Astrology: Between Religion and the Empirical
Dr. Gustav-Adolf Schoener
Translated by Shane Denson


Preliminary remarks
1. What is astrology?
2. Origins
3. The world view of astrology in the Hellenistic era
  On the empirical foundations of astrology in ancient times
4. The practice of astrology in the Roman era
5. The astrology of the present
  Esoteric astrology
  Psychological astrology
  Empirical investigations
6. Astrology in other cultures
7. Astrology and Christianity
8. Where does astrology stand today?
9. Is astrology true?

Preliminary remarks

In hardly any other area of religious studies today does so much disagreement prevail as in that of astrology. What does astrology have to do with religion? Does it not belong rather to the field of the—wrongly understood—natural sciences, particularly to astronomy? These questions are often asked when one speaks of astrology. These are then followed by further, rather practical questions as well: is astrology really founded on experience, as followers claim, or is it not rather based on a naïve and false observation of the heavens, long surpassed by our modern astronomy?

The following article would like to attempt a clear and understandable answer to these questions. It is obvious that the author answers the question of the origin and essence of astrology in connection with religious concepts; otherwise, this article would not be appearing here.

As much as astrology is anchored from the beginning in European religious history, it is experiencing a certain renaissance again today. In connection with the press and with television, a quite simple variety presents itself to the public eye, which promises "stress on the job" or "a romantic evening" and often thereby refutes itself. But this is not the whole story of astrology. Also in connection with new religious movements and in the framework of Christianity, but in the framework of spiritual interpretations of the natural sciences as well, astrology has again become current in the past years and decades. That this present concern with it is not limited to daily horoscopes in newspaper columns is shown by views such as those of the Benedictine Father Gerhard Voss, who speaks out in favor of astrology in a Christian context in his book Astrologie christlich [1].

It is therefore worth following the footprints of astrology through history and the present in order to get an impression of where its roots lie and what still makes it so attractive today. The idea that astrology attempts to join a basically mythical world view with scientific observations can serve us as a guide. At the same time, it is interesting to follow the way in which astrology acts in regard to the traditional religions and, on the other hand, how these react to astrology.


A large portion of this article will be devoted to the history of astrology, for the main concern here is to give an overview of this millennia-old phenomenon. As already mentioned, there are many disagreements on this subject, which can often be traced back to a very specialized and one-sided view of astrology. The reason for this is not so much the one-sidedness of these viewpoints as the great diversity within astrology itself. Religious and mythological, psychological and natural-scientific statements intersect in it. If we look in an encyclopedia of the natural sciences, we find under the heading "astrology" that we are concerned here with a misguided variant of orbital mechanics, because astrology also takes an interest in orbital mechanics and is therefore seen as a phenomenon of the natural sciences [2]. If, on the other hand, one consults an encyclopedia of theology or religious studies, its mythological and polytheistic content is usually referred to, whereby the belief in a multitude of star-gods is then underlined [3]. Reference works with an esoteric emphasis view astrology in its psychological, therapeutic sense, whereby all organic life is seen in one great spiritual context [4].
To understand modern astrology, it is therefore necessary to trace the way in which an originally mythical picture of the cosmos picks up natural-scientific, medicinal, and psychological knowledge, as well as nature-mystical and spiritual ideas, and forms all of these individual areas into a unique world view. But first a provisional explanation of what astrology actually is.

What is astrology?

If astrology is a tightrope walk between religion and scientific astronomy, then we already have a first definition. First of all: insofar as it views cosmos, humans, and nature as being reigned over and guided by powers and forces from beyond, astrology is religion. All the events in the cosmos and on earth are linked together by an invisible magic bond. Only on the basis of this mysterious magical connection can astrology assume that the stars have something to do with the course of our lives, with our talents and weaknesses.

In this regard, astrology is related to the nature religions. These also assume that nature is inhabited and governed by magical powers, demons, and gods. Like the nature religions, astrology believes in a multitude of gods; it is polytheistic at its core. Each planet and sign of the zodiac is the expression of a particular god or demon. But astrology is also sometimes accepted by religions which know only one creator-god, like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Then the many star-gods become angels and demons which are subordinated to the one God and, as such, understood as "instruments" of God.

But in its scientific side, astrology is also very sober. It divides the heavens into geometrically exact sectors, calculates—like every astronomer—the orbits of the planets, and employs complicated calculations to obtain from the manifold movements of the earth and the heavenly bodies the horoscope. The word horoscope goes back to the Greek and means roughly: "looking into the hour." By this it is meant that the astrologer, in accordance with the exact time a person is born, observes the heavens and calculates all the planets, as well as the sign of the zodiac rising over the eastern horizon—which is then identified as "ascendant." He then prepares a chart which indicates the astronomically exact positions of the stars in relation to the place of birth. Astrology is thus also quite simply astronomy, or better: its religious understanding of the cosmos is based on exact scientific calculations.


This double nature has long been known to scholars of religion concerned with the history and meaning of astrology. The classical philologist Franz Boll said it concisely: "Astrology wants to be religion and science at the same time; that marks its essence [5]."

By the time astrology became "religion and science at the same time"—the oldest known personal horoscope is from the year 410 BC [6] —it had already undergone a long period of development. But before we have a look at the history of astrology, a peculiar fact should be pointed out. Astrology is not just a phenomenon of European religious history; it is to be found in all the great religions and in all cultures—in more or less complex forms. Those who went to the "EXPO," the 2000 world exposition of nations in Hannover, Germany, might have passed by the Indian pavilion and noticed the astrologer’s stand. This is surely not such a marginal phenomenon as it may appear from the viewpoint of a characteristically secular society. Today astrology is still a constituent part of a religiously influenced way of life in many parts of the world. Whether in India or South America, even some scientists first consult an astrologer before embarking on longer official trips.

But in this article, primarily the astrology of European religious history shall be featured, which, after all, is the main source of the many contemporary schools of astrology in Europe and America.

During birth the horoscope of the child is immediately
calculated by astrologers. Woodcut from J. Rueff,
De conceptu et generatione hominis, 1587.


In the course of its almost five thousand-year history within the framework of European cultures, astrology developed just gradually into a comprehensive world view with divinatory intentions. It has its roots in the first known cultic reverence of the heavenly bodies. One preliminary stage of astrology is thus the astral cult. Some scholars of religion see in this reverence the very beginning of all subsequent religions on earth [7]. This generalization may be somewhat exaggerated, but if we look at the first and oldest records of religious reverence of the stars, something seems to speak for this speculation after all: around 3000 BC, the Sumerian cuneiform, which was initially a pictographic script, was developed in the Mesopotamian region—around the area of present-day Iraq. Later, the pictographs were transformed into the so-called "line-form." Here the symbol for "God" is a star-shaped arrangement of lines [8]. One could conclude from this that "God" and "star" have the same linguistic root in the Sumerian cuneiform. Later Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions reveal a connection between "God" and "star" or "constellation" as well [9]. The oldest reliable record in which stars are provided with names is known to us, however, from around 1800 BC [10].

Certainly, with this Sumerian and ancient Babylonian identification of "God" and "star," we cannot yet speak of astrology, for the latter presupposes a mathematical calculation of the heavenly bodies as well. This astral mythology shows merely that there is a cultic reverence of the stars which shapes the world view of astrology in advance. If we search for a beginning from which time on the heavenly bodies were also observed and calculated, we find as the oldest piece of evidence a record of the Sumerian ruler Gadea of Lagash (ca. 2143-2124 BC), who describes how gods showed him in a dream which planet constellations were most favorable for the planned building of a temple [11]. This presupposes that these planet constellations could also be observed. Thus we know that around 2100 BC the observation of the positions of the planets was already taken for granted. – Other reports refer to revelations that were granted to selected individuals in ancient Egypt. These indicate a time around 2500 BC in which astrology had its beginning.


The origins of astrology are therefore not only to be sought in the Mesopotamian region—the Babylonian-Sumerian culture. Ancient Egypt also lays claim to being astrology’s land of origin. In the Hellenistic era and late antiquity, astrologers were often called "Chaldeans" and "Babylonians," which suggests an origin in Mesopotamia. On the other hand, many Hellenistic authors were convinced that astrology had been transmitted to the Egyptians long before by the god Hermes Trismegistos. It is hardly to be determined today which tradition the original one is, or if the two run parallel to each other. The extant historical material is not sufficient for these purposes.

And now to a few special features of Mesopotamian and Egyptian astrology.


We thus know with certainty that stars had been equipped with names of and enjoyed cultic reverence by 1800 BC at the latest. The three brightest planets, the sun, moon, and Venus (the sun and moon are referred to in astrology even today as planets), play a significant role in the later omen interpretation of Enuma Anu Enlil (seventh century BC) [12]. There we find that the properties of certain gods are the same as those of the planets. Thus, the properties of the ancient Babylonian life and light-giving god Shamash correspond to the properties of the sun, the generally favorable properties of the god Sin to those of the moon. The love and mother-goddess, the healer and helper of vegetation Ishtar corresponds then to Venus [13]. It is remarkable that in the most ancient of times the moon god (Sumerian Nanna) had absolute priority. This changes later, and in some hymns the goddess Venus (Sumerian Inanna) is revered as the queen of the heavens, crowned by the heavens and with the earth beneath her feet. This queen of the heavens returns as well in the Egyptian goddess Isis and in the Christian reverence of Mary. These three are seen as father, mother, and divine child. Similar divine parents with divine child are known from the Egyptian cult of Horus and, later, from the Christian faith.

But also the other four planets, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are known in the omen texts of Enuma Anu Enlil (seventh century BC). In the Babylonian creation myths of Enuma Elish (ca. 1500 BC), the Babylonian god Marduk takes over leadership of the pantheon. In still later times, when culture and science bloom, the god Nabu takes on an outstanding position. The properties of Marduk are assigned to the planet Jupiter, and those of Nabu to the planet Mercury.

The planet gods each have certain spheres of influence which vary over the course of the Sumerian-Babylonian culture, but which stabilize into a uniform picture in the astrological omen inscriptions of Enuma Anu Enlil (seventy clay tablets of the comprehensive library of Assurbanipal, 669-626 BC, king of Ninive). The myths of the star-gods describe which functions and capabilities these gods possess. These characteristics and spheres of influence are quite various and encompass influence upon natural phenomena, plants, animals, as well as upon fields of human activity such as craftsmanship or the political or cultic sectors. A short outline of these characteristics looks something like the following: the sun embodies life and light also beyond death, but also the death-bringing drought. The moon is beneficial for life and growth in general; Ishtar-Venus embodies as evening star, love, and as morning star, struggle; Nergal-Mars, war and death; Nabu-Mercury, knowledge and science; Marduk-Jupiter, priestly and worldly rule; and Nimib-Saturn, difficult (field)work and everything difficult and transitory [14].


Kundurru (boundary stone) of the Babylonian king
Melichipak II. with sun, moon and Venus. From: W. Knappich 33.

In the course of the expansion of omen interpretation based on planet positions beyond the borders of Mesopotamia, the names of the gods were adapted to the various cultures and languages, but their characteristics remained for the most part unchanged. Thus during the age of the Greeks "Nergal" became "Ares," and in the Roman era "Ares" became "Mars." And yet throughout these times he remained the planet-god of war and death. "Ishtar" became "Aphrodite," then "Venus"—and though her warlike side from the Babylonian era disappeared, she always remained the goddess of love and of horticulture. "Marduk" became "Zeus" and then "Jupiter. [15]" The planet remained the same, and its elevated position as representative of kingly-priestly power remained in essence unchanged as well.

These at first Greek, then Roman planet-gods survived European religious history, finally, up to the present. Our seven-day week is—clearly traceable above all in the Romance languages—named after the seven planet-gods. In the Practicae, annual astrological forecasts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these Roman planet-gods often appeared with their symbols in the form of woodcuts. At this time, it was still held that the planets were ruled by gods.

The astrology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well, lies completely within this tradition. Even if the majority of astrologers no longer speak of star-gods, but understand them rather as "powers" existing in humans, the entirety of nature and the cosmos, the properties that the Babylonian star religion had already formulated, remain basically unchanged. But more on that in the next section.

The Babylonian star-cult is the core and the archetype of subsequent astrology. It also belongs to this cultic-religious core that not only the seven planets but also the fixed stars and groups of fixed stars—united as constellations—are revered as gods. We know of many boundary stones dating from the period around 1200 BC which show various numbers of constellations engraved into them. The whole vault of the heavens is littered with constellations, and the number of sky-gods is, accordingly, indeterminably large.

A clear order is first established when the wide ribbon of the annual course of the sun is divided into twelve equal parts at 30° each. These sectors now divide the width of the solar orbit into a clear number of so-called zodiac signs. Together they form what in ancient Greece was called the "zodiakos." Translated, zodia means life-form. This shows that "life" is granted to each sign, that it is revered as a divine (or demonic) being. Also given to these animate zodiac signs, as to the planets, are certain properties and spheres of influence which correspond, in part, to the seasons.

How the formation of the zodiac signs came about has not been completely explained. The classical philologist Franz Boll takes the view that the signs were not merely transferences from constellations onto the ecliptic—the latter consist of several fixed stars and are, in contrast to the signs of the zodiac, variously large—but rather came about through the spatial division of the apparent solar orbit [16]. The zodiac signs are thus—viewed astronomically—the result of an intensive observation of the annual course of the sun. This begins with the spring equinox, continues through the summer solstice, the autumn equinox, and completes the cycle of the year again at the beginning of spring, whereby a cross of four cardinal points came about, each designating the beginning of a sign of the zodiac.


The twelve-part division of the zodiac is first reported in a cuneiform inscription from the year 419 BC [17]. But how it came from the quartering of the solar-orbit cycle to this twelve-part division can hardly be reconstructed today. Yet together with the planets, it forms the framework of astrology up to the present in the European tradition.

In addition to the cultic reverence of the heavenly bodies, which in the Sumerian and Babylonian age revered the planets and signs of the zodiac as gods or the residence of gods, the scientific branch of astrology was also taking shape—observational and calculating astronomy. It was reserved exclusively for the priests. The temple constructions served not only to honor the star gods, but also for the purpose of observation and calculation of the visible celestial bodies. This calculation was thus not merely science in our sense of the word, but belonged rather to the practice of religion. It served the study of the will of the star gods, viz., whether they would send war or times of peace, illness, hunger, or abundant harvests. The omen texts of Enuma Anu Enlil also report the calculated positions and movements of the planets and their constellations with other planets [18]. Dated specifications of the especially feared eclipses are known to date back to 747 BC [19]. Likewise, the center of the sky, the zenith, and the rising in the east, the ascendant, could be precisely determined. From this time on, we can speak of an astrology in the sense of a combination of scientific observation and reverence of the stars as gods.

Even if not all the details can be explained here, it is thus clear how closely the cultic reverence of the heavenly bodies is tied to observational science, how astrology wants to be religion and science at the same time. The basic principle that makes up astrology is thereby outlined. It is the heartfelt faith that the cosmos is divinely ordered and governed, and that everything which happens in the heavens and which is calculable stands, mysteriously, in close relation to the events on earth.

The Mesopotamian astrology, with its developed methods of calculation, spread rapidly during the Hellenistic period throughout the whole Mediterranean region. In 280 BC, the Babylonian Marduk priest Berossos founded an astrology school on the Greek island of Kos. He is said to have impressed the Athenians with his forecasts so greatly that they dedicated a statue with a golden tongue to him [20]. Around this time individual-birth astrology also caught on. While the interests of the state and natural events—such as the weather and earthquakes—had formerly been observed by astrologers, horoscopes were now additionally produced for individuals. Horoscopes were produced for the time of birth and in consideration of the birthplace, which were supposed to provide information about the course of one’s life and predispositions. The oldest known surviving individual birth horoscope—as mentioned before—dates back to the year 410 BC.

It can be said, in summary, that: characteristic of Sumerian-Babylonian astrology is its pronounced cultic reverence of the heavenly bodies as gods and the contemporaneous development of precise methods for calculating their paths. About the Egyptian tradition of astrology, we know that the precise calculation of the planets was less important. It is true that it also recognizes the religious unity of cosmos and human beings as its main concern, but in terms of details it accentuates other aspects.



The sources which are able to inform us about the Egyptian astrology date back, for the most part, no earlier than to the Hellenistic period. Many of these reports have today been collected in the twelve-volume Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum [21]. Franz Cumont compiled specifically the Egyptian astrology [22]. Some astrologers of late antiquity from Egypt – like Claudius Ptolemy (100-178 AD) – see in Egypt the original homeland of astrology [23]. But such claims are uncertain with regard to their historical value.

In contrast to the Sumerian-Babylonian astrology, the Egyptian variety recognizes a historically more or less identifiable founder. According to many Hellenistic writers, Hermes Trismegistos (Hermes "Three-times-as-great"), who was revered as a god, taught selected disciples and priests magic and science, writing and astrology [24]. Other writers – for example, Ps. Manetho [25] – report that Hermes Trismegistos carved the teachings of the magical effects of the heavenly bodies into the walls and columns of the most holy of temples. It has been handed down from the second century AD that a comprehensive collection of literature attributed to the god Hermes-Thoth is said to have existed. Clemens Alexandrinus (150-211 AD) mentions forty-two important books by Hermes, of which four were devoted to astrology [26]. These lost hermetic writings are known as the "Hermetica."

Hermes Trismegistos is also the Greek epithet of the Egyptian god Thoth. He, in turn, is connected in earlier times with the moon, later with the planet Mercury (Hermes). In later, Hellenistic writings, he is the last representative of the dynasty of the gods and the first human being [27]. Here a direct connection is made between gods (Thoth) linked with planets (the moon, Mercury) and the transmission of astrology as a doctrine. Thus here, too, the astrological tradition points to astral-religious sources.
Historically, the doctrines of Hermes can be connected with the doctor and pyramid-builder Imhotep, who lived in the court of the king Djoser (reigned 2668-2649 BC) during the time of his reign. The emergence of Egyptian astrology thus lies around the middle of the third millennium BC, as can also be conjectured of the Sumerian-Babylonian astrology.

Hellenistic writings report further divine revelations to selected individuals. Thus, writings which were widespread in the Hellenistic era and in late antiquity under the names Nechepso and Petosiris [28] are supposed to be traceable back to such revelations. The astrologer Vettius Valens (second century AD) reports that Nechepso himself—pharaoh in the twenty-sixth dynasty, 677-672 BC—described his revelation so: "It appeared to me, as I prayed the whole night and looked up to the heavens, that the sky opened up and out of the heavens sounded a voice. Then a sky- blue robe, which depicted the night sky, wrapped itself around my body. And thus I experienced the whole immortal order in the movements of the universe. [29]"

According to Firmicus Maternus (around 335 AD), Petosiris is also supposed to have received Hermes-Thoth’s revelations of the teachings of astrology. Historically, he was probably a priest from the fourth century AD [30]. Many astrological writings name Petosiris in connection with Nechepso, but they are also known as individual authors in the Hellenistic period. Together with the "Hermetica," their writings constitute the "Hellenistic Vulgata."


The astrology of Nechepso and Petosiris was thus received through nature-mystical or divine revelation. Here, as well, knowledge of the "order and movements of the universe" is closely tied to a religious relationship of man and the universe. The Egyptologist Jan Assmann describes this relation as "cosmotheism. [31]" The planets and stars are, as in the Sumerian-Babylonian mythology, revered as gods, among whom especially the sun god Re takes on an outstanding position. The worship of the sun god was so cultivated that, for a short time during the reign of Amenophis IV (Echnaton) from 1364-1347 AD, it was supposedly the only god of Egypt. But the ancient Egyptian moon god Thoth (later Isis became the moon goddess) and Mercury had important functions as well. In addition to these, there were many bright fixed stars and constellations that were revered as deities.

But much more important in Egyptian astrology than the planet gods are the so-called decades. Similar to the way the Sumerian-Babylonian astrology divided the solar orbit into twelve zodiac signs of 30° each, the Egyptian astrologers arranged the annual solar orbit into thirty-six uniform divisions of 10° each. The Egyptians were familiar with the 365 days of the year and arranged them into thirty-six weeks of ten days each. A ten-day week was dedicated to a decade and the god or demon belonging to it. The oldest known decades date back to the fifth dynasty from 2500-2350 BC. Dendera’s depiction of the Egyptian zodiac with the decade-gods has become famous, and can now be seen in the Louvre in Paris (see illustration).

Later the Egyptian astrology took over the Sumerian-Babylonian zodiac signs and adapted the decades to this system. Thus, each of the 30° signs of the zodiac of was now subdivided again into three decades of 10° each.

We still find this combination of zodiac signs and decades in horoscopes in some periodicals, when the predictions for individuals born under a particular sign are divided again into three parts. Thus, some forecasts for the week or month read as follows: "Aries, first decade…, Aries, second decade…," and so on. People born under a certain decade-god or demon often received its name and were consequently connected with it throughout their lives.

There was yet another division of the heavens in the Egyptian astrology. Each degree of the 360° cycle of the solar orbit was likewise specially named and assigned to a god or demon. These single degrees were called monomoiriai, and they were also considered in horoscope interpretation. The Roman astrologer Firmicus Maternus (335 AD) traces this division back to Hermes Trismegistos, who is supposed to have revealed this doctrine to Asklepios in twelve books.

Thus, the zodiac was populated by a multitude of gods and demons which were not, or not only, connected to the planets or fixed stars, but which occupied the systematically divided areas of the sky. These gods and demons then became decisive for humans when the sun passed through their particular region of the sky. But with this the interpretation of horoscopes became a very complicated affair. For every point through which the sun passed was determined by at least three gods or demons. The deity of a zodiac sign reigned a whole month, namely as long as the sun was passing through this sign. At the same time, the sun passed through one of the three decades of a sign of the zodiac, each one lasting for ten days. And on top of that were the single degrees which the sun passed through in a day. (By the way, the Egyptian astrology is familiar with further divisions of a region with its particular gods—the so-called borders: divisions of variously large degrees—so that actually more than three gods determine the quality of a particular time of day. But these will not be further discussed here.)

The old-Egyptian zodiac of Dendera with the Gods of the decades. From: Gundel, board V. 8


The special thing about the Egyptian astrology, as we know it from the Hellenistic period, is that it developed a markedly sophisticated system of medicine: the Iatromathematics. Some astrological writings of this period carried this designation in their titles. Each stone, each plant, each animal was assigned to a particular astral god; that means: in this stone or organism, the power of this god was at work. Likewise, every human body, every organ, every larger body part, and each of the further subdivisions into which it was divided was assigned to a god of a zodiac sign, a decade-god, or a monomoiriai-god. If an organ became diseased, the cause would be connected with the corresponding deity or demon. This would be healed by administering corresponding plant or animal products inhabited by the same god. Or antidotes would be sought which would battle the demon causing the illness. – This iatromathematics (iatros is the Greek designation for doctor, and in the ancient world, but also in the middle ages and early modernity, every type of star observation and calculation was called mathematics) was not only in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but also into early modern times the common medicine and is currently being rediscovered in various astrological and alternative medicines.

Like the Sumerian-Babylonian astrology, which attempts to describe the great world-scale events, as well as individual persons, in connection with the divine order of the cosmos, the Egyptian astrology attempts to see this connection above all from the therapeutic or medicinal (heilkundlich) perspective. But in Egyptian astrology, wellness (Heil-Sein) does not just mean recovery from individual infirmities. The truly basic thought is a comprehensive one. Each person is a microcosm in which all the divine powers of the cosmos are present in the various organs and parts of the body. If these powers are in harmony with each other, the person will be healthy and live in harmony with the macrocosm in which the same divine order prevails.

Both currents of astrology, the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian, flow together in the Hellenistic period, are stimulated by other religions and philosophies, and find entrance into the great religions—into Judaism and Christianity, and later Islam as well.

The world view of astrology in the Hellenistic period

As Alexander the Great conquers the orient and large parts of the Mediterranean region in the fourth century BC and unites them into one empire, a lively cultural exchange takes place. Astrology, as well, forges ahead unhindered from its Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources to Greece and, later, further westward. In this Hellenistic period, astrology has already coagulated into a fixed world view. Despite differences from Mesopotamian and Egyptian astrology, and among Hellenistic astrologers as well, there is nevertheless something which they have basically in common:

1. Astrology recognizes gods in the planets, fixed stars, signs of the zodiac, and decades who express their will through their corresponding positions and constellations. The earth forms thereby the center of the world; the heavens with their star deities move about the earth as a closed sphere.
2. Astrology assumes that its truth is proven through experience. This can be established by comparative observation of life on earth with the movements of the sky.

These two statements need to be briefly explained.


Hellenistic astrology wants to see human beings, nature, and cosmos in one comprehensive accord. The question that we ask ourselves today, namely how this accord of stars, nature, and humans is actually supposed to work, is answered by astrology by way of the principle of analogy and sympathy: according to this, the gods are not only bound to the heavenly bodies, but also invisibly present in the entire cosmos. Thus, the god of the sun, who grants us light and warmth, is also present in us humans. If we encounter a person who conveys an exceptional "warmheartedness," "the sun" is at work in him. The human heart has become the residence of the sun. The presence of the sun’s power was also thought to be in plants and metals. Gold corresponds to the brilliance of the sun and therefore the sun’s power is at work in this metal. In plants which were held to have exceptionally strong healing powers, the sun was likewise at work.

All the other planets and signs of the zodiac were also thought to be connected to certain human characteristics and organs, animals, plants, and metals. In this way, an entire system of analogous relationships between the heavenly bodies and the things on earth was established. This system of analogies—tied externally to objects, equipped internally with divine powers—makes up the world view of astrology up to the present. Each particular thing we see exists for the Hellenistic astrologers in one animate, divine context. Also in modern astrology, it is always emphasized that merely analogous relations are described and not—as is often assumed—the direct influences of the stars.

Closely connected to this sympathy and analogy of all cosmic powers is an astrological tradition which might better be called astral-magic (Astralmagie). We encounter it in a variety of Greek papyrus scrolls concerned with magic, where only marginal use of astronomical calculations was made. More important here are the names of the individual gods of the heavenly bodies, which are used in a magical way – in medicine as well [32].

Hellenistic astrology thus assumes that all of nature has a "spirited" (beseelt) or animate essence. And without this, the analogy would not work. Those who today cannot believe in this "spiritedness" (Beseeltheit) of all nature will have difficulties taking astrology seriously. Those who believe in this animate nature—as is the case with the nature religions and many new religious movements—have good prospects of accepting at least the world view of astrology.

The world view of astrology just described refers only to the visible cosmos. The gods and demons or divine powers belong completely to this world. From a Judaeo-Christian or Islamic perspective, we would say: the gods of astrology belong to the Creation. They are not themselves creators of the heavenly bodies or of humans, but rather they were themselves created. The Greek philosopher Plato speaks likewise in his dialogue "Timaeus" of how the creator god created first the world and then the gods of the heavenly bodies.

Astrology is thus thoroughly capable, by nature, of comfortably adapting its world view to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; for the creator god of these religions, who created the world, also created the heavenly bodies and their gods. On this basis, the great monotheistic religions were also able to accommodate the polytheistic astrology without thereby infringing upon their central creeds. And so it happened as well that astrology was taken up in all three religions. This did not happen without conflict—astrology was in part fiercely combated—but time and again it found new followers.


An important point concerning the acceptance of Hellenistic astrology among ancient scholars is also its compatibility with the geocentric world view of Greek natural science and cosmology. Claudius Ptolemy (100-176 AD) attempted, in his astrological text "Tetrabiblos," to adapt the divinatory astrology in the Egyptian tradition to the natural-scientific world view by leaving out all references to revelations and limiting himself completely to a sober presentation [33]. But no contradiction arose thereby, for Aristotle, whose scientific authority in cosmological questions remained unchallenged until the early modern period, likewise saw gods in the luminous stars whose effects reach beyond the ether into the sublunar world. Other astrologers of late antiquity viewed astrology in connection with the wisdom of the priests. Thus, Marcus Manilius reports that it was gods who had inspired the priests on the Euphrates and on the Nile to their knowledge of the laws of the cosmos [34]. Stoic influence is clearly recognizable in Manilius’ astrological world view.

Here Saturn and his children, performs official duties by
farmer, craftsman, banker etc. From: Garin 100.

On the empirical foundations of astrology in ancient times

With its mythical and natural-philosophical world view astrology is not yet complete, though, for it would like to make concrete statements about imminent events or about a person’s talents. And it thus assumes that such prognoses and statements can be made in terms of the particular positions of the heavenly bodies. To demonstrate this with a very simple example: if, in the sky, Mars and Venus stand in opposition to one another, i.e. if they are located at a 180°-angle to each other, then not only is the god of war Mars battling the goddess of love Venus, but there is also an analogous situation on earth, where it is a question of the battle between war and peace.

Now astrology, from its beginnings on, claims that it relies upon experience. Already the Mesopotamian omen interpretation, as we know it through the omen tablets of Enuma Anu Enlil, makes clear the importance given to empirical confirmation. This reliance upon experience is put forth as the main argument by all the great astrologers of the ancient world, but also of later times. For example, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) argues in defense of astrology: "Belief in the aspects (the positions of the heavenly bodies is meant) is conferred above all by experience, which is so clear that only someone who has not examined it with their own eyes can deny it. [35]" – One can object here immediately: if astrology is so plain to see, then why are so few contemporary scientists convinced of it? – But this objection lies on yet another plane. First it is important to note that astrologers in all epochs rely first of all upon experience when they put forth justification for astrology.

The above-mentioned omen tablets of Enuma Anu Enlil, part of the library of King Assubanipal (669-626 BC, king in Ninive), show us an amazing system of astronomical observations. The astrologers worked according to the following method: an observation in the sky was registered with date and time of day and its characteristics were described exactly. Parallel to this, all political and naturally occurring events were likewise recorded. This was continuously repeated, and in this way continuous records spanning many centuries came to be, records which minutely checked the phenomena of the heavens against the events on earth, compared these with older records, and completed them with new observations. The assyrologist Carl Bezold, who translated a large portion of these clay slabs, describes this so: "Whenever the predicate P applies to subject S in the skies, also on earth the predicate p applies to subject s. [36]"


Here is another simple example: "If on the fifteenth day of the month the full moon is observed together with the sun, the mighty enemy will level his weapons against the country … On the fifteenth day the full moon was seen with the sun … May the king know and consider this. [37]" In the first part of the text, the general observation is described: whenever on the fifteenth of the month there is a full moon and the sun and the moon can be seen simultaneously, there are hostile actions. Then comes the concrete observed case: it has now been seen – and then follows the empirically established forecast: there will thus be hostile actions. Many texts then confirm the forecast with the addition: "…and the expected event indeed took place."

The truth content can no longer be checked today. However, many of the researchers who have concerned themselves with these texts are in agreement that the Babylonian astrologers seriously endeavored to erect an astrological system that rested completely on empirical data. But here the position of the astrologers must also be considered. They were simultaneously priests and performed an important political function in the government. The example above shows that the astrological forecast was meant for the king. We can therefore assume that astrology was an important method for making important political decisions.

Time and again over the course of astrology’s history and up to today, there have been attempts to justify astrology empirically. Likewise, since around 200 BC certain philosophers and astronomers have criticized astrology. This critique sometimes only takes aim at particular statements of astrology, whereby it is fundamentally held to be true. Some critics, however, reject astrology altogether as useless.

The practice of astrology in the Roman era

The Roman Empire made possible not only the unhindered spread of Judaism and Christianity throughout the entire Mediterranean region; many other religions and, naturally, astrology as well were now able quickly to reach destinations everywhere.

Astrology offered a multifaceted and confusing picture in the time of the Roman Empire. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, it was reserved exclusively for the priests who stood as advisors at the side of the rulers. Only gradually did an astrology which was accessible to individuals in the population develop. Horoscopes were now no longer just produced for kings and important governmental events, but also for individual persons. Concerning the course of one’s life, marriage, riches or poverty, type of death—forecasts were now produced for all the important stages on life’s way. It has been pointed out earlier that the oldest known birth horoscope dates back to the pre-Roman era, from the year 410 BC in Mesopotamia. This individual astrology made it possible for many more or less gifted astrologers to turn their trade into a profitable source of income.


From around 200 BC, astrology, along with other magical arts, experienced an enormous boom in popularity, especially in the framework of Roman folk religion. Many citizens of Rome carried small, inscribed sheets of papyrus around with them from which they could read which hours of the day were or were not favorable for which activities. Questions about health, but also about everyday affairs such as a trip to the hairdresser, were determined astrologically. Everything turned on whether a day or an hour was "favorable" or "unfavorable" for a particular action. Behind this was the view that every day and hour was ruled by its own particular gods of the celestial bodies. Thus it was believed that an astrologically "correctly" chosen doctor’s appointment would be supported by the gods currently in power. An astrologically "falsely" chosen appointment, on the other hand, had the effect that the corresponding gods worked against one’s intentions.

In the learned classes—which included the Roman emperor—astrology was heatedly discussed. Above all, an opportunity was provided by the Athenian philosopher Carneades, who came in 156 BC as an ambassador to Rome and argued vehemently against the practical astrology. His most important arguments were:

1. The heavenly bodies are too far from the earth to exercise an influence.
2. Children who are born at the same moment lead, regardless, totally different lives (he offers as an example: when Homer was born, other people were certainly also born, but who became neither poets nor famous).
3. Conversely, many people simultaneously die en masse in catastrophes and wars despite various horoscopes.
4. The fine fluid which comes from the heavenly bodies and which is breathed in at the time of a person’s birth and determines his character is changed by the different weather conditions at various birthplaces such that the influence of the heavenly bodies is also totally different in the various cases.

Many among the learned were convinced by these arguments and likewise did not believe in the possibility of producing an exact forecast on the basis of the stars. Nevertheless, the vast majority of aristocrats remained faithful to the world view of astrology and particular astrological practices. – How is this to be explained?

The belief in the gods who populated the entire heavens and the earth was not shaken, and not even Carneades doubted their existence. The fundamental influence of the heavenly bodies on the earth was also undisputed, as Carneades’ fourth thesis shows. It was likewise undisputed that each person had a particular destiny which he could not escape. Many philosophers professed this as well. Specially responsible for the progress of each destiny were—independent of astrology—three goddesses, called "Moirae" in Greek and "Parcae" in Latin. Thus, it was not the astrological world view which was disputed, but rather the arrogance in thinking that precise predictions were possible for every event.

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) provided an example of this "learned" astrology which rejected the "vulgar" forecasts. He was also skeptical of predictions. He thus paid no attention to many warnings from fortune-tellers, including the one which – according to legend – prophesied the attempt on his life in the Ides of March, to which he after all fell victim. On the other hand, Caesar revered the goddess and the planet Venus personified together as the progenitrice of his family. It was said that he would ascend to the planet Venus after his death. Also belonging to the planet Venus is the zodiac sign "Taurus," under which Caesar was born and which he raised as a heraldic figure to a symbol of the state. The emperor Augustus did similarly with his birth sign "Capricorn." The comet which appeared in 44 BC, the year of Caesar’s death, was likewise interpreted in politics as a sign from the gods.


The subsequent emperors were all more or less followers of astrology. Many had a whole army of astrologers at their side who produced and evaluated especially the birth horoscopes of children from influential families. Paradoxically, some of these emperors banned the practice of astrology several times within the city-limits of Rome. As a result, many astrologers were forced to leave Rome. There were various reasons for this. Above all, the fear of losing power was great. Astrologers could predict the death of an emperor by simple means or declare some rival of the emperor as successor and justify this with the destiny of the stars.

We know of a similar case from the New Testament: the evangelist Matthew tells of the three "Magi from the east," who come before King Herod and seek the new-born King of the Jews, because they had seen "his star." Herod is afraid and has all new-born sons killed [38]. All kings and emperors had this fear. They knew of the power of astrologers, and they were convinced of the power of these omens.

In addition to obviously failed forecasts, spectacular successes were also reported time and again. The emperor Domitian was initially opposed to astrology; however, this is because an early and violent death had been predicted for him while he was still young. This prompted him to ask an astrologer how he himself would die. He told him he would be torn to pieces by dogs. To disprove the astrologer, he quickly had him beheaded and immediately burned. But then the stake at which he was being burned collapsed and the body of the astrologer fell to the ground, upon which dogs immediately pounced on him and tore him to pieces. From that time on, Domitian was a follower of astrology.

In daily life as in politics, astrology played an almost undisputed role. But how did the science and philosophy of late antiquity stand with regard to astrology?

The inferior interpretation of the stars which was widespread among the population provoked the mockery of some poets with its forecasts. The poet Ennius made fun of the astrologers who professed the ability of showing others the way to riches but who never themselves attained riches. Other poets, such as Petronius or Lucilius, mocked the predictions of the exact hour of death which did not after all come true.

Things looked quite different regarding the world view of astrology and forecasts which were kept more general. Here, the state of the natural sciences as well as philosophy and religion offered enough material not to fundamentally doubt astrology. Not only the religions, but also most natural scientists and philosophers saw the cosmos and the earth below as "spirited." The spirit in all things made the mysterious connection to the heavenly bodies appear plausible. Hardly a philosopher or scientist doubted, therefore, the influence of these bodies. But they distinguished themselves from simple fortune-telling in that they saw the "influence" of the stars more generally, so that the heavenly bodies caused tendencies or merely "indicated" them. Above all, it was important for them to show that every individual could resist the influence of the stars by virtue of their reason.


Among these "learned" astrologers were not just many Roman emperors, but also the majority of philosophers and poets until the end of late antiquity; thus, for example, the politician Cicero, the neo-Platonic philosopher Plotinus, the poets Virgil, Ovid, and Horace. Marcus Manilius (around the beginning of the common era) and Claudius Ptolemy (100-178 AD) were expressly representatives of the learned astrology. Claudius Ptolemy’s astrological writings, the "Tetrabiblos," shaped the astrology of the subsequent centuries up to the modern era and is also considered a standard work of modern astrology [39]. From Marcus Manilius, we have the oldest surviving complete astrological textbook. This "Astronomica" was written around the beginning of the Christian calendar. In poetic form but nevertheless systematically, it explains the cosmos in a Stoic sense as a divine order with its astrological laws [40]. Other important astrologers from the time of the Roman Empire include Teucros, Antiochos, Nigidius Figulus, Dorotheos, Manetho, Vettius Valens, Firmicus Maternus, Paulos Alexandrinos, Hediodoros, Hephaiston of Thebes, and others.

The astrology of late antiquity, with its two lines of "vulgar" and "learned" forms, is finally not just the model for all subsequent astrology throughout the entire Middle Ages and into the seventeenth century, but also for contemporary astrology. The basis for both traditions is formed by the writings of the Hellenistic Vulgata, thus the writings which are traced back to Hermes Trismegistos and to Nechepso-Petosiris. Additionally, there was the influence of many Babylonian astrologers. Of special importance was the Marduk priest Berossus, [41] who – an uncertain tradition has it – is supposed to have founded an astrology school on the island Kos.

It should be mentioned briefly here that astrology lived on in a hardly modified form in the Middle Ages. In the sixth century AD, Rhetorios appears in the Byzantine Empire as a compiler of the astrological tradition, following especially the Egyptian-Hellenistic line. – An important impulse for the astrology of the Middle Ages is given by various Arabian astrologers who, under Muslim rule, further develop the "mundane" astrology (concerning meteorological and social events). In the year 762, the Jewish astrologer Messahalla, who converted to Islam, determined the date of Baghdad’s founding. In the eighth century AD, Al Kindi and his disciple Abumassar appear. They are concerned with mundane problems as well, with the so-called "Great Conjunctions," which were supposed to give information about important political events and developments concerning the entire human race. [42] – The astrology of the Middle Ages reaches the heart of Europe, in addition to the Byzantine line especially by way of the Arabian science which is taught in Toledo and Salamanca, and experiences a renewed flourishing with the Renaissance. Astrology’s confrontation with science, philosophy, theology, and society in the Middle Ages and early modernity has been treated in detail in two collected volumes by Patrick Curry and Paola Zambelli [43].

Claudius Ptolemy as a father of the astrology.
Woodcut of E. Schön (1515). From: Ptolemy 6.

The astrology of the present

Now we skip over many important stages along the way to see what unites contemporary astrology with its ancient predecessors. And we can do this with a clear conscience because astrology lives on through the centuries almost unchanged in its popular as well as its learned versions. Into the seventeenth century, the ancient planet gods remain in the beliefs of most people. They are responsible for good and bad harvests, for war and peace, for sickness and recovery—and that holds also within the Christian churches. Here the heavenly bodies are understood as the instruments of god. The Parisian cardinal and rector of the Sorbonne, Pierre d’Ailly (Petrus Alliacus, b. 1350), writes a "concordantia astronomiae cum theologia" which extends its predictions to the year 1789. Without controversy, popes, kings, and rulers consult astrology in religio-political questions. Jewish and Christian theologians, as well, concern themselves with it in theory and practice; in Germany Phillip Melanchthon, who translates and edits Claudius Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, [44] stands out among them. One of the most outstanding astrologers in England is William Lilly (1602-1682) [45]. We will now take a look at how things stand with the astrology of the present.


Right at the beginning, the question presents itself to the religious scholar: why, at all, did astrology survive the great progress made in the natural sciences, which, since Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), abolished the old geocentric world view? How, despite the revolutionary findings concerning orbital mechanics, despite the immeasurable expanse and diversity of the cosmos, do people still come to believe in astrology today?

First of all it must be said that in the eighteenth century—as a matter of fact not definitively until the beginning of the nineteenth—astrology disappeared from recognized science and recognized Christian theology. Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilee, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and Gottfried W. Leibniz, but also many theologians, humanists, scientists, and artists, such as the above-mentioned Phillip Melanchthon, Marsilio Ficino, Willibald Pirckheimer, and Johannes Stöffler, but also Albrecht Dürer [46] —they were all still convinced of astrology and other magical arts. Into the eighteenth century, it was held for self-evident among scientists that divine powers were at work in nature and in the cosmos. Moreover, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), one of the most important representatives of the Copernican world view, explained why, in his opinion, astrology was still valid, independent of a geocentric or heliocentric perspective [47]. On this question, he expresses himself—anticipating all subsequent criticism—thus: "The doubt, whether the heavens or the earth go round, does not cast doubt upon astrology, for it has nothing to do with the latter; for it is enough for the astrologer to see how the rays of light come from the east, then from the position of midday, and finally from the west and then disappear. It is enough to know when two planets are seen next to each other and when they stand in opposition and which angle they form in regard to one another. Why does the astrologer, or much less all of nature on earth, need to ask how this happens? In truth as little as the farmer needs to ask how it becomes summer and winter, though he orients himself in these terms nonetheless." Thus, for him the light of the planets and the angular relationships from the perspective of the earth are crucial for astrology. He describes the light, apart from its natural properties (color, warmth), as a vehicle which transports the nonmaterial properties contained in the heavenly bodies to the earth. In addition, the angular relationships of the heavenly bodies, whose light rays intersect on earth, form certain mixtures of special characteristics which thus impregnate all organic life at the time of birth.

The opinion among scientists, that nature functioned according to mechanical and not according to magical laws, was accepted only gradually. This applied to chemistry and biology, as well as to physics and astronomy, which until that time were almost unimaginable without divine powers. The first scientist who quite consciously wanted to ban all magic, all belief in the hereafter or in gods once and for all from scientific research was Robert Boyle (1627-1691). Every form of theology and even ethics were also to be divorced from science, for—Boyle believed—nature and the cosmos were nothing more than a gigantic mechanical clockwork, the explanation of which required no magical or divine powers. – Astrology was thereby, along with all magic and belief in gods or demons, done for with regard to science.


Esoteric astrology

The increased precision of scientific methods and a theology dedicated to rationality are to be credited with the fact that astrology is excluded from recognized culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, astrology experiences a revival—not, of course, within the progressing natural sciences, but first within esoteric circles. In 1875, the so-called "Theosophical Society" was founded. Its founders declared that they had been instructed by beings from beyond, by masters. From them, they had received the assignment of making known the esoteric doctrines contained in all religions. They relied particularly on Buddhist and Hindu doctrines, but also on mystical Christian and Jewish traditions which they interpreted in their own way.

It was above all their concern to speak, against modern natural science, again of the spiritual nature of the world, filled with magical and divine powers. All of nature, stones, plants, animals, were once again, as in ancient times, filled with mysterious divine powers. According to theosophical teachings, the accepted natural sciences are incomplete, because they only investigate the outer hull of nature. That which is at work in nature—animate, spiritual powers—is thereby disregarded. Therefore—according to the theosophists—the planets cannot be seen as only dead, physical bodies either. It is true that they are this as well, but in them lie living essences which work through them.

On this basis, astrology was able to develop anew at the end of the nineteenth century. The planets and the signs of the zodiac were now seen again, in addition to their natural properties, as gods from which mysterious rays radiate. These mysterious rays influence or cause all the events on earth. The Englishwoman Alice Ann Bailey (1880-1949) wrote one of the books fundamental to the world view of modern astrology under the title Esoteric Astrology [48]. Here the various planets and signs of the zodiac, with their corresponding powers and functions, are explained. The visible cosmos with all its heavenly bodies reflects, according to Alice Bailey, a certain heavenly hierarchy. She is also concerned with an astrological-cosmic interpretation of Christ in this heavenly hierarchy. In addition, she advocated the view that a "New Age" would begin with the imminent "Second Coming of Christ."

Alice Bailey revived the astrological world view by explaining the cosmos—like the ancient astrologers—spiritually. The planets corresponded to certain spiritual beings. And she also explained the imminent "Second Coming" astrologically in terms of the imminent "Age of Aquarius. [49]" This "Age of Aquarius" is based upon an actual astronomical calculation, according to which the beginning of spring wanders slowly through the zodiac due to a certain movement of the earth’s axis and, at the end of the twentieth century, exits the sign "Pisces" and enters that of "Aquarius." Now this change is also supposed to be connected with a higher level of spiritual development among humans.

Astrology once again raised the claim of providing a spiritual interpretation of the world and at the same time using scientific knowledge for this purpose. The ancient concern of astrology, to be religion and science at the same time, was thereby also taken up once again. However, practical guidance in the production of horoscopes was not provided by Alice Bailey herself. She was much more concerned to present the entire cosmos as a divinely guided order.


William F. Allan

William F. Allan (1860-1917), known as "Alan Leo"—Alan the Lion—because he was born under the sign Leo, had already provided for the practical side of astrology, the interpretation of horoscopes. As an Englander, he was also a member of the Theosophical Society, and he founded an astrological periodical in London and an astrological publishing house with branches in Paris and New York. Anyone who wanted could receive a "shilling-horoscope" through his publishing house. For a small fee, each interested party would receive their own sign of the zodiac, ascendant, and the position of the planets at the time of birth on copied sheets. Each person could thus read what "his" sign and "his" ascendant meant in a short overview [50]. The basis for these interpretations were the ancient descriptions of the heavenly bodies. For example, those with the planet and war-god Mars in the ascendant—i.e. rising on the eastern horizon—make their appearance brisk and aggressively like the Roman god of war. Those with Venus in this position will attract attention with their physical beauty like the Roman goddess of love. In this way, each person is to be given a short orientation regarding what his or her—in a theosophical sense—personal predisposition and purpose in life is.

In this esoteric astrology, teachings known from Buddhism and Hinduism, in particular, are also integrated. Along with Christ, Buddha also plays a central role in theosophy. This refers not only to the person Buddha, but also to his doctrines of karma and rebirth, which flowed not only into the general theosophical teaching but also into esoteric astrology. The doctrine of karma and rebirth means that a person’s character and his experiences are determined by the sum of his deeds in past lives. The horoscope thus informs the astrologer about this karma, i.e. about the character and the resulting tasks in life. "Karmic horoscope analysis," which operates with special methods and which is offered today by some astrology schools—for example, ASTRODATA in Zurich—was then developed from this approach [51].

The transition from esoteric astrology to practical horoscope interpretation is thus indefinite, and it is difficult to determine exactly where esoterically motivated horoscope interpretation crosses over into a popular astrology with its everyday forecasts. So much can be said, though: with Alan Leo’s commercially-pursued astrology, disseminated on printed pages, the path was paved for modern horoscope interpretation in the mass media. Newspapers and magazines now made the swift spread of very brief daily, weekly, and yearly horoscopes possible. The theosophical background often played hardly any role at all anymore, even if references to "rebirth" and "karma" appeared in newspaper horoscopes from time to time. Popular astrology was often only concerned anymore to satisfy a certain curiosity and a need for certainty about character and imminent events.

Especially in the 1920s, this newspaper-astrology experienced an enormous increase in popularity which could be built upon in the second half of the twentieth century [52]. Today, everyone can look up their horoscope for the day or week in a newspaper and check how accurate the character descriptions and forecasts are. It is quite easy to get the impression that these statements, which are often kept very general, allow almost no serious test of their accuracy, or that they have no concrete relation to one’s personal affairs at all.

Now this generalizing popular astrology is extremely questionable in terms of the foundations and calculation methods of astrology itself. The horoscope alone, which is gained through astronomical calculation and which provides the basis for every interpretation, suggests a very differentiated predisposition for each person. This is to be traced back to the fact that the exact positions of the planets and their angular relations to one another, as well as the positions of the zodiac signs and the houses, each have their own special meaning. Depending on the speed of the various planets and the rotation of the earth, these positions change quite rapidly. Thus, each horoscope is dependent upon the exact time and place of birth and changes with the slightest deviation. If the constantly changing starry skies are to be the basis and mirror image of the predispositions of each human being, then only very few people have the same horoscopes—namely, only those who are born at the same time and place. The popular astrology assumes that concrete statements and forecasts are possible for everyone who has the same sign.


Of course, esoteric astrology can hardly be blamed for the fact that the popular astrology exists as well; just as little as the ancient learned astrology was to be blamed that astrological fortune-telling existed in the time of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Alan Leo’s shilling-horoscopy seems to have been a triggering event, which, with its simplified and mass-produced horoscope interpretation, also addressed needs, which did not only refer to individual insights in the esoteric sense, but which also provoked a simple and everyday type of curiosity.

Today, esoteric astrology is especially widespread in some of the new religious movements such as theosophy, anthroposophy, and above all in the organizations of the "Rosicrucians." Today, the "Rosicrucian Community," founded by Max Heindel in 1909, publishes across Europe the Ephemerides with the exact positions of the planets, which are indispensable for every practitioner of astrology. These Ephemerides contain all the important data for a time-frame of fifty or a hundred years [53]. But this esoteric astrology is also incorporated into the non-organized and individualized environment of the esoteric scene. In many astrology schools as well, astrology is taught by way of esoteric doctrines, whereby it is often just a matter of very general references or fragmentary allusions to "karma" and "rebirth." A binding form of esoteric astrology in the form of a clearly defined doctrine is hardly discernable here.

Psychological astrology

In addition to theosophy, the developing psychology at the end of the nineteenth century also prepared the way for astrology. This psychological astrology picked up the thread of psychoanalysis, which concerned itself with the "unconscious" regions of the human mind. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) attempted to decode the rich symbolic world of our nightly dreams. In the process, he came across images and symbols time and again which also appear in the myths and fairy tales handed down to us. This led him to the idea that the gods of the heavenly bodies in astrology are actually pictures of our mind. The various gods of the heavenly bodies are accordingly not independent beings, but rather images which lie unconsciously dormant in our mind and now populate the vault of the heavens as a mirror of our mind. Thus, for example, the various tales about the love goddess Venus or the god of war Mars are actually stories which humans repeatedly experienced and then at some time ascribed to gods. They were then projected onto the heavens as stories of gods. In this way—according to Jung—astrology came about. It read now in the course of the stars that which actually went on in the human mind.

Carl Gustav Jung did not believe in newspaper horoscopes, but he did believe in the possibility that astrology could inform us about the human mind and—on a very general level—about the future of important historical developments. Some astrologers and also psychologists after him took this up, for example, the well-known psychoanalyst Fritz Riemann [54]. These psychologists see in the horoscope, thus in the position of the heavenly bodies at the time of birth, a key to discovering the basic structure of a person’s character. Thus, they assume that a person’s particular dispositions and difficulties, but also disturbing influences from the surrounding environment can be recognized with the horoscope. In this way, astrology has found its way into some forms of practical psychological consultation [55].


This psychological astrology does not view human life as subject to the dictates of the stars, as some astrologers of other schools of thought see it. It assumes that the horoscope allows us to identify merely a person’s predispositions such as, for example, whether an individual possesses more artistic or more technical abilities. Whether and how these abilities are later realized is ascribed by psychological astrology to other factors such as upbringing and other environmental factors. The horoscope is therefore used as a basis for a rather consultation-oriented praxis.

Here, however, the following should be remarked from the scientific point of view. If psychological astrology identifies in the horoscope only predispositions which can develop in quite diverse ways, the difficulty results that a person’s horoscope and the actual constellation of problems no longer necessarily correspond to one another. How then can the agreement between a person’s horoscope and character be tested? How exactly can a horoscope interpretation which takes the time of birth as its foundation realistically assess a grown person?

Empirical proof is obviously difficult. Most astrologers working in a psycho-diagnostic framework assess the situation likewise so. As justification why astrology is nevertheless able to provide meaningful information concerning a person’s character, Franz Riemann, for example, expresses the view that personal experience in consultation verifies the correctness of the horoscope. The dispositions visible in the horoscope are then—according to Riemann—covered up and their unfolding is blocked by external influences. The horoscope then helps in once again uncovering the buried dispositions.

This psychological astrology thus relies upon the personal experience in direct dialogue between client and astrologer. It thus follows that scientific evidence, in a strict sense, for the correspondence of horoscope and psycho-diagnosis is probably not possible. Among other reasons, astrology is therefore also not a recognized science.

In contrast to psychology. It is a scientifically recognized discipline because it works with certain empirical and theoretical methods. It is true that astrology is supported by experience as well, but it has difficulties identifying empirically testable results and consequently enjoys hardly any scientific recognition.

But even if it were recognized through empirical results, theoretical conclusions which conflict with currently accepted scientific methods would follow. This means: if astrology were confirmed with empirical results, there would consequently have to be a connection between the heavenly bodies and very specialized predispositions in a person which could only be derived from the position of the heavenly bodies at the time of birth. But such an explanation would exceed every currently accepted scientific explanation of the connection of cosmos and human being and—in a broader sense—fall back on religious explanations.

Concerning its empirical side, psychological astrology is thus limited to personal experience. In terms of its theoretical conclusions, namely that there is a connection between cosmos and human, it can hardly do without religious explanations.


These religious explanations arise in the following manner: first, psychological astrology identifies an analogous relationship between the heavenly bodies and a person’s dispositions. It thus records that the position of the planets in the sky above at the time of a person’s birth shows the same character-images (corresponding to the ancient mythical descriptions) which this person then has as properties. This discovery of analogies depends, as described above, on personal experience.

Now the explanation cannot, however, be left at this: that an analogous relationship is simply discovered. There must be some kind of connection between the heavenly bodies and humans which establishes these analogies. But how should this connection between planets located extremely far away—the planet Pluto is not even visible from the earth with telescopes—be explained?

Many psychological astrologers attempt to clear up this problem by setting up hypotheses. It is interesting to see how, in doing so, they fall back once again on the ancient religious ideas. The astrologer Thomas Ring (1892-1983) sees in the ancient planet gods and their descriptions "principles" which describe natural and mental processes. These principles are "powers of the living," or "powers of totality," which are at work in the entire cosmos and "encompass everything which lives. [56]" With this it is meant that not only are we and nature around us filled with life, but that the whole cosmos with all the heavenly bodies is a living organism as well. The planets are accordingly not just a collection of inanimate material, but are rather equipped with living powers which are also found in the human psyche and in nature.

The connection between the heavenly bodies and humans is thus not one which is, according to current standards, scientifically explainable. The analogous—and this means: simultaneous—connection between the heavenly bodies and humans is not explained through physical effects, such as light or gravitation, but rather through "living powers" which are at work in the whole cosmos, but with which we only come into contact by way of our psyche.

But here we have arrived at the ancient astrology once again. In ancient times the belief in a "world soul" went without saying. This world soul, which filled the entire cosmos and enveloped every particular thing, was able to explain the connection of the human being with the most distant cosmic occurrences. Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton still believed in an "anima mundi," a world soul, which could explain astrological and magical events.

We thus see that psychological astrology in fact begins with experiences from the praxis of psychology but, from these, draws religious conclusions. In this respect, it is very close to esoteric astrology. It is therefore also no wonder that the two are often not distinguished at all in modern astrology. In the framework of the esoteric and many new religious movements, the two schools can often hardly be separated. To many followers, it also seems to be quite unimportant which explanations are behind astrology. For the most part, an interest in psychological insights and self-knowledge stand in the foreground. The question of the explanation for astrology is answered by many interested parties by, usually only very indefinitely and generally, ascribing it to either a spirituality or to the natural sciences [57].

In the German-speaking world, but also in other countries, there is, in the meantime, a multitude of astrology schools which view their task mainly in the psycho-diagnostic direction. Nevertheless, no unambiguous classification can be made here. Some schools, like ASTRODATA in Zurich, quite consciously impart esoteric subject matter as well, such as, for example, in the "karmic horoscope analysis." Others specialize in astrological healing or economic diagnoses. It can, however, be said that the psycho-diagnostic interests in astrology account for the largest portion of modern astrology.


Empirical investigations

In addition to psychological and esoteric tendencies in modern astrology, there are also efforts to scientifically, i.e. empirically, justify astrology. Here it is not enough to refer to personal experience; rather, representatives of this line of thought want to find empirically confirmed data. We recall that the classical philologist Franz Boll was cited at the beginning of this article as saying that astrology wants to be religion and science at the same time. Now, the empirical research is the attempt to provide astrology with a basis measuring up to current scientific requirements. Empirical astrology is thus the third path which astrology takes in the twentieth century.

In the 1920s, some astrologers began to collect statistical data, and thereby to convince skeptics as well. At this time the astrologer Herbert v. Klöckler, for example, investigated 5000 horoscopes for special astrological correspondences of accidents, crimes, and also particular talents of painters, poets, and lawyers. He and other astrologers saw therein a tendency toward the confirmation of astrology. Yet he did not consider his results as definitely confirmed, and thus they are, scientifically viewed, of hardly any value [58].

The most comprehensive and well-known attempt to date to find some—and even the smallest—clue which would verify astrology through statistical investigations was carried out in the 1970s by the French psychologist Michel Gauquelin. On the basis of a total of 35,907 birth horoscopes, he tested whether people’s career choice could be verified astrologically. He wanted to determine whether individuals with the same job would prove to have similar horoscopes. He presented his findings in his book Cosmic Influences on Human Behavior, which also appeared in German in 1983 [59].

First of all he discovered—although fundamentally a follower of astrology—that the newspaper horoscopes are entirely incorrect. Thus it turned out that, statistically, there were not, among professional soldiers or athletes, for example, even slightly more people born under "Aries" or "Scorpio" as in other professions. Popular astrology suggests such results, because it sees in the signs "Aries" and "Scorpio" especially battle-ready and aggressive individuals who are ascribed a high level of physical strength.

However, Gauquelin also came to the conclusion that a careful investigation of individual planetary positions indeed shows a tendency towards certain professions. Thus, in an above-average number of cases, soldiers and athletes were said to have the planet Mars in the zenith position. Similarly, this was true of the planet Jupiter for politicians, the moon for authors, and the planet Saturn for scientists. This would also correspond to the classical gods of the heavenly bodies, according to which Mars is the god of war, Jupiter the god of religious and political power, the moon the god or goddess of wisdom, and Saturn the god of solid matter.

What Gauquelin determined, however, is—assuming his information is correct—a purely statistically average value from many thousands of people, which cannot make any statement about the development of a particular individual. In other words, from a particular horoscope—according to Gauquelin—at best a certain general tendency towards particular professions can be determined with a certain level of probability, which says nothing about the realization of this disposition in the particular case.


In this study, many astrological assumptions of newspaper astrology and also some more detailed horoscope interpretations fall flat. For Gauquelin, however, something still remains of astrology. Many scientists have consequently concerned themselves with this investigation. Some of them have rejected it as insufficient. Others, for example the psychologist Hans Jürgen Eysenck, have recognized it as reliable [60]. The discussion concerning this study is still being carried on by scientists today and remains open. The typical opinion among scientists regarding this study is summed up in the statement of the English astronomer G.O. Abell: "I have strong suspicion that Gauquelin’s results will turn out to be misleading. But if they should turn out to be even partially correct, this would be a huge milestone in the determination of cosmic influences on humans. [61]"

A further investigation was published in 1997 by the biologists Klaus-Peter Endres and Wolfgang Schad [62]. Here as well the concern was to find even the smallest clues which could help identify an astrological connection. They did not investigate horoscopes, but rather began far more generally. The wanted to determine if and how various organisms, especially plants and marine organisms, react to the various phases of the moon.
That the moon exercises some kind of influence on the earth—for example, that it causes ebb and tide—is undisputed. But here the concern was to check whether the moon-phases—new moon, full moon, waxing and waning quarter moon—are "recognized" by plants and animals, and if they act accordingly. Above all, they wanted to find out if they also behave so when all external factors, like moonlight, ebb, and tide, are ruled out. It was thus a question of determining whether the "mysterious powers" between the heavenly bodies and life on earth assumed by astrology actually exist.

The results from many, partly very complicated experiments showed two groups of organisms. No rhythms at all which could be connected to the phases of the moon could be recognized in the growth and behavior of some of the investigated plants and animals. But in the case of many other species, a rhythm which accorded with the moon-phases could indeed be determined. Thus, some plants and animals reacted with their growth or reproductive behavior only at full moon, others only at new moon, and still others only at waxing or waning quarter moon.

The individual and quite complicated experiments shall not be described here in detail. But the two biologists are convinced that they have brought together enough material for a scientifically reliable judgment. According to these results, it seems certain that many plants and animals have an "inner clock" which dictates certain patterns of behavior independent of external influences. This "inner clock" runs conspicuously parallel to certain phases of the moon, even if these plants and animals "cannot see" the moon, i.e. if they are covered up over long periods of time in the laboratory.

Now, what does this tell us about astrology? Is astrology—assuming the results are correct—thereby proven? The initial question was whether there are any demonstrable indications of influences of the heavenly bodies at all, beyond the known physical ones. And here the two biologists claim: in many cases there are indeed such indications, in other cases there are none.


If we now consider just the positive results, the following must be said: in those places where there is an indication of an influence by the moon, we cannot really speak of an "effect." The examples show, rather, that plants and animals behave temporally parallel to the moon-phases. We can thus only state that two events happen analogously. We cannot scientifically confirm whether this is coincidence or whether mysterious powers are at work which have remained concealed to science till now.

Let us recall the Mesopotamian omen interpretation of King Assurbanipal’s library. There the astrologers—not, by far, as scientifically, but basically very similarly—likewise discovered an analogous relationship between the wandering "star gods" and many events on the earth with the help of observations spanning centuries. Whether that was really always the case can no longer be confirmed. But the astrologers assumed that they could make these observations. They likewise assumed thereby—as described above—an analogy between the appearances in the sky and on the earth. Perhaps they knew or suspected something of this analogous relation which, in certain cases, can be revealed today by exact scientific means.

However, this study does not provide much help for horoscope interpretation. For the evidence of analogies between phases of the moon and the behavior of organisms can only be shown in some cases, and various exceptional cases at that. It remains the case that evidence of analogous events between the course of the celestial bodies and events on earth could very well be shown in the future. This means: the foundations of astrology cannot be called "nonsense" right from the start. Nevertheless, horoscope interpretation, as it is pursued in practical astrology, will hardly be able to be experimentally proven. Here the question of astrology’s truth will, in the future as well, remain a matter of personal experience and decision—as is the case in of every religious teaching.

Astrology in other cultures

Up to now, we have only considered astrology in the framework of European history. But astrology also exists in most other cultures and in all the great religions. In Germany, Chinese astrology, above all, has become well-known. But also Native American, Indian, and Celtic astrology have found a certain audience here.

All of these forms of astrology have much in common: the heavenly bodies and nature on earth are filled with gods, demons, and spirits. There is no object which could not house a spirit or from which magical powers could not be emitted. And thus, the heavenly bodies, above all the sun and moon, are also the residences of powerful gods. At the same time, every people on earth is familiar with astronomical observation of the movements of the heavenly bodies, especially the characteristic behavior of the sun and moon. And from these observations, these peoples develop their calendar and divisions of time. The orbit of the sun, the time-span between full moons, also the regular movements of the other planets or, for example, the rotation of the "Big Dipper" constellation around the North Star—none of this has escaped the people of all cultures. And they have thus organized their lifetimes, celebrated, and directed their daily routines according to these rhythms. All peoples felt themselves in constant contact and exchange with spirits and gods, whereby the gods of the heavens counted as particularly powerful.


We do not want to analyze the individual astrological systems here. One thing, however, can be said: all the various forms of astrology presuppose a similar spiritual world view. And simultaneously people observe the heavens scientifically and classify them as well as the course of the year with its celebrations and events. All forms of astrology thus want "to be religion and science at the same time," as was said at the beginning about European astrology.

And something else is conspicuous. Chinese astrology came about at around the same time as Mesopotamian and Egyptian, namely around 2700 BC. It also has a twelve-part division of the zodiac, with other "animals," however. Is there perhaps a historical connection between Chinese and Mesopotamian astrology? We do not know for sure. A Mesopotamian influence is not to be ruled out.

But we know: Indian astrology was demonstrably influenced by Mesopotamian astrology. It has not only the twelve-part division of the zodiac, but also took over their designations. This is easily explained in terms of the lively trade between Mesopotamia and India.

Most astonishing, however, is the fact that the American Incas had the twelve-part zodiac long before Columbus reached the continent. The Aztecs and Mayas in Central America had likewise developed an astrology which shows striking similarities to Egyptian astrology [63]. But how could the Egyptian astrology have made it across the Atlantic ocean? Or did Native American astrology come to this amazing similarity quite independently? Perhaps the researcher Thor Heyerdahl—who sailed in a papyrus boat from Egypt across the Atlantic to prove that the Egyptian pyramid builders came to America long before Columbus and there founded the "Indian" culture or at least influenced it—was right. One thing can be said for sure: all the great cultures and religions were and are closely bound to astrology.

Astrology and Christianity

Let us return now to European astrology. For here astrology has stood in close interrelation with Christianity for two thousand years. How do they act in regards to one another, if Christianity proclaims the one God who created the world including the heavenly bodies, while astrology views the heavenly bodies and nature as full of magical gods and powers?


The Bible addresses astrology indirectly in some places without, however, clearly explaining in detail. Many are surely familiar with the "star of Bethlehem" which is reported in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 2). There the story is told of three "Magi from the east" who have seen a special star. The Magi understood this star as a sign which announced the birth of a new "king of the Jews." Now they sought him in Jerusalem and finally found him in the baby Jesus. If this story is historically true, then the Magi were very probably priests who were followers of astrology from the Persian region. For these were well-known throughout Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. But even if it is not true, the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew knew of the "Magi from the east" and built them into the birth story of Jesus.

The Christian theologian Tertullian (ca. 160-220 AD) advocated because of this traditional story the view that astrology and magic were valid until the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. However, now that God had shown himself in the person of Jesus, astrology became superfluous. Since the three Magi’s homage to the baby Jesus—according to Tertullian—it is no longer necessary to revere or consult the gods of the heavenly bodies [64].


But all in all, astrology was very controversial in the beginnings of Christianity. A large number of the early Christians rejected astrology. Many, like Justinus (ca. 100-165 AD), for example, saw in the gods of the heavenly bodies foreign gods or angels that had fallen from God [65]. Others criticized the far too unreliable horoscope interpretation. For the most part, however, astrology was rejected because it was classified among the non-Christian, "heathen" religions and their practices, and the "new" religion, Christianity, no longer needed it.

However, there was also a thoroughly positive attitude towards astrology. This had less to do with horoscope interpretation as rather with the symbolism and image-world of astrology. Many astrological symbols were already common in some currents of Judaism and flowed quite naturally into Christianity. The largest number of astrological symbols are found in the Revelation of John. Thus, the astrologically important numbers four, seven, and twelve occur in quite central passages. Right in the first chapter, seven stars are mentioned which are represented as seven angels (Rev. 1:20). The septet of stars referred in the ancient world to the seven known planets: sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. In chapter 12, a woman is mentioned who appears in the sky, clad in the sun, beneath her feet the moon and on her head a crown with twelve stars. She is quite reminiscent, down to the details, of the Mesopotamian Ishtar, who corresponds to the planet Venus and the Egyptian Isis, and who is also connected with the moon. Hermann Gunkel and Hugo Gressmann, two representatives of the "religious history school" (Religionsgeschichtliche Schule) in Göttingen, have dealt with the influence of Mesopotamian astrology on the New Testament and especially on the Revelation of John [66].

It has also been handed down to us that in the early period of the church, but also in the Middle Ages and early modern period, the twelve disciples of Christ are identified with the twelve signs of the zodiac [67]. We still find traces of this in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of "The Last Supper," which was produced between 1495 and 1498. Here the twelve disciples are represented with characteristic markings and gestures of the twelve zodiac signs [68].

In the Middle Ages, astrology was considered – under Aristotelian influence in theology, as well – a science. Great Christian theologians, like Hildegard von Bingen (d. 1179), Meister Eckhard (1260-1327), or the Franciscan Roger Bacon (1214-1294), included astrology in their teachings. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) explained the relationship of Christianity and astrology most clearly. According to him, the heavenly bodies affect the physical condition of humans and the sensual inclinations. Whether physical passions or inclinations regarding profession—every worldly bond is determined by the heavenly bodies. However, every human has also the possibility to avoid the influences of the celestial bodies. The more he overcomes sensual inclinations, makes use of his reason, and devotes himself to God, the better is he able to master the passions and with them the influence of the stars. Thomas did not think that the vast majority of mankind was capable of this. Events such as war were proof enough of that for Thomas [69].

A basic stance of the church regarding astrology resulted. As long as astrologers practiced a "judicial" (judgment-passing) astrology for individuals, it was not allowed and was combated as a heathen faith. Here the powers of the heavenly bodies stood clearly opposed to the Christian Creator-God and the individual’s free decision in favor of this God. But as long as a "natural" astrology – the astrologia naturalis – gave information about weather or found application in medicine, it was allowed.


The Renaissance brought once again an enormous boom in popularity for astrology in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This was because interest in science and art, and especially in the ancient world increased. Pope Leo X valued astrology so highly that he established a professorship of astrology at the papal university in 1520. Protestant theologians as well, such as Philipp Melanchthon (1496-1565), ardently practiced astrology. But despite this great sympathy on both the Roman Catholic as well as the Protestant sides, there were also critics. And this criticism was hardly different from that of the early Christian period. Above all Martin Luther (1483-1546) saw a danger in the belief in the powers of the heavenly bodies. Luther did not want to accept any other powers next to the one God who took human form in Jesus Christ [70]. In addition, there were some astrological forecasts which were not fulfilled, and thus Luther made some mocking remarks about astrology.

But sometimes Luther was not so sure after all. For he wrote a very detailed foreword in 1527 for a very detailed and religio-politically important forecast by the astrologer Johann Lichtenberger [71]. In it he said that, though the heavenly bodies cannot effect anything, they can yet announce events.

It speaks for the vast influence of astrology in both great confessions that Luther’s horoscope led to a heated debate between Protestant and Roman Catholic astrologers. The reason for this was his indefinite time of birth [72].


We recall that astrology re-emerged in the twentieth century in connection with the esoteric and with psychology. And like other esoteric ideas as well, astrology soon found new followers in the Christian church. Thus, the question concerning what kind of relationship the have regarding one another today arises.

Now we know that astrology believes in many gods of the heavenly bodies or hidden "powers." These are all at work in the cosmos. In terms of its foundations, astrology thus has no problem in recognizing one Creator God who created this cosmos, as is the case in Christianity.

It is not so simple the other way around. The history of Christianity has shown how difficult or impossible it was to recognize nature religions, magic, and "foreign" gods. The so-called "Catechism of the Catholic Church" of 1993 has the following to say on the matter: "All forms of divination should be rejected … Behind horoscopes, astrology, palm-reading, fortune-telling, and the consultation of a medium lies the will to power over time, history, and finally over people, as well as the desire to put the secret powers at one’s disposal. This contradicts the loving awe-filled respect which we owe God alone. [73]" Astrology thus appears here in connection with divination and fortune-telling of all types. It is not designated as nonsense or superstition here. On the contrary—the various forms of fortune-telling turn to "secret powers" which count as real. The catechism describes the conscious use of these powers as harmful and in contradiction to the Christian faith. The main message here is that fortune-telling is the attempt to win power for oneself against the God of the Christian faith.


There are, nevertheless, an astonishing number of Christian theologians who officially advocate astrology. One of the most well-known is the Benedictine Father Gerhard Voss, who deeply regrets that this article on astrology appears in the catechism. He explains his position in the book Astrologie christlich.

Gerhard Voss is of the opinion that astrology does not belong to the magical practices, and that it can be used with critical reason. He also believes that the modern church is no longer attractive for many people because it lacks a closer relation to the cosmos and nature. He says: "The exclusion of astrological wisdom from the church is indicative of the loss of the cosmic dimension of church life in theology, liturgy, and preaching.[74]" Father Voss believes that some things esoteric, like astrology, also belong in Christian theology. He is not alone in this view. After all, because of the publication of his book, he was able to compose the article "Astrology" in the most important German-language theological lexicon of the Roman Catholic church, the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, and likewise the article "Astrology" in the Lexikon der Religionen [75].

Despite his support of astrology, Gerhard Voss also sets conditions for astrology. First, the Christian faith has absolute priority over any form of astrology. Second, the horoscope should not be used to obtain forecasts, for astrology cannot and should not make precise predictions. He primarily understands the horoscope, as does psychological astrology, as a mirror image of the human spirit. Practically, he sees the possibility of employing the horoscope as an image for meditation, as a key to meditative experience.

Thus we see that opinions concerning astrology within the Roman Catholic church quite radically diverge. Many theologians, for example the well-known church-critic Eugen Drewermann, hold astrology for simple superstition and thus reject having anything to do with it. Thus, the views on astrology vary from mocking rejection, serious warning of its dangers, and serious occupation with it. Opinions on this subject could hardly be more diverse.

A similar picture is also offered in the Evangelical church. Here there is no explicit ban on astrology. But skepticism predominates among the majority of theologians nevertheless. Many hold astrology—like Eugen Drewermann—for superstition. Some see in it a means of raising oneself above God, and of using other "gods" for this purpose. But certain Evangelical theologians defend astrology, for example, Christoph Schubert-Weller in his book Does God Speak through the Stars? (Spricht Gott durch die Sterne?)[76] He, too, would like to see astrology understood as a medium for psychological insight. The opinions concerning astrology display a similar spectrum as that within the Roman Catholic church, or also in Luther’s age: the discussion excites emotions and moves between mockery, serious rejection or warning, as well as serious acceptance.

Where does astrology stand today?

In the second half of the twentieth century, astrology experienced a great boom in popularity in Germany and Switzerland, but also in other European countries and in North America. In Germany, the German Federation of Astrologers (DAV) was founded as a trade union on October 16, 1947 at the astrologically calculated time of 10:06 am. In 1950 there were around one hundred members and this number has grown to over six hundred professional astrologers since then. In addition to this union, many independent astrology schools arose which offer seminar programs for training as a professional astrologer, organize conventions, publish periodicals, and support research.


Regardless of what we think of astrology, it is there and it enjoys growing popularity in both its popular as well as its more serious varieties. When we seek its place in the contemporary religions and religious currents, we find it in the traditional religions, in Hinduism and in Buddhism, in Islam as well as Christianity. But above all we encounter it today in the realm of the esoteric.

But it is not quite so simple regarding the esoteric as it is with the traditional religions which we can describe clearly. The term "esoteric" outlines today a realm, or better: a way of life in which quite diverse doctrines from various religions are loosely assembled. Hardly an insider or outsider knows exactly what belongs to the esoteric and what does not. We can only roughly indicate that meditation and psychology, the belief in karma and reincarnation, magic, astrology and a belief in the hereafter, as well as health and ecology can belong to it.

The word "esoteric" actually comes from ancient Greece and means teachings which were spread only in an inner circle of the few initiated, and which had to be kept secret from the outer world. The importance of secrecy lay in the fact that these teachings were supposed to be protected from falsification and preserved in their original form. Contemporary esoterica is a very broad and diverse movement which actually practices the opposite. It is quite present in the public eye, with course offers, periodicals, and a hardly manageable number of books.

Insofar as it has no binding beliefs, esoterica is distinguished from the traditional religions. No authority decides over "true" or "false." On the one hand, this gives followers a high measure of freedom in the choice of doctrines and practices. On the other hand, it gives no protection against all too simple interpretations. Some popular forms of astrology are an example of how simplified conclusions can be drawn from a very sophisticated doctrine.

If we classify astrology in the vaguely defined and hardly organized realm of the esoteric, we can see that modern astrology is astonishingly well organized by way of the trade union and independent schools. In contrast to the many fragmented esoteric teachings, the astrologers’ union and most of the astrology schools attach great importance to picking up the tradition of the "classical astrology" of European religious history. Contemporary astrology thus understands itself quite consciously as a continuation of its millennia-old history.

Modern astrology has to date received only little attention in religious studies scholarship. The existing works on the subject place modern astrology in the context of western esoterica. Thus, Christph Bochinger sees its importance especially in the doctrines of the world-epochs which have again gained currency in the expectation of a "New Age." [77] Similarly for Antoine Faivre [78] and Wouter Hanegraaff, [79] modern astrology is a part of western esoterica.

Is astrology true?

It has already been said: religious scholarship does not ask whether a religion or a religious notion is true or not. We can only determine that there are people who report certain religious experiences and ideas. Insofar as astrology claims a scientific side in addition to its religious implications, it is true that it is also subject to scientific judgments. In conclusion, both of these aspects shall now be briefly discussed.


In the current age, astrology’s right to existence is often called into question because it is viewed as wrongly understood science, as superstitiously interpreted astronomy. If this applied without qualification to astrology, a basic rejection would be legitimate from the perspective of religious scholarship, namely, as long as astrology cannot provide any reliable empirical and theoretical evidence.

But we have seen how closely astrology is tied to religious notions, and we should therefore also view it in a religious context. The matter of the nature-religious image of the cosmos which astrology teaches, the mysterious connection between the heavenly bodies and human beings, can no more be settled with present-day scientific methods than the question whether there is life after death, purgatory, or karma and reincarnation. When astrology views the cosmos as a living organism, this is thus a religious idea such as we know from, and respect as such in, nature religions.

But astrology also claims to be provable by means of experience. On this subject, we can only observe that the scientific-empirical evidence which speaks in favor of astrology, as well as personal experiences which are expressed, are contested in science. A sure judgment in religious studies cannot be expected from this angle in the near future.

It would thus be better if we proceeded without asking about the "truth" of astrology. Instead, we could look at the practical applications of astrology and, from there, seek a practicable answer.

Modern astrology can be divided, quite roughly, into a popular and a more seriously practiced form. But it must be said that the division between the two is hardly to be determined. Much of what is offered in the field of astrology moves between these two in a gray-zone which, in terms of its sincere justifications, is difficult to pin down. The two extreme positions, however, can be well determined.

Currently, the most widespread form of astrology is the popular one which presents itself both in daily newspapers and in special esoteric periodicals. It often contradicts concrete experience so clearly that every serious foundation must be denied. Here each person can individually examine how often character-descriptions and forecasts are really correct or not, or how general such statements are that they are almost always correct. It is a conspicuous fact that this popular astrology is hardly interested in a serious explanation or investigation—be it religious or empirical.

On the other hand, there is a seriously practiced astrology, which understands itself mainly as practical-diagnostic. In this way, it is used today in some forms of psychological consultation and alternative medicine. In terms of its effects, it can only be judged by those involved. Advocates of this type of astrology emphasize time and again that a horoscope can never really predict what will happen to a person, but that it merely gives information in the form of a mirror-image of dispositions. On the one hand, this serious astrology builds, in part, upon very sophisticated empirical studies whose results, yet, remain scientifically disputed. Advocates of this line of thought also admit this and thus support their position with the purported fact that it is sufficiently confirmed through personal experience to be able to apply it meaningfully.


One can thus say that this serious astrology strives toward a synthesis between "science," "personal experience," and "religion," which makes it difficult, indeed, for scientists with strict standards to recognize astrology as science as well. But it remains to be said that astrology is there and is being practiced. At some universities in South America, Asia, and Africa (for example, in Cairo) and also at the University of Riga in Latvia, astrology is taught. This is certainly also because its importance in the history of religions, including the history of Christianity, is just now being discovered anew. Apart from its often criticized practical application, its religious-historical meaning is certainly great enough to be dealt with also in the context of religious studies. On this, the classical philologist Franz Boll once again, who expresses himself concerning the historical importance of astrology thus: "The most important thing about the history of astrology is that it shows the connections of peoples with a clarity and irrefutability as are hardly to be exposed anywhere else. Perhaps in it alone have East and West, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists understood one another without difficulty." [80]


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Reference Works and Periodicals:

Astrologie Heute: Zeitschrift für Astrologie, Psychologie und Esoterik. Claude Weiss, ed. Zürich, since 1986.
Francis Santoni: The complete Ephemerides 2000-2050. Paris, 1995.
Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe. Bd. II. Stuttgart, 1990.
Katechismus der Katholischen Kirche. Oldenbourg, 1993.
Lexikon der Astrologie. Bd. I. Peter Moore, ed. Stuttgart, 1989.
Lexikon des Geheimwissens. Horst E. Miers, ed. München, 1993.
Lexikon der Religionen. Hans Waldenfels, ed. Freiburg/Br. 1996.


1] Voss, Gerhard. 1990.
2] Lexikon der Astronomie, 1989.
3]Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe, 1990.
4] Lexikon des Geheimwissens, 1993.
5] Boll, Franz. 1931. pg. 72.
6] Sachs, Abraham J. 1952, pp. 49-75. Further cuneiform horoscopes from the period between 290 and 50 BC in O. Neugebauer/H.B. van Hoesen. 1959, pg. 161.
7] For example, Hugo Winckler, 1903. Following Winckler, also the "Panbabylonian School."
8] Boll, Franz. 1931. pg. 11.
9] Ibid.
10] Dossin, George, 1933. pg. 32.
11] From scroll A of the ruler Gadea of Lagash, I 17 – VI 13. Kaiser, Otto, ed., 1986-1991. pp. 23-27. First in: Falkenstein, Adam. 1966.
12] In the omen texts of Enuma Anu Enlil, omen interpretations from the standpoint of the sun, moon, and venus appear most often, whereby the solar and lunar eclipses were especially observed and viewed as menacing signs. Rochberg-Halton, Francesca: 1988. Reiner, Erica/Pingree, David: 1975 and 1981. Soldt, Wilfred H. van: 1995.
13] Boll, Franz. 1931. pg. 11.
14] Ibid.
15] "Planeten" in: Paulys Realenzyklopädie der Klassischen Altertumswissenschaften, pg. 2027.
16] Boll, Franz. Sphära. Hildesheim, 1967. pp. 182-188.
17] Knappich, William. 1988. pg. 39.
18] Reiner, Erica/Pingree, David. 1975. Tablet 63: the Venus tablet. Soldt, Wilfred H. van. 1995. Tablets 23 (24) – 29 (30).
19] Rochberg-Halton, Francesca. 1988.
20] Knappich, Wilhelm. 1998. pg. 47.
21] Cumont, Franz, et. al. CCAG (Catalogus codicum astrologorium Greacorum). Brussels, 1898-1953
22] Cumont, Franz. L’Égypte des astrologues. Brussels, 1937.
23] Ptolemy, Claudius. 1980. Book I, 3. pg. 31.
24] Gundel, Wilhelm/Gundel, Hans Georg. 1966. pg. 10.
25] Ps. Manetho. Apotelsmata V (VI), pg. 1 and following.
26] Clemens of Alexandria. Stromateis. Book VI, 35, 2-37, 1.
27] He is called "divine" (JeioV), for example, in CCAG IV 81, 5.
28] Riess, Ernestus. 1892.
29] Vettius Valens. Anthologien II, 3. Translated into German: Gundel, Wilhelm/Gundel, Hans Georg. 1966. pg. 30.
30] Spiegelberg, Wilhelm. "Eine neue Spur des Astrologen Petosiris." Heidelberg: Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1922, 3rd Abh.
31] Assmann, Jan. Stein der Zeit – Mensch und Gesellschaft im alten Ägypten. Munich, 1995. pg. 59.
32] Gundel, Hans Georg. 1968.
33] Ptolemy, Claudius. 1980.
34] Manilius. 1990. Book I: 46-65.
35] Kepler, Johannes. 1939. pg. 22.
36] Bezold, Carl. 1911. pg. 36.
37] Jastrow, Morris. 1912. pg. 480.
38] Matthew 2. Literature on the Star of Bethlehem: Molnar, Michael R. 1999.
39] The reformist theologian and humanist Phillipp Melanchthon undertook a German translation with a foreword full of praise. This translation was reprinted twice in the twentieth century. Ptolemy, Claudius. 1553, 1923, and 1995.
40] Manilius, Marcus. 1990.
41] Mayer Burstein, Stanley. 1978.
42] Loth, Otto. 1875. Lemay, Richard. 1962. Pingree, David. 1968.
43] Curry, Patrick. Astrology, Science and Society – Historical Essays. New Hampshire, 1987. Zambelli, Paola. ‘Astrologi hallucinati’ – Stars and the End of the World in Luther’s Time. Berlin, 1986.
44] Ptolemy, Claudius. 1553, 1923, 1995.
45] Lilly, William. 1985. Facsimile of the London, 1647 edition. On astrology in England of the early modern period: Curry, Patrick. 1988.
46] On Dürer’s Melancholia I: Panofsky, Erwin. 1990. Böhme, Hartmut. 1997.
47] Kepler, Johannes. 1971. Point 40.
48] Bailey, Alice. 1951.
49] On the Age of Aquarius, see, for example: Bailey, Forster. Wandlung esoterischer Werte. Lorch, 1956.
50] Astrologie heute – Zeitschrift für Astrologie, Psychologie und Esoterik, Nr. 26, Aug./Sept. 1990. pg. 24.
51] See, for example: Weiss, Jean Claude. 1994.
52] Boll, Franz. 1931. pg. 213.
53] The current edition for the timeframe 2000 AD-2050 AD is in five languages and contains, in comparison with the previous edition for 1900-2000, more precise astronomical data. Francis Santoni, 1995.
54] Riemann, Fritz. 1986.
55] Hans Bender speaks in a foreword of "a great number of rational people – among them a whole row of psychotherapists – who use the birth constellation as a practical diagnostic tool." In: Ring, Thomas. 1990. pg. x.
56] Ring, Thomas. 1990. pg. 3.
57] A written survey of followers of astrology which is currently in the evaluation phase shows that a vast majority favors a mixture of natural-scientific and spiritual explanations.
58] Klöckler, Herbert v. 1927.
59] Gauquelin, Michel. 1976.
60] Eysenck, Hans Jürgen/Nias, David. 1982.
61] Eysenck/Nias. 1984.
62] Endres, K.-P./Schad, W. 1997.
63] Knappich, Wilhelm. 1988, 22ff.
64] Tertullian. 1912. pp. 148-150.
65] Justinus. 1917. pg. 84.
66] Gunkel, Hermann. 1921. Gressmann, Hugo. 1925.
67] Many examples, among them also of Jewish reception, have been compiled in: Hübner, Wolfgang. 1983.
68] Mertz, Bernd A. 1990. pp. 140-153.
69] Thomas de Aquino. 1975. questio 5, art. 9 et 10.
70] Ludolphy, Ingetraut. In: Zambelli, Paola. 1986. pp. 101-107.
71] Lichtenberger, Johann. 1527.
72] Warburg, Aby. 1920.
73] Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1993. Article 2116.
74] Voss, Gerhard. 1990. pg. 23.
75] Lexikon der Religionen. 1996.
76] Schubert-Weller, Christoph. 1993.
77] Bochinger, Christoph. 1994. 124, 208-219.
78] Faivre, Antoine. 1994, 1995, 2001.
79] Hanegraaff, Wouter J. 1996.
80] Boll, Franz. 1931. pg. 58.