A Brief History of Astrology
Astrology is a a Language of symbols. It is a Science of relationships, a System that classifies, a Study of cycles and a Discipline of thought.
The birth of astrology proper appears to have followed Alexander the Great conquest of Mesopotamia in 330 BCE and the meeting of Babylonian and classical Greek culture that ensued. A new center of learning developed at Alexandria, the city that Alexander founded on Egypt's Mediterranean coast.
Here, following the duodecimal pattern already established for the months, Greek-speaking savants divided the ecliptic into 12 equidistant sections, each covering 30 degrees of the sun's 360 degree journey. Each section was associated with the pattern of stars visible in the relevant portion of the night sky, for in the astronomy of the time the Earth was considered the center of the universe, with the sun and moon orbiting around it against a backdrop of fixed stars.
At the time, astrology was considered almost the perfect science, linking each aspect of life on Earth with the machine-like working of the rest of the universe. In its extreme form some astrologers believed that astrology was completely deterministic. By close study of his/her charts, the astrologer could compute all the movements of the heavenly bodies and work out the pattern of the past and the future. In practice, most astrologers believed that the planets exerted an influence on people's lives, but still allowed individuals a degree of free will to move with or against the pull of the heavens.
The new science spread rapidly east, reaching India by at least the second century CE and then moving on with Buddhist missionaries to China where a separate but allied tradition developed. From there, the science moved southeast into Asia. Astrology also became firmly entrenched in Iran, and later in the Islamic countries and the Byzantine lands of Eastern Europe and the Near East. Oddly, almost the only region where astrology remained virtually unknown was western Europe in the centuries following the collapse of the Roman empire.
Although knowledge of astrology was lost along with the knowledge of Greek, in which most of its key texts were written, Arab scholars took the texts back to Arabia and kept it alive during the Dark Ages. It was only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with the first stirrings of the Renaissance, largely thanks to translations of Arabic treatises made under Moorish influence in Spain. that astrologers began to flourish in all the European countries.
Astrologers were routinely consulted by rulers and politicians, and their discipline held a prestigious position in the universities; Galileo held the Chair of Astrology at the University of Padua. It was not just an intellectually valid science but also a centrally important one.
My Favorite Astrologer and Librarian
Hypatia is known primarily for her work on the ideas of conic sections introduced by Apollonius. Hypatia is thought to be the first woman to have a profound impact upon mathematics and thought, simplifying Apollonius' concepts on conics. Physically beautiful, devotedly celibate, she was the revered teacher of a man (Synesius of Cyrene) who, after his conversion to Christianity, helped formulate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, using neoplatonist principles learned at her feet.
However, it was not a good time to be an iatromathematician (original name for astrologer) Nor a neoplatonist. By the late fourth century the Roman empire was divided. Officially Christian, but patronizing to others: Jews, heretical sects, diverse schools of neoplatonists and other assorted "pagans" - and all of them at one another's throats. Alexandria in particular was seething with intercommunal rivalry and sectarian bitterness.
Then, as now, the business of science was to foretell the future. But for ordinary people, the future that most interested them was not so much the state of the heavens, as their own immediate future.
Reputable astronomers and geometers like Theon and Hypatia got confused in the popular and in the ecclesiastical mind with less reputable practitioners and all were lumped together as "mathematicians". The council of Laodicea in the mid-4th century outlawed "divination" and forbade priests to practice mathematics; at about the same time the emperor Constantius decided that no one may consult a soothsayer or a mathematician. Archbishop Theophilus Synesius died in 413 and Hypatia was suddenly without her powerful protector.
Cyril, making use of a 500-strong private militia, began to exert his authority in the temporal as well as in the spiritual sphere, and thus he came into conflict with the civil governor, Orestes. Hypatia was close to Orestes and there was a rumor that it was Hypatia's influence that prevented the Christian Orestes from accepting Cyril's spiritual direction and becoming reconciled with his rival. Moreover she was seen as one "devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, [who] beguiled many people through her satanic wiles, and the governor ... through her magic."
Hypatia was attacked, torn from her carriage and dragged into a church, where she was stripped naked and battered to death with roofing tiles. The mob tore her body limb from limb, took her mangled remains out from the church, and burned them.
"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all," Hypatia is credited with saying.
No good deed goes unpunished is what I say.
A Skeptical Look at Astrology
Dedicated to Dr Gary Posner and Skeptics everywhere.
Galileo's middle finger, pointing southwest towards Rome, is preserved in the Museum of the History of Science in Florence. He held the Chair of Astrology at the University in Padua and was the first to realize that the planets revolved around the Sun, not the earth as had been taught by the Church for centuries. After being imprisoned by the Inquisition for postulating this heretical position, he was released as long as he promised to never publish his theory again. For good measure, and to ensure his silence, his mother was imprisoned for the rest of her life. How very appropriate that this universal gesture of defiance is raised for all time next to the very instruments he measured the stars with.
Here is an astrolabe he might have used from the Medici collection at the Museum of the History of Science in Florence Italy.
Although the Church had deemed Galileo's theory as heresy, the Vatican was very much in need of the science of Astrology in order to accurately maintain the Liturgical Calendar. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. This can be as early as the end of March and as late as the end of April. In order to calculate the Equinox, you first have to calculate when the Solstice is and proceed from there. Complex calculations were required to mark these points and it was decided to place permanent markers cut into the floors of Cathedrals because of both their large square footage and walls high enough for the angle of the Oculus based on the 42 - 43 degree latitudes of Rome, Florence and Bologna.
This is the Meridian, the DaVinci Code "Rose Line", at Cathedral Santa Maria Degli Angeli in Rome, Italy
The small beam of light enters the Cathedral through the Oculus, positioned high on the wall for Rome's latitude. The calculations for the Oculus were done by Michelangelo.
This the Meridian Line, with the orbits of the planets in Santa Maria De Angeli in Rome. I was there a week after the June 2003 Solstice, late in the afternoon and you can see the Sun lighting up the line at the column towards the back.
The Meridian line is built right into the floor of the Cathedral. The line itself is made of bronze, with bronze star insets in the marble mosaic.
This is the beginning of the line at Cancer, sunrise on the day of the Summer Solstice.
This is the end of the line - Capricorn - sunset on the Longest Day of the Year.
The different signs of the Zodiac are imbedded in the floor in marble mosaics.
Aries the Ram
Gemini, the Twins
Virgo, the ONLY Female Sign of the Zodiac.
This is my favorite - Scorpio, hiding behind the pillar, tail raised ready to strike.
Sagittarius - The Archer
Aquarius, the Water Bearer
Pisces, Two Fish tails tied together swimming in opposite directions.
Astrology in the Capital
My favorite place to find signs of the Zodiac written in stone is in Washington DC. Of course, what else would you expect from a Virgo Town? I say if the Zodiac is good enough to adorn the facades of our government buildings it is good enough for me.
In October 1987, I found myself in Washington DC testifying in front of Senator William Proxmire about problems with the F-16. I was in the Senate Hearing room at the Dirksen building when I looked up and saw, to my amazement, that I was sitting under the Zodiac glyph for Libra.
As I looked around the room I saw that each of the 12 signs of the zodiac were inset into the ceiling tiles of the room.
It was so appropriate that I, an Astrologer, while exercising my First Amendment Right to Petition the Government to Redress a Grievance, was testifying under the sign of Libra the Scales. These photos are from the Architect of the Capitol Photography Database, and are the actual construction designs and official photos. With most sincere thanks to my friend Paul Casasco for the photos.
What you see below I found at the University of California Santa Cruz in the McHenry special collections department.
This is the natal chart of an Austrian nobleman, Hans Hannibal Hutter von Huttershofen, born at 5:00 pm on Sept 10, 1586.
This is an astrological chart drawn by none other than Astronomer Johannes Kepler, who said
"Unto all men God has given his manner of sustenance - to the astronomer it is astrology".
My favorite book is Johannes Kepler's "On the more certain fundamentals of
astrology" (Prague, 1601).