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.
IT is incorrect to suppose that astrology has no votaries at the present time. Zadkiel's Almanac, which has been published for nearly forty consecutive years, sells more than one hundred and twenty thousand copies per annum, and it is not a publication which ignorant persons could understand,—nor does it appear to appeal to that class. The "Saturday Review" for July 4, 1863, says: "Without doubt there are a million of people who have some sort of confidence in Zadkiel; certainly there is ample encouragement to them in the countenance afforded Zadkiel by the great and wise and learned of the land." This writer also states that " society believes in astrology." It is quite possible that this is exaggerated, for " society " affects the study of all strange or new things. If its interest in a passing novelty or new aspect of something old should be allowed any value as indicating what it " believed," it might be held to accept almost anything.
I should not, however, think it a prudent economy of effort to treat astrology merely to delay its final disappearance. It is because the exhibition of its principles and methods will afford us almost indispensable aid in accounting for and explaining certain conditions of current thought, that it is worthy of investigation.
Goethe's autobiography commences with these words:
On the 29th of August, 1749, at midday, as the clock struck 12, 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 un-skillfulness of the midwife, I came into the world as dead, and only after various efforts was I enabled to see the light.
This mighty intellect, representing, according to Madame de Stael, in himself alone the whole of German literature, whose knowledge, insight, sensibility, and imagination were so extraordinary as to elevate him for all time to the highest rank, appears to have been somewhat under the influence of that belief in astrology which, from earliest ages, had dominated the human mind, and from which, at the date of his birth, even the most enlightened, with comparatively few exceptions, had not been einancipated. For there was scarcely an extraordinary character in antiquity who did not believe in astrology. Hippocrates and Galen.— the first names in medicine,— Pythagoras, Democritus, and Thales gave it credit. Hippocrates said in substance that a physician who was ignorant of astrology deserved to be called a fool rather than a physician; and Galen, that no man should " trust himself to that physician, or rather pretender, who is not skilled in astrology." In China, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome it was universally accepted, while Chaldea was the center of its power.
There are many references to it in the Bible, such as "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera," and " Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" The Magi, who came from the East following the star of Christ, were astrologers. From some passages it seems probable that Daniel, who accepted the office of Chief of the Magi, studied the heavens and astrological books. Only when the astrologers contradicted the direct revelation of God's word were they specially condemned. On such occasions the prophets denounced them : though seeming to admit that there might be an influence from the stars, they declared that they could not prevail against the will of God—as when Jeremiah says, " Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them"; or the similar injunction by Isaiah, "Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognostica-tors, stand up, and save thee".
The ancient poets — ^Eschylus, Virgil, Horace, Homer, and many others—rose to the loftiest strains when praising astrology. In more modern times the chief physicians on the continent of Europe were astrologers, some of them most famous. One was Cardan of Milan, who was not only a physician but an algebraist. The "Text-book of Astrology" gives a list of eminent men in England who believed in astrology,— Roger Bacon; Duns Scotus; Baron Napier, the inventor of logarithms; Tycho Brahe; Francis Bacon; [!] Kepler; Flauistead, first Astronomer Royal; Sir Elias Ashmole, founder of the Ash-molean Museum. Chaucer was also a believer, and wrote a treatise on the astrolabe. John Dryden, skilled in the theory, computed the nativities of his children, and foretold certain severe accidents to his son Charles.
Astrology has exerted a powerful influence upon language and literature. Many words most frequently used are derived from astrology or kindred subjects —augur, augury, auspices, the common word talisman ; and especially influence. In literature appeals to the heavens are common, as well as references to stars as sources of prosperity.
Trench says we seem to affirm that we believe that the planet under which a man may happen to be born will affect his temperament, will make him for life of a disposition grave or gay, lively or severe. . . . For we speak of a person as "jovial," or "saturnine," or "mercurial"—jovial as being born under the planet Jupiter or Jove, which was the joyfullest star and of the happiest augury of all; a gloomy, severe person is said to be "saturnine" as born under the planet Saturn, who was considered to make those that owned his influence, and were born when he was in the ascendant, grave and stern as himself; another we call "mercurial," that is, light-hearted, as those born under the planet Mercury were accounted to be. The same faith in the influence of the stars survives, so far at least as words go, in " disaster," " disastrous," " ill-starred," "ascendant," "ascendancy," and, indeed, in the word "influence" itself.1
Or, again, do we keep in mind, or are we even aware, that whenever the word "influence" occurs in our English poetry, down to a comparatively modern date, there is always more or less remote allusion to the skyey, planetary influences supposed to be exercised by the heavenly luminaries upon men ? How many a passage starts into new life and beauty and fullness of allusion, when this is present with us! Even Milton's Store of ladies, whose bright eyes Rain influence, as spectators of tho tournament, gain something when wo regard them — and using this language, he intended we should — as the luminaries of this lower sphere, shedding by their propitious presence strength and valor into the hearts of their knights.2
1 Trench, " On the Study of Words." 2 Trench, " English Past and Present".
If we turn to Shakspere, we find the belief molding some of his most beautiful expressions:
Comets, importing change of times and states, Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky.
When Romeo and Juliet are married the prayer is:
So smile the heavens upon this holy act, That after hours with sorrow chide us not.
In one of the most frequently quoted passages of Shakspere the astrological reference is generally omitted:
In my stars I am above thee : . . . some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
From Byron astrologers quote a fine passage, using it as though he were a believer:
Ye stars! which are tho poetry of heaven, If in your bright leaves wo would read the fate Of men and empires — 't is to be forgiven That, in our aspirations to be great, Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state, And claim a kindred with you; for yo are A beauty and a mystery, and create In us such love and reverence from afar, That fortune, fame, power, life, have named themselves a star.
Dante, writing of Mars, says: With him shalt thou see.
That immortal who was at his birth impressed So strongly with this star, that of his deeds The nations shall take note.
And speaks in another place thus: Where the planets roll.
To pour their wished influence on the world.
Longfellow, in a passage which has touched many a parent's heart, says:
O child! O new-born denizen Of life's great city! on thy head The glory of the morn is shed, Like a celestial benison!
By what astrology of fear or hope Dare I to east thy horoscope!