known landscape painter who specialized in water colors. You can see many of his paintings by following the links you'll find on this Google Image Search.
But the main reason Varley is remembered is because he was a friend of William Blake, and scholars believe that it was his influence that led to Blake completing the astonishing series of drawings including The Ghost of A Flea which you can now see at the Tate Gallery.
Varley is dear to me because it turns out that it was he who first figured out the astrological function of the newly discovered planet Uranus. Readers of my novel, Lord Lightning, will find that the astrological meaning of Uranus plays an important part in that story.
Histories of science often claim that the discovery of new planets in the 1700 and 1800s dealt a death blow to astrology. But this is simply not true. Astrologers like Varley did what astrologers always do. They tracked the movements of the planets and watched their own charts to see what impact, if any, the new planet would have. Varley did just that, with impressive results.
As recounted by his son, Varley would get up every morning and look in his ephemeris to see what his daily transits would be and work out his secondary progressions. (We'll talk about what these astrological factors are in a future blog post.) Varley had some suspicions about what the new planet might mean, so when he saw an important Uranus transit to his natal chart one morning, he was convinced some dire event must follow.
As recounted in a public domain Google Book James Holmes and John Varley By Alfred Thomas Story, on the day of the transit, Varley was away from home, but when nothing disturbing occurred, he concluded that the event must be manifesting at his house. He rushed home. When he arrived he heard a cry of "fire!"and found his own house in flames.
His son Albert reported that Varley was so "delighted" at having discovered what the astrological effect of Uranus was that he sat down while his house was burning, even though he knew that his house was not insured for a penny, and wrote up an account of his discovery. He had timed the catastrophe to within a few minutes. His son said that he had suspected that the square or opposition of Uranus would have a bad effect but not exactly what. Although he lost everything in the fire he regarded that as a small matter compared with his discovery of the new planet's way of manifesting.
Any serious astrologer will have no difficulty understanding Varley's excitement, though most of us will have a difficult time timing events as closely as Varley did. Many of the traditional techniques Varley would have used were lost in the decades that followed his death when Astrology went through the transformation most closely associated with the Theosophists.
Modern psychologically-oriented Astrology derives from the teachings of people associated with the Theosophists who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century. Though some of their techniques add richness to the traditional teachings, all too often they discarded time-tested ancient techniques they didn't understand in favor of new ones they'd made up.
Varley also predicted the death of fellow artist, William Collins RA to the very day years before the event took place.
Varley is only one of many people who are well-known to the world whose astrological pursuits have been dismissed by mainstream historians. William Blake took them seriously which is one reason he spent so much time with him and ended up doing his greatest drawings at Varley's home.