Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of January 7th - January 13th,  2011

Enlarging Its Horizon

Columns Archive


  Astrology is the black sheep of the academic community. Like the crazy aunt that is shut away and never talked about above a whisper, astrology has been relegated to the closet of Time, an intentional outcast.


Ptolemy's work on Astrology

  The problem is, the blood line is still there. We can't seem to shake loose from the academic roots of history.

  Ptolemy set the stage, when he segregated his principal works into the Almagest and Tetrabiblos. The former we would characterize as a text book on astronomy, while the latter was a text book on astrology. Ptolemy did not separate these two topics because he felt one was good and the other bad, rather, he categorized them into subject matter, describing the mechanics of celestial motion in the first work, and their influence on us here on Earth in the other. It would be similar to studying a text on veterinary medicine, and having a chapter on sheep and another on cows. Ptolemy was an avid astrologer (which is why he wrote the Tetrabiblos), and he certainly showed no ill-will towards the subject.

  Nevertheless, in the annuls of academic study, automatic disqualification has been the norm, with the default switch being set to 'off.' An invisible wedge of 'attitude' has tainted astrological insights.

  From the author's introduction to 'Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans,' 1960, by Franz Cumont.

  "Our object in this course of lectures shall be limited to showing how oriental astrology" (mostly coming from the Chaldeans in Babylon, east of Greece) "and star-worship transformed the beliefs of the Graeco-Latin world, what at different periods was the ever-increasing strength of their influence, and by what means they established in the West a sidereal cult, which was the highest phase of ancient paganism."

Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans

19th century Stellar Doctrine

  Well, at least he got that straight. Astrology did indeed rise to the highest phase of ancient paganism. But Franz believes, and he is not alone in this philosophy, that astrology did not infiltrate the Greek pantheon until the 4th and 5th centuries BC, centuries after the 'classic' works of Homer and Hesiod had been composed in the 8th century BC. About the end game and astrology there is little doubt. The question lies, when did stellar associations first begin to mold Greek thought. Here's the outline as Franz continues. Check out the attitude here:

  "But at the end of the nineteenth century the development of history, from various sides, recalled the attention of investigators to ancient astrology. It is an exact science which was superimposed on primitive beliefs, and when classical philology, enlarging its horizon, brought fully within its range of observation the development of the sciences of antiquity, it could not set aside a branch of knowledge, illegitimate, I allow, but indissolubly linked not only with astronomy and meteorology, but also with medicine, botany, ethnography, and physics. If we go back to the earliest stages of every kind of learning, as far as the Alexandrine and even the Babylonian period, we shall find almost everywhere the disturbing influence of these astral "mathematics." This sapling, which shot up among the rank weeks by the side of the tree of knowledge, sprang from the same stock and mingled its branches with it.

  "But not only is astrology indispensable to the 'savant' who desires to trace the toilsome progress of reason in the pursuit of truth along its doublings and turnings, - which is perhaps the highest mission of history; it also benefited by the interest which was roused in all manifestations of the irrational. This pseudo-science is in reality a creed. Beneath the icy crust of a cold and rigid dogma run the troubled waters of a jumble of worships, derived from an immense antiquity; and as soon as enquiry was directed to the religions of the past, it was attracted to this doctrinal superstition, perhaps the most astonishing that has ever existed. Research ascertained how, after having reigned supreme in Babylonian, it subdued the cults of Syria and of Egypt, and under the Empire,- to mention only the West,- transformed even the ancient paganism of Greece and Rome.


Ptolemy wrote several works on the stars

  It is not only, however, because it is combined with scientific theories, nor because it enters into the teaching of pagan mysteries, that astrology forces itself on the meditations of the historian of religions, but for its own sake (and here we touch the heart of the problem), because he is obliged to enquire how and why this alliance, which at first sight seems monstrous, came to be formed between mathematics and superstition. It is no explanation to consider it merely a mental disease. Even then, to speak the truth, this hallucination, the most persistent which has ever haunted the human brain, would still deserve to be studied. If psychology to-day conscientiously applies itself to disorder of the memory and of the will, it cannot fail to interest itself in the ailments of the faculty of belief, and specialists in lunacy will do useful work in dealing with this species of morbid manifestation with the view of settling its etiology and tracing its course. How could this absurd doctrine arise, develop, spread, and force itself on superior intellects for century after century? There, in all its simplicity, is the historical problem which confronts us." pp. xii-xiii

  The guy's on a quest! Stamp out the stars!

  Unfortunately, he was not alone in his sentiments. Sir James Frasier expresses similar sentiments in his introduction to Apollordorus.

  Now we all know that academic learning is supposed to be unbiased. This is the essential balance of all empirical learning, that it be objective and untainted, otherwise the system is subject to tampering and loses its ability to discern 'truth.' While Dr. Cumont acknowledges astrology rose to the top of the pagan world (and therefore of academic value), he makes no apologies about throwing sticks and stones.

  ...which at first sight seems monstrous...

  ...the disturbing influence of these astral 'mathematics'...

  ...this pseudo-science...

  ...absurd doctrine...

  ...a branch of knowledge, illegitimate, I allow...

  ...this doctrinal superstition, perhaps the most astonishing that has ever existed...

  ...this hallucination, the most persistent which has ever haunted the human brain...

  ...specialists in lunacy will do useful work in dealing with this species of morbid manifestation...

  So while Prof. Cumont is not quite the professional we had hoped to find, he does get down to the essential root. It is the current academic belief that astrology finally...

  ...transformed even the ancient paganism of Greece and Rome...

  OK. Now we're going to look at this from two angles; one from the pagan point of view, and one from a Biblical point of view.

Homeric Hymns of Hesiod

Hesiod and Mars,
(Greek Ares) the planet

  First, let's cut through the 4th and 5th century misconception. Our two earliest Greek writers are Homer and Hesiod. Our Greek historical records do not go back further than this.

  In Hesiod, there is obvious evidence that the gods and planets, in their earliest historical references, are linked. Hesiod's Hymn to Ares is fairly short, and demonstrates the point, so I will reproduce it here in its entirety.

  "Ares, exceeding in strength, chariot-rider, golden-helmed, doughty in heart, shield-bearer, Saviour of cities, harnessed in bronze, strong of arm, unwearying, mighty with the spear, O defence of Olympus, father of warlike Victory, ally of Themis, stern governor of the rebellious, leader of righteous men, sceptred King of manliness, who whirl your fiery sphere among the planets in their sevenfold courses through the aether wherein your blazing steeds ever bear you above the third firmament of heaven; hear me, helper of men, giver of dauntless youth! Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to read the ways of blood-curdlling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death."    Q.E.D.

  There you go. Academic evidence of the planets being tied to the Gods (or to the God Mars), at the cultural headwaters of Greek civilization.

  So much for those sentiments.

  Now, as to the Biblical response. Try Acts 5:39.

  "If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God."

  The most persistent hallucination which has ever haunted the human brain, indeed.

  Hasn't broken up yet!


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