Category Archives: astrology history

The Astronomer and the Witch

Ulinka Rublack looks back at the life of Johannes Kepler and the year he spent defending his mother against charges of witchcraft in their hometown of Leonberg, Germany in the early 17th century in her engrossing book, The Astronomer and the Witch.

Kepler’s work fits neatly into a time when there was great excitement in studying the natural world, which was seen as part of God’s great plan. There was enthusiasm for mechanical developments such as clocks, as well as natural remedies. While women were generally not educated, they nevertheless had access to medicinal plants and herbs, and Katherina Kepler used these for herself, family and friends.

Kepler was around 50 in 1720, when his mother was arrested and imprisoned. He had previously been associated with Tycho Brahe and Emperor Rudolph II and had already published many of his most important works, but experienced career ups and downs in a time of great instability between Catholics and Lutherans. We learn something about his personal life and relationships with colleagues, family and friends.

Leonberg and its neighboring towns regularly prosecuted witches, who were often older women, hanging or burning those convicted. Katharina’s initial accuser gained support, and rumors turned to testimony against her. Her tough, confrontational manner hurt her case, with a biased and corrupt local official complicating things. Over 70 at the time of the arrest, she’d been a widow who’d raised a family on her own and successfully supported herself for over 30 years. She was jailed for over a year while chained to the floor.

At the same time Kepler published his Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, court records show how he was able to use his experience in the political world and as a critical thinker to craft his mother’s defense. He used rigorous logic and research to dissect the testimony against Katharina, and rhetorical persuasion to argue her case.

The author does an excellent job of portraying Kepler as a multi-faceted individual and admits that he had a large collection of horoscopes and did chart interpretations and forecasts for his various patrons. But she unfortunately does not appear to have researched astrology, which could only have strengthened her work. Rublack provides an excellent historical context for Kepler’s “negative sketches,” but to an astrologer, these are obviously cook-book-like delineations of planetary combinations. She similarly states that “What we call ‘gender’ played no role at all in the explanatory framework of astrology,” which is simply incorrect. Interestingly, she shares some of Kepler’s unanswered questions about his own birth chart, which might be answered by using the outer planets today.

Rublack stresses Kepler’s skepticism, stating, “his view that astrology was of little value.” She is probably more correct in her later discussion, where she concludes that Kepler’s mature belief was non-deterministic, allowing for the influence of the human soul, culture, education, choice and habits to modify the horoscope: “good astrology was very much like medicine in its character, an inductive art, which required observation, experience and analysis.” Kepler’s beliefs were based upon his experience as well as his optimistic Christian world view; he also stressed the need for accurate birth data. Astrologically, he was an innovator, as he was in astronomy.

Despite my quibbles, this is an excellent book for anyone interested in the history of ideas, and particularly for astrologers who wish to learn more about one of their most successful forebears.

Buy on Amazon.com: The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for his Mother

Kepler’s Astrology, Ken Negus’ translation of some of Kepler’s astrological writings is available in print.

Culture & Cosmos’ edition on Kepler is unfortunately no longer available. See the Table of Contents here.

Evangeline Adams Update

Half a Saturn cycle after my 2002 biography of Evangeline Adams, I’m updating it. And with many collections now online, I’m finding a lot of new information.

I’d never been able to find proprietor Warren F. Leland’s report of Evangeline’s accurate 1899 forecast of disaster for the Windsor Hotel. But now I’ve discovered an article in which he advises a reporter what Adams told him in advance.

I wasn’t sure about Evangeline’s maternal grandfather. But with several of her distant relations posting Family Trees online, I’ve now definitely identified him. He was a machinist with nine children and a suicide! This says something significant about Adams’ mother and grandmother, as they were obviously survivors. Evangeline was, too.

In her autobiography, Evangeline Adams talks about her engagement to her employer, a Mr. Lord. The relationship was facilitated by her aunt. I’d searched for Mr. Lord years ago but with no first name it was difficult to go further. I’ve now found him in newspaper databases through the company name that Adams provided. And it turns out that Luther S. Lord was thirty years older than Evangeline Adams. It was more common in the 19th century for women to marry much older men. But thank goodness she didn’t! She was only eighteen or nineteen at the time.

I’m excited to search for more about other people and events in Evangeline’s life in the coming months and expect to share these in the update of Foreseeing the Future: Evangeline Adams and Astrology in America.

Book Blog Tour

Check out the Blog Tour for my astrological mystery novel, The Precious Pachyderm. Set in 1920s New York City, astrologer Evangeline Adams and her two assistants discover who stole a priceless elephant figurine and killed one of their high-class clients.

Join me for some excerpts from the book and a review or two. I’ll also reply to comments and answer your questions. Plus: sign up to win a $15 Amazon gift card!

October 23: T’s Stuff
October 24: Books, Dreams,Life
October 25: This and That Book Blog
October 26: Fabulous and Brunette
October 27: Book Lover Promo
October 30: BooksChatter
October 31: Straight From the Library
November 1: fuonlyknew
November 2: Jane Reads – review
November 3: The Avid Reader

In the Shadow of the Moon

At the time of the Uranus-Neptune conjunction in the early 90s, I was thrilled to read some of Professor Anthony Aveni’s books. Conversing with the Planets looked at people’s relationships with the cosmos through history and across cultures, and Empires of Time covered how people consider time, which derives from the cycles of the Sun and Moon. These books both touched on astrology, as the author is both an astronomer and anthropologist. Aveni became one of the first prominent voices on what would now be called cultural astronomy or, at the time, archaeo-astronomy.

Anthony Aveni’s work is refreshing since he accepts people’s beliefs (including astrology) as part of what makes them interesting. His latest book, In the Shadow of the Moon, covers solar eclipse viewing and arrives in time for total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. on 8/21/17.

In the Shadow of the Moon looks at not only eclipses but also the people who study them. The author eloquently shares his own eclipse viewing experiences and presents others who’ve captured the spectacle in words. We learn about predicting eclipses through the centuries, from Stonehenge to Babylon, the ancient Greeks, Chinese and Maya, with detailed accounts of eclipse expeditions in the U.S. and abroad in more recent times.

Full of insight and wit, Anthony Aveni’s eclipse book is part science history, part human interest, and captures the challenges of navigating capricious weather as well as the joys of encountering this rare natural phenomenon.

While this book doesn’t address the astrology of eclipses, it provides an excellent background to studying them and communicates why they’re so compelling, regardless of time and space.

Buy from Amazon.com:  In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses
Empires of Time: Calendars, Clocks, and Cultures
Conversing with the Planets: How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos (Kodansha Globe) by Aveni, Anthony published by Kodansha Globe Paperback

NCGR Geocosmic Review

Scott Silverman spun an essay on Evangeline Adams, and 1920s astrology and mysteries from his review of my book, The Precious Pachyderm, in the Winter issue of NCGR’s Geocosmic Journal. (This is a great issue edited by Leigh Westin, and includes articles by Bill Meridian, Christeen Skinner, David Perloff and Meira Epstein, among many others.) Geocosmic Jrnl Winter 2017

“Christino’s mystery novel is engaging, well plotted and paced, with dialogue that feels true to the time. I didn’t stumble across a single anachronistic historical detail, although, non-spoiler alert, EA does stumble across her fair share of shady operators, elephant aficionados and hard boiled detectives. After all, it’s a mystery.

High society matrons, condescending cops, delightful dog-walkers, and enigmatic emissaries of eastern mysticism are all present and accounted for as compelling secondary characters.”

More about The Precious Pachyderm here

Buy Kindle versionThe Precious Pachyderm (An Evangeline Adams Mystery Book 1)
Buy print version

The Star of the Magi

Courtney Roberts’ provocative and well-researched book, The Star of the Magi, takes a critical look at the Bible story in Matthew.  Roberts reviews the previous work on this topic and concludes that most writers have sought a literal star, using a rather narrow focus.  None were astrologers.  Her perspective is much broader and she has added insight from studying a wide array of historical, religious and astrological texts to reach her conclusions.

To put Matthew’s statement about the star in the context of its time and place, Roberts begins by reviewing the history and politics of Judea and especially the Magi and their beliefs.  Her overview of Zoroastrianism, Persian astrology, the great conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn and the traditions of messianic prophecy is fascinating.  While the author often disagrees with previous writers on the subject, her intent is not to cut down others’ contributions, but rather to correct common misconceptions.

Courtney Roberts’ analysis is illuminating and sensible, and she makes it clear that we in the west have a particular bias and that these events happened a very long time ago.  The Star of the Magi is a scholarly work and deserves serious study by anyone interested in the history of astrology, world ages and the Christmas star.   star-of-the-magi

Buy in Print: The Star of the Magi: The Mystery That Heralded the Coming of Christ by Roberts, Courtney [New Page Books, 2007] (Paperback) [Paperback]

Buy for Kindle: The Star of the Magi: The Mystery That Heralded the Coming of Christ

When We Got It Right

Astrologers have brooded enough about their mis-calls of the 2016 election.  Let’s remember some highlights – 11/7/00 and Bush v. Gore.  The country didn’t know who the winner was, but most astrologers did, and funnily enough, it had been a fairly easy call.  A stationary Mercury square Neptune, among other considerations, informed many.  Startup Stock Photos

Here are a few of the many correct astrological forecasts from 2000 – at times scarily accurate.  (Some of these astrologers have unfortunately passed in recent years.)

Arch Crawford, New York, NY, financial newsletter 10/2/00:  “This day will not go as expected.  Something really strange and unusual will make this day remarkable.”

Jacob Schwartz, Glenside, PA, New Visions magazine 10/00:  “Will the next President receive a majority of the popular vote of the voting citizens of the U.S.?  No.  The election will be so close that both major party candidates will be able to claim a victory of sorts!”

Kim Rogers-Gallagher, Bradenton, FL, American Astrology “Tomorrow’s News” November issue:  “Tuesday evening looks a bit confusing… something’s been overlooked, stalled or delayed.  It’s going to be tough to tell the results until very late that evening.”

Jim Shawvan, San Diego, StarIQ.com 11/6/00:  “uncertainty may develop as the count goes on.  The election may be so close in some states that it may be several days before the actual Electoral College votes can be tallied with accuracy.”

Maxine Fiel, New York, Liz Smith column, Newsday:  “What seems like a runaway winter could end up the loser.  The winner might not be decided after the polls close.”

Photo courtesy of pexels.com

Astrology is Popular!

Astrology is gaining in popularity these days, entering the mainstream media once again.  2012’s Lola Versus cast Greta Gerwig as a woman negotiating her Saturn return, and the musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 premiered the same year.  The Comet opened on Broadway in November as David Hyde Pierce continued his run in A Life, about an astrologer trying to make sense of a recent break-up and his place in the universe. party-crowd-isorepublic

In 2014, Mother Jones ran an article summarizing recent polls on belief in astrology.  A National Science Foundation study suggested that Americans are more accepting of astrology than they have been in over 30 years.

Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie are all reported to believe in and even rely on astrology.

Astrology is breaking out into popular culture once again, for the first time that I can remember since its great popularity in the 60s when the musical Hair and “The Age of Aquarius” became synonymous with the beginning of the “New Age.”  And with the proliferation of online classes and accreditation programs in the 21st century, it’s now probably better understood than it was before.

Photo courtesy of ISORepublic.com

Astrology on Broadway

Does Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 have anything to do with astrology?  The musical, which has been produced to wide acclaim for over four years, recently opened on Broadway.  It’s adapted from a segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.1986_halley_comet

When Pierre sees the comet at the end of the show he feels joyful and uplifted, and that he’s entering a new life.  It speaks to his soul.  And through the millennia, astrologers have looked to the skies in the same way.  The represent a higher plane, especially when things are going in our favor!

The Great Comet had been associated with the War of 1812 (as well as the powerful New Madrid earthquakes in the U.S.), but it actually appeared in 1811, and had faded out by the time that Napoleon entered Russia in the spring of 1812.  Wine bottled in 1811 was renowned for its quality, as are other “comet vintages.”

And Tolstoy had given a twist to the traditional interpretation of a comet, which often portended disaster.  Comets were typically unexpected, not regular and predictable as the stars and planets, and therefore not to be trusted.  The dispute among the producers before the show’s Broadway opening is more in keeping with a cometary influence.

Drawing Up Horoscopes by Hand

Like most astrologers my age, I originally learned to draw up horoscopes by hand.  Computers quickly changed all that and made it much quicker and easier to calculate charts.  But I could never let go of hand writing the aspects.

I didn’t like how they looked on the print-outs, no matter how many different wheel styles I tried.  And more importantly, they never made much sense to me that way.

So I’ve always used a computer to print out charts, but still keep my colored pencils to draw in the aspects myself.  I figure them out the old-fashioned way, Sun-Moon, Sun-Mercury, Sun-Venus, etc.  As I work through them, I familiarize myself with the chart and discover many connections and patterns that I might have otherwise missed.  When I’m finished, I feel like I have a good impression of the person’s horoscope, its highlights and issues.

Technology facilitates many things for us these days, but may also take away some levels of our experience.  My gut feeling on this was recently confirmed by a NY Times article reviewing studies of handwriting vs. keyboarding.  It appears that more brain circuits are activated with manual writing, increasing mental activity and ideas.  And, as I somehow suspected, handwriting may also help us process new information better.