Whatever is born or done at this particular moment of time has the quality of this moment of time.Astrology assumes that there is a significant relationship between the stars or planets and affairs on earth. From this simple principle have developed all the many forms of astrology practiced or studied across the world. The word is derived from the Greek astron (star) and logos. Logos is simply translated as “word,” so astrology is, then, the “word” of the stars: The stars “speak.” However, in the context of classical thought, we may also consider that the stars possess reason, or a kind of logic, that can provide important information.
Until the 17th century the word was frequently interchangeable with “astronomy,” the “regulation” or “law” of the stars. In King Lear, Shakespeare had Edgar refer to his brother Edmund, who had been posing as an astrologer, as a “sectary astronomical.” Other terms Shakespeare might have used include “mathematician” (the astronomer Johannes Kepler studied astrology as part of his duties as “Imperial Mathematician”) or “Chaldean” (both astrology and astronomy were commonly traced to Chaldea, or Mesopotamia). Neither do most non-Western countries employ different words to distinguish traditional astronomy from astrology.
In India both are jyotish, the “science of light.” In Japan they are onmyōdō, the “yin-yang way”; and in China astrology is tian wen, or “sky patterns.” When I use the words “astronomy” and “astrology” in this book, for simplicity, I apply “astronomy” to the measurement of the positions of the celestial bodies and “astrology” to the assumption that the stars and planets possess, or impart, meaning. A note on terminology is necessary here: “Astrology” always includes the sun and the moon as planets, which is not how modern astronomy classifies them. Narrowly, astrology has often been defined as a peculiarly Hellenistic practice combining the use of horoscopes (mathematical diagrams intended to represent the heavens and used to gain insight into the past, present, and future) with an Aristotelian theory of celestial influence. This view, which pervades the historiography on the topic, is only now being abandoned by younger scholars on the grounds that it rules out some varieties of practice (such as an astrology based on signs—omens revealed in celestial patterns) and denies the practice of astrology to any culture other than the Greek or its intellectual heirs: It’s not the mechanics that define astrology, but the practice.
Certain of the assumptions that underpin astrology are universal and can be reduced to the notion that either the entire cosmos is alive, or all its parts are interdependent, or both. Sky and earth are therefore related, and the fortunes of one can be read in the other. One useful phrase that comes to mind is “life-world,” a term popular among phenomenologists which suggests that nothing can be experienced in our world except as lived. Modern science may tell us that certain things are alive and others are not, but we actually experience the whole world as alive. Astrology exists in most cultures at different levels of complexity and develops, like all other human activities, over time. However, in various forms it assumes one or more of the following: the celestial bodies are divine, the stars and planets send messages (Latin omen, or warning) on behalf of gods and goddesses, or God,all things in the cosmos are interdependent, the cosmos unfolds according to a strict mathematical or geometrical order, and different times have different qualities. Thus astrology works either because the messages dispatched by the divinities are reliable or because the movements of the stars and planets are guides to terrestrial affairs. The Greek philosopher Aristotle added other explanatory models, including a theory of celestial influence. Broadly there are always three stages to the process of working with astrology, stages that are common to all cultures.
First the sky is observed; this is now included in astronomy. Second, celestial patterns are interpreted. And, third, action is advised. This last consideration is vital, for astrology is invariably a guide to action. There are few reliable scholarly books on astrology, as most discussions of the subject are distorted by either an overly hostile or uncritically sympathetic perspective, and most deal only with the Western tradition; Roy Willis and Patrick Curry’s Astrology, Science and Culture is a rare attempt to consider modern astrology from an anthropological and philosophical perspective. My own Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West is the only sociological analysis of modern astrology, considering whether it may be classed as a vernacular religion.
Lynn Thorndike’s eight-volume History of Magic and Experimental Science remains the starting point for histories of Western astrology from the late classical period to the 17th century, and my own two-volume History of Western Astrology extends the story back to prehistoric origins and forward to the present day.This book is not concerned with astrology’s detailed technical procedures. However, there is an abundance of primary material from which the technical fabric and interpretative processes of both Western and Indian astrology can be learned. Margaret Hone’s Modern Text Book of Astrology is a sound guide to the basic calculation and reading of birth charts in the modern Western style and a good basis for going on to explore other applications of astrology, as well as traditional practices.
There is no single equivalent for Indian astrology, although B. V. Raman’s collected works could provide a similar function. Derek Walters Chinese Astrology is the only general introduction to the Chinese art in English translation. The Mexican astrology of the Maya and Aztecs is awaiting a suitable treatment, as are the many astrologies of the so-called indigenous peoples of Australia, Polynesia, and Africa.The best-known language of modern astrology is that of the twelve zodiac-signs derived from ancient Babylon: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. Each sign has a “personality,” a set of meanings that can be applied to detailed questions and individual circumstances through examining its location at an exact time of day, and in relation to the planets and other celestial bodies. As we shall see, though, different cultures developed their own systems of zodiac-signs or constellations that are entirely unrelated to the familiar Western scheme. The fundamental premise of astrology is reflective: that the earth is a mirror of heaven, in the sense of the celestial realms, and vice versa.
This is also a core tenet of cosmology across the ancient and medieval worlds. As the historian Xiaochun Sun put it in China, “The universe was conceived not as an object independent of man, but as a counterpart of and mirror of human society.” Native North American cosmology has been described as depending upon a “patterned mirroring” between sky and earth.The classic statement of this interdependence is found in the Islamic text known as the Tabula Smaragdina, or Emerald Tablet, which was probably written in the Middle East about the year 800 and contains sentiments that would be as familiar in China as much as in India, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
The Tablet’s opening words, “That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one, as all things were from one,” are cited to this day as a rationale for astrology in the simplified form “as above, so below”—as in the sky so on earth.A popular series of astrology books published in the United States in the 1970s was even marketed under this description. The notion of reflection, though, is only part of the story. Equally important is the concept of relationship—that the cosmos is alive and that everything in it exists in a series of relationships with all other things. Just as people relate to one another, so planets relate to people, and people to planets, indeed to everything. Most ancient cultures appear to have a view of the cosmos in which all things in the universe are connected in a web of personal relationships. The astrology that emerges from this proposition tends to be pragmatic and flexible. The stars and planets have no fixed meanings, and if one celestial pattern does not fulfill a particular function then another may do just as well. Such astrology is “chaotic,” in a sense derived from Mircea Eliade’s view of some cosmogonies as chaotic—unplanned and spontaneous.
A complex, highly codified astrology, with both well-defined meanings ascribed to particular stars, planets, or sections of the sky and a requirement for precision in timing and location in space, emerged in three regions: Mesoamerica, China, and the Near East/Babylon. It was a fusion of Babylonian astrology, Egyptian religion, and Greek philosophy in Hellenistic Egypt in the last two centuries BCE that produced the complicated astrology which became the foundation of the discipline still practiced in India and the modern West. This highly codified astrology is “cosmic” in the sense derived from Eliade’s identification of “cosmic” cosmogonies, based in a deliberate creation and characterized by order. The notion of relationship was systematized and codified in the cosmic astrologies of the classical world.
The Greek Stoics developed a system of interlocking “correspondences,” in which the essence of everything we can see, touch, or imagine is connected by a web of “correspondences,” or “sympathies,” a scheme named, by the historian Arthur Lovejoy, the Great Chain of Being. We should think of the constituent parts of the Chain as having agency, which is to say that they can function as agents of change: A stone, a flower, or a cloud can have agency, as much as can a person. The Chain of sympathies then becomes the basis of astrological magic, in which objects are created or words spoken that have “sympathy” with particular stars, planets, or zodiac signs. Most pre-modern societies recognize two kinds of astronomical phenomena. First is the ordered and predictable as observed in the periodicities of the sun, moon, and stars and expressed through calendars and their attendant rituals and the form of astrology that developed in Mexico, China, and the Hellenistic world, the last of which became the basis of both Indian and Western astrology.
Second is the exceptional and unpredictable as manifest in the changing appearance of the sky and celestial bodies (such as whether the moon is surrounded by a halo), shooting stars, and thunder and lightning (which occur in the sky and so were included as celestial omens in many societies). Other types of phenomena, such as eclipses and planetary motions, were originally thought to be random but, in many societies, were later found to be ordered and predictable. The distinction between the predictable and the exceptional, the ordered and the chaotic, remains fundamental to astrology’s dual nature: In Babylon, for example, the regular cycles of the sun and the moon punctuated the year with its sacred festivals, but their visual appearances could never be foreseen. In many cultures order was evidence of the cosmos’s benevolent nature, and close attention to calendar rituals was required in order to maintain the protection bequeathed by this order through the benign flow of the seasons and hence guarantee society’s survival. Disorder, by contrast, was seen as evidence of supernatural threats, against which astrological prediction, magic, and prophylactic rituals might be employed.
In Greek astrology, and in its Indian and Western descendants, unpredictability was gradually removed from the astrological canon, and no modern Western astrologer pays any attention to meteor showers or whether the moon is surrounded by a halo: Order and predictability of astronomical data are essential. The general recognition of two kinds of astronomical phenomena relates to other ways in which astrologers work. Historically, astrological meanings have been constructed in two ways. In the first, empirical data is collected.
As soon as a celestial event coincides with a terrestrial occurrence, the correlation is noted and can become the basis for a future prediction. In the second, a theoretical framework is imposed on the heavens, such as a zodiac or set of personalities for the planets, that then allows for the construction of a kind of biography of human life, or the planning of future actions. The varieties of astrology in the classical world give us some idea of astrology’s diversity. Astrology could be rationalized through theories of celestial influence, divine warnings (omens), sympathies or correspondences, or correlations, in which terrestrial and celestial events were connected purely because they occurred at the same time, what C. G. Jung was to term a causal synchronicity. The concept of astrology as a matter of influences or effects in which object “a” affects object “b” as an independent agent was unknown until the 20th century, and it remains a minority view. We can conclude that, at least in most of its forms,astrology does not conform to a modern scientific paradigm that may require statistical samples and repeatable experiments.
The codified astrology of China, India, and the West is science in the traditional meaning of the word, in the same sense that divination is a science—as a discipline with its own rules. The astrological cosmos may be better seen as “imaginal,” a term popularized by the philosopher Henry Corbin in order to distinguish products or characteristics of consciousness that are “real” from those that are “imaginative,” in which qualities of the mind have no reality. The word also has other associations, such as of the religious “image” as an icon, or embodiment of numinous reality, or of the whole world itself as an “image” of heaven. One useful distinction among types of astrology in the West is that between natural and judicial. Natural astrology places the emphasis on the natural world, making generalized statements on the basis of celestial influences or planetary cycles. Some modern astrologers claim that the sunspot cycle (an eleven-year cycle in solar radiation) should be classed as natural astrology. Judicial astrology, on the other hand, as the name implies, requires that the astrologer make a judgment, usually using a horoscope, a highly codified diagram of the heavens for a precise time and place.
The scope of judicial astrology’s functions was defined in the classical period, and medieval Europeans understood judicial astrology, which rested in the use of horoscopes to reach judgments, as divided into four categories: Interrogations were horoscopes cast for the moment that a question was asked, genethlialogy was the interpretation of horoscopes set for birth, revolutions dealt with political and general worldly affairs, and elections were used to choose the most auspicious time to arrange important events. Not included in this typology were uses of astrology for magic, such as the casting of talismans (objects having astrological significance and intended to manipulate the psychic and physical environment) and the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Astrology might be used to analyze personal destiny, assess the soul’s chances of salvation, cast spells, apply celestial myths to everyday problems, shed new light on history, find lost objects, predict the outcome of a battle, find the most auspicious time to launch a new enterprise, perform a ritual act, or construct a sacred calendar. It could be more or less deterministic, but it invariably required active human participation. If the sky is a dramatic stage set for telling stories about human affairs and the passage of the year, then the cosmos requires active participation by human beings as actors in the drama, an expression of the anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s participation mystique, the sense of being at one with the cosmos.
Every form of astrology begins by posing a level of fatedness, in which human beings assume a lack of control over their lives but then set out to create choice, negotiate with nature, and enter into a dialogue with time. Such negotiation may take the form of magic, prayer, ritual, or, in the modern world, counseling or therapy in order to achieve the ancient classical goal of self-awareness. Typically, choice in astrology exists within a context of purpose and an acceptance that the world is providentially organized.
From the inclusive perspective, there is no culture which does not have an astrology. The name itself, though, is often a problem, encumbered as it is by the anti-astrology rhetoric of the scientific Enlightenment. Various solutions have been proposed to this problem. One is that we replace the word “astrology” with either “Star Talk” or “Star Study.”18 We might also use the astronomer Ed Krupp’s term, “Sky Tales.”19 I have suggested Star Stories, which can include the stories that stars tell about humanity as much as the ones that people tell about the stars: If we exclude any question of an external objective reality—the measurement of planetary cycles or celestial influences—astrology can be seen as fundamentally a narrative, a discourse. It has its believers in the literal truth, and in the absolute objectivity of its truth-claims, but it may still function as a conversation, its participants being people (astrologers and their clients) and the cosmos (time, eternity, pattern, rhythm, and fate in its many forms). As a language, astrology speaks in symbols. It relies on metonymy, using one word to mean another, so that when modern Western astrologers utter the word “Mars,” their colleagues hear the words “anger,”“danger,” and “energy.”
When astrology says “Venus,” it is code for love, peace, and desire or, in Aztec and Maya culture, war and violence. Some of astrology’s modern adherents claim its language is universal, which it clearly isn’t: In the Greek tradition the moon is the symbol of womanhood; in the Babylonian the Moon-god, Sin, was a man, as was the Egyptian Thoth. Its symbols are, though, like any other, polysemic: They have multiple meanings and require interpretation. From a symbolic perspective, then, the logic that leads a Western astrologer to interpret Venus as peace and an Aztec to look at it as war does not deny the existence of a universal symbol. Of course, if we reject the notion of universally valid symbols, the problem of cultural distinctions between different astrologies remains. For example, it is well known that the Aborigines perceived a radically different set of constellations from those that were seen in China, Babylon, and Mesoamerica, evidence in itself that there are no universals in the way the sky is perceived and used.
The physical appearance of the celestial bodies and the mathematical measurement of their apparent movement is not negotiable, but, apart from the measurable solar and lunar influences, all other aspects of astrology are local and culture-specific. A substantial number of modern Western astrologers agree with this view. Perhaps the most influential was Dane Rudhyar, one of the most respected American astrologers of the 20th century. He wrote that Astrology of itself has no more meaning than algebra. It measures relationships between symbols whose concreteness is entirely a matter of convention, and does not really enter into the problems involved—just as the symbols of algebra, x, y, n, are mere conventions…. In other words, the astrological realm of moving celestial bodies is like the realm of logical propositions. Neither one nor the other has any real content. Both are purely formal, symbolical, and conventional.Rudhyar was no cultural relativist, though, and he believed that, while the rules of astrological interpretation are cultural conveniences, the spiritual truths they reveal are absolutes.
As Claude Lévi-Strauss considered, astrological classifications are totemic. Their logic, he argued, “works rather like a kaleidescope, an instrument which also contains bits and pieces by means of which structural patterns are realized.” Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism would probably have made sense in Rudhyar’s Platonic world, with its concept of geometrically defined archetypes, even if he might have rebelled against structuralism’s excessive rigidity. The psychologist C. G. Jung, who described astrological symbols as “mythological motifs,” “categories of the imagination,” or “primordial thoughts,” might also have disapproved of Lévi-Strauss’s mathematics but not his quest for underlying patterns. Jung was himself an enthusiastic astrologer for whom astrology worked because time itself was an organizing principle, controlling the mutually satisfying relationship between celestial symbols and human psyche, a theme that will recur throughout this book.
“Whatever is born or done at this particular moment of time,” Jung wrote, “has the quality of this moment of time.” And here we come to another of astrology’s characteristics, at least in cultures that develop a highly codified form of the discipline—the deification of time. The Persian Zoroastrians actually imagined time as the lion-headed deity Zurvan. Most cultures have not gone this far, but, implicitly, time is often regarded as having agency, as being an active participant in the cosmos. Why some societies should develop such complex systems is not clear; the archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni’s comment about the Maya (“Why [they] became such ardent astrophiles is a problem not yet resolved”) may equally well apply to the ancient Babylonians or Chinese. One obvious answer is that societies with complex socioeconomic and political systems develop technically complex cosmologies as an aid to management of society and the state.
What all three cultures shared was a sense of precision, that the merest details of life could be timed to correspond exactly to the flow of celestial time. One persistent argument holds that the appeal of astrology, like that of religion, rests in its ability to provide security for insecure people. However, the argument has been challenged on the grounds that it is an anachronistic projection into the past of modern skeptical critiques of astrology. It may be more productive to consider the reasons for star stories. Do they encode information about the world? Is the power the motive? Possibly: Stephen McCluskey concluded that “Astronomical observation and knowledge were, for the Aztecs, signs of sacred power and status.” Were ancient people looking for patterns that might make better the management of the world? Perhaps.
Among the Maya, we read “The paramount goal of the astronomically and mathematically knowledgeable scribes was to use what they saw in the sky to pattern time.”Aboriginal astronomy, meanwhile, locates the stars in social context and value systems: “Like the Newtonian-based system of Western science, it represented an attempt to construct a view of the universe as an ordered and internally consistent system, and hence to obtain some sense of control over the natural world.” Further, Their careful astronomical observations were motivated not by inherent curiosity but by their belief that the stars had an intimate pragmatic and relational role in their culture.
One role was economic: the need to establish predictive correlations between the position of the constellations and other natural events important to the survival of the community such as the availability of particular foods or the onset of particular weather conditions. A second function, equally necessary to preserve the group’s identity, was a socio-moral one: the association of the various constellations with a complex system of moral guidance and education in tribal lore. Thirdly, the Aborigines regarded the stars as an integral part of both the physical landscape and a philosophic system, each element of which helped to explain, reinforce and legitimate the others and guarantee their continuity.Such a description may be equally applied to Chinese, Indian, Mesoamerican, and Western astrology.
Keith Thomas considered whether Western astrology had a function in the development of historical thought. He concluded that it did, adding that the sociological worldview has at least partial roots in the astrological. In his words, During the Italian Renaissance astrological doctrines about the recurrence of planetary conjunctions had helped to form the concept of a historical “period.” … In their [the astrologers’] confident assumption that the principles of human society were capable of human explanation, we can detect the germ of modern sociology.Perhaps ancient star myths and modern astrology are also both means of transmitting culture.
Elsewhere Inca astrologers are referred to as “folk astronomers,” suggesting that their function was to convey astronomically derived social, political, and agricultural information to the population at large.This might ring true of the ancient world and oral cultures, but does the modern astrological consultation, with its use of archaic symbolism, bind both practitioner and client into an otherwise forgotten world of magic and shamanism? That is a question I don’t think we are yet equipped to answer. Are astrologers better described as “calendar priests,” as has been said of Mayan practitioners?
Are their modern descendants the equivalent of the Peruvian “calendrical shamans” who traveled from village to village with their books of prognostications tucked under their arms?35 It is certainly possible. Talking of astrology’s increasing popularity in the 1980s, Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas, pioneers of the integration of depth psychology and astrology, wrote: The astrological consultant has, willingly or not, been usurping what was once the role of the priest, the physician, and the psychiatrist…. And with due respect to those readers who may be members of the clergy or of psychiatry, [the] client with psychological problems may often fail to find the tolerance or depth of understanding that the clergy might justifiably be expected to provide, receiving meaningless aphorisms instead; or may fail to obtain the insight into symptoms and the openness to discuss them without clinical labeling which the orthodox medical establishment sometimes finds rather difficult to offer.
Does this mean that astrology itself is a religion? Here again, the answers are mixed. The question can become meaningless in those cultures that make no distinction between religion and any other aspect of life: There is no point in asking whether astrology is a religion in India, or among Australian Aborigines, or indigenous Polynesians. Some historians assume that astrology was a religion once, when it was an accessory to the worship of celestial deities, but may not be now. The historian of science Bartel van der Derward was following the consensus when he argued that “Babylonian astrology depended on astral religion…. The guiding concept of astrology, that the gods of the sky rule our lives, was a religious concept. Very right were the Fathers of the Church to condemn astrology!”
The German philosopher Bernulf Kanitscheider thinks astrology still is a religion: “Astrology,” he wrote, “must be seen in its origins as a religion based on the stars.”For the sinologist Joseph Needham, astronomy itself was derived from religion, or, perhaps better to say, it was an application of religion. In his opinion, “Astronomy was a science of cardinal importance for the Chinese since it arose naturally out of that cosmic ‘religion,’ that sense of unity and even ‘ethical solidarity’ of the universe.”Modern critics of astrology likewise tend to argue that it must be a religion on the very grounds that its claims are false.Some astrologers accuse their fellows of using it as a religion in that it becomes an answer to every problem, from grand questions of human existence to the best time to make a phone call. A few Western astrologers, though, do regard astrology’s role as religion as a good thing.
In 1927 Julius Bennett, writing in Astrology, the journal of the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society, claimed that the “combined science and religion of the New Age” would be astrology. Some modern astrologers agree. Pam Crane, a well-known British astrologer and minister in the theosophically inclined Liberal Catholic church, concludes: With the discovery of the Outer Planets, we men and women have taken a lot of spiritual power for ourselves.
Nowadays it is unfashionable—even in some quarters unacceptable—to conceive of ourselves as truly children of an almighty being we call God, that this being is a person, and that He sent his Son into incarnation to teach us how to love, and to die for love of us. At this time in our history when hubris has rendered us desperately vulnerable to self-created disaster, is it not time we reconsidered? Look at all I have shown you here. Is not Christ coming to us over and over again, in every conceivable way, as he always promised? Is Crane putting God at the center of the cosmos, or is she placing humanity there? Certainly some forms of astrology are focused on the individual—“person-centered” in the modern jargon.
Astrology’s characteristic earth-centered cosmos has been described as not so much “Geocentric [as,] more embracingly, egocentric.”What exactly is it that astrology says about the nature of personhood? This is the question asked by Stephen Kemper in his study of Sinhalese astrology.There is indeed something egotistical about astrology, as many modern astrologers will agree: The birth chart, the map of the heavens for the moment of birth, is calculated with the infant at the center of the entire universe. In this sense, if the complex interpretative astrologies of Babylon, India, China, the Islamic world, Europe, and Mesoamerica have anything in common, it is that the focus of all creation, the sum total of space and time, is placed on the individual as the act of astrological interpretation proceeds.
The center is not where God is, or the Goddess, or the gods: If astrology has a religion, perhaps it is humanism. An entirely separate question is whether astrology has religious uses. The answer to this, obviously, is yes, for there is no area of human activity to which it cannot be applied. To return to the question, then: Is astrology a religion? Not if we require a narrow definition of religion as requiring the worship of a supreme being and a set of dogma located in a sacred text. In part the answer depends on how broad or narrow is our definition of religion. Elsewhere I have concluded that we may consider astrology to be a “vernacular religion” in the general sense that it is part of the prevailing worldview of the modern West.
For Emile Durkheim, astrology was more magical than religious, for the precise reason that it lacks a congregation and institutional framework and instead relies on an individual practitioner’s performing a service for a single client.Durkheim’s distinction between magic and religion is no longer tenable, though, for it denies the extent to which formal religious practice relies on magical acts, transubstantiation in the Catholic Mass being a prime example. J. G. Frazer’s view of religion as based on the propitiation of superior powers certainly has relevance in some contexts but fails to account for those areas of astrology that require action and assert humanity’s role as a co-creator.J. Milton Yinger’s inclusive definition of religion, based as it is on a collective attempt to deal with the problems of human existence, can certainly include astrology at its broadest (the construction and celebration of sacred calendars) but is so all-encompassing that there is little left that is not a religion.Only Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions of religion offer a sufficiently rich framework within which to consider not whether astrology is a religion but whether it is a religion in certain contexts.
In the text that follows, though, I tend to emphasize astrology’s relationship with religion, which, for these purposes, I define cautiously as the worship of supernatural beings. I then pose such questions as how the cosmos came into existence and what is the stars’ role in the construction of sacred calendars or the salvation of the soul. Smart’s seven dimensions then provide a framework for whether astrology is a religion in particular instances. I have also emphasized those applications of astrology that may be religious in a broad sense so that we may ask, if astrology is a religion, what are its rituals, philosophies, narratives, experiential content, and social context.
This does not, it must be stressed, mean that all astrology is a religion. The use of astrology by modern business analysts or psychologists, working in a secular context, is clearly not religious. The statement “Astrology is a religion” is simply wrong. In particular instances, though, it may have religious qualities and functions, and it is these with which we are concerned in this book. As we have seen, astrology is marked by diversity, causing some modern commentators to refer to “astrologies” in the plural on the grounds that the use of the single term “astrology” too easily leads to the suggestion that there is a monolithic system and single dogma to which all astrologers subscribe. Astrology may treat the stars as signs, causes, or influences, while the stars may act on terrestrial affairs, correlate with them, or simply indicate them. And, even when they are causes or influences, they may not have any power in themselves but be acting on behalf of some superior force, creator, or god.
I have suggested some useful distinctions between different kinds of astrology: Chaotic astrology is flexible, spontaneous, and pragmatic; cosmic astrology is codified, highly structured and complex; natural astrology deals with general influences or patterns, while judicial astrology requires the presence of an astrologer to make a judgment. It makes more sense to look at what astrologers actually claim and do, and imposed categories such as “divination,”“science,”“magic,” and, of course, “religion” are invariably misleading and fail to account for the diversity of practice across the globe, let alone the contested meanings of these words. In this book we take a broad and eclectic view of astrology, encompassing as wide a range as possible of applications of the stars for religious purposes or to provide meaning.
In the following chapters, for the first time, we examine a range of practices and beliefs from around the world, some that have been challenged by forces such as colonialism, while others are living traditions. There will inevitably be many points of comparison and evidence of differences as well as similarities, both of which will help us answer questions about how human beings use the sky as a theatrical backdrop for their myths, rituals, religions, and personal engagement with the cosmos.
Source:The Celestial Mirror Campion, Nicholas (2012-06-11). Astrology and Cosmology in the World’s Religions (p. 11). NYU Press short.