Astrology  

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This page Astrology is part of the astronomy series. Illustration: Flammarion engraving
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This page Astrology is part of the astronomy series.
Illustration: Flammarion engraving
This page Astrology is part of the mysticism series. Illustration: The Temple of the Rose Cross
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This page Astrology is part of the mysticism series.
Illustration: The Temple of the Rose Cross

"Astrologers and fortune-tellers, who practise palmistry and calculate nativities, guess at things past by the motion of a sieve, and show undimmed truth in a looking-glass or in a cup of water, are publicly tolerated; such people are, indeed, not without their use; they predict to men they'll make their fortune, to girls they shall marry their sweethearts, console those children whose fathers are too long dying, and calm the restlessness of young women married to old men; in a word, they deceive, but not at a very high rate, those who wish to be deceived."--The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère (1688) by Jean de La Bruyère


Beautiful stars! in other days
The prophet's eye might read your rays;
And tell of many a strange event,
Of warfare, and of warning sent.
I would not wish to know the fate
Of purple crown or royal state.
The stars might show to other eyes
Their deep and mighty mysteries—
Enough for me to know them fair,
And read my lover's safety there.

--"The Stars" by L. E. L.


"To the Chaldaeans may be assigned also the doubtful honour of having been among the first to develop astrology, the false science which has professed to ascertain the influence of the stars on human affairs, to predict by celestial observations wars, famines, and pestilences, and to discover the fate of individuals from the positions of the stars at their birth. A belief in some form of astrology has always prevailed in oriental countries; it flourished at times among the Greeks and the Romans; it formed an important part of the thought of the Middle Ages, and is not even quite extinct among ourselves at the present day.10 It should, however, be remembered that if the history of astrology is a painful one, owing to the numerous illustrations which it affords of human credulity and knavery, the belief in it has undoubtedly been a powerful stimulus to genuine astronomical study."--Short History of Astronomy (1898) by Arthur Berry

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Astrology is a pseudoscience that claims to discern information about human affairs and terrestrial events by studying the movements and relative positions of celestial objects. Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, and has its roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events, and some—such as the Hindus, Chinese, and the Maya—developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. Western astrology, one of the oldest astrological systems still in use, can trace its roots to 19th–17th century BCE Mesopotamia, from where it spread to Ancient Greece, Rome, the Arab world and eventually Central and Western Europe. Contemporary Western astrology is often associated with systems of horoscopes that purport to explain aspects of a person's personality and predict significant events in their lives based on the positions of celestial objects; the majority of professional astrologers rely on such systems.

Throughout most of its history, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition and was common in academic circles, often in close relation with astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine. It was present in political circles and is mentioned in various works of literature, from Dante Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer to William Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, and Calderón de la Barca. Following the end of the 19th century and the wide-scale adoption of the scientific method, researchers have successfully challenged astrology on both theoretical and experimental grounds, and have shown it to have no scientific validity or explanatory power. Astrology thus lost its academic and theoretical standing, and common belief in it has largely declined, until a resurgence starting in the 1960s.

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Europe

In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville argued in his Etymologiae that astronomy described the movements of the heavens, while astrology had two parts: one was scientific, describing the movements of the Sun, the Moon and the stars, while the other, making predictions, was theologically erroneous.

The first astrological book published in Europe was the Liber Planetis et Mundi Climatibus ("Book of the Planets and Regions of the World"), which appeared between 1010 and 1027 AD, and may have been authored by Gerbert of Aurillac. Ptolemy's second century AD Tetrabiblos was translated into Latin by Plato of Tivoli in 1138. The Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle in proposing that the stars ruled the imperfect 'sublunary' body, while attempting to reconcile astrology with Christianity by stating that God ruled the soul. The thirteenth century mathematician Campanus of Novara is said to have devised a system of astrological houses that divides the prime vertical into 'houses' of equal 30° arcs, though the system was used earlier in the East. The thirteenth century astronomer Guido Bonatti wrote a textbook, the Liber Astronomicus, a copy of which King Henry VII of England owned at the end of the fifteenth century.

In Paradiso, the final part of the Divine Comedy, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri referred "in countless details" to the astrological planets, though he adapted traditional astrology to suit his Christian viewpoint, for example using astrological thinking in his prophecies of the reform of Christendom.

John Gower in the fourteenth century defined astrology as essentially limited to the making of predictions. The influence of the stars was in turn divided into natural astrology, with for example effects on tides and the growth of plants, and judicial astrology, with supposedly predictable effects on people. The fourteenth-century sceptic Nicole Oresme however included astronomy as a part of astrology in his Livre de divinacions. Oresme argued that current approaches to prediction of events such as plagues, wars, and weather were inappropriate, but that such prediction was a valid field of inquiry. However, he attacked the use of astrology to choose the timing of actions (so-called interrogation and election) as wholly false, and rejected the determination of human action by the stars on grounds of free will. The friar Laurens Pignon (c. 1368–1449) similarly rejected all forms of divination and determinism, including by the stars, in his 1411 Contre les Devineurs. This was in opposition to the tradition carried by the Arab astronomer Albumasar (787–886) whose Introductorium in Astronomiam and De Magnis Coniunctionibus argued the view that both individual actions and larger scale history are determined by the stars.

In the late 15th century, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola forcefully attacked astrology in Disputationes contra Astrologos, arguing that the heavens neither caused, nor heralded earthly events. His contemporary, Pietro Pomponazzi, a "rationalistic and critical thinker", was much more sanguine about astrology and critical of Pico's attack.

Renaissance and Early Modern

Renaissance scholars commonly practised astrology. Gerolamo Cardano cast the horoscope of king Edward VI of England, while John Dee was the personal astrologer to queen Elizabeth I of England. Catherine de Medici paid Michael Nostradamus in 1566 to verify the prediction of the death of her husband, king Henry II of France made by her astrologer Lucus Gauricus. Major astronomers who practised as court astrologers included Tycho Brahe in the royal court of Denmark, Johannes Kepler to the Habsburgs, Galileo Galilei to the Medici, and Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake for heresy in Rome in 1600. The distinction between astrology and astronomy was not entirely clear. Advances in astronomy were often motivated by the desire to improve the accuracy of astrology. Kepler, for example, was driven by a belief in harmonies between Earthly and celestial affairs, yet he disparaged the activities of most astrologers as "evil-smelling dung".

Ephemerides with complex astrological calculations, and almanacs interpreting celestial events for use in medicine and for choosing times to plant crops, were popular in Elizabethan England. In 1597, the English mathematician and physician Thomas Hood made a set of paper instruments that used revolving overlays to help students work out relationships between fixed stars or constellations, the midheaven, and the twelve astrological houses. Hood's instruments also illustrated, for pedagogical purposes, the supposed relationships between the signs of the zodiac, the planets, and the parts of the human body adherents believed were governed by the planets and signs. While Hood's presentation was innovative, his astrological information was largely standard and was taken from Gerard Mercator's astrological disc made in 1551, or a source used by Mercator. Despite its popularity, Renaissance astrology had what historian Gabor Almasi calls "elite debate", exemplified by the polemical letters of Swiss physician Thomas Erastus who fought against astrology, calling it "vanity" and "superstition." Then around the time of the new star of 1572 and the comet of 1577 there began what Almasi calls an "extended epistemological reform" which began the process of excluding religion, astrology and anthropocentrism from scientific debate. By 1679, the yearly publication La Connoissance des temps eschewed astrology as a legitimate topic.

Enlightenment period and onwards

During the Enlightenment, intellectual sympathy for astrology fell away, leaving only a popular following supported by cheap almanacs. One English almanac compiler, Richard Saunders, followed the spirit of the age by printing a derisive Discourse on the Invalidity of Astrology, while in France Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire of 1697 stated that the subject was puerile. The Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift ridiculed the Whig political astrologer John Partridge.

In the second half of the 17th century, the Society of Astrologers (1647–1684), a trade, educational, and social organization, sought to unite London's often fractious astrologers in the task of revitalizing astrology. Following the template of the popular "Feasts of Mathematicians" they endeavored to defend their art in the face of growing religious criticism. The Society hosted banquets, exchanged "instruments and manuscripts", proposed research projects, and funded the publication of sermons that depicted astrology as a legitimate biblical pursuit for Christians. They commissioned sermons that argued Astrology was divine, Hebraic, and scripturally supported by Bible passages about the Magi and the sons of Seth. According to historian Michelle Pfeffer, "The society's public relations campaign ultimately failed." Modern historians have mostly neglected the Society of Astrologers in favor of the still extant Royal Society (1660), even though both organizations initially had some of the same members.

Astrology saw a popular revival starting in the 19th century, as part of a general revival of spiritualism and—later, New Age philosophy, and through the influence of mass media such as newspaper horoscopes. Early in the 20th century the psychiatrist Carl Jung developed some concepts concerning astrology, which led to the development of psychological astrology.

Impact on literature and music

The fourteenth-century English poets John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer both referred to astrology in their works, including Gower's Confessio Amantis and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer commented explicitly on astrology in his Treatise on the Astrolabe, demonstrating personal knowledge of one area, judicial astrology, with an account of how to find the ascendant or rising sign.

In the fifteenth century, references to astrology, such as with similes, became "a matter of course" in English literature.

In the sixteenth century, John Lyly's 1597 play, The Woman in the Moon, is wholly motivated by astrology, while Christopher Marlowe makes astrological references in his plays Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine (both c. 1590), and Sir Philip Sidney refers to astrology at least four times in his romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (c. 1580). Edmund Spenser uses astrology both decoratively and causally in his poetry, revealing "...unmistakably an abiding interest in the art, an interest shared by a large number of his contemporaries." George Chapman's play, Byron's Conspiracy (1608), similarly uses astrology as a causal mechanism in the drama. William Shakespeare's attitude towards astrology is unclear, with contradictory references in plays including King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Richard II. Shakespeare was familiar with astrology and made use of his knowledge of astrology in nearly every play he wrote, assuming a basic familiarity with the subject in his commercial audience. Outside theatre, the physician and mystic Robert Fludd practised astrology, as did the quack doctor Simon Forman. In Elizabethan England, "The usual feeling about astrology ... [was] that it is the most useful of the sciences."

In seventeenth century Spain, Lope de Vega, with a detailed knowledge of astronomy, wrote plays that ridicule astrology. In his pastoral romance La Arcadia (1598), it leads to absurdity; in his novela Guzman el Bravo (1624), he concludes that the stars were made for man, not man for the stars. Calderón de la Barca wrote the 1641 comedy Astrologo Fingido (The Pretended Astrologer); the plot was borrowed by the French playwright Thomas Corneille for his 1651 comedy Feint Astrologue.

See also




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