Natural Astrology: The Physical Science of Antiquity
from Valerie Vaughan's book, Earth Cycles
This book is about something called "natural astrology" -- a phrase that may sound odd to modern ears. However, it wasn't so long ago that this term was a familiar one; it was used throughout history from ancient times to the 19th century. Natural astrology referred to a broad, all-inclusive territory of study that encompassed a multiplicity of geocosmic relationships between celestial phenomena and the natural environment of the earth. In the past, natural astrology was considered a unified, reputable body of knowledge. Until relatively recent times, it formed an important component of "natural philosophy," the forerunner of "natural science."
The comprehensive study of natural astrology reflected the coherent view of the universe that everything is connected. That is, the earth and its inhabitants were not seen as separate from the sky, nor was knowledge divided into separate categories that we know today as meteorology, geology, astronomy, botany, zoology, economics and medicine. Prior to the modern era, it was apparent to most humans that all earthly forms, both animate and inanimate, were bound in some way to the power of the Sun, Moon, stars, planets, and other phenomena of celestial or atmospheric origin, such as meteor showers, comets, aurora borealis, lightning and precipitation.
Consider how the world of nature looked to humankind for thousands of years. It was unquestionably obvious that life was dependent upon sunlight. The Sun was recognized as the source of light and warmth; it provided the energy for plant growth, which meant food, clothing and shelter for humans. The Moon was understood to be the motivation for the tides, whose daily ebbs provided food in the form of shellfish and seaweed, and even the first primitive tools and utensils. Weather events such as rainfall (which replenished water supplies and fed plants) or lightning (which provided a source of fire) appeared to arrive periodically, and these cycles followed seasonal patterns that could be measured by the repetitive motions of celestial bodies. Occasional showers of meteors or cometary debris, as well as visible solar disturbances such as large flares and sunspots, were noticed as the harbingers of destruction -- extreme weather, pestilence and disease. The wildlife (fish, birds, and animals) which provided food, clothing and primitive tools, were observed to change their behavior according to cycles of the Sun and Moon, and thus, at certain times be more easily hunted or domesticated.
Human survival did not occur in a vacuum, and neither did the growth of knowledge. All of these natural phenomena were observed, described and remembered, and eventually recorded in more sophisticated ways, all with the intention of understanding the cyclical nature of life and the relationship of cause and effect. This understanding enabled humans to anticipate the seasons, plan the next crop, foresee changes of weather, predict the next sailing tide, or arrange the best time for animal breeding. The reasoning process involved was no less scientific nor less empirical than modern "rational" thought. The only difference was a general understanding that all these phenomena, both earthly and celestial, were connected -- that was the starting point. It was a concept that could be extended to formulate a method.
Thus, the study of natural astrology developed over thousands of years in tandem with human evolution and survival. This comprehensive study of nature culminated in the early periods of "civilization" to include the observation and prediction of the tides, weather, earthquakes, volcanic activity, meteors and comets, unusual solar activity, plant growth, animal behavior, agriculture, diseases, and pestilence. At the root of natural astrology was one simple, unifying concept of inter-connectedness that was based on repeated empirical observation. Natural astrology was based on the recognition that there existed one common, universal measuring device that applied to all earthly phenomena -- the apparently cyclical motions of the celestial bodies.
The sobering truth is that human survival depended on understanding this concept of geocosmic connection. It is entirely possible that, if our humanoid predecessors had paid less attention to geocosmic cycles, our species might not be here today. Perhaps we should be grateful that our ancestors were not as "scientifically-minded" as the modern skeptics who laugh at the "superstitious" cultures that paid homage to the stars. The ancients would find it just as ludicrous to observe our own modern practice of "living by the clock." Since the clock is fundamentally based on the movement of celestial bodies, we moderns are just as guilty as the ancients of "bowing before graven images." The difference is that the ancients worshipped the real source of time measurement (the heavens themselves) -- not some derived, standardized, digital, battery-driven, plastic-enclosed imitation.
Natural astrology has had a long life; it is older than recorded history, it is at least as old as organized human culture, and it may be as old as human language, for in every creation myth of the world's various cultures, the first "things" that are named include the Sun and Moon. While some may consider such statements as speculative, the great antiquity of sky lore is doubted by few. Modern archaeologists and anthropologists have demonstrated quite clearly that observation of the heavens is one of the oldest activities of humankind, and that it accompanied the rise of all early civilizations, emerging simultaneously with agriculture and the calendar (both of which are based on an understanding of celestial motions).
From the earliest records of ancient Babylonia to the European Renaissance, and even into the so-called Enlightenment, natural astrology was always distinguished from other forms of astrology that focused more specifically on the human factor. While the objects of study for natural astrology (such as weather, tides, or earthquakes) certainly exerted effects on human life, there were (and are) other types of astrology concerned more directly with the behavior of individual humans; they involved the making of judgments by astrologers and thus were called "judicial astrology." This latter category included natal astrology, horary, electional, and mundane. Ptolemy was one of the first astrologers to actually define the difference between natural and judicial astrology. To be exact, Ptolemy referred to natural astrology as "universal" and judicial astrology as "genethlialogical." But in fact, in Ptolemy's time (around 150 A.D.), an established tradition of distinguishing these two in practice had already existed for a long time, as for example among the Babylonians.
This distinction was noted throughout history and formed the basis of arguments by the skeptics of astrology. At the beginning of the 7th century A.D., the encylopedist Isidore, Bishop of Seville, wrote in his Etymologia (III, 27) about the difference between natural astrology (which he accepted) and what he called "astrologia superstitiona" (horoscopic and predictive astrology). In the 12th century A.D., Hugh of St. Victor included astrology in Book II of his Didascalicon, in which he classified all the sciences. He described natural astrology as that which "concerns physical things like health, illness, storms, calm weather, [agricultural] productivity and unproductivity, which vary with the mutual alignments of the astral bodies," while superstitious astrology was concerned with "chance happenings or things subject to free choice." Even the 14th century skeptic Nicole Oresme, who attacked astrology in his Book Against Divination, expressed tolerance for natural astrology.
This distinction was continuously referred to in countless historical records, including European encyclopedias of the late 18th century. According to the historian-scholar Robert Zoller (Astrology in the United States of America Prior to 1870, 1997), natural astrology was accepted in New England's early universities, including Harvard, until well into the 19th century.
One way to understand the difference between natural astrology and judicial astrology is to use the modern analogy of "hard" vs. "soft" sciences. Natural astrology was to judicial astrology as modern physical science is to the biological and social sciences (including psychology). One could even say that the domain of natural astrology was the original knowledge territory that is now claimed to be the domain of physical science. A close examination of the historical record shows that the study of natural astrology never died. The principles of natural astrology were never "disproven"; they were merely assimilated by the modern ruling paradigm of Science. As we shall see in Earth Cycles, only the names have been changed.
Want to read more? To order Valerie Vaughan's books, click here.
Copyright © One Reed Publications, 2002