astrology

astrology, form of divination based on the theory that the movements of the celestial bodies—the stars, the planets, the sun, and the moon—influence human affairs and determine the course of events. Celestial phenomena have been the object of religious sentiment since earliest times (see moon worship; sun worship). The Chaldaeans and the Assyrians were the first to discard their sky gods in favor of a nondeistic system of divination founded upon astronomy and numerology. They saw the heavenly bodies as exerting an influence upon the lives of individuals and the destinies of empires. Generally, future events were believed determined beforehand by a universal order that was a result of the motions of the planets and stars. The practices of astrology spread throughout the ancient Middle East, Asia, and Europe, but with the rise of Christianity, which emphasized divine intervention and free will, interest in astrology subsided, although astrologers continued to flourish. During the European Renaissance astrology as a form of divination regained popularity, due in part to the rekindled interest in science and astronomy. The European astrologer, considered a scholar exploring the mysteries of the universe through science and reason, was held in high esteem in the community for many years. However, in the 16th and 17th cent., Christian theologists waged war against astrology. In 1585 astrology was officially condemned in a bull of Pope Sixtus V, and in 1631, Pope Urban VIII reinforced this with another bull. At the same time the astronomical work of such men as Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo was undermining the tenets of astrology. Astrology, however, continued to be practiced. All of the aforementioned scientists remained practicing astrologers, as did other great thinkers such as Descartes and Newton; moreover, Copernican theory did not find sudden and widespread acceptance. Gradually, however, astrology declined, although this form of divination is still very much alive. One's horoscope is a map of the heavens at the time of one's birth, showing the position of the heavenly bodies in relation to the 12 "houses" or signs through which they pass (see zodiac) and their positions in relation to each other. Each house has as its "lord" one of the heavenly bodies; the one in the "ascendant" is the one of greatest significance to the inquirer, supposedly endowing him with his temperamental qualities, his tendencies to particular diseases, and his liability to certain fortunes or calamities.

See E. McCaffery, Astrology: Its History and Influence in the Western World (rev. ed. 1942); L. Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science (rev. ed. 1958); M. Gauquelin, The Cosmic Clocks (1967); C. McIntosh, The Astrologers and their Creed (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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