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FAQ

medieval astrology

What's Your Sign?

The following provides a brief history of the ancient practice of astrology and the effect that the planets supposedly hold over our lives and fortunes, along with a few images from the medieval period when astrology, despite official Church teaching, was at its height.

Since ancient Egypt, stargazers have observed that the planets move according to patterns. Do our lives move according to the same patterns?

Medieval Astrology

Aries
Aries comes in like
a Ram...in a medieval
French manuscript.
courtesy Bibliotheque
nationale de France

Astrologers from ancient times have always felt that the patterns of our lives and the patterns of the stars were bound up in some way. The reasoning behind the belief is based on a popular analogy - that God, or the gods, ruled the moon and planets and, by extension, the seasons... and us.

The Romans have handed down many of the familiar astrological signs and symbols we know today. In the 8th century, monks in their monasteries preserved the texts of ancient Rome by copying down the old lore. Astrology was known to have been studied, but most often in secrecy.

Taurus
Taurus, from Allegory of
April
by Francesco del
Cossa, 15th century.

Established religions condemned the notion that the planets ruled our fate - but there were concessions. At least one 13th century Jewish manuscript equated the twelve astrological signs with the twelve tribes of Israel, for example. And the Christian Church would sometimes turn a blind eye to the belief in medieval astrology, or the 'magic science.' Weren't even priests and nuns known to consult the stars?

Gemini

Gemini,
in a medieval calendar.
Koninklijke Bibliotheek.

French Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1420) was a well-known practictioner when he wrote Concordance of Astronomy with History to show that major historical events could be determined by astronomical calculations. Some Christian church leaders even encouraged their flocks to believe. It helped keep them away from more dangerous practices - like black magic, sorcery and witchcraft.

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