Where are they now? - Bernard Eccles

Interview with Bernard Eccles first published in Volume 6 Oct 2015 of the Sophia Project News.

Bernard Eccles is a founding member of the Sophia Project and the MA programme in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, and was one of the first group of students to graduate in the MA in 2004. He has taught and lectured on astrology for over 25 years, and is a life member of the Astrological Lodge of London, having served as president between 1988 and 1994. He holds a Classics degree and currently teaches A level Classical Civilisation at a secondary school.

Bernard Eccles talked to Kathleen White Namous about the impact of the MA on his life and work.

KN: Why did you do the MA?

BE: At the time, the Sophia Project committee was planning the MA - but there was nobody to take it, and without students there could be no course! So I said I would do it and then several more people joined in, and that first-ever intake formed a very memorable group.

KN: What modules did you find most interesting?

BE: It's easier to say which one I didn't enjoy, and that was the methodology one. The one on the History of Astrology was good, as you would expect, but the content of all the modules has changed quite a bit since those early days. I would have been very interested in the ones on sacred space, but they weren't available at that time.

KN: How did the MA affect your attitude to astrology?

BE: In some ways it spoiled it completely, because after looking at the philosophy of astrology, and its history, it became impossible to 'believe' in astrology in a naive way, as many people did in the 1970s and 80s. On the other hand, there was a huge gain in cultural and historical context, which would have been very difficult to achieve before.

KN: What did your dissertation focus on?

BE: The precarious position of astrology in England at the dawn of the 21st century. After its boom in the 1960s counterculture, it was difficult for many to imagine that it would collapse; yet it had done so before, at the end of the seventeenth century, and there was every reason to suggest it would do so again. Within the terms and arguments of the dissertation itself, I think I've been proved right.

There is much less of it around than there was. It used to part of everyone's cultural baggage; now, a lot of people don't know their sunsign, and don't even read their horoscope. The new generation is more technological; they think inner happiness comes through retail therapy. They don't believe in a fate, or in anything higher than themselves. People still need the reassurance they always did, but they are not getting it from astrology, because it's not being made available to them. And astrology is not precise enough for them - everything now is very precise, we believe technique can improve everything from exam grades to love life. Astrology is by its nature warm and fuzzy, and people don't live warm fuzzy lives, they live bite-size multitasking lives. Astrology is contemplative; you have to work with it, explore it, and take it into yourself.

KN: What doors have opened since doing the MA?

BE: No physical doors, since I'm not involved with University-level education at all now, but some cyber-portals have opened. A few of my essays ended up in academic journals, and that has enabled me to be on the web-based circulation list of new academic papers which feature my areas of interest, which is astrology's history, of course, plus anything to do with the Ancient World. Quite often there is considerable overlap, and there is a great deal of work being done on the astrological content of various cults from the Greek and Roman world. Thirty years ago researchers would have been very cautious about using the word 'astrology' in anything intended for serious academic use, I think. It's much more open now, and maybe the MA course has played a part in that.

KN: What books are you reading now?

BE: Lots of Ancient History and Classical literature, but that's because I'm teaching A Level Classical Civilisation at a secondary school.

KN: Any new projects in the pipeline?

BE: Nothing other than some vague ideas, but I seem to find myself taking an interest in Mithraism, whose influence lasts a lot longer than I had thought; you never know, that might see print at some stage.

Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Bernard, and we wish you all the best with your teaching and any future writing.

Bernard Eccles
Bernard Eccles graduating in 2004
Photo: Michele Eccles
Bernard Eccles
Bernard in 2014
Photo: Catherine Eccles