What Is Astrology?
Astrology is a very old branch of human knowledge but it still has no its clear definition. People usually have different opinions on what astrology is. Indeed, if we had subject of astrology defined and well understood we could find the role of astrology in the human world easily. That is the reason to illustrate present definitions of astrology and probably to form the most suitable one. For example, these are two examples of definition from encyclopedias:
1. Astrology is a doctrine about apparently existing connection between celestial bodies’ disposition in one hand and historical events, destinies of the people and nations in other hand.
2. Astrology is a doctrine of connection between celestial bodies’ motion and terrestrial events, a method to predict destinies (of individuals, groups, social formations).
Both definitions say about "connection". But the the content of the connection is not specified. Furthermore, the term "connection" is too ambiguous in this case. For example, simultaneous phenomena in space and on the Earth are connected between themselves by time of event, and nobody will argue against it. But it's obvious, that the presence of the words "about apparently existing connection" in the first definition means more specific account, isn't it?
In the first definition events are associated with disposition of celestial bodies, in the second with motion of ones. Really, astrology takes into account both disposition and motion of celestial bodies. In addition, astrologers use also disposition and motion of some astronomical factors, which cannot be defined as celestial bodies (for example factors like the interception of lunar orbit with ecliptic).
Further, the term "historical events" (in the first definition) seems to be not suitable because to distinguish "historical” events from non-historical ones is quite difficult. In addition, historical events in our Space Age can occur not only on the Earth and it’s another reason to broaden the second definition.
In the first definition we can’t find words "a method to predict destinies". That’s why the first definition seems to be more proper as astrology is not just a system of predictions. Astrology rather is a doctrine about relations between Earth rhythms and rhythms of Space. If astrologer investigates influence of Space factors on the human’s past and present, (s)he also can make prognosis for the future, but the purpose of the prognosis is not just to get an accurate forecast. The aim of it is to achieve the greatest "coordination" between rhythms of human and Space, and bring his/her inborn potential to life. In particular, the idea of a "humanistic astrology" formulated by Dane Rudhyar has that approach. There are many real astrologers, who are not engaged in predictions and they consider forecasters like doctors determining precisely when a patient will die of an illness instead of healing him. Now we can look at definitions of astrology, which are offered by astrologers themselves.
Alan Leo, the outstanding British astrologer of 20th century, defined astrology as "the science which defines the action of celestial bodies upon human character, and its expression in the physical world".
Reinhold Ebertin, well-known German astrologer of 20th century, wrote: "the word 'astrology' designates the sort of knowledge which has arisen more than ten thousand years ago; its object is the possible influence of stars to the Earth, natural phenomena, political events and, first of all, to condition, character and destiny of the individual".
The most ingenious definition was offered by Robert Hand, the contemporary American astrologer and philosopher: "Astrology is a science studying the characteristics of the given point in space / time through its correlating with other points of same continuum, and using symbolical language according to cosmic structures".
The word "science" in A.Leo and R.Hand definitions provokes some suspicions because astrology was considered as a scientific discipline only in the Middle Ages, but scientific society separated astrology from science in XVIII-XX centuries. Obviously, "knowledge", the neutral characteristic of astrology offered by Ebertin, is more adequate. Leo's definition isn’t exact because it restricts the object of astrology to "influence of celestial bodies on character of the man and on his manifestations". It’s known that some branches of astrology deal with phenomena that have no connection to humans at all (for example, meteorological astrology).
On the other hand, we can’t agree with Ebertin as well. He considered the object of astrological knowledge as "the possible influence of stars on the Earth", but astrologers take into account stars less then bodies of the Solar System.
Hand’s sentence "astrology is engaged in study of the characteristics of a point” seems to be quite doubtful. If we regard astrology as a discipline that uses "symbolical language connected to space structures", the sense of "astrology" is too large. This definition can be suitable also to some other types of knowledge:
In definitions by Leo and Ebertin the accent on "influence" of celestial bodies is made, which was intentionally refused by Hand. The point is that many modern astrologers do not mean direct effect of celestial bodies on Earth events, and first of all they note symbolic link between events on the Earth and in space.
Now I’m going to mention some of the most typical ways in considering of the subject of astrology. Critics, who look at astrology from religious viewpoint, consider astrology as an astral cult quite often. That point of view isn’t accurate, however. Ideas about celestial bodies dictating their will over the people are not compulsory in astrology and are rejected by many astrologers. Celestial configurations are perceived commonly only as reflection of a world condition, don't as its reason.
Also it is wrong to consider astrology as a fatalistic dogma postulating absolute predestination of human life and the Earth destiny overall. The aim of astrologer is just to help a client to make his destiny more optimal. Cicero noticed, "If everything is determined by destiny, what is good for me from divination?" ("On divination", II, 20).
Let's note that a large number of researchers (after R. Berthelot and D. Rudhyar) treated the term "astrology" in a more broad sense, than authors of the all definitions aforesaid. The supporters of similar wide interpretation of astrology connect it with an idea of a 'space attitude'. D. Rudhyar wrote: "the history of astrology is a history of transformation of the human relation to a Nature - to external, perceived sensually, and to internal, 'human' nature...". Thus, astrology in narrow sense of this word (astrology as a doctrine) is only a child of a certain phase of this process of development of a space attitude. When it is said about existence of astrology in the most ancient period of a human history, usually this most broad version of understanding of the term "astrology" is implicated.
Recently some historians of science have adhered to a more restricted meaning of the term "astrology". They separated astral omens, star worships, the Ancient world astral myths from astrology itself. They consider astrology as a mathematical technique of horoscopes drawing to predict future events [see, for example, article "Astrology" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1975].
So, descriptions of astrology differ among the different authors essentially. The supporters of "broad" definition assume astrology has to include astral religion, astronomical observations and magic operations. And adherents of "narrow" understanding suggest astrology should not include system of omens of the Babylonians, various esoteric beliefs and cyclical calendar of the Far East nations.
After the review of overriding definitions of the astrology, I’m going to develop my own opinion on what astrology is and what it is not. Herein it is necessary to note the following.
In general, astrology includes two basic branches, close to each other: 1) observation of the sky (registration of events in the sky), and 2) interpretation (discovery of appropriate events on the Earth). Development of astrology can be represented as a process of these branches enhancement. Indeed, that enhancement can proceed with an emphasis on one of these actions or on another.
If we only observe the sky, without linking of celestial events with Earth ones, we deal with astronomy, but not with astrology. When we estimate earth events and processes without any account to celestial factors, it can be a development of intuition, imagination, acute mind or a result of scientific knowledge about earth processes but it is not astrology too. Also if we correlate registered astronomical phenomenon with Earth event (without any special theoretical generalizations considering the previous phenomena; for example, "during illness of king there was an eclipse - he soon will die" or "the Moon is not visible – planned affair will fail"), it will be astromancy, i.e. guessing. However it is not astrology too.
When does the astrology arise? It arises when people register recurring events of the same kind - both celestial, and earth, - and draw a conclusion about some correlation between the two events. The first, earliest stages (I call it protoastrology) represent a beginning of the rhythmic rules detection. The arrangement of the Earth events occurred after some phenomenon in the sky (for example, after beginning of retrograde motion of Mars or after the first morning rise of Sirius) has resulted in formation of omen astrology bases. After the fixation of phenomena in a nature, which happened, suppose, after a solar eclipse in the beginning of a summer, the stargazers could "predict" that the same events after the following eclipse with the same attributes would take place in future. Elementary calendar astrology comes into being by the same way. Like supplementing astrology of omens, it was based on arranging of celestial phenomena. Such basic celestial rhythms as day, lunar month and solar year was revealed in the first place, and they were put in the basis of the further systematization of knowledge about connection of celestial and earth events. Now in the interpretation astrologers can employ not the celestial phenomena, but their generalization shown in a calendar system.
At last, when the level of both celestial and earth phenomena systematization became high enough, the astrology has grown out from correlation between them, and its first versions were an astrology of omens and calendar astrology developed from their primitive forms. The scheme displaying the specified stages in the simplified mode (1 - astromancy, 2 - primitive astrology of omens, 3 - primitive calendar astrology, 4 - properly astrology), is added below.
Actually this process went forward not so simply as in the given scheme. In particular, there were many intermediate stages difficult enough to categorize whether it is astrology or not yet. For example, "Chinese horoscope" can be considered as a system of the calendar astrology undoubtedly. However what about the system of "lunar days", which is much more primitive? Also the tradition to attribute beneficial or evil effect to certain days of calendar month is much more primitive one. Is it possible to name this as astrology?
After the consideration of such the cases we have got into an ambiguous situation, which is even more complicated because celestial phenomena are not astronomical events only. In the sky we can see also clouds, rainbow, lightning, meteors, birds... For thousands of years people could not correctly draw the line between astronomical, meteorological and optical phenomena (for example, many scientists up to the XVI century thought after Aristotle that comets are formations in earth atmosphere arising from evaporations from the surface of Earth). Therefore visibility of stars, changes of color of planets, sector of the sky, in which a rainbow is visible, or even a direction of wind - all these things played the important role in antiquity for forecasting of events. But can we suppose a methods taking into account similar factors as astrological? Moreover, not only celestial phenomena were supposed as the omens, but also earthquakes, dreams, appearance of certain animals or birds in a certain place (before a town gate for example) and even behavior of ants. In particular, in Ancient Mesopotamia all these omens were studied and interpreted in total: the forecasting by behavior of animals was being supplemented by prediction by stars or by thunder. Certainly, the segregation of astrology from other methods of divination would seem to the Babylonians to be wrong.
Thus for the very long time astrology has no distinct borders with other disciplines studying nature and human society. Throughout almost all The Middle Ages astrology was comprehended as a component of unified discipline, which included also astronomy and mathematics. The terms "astrologer", "astronomer" and "mathematician" were considered as synonyms up to epoch of Renaissance. The connection of astrology with medicine was also very close. The original text of "Hippocrates' oath" includes the obligation to treat with the indispensable account of the astrological factors. Also doctors of some countries of Europe continued to keep up this oath even in 18th century. Nevertheless, I think that it's possible to give the precise definition to astrology, and here it is necessary to assume presence of certain correspondence between celestial (astronomical) and Earth events. Therefore following definition seems to be quite adequate by my mind:
The character of that correspondence is not clear. Nobody knows is it physical or symbolic or magic or religious or mystical. In comparison with "interaction", "connection", "effect", "influence” the term "correspondence" in the given definition is most suitable because correspondence does not mean direct link between cause and effect.
Astrology is considered often as an occult doctrine or an area of mystical knowledge or an esoteric discipline. Let's estimate these approaches, proceeding from offered definition of astrology.
The term "occultism” has its origin from Latin word occultus that means something secret or latent. Occultism is a belief in (or a study of) the action or influence of supernatural powers. That’s why we can’t consider astrology as occultism because many astrological schools deny existence of supernatural forces and believe that origin of astrological "influences" should be natural and scientifically explained. Study of astrology requires no initiation, and astrologers do not consider astrological concepts inaccessible to common human experience. Moreover astrology was taught in universities until the 18th century. It should be noted that definition of astrology as occult doctrine can be valid only in some schools, in which astrology is bound with religion and magic. By the same reason we can’t consider astrology as an esoteric doctrine because "esoteric" (from Greek esoterikos - "internal") means "something secret, latent, intended only for initiated”. Evidently, astrology is no more esoteric subject than nuclear physics or mathematical linguistics. Indeed some religious or occult communities regard astrology as a kind of knowledge accessible only by initiated, but we can’t apply the epithet "esoteric" to all the forms of astrology.
At last, we are considering relation of astrology to mystic and mysticism.
Mystic (from Greek "mystical ceremonies, sacrament") - " 1) belief in supernatural, divine, mysterious; belief in a capability of direct dialogue of the man with the otherworldly world; 2) in common sense it is something mysterious, not clear, inexplicable ".
Mysticism (from Greek mystikos - "secret") is a "view based on mystic; tendency to mystic ". The attitude to astrology as to a discipline about supernatural and mysterious forces formed only in 17-19th centuries, when astrological ideas lost scientific character. But up to that time the effect of celestial bodies on earth processes was considered to be quite possible and therefore astrology was not considered as a mystical doctrine. Astrology was based on "belief in divine” in the same extent as any science because science was considered to give to the people information about "Divine laws".
Thus epithets "occult", "esoteric" and "mystical" could be quite reasonable when we speak, for example, about temple astrology of Ancient Assyria or about use of astrology by theosophists of 19th century, but their use would mistake us, if we consider the scientific astrology of Ptolemy or concepts of J. Kepler and F. Bacon.
Cited sources are Russian. You can see the list of them in the Russian original version of the article.
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