• 107328  Infos

History of astrology

The belief in a connection between the heavenly bodies and the lives of people has played an important part in human history
For the overwhelming bulk of human history astronomy and astrology were regarded as one and the same subject with a distinction being made between "natural astrology" (the study of the motions of the heavenly bodies timing of eclipses etc) and "judicial astrology" (the study of the supposed correlations between the positions of various celestial objects and the affairs of human beings)
Isidore of Seville (d. 636) was one of the first todistinguish between astronomy and astrology However astronomy did not begin to be separated from astrology until the 16th century when with the system of Copernicus the conviction that the earth itself is one of the heavenly bodies was finally established
The study of astrology and the belief in it, as part of astronomy is found in a developed form among the ancient Babylonians; and directly or indirectly through the Babylonians it spread to other nations It came to Greece about the middle of the 4th centuryBC and reached Rome before the opening of the Christian era
In India and China astronomy and astrology are largely reflections of Greek theories and speculations; and similarly with the introduction of Greek culture into Egypt both astronomy and astrology were actively cultivated in the region of the Nile during the Hellenistic and Roman periods Astrology was further developed by the Arabs from the 7th to the 13th century and in the Europe of the 14th and 15th centuries astrologers were dominating influences at court
Even up to the present day men of intellectual eminence have convinced themselves that astrology has a foundation of truth just as there are still believers in chiromancy or other forms of divination
There is an obvious tendency however forastrology to be employed like palmistry as a means of imposing on the ignorant and credulous The generally established belief of the scientific community is that astrology is either mere superstition or absolute imposture and that its vogue is due either to willful deception or to fatuous unscientific gullibility


Astrology's Babylonian origins

The history of astrology can now be traced back to ancientBabylonia and indeed to the earliest phases of Babylonian history ie to about 3000 BC
In Babylonia as well as in Assyria as a direct offshoot of Babylonian culture (or as we might also term it "Euphratean" culture) astrology takes its place in theofficial cult as one of the two chief means at the disposal of the priests (who were called bare or "inspectors") for ascertaining the will and intention of the gods the other being through the inspection of the liver of the sacrificial animal (see omen)
Just as this latter method of divination rested on a well-defined theory - to wit that the liver was the seat of the soul of the animal and that the deity in accepting the sacrifice identified himself with the animal whose "soul" was thus placed in complete accord with that of the god and therefore reflected the mind and will of the god - so astrology is sometimes purported to be based on a theory of divine government of the world
However astrology in contrast to "liver" divination appears at first glance to be more scientific This perhaps misleading appearance must be taken into consideration as a factor in accounting for the persistent hold which astrology still maintains on many minds even at the present day
Starting with the indisputable fact that man's life and happiness are largely dependent upon phenomena in the heavens that the fertility of the soil is dependentupon the sun shining in the heavens as well as upon therains that come from heaven; and that on the other hand the mischief and damage done by storms and floods (both of which the Euphratean Valley was almost regularly subject to) were to be traced likewise to the heavens - the conclusion was drawn that all the great gods had their seats in the heavens
In that early age of culture known as the "nomadic" stage which under normal conditions precedes the "agricultural" stage the moon cult is even more prominent than sun worship and with the moon and sun cults thus furnished by the "popular" faith it was a natural step for the priests who correspond to the "scientists" of a later day to perfect a theory of a complete accord between phenomena observed in the heavens and occurrences on earth

The system of Babylonian astrology

Of the planets five were recognized - Jupiter Venus Saturn Mercury and Mars - to name them in the order in which they appear in the older cuneiform literature; in later texts Mercury and Saturn change places
These five planets were identified with the gods of the Babylonian pantheon as follows:
  • Jupiter with Marduk;
  • Venus with the goddess Ishtar
  • Saturn with Ninib
  • Mercury with Nebo
  • and Mars with Nergal

The movements of the sun moon and five planets were regarded as representing the activity of the fivegods in question together with the moon-god Sin and the sun-god Shamash in preparing the occurrences on earthIf therefore one could correctly read and interpret the activity of these powers one knew what the gods were aiming to bring about
The Babylonian priests accordingly applied themselves to the task of perfecting a system of interpretation of the phenomena to be observed in the heavens and it was natural that the system was extended from the moon sun and five planets to the more prominent and recognizable fixed stars
The interpretations themselves were based (as in thecase of divination through the liver) chiefly on twofactors:
  • On the recollection or on written records of what in the past had taken place when the phenomenon or phenomena in question had been observed and
  • Association of ideas - involving sometimes merely a play upon words - in connection with the phenomenon or phenomena observed

Thus if on a certain occasion the rise of the new moon in a cloudy sky was followed by victory over an enemy or by abundant rain the sign in question was thus proved to be a favourable one and its recurrence would thenceforth be regarded as a good omen though the prognostication would not necessarily be limited to the one or the other ofthose occurrences but might be extended to apply to othercircumstances
On the other hand the appearance of the new moon earlier than was expected was regarded as an unfavourableomen - prognosticating in one case defeat in another deathamong cattle in a third bad crops - not necessarily becausethese events actually took place after such a phenomenon but by an application of the general principle resting upon association of ideas whereby anything premature would suggest an unfavourable occurrence
In this way a mass of traditional interpretation of all kinds of observed phenomena was gathered and once gathered became a guide to the priests for all times However not all of these ideas are still used in astrology as it is usually practiced today
Astrology in its earliest stage was marked by three characteristic limitations:
  • In the first place the movements and position of the heavenly bodies point to such occurrences as are of public import and affect the general welfare

The individual's interests are not in any way involved and we must descend many centuries and pass beyond the confines of Babylonia and Assyria before we reach that phase which in medieval and modern astrology is almost exclusively dwelt upon - the individual horoscope
In Babylonia and Assyria the cult centred largely and indeed almost exclusively in the public welfare and the person of the king because upon his well-being and favour with the gods the fortunes of the country were dependent in accordance with the ancient conception of kingship (see J. G. Frazer The Early History of Kingship)
  • In the second place the astronomical knowledge presupposed and accompanying early Babylonian astrology was though essentially of an empirical character limited and flawed

The theory of the ecliptic as representingthe course of the sun through the year divided among twelve constellations with a measurement of 30° to each division is of Babylonian origin as has now been definitely proved; but it does not appear to have been perfected until after the fall of the Babylonian empire in 539 BC
Similarly the other accomplishments of Babylonian astronomers such as their system or rather systems of moon calculations and the drawing up of planetary tablets belong to this late period so that the golden age of Babylonian astronomy belongs not to the remote past as was until recently supposed but to the Seleucid periodie after the advent of the Greeks in the Euphrates Valley
From certain expressions used in astrological texts that areearlier than the 7th century BC it would appear indeed that the beginnings at least of the calculation of sun and moon eclipses belong to the earlier period but here too the chief work accomplished was after 400 BC and the defectiveness of early Babylonian astronomy may be gathered from the fact that as late as the 6th century BC an error of almost an entire month was made by the Babylonian astronomers in the attempt to determine through calculation the beginning of a certain year
In a general way the reign of law and order in the movements of the heavenly bodies was recognized and indeed must have exercised an influence at an early period in leading to the rise of a methodical divination that was certainly of a much higher order than the examination of ananimal's liver
However the importance that was laid upon the endless variations in the form of the phenomena and the equally numerous apparent deviations from what were regarded as normal conditions prevented for a long time the rise of any serious study of astronomy beyond what was needed for the purely practical purposes that the priests as "inspectors" of the heavens (as they were also the "inspectors" of the sacrificial livers) had in mind
  • Thirdly we have probably as early as the days of Khammurabi ie c. 2000 BC the combinations of prominent groups of stars with outlines of pictures fantastically put together but there is no evidence that prior to 700 BC more than a number of the constellations of our zodiac had become part of the current astronomy

The spread of astrology from Babylonia

The researches of Bouché-Leclercq Cumont and Boll haveenabled us to fix with a considerable degree of definiteness the middle of the 4th century BC as the period when Babylonian astrology began its triumphal march to the west invading the domain of Greek and Roman culture and destined to exercise a strong hold on all nations and groups - more particularly in Egypt - that came within the sphere of Greek and Roman influence
It is rather significant that this spread of astrologyshould have been concomitant with the intellectual impulse that led to the rise of a genuine scientific phase of astronomy in Babylonia itself which must have weakened to some extent the hold that astrology had on the priests and the people
The advent of the Persians bringing with them a conception of religion of a far higher order than Babylonian-Assyrian polytheism (see Zoroaster) must also have acted as a disintegrating factor in leading to the decline of the old faith in the Euphrates Valley and we thus have the interesting though not entirely exceptional phenomenon of a great civilization bequeathing as a legacy to posterity something that is usually regarded as a superstition instead of a real achievement
"Chaldaean wisdom" became among Greeks and Romans the synonym of divination through the planets and stars and it is perhaps not surprising that in the course of time to be known as a "Chaldaean" carried with it frequently the suspicion of charlatanry and of more or less wilful deception
The spread of astrology beyond Babylonia is thus concomitant with the rise of a truly scientific astronomy in Babylonia itself which in turn is due to the intellectual impulse afforded by the contact with new forms of culture from both the East and the West

Greek and Egyptian contributions to astrology

In the hands of the Greeks and of the later Egyptians both astrology and astronomy were carried far beyond the limits attained by the Babylonians and it is indeed a matter of surprise to observe the harmonious combination of the two fields - a harmony that seems to grow more complete with each age and that is not broken until we reach the threshold of modern science in the 16th century
To the Greek astronomer Hipparchus belongs the credit of the discovery (c. 130 BC) of the theory of the precession of the equinoxes for a knowledge of which among the Babylonians we find no definite proof; but such a signal advance in pure science did not prevent the Greeks from developing in a most elaborate manner the theory of the influence of the planets upon the fate of the individual
The endeavour to trace the horoscope of the individual from the position of the planets and stars at the time of birth (or as was attempted by other astrologers at the time of conception) represents the most significant contribution of the Greeks to astrology
The system was carried to such a degree of perfection that later ages made but few additions of an essential character to the genethlialogy or drawing up of the individual horoscope by the Greek astrologers
The system was taken up almost bodily by the Arab astronomers It was embodied in the Kabbalistic lore of Jews and Christians and through these and other channels came to be the substance of the astrology of the middle ages
This system was referred to as "judicial astrology" and it is now usually regarded as a pseudoscience At the time however it was placed on a perfect footing of equality and esteem with "natural astrology" the former name for the more undisputedly genuine science of the study of the motions and phenomena of the heavenly bodies now better known as astronomy
Partly in further development of views unfolded in Babylonia but chiefly under Greek influences the scope of astrology was enlarged until it was brought into connection with practically all of the known sciences: botany chemistry zoology mineralogy anatomy and medicine Colours metals stones plants drugs and animal life of all kinds were each associated with one or another of the planets and placed under their rulership
By this curious process of combination the entire realm of the natural sciences was translated into the language of astrology with the single avowed purpose of seeing in all phenomena signs indicative of what the future had in store
The fate of the individual as that feature of the future which had a supreme interest led to the association of the planets with parts of the body Here too we find various systems devised in part representing the views of different schools in part reflecting advancing conceptions regarding the functions of the organs in man and animals
From the planets the same association of ideas was applied to the constellations of the zodiac which in later phases of astrology are sometimes placed on a par with the planets themselves so far as their importance for the individual horoscope is concerned
The zodiac was regarded as the prototype of the human body the different parts of which all had their corresponding section in the zodiac itself The head was placed in the first sign of the zodiac Aries the Ram; and the feet in the last sign Pisces the Fishes Between these two extremes the other parts and organs of the body were distributed among the remaining signs of the zodiac
With human anatomy thus connected with the planets with constellations and with single stars medicine became an integral part of astrology or, as we might also put it, astrology became the handmaid of medicine
Diseases and disturbances of the ordinary functions of the organs were attributed to the influence of planets or explained as due to conditions observed in a constellation or in the position of a star
The influence of planetary lore appears in the assignment of the days of the week to the planets beginning with Sunday assigned to the sun and ending with Saturday the day of Saturn

Medieval and Renaissance astrology

A most important application of mathematics during the Middle Ages was in astrology Astrologers were called mathematici Inasmuch as the practice of medicine was based largely on astrological determination of the proper treatment physicians had to become mathematicians and thus astrologers as well
Those were indeed strange times according to modern ideaswhen astrologers were dominant by the terror they inspiredand sometimes by the martydom they endured when their predictions were either too true or too false
Jerome Cardan (1501-1576) for instance hated Luther and so changed his birthday in order to give him an unfavourable horoscope In Cardan's times as in those of Augustus it was a common practice for men to conceal the day and hour of their birth till like Augustus they found a complaisant astrologer
But as a general rule medieval and Renaissance astrologers did not give themselves the trouble of reading the stars but contented themselves with telling fortunes by faces They practised chiromancy (also known as palmistry) and relied on afterwards drawing a horoscope to suit
As physiognomists (see physiognomy) their talent was undoubted and according to Lucilio Vanini there was no need to mount to the house-top to cast a nativity "Yes" he says "I can read his face; by his hair and his forehead it is easy to guess that the sun at his birth was in the sign of Libra and near Venus Nay his complexion shows that Venus touches Libra By the rules of astrology he could not lie"

Noted predictions

A few salient facts may be added concerning the astrologers and their predictions remarkable either for their fulfilment or for the ruin and confusion they brought upon their authors We may begin with one taken from Bacon's Essay of Prophecies:
"When I was in France I heard from one Dr Pena that thequeen mother who was given to curious arts caused the kingher husband's nativitie to be calculated under a false name; and the astrologer gave a judgment that he should be killed in a duell; at which the queene laughed thinking her husband to be above challenges and duels; but he was slaine upon a course at tilt the splinters of the staffe of Mongomery going in at his bever"
A favourite topic of the astrologers of all countries hasbeen the immediate end of the world As early as 1186 the earth had escaped one threatened cataclysm of the astrologers
This did not prevent Stöffler from predicting a universal deluge for the year 1524 - a year as it turned out distinguished for drought His aspect of the heavens told him that in that year three planets would meet in the aqueous sign of Pisces
The prediction was believed far and wide and President Aurial at Toulouse built himself a Noah's ark - a curious realization in fact of Chaucer's merry invention in the Miller's Tale
Tycho Brahe was from his fifteenth year devoted to astrology and adjoining his observatory at Uranienburg the astronomer-royal of Denmark had a laboratory built in order to study alchemy and it was only a few years before his death that he finally abandoned astrology
We may here notice one very remarkable prediction of the master of Kepler That he had carefully studied the comet of 1577 as an astronomer we may gather from his adducing the very small parallax of this comet as disproving the assertion of the Aristotelians that a solid sphere enveloped the heavens
But besides this we find him in his character of astrologer drawing a singular prediction from the appearance of this comet It announced he tells us, that in the north in Finland there should be born a prince who should lay waste Germany and vanish in 1632 Gustavus Adolphus it is well known was born in Stockhom Sweden overran Germany and died in 1632
Brahe's prophecy did not accurately predict Gustavus Adolphus' birthplace - Brahe predicted this would be Finland not Sweden But the partial fulfillment of the details of this prophecy - namely that a prince born in the north would lay waste to Germany and vanish in 1632 - suggests that Brahe possibly had some basis of reason for his prediction
Born in Denmark of a noble Swedish family a politician as were all his contemporaries of distinction Tycho though no conjuror appeared to foresee the advent of some great northern hero Moreover he was doubtless well acquainted with a very ancient tradition that heroes generally came from the northern frontiers of their native land where they are hardened and tempered by the threefold struggle they wage with soil climate and barbarian neighbours
Kepler explained the double movement of the earth by therotation of the sun At one time the sun presented its friendly side which attracted one planet sometimes its adverse side which repelled it. He also peopled the planets with souls and genii He was led to his three great laws by musical analogies just as William Herschel afterwards passed from music to astronomy
Kepler who in his youth made almanacs and once prophesied a hard winter which came to pass could not help putting an astrological interpretation on the disappearance of the brilliant star of 1572 which Tycho had observed
Theodore Beza thought that this star which in December 1573 equalled Jupiter in brilliancy predicted the second coming of Christ Astronomers were only then beginning to study variable and periodic stars and disturbances in that part of the heavens which had till then on the authority of Aristotle been regarded as incorruptible combined with the troubles of the times must have given a new stimulus to belief in the signs in heaven
Montaigne (Essais lib i. chap x.) relates a singular episode in the history of astrology Charles V and Francis I who both bid for the friendship of the infamous Aretino surnamed the divine both likewise engaged astrologers to fight their battles
In Italy those who prophesied the ruin of France were sure to be listened to. These prophecies affected the public funds much as telegrams used to in 1911 "At Rome" Montaigne tells us, "a large sum of money was lost on the Change by this prognostication of our ruin"
The marquis of Saluces notwithstanding his gratitude to Francis I for the many favours he had received including his marquisate of which the brother was despoiled for his benefit was led in 1536 to betray his country being scared by the glorious prophecies of the ultimate success of Charles V which were then rife

Historical proponents of astrology

The influence of the Medici made astrologers popular in France
Richelieu on whose council was Jacques Gaffarel (1601-1681) the last of the Kabbalists did not despise astrology as an engine of government
At the birth of Louis XIV a certain Morin de Villefranche was placed behind a curtain to cast the nativity of the future autocrat A generation back the astrologer would not have been hidden behind a curtain but have taken precedence of the doctor
La Bruyère dares not pronounce against such beliefs "for there are perplexing facts affirmed by grave men who were eye-witnesses"
In England William Lilly and Robert Fludd were both dressed in a little brief authority The latter gives us elaborate rules for the detection of a thief and tells us that he has had personal experience of their efficacy "If the lord of the sixth house is found in the second house or in company with the lord of the second house the thief is one of the family If Mercury is in the sign of the Scorpion he will be bald &c"
Francis Bacon abuses the astrologers of his day no less than the alchemists but he does so because he has visions of a reformed astrology and a reformed alchemy
Sir Thomas Browne too while he denies the capacity of the astrologers of his day does not venture to dispute the reality of the science The idea of the souls of menpassing at death to the stars the blessedness of their particular sphere being assigned them according to their deserts (the metempsychosis of J. Reynaud) may be regarded as a survival of religious astrology which even as late as Descartes's day assigned to the angels the task of moving the planets and the stars
Joseph de Maistre believed in comets as messengers of divine justice and in animated planets and declared that divination by astrology is not an absolutely chimerical science
Kepler was cautious in his opinion; he spoke of astronomy as the wise mother and astrology as the foolish daughter but he added that the existence of the daughter was necessary to the life of the mother
Kepler may have said this with the cynical meaning that the "foolish" work of astrology paid for the serious work of astronomy - as, at the time the main motivation to fund advancements in astronomy was the desire for better more accurate astrological predictions

Historical opponents of astrology

Lastly we may mention a few distinguished men who ran counter to their age in denying stellar influences
Aristarchus of Samos Martianus Capella (the precursor of Copernicus) Cicero Favorinus Sextus Empiricus Juvenal and in a later age Savonarola and Pico della Mirandola and La Fontaine a contemporary of the neutral La Bruyère were all pronounced opponents of astrology

Other miscellany

To astrological politics we owe the theory of heaven-sent rulers instruments in the hands of Providence and saviours of society
Napoleon as well as Wallenstein believed in his star Many passages in the older English poets are unintelligible without some knowledge of astrology
Chaucer wrote a treatise on the astrolabe; Milton constantly refers to planetary influences; in Shakespeare's King Lear Gloucester and Edmund represent respectively the old and the new faith
We still contemplate and consider; we still speak of men as jovial saturnine or mercurial; we still talk of the ascendancy of genius or a disastrous defeat
In French heur malheur heureux malheureux are all derived from the Latin augurium; the expression né sous une mauvaise étoile born under an evil star corresponds (with the change ofétoile into astre) to the word malôtru in Provençal malastrue; and son étoile palit his star grows pale belongs to the same class of illusions
The Latin ex augurio appears in the Italian sciagura sciagurato softened into sciaura sciaurato wretchedness wretched
The influence of a particular planet has also lefttraces in various languages; but the French and English jovial and the English saturnine correspond rather to the gods who served as types in chiromancy than to the planets which bear the same names
In the case of the expressions bien or malluné well or ill mooned avoir un quartier de lune dans la tetê to have the quarter of the Moon in one's head the German mondsüchtig and the English moonstruck or lunatic or moody the fundamental idea lies in the strange opinions formerly (and in some cases still) held about the Moon

See also

External links

Rob Hand a well-known academic astrologer of today states that the account presented here is mostly derived from mainstream academic sources Part 1 is the introduction; Part 2 is Mesopotamian Astrology--First Stages; and Part 3 contains contrasts and conclusions
Here is one for the really serious student This is a study of the union of astronomy and astrology and relations to astral worship from early Babylonian times through medieval European times up to and including the time of Isaac Newton especially in relation to prediction with extensions into more recent times There is also discussion of related matters in other cultures such as Chinese Indian Native American and African
This page links to many more pages which go into great detail on the history of astrology
Professor A. F. Seward lived around the turn of the last century He called himself "The World's Foremost Astrologer" and his dream was to see the teachings of astrology accepted as a mainstream part of the scientific community He felt so strongly that every man woman and child could benefit from the "Science of Astrology" as he called it, that he wrote a book in 1915 and priced it so as to be within the reach of most people
A brief very well written piece that covers the topic very well indeed
A few interesting thoughts

Special thanks to Distributed Proofreaders where the encyclopedia text was obtained
phenomena|Astrology history of