I’m going to posit an argument here that goes something like, “The best astrology books don’t necessarily have the best writing. They have the best illustrations.”
Because many astrologers, including myself to a large degree, are interested in the writing — prose is so important, and such a skill to have, to be able to write, beautifully, persuasively — we don’t necessarily have a full appreciation of the design of astrology books, the books that stay with us because the illustrations are so good, an art form in and of itself that is, at least on the surface, more important than the writing itself.
I picked up a book about 4 1/2 years ago before I relocated to Colorado by Roy Gillett called “The Secret Language of Astrology.” It came out in 2011. Its interpretations are fine — it does a rudimentary procession through the planets, signs, astronomically and astrologically. When I read it the first thing that comes to mind is, “I know some of this already, maybe most of it.”
The intermediate astrologer would like to have this book to show people who know hardly any astrology because it’s so engaging through its art. Even the background for the pages, let alone illustrations of the planets and archetypes, is stunning. It checks enough of the boxes of what it explains to have around.
Moving on, I always go back to the books in the Secret Language series — Birthdays, Relationships, and Destiny. Joost Elffers co-wrote the book, but it was really Gary Goldschneider who did all of the biographical research, 40 years of it to be exact. Joost Elffers was there to illustrate, and, I’m thinking, produce the book.
Elffers illustrated and produced the books co-written by Robert Greene — including, the 48 Laws of Power, the 33 Principles of War, and the Art of Seduction. These are high-pitched books (I can’t think of a better phrase to use). They are graphically notable. They are also notable for their written content — Laws of Power almost literally blew my mind when I first read it in 1998. (To be sure — I think reading that book contributed to my psychotic breakdown, the final one, in 1999. Later on I found the book incredibly useful, and still do.)
What’s interesting is that Elffers had to do illustrations for each of the 1152 matchups between the 48 periods. (The number of possible relationships is 48 squared divided by 2, or 1152). He had one illustration for each of these half-page matchups. Being born on the cusp of Revolution (Scorpio-Sagittarius cusp) I suspect he did it purely on instinct.
I cannot forget to write about the Round Art of Astrology (A.T. Mann). It’s a book notable for its beauty and brains. Originally published in 1979, the original is out of print but is the only version where the horoscope illustrations are not black-and-white, but notably, their only color is red. The 2003 reprint is not out of print but is also exclusively black and white.
What else is notable about the Round Art that makes it one of my favorite books? Well, conceptually and technically, it’s quite advanced. I should make clear that many of the illustrations are not black and white and are creative in almost every dimension. I’m on page 62 and looking at a gaudy three-dimensional image of the celestial sphere. I’m on page 164-165 and noticing black and white demonstrations of trine, sextile, square, opposition aspects — illustrations that teach the novice.
The section on the horoscopes of 48 notables — notables that include Rasputin, Einstein, Karl Marx, Princess Anne and Hitler — has the horoscopes in color next to pictures of the notables as well as the element, mode, and house distributions. The horoscopes, like many of the illustrations in the book, look like mandalas. It seems that the whole point of this book is to consecrate astrology like a great religion.
Parker’s Astrology (Julia & Derek Parker) was a far more ambitious book than Roy Gillett, but has illustrations along the same lines, but not nearly as gaudy or ambitious in the graphic sense. It does more than enough to grab one’s attention while making its illustrations “on point,” both in function and form.
It definitely has a form sense, which seems important for any esoteric practice. It might be worthwhile to discuss which books lack a form sense. By form sense I refer mostly to the philosophy nailed down by Aristotle regarding the “forms,” that the step beyond knowledge is understanding and if you haven’t reached that, you haven’t reached the Forms.
There are many human beings that do have a form sense and many that do not. There are varying degrees of “formness” in astrology books and it may be worthwhile to evaluate who grasps it the most. I am leaving out many astrology books that have very few (or no) illustrations that seem to have a form sense. The design of a book can make it more obvious.
To write a book (or an article) that gives us a lot of “meaning” is not something that is easily pulled off. Try to reflect on which books give us more superfluous information, perhaps by overinvolvement of information or design.