Cultural influence of astrology

Cultural influence of astrology
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Astrology has had an impact on vocabulary, on arts and popular culture.



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 Latin dis-aster "unfavorable star" or "bad star". 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.

Desire, from the Latin desiderare meaning to "long for, wish for," perhaps from the original sense "await what the stars will bring," from the phrase de sidere which translates to "from the stars," from sidus or sideris meaning "heavenly body, star, constellation".[1]

In the French heur, malheur, heureux, malheureux, are all derived from the Latin augurium; the expression né sous une mauvaise étoile, born under an evil star, corresponds (with the change of étoile into astre) to the word malôtru, in Provençal malastrue; and son étoile palit, his star grows pale, belongs to the same class of illusions.

The Latin ex augurio appears in the Italian sciagura, sciagurato, softened into sciaura, sciaurato, wretchedness, wretched.

In the case of the expressions bien or mal luné, well or ill mooned, avoir un quartier de lune dans la tetê, to have the quarter of the Moon in one's head, the German mondsüchtig and the English moonstruck or lunatic, the fundamental idea lies in the opinions formerly (and in some cases, still) held about the Moon.


Many historical writers whose works have shaped the development of literature have used astrological symbolism to add subtlety and nuance to their literary themes. For example, Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (early 14th cent.) builds varied references to planetary associations within his described architecture of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, (such as the seven layers of Purgatory's mountain purging the seven cardinal sins that correspond to astrology's seven classical planets).[2] Similar astrological allegories and planetary themes are pursued through the works of Geoffrey Chaucer[3] (late 14th century), William Shakespeare[4] (late 16th/early 17th cent.) and Milton (17th cent.). Often, an understanding of astrological symbolism is needed to fully appreciate such literature and some passages in the older English poets are unintelligible without a basic knowledge of traditional astrological theory.

More recently, Michael Ward has proposed that C.S. Lewis, after a lifetime of study in medieval & renaissance literature, infused each of his 7 Chronicles of Narnia with imagery representing the character of each of the seven pre-Copernican planetary spheres. For example, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe represents Jove (Jupiter) with its emphasis on winter overtaken by spring, kingship and queenship, "guilt forgiven", and mixture of the solemn and the jovial. In 1978, notes from Margaret Mitchell’s library revealed that the author had based each character from her classic prize-winning novel, Gone with Wind (1936) including the central star-crossed lovers, Scarlett O'Hara (Aries) and Rhett Butler (Leo), around an archetype of the zodiac.[5] In 2010, a detailed personal horoscope analyzed and illustrated by J K Rowling at the time she was writing her first Harry Potter novel, came up for sale. The auctioneer commented that Rowling “displays a detailed knowledge of Western astrology which was later to play an important part in her books".[6]


The most famous piece of music to be influenced by astrology is undoubtedly the orchestral suite "The Planets". Written by the British composer Gustav Holst (1874–1934), and first performed in 1916, the framework of "The Planets" is based upon the astrological symbolism of the planets.[7] Each of the seven movements of the suite is based upon a different planet as follows:

  • First: Mars, the Bringer of War
  • Second: Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  • Third: Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  • Fourth: Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
  • Fifth: Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  • Sixth: Uranus, the Magician
  • Seventh: Neptune, the Mystic

The order of the movements does not follow the order of the planets from the sun. However, in keeping with its astrological themes, they do reflect the order of the signs of the zodiac by planetary rule. The composer and Holst specialist Colin Matthews wrote an eighth movement entitled "Pluto, the Renewer", which was first performed in 2000. However, with Pluto's recategorization to 'dwarf planet' status by the International Astronomical Union in 2006,[8] Holst's original work is now as complete as when he wrote it.

The seven liberal arts

In medieval Europe, a university education 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. As the arts were seen as operating in ascending order, so were the planets and so, in decreasing order of planetary speed, grammar was assigned to the Moon, the quickest moving celestial body, dialectic was assigned to Mercury, rhetoric to Venus, music to the Sun, arithmetic to Mars, geometry to Jupiter and astrology/astronomy to the slowest moving body, Saturn.[9]

Psychology and Mythology

Different astrological traditions are dependent on a particular culture's prevailing mythology. These varied mythologies naturally reflect the cultures they emerge from. Images from these mythological systems are usually understandable to natives of the culture they are a part of. Most classicists think that Western astrology is dependent on Greek mythology.

Some modern thinkers, notably Carl Jung,[10] believe in its descriptive powers regarding the mind without necessarily subscribing to its predictive claims. Jung described astrology in the following terms: "As we all know, science began with the stars, and mankind discovered in them the dominants of the unconscious, the 'gods', as well as the curious psychological qualities of the zodiac: a complete projected theory of human character. Astrology is a primordial experience similar to alchemy".[11] According to Jung this had a continuing value in European culture right to the present day: "Whereas in the Church the increasing differentiation of ritual and dogma alienated consciousness from its natural roots in the unconscious, alchemy and astrology , were ceaselessly engaged in preserving the bridge to nature, i.e., to the unconscious psyche, from decay. Astrology led consciousness back again and again to the knowledge of Heimarmene, that is, the dependence of character and destiny on certain moments in time".[12] Consequently, some regard astrology as a way of learning about one self and one's motivations. Increasingly, psychologists and historians[13] have become interested in Jung's theory of the fundamentality and indissolubility of archetypes in the human mind and their correlation with the symbols of the horoscope.


  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ Joseph Crane, Planetary Symbolism & Medieval Literature, Skyscript, August, 2011.
  3. ^ A. Kitson (1996). "Astrology and English literature". Contemporary Review, Oct 1996. Retrieved 2006-07-17. M. Allen, J.H. Fisher. "Essential Chaucer: Science, including astrology". University of Texas, San Antonio. Retrieved 2006-07-17. A.B.P. Mattar et al.. "Astronomy and Astrology in the Works of Chaucer". University of Singapore. Retrieved 2006-07-17. 
  4. ^ P. Brown. "Shakespeare, Astrology, and Alchemy: A Critical and Historical Perspective". The Mountain Astrologer, Feb/Mar 2004. F. Piechoski. "Shakespeare's Astrology". 
  5. ^ Spencer, Neil. Stargazers? But of course. The Observer. (12 November 2000) [1] "Gone With the Wind, is a thinly disguised astrological allegory. Margaret Mitchell based the characters of her torrid epic on the zodiac, leaving a blatant trail of clues which were only picked up in 1978 when US astrologer Darrell Martinie was shown photocopies of notes from Mitchell's library."
  6. ^ "Rare JK Rowling work on the market for £25,000". The Scotsman, Edinburgh. 30 July 2010.  Robert Currey. "Astrology and J K Rowling". Retrieved 3 August 2011.  Paul Fraser (26 May 2010). "An incredibly rare unpublished work by J.K.Rowling". Paul Fraser Collectibles. 
  7. ^ Campion, Nicholas.:A History of Western Astrology: Volume II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds. (Continuum Books, 2009) pp.244-245 ISBN 978-1-84725-224-1
  8. ^ Akwagyiram,Alexis. Farewell Pluto? BBC News Channel. 2 August 2005 [2]
  9. ^ The Seven Liberal Arts and the West Door of Chartres Cathedral | Titus Burckhardt | Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Summer, 1969)
  10. ^ Carl G. Jung, "Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious," excerpted in The Basic Writings of C.G. Jung (Modern Library, repr. 1993), 362-363.
  11. ^ Dr Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy,
  12. ^ Dr Carl Jung, Ibid
  13. ^ Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View Viking (New York, 2006.) ISBN 0-670-03292-1.

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