Astrolatry is the worship of stars and other heavenly bodies as deities, or the association of deities with heavenly bodies. The most common instances of this are sun gods and moon gods in polytheistic systems worldwide. Also notable is the association of the planets with deities in Babylonian, and hence in Greco-Roman religion, viz. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The term astro-theology is used in the context of 18th to 19th century scholarship aiming at the discovery of the original religion, particularly primitive monotheism. Unlike astrolatry, which usually implies polytheism, frowned upon as idolatrous by Christian authors since Eusebius, astrotheology is any "religious system founded upon the observation of the heavens", and in particular, may be monotheistic. Gods, goddesses, and demons may also be considered personifications of astronomical phenomena such as lunar eclipses, planetary alignments, and apparent interactions of planetary bodies with stars. Astro-theology is used by Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell and Andrew Rutajit (2006) in reference to "the earliest known forms of religion and nature worship", advocating the entheogen theory of the origin of religion.
Babylonian astronomy from early times associates stars with deities, but the heavens as the residence of an anthropomorphic pantheon, and later of monotheistic God and his retinue of angels, is a later development, gradually replacing the notion of the pantheon residing or convening on the summit of high mountains. Sayce (1913) argues a parallelism of the "stellar theology" of Babylon and Egypt, both countries absorbing popular star-worship into the official pantheon of their respective state religions by identification of gods with stars or planets.
Astrolatry does not appear to have been common in the Levant prior to the Iron Age, and becomes popular under Assyrian influence. The Sabaeans were notorious for their astrolatry, for which reason the practice is also known as "Sabaism" or "Sabaeanism". Similarly, the Chaldeans came to be seen as the prototypical astrologers and star-worshippers by the Greeks.
The term astro-theology appears in the title of a 1714 work by William Derham, Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens based on the author's observations by means of "Mr. Huygens' Glass". Derham thought that the stars were openings in the firmament through which he thought he saw the Empyrean beyond. The 1783 issue of The New Christian's magazine had an essay entitled Astro-theology which argued the "demonstration of sacred truths" from "a survey of heavenly bodies" in the sense of the watchmaker analogy. Edward Higginson (1855) argues a compatibility of "Jewish Astro-theology" of the Hebrew Bible, which places God and his angelic hosts in the heavens, with a "Scientific Astro-theology" based on observation of the cosmos.
Manly P Hall (1901–1990), mystic and a 33rd degree mason, taught that each of the three Abrahamic faiths has a planet that governs that religion. Judaism is Saturn: the symbol of Judaism is a hexagram symbol of Saturn, and the day of worship is on Saturday, day of Saturn. Christianity is the Sun: the symbol of Christianity is the cross symbol of the Sun, and the day of worship is Sunday, day of the Sun. Islam is Venus: the symbol of Islam is the star and crescent (the star commonly thought to represent Venus), and the day of worship is on Friday.
Prohibition in Abrahamic religions
The Hebrew Bible contains repeated reference to astrolatry. Thus, Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3 contains a stern warning against worshipping the sun, moon, stars or any of the heavenly host. Relapse into worshipping the host of heaven, i.e. the stars, is said to have been the cause of the fall of the kingdom of Judah in II Kings 17:16. King Josiah in 621 BC is recorded as having abolished all kinds of idolatry in Judah, but astrolatry was continued in private (Zeph. 1:5; Jer. 8:2, 19:13). Ezekiel (8:16) describes sun-worship practiced in the court of the temple of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah (44:17) claims that even after the destruction of the temple, women in particular insisted on continuing their worship of the "queen of heaven".
Augustine of Hippo criticized sun- and star-worship in De Vera Religione (37.68) and De civitate Dei (5.1–8). Pope Leo the Great also denounced astrolatry, and the cult of Sol Invictus, which he contrasted with the Christian nativity.
Despite such prohibitions, Dorothy M. Murdock, a proponent of the study, has released books on the subject and teaches the connections between the solar allegory and the life of Christ. She also goes beyond the astronomical comparisons and postulates ties between the origins of many of the early Abrahamic religions to ancient mythologies of that in Egypt, Rome, and Greece.
Strong prohibition of Astrolatry is mentioned in the Quran through Prophet Abrahim observation of celestial bodies whose worship was common in Babylonian religion of that time.
Below is the reference from Al-Quran, Surah Anaam, chapter 6, verses 75–80
75. Thus did we show Ibrahim (Abraham) the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have Faith with certainty.
76. When the night covered him over with darkness he saw a star. He said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "I like not those that set."
77. When he saw the moon rising up, he said: "This is my lord." But when it set, he said: "Unless my Lord guides me, I shall surely be among the erring people."
78. When he saw the sun rising up, he said: "This is my lord. This is greater." But when it set, he said: "O my people! I am indeed free from all that you join as partners in worship with Allah.
79. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism, i.e. worshipping none but Allah Alone) and I am not of Al-Mushrikun (see V.2:105)".
80. His people disputed with him. He said: "Do you dispute with me concerning Allah while He has guided me, and I fear not those whom you associate with Allah in worship. (Nothing can happen to me) except when my Lord (Allah) wills something. My Lord comprehends in His Knowledge all things. Will you not then remember?
Al-Quran, Surah Anaam (chapter 6, verse 75–80)
- OED, citing Derham (1714) as the first attestation of the term.
- Archibald Henry Sayce, The religion of ancient Egypt, Adamant Media Corporation, 1913, 237f.
- Michael J. Crowe, Modern theories of the universe: from Herschel to Hubble, Courier Dover Publications, 1994, ISBN 978-0-486-27880-3, p. 67.
- Maurice Casey Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? T&T Clark 2014 p21-22
- William Derham, Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens, printed by W. and J. Innys, 1721
- Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell, Andrew Rutajit, Astrotheology and Shamanism, Book Tree, 2006, ISBN 978-1-58509-107-2.
- D.M. Murdock, pen name Acharya S., The Christ Con: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Adventures Unlimited, 1999, ISBN 0-932813-74-7.
- Edward Higginson, Astro-theology; or, The religion of astronomy: four lectures, in reference to the controversy on the "Plurality of worlds," as lately sustained between Sir David Brewster and an essayist, E.T. Whitfield, 1855.
- Jewish Encyclopedia, Star-worship
- Blackwell Reference Online, Star-Worship (Astrolatry, Sabaism)
- Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science