Astrology has long been a controversial subject. As a method of predicting the future and dictating personality traits based on an individual's time and place of birth, it was long ago discarded in favor of modern science. As long as astrology is approached from a literalistic viewpoint, it carries too many contradictions for the modern scientific consciousness to accept. Any example can be cited of two very different people born at precisely the same time, as thousands are across the world every moment, and this seems to be enough to disqualify astrology as any kind of meaningful concept.
But a literalistic perspective is not the only possible approach. The subject is of interest to historians, mythographers, and others for academic reasons, and it still appeals to millions of aficionados around the world for the insight it can bring to the ever-popular quest for self-discovery. Due to this alone, astrology is relevant to the subject of modern spirituality.
Mythographer Joseph Campbell suggests that the original awareness of the cosmos, arrayed with its diamond patterns of starlight, came as a result of the adoption of agriculture as a lifestyle at the dawn of the Neolithic era, at approximately 7000 B.C.E. Attention to the marvelously regular patterns of the stars helped to fix the best timing for planting and harvesting. Past this handy practicality, it was only a matter of time before the mythic imagination began to project familiar images onto the sky, connecting the dots in a grand vision that remade the stars into god carriers. Thus, the ancient art of astrology was developed in nearly every developed civilization of the ancient world, including Egypt, the Middle East, Persia, India, China, and the empires of Mesoamerica. There is possibly no more graphic example of the erection of a sphere of psychic protection in what the sociologist Peter Berger entitled the "Sacred Canopy." The pretty star patterns of the night sky came to represent a glorious sacred canopy of dancing gods, leaping beasts, and fleeing enemies, helping to demarcate a people's all-important sense of place in the world. The Western system of astrology was inherited from the Babylonians, and later embellished by the Greeks and Latins. Each of the planets was named after a prominent god, and as such, their titles were bequeathed to us to this day. Originally called the "zodiakos," or "circle of animals," the ancient system merged with many currents of influence in the Hellenistic era in a process often referred to as "syncretism," as myriad sources mingled to produce an array of new systems including astrology, alchemy, Tarot, Kabbalah, hermetic arts, and many more.
Emerging Christianity was certainly not immune from this phenomenon of syncretism. As historian Jean Seznec details, the early Church both adopted aspects of astrology, such as the prominent role played by the star of Bethlehem in leading astrologers from the east to the birth of their savior, but also repudiated it. Astrology embodied the concept of unalterable fate, which went against their concepts of free will and irresistible grace. Still, astrology continued to enjoy extreme popularity through the Renaissance, as popes, kings, and great ladies such as Catherine de Medici employed professional astrologers, and all the major universities hosted chairs in astrology. In Seznec's words, this demonstrates well "to what extent the church yielded to the prevailing superstition." How else can we explain, he asks, the role played by the constellations of the zodiac in the decorations at the Vatican?
If Christianity leveled some of the original blows at astrology, the rationalism and empirical sciences of the early modern era seemed to finish it as any kind of viable explanation for one's fate and place in the world. But the 20th century witnessed a revival of interest in mythic forms, along with the introduction of metaphorical and symbolic methodologies, such as those featured in many perspectives from the New Age movement, to the revival of neopaganism, to the symbolic interpretations of the psychologists. Jungian archetypal theory has played an especially significant role in the revival of interest in astrology and other symbol systems of the ancient world, for the archetypal expressions they contain, rather than for any literal influence on day-to-day life.
And in 20th-century currents of thought, not even the literal applications of astrology can be so easily dismissed anymore, now that quantum physics has uncovered a whole new world of correspondences among particles, gravitational currents, and the strange influence of thought. In an era when we can easily document the gravitational pull of the moon, we can no longer summarily dismiss what might be more subtle, but no less genuine, gravitational and wave patterns emanating from various spatial bodies and sectors of the sky. The new paradigm pictures our world as permanently bathed in a very real cascade of cosmic forces, affecting every inhabitant of the globe. Although of course the specific understandings are quite different, still, this vision might not be so drastically removed from the sacred canopies of the ancients who imagined the same globe as bathed in a continual stream of cosmic influences.