Among the most popular delusions of mankind, in earlier ages, were the
deductions drawn from the stars, under the name of astrology; a science so
long sustained by men of superior intellect, as to justify the credulity
of the ignorant. Hippocrates consulted the moon before he administered
medicine to his patients. Horace, Virgil, Richelieu, Mazarin, believed in
judicial astrology. Some attributed the honour of this discovery to
Abraham, others to Zoroaster; while the Greeks claim it for one of the
seven Sages of Greeks, Chilo of Lacedemonia, who professed to have
discovered in the heavens the germ and principle of our various
The Romans adopted these astrological superstitions; and since that
period, both the study of the moon and stars, with the view to
prognostication, has proved a profitable pursuit. Petronius and the poet
Manilius assured their contemporaries that a child born under Aquarius,
could not fail to prefer fountains and cascades. But they forgot that
Aquarius was known long before the invention of fountains. Astrology was
then in its infancy, but like a youth improved by his travels, it acquired
strength and consistency among the Arabs.
Long before the Arabs, however, the great Hermes had asserted: “As men
have seven apertures in the head, and there exist seven planets, it must
be inferred that every planet presides over one of these apertures in the
human head.” The following is the manner in which Hermes disposed of them.
He made Jupiter and Saturn preside over the ears; Mars and Venus the
nostrils; the Sun and Moon represented the eyes; and Mercury had the care
of the mouth. New planets, however, have since been discovered; and in all
conscience, the disciples of Hermes ought to have made proportionate holes
in the head in support of his doctrines.
Proceeding from the physical to the moral world, they established seven
presidencies; Venus over love, Mercury over eloquence, Saturn over grief,
the Sun over glory, and the Moon over domestic economy.
After this ingenious arrangement, they assigned to every colour its
peculiar star. Blue belonged to Jupiter, yellow to the Sun, green to
Venus, red to Mars, probably from his sanguinary influence, white to the
Moon, black to Saturn, while Mercury presided over the different shadings
of all the colours. After the theory ensued the application, which was
nearly as follows:
“Place a child in the centre of a circle, upon the circumference of which
the stars are disposed as at the moment of his conception, or birth. Their
influences concentrate upon him, and confer on him a fixed and unalterable
destiny. He will be virtuous or vicious, prosperous, or unfortunate in
this world, according to the configuration of the planets.”
According to the moral character of the stars, the Sun is benevolent and
auspicious; Saturn, dull, morose, and cold; the Moon moist and melancholy;
Jupiter, temperate, and his influences kindly; Mars, dry and fervent;
Venus prolific and affable; Mercury, inconstant and variable.
Astrologers assigned twelve houses to the zodiac, appropriated to the
different planets. The first was consecrated to life and the body; from
whence emanates the white, black, and copper coloured races, giants,
dwarfs, albinos, idiots, and men of genius. The second house is devoted to
the interests of society in general; and in the third house, family
affairs between relatives of different degrees, excepting testamentary
dispositions, to which they devoted a fourth house. To pass from grave to
gay, enter the fifth house, where all is mirth, pleasure, and infantine
pastimes. Lackies and sempstresses occupy the sixth house, but they have
but little repose if the wall between it and the next house be not
tolerably thick; being inhabited by beautiful women, envy, hatred, and
malice. The eighth house of the zodiac is the cemetery; the ninth, the
head-quarters of voyages, missions, and processions; whilst the tenth is
the resort of the highest society, the nobility and dignitaries of state.
The eleventh house is destined for the prosperous, who pass their lives in
the delights of wit and friendship. The twelfth differs from the
preceding, being devoted to the groans of the wretched in their dungeons,
and the haunt of treason and shame. In building these zodiacal houses, the
representative form of certain Governments had not been anticipated, or a
better balance of power might have been effected.
Such were the chimeras of antiquity, as handed down to modern times.
Plutarch relied so much on the efficacy of the stars, that he prevented
the Lacedemonians from going into battle before the full moon; and Cæsar
and Pompey frequently consulted the astrologers. The Emperor Augustus,
born under the sign Capricorn, had a medal struck in honour of his natal
star. Caracalla had the horoscope drawn of all those he employed; while
his policy, favour, and misgivings were uniformly decided by the stars.
When the horoscope of any influential person augured ill, Caracalla had
him put to death;—a fine triumph for astrology!
Phrenology has now usurped the throne of astrology; and were sovereigns or
judges to form their judgments after the theory of Dr. Gall, they would
save themselves a world of trouble.
The reign of Catherine de Medicis was the triumph of astrology in France.
Not a high-born dame but had her Baron, a name assigned to the family
astrologer, who was as much a matter of course as, in other times, a
The astrological rage subsided during the reign of Louis XIV; but
disappeared only under the Regency. Voltaire, writes in 1757, when he was
sixty, that in his youth, the last adepts of astrology, Count
Boulainvilliers and the Italian Calonna, foretold his end at thirty years
of age. Voltaire remarks, “I have done them by thirty years!”—to which
the sequel added upwards of twenty more.
When the Europeans first penetrated the vast regions of Asia, astrology
was found to be much in vogue in Persia and China. In the latter country,
the Emperor, on his accession, has his horoscope drawn. The Japanese
consult the stars previous to undertaking any enterprise. If they succeed,
they thank their stars; if they fail, they resign themselves to their
Astrology had its hero, a Cato or Vatel, in the astrologer Cardan; who,
having predicted his death to the day and the hour, and failed in his
calculations, killed himself for the credit of science! A more judicious
prediction was that of the astrologer to Louis XI.; his master, who having
inquired of him the hour of his own death: “Two after that of your
Majesty!” replied he; and the oracle became a safeguard over his days.
Human pride often stimulates the influence of superstition. Napoleon once
pointed out his star to Cardinal Fesch, who could not make it out. “It is
lost upon you,” said the Emperor, “but I see it plainly enough!” Napoleon
affected reliance upon an influence which was known to be auspicious to
his fortunes. Had the Cardinal, in return, pretended to similar
distinction, he would probably have answered as Jean Jacques Rousseau did
to a shopkeeper, who complained of his stars. “How, Sir, do such people as
you pretend to have stars?” Were astrologers in general, like Cardan,
content to exercise their art upon themselves, we should not oppose their
proceedings. But their predictions have been known to produce a panic
throughout an entire population. For instance, a German mathematician,
named Stoffler, whose audacity was only equalled by the credulity of his
proselytes, predicted, towards the end of the fifteenth century, another
Deluge for the month of February, 1524. “How was it possible,” he argued,
“to escape from the calamity, when at that particular period Mars and
Pisces, Saturn and Jupiter were to be in conjunction.” Upon the eve of
this awful event, in various countries of Europe, carpenters could
scarcely be found in sufficient numbers to build the arks in preparation.
Not a drop of rain, however, fell during the dreaded month of February,
and Stoffler became an object of general ridicule. Far, however, from
feeling himself defeated or acknowledging his error, he professed to have
made a mistake in the date; and predicted the end of the world for 1588.
These predictions, alarming only to women and children, have been
frequently renewed by others. About the middle of the same century, the
Jews were one day seen waiting at their windows, expecting the arrival of
their Messiah; an Israelite, named Avenar, having announced his coming.
Cardan predicted a long and glorious reign to Edward VI, King of England;
who nevertheless died in his sixteenth year!