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Research Sources For Astrology

General Discussion

This reference bibliography is organized chronologically and by cultures. Astrology has a long, complex history, going back to pre-history. But one of the most interesting aspects of that history is the way in which the most diverse societies have adapted it to indigenous purposes. Astrology is important in both the United States and in India, but exactly because they are such different societies, their respective astrologies are different as well. An emphasis in this bibliography is archaeo-astronomy, that is, discerning and understanding astrological or astronomical symbolism in ancient buildings and other artifacts, and especially the zodiac decorations found in ancient Roman synagogues.

The first section is given over to reference works, general histories of astrology and to bibliographies of astrology in various times and places. Section two is on astrology in the Ancient Near East, primarily Mesopotamia, where astrology came into being. The third portion is about astrology in Classical culture, that is, in the world of Greece and Rome, including the Greco-Roman Near East. Section four is on Jewish astrology, from the days of the Israelite kingdoms down to modern times. Five deals with the attitudes of the early Christians toward astrology, from the time of the apostles to the end of the Roman Empire, while Six deals with astrology in the following Islamic Empire. Section Seven is on astrology in India from the third century CE to the present. Section Eight, on Chinese astrology, is a new addition to this bibliography, and is a pioneering effort, I believe. Section Nine is a brief account of New World or Native American astrology. Ten takes us back to the West, and the role of astrology in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. The eleventh segment is about astrology in modern times, since the rise of modern science in the later seventeenth century, and a twelfth and final section gives links to other scholarly Web sites, with other scholarly bibliographies.

Each work is listed alphabetically by author's surname, within its section. Annotations are in curly brackets {}, if another person's opinion, in quotation marks " ". In general I follow University of Chicago Manual of Style.

Astrology is usually linked to larger cosmologies. Western astrology began with an Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, but was dramatically affected by Hellenistic Greek cosmology. Ancient Mesopotamians believed that the universe and humanity had been made by superior beings, the gods, for their own purposes. They would sometimes signal their plans or desires to human beings by means of omens, messages in the form of occurences in the natural world. Mesopotamians looks for omens many places, including the sky. During the Neo-Assyrian dynasty of the first millennium BCE, sky omens became particularly important. Specialist scholars learned to predict when some omens would take place in the sky, inventing the horoscope.

After Mesopotamia was conquered by Alexander the Great, Greek scientists learned of Mesopotamian astronomy and astrology. They adopted them and modified them to fit their own cosmology. Such aspects of Hellenistic cosmology as the spherical universe, four element physics, and cosmic sympathy or idea that whatever happened in one place, affected every other part of the universe, have remained important in astrology to modern times. Upon the basis of this cosmology, many new astrological practices were developed. When Hellenistic cosmology was replaced by Newtonian cosmology in the late seventeenth century, astrology lost respectability among scientists and other intellectuals, although it remained part of the mental furniture of many ordinary people down to the present. The twentieth century has seen a great revival of popular belief in astrology, but it has not regained belief among scientists.

Let me explain how I categorize astrological practices. The basic principle is that there is some connection between events in the sky and events on the earth.. "That which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above," in the words of The Emerald Tablet. But there are many ways of explaining this connection. One may consider the planets to be living, intelligent beings, gods or the messengers of gods. In that case, one may look at the rules of astrology as the habits of the planets, and try to ask them for favors, just like any other deity. This was the case in Mesopotamia, where the classical astrological tradition began. It remained a common assumption in magic and religion in the Greco-Roman Near East. I call this approach "religious" astrology. Modern "Western" ritual magicians and wiccan practitioners are twentieth century representatives.

On the other hand, one might look at the planets as impersonal sources of influences, e.g., Jupiter rays, not too different from gravity or electromagnetic rays. This approach tends to interpret astrology in terms of contemporary mathematics and physics. I call this approach "scientific" astrology. It is the most common approach in twentieth century "Western" countries.

Another way to group astrological practices is into "practical" and "symbolic" astrology. "Practical" astrology is meant to do something for a client. A horoscope to decide the best day for a business trip, or a prayer to Mercury to make the clients eager to buy are clearly practical, in the same way that marketing surveys are today. "Symbolic" astrology uses astrological imagery to praise one's king or one's god. Thus, when Nero arranged to have a rotating ceiling, with paintings of the constellations, in the dining hall of the Golden House, the message was clear: the universe revolves around Nero. One of the Sasanian Persian kings, Khusrau Parviz, did the same thing with his throne-room some centuries later.

"Symbolic" astrology was particularly common in religious art, making the zodiac one of the most common motifs in Greco- Roman art. At Palmyra, for example, the Temple of Bel has Bel surrounded by the seven planet-gods, all within a circle of the twelve signs of the zodiac. The message was that Bel rules the world through the powers of astrology, i.e., Bel is powerful. In a private tomb at Palmyra, we find Dionysus in a zodiac. Again, the message is: Dionysus is powerful. Similar symbolism is especially common in the Roman Near East, and is found in Jewish and (rarely) Christian art. This is how I interpret the synagogue zodiacs, mentioned above: the LORD is powerful and takes care of His people.

Astrology has not had many historians. The major ones can be named easily. This is a strange phenomenon, for on the one hand, astrology did and does play an important role in politics. Historians of Renaissance politics, for example, must take astrologers seriously. But more typically, historians such as Bouché-Leclercq and Neugebauer were forced to defend their field as worthwhile even though astrology did not work. Bouché-Leclercq memorably wrote that it is not a waste of time to know how others have wasted theirs (L'Astrologie grecque, ix). There is a traditional hostility toward astrology by both astronomers and historians of science. Oddly, chemists do not seem to be as hostile towards alchemy. The great Collection des alchemistes grecs was edited by one of the most eminent chemists of his day, Marcellin Berthelot (3 Vols., Paris: 1887-88; repr., 3 Vols. in 1, London:, 1963). Bouché-Leclercq was envious (L'Astrologie grecque, ix). Perhaps the hostility exists because astrology is still a living practice, a real competitor for popular respect and patronage. I hope that the traditional hostility may be dying among historians and social scientists and that a true understanding of this influential practice and belief.