1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Astrology
ASTROLOGY, the ancient art or science of divining the fate and future of human beings from indications given by the positions of the stars (sun, moon and planets). The belief in a connexion between the heavenly bodies and the life of man has played an important part in human history. For long ages astronomy and astrology (which might be called astromancy, on the same principle as “chiromancy”) were identified; and a distinction is made between “natural astrology,” which predicts the motions of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, &c., and “judicial astrology,” which studies the influence of the stars on human destiny. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) is one of the first to distinguish between astronomy and astrology; nor did astronomy begin to rid itself of astrology till the 16th century, when, with the system of Copernicus, the conviction that the earth itself is one of the heavenly bodies was finally established. The study of astromancy and the belief in it, as part of astronomy, is found in a developed form among the ancient Babylonians, and directly or indirectly through the Babylonians spread to other nations. It came to Greece about the middle of the 4th century B.C., and reached Rome before the opening of the Christian era. In India and China astronomy and astrology are largely reflections of Greek theories and speculations; and similarly with the introduction of Greek culture into Egypt, both astronomy and astrology were actively cultivated in the region of the Nile during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Astrology was further developed by the Arabs from the 7th to the 13th century, and in the Europe of the 14th and 15th centuries astrologers were dominating influences at court.
Even up to the present day men of intellectual eminence like Dr Richard Garnett have convinced themselves that astromancy has a foundation of truth, just as there are still believers in chiromancy or other forms of divination. Dr Garnett (“A. G. Trent”) insisted indeed that it was a mistake to confuse astrology with fortune-telling, and maintained that it was a “physical science just as much as geology,” depending like them on ascertained facts, and grossly misrepresented by being connected with magic. Dr Garnett himself looked upon the study of biography in relation to the casting of horoscopes as an empirical investigation, but it is difficult in practice to keep the distinction clear, to judge by present-day text-books such as those of Dr Wilde (Primer of Astrology, &c.). Dr Wilde insists on there being “nothing incongruous with the laws of nature in the theory that the sun, moon and stars influence men’s physical bodies and conditions, seeing that man is made up of a physical part of the earth.” There is an obvious tendency, however, for astromancy to be employed, like palmistry, as a means of imposing on the ignorant and credulous. How far the more serious claim is likely to be revived in connexion with the renewal of research into the “occult” sciences generally, it is still too early to speculate; and it has to be recognized that such a point of view is opposed to the generally established belief that astrology is either mere superstition or absolute imposture, and that its former vogue was due either to deception or to the tyranny of an unscientific environment. But if the progress of physical science has not prevented the rehabilitation of much of ancient alchemy by the later researches into chemical change, and if psychology now finds a place for explanations of spiritualism and witchcraft which involve the admission of the empirical facts under a new theory (as in the case of the divining-rod, &c.), it is at least conceivable that some new synthesis might once more justify part at all events of ancient and medieval astromancy, to the extent of admitting the empirical facts where provable, and substituting for the supposed influence of the stars as such, some deeper theory which would be consistent with an application to other forms of prophecy, and thus might reconcile the possibility of dipping into futurity with certain interrelations of the universe, different indeed from those assumed by astrological theory, but underlying and explaining it. If this is ever accomplished it will need the patient investigation of a number of empirical observations by competent students unbiassed by any parti pris—a difficult set of conditions to obtain; and even then no definite results may be achieved.
The history of astrology can now be traced back to ancient Babylonia, and indeed to the earliest phases of Babylonian history, i.e. to about 3000 B.C. In Babylonia as well as in Assyria as a direct offshoot of Babylonian culture (or as we might also term it “Euphratean” culture), astrology takes its place in the official cult as one of the two chief means at the disposal of the priests (who were called bārē or “inspectors”) for ascertaining the will and intention of the gods, the other being through the inspection of the liver of the sacrificial animal (see Omen). Just as this latter method of divination rested on a well-defined theory, to wit, that the liver was the seat of the soul of the animal and that the deity in accepting the sacrifice identified himself with the animal, whose “soul” was thus placed in complete accord with that of the god and therefore reflected the mind and will of the god, so astrology is based on a theory of divine government of the world, which in contrast to “liver” divination assumes at the start a more scientific or pseudo-scientific aspect. This theory must be taken into consideration as a factor in accounting for the persistent hold which even at the present day astrology still maintains on many minds. Starting with the indisputable fact that man’s life and happiness are largely dependent upon phenomena in the heavens, that the fertility of the soil is dependent upon the sun shining in the heavens as well as upon the rains that come from heaven, that on the other hand the mischief and damage done by storms and inundations, to both of which the Euphratean Valley was almost regularly subject, were to be traced likewise to the heavens, the conclusion was drawn that all the great gods had their seats in the heavens. In that early age of culture known as the “nomadic” stage, which under normal conditions precedes the “agricultural” stage, the moon cult is even more prominent than sun worship, and with the moon and sun cults thus furnished by the “popular” faith it was a natural step for the priests, who correspond to the “scientists” of a later day, to perfect a theory of a complete accord between phenomena observed in the heavens and occurrences on earth.
If moon and sun, whose regular movements conveyed to the more intelligent minds the conception of the reign of law and order in the universe as against the more popular notion of chance and caprice, were divine powers, the same held good of the planets, whose movements, though more difficult to follow, yet in the course of time came to be at least partially understood. Of the planets five were recognized—Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury and Mars—to name them in the order in which they appear in the older cuneiform literature; in later texts Mercury and Saturn change places. These five planets were identified with the great gods of the pantheon as follows:—Jupiter with Marduk (q.v.), Venus with the goddess Ishtar (q.v.), Saturn with Ninib (q.v.), Mercury with Nebo (q.v.), and Mars with Nergal (q.v.). The movements of the sun, moon and five planets were regarded as representing the activity of the five gods in question, together with the moon-god Sin (q.v.) and the sun-god Shamash (q.v.), in preparing the occurrences on earth. If, therefore, one could correctly read and interpret the activity of these powers, one knew what the gods were aiming to bring about. The Babylonian priests accordingly applied themselves to the task of perfecting a system of interpretation of the phenomena to be observed in the heavens, and it was natural that the system was extended from the moon, sun and five planets to the more prominent and recognizable fixed stars. That system involved not merely the movements of the moon, sun and planets, but the observation of their relative position to one another and to all kinds of peculiarities noted at any point in the course of their movements: in the case of the moon, for instance, the exact appearance of the new crescent, its position in the heavens, the conditions at conjunction and opposition, the appearance of the horns, the halo frequently seen with the new moon, which was compared to a “cap,” the ring round the full moon, which was called a “stall” (i.e. “enclosure”), and more of the like. To all these phenomena some significance was attached, and this significance was naturally intensified in the case of such a striking phenomenon as an eclipse of the moon. Applying the same method of careful observation to the sun and planets, and later to some of the constellations and to many of the fixed stars, it will be apparent that the body of observations noted must have grown in the course of time to large and indeed to enormous proportions, and correspondingly the interpretations assigned to the nearly endless variations in the phenomena thus observed. The interpretations themselves were based (as in the case of divination through the liver) chiefly on two factors:—(1) on the recollection or on written records of what in the past had taken place when the phenomenon or phenomena in question had been observed, and (2) association of ideas—involving sometimes merely a play upon words—in connexion with the phenomenon or phenomena observed. Thus if on a certain occasion the rise of the new moon in a cloudy sky was followed by victory over an enemy or by abundant rain, the sign in question was thus proved to be a favourable one and its recurrence would be regarded as a good omen, though the prognostication would not necessarily be limited to the one or the other of those occurrences, but might be extended to apply to other circumstances. On the other hand, the appearance of the new moon earlier than was expected was regarded as an unfavourable omen—prognosticating in one case defeat, in another death among cattle, in a third bad crops—not necessarily because these events actually took place after such a phenomenon, but by an application of the general principle resting upon association of ideas whereby anything premature would suggest an unfavourable occurrence. A thin halo seen above the new moon was pictured as a cap, and the association between this and the symbol of royalty, which was a conical-shaped cap, led to interpreting the phenomenon as an indication that the ruler would have a successful reign. In this way a mass of traditional interpretation of all kinds of observed phenomena was gathered, and once gathered became a guide to the priests for all times.
Astrology in this its earliest stage is, however, marked by two characteristic limitations. In the first place, the movements and position of the heavenly bodies point to such occurrences as are of public import and affect the general welfare. The individual’s interests are not in any way involved, and we must descend many centuries and pass beyond the confines of Babylonia and Assyria before we reach that phase which in medieval and modern astrology is almost exclusively dwelt upon—genethliology or the individual horoscope. In Babylonia and Assyria the cult centred largely and indeed almost exclusively in the public welfare and the person of the king, because upon his well-being and favour with the gods the fortunes of the country were dependent in accordance with the ancient conception of kingship (see J. G. Frazer, The Early History of Kingship). To some extent, the individual came in for his share in the incantations and in the purification ritual through which one might hope to rid oneself of the power of the demons and of other evil spirits, but outside of this the important aim of the priests was to secure for the general benefit the favour of the gods, or, as a means of preparing oneself for what the future had in store, to ascertain in time whether that favour would be granted in any particular instance or would be continued in the future. Hence in “liver” divination, as in astrology, the interpretations of the signs noted all have reference to public affairs and events and not to the individual’s needs or desires. In the second place, the astronomical knowledge presupposed and accompanying early Babylonian astrology is essentially of an empirical character. While in a general way the reign of law and order in the movements of the heavenly bodies was recognized, and indeed must have exercised an influence at an early period in leading to the rise of a methodical divination that was certainly of a much higher order than the examination of an animal’s liver, yet the importance that was laid upon the endless variations in the form of the phenomena and the equally numerous apparent deviations from what were regarded as normal conditions, prevented for a long time the rise of any serious study of astronomy beyond what was needed for the purely practical purposes that the priests as “inspectors” of the heavens (as they were also the “inspectors” of the sacrificial livers) had in mind. True, we have, probably as early as the days of Khammurabi, i.e. c. 2000 B.C., the combinations of prominent groups of stars with outlines of pictures fantastically put together, but there is no evidence that prior to 700 B.C. more than a number of the constellations of our zodiac had become part of the current astronomy. The theory of the ecliptic as representing the course of the sun through the year, divided among twelve constellations with a measurement of 30° to each division, is also of Babylonian origin, as has now been definitely proved; but it does not appear to have been perfected until after the fall of the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C. Similarly, the other accomplishments of Babylonian astronomers, such as their system or rather systems of moon calculations and the drawing up of planetary tablets, belong to this late period, so that the golden age of Babylonian astronomy belongs not to the remote past, as was until recently supposed, but to the Seleucid period, i.e. after the advent of the Greeks in the Euphrates Valley. From certain expressions used in astrological texts that are earlier than the 7th century B.C. it would appear, indeed, that the beginnings at least of the calculation of sun and moon eclipses belong to the earlier period, but here, too, the chief work accomplished was after 400 B.C., and the defectiveness of early Babylonian astronomy may be gathered from the fact that as late as the 6th century B.C. an error of almost an entire month was made by the Babylonian astronomers in the attempt to determine through calculation the beginning of a certain year.
The researches of Bouché-Leclercq, Cumont and Boll have enabled us to fix with a considerable degree of definiteness the middle of the 4th century B.C. as the period when Babylonian astrology began its triumphal march to the west, invading the domain of Greek and Roman culture and destined to exercise a strong hold on all nations and groups—more particularly in Egypt—that came within the sphere of Greek and Roman influence. It is rather significant that this spread of astrology should have been concomitant with the intellectual impulse that led to the rise of a genuine scientific phase of astronomy in Babylonia itself, which must have weakened to some extent the hold that astrology had on the priests and the people. The advent of the Persians, bringing with them a conception of religion of a far higher order than Babylonian-Assyrian polytheism (see Zoroaster), must also have acted as a disintegrating factor in leading to the decline of the old faith in the Euphrates Valley, and we thus have the interesting though not entirely exceptional phenomenon of a great civilization bequeathing as a legacy to posterity a superstition instead of a real achievement. “Chaldaean wisdom” became among Greeks and Romans the synonym of divination through the planets and stars, and it is not surprising that in the course of time to be known as a “Chaldaean” carried with it frequently the suspicion of charlatanry and of more or less wilful deception. The spread of astrology beyond Babylonia is thus concomitant with the rise of a truly scientific astronomy in Babylonia itself, which in turn is due to the intellectual impulse afforded by the contact with new forms of culture from both the East and the West.
In the hands of the Greeks and of the later Egyptians both astrology and astronomy were carried far beyond the limits attained by the Babylonians, and it is indeed a matter of surprise to observe the harmonious combination of the two fields—a harmony that seems to grow more complete with each age, and that is not broken until we reach the threshold of modern science in the 16th century. To the Greek astronomer Hipparchus belongs the credit of the discovery (c. 130 B.C.) of the theory of the precession of the equinoxes, for a knowledge of which among the Babylonians we find no definite proof; but such a signal advance in pure science did not prevent the Greeks from developing in a most elaborate manner the theory of the influence of the planets upon the fate of the individual. The endeavour to trace the horoscope of the individual from the position of the planets and stars at the time of birth (or, as was attempted by other astrologers, at the time of conception) represents the most significant contribution of the Greeks to astrology. The system was carried to such a degree of perfection that later ages made but few additions of an essential character to the genethliology or drawing up of the individual horoscope by the Greek astrologers. The system was taken up almost bodily by the Arab astronomers, it was embodied in the Kabbalistic lore of Jews and Christians, and through these and other channels came to be the substance of the astrology of the middle ages, forming, as already pointed out, under the designation of “judicial astrology,” a pseudo-science which was placed on a perfect footing of equality with “natural astrology” or the more genuine science of the study of the motions and phenomena of the heavenly bodies.
Partly in further development of views unfolded in Babylonia, but chiefly under Greek influences, the scope of astrology was enlarged until it was brought into connexion with practically all of the known sciences, botany, chemistry, zoology, mineralogy, anatomy and medicine. Colours, metals, stones, plants, drugs and animal life of all kinds were associated with the planets and placed under their tutelage. In the system that passes under the name of Ptolemy, Saturn is associated with grey, Jupiter with white, Mars with red, Venus with yellow, while Mercury, occupying a peculiar place in Greek as it did in Babylonian astrology (where it was at one time designated as the planet par excellence), was supposed to vary its colour according to changing circumstances. The sun was associated with gold, the moon with silver, Jupiter with electrum, Saturn with lead, Venus with copper, and so on, while the continued influence of astrological motives is to be seen in the association of quicksilver, upon its discovery at a comparatively late period, with Mercury, because of its changeable character as a solid and a liquid. In the same way stones were connected with both the planets and the months; plants, by diverse association of ideas, were connected with the planets, and animals likewise were placed under the guidance and protection of one or other of the heavenly bodies. By this curious process of combination the entire realm of the natural sciences was translated into the language of astrology with the single avowed purpose of seeing in all phenomena signs indicative of what the future had in store. The fate of the individual, as that feature of the future which had a supreme interest, led to the association of the planets with parts of the body. Here, too, we find various systems devised, in part representing the views of different schools, in part reflecting advancing conceptions regarding the functions of the organs in man and animals. In one system the seat of Mercury, representing divine intelligence as the source of all knowledge—a view that reverts to Babylonia where Nebo (corresponding to Mercury) was regarded as the divine power to whom all wisdom is due—was placed in the liver as the primeval seat of the soul (see Omen), whereas in other systems this distinction was assigned to Jupiter or to Venus. Saturn, taking in Greek astrology the place at the head of the planets which among the Babylonians was accorded to Jupiter-Marduk, was given a place in the brain, which in later times was looked upon as the centre of soul-life; Venus, as the planet of the passion of love, was supposed to reign supreme over the genital organs, the belly and the lower limbs; Mars, as the violent planet, is associated with the bile, as well as with the blood and kidneys. Again, the right ear is associated with Saturn, the left ear with Mars, the right eye in the case of the male with the sun and the left eye with the moon, while in the case of the female it was just the reverse. From the planets the same association of ideas was applied to the constellations of the zodiac, which in later phases of astrology are placed on a par with the planets themselves, so far as their importance for the individual horoscope is concerned. The fate of the individual in this combination of planets with the zodiac was made dependent not merely upon the planet which happened to be rising at the time of birth or of conception, but also upon its local relationship to a special sign or to certain signs of the zodiac. The zodiac was regarded as the prototype of the human body, the different parts of which all had their corresponding section in the zodiac itself. The head was placed in the first sign of the zodiac—the Ram; and the feet in the last sign—the Fishes. Between these two extremes the other parts and organs of the body were distributed among the remaining signs of the zodiac, the neck being assigned to the Bull, the shoulders and arms to the Gemini (or twins), the breast to Cancer, the flanks to Leo, the bladder to Virgo, the buttocks to the Balance, the pubis to the Scorpion, the thighs to Sagittarius, the knees to Capricorn, and the limbs to Aquarius. Not content with this, we find the late Egyptian astrologers setting up a correspondence between the thirty-six decani recognized by them and the human body, which is thus divided into thirty-six parts; to each part a god was assigned as a controlling force. With human anatomy thus connected with the planets, with constellations, and with single stars, medicine became an integral part of astrology, or, as we might also put it, astrology became the handmaid of medicine. Diseases and disturbances of the ordinary functions of the organs were attributed to the influence of planets or explained as due to conditions observed in a constellation or in the position of a star; and an interesting survival of this bond between astrology and medicine is to be seen in the use up to the present time of the sign of Jupiter ♃, which still heads medicinal prescriptions, while, on the other hand, the influence of planetary lore appears in the assignment of the days of the week to the planets, beginning with Sunday, assigned to the sun, and ending with Saturday, the day of Saturn. Passing on into still later periods, Saturn’s day was associated with the Jewish sabbath, Sunday with the Lord’s Day, Tuesday with Tiw, the god of war, corresponding to Mars of the Romans and to the Nergal of the Babylonians. Wednesday was assigned to the planet Mercury, the equivalent of the Germanic god Woden; Thursday to Jupiter, the equivalent of Thor; and Friday to Friga, the goddess of love, who is represented by Venus among the Romans and among the Babylonians by Ishtar. Astrological considerations likewise already regulated in ancient Babylonia the distinction of lucky and unlucky days, which passing down to the Greeks and Romans (dies fasti and nefasti) found a striking expression in Hesiod’s Works and Days. Among the Arabs similar associations of lucky and unlucky days directly connected with the influence of the planets prevailed through all times, Tuesday and Wednesday, for instance, being regarded as the days for blood-letting, because Tuesday was connected with Mars, the lord of war and blood, and Wednesday with Mercury, the planet of humours. Even in modern times travellers relate how, when an auspicious day has been proclaimed by the astrologers, the streets of Bagdad may be seen running with blood from the barbers’ shops.
It is unnecessary here to give a detailed analysis of the methods of judicial astrology as an art, or directions for the casting of a horoscope, or “nativity,” i.e. a map of the heavens at the hour of birth, showing, according to the Ephemeris, the position of the heavenly bodies, from which their influence may be deduced. Each of the twelve signs of the zodiac (q.v.) is credited with its own characteristics and influence, and is the controlling sign of its “house of life.” The sign exactly rising at the moment of birth is called the ascendant. The benevolent or malignant influence of each planet, together with the sun and moon, is modified by the sign it inhabits at the nativity; thus Jupiter in one house may indicate riches, fame in another, beauty in another, and Saturn similarly poverty, obscurity or deformity. The calculation is affected by the “aspects,” i.e. according as the planets are near or far as regards one another (in conjunction, in semi-sextile, semi-square, sextile, quintile, square, trine, sesqui-quadrate, bi-quintile, opposition or parallel acclination). Disastrous signs predominate over auspicious, and the various effects are combined in a very elaborate and complicated manner.
Judicial astrology, as a form of divination, is a concomitant of natural astrology, in its purer astronomical aspect, but mingled with what is now considered an unscientific and superstitious view of world-forces. In the Janua aurea reserata quatuor linguarum (1643) of J. A. Comenius we find the following definition:—“Astronomus siderum meatus seu motus considerat: Astrologus eorundem efficaciam, influxum, et effectum.” Kepler was more cautious in his opinion; he spoke of astronomy as the wise mother, and astrology as the foolish daughter, but he added that the existence of the daughter was necessary to the life of the mother. Tycho Brahe and Gassendi both began with astrology, and it was only after pursuing the false science, and finding it wanting, that Gassendi devoted himself to astronomy. In their numerous allusions to the subtle mercury, which the one makes when treating of a means of measuring time by the efflux of the metal, and the other in a treatise on the transit of the planet, we see traces of the school in which they served their first apprenticeship. Huygens, moreover, in his great posthumous work, Cosmotheoros, seu de terris coelestibus, shows himself a more exact observer of astrological symbols than Kircher himself in his Iter exstaticum. Huygens contends that between the inhabitants of different planets there need not be any greater difference than exists between men of different types on the earth. “There are on the earth,” continues this rational interpreter of the astrologers and chiromancers, “men of cold temperament who would thrive in Saturn, which is the farthest planet from the sun, and there are other spirits warm and ardent enough to live in Venus.”
Those were indeed strange times, according to modern ideas, when astrologers were dominant by the terror they inspired, and sometimes by the martydom they endured when their predictions were either too true or too false. Faith, to borrow their own language, was banished to Virgo, and rarely shed her influence on men. Cardan (1501-1576), for instance, hated Luther, and so changed his birthday in order to give him an unfavourable horoscope. In Cardan’s times, as in those of Augustus, it was a common practice for men to conceal the day and hour of their birth, till, like Augustus, they found a complaisant astrologer. But, as a general rule, medieval and Renaissance astrologers did not give themselves the trouble of reading the stars, but contented themselves with telling fortunes by faces. They practised chiromancy (see Palmistry), and relied on afterwards drawing a horoscope to suit. As physiognomists (see Physiognomy) their talent was undoubted, and according to Vanini there was no need to mount to the house-top to cast a nativity. “Yes,” he says, “I can read his face; by his hair and his forehead it is easy to guess that the sun at his birth was in the sign of Libra and near Venus. Nay, his complexion shows that Venus touches Libra. By the rules of astrology he could not lie.”
A few salient facts may be added concerning the astrologers and their predictions, remarkable either for their fulfilment or for the ruin and confusion they brought upon their authors. We may begin with one taken from Bacon’s Essay of Prophecies:—“When I was in France, I heard from one Dr Pena, that the queen mother, who was given to curious arts, caused the king her husband’s nativitie to be calculated, under a false name; and the astrologer gave a judgment, that he should be killed in a duell; at which the queene laughed, thinking her husband to be above challenges and duels; but he was slaine, upon a course at tilt, the splinters of the staffe of Mongomery going in at his bever.” A favourite topic of the astrologers of all countries has been the immediate end of the world. As early as 1186 the earth had escaped one threatened cataclysm of the astrologers. This did not prevent Stöffler from predicting a universal deluge for the year 1524—a year, as it turned out, distinguished for drought. His aspect of the heavens told him that in that year three planets would meet in the aqueous sign of Pisces. The prediction was believed far and wide, and President Aurial, at Toulouse, built himself a Noah’s ark—a curious realization, in fact, of Chaucer’s merry invention in the Miller’s Tale.
Tycho Brahe was from his fifteenth year devoted to astrology, and adjoining his observatory at Uranienburg the astronomer-royal of Denmark had a laboratory built in order to study alchemy, and it was only a few years before his death that he finally abandoned astrology. We may here notice one very remarkable prediction of the master of Kepler. That he had carefully studied the comet of 1577 as an astronomer, we may gather from his adducing the very small parallax of this comet as disproving the assertion of the Aristotelians that a solid sphere enveloped the heavens. But besides this, we find him in his character of astrologer drawing a singular prediction from the appearance of this comet. It announced, he tells us, that in the north, in Finland, there should be born a prince who should lay waste Germany and vanish in 1632. Gustavus Adolphus, it is well known, was born in Finland, overran Germany, and died in 1632. The fulfilment of the details of this prophecy suggests that Tycho Brahe had some basis of reason for his prediction. Born in Denmark of a noble Swedish family, a politician, as were all his contemporaries of distinction, Tycho, though no conjuror, could foresee the advent of some great northern hero. Moreover, he was doubtless well acquainted with a very ancient tradition, that heroes generally came from the northern frontiers of their native land, where they are hardened and tempered by the threefold struggle they wage with soil, climate and barbarian neighbours.
Kepler explained the double movement of the earth by the rotation of the sun. At one time the sun presented its friendly side, which attracted one planet, sometimes its adverse side, which repelled it. He also peopled the planets with souls and genii. He was led to his three great laws by musical analogies, just as William Herschel afterwards passed from music to astronomy. Kepler, who in his youth made almanacs, and once prophesied a hard winter, which came to pass, could not help putting an astrological interpretation on the disappearance of the brilliant star of 1572, which Tycho had observed. Theodore Beza thought that this star, which in December 1573 equalled Jupiter in brilliancy, predicted the second coming of Christ. Astronomers were only then beginning to study variable and periodic stars, and disturbances in that part of the heavens, which had till then, on the authority of Aristotle, been regarded as incorruptible, combined with the troubles of the times, must have given a new stimulus to belief in the signs in heaven. Montaigne (Essais, lib. i. chap, x.) relates a singular episode in the history of astrology. Charles V. and Francis I., who both bid for the friendship of the infamous Aretino, surnamed the divine, both likewise engaged astrologers to fight their battles. In Italy those who prophesied the ruin of France were sure to be listened to. These prophecies affected the public funds much as telegrams do nowadays. “At Rome,” Montaigne tells us, “a large sum of money was lost on the Change by this prognostication of our ruin.” The marquis of Saluces, notwithstanding his gratitude to Francis I. for the many favours he had received, including his marquisate, of which the brother was despoiled for his benefit, was led in 1536 to betray his country, being scared by the glorious prophecies of the ultimate success of Charles V. which were then rife. The influence of the Medici made astrologers popular in France. Richelieu, on whose council was Jacques Gaffarel (1601-1681), the last of the Kabbalists, did not despise astrology as an engine of government. At the birth of Louis XIV. a certain Morin de Villefranche was placed behind a curtain to cast the nativity of the future autocrat. A generation back the astrologer would not have been hidden behind a curtain, but have taken precedence of the doctor. La Bruyère dares not pronounce against such beliefs, “for there are perplexing facts affirmed by grave men who were eye-witnesses.” In England William Lilly and Robert Fludd were both dressed in a little brief authority. The latter gives us elaborate rules for the detection of a thief, and tells us that he has had personal experience of their efficacy. “If the lord of the sixth house is found in the second house, or in company with the lord of the second house, the thief is one of the family. If Mercury is in the sign of the Scorpion he will be bald, &c.” Francis Bacon abuses the astrologers of his day no less than the alchemists, but he does so because he has visions of a reformed astrology and a reformed alchemy. Sir Thomas Browne, too, while he denies the capacity of the astrologers of his day, does not venture to dispute the reality of the science. The idea of the souls of men passing at death to the stars, the blessedness of their particular sphere being assigned them according to their deserts (the metempsychosis of J. Reynaud), may be regarded as a survival of religious astrology, which, even as late as Descartes’s day, assigned to the angels the task of moving the planets and the stars. Joseph de Maistre believed in comets as messengers of divine justice, and in animated planets, and declared that divination by astrology is not an absolutely chimerical science. Lastly, we may mention a few distinguished men who ran counter to their age in denying stellar influences. Aristarchus of Samos, Martianus Capella (the precursor of Copernicus), Cicero, Favorinus, Sextus Empiricus, Juvenal, and in a later age Savonarola and Pico della Mirandola, and La Fontaine, a contemporary of the neutral La Bruyère, were all pronounced opponents of astrology.
In England Swift may fairly claim the credit of having given the death-blow to astrology by his famous squib, entitled Prediction for the Year 1708, by Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. He begins, by professing profound belief in the art, and next points out the vagueness and the absurdities of the philomaths. He then, in the happiest vein of parody, proceeds to show them a more excellent way:—“My first prediction is but a trifle, yet I mention it to show how ignorant these sottish pretenders to astrology are in their own concerns: it refers to Partridge the almanac-maker. I have consulted the star of his nativity by my own rules, and find he will infallibly die upon the 29th of March next about eleven at night of a raging fever. Therefore I advise him to consider of it and settle his affairs in time.” Then followed a letter to a person of quality giving a full and particular account of the death of Partridge on the very day and nearly at the hour mentioned. In vain the wretched astrologer protested that he was alive, got a literary friend to write a pamphlet to prove it, and published his almanac for 1709. Swift, in his reply, abused him for his want of manners in giving a gentleman the lie, answered his arguments seriatim, and declared that the evidence of the publication of another almanac was wholly irrelevant, “for Gadbury, Poor Robin, Dove and Way do yearly publish their almanacs, though several of them have been dead since before the Revolution.” Nevertheless a field is found even to this day for almanacs of a similar type, and for popular belief in them.
To astrological politics we owe the theory of heaven-sent rulers, instruments in the hands of Providence, and saviours of society. Napoleon, as well as Wallenstein, believed in his star. Many passages in the older English poets are unintelligible without some knowledge of astrology. Chaucer wrote a treatise on the astrolabe; Milton constantly refers to planetary influences; in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Gloucester and Edmund represent respectively the old and the new faith. We still contemplate and consider; we still speak of men as jovial, saturnine or mercurial; we still talk of the ascendancy of genius, or a disastrous defeat. In French heur, malheur, heureux, malheureux, are all derived from the Latin augurium; the expression né sous une mauvaise étoile, born under an evil star, corresponds (with the change of étoile into astre) to the word malôtru, in Provençal malastrue; and son étoile pâlit, his star grows pale, belongs to the same class of illusions. The Latia ex augurio appears in the Italian sciagura, sciagurato, softened into sciaura, sciaurato, wretchedness, wretched. The influence of a particular planet has also left traces in various languages; but the French and English jovial and the English saturnine correspond rather to the gods who served as types in chiromancy than to the planets which bear the same names. In the case of the expressions bien or mal luné, well or ill mooned, avoir un quartier de lune dans la tetê, to have the quarter of the moon in one’s head, the German mondsüchtig and the English moonstruck or lunatic, the fundamental idea lies in the strange opinions formerly held about the moon.