From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Astrologers and fortune-tellers, who practise palmistry and calculate nativities, guess at things past by the motion of a sieve, and show undimmed truth in a looking-glass or in a cup of water, are publicly tolerated; such people are, indeed, not without their use; they predict to men they'll make their fortune, to girls they shall marry their sweethearts, console those children whose fathers are too long dying, and calm the restlessness of young women married to old men; in a word, they deceive, but not at a very high rate, those who wish to be deceived."--The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère (1688) by Jean de La Bruyère
Astrology is a pseudoscience that claims to discern information about human affairs and terrestrial events by studying the movements and relative positions of celestial objects. Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, and has its roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events, and some—such as the Hindus, Chinese, and the Maya—developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. Western astrology, one of the oldest astrological systems still in use, can trace its roots to 19th–17th century BCE Mesopotamia, from where it spread to Ancient Greece, Rome, the Arab world and eventually Central and Western Europe. Contemporary Western astrology is often associated with systems of horoscopes that purport to explain aspects of a person's personality and predict significant events in their lives based on the positions of celestial objects; the majority of professional astrologers rely on such systems.
Throughout most of its history, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition and was common in academic circles, often in close relation with astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine. It was present in political circles and is mentioned in various works of literature, from Dante Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer to William Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, and Calderón de la Barca. Following the end of the 19th century and the wide-scale adoption of the scientific method, researchers have successfully challenged astrology on both theoretical and experimental grounds, and have shown it to have no scientific validity or explanatory power. Astrology thus lost its academic and theoretical standing, and common belief in it has largely declined, until a resurgence starting in the 1960s.
Impact on literature and music
The fourteenth-century English poets John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer both referred to astrology in their works, including Gower's Confessio Amantis and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer commented explicitly on astrology in his Treatise on the Astrolabe, demonstrating personal knowledge of one area, judicial astrology, with an account of how to find the ascendant or rising sign.
In the fifteenth century, references to astrology, such as with similes, became "a matter of course" in English literature.
In the sixteenth century, John Lyly's 1597 play, The Woman in the Moon, is wholly motivated by astrology, while Christopher Marlowe makes astrological references in his plays Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine (both c. 1590), and Sir Philip Sidney refers to astrology at least four times in his romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (c. 1580). Edmund Spenser uses astrology both decoratively and causally in his poetry, revealing "...unmistakably an abiding interest in the art, an interest shared by a large number of his contemporaries." George Chapman's play, Byron's Conspiracy (1608), similarly uses astrology as a causal mechanism in the drama. William Shakespeare's attitude towards astrology is unclear, with contradictory references in plays including King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Richard II. Shakespeare was familiar with astrology and made use of his knowledge of astrology in nearly every play he wrote, assuming a basic familiarity with the subject in his commercial audience. Outside theatre, the physician and mystic Robert Fludd practised astrology, as did the quack doctor Simon Forman. In Elizabethan England, "The usual feeling about astrology ... [was] that it is the most useful of the sciences."
In seventeenth century Spain, Lope de Vega, with a detailed knowledge of astronomy, wrote plays that ridicule astrology. In his pastoral romance La Arcadia (1598), it leads to absurdity; in his novela Guzman el Bravo (1624), he concludes that the stars were made for man, not man for the stars. Calderón de la Barca wrote the 1641 comedy Astrologo Fingido (The Pretended Astrologer); the plot was borrowed by the French playwright Thomas Corneille for his 1651 comedy Feint Astrologue.
The most famous piece of music influenced by astrology is the orchestral suite The Planets. Written by the British composer Gustav Holst (1874–1934), and first performed in 1918, the framework of The Planets is based upon the astrological symbolism of the planets. Each of the seven movements of the suite is based upon a different planet, though the movements are not in the order of the planets from the Sun. The composer Colin Matthews wrote an eighth movement entitled Pluto, the Renewer, first performed in 2000. In 1937, another British composer, Constant Lambert, wrote a ballet on astrological themes, called Horoscope. In 1974, the New Zealand composer Edwin Carr wrote The Twelve Signs: An Astrological Entertainment for orchestra without strings. Camille Paglia acknowledges astrology as an influence on her work of literary criticism Sexual Personae (1990).
- Astrology and science
- Astrology software
- Barnum effect
- List of astrological traditions, types, and systems
- List of topics characterised as pseudoscience
- Jewish astrology
- Scientific skepticism