"Astrology's from Heaven Not from Hell": The Religious Significance of Early American Almanacs

By Tomlin, T. J. | Early American Studies, April 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

"Astrology's from Heaven Not from Hell": The Religious Significance of Early American Almanacs


Tomlin, T. J., Early American Studies


In a lengthy poem on astrology in his 1731 almanac, Nathaniel Ames, who dominated New England's eighteenth-century almanac trade, urged his readers to take notice of "how natural causes move like engines by th' artificer above," instructing "our stupid minds" to "know there's one eternal Deity, omnipotent and most amazing bright," who commands "the imperial realms of light." Through signs such as earthquakes and comets, the Creator communicated his attributes and showed "a sinning people their impending woes." Ames continued:

There some I know that do presume to say

The world was never forewarned such a way

But I unto such fiery zealots tell

Astrology's from Heaven not from Hell

Tis no black Art no damned Necromancy

No Witchcraft neither as some please to fancy1

Overwhelmingly associated with magic, heterodoxy, and the occult, almanacs have acquired the same reputation among historians that Ames sought to correct among his contemporaries.2 Echoing and expanding on Ames's assertion, this article intends to permanently dislodge the term occult from its association with almanacs and their astrology in the eighteenth century. It argues that the astrological content of almanacs was not a subversive undercurrent in early American religious life. To the contrary, almanacs and their astrological formulations complemented and even promoted orthodox Christianity across eighteenth-century British America. Rooted in panProtestant "essentials," early America's most widely distributed genre articulated an easily recognizable narrative and epistemological framework. This was the liturgy of early American popular culture.

The view that the astrological content of almanacs was forbidden fruit in America's religious past stems primarily from a conflation of natural and judicial astrology, two branches recognized from the early modern era through the early nineteenth century.3 This distinction was astrology's fault line. Natural astrology explained the influences of heavenly bodies, such as the moon, on terrestrial phenomena, such as tides, plants, human humors, and the atmosphere. Its conclusions involved agriculture, human medicine, and the weather. Judicial astrology took two major forms. One predicted the effects of unusual heavenly occurrences, such as comets, on social and political affairs. Another sought to determine the course of an individual or nation's life on the basis of a configuration of the zodiac.4 Natural astrology was unco ntr o ver si al and ubiquitous. Judicial astrology was controversial and rare. Both branches were explained and, when necessary, defended as thoroughly Christian endeavors. Clerical leaders and natural philosophers did not oppose natural astrology. Instead, both groups viewed it as a way to illuminate God's creative impulse in the universe. Almanacs mirrored their findings.

Almanac-makers vehemently defended natural astrology. After decrying judicial astrology as an "idolatry" that was "really nothing else but a way of cheating ignorant people undertaken by some confident knacks, who in their talk of future occurrences are not so much supported by their own arts as by the credulity of their hearers," the Pennsylvania almanac- maker Jacob Taylor concluded that "mathematical or newtonian philosophy are no strangers to the power and virtue of celestial bodies." Their influence "has a manifest power on the flowing of the sea, on animals, vegetables [and] in man the prince of animals."5 Nathaniel Ames ended his 1738 almanac by reminding his readers that natural astrology was "built on the effects and influences of the heavenly bodies on our earthly bodies." As a result, Ames insisted, "astrology has a rational and philosophical foundation." To clarify his position he added, "I am not a superstitious bigot to judicial astrology."6

The longstanding link between almanacs and "the occult" has laudable origins. As historians sought to expand the boundaries and clarify the contours of America's religious past by including its previously overlooked manifestations, almanacs seemed perfectly suited to support their efforts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"Astrology's from Heaven Not from Hell": The Religious Significance of Early American Almanacs
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.