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Astronomy and Space Science: Astronomy Emerges from Astrology

Astronomy and Space Science: Astronomy Emerges from Astrology

Introduction

Astrology is the study of planetary positions to predict the future and provide an explanation for personality traits. Today astrology is considered a pseudoscience (false science). Astronomy, on the other hand, is the study of phenomena and objects beyond Earth's atmosphere, and it is an accepted scientific discipline.

It was not always this way. Before the seventeenth century, astrology and astronomy were most often considered a single pursuit. Astrology was classified as a form of applied astronomy, and its predictions were thought to be important in medicine and meteorology.

This article will briefly trace the general history of astrology within its astronomical context from the ancient Babylonians to the Western European Renaissance. Occurring over centuries, a gradual separation of astrological and astronomical beliefs culminated in the sixteenth century in the work of German astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). Subsequent scientific discoveries as well as socio-cultural factors led to the emergence of astronomy as an independent scientific discipline by 1700.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

Ancient Babylonia: The Origins of Astrology

The twin disciplines of astronomy and astrology had a common origin in ancient Babylonia between 3000 and 2000 BC. As the Babylonians needed a detailed lunar calendar to track the rising waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (in present-day Iraq) for their flood plain agriculture, they were masters at astronomical observation. Their pursuit of astrology was due to religion. Although the stars follow a regular course from east to west as the night progresses, the planets do not, but appear to move backwards and then forwards when their positions are traced. This erratic behavior of the wandering planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) through the narrow band of the zodiac led the Babylonians to believe that the planets were Gods possessed of their own animate forces. In approximately 500 BC, Babylonian priests identified the constellations that mark the zodiacal band into twelve segments of thirty degrees each, giving us the astrological signs. For the Babylonians, the zodiac was not only a reference marker for charting the motions of the sun and the moon and planets, but the positions of the planet-gods in the zodiac's constellations were used for astrological predictions.

The casting of horoscopes first occurred in Mesopotamia during the Persian occupation in 450 BC. Babylonian astrologers had primarily made predictions for the royal household, which was irrelevant to the Persians. So to survive, Babylonian astrologers cast personal horoscopes. The first known cuneiform horoscope was cast in 410 BC. These horoscopes predicted a child's future, personality, and the length of their life from planetary positions at the moment of birth. The horoscopes took into account the idea of twelve astrological houses. Each house represented some quality or aspect of human life, for instance, the first house predicted personality, and the second, finances. The ascendant, or zodiacal sign rising over the eastern horizon at the time of birth, was placed in the first house. The ascendant subsequently determined the locations of other celestial bodies in the other houses, which together composed the individual's horoscope.

Greek Astronomy and Astrology

Knowledge of Babylonian astrology and astronomy was transferred to the ancient Greeks because of trade and Alexander the Great's (356–323 BC) conquests.

Alexander's victories and his program to Hellenize his empire resulted in a mixture of Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian cultures in the Mediterranean world. Babylonian astrologers came to Greece to serve in the royal courts and founded astrological schools, the first by the Babylonian astrologer Berosos (c.345–c.270 BC) on the island of Cos around 290 BC. The Babylonian names for constellations were adopted by the Greeks, as were the casting of horoscopes, the prediction of eclipses, and the naming of planets after deities. The line between astrological and astronomical practice was indistinguishable in ancient Greece, but, unlike in Babylonia, both practices were seen as branches of mathematics.

One of the first recorded Greek astrological forecasts was in 585 BC by the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales (c.624–c.546 BC) who predicted an eclipse, a traditional harbinger of doom. The effect was to stop a war between the Medes and the Lydians, a Greek tribe that lived in Turkey. Other ancient Greek philosophers contributed to the foundations of astrology and astronomy, as well. Anaximander (c.610–c.546 BC) wrote that the universe was constructed of the apieron, or the boundless from which all things came and to which they returned, and thought the sky had spheres through which the planets traveled in their orbits. This latter hypothesis was refined by Anaximenes (c.585–c.528 BC) who postulated that the spheres were made of a crystal, with the planets and stars attached “like nails” as they rotated around Earth. Modified versions of this idea were common currency in astronomical and astrological studies until the seventeenth century. Anaximenes also theorized that the human body was a microcosm or “little world” reflected in the macrocosm of the larger universe; humans were thus subject to planetary influences, an idea that became a central tenet in astrological thought and in Stoic philosophy.

Between 569 and 510 BC, the philosopher Pythagoras (c.582–c.500 BC) studied at Babylon, and other Greek scholars may have followed suit. Pythagoras provided empirical evidence that nature was mathematical in its form in one of the first expressions of scientific method.

In addition to distinguishing between odd, even, and prime numbers; proving the Pythagorean theorem; and discovering irrational numbers or incommensurables, Pythagoras also created a system of number mysticism, or numerology, that influenced later astrological and astronomical theories. At the heart of this mathematical system was the number 10, the holiest number. Because ten was the sum of the first four whole numbers, 1+2+3+4, it was thought that this number accounted for all the possible dimensions and represented the structure of the universe.

These number concepts influenced astrological theory. The Pythagoreans also developed other concepts of four in nature such as the structural elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

Because ten accounted for all possible dimensions in the universe, the Pythagoreans believed there had to be ten planets. The Pythagorean astronomer Philolaus (c.480–405 BC) therefore proposed that along with Earth, the sun, moon, and five planets all revolved around a central fire. To prevent Earth from being scorched from the fire, Philolaus proposed the existence of a counter-earth that brought the number of celestial objects to ten. Philolaus' central fire may have led the Greek philosopher Aristarchus (c.310–c.230 BC) to propose a heliocentric system in which the sun was at the center of the universe.

Philolaus' and Aristarchus' systems were in opposition to the widely accepted geocentric (Earth-centered) solar system. In an era before the discovery of gravity, it seemed entirely natural to assume Earth was immovable and steady. Geocentrism was also supported by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), who was the head of one of the first proto-universities, the Lyceum. Heliocentrism was thus largely forgotten, not to be revived again until the sixteenth century by the Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus (1473–1543) who “rediscovered” it in his study of Pythagorean mysticism, astronomy, and astrology.

IN CONTEXT: NO ASTROLOGICAL PORTENT OF DEATH

In 323 BC Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) returned to Babylon, which he intended to make the capital of his new empire. In early June of the same year, Alexander fell ill with a fever and lingered for almost 10 days before he died. The exact cause of Alexander's death remains a mystery, but malaria or typhoid fever remains the most probable explanation. The wear of Alexander's decade-long campaigns and multiple wounds probably rendered his body unable to tolerate either of these common, but serious, diseases. Alexander attended a large banquet more than a week before he died, and the possibility of poisoning was suspected at the time of his death. The herbalists of Babylon, however, possessed no lethal concoctions with an action sophisticated enough to poison a victim over a 10-day time period. Poisons of the day acted quickly, even for those presumed to be man/gods.

Astrology also played a role in the philosophical schools of Plato (c.427–347 BC) and Aristotle, whose theories later served as the basis of knowledge in the medieval university. Plato stressed the unity of the cosmos, making the microcosm-macrocosm analogy. In Meteorology Aristotle stressed that the sun was the prime cause of motion and the mixture of the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire in the terrestrial realm; his idea influenced later astrologers' explanations of how planetary emanations influenced Earth. Aristotle's Earth-centered cosmological system, in which the planets moved in nested spheres and the realm above the sphere of the moon was made of a perfect shining substance called ether, was also the cosmological system accepted by Greek, Roman, and medieval astrologers.

Roman Astrology

Building on Greek astronomical discoveries, the astrological framework of the Babylonians, as well as their own native divinatory arts, the Romans practiced astrology extensively. Introduced in the second century BC to the Roman Republic, astrology appealed to the Roman priests and authorities because they already worshipped planetary deities. Furthermore, some intellectuals were attracted to astrology by its foundational belief in recurrent cycles out of human control.

Divination was part of the Roman state religion, promoting peace between the gods and the Roman people. The Roman Republic already had several forms of religious divination, which included reading the auspices (the entrails of animal sacrifices) and the augurs (who interpreted the cries and movements of birds). Augurs did not predict events, but they did ascertain if a course of action that was already taken was the correct one. When starting their term of office, magistrates consulted the augurs—the word is the source of our modern term of inauguration.

Within less than a century of its arrival into Rome, however, astrology replaced these traditional means of divination due to the appeal of individual horoscopes and its claims to predict the future. Astrology also proved useful in ever-shifting Roman politics; the emperor Augustus (63 BC–AD 14) used the astrologer Thrasyllus (?–AD 36) to provide beneficial forecasts for his reign and put his astrological sign of Capricorn on his coinage. The first Roman work on astrology, the Astronomica, written by the Babylonian Marcus Manilius (c.10 BC–c.AD 30), was dedicated to Augustus.

Ptolemy and the Tetrabiblos

Among professional Roman astrologers, Claudius Ptolemy (AD c.90–c.168) and was the most influential, particularly after his work Tetrabiblos (The Four Books). As F.E. Robbins notes in his 1940 translation of the Tetrabiblos, it enjoyed almost “the authority of a Bible among the astrological writers of a thousand years or more.” Ptolemy was also an astronomer and geographer, and his astronomical work The Almagest (The Great Book) was the standard reference work for calculating planetary movements for a millennium.

In Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy argued that although astrology could not match in accuracy astronomical demonstration, it was a valid science. As the sun was responsible for the seasons and mixed the four elements while the moon regulated the tides, Ptolemy affirmed the validity of celestial forces upon the human body and astrological predictions of a general sort.

Ptolemy explained that the observed effects of planetary beams on humans were due to a correspondence between the Aristotelian doctrine of the four elements and the Greek physician Hippocrates' (c.460–c.370 BC) theory of the four bodily humors. In humoral theory, the liver converted food made of the four elements into four humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The humors were to the body what the elements were to earthly matter; each humor had its own counterpart among the elements. For example, within this scheme, because lunar emanations were cold and moist, those born when the moon was in the first house were phlegmatic. The phlegmatic person was heavy and slow like water, and they suffered from watery swellings and excess mucus. Humors had to be in balance in the body for health; this could be achieved by periodic bleeding to remove excess fluids. [See Table 1.] This association of astral phenomena at birth with a physical type is known as zodiacal and planetary melothesia, or the correspondence of parts of the body to the planets, stars, or signs of the zodiac.

Although melothesia was still considered valid, in the late Roman Empire predictive astrology declined due to the spread of Christianity. Early Christian astrologers saw the underlying causes of astrological effects as something fundamentally occult, known only to divinity, and thus inappropriate for philosophical explanation. Early church fathers also believed that a purely judicial or deterministic astrology that mandated fate relieved individuals of their responsibility for personal sin. In AD 321, the Roman Emperor Constantine (280–337) issued an edict threatening all astrologers with death. St. Augustine (354–430) further railed against astrology in his influential treatise City of God, and astrology gradually disappeared from Western Europe until the Middle Ages.

Medieval Arabic and Jewish Astrology During its decline in the West, astrology was preserved by Arabic schools in the Middle East and in Spain with the rise of Islam in the seventh century and the conquering of Spain by the Moors. Using Ptolemy's

ElementHumorCommon qualityTemperament
EarthBlack BileCold and dryMelancholic
WaterPhlegmCold and moistPhlegmatic
AirBloodHot and moistSanguineous
FairYellow BileHot and dryCholeric

Almagest as a guide, Arab astronomers and astrologers created observatories and refined tables of naked-eye star observations and charts with a high degree of precision and accuracy. Ulugh Beg's (1394–1449) observatory was built in Samarkland in central Asia, and his work there lead to the creation of a table of 1,000 stars. The Toledan Star Tables, prepared by Moorish astronomer al-Zarqali (1028–1087), became the model for the Alfonsine Tables, which were translated and prepared under the sponsorship of Spanish King Alfonso X (1226–1284) and became the standard charts for astrologers and astronomers.

Jewish medieval thinkers such as the twelfth-century polymath Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1093–1167) also combined cabbalistic studies with astronomical knowledge to produce treatises of astrology. Ibn Ezra's works reveal an attitude towards astrology in Judaism that was more liberal than it was in Christianity. Many early thinkers asserted that astrology and religion did not conflict.

Medieval and Early Modern Astrology in the West

With the recovery of the works of ancient Greek philosophers and the creation of medieval universities in the twelfth century, the study of astronomy and astrology experienced a revival in Western Europe. Theologians were especially careful to condemn forms of astrology that were incompatible with the Catholic Church's doctrines—especially the tenet that people are free to choose the Christian life. Rather, from the twelfth century onwards, theologians accepted the Ptolemaic form of astrology in which astrological influences were only probable, as well as subject to the inscrutable will of God. The Aristotelian teaching that the processes of earthly change depended upon the stellar spheres, however, was accepted by church scholars like Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274) and his English counterparts Robert Grosseteste (c.1170–1253) and Roger Bacon (c.1214–c.1292).

While Grosseteste urged the employment of what he termed “natural” astrology for meteorological prediction and in chemistry, medicine, and agriculture, he rejected judicial astrology—the making of individual horoscopes and the use of astrology to predict political events. Bacon also distinguished judicial astrology from legitimate astrological science, arguing “it is clear that true mathematicians and astronomers or astrologers, who are philosophers, do not assert a necessity and an infallible judgment in matters contingent on the future.” He denounced the fraudulent claims of the astrologers who promised certain and necessary events, claiming that true astrology only foretold possibilities, which were contingent on God's will and sufficient causes.

The division between fatalistic judicial astrology and probable natural astrology continued in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century texts. Astrology as a set of beliefs about physical influences in the cosmos was permissible, but astrology as the art of casting horoscopes or determining propitious moments continued to be a source of controversy. The most influential text attacking astrology was Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola's (1463–1494) Disputations against Divinatory Astrology, published in 1496, which condemned the denial of free will that Mirandola saw in current astrological practice.

Despite these growing attacks on judicial astrology, astrology continued to be practiced. Medieval and early modern physicians had to be proficient in astrology to bleed and make diagnoses. Court astronomers were also astrologers, predicting the course of events for their rulers and publishing them in official almanacs. The invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century saw the widespread publication of ephemeris tables, which were tables of data that delineated planetary positions necessary for astrological prediction. The great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 1524 (a conjunction is two or more planets situated closely together, generally within an orb of eight degrees) was widely publicized, and some continental scholars saw it and other conjunctions as explanations for universal historical events.

Popular astrological works consisted largely of phlebotomy advice, or leechdoms (under which astrological sign to undergo a course of bloodletting via leeches) or trepanning (drilling a hole in the skull) to expel bad humors—as well as weather predictions. Often these texts contained interrogations and elections derived from Arabic astrology. Interrogations were rules guiding astrologers, which answered certain questions, such as those concerning the discovery of a thief, a lost treasure, or the wealth of a prospective bride. Elections determined the propitious moment for undertaking any act of daily life, such as the start of a journey, or the commencing of a business deal.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, particularly in Protestant universities, some scholars believed astrology should be a major scholarly discipline. Scholars tried to establish astrology as a science and as a means of connecting nature and religion. Rigorous study of the astronomy and astrology was thought to provide insight into God's will. Though this more extreme connection between providence and the stars was unique to Germany, the idea that astrology could reveal universal laws, whether divine or scientific, would persevere into the seventeenth century.

Disenchantment with Astrology: The Gradual Separation of Astrology and Astronomy

It was also in Germany where doubts about astrology's legitimacy were leading to its separation from astronomy. Kepler found himself in sympathy with most of Mirandola's arguments against astrology. Kepler agreed with Mirandola's assertion that the zodiac signs were human inventions, eclipses portended nothing, and that most of astrology was worthless. However, in casting his own horoscopes, Kepler did think the aspects, the angles at which the “light rays of two planets appear to strike the earth,” were powerful in prediction of weather and personality types. Kepler's attitude about aspects was also one he shared with his contemporary John Dee (1527–1608), astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603). In Dee's work Propaedumata Aphoristica, he was devoted to the use of giant lenses to focus planetary aspects for good or for ill.

What accounted for Kepler's mixed attitude towards astrology? First, Kepler was an avowed Copernican; in 1543 Copernicus published his Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which postulated a sun-centered universe, in direct opposition to Aristotle and Ptolemy's geocentricism. In the Aristotelian system upon which astrology was based, Earth was still because it was made of the heavy earth element, and the planets revolved around Earth because they were thought to be made of a substance called ether, whose natural motion was said to be circular. Kepler's discovery of the three planetary laws demonstrated planetary orbits were elliptical, not circular. Since most astrology was based on Ptolemy's geocentrism, Kepler's discoveries, which contradicted Ptolemy's views, led to Kepler's doubts about their legitimacy.

In addition, if Earth moved with the other planets around the sun, then all of the planets would seem to be made of the same substances as Earth, not of an ether that propelled circular motion. So, what indeed made the planets move? This was a question that Kepler tried to answer with an appeal to astrology, proposing that planets had some sort of souls or intelligences or that there was a single moving soul in the sun that impelled all the planetary bodies. He subsequently rejected the idea of a soul for one of physical force, speculating that magnetism might be the source of planetary motion. Kepler concluded that while physical forces operated in astronomy, souls operated in astrology. Although astrology and astronomy were clearly separated in Kepler's mind, he did not reject astrology wholesale.

Astrology in the Seventeenth Century

Kepler's growing skepticism about astrology influenced that of natural philosophers (an early modern term that includes philosophers and scientists) in the seventeenth century. Most natural philosophers thought that there

was some truth to what they termed natural astrology, the effects of light and heat of planetary emanations upon Earth. However, judicial astrology was considered fraudulent. In particular, telescopic discoveries in 1609 by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) revealed unseen celestial bodies, such as Jupiter's moons, that had not previously figured into astrological predictions, which led to questions about judicial astrology's validity.

Astrology, particularly natural astrology, was subjected to scientific testing in the seventeenth century, a process made easier by the formation of the first scientific societies, such as the Royal Society in London. Francis Bacon (1561–1626), the English politician and philosophical founder of the Royal Society, was interested in testing the effects of solar and lunar planetary emanations because of their influence on Earth's seasons and tides. Most of Bacon's assumptions about solar and lunar effects were similar to the principles outlined by Ptolemy in the Tetrabiblos. Bacon stated that the influences of the moon “most observed” were in its “drawing forth of heat … and the increase of moisture.”

Robert Boyle (1627–1691), the discoverer of Boyle's law, which related air volume and pressure, was also keenly interested in atmospheric composition. In his treatises, Boyle posited that the atmosphere was full of planetary emanations that may have had effects on chemical reactions, plant growth, or weather. Systematic empirical investigation of natural astrology, however, failed to reveal any lasting results.

Judicial astrology was also more politicized and popularized in the seventeenth century, a process which led to its downfall. In England, astrological almanacs predicting weather, health, and political events increased in popularity due to cheaper printing costs and increasing literacy. By 1659 London astrologer William Lilly's (1602–1681) political almanacs alone were selling nearly 30,000 a year. The readers of these almanacs could also cast their own charts by using the astrological tables they provided. The seventeenth century, sometimes known as the Age of Iron, was a time of often brutal warfare in which post-Reformation religious and political motivations were intertwined. Almanacs thus became a means of understanding or accepting these calamitous events for the general public.

With the increasing popularity of almanacs, astrologers' erroneous predictions also became more public. If an astrologer gave a false horoscope to anticipate what his readers wanted and his prediction was wrong, the entire profession was affected. The use of the self-fulfilling prophecy was also exposed in popular publications. If an astrologer predicted a famine in the almanacs, farmers would hoard crops that led to the scarcity predicted, exposing the astrologers to more public criticism.

Censorship of the press in England may also have played a role in astrology's decline, allowing astrologers to take credit for unpublished predictions prior to the end of government censorship in 1694. Astrologers would often assert that they had predicted events such as the Great Fire of London (1665) but were censored. Without this excuse, their inability to predict future events was revealed.

By the end of the seventeenth century, astrology had largely ceased to be reputable among the educated, though almanacs still survived. Some of the decline of astrology had to do with the sheer power of discoveries in astronomy and physics. After the publication of English physicist Sir Isaac Newton's (1642–1727) Principia in 1687, it was clear that the planets acted in accordance with the same physical laws as Earth and their emanations were gravitational, not astrological. The demonstration by English astronomer Edmund Halley (1656–1742) that comets were higher than the moon and could return in a predictable cycle undermined comets' roles as astrological harbingers of doom. For a variety of scientific and socio-cultural factors, astrology became a pseudoscience. The planets were now studied by astronomers and astronomy emerged as a mature scientific discipline.

Modern Cultural Connections

Astrology today is predominantly a socio-cultural phenomenon that scantly resembles the astronomy-astrology of the past. Some critics claim that astrology is merely for entertainment, and the vague—and often universally applicable—messages in a horoscope are harmless. Others, such as British evolutionary biologist and science writer Richard Dawkins (1942–), assert that modern astrological pseudoscience is an enemy of science because popular astrology preys upon and promotes ignorance of scientific principles.

IN CONTEXT: ANCIENT CULTURE AND BELIEFS

In the ancient world, while the emphasis on the supernatural qualities of astrology continued to develop and influence the affairs of society on the lowest and highest strata, there evolved a fusion with astronomical precision that resulted in a scientific astrology wherein the accurate measurement of celestial spheres was seen as a requisite of accurate prediction.

Following the death of Alexander the Great (356–323 BC), who spread the Greek philosophical tradition and intellectual culture across much of the known world, astrology began to take on an emphasis in Greek society that soon overshadowed pure astronomical observation. Influenced by Eastern traditions, a more mundane form of everyday astrology became commonplace in Greek society, and later in Roman civilization. No longer regulated to the prediction of grand affairs of state or religion, astrology became used by Stoics as a practical medicinal art. Good evidence of this everyday application of astrology is found in surviving Greek poems and plays that provide evidence that the positions of the planets was used as a guide to ordinary affairs.

Although there was often an emphasis on the influence of the supernatural upon ancient societies, this masks real achievements that resulted from an increased emphasis upon astronomical observations. Notable among such observations and calculations are Aristotle's observations of eclipses that argued for a spherical Earth; Aristarchus of Samos' heliocentric model, which proposed that the Earth rotated around the sun; and Eratosthenes of Cyrene's (276–194 BC) accurate measure of the circumference of Earth. Stimulated by astrological mythology, in 370 BC, Euxodus of Cnidus (c.408–c.355 BC) had developed a geocentric-based (Earth-centered) mechanical system that set out to explain the observed motions of the stars and planets. Moreover, these advances in astronomy laid a foundational base for the scientific development of astronomy. Hipparchus's classifications of magnitude of brightness, for example, are still a part of the modern astronomical lexicon.

The Algamest, written in the second century AD by Ptolemy, was the most long-lasting and influential work of the scientific astrology produced in the ancient classical world. Ptolemy's errant models of an Earth-centered universe composed of concentric crystalline spheres were destined to dominate the Western intellectual tradition for more than a millennium.

Yet astrology continues to thrive. Many of the world's religions and cultures continue to incorporate aspects of astrology. Horoscopes appear in newspapers and popular publications worldwide. A 1993 survey indicated that 25% of people in the United States believed that the positions of the stars and planets directly affect people's lives. A 2003 survey in Britain discovered that almost everyone knew their astrological sign and thought the descriptions of the characteristics of their birth sign fit their personality (85%). A vast majority (70%) routinely read horoscopes—even if just for entertainment.

Far removed from astrology, astronomy has flourished as a scientific discipline. Modern astronomers continue to study the planets and stars, but as researchers seeking to understand the structures and mechanisms of the universe.

Primary Source Connection

Although astrology is clearly a pseudoscience, it still exerts influence—and has followers—in the modern world. In 1988, a book penned by a former staff member claimed that U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; U.S. President, 1981–1989) and his wife, Nancy, consulted the advice of astrologers when planning various White House events. The White House press office later confirmed that the Reagans casually followed astrology. The following New York Times article covers the reaction to those revelations, but also provides a look at some media and popular attitudes towards astrology.

white house confirms reagans follow astrology, up to a point

President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, are both deeply interested in astrology, the White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said today, and two former White House officials said Mrs. Reagan's concerns had influenced the scheduling of important events.

A California astrologer said she had been consulted by the Reagans regarding key White House decisions, but Mr. Reagan said astrology had not influenced policy.

Followers of astrology believe the alignment of stars and planets influences human affairs. Such people consult charts, based on their birth dates, for clues concerning many decisions.

Mr. Fitzwater said Mrs. Reagan is particularly worried about the impact astrological portents can have on her husband's safety. But he declined to say exactly how Mrs. Reagan had used astrological information. And the President, answering a question at a photo-taking session, said, “No policy or decision in my mind has ever been influenced by astrology.”

The issue was stirred up by reports, first published in Newsweek, that Donald T. Regan, the former White House chief of staff, discusses the role of astrology in his memoirs. The memoirs are being published later this month by Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, and excerpts are scheduled to appear in the May 16 issue of Time Magazine.

The book will detail the “kinds of decisions that were made” under the influence of astrological readings, according to a former Administration official.

Another former official said the President timed his announcement that he would run for re-election after he and his wife consulted astrological signs.

Early in his political career, Mr. Reagan scheduled his inauguration as Governor of California in January 1967 to take place at an odd time, 12:10 A.M. News reports at the time said the decision was made to take advantage of favorable astrological portents.

In answer to a barrage of questions today, Mr. Fitzwater said: “It's true that Mrs. Reagan has an interest in astrology. She has for some time, particularly following the assassination attempt in March of 1981. She was very concerned for her husband's welfare, and astrology has been part of her concern in terms of his activities.”

The spokesman said the Reagans were distressed at the disclosures concerning their interest in astrology. “They both feel it's unfortunate and a distraction and hardly relevant to the business of government,” he said.

Mrs. Reagan's influence on the President's schedule is well known, but generally she has argued that Mr. Reagan's timetables were “too tight and needed a little more down time,” according to Joe Canzeri, a former White House aide.

Friends of Mrs. Reagan say she has long had an interest in astrology, but only a few of her aides apparently knew that she had an emotional concern.

Tonight, on the ABC News program “Nightline,” Ted Koppel reported that he had learned that before the President was shot on March 30, 1981, an astrologer warned Mrs. Reagan that something bad would happen that day. In an interview after the show, Mr. Koppel said a woman astrologer had told Mrs. Reagan that “there was going to be an incident on that day.” Mr. Koppel would not identify the source of his information.

A leading Republican strategist, with close ties to the White House, said the reports would not be damaging to the President. But others said the disclosures revealed a character trait in the President and his wife that had remained largely hidden to the public.

Marcello Truzzi, a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, said he has collected evidence over many years documenting the Reagans' interest in astrology.

“I don't think Reagan is a truly avid astrological person, but I think if all things are equal, it has some impact on him,” said Mr. Truzzi, who also heads an independent institute, the Center for Scientific Anomalies Research.

The disclosures were fodder for humor in Washington today. Mr. Fitzwater opened his briefing by saying, “I'll take your first question at exactly 12:33 and a half.”

On Capitol Hill, Representative Tony Coelho, the Democratic whip, expressed amazement at Republican objections to a revised trade bill and said, “Maybe an astrologer is telling them to object today.” Jim Wright, the Speaker of the House, said: “It's all right with me. I'm glad he consults somebody.”

At his briefing, Mr. Fitzwater acknowledged that the President has a superstitious streak. He often talks in speeches about “lucky numbers,” and jokes that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln resides in the White House.

Friends of Mrs. Reagan considered her reading of her daily horoscope a “fun pastime,” as one confidant put it.

In his autobiography, President Reagan refers to Carroll Righter, a well known California astrologer, as “one of our good friends.” Mr. Righter, who died last week, decorated his office with many pictures of the Reagans, according to Professor Truzzi. “You have to remember where and how that part of their life started,” said an old friend of the Reagans. “In Hollywood during the 30's and 40's, astrologers were social equals and friends, they weren't weirdos.”

Professor Truzzi noted that President Theodore Roosevelt was an astrology buff, and that President Franklin D. Roosevelt quoted horoscopes. Many other world leaders were known for their interest in astrology.

Joyce Jillson, a Los Angeles astrologer, told The Associated Press she had “spent a lot of time” at the White House after the assassination attempt. Mr. Fitzwater said the Reagans did not know Ms. Jillson, according to The Washington Post.

Steven V. Roberts

roberts, steven v. “white house confirms r eagans follow astrology, up to a point.” new york times

(MAY 4, 1988).

See Also Astronomy and Cosmology: A Mechanistic Universe; Astronomy and Cosmology: Big Bang Theory and Modern Cosmology; Astronomy and Cosmology: Cosmology; Astronomy and Cosmology: Setting the Cosmic Calendar: Arguing the Age of the Cosmos and Earth; Astronomy and Cosmology: Western and Non-Western Cultural Practices in Ancient Astronomy; Astronomy and Space Science: Galactic Astronomy; Astronomy and Space Science: Stellar Astronomy; Physics: Aristotelian Physics.

Physics: Articulation of Classical Physical Law; Physics: Newtonian Physics.

bibliography

Books

Bacon, Francis. “Sylva Sylvarum,” The Works of Francis Bacon. Edited by J. Spedding, R.L. Ellis, and D.D. Heath. 15 Vols. Boston: Brown and Taggart, 1860–1864.

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Anna Marie Eleanor Roos

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