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Astrology: a Critical, Historical and Philosophical Review


Astrology: a Critical, Historical and Philosophical Review Nicholas Campion School of Archaeology History and Anthropology University of Wales Trinity Saint David – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Astrology: a Critical, Historical and Philosophical Review

Astrology a Critical, Historical and
Philosophical Review
  • Nicholas Campion
  • School of Archaeology History and Anthropology
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Modern Astrology The Problem
  • Astrology is a part of modern popular culture.
  • Depending on how the question is asked, toughly
    between about 25 and 75 of the adult population
    believe in it
  • It is widely regarded as being an anachronistic
    survival of a superstitious past, whose existence
    in the modern world is deeply problematic
  • Astronomers especially see it as a challenge

The Problem
  • Theodor Adorno
  • basically discordant with todays universal
    state of enlightenment.
  • The question Is he correct?
  • Adorno, Theodor, The Stars Down to Earth (London
    Routledge, 19941953), p. 36.

  • Alan Smithers, Sydney Jones Professor of
    Education and Director of the Centre for
    Education and Employment Research at the
    University of Liverpool, in 2001
  • The continuing hold of astrology on the human
    psyche is curious
  • Alan Smithers, Astrology, like literature and
    music, can invest life with meaning, The
    Independent Wednesday 4 April 2001,
    http//, accessed 4
    March 2003.

  • What is this thing that has a curious hold on the
    human psyche and has a discordant relationship
    with the Enlightenment?

Religion or Science?
  • Perhaps both some critics and sympathisers
    support this view, or sub-define it as a
    substitute religion or pseudo-science
  • BUT such typologies depend on competing
    definitions of science and religion.

A matter of definition exclusive(David Pingree)
  • the study of the impact of the celestial bodies
    - Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter,
    Saturn, the fixed stars and sometimes the lunar
    nodes - upon the sublunar world.
  • David Pingree, Astrology in Dictionary of the
    History of Ideas (place, publisher), Vol. 1, p

Definitional Problems
  • David Pingrees definition is influential
  • BUT.........
  • It defines astrology strictly within an
    Aristotelian context.
  • It can therefore not exist in any other culture
    in a non-Aristotelian framework.

For example
  • Stephen McCluskey
  • the content of the Maya astronomical texts was
    purely astrological
  • Stephen McCluskey, Native American Cosmologies
    in Norris Hetherington (ed.), Encyclopaedia of
    Cosmology, (New York and London Garland
    Publishing, 1993), p. 427.
  •  Anthony Aveni
  • the Mayan astronomical texts were purely
    astrological in their function and intent.
  • Anthony Aveni, 'Introduction Making Time', in
    The Sky in Mayan Literature, (Oxford Oxford
    University Press, 1992), p. 4.

A matter of definition or inclusive?
  • Astrology is the practice of relating the
    heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth, and
    the tradition that has thus been generated.
  • Patrick Curry, Patrick, Astrology, in Boyd,
    Kelly (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Historians and
    Historical Writing, 2 Vols. London Fitzroy
    Dearborn 1999, Vol. 1, pp 55-7 (p. 55)

My definition
  • Astrology is the search for significance or
    meaning in the stars, and any consequent action
  • (As long as we can avoid the discussion of what
    meaning means.)

Fundamental Premise 1. The Reflective Cosmos
  • The fundamental premise of astrology is
    reflective that the earth is a mirror of heaven,
    in the sense of the celestial realms, and vice
  • Nicholas Campion, Astrology and Cosmology in th
    Worlds Religions, New York New York University
    Press, 2011

Fundamental Premise 1. The Reflective Cosmos
  • The universe was conceived not as an object
    independent of man, but as a counterpart of and
    mirror of human society
  • Xiaochun Sun, Crossing the Boundaries between
    Heaven and Man Astronomy in Ancient China, in
    Helaine Selin (ed.), Astronomy Across Cultures
    the History of Non-Western Astronomy, (Dordrecht
    Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), p. 425.
  • native North American cosmology, talked of a
    patterned mirroring between sky and earth.
  • Trudy Griffin-Pierce, Earth Is My Mother, Sky Is
    My Father Space, Time and Astronomy in Navajo
    Sandpainting, (Albuquerque University of New
    Mexico Press, 1995), p. 63.

Fundamental Premise 3The cosmos is an
interdependent whole
  • The Stoic philosophers Chrysippus, On Providence,
    and Posidonius
  • The cosmos is a living being, rational, animate
    and intelligent
  •  It is alive in the sense of an animate substance
    endowed with sensation.
  • DL VII.142
  • DL VII.142

Fundamental Premise 3Divinity speaks through the
  • Celestial patterns were the writing of the gods
    and goddesses (šitir šamê the 'writing of
  • The sky is a text
  • Right enuma anu enlil, 8th c BCE

Explanatory Models 1 The sky can be read like a
text as warnings (Omens)
  • the 'signs on earth just as those in the sky
    give us signals. Sky and earth both produce
    portents though appearing separately, they are
    not separate (because) sky and earth are
  • The Diviners ManualAs Above, so Below1
    Oppenheim, A.Leo., A Babylonian Diviners
    Manual, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol.
    33, January-October 1974, p. 204.

  • The appearance of a bird whose head was a mirror
    in which the stars could be seen was a bad omen
    which was later linked to the Spanish conquest of
    the Aztecs.

Explanatory Models 1Divine intervention
  • Right Quetzalcoatl (Venus) and Innana (Venus)
  • Yahweh
  • '"And on that day," says the Lord God, "I will
    make the sun go down at noon, and darken the
    earth in broad daylight'.
  • Amos 8.9.

Explanatory Models 2Time as Universal Order
events in earth correlate with those in the sky
  • 'Wherefore, as a consequence of this reasoning
    and design on the part of God, with a view to the
    generation of Time, the sun and moon and five
    other stars, which bear the appellation of
    "planets" i.e., 'wanderers', came into
    existence for the determining and preserving of
    the numbers of Time.' Timaeus 38C).

Time as universal orderJohannes Kepler and the
Jupiter-Saturn cycle
Pattern, Order and Time
  • Events follow definite trends, each according to
    its nature. Things are distinguished from one
    another in definite classes. In this way good
    fortune and misfortune come about. In the heavens
    phenomena take form on earth shapes take form.
    In this way change and transformation become
  • Richard Wilhelm, The I Ching or Book of Changes
    (London Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951, 3rd
    edition 1968), p. 280.

Explanatory Models 3Aristotle causes and
  • Metaphysics 995b-996a and Physics 194b-195a.
  • Four causes
  • Material.
  • Formal.
  • Efficient
  • Final
  • Influence
  • celestial motion
  • celestial light (lumen)
  • influentiae,

Explanatory Models 3.2Plato causes
  • The physical cosmos, i.e., the revolutions of the
    Same and Other, the planets and stars, are
    'auxiliary' (or 'secondary') causes which 'God
    employs as his ministers in perfecting, so far as
    possible, the Form of the Most Good'.

Claudius Ptolemy (2nd c CE) applies the causal
model. Aristotle left, Ptolemy right
Explanatory models 4Physical Influences
  • Saturn is cold and frozen, Jupiter is warm
  • Mars very hot,
  • Venus is 'the cause of the birth of all things
    upon earth' and 'scatters a general dew' at its
    rising which stimulates the sexual organs.
  • The sun is hot
  • The moon is moist.  
  • Pliny, Natural History, II.iv.12, vi.32-40, see
    also xvi,19.

Action 1
  • Sir Karl Popper
  • Astrology is historicist
  • Historicism the paradox that belief in a
    predetermined future requires action to
    implement the future.

Action 2
  • Claudius Ptolemy
  • 'they Egyptian astrologers would never have
    devised certain means of averting or warding
    offthe universal and particular conditions that
    come or are present by reason of the ambient, if
    they had any idea that the future cannot be moved
    and changed'.
  • Ptolemy, Claudius, Tetrabiblos, trans. F.E.
    Robbins, Cambridge Mass., London Harvard
    University Press, 1940, I.3, pp. 32-3.
  • Sapiens, a wise Man doth Co-operate with the
    Coelestial Operations, and doth assist Nature, as
    the Husbandman in the ploughing and preparing his

Action Calendar Rituals
  • Kumbha Mela
  • Held on a 12 year cycle to mark the Jupiter
  • Attended by up to 60m people

Action Apotropaic Rituals
  • 'Sun-god of Heaven, my Lord! That omen which the
    Moon-god gave - if he found fault with me, accept
    ye, Sun-god of Heaven and (all) ye gods, these
    substitutes that I have given and let me go
  • From the Hittite 'Removal of the Threat Implied
    in an Evil Omen' in Pritchard, James B. (ed.),
    Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old
    Testament, Princeton Princeton University Press,
    1969, p. 355.

Action Magic
  • Nature worked on man and, by magic, men could
    take action in return and alter their destiny. So
    they assiduously visited diviners, magi and
    astrologers in order to lift curses, know their
    future or read their horoscope.1
  • 1 Lançon, Bertrtand, Rome in Late Antiquity,
    Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press 2000, p. 96.

Action Counselling
  • Know yourself and open up your life!
  • Astrology and Counselling can help you to know
    yourself better and become who you were really
    meant to be - not someone else's idea of you!
    Find yourself through astrology or counselling!
  • With the help of Astrology, Counselling or even
    Astrological Counselling you can open up your
    life - and you'll have more real friends. When we
    are more real we draw more real people around us.
  • Gill Chesney-Green - BA Hons.
  • As heard on Radio Nottingham in2008, 2009 and
  • http//

Conclusion 1
  • Astrology exists in all cultures.
  • Complex technical systems have only developed in
    3 cultures
  • 1. Mexico
  • 2. China
  • 3. Near Easter/East Mediteranean/South Asia

Conclusion 2
  • Astrology is primarily intended to manage the
    present to maintain stability through
    harmonisation of earth with the wider cosmos.
  • Knowledge of the past and prediction of the
    future are designed to this end.

Conclusion in the modern world, a simple
  • Astrology is primarily concerned with meaning
  • Astronomy is primarily concerned with measurement

Astrology (in general) a human activity
Is Modern Western Astrology Concerned with the
Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena?
  • In its origins yes.
  • It took the awe, wonder, fear evoked by the sky
    and sought to codify it.
  • Now? The sky is not required due to technology
    contact with the sky is optional.
  • Most astrologers say that their attraction to
    astrology is based on the sense it gives them of
    place within the cosmos.