HISTORY OF ASTROLOGY
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Famous Men

Some of the most famous people in world history were either astrologers themselves or employed astrologers, and therefore believed in astrology. They included:

the wise men from the east, who predicted the birth of Jesus Christ;

two great English rulers, William the Conqueror and Elizabeth I, both had their coronation charts drawn up by astrologers;

the English kings, Henry VIII (a great king), Henry VI and VII, Edward IV and VI;

the French kings, Charles V and Henry IV.

the Popes, Leo X and Paul III;

the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II;

Thomas Bradwardine, the Archbishop of Canterbury;

two great Greeks, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and Aristotle;

the brilliant scientist, Sir Isaac Newton;

the important astronomers, Keppler, Brahe, and Copernicus.

It is simply not possible to dismiss so many of the greatest rulers and minds in history as ‘crackpots’, because they believed in astrology. Just like me, they believed that astrology does much to explain the way each of us behaves, based on the planets at the time of our birth, and much to explain what has happened in our past, and what will happen in our future.

The History of Astrology

Long ago Man began to see a link between himself and the cycles of the Sun and the Moon. The Sun provided warmth and ruled the seasons. And together with the Moon, its effects on the oceans’ tides clearly showed how the planets in the sky affect life on earth. Many people also noticed their moods changing, for the better or the worse, around the time of the Full Moon.

The earliest astrological records still in existence, tablets dating back to around 17 BC, show simple planetary movements such as solar eclipses with accompanying predictions of  famine, feast or war, etc. In regions as diverse as the Middle East (Babylon to Persia), the Far East and Central and Southern America (the Mayans and Incas) the planets visible to the naked eye—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—were observed, and even looked upon as divine gods.

Astronomer-astrologers made rough predictions based on the planets, as they moved forwards, sometimes halting and sometimes going backwards in the sky. The libraries of the Assyrian kings around 7 BC overflowed with collections of thousands of astrological predictions recorded on tablets.

The zodiac of the 12 astrological signs, as we know it today, a combination of Egyptian (Aries the Ram), Babylonian (Taurus the Bull) and Assyrian ideas, was first used as early as 300-400 BC. Early Babylonian zodiacs actually had 18 constellations.

The idea of a Great Astrological Year began early on. Each age lasts around 26,000 years. The Taurean Age began somewhere around 4100 BC, the Arian Age around 1900 BC, the Piscean Age around AD 220. The Age of Aquarius will begin somewhere around AD 2300. Fascinatingly, as the Arian Age began, Amun (the Ram) was at the height of its influence in Egypt, when that country seemed to rule the known world. Christianity, symbolized by the fish symbol, which is found throughout the Roman catacombs, began spreading worldwide around AD 200, as the age of Pisces began. The Age of Aquarius seems to be leading to science and world government taking the foreground.

A Persian religion called Mithraism seems to be responsible in a large part for the spread of astrology throughout the Roman Empire. Neither the Persians, nor the Arabs made any distinction between astrology and astronomy. In the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, it is written: ‘guide your course by them (the stars) amid the darkness of the land and the sea.’

Supposed copies of documents of Sargon of Agade, the ruler of Babylon around 2000 BC, suggest he ordered his astrologers to find propitious moments for beginning  ambitious projects. The oldest surviving horoscope (dated 410 BC), stored in the Bodleian Library in Oxford University, mentions a child born when: ‘the Moon was below the Horn of the Scorpion, Jupiter in the Fish, Venus in the Bull, Saturn in the Crab, Mars in the Twins’, etc. By 250 BC astrologers were producing almanacs showing the positions of the Moon and the visible planets, including solar eclipses (conjunctions of the Sun and the Moon).

El Hakim, a court astrologer to the Persian king Hystaspes, some 600 BC, wrote a book about the conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn and their effect on the history of the world. Judicia Gjamaspis supposedly predicted the birth of Jesus Christ and the rise of Islam.

Chaldea, a province of Babylon, produced a highly educated, elite class of mathematicians and astronomer-astrologers. From them arose the idea that even cities could have a ‘birth moment’, where the cornerstone could be laid at the right time to ensure that the city prospered. This all happened around 300 BC! Amazingly, the birth chart of the city of Antioch, dated 22 May 300 BC, has survived.

The Chaldeans took astrology to Egypt and Greece. Archaeologists found in the tomb of Rameses II (1250 BC) two circles of gold, divided into 360 degrees and showing stars rising and setting. So was he interested in a most important astrological concept, the Ascendant, the degree of the ecliptic rising over the eastern horizon at any moment in time? The tomb of Rameses V had papyri showing astrological information. The Egyptians made an important contribution to astrology when they divided the circle into 36 decans of 10 degrees each. Decans are important in medical astrology, where a specific decan relates to particular illnesses.

The Greeks begun using the zodiac somewhere around 400 BC. Hippocrates, the acknowledged father of medicine, taught his students astrology so they could work out ‘critical days’ for an illness. He reputedly said that any man who did understand astrology was a fool rather than a physician.

Around AD 150 Ptolemy, the most famous astrologer of antiquity, began teaching at the fabled university of Alexandria. A mathematician, astronomer and a geographer, who believed the Earth was the centre of the universe around which all heavenly bodies revolved, he brought together an astrological system which the Europeans followed for centuries. He insisted on simplicity and verifying observations. In his monumental and lengthy work, the Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy argues that because the Sun and Moon so clearly effect life on earth through the seasons, the oceans’ tides etc., it seems reasonable the other heavenly bodies may exert an influence on life on earth too. He asserted astrology could be used to study someone’s character and their future.

Ptolemy explained the workings of the Sun, the Moon, the other visible planets and some fixed stars. Further he argued astrology could be used both for individuals and for nations (or cities). Ptolomy wrote a section on interpreting eclipses, and how meteors affect the weather. He explained in detail how to read a horoscope (birth chart) and how illnesses could be predicted. Ptolemy saw those born under the Cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra or Capricorn) as inclined towards politics, entwined in public debate and turbulent affairs. Those born under the Fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius) tended to be uncompromising, constant, determined and industrious. And finally, those born under the Mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces) tended to be versatile, easily misunderstood, volatile and amorous. Some of Ptolemy’s interpretations, done so long ago, are absolutely correct. For example, Mars supported by Venus ‘will become highly licentious and attempt to gratify their desires in every mode’.

Around 200 BC, Greek astrology began to seriously interest the Romans. In the first century BC, Cicero, always skeptical about astrology, wrote De divinatione. The Greeks saw the stellar patterns of the Zodiac, at any given time, imprinting a certain energy, and future destiny, on a child at birth. Remarkably, Cicero described some 2000 years ago that astrology was using the 12 astrological signs and the 12 houses, the visible planets, the Ascendant (which was seen as very important) and the angles between the planets! Astrology played a significant part in the lives of the Roman emperors Tiberius and Nero. In the last three centuries of the Roman Empire, enough evidence still exists to show that anybody who had money consulted astrologers as a matter of course. The Emperor Hadrian, who succeeded to the throne in 117 AD, was an astrologer!

Who were the ‘wise men from the east’ who followed a star which went before them, till it stopped over where Jesus Christ was born? Is it not amazing that the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is associated with a stunning astrological event? However, if he was who people claim him to be, it seems incredibly appropriate! It actually wasn’t a single ‘star’, because that would have been too dull. The ‘star’ in fact was a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and probably Mars, which as they came together in the sky formed what looked like a very bright star. The ‘wise men’ mentioned in the Gospel to St. Matthew embarrassed the founders of the Church, because the author was implying the ‘wise men’ were astrologers! Speculation about the wise men, and their numbers (up to 12) went on for centuries. They did not become ‘kings’ until the 6th century. Some Christians gave them various mystical powers, maybe so as to denigrate both them and astrology.

A Syrian missionary called Bardesanes (AD 154-222), wrote in The Dialogue Concerning Fate that it was important to tackle the very strong public commitment to astrology. Supposedly, in the Arabic Gospel of the infancy, attributed to St. James, Jesus is depicted as an astronomer who lectured to priests in the temple on heavenly bodies, their aspects (trines, squares and sextiles) and their progressive and retrograde motion. Apparently many early Christian academics saw astrology as depicting the universe created by God. The Recognitions, a compilation of letters supposedly written to Jesus’ brother James by Clement of Rome, who was a close friend of St. Peter, shows the planets and stars as being created by God to show learned men who had studied the subject, insight into the past, present and future. Abraham himself was one of these astrologers.

Around 850 AD a great library in Baghdad, founded by the rulers in the Abbasside dynasty, collected astrological works. The Moors also set up astrological schools in Spain, where they taught both Christians and Jews. One student was likely to have been the Spanish astrologer Pope Sylvester II, formerly Gerbert of Auvergne, the Archbishop of Ravenna in 998 AD. In Oxford there is an astrolabe, an instrument used to measure the altitude of the stars, made in AD 984. Believed to have been first developed in the first century BC, astrolabes are probably the oldest scientific instrument known to man.

Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in SW England, built around 3000 BC, is now recognized as an astronomical clock. Early Christian literature gives examples of Druids predicting a child’s future from its birth date. It seems highly likely that astrological knowledge first reached Britain with Mediterranean traders many centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Romans, who arrived in 54 BC, would have brought more astrological knowledge with them.

Astrology did not entirely die during the Middle Ages (AD 500-1453). Alfred the Great (AD 849-99) translated some of the works of Boethius, a 6th century consul in Rome, into English. Around the mid 1100s, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that during King Arthur ’s reign (AD 600), a college of some 200 academics living at Carleon in Glamorganshire had studied the stars, so as to predict the king’s fate.

Around the early 700s, a man called Aldhelm was taught astrology at a school in Kent founded by Abbot Hadrian and Theodore, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Theodore came from Tarsus in Asia Minor. Another astrologer called Alcuin, educated in York at a school which could have begun during the Roman occupation, became a friend and adviser to the enlightened and mighty Emperor Charlemagne (742-814).

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written somewhere between 870 and 1150, not only records eclipses and other planetary phenomena, but also the visit of ‘three astrologers’ to Christ’s birthplace. Eclipses and comets were depicted as signs of impending disaster, e.g. Halley’s Comet appeared in 1066. The comet is shown in the Bayeux Tapestry above the head of William the Conqueror. By the 1100s, astrology and medicine were practised together in Britain. This continued for many centuries, so much so that until the 1700s some universities insisted that doctors also study astrology.

Apparently the old Abbey at Glastonbury, said to have been visited by Jesus Christ, had a zodiac in its floor. Following the Norman invasion in 1066, Jewish scholars from France brought a great deal of arabic and Moorish astrological knowledge to Britain. It is said William the Conqueror had his own astrologer, who calculated 12 noon on Christmas Day, 1066 as an extremely auspicious time for the king’s coronation. Henry II became a patron of the Spanish Jew Abenezra (1092-1167), who  gained considerable fame as an astrologer, lecturing not only in London and Oxford but all over Europe. Pedro Alfonso, a committed astrologer and translator of arabic astrological works, was Henry I’s doctor.

By 1255 Aristotle’s complete works had been translated into Latin and so became available to all Western European scholars. His astrological concepts became so accepted in the universities, that no theologian could any longer challenge the fact that earthly activities, and so human beings, were affected by the heavenly bodies.

Great medieval scholars like Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas and Dante accepted astrological concepts. And the Church was forced to accept astrology as a science.

While Ptolemy in the Tetrabiblos was primarily concerned with judicial (predictive) astrology, the translations from arabic introduced horary and electional astrology to Europe. The first involves asking a question, e.g. ‘Should I marry?’ The astrologer then erects and interprets a chart for that moment in time. Electional astrology involves working out a propitious time for an event, e.g. when a ship should make its first sailing.

During the 1300s and 1400s English astrologers were using astrological methods to do weather forecasting. Robert of York published a work on the subject in 1325. William Merlee, an Oxford graduate, a priest in Lincolnshire and an astrological weather forecaster, is possibly the first Englishman who kept detailed weather records over a long period of time (7 years).

Astrological books translated in the 1100s became very influential and widely read. Bernard Silvester’s works seemed to gain almost immediate acceptance by academics throughout Europe. The great Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, employed astrologers, the most notable being Michael Scot who died in the 1230s.

In 1326 Geoffrey of Meaux attended the coronation of Karl IV, as the highest ranked of six surgeons. Geoffrey explained the Black Death in terms of two comets appearing  in 1315 and 1337, and a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in Gemini in 1325, etc. Once again a man of high rank was also an astrologer.

Astrologer Leo Hebreus worked for the Popes, Benedict XII and Clement VI. Guy de Chauliac, who wrote a surgical work of exceptional quality for its time, believed in medical astrology. He became the doctor of three Popes, Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V.

Thomas Bradwardine, a Chancellor of Oxford University, became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349. He not only defended Ptolemy’s view of astrology, but suggested all men of the Church should study it, as a science closest to God.

Charles V of France (1337-80) collected a considerable astrological library in the Louvre. He had had both his and his fiancee’s charts read before their marriage. Charles established an astrological college full of superb astronomical instruments, at the University of Paris. Medical astrology was also taught. In 1437 the university decreed that all doctors had to have a copy of the yearly astrology almanac. This almanac ended up being published for 40 years! By the early 1500s astrology was still flourishing at the university.

During the early 1500s many Popes had astrologers working for them. Antonio Campanazzo worked for Julius II. Leo X had a number of astrological advisors. Paul III encouraged astrologers to come to Rome. He made one astrological advisor, Luca Gaurico, a bishop. In the first half of the 1500s astrology was taught at the University of Bologna.

Regiomontanus (1436-76), an eminent astronomer, counselled many a European ruler. Then Nostradamus (1503-66), ‘the prophet of doom’, began his work in France. Henry IV of France had an astrologer present when his son, later crowned as Louis XIII, was born. Yet another astrologer was present at Louis XIV’s birth in 1638. Philip II of Spain, Mary Tudor of England, the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II all consulted astrologers, as did the English kings, Henry VI, Edward IV Henry VII and Edward VI. John Robyns became Henry VIII’s astrologer. Later he became his chaplain. Henry let all his bishops know that they were not to preach against astrology.

The great astronomers Nicholas Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo all studied and used astrology. Copernicus (1473-1543), who believed the solar system revolved around the Sun, had much used astrology books in his library.

Brahe (1546-1601) wrote several pages of astrological thoughts about a bright new star which appeared in November 1572. He defended astrology against its detractors while a lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, and read the birth charts of the Danish royal family. The famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was always intrigued with astrology. Supposedly he suggested that while the sky does not endow a man with his habits, history, happiness, children, riches or a wife, it does mould his condition ...

The Englishman John Dee (1527-1608) was a brilliant navigator and mathematician. An exceptional lecturer, Dee’s patron was the Duchess of Northumberland, the wife of the Chancellor of Cambridge University. In the 1550s he began reading birth charts. Dee advised Elizabeth I on an auspicious day for her coronation, Sunday 15 January 1558. [He chose well. Elizabeth ruled for 45 years!] As a navigator, he advised Elizabeth’s great sea explorers. Dee had the finest library in England, and there is evidence his relationship with the queen could have been very close indeed. Though his interest in astrology lasted his whole life, his interests in alchemy (making gold, etc) and angels made many suspect him of witchcraft. Interestingly, after reading the birth chart of a grandchild, he predicted great fortune for him through a foreign prince. The child became the personal doctor to the Russian Tsar!

Shakespeare seemed to be believe in astrology. He wrote in his play Julius Caesar: Cassius said, ‘Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ In other words, at times we do have control over our own destinies.

Though astrology continued to blossom in England throughout the 1600s, it was beginning to get a hammering on the Continent. By the 1550s the Popes began to turn against astrology. Though astrology ceased to be taught at the University of Bologna, at Salamanca in Spain it continued, except for two decades in the early 1700s, right through to 1770. So the Spanish Inquisition seemed not to be too concerned about astrology. Pope Urban VIII in the 1630s threatened those people who made political predictions (like when he was likely to die!) with confiscation of their property, even death.

Yearly astrological almanacs, showing simple astronomical events like the phases of the Moon, began appearing in quite a few European countries, including Germany, Holland and France, by the 1480s. The almanacs also had predictions and often weather forecasts, attached to the astronomical events.

In England, Queen Elizabeth’s Treasurer, Lord Burghley, had a set of almanacs in his library. William Lilly ( (1602-81), the most famous English astrologer of his time, inundated the populace with his own almanacs from the mid 1640s to his death. His notebooks reveal his clients to include Charles I, sea captains, army generals, wealthy merchants, even servants. Many English clergy of the 1500s and 1600s were astrologers, including Richard Harvey, Nathaniel Sparke and Richard Carpenter.

John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, appointed by Charles II in 1675, was a brilliant astrologer, proved by his calculation for the laying down of the Greenwich Observatory’s foundation stone on 10 August 1675 at 3:14pm. The observatory is the most famous observatory in the world.

By the 1650s public opinion began to turn against astrology. Writers like Swift began to put down astrology not with logical argument, but with ridicule. That wasn’t too hard to do, because many quacks and misfits who played around the edges of astrology made it an easy target. Even so, by the 1680s astrologer-doctors were still far more popular with the masses than were conventional doctors. Indeed, the President of the Royal College of Physicians between 1601 and 1604 was himself an almanac writer.

Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists in history, believed in astrology. One time he was extremely short with the astronomer Edmund Halley, who discovered Uranus, when they argued about the validity of astrology. Newton is supposed to have said: ‘Sir, I have studied the matter. You have not.’ Though astrology was by now being questioned at universities, it didn’t stop Richard Mead, a vice-president of the Royal Society, publishing a work in 1717, arguing that human conditions such as epileptic fits and attacks of hysteria and asthma were effected by phases of the Moon.

Nevertheless, by the early 1700s astronomers, other scientists and universities began to separate themselves from astrology, so much so that it began to fall to its lowest ebb in perhaps five hundred to a thousand years. Most scientists (even to this day) began to adopt such a negative attitude towards astrology, that no evidence, no matter how scientifically collated, would ever convince them of its validity.

Few serious astrologers were to be found during the 1700s and 1800s. Interestingly, in 1762 an astrological master’s thesis was accepted at Harvard University. Though astrology itself lay virtually unnurtured, awaiting renewal, throughout the 1800s, almanac sales boomed. In 1897 Old Moore’s Penny Almanac sold over one million copies!

The famous German psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961), perhaps more than anyone else, made some scientists reassess astrology’s significance. Being obsessed with the idea of a ‘collective unconscious’, he believed one’s current attitudes to life were shaped long ago, in the distant thoughts of one’s ancestors. Jung viewed the 12 signs of the zodiac as archetypal, that is imbedded deep in our subconscious.

Jung studied both his own and his client’s chart, so as to find common ground on which to communicate. He also organized a study of some 500 ‘happily married couples’ to see whether their combined charts showed astrological aspects traditionally considered to be indications of a satisfactory relationship. He concluded  that the three conjunctions stressed by astrological tradition came together in the most improbable way.

The French statistician Michel Gauquelin studied the birth charts of thousands of successful sportsmen, actors and scientists. He found that sportsmen tended to be born with a dominant Mars (the energy planet) aspect, actors with a dominant Jupiter (the extrovert planet), and scientists and doctors with a dominant Saturn (the research planet).

Conclusion

Just think about it for a moment. Think about the famous and great people of history who are mentioned in this article, who were either astrologers themselves or employed astrologers, and therefore believed in astrology:

the wise men from the east, who predicted the birth of Jesus Christ;

two of the most significant rulers of England, William the Conqueror and Elizabeth I, both had their coronation charts made up by astrologers;

the English kings, Henry VIII (a great king), Henry VI and VII, Edward IV and VI;

the French kings, Charles V and Henry IV.

the Popes, Leo X and Paul III;

the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II;

Thomas Bradwardine, the Archbishop of Canterbury;

two great Greeks, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and Aristotle;

the brilliant scientist, Sir Isaac Newton;

the important astronomers, Keppler, Brahe, and Copernicus.

It is simply not possible to dismiss so many of the greatest rulers and minds in history as ‘crackpots’, because they believed in astrology. Just like me, they believed that astrology does much to explain the way each of us behaves, based on the planets at the time of our birth, and much to explain what has happened in our past, and what will happen in our future.

Douglas Parker.  February 2006.

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