The history of Astrology encompasses a great span of human history and many cultures. The belief in a connection between the cosmos and terrestrial matters has also played an important part in human history. See also the main article on astrology.
There are three main branches of astrology today, namely Western astrology, Indian or Jyotish astrology, and Chinese or East Asian astrology. The study of Western astrology and the belief in it, as part of astronomy, is first 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., reached Rome before the advent of the Christian era, and India with the Hellenistic Indo-Greek kingdoms.
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. The Mayans of Central America and the Aztecs also developed their own form of astrology. 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.
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).
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. In the hands of the Greeks and of the Egyptians both astrology and astronomy were carried far beyond the limits attained by the Babylonians.
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).
The earliest extant Babylonian astrology text is the Enuma Anu Enlil (literally meaning "When the gods Anu and Enlil..."), dating back to 1600 B.C. This text describes various astronomical omens and their application to national and political affairs. For example, a segment of the text says: "If in Nisannu the sunrise appears sprinkled with blood, battles [follow]." Nisannu is the Babylonian month corresponding to March/April in the Western calendar.
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 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.
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:
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 influence of Babylonian planetary lore appears also in the assignment of the days of the week to the planets, for example Sunday, assigned to the sun, and Saturday, the day of Saturn.
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:
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 omen for good fortune of some kind to follow. On the other hand, the appearance of the new moon earlier than was expected was regarded as unfavourable, as it was believed that anything appearing prematurely suggested 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.
After the occupation by Alexander the Great in 332BC, Egypt came under Greek rule and influence, and it was in Alexandrian Egypt where horoscopic astrology first appeared. The endeavour to trace the horoscope of the individual from the position of the planets and stars at the time of birth represents the most significant contribution of the Greeks to astrology. This system can be labeled as "horoscopic astrology" because it employed the use of the ascendant, otherwise known as the horoskopos in Greek. Although developed under Hellenistic rule, it was in large measure derived from the teachings of the Babylonians and the Egyptians.
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. Particularly important in the development of horoscopic astrology was the astrologer and astronomer Ptolemy , whose work, the Tetrabiblos laid the basis of the Western astrological tradition. Under the Greeks and Ptolemy in particular, the planets, Houses, and Signs of the zodiac were rationalized and their function set down in a way that has changed little to the present day. Ptolemy's work on astronomy was also the basis of Western teachings on the subject for the next 1,300 years.
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.
Babylonia or Chaldea was so identified with astrology that "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.
Astrology in Egypt developed under the Ptolemies after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.
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 different parts of the body and so with medicine . 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 . The zodiac came to be 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. In later phases of astrology the signs of the zodiac are sometimes placed on a par with the planets themselves, so far as their importance for the individual horoscope is concerned.
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 system was taken up almost in its entirety by the Arab astrologers. From their great centres of learning in Damascus and Baghdad they revived the learning of the ancient Greeks in astronomy, astrology, mathematics and medicine which Europe had forgotten and developed it immensely. Their knowledge was then imported into Europe, during and after the Latin translations of the 12th century, helping to start the Renaissance. Albumasur was the greatest of the Arab astrologers, whose work 'Introductorium in Astronomiam' was later highly influential in Europe. Also important was Al Khwarizmi , the Persian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and geographer, who is considered to be the father of algebra and the algorithm. The Arabs greatly increased the knowledge of astronomy, naming many of the stars for the first time, such as Aldebaran, Altair, Betelgeuse, Rigel and Vega. In astrology they discovered a system still known as Arabic parts , which accorded a significance to the difference or "part" between the ascendant and each planet. The Arabs were also the first to speak of favourable and unfavourable indications in astrology, instead of categorical events fated to happen.
The first semantic distinction between astrology and astronomy was given by the Persian Muslim astronomer Abu Rayhan al-Biruni in the 11th century, and he later refuted astrology in another treatise. The study of astrology was also refuted by other medieval Muslim astronomers such as Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), Avicenna and Averroes. Their reasons for refuting astrology were often due to both scientific (the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than empirical) and religious (conflicts with orthodox Islamic scholars) reasons.
Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292-1350), in his Miftah Dar al-SaCadah, used empirical arguments in astronomy in order to refute the practice of astrology and divination. He recognized that the stars are much larger than the planets, and thus argued:
Al-Jawziyya also recognized the Milky Way galaxy as "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars" and thus argued that "it is certainly impossible to have knowledge of their influences."
Astrology became 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. In time this would lead to Church prelates and Protestant princes using the services of astrologers. This system was referred to as "judicial astrology", and its practitioners believed that the position of heavenly bodies influenced the affairs of mankind. It is now usually regarded as a pseudo-science. At the time, however, it was placed on a similar footing of equality and esteem with "natural astrology", the latter name for the study of the motions and phenomena of the heavenly bodies and their effect on the weather.
During the Middle Ages astrologers were called mathematici. Historically the term mathematicus 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.
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 Martin 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."
The term in the sense of one of the Vedanga, the six auxiliary disciplines of Vedic religion, is used in the Mundaka Upanishad and thus likely dates to Mauryan times. The Vedanga Jyotisha redacted by Lagadha dates to the Mauryan period, with rules for tracking the motions of the sun and the moon.
The documented history of Jyotisha begins with the interaction of Indian and Hellenistic cultures in the Indo-Greek period. The oldest surviving treatises, such as the Yavanajataka or the Brihat-Samhita, date to the early centuries CE. The oldest astrological treatise in Sanskrit is the Yavanajataka ("Sayings of the Greeks"), a versification by Sphujidhvaja in 269/270 CE of a now lost translation of a Greek treatise by Yavanesvara during the 2nd century CE under the patronage of the Western Satrap Saka king Rudradaman I.
The first named authors writing treatises on astronomy are from the 5th century CE, the date when the classical period of Indian astronomy can be said to begin. Besides the theories of Aryabhata in the Aryabhatiya and the lost Arya-siddhānta, there is the Pancha-Siddhāntika of Varahamihira.
The tradition usually called 'Chinese Astrology', by Westerners is in fact not only used by the Chinese, but has a long history in other East Asian countries such as Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Astrology is believed to have originated in China about the 3rd millennium BC. Astrology was always traditionally regarded very highly in China, and indeed Confucius is said to have treated astrology with respect saying: "Heaven sends down its good or evil symbols and wise men act accordingly". The 60 year cycle combining the five elements with the twelve animal signs of the zodiac has been documented in China since at least the time of the Shang (Shing or Yin) dynasty (ca 1766BC - CA 1050BC). Oracles bones have been found dating from that period with the date according to the 60 year cycle inscribed on them, along with the name of the diviner and the topic being divined about. One of the most famous astrologers in China was Tsou Yen who lived in around 300 BC, and who wrote: "When some new dynasty is going to arise, heaven exhibits auspicious signs for the people". Astrology in China also became combined with the Chinese form of geomancy known as Feng shui .
The distinctive Mayan calendar and Mayan astrology have been in use in Meso-America from at least the 6th Century BCE. There were two main calendars, one plotting the solar year of 365 days, which governed the planting of crops and other domestic matters; the other called the Tzolkin of 260 days, which governed ritual use. Each was linked to an elaborate astrological system to cover every facet of life. On the fifth day after the birth of a boy, the Mayan astrologer-priests would cast his horoscope to see what his profession was to be: soldier, priest, civil servant or sacrificial victim. A 584 day Venus cycle was also maintained, which tracked the appearance and conjunctions of Venus. Venus was seen as a generally inauspicious and baleful influence, and Mayan rulers often planned the beginning of warfare to coincide with when Venus rose. There is evidence that the Maya also tracked the movements of Mercury, Mars and Jupiter, and possessed a zodiac of some kind. The Mayan name for the constellation Scorpio was also 'scorpion', while the name of the constellation Gemini was 'peccary'. There is evidence for other constellations being named after various beasts, but it remains unclear. The most famous Mayan astrological observatory still intact is the Caracol observatory in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in modern day Mexico.
The Aztec calendar shares the same basic structure as the Mayan calendar, with two main cycles of 365 days and 260 days. The 260 day calendar was called Tonalpohualli by the Aztecs, and was used primarily for divinatory purposes. Like the Mayan calendar, these two cycles formed a 52 year 'century', sometimes called the Calendar Round .
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 helped 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.
Throughout history many astrologers have made predictions about the future course of world events, and these are often remarkable either for their fulfilment or for the ruin and confusion they brought upon their authors.
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. 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.
The most famous predictions about European and world affairs were made by the French astrologer Nostradamus (1503 - 66). Nostradamus became famous after the publication in 1555 of his work Centuries , which was a series of prophecies in cryptic verse. So obscure are the predictions that they have been interpreted as relating to a great variety of events since, including the French and English Revolutions, and the Second World War. In 1556 Nostradamus was summoned to the French court by Catherine de Medici and commissioned to draw up the horoscope of the royal children. Although Nostradamus later fell out of favour with many in the court and was accused of witchcraft, Catherine continued to support him and patronized him until his death.
Throughout history many astrologers have made their mark, including such figures as Ptolemy, Albumasur, Tsou Yen and Nostradamus. In addition, many famous people over the centuries have expressed opinions either in favour or in opposition to astrology, and have either used it or refused to use it in their actions.
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.
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.
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 allusions.
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.
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