Astrology (from Greek αστήρ, αστρός, astér, astrós, "star", and λόγος, λόγου, lógos, lógou, "word, reason", hence -λόγια, -logia, "study of") refers to systems of beliefs and practices that relate the patterns and positions of celestial bodies to human personality, human affairs, and (in some practices) all terrestrial events. Some modern writers such as Alice Bailey and Allan Oken also relate astrology to the soul. The scientific community, however, almost universally considers astrology to be a pseudoscience or superstition, and there is no widely accepted scientific evidence for its validity.
Different cultures have different systems of astrology. What they have in common is that the patterns of human life and nature in general are seen as correspondent with celestial patterns, specifically with the position and movement of the Sun and planetary bodies as they appear against the backdrop of the fixed stars (in western astrology the Zodiac) as viewed from Earth. This is expressed in the fundamental astrological axiom, "As above, so below." Many traditions and applications of astrological concepts have arisen since its earliest recorded beginnings. Beck and Denison cite Greek astrology of 410 BC as well as the earlier Babylonian astrology of about 3500 BC. Astrology was practiced in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Advocates have defined astrology as a symbolic language, an art form, a science, and a method of divination. The connotation of "science" in astrology is based on its roots in ancient astronomy. (See Tycho Brahe, and Ptolemy.) But astrology has more relationship to religion, mythology, psychology, and philosophy, than to the physical science of astronomy. In this connection Pengree writes that astrological influences, "...indicate trends which may be changed by future astral influences or by the intervention of a super-natural being, usually on the pleading or at the behest of an astrologer or of a priest."
Astrologers utilize some astronomical calculations, but otherwise, astrology—in ancient times, unified with it—is now divorced from astronomy. Fisher suggests the divorce relates to the invention of the telescope, which revealed that the Sun, and not the Earth, is the center of the solar system. However, other writers highlight the broader fundamental conflict between religion and science and the general dominance of scientifically influenced world views. Lakatos makes the cleavage of world views more specific by noting that astrology is not "logically derivable from shared premises."
Astrologers may modify their claims in the light of the failure of predictions by saying that "the stars incline but do not compel.
Astrology in England
During the Middle Ages, astrology in England flourished as part of the world view, taken for granted. Geoffrey Chaucer, for instance, a well-informed man of his time, wrote a Treatise on the Astrolabe, in which the fifth part (never started) was to have been an introduction to "astrology". This would have included much that would now be called astronomy, but also astrological elements. The Church, however, was generally unhappy with astrological explanations of human affairs, as it preferred to ascribe changes of fortune, cataclysmic events, etc to God's providence. The system was elaborate, and anyone claiming to be an astrologer should have had considerable expertise, though there were ignorant frauds. Astrology was used for general predictions, individual predictions, and advising on courses of action. In the latter case it might be combined with medical knowledge.
The expertise seems to have declined during the 15th century, but revived again under Henry VIII, who forbade preaching against astrology. The rise of a more scientific attitude, searching for explanations, initially favoured it. Francis Bacon, for instance, believed in it. Astrological works were written in English instead of Latin, and a great many were published. Almanacs began to become popular. During the Interregnum, a time of great uncertainty for many people, there was a positive avalanche of astrological publication, and there was during this period a formal Society of Astrologers.
It was possible for a time for astrology and science to get along together. Both Lord Brouncker, the first President of the Royal Society, and Sir Kenelm Digby, one of the first people elected to it, both practised it, though it was, at the same time, mocked by satirists. Keith Thomas identifies no one dominant factor in its decline, which was encouraged by the greater stability of society, by the mockery astrology came to attract, by the Church of England's hostility, and by the prevalence of more scientific attitudes. Some belief in it remains to this day.
Astrology in literature
Shakespeare, it appears, was quite willing to disparage astrology. In Julius Caesar (i.ii), Cassius urges on Brutus with the words
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
- But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
In King Lear (i.iii), Edmund says
We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on — an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.
But this is placed in the mouth of one of Shakespeare's most complete villains, so it could be ambiguous.
It quite often suits authors to have a prediction in a tale, but it is not always clear whether the prediction is astrological or not. And sometimes the prediction is accurate but misinterpreted. In Walter Scott's The Talisman a hermit has foreseen a marriage between two princely families, but they are not the families he has assumed they are. Quentin Durward has an astrologer who is bribed into making a false prediction, but saves himself from execution by saying that he has seen that his death will be a few days before the death of the king.
In Kipling's Kim a village priest casts a horoscope which is proved correct within a matter of days.
- Oken, Alan, Soul-Centered Astrology, Doubleday, 1990
- Bobrick, Benson: The Fated Sky: Astrology in History, Simon and Schuster, 2006, p. 23
- Beck, Roger, A Brief History of Ancient Astrology, Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 12, 14
- Denison, Stephen, The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, Jameson & Morse, 1905
- Charles George Herbermann, et al. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Appleton Co., 1913 p. 19
- The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica,' v.5, 1974, p. 916
- Dietrich, Thomas: 'The Origin of Culture and Civilization, Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, 2005, p. 305
- David Pingree in: Wiener, Philip P., The Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973-74, p. 118
- Fisher, Gordon: Marriage and Divorce of Astronomy and Astrology, Lulu.com, 2002, p. 182
- Jastrow, Morris , The Study of Religion, W. Scot, 1902 p 308
- David Pingree in: Wiener, Philip P., The Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973-74, p. 126
- Lakatos, Imre & Alan Musgrave, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 1970 p. 9
- Thomas, K. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 1971. ch 10
- Thomas chs 10 & 12; Parry, G. The Seventeenth Century: the intellectual and cultural context of English Literature. Longman. 1989. (mini-biography of Kenelm Digby)
- Thomas, chs 10-12