Someone once asked Billy Graham the following question: “I have become very interested in astrology. I think it may be God's way of guiding us in our lives, but our pastor disagrees. What do you think?”
Billy Graham replied: “I must agree with your pastor, because the Bible is very clear on this matter. There is no real reason to believe that God uses astrology to guide us. In fact, you can know it is not true if you look carefully at what God’s Word says about it. The Bible treats astrology as it does sorcery and other occult practices that are spiritual (and even satanic) counterfeits. Astrology... was strictly forbidden for God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.”
In the British Journal Leonardo, science writer Lawrence Jerome summed up his conclusions on the subject with the following words: “I think this debate has amply demonstrated that astrology has no scientific validity, nor do any of its more modern and pseudo-scientific versions.... For modern man, astrology is, and should remain, a historical curiosity.”
While astrology is probably the only subject on which these two eminent gentlemen could agree, their statements represent the usual atmosphere and attitude toward astrology among most people in our day.
I am a Minister. To be a really good astrologer, one must study and work at it full-time. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have other interests. Nevertheless, I am an astrologer, and very good for a part-timer. I know enough to know that a lot of astrology is essentially bunk, and some of the rest of it is truth mixed with error. From my perspective, that qualifies astrology to take its place proudly alongside any other field or area of human knowledge.
Of course, being a full-time minister, I take a lot of ribbing from a lot of people, most of it friendly. I also get a lot of flak from religious people, most of it very unfriendly. When I get a chance, I try to speak to some of the prejudices and misunderstandings that are perpetuated by the fearful and the uninformed.
Incas, Mayans, Aztecs, Chinese, Hindus, Buddhists, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Medes, Hebrews, Chaldeans - astrology in one form or another was the basic framework for understanding the natural world in every major civilization of the ancient peoples around the globe. We cannot get back to the sources and roots of astrology because it precedes all written history, and goes as far back as anything we know about human history.
From ancient times people realized that most of the sky was relatively stable, but seven of the lights moved and changed positions constantly. That always seemed terribly Significant to the ancients. Why? What did it mean? “Seven” became the universal symbol of spiritual mystery and holy influence. The precepts and concepts of those far-off times still color our thinking processes and our language. “You have to consider every aspect of the situation” – “aspect” in Astrologeze being the relationship between planets. You and I speak in astrological terms all the time.
Looking back, I find it curious that no one in all my years of schooling ever seriously mentioned the subject of astrology, especially when ancient civilizations often figured prominently in those studies. I do, however, remember one word from the Church:
Astrology went into serious decline for the first time at the fall of the Roman Empire. From about A.D. 300 to 1200 there were no contributions being made in the field, and those who practiced astrology were mostly soothsayers and charlatans. The mathematical and astronomical skills were lost, and the charts that were erected were woefully inaccurate. Whatever may have been going on with the Muslims or in India or in the Far East was not being documented.
With the coming of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, the skills were reacquired and astrology began to come back into prominence. It remained widely influential until the 19th Century, when once again the whole subject went slowly into eclipse. During the early years of the 20th Century, astrology began its second climb back out of obscurity. With the coming of computers and the accessibility of accurate data, and with the increasing changes in scientific perspective itself, astrology has been making revolutionary breakthroughs. Whether you decide to love or hate astrology - or to stay neutral - astrology is back with us. Your children have heard of it, and their children will study it.
For the most part, the Christian Church of our day is opposed to astrology. Strangely, it sees it as some kind of dangerous enemy: astrology is valid, but evil. The Church is famous for opposing almost any new search for truth, which I think is one of the saddest parts of its history. So today, the Church is outspoken against astrology on the grounds of its own ignorance, prejudice and an implied or stated threat that God will send you to Hell if you dare to inquire into the subject. Since the Church wants so desperately to believe that it already knows everything, it is usually the last institution to accept anything new or different. So it has hated Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Newton, Einstein, Chard in, Kung - and most of its own saints while they were alive, Jesus included.
Billy Graham, for instance, as quoted above, cites Deuteronomy 18:9-14 as his primary Biblical proof that astrology is forbidden. But in fact the passage lists eight occult practices forbidden to the Jews, and astrology is conspicuous by its absence from the list. As I will discuss later, the Bible and other well-respected theological records clearly support astrology as a valid field of human understanding. Graham assumes without thought or inquiry that astrology is evil, and he doesn't mind misquoting the Bible and misleading people as long as he can feel safe in his unfounded opinions.
In all fairness to Billy Graham, I must admit there was a time when I held the same uninformed opinions and was more than willing to shower my scorn on those who dared mention astrology, without having done any serious - or even superficial - research into the subject myself. But people - their nature, behavior, potential - have always been my fascination (I actually have more graduate units in psychology than in theology), and I gradually began to recognize some truths in astrology’s basic understanding of personality types. These inklings of truth a wakened a desire to learn all I could before further condemning the subject.
At that time (early 1970s) it was difficult to find good books on the subject, but I eventually found my way to a summer conference led by one of the world's best research astrologers, Zipporah Dobyns (Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, Chicago University). Astrologers from all over the country, and a few from beyond, gathered in Montana for this sixteen-day “Intensive,” as it was called. Before the sessions even began, I overheard Dr. Dobyns say to one of the staff members, “Sometimes astrology is just plain wrong.” It was a relief to know I had found my way to a place where people could be humble and honest.
I did not come away an astrologer, but I came away knowing some frameworks well enough to know how to go on learning. Nor did I come away “believing in astrology.” In fact, Dr. Dobyns spent much time “demythologizing,” as we called it in seminary. But while it was obvious astrology contained many unknowns as well as many errors - like every other field of human knowledge - it also became clear that there was much tangible, valuable information to be gleaned. Soon my studies led to a reasonable command of astrology as a tool that assisted in understanding my family relationships, in counseling, in comprehending ancient concepts and philosophies, even with some Biblical studies.
Interestingly, I also discovered that many highly respected people throughout history have had an attitude of respect toward astrology. While astrology has come a long way in recent years and no field can be of much value if it remains static, a number of eminent and informed people in the distant and recent past have upheld the legitimacy of astrology. The number of people who believe something does not make it true, just as the number of people who disbelieve something does not make it false. All the same, what follows is an interesting, and partial, list of “charlatans and ignoramuses” who champion this “Scorned Queen” of past science and philosophy.
As mentioned earlier, Thomas Aquinas, who has the reputation as the most basic and best respected Catholic theologian of all time (so far), helped bring astrology out of decline. He said, “The celestial bodies are the cause of all that takes place in the sublunar world.” Some other quotes include:
“Those who deny the influence of the planets violate clear evidence which
for educated people of sane judgment it is not suitable to contradict.”
-Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) De Disciplinus Mathematicus
“Nothing exists nor hap p ens in the visible sky that is not sensed in some hidden moment by the faculties of Earth and Nature.”
-Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) De Stella Nova
“We cannot deny the influences of the stars without disbelieving in the wisdom of God.”
“The controls of life are structured as forms and nuclear arrangements, in a relation with the motions of the universe.”
-Louis Pasteur (1882-1895)
“The natures and dispositions of men are, not without truth, distinguished from the predominances of the planets.”
-Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
“Man is a little piece of earth, with a little piece of sky over him; and all the laws of this outward earth and sky are repeated in him on a smaller scale.”
-John Burroughs (1837-1921)
“Astrology is astronomy brought to earth and applied to the affairs of men.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
“Whatever is born, or done, in this moment of time, has the qualities of this moment of time.”
-Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
(Someone asked this great psychiatrist toward the end of his career if he still cast horoscopes for his patients. Jung replied “Only when a patient stumps me.”)
... the practical application of astrology should interest every human being who cares to rise above the common level of humanity.”
-Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
Edmund Halley (of comet fame) once chided Sir Isaac Newton for his deep interest and continued study of astrology. Newton replied, “Sir, you have not looked into the subject, and I have.” The list goes on, and includes Copernicus, Roger Bacon, John Bunyan, Queen Elizabeth I (John Lilly was her rather incredible astrologer), Dante, Milton, Goethe, Shakespeare, Theodore Roosevelt.
As we move into the Biblical and theological perspective, it is fitting to begin with a quote from The Reverend John Butler, rector of Litchborough, who felt himself called upon to exterminate astrology from England. To do so effectively, he began, as he said, to read “moderately” on the subject. In his own words:
“It begot in me a reverence for these gray hairs which as unjustly as ignorantly I had despised.... I find that next to Theology, nothing leads me more near unto the sight of God than this sacred astrological study of the great works of Nature.”
This statement is more typical than atypical of those who have been drawn to the fascination of astrology's perspective of God's creation, and in many ways this echoes my own small experience.
It is true that the Bible has several warnings concerning astrology. The Bible has far
more warnings concerning money, sex, possessions, the use of the tongue, and on and on.
In each case the Bible warns against misuse - of getting our priorities wrong. Just so, the
Bible warns against the misuse of astrology, but it does not condemn astrology itself.
Specifically, the Bible has three concerns:
(1) If people worship the heavenly bodies (put trust in them rather than in God), then that is idolatry (“Saturn made me do it” and “The Devil made me do it” end up the same way). Astrology is a map, not a guide. If you want to know the terrain, astrology can be very helpful.
(2) The Bible warns against a fatalistic approach (same point, only more specific). If people begin to see the principles of astrology as compelling or controlling their lives - taking away free will and responsible choice - then the Bible has to object. God is stronger than the planets God created. Many astrologers follow this logic.
(3) In the Old Testament, sometimes the Israelites were impressed with the wisdom of the astrologers of neighboring nations (Chaldeans, Babylonians, Egyptians). On occasion they were disheartened, thinking they had no chance of success in conflict with nations mightier than they, who also had astrologers who could interpret the powers of the heavens. This led some prophets to remind them that they had nothing to fear from foreign astrologers as long as they stayed faithful to God. Such reminders by the prophets served as inspiration to stay faithful rather than condemnation of one of the many methods God made available to the Israelites for survival.
Aside from these general warnings against extremes, the notion that the Bible stands against astrology is simply untrue. In fact, the Bible assumes that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth forth his handiwork.” (Psalm 19)
Astrology was the framework (mind-set) of the Biblical writers, and the Hebrews were also astrologers. It starts in Genesis 1:16-18: “And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.”
In the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:19-20), Deborah celebrates a great victory over Jabin, king of Canaan, through one of his generals, Sisera: “From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sisera.” Deborah assumes the planets are God's servants, and one of the ways God accomplishes God's Will on earth. Isn't that what you would expect from the heavens if God created them?
Habakkuk the prophet offered up this prayer: “O Lord, I have heard the report of thee, and thy work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman (the Chambers of the South - Capricorn/ Aquarius), and the Holy One from Mount Paran (Sinai). Selah. And the Moon, like the Sun, will be rays at His side, and therein will lie the secret of His power.” (Habakkuk 3:1-4, translated by Rabbi Joel C. Dobin)
Ecclesiastes suggests that there are cycles and times and seasons: a time for every purpose, but we must wait, get in tune, find and follow the flow of God's power and purpose. If we know the astrological flavor, we cannot miss the really important part of what is being said.
Ezekiel expresses his vision of the throne of God in astrological concepts, and the four sides of the creatures on wheels clearly represent Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio (and the wheels represent the cycles of heaven). Ezekiel carefully dates his prophecies and oracles, as if to say,
“If you don't believe me, go study the chart for yourself.”
And finally, though this brief collection of Biblical examples is far from exhaustive, there is no meaning to the story of the wisemen (magi = astrologers) and the star at Jesus’ birth unless you read the story from an astrological perspective.
Historically, the ancient Hebrews thought in astrological terms, and were themselves astrologers. They thought of and understood the twelve signs of the zodiac as represented by the twelve tribes of Israel, and assumed that the names and blessings Jacob gave to his twelve sons applied to the twelve known energies. They watched the seven moving bodies in the sky, and believed they revealed in some way what God was doing in the world. They associated each of the seven with an Archangel, which they considered to be the ruling spirit of that planet, and God, among other ways, controlled things through these angel messengers via the planets (plus Sun and Moon).
Gamaliel, one of the greatest Rabbis of all time (who once saved the life of the Apostle Peter, and was formerly Paul's teacher) was also a noted astrologer. Many if not most of the Rabbis of the time practiced astrology. Gamaliel said that he only studied astrology in the bath, so as not to take time away from study of the Torah. Perhaps from that comment comes the fact that the twelve signs of the zodiac are displayed around the bathtub of the Pope - to remind him of priorities. Among the Popes who practiced astrology were Sixtus IV, Julius II, Leo X, Paul III and Urban VIII.
Rabbi Joel C. Dobin (B.A. Princeton; B.H.L. Hebrew Union College) offers these quotes from the Talmud, the collection of rabbinical writings which forms the basis of religious authority for traditional Judaism:
R. Zutra ben Tobiah said in Rab's name, “...he who is able to calculate the Cycles and planetary courses but does not, one may hold no conversation with him.” R. Simeon ben Pazzi said in the name of R. Joshua ben Levi on the authority of Bar Kappara: “He who knows how to calculate the Cycles and the planetary courses but does not, of him the Scripture saith,... but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither have they considered the operation of His hands.” (Isaiah 5:12) R. Samuel ben Nachmani said in R. Johanan's name: “How do we know that it is one's duty to calculate the Cycles and planetary courses? Because it is written: .... for this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples....” (Deut. 4:6) What wisdom and understanding is “in the sight of the peoples”? It is the science of Cycles and the planets.”
Rabbi Dobin goes on:
All intelligent humanity, seeing the Unity of the Heavens, must be helped by that Unity to understand the existence of one Creator. Thus, those Jews who know the Divine Science of Astrology and refuse to use their knowledge to witness to the one God, are sinners. Astrology is the only wisdom and understanding that qualifies as being universally available to all peoples.
And in the introduction to his book To Rule Both Day & Night (1977), also published under the title The Astrological Secrets of the Hebrew Sages, Rabbi Dobin writes:
I write this book as witness to God's work in the universe, to confirm man's ability to be in harmony with God and with His work, to testify to the truth that Astrology helps man to understand God's will and to put himself in balance with Divine and universal forces, thus enriching his life and experience.
I want my coreligionists to reread their Bible in the light of the information in this book, so that they will realize that Astrology was so much part of Jewish life and experience and so well respected in our tradition and law that the abandonment of Astrology to follow the chimera of scientific linearality was one of the greatest religious tragedies that ever befell our people.
As further evidence that the Hebrews and their beliefs were steeped in astrology, Dobin points out that there is only one way in Hebrew to wish a person good fortune -"uMazzel Tov," which is a shortened form of "Siman Tov uMazzel Tov," which means "Good aspects and good constellations!" That in turn is a shortened form of the ancient greeting, "Siman Tov uMazzel Tov Y'hey Lanu v'al kol Am'cha Yisrael," which means "May we, and all Thy people Israel, enjoy good planetary aspects in fortunate constellations."
In the end, when all the smoke settles, whether you “believe” in astrology or not, there is no doubt that people, though the same in many ways, are very different from each other. We are supposed to be using different gifts, and following different paths. And we live in a world that has a definite purpose, where everything is connected with everything else. Timing is more important than we can realize, and patterns and cycles operate everywhere, all of the time. Astrology is far from the only way to discover such things, but it is one window into greater understanding that I hope we will not close.
Astrology can be a very useful tool, as well as a continual source of interest and fascination, and an informed user of astrology can become more helpful to others. But the long and short of it is summed up best for me in a phrase I picked up along the way: "If you want a map, astrology is a wonderful map of personality. But if you want a guide - pray."