Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon

Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon

Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon

Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon


Mainstream science has long dismissed astrology as primitive superstition. Yet, from daily horoscopes to personalized star forecasts, astrology still plays a crucial role in organizing many people's everyday lives. There has, however, been no convincing explanation of its appeal. Astrology, Science and Culture finally fills this gap. Willis and Curry tackle astrology's rich history, its problematic relationship to psychology, and its attempts to prove its own validity. They argue that astrology has its roots in the Neolithic culture of Europe and the Middle East but, far from being a relic of years gone by, it still challenges its opponents' unquestioning belief in conventional modern science. Groundbreaking in its reconciliation of astrology's ancient traditions and its modern-day usage, this book impressively unites philosophy, science, anthropology, and history. It is the first exploration of the intimate connection of humankind and the stars from the dawn of pre-history to the present day.


A philosophy that does not include the possibility of soothsaying from coffee
grounds, and cannot explicate it, cannot be a true philosophy.

Walter Benjamin

Our subtitle comes from a passage by Plutarch (c. 46–120 BCE). In de genio Socratis, 590a, he mentions the divinatory practices of the women of Thessaly, ‘who are supposed to be able to pull down the moon’. But the tone of his remarks is not admiring but scandalized. Very little in the debate about astrology is entirely new. The word itself means the ‘word’ (logos) or ‘language’ of the stars, and is now customarily contrasted, as a pathetic remnant of primitive superstition, with the academically respectable science of astronomy. This latter term means ‘measurement of the stars’, and accurately reflects Galileo’s famous contention that only that which can be measured is truly real. Quantity is primary, quality secondary. This book maintains the converse proposition, daring to privilege sensory quality over a row of digits, and is devoted to investigating and recovering a stellar language of apparently immemorial antiquity; a mode of communication that is part of our common heritage as human beings, and evident, albeit at the most mundane level, every time we say ‘Good morning!’ to our neighbour. This is a primal faculty that seems to be embedded in our genes, ironically the very entities now commonly presented, in the current version of reductive materialism, as the sole and invisible masters of our personal and collective destinies (cf. Dawkins 1989).

This, then, is a study of a social phenomenon that attracts enormous popular interest and virulent scientific contempt in roughly equal measures. Our central argument is that astrology is best understood as a divinatory technique: a dialogue with the divine in a postmodern, post-Christian, and newly reanimated, universe.

Theoretical Orientations

Our key term dialogical is, of course, shamelessly appropriated from the seminal work of Mikhail Bakhtin (1990), and endowed with a carnal dimension not readily apparent in the Russian master. For us, the drive to communicate is inscribed in our flesh, part of our innate human heritage along with a seemingly unique species ability to put ourselves imaginatively in the place of our dialogical other. This idea is already . . .

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