Astrology (from Greek: αστρολογία = άστρον, astron, "star" + λόγος, logos, "word") is any of several traditions or systems in which knowledge of the apparent positions of celestial bodies is held to be useful in understanding, interpreting and organizing knowledge about reality and human existence on earth. All are based on the relative positions and movements of various real and construed celestial bodies, chiefly the Sun, Moon, planets, Ascendant & Midheaven axes, and lunar nodes as seen at the time and place of the birth or other event being studied. A practitioner of astrology is termed an astrologer, though they are sometimes referred to as an astrologist.
Many of those who practice astrology believe the positions of certain celestial bodies either influence or correlate with, but do not influence people's personality traits, important events in their lives, and even physical characteristics.
Astrology is not considered to be a science, but is more appropriately a spiritual discipline, and is therefore separate from astronomy, the scientific study of the heavens. For many astrologers the purported relationship between the celestial bodies and events on earth need not be causal, nor even scientific. Although there are astrologers who try to put astrology on sound scientific grounds, for many more it is a technology and an art that merges calculations with intuitive perceptions.
The core principles of astrology reflect general principles, which were universally accepted in the ancient world, that events in the heavens must have analogies on Earth. From China to Babylon, the apparently untoward movement of a comet across the otherwise orderly movement of the heavens was taken as a portent of disaster: the very word still contains its "star" root, aster. Such ancient beliefs are epitomized in the Hermetic maxim: As Above, So Below. The famous astronomer/astrologer Tycho Brahe also used a similar phrase to justify his studies in astrology: Suspiciendo despicio - "By looking up I see downward."
In past centuries astrology often relied on close observation of astronomical objects, and the charting of their movements, and might be considered a protoscience in this regard. In modern times astrologers have tended to rely on data drawn up by astronomers and set out in a set of tables called an ephemeris, which shows the changing positions of the heavenly bodies through time.
Central to all astrology is the natal chart (other names for this diagram in English include horoscope, natus, nativity, astrological chart, celestial map, birth chart, sky-map, cosmogram, Vitasphere, soulprint, radix, or simply chart). This is a diagrammatic representation in 2 dimensions of the celestial bodies' apparent positions in the heavens from the vantage of a location on Earth at a given time and place. Interpretation of a natal chart is governed by:
Common traditions of astrology include Western astrology, Chinese astrology, Jyotish (Vedic astrology) and Kabbalistic astrology. All of these can be subdivided by type, such as natal astrology (the study of a person's birth, or natal chart), horary astrology (a chart drawn up to answer a specific question), and electional astrology (a chart drawn up ahead of time to determine the best moment to begin an enterprise or undertaking). Mundane astrologers believe correlations exist between geological phenomena (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.) and astronomical phenomena (the movement of celestial bodies in relation to Earth). Political astrology has existed for thousands of years as well, while some astrologers use ancient methods which are supposed to be able to predict the weather and weather-related phenomena (storms, floods, etc.), which is collectively known as meteorological astrology.
Astrology has had an influence on the English language. Influenza was so named because doctors once believed it to be caused by unfavorable planetary and stellar influences. The word "disaster" comes from the Latin "dis-aster" meaning "bad star".
A few Western but all Jyotish (Hindu) astrologers use the sidereal zodiac which uses the true astronomical positions of the stars. The majority of Western astrologers base their work on the tropical zodiac which uses a view of the heavens as seen 2000 years ago.
How astrologers view astrology
Most astrologers, whether they believe astrology has objective validity or not, consider astrology to be a useful intuitive tool by which people may come to better understand themselves, others, and the relationships between them. Some would argue that astrology's objective validity is a non-issue, and that astrology's primary value lies in the introspection and self-examination it may provoke. Others are quite insistent that astrology has objective validity.
Astrology's continued appeal may rest on its ability to link an individual's life to the wider cosmos and so give a feeling of uniqueness, meaning and of connection to the totality of things. Astrology also contains archetypal symbolism, which, according to some schools of thought (such as Jungian psychology), can be found universally throughout humanity.
Anyone can set themselves up as an astrologer, so there is a wide range of practitioners in ability and approach. Some serious astrologers may be members of a society, such as the American Federation of Astrologers, which tries to maintain standards of learning and conduct; others may be lone hobbyists.
Many astrologers scorn horoscope predictions supplied by newspapers as nothing but a way to entertain readers. All popular astrology in which people are labelled on the basis of their sun sign alone is seen by serious astrologers as frivolous and not worthy of defence. The Sun sign is regarded as but one of many factors that must be taken into account when interpreting one's horoscope.
An individual astrological reading by a skilled astrologer - or by the individual himself or herself if he or she is well-versed enough in astrology - is thought to provide a way for the individual to divine his or her own feelings about the present, and to better understand his or her own personality. This can give the individual the opportunity to understand those feelings and patterns of behavior which may be barriers to possible futures, and so change their actions in the present to bring about a desired future. In this respect it is more closely linked to Tarot, I Ching and modern psychotherapy than to astronomy.
An individual is always seen as the ultimate master of his destiny, and given sufficient will and purpose, as being able to overcome the most adverse astrological indications. However, the degree of struggle necessary will depend on the astrological circumstances in which they enact their project.
Most astrologers make no claim to be practicing a science and see their skill as an art or spiritual discipline, which gives a structure to a dialogue with their client. An astrologer's success would need to be measured in terms of the happiness and well-being of his or her subjects, rather than the mechanical prediction of events. Astrology has, however, taken on new astronomical concepts as they have been discovered and added its own symbolism to them. Thus the outer planets discovered since 1781, because of their slow movement across the zodiac, sit in the same position in the charts for entire generations. They have been assigned a role in interpreting the processes of large groups; of nations, institutions, ideas, beliefs and the generations themselves.
Many people use the fact that there are 13 constellations, of unequal size, along the astronomical ecliptic, and not twelve equally-sized constellations, to try and discredit or otherwise disprove astrology. In astrology, the size of the actual astronomical constellations is a non-issue because most Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac, where the ecliptic is divided into 12 equal portions exactly 30 degrees each to get the 12 astrological signs. (12 signs x 30 degrees each sign = the 360 degrees of the ecliptic). The beginning of the astrological year is the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (the vernal equinox - usually around March 21), and not when the Sun crosses an arbitrary dividing line drawn up in modern times to denote where the constellation of Aries begins. The time of the vernal equinox, therefore, is the definition of the start of the astrological sign of Aries, even though the Sun is well within the astronomical constellation of Pisces at that time of year. See also the First Point of Aries. Jyotish and western Siderial astrologers avoid this criticism by using a closer approximation of the true astronomical positions of the stars.
Of the 13 modern signs of the zodiac (constellations of the ecliptic), Ophiuchus is the only one that is not counted as an astrological sign because the area of Ophiuchus intersected by the ecliptic previously belonged to more than one constellation. The constellations were defined in by the International Astronomical Union in 1930 and include a portion of Ophiuchus(Serpent-Bearer) on the ecliptic, to get 88 constellations. Before 1930 some areas of the sky did not belong to a constellation, forcing astronomers to refer to "the area between constellation X and constellation Y". Some areas, like the foot of Ophiuchus, belonged to more than one constellation. The modern constellation boundaries were selected to resolve this problem, so that every part of the sky now belongs to exactly one clearly defined constellation.
How skeptics view astrology
Many skeptics think that astrology, like other forms of pseudoscience, tries to lay claim to the prestige of science without submitting itself to the discipline of the scientific method. Many skeptics consider astrology to lack falsifiability.
Some believers in astrology consult a horoscope published in a newspaper, which claims to make predictions for the coming day. Newspapers often publish horoscope columns with the title "Astrological Forecast," perhaps implying that they should be considered on the same footing with weather forecasts. However, astrology has failed carefully designed empirical tests of its predictive claims, unlike meteorology, which, although not always correct, has been proved to be statistically more accurate than random guessing.
Many skeptics think that, as is often the case with pseudoscience, the proponents of astrology respond to such disproof either by changing their claims, or by refusing to accept the scientific method as a valid test of their claims.
For an example of astrologers changing their claims, some astrologers may say that astrology is only useful when the astrologer can have personal contact with the client, in which case the newspaper astrology columns are useless.
If, on the other hand, the scientific method is to be rejected entirely, many skeptics believe the problem is that astrologers do not agree on any alternative method of determining whether a particular astrological method is any more or less objectively correct than any other.
The cases for and against
Astrology is a controversial subject. The case for and the case against astrology's objective validity are presented here:
The case for astrology
Many astrologers do not believe that gravitational or tidal forces are the mechanism behind astrology supposedly working, but, the idea that tidal forces affect biological organisms in some way has some scientific support.
In 1954, a biologist named Frank Brown transported a shipment of oysters from New Haven, Connecticut several hundred miles away to Evanston, Illinois. Oysters open and close their shells in synchronization with the tide, and up until this time the explanation for this phenomenon was simple -- the physical force of the water gave the oysters some cue as to when to open and close their shells.
Dr. Brown placed his oysters in a controlled environment , and at first they responded as expected, opening and closing their shells in accord with the tide in New Haven. However, within a week, they began to get out of sync. Within two weeks, they had once again settled on a unanimous rhythm - opening and closing in correlation with the tidal forces of Evanston, despite the fact that there was no physical motion of the water to prompt their action. Clearly, some mechanism in the oyster was "detecting" the tidal force.
One explanation which biologists have for this phenomenon is that the Earth's magnetic fields are affected by tidal forces, and nearly all biological organisms (including humans) are affected by the Earth's magnetic field. While this has little bearing on the actual practice of astrology, it is strong evidence that tidal forces do indeed have an effect (albeit indirect) on living organisms.
Dr. Percy Seymour, an astronomer/astrophysicist at Plymouth University, UK, has published several books in which he tries to find scientific explanations for astrology. For more information, see the External links section below.
- Astrology: The Evidence of Science (1988), revised edition (1990)
- The Scientific Basis of Astrology (1997)
- The Scientific Proof of Astrology (2004)
He focuses on the electromagnetic changes induced by tidal forces and the so-called Mars effect.
In 1997, Dr. Percy Seymour was Principal Lecturer in Astronomy at the University of Plymouth, where he taught astronomy and astrophysics to undergraduates and carried out research on magnetic fields in astronomy.
The case against astrology
Given that astrology claims to be able to make predictions about future events, it should be possible to construct an experiment that measures its accuracy. No such experiment has ever been able to clearly demonstrate the objective validity of astrology. In addition, scientific double blind tests (example) have shown that even the best astrologers fare no better than random chance when matching astrological charts to personalities.
Beyond that, there are some specific criticisms about methodology that scientists make of astrologers.
The tropical zodiac, used by most western astrologers, begins at the vernal point, which gradually changes its position due to the precession of Earth's axis, known as the precession of the equinoxes. Over the course of 2000 years, the tropical zodiac has shifted about 24 degrees, so any celestial object which is said to be in one astrological sign will, if you actually go out and look at the sky, usually be found to be occupying the next zodiacal constellation.
The sidereal zodiac, used by many eastern astrologers, deducts about 24 degrees to account for the precession of the equinoxes, but it still does not align perfectly with the constellations because, as mentioned before, the constellations are of inequal sizes, rather than each being 30 degrees across.
Many astrologers simply ignore this, but some argue (see ) that the discrepancy between the astrological signs and the constellations is irrelevant, because the astrological signs and constellations are considered to be two distinctly different, non-equivalent things. The astrological signs are the 12 equally-sized 30-degree divisions of the ecliptic which only roughly align with the constellations after which they are named; while the constellations are the actual formations of stars. The actual stars and constellations are seldom used by astrologers, except for those who use the so-called "fixed stars".
- Some critics of astrology say that astrologers who use the tropical zodiac, as almost all in the west do, take an arbitrary point in the past as the basis for their interpretation of the heavens. The zodiac of 2000 years ago holds no special place in astronomy. If we go back 4000 years we find Taurus was the constellation of the Vernal equinox, go back 6000 and Gemini was. Some critics of astrology say that astronomers understand that the view of the heavens continually changes over long periods of time, while astrologers use a fixed and inaccurate version of reality. However, some astrologers would assert that rather than an "arbitrary point in the past" or a "zodiac of 2000 years ago", they are using an up-to-date zodiac based on the gradually, continually changing position of the vernal point.
- Some astrologers might assume that all the constellations on the zodiac are of equal size of 30 degrees, but in fact there is considerable variation from 44 degrees across for Virgo to 20 degrees across for Cancer.
- The constellation Ophiuchus, the serpent holder, was recognised by the ancient Greeks, and is in the zodiac. It contains the sun once a year (in early December), and the planets at various other times. Even Ptolemy - one of the great astrologers of antiquity - recognised it and recognised that it contains the sun once a year. Yet astrologers, including Ptolemy, ignore it.
- Astrologers sometimes claim scientific (or pseudoscientific) explanations for their practices. For example, it is pointed out that the moon causes tides on earth, and it is reasoned that the gravitational pull of other heavenly bodies affect us. This is flawed for two reasons:
- 1. The gravitational pull from e.g. Saturn (the second largest planet in the solar system, over 90 times more massive than Earth) is equal to the gravitational pull from a car 1.7 meters away. Yet astrologers do not seem to be interested in the positions of cars at the time of birth, or indeed whether one was born in a carpark. As a matter of fact, the gravitational pull of Earth itself varies more from place to place than the pull of even the largest planets.
- 2. Astrology does not offer any testable explanation of how gravitational pull comes to affect personality, why we are especially susceptible to gravitation during birth nor how the gravitational influences at one point in the past affects our outlook for the future.
- Another attempt at scientific explanation is that heavenly bodies affect the Earth's magnetic field, and that the magnetic field at the time of birth affects the person. To what extent this is true is largely irrelevant: The Earth's magnetic field is quite weak, and varies from 0.3 Gauss to 0.6 Gauss according to location. One would get a considerably stronger exposure to a magnetic field from an ordinary refrigerator magnet.
- It is not clear how distance to a stellar object affects its astrological impact. If distance does matter, astrological charts are faulty for failing to take it into account. On the other hand, if distance is irrelevent, then they are equally flawed for failing to consider all stellar objects, including planets, moons, and distant stars.
- It should be noted here that some fixed stars are included in some astrological systems.
- A thought-provoking paradox can be mentioned, even though it does not apply fully to the case of astrology for it does not claim immutability. If one's life can be accurately predicted, there is no point in knowing predictions for one can not change them.
- The most prominent of the few actual scientists that support astrology, Dr. Percy Seymour, has been criticized for ignoring the many surveys and experiments that show that there is no connection between planetary positions at the time of birth, and focusing on the one that provides highly suspect data to support his idea, see the Mars effect. See the External links section below for articles discussing his books.
- No one has yet come up with a credible theory of why the time of birth is so crucial. If direction and strength of the gravitational field is important, then surely nearby massive objects (cars, mountains, houses) and the birthing position would play a far greater role than distant planets. If electromagnetic fields and radiation play a role, then certainly the relatively weak (at least indoors) solar radiation and weak magnetic field of the earth would be drowned out by artificial lighting, TV screens, medical equipment or even refrigerator magnets.
- Critics claim that the apparently good fit many see between their horoscope and their self-image is simply due to the Forer effect.
Relationship to various sciences
The distinction between astrology and astronomy was not made until relatively recently (see History of astrology and History of astronomy). Today, astrology is viewed as astronomy's predecessor in the same way that alchemy is viewed as chemistry's. Most scientists dismiss astrology as pseudoscience. See astrology and astronomy for more detail about the relationship between these two subjects.
There are biological phenomena that coordinate with celestial movements (e.g. circadian rhythms, see Chronobiology). It has been demonstrated that some amphibians are able to use celestial bodies for orientation (source: Encyclopędia Britannica). Some astrologers may attempt to draw conclusions from this phenomenon, but it is more likely these correlations are not completely understood.
Astrology as a descriptive language for the mind
The personality descriptions made in astrological charts can be viewed as a method of describing the subjective inner world of mind and personality. This has roots in alchemical and Hermetic tradition which were very influential until the 17th century. Many writers, notably William Shakespeare, , used astrological symbolism to add subtlety to the description of their characters' motivation. An understanding of astrological principles is needed to fully appreciate such literature. Some modern thinkers, notably Carl Jung, have acknowledged its descriptive powers of the mind without necessarily subscribing to its predictive claims.
Astrology and the classical elements
See astrology and the classical elements for the main article on this subject.
Astrology has used the concept of classical elements from antiquity up until the present. Most modern astrologers use the four classical elements extensively, and indeed it is still viewed as a critical part of interpreting the astrological chart.
History of astrology
See History of astrology.
A separate article exists on Jewish views of astrology.
Astrology and alchemy
See the main article at astrology and alchemy
Alchemy in the Western World and other locations where it was widely practiced was (and in many cases still is) closely allied and intertwined with traditional Babylonian-Greek style astrology; in numerous ways they were built to complement each other in the search for hidden knowledge. Traditionally, each of the seven planets in the solar system as known to the ancients was associated with, held dominion over, and ruled a certain metal.
A separate article also exists on astrology and numerology.
The seven liberal arts and astrology
In medieval Europe, a university education was divided into seven distinct areas, each represented by a particular planet and known as the Seven Liberal Arts. They were seen as operating in ascending order, beginning with Grammar which was assigned to the quickest moving celestial body (the Moon) and culminating in Astronomia which was thought to be astrologically ruled by Saturn, the slowest moving and furthest out planet known at the time. After this sequence wisdom was supposed to have been achieved by the medieval university student .
Astrology and its history
Validity and usefulness
Astrology in relation to other thought systems
The astrologer's tools
Astrolabe Software - Calculate your personal natal chart or any astrological chart for free using this simple online calculation form.
A Comprehensive Astrological Dictionary -- Use this to look up many common astrological terms, both in ancient and modern astrology.
Astrolog 5.40 - Home of the freeware astrology program Astrolog 5.40.
Astrology for Windows - Public domain calculation software.
The Original 3,000 Year High-Precision Daily Astrological Online Ephemeris from Khaldea.com -- 600BC to 2400AD -- Calculated for Midnight GMT; also with an Aspectarian included for years 1900 to 2005
Astrowin - Free Astrology Software/Programs - Astro123, AstroWin, MatchMkr, and more.
ChronosXP - Free Planetary Hours software for Windows
Classical Astrology Archives
Faculty of Astrological Studies - Founded on 7th June 1948 in London, England at 19.50 BST; its Diploma, the D.F.Astrol.S., is among the most highly valued and recognised international qualifications.
Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences - Based in Seattle, USA, Kepler College is the only accredited college in the western hemisphere authorized to issue A.A., B.A., and M.A degrees in Astrological Studies.
Astrology software - Programs for making horoscopes.
The Sophia Centre Based near Bath, England, the Centre is a department of School of Historical and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University College. Funded by the Sophia Trust, the Centre teaches an innovative MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and supervises postgraduate research.
Rosicrucian Fellowship Ephemeris Software (1900 - 2100).
ephemeral.info Tools - Many free web-based tools for looking up information about various celestial objects.
Horoscopes Of Our Time - a website that provides natal chart data on numerous historical figures
Free natal reports