This book might be passed around as a conversation starter at a party when people have not quite exhausted the line, “Hey, baby, what’s your sign?” However, an astrology student wishing to divine the mysteries of Vedic tradition needs a better source than this book to cast a chart or interpret any information. In fact, a would-be Vedic astrologer might read this book before embarking on years of study necessary to glean even the most basic understanding of the divination form. Ultimately, Vedic astrology must be learned through oral tradition and experience; to learn the astrology requires that a student first learn an entire, highly complex culture that still allows for the role of astrology in its mainstream.

Sutton’s book gives a cursory overview of the basics of Vedic astrology and a cursory view of the philosophies behind it. The bulk of the content addresses the Nakshatras, roughly the equivalent of Western astrology’s sun signs. She provides a basic explanation of Hindu beliefs and how they apply to nakshatras, and then the book charts each sign and characteristics associated with the sign. At the back of the book is a compatibility chart indicating which signs can enjoy positive relationships and which signs should avoid each other.

Sutton’s intention through this book of making Vedic astrology more understandable to the Western reader in some ways misses its mark; she gives too little information about the myths behind each of the signs in the Vedic chart, and while she does provide a book list at the end, too little of the stories behind the signs will be accessible to the Western reader. In some ways, she seems to have targeted the incorrect audience, because she aims it at Westerners, who largely treat astrology as a hobby, while in Indian culture astrology is taken very seriously and forms the foundation of important life decisions. This book can in no way fully realize Vedic astrology and might not even give enough information for the study of it, though it serves well as an introduction to some of the vocabulary. Sutton does not even propose that the reader learn to cast a chart, and her interpretations to a Westerner seem absolutist. This book unintentionally shows one of the major differences between Eastern and Western thinking: a Western astrologer would see a chart as far more open to interpretation than a Vedic astrologer, and this comes through in the linear explanation of the chart.

Beyond this, Vedic astrology ties into a religious tradition with centuries of history, while Western astrology as practiced in the United States can stand on its own as a method in itself of interpreting reality, forming its own context. Vedic astrology, like the Hindu language of its native practitioners, is highly contextual. There is simply no way that the full context necessary to understand the material can fit into a coffee table book.

~ review by Diana Rajchel

by Komilla Sutton
Viking Press
pp. $24.95