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Astrology – A Cursory Gaze

Rev. Father A. Maximiadis.

Recently astrology has re-emerged and became part of Western popular culture as a result of the rise of the utopian ‘new age’ counter-culture of the 1960s. This article, ‘Astrology – A Cursory Gaze’, has been written to challenge some of the principal astrological concepts, and to serve as an exploratory exercise to stimulate serious interest for those who wish to scratch below the surface to discover whether or not astrology has any intellectual value.

A Chronological Western Glimpse of Astrology From 626 to 1727 AD.

Western astrology stems from two sources, the Hellenistic and Jewish. The former is derived from the ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ text, for the most part, the ‘ Hermes Trismegistos ‘ (circa. 2nd cent. AD) containing a synthesis of Neo-Pythagorean, Platonic, and Stoic elements, as well as Eastern religions. The latter, the Kabbalah (12th cent. AD), id est., ‘traditional lore’ evolved from two reciprocal Jewish traditions: Firstly, the Talmudic Sages, the originators of Rabbinic Judaism, who perceived logic as their prime principal in comprehending YHVH (‘God’).

Secondly, the Kabbalists, who had the same objectives as the Sages, but with the addition of systematized mysticism. The Talmudic tradition is based primarily upon the three great canons of text: The Mishnah the canons of Oral Law (3rd cent. AD), the Jerusalem Gemara (amplification and comments on the Mishnah text) 4th cent. AD; and the Midrash (discourse on the Tanach (‘Bible’)) circa 500 AD.

The Jewish Kabbalists adopted the astrological system of the South Babylonians, also known as the “Chaldeans”, during the collapse of the Assyrian Empire (circa. 626-539 BC). This astrological system was also taken over, at the same time, by the Greeks (who were the source of Indian astrology circa. 2nd and 3rd cent. AD), Egyptians; and the Romans. Greek and Indian astrology was exported to Persia, now Iran, during the period of the Sasanian Empire; circa. 226 AD.

Hellenistic astrology reached its zenith in Byzantium, also called ‘Eastern Roman Empire’, in the 5th and 6th cent. AD, after which it declined, but was later revived in the 8th and 9th cent. In the same period the Muslims espoused astrology from the Greeks, Indians, and Persians. Abu Ma’shar (9th cent. AD) interpolated Islamic astrology with borrowings from both Neoplatonism (a philosophical religious system developed by Plotinus from Plato, circa 205-70), and Aristotelianism (based on the scientific and philosophic writings of Aristotle (384-322 BC)). The Muslims rejected astrology 400 years later; in the 13th century.

Astrology first attracted attention, in Western Europe, through the writings of Manilius’ Astronomica (circa 15-20 AD), Maternus’ Matheseos libri (circa 335 AD), and the Liber Hermetis (circa 6th cent). It reached its peak during the Renaissance (14th-16th cent) following translations of Muslim astrological treatises from Arabic to Italian and Spanish; in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Two centuries later, the status of astrology diminished during the scientific revolution; 15th to 17th centuries, arising, firstly from the publication of Copernicus’ ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’ (1543) advocating the heliocentric hypothesis, id est, the Sun as the centre of the universe as opposed to the geocentric hypothesis; earth centred universe. Then followed: the anti-Aristotelian dynamics of Galileo in 1633, Kepler’s ‘De Fundamentis Astrologiae Certioribus’ (1601) rebuffing irrational beliefs of stars affecting human life, and Newton’s mechanistic physics; ‘Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica’ (1687).

Historical Perspectives From Two Professional Astrologers.

Margaret E. Hone (1892-1969), was the principal of the Faculty of Astrological Studies, London. She made the following assertion in her ‘Historical Background of Astrology’:
“Astrology through the ages was once pictorially represented as a river, curving along in its broad sweeps. At each curve … stood an irate little man, saying, “Stop this, it is nonsense!” But the river increasingly rolled on, ever getting fuller and wider. It now seems to have reached vast proportions and is in danger unless in the future, it is fed by tributaries from healthy sources and controlled by banks as in the past. Its modern necessity is the “banking” given by sensible, well informed, well practised students, who will exert the control necessary to stop “woolliness” and vague repetition of unproved statements and will press for the clarity which the present age demands and will work to add to proof and reasoning and not be content merely to listen comfortably to others” . 1.

Llewellyn George (1876-1954), was an American author of eighteen standard astrological text books. He made the following historical assumptions in his ‘Introduction’ and ‘Preface’:
“Astrology was the first science known to man and the present age is beginning to realize that it is the greatest, the parent of them all … the antiquity of astrology is such as to place it among the very earliest records of human learning. Later, astrology and astronomy were one science, but the latter now treats only of distances, magnitudes, masses, compositions, motions, speed, etc., and is founded upon observations made with various instruments; therefore astronomy may be termed a purely objective science, concerned as it is with the outer expressions of other worlds, (with their form or body) while astrology may be considered as subjective, dealing with the influence of the life within the form and its effect upon surrounding bodies, the Earth and its inhabitants in particular and so may properly be termed, The Study of Life’s Reactions to Planetary Vibrations”. 2.

Hone’s metaphoric “river” and apocryphal “little man” has more the character of “woolliness” than “clarity”, “proof” and ” reasoning” of which she herself has failed, in providing an historical background, with “the clarity which the present age demands”. And George’s view of ‘astrology as the first science known to man’and “the parent of them all” is audacious and supercilious. His comment regarding ‘life’s reactions to planetary vibrations’ is scientifically untenable. Both Hone and George’s assertions were incoherent and totally dislocated from any serious historical context.

The Legal Status of Astrology Under British and Australian Law.

The practises of astrologers, as well as other fortune tellers, were regarded illegal under British Law (Vagrancy Act 1829), and Australian federal and state legislation. In Australia it is illegal under the Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Act, Sect. 57, 1901 – 66, and the Psychological Practices Act, Sect. 2, 1965. It is also illegal under the Police Act, Sect. 86 (1) (d), and the Vagrancy Act, Sc. 2 (2) (n), 1902 (see: Stonehouse vs. Masson (1921) 2K.B.818, Arriola vs. Harris 1943) S.A.S.R. at P.175, Copeland (1939) 55 W.N. (NSW.) At P.90, Isherwood vs. O’Brien (1920) 23 W.A.L.R. 10). Although astrology had an illegal status under Australian law, predictions were published, as they continue to do so today, in popular magazines throughout Australian States and Territories.

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