Horoscopic Astrology

Horoscopic astrology is a system that was developed in the Mediterranean region and specifically Hellenistic Egypt around the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE. The tradition deals with two-dimensional diagrams of the heavens, or horoscopes, created for specific moments in time. The diagram is then used to interpret the inherent meaning underlying the alignment of celestial bodies at that moment based on a specific set of rules and guidelines. A horoscope was calculated normally for the moment of an individual’s birth, or at the beginning of an enterprise or event, because the alignments of the heavens at that moment were thought to determine the nature of the subject in question. One of the defining characteristics of this form of astrology that makes it distinct from other traditions is the computation of the degree of the Eastern horizon rising against the backdrop of the ecliptic at the specific moment under examination, otherwise known as the ascendant. Horoscopic astrology has been the most influential and widespread form of astrology across the world, especially in Africa, India, Europe, and the Middle East, and there are several major traditions of horoscopic astrology whose origins are Hellenistic, including Indian, Medieval, and most other modern Western traditions of astrology.

History of astrology

15th century image from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry showing believed relations between areas of the body and the zodiacal signs.


The origins of much of the astrological doctrine and method that would later develop in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East are found among the ancient Babylonians and their system of celestial omens that began to be compiled around the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. This system of celestial omens later spread either directly or indirectly through the Babylonians and Assyrians to other areas such as India, Middle East, and Greece where it merged with pre-existing indigenous forms of astrology. This Babylonian astrology came to Greece initially as early as the middle of the 4th century BCE, and then around the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE after the Alexandrian conquests, this Babylonian astrology was mixed with the Egyptian tradition of decanic astrology to create horoscopic astrology. This new form of astrology, which appears to have originated in Alexandrian Egypt, quickly spread across the ancient world into Europe, the Middle East and India.

Effects on world culture

Astrology has had a profound influence over the past few thousand years on Western and Eastern cultures. In the Middle Ages, when the educated of the time believed in astrology, the system of heavenly spheres and bodies was believed to reflect on the system of knowledge and the world itself below.
Astrology has had an influence on both language and literature. For example, influenza, from medieval Latin influentia meaning influence, was so named because doctors once believed epidemics to be caused by unfavorable planetary and stellar influences. The word “disaster” comes from the Italian disastro, derived from the negative prefix dis- and from Latin aster “star”, thus meaning “ill-starred”. Adjectives “lunatic” (Luna/Moon), “mercurial” (Mercury), “venereal” (Venus), “martial” (Mars), “jovial” (Jupiter/Jove), and “saturnine” (Saturn) are all old words used to describe personal qualities said to resemble or be highly influenced by the astrological characteristics of the planet, some of which are derived from the attributes of the ancient Roman gods they are named after. In literature, many writers, notably Geoffrey Chaucerand William Shakespeare, used astrological symbolism to add subtlety and nuance to the description of their characters’ motivation(s). More recently, Michael Ward has proposed that C.S. Lewis imbued his Chronicles of Narnia with the characteristics and symbols of the seven heavens. Often, an understanding of astrological symbolism is needed to fully appreciate such literature.
Some modern thinkers, notably Carl Jung, believe in astrology’s descriptive powers regarding the mind without necessarily subscribing to its predictive claims. In education astrology is reflected in the university education of medieval Europe, which was divided into seven distinct areas, each represented by a particular planet and known as the seven liberal arts. Dante Alighieri speculated that these arts, which grew into the sciences we know today, fitted the same structure as the planets. In music the best known example of astrology’s influence is in the orchestral suite called “The Planets” by the British composer Gustav Holst, the framework of which is based upon the astrological symbolism of the planets.

Astrology and science

Pseudoscientific concepts
Position of the planets determines personality and human events.
Related scientific disciplines:
Astronomy, Psychology
Year proposed:
Original proponents:
ancient priests and astrologers
Current proponents:
Philip Berg, Michel Gauquelin, Linda Goodman, Sydney Omarr, Joan Quigley, Jackie Stallone, Athena Starwoman, Shelley von Strunckel, Richard Tarnas

The Ptolemaic system depicted by Andreas Cellarius, 1660/61
By the time of Francis Bacon and the scientific revolution, newly emerging scientific disciplines acquired a method of systematic empirical induction validated by experimental observations, which led to the scientific revolution. At this point, astrology and astronomy began to diverge; astronomy became one of the central sciences while astrology was increasingly viewed as an occult science or superstition by natural scientists. This separation accelerated through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Astrology is now regarded as unscientific both by scientific bodies and by individual scientists and has been labeled as a pseudoscience. In 1975, the American Humanist Association published one of the most widely known modern criticisms of astrology, characterizing those who continue to have faith in the subject as doing so “in spite of the fact that there is no verified scientific basis for their beliefs, and indeed that there is strong evidence to the contrary”.Astronomer Carl Sagan found himself unable to sign the statement, not because he felt astrology had any validity at all, but because he found the statement’s tone authoritarian.Sagan stated that he would instead have been willing to sign a statement describing and refuting the principal tenets of astrological belief, which he believed would have been far more persuasive and would have produced much less controversy than the circulated statement.
Although astrology has had no scientific standing for some time, it has been the subject of much research among astrologers since the beginning of the twentieth century. In their landmark study of twentieth-century research into natal astrology, astrology critics Geoffrey Dean and coauthors documented this burgeoning research activity, primarily within the astrological community.
Claims about obstacles to research

Astrologers have argued that there are significant obstacles in carrying out scientific research into astrology today, including lack of funding, lack of background in science and statistics by astrologers, and insufficient expertise in astrology by research scientists and skeptics. There are only a handful of journals dealing with scientific research into astrology (i.e. astrological journals directed towards scientific research or scientific journals publishing astrological research). Some astrologers have argued that few practitioners today pursue scientific testing of astrology because they feel that working with clients on a daily basis provides a personal validation for them.
Another argument made by astrologers is that most studies of astrology do not reflect the nature of astrological practice and that the scientific method does not apply to astrology. Some astrology proponents claim that the prevailing attitudes and motives of many opponents of astrology introduce conscious or unconscious bias in the formulation of hypotheses to be tested, the conduct of the tests, and the reporting of results.

Early science, particularly geometry and astronomy/astrology, was connected to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass in this 13th century manuscript is a symbol of God’s act of creation, as many believed that there was something intrinsically divine or perfect that could be found in circles.

As astrologers have been consistently unable to present physical mechanisms for astrology, few modern astrologers believe in a direct causal relationship between heavenly bodies and earthly events. An editorial published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific reports that they can find no evidence for a scientifically defined mechanism by which celestial objects can influence terrestrial affairs.Some researchers have posited acausal, purely correlative, relationships between astrological observations and events, such as the theory of synchronicity proposed by Carl Jung. Others have posited a basis in divination. Still others have argued that empirical correlations can stand on their own epistemologically, and do not need the support of any theory or mechanism. To some observers, these non-mechanistic concepts raise serious questions about the feasibility of validating astrology through scientific testing, and some have gone so far as to reject the applicability of the scientific method to astrology almost entirely. Some astrologers, on the other hand, believe that astrology is amenable to the scientific method, given sufficiently sophisticated analytical methods, and they cite pilot studies they claim support this view. Consequently, several astrologers have called for or advocated continuing studies of astrology based on statistical validation.


The Mars effect: relative frequency of the diurnal position of Mars in the birth chart of eminent athletes.
Astrology has repeatedly failed to demonstrate its effectiveness in numerous controlled studies. Effect size studies in astrology conclude that the mean accuracy of astrological predictions is no greater than what is expected by chance, and astrology’s perceived performance has disappeared on critical inspection. When testing for cognitive, behavioral, physical and other variables, one study of astrological “time twins” showed that human characteristics are not molded by the influence of the Sun, Moon and planets at the time of birth.  

Skeptics of astrology also suggest that the perceived accuracy of astrological interpretations and descriptions of one’s personality can be accounted for by the fact that people tend to exaggerate positive ‘hits’ and overlook whatever does not fit, especially when vague language is used. 

They also argue that statistical research is often wrongly seen as evidence for astrology due to uncontrolled artifacts. A large-scale study, with a sample size of about 15,000 “astro-twins”, was published in 2006. It examined the relationship between date of birth and individual differences in personality and general intelligence, and found no evidence that a connection existed. It also found no relationship between the zodiacal signs and participants’ personal traits.

French psychologist and statistician Michel Gauquelin claimed to have found correlations between some planetary positions and certain human traits such as vocations. Gauquelin’s most widely known claim is known as the Mars effect, which is said to demonstrate a correlation between the planet Mars occupying certain positions in the sky more often at the birth of eminent sports champions than at the birth of ordinary people. A similar claim is made by Richard Tarnas in his work Cosmos and Psyche, in which he explores correspondences between planetary alignments and historically significant events and individuals.
Since its original publication in 1955, the Mars effect has been the subject of critical studies and skeptical publications which refute it, and studies in fringe journals claiming to support or expand the original claims. Gauquelin’s research has not received mainstream scientific notice.
The Forer effect is seen in astrology when most people simply accept their horoscopes as custom even if, by logic, it would mean that 1/12 of the world would have the exact same day or week.