Astrology has a long history of predicting death - and an equally long debate about whether such predictions are accurate or ethical.
Cultural and Historical Considerations
Modern astrology's avoidance of the subject of death partly reflects the dominant cultural norms in the Western world, in which the subject is generally taboo. Hellenistic astrologers in contrast, routinely predicted length of life; notably for young children, on the grounds that there was little point in forecasting a child's life as an adult if its survival was doubtful. In an era when many people died young, death prediction was widely accepted. Predicting the Roman emperor's death, however, was sufficiently likely to foster political instability that the practice was banned.
Death prediction remained part of the western traditional astrologer's repertory into the 17th century. The calculation involved computing several key points in the birth chart - and these methods differed amongst authors, leading to different results. (Although the eighth house is the traditional "house of death" traditional astrologers did not read death off the eighth house alone, but developed more complex calculations.) Proponents of death prediction claimed some noteworthy successes. Opponents of astrology such as the English satirist Jonathan Swift, however, lampooned the incorrect death predictions that astrologers published in the newspapers, an embarrassment that harmed astrology as a whole.
In most Asian astrological traditions (Indian Astrology, Chinese Astrology), death is a less taboo subject and more astrologers integrate the subject into their natal chart interpretations. Although death prediction is also considered part of mundane astrology in Asia, modern mundane astrologers have distanced themselves from this practice.
Most western astrologers today consider death predictions to be unethical except in highly restricted circumstances. Although most English-language astrological schools and associations do not expressly forbid death predictions in their professional codes of ethics, they indirectly discourage the practice. A major concern is that the astrologer might unnecessarily frighten a vulnerable person. A death prediction might actually worsen a distressed individual's state of mind, notably in a prediction of suicide. The codes of conduct warn against astrologers predicting events beyond their level of expertise, or claiming a level of accuracy in prediction that they may not be able to sustain. The errors in highly publicized death predictions over the centuries convince some astrologers that they cannot be done accurately, and may only frighten clients without reason.
Some astrologers distinguish between analysing death charts of deceased celebrities and forecasting deaths of living people, however. Others feel that real-time predictions by a highly experienced astrologer can be helpful under special circumstances for someone who is terminally ill or worried about the death of a child.
Horary astrology is a special case, in that it gives definite answers to specific questions, based on the moment of the question, not the birth chart. The same ethical considerations apply to horary questions about someone's death, as well as to natal astrology, however. The ISAR code of ethics states, "Horary astrologers are extra cautious about questions that pertain to life and death and are aware that the answers they provide may have an affect on the outcome in question. If at all possible, such questions are not accepted."
Metaphorical Death in Modern Astrology
In traditional astrology, Saturn, the lord of time, was an astrological symbol for death. Pluto, named for the Roman god of the underworld, is now most closely associated with death; strengthened by modern astrology's connection between the sign of Scorpio and the eighth house. Death is interpreted metaphorically as a deep process of transformation and of letting go.
Every horoscope has Plutonian and Scorpionic themes which are activated by triggers several times during an individual's life, and for this reason alone, they cannot possibly always mean the actual physical death of the individual. Within the Pluto cycle the square from transiting Pluto to its natal position points to a time of deep and often painful transformation. Because Pluto has been moving relatively quickly since the middle of the twentieth century, this square has been experienced by people born after 1960 around the age of 40. At 42 years of age, the Huber age point moves into the eighth house and activates Scorpionic themes. These are good times for people to let go of anything metaphorically dying in their lives, such as destructive habits or relationships that no longer support them.
In addition to the symbolic interpretation of Scorpionic and Plutonic themes of deep transformation, astrology can also help to end the taboo surrounding the subject of death in many societies. A Pluto transit may mean a necessary time to grieve over the death of a family member. People with a strong eighth house may naturally gravitate towards occupations that place them in "life and death" situations, such as hospice work.
The Case of Richard Houck
The American astrologer Richard Houck tried to reduce the taboos surrounding death by treating it in a humorous manner. He worked with the sidereal zodiac and incorporated many ideas from Indian Astrology, as well as with tertiary progressions. Referring to numerous examples of deceased persons he used complex calculations to illustrate how their natal charts indicated the times of their deaths.
Unfortunately Houck's calculations were completely inaccurate for his own death. In April 1999, he was diagnosed with cancer. On 4/01/2001, his wife announced his death. Some time previously in a television interview, however, Houck discussed astrological death prediction, and forecast his own death on 9/13/2031 by heart attack.
- Determining Death from a Horoscope (Alice Portman, 2010)
- Jonathan Ledbury :The Bickerstaff Papers (1994)
- The Extraordinary Astrologer Isaac Bickerstaff (Christopher Putnam, 2008)
- Donna Cunningham, 1986, Healing Pluto Problems, Samuel Weiser, Inc.
- Steven Forrest, 1994, The Book of Pluto, ACS Publications.
- Richard Houck, 1994, The Astrology of Death, Groundswell Press.