Alan Leo and modern astrology

In 1881 the birth of Aquarius heralded great intellectual change and with it came an astrology revival. It was an astrological inevitability, but what happened – modern astrology – wasn’t all that modern. The ancients and Ptolemy had provided the ground rules and a burst of new scientific information set the scene for a more sophisticated, scientific form of astrology, but modern astrology turned out to be simple Sun-sign astrology, generic interpretations of the planets and their sign and house locations, and the mass production of cheap horoscopes. Simple, mystical Piscean Age astrology was simply repackaged under a new name and served up to a New-Age clientele who were eager to know, but none the wiser.

The credit for modern astrology goes to the English astrologer, Alan Leo. His real name was William Frederick Allen and he was born on August 7, 1860 – so he was a Leo. He didn’t like complexity and when Sepharial – Walter Gorn Old – introduced him to Ptolemy’s intricate astrology he resolved to make it simple. In 1889 he launched the Astrologer’s Magazine and in 1895 reinvented it as Modern Astrology. It seems he was driven by a market that wanted simple, easy to understand, information and Sun-sign astrology did the trick. It identified the Sun as the primary astrological principle and Alan Leo saw the Sun-sign as the ‘universal-factor.’ The end result was several large textbooks that were jam-packed with ‘recipe’ interpretations of the planets and their sign and house locations. Each universal marker was given a generic meaning and that was that. He contradicted everything the ancients thought and taught and by 1895 was the most popular and influential astrologer in the world.

On the plus side Alan Leo did recognize the psychological aspects of astrology and focused on the assessment of character rather than the prediction of events. And in 1911 he published the most important collection of birth data up to that time – 1001 Notable Nativities. Today, due to a lack of detail, poor referencing of the data, and too many wrong charts the book has lost its credibility. But it was a first and set a precedent that in many respects has been followed by all his contemporaries.

On the down side Leo and Madam Blavatsky introduced the false teaching of human reincarnation into modern astrology. Leo saw astrology as a coded language that only theosophy could explain and comprehend so reincarnation, karma and the evolution of the soul were all introduced into the Alan Leo model of astrology. By all accounts he was intellectually clever and completely sincere and he’s credited with stimulating an astrology revival at the start of the Aquarian Age. But he did peddle false astrological ideas that continue to have a destructive influence and Ptolemy is not impressed. Alan Leo died on August 30, 1917 – aged 57.

Since then modern astrology has encouraged and promoted almost every type of nonsensical astrological thought and notion imaginable. And with very few true believers putting up any resistance the avalanche of weird ideas and esoteric irrelevance has stampeded on like a runaway train.

Related articles in: Chapters in Astrology’s History