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Astrology is a system of divination founded on the notion that the relative positions of celestial bodies are signs of or—more controversially—causes of destiny, personality, human affairs, and natural events.[1][2] The primary astrological bodies are the sun, moon, and planets; although astrology is commonly characterized as "reading the stars", the stars actually play a minor role. The main focus is on the placement of the seven planets relative to each other and to the signs of the zodiac, though the system does allow reference to fixed stars, asteroids, comets, and various mathematical points of interest as well. As a craft, astrology is a combination of basic astronomy, numerology, and mysticism. In its modern form, it is a classic example of pseudoscience.

Historically, astrology was regarded as a technical and learned tradition, sustained in royal courts, cultural centers, and medieval universities, and closely related to the studies of alchemy, meteorology, and medicine. In fact, astrology and astronomy were often synonyms before the modern era, with the desire for predictive and divinatory knowledge one of the motivating factors for astronomical observation. Astronomy began to diverge from astrology in the Muslim world at the turn of the 2nd millennium, and in Europe from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment in 18th century. Eventually, astronomy distinguished itself as the empirical study of celestial objects and phenomena. In the latter half of the 20th century astrology experienced a resurgence of popular interest as a founding component of the New Age movement.

Astrologers have long debated the degree of determinism in astrology and the limits of its application. Some believe the planets control our fate directly, others that they influence us by determining our personalities, and these positions have been criticized for denying free will. Many contend that there is no direct influence, only an acausal correlation between the planets and human affairs.

The scientific community states that astrology's pseudoscientific status is due to making predictive claims which either cannot be falsified or have been consistently disproved. It cannot be classified as science because it lacks empirical support, supplies no hypotheses, and resolves to describe natural events in terms of scientifically untestable supernatural causes.[3][4][5] Psychology explains much of the continued faith in astrology as a matter of cognitive biases.[6][7][8][9]


The word "astrology" comes from the Latin term astrologia "astronomy",[10] which in turn derives from the Greek noun αστρολογία, from ἄστρον astron "constellation" or "celestial body" and -λογία -logia "the study of".

The Greek words ἄστρον astron and ἀστήρ astêr were both used for any point of light in the sky. The phrase πλάνητες ἀστέρες plánētes astéres "wandering stars" was applied to the seven visible planets (including the Sun and Moon) because of their observable movement against the fixed stars. Thus all were 'stars' in the Classical sense, explaining the prefix astro- in both astrology and astronomy.[11]

The word "starcraft" has been used as a synonym for astrology, and dates from an era when the English word "star" also covered the planets. The term "astromancy" is used specifically for the modern aspects of astrology, divination and prophecy, as opposed to the ancient astronomical aspects.[12]

Core beliefs[edit]

The core beliefs of astrology were prevalent in parts of the ancient world and are epitomized in the Hermetic maxim, "as above, so below". Tycho Brahe used a similar phrase to summarize his studies in astrology: suspiciendo despicio, "by looking up I see downward".[13]

There are several techniques of forecasting in Western astrology. Transits, the most popular, are based on the actual motion of planets moving through a sign or house within the horoscope. Another technique, progressions are based on the movements of the planets after birth, symbolically related to a time period or cycle of life. [14][15] Most Western astrologers no longer try to forecast actual events, but focus instead on general trends and developments. By comparison, Hindu astrologers predict both trends and events. Skeptics respond that this practice of western astrologers allows them to avoid making verifiable predictions, and gives them the ability to attach significance to arbitrary and unrelated events, in a way that suits their purpose.[16]

In the past, astrologers often relied on close observation of celestial objects and the charting of their movements. Modern astrologers use data provided by astronomers which are transformed to a set of astrological tables called ephemerides,[17] showing the changing zodiacal positions of the heavenly bodies through time.


Zodiac signs, 16th century European woodcut

Historically, alchemy in the Western World was particularly allied and intertwined with traditional Babylonian-Greek style astrology; in numerous ways they were built to complement each other in the search for occult or hidden knowledge.[18] Astrology has used the concept of the four classical elements of alchemy from antiquity up until the present day. Traditionally, each of the seven planets in the solar system known to the ancients was associated with, held dominion over, and "ruled" a certain metal.[19]

Horoscopic astrology[edit]

Horoscopic astrology is a system that some claim to have developed in the Mediterranean region and specifically Hellenistic Egypt around the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE.[20] The tradition deals with two-dimensional diagrams of the heavens, or horoscopes, created for specific moments in time.


15th century image from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry showing projected correlations between areas of the body and the zodiacal signs.

Many[who?] believe that the origins of much of the astrological doctrine and method that would later develop in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East are found among the ancient Babylonians and their system of celestial omens that began to be compiled around the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE.[21] They believe this system of celestial omens later spread, either directly or indirectly through the Babylonians and Assyrians, to other areas such as the Middle East, and Greece, where it merged with pre-existing indigenous forms of astrology.[22]

Before the modern era[edit]

Anonymous Flammarion engraving (1888).

The differentiation between astronomy and astrology varied from place to place; they were strongly linked in ancient India,[23] ancient Babylonia and medieval Europe, but separated to an extent in the Hellenistic world. The first semantic distinction between astrology and astronomy was probably given by Isidore of Seville[24] (see astrology and astronomy).

Astrology was not without criticism before the modern era; it was often challenged by Hellenistic skeptics, church authorities, and medieval Muslim astronomers, such as Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, Avicenna and Averroes. Their reasons for refuting astrology were often due to both scientific (the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than empirical) and religious (conflicts with orthodox Islamic scholars) reasons.[25] Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350), in his Miftah Dar al-SaCadah, used empirical arguments in astronomy in order to refute astrology and divination.[26]

Many thinkers, philosophers and scientists, such as Galen, Paracelsus, Girolamo Cardan, Taqi al-Din, Tycho Brahe, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Carl Jung and others, practiced or significantly contributed to astrology.[27][28]

Contemporary changes[edit]

Several innovations have occurred in contemporary astrological practice.


During the middle of the 20th century, Alfred Witte and, following him, Reinhold Ebertin pioneered the use of midpoints (see Midpoint Astrology) in horoscopic analysis. [29] From the 1930s, astrologers including Dane Rudhyar[30], Liz Greene[31][32] and Stephen Arroyo[33] pioneered the use of astrology for psychological analysis, with some following the lead of psychologists like Carl Jung. A new kind of Locational Astrology began in 1957-58, when Donald Bradley, published a hand-plotted geographic astrology map. In the 1970s, American astrologer Jim Lewis developed and popularized this technique under the name of Astro*Carto*Graphy.[34] The world map displays lines where the Sun, Moon, planets and other celestial points appear to be at the four angles at a given moment in time. By comparing these lines with the horoscope, an astrologer attempts to identify the potential in any location.[35]


Indian astrology uses a different zodiac than Western astrology and is a branch of Vedic science.[36][37] In India, there is a long-established widespread belief in astrology, and it is commonly used for daily life, foremost with regard to marriages, and secondarily with regard to career and electional and karmic astrology.[38][39] In the 1960s, H.R. Seshadri Iyer, introduced a system including the concepts of yogi and avayogi. It generated interest with research oriented astrologers in the West. From the early 1990s, Western Vedic astrologer and author V.K. Choudhry created and developed the Systems' Approach for Interpreting Horoscopes, a simplified system of Jyotish (predictive astrology)[40] The system, also known as "SA", helps those who are trying to learn Jyotisha. The late K.S. Krishnamurti developed the Krishnamurti Paddhati system based on the analysis of the stars (nakshatras), by sub-dividing the stars in the ratio of the dasha of the concerned planets. The system is also known as "KP" and "sub theory". In 2001, Indian scientists and politicians debated and critiqued a proposal to use state money to fund research into astrology.[41] In February, 2001, the science of vedic astrology, Jyotir Vigyan, was introduced into the curriculum of Indian universities.[42]

Effects on world culture[edit]

Belief in astrology holds firm today in many parts of the world: in one poll, 31% of Americans expressed a belief in astrology and, according to another study, 39% considered it scientific.[43][44]

Astrology has had an influence on both language and literature. For example, influenza, from medieval Latin influentia meaning influence, was so named because doctors once believed epidemics to be caused by unfavorable planetary and stellar influences.[45] The word "disaster" comes from the Greek "δυσαστρία","disastria", derived from the negative prefix "δυσ-" "dis-" and "αστήρ" "aster" "star", thus meaning "no-starred" or "badly-starred".[46] Adjectives "lunatic" (Luna/Moon), "mercurial" (Mercury), "venereal" (Venus), "martial" (Mars), "jovial" (Jupiter/Jove), and "saturnine" (Saturn) are all old words used to describe personal qualities said to resemble or be highly influenced by the astrological characteristics of the planet, some of which are derived from the attributes of the ancient Roman gods they are named after. In literature, many writers, notably Geoffrey Chaucer[47][48][49] and William Shakespeare,[50][51] used astrological symbolism to add subtlety and nuance to the description of their characters' motivation(s). More recently, Michael Ward has proposed that C.S. Lewis imbued his Chronicles of Narnia with the characteristics and symbols of the seven heavens. Often, an understanding of astrological symbolism is needed to fully appreciate such literature.

Some modern thinkers, notably Carl Jung,[52] believe in astrology's descriptive powers regarding the mind without necessarily subscribing to its predictive claims. In music the best known example of astrology's influence is in the orchestral suite called "The Planets" by the British composer Gustav Holst, the framework of which is based upon the astrological symbolism of the planets.[53]

Astrology and science[edit]

In the Islamic world astrology was rejected during the turn of the 2nd millennium owing to the development of the scientific method and the work of al-Farabi, Alhacen, al-Biruni, Avicenna and Averroes, who made a semantic distinction between astronomy and astrology[54] and helped to render astrology obsolete for Muslims. Muslim views on astrology have generally remained negative.

By the time of Francis Bacon and the scientific revolution, newly emerging scientific disciplines acquired a method of systematic empirical induction based upon experimental observations.[55] At this point, astrology and astronomy began to diverge; astronomy became regarded as one of the empirical sciences, while astrology came to be understood as a part of scholastic metaphysics, and was increasingly viewed as an occult science or superstition by natural scientists. For example, Christiaan Huygens wrote in his Cosmotheoros: "And as for the Judicial Astrology, that pretends to foretel what is to come, it is such a ridiculous, and oftentimes mischievous Folly, that I do not think it fit to be so much as named."[56] This separation accelerated through the 18th and 19th centuries.[57]

Contemporary scientists, such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, regard astrology as unscientific,[58][59] and those such as Andrew Fraknoi of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific have labeled it a pseudoscience.[60] In 1975, the American Humanist Association characterized those who have faith in astrology as doing so "in spite of the fact that there is no verified scientific basis for their beliefs, and indeed that there is strong evidence to the contrary".[61] Astronomer Carl Sagan was unwilling to sign the statement, not because he felt astrology was valid, but because he found the statement's tone authoritarian.[62][63] Sagan stated that he would instead have been willing to sign a statement describing and refuting the principal tenets of astrological belief, which he believed would have been more persuasive and would have produced less controversy than the circulated statement.[64]

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson asserted that "astrology was discredited 600 years ago with the birth of modern science. 'To teach it as though you are contributing to the fundamental knowledge of an informed electorate is astonishing in this, the 21st century'. Education should be about knowing how to think, 'And part of knowing how to think is knowing how the laws of nature shape the world around us. Without that knowledge, without that capacity to think, you can easily become a victim of people who seek to take advantage of you'".[65][66]

Although astrology has not been considered a science for some time, it has been the subject of considerable research by astrologers since the beginning of the 20th century. In their study of 20th-century research into natal astrology, Geoffrey Dean, a former astrologer who became critical of the field, and coauthors documented this burgeoning research activity performed primarily within the astrological community.[67]


The Mars effect: relative frequency of the diurnal position of Mars in the birth chart of "eminent athletes"[clarification needed] (after Michel Gauquelin 1991[page needed]).

Studies have repeatedly failed to demonstrate statistically significant relationships between astrological predictions and operationally defined outcomes.[6][68] Effect size tests of astrology-based hypotheses conclude that the mean accuracy of astrological predictions is no greater than what is expected by chance. It has been suggested that statistical research is often wrongly seen as evidence for astrology due to uncontrolled artifacts.[69]

The French psychologist and statistician who devoted his life to the attempt to demonstrate the validity of certain fundamentals of astrology, Michel Gauquelin, wrote that he had found correlations between some planetary positions and certain human traits such as vocations.[70] Gauquelin's most widely known concept is the Mars effect, which denotes a correlation between the planet Mars occupying certain positions in the sky more often at the birth of eminent sports champions than at the birth of ordinary people. A similar idea is explored by Richard Tarnas in his work Cosmos and Psyche, in which he examines correspondences between planetary alignments and historically significant events and individuals. Since its original publication in 1955, the Mars effect has been the subject of critical studies and skeptical publications which aim to refute it,[71][72][73] and of studies in fringe journals used to support or expand the original ideas.[74][75] Gauquelin's research has not received mainstream scientific notice.

Obstacles to research[edit]

Astrologers have argued that there are significant obstacles in carrying out scientific research into astrology today, including lack of funding,[76][77] lack of background in science and statistics by astrologers, and insufficient expertise in astrology by research scientists and skeptics.[76][77][78] Some astrologers have argued that few practitioners today pursue scientific testing of astrology because they feel that working with clients on a daily basis provides personal validation for their clients.[77][79]

Another argument made by astrologers is that most studies of astrology do not reflect the nature of astrological practice and that the scientific method does not apply to astrology.[80][81] Some astrology proponents argue that the prevailing attitudes and motives of many opponents of astrology introduce conscious or unconscious bias in the formulation of hypotheses to be tested, the conduct of the tests, and the reporting of results.[6][27][61][78][82]


Astrologers have not presented consistent explanations of physical mechanisms underlying astrological beliefs,[83][84] and few modern astrologers believe in a direct causal relationship between heavenly bodies and earthly events.[77] An editorial published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific reports no evidence for a scientifically defined mechanism by which celestial objects can influence terrestrial affairs.[6] Researchers have posited acausal, purely correlative, relationships between astrological observations and events, such as the theory of synchronicity proposed by Carl Jung.[85] Others have posited a basis in divination.[86] Others have argued that empirical correlations stand on their own epistemologically, and do not need the support of any theory or mechanism.[78] To some observers, and most astrologers, these non-mechanistic concepts raise serious questions about the feasibility of validating astrology through scientific testing, and some have gone so far as to reject the applicability of the scientific method to astrology entirely.[78] Some astrologers, a minority, on the other hand, believe that astrology is amenable to the scientific method, given sufficiently sophisticated analytical methods, and they cite pilot studies to support this view.[87] Consequently, several astrologers have called for or advocated continuing studies of astrology based on statistical validation.[88]

Astrological education[edit]

Education in astrology is offered both in India, where it plays a strong role in popular culture, and elsewhere at institutions such as Kepler College a liberal arts college with an emphasis on astrology in Lynnwood, Washington, near Seattle, which opened in 2001[89] and awarded its first 8 Bachelor of Arts degrees in Astrological Studies in 2004.[90] However students attending Kepler College after March 9, 2010, unless they are completing a course of study,[91] are not awarded degrees but certificates of completion of a course of study.[92] The degrees granted by Kepler are not recognized by national or regional accrediting agencies.[93] The American Federation of Astrologers offers correspondence courses[94] and, after examination, certifies astrologers.[95]


In February, 2001, the science of vedic astrology, Jyotir Vigyan, was introduced into the curriculum of Indian universities. Undergraduate (called "graduate" in India) post-graduate and research courses of study were established, "Beneficiaries of these courses would be students, teachers, professionals from modern streams like doctors, architects, marketing, financial, economic and political analysts, etc."[42] In April, 2001 the Andhra Pradesh High Court declined to consider a petition to overturn the curriculum guideline on the ground that astrology was a pseudoscience, a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2004 which declined as a matter of law to interfere with educational policy. The court noted that astrology studies were optional and that courses in astrology were offered by institutions of higher education in other countries.[96]

See also[edit]

For the numerous varieties of astrology, see the list of astrological traditions, types, and systems


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Further reading[edit]

  • Jay Agarwal, East Meets West: Fun, Accurate and Honest Personality Insights (Combines Western astrology with Chinese astrology), Analisa Enterprises, LLC, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9798572-0-1
  • Roger Beck, A Brief History of Ancient Astrology, Blackwell (2007)
  • Nicholas Campion, A History of Western Astrology Vol. 1, The Ancient World, Continuum, 2009. ISBN 978-1-84725-214-2 (first published as The Dawn of Astrology: a Cultural History of Western Astrology Volume 1, Continuum,2008).
  • Nicholas Campion, A History of Western Astrology Vol. 2, The Medieval and Modern Worlds, Continuum 2009. ISBN 978-1-84725-224-1.
  • Roger B. Culver and Philip A. Ianna, Astrology: True or False? A Scientific Evaluation, revised edition, Buffalo, New York, Prometheus Books 1988.

External links[edit]

Category:Hermeticism Category:Mysticism Category:Popular psychology Category:Superstitions Category:Symbolism Category:Pseudoscience