This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
Astrologers maintain that if the coincidences had not been sufficient in number and character to prove an intimate connection between the stars and the fate of men, it would have been impossible to maintain faith in their system through so many ages. This claim is shown to be worthless by an examination of divination in general. In all countries and times this superstition has been practised, and to this day maintains itself in Asia and in various parts of the continent of Europe.
Divination was practised in almost innumerable ways, such as by observing the flight of birds, called Augury; the living human body, as Palmistry; dead bodies, as Aruspicy, the inspection of animals slain in sacrifice; Anthropomancy, the examination of a dead human being; by fire, Pyromancy, of which there were six varieties; by natural phenomena, thunder and lightning, air and winds and water; by mirrors and glasses; by letters and figures; and by direct appeals to chance. Besides these, salt, laurel, dough, meal, verses, dreams, and consulting the dead were used.
All these and many other methods were practised and held in highest reverence by many poets, philosophers, and warriors of Greece and Rome and other ancient nations. Coincidences as remarkable as any that astrologers boast followed the predictions of the diviners, and by these faith was maintained. In case of failure they quibbled and equivocated, after the manner of astrologers.
Cicero's treatise " On Divination," though written so long ago, exhausts the subject. That renowned work is frequently so misquoted as to place the authority of Cicero in favor of divination. There is an introduction, in which Cicero declares that:
It is an old opinion derived as far back as from the heroic times, and confirmed by the unanimous agreement of the Roman people, and indeed of all nations, that there is a species of divination in existence among men which the Greeks call that is to say, a presentiment and foreknowledge of future events. A truly splendid and serviceable gift if it only exists in reality.
In testing this opinion, he represents a discussion between his brother Quintus and himself. Quintus affirms that all nations have believed in divination. He asserts that when the statue of Plato, which stood on the top of the temple of Jupiter, was struck by lightning, and the head of the statue could not be found, the soothsayers said that it had been thrown down into the Tiber, and it was found in that very place; and that King Deiotarus never did anything without taking the auspices. An instance which he emphasizes is told of Tiberius Gracchus, an augur of the highest reputation, who, when two snakes were caught in his house, convoked the soothsayers. The answer which they gave him was that " if he let the male escape, his wife would die in a short time; but if he let the female escape, he would himself die: accordingly he let the female escape, and died in a few days".
One of the most striking passages concerns the oracle at Delphi:
Would, that oracle at Delphi have been so celebrated and illustrious, and so loaded with such splendid gifts from nations and kings, if all ages had not had experience of the truth of its predictions ?
Some theologians, who should know better, to this day quote this passage for their own purpose, and attribute it to Cicero.
When Cicero replies he opens with metaphysical considerations, maintaining that if things come by chance they cannot be divined, and if by fate they cannot be changed. He then considers the inspection of the entrails of victims, and says:
Coidd you persuade any man in his senses that those events which are said to be signified by the entrails are known by the augurs in consequence of a long series of observations f How long, I wonder ? For what period of time have such observations been continued ? What conferences must the augurs hold among themselves to determine which part of tho victim's entrails represents the enemy, and which the people ; what sort of cleft in the liver denoted danger, and what sort presaged advantage.
On the subject of the ox without the heart he asks:
How is it that you think it impossible that an animal can live without a heart, and yet do not think it impossible that its heart could vanish so suddenly, no one knows whither? For myself I know not how much vigor is necessary to carry on vital function, and suspect that if afflicted with any disease, the heart of a victim may be found so withered, and wasted, and small as to be quite uulike a heart.
He then tells him that in trying to prove the truth of the auguries he is overturning the whole system of physics, and concludes his argument in these words:
After having thus destroyed divination by tho inspection of entrails, all tho rest of tho science of tho soothsayers is at an end.
Of the head which was discovered he says:
Oh! But a head was found in tho Tiber. As if I affirmed that those soothsayers had no skill! What I deny is their divination.
He quotes the old saying of Cato, familiar enough to everybody, that ho wondered that when one soothsayer met another he could help laughing. For of all the events predictod by them, how very few happened! And when one of them does take placo, where is the proof that it does not take place by mere accident?
Cicero had little respect for the oracle of Delphi. He thus attacks it:
I now come to you, Apollo, monarch of the sacred center Of the great world, full of thy inspiration, The Pythian priestesses proclaim thy prophecies.
For Chrysippus lias filled an entire volume with your oracles, many of which, as I said before, I consider utterly false, and many others only true by accident, as often happens in any common conversation. Others, again, are so obscure and involved that their very interpreters have need of other interpreters; and the decisions of one lot have to be'referred to other lots. Another portion of them are so ambiguous that they require to be analyzed by the logic of dialecticians. Thus, when Fortune uttered tho followed oracle respecting Crcosus, the richest king of Asia, When Croesus has the Halys crossed, A mighty kingdom will be lost, that monarch expected he should ruin the power of his enemies; but the empire that he ruined wras his own. Whichever result had ensued, the oracle would have been true.
The use I make of divination is to show that in its diversified forms it was sustained by means similar to those employed by astrologers, and exerted the same kind of influence over the minds of men. Its supports were the occasional occurrence of striking coincidences which the superstition of the people accepted, while they were prevented from carefully examining the whole subject, both by fear of the consequences of unbelief to themselves personally, and by their habit of mind, which was in all respects the reverse of scientific. Also, many of the most powerful intellects were paralyzed by the opinion that if divination were given up belief in the gods must be renounced, and from that they shrank.
Many astrologers and diviners were undoubtedly wise men, acquainted with the laws of physics so far as they had been discovered, and with the progress of war and current events. They were as able to form rational conjectures of the future as any of their contemporaries. Some were masters of magic, skilful in sleight-of-hand, and were also capable of practising ventriloquism. When they exercised this knowledge and these powers they credited it to astrology or to the method of divination which they employed. As Lilly acknowledges, they saw by " discretion as well as art." The knowledge which they possessed in common with others of equal attainments, and the peculiar skill gained by long practice in observing the probable course of events, together with coincidences with casual but no causal connection, account for the apparent fulfilment of astrological and similar predictions.
To those who deny this there exists the same reason for believing in the various forms of divination as in astrology.