Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dutch astrology - Who was A.E. Thierens?

Adolph Ernestus Thierens – in English the ‘h’ would be silent as in ‘Thomas,’ and the name would rhyme with ‘appearance’ – was one of the great 20th-century Dutch astrologers. In the eyes of some, including myself, he was the greatest. He was born in 1875 and died in 1941 at the age of 66.

It is not easy to find biographical information on Thierens, and it is still less easy to find information that is reliable. There are a few websites that mention him, but what they say or imply is sometimes incorrect or misleading. For example, it is not true that he was one of the co-founders of the organization called in Dutch the Werkgemeenschap van Astrologen. Dutch writers are wont to call this organization the ‘Workcommunity of astrologers’; I prefer to call it the Astrologers’ Collaborative. That organization was not formally established till 1947. It is true that Thierens was one of the three thinkers whose ideas in various proportions went into what has survived as the astrological theory and practice of the Collaborative. But it is also true that Thierens emphatically disapproved of the later development, synthesis and use of those ideas. In that sense, it is a serious distortion to regard him merely as a sort of sponsoring avuncular precursor who made a few contributions to a single later line of development whose legitimate heir was Theo Ram.

In Dutch usage, a distinction is sometimes made between ‘astrology’ as a set of philosophical ideas structured or symbolized along the lines of astronomy, and ‘horoscopy’ as the practice of drawing up and interpreting horoscopes. My own interest is decidedly more in the former. I am not a member of the Astrologers’ Collaborative, but I have studied its theory and practice in great detail and have enjoyed dialogs with some of its leading exponents. I first read Thierens some forty years ago and have never really stopped re-reading him. I am not a Theosophist and do not ‘believe in’ Thierens’ philosophical system as such, but I have sympathy with the spirit if not the letter of much of it, and there are many passages in his writings which have remained important signposts for me personally. In 2018, while re-reading his works I tried to find out more about his personal life and background. It was then that I discovered not much had been written about him, and in such information as there was, he had been rather seriously misrepresented. Searching here, inquiring there, between then and now I have managed to put together what I believe to be a meaningful and fair outline of Thierens’ life and career.

The early years – Navy man, thinker, and writer

Thierens was the son of a naval officer, and he originally aspired to a career in the Royal Dutch Navy. Becoming a cadet in 1890 and an officer in 1894, he was stationed in the Dutch East Indies for several years. An injury sustained in the line of duty left him unfit for active service, and he was discharged with a  pension in 1903. This mishap, which temporarily ended his regular worldly employment, left him with time and freedom to pursue a strong personal interest in Theosophy and astrology. He began writing and publishing on these subjects. In 1906 he joined the Theosophical Society. Thierens met the prominent British astrologer and Theosophist Alan Leo (1860-1917) when the latter visited the Netherlands; this meeting soon resulted in a Dutch version of Leo’s magazine Modern Astrology under the editorship of Leo and the Dutch Theosophical writer H.J. van Ginkel. Starting in 1907 the magazine, under Dutch editors including Thierens, was published as Urania. The same year saw the founding of the Association for Astronomy and Modern Astrology, eventually to be called the Dutch Astrological Association (Nederlands astrologisch genootschap), which Thierens chaired for many years.

Never the loner in either worldly or occult matters, in 1908 Thierens made  commitments on both sides. He became a Freemason (in the Cazotte Lodge, which admitted both men and women), and he married Wilhelmina Maria Smol, with whom he would eventually have four children. He was active as a journalist and a lecturer. The responsibilities of family life did not prevent him from becoming a prolific writer on astrology. In 1909 he published his Textbook of Astrology (Leerboek der astrologie) in which the text was written by himself and the mathematical tables were provided by Alan Leo. In the next couple of years he wrote and published his ‘Cosmology’ series of three books in Dutch on astrology: Elements of Practical Astrology (Elementen der praktische astrologie, 1911), Astrology as a Philosophy of Life (De astrologie als levensleer, 1912), and Essays on Natural Philosophy (Wetenschappelijke opstellen – natuurfilosofie, 1913). The ‘Cosmology’ books were published by ‘Luctor et Emergo,’ one of whose owners was a fellow Freemason. This house had a certain prominence as it published one of the leading Dutch literary magazines, De nieuwe gids, as well as literary studies by the famous poet Willem Kloos.

Now that he had discovered in himself a deep affinity with both Theosophy and astrology, Thierens’ great project as a writer and thinker was to combine the two: to reinterpret the elements of traditional astrology as analogs or symbolizations of what he felt to be the cosmological truths of Theosophy. If Theosophy explained the underlying motives or mechanisms of human life, astrology could be a meaningful and instructive charting of those same motives and mechanisms.

Thierens did not attempt to conceal the Theosophical sources of many of his ideas. On the contrary, he urged readers to study the works of H.P. Blavatsky as he had done. He also referred often to The Science of Peace by the Indian writer Bhagavan Das (1869-1958), first published in 1904. In The Science of Peace, a central concept was the ubiquitous dichotomy of ‘ego’ and ‘non-ego’ and the creative interplay between the two. In his Elements of Esoteric Astrology Thierens quoted Bhagavan Das in detail on this idea as relevant to ‘the process of evolution of the Self.’ He made it clear, not unproudly, that the description of the process was from Bhagavan Das but it was himself, Thierens, who had found the astrological correlation with the so-called ‘aspects,’ i.e., the type and degree of relationship between any two planets.

The idea of ever-present interaction between ‘ego’ and ‘non-ego,’ or the similar but not identical presentation of a ‘subject’ as inseparably distinct from an ‘object,’ was to become a hallmark of Thierens’ thought, both in his own works and as it was adopted by the Astrologers’ Collaborative. Over the years there were (and still are) discussions as to the degree to which a horoscope could or could not adequately be used to describe the ‘subject,’ but the centrality of such a dichotomy has remained one of the main distinguishing features of this line of Dutch astrological thought as it has come down from Thierens via Ram (Theo Ram or Th.J.J. Ram, 1884-1961) and the Astrologers’ Collaborative.

Collaboration and recognition

In these early years, many of Thierens’ ideas were developed in close collaboration with a remarkable woman whose name is now seldom if ever mentioned – Lena C. de Beer (1877-1938). Lena de Beer had been one of the first women in The Netherlands to study at a university. Majoring in Dutch language and literature, she pursued her studies through the level of what was called the Candidaats, roughly equivalent to an American bachelor’s degree. She did not, as many students did, go on to further studies in Dutch because by that time she was overwhelmingly attracted by the occult. She became librarian of the Theosophical Library in Amsterdam, and by the 1930s would be running one of the foremost occult bookstores in Holland. She would also be active as a spirit medium who occasionally held seances in the bookstore.

In 1910, a lecture by Thierens and a follow-up article in Urania by Lena de Beer alerted Dutch astrologers to the notion that beyond the planets known to astronomers at that time, there might or should be additional planets. Before long, subsequent articles widened the discussion, and the notion became common that if there were twelve signs in the zodiac, there must also theoretically be twelve different planets to ‘rule’ those signs. (In traditional astrology, in which planets beyond Saturn were unknown, a planet ‘ruled’ two different signs; e.g., Mars was the ruler of both Aries and Scorpio.) Thierens, who in 1909 had already introduced new philosophy-based symbols for the planets Uranus and Neptune for use within  Dutch astrological circles, went on to theorize as to what names and symbols should be applied to the remaining planets. The results featured in his book Elementen der praktische astrologie which appeared in 1911. Several years later, in 1916, Lena de Beer published an article asserting on theoretical grounds that Thierens had long been confusing the symbols for Uranus and the ultimate twelfth planet. Later in the same year, Thierens admitted she was right; he retracted his earlier point of view and admitted that a relevant passage in his 1911 book was erroneous.

Meanwhile, World War I had broken out. The Netherlands remained neutral but the armed forces were mobilized. Thierens was recalled to service as a Lieutenant in the Navy. He was put in charge of naval artillery at Ymuiden, and of disarming sea mines which had drifted into Dutch waters.

On the Masonic side of his occult life, there were new developments in these years. In 1913, as a result of personal conflicts within the Cazotte Lodge, Thierens had briefly become associated with a new Masonic branch called the Washington Lodge. In 1917 he was involved as Grand Master in the establishment of yet another Freemasons’ lodge: the Masonic Astrological Humanist Rite, sometimes referred to as the M.A.H. One of its co-founders was his fellow Theosophist Theo Ram, who also joined the Astrological Association in 1917. Ram would later become the dominant figure in the Astrological Association, a pathbreaking new astrological theorist, and in some respects a rival to Thierens.

In 1920 Thierens was sent to Surinam, then a Dutch colony, to supervise the government ships there. His wife and children joined him briefly but soon went back to Europe. Thierens’ new government job was supposedly to be a permanent one, but in 1923, as a result of drastic retrenchment he was sent back to The Netherlands on half pay. Meanwhile his marriage had become problematical, and he entered into a new common-law partnership. He worked intensively on his Masonic involvements, and in 1924 set up his own astrological office in Zandvoort.

In 1925 at an event in Lausanne, Switzerland, Thierens received an honorary doctorate for his astrological contributions. The school issuing the degree was an American institution: the College of Journalism, Political Science and Languages. From now on, in the byline of his writings Thierens would often refer to himself as ‘A.E. Thierens, Ph.D.’

Knegt: the rift begins

In 1928, a bombshell was dropped into the world of Dutch astrology. Leo Knegt (1882-1957), a professional astrologer and a friend of Ram’s, published a massively technical book titled Astrology: Scientific Technique (Astrologie, wetenschappelijke techniek). In it, he presented revolutionary new ways of calculating two of the most basic factors in a horoscope. It would go beyond the scope of this article to explain Knegt’s ideas in detail. But briefly, in the calculation of both the house boundaries and the planetary positions, for Knegt the locality as focused in the ascendant plays a major co-determining role.This supposedly yields a more individual perspective than in most other methods. For example, traditionally the positions of the planets (by zodiacal sign and degree) were taken to be the same for all persons born at the same moment. They were reckoned simply by zodiacal longitude, which remains the same regardless of where an observer on earth may be. Knegt proposed a novel spherical-trigonometric configuration by which the planetary positions were mapped into the individual horoscopic frame, assigning to each planet the degree in which it would actually have been seen from the locality of birth. If this method is used, horoscopes of two persons born at the same moment but in different places may show the same planet in differing degrees, perhaps even in different signs. Knegt referred to this individualized projection as True Zodiacal Position. And in his method of house division, which he called the Ascendant Parallel Circle system, the degrees and possibly the signs appearing on the boundaries of houses on opposite sides of the horoscopic circle may be different. In traditional terms this is unheard of, since the very meanings of the houses are often explained as derived from their standing in exactly 180-degree or polar contrast to the opposite houses.

From the outset, Thierens opposed these innovations. Soon after the appearance of Knegt’s book, he tried to get the Astrological Association to set up a committee to experiment with Knegt’s proposals, and published a critical review in Urania. His criticisms were of several kinds. For one thing, he found it arrogant and misleading of Knegt to present his system as the ‘scientific technique’ of astrology, rather than as one possible approach among others. As for the new prominence given to the ascendant in the calculations, Thierens felt this amounted to reading the planets and signs within a ‘mundane’ (i.e. earth-centered) framework, thereby de-emphasizing the larger cosmic significance which gave them their character and values in the first place. In that sense, he could not agree that the increased ‘individualization’ of the chart was a good thing.

Another question he asked was: if Knegt has just now finally revealed the one-and-only valid system, how is it that so many of us, for years and decades now, have been achieving such convincing results using traditional methods?

In 1931, Thierens again wrote a short piece in Urania on this subject. Not much had come of the idea of getting a committee to investigate the validity of Knegt’s ideas. By now Thierens was calling it ‘the Knegt-Ram method.’ He regretted that its proponents seemed little interested in demonstrating the success of their new system to others. At about the same time, Theo Ram’s article ‘The Mystery Planets’ assigned to the last three still-undiscovered planets, whose probable existence was widely accepted in Association circles, names different to those Thierens had been proposing for decades. Thierens must have felt his authority as a thinker being eroded by the increasing prominence of the brilliantly unorthodox Knegt-Ram duo.

The following year, seemingly in response to these destabilizing new developments, Thierens published an astrological manual of his own called Astrological Calculations (Astrologische berekeningen). Unlike Knegt’s tome, it was compact – only 128 pages – and easy to follow. In it, he referred to what he had already published in Urania on the unorthodox methods now being proposed by Knegt and Ram. Again recommending the venerable Campanus system of house division which he had been using for many years, he provided a short conversion table by which Dutch readers, if they were not in possession of house tables made specifically for Campanus, could calculate the Campanus house boundaries based on more generally accessible astrological tables.

Meanwhile, his personal life had not been unruffled. A divorce from his first wife in 1927 had been followed in the same year by remarriage to a baroness. In 1932 that marriage also ended in divorce. In 1933 Thierens was married yet again, this time to a woman 31 years younger than himself. But he continued his astrological writing unabated. In 1933 he began editing the quarterly magazine Esoterische astrologie which was published in the Dutch East Indies. He also published a Dutch version of Elements of Esoteric Astrology, which he had published in England and the United States in 1931 following two other books in English since 1928.

If Thierens was showing such an interest in publishing outside The Netherlands, it may well have been because developments in Holland were not to his liking. The uncertainty and continuing debate caused by the Knegt-Ram technical innovations would continue for some years, but there also seem to have been other issues within the Astrological Association that were coming to a head in the mid-thirties. At the same time, Thierens was aware of his approaching sixtieth birthday (20 December 1935). In the course of 1935, a serious crisis developed within the Association. At one point, the whole steering committee quit in protest. Whether or not in reaction to these developments, perhaps mindful that his father had lived to be only 54, Thierens decided the time had come to lay down all his worldly responsibilities. He relinquished all his official posts within the Association, including the chair. At about the same time, on the Freemasonry side of his life, he declared that he would no longer continue as Grand Master of the M.A.H....and, much to the consternation of the other members, that the M.A.H. was herewith disbanded! For a while the stunned members, led by Ram, took refuge in an alternative lodge which they called Astrological Freemasonry (Astrologische Vrijmetselarij; AvM). Several years later, it was superseded by the new Order for Astrological Ceremonial Mysticism, again under Ram, which has continued in existence down to the present.

At this distance in time, it is not easy to reconstruct exactly what happened within the Astrological Association during the 1935 crisis. According to a report published in Urania afterward which referred to recent ‘unpleasant’ happenings, by November 1935 the Association was in debt, its archives had been impounded, and its bank account was frozen pending the outcome of a lawsuit. But by 1936, the Association had been reorganized on a more authoritarian basis, clearly headed by Ram. In June 1936, a list published in Urania gave the new standard terms and names to be used in all publications of the Astrological Association; the names designated for the Mystery Planets were not those used by Thierens.

The Mystery Planets – which names, which mysteries?

By the late 1930s Thierens, Knegt and Ram were clearly going three different ways in both theory and practice. The sensational new calculating methods which Knegt had launched with his 1928 book, and which from an early stage had captured Ram’s heart, continued to form a cornerstone of Ram’s now-dominant system. But Thierens had never accepted these innovations, and in this he was now joined by...Knegt himself! By the end of 1937, Knegt was publicly disavowing the notion of True Zodiacal Position, and in his formidably technical last book which came out in 1939, he used sophisticated arguments to reject the Ascendant Parallel Circle method of calculating the houses.

Superficially, it might have seemed that the three were still in agreement on the matter of the so-called Mystery Planets – i.e., the planets lying beyond Saturn including the newly discovered Pluto and the three additional planets which all three men theorized to lie beyond. It is true that all three theoretically accepted the idea that the true rulers of the twelve astrological signs should be twelve different planets, whether or not they had been ‘objectively’ discovered by astronomers. But whereas for Knegt and Thierens this remained a theory suggested by underlying philosophical assumptions, Ram tried to integrate the Mystery Planets into the bread-and-butter mechanics of horoscope calculation. He believed their actual zodiacal positions could be worked out by educated guesswork. The three trans-Pluto planets were posited to be the true rulers of the signs Taurus, Gemini and Cancer. By examining horoscopes with the ascendant in one of those three signs, he reasoned, it might be possible to surmise where in the horoscope, hence where in the zodiac, the relevant ‘ruler’ must be lurking. By 1935, at the very end of his book Psychologische astrologie, he felt confident enough to include a ‘condensed ephemeris’ of two of these three planets – Persephone and Hermes as rulers of Taurus and Gemini respectively. When the second edition came out in 1949, the ephemeris would include Demeter – Ram’s name for the true ruler of Cancer.

Thierens not only refrained from any attempt to locate the last three Mystery Planets concretely in actual horoscopes; in his last book Cosmic Law (Cosmische wet, 1937) he even considered it unlikely that the three trans-Pluto planets would ever actually be discovered by astronomers.

This brings us to another area of lasting disagreement between Ram and Thierens – the names of the last three Mystery Planets. Ram, in his 1935 version which became standard and has continued in Collaborative usage to this day, used Greek names for the putative rulers of Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer: Persephone, Hermes, and Demeter. Thierens, though in publications over the years he was not always consistent, from an early stage used Egyptian names as well. The last three planets, as he called them in the 1930s, were Isis, Hermes, and Horus. (When Knegt published a book on horary astrology in 1936, he called these hypothetical planets by Thierens’ names for them, though politely mentioning that his ‘friend and colleague Ram’ was now using Persephone and Demeter.)

The difference in names is not a mere curiosity. It reflects a fundamental difference in point of view. Put simply, from the beginning Thierens’ conception of the Mystery Planets was that they were indeed mysterious, distant and different from everyday notions, cosmic rather than ‘mundane’ in their import. In 1915, in an article in Urania he even suggested that Latin names were inappropriate for these planets because the Romans had integrated the cults of their gods into everyday life, whereas the Egyptians in their Book of the Dead had maintained a mystical and more-than-physical concept of such deities as Isis and Horus.

In Ram’s publications on this subject, starting with his 1931 article ‘De mysterie-planeten’ which even today is quoted as an important new departure, the accent was not so much on what exactly the Mystery Planets were, but rather on what they concretely did. Ram saw in the six direct parallels with a group of six primal forces (shakti) described by the Indian Theosophical author Subba Row. In Ram’s book Psychologische astrologie (1935/1949) this remained the framework of his discussion. Ram seemed to be saying that although these six forces affected individuals’ lives, at the present stage of humanity’s development those affects were still mainly on a vast scale of collective happenings and there was little scope for the individual to interact meaningfully with them. He did not, as Thierens did, suggest that the individual cycle of development had something to ‘give back’ to the greater framework: that the solar system itself was in process of becoming more conscious.

Thierens always stressed that incarnation involved a phase of coming into this world, but also a phase of going back out of it. As he wrote in Elements of Esoteric Astrology: ‘The outflow of life from the solar centre must be completed by an inflow back from the circumference.’ An alternative formulation in his publications was an ‘outbound arc’ followed by an ‘inbound arc.’ This again was an idea from Bhagavan Das which Thierens had adapted for his own theory of the planetary aspects. In various publications over the years, he reprinted his own version of a diagram of this cyclic process that had appeared in 1911 in an  article by Lena de Beer. De Beer had taken the position that in deeper or cosmic perspective, the zodiac should be viewed as running from Leo to Cancer rather than from Aries to Pisces. The process of incarnation could be symbolized as a continuous loop starting with the sun (associated with Leo), moving on an ‘outbound arc’ through the other planets representing types of experience gained during the course of life, and then returning to the origin through Cancer as the last phase of ingathering and summation. In Thierens’ version of the diagram, the series of planets along the loop was expanded to include the planets beyond Saturn: Uranus, Neptune, Pluto (which Thierens liked to call Osiris), and the undiscovered but hypothesized true rulers of Taurus, Gemini and Cancer. Cancer is the twelfth and closing phase of the loop which begins with Leo, and its ruler Horus is mythologically the child, not the parent, of the ruler of the tenth phase (Isis as ruler of Taurus).

For Ram, by the mid-1930s when his charting of the Mystery Planets had found its lasting form, the ruler of the twelfth stage (Demeter) was the mother of the ruler of the tenth (Persephone), suggesting that Cancer or its mythological ruler represented an originary rather than a concluding phase. In general, in the later writings of Ram and his school on the Mystery Planets, the planets are often charted not as a continuous loop but as a complex arrangement of symmetries in which the anciently known planets are divided into two contrasting groups of three headed respectively by the sun (called ‘Apollo’) and Saturn, while these groups are counterbalanced by two more groups of three made up of the Mystery Planets both known and hypothetical. In the whole scheme, there are four ‘planets of the Will’ or ‘planets of Being,’ and Demeter, ruler of Cancer, is one of them. This makes Demeter (the equivalent of Thierens’ ‘Horus’) not a phase in a continuing chain but a full-fledged source. It seems to envisage Cancer’s ruler as causative or impelling toward the earth-life, rather than gathering or harvesting back away from earth.

Last years and legacy

An outstanding difference between Thierens and either Ram or Knegt was that Thierens did not publish his books only in Dutch. By the early 1930s a British publisher, Rider, had brought out three works by Thierens which are still occasionally read: Natural Philosophy (1928), The General Book of the Tarot (1928), and Elements of Esoteric Astrology (1931). The latter two books were also published in the United States by David McKay. The copyrights have now expired and the books are available for download. Like many well-educated Europeans, Thierens seems to have thought his English was good enough not to require editing by a native speaker before publication. As a result, occasionally a word or phrase is unclear or misleading as it stands (e.g., ‘addicted’ for ‘attributed’), but on the whole the books are ‘difficult’ only in the sense that the philosophy behind them is certainly not simple. Judging from internet comments, there is still quite some demand for these books internationally. In particular, the book on the Tarot, which is actually an astrological reading of the Tarot or a projection of astrological equivalents onto the Tarot cards, has been reissued numerous times.

In the mid-1930s, Thierens published a book in Dutch on the Tarot. Called The Tarot in Practice (De Tarot in de praktijk), it featured Thierens’ original drawings of the 22 cards of the so-called Major Arcana. The drawings were based on Thierens’ own philosophical interpretation of the cards. This was in striking contrast to his English book on the Tarot, first published in 1928, in which he had reproduced the illustrations from the so-called Rider-Waite Tarot deck. The exact year of Thierens’ Dutch book is uncertain; the catalog of the National Library in The Hague lists it tentatively as 1935.

In any event, 1935 saw the publication of another monograph by Thierens in English, Astrology in Mesopotamian Culture, issued by the respected Leiden publisher E.J. Brill.

Whether or not because publication in English offered him a chance to express his ideas unhindered by the increasing strife and competition in the Dutch astrological arena, Thierens was originally planning to go on beyond Elements of Esoteric Astrology to at least one additional book in English, which was to be called Astrology in Ethics. He announced it in E.E.A. but as things turned out, in the turbulent 1930s it never materialized. Perhaps the ideas he had in mind for it formed the gist of his last book, published in Dutch in 1937 as Cosmic Law (Cosmische wet). At the very beginning of that book, there is a short introduction: ‘After the trilogy comprising Natuurfilosofie, Elementen der esoterische astrologie and De astrologie als levensleer (Astrology as a Philosophy of Life), something remained to be said. A conclusion was still to be drawn...May this little book provide it.’

In the summer of 1939, Thierens suffered a serious stroke. Understandably, after that date no further publications are on record. He died on 30 December 1941, ten days after his 66th birthday.

Thierens’ ideas continue to survive both in their own right and as elements in the still-vital theories of Theo Ram and his school. Between 1979 and 1987, the occult publisher Schors brought out reprints of Thierens’ Elementen der praktische astrologie, Elementen der esoterische astrologie, and De tarot in de praktijk. Thierens’ own major publications in Dutch do not seem to have been reprinted since then, though they remain easily and cheaply available secondhand. His English publications, by contrast, have weathered well and continue to be in demand. Natural Philosophy, Elements of Esoteric Astrology, and General Book of the Tarot (title may vary) were all reprinted as recently as 2013, and an e-book of the Tarot manual came out in 2018.

Theo Ram wrote only one book as sole author: Psychologische astrologie. The first edition appeared in 1935 and the second in 1949. A paperback reprint, curiously based on the first rather than the revised second edition, was published in 1976 and is still easily available in Holland. Ram’s book undoubtedly continues to be widely consulted by Dutch astrologers, probably often not in the way that he would have wished. It is said that he was reluctant to write down his ideas systematically in the form of a ‘cookbook’ which astrologers would mechanically consult without learning to draw their own conclusions: Venus in Scorpio ‘means’ this; Jupiter square Mars ‘results in’ that. But the tone and organization of the book make it both tempting and entertaining to browse passively.

In his brief chapter called ‘The General Theory of the Aspects,’ Ram acknowledges that it was Thierens who first introduced the notion of aspects between any two planets as ‘successive phases of a cyclic process.’ But in Ram’s presentation, the ‘outbound arc’ and ‘inbound arc’ are not worked out in relation to the (re)incarnation process and its cosmic background. Rather, the frame of reference is this-worldly and psychological. The ‘I’ or ego is described as a ‘central’ element which must learn to ‘realize itself’ in conscious distinction from its ‘circumference’ of objective experiences.

I have often wondered why the 1976 paperback reprint of Ram’s book, which since its first appearance has undoubtedly been the most widely read edition, was based on the first and not the second version of the original. For one thing, the 1949 second edition is marred by a dismaying number of uncorrected misprints; it is possible that the paperback publisher found these objectionable. But it may also be that the original edition, in which the supposed last and hypothetical planet Demeter is less discussed, seemed less likely to be daunting to potential buyers who might just want to ‘consult Ram’ without seriously studying his complex and controversial philosophical system. In any case, Ram’s book has never been translated into English. At one time I was considering translating it myself; I was stymied by the realization that I could think of no serviceable English equivalent for one of the most crucial and recurrent words in the book – wezen as a noun.

There is not the slightest likelihood that I will still translate any book by Thierens as a whole. But if I were to try my hand at a short selection of memorable quotes out of context – one of my favorite genres – it would certainly include the following:

--Experience is a change in being.
--Experience is the reward paid by the environment to the central point.
--We do not dive into this sublunar world to ‘learn lessons,’ but to be our Self.
--Consciousness is the life of the Human Tree. It grows with the tree; it makes the tree grow and is the fruit thereof...

Lloyd Haft
Taipei, Taiwan
June 2020

Monday, December 9, 2019

Poems on China in 1979 from 'Icons by Daylight'

[In the fall of 1979, I was sent to Mainland China for three months to conduct research on the current status of foreign literature in the PRC. Sights, scenes, and sentiments garnered during that trip inspired me to write a sequence of poems in Dutch that were later published in the literary magazine De gids and still later as part of my first book of poems, Ikonen bij daglicht, which was published in Amsterdam by Querido in 1982.
In fall 2019, I finally made the following English translations, followed in some cases by background notes.
As always, to emphasize that poetry should not be bound by the actualities of public time, I transcribe Chinese place-names not by the contemporary Hanyu pinyin system but using the older established English spellings.]


It can happen so suddenly:
a skyful of stones
arisen from water.

Did it come from lakes in the South,
deserts to westward? Seek no explanation
on earth: where we are now

is reality. Look:
every human here
wears a mask. Calm, patient,

far above the crossings
of the Ten Thousand Streets stands
one white bus dead still.

(On ‘Hail’)

In strophe 3, the ‘masks’ were suggested by the sight of denizens of Peking wearing white masks to shield their noses, mouths, and throats against the combination of winter cold and the dust or coal particles in the ambient air.

In the last strophe, there is a slight technical echo of classical Chinese poetry, in which ‘parallelism’ is a standard structuring device. An element which has already been mentioned is ‘paralleled’ by a following term which is either similar or opposite to it in some respect. In this case, ‘Ten Thousand’ – in itself a parody of translations from Chinese in which it actually just means ‘numberless’ – is contrasted with ‘one.’ The inveterate seeker for significances might note that in this case there is only ‘one’ bus covering ‘ten thousand’ streets – an image of scarcity (?).

Peasant baby

The white-haired androgyne who’ll be
your grandparent
already has teeth.

For you it’s still to come:
breathing, crying,
knowledge as to Coca-Cola, Sony,

and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Take it slow: a lifetime. These days
are here to stay.

The androgyne beyond all years,
standing on the threshold
toothbrush in hand

clears her throat on a swig of morning sun,
spits on her own shadow.

(On ‘Peasant baby’)

Such ‘Western’ or ‘capitalist’ things as Coca-Cola or Sony were new-fangled in the China of 1979 in which I as a traveler got the inspiration for these poems. They had to be fitted in somehow with the continuing orthodoxy of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
In the fourth strophe, the androgyne stands ‘toothbrush in hand’ because she is one of the many people one could see early in the morning brushing their teeth outdoors, typically with a metal or pottery mug in the other hand.
The last two lines could be taken to imply that the androgyne, who is already ‘beyond all years,’ stands above the come-and-go of worldly politics. To her, the ‘morning sun’ is not Mao Zedong, whom a popular slogan called ‘the reddest red sun in our hearts,’ but just something to clear her throat on.


When the ground uprises
it looks as if the threshold
was lowered.

Make no mistake: what peels off
is paint: the walls
stay standing.

It is true
that the light has lifted:
grass still grows only

on the driest roofs,
and the only remaining green
is a garbage can.

(On ‘Earthquake’)

In Peking one could indeed see grass, at least a few blades of it, growing on roofs. It had rooted in the windblown soil that had found its way up there.
For me personally, this harked back to THE poem which had first turned me on to modern Chinese poetry – Bian Zhilin’s ‘Grass on the Wall’, which I had first read in Kai-yu Hsu’s translation.
The relevant lines (from Hsu's Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry, p. 165) were

Just think, there are people who spend all their days
Dreaming a little and watching the wall a little,
While the grass on the wall turns tall and then yellow.

In Peking in 1979, garbage cans were green.

To the ferry-pilot girl

How many centuries have you waited
to bring me to the other side
this afternoon?

I, who just this autumn
became for you a foreigner
to see you –

we’re off! Lift that apple-red
scarf a little higher: cover your cheeks
or I’ll see your lips.

O wield that rudder slowly –
lest all too soon the shadow line
of yonder shore be clear, be merely willows.

The Altar of the Moon

The Altar of the Moon
is a clump of old men
playing chess.

Now the last goddess
has been driven out, all the gates
are open. There’s even

a sun: pale, still learning,
helped out here and there
by leaves on autumn trees.

Unseen women
shuffle, drag long brooms,
watch the ground before them.

No man will live here long enough
to make new moves:
every one on feet of stone already,

pinned in place securely
by the long-as-ever nails
of a banished maiden.

Pumpkin soup

‘An army marches on its stomach’; dream trucks
slide across the bottom
of a bowl of boiling water.

And the girl by the roadside
watches: herself in Army dress,
the unpaved intersection. September

by sunlight: pumpkin time,
silent as a full truck
lurching, raising dust, smelling sweet...

There they come, the bearers:
the unbelievable procession of real children,
each carrying a bowl in both hands.

(On ‘Pumpkin soup’)

‘An army marches on its stomach’ is a famous dictum by the Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831). In other words, success in warfare depends on being able to solve homely logistic problems like keeping the troops fed.
In 1979 when I was in China, women and girls still regularly wore military-style uniforms.

Summer Palace

Here, in olden times
they built a whole Palace
from the scent of cinnamon –

sharp? heady? ‘Pluck a few leaves...’
Walk along the pond. See
locked pavilions, lotus leaves

beyond imagining. No Buddha
is watching you. ‘Rubbing these,
the Essence emerges...’ Or are you really hungry?

(Hiding under grey hair
the girlfriend of someone’s youth is selling
sweet, lukewarm buns.)

Go ahead, try standing in line
with thousands of living beings,
all with bowl-shaped hands.

‘Thus, o Monks,
was all that had once been desired
called into being.’

(On ‘Summer Palace’)

The parts in quotation marks form a sub-text in the style of English translations of Buddhist scriptures.

In China in 1979, because I could speak Chinese I was allowed to roam the cities alone, and had at least the illusion that my movements were not being monitored. In other words, not even a Buddha was watching me.