Astrology: Art or Science?

Is astrology an art or science? For years, people have been debating this question and the jury is still out on this question. Some people believe that astrology is more of an art than a science. Like art, astrology too uses symbols to communicate to us. For example, when an astrologer finds the planet Mars to be dominant in a person’s horoscope, it signifies many things like aggression, anger, power, courage, etc. It can also indicate rashes and headaches and similar problems caused by repressed anger and tension. But how Mars will express itself in a person’s horoscope can be discerned only by the astrologer’s intuition. Thus we could say that astrology is an art that needs many faculties like intellect, intuition, imagination, empathy, experience and perspective to come into play, to arrive at the right interpretation. Also, like art, astrology is not always precise though it provides insight and meaning. Just like an artist offers his own interpretation of what he sees or feels, the astrologer offers his own interpretation of a person’s natal chart and this may differ from astrologer to astrologer, which is also the reason why most people refuse to acknowledge astrology as a science.

Astrology as Art

We could say that astrology is the art of portraying or depicting a moment in the skies which corresponds to an event that happens on earth. It could be the birth of a child, a girl’s coming of age, the launching of a company, the raising of a question, a marriage or death. The drawing of the natal chart can be compared to the artist’s drawing but the design is one that has already been drawn by God. The real artistry has to do more with how and what the astrologer sees and shows. It is a little more than mere interpretation as intuition also plays a role.

Astrology as Science

Today, astrology is not acknowledged as a science but there was a time when it was seen as a branch of astronomy. Astrology investigates the influence of the stars on earthly happenings. Hence, astrologers must have a good understanding of planetary movements and the locations of the stars. It is a fact that renowned scientists like Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi (787–886), al-Biruni (973–1048), and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274) all authored astrological treatises.

Astrology can be called a science because astrologers use mathematical, astronomical and geometrical methods. It requires both observation and correlation to be carried out in a scientific as well as divinatory manner. The early astrologers observed and recorded the movements of planets and other heavenly objects in the sky and based on these, made rather accurate predictions on their future appearances.

Using certain rules regarding the relative positions and movements of heavenly bodies, astrology offers predictions and explanations for earthly events and human nature. For instance, a person with Mercury dominant in their birth chart is likely to become a good businessman, teacher or orator.

Vedic Astrology

Vedic Astrology, or Jyotish, came to us from the Vedas, the world’s most ancient scriptures, which have an antiquity of over 6,000 years. They speak of a rich culture that was proficient in the arts, religion, science, philosophy, science and medicine. The first mention of Jyotish was in the Rig Veda, and there were references to it in the classical Indian epics like the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Bhagavad-Gita.

Many believe that the Vedas are the most comprehensive system of knowledge that mankind has and Jyotish is one of its most important components. The Sanskrit word, ‘Jyotish’ means ‘divine light’. It represents the eye of divine knowledge. Supposedly, Jyotish was conceived by ancient sages who attained higher states of consciousness. This allowed them to acquire an understanding of life that transcended time and space. In other words, they could see beyond past, present and future. While in this state, they realized that the energetic planetary rays are transmitters of light energy. These waves of energy were seen to influence everything living and non-living, affecting human beings biologically and psychologically. The sages purportedly did experiments with their observations and codified them into rules of astronomical calculations. These became the laws of Jyotish.

The Vedas form a composite knowledge. All kinds of knowledge are viewed in context of Vedic philosophy. Thus, the sciences were consistent with artistic expression and medicine was consistent with religion and so on. This goes against the modern and Western scientific view that has put different kinds of knowledge into separate compartments. This fragmentation is the reason why today different disciplines are in conflict with one another.

If one is aware of the inter-relatedness of all things one will be able to understand the Vedic concept of karma. Karma, simply put, is the idea that nothing, be it deed, thought or word escapes the ultimate justice of the universe. This law of cause and effect, or karma, finds expression in science too: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Almost all religious and spiritual texts have sayings like ‘As you sow, so shall you reap”, or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to illustrate the importance of karma. But it is in the Vedas that the law of karma becomes a fundamental philosophy of life.

When Astrology was a Science

In his ‘History of the Royal College of Physicians’ (1964), Sir George Clark says that astrology was a high specialism in the 16th century. He also claimed that an astrologer’s position in society was like that of a physician. Originally, and until the 17th century, astrology was regarded as a form of early science. Used in tandem with astronomy, it was able to predict future events and was used as an early calendar. That rift has only existed for the last several centuries. The rift between astrology and science is rather ironic, because historically, astrology was the parent of the physical sciences. It was the astrologer, Copernicus, who suggested that the tides were influenced by the moon. Till the middle of the Renaissance, there was not much conflict between religion, astrology and science. In fact, many scientists were well acquainted with astrology, and some like Newton, Galileo and Kepler even practised it. Many of them did not see much difference between studies of the physical and spiritual aspects of the world. The church too came to endorse astrology in the sixth century when Archbishop Isidore of Seville advised physicians to study the subject. After Arabic learning entered Europe at the end of the Dark Ages, astrological medicine became popular. Since then, and for the next six hundred years, astrology interested learned men and its prestige increased after the fifteenth century, maybe because the invention of printing made astrological texts and sidereal tables more accessible. Also, the spread of clocks made it easy for astrologers to fix the position of the stars at a particular hour, accurately.

Why Astrology Doesn’t Work Sometimes

One reason why astrology is accused of being a pseudoscience is that sometimes predictions fail. The truth is that astrological accuracy depends on the time spent to analyze a horoscope. Some astrologers feel that predictions can go wrong if horoscopes are not examined in great detail. In the same way, a psychoanalyst may feel that his patient merited a deeper or longer analysis for a complete cure. But for most astrologers, this is a difficult and time-guzzling process requiring several hours of calculations. In real life, they may take only 15-30 minutes to analyze a birth chart. This means that predictions are based more on a rough estimate than the real configuration of the stars, replacing objective skill with subjective judgment.

The Rift between Astrology and Science

The separation between science and astrology happened because of the challenges that the Renaissance posed to the political authority of the church and some of the beliefs that prevailed at the time. One of these beliefs was that the earth was the center of the universe or solar system. But Copernicus said that it was the Sun that was the center. When people began to criticize the beliefs of the Church, it triggered a reaction. Galileo came under house arrest and Bruno was burned as a heretic at the stake. Soon, there was a clamor for a political solution between the church and the movement that is now known as Science. This led to a compromise under which science was allowed to prevail as long as its investigations were confined to the physical realm of observed phenomena, while the Church enjoyed authority over other kinds of experience like the soul, spirit and morality.

In other words, science would concern itself with the outer world and the church with the inner one. This compromise meant that astrology got caught in the middle, because its concerns overlapped both. Thus, astrology became the sacrificial scapegoat to enable the separation between science and religion. Science had a mechanistic approach to reality but astrology lacked a mechanism to describe its working. Being a spiritual science, it was outside the purview of science and hence came to be seen as unscientific. The Church too distanced itself from astrology and as universities were associated with the Church, it was no longer taught in universities either.

Newton, Science and Astrology

Sir Isaac Newton’s life is a perfect illustration of the split that occurred between science, astrology and the religion of the West. Newton was forced to keep his true convictions a secret owing to the prevailing political climate. He was a person who straddled the different worlds of physical and spiritual science. He and his friend, Robert Boyle, were very interested in alchemy and were also acquainted with astrology. This embarrassed those who wanted to project Newton as a modern scientist. Though Newton believed in the Bible, he thought it had been mistranslated and misinterpreted. This was why he did not take holy orders in the Church of England. His views were not aired publicly as they would have attracted charges of heresy.

Astrology’s Legacy and Contribution to Science

Despite the skeptics and the naysayers, it is a fact that astrology’s legacy and contribution to science cannot be ignored. For instance, India has had very advanced calculus, trigonometry and geometry to support Vedic astrology for many centuries. Several components of analog computers that can calculate the position of the planets are being discovered. This shows a highly advanced knowledge of celestial mechanics among the ancients. In Egypt, the positions of the pyramids and the Sphinx reveal a highly evolved understanding of the earth in relationship to the sky and time that goes back at least 12,000 years. Not less impressive is the full Mayan calendar with more than 80 known components. It was a very accurate and sophisticated system that helped model time and the movements of the planets.

However, the signs of change are on the horizon. Science is beginning to realize the importance of the inner world. One good example is the field of medicine. Today, many allopathic practitioners of medicine are open to embracing holistic therapies like Ayurveda, Homoeopathy, etc., as they recognize that most diseases originate in the mind and hence, the usual allopathic approach of treating the symptoms alone are not enough to effect a complete cure. Medical astrology too is coming back into vogue.

Why Astrology Matters

Many critics of astrology assume that it makes people accept their fate passively and prevent them from exercising their free will. But astrology does not promote a passive acceptance of fate; instead, it creates self-awareness so that one is more conscious of the choices one has in life. By helping us understand our nature, challenges and opportunities, it helps us live more wisely, according to our own karma.

Whether a science or art form, astrology studies the subtle energies that create our world. Each horoscope is a coming together of energies which combine in infinite ways and each individual’s life is shaped by a particular combination of planetary movements and positions in the sky. This accounts for the myriad personality types, physical appearances, and the emotional and intellectual constitutions found on earth. One can also say that the horoscope shows us our karmic path so that we can take more responsibility for our actions. It provides us a blue print of our life, which includes a past we cannot change and a future we can shape, thereby empowering us to rise above destiny.

Astrology is Both Art and Science

In the final reckoning, astrology can be said to be both science and art. It’s a science because it involves astronomical, geometrical and mathematical methods. Astrological predictions are based on observation and correlation which are done in a scientific manner. But it is also the art of divination, colored by the creative faculties of the astrologer who interprets what he/she sees in the birth chart in his/her own unique way.

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