History of astrology
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The History of astrology encompasses a great span of human history and many cultures. The belief in a connection between the heavenly bodies and the lives of people has also played an important part in human history. See also the main article on Astrology.
Astrology is not limited to Western astrology alone, which by itself has dozens of branches and various offshoots. In modern India the ancient Vedic astrology (or Jyotish) is commonly used to this day, and in China Chinese astrology has existed for thousands of years and continues to flourish. The ancient Greeks formed Hellenistic astrology while the Mayans of Central America also developed their own form of astrology. The ancient Egyptians also had another system of astrology. A unique system of astrology eventually emerged in Tibet as well. Other cultures and civilizations around the world also developed their own astrological systems independently.
The terms Astrology and Astronomy have long been closely related. An Astrologer is an interpreter of celestial phenomena, while an Astronomer is a predictor of celestial phenomena. Astrology itself can be divided into two camps, comprised of "natural astrologers" (i.e. astronomers) who study the motions of the heavenly bodies, timing of eclipses, etc. "Judicial astrologers" study the supposed correlations between the positions of various celestial objects and the affairs of human beings.
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 century B.C., 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 (Islamic astrology), and in the Europe of the 14th and 15th centuries astrologers were dominating influences at court.
During the last century as astrology gained widespread popularity with the general public, its detractors became increasingly more vocal against it.
 Western Astrology
 Western astrology's Babylonian origins
| Fertile Crescent|
| Mesopotamian mythology|
The history of western astrology can now be traced back to ancient Babylonia, and indeed to the earliest phases of Babylonian history, in the third millennium B.C.
In Babylonia as well as in Assyria as a direct offshoot of Sumerian culture (or in general the "Mesopotamian" culture), astrology takes its place in the official 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.
Starting with the observations that man's sexual life and happiness are largely dependent upon phenomena in his pants, that the fertility of the soil is dependent upon the sun shining in the heavens as well as upon the rains 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.
 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 Ninurta (Ninib),
- Mercury with Nabu (Nebo),
- and Mars with Nergal.
The movements of the sun, moon and five planets were regarded as representing the activity of the five gods in question, together with the moon-god Sin and the sun-god Shamash, in preparing the occurrences on earth. If, 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 the case of divination through the liver) chiefly on two factors:
- 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 of those occurrences, but might be extended to apply to other circumstances.
On the other hand, the appearance of the new moon earlier than was expected was regarded as unfavourable - prognosticating in one case defeat, in another death among cattle, in a third bad crops - not necessarily because these 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 representing the 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 B.C.
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 period, i.e. after the advent of the Greeks in the Euphrates Valley.
From certain expressions used in astrological texts that are earlier than the 7th century B.C. 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 B.C., and the defectiveness of early Babylonian astronomy may be gathered from the fact that as late as the 6th century B.C. 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 an animal'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, i.e. c. 2000 B.C., the combinations of prominent groups of stars with outlines of pictures fantastically put together, but there is no evidence that prior to 700 B.C. more than a number of the constellations of our zodiac had become part of the current astronomy.
 The spread of astrology from Babylonia
Bouché-Leclercq, Cumont and Boll hold that the middle of the 4th century B.C. is when Babylonian astrology began to firmly enter western culture. At this point, it entered Greek and Roman culture, from whence it would exercise a strong hold on all nations and groups - particularly in Egypt - that came within the sphere of Greek and Roman influence.
This spread of astrology was concomitant with the rise of a genuine scientific phase of astronomy in Babylonia itself. This may have weakened to some extent the hold that astrology had on the priests and the people. Another factor leading to the decline of the old faith in the Euphrates Valley may have been the advent of the Persians, who brought with them a religion which differed markedly from the Babylonian-Assyrian polytheism (see Zoroastrianism).
"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 willful 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
To the Greek astronomer Hipparchus belongs the credit of the discovery (c. 130 B.C.) 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 single advancement 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 astologers. 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. Diseases and disturbances of the ordinary functions of the organs were attributed to the influences of planets and 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.
 Astrology in the Jewish community
A separate article exists on Jewish views of astrology.
In Hebrew, astrology was called hokmat ha-nissayon, "the wisdom of prognostication", in distinction to hokmat ha-hizzayon (wisdom of star-seeing, or astronomy). While not a Jewish practice or teaching as such, astrology made its way into the Jewish community, and became especially predominant in some books of Kabbalah.
 Medieval and Renaissance astrology
During the Middle Ages astrologers were called mathematici. Historically the term mathematicus<ref>http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/colloquia0405.html Galileo, Astrology and the Scientific Revolution: Another Look</ref><ref>http://www.ultralingua.net/index.html?action=define&nv=0&text=mathematicus&service=&searchtype=stemmed&service=latin2english Ultralingua Latin-English Dictionary</ref><ref>http://members.aol.com/jeff570/m.html Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics</ref> was used to denote a person proficient in astrology, astronomy, and mathematics. Inasmuch as some practice of medicine was based to some extent on astrology, physicians learned some mathematics and astrology.
Those were indeed strange times, according to modern ideas, when astrologers were dominant by the terror they inspired, and sometimes by the martyrdom they endured when their predictions were either too true or too false.
In the XIII century, Johannes de Sacrobosco (c. 1195 - 1256) and Guido Bonatti from Forlì (Italy) were the most famous astronomers and astrologers in Great Britain (the first) and in Europe (the second): the book Liber Astronomicus by Bonatti was reputed "the most important astrological work produced in Latin in the 13th century" (Lynn Thorndike).
Jerome Cardan (1501-1576) 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.
During the Renaissance, a form of "scientific astrology" evolved in which court astrologers would compliment their use of horoscopes with genuine discoveries about the nature of the universe. Many individuals now credited with having overturned the old astrological order, such as Galileo Galilei, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, were themselves practising astrologers.
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."
 Astrology's 20th century expansion
In the United States, a great surge of popular interest in astrology took place between 1900 through 1949. A very popular astrologer based in New York City named Evangeline Adams help feed the public's thirst for astrology readings with many accurate forecasts, her biographers say. A famous court case involving Adams, who was arrested and charged with illegal fortune-telling in 1914 - was later dismissed when Adams correctly read the horoscope of the judge's son with only a birthdate. Her acquittal set an American precedent that if astrologers practiced in a professional manner that they were not guilty of any wrong-doing.
The hunger for astrology in the earliest years of the 20th century by such astrologers as Alan Leo , Sepharial (also known as Walter Gorn Old), "Paul Cheisnard" and Charles Carter, among others, further led the surge of interest in astrology by wide distribution of astrological journals, text, papers, and textbooks of astrology throughout the United States.
The serious and complex writings on astrological practice and concepts in America progressed from the turn-of-the-century years and into a new period of popular expansion in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Many complex astrological materials were simplified to attempt to carve a clear line through points of contention and controversy. The result of this attempt was to "simplify astrology" in the minds of professionals and gave the impression of settled and agreed positions on many points that were not resolved.
The period between 1920-1940 gave way to the popular media jumping on board the great public interest in astrology. Publishers realized that millions of readers were interested in astrological forecasts and the interest grew ever more intense with the advent of America's entry into the First World War. The war heightened interest in astrology. Journalists began to write articles based on character descriptions and astrological "forecasts" were published in newspapers based on the one and only factor known to the public: the month and day of birth, as taken from the position of the Sun when a person is born. The result of this practice led to modern-day publishing of Sun-Sign astrology columns and expanded to some astrological books and magazines in later decades of the 20th century.
 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 the queen mother, who was given to curious arts, caused the king her 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 has been 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.
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 Stockholm, 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 the rotation 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 Pietro 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
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 over 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 men passing 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.
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.
Panaetius, Augustine, 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.
In the Hellenistic and Roman Empire eras, a number of notable philosophers and scientists, such as Diogenes of Babylon (Middle Stoic), Galen, and Pliny accepted some aspects of astrology while rejecting others.
 Other miscellany
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 of étoile 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 left traces in various languages; but the French and English jovial and the English saturnine correspond to the gods who served as types in chiromancy rather than to the planets which bear the same names.
In the case of the expressions bien or mal luné, 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, the fundamental idea lies in the strange opinions formerly (and in some cases, still) held about the Moon.
 Chinese Astrology
 Chinese Astrology & Geomancy
 Japanese Astrology & Geomancy
 Germanic Runic Astrology
 Vedic Astrology
 Other Resources
 See also
- Astrology and astronomy
- History of astronomy
- Jewish views of astrology
- Chinese astrology
 External links
- Hellenistic Astrology - An Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry outlining the development of Hellenistic astrology and its interaction with philosophical schools.
- Marriage and Divorce of Astronomy and Astrology: History of Astral Prediction from Antiquity to Newton and Beyond by Gordon Fisher
- Bibliography of Mesopotamian Astronomy and Astrology
- Comprehensive survey of the history of astrology