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
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
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:
Palmistry has terms like "lumps of Moon and Venus”,
"lines of Mercury and Saturn”, "phalanges of Aries and
Physiognomy operates with words "lunar", "martian"
in description of human body appearance, shapes of
Graphology makes use of terms such as "Mercurian
handwriting", "Jovian character ".
In some sections of alchemy gold is called "the
Sun", silver – "the Moon” etc.
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
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
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
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
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:
Astrology is a system of theoretical and practical
experiences based on principle of correspondence between terrestrial processes and
conditions of terrestrial objects on the one hand and astronomical factors on the
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
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.
by Boris Shorning
Cited sources are Russian. You can see the list of
them in the Russian original version of the
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