Some words of insight on Astrology below, a Pseudoscience I enjoy to ponder on. It is – was – the beginning of Astronomy.
Artist: Lila Violet
Astrology is the oldest and at the same time currently the most popular of all pseudoscience’s. The origins of astrology can be traced back 3,000 years, to ancient Babylonia. The existence of large cities depends on efficient and reliable agriculture, and therefore on an accurate calendar, so that farmers know when to plant, when to harvest, etc. The astronomical observations required to construct a calendar and maintain its accuracy were the task of Babylonia’s priesthood. Since the observers were priests, it seems natural that their names for the objects in the sky they found most useful for calendar purposes corresponded to the names of the immortal gods in the Babylonian pantheon. We still use these god-names for the planets, although our names (Mars, Venus, Jupiter, etc.) are for the Roman counterparts of the Babylonian gods (Nergal, Ishtar, Marduk, etc.). It was not just a matter of easy-to-remember names: the planets, in some sense, were the gods they were named for.
This blend of astronomy and religion led, by about 1,000 BC, to an extensive literature of “planetary omens.” Since Nergal (Mars) was the god of wars and bloody battle, a summer in which Nergal shown down brightly from the sky was a good time to wage war (or a time in which risk of war was great). Since Ishtar (Venus) was the goddess of sexual love, a spring night in which Ishtar hung high in the west after sunset was a good time to for mating, creating new birth of life.
By about 600 BC the Babylonians had devised the twelve-sign zodiac: markers in the sky along the ecliptic, the apparent path along which the sun, moon, and five “naked-eye” planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — move in the sky. The “horoscope,” a crude chart of the positions of the planets along the zodiac at a given moment of time, was devised soon after. The oldest known horoscope was made for April 29, 410 BC. During the classical era dominated by first Greece and then Rome, Babylonian astrologers (called “Chaldeans”) set up shop in most of the large urban areas throughout the civilized world. Greek astronomers scoffed at the Chaldean cults as a ludicrous combination of primitive astronomy and primitive religion, but to no avail — the Greek and later the Roman public embraced astrology.
During the early Middle Ages, astrology became essentially extinct in Europe, though kept alive by Islamic scholars. The Crusades brought the heritage of Greek and Roman culture back to Europe and astrology tagged along, co-existing uneasily with Christianity until the dawn of the age of science. The explosive growth of scientific astronomy from 1600 AD onward paralleled a steady decline in the public interest in astrology.
But astrology made its strongest comeback in all of history in the early 1930s when British astrologer R. H. Naylor invented the daily newspaper horoscope column. Soon every newspaper had such a column and every town several practicing astrologers. The paradoxical result is that the “heyday” of astrology was not during the “benighted” Middle Ages, when the average person was sunk deep in ignorance and superstition, and kept there by illiteracy and the rarity of books. Rather, astrology’s peak popularity comes at a time when most citizens presumably know the basic facts of astronomy, and are well aware from space-probe photos in the daily newspapers and on TV that the other planets are worlds more or less similar to the earth, and not mystical god-fires in the sky.
At the present time, at least 90% of all Americans under 30 are said to know their “sun-sign.”