The Fated Sky: Astrology in History

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9780743268950: The Fated Sky: Astrology in History
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From ancient times to the present day, astrology has captured the imagination -- is it possible that human fate is influenced by the stars? Astrologers throughout the ages have advised the powerful, from popes to presidents to royalty, and their influence can be seen as a hidden history behind the great events of the past. In The Fated Sky, historian Benson Bobrick writes the first serious history of astrology and takes a fascinating look at its origins and impact on human events.

Astrology is the origin of science itself, as astronomy, mathematics, and other disciplines arose in part to make possible the calculations necessary in casting horoscopes. In earlier times, it was a science that won the respect and allegiance of the greatest thinkers and rulers of the ancient world, and eventually claimed adherents among the great astronomers of the scientific revolution -- Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton among them. Statesmen such as Churchill and de Gaulle consulted astrologers, and St. Thomas Aquinas thought astrology not incompatible with Christian doctrine. It is even said the Incas submitted to the Spanish conquistadors without a fight because their arrival coincided with an astrological prophecy. And astrology permeates our cultural consciousness, from references in the Bible and Shakespeare to expressions such as "ill-starred" or "lucky stars."

Rich in historical anecdote and astrological lore, The Fated Sky shows us that while the true power of astrology may be open to debate, the belief in its power has been -- and continues to be -- an enduring and intriguing influence on history and the history of ideas.

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About the Author:

Benson Bobrick earned his doctorate from Columbia University and is the author of several critically acclaimed works, including Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired and Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution. In 2002 he received the Literature Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He and his wife, Hilary, live in Vermont.

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Chapter One

America would never have been discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 had it not been for the thought of Arab astrologers in Baghdad in the 9th century A.D. When Columbus set sail on the great western voyage that carried him to America's shores, he had biblical prophecy to inspire him, Arab astrology to guide him, and various practical aids that three continental astrologers, who were also mathematicians, had supplied: the planetary tables of Regiomontanus; a map drawn up by Paolo Toscanelli; and an ephemeris prepared by Samuel Zacuto, who later made the splendid astrolabe of iron used by Vasco da Gama in his voyage around the Cape of Good Hope. These were all of use to Columbus in his celestial calculations and his navigation of the open sea. He also used an astrolabe and quadrant to determine the altitude of stars, set his hourglass by the transits of the Sun, depended on the North Star to fix magnetic north, and judged the time of night by the constellation of the Great Bear. He overawed the natives of one island by his ability to predict a lunar eclipse, and drew with some success on astrological lore to predict the weather -- taking his ships to shelter, for example, in the port of Santo Domingo because an aspect between Jupiter and Mercury seemed to portend a tropical storm. Yet Columbus could not proceed solely by the sky. Knowledge of celestial navigation in Europe was wanting, and so, for the most part, he relied on a magnetic compass to measure his course or direction, and on his own method of "dead" or deduced reckoning to estimate his position on the main.

But it was the stars that led him on. Columbus understood that the world was a globe and believed that by sailing directly west he would eventually reach the shores of Asia (or the "Indies"). He could not know, of course, that America intervened. But it was not the fabled wealth of the Indies that held him most in thrall. For the voyage itself was spurred on by an astrological idea. That idea was the "great conjunction" theory of history, as first set forth in the writings of the Persians, elaborated by the Arabs, and adopted by the Latin West. Columbus had encountered it in the work of the French cardinal, theologian, and astrologer Pierre d'Ailly.

According to this theory, important historical events such as the rise and fall of empires, the birth of religions, and cultural transformations were marked by the "great planetary conjunctions" of Jupiter and Saturn as they revolved through their cycles in the sky. Such great conjunctions occurred once every 960 years -- a principal source of our idea of the millennium -- as the planets completed a circuit of the zodiac, combining and recombining in the signs. In the course of that round, the two conjoined -- that is, occupied the same degree of celestial longitude -- forty-eight times. For d'Ailly, human history was explained by the unfolding impact of these conjunctions, according to their scale. Shifts between triplicities or elements (earth, air, fire, and water, by which the signs of the zodiac were grouped) were associated with dynastic change; the greater or near-millennial conjunctions were linked to epochal change as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes and overwhelming floods. In d'Ailly's view, such great conjunctions had heralded or coincided with the Great Flood, the fall of Troy, the death of Moses, the foundation of Rome, and the advent of Christ. "All astronomers are agreed in this," he declared, "that there never was one of those conjunctions without some great and notable change in this world."

D'Ailly's work had convinced Columbus that the end of the world was near, and that it would be accompanied by the conversion of all heathenkind to Christ. For that reason, he called himself Christophorus (or "Christo-ferens," as he came to sign his name), "the Christ-bearer," and conceived himself the agent of God's work as the world approached its final days. All this he explained in a letter to his royal patrons, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. He wrote of the Indies: "These vast realms are peopled with immortal souls, for whose redemption Christ, the Son of God, has made an atoning sacrifice. It is the mission which God has assigned to me to search them out, and to carry to them the Gospel of Salvation." He took as his text Isaiah 11:10-12 -- "The Lord shall...recover the remnant of his people...and gather together the dispersed...from the four corners of the earth" -- and his historic first voyage itself seemed emblematic of that charge.

On the morning of August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail with three small ships -- the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María -- from Palos, Spain, and steered for the Canary Islands, where he reprovisioned before striking due west. After a difficult voyage of two months with a near-mutinous crew, on October 12 he at length sighted land. At two o'clock in the morning, a gun was fired to give the signal. All three vessels then took in their sails and laid to, "waiting impatiently for the dawn." Upon making landfall, "the voice of prayer and the melody of praise rose from his ships," and his own first action was to prostrate himself upon the ground. To Columbus, his journey's end was heaven-sent. For their part, the natives on the small Bahamian island were not wholly mistaken, perhaps, when they cried out at dawn to their brethren, "Come see the people from the sky."

Columbus would later say that he owed all he had achieved to the grace of God and "God-given" arts of astrology, geometry, navigation, and arithmetic.

His own heavily annotated copy of d'Ailly's work, Treatise on the Image of the World, may still be seen in the Columbine Library at Seville.

***

According to an ancient tradition, common to both Gnostic and Syriac Christians as well as to the Persians and Jews, Adam received the doctrines and mysteries of astrology directly from the Creator, and by knowledgeably scanning the constellations in the skies foretold that the world would one day be destroyed by water, then by fire. As a memorial to those who came after him, he (or his descendants, Seth and Enoch) had this knowledge engraved upon two pillars, one of brick, the other of stone. According to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian and near contemporary of Christ, the second pillar could still be seen in Syria in a.d. 63.

Astrology is the oldest of the occult sciences. It is also the origin of science itself. From astrology are derived astronomy, calculation of time, mathematics, medicine, botany, mineralogy, and (by way of alchemy) modern chemistry, among other disciplines. Logarithms were originally devised to simplify the calculations necessary in casting horoscopes; the ray theory of vision -- the foundation of modern optics -- developed from astrological theories of the effect of stellar rays on the soul. For five thousand years, from ancient Sumeria and Babylonia to the present day, the stars have been viewed as shaping, by divine power, the course and destiny of human affairs. Indeed, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the earliest symbol of deity known to us -- the cuneiform sign for "god" -- was a star (*).

Astrological terms permeate our language: conjunction, opposition, forecast, aspect, lunatic, venereal, disaster, influence -- as in influenza, since all epidemics were once ascribed to celestial effects; we speak of "mercurial," "saturnine," or "jovial" temperaments; and people thank their "lucky stars," or consider a person "ill-starred" if his luck is bad. The Hebrew word mazzal means "sign" or constellation; so "Mazzal tov" (the colloquial "Congratulations!") really means, "May you have good stars!" The term fall is astrological, for the fall or autumn equinox marks the descendant of the zodiac year; and revolution is taken from an astrological calculation called a "solar return." The star-shaped halo that once encompassed the Roman emperor's posthumous image -- according to the belief that he ascended to heaven as a star -- was later transformed into the halo of the Christian saint. The pharmaceutical symbol Rx -- commonly said to be an abbreviation for the Latin verb recipere (from which we get recipe or compound) -- is derived from the ancient symbol for the Roman god Jupiter, based on the "Eye" of Horus, an Egyptian god with magical healing powers.

***

Astronomy studies the heavenly bodies in order to formulate the natural laws that govern them and to understand how the physical structure of the universe evolved; astrology describes the influence of those bodies upon human character and life. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reputedly remarked, "Astrology is astronomy brought down to earth and applied to the affairs of men." It is an applied science, insofar as it is based on astronomy; an exact science, insofar as its judgments are based on mathematical calculations; and an empirical science, insofar as its deductions are based on data gathered over the course of time.

Its method is a horoscope, which is a map or diagram of the heavens cast for a particular moment of time, and read according to well-established rules. Those rules, if properly applied, are free from the elements of chance or divination; moreover, they are substantially based on a written tradition that derives its authority not just from dogma and belief, but from thousands of years of observation. The idea at the heart of astrology is that the pattern of a person's life -- or character, or nature -- corresponds to the planetary pattern at the moment of his birth. Such an idea is as old as the world is old -- that all things bear the imprint of the moment they are born.

Whether this is true or not may be subject to debate. But the belief that it is has proved to have enduring power.

Astrology in modern times has undergone a remarkable resurgence, and is now (as Carl Jung predicted it would) knocking again at the doors of academe. Astrologers are attempting to verify traditional doctrine by scientific methods and in general to meet the demand of Johannes Kepler (...

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Astrology is the oldest of the occult sciences, and it has had an unshakeable hold on the human mind for centuries. Universities, such as Oxford and the Sorbonne, offer courses on it. In THE FATED SKY Benson Bobrick gives us a fascinating history of the discipline that Ralph Waldo Emerson called astronomy brought down to earth and applied to the affairs of men. Notable Greeks and Romans fervently believed in astrology. St. Augustine condemned it, but St. Thomas Aquinas thought astrology not incompatible with Christian faith. Shakespeare accepted it, and when Edmund Halley disparaged astrology, Isaac Newton said to him, I, sir, have studied the subject, and you have not. All the great Renaissance astronomers believed in the influence of the stars and planets over human affairs. In more recent times, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Ronald Reagan consulted astrologers. As Carl Jung predicted, astrology is again a subject of serious study, and now Benson Bobrick has written the first complete history of the world s oldest subject. Seller Inventory # BZV9780743268950

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