1. Some Sources of Astral Beliefs
"Even a god cannot change the past.
--- Agathon, born c. 445 BC
"It has been said that though God cannot alter the past, historians can; it is perhaps because they can be useful to Him in this respect that He tolerates their existence.
--- Samuel Butler, Erewhon Revisited, 1901
1. The heavensthe physical oneswere for a long time regarded as the locus of divinity by many people, and a source of what takes place on earth. In his On the Heavens, Aristotle says there is something beyond the bodies which are on earth, different and separate from them, and the glory of this something grows greater as its distance from this world of ours increases. The primary body, at the greatest distance from earth, is eternal and unchanging. For, Aristotle says, surely there are gods, and they are immortal, and everyone agrees they are located in the highest place in the universe. The evidence of our senses tells us, at least with the certainty attainable by humans, that in the past, as far as our records reach, no change has taken place in the outermost heavens. So the primary body is something beyond earth, air, fire and water. We call it the aether, Aristotle says, because it runs forever. (Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), De caelo (On the Heavens), 269b12-16, 270b1-23, translated by J. L. Stocks.)
2. Aristotle based his theory on the evidence of our senses. He says phenomena confirm his theory. He also says his theory confirms the phenomena. That is, predictions made with his theory were verified by observation. He had an empirically based procedure, contrary to what some have said. His failures are often due to lack of information, or incorrect interpretation of it; to phenomena unnoticed, or not examined closely enough; to new stars (if any were known to him) and comets interpreted as being relatively near, perhaps because they showed change; to insufficient knowledge of the chemical constitution of matter; and so on. That celestial objects are alive wasn't a bad conjecture in the context of what was known, since they appear to be self-moving. This seems obviously to be a characteristic of living entities. That the celestial objects are divine wasn't too bad a conjecture, either, given their overall regularity and permanence, over periods of time which are very long relative to human lives.
3. When Aristotle associates the divine with the outer heavens, he doesn't actually say the outer heavens or the stars are gods. He says they are like gods by virtue of their unchanging nature. On earth, change is everywhere. The living are born or sprout, are transformed or transform themselves, and die. Ores in the earth can be changed to metals, metals rust. Mountains explode or wear down. Waters flood or dry up, spring from the earth or fall from above; when boiled they shrink and turn into a small residue of minerals; when frozen they turn to transparent "earth" (that is, to one of the four basic elements in the theory of Empedocles and Aristotle). And so on. Only the stars appear permanent and unchanging. But are there any bodies which last forever in one form? Those who believe there are immortal gods, says Aristotle, may be prepared to believe this too, and that the planets and stars are such bodies.
4. The divinity and regularity of the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars were taken as evidence that these celestial objects regulated or at least influenced various kinds of changes on earth. The objects were considered by some to be quite tyrannical, and to dictate events on earth. But this autocracy let one make predictions about events on earth. If everything is dictated in advance, then it is reasonable to try to find out in advance what will happen. Success of prediction depends on events being completely or partly determined in advance of their happening. There grew up an association of the divinity and the regularity of celestial objects with astral determinism, the doctrine that some, at least, of the myriad changes on earth are dictated by the stars and planets. This, in turn, is associated with the problem of determinism in general. Crudely, the problem is to decide whether or not everything that happens is in some way determined in advance. This seems to be true of the movements of the celestial objects themselves. The question is, how much of the change on earth and in the heavens is determined in advance, and what kind of changes are involved?
5. Connections between religion, astronomy, astrology and prediction are very ancient, probably prehistoric. In The Etruscans Begin to Speak, Zaharie Mayani describes a relatively late ceremony which unites the three. His description is based on a fresco on the wall of a tomb, known as the Tomb of the Augurs, which dates from 530 B.C. Two priests are seen marking out the bounds of a holy area consisting of a square in which two medians were marked, one running from north to south and the other from east to west. The quarters of the square are also subdivided, and each resulting section is assigned to a particular deity. The square is a kind of mirror of the heavens, since the divisions of the square correspond to a conceptual division of the sky. A priest could stand in the center of the square and with the help of a special staff determine in which zone of the square the direction of a celestial omen fell, hence which deity was sending the omen. Thus the holy area or templum constituted an observatory for determining positions of omens which could be used for predicting future events. The observations were a means of learning the will of the gods. (Zaharie Mayani, The Etruscans Begin to Speak, translation by Patrick Evans, 1962, of Les Ιtrusques commenηent parler, 1961, p. 222-224.)
6. Another example, from
David Chandler, A History of Cambodia, Westview Press (HarperCollins),
2nd edn updated, 1996, p. 51-52:
"In the mid-1970s
. Eleanor Moron began studying the dimensions
of the temple [at Angkor Wat] in detail, convinced that these might contain
the key to the way the temple had been encoded by the savants who designed it.
After determining that the Cambodian measurement used at Angkor, the hat,
was equivalent to approximately 0.4 meters (1.3 feet), Moron went on to ask
how many hat were involved in significant dimenstions of the temple,
such as the distance between the western entrance (the only one equipped with
its own causeway) and the central tower.
The distance came to 1,728 hat, and three other components of
this axis measured, respectively, 1,296, 867, and 439 hat.
oron then argued that these figures correlated to the four ages,
or yugaa, of Indian thought. The
first of these, the Krita Yuga, was a supposedly golden age, lasting 1,728,000
years. The next three ages lasted for 1,296,000, 864,000, and
432,000 years, respectively. The
earliest age, therefore, was four times longer than the latest, the second
earliest, twice as long. The last
age is the Kali Yuga, in which we are living today.
At the end of this era, it is believed, the universe will be destroyed,
to be rebuilt by Brahman along similar lines, beginning with another golden
age. "The fact that the length of these four eras correlates exactly with
particular distances along the east-west axis of Angkor Wat suggests that the
code for the temple is in fact a kind of pun that can be read in terms
of time and space. The distances
that a person entering the temple will traverse coincide with the eras that
the visitor is metaphorically living through en route to the statue of Vishnu
in the central tower. Waling
forward and away from the west, which is the direction of death, the visitor
moves backward into time, approaching the moment when the Indians proposed
that time began. "In her research, Moron also discovered
astronomical correlations for ten of the most frequently occurring distances
at Angkor Wat. Astronomers working with her found that the siting of the
temple was related to the fact that its western gate aligned at sunrise with
aa small hill to the northeast, Phnom Bok.
Moreover, at the summer solstice an observer
. standing just in
front of the western entrance can see the sunrise directly over the central
tower of Angkor Wat. This day,
June 21, marked the beginning of the solar year for Indian astronomers and was
sacred to a king whose name, Suryavarman, means protected by the sun and
who was a devotee of Vishnu [this king, who was a devotee of Vishnu,
commissioned the building of Angkor Wat].
"The close fit of these spatial relationships to notions of cosmic
time, and the extraordinary accuracy and symmetry of all the measurements at
Angkor, combine to confirm the notion that the temple was in fact a coded
religious text that could be read by experts moving along the walkways from
one dimension to the next. The
learned pandits who determined the dimensions of Angkor Wat would have
been aware of and would have reveled in its multiplicity of meanings.
To those lower down in the society, perhaps, fewer and fewer meanings
would be clear. We can assume,
however, that even the poorest slaves were astonished to see this enormous
temple, probably with gilded towers rising 60 meters (200 feet) above the
ground and above the thatched huts of the people who had built it.
7. This lining up of temples could serve utilitarian purposes. Ernst Zinner reports that temples were aligned by the ancient Egyptians so they could be used as star clocks. Sun clocks were used for daytime measurement, and the Egyptians had water clocks which could be used day or night. However, they also determined the hours of the night by noting when certain constellations reached their highest point in the sky. In order to determine these zeniths, it was necessary to known where the meridian was. "This presented no difficulty for the Egyptians," says Zinner, "since the determination of the north-south and east-west directions at the laying of the foundation-stone of a temple was among the most important functions of the king. The process of determining these directions was depicted in exactly the same way on reliefs from the 4th millenium up to the birth of Christ." (Ernst Zimmer, Die Geschichte der Sternkunde, von den ersten Anfδngen bis zur Gegenwart, 1931, p. 12.) The measuring apparatus used by the king consisted of a straight edge (an alignment stick) bent upward at one end and with a plumb line attached, together with the split rib of a palm leaf. There are tables found in the burial chambers of the pharaohs Ramses VI and IX dating from between about 1160 and 1120 B.C. which list what constellations correspond to what hour of the night, and show a picture of a sitting man. The process of observing the passage of the hours of the night required two such observers, aligned along the meridian.
8. These examples show ways stars were connected to prediction and time-keeping. People have tried to predict the future in many ways besides observing stars. To take an exotic case, Seneca says of the Etruscans that they were consummately skilled in foretelling future events by interpreting lightning. We (the Romans), Seneca says, think that because clouds collide, lightning is emitted; they (the Etruscans) think the clouds collide so lightning will be emitted. Thus the gods can send messages to humans about what is destined to happen. (Seneca, Questiones naturales (about 62 A.D.), II.32, translated by Thomas Corcoran, 1971, v. 1, p. 150-151.)
9. Sometimes visions of the future were read in bowls of water. E. R. Dodds speaks of this use of scrying, as it is sometimes called, for precognition. This is future-telling carried out by staring into a translucent or shining object, called a speculum, until a moving vision or hallucination is produced which seems to come from within the object. It is dsaid that only a small proportion of people will be able to see such pictures. In modern times, the process is best known as crystal-gazing, but it can be carried out with other objects besides crystals. Crystals don't seem to have been used as specula before Byzantine times, but the practice of scrying is much older. In one ancient method, a mirror was used as a speculum; catoptromancy is divination using a mirror or other reflecting object. (A. Delatte, La catoptromancie grecque et ses derivιs, 1932.)
10. In another ancient method, used more frequently as time went on, the speculum was simply a bowl of water. Sometimes a film of oil (occasionally, flour) was spread on the surface of the water. This method was known as lecanomancy, literally "divination by bowl". The Greeks and Romans got this method from the Middle East, where it had a long history. It appears to have developed from a method in which events were foretold by spreading oil on water, and interpreting the moving shapes formed by the oil. Evidently prolonged staring at the shapes led to visions in some seers, and eventually the visions in the seers became more important than the shapes in the oil. It was realized that visions could be induced just by staring into the water, without the oil. However, the oil was sometimes still used, presumably because it was traditional or because it increased luminosity. The Greeks and Romans took up the practice in the 1st century B.C. or earlier, probably importing it from Egypt. By this time, the use of oil seems to have been abandoned. (E. R. Dodds, "Supernormal Phenomena in Classical Antiquity", in The Ancient Concept of Progress, and other Essays on Greek Literature and Belief, 1973, p. 186-188).
11. The most direct way to know the future is by means of revelation. Among the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians (and others), this was often taken to happen in dreams. A god appeared in a "night vision" and clearly predicted the future or gave commands. Sometimes, though, the dream was mysterious, and had to be interpreted. Besides the interpretation of dreams, therewere methods of divination based on observations of the births of humans, sheep and other animals, especially abnormal and monstrous births. There were techniques based on observations of involuntary facial movements of people, and on physiognomy, the features of people's faces and skulls. In another popular method, the diviner read the entrails of animals killed or sacrificed. With entrails in general, the method was known as extispicy or haruspicy, and with livers, hepatoscopy. (Ιdouard Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et d'Assyrie, 1949, p. 276-281.)
12. Divination no doubt has its sources in basic features of animal behavior and learning. It is natural for animals to make projections. Specific expectations are linked to specific observations. Signs are recognized. Among humans, signs of future events or processes may be described with language, and transmitted from person to person. The use of such signs can be very helpful in making decisions, and for overcoming indecisiveness. In favorable cases, such signs are always or very frequently followed by the signified, and may indicate caused events. Occasional failures may be attributed to faulty observation or interpretation of the sign, to intervention of external powers, to chance, etc. A preponderance of failures may, or may not, lead to alteration in interpretation of the signs, or even abandonment of a project to use such signs for projections and predictions.
13. Certain decisions based on chance are a kind of limiting case of decisions based on signs. Gamblers, for example, read thrown dice, flipped coins, dealt cards, etc., and make decisions based on their readings about who gets to possess certain amounts of money. The signs in this casethe numbers on the dice, etc.cause the the money to be distributed in this or that way in some sense of "cause", but not, it seems, in the sense we use when we say the earth causes an eclipse of the moon when it gets between the moon and the earth. A person who makes investments on the stock market according to hunches (which, I'm taking it, are kinds of signs) may be gambling in the same way as people who play roulette, depending on the source of the hunches. If the hunches are based in some way, perhaps unconsciously, on actual economic trends, the investor's chances of profiting are better than if they are not. Inside traders (those who use information about future financial transactions illegally) read signs of a kind which reduces their chances of loss considerablyunless they're caught at it. We can only conjecture about how many important political, military and business decisions have been made by flipping a coin, orsometimes reducing the chances of failure to some degreeon the basis of probabilities drawn up by statisticians, engineers or managers.
14. One motive for wanting to predict the future is the removal of anxiety, temporary though it may be. It can be very consoling to decide one knows in advance what an outcome will be. Even if the decision proves to have been wrong, the previous peace of mind will not be taken away. Nancy Reagan, wife of the former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, says in her memoirs, regarding her use of astrology to make schedules for the president: "Astrology was simply one of the ways I coped with the fear I felt after my husband almost died" (referring to the assassination attempt of March 30, 1981). Speaking of an astrologer she consulted, Joan Quigley, Nancy says: "Joan's recommendations had nothing to do with policy or politicsever. Her advice was confined to timing -- to Ronnie's schedule, and to what days were good or bad, especially with regard to his out-of-town trips." (Of course, timing is a part of politics.) "While I was never certain," says Nancy, "that Joan's astrological advice was helping to protect Ronnie, the fact is that nothing like March 30 ever happened again. Was astrology one of the reasons? I don't really believe it was, but I don't really believe it wasn't. But I do know this: it didn't hurt, and I'm not sorry I did it." (Nancy Reagan, with William Novak, My Turn, The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan, 1989, p. 44, 47, 49.)
15. One can, of course, have faith in signs of this sort without attributing religious significance to them. But, as Walter Burkert tells us, in ancient cultures signs about the futureomenswere often considered to come from gods. The gods use signs, clear or cryptic, to give orders and guidance to men. Among the classical Greeks and Romans, who had no written scriptures, signs were a principal way for gods to communicate with men. Thus among the Greeks, someone who doubted theefficacy of divination was liable to be suspected of impiety or godlessness. All of the Greek gods dispense signs, and especially the king of them all, Zeus. The ability to interpret divine signs requires special inspiration, and this ability is dispensed by Apollo, the son of Zeus.
16. Among the classical Greeks, a specialist in interpreting signs was a seer, a mantis, someone who makes contact with the gods. The word for god, theos, is closely related to the art of the seer. A seer is a theopropos, one able to sensesee or hearthe gods. An uninterpreted sign is a thesphaton, a saying or command of the gods. What a seer performs is a theiazein or entheazein, an act inspired by the gods. In the Iliad, the seer Kalchas is the son of Thestor. In the Odyssey, the seer with second sight is Theoklymenos, and the tribe which guards the Oracle of the Dead in Epirus is called the Thesprotoi, the see-ers of the gods. A seer may speak in an abnormal statethe word mantis for seer is related to mania, madnessso an interpreter of the words of a seer, a prophetes, may be required. Thus the art of interpretation becomes a more or less rational technique, even when the words of the seerhence of the godsare cryptic. (Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, translation of Griechische Religion der archaischen und klasischen Epoche, 1977, by John Raffan, 1985, p. 111-114.)
17. Any abnormal occurrence which can't be manipulated could become a sign for the ancient seers: a dream, a sudden sneeze, a stumble, a twitch, a chance encounter, the sound of a name caught in passing, celestial phenomena such as lightning, comets, shooting stars, eclipses of sun or moon, even a drop of rain. We see here a kind of border zone between divination, and scientific psychology, meteorology and astronomy. The observation of the flight of birds played a special role in Greek prediction, perhaps from a prehistoric Indo-European tradition. In sacrifices, everything is a sign: whether the animal goes willingly to the altar and bleeds to death quickly, whether or not the fire flares swiftly, what happens when parts of the animal are burned in the fire, how the tail curls and the bladder bursts. The inspection of the livers of the victims developed into a special art: how the various lobes are formed and colored was evaluated at every stage of slaughter. This technique appears to have been transmitted from Mesopotamia, probably in the 8th or 7th century B.C. There is an allusion to the practice by Homer. The Etruscans obtained their much more detailed haruspicina (as these gut omens were called) from the same source, not via the Greeks. The inspection of entrails was the prime task of the seers who accompanied armies into battle. Herds of sacrificial victims were driven along with the armies, although the animals were also used for food. Without favorable signs no battle was joined. Before the battle of Plataea (479 B.C.), the Greeks and Persians stayed encamped opposite each other for ten days because the omens didn't advise either side to attack. (Burkert, ibid.)
19. In classical Greece, seers or priests or priestesses, called oracles, were attached to particular localities where they could be asked to consult with the gods. The localities were also known as oracles, and cults were attached to them. The gods were especially disposed to give signs in these places. Success in the interpretation of such signs led, from the 8th century B.C. onward, to the fame and importance of certain places which extended beyond the region of the oracle, sometimes becoming international. The Greeks called a place of this kind a chresterion (place where chresmos is performed, i.e. where needed answers are provided) or manteion (place of divination, of contact with gods). The Romans called such a place an oraculum. It appears that preservation of oracular utterances was one of the earliest applications of writing in Greece, starting about 750 B.C. Thus the utterances were freed from the context of question and answer sessions with the gods, and could become important at other places at other times. Age inspires respect, sometimes, so ancient sayings were collected in writing and thus became always at hand. However, about the same time as actual ones began to be recorded, forged sayings appeared. (Burkert, ibid., p. 114, 117.)
20. Revelation is the basis of Biblical prophecy, both in the sense in which the prophets of the Bible predicted the future, and in the sense in which people up to our own time have interpreted the Bible as providing knowledge of their own futures. It is always arresting to remember that the arch-scientist Sir Isaac Newton was a life-long student of Biblical prophecy, and that his last work, published posthumously, was Observations on theProphecies in Daniel and Revelation (1732). The kind of revelation which is at the root of Biblical prophecy is often direct communication from an omniscient deity. It is only occasionally communicated in dreams. In general, no inspection and interpretation of natural events and no inferential reasoning are required. The content, nature and validity of Biblical prophecy is, of course, a vast subject which we will not broach here.
21. For some, the age of Biblical prophecy did not end with the prophets of the Old Testament and apostles of the New Testament. For example, there was Nostradamus (1503-1566), who has played an extraordinary role in people's attempts to know the future. Richard Popkin reports that Nostradamus first asserted that he was a prophet in the Biblical sense, and that God had revealed future events to him, despite the fact that the prevailing view of the Church was that prophecy of this kind terminated with the death of the apostles. Nostradamus told King Henri II of France that he was a member of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, the Issachar, which had been given the gift of prophecy. (Richard Popkin, "Predicting, Prophecying, Divining and Foretelling from Nostradamus to Hume", History of European Ideas, v. 5, 1984, p. 117-135.) Nostradamus was the grandson of two prominent rabbis who converted to Christianity shortly before his birth. He became a court physician, astrologer and advisor. At some point, says Popkin, he abandoned his stance as a prophet in the Biblical sense, and told his son that God had revealed future events to him by means of astronomical cycles, i.e. astrology. However, it seems that Nostradamus left no indication of the astrological techniques he used. We have only his completed predictions, in verse form, in his Centuries (1555).
22. Among all the techniques devised by people to predict the future, we will concentrate mainly on ones based on observations of celestial objects. This includes what we now call astronomy and astrology. For many centuries the terms astronomy and astrology were widely used as synonyms. It has been suggested that astronomy originally referred merely to the connection of meteorological phenomena with the risings and settings of certain stars and constellations. An astronomer, in this sense, was someone who assigned individual stars or whole constellations roles in prognosticating or even determining weather, presumably on the basis of accumulated observations. By the 5th century B.C., however, a more extended meaning had been given to the term. Socrates, according to Plato in his dialogue Theaetetus, defined astronomy as the discipline devoted to investigating the movements of the stars, including the sun and moon, and the relations of their speeds. This term did not find favor with the next generation, and Aristotle customarily used the term astrology (astrologia) where Plato and others had used astronomy (astronomia). Aristotle's influence lent a long life span to this use of astrology. The development of astrology as understood in most present-day senses of the word led to a separate term for astronomy in our sense of the word: the term was mathematics (mathematike). This term in turn was in time usurped to apply to mathematics in our sense of the word. Near the end of antiquity, the circle closed. Once again astronomy (astronomia) came to denote, as it still does, people's purely scientific endeavors to find rational explanations for the nature and motions of the stars. But not until the 17th century of our era did this readopted term come to definitely exclude astrology. (Frederick Cramer, Astrology in Roman Law and Politics, 1954, p.3.)
23. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) distinguished in his Etymologiae between natural and superstitious astrology. The former, he says, is just another name for astronomy, while the latter "is that science which is practised by the mathematici, who read prophecies in the heavens, and who place the twelve constellations as rulers over the members of man's body and soul, and who predict the nativities and dispositions of men by the courses of the stars." (Quoted by Theodore Otto Wedel in The Mediaeval Attitude toward Astrology, Particularly in England, 1920, p. 27.) In the Etymologiae, the mathematici and genethliaci (casters of natal horoscopes) appear in company with many other representatives of magic. However, Laura Smoller reports in her History, Prophecy, and the Stars (1995) that Isidore in his Etymologiae distinguishes between astronomia which deals with the motions of the heavens and astrologia which deals with their effects. But she goes on to say: "The neat distinction between the two words did not persist, hoever, and the terms were blurred, jumbled, and sometimes reversed throughout the Middle Ages. Pierre d'Ailly, for example, fairly consistently used astronomia for "astrology" and astrologia for "astronomy." (p. 27). Presumably the reason she uses the quotation marks in to indicate that "astrology" and "astronomy" are here used in some present-day senses.
24. Lynn Thorndike reports that John of Salisbury (1120(?)-1180)uses magica, mathematica and maleficium almost synonymously. Thorndike doesn't translate, but I suppose these to mean magical art, mathematical art and sorcery. Furthermore, John explains that the word mathesis, when it has a short "e", denotes learning in general, but when it has a long "e", it signifies the "figmentsof divination, whose varieties are many and diverse". (Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 1923-1958, v. 2, 1923, p. 158.) Wedel remarks: "Although John of Salisbury was unusually sane and enlightened in the matter of medieval superstitions, he subscribed fully to the patristic doctrine of demonology. The Church Fathers, he says, rightly denounced all forms of magicspecies mathematicaeinasmuch as all of these pestiferous arts spring from an illicit pact with the devil." (Wedel, ibid., p. 37). Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great; 1193-1280) distinguishes two kinds of mathematics. One is the abstract science in our sense of the word. The other, more probably called mathesis (with a long "e, this time) is divination by the stars, which may be either good or bad, superstitious or scientific. (Thorndike, ibid., p. 580.)
25. Richard Lemay tells us that John of Salisbury also distinguished between the mathematicus, concerned with mathesis, and the physicus, concerned with the philosophy of nature. The former, according to John, studies abstract figures extracted from nature, while the latter studies processes concretely embedded in nature. The mathematici are therefore concerned with stable, unchanging objects, while the physici depend on evidence of the senses. Both, however, try to discover the courses of nature, and the extent of their regularity or irregularity. In John's view, physica had absorbed much of what had long been considered as the proper object of mathematica. In particular, foreknowledge of the future, formerly the concern of the mathematicus, he considered to have become a domain of the physicus. However, in making his distinction between mathematics and physics, John was embarassed by the ancient strictures placed on mathesis by the Church Fathers, because much that had been linked with mathesis had become the proper concern of a physicus. (Richard Lemay, Abu Ma'shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century, The Recovery of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy through Arabic Astrology 1962, p. 300-307.) Thus John indicates not a union of mathematica and physica, not a mathematical physics, but a movement from investigations based on mathematical abstractions to investigations based on the human senses.
26. Michael Scot (early 13th century) often used astronomia to denote what today would usually be called astrology and "distinguishes between mathesis, or knowledge, and matesis, or divination, and between mathematica (with an "h"), which may be taught freely and publicly, and matematica (without an "h", which is forbidden to Christians". (ibid., p. 319.) Thorndike states that by the time of Peter of Abano (1250-1318(?)), the words "astronomy" and "astrology" were beginning to be used in about their present meaning. (ibid., p. 890.) This may be compared with the claim of Frederick Cramer, referred to above, that it was not until the 17th century that this occurredmore precisely, Cramer places the distinction in the "Age of Newton". Perhaps it is a matter of who was using the termsphilosophers (natural or otherwise), poets, educated or uneducated people, etc. In any case, Peter himself sought to establish, against various theologians and scholastics who had distinguished between the two, that they were actually the same. (Graziella Vescovini, "Peter of Abano and Astrology", in Astrology, Science and Astrology, Historical Essays, 1987, edited by Patrick Curry, p. 23-24.)
27. Astrology, as formerly practiced, was intertwined with other methods of prediction, with various kinds of magic, and with alchemy. There were many links between astrology, magic, sorcery and witchcraft. Astrology sometimes provided a coherent justification for such methods of prediction as geomancy, palmistry, physiognomy and similar activities. Cornelius Agrippa, author of a famous work on magic in the early 16th century, declared that all these skills of divination are rooted and grounded upon astrology. Palmists and physiognomists, for example, assigned different parts of the hand or head to different signs of the zodiac according to correspondences postulated between heavenly bodies and earthly substances.
28. Geomancy was especially linked to astrology. The word geomancy is somewhat elastic in meaning, but in a narrow sense it is a method of divination in which a set of 16 patterns is obtained by getting someone (a child, perhaps) to draw lines in sand or on a slate or paper, or obtaining other presumably random outcomes, such as by spinning wheels in such a way that exactly two outcomes are possible, or flipping a coin, or grasping a number of beans and seeing whether there are an odd or even number, etc. Each of the sixteen patterns consists of 4 choices of "even" and "odd" depending on whether the number of lines or beans drawn is even or odd, or whether the coin comes up head or tails, etc. Each of the 16 patterns is a house, and the set of patterns are interpreted according to various rules. Geomancy, as customarily practiced, also employed the astrological houses, often taken to be 12 in number. Analogies were drawn between the astrological houses and the geomantic houses. According to a leading textbook of the time on the subject (1591), geomancy was "none other than astrology". (See J. D. North, Chaucer's Universe, 1988, p. 234-243.)
29. Until relatively recently, astronomy/astrology was commonly compounded with alchemy, magic, medicine, divination and weather prediction by many people. Some people still do associate some or all of these.
30. It has often been conjectured that astrology/astronomy originated in a marriage of religion and science. Apparently it was born in Babylonia and reached an apex in the Hellenistic era. Here Babylonia is taken to be synonymous with Chaldea and Mesopotamia, and to include the lands occupied at various times by Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians and Iraqis. In Hellenistic times, Egypt, and especially Alexandria, was a renowned center for astrological and astronomical studies. In a narrow sense, the Hellenistic period ran roughly from the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) to the 1st century B.C., to the conquest of Egypt by the Romans under Augustus in 30 B.C. This conquest culminated in the battle of Actium at which the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by the forces of Octavian. Others make the Hellenistic era run from the time of Alexander the Great to the end of the ancient world, often taken to be marked by the victory of Christianity in the 4th century A.D., the age of Constantine the Great.
31. The first extant horoscope is said to date from 410 B.C. However personal and judicial astrology, requiring the casting of individual horoscopes, developed later than omen astrology, the prediction of events involving kings and kingdoms on the basis of planetary positions and appearances, and on various meteorlogical phencomena. Personal astrology was based on investigation of planetary positions (including the sun and moon) at the time of birth or conception, and seems to have been founded on a thoroughly deterministic conception of the cosmos. Side by side with it flourished catarchic astrology, which only assumed non-fatalistic influences on mundane enterprises like travel, marriage and business. Some have suggested that the two kinds of astrology, fatalistic and non-fatalistic, have conflicting bases. Either stars exert an immutable or merely an avoidable influence on affairs, although this distinction might not have been clearly made by individual users of astrology. However, it is not inconsistent to believe that stars exert an immutable influence on some affairs and not on others.
32. Although the origin of omen astrology is usually attributed to the ancient Babylonians, judicial (personal, horoscopic) astrology appears to have arisen in Egypt, during the Hellenistic era. This is what most people understand by the unmodified word "astrology" today. The originators of judicial astrology may actually have been Greeks living in Egypt, rather than native Egyptians (whoever they might have been). W. and H. G. Gundel have recorded numerous indications of the Egyptian origin of judicial astrology in Hellenistic texts: numerous writings in the collection called the Hermetica; other writings in a handbook attributed to King Nechepso (reigned 677-672 B.C.) and his high priest Petosiris; and other sources. (W. and H. G. Gundel, Astrologumena, Die astrologische Literatur in der Antike und ihre Geschichte, 1966, p. 40.)
33. As to the Mesopotamians, the Gundel's say: "The investigation of the sources leads to the result that for the Seleucid era in Mesopotamia [312-65 B.C.] the later much-praised ideological-philosophical foundations of a 'Babylonian' system cannot be established. The assertion that the 'Babylonians' had considered the grandiose idea of cosmic sympathies as the essence of astrology, and expressed this conception in systematic and technical works and books of oracles, must be regarded as a fantasy of later authors who do not attain real value as sources." (Gundel and Gundel, ibid., p. 51.) For example, in their omen astrology, the Babylonians might base a prediction on whether or not such and such a planet was visible at some position in the sky, located by means of a nearby constellation, but there appears to have been nothing corresponding to a systematic interpretation of the positions of the planets (including the sun and moon) in a zodiac or system of decans. (Decans are, roughly speaking, subdivisions of the zodiac, with 3 decans to a zodiac sign).
34. According to Otto Neugebauer: "Before the fifth century B.C. celestial omina probably did not include predictions for individuals, based on planetary positions in the signs of the zodiac and on their mutual configurations. In this latest and most significant modification astrology became known to the Greeks in the hellenistic period. But with the exception of some typical Mesopotamian relics the doctrine was changed in Greek hands to a universal system in which form alone it could spread all over the world. Hence astrology in the modern sense of the term, with its vastly expanded set of "methods" is a truly Greek creation, in many respects parallel to the development of Christian theology a few centuries later." (Otto Neugebauer, A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy, 1975, Part Two, p. 613.)
35. What was it that made fatalistic astrology/astronomy survive in the face of persistent onslaughts from the best minds of the Greek world? One answer, by Frederick Cramer: a faith which was as deep as the scepticism of their enemiesa faith in reason. Astrologer / astronomers and their followers believed that descending through the ages since the creation of the world, there have been unending chains of cause and effect relations which have obeyed immutable laws of nature which not even a deity can contravene. They believed, like later scientists have, that the cosmos functions like a supremely well-designed machine constructed on rational principles and governed entirely by rational nature laws.
36. Certain philosophers of the Hellenistic era found in rational fatalism the faith in reason which scientists of all ages have hoped for: assurance that their concepts of the nature of things possess cosmic validity in space and time. Ancient scientists became supporters of fatalism, and many of them championed fatalistic astrology/astronomy. Their logic seemed sound. That starsfor instance, the sunhave some powerful influence on people is unquestionable. Five other "stars" besides the sun and moon were known whose orbits wandered among the fixed starsthe five then-known planets of our solar system. Weren't these also likely to influence mundane affairs? The zodiac can be used to trace the wandering of the sun among the other stars. Wasn't the zodiac therefore to be reckoned with? (Cramer, ibid.)
37. The fallibility of astrologers was in many cases obvious but instead of probing to see if the axiomatic foundations of astrology were at fault, many people were inclined to blame failures on human fallibility. Astrologers were compared to physicians. Who condemns medical science as a whole because a physician occasionally makes a wrong diagnosis, and fails to be able to cure all diseases? It may seem inconceivable to modern minds that highly cultured Greeks and Romans succumbed to the spell of what to some of us seems a monstrous web of truth and fiction. Yet unless we try to place ourselves as best we can into the spirit of a given historical period, we cannot hope to understand it from a point of view which resembles to some extent how a person who lived during that period might have understood it. The two premises on which the fascination of astrology for many of the best minds of the time was based, according to Cramer, were these: (1) by the use of the proper techniques the future can be ascertained; (2) astrology alone is a truly scientific method for doing this. Today many no longer subscribe to these tenets, but many still believe that anything rationally possible is at least theoretically attainable by scientific means. When condemning beliefs and actions of the ancient astrologers, one should in fairness remember their glowing faith in reason. (Cramer, ibid., p. 281-283.) It can be sobering to realize that people who lived in past times had as many varieties and degrees of certainty and uncertainty about their knowledge of the world as we do today. Furthermore, today we can only work with what fragments of their writings or other material traces have survived up to our present times, and each of us must interpret such traces as we come in contact with according to our own lights, and must likewise interpret reports and interpretations of others more recent than the people of the historical period under consideration.
38. The stars move according to patterns, accessible to reason. Do our lives move according to patterns accessible to reason? Astrologers of all epochs have believed they do, and that the patterns of our lives and the patterns of the stars are related in some way. The underlying argument may be based on analogy. The gods, or God, rules the stars systematically, likewise he rules us. Anda crucial assumption for astrologersour movements and the movements of the starsby which astrologers customarily meant the planets, taken to include the sun and moonare somehow correlated, since they must obey the same commands or laws. From this point of view, astrologers may fail because they postulate over-simple relationships. As Einstein is re[uted to have once said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
39. The Stoics were prime supporters of astrology. Stoicism was one of the foremost philosophical doctrines of the Hellenistic era. The Stoics as a whole tried to base their views on what they took to be the best physical science of their time, and they did a fair bit of theorizing about the nature of things. The physics of the Stoics has been viewed as a kind of deterministic thermodynamics. According to S. Sambursky, the cornerstone of Stoic physics is the concept of a continuum in all of its aspects. Among the later Stoics, a revolutionary advance was made when the dynamic functions of fire and air were extended to cover all natural phenomena. "From a certain standpoint," he says, "this may be called a first tentative approach to the conception of thermodynamic processes in the inorganic world, a conception which began to percolate through into the scientific view of later generations." In addition to the continuum itself, the Stoics had the concept of pneuma, that which binds matter together. The most significant quality of the pneuma is a kind of tension "by the force of which," Sambursky says, "it becomes an entity not altogether unlike the concept of a physical field in contemporary science." (S. Sambursky, The Physical World of the Greeks, translated from the Hebrew by Merton Dagut, 1960, p. 132-133, 135).
40. It appears, however, that the Stoics differed among themselves as to the constitution of nature. According to David Hahm, Zeno, one of the three heads of the heads of the Stoa in the 3rd century B.C., defined nature as "a craftsmanlike fire, proceeding methodically [literally, by a path] to genesis." Hahm emphasizes that Zeno means that nature is fire, one of the four basic elements in the Aristotelian theory of the constitution of nature. (David Hahm, The Origins of Stoic Cosmology, 1977, p. 200.) Zeno's dynamic "fire" suggests the concept of energy as used in present-day science. Here Zeno differs sharply from Aristotle, for whom fire or heat was the most active and important element in nature, but still only a tool that nature uses to accomplish its ends, and not nature itself. (Hahm, l.c., p. 207.)
41. One of the other heads of the Stoa, Cleanthes, held a similar view, although he seems to have spoken of "vital heat" rather than fire as the substance that holds together the cosmos. (Hahm, l.c., p. 142). Hahm comments that "the most striking thing about the three functions of heat in Cleanthes is that they correspond exactly to the three functions of soul in Aristotle"the nutritive, perceptive and rational faculties of the soul. (Hahm, l.c., p. 146-7.) What for Aristotle is caused by soul, for Cleanthes is caused by the vital heat. Finally, Chrysippus, the third of the heads of the Stoa, held the theory of pneuma which Sambursky refers to. The pneuma according to Chrysippus is a kind of mixture of fire and air, and it is what the "world-soul" is made out offor the Stoics believed that the universe has a soul, albeit a material one. In Chrysippus' view, it is this pneuma which holds everything together. (Hahm, ibid., p. 158, 165.)
42. Some of the Stoics were as strict, or stricter, determinists than Laplace. Pierre Simon Laplace (1749-1827) is a symbol of belief in the usefulness of Newton's laws of classical mechanics for predicting the future and retrodicting the past, on the basis that the future and past are completely determined, and completely describable by means of these laws. According to Newton's prescription, this is to be done by setting up differential equations using his laws of motion, and solving them to find expressions from which quantitative predictions and retrodictions can be derived. In his works on celestial mechanics and theory of probabilities, Laplace asserts that all events, no matter how momentous or insignificant, follow certain mathematically formulable laws of nature just as surely, he says, as the revolutions of the planets follow from Newton's laws of motion and gravitation. When people don't know what links events to the rest of the universe, he says, they may attribute them to final causes, goals to which they tend, or to divine purpose, or to sheer chance. But, says Laplace, these are only expressions of our ignorance of true causes. An event can't occur without a cause. We make choices only when we are caused to. Otherwise, according to Laplace, our choices would be the result of blind chance, which Laplace rejects. Laplace says we should regard the present state of the world as the effect of its previous states, and the cause of its subsequent states. An intelligence who could know at a given instant values for all the forces or momenta which propel nature, and values for the positions of all the bodies in it, could enter these values into statements of the laws of mechanics and calculate future or past momenta and positions. However much of nature is determined by forces and positionsLaplace evidently believed this to be all of naturecould be predicted or retrodicted in this way. However, Laplace says, the human mind offers only a weak idea of such an intelligence, as seen in the perfection which it has been able to bring to astronomy and mechanics. By way of comparison, for the Stoics everything comes to pass in the world according to an unbroken causal connection, according to a law of fate, in which not even a god can change something. (cf. Max Pohlenz, Die Stoa, Geschichte einer geistigen Bewegung, 1948, v. 1, p. 102.) Manilius' line, fata regunt orbem, certa stant omnia lege (the fates rule the world, all things exist by law), may be regarded as pure Stoicism. (Manilius, Astronomica, between 9 and 15 A.D.)
43. Aristotle thought there were two kinds of physics, one for the sublunary world, and one for the heavens. Some hold that the Stoics, in a manner of speaking, invented astrophysics, because they believed that the same physical laws apply throughout the universe. They believed that such laws determine everything that happens. Nevertheless, they maintained we are still free in the sense that we can always choose to accept what is going to happen as Fate and Nature decree, or not. This consitutes living according to nature. Whether or not we do live according to Nature makes no difference to what happens. What is bound to happen will happen anyway. But how we choose makes a great difference to the quality of our lives. We can act in conflict with Nature, and suffer disappointment and pain and grief. Or we can walk with Fate, and achieve peace. Furthermore, according to the Stoics, since all things are constituted of one and the same stuff, and subject in every respect to the same laws, there is a kind of universal "cosmic sympathy" among things, which is what makes divination and astrology work. (cf. Jim Tester, A History of Western Astrology, 1987, p. 30, 32, 68-69).
44. H. Rackham says: "The Stoics ... held that the universe is controlled by God, and in the last resort is God. The sole ultimate reality is the divine Mind, which expresses itself in the world-process. But only matter exists, for only matter can act and be acted upon; mind therefore is matter in its subtlest form, Fire or Breath or Aether. The primal fiery Spirit creates out of itself the world that we know, persists in it as its heat or soul or 'tension,' is the cause of all movement and all life, and ultimately by a universal conflagration will reabsorb the world into itself. But there will be no pause: at once the process will begin again, unity will again pluralize itself, and all will repeat the same course as before. Existence goes on for ever in endlessly recurring cycles, following a fixed law or formula (logos); this law is Fate or Providence, ordained by God: the Stoics even said that the 'Logos' is God. And the universe is perfectly good: badness is only apparent, evil only means the necessary imperfection of the parts viewed separately from the whole. The Stoic system then was determinist: but in it nevertheless they found room for freedom of the will. Man's acts like all other occurrences are the necessary effects of causes; yet man's will is free, for it rests with him either willingly to obey necessity, the divine ordinance, or to submit to it with reluctance. His happiness lies in using his divine intellect to understand the laws of the world, and in submitting his will thereto." (H. Rackham, Introduction to edition and translation (1933, 1951) of De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) by Cicero (106-43 B.C.), p. viii-ix.)
45. Auguste Bouchι-Leclercq says of Stoic attitudes toward astrology: "That which especially predisposed the Stoics to declare themselves guarantors of astrological speculations, and to look for demonstrable reasons for them, was their unshakable faith in the legitimacy of divination, of which astrology is only one particular form. They never wanted to depart from a kind of reasoning that their adversaries considered a vicious circle and which can be summarized like this: "If the gods exist, they speak; in fact they speak, therefore they exist [this employs the fallacy of affirming the consequent, or assuming the converse, but Bouchι-Leclercq says in a note that it is "the citadel" of the Stoicsthis is hard to believe, given the acuteness of some Stoics]. The conception of beings of superior intelligence that would be forbidden to communicate with man appeared to them to be nonsense." However, Bouchι-Leclercq says, an ordinary person wants to know the future in order to avoid predicted dangers. On the face of it, this involves the person in a contradiction. For he or she wants to be able to modify what has been predicted to be certain to happen. Some of the Stoics "exhaust themselves in vain efforts to reconcile logic, which leads straight to fatalism, with practical common sense, which demands of divination some usable warnings."
46. It appears, though, that we can escape from this contradiction by holding that when we divine the will of the gods, we find what will happen if such and such conditions aren't meta sacrifice or other offering is not made, or the like. Bouchι-Leclercq argues against this. He says: "If the future is conditional, it cannot be foreseen, since the conditions could be too, in which case there would be no more place among them for free acts, with freedom escaping by definition because of the necessity of arriving at a decision set down in advance." That is, if some future outcomes depend on and can be influenced by actions previous to the outcomes, then the outcomes cannot be predicted. For if they could be predicted, then what previous actions will be taken could also be predicted, since the previous actions are themselves future outcomes. Thus there is no real choice possible among previous actions to be taken. (Auguste Bouchι-Leclerq, L'Astrologie grecque, 1899, reprinted 1963, p. 31-32.)
47. However, Bouchι-Leclercq assumes here unrestricted divination. The Stoic Epictetus (1st century A.D.) says: "What can the diviner see more than death or danger or disease or generally things of that sort?..... Does he know what is expedient, does he know what is good, has he learnt signs to distinguish between good things and bad, like the signs in the flesh of victims [animals sacrificed]?..... Therefore that is a good answer that the lady made who wished to send the shipload of supplies to Gratilla in exile, when one said, 'Domitian will take them away': 'I would rather', she said, 'that Domitian should take them away than that I should not send them.' What then leads us to consult diviners so constantly? Cowardice, fear of events. That is why we flatter the diviners. 'Master, shall I inherit from my father?' "Let us see; let us offer sacrifice.' 'Yes, master, as fortune wills.' When he says, 'You shall inherit', we give thanks to him as though we had received the inheritance from him. That is why they go on deluding us." (Arrian's Discourses of Epictetus, II.47; translated by P. E. Matheson, in The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, 1940, edited by Whitney Oates, p. 293.) The passage isn't entirely clear, but Epictetus seems to suggest that a diviner can see some things which will happen in the future (death, danger, disease), but not others (what is good or bad). To this extent, he doesn't admit unrestricted divination.No matter what diviners say is portended, Epictetus says, wewe should do what is good, not what is bad. Presumably, then, we are free to choose our moral attitudes to what is inevitable.
48. Bouchι-Leclercq continues: "The Stoics valiantly accepted the consequences of their own principles. They used them to demonstrate the reality of Providence, the certainty of divination,and they went into ecstasies at every turn about the beautiful order of the world, due to the punctual carrying out of a divine plan, as immutable as it is wise. But they were no less decisive in rejecting the moral consequences of fatalism, above all the 'lazy reasoning', which always ends by letting inevitable destiny alone. Chrysippus turned out prodigies of ingenuity to loosen, without breaking, the links with Necessity, distinguishing between necessity properly so-called, and predestination, between 'perfect and principal' causes and 'adjuvant' [auxiliary, catalytic] causes, between things fated in themselves and things "cofated" or fated by association; trying to distinguish, from the point of view of fatality, between the past, of which the contrary is in reality impossible, and the future, of which the contrary is also impossible, but which can be conceived as possible. All things considered, the Stoic school succeeded in saving only the freedom of the Sage, which consists in freely wanting what the universal Intelligence wants. The Sage exercises this freedom better, the better and longer in advance he knows the divine plan." (Bouchι-Leclercq, ibid.)
49. Here is how it
appeared in the 2nd century A.D. to a Stoic astrologer, Vettius
Valens: "Fate has decreed
for every human being the unalterable realization of his horoscope, fortifying
it with many causes of good and bad things to come.
Because of them, two self-begotten goddesses, Hope and Chance, act as
the servants of Destiny. They
rule our lives. By compulsion and
deception they make us accept what has been decreed.
One of them [Chance] manifests herself to all through the outcome of
the horoscope, showing herself sometimes as good and kind, sometimes as dark
and cruel..... The other [Hope]
is neither dark nor serene; she hides herself and goes around in disguise and
smiles at everyone like a flatterer and points out to them many attractive
prospects that are impossible to attain.
By such deceit she rules most people, and they, though tricked by her
and dependent on pleasure, let themselves be pulled back to her, and full of
hope they believe that their wishes will be fulfilled; and then they
experience what they do not expect..... Those
who are not familiar with astrological forecasts and have no wish to study
them are driven away and enslaved by the goddesses mentioned above; they
undergo every kind of punishment and suffer gladly.....
But those who make truth and the forecasting of the future their
profession acquire a soul that is free and not subject to slavery. They despise Chance, do not persist in hoping, are not afraid
of death, and live unperturbed. They
have trained their souls to be brave and are not puffed up by prosperity nor
depressed by adversity but accept contentedly what comes their way.
Since they have renounced all kinds of pleasure and flattery, they have
become good soldiers of Fate. For
it is impossible by prayers or sacrifice to overcome the foundation that was
laid in the beginning and substitute another more to one's liking.
Whatever is in store for us will happen even if we do not pray for it;
what is not fated will not happen, despite our prayers.
Like actors on the stage who change their masks according to the poet's
text and calmly play kings or robbers or farmers or common folk or gods, so,
too, we must act the characters that Fate has assigned to us and adapt
ourselves to what happens in any given situation, even if we do not agree.
For if one refuses, "he will suffer anyway and get no credit"
[Cleanthes]." (Vettius Valens, Anthologiae, quoted and translated by
Georg Luck in Arcana Mundi, Magic and the
50. Tamsyn Barton is somewhat skeptical about considering Stoics to have been as much devoted to astrology as has been claimed by some. She says, in connection with the flourishing of astrology in Late Republican Rome: "Much has been attributed to the influence of the Stoic Posidonius on Rome on elite Romans in the generation before Cicero and Caesar in making astrology intellectually respectable. But, as A. A. Long (1982) observes, the older authorities who formed this consensus, such as Cumont, were writing at a time when it was fashionable to see Posidonius tademark everywhere. Long rightly casts a skeptical eye over the evidence for Stoic enthusiasn for astrology in the earlu period. It is true that in Stoicism the existence of the gods required divination and that astrology would suit the Stoic search for natural signs revealing the order of the universe, but the evidence is scanty. This is the period in which horoscopic astrology takes off in the Hellenistic world, and it could be seen as a natural move from other sorts of divination. He concludes, however, that astrology was at most a subordinate feature of Stoic interest in divination." On the other hand, Barton says "Long is surely right to recognize that the Stoics cannot be convincingly isolated as the determining factor in the rise to prominence of astrology in Rome, though he overstates the case against their interest, in this period. It seems clear that Stoic ideas, as generally diffused among the ruling elite, did lend themselves to the support of astrology, and that their concept of cosmic sympatheia (harmony) binding together the heavens and the earth became the first axiom of philosophical astrology. " (Tamsyn Barton, Power and knowledge: Astrology, Physiognomics, and Medicine under the Roman Empire, 1994, p. 37-38. The reference to Long is A. A. Long, "Astrology: arguments pro and contra" in Science and Speculation: Studies in Hellenistic Theory and Practice, ed. J. Barnes et al., 165-92, 1982.)
51. Laplace's deterministic methods of prediction might well have been welcomed by Hellenistic astrologers, since his methods, derived from those of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Euler and other scientists of their time, would have enabled them to calculate the past and future positions of the stars with techniques in some ways superior to those of Ptolemy. Such calculations are the basis of astrology, in most any way the term is properly defined. Frederick Cramer says that in republican Rome from 140 B.C. to the death of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., the more a person adhered to Stoicism, the more liable he or she would be to accept fatalistic astrology. The 96 years from the consulate of Laelius (140 B.C.) to the death of Julius Caesar encompassed a crucial period in the history of astrology in the Roman republic. In 139 B.C. astrologers had been summarily expelled as undesirable foreigners. By the time of Julius Caesar's death, the majority of Rome's upper class had been converted to a belief in it. To a humanist who believed in rationalism and the governance of nature by immutable laws linking cause and effect, astrology was scientific, and it linked mundane causality with the cosmic laws which regulated the movements of the stars and ruled the universe. (Cramer, ibid., p. 58, 80.)
52. Tamsyn Barton says that "It is striking that astrology in any form was marginal to Roman elite politics until the late Republic." (ibid., p. 33) . Barton is especially concerned with relations of astrologers and astrological practices (as well as physiognomy and medicine) to political power. It seems incontestable that knowledge of the future is often related to desire for or use of power, from, in some instances, political power on a large scale, down to power of individuals over some parts of their daily lives. What is wanted or expected or declared to be in a future will give, for non-fatalists, opportunities to change outcomes, and for strict fatalists, opportunites to accommodate to them. In studying this question for high-level political power in the Late Roman Republic, Barton distinguishes three kinds of forecasting or divination (p. 33-4). "First, there was the college of augurs, who were originally concerned with interpreting the movements and cries of birds, though by the first century B.C. and probably for some time before that the auspices were generally taken by feeding the sacred fowl. Second, there the XV viri sacris faciundis (literally, the Fifteen Men for Doing Sacred Things), the keepers of the Sibylline Books, a set of poems in Greek supposedly bought from a prophetess by the last king of Rome The third group is more confusing. The name haruspices, traditionally associated with Etruria, is used to describe interpreters of both prodigies and the entrails of sacrificial animals. The keynote of roman divination remains clear, however: it was a matter of establishing and maintaining the pax deoreum (peace of the gods) in relatiion to the city. Divination, like other religious activity, is closely implicated in political activity; indeed, it is an integral part of it. "
53. A reverent attitude toward the stars was not universal in the Hellenistic era. For the Stoics, the starry sky is the "purest embodiment of reason in the cosmic hierarchy, the paradigm of intelligibility, and therefore of the divine aspect of the sensible realm." So says Hans Jonas in The Gnostic Religion (2nd edition, 1963, p. 254).
54. Marcus Aurelius tells us that we should watch the stars in their courses as if we were running along with them, and that we should continually think about how the elements change into one another, for such thoughts wash away the foulness of life on earth (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VII.47). But this view of the world was turned upside down by the Gnostics. Gnosticism, as the term is used by the Church Fathers, covers certain variant forms of Christianity, such as that of Origen (c. 185-255 A.D.).
55. "On the other hand," E. R. Dodds says, "some modern scholars apply the term to any system which preaches a way of escape from the world by means of a special enlightenment not available to all, and not dependent on reason." Dodds calls St. Paul a Gnostic in this latter sense, citing Corinthians 1:2.14-15, and observes that the Hermetica, the liturgy of the Mithraists and the obscure Chaldean Oracles have been called "pagan gnosis." (E. R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine, 1968, p. 18.)
56. Simon Magus, Simon the
Magician, self-styled messiah, a rival of Jesus, is generally counted as a
Gnostic. Many believe he is the
Simon who appears in the New Testament: "But
there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and
amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great."
(Acts 8.9, Revised Standard Version.)
Simon professed conversion to Christianity, but when he saw the
apostles Peter and John laid hands on people of Samaria so they could receive
the Holy Spirit, he offered them money for this power.
Peter stingingly rebuked him, telling Simon that his heart was not
right before God, and that he was in the bond of iniquity.
(Acts 8.9-24.) The
contrast here is presumably between the truly religious, who strive to be
without sin and submit to God's will, and magicians, who strive for power over
men, nature and even the gods themselves.
Simon sometimes used the nickname Faustus, "the favored one".
Jonas says: "...this
in connection with his permanent cognomen "the Magician" and the
fact that he was accompanied by a Helena [whom he said he had found in a
brothel in Tyre and] whom he claimed to be the reborn Helen of Troy shows
clearly that we have here one of the sources of the Faust legend of the early
Renaissance. Surely few
admirers of Marlowe's and Goethe's plays have an inkling that their hero is
the descendant of a Gnostic sectary, and that the beautiful Helen called up by
his art was once the fallen Thought of God through whose raising mankind was
to be saved." (Jonas, l.c.,
p. 111, 104.)
57. Gnosticism, in one of its major forms, is a kind of extreme cosmic pessimism which splits the world into a divine part completely unknowable by man, and a physical part, including man, which is totally separated from the divine, and was created not by the unknown God, but by an inferior spirit, a demiurge, a perversion of the divine, whose main traits are domination and power. Gnostic beliefs were considered blasphemous by many among both the classical Greeks and the early Christians. For these Greeks, Gnosticism ran counter to the conceptions of the divinity of the cosmos, the ordered, animated and intelligent world, in which man, though not perfect, could aspire to the greater perfection of the stars. This perfection is a harmony, a fitting together of the parts of the world into a unified whole, which according to mathematicians in the tradition of Pythagoras (c. 500 B.C.) produced a "music of the spheres", inaudible to humans, but within the range of human reason (as Kepler so fervently believed), and therefore audible within, like music remembered. Many Christians could not accept the doctrine of the creation of world by an inferior spirit, nor the severance of God from the government of the physical world and man. The rule of the Gnostic demiurge who controls the physical world was taken to be a kind of tyranny, not a kind of providence.
58. Gnostics opposed the deification of the chief heavenly bodies, as found in most of the religions of antiquity. The world-view of astrology had evolved among the Stoics from Babylonian star worship into a religion in which the cosmic is identified with the divine. This played into the hands of the Gnostics. The astrological beliefs of the Stoics required a passive subjection to a rigid necessity. Hence no value could be attached to the cosmos. The aim of the majority of Stoics was to maintain a neutral attitude toward good and evil, and to submit to what must be. Gnostics looked at and evaluated the world of the Stoics from outside of it, and the experience of the cosmos for them changed from a worshipful to a terrifying one.
59. "We can imagine," Jonas says, "with what feelings gnostic men must have looked up to the starry sky. How evil its brilliance must have looked to them, how alarming its vastness and the rigid immutability of its courses, how cruel its muteness! The music of the spheres was no longer heard, and the admiration for the perfect spherical form gave place to the terror of so much perfection directed at the enslavement of man .... Here we can discern the profound connection which exists between the discovery of the self, the despiritualizing of the world, and the positing of the transcendental God." (Jonas, l.c., p. 261, 263.)
60. Lynn Thorndike reports on a sect, the Mandaeans, derived from or having sources in common with Gnosticism which seems to still exist, or at least did in the late 19th century. Their adherents represent the planets as evil beings, and Jesus Christ as a false prophet and magician produced by the planet Mercury. They had great affection for numerology. Thorndike says: "A peculiarity of Mandaean astronomy and astrology is that the heavenly bodies are all believed to rotate about the polar star. Mandaeans always face it when praying; their sanctuaries are built so that persons entering it face it; and even the dying man is placed so that his feet point and eyes gaze in its direction." (A History of Magic and Experimental Medicine, 1923-1958, v. 1, 1923, p. 383-384.) In the Northern Hemisphere, it certainly looks like most of the heavenly bodies rotate about the polar star.
61. Tamshyn Barton remarks that an "indication of the subversive potential that led to the repression of astrology [by various Christian authorities] is the fact that the Fathers [of the Church] also discuss it in connection with heretical doctrines. Indeed, it is the Gnostics who seem to spark off the first direct attacks on astrology Hippolytis of Rome (martyred 235) attacked the Gnostics with particular emphasis on their astrology in his Refutation of All HeresiesI, taking his detailed argumentation from Sextus Empricius. He justifies this excursus, having carefully disclaimed any knowledge of the art:
'But since, estimating the astrological art as a powerful one, and availing 'themselves of the testimmonies adduced by its patrons, they wish to gain reliance for their own attempted conclusions, we shall at present, as it has seemed expedient, prove the astrological art to be untenable, as out intention is to invalidate the Peratic system [of certain Gnostics], as a branch growing out of an unstable root.'"
(ibid., p. 63).
62. Among the philosophical views of the Hellenistic era, it is the Stoic, with its reverence for an orderly cosmos, which is closest to that of the physical cosmology of our own day, even given the uncertainties and indeterminacies of quantum mechanics. The views of the Gnostics are compared by Jonas to those of our recent past in which people declare, with Nietzsche, that God is dead (Jonas, ibid., Chapter 13). Gnostics declare that the God of the cosmos is dead. Still, Gnostics believe they can achieve a kind of freedom by coming to know the fix we are in -- hence their name, from gnosis, knowledge. Gnosticism resembles nihilism of a Nietzschean kind, being based on a view of nature in which there is no reference to ends or purpose, in which values and meanings can no longer be found, but must be willed by us, when we can. This at least makes our wills free. Dreadful freedom, the existentialists called it. An estrangement of Man and Nature can arise from believing that nature, like the Gnostic God, is indifferent to man. However, even estranged from nature, we can find value in nature's orderliness, experienced as beauty, and satisfaction in understanding and manipulating what we can of it.
63. One of the other great philosophical doctrines of antiquity was Epicureanism. Rackham says: "Epicurus [based] his main theory of nature ... upon the atomism of Democritus, holding that the real universe consists in innumerable atoms of matter moving by the force of gravity through an infinity of empty space. Our world and all its contents, and also innumerable other worlds, are temporary clusters of atoms fortuitously collected together in the void; they are constantly forming and constantly dissolving, without plan or purpose ... The gods (like everything else) consist of fortuitous clusters of atoms ... But it is impious to fancy that gods are burdened with the labour of upholding or guiding the universe; the worlds go on of themselves, by purely mechanical causation; the gods live a life of undisturbed bliss in the intermundia, the empty regions of space between the worlds." (Rackham, ibid., p. viii.)
64. Broadly speaking, the contrast is between a universe in which there are irreducible chance, disorder, probabilities, and unpredictability, compared with a universe in which there are order, law, regularity and certainties, perhaps to the point of complete determinism. It is possible to have it both ways. For example, a number of American Indian groups maintained myths which combined chance and order. For example, Ray Williamson says that the hogan, the prototype of the traditional Navaho dwelling, appears in Navaho creations myths as the home of many different creatures, and also as a place of creation. The stars, for example, are created there. "The story of the creation of the stars is central to the Navajo conception of the universe," says Williamson, "a universe that is essentially ordered just as the hogan is ordered but which also contains mischievous forces of disorder. In this story, Coyote, the trickster, introduces disorder into the heavens by upsetting the intended orderly arrangement of the stars." (Ray Williamson, Living the Sky, 1984, p. 162.)
65. According to Gladys Reichard, Coyote is an exponent of irresponsibility and lack of direction. He seems to be an uncontrolled aspect of either Sun himself, or as the child of Sun or Sky, Coyote represents lust on earth, thus matching Sun's promiscuity as a celestial being. Reichard says: "Coyote, however, observes no rules. Sun, though reluctant and protesting, assumes responsibility for his childred; Coyote sates his desire and leaves confusion or worse behind him. Any good that Coyote accomplishes is fortuitous; Sun's good deeds, though forced, result in control. Coyote does all the daring things Sun would like to doin fact, once did; Sun secretly gloats over them, but of necessity appears to disapprove..... Order, the foundation of Navaho ritual, is reversed in Coyote's character. He threw the stars into the sky in a haphazard manner, he defied hunting rules, he vacillated between evil and good in the ceremonial assembly, he chose October, a changeable and uncertain month, to be his. Plants representing him in the rites are unselected, as are his arrow feathers, and his songs are not grouped in order. After the Bats had killed him, they ground up his skin with soil from undesignated places and scattered the mixture in every direction." (Gladys Reichard, Navaho Religion, 1950, p. 79, 183.)
66. Williamson says of the Chumash Indians of California: "For the Chumash the entire universe and the supernatural powers within it were constantly in flux. Without supernatural intervention from humans, the powers of the world could readily produce events with cataclysmic results. The astronomers of the 'antap cult ... had within their province the duty to seek out the necessary knowledge from the celestial beings, to foresee the future, and to take the proper steps to alter the upcoming course of events for the well-being of their fellow Chumash..... For the native Californian, the celestial realm was a place of power and danger. By carefully timing their intercessions with the beings who peopled the Upper World, the shamans who understood the movements of the sky could wrest some of the celestial power to their own uses. Because that power could also be highly dangerous, the shamans had to be especially careful to watch for just the right moment, lest they bring ill to the people for whom they strove to understand and use the power of the cosmos." (Williamson, ibid., p. 279, 297.)
67. None of us, it seems, is important on the scale of galaxies or electrons, at least if importance is to be judged on size. Some believe we have not evolved according to a master plan. Most biologists subscribe to a lack of premeditated design. One might say that among Darwinists, there are few Stoics, many Epicureans. Epicurean Darwinists, if they are consistent, will be left in a world without plan, subject to the vicissitudes of fortune. Many wish to be saved from such a world. Mircea Eliade says:. "It could be said that the promise of salvation attempts to exorcise the redoubtable power of the goddess Tyche (Chance; Latin, Fortuna). Capricious and unpredictable, Tyche indifferently brings good or evil..... [To overcome this] Destiny ends by being associated with astral fatalism. The existence of individuals as well as the duration of cities and states is determined by the stars. This doctrine and, with it, astrologythe technique that applies its principlesdevelop under the impulse given by the Babylonians' observations of the heavenly bodies. To be sure, the theory of micro-macrocosmic correspondences had long been known in Mesopotamia ... and elsewhere in the Asian world. However, this time man not only feels that he shares in the cosmic rhythms but discovers that his life is determined by the motions of the stars." (Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, 1978; translation by Willard Trask of Histoire des croyances et des idιes religieuses, 1976, v. 1, p. 69, 83.)
68. Notions of a regular universe are intimately tied to motions of the stars. Pliny says: "For all over the world, in all places, and at all times, Fortune is the only God whom every one invokes; she alone is spoken of, she alone is accused and is supposed to be guilty; she alone is in our thoughts, is praised and blamed, and is loaded with reproaches wavering as she is, conceived by the generality of mankind to be blind, wandering, inconstant, uncertain, variable, and often favouring the unworthy. To her are referred all our losses and all our gains, and in casting up the accounts of mortals she alone balances the two pages of our sheet. We are so much in the power of chance, that chance itself is considered as a God, and the existence of God becomes doubtful. But there are others who reject this principle and assign events to the influence of the stars, and to the laws of our nativity; they suppose that God, once for all, issues his decrees and never afterwards interferes. This opinion begins to gain ground, and both the learned and unlearned vulgar are falling into it." (Pliny, Natural History, 77 A.D., II.v.22-24, Latin edited by H. Rackham, 1938, p. 182, 184, translation to English by John Bostock and H. T. Riley, 1855, p. 23-24.)
69. (From Rackham's preface, p. vii-viii: Pliny's "interest in science finally cost him his life, at the age of 56. He was in command of the fleet at Misenum on the Bay of Naples in A.D. 79 when the famous eruption of Vesuvius took place on August 23 and 24, overwhelming the little towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Pliny as a man of science sailed across the bay to obtain a nearer view; he landed at Stabiae, and there was killed by poisonous fumes.")
70. In the Hellenistic Age, Michael Grant reports, "tens of thousands of people were gripped by an unreasonable, dismal, desperate conviction that everything in the world was under the total control of Tyche: Fortune, Chance or Luck. There was a deep-seated feeling that men and women were adrift in an uncaring universe, and that everything was hazardous, beyond human control or understanding or prediction. And so the cult of Chance swept conqueringly over the Mediterranean....." To many it seemed that Chance and Fortune were beyond the comprehension of human beings.
71. The historian Polybius of Megalopolis (c. 200 -- after 118) placed Tyche at the center of the world he was depicting because he felt that the taking over of the Mediterranean area by the Romans was an event that could only be explained in this way. "However," says Grant, "his interpretations of what 'Fortune' actually means are varied and shifting, like most people's views on the subject. Sometimes he sees Tyche as everything that lies beyond human control, or displays no rational causes. Sometimes her name is his label to describe purely haphazard coincidencesor to reflect the fact that anything can happen to anyone at any time. Occasionally there is a hint of a purposive Providence, or of the old Greek idea, so familiar from the tragic drama, that it is Fortune's task to see that mortal wickedness, or even excessive prosperity, is penalized. Yet Polybius also views Tyche as basically amoral, and just as likely to hurt the virtuous. But it is in large-scale operations that his Tyche really comes into play: when huge and capricious events upset the balance of history, and the fortunes of nations are abruptly and sensationally reversed. However, when another, rational cause is perceptible, he prefers to invoke that instead, calling upon Tyche only when no such rational cause can be detected." (Michael Grant, From Alexander to Cleopatra, The Hellenistic World, 1982, p. 214-222).
72. During the centuries immediately before and after the beginning of the Christian era, people started to speak less about Fortune and more about Fate and Destiny: "Fate was often viewed as a general scheme ruling the world and creating a chain of remorseless mechanical causation. Certainly, there wasn't always much difference, in people's minds, between 'chance would have it so' and 'it was fated to be so'. But some writers, realizing that it is illogical to believe in them both at one and the same time, tried to distinguish between them." For example, Zeno the Stoic (d. 263 B.C.) saw belief in Fate and causation as the more respectable, and his follower Cleanthes coupled Destiny with Zeus himself. The Stoics identified Fate with Divine Reason, which determines everything and demands our acceptance. Epicurus, however, believed it was worse to serve such Fate than to serve even the useless popular gods. The wise, said Epicurus, scorn Fate. Many others felt oppressed by the inescapable and boring despotism of Fate, which appeared to ruthlessly restrict the value of human behavior. Nevertheless, millions accepted its tyranny. (Grant, ibid.)
73. Grant goes on: "Millions, too, including some of the best educated people of the day, accepted an even more lamentable doctrine: belief in the power of the sun, moon and stars. For the movements of such celestial forces, it seemed overwhelmingly certain, must affect the lives and deaths, fates and fortunes of humankind. The foundation for this belief was a widespread, profound conviction that some kind of harmony exists between the earth and these heavenly bodiessome cosmic 'sympathy' which meant that the earth and all the orbs seen shining in the sky must possess the same laws and behaviour in common. People felt sureand philosophers encouraged themthat the cosmos is a unit, whose parts are interdependent: that is to say, behind the huge and spectacular processions of the sun, moon and stars, like the marchings of the Homeric armies before the walls of Troy, some underlying solidarity and order has to existan order which must correspondingly prevail on earth as well. For it was believed that the heavenly bodies were nourished by emanations or effluvia from their counterpart the earth, and it therefore seemed only sensible to conclude that emanations also proceeded in the opposite direction, too, and influenced the earth and the human beings who dwelt on its surface."
74. "A clear proof that what happens above affects what happens below seemed to be provided by the visible influence that the heavenly bodies exert on the world: the sun makes the vegetation grow and die, and causes animals to sleep and go on heat; storms and floods come and go according to the rise and fall of constellations; and the moon appears to control the tides like a magnetthe laws of tide-generating gravitation being unknown, this relationship (in so far as it interested the dwellers round an almost tideless sea) was explained by cosmic sympathy between a supposedly watery planet and the element of water in earth. So the whole doctrine seemed to hang together neatly, completely, and rationally, in coherence with the sciences. Yet it is based on a complete fallacy. The generalization that links all human activities, as well as the physical properties of the earth, to the heavenly bodies is quite without foundation. The pedigree of this set of beliefs had been antique and complex. The Greek tragic poets described sun, moon and stars as deities, and Plato accepted this belief, weaving an elaborate astral theology into the fabric of his ideal state. Aristotle, too, far from hostile to a relationship between earth and stars, regarded the latter as intelligent, divine beingsan interpretation that almost all Hellenistic writers shared. People were learning with fascinated interest about the star-worship and astrological practices of the Babylonians, for example from Eudoxus of Cnidus (c. 390-340); and once Alexander the Great had absorbed Babylonia into the world of the Greeks, professional astrologers began to transmit and adapt its traditions to the west." (Grant, ibid.)
75. Grant remarks on the relation of a theory of tides to astrological ideas. Pierre Duhem, in his 10 volume work on ancient and medieval astronomy and physics, Le Systθme du Monde, 1913, calls the chapter in which he first brings up astrology (Ch. XIII of v. 2) "La thιorie des marιes et l'astrologie" (marιes = tides), because he regards the link between the two to be of primary importance in explaining the power of astrology. In Duhem's view, the basic principle of astrology was stated already by Aristotle: "The different parts of the Universe are related to each other by a strict determinism; this determinism subjects the world entirely to the government of celestial circulations." The moon, Duhem says, plays a preponderant role in the astrology ultimately based on this principle, and "the laws of the tides prove, with evidence, the reality of this lunar action and consequently of all the influences which emanate from celestial bodies." Duhem shows how one of the most influential of the early Stoic astrologers, Posidonius (c. 135-50 B.C.), was also much interested in explaining tides. Also, the 9th century Arabian astrologer Abu Ma'shar (Albumasar) devoted 6 chapters of his Introductorium to a theory of tides, from which Duhem quotes extensively. (Pierre Duhem, Le Systθme du Monde, 1913, v. 2, p. 280-286, 377-386, 390.) This work by Abu Ma'shar was very influential on European scholars during the European Middle Ages, as a source of both astrology and the works of Aristotle on nature.
76. The Eudoxus of Cnidus referred to by Grant was one of the great mathematicians and cosmologists of classic Greece. Otto Neugebauer refers to the "oft-quoted remark of Cicero (de divinatione II, 42, 87) that Eudoxus has written that one should not believe the Chaldean practice of predicting the fate of a person from the day of his birth", which appears to say that Eudoxus rejected horoscopic astrology. However, Neugebauer goes on to observe that "from the day of birth" may not refer to astronomical prediction, but to a practice like that attested to by Herodotus (II, 82), who says that the Egyptians "assign each month and each day" to a god and that "they can tell what fortune, what end, and what disposition a man shall have according to the day of his birth." (Otto Neugebauer, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, 1957, p. 188.) This view of Neugebauer seems to have been misunderstood by P. M. Fraser who says flatly of astrology (in general) that "Eudoxus is the first to reveal familiarity with it, even though he rejects its doctrines." (P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria, 1972, v. 1, p. 435, and v. 2, p. 629, of the reprint of 1984).
77. Fraser's chief source for this evaluation appears to be the remark made by Cicero. He also refers to Neugebauer's evaluation just given, saying that Neugebauer "questions whether this is necessarily a reference to astronomical prediction", without noticing that this leaves open the possibility that Eudoxus may have approved of some of the astrological doctrines of the Chaldeans. Fraser, like Grant, is eager to separate the scientific from the pseudo-scientific achievements of the Ptolemaic Alexandrians, according to what scientists of Fraser's time considered scientific and pseudo-scientific. Astrology, along with alchemy and astrological medicine, he counts among the "corrupted" sciences, "superstitions" which have "encroached on scientific thought". "There is indeed," he says, "scarcely a branch of science which did not, in the course of time, produce its own bastardthe fruit of a decline in scientific originality, combined with superstition and philosophical fatalism." (Fraser, ibid.) There seems to be a similarity here between deciding whether viruses are foregunners of cells or bacteria, or degenerate cells or bacteria.
78. Grant and Fraser are hard on believers in astrology. Presumably they mean people who believe in judicial or horoscopic astrology of the kind introduced in Hellenistic Egypt, versions of which are still prevalent today. Perhaps, though, they are condemning astral fatalism in general. They may be objecting to an overextended determinism, which, as we observed before, many people find morally repugnant or instinctively incredible. But, as I have claimed before, in former times a kind of compound of astronomy and astrology was the rule, and separating the two by today's criteria may distort both the motivation and the legacy of the achievements of the astronomer / astrologers of the past.
79. One of the great goals of mathematicians, astronomers, physicists and other natural philosophers has been to discover and describe quantitative constancy, invariance, pattern, and order in nature, and, on the other hand, to find quantitative ways to deal with variability, turbulence, randomness and chance. The first of these aims tends to lead them to determinism, and the second tends to leads them to limitations of determinism. In favorable cases, scientists of this kind find laws or other devices for predicting future and retrodicting past behavior of physical systems with some acceptable degree of accuracy. In cases even more favorable, they find laws which require only small amounts of information and time, relative to human lifetimes, for useful or revealing applications of predicting and retrodicting. Such laws are especially useful when they are mathematical in nature.
80. "I will not go so far as to say," A. N. Whitehead once said, "that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would be claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charmingand a little mad." (Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 1928, p. 26-27.)
81. It is not unreasonable, I think, to conjecture that the development of mathematical thought beyond mere counting was initiated, or at least strongly accelerated, by consideration of celestial objects. Archeo-astronomers have found increasing evidence that many ancient peoples in parts of the world from Scotland to south of the Sahara desert, from pre-Hispanic Mexico to the Egypt of the Pharaohs, had a fairly sophisticated understanding of celestial phenomena, to some extent mathematical in nature. (See, e.g., James Cornell, The First Stargazers, An Introduction to the Origins of Astronomy, 1981.)
82. Development of mathematics went hand-in-hand with development of astronomy. In contrast with unpredictable and capricious gods of nature, there arose, in connection, it seems, with consciousness of time, a vision of the divine manifesting itself in a temporal dominion over the precise and apparently unvarying cyclic paths of the sun, moon, planets and stars. Such thoughts are found in Plato's Epinomis. Plato asks how we are to get wisdom. He runs through a number of domains of knowledgefarming, the useful and fine arts, sciences of war, medicine and transportation, and says that none of them constitute wisdom. He asks what single science there is which, if it were taken away from mankind or never had made its appearance, people would become thoughtless and foolish creatures. Answer: mathematics, the knowledge of number. And, Plato says, our knowledge of mathematics comes to us from Ouranos, the god of the heavens. Call him Ouranos, Cosmos, or whatever you please, he is the source of all good things, such as the seasons and our food. And with the sequence of whole numbers, Ouranos gives us understanding. This, says Plato, is the greatest gift of all, if people will only accept it, and let their minds range over the heavens. (Plato, translation by Raymond Klibansky in Philebus and Epinomis, 1956, reprinted in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, 1961, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, p. 1519-1520.)
83. Similar thoughts are found in Plato's dialogue Timaeus: "Sight, then, in my judgment is the cause of the highest benefits to us in that no word of our present discourse about the universe could ever have been spoken, had we never seen stars, Sun, and sky. But as it is, the sight of day and night, of months and the revolving years, of equinox and solstice, has caused the invention of number and bestowed on us the notion of time and the study of the nature of the world; whence have derived all philosophy, than which no greater boon has ever come or shall come to mortal man as a gift from heaven." (Plato, Timaeus, 47a-b, translated by Francis Cornford, Plato's Cosmology, 1937, p. 157-158 of 1957 edition.) Plato evidently took philosophy to include what many today would classify as science and mathematics.
84. Of the Demiurge, the Creator, Plato says in the cosmological myth in the Timaeus, that "he took thought to make, as it were, a moving likeness of eternity; and, at the same time that he ordered the Heaven, he made, of eternity that abides in unity, an everlasting likeness moving according to numberthat to which we have given the name Time." (Plato, Timaeus, 37d, translated by Francis Cornford in Plato's Cosmology, 1937, p. 98 of 1957 reprint). The phrase "at the same time" may be confusing. Benjamin Jowett translates: "Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, but eternity itself rests in unity, and this image we call time." (p. 1167 of The Collected Dialogues of Plato, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, 1961). A little later Plato says: "Time came into being together with the Heaven, in order that, as they were brought into being together, so they may be dissolved together, if ever their dissolution should come to pass." (Timaeus, 38b.)
85. But consciousness of time brings consciousness of aging and death. This incites countermeasures, such as a paradise lost in the past, or a heaven and hell to go to, or an end of time, or attempts to preserve the present with all its blemishes, or a changeless world of ideas, or a better or worse world to come on earth. The ancient Iranians, for example, developed a religion, Zoroastrianism, in which it was held that the world was created in a year, and each subsequent year was a repetition of the year of creation. Yet they also envisaged a continual struggle between forces of good and evil, represented by the gods Ahura Mazda (later, Ormazd) and Ahriman, which would eventually be decided in favor of good. Inasmuch as each year repeats the year of creation, the time of the Iranians was periodic. The world eternally returns to its beginning, and starts anew. But inasmuch as the battle between good and evil will eventually end with the victory of good, the time of the Iranians was pointed along a line toward a future goal.
86. It appears, then, that ideas of time have been intimately related to ideas about celestial motions, and hence to views of determinism. There were various ideas about time in the ancient world. The ancient Jews tended to concentrate on a future which would bring new things. This may be taken to imply a time line, rather than a time circle of the sort one needs for periodicity and cycles and repetition of the same events over and over. The prophet Isaiah says in the Bible: "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing." (Isaiah, 43.18, Revised Standard Version.) And later: "The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land for ever, the shoot of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it." (Isaiah 60.19-20.) Thus the periodic and repetitious movements of celestial objects will cease, and time will flow only forwardor cease altogether. In the meantime, we will go forward in time and history to approach the consummationno turning back.
87. This looking into the future by the Jewish prophets is quite unlike the astrological prediction which grew up in Babylonia and other nearby cultures. In astronomy, the future is calculated, or based on calculations, as when an equinox or eclipse or sunrise or tide is predicted. In astrology, predictions of the future are based on astronomical calculations. But in biblical prophecy, the future is beheld, proclaimed, believed in. Furthermore, the prophets looked forward in a kind of linear time. The tacit use of a linear rather than a circular time generated a looking backward as well as forward, to see when it all began. Certain ancient Jews settled on the date October 7, 3761 B.C. of the Christian calendar for the beginning of the world. The official calendar of present-day Israel is built around this date. Today's scientific cosmologists put the date of creation (the so-called "big bang") earlier, at around 15 thousand million years ago. The time intervals are different, but the principle is the same.
88. The early Christians implicitly developed the notion of linear time even further. They furnished the world with a definite beginning, the creation; a middle, the mission of Christ; and an apocalyptic end, to which early Christians, and some later ones, could eagerly look forward. Much the same can be said of the Muslims, although of course they have an additional prophet, Mohammed.
89. The ancient Greeks tended to spatialize where the Babylonians, Jews, Christians and Muslims temporalized. For example, in the Semitic religions we hear of an Eden far off in time, while the Greeks speak of an island of the blessed far off in the western sea, and hyperboreans who live far to the north in a region of sunshine and everlasting spring, beyond the northern wind. The tendency of ancient Greeks toward spatialization of ideas, and limitation of time as far as possible to the present, point to a preference for the constant and enduring, and for order and harmony. Rudolf Wendorff says that when change occurs and has to be overcome, the Greek philosophers generally took one or more of the following approaches: (1) they looked the other way, or didn't take time seriously; (2) they contrasted temporal becoming with timeless being so time becomes secondary and derived; (3) they tried to keep change under control by means of unvarying laws or principles that don't allow for accidents and arbitrariness; 4) they tamed time, up to a point, by concentrating on cyclical repetition of processes that allow motion in time but preclude a "going-beyond-the banks" onto a linear time going to infinity, in which there are always completely new and unpredictable possibilities. (Rudolf Wendorff, Zeit und Kultur, 1980, p. 56.)
90. For Parmenides (early 500's B.C.), time is an illusion. Only in myths, he writes, is there an origin of the universe in time, and a genesis of being. For reason (logos), the very question about such an origin loses its meaning. Being, the material of reason (so to speak), is unborn, unchanging, immovable, eternal. Being never was or will be. It is totally present now, one and indivisible.
91. I propose to take astrology seriously here. Patrick Curry says that until quite recently: "Astrology was customarily regarded an inseparable mixture of what is now distinguished between as 'science' and 'mathematics' on the one hand, and 'magic' on the other. The former elements makes it difficult for historians of science to avoid completely; but the latter, equally, makes it (along with alchemy) uniquely irritating. This reaction undoubtedly stems from an often uncritical loyalty of historians of science to modern science. To put it another way, the efforts of early modern science to define itself against magic and neo-Aristotelianism has rubbed off on many of its historiansan attitude aggravated by the continued existence of astrology, in defiance of scientific enlightenment. This is quite evident in the literature, beginning with the doyen of history of science, George Sarton, who was unable to mention astrology (in relation to early Greek science) without descending into abusive caricature, explicitly to his feelings about modern astrologers. For this he was reproved by Otto Neugebauer, in a short but powerful paper entitled 'The Study of Wretched Subjects', which defended against such destructiveness 'the very foundations of our studies: the recovery and study of the texts, regardless of our own tastes and prejudices.'" (Patrick Curry, Astrology, Science and Society, Historical Essays, 1987, edited by Patrick Curry, p. 2.)
92. "The great discovery of the sacerdotal astronomers of Babylonia," says David Amand, "was that of the immutable constancy of the sidereal revolutions, whose periodicity allows us to predict the return at fixed dates of astronomical phenomena. By accumulating observations, these priests were naturally led to the notion of a necessity, which was conceived either as resulting from the will of the gods, or as being superior to them. It was in Chaldea that the idea was born of a Fatality related to the regular movements of the sun, moon and planets distributing good and evil to people. However, this determinism was not pushed to its ultimate logical consequences. The priests believed in the arbitrary intervention of a divine will in the order of nature. They predicted the future by the stars. But by purifications, sacrifices and incantations, they claimed to remove the evils and to obtain more surely the announced benefits. In the Alexandrian epoch, certain schools of astronomer priests, very probably under the influence of Stoicism, professed a more rigorous doctrine. Fatality became the sovereign mistress; it governed God himself, that is, the living universe, and with the stars as intermediaries produced all physical, intellectual and moral phenomena." (David Amand, Fatalisme et libertι dans l'antiquitι grecque, Recherches sur la survivance de l'argumentation morale antifataliste de Carnιade chez les philosophes grecs et les thιologiens chrιtiens des quatre premiers siθcles, 1945, p. 1-2.)
93. Thus was born a religious science or scientific religion compounded of astronomy, astrology, and astrolatry, or, as the Germans say, Sternkunde, Sterndeutung, and Sternglaubestar information, star interpretation, star faith. Astrolatry I take to include astral religion of all kindsworship of the sun and moon as gods or goddesses or powers, and so on. By astrology, concerned with prediction using the stars, I mean, unless I state otherwise, something broader than generally understood today. In the earliest astrology, there were no horoscopes and predictions of the character and fates of individuals. If it weren't for custom and awkwardness, it would be better to say something like deterministic astralism rather than astrology. In particular, in what follows, when I say "astrology", unqualified, I will usually be referring to something more general than horoscopic astrology, also known as judicial astrology (because it is used to make judgments on the basis of celestial objects). Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that astrology is not a fixed body of knowledge which has always stayed the same. Its techniques and visions of the world have evolved. Its principal aim has always been to establish and define relations between humanity and the heavens, and to discover laws which rule them both. But during its long history, astrology, in its broadest sense, has assumed numerous and perhaps innumerable forms, and has been a part of many different cultures. (Cf. Jacques Halbronn, Le Monde Juif et l'Astrologie, Histoire d'un vieux couple, 1979, p. 8.)
94. Astrologers and astronomers have long been among the foremost promoters and defenders of kinds of determinism. In his capacity as a classicist (which is how he made his living), the poet A. E. Housman edited the Astronomica, the long poem on astrology written by Manilius in the 1st century A.D. Manilius was a strict determinist, or fatalist, who believed we are ruled by the stars. Housman once said that his elaborate work on Manilius's poem would be remembered long after his own poems were forgotten. However this may be, while Housman bowed to a kind of determinism, some part of him was free, to judge from this poem by him:
The laws of God, the laws of man, He may keep that will and can; Not I: let God and man decree Laws for themselves and not for me; And if my ways are not as theirs Let them mind their own affairs. Their deeds I judge and much condemn, But when did I make laws for them? Please yourselves, say I, and they Need only look the other way. But no, they will not; they must still Wrest their neighbor to their will, And make me dance as they desire With jail and gallows and hell-fire. And how am I to face the odds Of Man's bedevilment and God's? I, a stranger and afraid In a world I never made. They will be master, right or wrong: Though both are foolish, both are strong. And since, my soul, we cannot fly To Saturn nor to Mercury, Keep we must, if we can, These foreign laws of God and man.
--- A. E. Housman, The Collected Poems of A. E. Housman, 1939, from Last Poems, 1922, XII.)
95. For many years, astrology and astral religions, as well as other studies such as alchemy and theology, were entangled with astronomy. This is the major reason I felt obliged to take astrology and star worship as seriously as I take astronomy and mathematics. There are, of course, many who feel that a study of the history of astrology is a waste of time (as well as many who do not). However, I agree with Patrick Curry who, in his study of astrology in 17th and 18th century England, rejects the idea of considering astrology to be "simply one of history's 'losers' ". (Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power, Astrology in Early Modern England, 1989, p. 3). In my view, we distort history if we separate the star worship and astrology of the past from the history of astronomy as presently practiced.
96. Fortunately, I will not be concerned with truth or falsity of astrological claims. Those interested in such matters may wish to consult the works of the psychologist Michel Gauquelin. For more than 30 years, he made a series of statistical studies of birth data in an attempt to prove or disprove that there is a positive correlation between the positions of planets in the sky at birth, and subsequent characteristics of the person born, as indicated by his or her success in various professions. (See, for example, Michel Gauquelin Dreams and Illusions of Astrology, 1979, and Birth-Times, 1983, both translated from French; the latter is called The Truth about Astrology in the British edition.) In the process, he has cast considerable doubt on the efficacy of traditional astrological practices. Some consider that he has definitively refuted the claims of horoscopic astrologers with solid statistical evidence. However, he also claims to have found statistical evidence for some influence of planets on people's character, that is, on their professional success.
97. As far as I know, no satisfactory explanation of the effect apparently detected by Gauqelin has yet been given. Many proposals have been made, including some offered tentatively by Gauquelin himself. For example, Percy Seymour, an astronomer (not astrologer!), described in 1988 "how the planets control the overall direction of the solar magnetic field near the poles, and how conjunctions, oppositions and squares of the planets as seen from the Sun control the onset of violent storms on the Sun," and "how solar activity is linked to geomagnetic activity, the northern and southern lights, short-term terrestrial weather and long-term climate." From this, Seymour proceeds to a very briefly stated and (I think) largely unsupported hypothesis according to which "it is possible for post-natal fluctuations of the geomagnetic field to recall, via its own 'machine code' [as in computers], some of the pre-natal programming which it fed into the brain of the developing foetus, and thus influence its behaviour in certain circumstances." (Percy Seymour, Astrology, the Evidence of Science, 1988, p. 140, 149.)
98. On the other hand Gauquelin himself says: "Astrology has always remained enigmatic and, to the perfectly proper question, 'Should one believe it?', I can only answer by rejecting both the unconditional opponents and the confirmed upholders .... My ideas on astral influence have changed continually, swinging back and forth like a pendulum..... Though I am so full of my subject, so determined to defend it, so proud of my discoveries, I am still tormented by two asserting demons. The first is the fear of having been mistaken in asserting that astral influence is real; the second is the agonizing thought of all that I have been unable to discover or explain." (Michael Gauqelin, Birth-Times, 1983, p. 180-181.)
99. Gιrard Simon, in his study of the influence of astrology on the work of the great astronomer Kepler, is concerned, among other things, to reveal the categories of thought which were available to Kepler. He says: "We start from the idea that before we study the way which a man in a particular epoch conceptually elaborates the facts available for him to reflect on, it's a good idea to ask ourselves at the outset about the norms he obeys when he conceptualizes in general; and therefore an analysis of what was thinkable for him ought to precede an analysis of what was thoughtby him." (Gιrard Simon, Kepler astronome astrologue, 1979, p. 11.) We can ask how much of what was thinkable and sensible for our predecessors, but has become unthinkable or nonsensical for us, is well forgotten, and how much should be revived, or at least commemorated.
100. Astrology thus has narrow and broad meanings. In a narrow sense, it has to do with predicting character, fate and events on the basis of zodiacal signs and houses, planetary aspects and the like. In a broad sense, it is study and knowledge of any influences of celestial objects on human affairs, on the basis of which predictions can be made. This might include gravitational influences of the moon on the earth, on the basis of which we can predict (for example) tides, which influence human affairs in certain ways. Perhaps this is too broad a definition of astrology. But where do we draw the line? Planets and stars certainly have some detectable effects on us. Otherwise we couldn't see them. Furthermore, quite aside from physical interactions, the orderly movement of celestial objects has served, at times, as a paradigm for priests, statesmen, philosophers, poets and a multitude of others. Who really knows for surewhat the limits of such effects are?
101. Some have maintained that the non-astronomical content of astrology belongs to psychology. This may be to take a position allied to that of the psychologist Carl Jung, who made proposals along this line to explain the prevalence and what he considered to be occasional successes of horoscopic astrology. (See, e.g., the article on "synchronicity" in Naturerklδrung und Psyche by Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli (1952), English translation by Priscilla Silz, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (1955)). If today's physical cosmologists are right in holding that people have ultimately evolved from stars, our brains and minds may respond to them, at conception or birth, or later on, in ways we have not yet discovered. A more exact astrology may yet be found, based not on horoscopes but on some other quantitative correspondences of celestial with human activity. Or maybe not.
102. Jacques Halbronn has advanced the idea that astronomers are not, by virtue of their profession, entitled to pronounce on the validity or invalidity of astrology. "If man is related to the stars," he says, "this is not the fault of the stars, it is the fault of man .... It is a neurophysiological problem more than a cosmobiological or astrophysical problem. It is not a question of asking if the stars emit but if men receive ....." It is one thing, Halbronn says, if the relation between men and the stars posited by astrologers is a regrettable aberration, and another if it has turned out not to be real. In some ancient religions, bulls were worshipped. Do we have to ask a zoologist or agriculturalist if such a practice has any rationale, or if it is part of the nature of bulls to be worshipped? Do we have to ask an astronomer if there is any rationale in star worship, or if it is in the nature of a planet called Jupiter to play the role it has played in astrology? Is it in the nature of tobacco, Halbronn asks, to be a habit for millions of human beings? (Jacques Halbronn and Serge Hutin, Histoire de l'Astrologie, 1986, p. 145.)
103. While this may be true for astrology and astronomy as these terms are now generally understood, the fact remains that the two disciplines were in most people's minds linked together for much of their history, for several thousand years or more, until they began to separate about three or four hundred years ago. This interrelationship has left traces on both the astronomy and astrology of today. Astrologers, for example, often take into account new discoveries of astronomers, such as the new planets discovered since antiquity, including the asteroids. Some astrologers, more conservative, maintain that for astrological purposes one can consider the sun and moon as planets, along with the five other planets known to the ancients, and that the new planets are irrelevant. Such astrologers only use old astronomy.
104. Astronomers, on the other hand, often feel it their duty to try to prove there is nothing worthwhile in astrology. To that extent at least astronomers are still concerned with astrology. More generally, while astronomers may become enthusiastic about the wonders of heaven and earth as explained by their theories and tested by their observations, they are usually constrained in their professional work to express this wonder in non-religious as well as non-astrological ways. Individual astronomers may write articles and books connecting or disconnecting their professional beliefs from religious beliefs. But this is not considered as part of their astronomy. It is something added on, dispensable as far as the practice of their profession is concerned.