Astrology and Culture

Astrology and Culture

Until the 17th century, astrology was an integral part of Western culture. In India, it still is. You will find references to astrological symbolism in literature, art, music and other cultural expressions. In several of his plays, Shakespeare used astrological descriptions as a short-hand description of the personality and attitudes of his characters. The artists of the Renaissance used astrological symbolism in their paintings, sculptures and in the stained glass windows of churches. We still refer to people as firey, airy, and earthy. It is interesting that wetness has not retained a similar adjectival role. And even though astrology is decried in public on a regular basis, nearly all newspapers and magazines still have the horoscope column and polls continue to show that 25% - 30% of people believe astrology can work.

The author of The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, employs the astrological zodiacal wheel in his work and refers to the zodiac as "the twelve-toothed cogwheel" (Purgatorio, Canto IV, v. 64). Dante mentions that his realization of having strayed from the true way came in his thirty-fifth year as "the sun was climbing Aries" (Inferno, Canto I, vv. 37-39).

Dante employs the signs of the zodiac in a very specific manner which serves his occult theme of polarities. Only six of the twelve signs are found in the The Divine Comedy. Two signs are accented in each of its three sections, namely, The Inferno, The Purgatorio and The Paradisio." These six signs are Aries (Inferno, Canto I, v. 38), Aquarius (Inferno, Canto XXIX, v. 2), Sagittarius (Purgatorio, Canto II, vv. 55-56), Libra (Purgatorio, Canto XXVII, vv. 1-3), Leo (Paradisio, Canto XXI, v. 14) and Gemini (Paradisio, Canto XXII, vv. 110-111).

Dante's usage of the zodiacal wheel serves as a dramatic as well as structural and architectonic feature in organizing and weaving his literary edifice. Aries has a polarity with Libra; Aquarius with Leo and Sagittarius with Gemini.

The twelve signs of the astrological zodiacal wheel are normally listed in the following counter-clockwise sequence: Aries Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Dante, however, begins with Aries and moves through Pisces into Aquarius (clockwise)! Next he moves from Aquarius through Capricorn into Sagittarius; from Sagittarius through Scorpio into Libra and Libra through Virgo into Leo. Finally, he moves from Leo through Cancer into Gemini.

Dante's reverse movement from Aries into Pisces and on through the zodiac rather than from Aries into Taurus is fundamental to his quest/journey through the darkness back toward the 'true way' or light.

It is not only dramatic but iconic (regarding the esoterica of the astrological signs) that Dante ends his journey in Gemini. There he is reunited with his beloved Beatrice. Gemini is the sign of the Eternal Twins as well as Dante's Sun sign (Paradisio, Canto XXII, vv. 110-117). Gemini and Virgo are also ruled by the only androgynous planet, namely, Mercury.


Water Cambra received an MA in Philosophy from San Francisco State University in 1993. He is a member of the Ancient and Mystical Order Rose Cross (AMORC) headquartered in San Jose, California (Rosicrucians).

His intellectual and academic interests have been philosophy of religion, historiography and hermeneutics.

If you believe psychology is a merely a modern invention of a narcissistic age, you haven’t been paying attention.

While the “scientific” study of psychology in a laboratory may be a relatively modern notion, (re)invented by researchers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the study of the mind has ancient roots in all human cultures.  The Hellenistic world that gave rise to astrology (in the form we know and love) is no exception. In fact, many of the concepts we think of as part of the modern study of psychology have deep roots in the Hellenistic world.

We will start discussing this topic by going back to the roots of Jyotisha-not in the Jyotisha texts themselves, but In related thought and other important texts.

Vedic Astrology, or Jyotisha is considered one of the Vedangas or "limbs" of the Vedas.  As a matter of fact, it is considered the "eye" of the Vedas. The legends of the Vedas do represent the chief gods of the Vedas as being omniscient beings, such as Varuna, the lord of dharma who encompasses the night sky and who judges everyone's actions, and Indra (who succeeds Varuna as chief deity) as having a 1,000 eyes:

Under the cover of a standard medieval romance, Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale is a grim and astrologically-rich contemplation of human passion, fortune, and destiny. This article ponders the purposes of the Knight’s Tale’s uses of astrology and astrological symbolism in the context of these larger issues. Why do gods and humans take on qualities of astrology’s planets? Why is so much timing for the action according to planetary hours and days? Of particular note is the poet’s presentation of “Duc” Theseus and his planetary symbolism. These issues also allow us to understand better the tie between the Tale and its narrator.

Over the past few decades, “chaos theory” and “complexity theory” have emerged as new scientific models for understanding chaotic and/or complex systems. Chaos theory has grown out of physics and mathematics. Complexity theory has developed mainly from studying biological and human systems. These theories share a natural alignment with the spirit and practice of astrology, more so than other attempts to use astrology with the concepts of modern science. The current configuration of Uranus and Pluto makes this an auspicious time to discuss chaos and complexity theory with astrologers.

By outward appearances, Neo lived an unremarkable life. He slept, ate, went to work. Yet a nagging feeling something was not as it appeared persisted. His search led him to take the red pill, and wake up to a more-real reality he never before imagined.

Nice plot for the sci-fi hit movie The Matrix. But screenwriting siblings the Wachowskis consciously tipped their hats to the philosophy of the ancient Greeks. The admonition to "Wake Up!" has a long history in Western culture.

Science Fiction explores possibilities of the past, present and future. So does astrology! Astrologers are often ardent science fiction fans and what better piece of science fiction to consider than Star Trek?

Of course, trying to work with the astrology of science fiction characters poses some interesting challenges to astrology, for example:

• First you have to deal with a larger question: What happens to astrology if humans colonize space?
• And, of course, does astrology even make sense for fictional characters and stories?
• Another consideration is whether or not our science fiction tales reflect an astrological zeitgeist?

By Carol Tebbs, MA

Over 4000 years ago, nomads sprung from the soil of northeastern Europe and entered the Indus Valley of ancient India. They called themselves Aryans, or noble ones, and the religion they brought with them comprised the first practice of Hinduism. The centerpiece of Aryan religion was a fire sacrifice to the gods performed by priests specially trained to chant sacred hymns. The hymns themselves were known as Vedas or sacred knowledge. The Vedas are the scriptural bedrock of the Hindu tradition.