Astrology is an ancient system in which the positions of the planets and stars are used for prophecy and divination.
Of all the occult arts, astrology is the most enduringly popular, despite attempts by scientists to discredit it.
Astrology is based on a principle attributed to Hermes Trismegistus: “as above, so below.” The ancients viewed Earth and man as microcosms of the universe, a belief that endured through the Renaissance. Astrology holds that the celestial bodies exert forces and exhibit personalities that influence people and events below in the microcosm.
These influences may be determined by mapping positions in the sky at various times. The influences also are used to determine the most auspicious times to undertake magical work and alchemical processes.
Astrology is an ancient system in which the positions of the planets and stars are used for Prophecy and Divination and which plays an important role in Magic and Alchemy. Of all the occult arts, astrology is the most enduringly popular, despite attempts by scientists to discredit it.
Astrology is based on a principle attributed to Hermes Trismegistus: “as above, so below.” The ancients viewed Earth and man as microcosms of the universe, a belief that endured through the Renaissance. Astrology holds that the celestial bodies exert forces and exhibit personalities that influence people and events below in the microcosm. These influences may be determined by mapping positions in the sky at various times. The influences also are used to determine the most auspicious times to undertake magical work and alchemical processes.
The Chaldeans were the first to develop astrology as a divination and magical system in about 3000 B.C.E. Chaldean astrologer-priests observed the heavens from towers called ziggurats. The Babylonians also practiced astrology; either they or the Chaldeans formalized the zodiac, a band of 12 constellations through which the SUN, the Moon, and the planets appear to journey from the perspective of the Earth. The band is the ecliptic, the middle of which is the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The term zodiac was applied later by the Greeks, meaning “circus of animals.”
The ancients especially used astrology to forecast auspicious times for matters of state, including war, and to predict weather and natural disasters. Two types of astrology evolved: horary, which determines auspicious times for action, and mundane, which predicts disasters and other great happenings and is concerned with countries, races, and groups of people.
Astrological arts have been practised around the world. Chinese astrology was documented as early as 2000 b.c.e. The emperor was considered the high priest of the heavens and made sacrifices to the stars to stay in harmony with them. The four corners of the emperor’s palace represented the cardinal points in space, the equinoxes and the solstices, and he and his family moved from one corner to another as the seasons changed. The ancient Indians also used astrology, and the ancient Mayans calculated the times for blood sacrifices based on the stars. The Chinese and the Indians provided the sources for Tibet to create its own system of astrology and the devising of astrological almanacks. The ancient Egyptians did not practice a Chaldean form of astrology, though they gauged seasons by the stars. Egyptian astrologer-priests maintained mythological calendars that instructed people in how to behave.
The Greeks loved astrology and democratized it, moving it out of the exclusivity of the royal court and into the hands of the masses. The Chaldeans actually were the first to observe relationships between the positions of stars and planets at the time of birth and a person’s subsequent destiny. The horoscope, the celestial picture of the moment of birth, was used extensively by the Greeks for personal matters. Thus a third type of astrology, natal, evolved. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle were among the many great philosophers who accepted the influence, but not the rule, of the stars upon life on Earth below. The Greeks believed that astrology could reveal favourable and unfavourable times for taking certain actions but could not guarantee success.
The Romans imported astrology from Greek slaves circa 250–244 b.c.e., contributing the names of the planets still used in modern times. Astrologer fortunetellers, many of them fraudulent, became so popular in the Roman Empire that they were driven out by decree in 139 b.c.e. by Cornelius Hispallus. But astrology was already too popular, and it regained its influence in all classes of Roman society. Augustus was the first emperor to become an open believer in astrology.
One of the most important astrological books in history was written by Ptolemy, a Greco-Eygptian astronomer who lived circa 140–200 c.e. and devised the Earth-centered Ptolemaic system of the universe. Tetrabiblios (Four Books on the Influence of the Stars) created the foundation on which astrology still rests.
Astrology suffered under Christianity, despite the lore that the three magi, Persian astrologer–wise men, were guided by a star to find the infant Jesus. In 333, Emperor Constantine, a Christian convert, condemned astrology as a “Demonic” practice. St. Augustine, one of the early fathers of the church and the bishop of Alexandria, also denounced it. The church replaced astrology and other pagan seasonal practices with Christian festivals.
While astrology withered in the West, it continued to flourish in the East and the Islamic world. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), 10th-century Persian alchemist and philosopher, refuted it, however, but it remained firmly entrenched in royal courts and society.
Beginning in about the 12th century, Arab astrology found its way back into the West through Spanish kabbalists. By the time of the Renaissance, most great scientists, alchemists, astronomers, physicians, and philosophers studied and accepted astrology. Paracelsus related astrology to alchemy and medicine, advising that no prescriptions be given without consulting the heavens. He believed that the human body is a constellation of the same powers that forms the stars. He associated certain metals with the planets and formulated talismans out of metal disks, which were stamped with planetary symbol s and forged under astrologically auspicious times. Astrology was taught in universities and was tolerated by the church.
The Renaissance was astrology’s last association with science in the West. In 1666, the prestigious Academy of Sciences was created by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister to Louis XIV, and it omitted astrology from the disciplines. The discoveries of science in the ensuing centuries widened the gap between science and the occult, and astrology fell permanently into the latter—but never out of public favour. It remains a favoured tool for prediction, personal fortune, and relationships, and it is even used on past-life regression and in counselling.
The horoscope (Greek for “I look at the hour”) is the chief component of natal astrology, which predicts the general course of a person’s character and destiny throughout life based upon the positions of stars and planets at the exact time and place of birth. The oldest-surviving horoscope is Babylonian, circa 410 B.C.E.; another found in Uruk, Chaldea (now Iraq), dates to 263 B.C.E.
The Greeks believed astrology should be available to all, not just the royalty. Greek astrologers used the time, the date, and the place of birth to cast a chart of the heavenly configurations at that moment. Their system is still in use.
The most important factor in a horoscope is the sun sign, which is the constellation or sign of the zodiac occupied by the Sun at the time of birth. The sun sign indicates overall personality traits. Each sign is ruled by one or two planets and is ascribed certain positive and negative personality and character traits. The beginning of the zodiac is figured from the sign in which the Sun rises on the first day of spring. Some 2,000 years ago, the beginning sign was Aries. Due to precession, a gradual shift of the Earth’s axis, a slippage of one sign occurs approximately every 2,000 years, and the vernal equinox is now in Pisces.
The second most important feature in a horoscope is the ascendant or rising sign, which reveals character, abilities, the manner of self-expression, and one’s early environment. The third most important factor is the moon sign, which reveals one’s emotional nature.
The horoscope is divided into 12 houses, each of which governs a different facet of life, such as money, relationships, career, creative expression, intellect, and so on. The position of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets at the time of birth determines the celestial influences that act on each of these houses, creating a host of strengths and weaknesses.
Most astrologers say a horoscope is not predestination but is a guide to potentials, opportunities, and timing. It does not determine career and marriage choices but points out tendencies and abilities that may be maximized or changed. Astrologer Dane Rudhyar called astrology “the algebra of life” and said that “The stars impel, they do not compel.”
While anyone can draw up a horoscope from a birth date, a time, a place, and an astronomical ephemeris, skill and knowledge are required to properly interpret the chart. An astrologer considers hundreds of planetary configurations and relationships. Many astrologers use psychic abilities in their work.
Most Eastern astrologers and an increasing number of Western astrologers use the actual positions of the zodiac as the basis for their computations; they are called sidereal astrologers or siderealists. Those who prefer to use the ancient positions are called tropical astrologers or tropicalists.
Astrology and Jung
Astrology interested Carl G. Jung, who sometimes consulted the horoscopes of his patients to search for insights into their inner potentials and latent problems. Jung believed that astrology, like alchemy, springs from the collective unconscious, a layer of consciousness deep below waking thought which unites all human beings and is a symbolic language of psychological processes that unites the inner and outer worlds. Astrology is synchronistic, Jung said. Whatever is born or done has the quality of that moment in time.
Jung’s curiosity about astrology especially was aroused by astrological and alchemical correspondences to marriage. When astrologers examine the horoscopes of two individuals for signs of compatibility, they look closely at the relationships among the positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the ascendant, that is, the sign that is rising on the horizon at the time of a person’s birth. Conjunctions— the proximity of two planetary bodies, usually in the same sign—can signal harmonies that will help a relationship thrive through the years. Thus, if one partner’s sun sign is Taurus and the other’s moon sign is Taurus, that means their sun and moon conjunct. Other signs for happy relationships are conjunctions of both moons and conjunction of the moon and the ascendant. Unless there are astrological peculiarities, these conjunctions indicate a harmonious, complementary balance between the partners. An astrological tradition dating to the time of Ptolemy holds that at least one of these conjunctions—Sun/Moon, Moon/Moon, or Moon/ascendant—is required for an enduring marriage.
Jung undertook a study of the horoscopes of 483 married couples, randomly collected, to see how often these conjunctions appeared. The results showed an unusually high number of all three possible conjunctions. Jung examined the horoscopes in batches. The first batch of 180 marriages (360 horoscopes) revealed 10.9 per cent with Sun/Moon conjunctions—a probability of 1 in 10,000. The second batch of 220 marriages (440 horoscopes) revealed 10.9 per cent of Moon/Moon conjunctions—another probability of 1 in 10,000. The third batch of 83 marriages (167 horoscopes) revealed 9.6 per cent Moon/ascendant conjunctions, or a probability of 1 in 3,000.
The probability that all three conjunctions would show up in the horoscopes studied was 1 in 62,500,000. Jung said that marriage is such a complex relationship that one would not expect it to be characterized by any one or several astrological configurations. Nonetheless, the improbability of the high incidence of these three conjunctions in the sample group being due to mere chance was so enormous that it necessitated taking into account the existence of some factor responsible for it: perhaps synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidence.” Somehow, persons who were compatible according to their horoscopes had found each other and married. (Jung offered no comment upon the happiness or stability of the marriages in his astrological study.)
Although his results appeared to validate astrology, Jung said they did not. In his monograph, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (1960), he said that the astrological correspondences simply existed “like any other agreeable or annoying accident, and it seems doubtful to me whether it can be proved scientifically to be anything more than that.”
Astrology and Science
Astrology usually fails scientific tests. Astrologers asked to match people to birth charts usually score no better than chance, sometimes worse. In tests where false birth information is given, the horoscopes produced often describe the individuals in question just as well as their real charts.
One scientific anomaly in support of astrology is the “Mars effect,” discovered by Michel Gauquelin, a French psychologist. In 1949, Gauquelin began work to disprove astrology. While he did disprove much of traditional astrology, some of his findings proved to be startling in their support of astrology. He examined the horoscopes of 576 French physicians and found, to his surprise, that more were born within the two hours of the rise and culmination of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn than could be explained by chance. Intrigued, Gauquelin extended his research to sports champions and found that they tended to be born after the rise and culmination of Mars. His findings became known as the Mars effect.
Gauquelin’s findings were replicated by other researchers, much to the dismay of some scientists. A petition of protest signed by 192 persons, including Linus Pauling, Sir Francis Crick, Fred Hoyle, and B. F. Skinner, appeared in the Humanist. The petition asserted that acceptance of astrology “only contributes to the growth of irrationalism and obscurantism.” It called for a challenge to “the pretentious claims of astrological charlatans.” The controversy helped spawn the formation of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) in Buffalo, New York. In 1981, CSICOP attempted to replicate Gauquelin’s work with the intent of proving it false. Instead, CSICOP validated it. The organization allegedly then falsified results and published them. A scandal erupted when the matter was exposed by Dennis Rawlins, a former CSICOP member, in FATE magazine.
Gauquelin pursued further research, collecting more than 50,000 character traits of successful persons in 10 occupations. Results were similar to the Mars effect. He concluded that the findings do not Demonstrate that planets and stars directly influence a person but that a sort of cosmic biology is at work, including genetic heredity. He observed, as did French astrologer Paul Choisnard at the turn of the 20th century, that children often are born with the same sun, moon, or rising sign as a parent. The effect is doubled if both parents share the same attributes. Furthermore, Gauquelin theorized that the unborn child may be reacting to cosmic influences when it chooses the moment of birth. The increase of Caesarian birth and artificial inducement of labour obliterates this cosmic biology.
The Mars effect does not seem to apply to ordinary people, however, only to superachievers. Since charts show only potential, only the very successful exhibit the typical traits ascribed to planets and signs, Gauquelin opined. He also found there are no “typical” astrological profiles of the insane and criminal types.
Further Reading :
- Gauquelin, Michel. Birth-Times. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.
- ———. Dreams and Illusions of Astrology. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1979.
- Jung, C. G. Synchronicity. From Collected Works vol. XIII. 1952. Reprint, Princeton, N.J.: University of Princeton Press, 1973.
- Rudhyar, Dane. The Astrology of Personality. 2d ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.