The Effect of Astrological Opinions on Society: A Preliminary View

By Mozaffari, S. Mohammad | Trames, December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Astrological Opinions on Society: A Preliminary View


Mozaffari, S. Mohammad, Trames


"It is incredible how useful belief in astrology has been to humanity. If Kepler and Tycho Brahe made a living, it was because they sold to naive kings predictions founded on the conjunctions of the stars. If these princes had not been so credulous, we should perhaps still believe that nature obeys caprice, and we should still wallow in ignorance. "

Henry Poincare (1913:296-297)

1. Introduction

To begin with, the Aristotelian background of the ancient-medieval intellectual system provided a stable, unchangeable and harmonic cosmos wherein any phenomenon had been known as a priori. Yet, a more ancient idea was the direct effect of the celestial phenomena on the terrestrial accidents, which echoes the 'egocentric' perspective that appears to be a principal characteristic of a human being's mental activities throughout his own every-day activities (see: Richardson et. al. 2010: esp. 309-311). The same perspective, as a striking example, was also responsible for the opposite motive of man to resist every idea rejecting the 'geocentric' cosmos for ages. One can simply perceive that the primary simple notions like the influence of heavens on the earth emerged from the egocentric viewpoint of the human mind. Finally, they evolved through time and embedded in astrological doctrines. Similar psychological considerations focusing on the interrelation of the human mind and the physical world may be adopted as a criterion to explain the continuous survival of the astrological dogmas. In addition, they can also be employed for the sake of interpreting their practical usage in any social context. Looking at the issue from such a perspective, the purpose of this study was to investigate two important cases in which the astrological interpretation or prediction of some celestial phenomena played a considerable role in the stream of history. We believe that these examples are appropriate for showing how and to what extent the astrological doctrines (as the matters rising from the intrinsic part of the human mentality) could efficiently be engaged in the social and historical mechanisms. Moreover, we are also motivated by the reason that they belong to the late Islamic period (AD 13th-15th centuries) when not only the astrological opinions were treated as heresies, but also a methodological distinction between astronomy and astrology had already been crystallized in its philosophical system as well (we will see in the following). This paper tries to highlight several main issues:

First, a short classification of the quasi and astrological ideas is introduced. Second, a passing allusion to the situation of astrology with regard to the orthodox religious opinion in the period in question follows. Third, the rest of the paper is devoted to two case studies, which constitute the bulk of the present study. Finally, we discuss the case studies in the shadow of a psychological interpretation of the impact of astrological doctrines upon history.

It is worth noting that in carrying out research on a historical topic in its own context, especially when it accompanies a psycho-sociological approach, we are somewhat influenced by anachronistic prejudicing. For this reason, we avoid the science/pseudo-science boundary, which was prevalent in the modern astronomical history studies, in this work.

2. What was 'astrological'?

To take into account the historical matters, not all celestial phenomena that were assumed to impose some effect on the terrestrial domain were interpreted or treated solely 'astrologically' up to the late Hellenistic period. To clarify this point, some main variants are classified briefly as follows:

1. Some celestial 'arrangements' were being applied for the weather prognostication (e.g. predicting the direction of winds or storms). Examples of such arrangements can be mentioned as the inclination of the line passing over centers of the moon and the sun from the ecliptic during an eclipse, the direction marked on a horizon by the lunar latitude-line, by the moon's sickle or by the comets' tails. …

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