astronomy and astrology in the age of scientific revolution

Where we discover that Jung supports Ptolemy view on astrology.

The following is the translation of the Conference kept  by Prof. Ornella Faracovi on the 11th November 1993 in the Physics Department of Milan university. Prof. Faracovi is  an expert of history of philosophy and the director of Centro Studi Enriques.  She is an expert of Renaissance and Medieval astrology- she has published  the Italian version of Cardano’s Comment to the second book of Tetrabiblos and  De iudiciis geniturarum, Marsilio Ficino’s astrological letters, and several books on astrology and philosophy in Middle Ages and Renaissance. She is in the Honour Commitee of CIDA, the Italian Astrological Association.

Translation from the Journal of the Italian Astrological Association CIDA, LINGUAGGIO ASTRALE   n. 94, 1994

A  model quite common in historiography connects the birth of modern astronomy (what is now called the Copernican Revolution) and the crisis of astrology. This assumption was already implied since the first works on the history of astrology, between the end of 1800 and the beginning of 1900, when several important researches about antiquities, oriental studies, art history highlighted the main role astrology had  among the history and civilisation of the West during centuries.

It will be enough to remember just one name, Auguste Bouchè-LeLequerq, whose history of Greek astrology (( Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, L’astrologie grecque, (Paris: E. Leroux, 1899) )) written in 1899 and one of the most important contributes of erudite historiography on that subject ends with the complete incompatibility between astrology and heliocentrism, and Franz Cumont, great scholar of oriental studies and history of religions, lived in the first part of 1900, according whom

power of astrology ended when with Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, the progress in astronomy turned upside down  the false hypothesis on which its whole structure was based, ie the geocentric model of the universe. (( Franz Valery Marie Cumont, Astrology and religion among the Greeks and Romans. (New York: Dover Publications, 1960).))

The acknowledgment of the cultural relevance of astrology in the ancient, medieval and Renaissance world can be suddenly be connected with its  reduction, and the art of Urania can be described as a discipline linked with the ancient vision of the world.

Urania- Ferrara, Cosme Tura disciples
Urania- Cosme Tura disciples (Ferrara museum)

In the same way, in many works, even recent ones, on the history of ideas, at the origin of the modern culture has been linked a similar  path, which it is labelled as the passage from magic to science. In astrology is seen nothing more than a sort of archaic  astronomy, full of superstition and occult elements, which lost its credibility in front of the rising of a scientific approach to the analysis of planetary movements. After having focused, during several centuries, the interest of philosophers and scientists, inspired treatises and art works, deeply influenced iconology, collective imaginery, the way people thought and talked, astrology was due to irremediably disappear.

It would be out of the modern world, able just to survive as archaic and relics of a past which is over.

Its ancient lustre, and its following inexorable decline, would show, a further confirmation of  “the magnificent and progressive fate” ((  quote from one of the most famous poems for teenager Italian students, “La ginestra”, Giacomo Leopardi, in  Canti (1836). The poem is about the illusion of the man of taming nature . In front of  the power of nature the only possibility of mankind is solidariety)) which would rule, even if between problems and difficulties, on the progress of  the human spirit in the passage between superstition to reason, from magical to scientific world.

This reassuring interpretation has the fault to be very frail. Without doubts astrology has known in the modern age  a decline which deprived it of the enormous prestige  which had for centuries inside the whole Western civilization. This is a crisis astrology suffers since  the half of century XVII, when it was banned from University, where it had a place of honor. The half of 1600: if we think about this fact  we immediately see  there is a whole century between the starting point of Copernican revolution, the publishing of De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543) and the loss of the prestige, that should be a fruit of that revolution.

De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium
De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium

A century is a quite remarkable temporal distance, so there is the licit doubt that the link between these two events is different from the one described in some historical works. We could maintain the hypothesis that in these 100 years astrology continued to focus the attentions of the scholars  tied to the old idea of the universe, giving the way to the new astronomy only when the latter won common belief. In any case things are not like that: between the XV and XVI century, the most important representatives of new astronomy did not reject astrology, but even practiced it. Cumont can put his mind in peace – nobody of the three astronomers he mentions- Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler – can be called an enemy of the same discipline that – following Cumont  logic-  they would be ready to bury. Copernicus does  not disdain to supply the astrologers of his new astronomical tables, a new and swifter way of solution of the difficult calculations astrologers needed for casting their horoscopes. Galileo casts the birthcharts for his two daughters, for some (a few)  paying consultant. for friends and relatives: he even starts Sidereus Nuncius – the very text, which should soon travel all over Europe, with which the Florentine scientist, in support to Copernican system, informs the academical world about the revolutionary discoveries born from the astronomical observations made for the first time with telescope – outlining

the nativity of Cosimo de Medici, mentioned in the opening
the nativity of Cosimo de Medici, mentioned in the opening of Sidereus Nuncius- Mss. Gal.T. III P, III 39r

Cosimo de’ Medici nativity- whose diagram is in the addendum; he saves among his documents several versions of his birthchart, notably the one cast by Abbot Morandi. Lasty Kepler, author, between the rest, of the very famous Wallenstein horoscope, gives new inputs to  astrology, elaborating the theory of harmonics, in great fashion nowadays between astrologers.

It’s difficult to think that if there was a so great incompatibility between new astronomy and astrological researches, scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler would not see. I have the idea that the “incompatibility”  is the corollary of a biased scheme, supposed but never proved, and that the problem deserves to be again examined since the beginning, far from commonplace.

Opening Galileo’s Astrologica Nonnulla or Kepler’s astrological pages we see that they are focused on the casting what Medieval astrologers called a geniture modern astrologers now call a birth chart : a graphic reproducing planetary positions projected on the zodiacal band, as they are in the place and the moment of the birth. In the place and the moment of the birth: these two factors are enough to understand that for the astrological work is not necessary geocentrism, rather the terrestrial perspective. What is important for the astrologer are the planetary positions as they are seen from the Earth: if the founding astronomical hypothesis is geocentric or heliocentric  from the point of view of the  astrological skill  – as Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus understood very well- absolutely indifferent.

But Galileo pages focus our attention on some other sides very important too, of the matter. From her daughter Virginia’s horoscope Galileo derives this profile: “the girl is lonely, quiet, modest, careful of her interests, jealous, not always true to her promises….even if of good mind, manners, sympathy.”
One thing is evident: this research does not need an alternative or different explication of celestial events, in respect to the one supplied by astronomy. It wants supply is rather a technique of analysis of the temperament, of psychological inclinations on which it is based the native personality: the ground on which it works is the one now we call psychology.
In this sense Jung was right when he claimed the necessity of considering astrology as a compendium of all the psychological knowledge of the antiquity. The research starts from a precise premise, pillar of the astrological approach: the correspondence between planetary positions at the moment of the birth – as they are projected on the zodiacal band as they are seen from the birth place, and the natural inclinations of the native.
The complete lack of documentation makes impossible to locate for sure the path through the astrological hypothesis of this correspondence has been formulated. It is possible it derives from the ancient world of divination, which was  used to put together, linked  by the same meaning, two synchronic events: a given astral configuration concurring with the birth of the native could be meaningful of his/her inclinations, in the same way the spreading of the tarot cards, in the moment the querent asks a  question is meaningful of the result of the question.

A card from Visconti Sforza tarot deck
A card from Cary- Yale Visconti Sforza tarot deck (1442)

In the same way  we can assume that an hypothesis of concurrence requires a repeated series of empirical observations relative to the presence of similar temperamental inclinations in natives born in the same moment of the year, or with similar planetary positions. In every case it looks like the word “astrology” is very often used for things which are very different from each other. It has been used firstly for the astral religion of Mesopotamian area, where stars are gods; the it is used as synonym of astromantic, ie that peculiar divinatory practice connected to Babylonian astrolatry, which uses given astronomical events, like eclipses and planetary conjunctions, and Moon phases and halos,  as signs from which derives  foretelling of future events; or different divinatory techniques based on time divisions, different forms of chronomancy of the ancient Egypt, in the ancient Mexico, in China, without any reference to planetary positions; at the modern pseudo-astrology, consumer good for the mass-market, present everywhere in TV and magazines.

If we free from the power of these idola fori (( Roger Bacon, the idols of the marketplace ))   we should agree with historians of the ancient sciences, like Otto Neugebauer, documented in detail since longtime: astrology-  intended as an autonomous discipline, provided with peculiar tools, articulated through  verifiable procedures- was born only when inside Greek-Hellenistic culture, they started to cast charts. The study and reading of charts, belonging to the branch that antiquity knew as  genethliac astrology , is documented just from the end of the V century b.C.  and is a child of Greek mathematical rationalism. (( Otto Neugebauer, The exact sciences in antiquity (Courier Dover Publications, 1969). ))

There is a great gap between horoscopic and genethliac astrology and Babylonia astrolatry and astromantic, with their background of superstition and  divination. Having as its own goal the analysis of the temperament, even if through its peculiar tools, astrology acts according a level of intervention that, as already Diogenes of Babylon pointed out in the second century b.C., is completely autonomous from the universe of divination, but rather is connected to mathematical astronomy, and logical elaborations, which are its necessary premises.  The rationalistic and secular potentialities of horoscopic astrology are pointed by Ptolemy, the great hellenistic astronomer/astrologer, who severely revised the astrological tradition, sponsoring a hard battle against divinatory practices and the hermetic/magical readings of astrology.

It was the same Ptolemy who set with the greatest clarity the relationship between astronomy and astrology: it is not possible practicing  astrology without knowing precisely enough positions and movements of planetary bodies: astrology is the practical side of astronomy, it is based on astronomical concepts and mathematical calculations, and we can add mathematical-logical ones, with the goal of its peculiar goals, different but not opposite to the “pure” astronomy.  In order to get a trustworthy astrological analysis, Ptolemy writes, it is necessary to get:

a thorough knowledge of the motions of the stars, and of the Sun and Moon, shall have been acquired, and when the situation of the place, the time, and all the configurations actually existing at that place and time, shall also be duly known; and such knowledge be yet further improved by an acquaintance with the natures of the heavenly bodies.  (( Ptolemy, Tetrabublos, I, 2 ))

For sure horoscopic astrology is not the only branch in the field of astrological research. Especially, its elaboration does not mean the end of astromantic, of the astral divination; it can be used as a divinatory tool, being able to be used as a subtler tool for predicting the future, for which different civilisations employed the most different tools. casting oracles, studying  the fly of the birds, animals’ entrails, reading tarot or coffee grounds. Even Ptolemy, who closes any space to the most widespread tool of the divinatory astrology, the katarche, – the gentle translator of the text would add that she heard Prof. Giuseppe Bezza telling that Ptolemy does not discard katarche, if so the Greek astrologer would openly mentioned – cannot avoid to insert in his Apotelesmaticon, so critic against tradition, even the Egyptian one, so full of hermetism and magic, a whole book dedicated to judicial astrology, ie the attempt of getting forecast of collective events from the observation of stars, which was the most ancient form of astral divination in Babylonian area; not to mention the large number of charlatans which in all the ages, even nowadays, employed astrology to get  unlikely, but profitable predictions about the future of their silly clients.  In every case its logical-mathematical organisation, the  controllability of its procedures, the verifiability of its results makes  of horoscopic astrology a field not unworthy of of the attention of the greatest scientific minds, like  Ptolemy’s, Galileo’s, Kepler’s one. It’s the horoscopic astrology – and just this one-  which confirms Kepler claim :

nobody should think incredible that from the silly and absurd things of astrologers can derive a useful and sound wisdom. (( quote from Paul Choisnard, Les Precurseurs de l’astrologie scientifique, Paris, Ernest Leroux 1929 ))

But if incompatibility between astrology and astronomy is just an historiography’s myth, which were the causes of astrology’s decline, from the half of XVII century?  We already saw as astrology is founded on the idea of correspondence: to some given characters of the natal sky would correspond definite inclinations, and for this reason a good reading of a birth chart would supply an analysis of the individual personality. This hypothesis is enough for the astrologer’s work: he is a technician, not a philosopher, he is not required to know how that correspondence from which he starts works; he can be satisfied, and often he is satisfied of the fact that it works, and he is allowed to say something right about his psychological analysis.

It is not evidently the same for the philosopher who desires explaining it. How does this correspondence between the heaven and the temperament work? We have two different answers. On one side we can say that between planetary positions and human events  there is some  predetermined harmony, arranged by a God who rules Everything; so the correspondence shows the plan of the Providence, which the astrologer can reveal since the birth of the native: this is in short the position of the Stoic school.

On the other hand, we can supply a causalistic view of that relationship,  postulating the presence of physical actions, which influence the human being, by planets and their positions, a view which cut off whatever intervention of a Divine plan of the events. This is, in his secular vision, Ptolemy point of view: planets have a physical action on the terrestrial matter. Ptolemy assumes  – it could not be different-  this influence in the ways known to the science of his time, but he chooses the the more rational reference in it, the Aristotlean physics. With this strong connection between astrology and physics, the long history of philosophical process and interpretations  begins, through which astrology enters in the image of the world passed by the ancient world, through the intermediation of the Arab culture, to the Europe of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is the same link, to make some example, which make possible to Saint Thomas Aquinas to devote to astrology so  many pages of his Summa Theologiae to the astrological knowledge, and adopt the saying “astra inclinant, non necessitant.”   (( Paul Choisnard, Saint-Thomas d’Aquin et l’influence des astres (Paris: Ed. Traditionnelles, 1983).  ))

It will be in fact the philosophical interpretation of the new science, which characterizes the culture of XVII century, especially the Cartesian mechanicism, with its destruction of Aristotlean theory of the elements, and its radical refusal of the ideas of forces and energy, to make impossible between scholars astrology. It is mechanicism of the XVII century, not Copernican revolution, the reason of the eclipse of astrology and the refusal given to the ancient art from the world of the science and philosophy.

Even so, not even this refusal has not really signified of this discipline, which slowly got again scholars’ attention, especially the ones more attentive to a vision of nature where there is room for energies, forces, mutual attraction: Goethe and his careful reading of his birthchart is an example.

On the 28th of August, 1749, at mid-day, as the clock struck twelve, I came into the world, at Frankfort-on-the-Main. My horoscope was propitious: the sun stood in the sign of the Virgin, and had culminated for the day; Jupiter and Venus looked on him with a friendly eye, and Mercury not adversely; while Saturn and Mars kept themselves indifferent; the moon alone, just full, exerted the power of her reflection all the more, as she had then reached her planetary hour. She opposed herself, therefore, to my birth, which could not be accomplished until this hour was passed.

These good aspects, which the astrologers managed subsequently to reckon very auspicious for me, may have been the causes of my preservation; for, through the unskilfulness of the midwife, I came into the world as dead; and only after various efforts was I enabled to see the light. This event, which had put our household into sore straits, turned to the advantage of my fellow-citizens, inasmuch as my grandfather, the Schultheis. ((Johann Goethe, Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit, translated by John Oxenford ))

But only at the end of XIX and the beginning of the XX century astrology will come back – in smaller groups than in the past, to be practiced.  Many will ask support to statistical researches in order to solve the problem of the control of astrological diagnosis, while they look at physics, astrophysics, earth magnetism, cosmical clocks, magnetic tails, in order to think in new ways the ancient idea of cosmical influences.

The same line is the one Jung showed in 1952, in a page which focuses the attention on the link between the perturbations of the  earth magnetism, the obscillations of the Sun proton radiation and different planetary aspects.

This observation opens un unexpected possibility on the causal premise of astrology: in every case for Kepler’s weather astrology. It is possible that beyond the physical effects of the proton radiation already confirmed, it could have psychic effects, which devoid astrology from their casual nature and put it inside a causal scheme. Even if we don’t exactly  know what makes an birth chart working, the possibility of  a causal relationship between planetary positions and physical and psychical inclinations is becoming a credible option. (( Carl Gustav Jung, Synchronicity:An Acausal Connecting Principle, 1952 ))

Translated by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2010. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.




5 thoughts on “astronomy and astrology in the age of scientific revolution

  1. thank you for a very interesting and informative article – my mind is hanging on some words I have never heard before – astrolatry, astromantic – and allowing me to place clearly the replacement of psychic with scientific. It seems now, computer language has pushed itself to the extreme and we are longing for the poetry once more.

  2. thank so much for the feedback.
    You can find some explication of the technical meaning of those words, in the lecture of Prof. Panaino I translated for this blog- the link is between RELATED POSTS.
    And yes, we are longing for poetry …

  3. Dear Margherita

    thank you for this interesting posting.It is true indeed that it is Rene Descartes, who can be held responsible for this fatal division. It was he, who divided the world into mind and matter. Suddenly there was an outer, objective, material realm which was opposed to the inner, subjective, mental realm. He created a space in which events could happen separately, independently, outside of us. How could the relation between macro- and microcosm, and with it all the other correspondences, survive? Well, we know, how it all ended anyway, don’t we.


  4. Yes, as I wrote to someone else, I’m not entirely happy with Faracovi conclusions, but I mostly agree with her: in 1600 new science and old astrology were evidently still dear friends.
    It’s not a case that astrology now practiced is the modern version of the new Egyptian and hermetic astrology (as Faracovi calls it in one of her books), not Ptolemaic one. Ptolemy connected so tightly his astrology to Aristotle, that it’s difficult for us coming back to Ptolemy, even if his book was surely the most read astrology book. But see for example where is the heart of traditional astrologers now….surely not with him.

  5. Albert Enstien’s theory of space-time and the Frame-dragging by
    planets when they move around and even when their space-time
    frames may overlap with each other.
    Is it possible to take relevance of this theory in scientifically
    explain the true process of Astrology?

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