Alan Leo's tests of astrology
Abstract -- During 1906-1914 a series of twenty prize competitions were published in Alan Leo's Modern Astrology. Readers had to delineate an anonymous chart for rating by the subject. In each competition a selection of delineations (usually a dozen), chosen by the sub-editor Alfred Barley, were rated. The subject's comments, and the top two or three delineations, were then published. The competitions were the first of their kind and unlike such competitions today they quickly became popular and stayed popular. Readers were keen to participate, subjects were impressed by the apparent accuracy of the delineations, and Leo saw the results as proving the truth of astrology. Today we know that perceived accuracy and truth are actually useless as a measure of genuine accuracy and truth. Nevertheless the results are of interest as examples of chart readings involving now-outmoded classical concerns such as appearance, short journeys, and legacies, and the subjects' reactions to them. They also illustrate why chart delineations are so persuasive to the unwary. Article includes a full description of the competitions, a complete delineation with the subject's comments, many excerpts from other subjects' comments, and many examples of errors, disagreements, opinions and testimonials.
During 1906-1914 a series of twenty prize competitions were published in Alan Leo's Modern Astrology, whose sub-title was A Journal Devoted to the Search for Truth Concerning Astrology. In each competition the planetary positions (which did not include Pluto discovered in 1930), house cusps, sex, and marital status was given for an anonymous person, always someone of achievement such as an artist, composer, editor, or writer, often with a brief indication of their fame such as "well known to every reader", "very well known", or "has recently come before the public". As a precaution the person's identity was known only to the sub-editor Alfred Barley.
Delineations had to be typed or clearly written on no more than four one-sided foolscap pages, with wide margins showing significators, and had to be identified only by a pseudonym. Once the entries were in, a selection (usually about a dozen) was sent to the subject, who ranked them in order of merit. The selection was made by the sub-editor "on a very broad basis, only the hopelessly unfit being excluded". In due course the subject's comments and the best delineations were published, of which the best two won an Alan Leo textbook worth 10s 6d, then about one-third of the average weekly wage. To encourage entries no entrant was allowed to win more than two competitions.
Please read the instructions
And by the twelfth competition, Leo offered "a word of wholesome advice to future competitors. Try to be more definite in your thought, and less definite (more general) in your words [ie avoid jargon and write for the reader]. Do not overload your delineation with marginal notes. And don't attempt descriptions of personal appearance, unless you ... feel sure of your judgement." Among examples of what Leo saw as sheer carelessness was telling a native of 71 that he would "eventually marry a woman older than himself" (MA 1909, 6, 456), on which the unbelieving subject had commented "This will be very creditable to her, considering her age, especially as [he was also told] 'she will probably be of delicate health'" (pp.454-455).
Six competitions later, Leo added "It is greatly to be desired that competitors would realise more fully the intention of these Competitions, namely, to demonstrate the relation between the horoscope and the character, temperament, and ideals of the native. Then there would not so frequently be occasion for the Adjudicator to administer a deserved rebuke of ill-considered attempts to be impressive. [For example] no one, likely to enter these Competitions, is entitled to consider himself competent to predict the nature or the time of death" (MA 1911, 8, 370).
"The late Dr. Richard Garnett in the year 1880 contributed to the University Magazine an article under the pseudonym of A.G.Trent (anagram on Garnett), entitled "The Soul and the Stars." In this article, since reprinted, he claimed that the evidence submitted constituted a prima facie case for Astrology. It dealt with certain simple astrological generalisations and cited instances from famous people not then living. [The article gives numerous examples of the match between chart and person.] Such an article however reasonably written always leaves a loophole for the suspicion that the writer may have either wilfully or unconsciously selected his instances so as to exhibit all the pros and none of the cons. For that reason it seems to the present writer that the series of "Prize Competitions " published in Modern Astrology during the years 1906 to 1912, furnishes an even better prima facie case."
Leo stresses how the subjects were unknown to the delineators (and also to himself), and how the best delineations were chosen by the subject "usually with the aid of one or two personal friends to assist in the task of adjudication. The delineations were thus subjected to the test of consonance with fact, and not merely technical proficiency."
Leo then notes how the subjects found judgement "exceedingly difficult by reason of the striking general correctness of some three or four delineations. It would seem impossible for a sceptic to read these adjudications seriatim [ie one after another] without coming to the conclusion that Astrology was grounded on truth." After three pages of further comments he adds: "So far as the writer is aware, no series of Prize Competitions of this kind has ever before taken place in connection with astrological delineations. ... Another point of evidential value is the fact that the prize-winners were different people. For it excludes even the rather forced explanation that might have been brought forward had the delineations all been the work of one man: namely, that the man in question had some peculiar divinatory gift, and that his ability to exercise this gift was in itself no proof of Astrology, since there was no necessary connection between the two. Whatever one might think of such a hypothesis in the case supposed, it is inadmissible here."
In the following issue Leo stressed how astrology was a scientific undertaking and did not require any sort of psychic ability: "Now while I am in sympathy with the practice of the "occult arts," by those who are genuine practitioners, I must separate Astrology from Palmistry, and psychic methods of divination. Astrology does not depend upon any psychic powers of divination, but upon pure intellect and the judgment of nativities, and therefore stands alone at present as a practical study based upon mathematics, dealing with the influences outside the human being as well as his response within. Astrologers are not working on psychic lines, and they therefore stand apart from divination and all those methods which at present are not considered scientific" (MA 1914, 11, 387-388).
Proof of astrology?
The waters are further muddied by the non-blind pre-selection of
delineations, and by many of the subjects being interested in astrology
(some were even students of astrology), so their assessments could have
been biassed by knowing what their chart was supposed to mean. In at
least one case of the latter (Competition 3) the subject discredited any
interpretation that disagreed with his own, for example Venus in 12th
did not mean unfortunate love affairs but "control of the passions by
the higher faculties".
Example of a winning delineation
The following example delineation was winner of the first competition and has the advantage of being briefer than most. Leo comments that the "delineation, though brief, is succinct and telling, and is said by the native himself to be recognised as a good description by those who know him well. ... Suffice to say that the prize-winner had no possible means of discovering his tastes or character except such as the horoscope afforded, and that even now she is quite ignorant of his name. This delineation therefore forms in itself a remarkable vindication of the claims of Astrology as regards the study of character and temperament."
The winning delineation starts by noting how Uranus in 3rd house is opposite the mental rulers in 9th house, which factor then dominates the delineation, especially the first two paragraphs. The parts that the native and his friends rated as inaccurate are shown in italics.
"I should judge that while the native is essentially a thinker, his views are eccentric, unpractical, visionary, his convictions will undergo some sudden change and his mind is subject to fret and worry. Originality, versatility, genius are conferred by this position of Uranus, to which the native has added a vivid imagination, but he will be unlucky in the expression of his opinions, his views will not bc popular and he will suffer much opposition on the score of his religious views.
"He will have a more or less public career and attain to a certain degree of fame, and social success, but there is danger of a downfall, and his friends will not prove loyal to him. Many means of success are open to him, literature, music, science, politics, but he will not confine himself to one occupation. It seems probable that literature will play a prominent part in his life, and as there are indications of his deep interest in occult or psychological matters his pen may be employed on such subjects.[The native says he is a pharmaceutical chemist, a bachelor of music, has composed a symphony, has written stories, poetry, and a small book on a semi-occult and philosophical subject, but "politics, so far, I have left severely alone. I make these confessions in order to show how correct the above delineation is in this matter."]
"Neptune will also influence his mind -- not altogether for good. His is not a lucky horoscope, there are many bad aspects and the lord of his ascendant [Mercury] is much afflicted [square Neptune and opposite Jupiter and Uranus]. He will suffer and live more in the mind than the emotions."[The native did not comment on the last paragraph except to confirm that he did live more in the mind than in the senses. The native was also a student of astrology, which may explain why, despite the glaring errors, he concluded "At any rate, there's no denying that as a whole the description is remarkably true."]
Leo added "In the face of these admissions, we think our readers will agree with us that the result of the Prize Competition No 1 has been eminently satisfactory. By way of encouragement to the diffident among our readers, we may mention that the prize-winner sent in her delineation with many apologies for venturing the attempt, being 'only a beginner'!" (MA 1906, 3, 251-253). Nevertheless, despite her modesty, the winner (Mrs Beatrice Avery of Warrington near Liverpool) was also a prize-winner in the third competition, so for the present purpose her skills can hardly be doubted.
Examples of errors and disagreements
a great love of peace and harmonyo (Sun in Libra)
The total number of inserted symbols was generally between 20 and 100. But only the winning delineations were published, they were rarely organised under any sort of headings such as mentality or career, and they are still too wordy to be easily compared, even though their length (typically 700-1200 words) is not excessive by today's standards.
Furthermore, on inspection remarkably true tends to be applied to statements that anyone could make given that the subject was a person of achievement, for example "engaged in some artistic or literary occupation" or "an uncommon mind" or "a refined taste". Or they tend to be applied to statements that are decidedly Barnum, for example "mind experiences conflict between mystical order and physical limitations" or "fortunate and unfortunate elements mingle in questions of marriage" or "practical where money is concerned except when swayed by feelings".
A much better feeling for what is happening is given by those cases where the subjects themselves have surveyed the errors and disagreements of all entries, as in the following examples. Where needed the excerpts have been slightly abridged to maintain the thread and improve readability:
Competition 2. Marion Holmes, author and founder of Woman's Suffrage Association: "The marriage is not as indicated in the horoscope and has been practically without a cloud. No competitor mentioned my love for little children -- it is really one of the strongest features of my character -- nor that my life from 32 to last year [age 38] was crammed full of sorrow." The sorrow was due to poverty, sickness, anxiety, loneliness, and death of parents. Here Leo adds a footnote pointing out that during this period, progressed Sun was opposite progressed Saturn.
Competition 3. Anonymous author of occult works: "One competitor sends a very detailed delineation, with quite definite statements, the only fault of which is that they are almost wholly incorrect! This competitor also gives me several children, and a materialistic turn of mind. Nature has not."
Competition 7. Thomas Maybank, Punch artist: "My marriage seems to be a very unfortunate affair in the opinion of nearly every competitor. My wife is stated to be proud, overbearing and quarrelsome, and altogether I have a very unhappy time of it." But he had never been married and had no thoughts of marrying. One delineation also saw him as markedly deficient in humour.
Competition 8. Allen Upward, author: "the delineations are most divergent from each other, and from the truth, [when] dealing with the physical appearance and constitution of the native, producing the effect of bad guesswork. When they approach the questions of character and temperament they tend to agree with each other, and with the facts. Most of the competitors have exaggerated my interest in the occult. The statement that I have suffered from lawsuits and loans has no foundation in fact."
Competition 9. Arthur Mee, astronomer, age 48, also a keen student of astrology. A year earlier his letter in the magazine English Mechanic, noting that conflicting opinions about astrology demanded "an investigation -- a test ... Mere argument is wholly beside the point", had led to the debate with astronomers as summarised elsewhere on this website, see Index. "I have not had frequent breaksdown in health, nor suffered from rheumatism, nor from coma; am not tall or big-boned; do not make a profession or business of anything occult; did not go in for art; have no mathematical ability, no business ability, no leanings to speculation, no government post, no connection with theatres, no surprising instances of luck, no ability for controlling others, no mesmeric or healing powers that I know of, no love of sport or sports, no monetary flow from a mysterious source, no power of mental concentration (my memory is a terror). I hate taking medicine, have a strong sense of humour, and not the remotest intention of becoming a recluse.
"As a student of Astrology I note that competitors are not always consistent in their view of the planetary positions and aspects. For instance, some give Saturn in first house, others Venus in twelfth house, though her longitude is greater than Saturn's. Some give Uranus in the ninth, others in the tenth. Jupiter is usually given as eleventh house, though he bas some claim to the twelfth. Other points might be named; and I should like some competent opinion on this vexed question of orbs. I note with interest that one or two competitors hardly use the houses at all in aiming at their judgments."
Competition 10. Frederick James, age 50, composer and music teacher: "How can there exist a reliable method of arriving at results when one competitor states that my early life was spent in congenial surroundings, and another asserts quite the opposite? Again, some competitors see my married partner as a paragon of virtues, while at least one other sees the opposite. Farther, several competitors allude to my fondness for travel, to my great business capacities, to stomach troubles, to an innate love of the drama, and to a connection with the occult sciences. Charming though the above characteristics may be, they have never belonged to me.
"Nor do I possess: a calm exterior, a commanding presence, brown hair, a leaning to anarchy, a partner in business, a love of tragedy in preference to comedy, great frugality, and a daily occupation connected in some way with liquids. The allusions in several instances to great wealth which I shall accumulate, and also to legacies which are due to me, are very cheering. But I have not suffered much from those ailments."
Mr James also refers to phrenology: "Regarding travel, several phrenologists of acknowledged ability have told me that of all the occupations which nature has designed me for, that of a navigator or explorer is foremost. However, I am too nervous to trust myself on a steamer, even to the Isle of Man!"
Competition 12. The subject was Joseph Levy, age 71, economist, editor of The Individualist, and not a believer in astrology. Nevertheless his comments have what Leo calls "astonishing aptness and delightful wit", so they are given at some length. His pithy response to a prediction about marriage was cited earlier. The names in italics are the pseudonyms of the competitors:
Physical characteristics: Rufus tells me that I am "tall with plentiful hair, light while young, getting darker as age advances." Libranos says I am "a somewhat tall person, fair complexion, light brown hair," and Uranus says much the same. Being a materialist, I have been in the habit of trusting to a foot-rule in measurements of my height, which low Western method has resulted in my conviction that I am only 5ft 3in in stature. My hair, too, judged by the same coarse method, was very dark in my youth and early manhood, but is now liberally tinged with white; but in an occult sense it may have been fair and may now be getting progressively darker.
Rufus also tells me that I am "liable to severe chills and lung complaints." This is no doubt truc from the astrological point of view; but one of my oldest and most intimate friends is lost in astonishment at my imperviousness to changes in temperature. The ablest physician whom I ever consulted told me: "You have the strong lungs of your race"; and I have never had any chest complaint. Rufus adds that I "dominate the thoughts and doings of a large body". I am glad to hear this.
Noctiluca says my father probably died in my childhood. He died exactly twenty nine years after my birth and in the same room. Noctiluca also tells me there may be an impediment in my speech. I am quite sure that many people wish there were.
Of marriage, Noctiluca judges that my wife was older than myself, and that she was perhaps sarcastic. She was seventeen years younger than I, and sarcasm was quite foreign to her nature. Libranos says "there is a likelihood of twins." Rufus says that my offspring are numerous, and that I have "no doubt become the father of twins". Uranus says I "will have a fairly large family, chiefly sons," while Pandora gives me no children at all. I have two (daughters) only, separated in age by three years. My wife had congenital heart disease and died fifteen years ago.
Libranos says I "will have losses by inferiors or servants who would prove treacherous"; and other horoscopists say the same. Now this is utterly at variance with what I should myself say. No person could have been better served by employees. I have great contempt for people who are constantly complaining of their servants; and I hold that generally they have the servants they deserve. Libranos also says I am "pronouncedly occult and idealistic," and that "the cultivated occultism of the Orient will appeal" to me. It may appeal but it will get no response.
Bonaspes tells me that I have "business or trade with sharp implements connected with agriculture." This is correct in that I once bought a spade and a rake for use in my garden. He also says I made a long journey between 20 and 30 years of age. So far as I can remember I did not leave England in those ten years.
Sunrise learns from the stars that I am proud, inclined to extravagance, too much centred in my family, and "possibly of strong conservative tendencies." I can regard this only as a stellar joke, and a very poor one. Rufus thinks that a suspicion of untruthfulness, and deception generally, attaches to me even among my friends. This is another joke, or something worse. De te fabula attributes to me a jealous tendency, of which there is not the slightest trace. The paper which approximates nearest to the truth is that of Apollo. But (as I have no belief in Astrology, and have difficulty in understanding how any sane person can give credence to it) I regard this as a mere fluke.
Competition 15. Walburga Lady Paget, wife of the late Sir Augustus Paget, former ambassador in Rome and Vienna, now living near Florence: "nearly every competitor says I am musical and very much so. Now, I am not in the least musical, though I like music when I am well disposed for it. Neither do I sing, as so many have thought, but my friends like my speaking voice. There is a frequent mention of depression, to which I am not liable, but I am very apprehensive -- a bad habit which has overshadowed a great part of my life. I never was ambitions, nor am I fond of show or luxury. Cautious I am not, but I have a certain instinctive prudence which holds me back from trusting people quickly.
"The allusions to my financial talent amuse me. Money affairs have been absolutely extraneous to my life. I know and understand nothing about it. However, I think I spend well, carefully and with judgment. I hate waste, and I consider it undignified to be in debt. Nearly all the competitors give me dark hair and eyes. My hair was auburn, my eyes a bluish green."
Competition 16. Mr Francis Cox, Secretary of the Equine Defence League, and not a believer in astrology: "I question whether my fellow man could not deduce a truer insight into me from my literary style and personal mentality than could possibly be gained from Astrology or any kindred cult, and, if I were not fully aware of the sincerity of the Editor and his colleagues in their faith, I should be inclined to think that the free latitude granted in these pages was granted in order that the native might unconsciously portray the character in agreement or otherwise with the Delineation. Candidly, I have no faith in Astrology. On no grounds, physiological, psychical or scientific, can I see the least justification for giving it credence." Nevertheless the top two delineations were "a triumph for Astrology", and "even those that are widest of the mark contain some remarkably true deductions and statements of fact".
Competition 18. Felix White, composer: "All the delineations sent in miss the one thing that is central to my existence, namely music. None of the delineations can be unreservedly praised for general accuracy, even after allowing for the omission of music."
Competition 20. Miss Irene Warner, astronomer, lists "the only points really incorrect in each delineation", which after much rearrangement can be summarised as follows: "My early life and financial affairs have not caused any special worry, my friends are not principally women, I have not had weak lungs, or a number of short but disagreeable journeys, or no sea travel (I have been to many overseas countries). Nor have I had an unwilling scepticism in religions matters, or a good deal of trouble over my unorthodoxy in religion (these points are decidedly incorrect -- I have always been unorthodox in views though holding the main tenets of Christianity firmly).
"I am not an extreme militant in the Female Suffrage campaign, a hard worker (except under important circumstances), a vegetarian, carried away by enthusiasm, engaged in chemical research work, good at mathematics (palmists also say this but it was my weakest subject), one of a large family (I am an only child), particularly diplomatic, sensuous, somewhat conceited (I admit to being proud but not conceited), unafraid of being lonely, or very practical (alas).
"I do not have a large circle of friends (I have many acquaintances but few friends whom I trust), an interest in diet or diet reform matters or socialism or temperance work or being an actress, a height that is below average (it is 5ft 9in), a preference for working unseen (I do not like obscurity), brothers or sisters, dark eyes and hair (they are blue-grey and mid-brown respectively), much patience (my friends say it is conspicuous by its absence), quick recuperation after any illness, socialistic tendencies (I am an Imperialist Royalist), or trouble in my occupation (writing and reading, which I like very much)."
A major disagreement between professionals
The owner, then aged 45, was so upset by these interpretations that he made a personal visit to Alan Leo, who "was fortunately able to convince the native that erroneous judgements had been given, although I must confess it was a painful task to show the superficiality of the work turned out by those who would by the length of their practice have been capable of giving better judgments". Leo was at the time holidaying on the French Riviera, and to visit him the owner had to make a thousand-mile return journey from the Birmingham area where he lived.
The rectified birth details given by Leo are 18 December 1869 11:52:04 pm 52n31 1w51. The dominant chart factor is an exact Sun-Moon opposition, traditionally interpreted as some kind of internal conflict, beefed up by close proximity to the MC axis. There is also a T-Square between Mars, Neptune, and Uranus, all within 5-degree orbs, also traditionally interpreted as conflict, upsets and change.
Leo concluded that each astrologer had considered a different natal factor such as the above two, with different admixtures of progressions and transits, without considering the chart as a whole, thus ending up with different indications. "That the horoscope ... was a difficult one to judge I am fully aware, but it is just these difficult horoscopes that cause all the mischief. ... [I] can also vouch for the fact that each astrologer to whom it was submitted claims to have many years experience, and in no case were they professionals from whom careless or indifferent work would be expected."