views updated May 18 2018


ASTROLOGY . When astrology, a product of Hellenistic civilization, appeared at the end of the third century bce, its origins were ascribed to the revelations of the Egyptian god Hermes (Thoth). However, its practitioners were usually called "Chaldeans," a formula devoid of any actual historical reference to Mesopotamia. Hellenistic astrology was actually a combination of Chaldean and Egyptian astral religion and Greek astronomy and methods of computation. Even though Hellenistic astrology and the astrology of late antiquity took on the features of different local traditions when exported to India, China, or Islamic countries, their basic ingredients are, in all places, Greek science and Chaldean and Egyptian astral lore.

The actual contribution of the latter to Greek astrology is debatable, for the Chaldean and Egyptian traditions were widely divergent on some points. However, the idea of two malefic planetsMars and Saturnis genuinely Chaldean; genuinely Egyptian, but no older than the third century bce (although based on a more ancient doctrine of the chronokratores, the "rulers of time") is the invention of the thirty-six decans of the zodiac. The latter was called zōidiakos (from zōidion, "carved figure") by the fifth-century Greeks, after the shapes of figures that they imagined were in the heavenly constellations. One of the oldest astrological treatises, a Hellenistic compilation dating from the second century bce, is also said to be Egyptian in origin. It is attributed to the mythical Egyptian pharoah Nechepsos as well as to the priest Petosiris, who may be the same as the Petosiris whose mummy was found in a fourth-century bce tomb discovered at Eshumen in Upper Egypt.

Eudoxus of Cnidus (408355 bce), the father of Greek astronomy, was also versed in the principles of universal and meteorological astrology. The great astronomer Hipparchus (fl. 146127 bce) studied the correspondences of planetary signs with the people and the geographic features of the earth; he was also acquainted with astral melothesy (the study of the correspondences between the human body and planets, signs, and decans) and Hermetic astrology.

Hermetic lay astrology was concerned with the study of universal astrology (genika ), world periods and cycles (apokatastaseis ), planetary lots (klēroi ), and the horoscope of the world traced according to the position of the planets in the signs at the time the earth was formed (thema mundi ). It was also concerned with the interpretation of signs as manifested in the omens given by thunder (brontologia ) and the prognoses given at the New Year (apotelesmata ). In addition, Hermetic astrology involved the study of correspondences between astral phenomena and the human body or material objects, as in the study of individual or medical (iatrological) astrology; astrological medicine (iatromathēmatika ), based on a complicated astral melothesy; and the study of the correspondences between stars, precious stones, plants, and metals. Most of the texts of Hermetic astrology are no longer extant, but they were frequently quoted by writers of late antiquity and the Renaissance.

The development of astrology was decisively influenced by the great astronomer Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus, c. 100178 ce), the author of the Apotelesmatika (also known as Tetrabiblos or Quadripartitum ), who made popular the pseudepigraphon Karpos, or Centiloquium. Other important astrologers of late antiquity were Vettius Valens, author of the Anthologeuon biblia (written between 152 and 188 ce), and Firmicus Maternus, who wrote the Matheseos libri VIII around 335, before he became a Christian.

After the closing of the philosophical school of Athens in 529 ce, several Greek scholars emigrated to Persia, where they were granted asylum by the emperor Khosrow I (531579). There they translated several Greek texts, some of which were astrological treatises, into Pahlavi (Middle Persian). These treatises were later translated from Pahlavi into Arabic by Abū Maʿshar (787886), known also as Albumasar, a scholar in the court of the caliph al-Maʾmūn of Baghdad. Many texts entered the corpus of Arabic works on astrology through Persia: the Arab Masala (c. 770820), in his compilation of a catalog of books on astrology, listed forty-six titles of Persian provenance. By around 750 ce the Arabs had developed a considerable interest in astrology. Arabic translations of astrological texts greatly influenced the thought of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Greek astrology reached India between the first and third centuries ce, introduced possibly by a Buddhist monk. The most important Indian astrologer was the sixth-century philosopher Varāhamihira, the author of astrological treatises and of the Pañca-siddhāntikā, a work that contained what was then known of Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman astronomy. However, Indian astrology, despite its subsequent development and later influence, was unoriginal. Chinese astrology may have derived from Indian astrology, but it is based primarily on an impressive indigenous system of correspondences between the microcosm and macrocosm.

The role of astrology in the cultural and political life of Europe from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries is only partially known. Astrology had a prominent place in Renaissance science, but it gradually lost this position when the church disassociated itself from astrology at the end of the sixteenth century during the Reformation. Only the names of a few of the greatest astrologers of the Renaissance are still known today: Johann Müller (known as Regiomontanus), Guido Bonato of Forli, and Luca Gaurico, bishop of Civitate (Naples), who worked for Catherine de Médicis.

Some astrologers who are almost unknown today were once famous for having prophesied public events. Their predictions were associated with the theory suggesting the universal influence of Great Conjunctions of planets and signs upon religious and political matters. This theory dates to antiquity and was much discussed by the Arab thinkers al-Kindi and Abū Maʿshar. One of the best-known prophesies stated that Luther and the Reformation were the consequences of the conjunction of the superior planets Jupiter and Saturn in Scorpio during November of 1484. Interpreting this conjunction, Johann Lichtenberger predicted that a German reformer would be born who would become a monk and would have another monk as a counselor. The prediction was later rediscovered and associated with Luther (b. 1483) and Philipp Melanchthon.

During the sixteenth century, the theory of conjunctions played an important role in the works of Cyprianus von Leowitz and of the Englishman Richard Harvey. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the theory was used by Johannes Kepler in his astrological calculations concerning a star that had appeared in 1604. On the basis of the appearance of this nova, Kepler claimed to be able to calculate the precise date of the nativity of Jesus Christ, who, because he was a great prophet, was to have been born at the time of a Great Conjunction. His birth was also to have been announced by a nova, the star of the Magi. These calculations fostered the hope that a general reformation of faith would change the deplorable conditions of contemporary humanity. This hope was also expressed by the followers of Johann Valentin Andreae (15861654), the author of the Rosicrucian manifestos. The dates of the last two Great Conjunctions figure importantly in the apocryphal history of the founder of the Rosicrucian order.

Astrological predictions were feared by the authorities for their possible deleterious political consequences. Astrology was often condemned or suppressed during antiquity and the Renaissance. For example, to counteract the effect of the prophecy concerning the church reformer born under the 1484 conjunction, Innocent VIII issued the bull Summis desiderantes affectibus, which had some effect on the great witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Eventually astrology was officially condemned by the church at the end of the sixteenth century, as a consequence of other disastrous predictions. However, the liberal trends at the beginning of the seventeenth century were in great measure dependent upon astrological predictions. Astrology seems to continue to exert a certain influence on the political and cultural life of modern Europe, although it is much less influential than it was during the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.

Confutations of astrology have a common pattern, which usually consists of denying the possibility that the stars could influence human affairs. Some of these confutations are famous, such as those of Girolamo Savonarola, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and John Calvin. Although Pico's Disputationes astrologiam adversus divinatricem was left unprinted because of his sudden death in 1494, it is very possible that this semiofficial treatise was meant to put forth the antiastrological policies of Innocent VIII and his successor, and to obtain for Pico a full pardon for his past errors and prepare the way for a high ecclesiastical career.

The Methods of Astrology

Greek astrology was based on Greek astronomy, which was abstruse and difficult to practice. This is one of the principal reasons why many of the authors of astrological treatises in antiquity and late antiquity made inadvertent mistakes in astrological formulations that were by their very nature almost impossible to apply. Another reason for the varied and even contradictory astrological systems of late antiquity was the weight of tradition. Traditionally complex numerical systems of astrology were inevitably altered in their transmission and were rarely interpreted in the same way by any two different authors. For example, the numerical systems of specific astrological tables could be interpreted in various ways: the horia (fines, termini ), or portions of a sign distributed among the five planets; the tables of hupsōmata, or "exaltations" of the planets in different signs; the tables of tapeinōmata (deiectiones ), or "depressions" of the planets; the tables of the so-called partes vacuae or vacantes, the "empty spaces" of the zodiac; and so on. Ptolemy tried to eliminate discrepancies among different traditions by replacing corrupt or unintelligible traditions with numerical series linked by logical, arithmetical operations.

Astrology superimposes two different complex systems: that of the heavens and that of the collective and individual destinies of the human beings on earth. Through the observation of the heavens (and the interpretation of those observations according to a framework of theoretical, nonobservational assumptions), these systems attempt to account for the changes within the human system, which are otherwise unpredictable, unobservable, and unsystematic. It is true that from a scientific viewpoint there is no real connection between the two systems, and thus Greek astrology has been perceived as an attempt to give mathematical justification to absurd theoretical assumptions. However, instead of emphasizing the arbitrary nature and incorrect theoretical basis of astrology, one might consider its contributions from a psychological point of view. The choice of an analogous system for human fate reflects a deep insight into the transience and singularity of human lives and human events.

Astrological systems are multiple-choice systems based on several informational operators that are capable of accounting for an almost unrestricted number of operations. This astrological "computer program" was used to store information in the memory by several mnemotechnical systems.

The first operator in the zodiac, or wheel, composed of the twelve constellations (more or less arbitrary groups of stars) through which the planets circulate. In addition to these constellations, there are several others that are not in the path of the planets; as extrazodiacal signs (paranatellonta ) that rise together with the signs of the zodiac, they can also figure in astrological computations and analyses. Beginning from the sign rising at the spring equinox, the twelve constellations are the Ram (Krios, Aries), the Bull (Tauros, Taurus), the Twins (Didumoi, Gemini), the Crab (Karkinos, Cancer), the Lion (Leōn, Leo), the Virgin (Parthenos, Virgo), the Scales (Zugos, Libra), the Scorpion (Skorpios, Scorpio), the Archer (Toxotēs, Sagittarius), the Goat (Aigokerōs, Capricorn), the Waterbearer (Hudrochoos, Aquarius), and the Fish (Ichthues, Pisces). The twelve signs of the zodiac are further grouped into triangles according to their form, sex, quality (cold, warm, wet, or dry), and the element to which they belong. Thus Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius constitute the fire triangle; Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, the earth triangle; Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, the air triangle; and Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, the water triangle.

Each of the twelve signs occupies 30 degrees of a 360-degree circle. Each sign is further divided into three decans (dekanoi) of 10 degrees each; they are sometimes divided into single degrees (monomoiriai). To each sign are assigned constant features according to its element, quality, sex, shape, and position. The zodiac revolves on an ideal plane divided into topoi ("places" or "houses"). There are two systems of topoi: (1) a system of eight houses (oktōtopos ), which is described only by Marcus Manilius and Firmicus Maternus, and (2) a more general system of twelve houses (dōdekatopos ). The twelve houses are life (vita ), wealth (lucrum ), brothers and sisters (fratres), parents (parentes), sons (filii), health (valetudo ), marriage (nuptiae ), death (mors ), travels (peregrinationes ), honors (honores ), friends (amici ), and enemies (inimici). According to a medieval mnemonic couplet, these are

Vita, lucrum, fratres, genitor, nati, valetudo Uxor, mors, pietas, regnum benefactaque, carcer.

The revolution of the zodiac within the houses makes possible many significant combinations; however, the great variability of the system is due to the movements of the planets. According to the geocentric system, there are seven "planets," arranged according to their distance from the earth and by the length of their respective revolutions: the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These were further classified according to sex and quality. Mars and Saturn were specifically designated as "malefics," a feature inherited from Babylonian astrology.

Ptolemy stated that the planets have two kinds of "aspects": (1) the aspect determined both by their positions in the zodiac and by their positions relative to one another and (2) the aspect determined only by their positions relative to one another. The most important position of the first aspect is the so-called idioprosōpos, the position of a planet when it is located at the same circular distance from the sun and moon that its domicile is from the domiciles of the sun and moon. The domiciles (oikoi) are the signs ruled by each planet. The sun and moon each rule only one sign, Leo and Cancer, respectively; the other planets each rule two signs. Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo; Venus, Taurus and Libra; Mars, Aries and Scorpio; Jupiter, Sagittarius and Pisces; and Saturn, Capricorn and Aquarius. In addition to the domiciles, each planet has an "exaltation" at a special place in one sign, and a "depression" (or "exile") in another.

Of the second kind of aspect, Ptolemy cites only two positions: the sunaphē, "contact," or kollēēsis, "sticking" (Lat., contactus, coniunctio, applicatio, or glutinatio ), positions that occur when two planets meet on the same meridian. The conjunction is followed by a separation or aporroia (Lat., defluxio ). Several other positions were successively added to these two, but they were not based on the relative positions of planets but on their aktinobolia (emissio radiorum ), or power to emit rays. When these rays meet under certain conditions they form "figures" (schēmata ), called adspectus in Latin because of the way the planets are "looking" (adspicio ) at one another. The term aktinobolia itself was usually employed to indicate a negative aspect in which a planet could be "blocked" or "sieged" (Gr., perischesis or emperischesis ; Lat., detentio or obsidio, etc.). While conjunction with the malefic planets is usually maleficent, there are two aspects that are always benefic (120° and 60°) and two others (opposition, or 180°, and square, or 90°) that are always negative.

Signs, decans, and planets are said to rule both the zones of the earth and the human body. The correspondences between them are classified according to astrological chorography, or the distribution of the sidereal influences of the oikoumenē, and melothesy, or the doctrine of the correspondences between stars and the human body. There are three kinds of melothesy, which consider the influence of the signs, decans, or planets respectively. The seven planets are ascribed correspondences with metals, stones, plants, and animals. These are used in astrological medicine, or iatromathēmatikē, a complicated science of ascribing drugs or other remedies according to the momentary position and influence of the planets, especially the moon.

Astrological predictions are of two kinds: (1) general or catholic (katholikos, "universal") predictions, which are based on portentous events such as eclipses, comets, meteors, Great Conjunctions, the aurora borealis, and so on; and (2) particular, or genethliac, predictions, which are concerned with the position and influence of the stars at one's birth. The astrologer draws a "birth theme" (Lat., thema, or diathema tēs geneseōs ; Lat., constellatio ) by determining first the hōroskopos (Lat., ascendens ), or "indicator," of the sign or planet rising at the eastern horizon at the precise moment of the client's birth. After the ascendant, three other points are determined on the zodiac: the zenith (Gr., mesouranēma ; Lat., medium coelum ), the nadir (Gr., antimesouranēma or hupogeion ; Lat., imum caelum ), and the western horizon (Gr., dusis ; Lat., occasus ).

The meridian line is not perpendicular to the horizon line, and thus the problem of the "ascensions" (anaphorai) of each sign is not a simple one; their oblique ascension, according to the real inclination of the zodiac, has to be translated on the equatorial plane, and their angular speed depends on the latitude of the geographic location where the calculations are made. During antiquity, tables were drawn for "seven climates" or latitudes. The astrologer is supposed to calculate with accuracy the ascensions of the signs and planets, and to exhaust, on a birth theme, all possible combinations of the constituents of the system.

See Also

Divination; Occultism; Sky, article on The Heavens as Hierophany.


The best work on Greek and Roman astrology is Auguste Bouché-Leclercq's L'astrologie grecque (Paris, 1899). It should be supplemented now with Wilhelm Gundel and Hans Georg Gundel's Astrologumena: Die astrologische Literatur in der Antike und ihre Geschichte, "Sudhoffs Archiv," no. 6 (Wiesbaden, 1966). The latter also contains valuable information on the history of astrology outside Greece and Rome. An excellent popular work on astrology is Wilhelm Gundel's Sternglaube, Sternreligion und Sternorakel: Aus der Geschichte der Astrologie, 2d ed. (Heidelberg, 1959). Another valuable popular work is Franz Johannes Boll and Carl Bezold's Sternglaube und Sterndeutung: Die Geschichte und das Wesen der Astrologie, edited by Wilhelm Gundel (Leipzig, 1926).

Numerous original Greek astrological works have been collected in the Catalogus codicum astrologorum graecorum, edited by Franz Cumont and Franz Johannes Boll (Brussels, 1898).

There is no catalog of Renaissance works on astrology. Some general information is provided in Wayne Shumaker's The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance (Berkeley, 1972). Some details on Renaissance astrology are found in Will-Erich Peuckert's Astrologie (Stuttgart, 1960).

Information on Renaissance astrology can also be found in the writings of little-known astrologers such as Richard Argentine, Lucio Bellanti, Petrus Buccius, Joachim Camerarius, Johann Clario, A. Couillard, Claude Dariot, L. Digges, John Eschuid, Oger Ferrier of Toulouse, Thomas Finck, Oronce Fine, Giovanni Maria Fiornovelli, Jacques Fontaine, Marcus Frytschius, Alonso de Fuentes, W. Fulke, Giovanni Paolo Gallucci, Jean Ganivet, J. Garcaeus, A. P. Gasser, Francesco Giuntini, Bernardo de Granollachs of Barcelona, Joseph Grünbeck, J. Guido, A Guillermin, Richard Harvey, Jacob Koebel, Edmond Le Maistre, Cyprianus von Leowitz, Johann Lichtenberger, R. Lindenberg, G. Marstallerus, Giacomo Marzari, Antoine Mizauld, Sebastian Münster, V. Nabod, Paolo Nicoletto of Venice, Augustinus Niphus, Caspar Peucer, Alessandro Piccolomini, Annibale Raimondo, Henricus Rantzovius (governor of Holstein and owner of a 7,000-volume library), Gregorius Reisch, J. F. Ringelbergius of Anvers, Cornelius Scepperus, Johann Schöner, Jac. Schonheintsz, Joh. Stadius, Joh. Taisnier, Georg Taunstetter-Collimitus, Johannes Virdung of Hasfurt, et al.

For works discussing theories of Great Conjunctions, see Abū Maʿshar's De Magnis Conjunctionibus Annorum revolutionibus ac eorum perfectionibus octo continens tractatus (Venice, 1515), Johann Lichtenberger's Prognosticatio Latina Anno LXXXIII/1483 ad magnam coniunctionem Saturni et Jovis quae fuit anno LXXXIIII/1484 ac eclipsis solis anni sequentis sc. LXXXV/1485 confecta ac nunc de nouo emendata (Moguntiae, 1492); Cyprianus von Leowitz's De Conjunctionibus magnis insignibus superiorum planetarum, Solis defectionibus et Cometis (1564); and Richard Harvey's An Astrological Discourse upon the great and notable Conjunction of the two superior planets, Saturn and Jupiter, which shall happen the 28th day of April, 1583 (London, 1583).

Ioan Petru Culianu (1987)


views updated May 23 2018


The earliest humans soon learned that the fertility of the soil was dependent upon the favor of the Sun, as well as that of the rains, both of which were bestowed from the heavens. On the other hand were the adverse effects of lightning, wind, and hail, as well as floods. These phenomena were quite mysterious, as well as wonderful or dreadful, as the case might be. Then, as now, people felt themselves at the mercy of these powers; and, since these good and bad energies all seemed to originate in the skies above, it was most logical that they should come to regard the heavens as the seat of the great gods. From this conviction evolved a theory of complete accord between phenomena observed in the heavens and occurrences observed on Earth.

There is no doubt that the ancients held the celestial bodies in great regard, perhaps even in veneration. The Book of Job in the Old Testament affirms that "the morning stars sang together" when the foundation of Earth was laid. Later, Job was asked, "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on Earth?" (38:33). It is clear, also, that the ancients believed that the stars influenced the turn of events here on Earth. In Judges (5:9) it is recorded that Barak, commander of the Israelite army that was faced with a decisive battle with the Canaanite forces under Sisera, took heart when he was told by the prophetess Deborah, "From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sisera." Deborah was not the only seer who had knowledge of the stars. Amos (5:8) speaks of God as "He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into morning." In Malachi 4:2, the righteous are promised that the "sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings (rays)."

Babylonian priests developed and perfected a system of interpreting the phenomena observed in the heavens for the purpose of determining the will of the powers of heaven. The Greeks enlarged the scope of astrology to include all the known sciences.

Empedocles, a Greek philosopher of about 450 b.c.e., developed the idea that the universe is composed of four basic elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Following the conquest of Babylonia by Alexander the Great (356323 b.c.e.), it was found that Chaldean astrologers had divided the signs of the zodiac into four triangles of three each and called the groupings by the same names as were Empedocles's four elements. Aries, Sagittarius, and Leo were termed fire signs; Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, water; Libra, Aquarius, and Gemini, air; and Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo comprised the signs of earth.

In essence, astrology deals with the relationship between the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets and the life of an individual. Astrology has its philosophical root in the premise that each individual is a universe in miniature and mirrors within himself or herself the astrological pattern found in the heavens at the time of the individual's birth. From the standpoint of astrology, this means that the nature or personality of all individuals is determined by the pattern of the heavens at the time of their birth, plus their reactions to the stimuli found in their environment during growth and maturity.

The quality of personality that determines how individuals react to their environment is called temperament. Hippocrates (c. 460c. 377 b.c.e.) described four kinds of temperament: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic. The four temperaments of Hippocrates were symbolized by linking choleric to fire and sanguine to air. Water was the symbol of the phlegmatic temperament, and earth was that of the melancholic. The choleric and sanguine modes of reaction were characterized by easy excitability and quick alteration of interest, the interests being feeble in the former and intense in the latter. Conversely, the phlegmatic and melancholic temperaments were characterized by persistent but slow excitability of interest, the interest being feeble in the phlegmatic and in the melancholic, intense. (In usage today, only the negative aspect of these temperaments are common. Thus choleric today means easy to anger; melancholic, depressed; sanguine, over optimistic; and phlegmatic, too slow.)

Although different schools of astrology may designate different calendar dates for some of the signs, there is seldom a difference of more than a day or two. The interpretations of the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual characteristics of the individual signs may also vary widely, but there are some general observations regarding the personalities of individuals born under the various Sun signs:

Aries, the Ram, March 21 to April 20, is a fire sign. The name comes from the Greek god of war. Individuals born under this sign have some aggressive traits about them that makes them dominant in friendship, partnership, and marriage. If they are deprived of their desire to dominate, they are liable to become discontented and difficult to get along with. Their views about life are definite, and they have little use for airs and graces. Aries people are a robust lot with a strong resistance to disease of any kind. However, once they do succumb to illness, they are inclined to run high temperatures. Neuralgia and migraines may also hinder them.

Taurus, the Bull, April 21 to May 21, is an earth sign. The word comes from the Latin meaning "bull." Taurus people like to have things their own way, but they are not quite as aggressive and as dominant as those under the Aries sign. They are passionate in nature, and love means much to them. They also make splendid mothers or fathers. Taureans are generally not bookish types; they prefer life itself to fiction. Although Taureans are inclined to be generous, they will fly into a rage if they learn that they have been deceived.

Gemini, the Twins, May 22 to June 21, is an air sign. According to the ancient Romans, the sign of Gemini represents the twin sons, Castor and Pollux, who were born to Leda, the queen of Sparta, after Jupiter seduced her, the king of the gods. The twins were high-spirited, strong, and inseparable. Geminis are among the most intelligent citizens of the Zodiac; but they have a dual nature, and they frequently have difficulty in choosing between two courses of action. They are active, and they love freedom, change, and variety. In matters of health, nerves are liable to plague Geminis, and they often prefer to live close to meadows and woods where they are able to gain vigor from the wind and the rains.

Cancer, the Crab, June 22 to July 22, is a water sign. The ancient Chaldeans named Cancer after the crab, because of its backward or oblique movement, which brought to their mind the sun's immobility during the summer solstice as it enters this sign. Cancers have great imaginations, and they glory in fantasies of love and romance. Cancers hate to be flustered, and they like to take their time over important decisions. Cancer people usually strive to be cheerful and avoid depressions. Because of their natural affinity for water, whenever possible they make their homes on the coast or close to a lake or a large body of water.

Leo, the Lion, July 23 to August 23, is a fire sign. Leo, the fifth sign of the Zodiac, represents the lion, king of beasts, and according to Roman astrologers, the savage lion of Nemea, slain by Hercules. The typical Leo is a rather impressive person who dearly loves to be in the limelight. Leo people generally have plenty of energy and strongwill power, and they make trustworthy and loyal friends. Leos cherish high ideals and love means a great deal to them. Because they tend to be adaptable, they make good marriage partners. Leo people are excellent and convivial hosts, who love to entertain others with big parties.

Virgo, the Virgin, August 24 to September 22, is an earth sign. Virgo was named in honor of the Greek goddess of Astraea, goddess of innocence and purity, who was placed among the stars. A typical Virgo is cool, calm, and collected and never loses his or her head in emotional matters. Virgo people belong to the intellectual class of individuals, and it is not an easy task for anyone to sway them once they have made a decision. On the negative side, they tend to be overly critical of others. They are quick to give vent to their opinions, and they can indulge in biting sarcasm if so moved.

Libra, the Scales, September 23 to October 23, is an air sign. Libra is the only symbol of the zodiac that does not represent either an animal or a human. Long associated with harvest time and the fair measurement of crops, the scales may hearken back to ancient Egypt and the belief that the god Anubis weighed the souls of the dead to determine their worthiness. Libra people are often attractive and conform to the idealistic picture of the model man or woman. However, Libras tend to be rather moody and thin-skinned, and they hate anything painful or ugly. Luxury has a great attraction for them; and with their tendency to avoid the unpleasant aspects of life, many Librans live to a ripe old age, having the ability to recuperate from illness more quickly than those born under other signs.

Scorpio, the Scorpion, October 24 to November 22, is a water sign. Diana, the moon-goddess of the Romans, commanded Scorpio to kill the hunter Orion when Eos, goddess of the dawn, fell in love with him. After his death, Jupiter set the scorpion and Orion, still armed with his armor and sword, in the stars. Scorpios are definitely possessed of a passionate nature, and they are highly successful in winning the affections of those whom they desire. Scorpio people do not tolerate contradiction, and they can become exceedingly bitter once they are aroused to fury. On the other hand, they can be devoted friends and marriage partners once they have been made to feel secure. Scorpios are blessed with great reserves of strength, which they may draw upon in emergency situations.

Sagittarius, the Archer, November 23 to December 21, is a fire sign. Sagittarius is represented by Chiron, the wise centaur, a half-human, half-horse creature, who taught the ancient Greeks and Romans philosophy, music, and medicine. Freedom and change are the watchwords of Sagittarius people. They often find their minds divided, and they hate to have to make a choice between two coursesthus they usually end by trying to get the best of both. Impulsiveness is second nature to them, and movement and change are essential to their peace of mind. Sagittarians are often able to retain their physical youth into advanced maturity, and they are relatively free of health problems as well.

Capricorn, the Goat, December 22 to January 20, is an earth sign. Capricorn was named first in honor of the ancient Babylonian god, Ea, a part-goat, part fish entity, who emerged from the sea to bring learning and culture to the valley of Mesopotamia. The Romans transformed Ea to Pan, a half-goat, half-human god who ruled the woodlands and the fields. Capricorns are individuals of deeply rooted habits who tend to become industrious and economical individuals with great powers of endurance. Although generally kind, Capricorn people tend to be somewhat moody, often brooding over imagined slights and injuries. Capricorns are liable to feel sorry for themselves, and they may develop into super pessimists unless they are careful. A Capricorn needs to keep things carefree and light.

Aquarius, the Water Bearer, January 21 to February 19, is an air sign. Aquarius hearkens back to ancient Egypt and the god Hap, who represented the Nile River, the sustainer of all life. Aquarians are difficult to describe, for they are often moody, untidy, and rather eccentricwhile at the same time being highly gifted and intellectual men and women, who contribute much to art, literature, and allied subjects. Aquarians do not fit into the general concept of conventional living, and they make for most interesting, albeit unusual, friends and companions. Aquarians must be free of mental and emotional tensions if they are to be healthy.

Pisces, the Fish, February 20 to March 20, is a water sign. Pisces, the fishes swimming in opposite directions, has been known by that designation since the astrologers of Babylonia named the constellation Two Fishes as long ago as 2000 b.c.e. Although Pisces people are industrious workers, they do not possess a great deal of stamina. It seems that fate often picks on Pisceans, and they are more liable to come into contact with suffering. For this reason, nursing, social work, medicine, and missionary work tend to attract Pisceans, and they are generally willing to make sacrifices for other people. Pisceans must always try to keep their own emotional life on an even keel in order not to disturb their health.

While many people associate astrology only with the brief summaries of the zodiacal signs in their daily newspapers and probably don't affix a great deal of serious attention to the advice provided by astrology columns, there are millions of men and women today who still regard the celestial bodies with the same veneration as did the ancients. Zolar, once described as "the dean of American astrologers," wrote in the preface to his book It's All in the Stars (New York: Zolar Publishing, 1962): "Astrology, in its purity, though forming a system of divination, is totally unconnected with either fortune telling or mediumship. It is a divine science of correspondences, in the study and application of which the intellect and intuition become blended in a natural, harmonious manner. They commence to vibrate in unison. When this union becomes complete, the ignorant man becomes the prophetic sage."

Joseph Goodavage, author of Astrology: The Space Age Science (1966), began his book with the following declaration: "Over many thousands of years astrologers have deduced a connection between the motions of the planets and positions of the stars with every kind of terrestrial activity. Their ability to predict future trendseven actual eventshas been repeatedly demonstrated."

The "Star Gospel," outlined in The History of Creation and Origin of Species (1967) by Reuben Luther Katter, attaches religious interpretations to the 12 signs of the zodiac. Katter stated that the Star Gospel, also called Adamic Theology, antedates the Old Testament by 2,500 years. The Star Gospel uses the same 12 zodiacal signs as does astrology, but begins with Virgo and ends with Leo. Katter stated that, according to tradition, Jacob and his 12 sons carried zodiacal tablets and banners into Egypt and carried them out in the exodus. Like astrology, the Star Gospel holds that the 12 signs stand for 12 positions of the Sun in relation to Earth.

While Western astrology evolved from the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, and Greeks, Chinese astrology developed independently of outside influences and was formed around the belief that the emperor was divine. Some scholars of astrology place the beginning of Chinese astrology during the reign of Emperor Fu Hsi around 2800 b.c.e. and attribute the naming of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac to a legendary Emperor Yao.

The figures of the Chinese zodiac bear no similarity to those of the West. Each sign is represented by a different animal and is composed of a 12-year cycle. The interpretations of these signs emphasize different animal characteristics from those typical of classic Western stereotypes. For example, while a rat fills a European with revulsion, the Chinese zodiac sees the rodent as hard-working and industrious. In addition, there are five elements wood, fire, earth, metal, and waterrather than the four of Western astrologyearth, air, fire, and water. The animals of the Chinese zodiac are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar. According to tradition, when the Buddha (c. 563c. 483 b.c.e.) lay dying, he called upon the animals to come to bid him farewell. The first 12 to arrive were the ones who are immortalized in the Chinese zodiac.

Astrology has been an integral aspect of daily life in China for centuries and remains so today. Although Communist doctrine and its rationalistic leaders have attempted to stamp out the influence of astrology and to depict its tenets as nothing more than superstition, the average man or woman in China will still make major decisions based on the guidance received from astrology.

Throughout Western history astrologers have claimed an association with the movements of the planets, comets, and eclipses with every important event that has taken place. Among the more familiar are the appearance of comets at the birth and death of Julius Caesar (c. 10044 b.c.e.); the advent of World War I (1914) heralded by solar and lunar eclipses; and the birth and death of Mark Twain (18351910) coincident with the appearance of Halley's comet. In addition, astrologers have proclaimed the influence of the "stars" on the lives of everyone from Alexander the Great (356323 b.c.e.) to President George W. Bush (1946 ).

Many of the great philosophers who shaped the ideals and concepts of the West employed astrology as an aid in developing their thoughts. Individuals such as Pythagoras
(c. 580c. 500 b.c.e.), Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), and Ptolemy (127151) were all astrologers. Nicolaus Copernicus (14731543), who gave science its first rational view of the universe, was a doctor, theologian, astronomer, and astrologer.

In the Middle Ages, magi, alchemists, scholars, and even the papacy embraced astrology. Pope Julius II (14431513) trusted his astrologers to set the date for his coronation; Pope Paul III (14681549) was guided throughout life by his horoscope; and Pope Leo X (14751521) established a chair of astrology at a major university. Church scholars began to associate the signs of the zodiac with the 12 apostles, and cathedrals throughout Europe were decorated with zodiacal symbols.

Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546 1601), who built the first astronomical observatory in the Western world, practiced and defended astrology. Brahe's exact planetary figures allowed his pupil Johannes Kepler (15711630) to work out his great Laws of Motion. Sir Isaac Newton (16421727), who followed in Kepler's footsteps, used an eclectic mix of science and astrology to arrive at many of his theories.

Admiral George Dewey (18371917) and President Grover Cleveland (18371908)consulted astrologers throughout their lives. Psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung (18751961) used astrology charts to assist him in diagnosis and treatment of his patients. John J. O'Neill, science editor of the New York Herald Tribune, the first science writer to win a Pulitzer Prize, began as a skeptic and ended up a believer in astrology. Astronomer Gustaf Stromberg (18821962) of the Mount Wilson Observatory believed in the charts of astrology as well as the science of astronomy. French psychologist and statistician Michael Gauquelin (d. 1991) spent more than 30 years investigating astrology, exhaustive research that led him to give verification to the importance of the planetary positions at a person's birth. British astronomer and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society Percy Seymour (19011980) set forth his theory that astrology is neither magical nor mysticalbut in factmagnetic.

During World War II (19391945), Allied intelligence knew that Adolf Hitler (18891945) and a number of his inner circle of the Nazi High Command, such as his deputy Rudolf Hess (18941987) and S.S. chief Heinrich Himmler (19001945), took a keen interest in astrology. During the dark days of the blitz of London, someone in Great Britain's newly established Psychological Research Bureau (PRB) decided that if they had an astrologer in Britain who could make the same calculations that the Nazi astrologers would make, the Allies might be able to ascertain what Hitler intended to do next. Louis de Wohl (19031961), the son of an officer in the Royal Hungarian Army, a novelist by profession, was known to be an expert in the field of astrology who had studied the subject for more than 20 years. De Wohl was solicited by the PRB to chart a course in the stars that would help bring about the downfall of the Third Reich. His known opponents on the Nazi side were astrologer Karl Ernst Krafft (19001945), graphologist/astrologer Elsbeth Ebertin (1880 1944), and Wilhelm Wulff (18931984), Himmler's personal astrologer for the SS.

While de Wohl made some startling hits, such as predicting the date that Germany would invade Holland in 1940, overall he scored only an average number of accurate predictions. However, for whatever astrological accuracy he may have lacked, he more than compensated when he devised the ingenious plan of forging 50 astrological quatrains allegedly from the pen of Nostradamus (15031566) in which the great seer predicted the downfall of the Third Reich. These astrological leaflets were then dropped over Germany with the desired demoralizing effect. De Wohl had done such a superb job of imitating the old French seer's unique style in the "newly discovered quatrains" that even Joseph Goebbels (18971945), Hitler's propaganda minister who earlier had employed a similar deceit to predict Nazi triumph, was fooled.

Former President Ronald Reagan (1911 ) and First Lady Nancy Reagan (1921 ) were devotees of astrology long before their tenure in the White House, as were other actors of their Hollywood set, such as Tyrone Power (19131958), Susan Hayward (19181975), Marlene Dietrich (19011992), Ronald Colman (18911958), and Robert Cummings (1908 ). The Reagans continued to confer with astrologist Joan Quigley regarding important dates and meetings while in office. While some Americans were shocked to learn that their first lady was using the advice obtained from an astrologer to plan her husband's day-to-day schedule, citizens of India seemed to accept calmly the fact that Indira Gandhi (19171984), prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984, used astrology to assist in decision-making until her death by assassination in 1984.

Many astrologers feel that the figure of a ship upon the ocean, with no visible paths to follow, no clearly defined turns or alternative routes, and with no landmarks on which to guide itself, is appropriate to describe the methods by which they may assist an individual in a situation that requires decision-making, for, in the majority of decision situations, there can be more than one alternative. The astrological diagram of the zodiac places each individual facing a moment of decision in the center of destiny, represented by a circle, universally known as the symbol of infinity, as well as perfection. The astrologer then draws radial lines from the individual's position to the circumference, or, poetically, the perimeter of eternity, thus symbolizing the unperceived number of possibilities accessible to him or her. Even if the individual is aware of only 12 of these, as might be illustrated by the houses of the zodiac, it is enough to cause him or her to wish for some sort of "navigator" to help interpret any directional signs that may be present. The art (or science) of astrology, as practiced by a competent astrologist, may serve as one star to be used in making a fix on the chart of destiny.

The astrologer and the celestial navigator have a number of things in common. Both look to the heavens for their points of reference; both make use of charts and tables developed during centuries of observation and recording. Both arrive at their conclusions through mathematical computation. The navigator charts a course, but does not establish a destination. The astrologer casts a horoscope, but does not determine character or destiny.

The role of astrology, so say the astrologers, is comparable to a ship's compass. The compass points the way to a predetermined destination, but it does not establish that destination. As a helmsman turns the ship's wheel to bring the vessel into accord with the compass, so the individual's free will must bring the vessel of his or her life into accord with the findings of astrology, if he or she is to benefit from them. By placing each individual at the center of the zodiac, astrology affirms that person's rightful place at the hub of the wheel of life, and it maintains that there is more in heaven and Earth than is conceived of through various philosophies of the five senses.

Modern astrology recognizes that human beings were not created to be mindless marionettes able to move and act only through the remote direction of forces they cannot comprehend, much less influence. At the same time astrology requires its adherents to accept responsibility for themselves and for their actions. In one sense it imposes an even greater responsibility, for having been made aware of their greatest potentials, according to the best knowledge and techniques available, those who steer their lives by the stars can no longer plead their failures due to blind chance and the fickleness of fate.

According to the astrologer, free will includes the prerogative of individuals to avail themselves of the best advice and direction from any and all sources they deem creditable before embarking on any course, before setting foot on any path, before making any decision, great or small, and to follow through once he or she has decided. Astrology, as practiced today, not only affirms the pre-eminence of free will, but insists upon it; and, according to its adherents, astrology, rightly used, serves as a dependable compass, pointing the way across time.

Delving Deeper

Adams, Evangeline. Astrology for Everyone. New York: Dell Books, 1971.

Forrest, Steven. The Inner Sky: Dynamic New Astrology for Everyone. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Goodavage, Joseph. Astrology: The Space Age Science. New York: Signet Books, 1966.

Goodman, Linda. Linda Goodman's Sun Signs. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.

Lee, Dal. Dictionary of Astrology. New York: Paper-back Library, 1968.

Quigley, Joan. Astrology for Adults. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1978.

Woolfolk, Joanna Martine. The Only Astrology Book You'll Ever Need. New York: Madison Books, 2001.


views updated May 08 2018


ASTROLOGY , the study of the supposed influence of the stars on human events and the predictions based on this study.

Bible and Apocrypha

There is no explicit mention of astrology in the Bible, but two biblical passages dealing with the diviner (menaḥesh) and soothsayer (me'onen; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10) were understood by the rabbis as bearing relation to astrology (Sanh. 65b–66a; cf. Maim. Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8, 9). The prophets were aware of the practices of "star-gazers" (ḥoverei ha-shamayim) among the Babylonians and other peoples but they scoffed at them (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). In the book of Daniel the Babylonian astrologers are called kasdim (Chaldeans), and in Aramaic kasda'ei (2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11). The Sibylline Oracles (219–231) praise the Jewish people for refraining from astrology, which is a delusion. The Book of Jubilees (12:16–18) depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the beliefs of the astrologers. The first Book of Enoch (8:3) includes astrology among the sins spread among mortals by the primeval giants (nefilim). Josephus, however, writes that astrology was common among the Jews in his days and that Jewish misinterpretation of celestial signs was partially responsible for the outbreak of the revolt against the Romans and its continuation for four years (Jos., Wars, 6:288ff.).

Talmud and the Midrash

In the Babylonian Talmud astrologers are known as kaldiyyim (Pes. 113b), Aramaic kalda'ei (Shab. 119a, 156b; Yev. 21b) – a term used by the Greeks, Romans, and Syrians. Iẓtagninin ("astrologers") and iẓtagninut ("astrology") were also common terms. In the Jerusalem Talmud and in Palestinian Midrashim astrologos and astrologiyya are the most frequent terms. The majority of the talmudic sages believed in the decisive role played by celestial bodies in determining human affairs in the sublunar world. On the one hand the patriarch Abraham and his descendants are spoken of as having been elevated beyond subjection to the stars (Gen. R. 44:12; Yal., Jer. 285), but on the other hand, the blessing bestowed on him in Genesis 24:1 is interpreted as the gift of astrology (Tosef., Kid. 5:17). Astrological consultation is one of the methods suggested by Jethro to Moses for governing the Children of Israel (Mekh., Amalek 2). Several instances are cited of astrologers whose predictions of future events came true (e.g., Shab. 119a). Gentile rulers were considered to have been especially well versed in astrology or to have consulted astrological experts; but knowledge of astrology was also attributed to King Solomon (Eccl. R. 7:23 no. 1). Nevertheless, the rabbis of the Talmud were skeptical of the astrologers' ability to interpret the stars correctly; they conceded the possibility that the astrologers might be able to predict the future by consulting the stars, but claimed that they err in understanding the contents of their forecasts. On the basis of the phrase in Isaiah 8:19, "the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter" (ha-meẓafẓefim ve-ha-mahgim), they developed the exegesis: "They gaze (ẓofin) and know not at what they gaze, they ponder (mehaggin) and know not what they ponder" (Sot. 12b). In several places in the Talmud it is stated that every man has a celestial body (mazzal), i.e., a particular star which is his patron from conception and birth (Shab. 53b; bk 2b) and which perceives things unknown to the man himself (Meg. 3a; Sanh. 94a). Two people born under the same star have a bodily and spiritual kinship (Ned. 39b; bm 30b). Not only human beings are influenced by the stars; but "there is not a blade of grass that has not its star in the heavens to strike it and say to it: grow!" Stars in certain constellations (the Pleiades, Orion, Ursa Major) were connected with the growth and ripening of fruits (Gen. R. 10:6).

As among most ancient peoples, eclipses were thought to be an evil portent, particularly for Jews, "because they are accustomed to calamities." According to another opinion, a solar eclipse was a bad omen for the Gentiles, a lunar eclipse for the Jews, since the Jews based their calendar on the moon, while the Gentiles based theirs on the sun (Suk. 29a).

Some held that there was a direct connection between the signs of the days of the week and the characters of those born on those days: a person born on Sunday would have one perfect attribute, either good or bad; a person born on Monday would be irascible, and so forth. According to another opinion, "it is not the sign of the day, but the sign of the hour, that determines." Thus, for example, he who was born under the rule of Venus would be rich and adulterous; he who was born under Saturn (Heb. Shabbetai) would have his plans annulled (maḥshevotav yishbotu); he who was born under Jupiter (Heb. Ẓedek) would be a righteous observer (ẓidkan) of the commandments (Shab. 156a).

A number of important tanna'im and amora'im, such as R. Akiva, R. Johanan, Mar Samuel, Rav Naḥman b. Isaac, were of the opinion that the power of the stars over ordinary mortals did not extend to the People of Israel. "R. Johanan said: there is no star (mazzal) for Israel" (Shab. 156a; cf. the statement by R. Samuel, 156b; also, Suk. 29a). R. Ḥanina b. Ḥama held the opposite opinion: "The stars make one wise, the stars make one rich, and there are stars for Israel" (ibid., 156a). The rabbis were divided as to whether a fully virtuous person could transform and abrogate the decrees of the astral configurations for himself. Mar Samuel, who was an astrologer as well as an astronomer, formulated several rules of health and agriculture on the basis of astrological principles (Shab. 129b; Er. 56a); it was his opinion that "righteousness delivers from death" (Prov. 10:2) as it is ordained by the stars (Shab. 129b). Such deliverances were said to have been granted to R. Akiva's daughter and to R. Naḥman b. Isaac and his mother. The contrary position was upheld by Rava: "Life, children, and sustenance – these things depend not on merit, but on the stars" (mk 28a); by way of illustration he cited the histories of several great men of learning and faith. Because of the warnings of the "Chaldeans," R. Joseph refused appointment as head of a yeshivah (Ber. 64a); but R. Yose of Huẓal decreed that "one must not consult the Chaldeans" (Pes. 113b); cf. Rashi and Samuel b. Meir ad loc.

In several places in the Talmud (mk 27a; Ned. 56a; Sanh. 20a), one of the customs mentioned is clearly a survival of an ancient astrological belief: an unslept-in bed, called "the bed of Gad" (arsa de-gadda), would be kept in the house as a good luck charm. The astrological character of this custom was forgotten and the noun gad, originally the name of a star, came to mean simply "luck," as was eventually the case with the term mazzal ("star of luck") itself.

Dark Ages

During the eighth to the tenth centuries several famous Jewish astrologers lived in Islamic lands and wrote books on astronomy and astrology. First among these both in chronology and importance was Māshāʾallāh; of his many astrological treatises only two in Hebrew translation from the Arabic remain: Sefer She'elot ("Book of Queries") and Sefer be-Kadrut ha-Levanah ve-ha-Shemesh ("Book on the Lunar and Solar Eclipse"). Both were found among the astrological manuscripts of Ibn Ezra, and accordingly, it has been conjectured that Ibn Ezra himself was their translator. Second to Māshāʾallāh in time and rank was Sahl ibn Bishr, who wrote many books on astrology, at least one of which was translated into Hebrew under the title Kelalim ("Principles"). Toward the end of the Middle Ages the Hebrew translations of both these astrologers were translated into Latin and printed. Ibn Ezra refers several times to the Persian Jewish astrologer Andruzgar b. Zadi Faruk (ninth century). The Jewish astrologer Abu Dāʾūd, who lived in Baghdad at the beginning of the tenth century, composed the Sefer Nevu'ot ("Book of Prophecies") which also appearedin Arabic. Several astrological treatises in Arabic composed in the ninth and 11th centuries, some anonymous, were translated into Hebrew, and some of them, apparently by Jewish translators, into Spanish. Hebrew translations of Arabic version of the astrological works of Ptolemy, the Tetrabiblos and Centiloquium, have also been preserved.

Middle Ages

Among medieval Jewish scholars and philosophers who were versed in astrology and considered it to be a true science were *Saadiah Gaon, whose Arabic commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah contains astrological material; Shabbetai *Donnolo, also the author of a commentary (Ḥakhmoni or Taḥkemoni) on the Sefer Yeẓirah possessing special importance for the histories of astronomy and astrology, and of a commentary on the Baraita di-Shemu'el, a type of Midrash on astronomy, astrology, and the science of intercalation; Samuel b. Joseph ha-Nagid; Solomon ibn *Gabirol, whose Keter Malkhut includes a detailed account of the influence of each of the seven planets on the events of the sublunar world, and who, according to Ibn Ezra (end of his commentary on Daniel), "wished to show that the end of days was dependent on a 'conjunction' of the two superior stars"; and Abraham *Ibn Daud, whose book Emunah Ramah argues that the positions of the stars were set at Creation and predictions can be made on the basis of them.

abraham bar hiyya

Abraham b. Ḥiyya and Abraham *Ibn Ezra took a positive position toward astrology. The former even based decisions in practical affairs on astrological considerations. He also undertook to prove from the Talmud that the rabbis of that time in their use of astrology agreed in principle with the gentile sages about the role played by the stars, differing only in that "they say that the power of the stars and the constellations is not a perfect power … all being at the beck and call of God, who can at will set aside their rule and abrogate their decrees whenever He desires." The reason for prohibiting consultations with "Chaldeans" was that in talmudic times certain astrological techniques were compromised by idol worship. In his Megillat ha-Megalleh Abraham b. Ḥiyya predicted the date of the coming of the Messiah as 1358.

abraham ibn ezra

Abraham ibn Ezra's reputation as a great student of astrology spread beyond Jewish circles. He believed that all beings in the sublunar world were influenced by the configurations of the stars and the zodiac, and that most men were entirely enslaved by the powers of the seven planets (Commentary on Ex. 23:28). Nonetheless, it is within the power of man to free himself of the dictates of the stars by perfecting himself spiritually. In his commentary on Deuteronomy 4:19 Ibn Ezra writes: "It is known from experience that every nation has its own star and constellation and similarly there is a constellation for every city; but God bestowed His greater favor on Israel by rendering them starless and Himself their adviser." In his commentaries on the Bible Ibn Ezra discusses astrological matters at length. To reconcile predestination by the stars and divine providence, he assigns an astrological significance to the two biblical names for God: Elohim refers to the Creator in His "natural" manifestations, revealed in conjunction with patterns of the stars, while the Tetragrammaton refers to the Creator as He is manifested miraculously, i.e., as "the pattern smasher." Ibn Ezra interpreted the word mishpat ("law") in the phrase ḥoshen ha-mishpat ("the breastplate of the Law" – Ex. 28:30) as an allusion to astrology (mishpetei ha-kokhavim), that is, to the prediction of events by means of contemplating the astral configurations. This accords with his opinion that the *Urim and Thummim of the high priest were an astrological instrument akin to the *astrolabe, and that by consulting them it was possible to read the future. Ibn Ezra composed a large number of astrological books; some of these were printed, but the majority are in manuscript. Most of these writings were translated into Latin at the close of the 13th century and were printed in 1507; several were also published in a French translation.

judah halevi

Judah Halevi never took a definite stand concerning the value and reliability of astrology. He admitted (Kuzari 4:9) that the celestial bodies had an influence over terrestrial affairs, that terrestrial (sublunar) life was due to the changing constellations, and that all astrological sayings attributed to the rabbis of old were based on genuine traditions. At the same time, however, he rejected the astrologers' claim that it was possible to determine the exact influence of the stars on sublunar beings. Halevi complained that the Jewish people continued to be seduced by astrological charlatanry despite the biblical injunction to the contrary (ibid., 4:23).

hasdai crescas and joseph albo

Ḥasdai *Crescas' attitude toward astrology was also skeptical. Inquiring whether the movements of celestial bodies really exercised "leadership and governance over the events of human life," he came to the conclusion that while there is no clear evidence rebutting the assumptions of the astrologers, in view of human free will and divine providence it is nevertheless impossible to attribute an absolutely decisive character to "the dictates of the configurations" (Or Adonai 4:4). Crescas' pupil Joseph *Albo followed his approach. He launched a series of attacks against the beliefs of the astrologers based not only on dogmatic considerations but on empirical events as well: many times thousands of people had perished by plague, in war, or had been drowned at sea, yet it was unimaginable that the horoscope of each should have been responsible for his untimely death in the general disaster. Accordingly, Albo fell back upon the opinion of Abraham ibn Ezra that there are several factors capable of annulling the destinies of private individuals (Sefer Ikkarim 4:4).


Among the Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages *Maimonides alone rejected astrology completely, referring to the astrologers' beliefs as vain superstitions unworthy to be called a science. Upon being asked by the rabbis of southern France whether it was possible to combine the theories of astrology with the principles of Judaism, Maimonides replied: "… This science, which is called the decree of the stars … is no science at all, but mere foolery … and it behooves us never to engage in it…. Those who composed treatises upon it… were the Chasdeans, the Chaldeans, the Canaanites, and the Egyptians … however, the wise men of Greece … scorned, mocked, and condemned these four nations… and compiled proofs to reject their notions completely…. I well know that you may seek and find in the Talmud and the Midrashim isolated sayings implying that the stars at the time of a man's birth will have a certain effect upon him… but this need not perplex you," inasmuch as "he is unworthy of pursuing knowledge … who would forsake it for the isolated saying of a rabbi of old who may perhaps have been mistaken…." Maimonides goes so far as to criticize the Jews of antiquity severely for their superstitious faith in astrology, as a result of which they brought upon themselves the destruction of the Temple and exile (Maimonides' epistle to *Jonathan b. David ha-Kohen of Lunel). He also ruled: "Who is a me'onen ["soothsayer"]? He who allots dates in the manner of the astrologers, who say … such-and-such a day … is good for performing such-and-such a task, such-and-such a year or month is bad for such-and-such… and even though he does nothing but tell lies, the foolish believe that his words are the truths of the wise. Thus, whosoever heeds the astrologers when he chooses to do something or go somewhere at a certain time, such a one should be punished by stripes, for it is written 'Ye shall not soothsay'" (Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8–9). Similarly, in his commentary on the Mishnah he speaks of "the falsifying astrologers, who are wise and enlightened in their own eyes" (Sanh. 10 beginning).

Later Thinkers

Despite Maimonides' great prestige, his criticism of astrology had practically no influence on subsequent Jewish writers. With the exception of Joseph b. Judah ibn *Aknin and his enthusiastic admirer R. *Jedaiah ha-Penini (Bedersi), none of the Jewish philosophers of the succeeding generations opposed or deprecated astrology. Even the rationalistic *Levi b. Gershom maintained that the activities and events of a man's life were predestined by the positions and movements of celestial bodies. The astrologers fail, he asserted, first of all because of insufficient knowledge about the movements of the stars and the effects of their changed positions on sublunar beings, and secondly, because of the intervention of intellect and free will, "for the intellect and the will are empowered to carry us beyond the limitations imposed by the celestial bodies" (Milḥamot Adonai 2:2). Shem-Tov ibn *Falaquera also considered astrology a true science and made use of it. Many of the great rabbis, commentators, preachers, and ethical teachers dealt with astrology and were favorably disposed toward it; *Abraham b. David of Posquières, in his Hassagot, a commentary on Maimonides' Mishneh Torah; *Naḥmanides (Commentary on Gen. 1:16; Lev. 23:24, and passim) and his pupil Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Responsa, no. 652); *Baḥya b. Asher (Commentary on Ex. 11:4; and passim); Isaac *Aboab (Menorat ha-Ma'or, 143; passim); Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (Magen Avot, 72bff., and Tashbeẓ, no. 513); Isaac *Abrabanel, who cited many proofs "from the science of astronomy in regard to the celestial conjunctions" for his opinion that the redemption of Israel would begin in 1503 and come to completion in 1531 (Ma'yenei ha-Yeshu'ah, 12:2); Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 34, 56), though he disapproved of eschatological reckonings based on astrology; Moses b. Ḥayyim *Alshekh; *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague, who is reputed to have practiced astrology in the company of his friend Tycho Brahe; David *Gans; Leone of *Modena; Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz; and *Elijah, Gaon of Vilna (Commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah). A definitely negative attitude toward astrology was assumed by Azariah dei *Rossi (Me'or Einayim, 42, 43).

kabbalistic literature

The Sefer Yeẓirah contains several astrological passages concerning such topics as the relationship of the seven Hebrew consonants that take a dagesh to the seven planets and the seven days of the week, and the relationship of the 12 simple consonants to the 12 houses of the zodiac and the 12 months. In the Sefer Razi'el ha-Malakh ("Book of the Angel Raziel") the principle basis for a systematic astrology is found, for example: "How can the seers know what a man's life will be as soon as he is born? The ruling planet ascending in the East [at the hour of his birth] is his life's house. If the house of Saturn is in ascension, he will live to be 57, if it is the house of Jupiter, he will live 79 years, and so forth… Saturn presides over wealth, poverty, and the like… Jupiter presides over life, well-being, favorable circumstances, happiness, riches, honor, greatness, and royalty; Mars presides over blood, the sword, and the like… Venus presides over comeliness, grace, appetite… and the like."

The Zohar takes astrology for granted and in several places employs imagery and terminology that are clearly astrological (e.g., 3, Ki Teẓe, 281b. Raya Meheimna). It is stated explicitly: "All the stars and constellations in the heavens were appointed to be rulers and commandants over the world… there is not a single blade of grass in the entire world over which a star or a planet does not preside, and over that star one [angel] is appointed who serves in the presence of the Holy One Blessed Be He, each according to his merit" (2:171d; see Mishnat ha-Zohar, Tishbi-Lachower trans. vol. 1, 1957, 486). Astrological reasons for the commandments (mitzvot) are occasionally also given 3:251a–b, Raya Meheimna). On the whole, however, the Zohar's kabbalistic system deprives astrology and astrological beliefs of most of their relevance and importance. In Part 3 (Pinḥas, 216b, Raya Meheimna) it is stated that prior to the giving of the Torah all earthly creatures were dependent on the stars; after the revelation at Sinai, however, God exempted those children of Israel who studied and observed His Law from the rule of the stars, whereas the ignorant and the skeptical "were not absolved from the stars' jurisdictions." In the Tikkunei Zohar and other kabbalistic works the seven planets were linked with the seven days of the week and the seven nether spheres; the 12 houses of the zodiac were linked with the 12 months of the year, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 permutations of the Tetragrammaton. According to the Sefer ha-Peli'ah, the higher powers descend on the seven planets from the divine name of 42 letters, each planet receiving the influx appropriate to it from six of the letters of that name.

Jewish Astrologers at the Courts of Christian Kings and Popes

Several Jewish astronomers and astrologers served in various royal capitals of Southern and Western Europe as court astrologers. Among them were Judah b. Moses ha-Kohen at the court of Alfonso x of Castile (1252–84); Jacob Alcorsono and Crescas de Vivers at the courts of Pedro iv (1336–87) and John i (1387–89) of Aragon; and Abraham *Zacuto (1450–1510), the author of the Sefer Yuḥasin, at the court of Manuel i of Portugal from 1494 until the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497. Jacob b. Emanuel Provinciale (Bonet de Lattes) served as physician and court astrologer to popes Alexander vi and Leo x. In his Prognosticum, dedicated to cardinals Valentiniani and Borgia, he expressed the opinion, based on the prophecies of Daniel and on a conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn in the house of Cancer due to take place on June 10, 1504, that the Messiah would appear in 1505.

Vestiges of Astrology in Jewish Folklore

In the Jewish religious literature of modern times there remain only vestiges of earlier astrological beliefs. On joyful occasions in individual and family life, Jews everywhere congratulate each other by saying mazzal tov ("good luck"). A successful person is popularly referred to as a bar-mazzal ("one of luck"), and a perennial failure is known as a ra-mazzal ("poor luck"; Yid., shlimazl; Aram., bish-gadda). It was customary in some parts to begin no new undertaking on Mondays or Wednesdays (Sh. Ar., yd 179:2, on the basis of the responsa of Naḥmanides, no. 242), since Mondays were ruled by the moon and nothing could be properly done on them, while Wednesdays were ruled by Mars, a hard patron. Another custom was to perform marriages only in the first half of the month while the moon was waxing (ibid.; Naḥmanides, responsum no. 282). R. Mordecai Jaffe explains the custom of fasting on the anniversary of a parent's death (Isserles to Sh. Ar., yd 402:12) as deriving from the belief that on that day the luck of the child is vulnerable. Until recently it was the custom in certain localities to prepare a bed (or table; see Isserles, ibid., 65:11) in a mother's room on the eve of her son's circumcision so that the child should enjoy good luck (ibid., 178:3).


Ginzberg, Legends, index; R. Levy, Astrological Works of A. Ibn Ezra (1927); A. Ibn Ezra, Beginning of Wisdom, ed. by R. Levy and F. Cantera (1939); S. Sachs, Ha-Yonah, Keneset Yisrael (1851), 59ff.; S. Rubin, Ma'aseh Ta'tu'im (1887), 39ff.; Guttmann, Philosophies, 246 70; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 186, 501ff.; Rosin, in: mgwj, 42 (1898), 247ff.; Poznański, ibid., 49 (1905), 45ff.; Marx, in; huca, 3 (1926), 311–42.

[Alexander Altmann]


views updated May 21 2018


The art of divining the fate or future of persons from the juxtaposition of the Sun, Moon, and planets. Judicial astrology foretells the destinies of individuals and nations, while Natural astrology predicts changes of weather and the influence of the stars upon natural things.

The characters used in astrology to denote the 12 signs represent natural objects, but they have also a hieroglyphic or esoteric meaning that has been lost. The figure of Aries represents the head and horns of a ram; that of Taurus, the head and horns of a bull; that of Leo, the head and mane of a lion; that of Gemini, two persons standing together; and so on. The physical or astronomical reasons for the adoption of these figures is explained by the Abbé Pluche in his Histoire du Ciel (1739-41), and Charles F. Dupuis, in his Abrégé de l'Origine de tous les Cultes (1798), endeavors to establish the principles of an astro-mythology by tracing the progress of the moon through the 12 signs in a series of adventures he compares with the wanderings of Isis.


Traditionally, the cases for which astrological predictions have chiefly been sought were nativities, that is, in ascertaining the fate and fortunes of individuals from the positions of the stars at the time of birth, and in questions called horary, which comprehend almost every matter that might be the subject of astrological inquiry. Sickness, the success of business undertakings, the outcome of lawsuits, and so on are all objects of horary questions.

A person is said to be born under that planet that ruled the hour of his birth. Thus two hours every day are under the control of Saturn; the first hour after sunrise on Saturday is one of them. Therefore, a person born on Saturday in the first hour after sunrise has Saturn for the lord of his or her ascendant; those born in the next hour, Jupiter; and so on in order. Venus rules the first hour on Friday, Mercury on Wednesday, Jupiter on Thursday, the Sun and Moon on Sunday and Monday, and Mars on Tuesday.

In drawing a nativity or natal chart (horoscope) a figure is divided into 12 portions representing the astrological houses. The 12 houses are similar to the 12 astrological signs, and the planets, being always in the zodiac, will therefore all fall within these 12 divisions or houses. The line that separates any house from the preceding is called the cusp of the house. The first house is called the ascendant, or the east angle; the fourth, the imum coeli, or the north angle; the seventh, the west angle; and the tenth, the medium coeli, or the south angle. After this figure is drawn, tables and directions are given for placing the signs, and because one house corresponds to a particular sign, the rest can also be determined. When the signs and planets are all placed in the houses, the astrologer can augur, from their relative position, what influence they will have on the life and fortunes of the native.

History of Astrology in the West

The precise origin of astrology is lost to history, but its practice appears to have developed independently in both China and Mesopotamia, and was quite known early in India. One of the most remarkable astrological treatises of all history is the fabulous Bhrigu-Samhita of ancient India, said to contain formulas for ascertaining the names of all individuals, past, present, and future, and their destinies. Unlike popular Western astrology, the key to a Bhrigu consultation is not the birth sign and conjunction of planets, but the moment of consultation of the oracle.

Marco Polo found astrology well established in China, although Chinese astrology developed apart from Western history and only recently has been imported into the West. Western astrology seems to have originated in Mesopotamia, and all of the cultures of ancient Iraq and Iran contributed to its creation. Among the earliest records of astrology are the cuneiform tablets from the library of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria (669-626B.C.E.). Astrologers were making periodic reports to Ashurbanipal on such matters as the possibility of war and the probable size of the harvest. Astrology had been present in the region for at least a millennium but was given a distinctive boost by the Chaldeans who took over the Tigris and Euphrates valleys in 606 B.C.E. The Chaldeans mapped the sky, improved the methods for recording the passing of time, successfully predicted eclipses, and accurately determined the length of the solar year (within 26 minutes).

Thus astrology was well developed in Chaldea when (in the second millennium B.C.E.) the biblical Abraham migrated from Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 11:31) to Palestine. The conflict between the emerging religions of the Israelites and Babylonian astrology can be seen in Isa. 47:13 and repeatedly in the book of Daniel (e.g. 2:27, 4:7). A primitive astrology had developed among the Greeks, but during the conquests of Alexander in the West beginning in 334 B.C.E. Chaldean astrology flowed into the Mediterranean basin. Alexander's conquests also introduced astrology into India, although the Indians took the Chaldean notions and developed them in a unique direction.

In Egyptian tradition the invention of astrology is attributed to Thoth (called Hermes Trismegistus by the Greek), the god of wisdom, learning, and literature. He is the Mercury of the Romans, the eloquent deliverer of the messages of the gods.

In imperial Rome astrology was held in great repute, especially under the reign of Tiberius (14-37 C.E.). Augustus (27 B.C.E.-14 C.E.) had discouraged the practice of astrology by banishing its practitioners from Rome, but his successors recalled them; and although occasional edicts in subsequent reigns restrained and even punished all who divined by the stars, the practices of the astrologers were secretly encouraged and their predictions extensively believed. Domitian (51-96 C.E.), in spite of his hostility toward them, was in fear of their pronouncements. They prophesied the year, the hour, and the manner of his death, and agreed with his father in foretelling that he should perish not by poison, but by the dagger. The early Christians gave some sanction to astrology in the Gospel of Matthew, which opens with the visit of the three magi (Persian astrologers) who, having seen the star in the east, have come to worship Christ.

After the age of the Antonines and the work of the third-century C.E. Roman scholar Censorinus, we hear little of astrology for some generations. In the eighth century the Venerable Bede and his distinguished scholar, Alcuin, are said to have pursued this mystic study. Immediately following, the Arabians revived and encouraged it. Under the patronage of Almaimon, in the year 827, the Megale Syntaxis of Ptolemy was translated, under the title Almagest, by al-Hazen Ben Yusseph. Albumasar added to this work, and the astral science continued to receive new force from the labors of Alfraganus, Ebennozophim, Alfaragius, and Geber.

The conquest of Spain by the Moors carried this knowledge, with all their other treasures of learning, into Spain, and before their cruel expulsion it was naturalized among the Christian savants. Among these Alonzo (or Alfonso) of Castile has immortalized himself by his scientific research, and the Jewish and Christian doctors who arranged the tables named for him were convened from all the accessible parts of civilized Europe. Five years were employed in their discussion, and it has been said that the enormous sum of 400,000 ducats was disbursed in the towers of the Alcazar of Galiana in the adjustment and correction of Ptolemy's calculations. Nor was it only the physical motions of the stars that occupied this grave assembly. The two Kabbalistic volumes, yet existing in cipher, in the royal library of the kings of Spain, and which tradition assigns to Alonzo himself, indicate a more visionary study. In spite of the denunciations against this orthodoxy, which were thundered in his ears on the authority of Tertullian, Basil, and Bonaventure, the fearless monarch gave his sanction to such masters as practiced the art of divination by the stars, and in one part of his code enrolled astrology among the seven liberal sciences.

In Germany many eminent men pursued astrology. A long catalog could be made of those who have considered other sciences with reference to astrology and written on them as such. Faust has, of course, the credit of being an astrologer as well as a wizard, and we find that singular but splendid genius, Cornelius Agrippa writing with as much zeal against astrology as on behalf of other occult sciences.

Of the early developments in astrology in England little is known. Bede and Alcuin have been mentioned. Roger Bacon included it among his broad studies. But it is the period of the Stuarts that can be considered the acme of astrology in England. Then William Lilly employed the doctrine of the magical circle, engaged in the evocation of spirits from the Ars Notoria and used the form of prayer prescribed therein to the angel Salmonoeus, and entertained among his familiar acquaintance the guardian spirits of England, Salmael and Malchidael. His ill success with the divining rod induced him to surrender the pursuit of rhabdomancy.

The successor of Lilly was Henry Coley, a tailor, who had been his amanuensis and was almost as successful in prophecy as his master.

While astrology flourished in England it was in high repute with its kindred pursuits of magic, necromancy, and alchemy at the court of France. Catherine de Medicis herself was an adept in the art. At the Revolution, which commenced a new era in France, astrology declined.

Modern Astrology

Astrology has now permeated every activity of modern life, from daily household activities to politics and stock market speculation. Leading names that have emerged in the astrology revival include Luke D. Broughton, Evangeline Adams, Manly Palmer Hall, Elbert Benjamine Heindel, and Llewellyn George. More recently, figures have included Sydney Omarr, Jeane Dixon, "Zolar" (Bruce King), "Ophiel," andSybil Leek. Also still popular in its various editions is the mass circulation almanac of "Old Moore," which first appeared nearly three centuries ago.

The psychologist C. G. Jung related astrology to "synchronicity," an acausal connecting principle in nature (as distinct from normal cause and effect), and believed that horoscopes offered useful psychological information on patients. Astrology was widely used during World War II as a psychological weapon by both Germans and British.

The most noticeable aspect of the occult revival of modern times has been the widespread popularity of astrology, particularly among young people. It is estimated that there are more than ten thousand professional astrologers in the United States, with a clientele of more than twenty million people. Most American newspapers run an astrology column. Even the respected Washington Post includes a horoscope column.

In 1988 the revelations of former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan (in his book For the Record ) caused widespread media comment with the claim that Nancy Reagan consulted astrologers on questions relating to presidential schedules of her husband, Ronald Reagan. Joan Quigley was cited as her astrological consultant. Caroline Casey, daughter of a former congressman, was also revealed as a leading astrologer to politicians, high-ranking officials, and Georgetown socialites.

None of this would be surprising to Indian and other Asian celebrities, since the astrologer is still an indispensable figure in Asian society, consulted on marriage dates and partnerships, business enterprises, and affairs of state. But the extent of American involvement with astrology surprised and infuriated many commentators, who condemned "occult superstitions." In May 1988, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Donald Regan was asked whether he had ever heard of American stockholders using astrology for guidance. He replied, "Recently a study was made of Wall Street people and stockholdersand 48 percent admitted that they used astrology of one sort or another in the stock market."

One astrologer responded, "What's new? Queen Elizabeth I set her coronation date by her guy, John Dee, and consulted him every day. Kings have always used usand popes! Some of those guys were do-it-yourselfers, like Fixtus IV and Julius II. Others just kept their astrologers in the closet, like Nancydid."

There has been little new to add to popular belief in astrology in the present revival except its linking with modern technology in the use of an IBM computer for rapid calculation of horoscopes. For some time the giant Astroflash computer was a familiar sight to commuters at the Lexington Avenue entrance to Grand Central Station, New York.

In spite of its pseudoscientific basis, deriving from outmoded theories of the planetary system, astrology can point to documented successes, particularly by astrologers who combine their calculations with an intuitive faculty of interpretation. There is also scientific evidence for the influence of lunar and solar rhythms on human activity.

One interesting development in modern astrology has been the research of the French statistician Michel Gauquelin and his wife Francosise Gauquelin, beginning in 1950. They claimed to find a significant correlation between the position of planets at birth and the chosen professions of a large sample of people from all walks of life. The research of the Gauquelins, whose collaboration lasted until 1980, is so significant that it is the most frequently cited research validating astrology.


Collins, Rodney. The Theory of Celestial Influence. London: Stuart & Watkins, 1955.

Eisler, Robert. The Royal Art of Astrology. London: Herbert Joseph, 1946.

Gauquelin, Michel. The Cosmic Clocks. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967.

. Cosmic Influences on Human Behavior: The Planetary Factors in Personality. New York: Stein & Day, 1973. Rev. ed. New York: ASI Publishers, 1978.

. Dreams and Illusions of Astrology. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1978. Reprint, London: Glover & Blair, 1980.

. Scientific Basis of Astrology. New York: Stein & Day, 1969. Reprinted as Astrology and Science. London: P. Davies, 1970.

Hone, Margaret. Modern Textbook of Astrology. London: Fowler, 1951.

Howe, Ellic. Astrology & Psychological Warfare during World War II. London: Rider, 1972.

Kenton, Warren. Astrology: The Celestial Mirror. London: Thames & Hudson, 1974.

Lee, Dal. Dictionary of Astrology. New York: Warner, 1968.

Leo, Alan. Casting the Horoscope. London: Fowler, 1969.

Lewis, James R. The Astrology Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

McIntosh, Christopher. The Astrologers and their Creed. London: Praeger, 1969.

Rudhyar, Dane. From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology. Seed Center, 1975.

Sachs, Gunter. The Astrology File. London: Orion, 1998.

Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystery and Romance of Astrology. London, 1929. Reprint, Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1969. Reprint, New York: Causeway, 1973.


views updated May 29 2018


ASTROLOGY. Defining early modern astrology is a thorny issue. The early modern distinction between "natural" and "judicial" astrology, still widely used among scholars, served to express moral and religious qualifications. Hence, its meaning was highly localized. A more useful starting point is obtained from astrology's status as an academic discipline, which endowed it with more universal pedagogical narratives. Following Hellenistic and Arabic antecedents, Italian professors such as Peter of Abano (1257c. 1315) distinguished between a "science of motions" and a "science of judgments." While this distinction roughly mirrors that between our "astronomy" and "astrology," a closer look reveals important overlaps. For instance, late medieval astronomical textbooks often included considerations of the distances and size of celestial bodies, astrological aspects, planetary conjunctions, eclipses, and lunar mansions. It is therefore best to approach late medieval astrology as a "science of the stars" that comprised both celestial motions and judgments. Paraphrasing Gervasius Marstaller (1549), we might define our topic as follows: "Astrology aims at predicting and/or studying the power of celestial bodies on earth and measures their positions by means of astronomy."

This definition reflects astrology's position within the disciplinary hierarchies of the late medieval university. The emphasis on prediction reveals the simple fact that astrology was mostly taught as an auxiliary tool for medical prognosis. A practical ability to calculate astronomical data and assess concomitant celestial effects was widely expected from medical graduates. The reference to a more "theoretical" study of celestial effects reflects the pervasive influence of Aristotelian logic, epistemology, and physics, which was institutionalized in the arts faculties. Just like medical physiological textbooks, most introductions to astrology (typically Ptolemy or Alcabitius) sought to express basic parameters like planetary effects, or the nature of zodiacal signs, in terms of Aristotle's four manifest qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry). When this proved unconvincing, astrological effects were counted as "influences," based on "occult qualities": one could perceive their results on earth, but not their manifest action in the celestial bodies. This did not necessarily undermine astrology's academic status. Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly (13501420), for instance, promoted a "concordance of astrology and theology" that proved highly successful in several universities.

Many developments in the early modern period can be interpreted as attempts to safeguard astrology's status as it branched out beyond the university. Most academic astrologers were trained to perform a wide range of astrological tasks: they discussed large-scale predictions (mundane astrology), individual fates (natal astrology), or even particular events (horary astrology, subdivided into elections and interrogations). Courts and local town authorities increasingly drew upon political astrological consulting in the late Middle Ages. Beginning in the 1470s, print technology brought these political particulars to a wider, predominantly urban, audience through a new astrological genre: the annual prognostication. The propagandistic value of such initiatives contributed to the formation of close alliances between prognosticators and court culture in Italy, France, Germany, Poland, and the Low Countries in the late fifteenth century.

Such alliances proved to be a liability in times of political or religious crisis. The self-fulfillment of popular prognostications, and their ability to stir unrest, provoked several astrological debates, where both prognosticators and their university learning came under attack. Undoubtedly the most influential example of such criticism was Giovanni Pico's massive Disputations against Divinatory Astrology (1494). By the early sixteenth century, humanistic astrologers in both Italy and northern Europe addressed the Piconian challenge through reform proposals. These were often, but not exclusively, directed at the courtly audience that supported the rise of the prognosticators.

In the course of the sixteenth century, astrological reformers accomplished two significant feats. By advocating a return to ancient, mostly Ptolemaic astrology, they inaugurated a departure from the Arabic traditions that dominated the late medieval "science of judgments." And by tackling both astronomical and astrological reform, they legitimized a gradual change in the definition of astronomy. For example, it is now becoming clear that the astronomical innovations of Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler can be interpreted within the framework of Pico's attack. Their reversal of the traditional subordination of mathematics to natural philosophy seems to flow from an attempt to rescue the physical basis of astrology. Likewise, educational reformers like Philipp Melanchthon (14971560) strongly emphasized astrology as a part of physics.

This development also provoked a gradual separation of the "science of motions" and "science of judgments." Although Copernican astronomy also presented theological challenges, these were easier to negotiate than the social and religious problems of astrological judgment. As a result, reformers gradually abandoned public astrological predictions: first horary astrology, then natal astrology, and finally weather prediction and some forms of medical astrology. Likewise, "astrological" prediction was gradually ousted from official university curricula. After the 1560s, and well into the second half of the seventeenth century, Catholic and Protestant church authorities issued numerous condemnations of "judicial" or "superstitious" astrology. The "science of motions," on the other hand, was flourishing. It is important to realize that this emerging "astronomy" retained several astrological interests, such as the nature of the heavens, the size and distance of celestial bodies, and the origins of comets.

The pace at which such changes occurred depended on local circumstances. In England, central licensing through the Stationers Company (1603), the absence of strong academic links, and the subsequent explosion of astrological consulting during the Civil War propelled astrological reform projects into the late eighteenth century. Possibly due to local academic structures, Italian medical astrology also seems to have enjoyed a longer lease on life than elsewhere on the Continent. In the seventeenth century, influential astrologers Simon Forman, William Lilly, and Jean-Baptiste Morin remained highly visible, while astrological almanacs even outsold the Bible.

But although extraordinary phenomena like eclipses (1652, 1654) or comets (16641665) still provoked general unease, a gradual popularization of astrology occurred in the second half of the seventeenth century. The new royal scientific societies rejected astrology from their research agendas. The upper class no longer found its way to reputed astrological practitioners by the late seventeenth century. After 1650, ecclesiastics and university physicians increasingly left the writing of popular almanacs to surveyors, engineers, or local teachers. Their products became increasingly pseudonymous or anonymous, showed a rapid decline in astrological content, and were mainly distributed in rural areas by peddlers. By the early eighteenth century, the middle class and the nobility were closing ranks in the condemnation of an "irrational" astrology, which, at the same time, became socially innocuous. Paradoxically, this situation may have contributed to the survival of local pockets of astrological beliefs, both "traditional" (such as Ebenezer Sibly) and "modernized" (for example, among British colonial army doctors).

See also Astronomy ; Brahe, Tycho ; Copernicus, Nicolaus ; Dissemination of Knowledge ; Kepler, Johannes ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Occult ; Philosophy ; Popular Culture ; Universities .


Curry, Patrick. Prophecy and Power: Astrology in Early Modern England. Princeton, 1989. Innovative in its systematic focus on the social and political meaning of seventeenth-century astrology, but with a somewhat narrow selection of relevant backgrounds.

Grafton, Anthony. Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer. Cambridge, Mass., 1999. An entertaining introduction to Italian astrology in the Renaissance.

Harrison, Mark. "From Medical Astrology to Medical Astronomy: Sol-lunar and Planetary Theories of Disease in British Medicine, c. 17001850." British Journal for the History of Science 33 (2000): 2548.

Smoller, Laura Ackerman. History, Prophecy, and the Stars: The Christian Astrology of Pierre d'Ailly, 13501420. Princeton, 1994.

Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York, 1971.

vanden Broecke, Steven. The Limits of Influence: Pico, Louvain, and the Crisis of Renaissance Astrology. Leiden, 2003. Investigates the links between astrological practice in the university, court, and city, and the implications for elite astrology, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Westman, Robert S. "Copernicus and the Prognosticators: The Bologna Period, 14961500." Universitas 5 (1993): 15.

Steven vanden Broecke


views updated Jun 08 2018


Although the study of astrology has been pursued in many cultures and continues to have an important role in the Far East, this article deals only with Babylonian astrology and its subsequent development in the Greco-Roman world and in Europe. It is important to note that astrology, in many aspects at least, was recognized as a sciencenot as a pseudo-scienceuntil the 18th century.

Babylonian Astrology. The chief source for information about Babylonian astrology is the library of King Assurbanipal (668626 b.c.) at Nineveh, from which many thousands of astrological documents and fragments, embodying a simple type of astrology that did not distinguish celestial from terrestrial phenomena, have been recovered. Babylonian horoscopes were applied to the royal family and the land; the earliest known prediction for a private person dates from 263 b.c. The following example is typical: "If an eclipse of the moon occurs on 14 Sivan and the fourth [east] wind is blowing, enmity will prevail; there will be deaths."

It is not surprising that astrology arose in Mesopotamia, with its extremely clear atmosphere and a religion that identified various gods with particular heavenly bodies. Babylonian astrology rests ultimately on a single large work of unknown date written in about 70 large tablets, fragmentarily preserved in several recensions. This system, unlike that of the Greeks later, made the Moon more important than the Sun (probably because of its easy observability and conspicuous phases) and arranged the planets in the so-called Babylonian order: Moon, Sun, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, Mars. More than 200 constellations were distinguished, as well as 12 signs of the zodiac, and attention was paid also to comets, meteors, winds, storms, earthquakes, clouds, thunder, and lightning. Although the documents are in Old Babylonian and Assyrian, traces of Sumerian usage suggest that some of this material is earlier than 2000 b.c.

In Classical Greece. Though the early Greeks practiced various forms of divination, they had no astrology. Minoan art shows little concern with the heavens, and few early Greek myths deal with the stars. Even an author as late as Aristophanes (Peace 406413; 421 b.c.) can refer to the Sun and Moon as barbarian gods. Zeus, despite the etymology of his name, was far more to the Greeks than a sky-god; and this broader conception accords with the fact that the major Greek gods, unlike the Semitic, were not closely bound to nature. The stars were observed for purposes of navigation, but there is hardly a trace of astral religion. Thales of Miletus (6th-century b.c.) and his successors derived much, directly or indirectly, from Babylonian sources (e.g., the rough prediction of solar eclipses, celestial equator, ecliptic, planets,

constellations, the 12-hour day), but they used these data to construct a scientific cosmology. Typical of classical Greek rationalism is the story of Pericles (Plutarch, Pericles 35), who calmed a frightened sailor by holding up his cloak to show how an eclipse occurs. Among the classical Greeks prophecy based on such phenomena as eclipses and lightning was on the same footing as prophecy from the flight of birds, the entrails of sacrificial animals, and dreams. There were no special astrological techniques.

Greek reason, however, provided a potentially hospitable environment for the introduction of astrology: if the world is governed by unchanging (scientific) laws, then fatalism becomes easy. The early Pythagoreans illustrate the possibilities. They discovered the oldest known scientific laws by experiments with the strings of musical instruments, but they also developed numerical and geometrical symbolisms involving astral elements, such as the harmony of the spheres.

Plato and even Aristotle (who was no mystic) believed the stars to be divine, no doubt under Oriental influence. The planets play an important role in the myth of Er, son of Armenius (an Oriental name), at the end of the Republic, and Plato emphasizes the relationship between souls and stars in Timaeus (41D). The appendix to the Laws by Plato's nephew and successor, Philip of Opus, is full of astral lore. Such developments prepared the way for astrology, though so distinguished an astronomer as Eudoxus of Cnidus (c. 350 b.c.) was opposed to it.

Rise of Astrology in the Hellenistic Age. Between Alexander and Augustus the Greek world was altered by world-shaking political, economic, and cultural upheavals. Reason (logos ) gave way to esoteric knowledge (gnosis ). Imperturbability (ataraxia ) before the buffetings of fortune became the great desideratum, and chance was deified (see fate and fatalism). Carneades (214128 b.c.) and Panaetius (c. 185109 b.c.) might oppose astrology, but Posidonius (c. 13550 b.c.) and Hipparchus of Nicaea (c. 190c. 126 b.c.), the greatest Greek astronomer, both accepted its validity.

It was in Hellenistic Egypt, where all races and cultures mingled, that Greek astrology finally developed. There is no evidence of astrology in Egypt under the old Kingdom, but Babylonian lore reached there under the Ptolemies and was combined with the exact data of Greek astronomy to produce the strange two-headed monster of astrology, partly religious and mystical and partly scientific. There can be no doubt about the importance of Greek astronomy in this development, for the standard order of the planets was the so-called Greek, which is based on the observed periods of revolution: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The Sun was most important, not the Moon as in Babylonian astrology. Some Egyptian star lore also entered the system: for example, the decans, a series of 36 constellations, each ruled a ten-day week. The earliest authoritative handbook now known, called Nechepso-Petosiris (c. 170150 b.c.) after the names of its supposed authors, remained the astrological bible until the publication of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos.

Dominance of Astrology in the Greco-Roman World. Astrology swept the Greco-Roman world, reaching all races, nations, and types of men: rulers, scholars (such as Varro), philosophers (see neopythagoreanism), and also the well-to-do, both aristocrats and nouveaux riches (such as Trimalchio in Petronius's Cena Trimalchionis 39, 77). It invaded the sciences of medicine, botany, chemistry (via alchemy), and mineralogy. It had a central place also in the mystery religions, especially that of Mithras, whose votaries invoked the planet ruling the day of the week. In the end, only the skeptics and Epicureans held out against astrology.

At first it was available only to the rich; the necessary computations were complicated and difficult, and consequently astrologers were often called mathematici. But the Julian calendar reform of 46 b.c., introduced later in outlying parts of the empire, changed this. The Sun now entered a new sign of the zodiac, usually on the 25th of the month, the Moon was easily observable, and the planets were assigned each to a day of the week (first evidence is found in Tibullus, 1.3.18). With the new calendar the poorest persons, even slaves, could afford astrology, and its use became almost universal. The popularity of talismans and amulets shows that astrology was often combined with belief in magic, while the educated resorted to it because it contributed to apathy by removing the unexpected. Stoicism was its natural home. The final, complete victory of astrology is well illustrated by the emperor Aurelian's introduction of the worship of Sol invictus into the state cult after his victory over Palmyra in a.d. 273.

Astrology's success is hard for the Western mind to comprehend, but it doubtless came about because astrology offered a causal explanation, based on the most advanced science, of everything that occurs. Since people of antiquity often thought "in myths," no one attacked the mythological foundation of astrology. It could, and sometimes did, lead to atheism, as in the case of the emperor Tiberius; but to most men it was a cosmology that was also a religion, and a universal religion in contrast with belief in the Greek and Roman gods, who were essentially local.

Astrology and Christianity. Christianity is fundamentally opposed to astrology; yet the earliest Christian documents contain references to it, partly in opposition (Gal 4.911; Rom 8.38; Col 1.16; 2.8, 20), but partly because astrology permeated the entire culture. The Church, by calling Christ "the sun of justice" (a phrase derived from Mal 3.20), substituted Him for Sol; and in the 4th century it deliberately put His Nativity on December 25, the birthday of the Sun, when "lux crescit." Christ was now "the light of the world" in a symbolic sense, but His day was still called dies solis (Sunday) in the West, as contrasted with Kyriake (the Lord's Day) in the East. The Gospels speak of the eclipse at Christ's death and of the wonderful star seen by the Magi, a phenomenon that Christian defenders of astrology always cited. Astrology must have continued or even begun to revive among Christians, for Tertullian found it necessary to state that God tolerated it only until Christ's birth. Lactantius and St. Augustine believed that demons were at work in the stars and in astrology, but that their influence could be overcome through God's grace. It should be observed that astrology is logically compatible with a belief in predestination.

Astrology among the Byzantines and in Islam. The Church Fathers were not completely successful in rooting astrology out, since it pervaded all ancient culture, and it revived during the Byzantine renaissance of the 9th century along with Greek astronomy, which was rediscovered partly in original Greek documents and partly in Arabic translations. The Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus (a.d. 114380) relied on astrology and defended it on the basis of natural science, the Gospels, and the Fathers. Greek translations of Arabic and Persian astrological treatises became common, though some leading Byzantine astronomers and Churchmen condemned the art. The revived Greek doctrines spread from Byzantium to the West long before the fall of Constantinople.

Astrology flourished under Arabic influence, for Islam is essentially fatalistic, and it spread to the West from Arabic sources as well as from the Greek East. While Avicenna and ibn-Khaldun condemned it, such influential thinkers as al-Kindi and Averroës supported it. As late as 1909 the sultan Abdul-Hamid II still had a court astrologer. Christians came in contact with Arabs not only during the Crusades but also in Spain and Sicily, so that scholastic philosophy was brought face to face with the problem of astrology. The scholastic philosopher, Michael Scotus (d. c. 1235) was court astrologer to Frederick II of Sicily, whose son-in-law Ezzelino also kept astrologers about him, including some Saracens. Roger Bacon also recognized astrology as a science. Many Italian cities, dynasties, and prelates resorted to astrologers; and since medieval culture was international, astrology spread rapidly throughout Europe as early as the 13th century.

Astrology in the Renaissance and Later. Astrology was used by Pope Julius II to set the day of his coronation and by Paul III to determine the proper hour for every Consistory. Leo X founded a chair of astrology at the Sapienza, for by that time no respectable university could ignore the subject. Down to the 18th century many literary works, buildings, and works of plastic art were unintelligible without a knowledge of astrological doctrines.

Astrology pervaded European culture just as it had the culture of the Roman Empire, and, though official Church doctrine opposed it, no one attacked the whole manner of thinking that lay behind it. Even St. Thomas Aquinas had attributed physique, sex, and general character to the stars, and was followed by Dante ("Purg." 17.73). "Inclinant astra, non necessitant" (the stars influence, they do not compel) was the most that Christian thinkers would allow. The humanists, inspired by later antiquity, only strengthened the movement, and the Reformation made no difference. Melanchthon, for example, lectured on astrology at Wittenberg and published a standard Latin translation of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. The leading astronomers, including Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and (later) Newton, were usually astrologers also.

The invention of the telescope damaged astrology seriously. The seven Pleiades, of which most people can see but six, were discovered to include scores. Two more planets, Uranus and Neptune, were presently discovered, as well as hundreds of planetoids between Mars and Jupiter, and thousands of stars whose very existence destroyed the apparent primacy of the traditional constellations. Astrology's neat system, which had never been really neat or systematic, broke down. As a pseudo-science astrology survives only among the uneducated and the credulous, while the influence of the heavenly bodies upon Earth and man has become the subject of various strictly scientific studies without occult implication.

See Also: astral religion.

Bibliography: m. vereno and j. c. pilz, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und Kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 1:964967. j. h. crehan, h. f. davis et al., A Catholic Dictionary of Theology (London 1962) 1:179182, with bibliog. f. von oefele et al., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 12:48103, a comprehensive world coverage. f. j. boll, Sternglaube und Sterndeutung, ed. w. gundel (4th ed. Leipzig 1931).

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views updated May 23 2018


Influence of Stars.

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the Egyptians invented astrology. Astrology is the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human activity and events on earth by their positions and aspects. Though the Egyptians indeed studied the stars, the belief that the stars influenced events on earth was probably a later development and not a major part of Egyptian philosophy. Yet it is clear that at varying points in Egyptian history, they did believe in power of the stars in terms of protection and future knowledge. It was Greek and Roman interpretations of these beliefs that created the field of modern-day astrology.

Knowledge of Stars.

In Pyramid Text 1583, dating to the Old Kingdom (2675–2170 b.c.e.), the king after his death becomes a star in the sky among the gods. Yet this set of spells for a royal funeral stresses the role of the daytime sky and the sun over the stars in the royal afterlife. As Egyptian thought about the afterlife developed, the sun took the most prominent place and was the only celestial body found in the next world. The sun's journey at night lighted the next world, according to Egyptian belief. Yet the Egyptians surely took some interest in the nighttime sky, especially to calculate the calendar and help measure time. During the First Intermediate Period (2130–2008 b.c.e.) and the Middle Kingdom (2008–1630 b.c.e.) some coffins include star charts that the Egyptians used to calculate the dates for celebrating holidays. In the New Kingdom (1539–1075 b.c.e.), star ceilings were painted in some tombs and temples. Senenmut, a high official in the reign of Hatshepsut (1478–1458 b.c.e.), had the Egyptian constellations painted on the ceiling of his tomb. The Ramesseum, a temple built by Ramesses II (1279–1213 b.c.e.) for his continued worship after his death, portrays the god Thoth at the center of the star ceiling. The stars' role in establishing the calendar led to Thoth's depiction here. Thoth was the god responsible for both time and for fixing the calendar. There are also scattered references in the New Kingdom to worshipping stars. In the Book of the Dead Chapter 135, an illustration shows the deceased praying before a blue nighttime sky filled with stars. The same scene is included on the walls at the tomb of Senedjem in Deir el-Medina (reign of Ramesses II, 1292–1213 b.c.e.). A stele in a museum in Hanover, Germany, shows Thoth as the moon god worshipped with two goddesses with stars on their heads. The text speaks of the moon and the stars of the sky. Yet none of these texts mention any influence the stars could have on life on earth. The planets had names formulated with the name of the god Horus. Yet even these names only appear in lists and never seem to play a role in religion.


The decans were 36 stars whose rising marked a night hour equivalent to forty minutes on the modern clock. Every ten days a different star marked the beginning of the night. The principal star was Sirius, already an important marker for the beginning of the New Year. All the decans disappear from the sky for seventy days then first return to view just before sunrise. This is called a star's helical rising. Each star's rising pinpointed the start of a new ten-day week on the civil calendar. Three of these weeks formed one month. After the star reappeared, it joined the others that were visible. At any one time there were eighteen visible stars. They were spaced in eighteen one-hour intervals across the sky. This system created a clock consisting of eighteen hours at night equivalent to the modern 12 hours. This system developed during the Middle Kingdom. Because the decans disappeared and reappeared on a regular basis, the Egyptians identified them as symbols of death and regeneration. In the New Kingdom, the king's funeral temples included lists of the decans. Some officials' tombs in the Ramesside Period (1292–1075 b.c.e.) included the decans on the ceiling. In the tomb of Ramesses VI (1145–1137 b.c.e.) the decans are represented worshipping the regenerating sun. Yet in the Twenty-first Dynasty (1075–945 b.c.e.) some officials believed it necessary to wear amulets to protect them from dangers caused by the decans. These amulets seem to represent a sudden change in attitude toward the stars.


The Egyptians recognized that a dangerous power could be either a threat or a protector. Though the Twenty-first Dynasty amulets suggest the decans are a threat to people, by the reign of Osorkon II (874–835/30 b.c.e.) there is evidence that the decans' power had been harnessed to protect the king. Two arm-bands from Osorkon II's tomb depict the decans with the gods Osiris, Horus, Thoth, Isis, and Nephthys. The decans are snakes with lion's heads who now protect the king. This is due to the belief that the goddess Sakhmet had control of the decans in this period. Sakhmet was a lion-headed goddess responsible for sending illness to people but also capable of curing illness. Thus Sakhmet also has a clear connection with fate, as is further supported by the inscriptions on the armbands. The decans also appear on protective amulets and necklaces in this period. By wearing this jewelry, a person could claim their protection.

Expanding Influence.

By the reign of Darius I (524–486 b.c.e.), the decans appear on the temple of Hibis in the Kharga Oasis. They also appear on a shrine of Nectanebo I (381–362 b.c.e.) and a chapel of Ptolemy VIII (ruled 170–163 and 145–116 b.c.e.). Though widely spaced in time, these monuments show that the decans continued to expand their influence. The shrine of Nectanebo I includes inscriptions that claim the decans can affect wind and water, bring fertility to the fields, and cause illness and sudden death. The decans also influenced specific parts of the body, an idea that would later receive much elaboration.

Later Views.

The first millennium b.c.e. Egyptian view that the decans could influence certain phenomena on earth, including specific parts of the human body, was incorporated into heretical early Christian texts found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. The Apocryphon of John includes ancient Egyptian names along with Greek and Semitic names. It also connects the decans and some constellations with influence over different parts of the body. A Coptic text also from Nag Hammadi describes the decans as many-faced demons associated with both death and the devil. These texts combined a Greek idea of fate and a theory of how an individual's pre-assigned fate could be avoided. In Greek magical texts, the god Sarapis can help an individual avoid his fate through reciting the proper spell. This fate was assigned by the stars. Yet only one small part of this theory descends from ancient Egyptian sources, the decans and their ability to influence events on earth.


Two known Egyptian astrologers were active in the second century b.c.e. during the reigns of Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII. One was Harchebis who claimed to know the mysteries of the stars and the mysteries of snakes. He also claimed in an inscription on his statue that he had observed the heavens, especially the planet Venus. The priest Petosiris claimed to be the author of an astrological handbook. Petosiris traced his own sources to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty (664–525 b.c.e.), though it is not clear how reliable this information is. Thus the real origin of Egyptian astrology probably was in this mixed society, depending on both Egyptian and Greek sources for its information.


The zodiac certainly played a role in later Egyptian star study, yet it only became known in Egypt in the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 b.c.e.). The first zodiac in Egypt was carved in the temple located in Esna built in the reigns of Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV (246–205 b.c.e.). The origin of this zodiac was most probably Babylon. It contains Babylonian forms of some signs such as the goat-fish for Capricorn, a two-headed winged horse for Sagittarius, a maiden with ears of wheat, and a crab to represent Cancer. Other signs were Egyptianized such as Aquarius as a Nile god. Some scholars have attempted to identify the whole zodiac with Egyptian symbols. But Erik Hornung suggested that the symbols became more Egyptian the longer they were used in Egypt. The origin appears to be Babylonian.

Roman Egypt.

After the Roman conquest of Egypt (30 b.c.e.), astrology became even more popular. The emperor Augustus forbade private consultations with astrologers in 11 c.e., a sign that they had become increasingly common. Yet Augustus issued coins with his own zodiacal sign. The emperor Tiberius (r. 14–37 c.e.) took a great interest in astrology and executed those whose horoscope indicated they could be emperors. Egyptian astrologers were popular at the emperor Nero's court (r. 54–68 c.e.). Nero appointed the astrologer Balbillus a prefect of Egypt from 55 to 59 c.e. All of this activity must have played a role in Egypt's reputation for expertise in astrology. Yet it was relatively late in Egyptian history and had little to do with classical Pharaonic civilization.


Erik Hornung, The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West (Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001).

László Kákosy, "Decans in Late-Egyptian Religion" in Oikumene 3 (1982): 163–191.

Joachim Quack, "Decane und Gliedervergottung" in Jahrbuch fur Antike und Christentum 38 (1995): 97–122.


views updated May 11 2018


Astrology, the practice of predicting mundane events based upon the configuration and alignment of the planets and stars, has ancient origins. In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, the so-called "oldest science" has enjoyed renewed popularity due, in large part, to public fascination with "New Age" mysticism.

The origins of astrology lie with the ancient Babylonians, a nomadic people who readily accepted the idea that divine energy was manifested in the movements of the sun and planets. Gradually, this concept expanded and the relative positions of the planets—both in relation to each other and to fixed stars—became tied to the idea of omens; that is, if an event occurred while the planets were in a particular position, the recurrence of that position heralded a recurrence of the same sort of event. Soon, the planets became associated with almost every aspect of human life. They were linked to the emotions and to parts of the body, such that astrology played a significant part in medicine up to late medieval times. Not only was the position of the planet to be considered, but also the sign of the zodiac it was occupying, as it was believed possible to foretell the destiny of an individual by calculating which star was in the ascendant at the time of his or her birth.

Astrology later became popular with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Romans emperors, for instance, had court astrologers advise them on such matters as the timing of coronations and the prospects of possible heirs. The advent of Christianity, though, stifled the fledgling science—early Christians refused to tolerate the practice's alleged pagan mysticism. Astrology, as a result, became nearly extinct in the West between the sixth and twelfth centuries. It survived only in the Middle East, where Islamic scholars continued to practice the art. The Crusades brought astrology back to Europe, where it managed to co-exist with a more tolerant Christianity for nearly four centuries. Along with alchemy, astrology became an accepted science, and its doctrines pervaded some of the most popular writings of the time, including Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The massive growth of scientific astronomy paralleled an explosive decline in the fortunes of astrology in the sixteenth century. The discoveries by sixteenth-century astronomers Galieo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus sapped the foundations of astrology, as the idea of an earth-centered universe became completely untenable. In addition, in the Age of Empiricism the failure of astrologers to produce experimental evidence boded poorly for popular and intellectual support. By 1900, a French encyclopedia would accurately describe astrology as a vanishing cult with no young adherents. During the eighteenth century and much of the nineteenth century, a degraded astrology survived only in popular almanacs and amongst amateur and fraudulent practitioners.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, astrology experienced a rebirth, in large part assisted by wider literacy and contemporary interest in popular psychology, Eastern thought, and the occult. Practitioners refined their art to focus on spiritual, therapeutic, and psychological goals, to the point that the emphasis on prediction almost entirely diminished amongst serious astrologers. Modern audiences, increasingly disillusioned with and distrustful of the order imposed by institutions and governments, found themselves drawn to astrology's promise to explain the self and the world. Modern astrology has come to represent a social support system of sorts, posited somewhere between religion and psychotherapy.

Astrology built its modern audience through daily horoscopes published in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. Horoscopes—charts of the heavens—show the relative positions of the sun, moon, and planets as well as the ascendant and mid-heaven signs of the zodiac at a specific moment in time. The first newspaper astrology columns appeared in the 1930s and focused on the lives of celebrities. Later, the columns directed their advice to the general public, enjoining readers to meet broad emotional goals such as "learning to compromise" and "controlling temper," all in accordance with the alignment of celestial bodies on a given day.

Astrology remained on the margins of society for much of the twentieth century, appealing to lower classes as well as to the uneducated segments of society. But the practice received a major boon when White House sources revealed that First Lady Nancy Reagan regularly consulted with an astrologer. According to reports, the First Lady altered her husband's schedules according to advice from Joan Quigley, a noted California astrologer. Quigley claimed, among other feats, to have convinced the First Lady and her husband to re-schedule the presidential debates with Jimmy Carter in 1980 to coincide with "Aquarius rising," a sign favorable to Reagan. Quigley also allegedly helped to maintain the president's popularity by arranging for executive decisions to coincide with astrologically propitious moments. "I was the Teflon in what came to be known as the 'Teflon Presidency,"' she later boasted. At the same time, famed philosopher and psychologist Carl Jung became an outspoken adherent of astrological doctrines. Jung became convinced in the validity of astrology after comparing the birth signs of happily married and divorced couples; he allegedly found that those most favorably matched in astrological terms were more likely to enjoy marital bliss. French mathematician Michael Gauquelin likewise converted to astrology's teachings after claiming to have discovered a discernible correspondence between certain astrological signs and the professions of a large number of Frenchmen whose birth-times had been accurately recorded.

The existence of such prominent believers brought astrology into the mainstream of American society. A 1992 study revealed that nearly 25 percent of Americans believed in astrology. For the first time, most believers came from middle income brackets and had some college education. By the late 1990s, more than 10,000 astrologers practiced their art in the United States, and more than 90 percent of newspapers published horoscopes in daily form. According to reports, Americans of the 1990s spent more than $200 million per annum consulting with astrologers. Moreover, infomercials hawking the talents of various astrologers and diviners pervaded television networks, and the burgeoning market for astrology-related services and products resulted in the proliferation of astrology shops and stores throughout the country. Astrology also had entrenched itself in late twentieth century American vocabulary and popular culture. The question "What's your sign?" had become an accepted as well as quite widely used "pick-up" line by the end of the twentieth century.

Still, while astrology gained mainstream acceptance, it remained a discredited belief in scientific circles. Most scientists attacked the notion that the pattern of light from stars billions of miles away could influence the temperament of individuals on Earth. As a source of popular belief, scientists pointed to what they called the "Barnum effect," named after the hugely-successful nineteenth century entertainer and hoax perpetrator P.T. Barnum. Skeptics located the transcendent source of astrology's appeal in the tendency of men and women to accept imprecise and widely applicable statements as being specific to them. Barnum manipulated this tendency in the nineteenth century to make millions; scientists of the late twentieth century charged astrologers with doing the same to the masses of their time. American scientists also were vexed by, and perhaps a little jealous of, the popularity of the alleged pseudo-science. By the end of the twentieth century, there were ten times more astrologers in the United States than astronomers, and newspapers provided far more coverage of astrology-related matters than any of the breakthrough astronomical findings of the Hubble Space Telescope.

—Scott Tribble

Further Reading:

Gauquelin, Michael. Dreams and Illusions of Astrology. Buffalo, Prometheus Books, 1979.

Stewart, J.V. Astrology: What's Really in the Stars. Amherst, Prometheus Books, 1996.

Tester, Jim. A History of Western Astrology. Woodbridge, New Jersey, Boydell Press, 1987.

Zolar. The History of Astrology. New York, Arco, 1972.


views updated May 21 2018


Astrology is the study of the movements of heavenly bodies—particularly those within our solar system—and the relationship of these movements to human destiny and life. It has been present in various forms in America since the colonial era, and it continues as a significant aspect of our popular and religious cultures during the twentieth century. According to recent national surveys, roughly one-fourth of all Americans ascribe some validity to astrology. Most major newspapers carry daily horoscope features. As many as eleven thousand professional astrologers are at work in the United States, serving more than 20 million clients. Many bookstores have an entire section devoted to astrological books and periodicals. A blending of the insights of astrological symbolism with the field of humanistic psychology has become the most important development in American astrology in the past thirty years. In this "human potential" form, astrology is often grouped together with the set of beliefs and practices referred to as "New Age" religion.

In late nineteenth-century America, a largely unprofessional and traditionbound astrology decided to align itself with the growing influence of science. The assertion that astrology was an exact science became a commonplace of introductory chapters in astrological publications. Astrologers claimed that centuries of empirical observation had led to the discovery of immutable laws that governed planetary influences on human life. The exact nature of these influences was more difficult to articulate, however. Most theorists fell back on the Hermetic doctrine of correspondences, which assumed that the human person was a microcosm of the greater universe, the macrocosm. As planets moved through the zodiac—a zone of twelve equal segments that extends nine degrees on either side of the ecliptic—corresponding energies and roles were stimulated in human beings, inclining them to act in predictable ways. In "mundane" astrology this theory was expanded to include nations, organizations, and institutions, each of which were affected by planetary movements. Although astrologers professed that they were practicing science, they understood the movements of the heavenly bodies to be part of an ordered universe of meaning and purpose. In a sense, therefore, astrology came to occupy border lands between religion and science.

The first popular astrologer was Evangeline Adams, a descendant of two American presidents who practiced her craft in the heart of New York City between 1899 and 1932 and who counted as clients many of the Eastern Seaboard elite. Adams's four astrological books, published by Dodd, Mead & Company, opened the door for a wave of astrological titles distributed by respectable publishers beginning in the 1920s. Elbert Benjamine, Max Heindel, Paul Clancy, and Llewellyn George were other great populizers of astrology during this period, with both Benjamine and Heindel promoting the "science of the stars" within a metaphysical subculture that included Theosophical, Rosicrucian, Spiritualist, and New Thought ideas.

Several national organizations were formed between 1920 and 1940, the most enduring of which has been the American Federation of Astrologers, which was founded in 1938. The federation helped to professionalize a field that had long been associated with fortune-telling and superstition in the public mind. It continues to publish research, certify practitioners, and sponsor national conferences.

During the 1960s, the study and practice of astrology became part of the counterculture's search for spiritual enlightenment. Along with other mantic systems such as Tarot, palmistry, and I Ching, astrology helped counterculture seekers feel connected to a meaningful matrix of correspondences that included the divine, human, and natural worlds. Under the guiding vision of philosopher, composer, and Theosophist Dane Rudhyar, astrology also became a "language of the soul" that could be used in the work of self-transformation.

Rudhyar adapted astrological symbolism to the analytical psychology of Carl Jung. The horoscope, which is a picture of the solar system at the moment of a person's birth, became reinterpreted as a map of the individual psyche. The planets' placements in signs and houses—for example, Mars in Aquarius in the twelfth house—came to reflect all the forces, drives, and functions in the psyche, and "humanistic" astrologers sought to help their clients integrate these different parts of themselves into a harmonious and meaningful whole. Further, the birth chart provides a kind of seed plan for a fully individuated life, including different stages of development and a sense of ultimate purpose. "Person-centered" or humanistic astrology, as Rudhyar's system came to be called, took astrological practice away from its traditional emphasis on the prediction of events and focused it more on helping human beings realize the potentials indicated in the horoscope. Traditional predictive techniques such as progressions—the movement of the planets forward according to the formula one day equals one year, and transits—the daily movement of the planets through the natal horoscope—became methods for timing the various cycles of psychological development throughout a person's lifetime. "Hard" aspects, such as the square (90-degree angles) and the opposition (180-degree angles) became reinterpreted as growth opportunities when repressed and fragmented psychic functions are brought to the conscious level and thus made amenable to conscious integration.

A new generation of humanistic astrologers, such as Stephen Arroyo, Liz Greene, Rob Hand, Zipporah Dobyns, and Donna Cunningham, have helped turn astrology in the direction of astrotherapy, the use of astrology for psychological counseling. Within the astrotherapeutic perspective, nothing is predetermined in human existence. Rather, human beings, as reflections of the cosmic whole, have the innate powers to create their own reality and to realize ever higher levels of material and spiritual empowerment. In this perspective such growth does not come without work, however, and in the main this work is of a psychological nature. Humanistic astrologers have also emphasized the relational dynamics symbolized within horoscopes. Astrologers now regularly cast charts that map the interpsychic forces at play in relationships between lovers, parents and children, and business partners. These "composite" and "synastric" charts are used in family, group, and couples therapy. The advent of personal computing has made the laborious mathematical calculations of traditional astrological practice a thing of the past. The construction of a horoscope can now be done within a few seconds.

Astrology has always had a tenuous relationship with mainstream Christianity, but the stigmatization of astrology by Christians has taken a more severe turn during the twentieth century with the rise of fundamentalism in American religious life. For many conservative Christians, astrology is seen as part of a complex of metaphysical, occult, and magical beliefs that threaten to destroy authentic Christianity in the name of Satan. In spite of its demonization in the fundamentalist subculture, however, astrology continues to grow in popularity both as a tool for self-transformation and as a system of divination.

See alsoAstral Planes; New Age Spirituality; New Thought; Psychology of Religion; Rosicrucians; Spiritualism; Theosophical Society.


Rudhyar, Dane. Person-Centered Astrology. 1972.

Greene, Liz. Relating: An Astrological Guide toLivingwith Others on a Small Planet. 1977.

McIntosh, Christopher. The Astrologers and TheirCreed:An Historical Outline. 1969.

Phillip Charles Lucas


views updated May 23 2018

astrology took its place in the body of Western knowledge with the spread of astrological lore from Babylon to Greece several centuries before Christ. This transmission began with Berosus, a priest of the temple of Bel, who settled on the island of Cos, the home of Hippocratic medicine, where he established a school of astrology at the end of the fifth century bc. However, the full application of astrology to medicine called iatromathematica, was developed subsequently in Hellenistic Egypt.

Both Greek medicine and Greek astrology shared the predominant Aristotelian physics of the day: that everything was composed of the 4 elements of fire, air, water, and earth in varying proportions. The 12 signs of the zodiac were divided into four groups of three, each group or ‘triplicity’ being associated with one of these elements, whose qualities of heat, cold, dryness, and moisture they symbolized. A particularly Egyptian feature was to give to each zodiac sign signification over certain parts and organs of the body, the first sign, Aries, signifying the head, through to the twelfth sign, Pisces, for the feet. Moreover, the four humours, which Hippocratic medicine held to constitute the human body as the elements composed the physical world as a whole, were assigned planetary significators, along with the organs which contained them: Jupiter ruled the blood, the liver, and the veins; the Moon, phlegm and the brain; Mars, yellow bile and the gall bladder; and Saturn, black bile and the spleen. The Moon in addition represented the humours as a whole, while the Sun denoted the vital spirit of the body, radiating from the heart via the arteries. Venus governed the genitourinary system, while to the seventh planet, Mercury, was given rulership of the mind.

The continuous movement of the planets in their courses, and their mutual interactions, were seen to correlate with the constant changes in the physical world: the cycle of the seasons, its mirroring in the four ages of Man, and the alternations between health and disease in an individual or community. The birth horoscope was used to identify the individual temperament, whether sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, or a combination of these, from which followed advice on the correct diet and lifestyle to maintain health and avoid the diseases to which that particular temperament was liable. The horoscope cast for the time of a person falling ill, called a decumbiture, was employed to help identify the nature, origin, and location of the disease, the likely prognosis, the kind of treatment to be given, and the most propitious times for its administration. The critical days in a disease, when an alteration in the condition for better or worse was anticipated, were calculated from the movements of the Moon and Sun for acute and chronic conditions respectively.

Medicine, as systematized by Galen in the second century ad, combined with late Stoic and Hermetic doctrines concerning the influence of the seven planets in the zodiac on terrestrial matters — encapsulated in the notion of a ‘cosmic sympathy’ and in the phrase ‘as above, so below’ — produced a positive science of astrological medicine for medieval men. A more fated attitude took hold among Arab, Jew, and Christian, that everything was ‘written in the stars’.

When astrological medicine was transmitted to Western Europe in the later Middle Ages; it required harmonizing with Christian theology. The position came to be accepted that the stars incline but do not compel, keeping intact Man's essential free will. For, although the human body might be subject to alteration and change occasioned by the movements of the planets in the zodiac, Man's immortal soul remained free from such influences so that he could indeed command the stars, insofar as he commanded his passions. This theme, that ‘the wise man rules his stars, the fool obeys them’, was powerfully developed by Marsilio Ficino, a fifteenth-century Florentine priest and physician steeped in Plato. The notion of a pre-ordained length of life, calculated from the points of life (apheta or hyleg) and destruction (anareta) in the natal horoscope, was overturned by correct physical habit and spiritual development, which nurtured the health of the body and soul, so extending the lifespan. However, the planets were still held accountable for epidemic diseases. The medical establishment in Paris blamed the triple conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn for the outbreak of the Black Death in 1348. The spread of syphilis at the end of the fifteenth century was thought to be caused by the conjunction of many planets in Scorpio in 1484, while the very name ‘influenza’ is testimony of the belief in the celestial origin of that disease.

Nicholas Culpeper, the famous seventeenth-century herbalist and astrologer, was one of the last to practise with integrity the combination of Galenic medicine and astrology, before the celestial art was relegated among the educated to a superstition, along with alchemy, which depended on astrology for its correct operations. Culpeper popularized astrological medicine by issuing inexpensive books in straightforward English on these learned subjects, with the effect of extending people's knowledge beyond the simple rules for seasonal blood-letting, purging, and bathing, and the times for doing so according to the zodiac sign occupied by the Moon, which were common to many popular almanacs of the time.

This astrological medicine, now very much marginalized, was carried on by a small number of enthusiasts. Ebenezer Sibly, an eighteenth-century doctor, believed that Enlightenment learning derived from observation and experiment was improved by a knowledge through astrology of the occult properties of substances. His Solar and Lunar tinctures, for men and women respectively, achieved some efficacy and popularity as medicines, while his edition of Culpeper's Herbal carried on the iatromathematical tradition. In Victorian England, the astrologer A. J. Pearce, whose career stretched into the 1920s, used to assist his father, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a homoeopath, by providing astral diagnoses of his patients. Today, on the fringes of the popular revival of astrology, the iatromathematical tradition continues.

Graeme Tobyn


Tester, S. J. (1987). A history of Western astrology. Boydell Press.

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