Classical Astrology to Modern is as in "Beatles" is to "Bach"
My classics professor hired me to dig over his garden for a summer every Sunday. After work we would climb onto the patio and talk about Everything Under the Sun. Or, rather, he would talk about everything and I would listen!
One time his communist son turned up and we talked about Leninism and anarchy for three hours in fascinating detail. Another time his gambling buddy and girlfriend turned up and we talked about probability, complexity theory, and horary prediction in astrology.
But on his own he was willing to speak even wider, ranging from Islamic history to Heidegger to Tibetan dream tantrayoga to Sufism to, eventually, classical Egyptian astrology.
I have heard people talk about classical astrology as something in the last century. That's like calling the Beatles classic rather than Bach; its a far narrower time reference, and a corresponding smallness of meaning with it. But because (ancient) classical astrology is really, really different to our present forms it is easy to view it as just old fogey stuff.
My professor also took me to visit some Classicists - as in, students of the Greek and Roman classics. Artists, eccentrics, recluses, invalids - the doors opened to a vital world of thinking and feeling completely alien to our postmodern sensibility. I was awed, then excited, then silenced by their depth of wisdom and understanding. The Classical Roman tradition alone is profound in wisdom comparable to the Native American or Hindu or Buddhist or Confucian traditions, and yet our Western tradition is seen as the dead past. In fact, the classical apsects of consciousness are revealed to be alive and well; among us walk Romans and Greeks of the Classical period, and we cannot see them.
My professor recommended two writers on classical astrology. Because of what was lost in the Great Fire of Alexandria, we will never know how sophisticated classical astrology became, but for these two books. The first is Ptolemy's Astrology. The second is an anonymous Greek almanack of predictive astrology for farmers.
Briefly, then, I will describe the unique nature of classical astrology as he taught me that Sunday afternoon on the patio his his garden.
The system uses only the visible planets. Like modern physics, symetry is everything. So the system of rulership has no start and end point (Aries and Pisces). Instead it has an axis which passes between Leo and Cancer, ruled respectively by the Sun and Moon; and Aquarius and Capricorn, both ruled by Saturn.
This will be familiar to most astrologers:
Aquarius and Capricorn
Pisces and Sagittarius.
Aries and Scorpio.
(Can you see the pattern? The zodiac is split down the middle between ying and yang expressions of each planetary principle!)
Taurus and Libra.
Gemini and Virgo.
Which leads us to the ultimate yin and yang, the sun and the moon, the givers of life.
This system reflects the seasons and agriculture closely, and in fact was used as a planting and tilling guide from time immemorial. The present tradition to use a circle to describe the zodiac chart of an individual is instead replaced, significantly, by squares for each of the houses, forming a matrix of 4 X 4 boxes for the chart. This is highly significant as the Western form of a basic Chinese Feng Shui Bagua form, and the square chart form describes a block of land with planting and fallow cycles as accurately as it describes an individual. More significantly still, this square chart is earth-focused and nature-centered, with local associations to cloud formations, plants, bird life, water flow, disease presence of absence, earthquakes, storms, and all incidents of rural life - it is the remaining living part of the indigenous tribal culture of the ancient Westerners in that area.
Later, Greek, reinterpretations would greatly alter the meaning of this square chart.
Interpretation of a chart traditionally was completely different to how we now do it. The worldview was utterly different here and classical astrology parts ways with modern astrology completely.
It appears there was a birth chart of the universe, a perfect, round, celestial chart. Unlike the earthly individual chart it was circular. This round chart (which the Greeks, frankly, usurped from the "gods" and abrogated to human individuality) is the invisible realm of the soul, the vastness of space, and the eternal life of all phenomena in the universe.
This circular chart was superimposed onto the square chart to produce an interpretation.
For the ancients, it didn't matter how positive your personal charts aspects might be. What mattered was how you chart harmonised with the original chart, the map of the universe, the image of your face before you were born. So the sun in the celestial chart stood in Leo, and the aspects of your Sun to it were highly significant. Planets stood in their rulerships in the celestial chart, and wandered in the earthly charts.
It is hard to recapture the uncanny way the Greeks altered this. When you read some of their astrology they sound like they are tripping on drugs sometimes, they are very out there. For the latter day ancient Greeks taught that the individual was one and identical with the universal chart itself:
"Men are born of the earth, once-born then dying, but we Athenian men are born twice, born of the earth, then born of the stars. We are the twice-born and celestial men," they taught.
The doctine of the twice-born man, fueled by the drugs of the Eleusian mysteries and the occult and superstition of the pagans, gave rise to a new sense of self among the Greeks, the sense of oneself as an "individual", separate from the universe. And it is that concept which has led to our present forms of "classical" (Beatles-level) astrology.
It is helpful to know that there is a classical astrology which is deeper and wider that modern classicism. To every Beatles there's a Bach.