Call for Papers  


Name: Laura Andrikopoulos

Dane Rudhyar's conception of the wisdom contained within the stars

The twentieth-century astrologer, composer and artist Dane Rudhyar (1895-1985) wrote that the astrological birth-chart was a message from the universe, a 'celestial name' that contained the archetypal form of the individual. Endowed with free-choice, each individual could, and should, choose to follow the wisdom contained within this heavenly message.

This presentation will examine Rudhyar's conception of the wisdom contained within the stars and ask how this wisdom fits into broader ideas of Rudhyar as a 'modernist'. Modernism has been postulated as a movement or set of characteristics that in part overlap and in part contrast with those of modernity. Whilst sharing some of the supposed features of modernity, modernism has additionally been characterised as containing radical, critical undertones. This presentation also asks to what extent Rudhyar's conception of astrology as a message from the universe fits into these and wider ideas on modernist thought.

Name: Bernadette Brady

The Moon in Ancient Egypt: A journey from a henchman to a king-maker, to finally a god-enabler

The role of the Moon in Egyptian religious astronomy underwent dramatic shifts in its role and its place in the celestial theology of the day. In the Old Kingdom (c. 2700 BCE – 2200 BCE), the moon enabled the deceased king to “come clean” on the new-moon day (Allen, 2005: 105), yet by the Middle Kingdom (2040 BCE- 1782 BCE) the moon represented the king’s gruesome henchman who crushed the heads of the king’s enemies in a wine press and offered the blood as wine to the deceased (Faulkner,1973: 228). However, in the New Kingdom (1550 BCE – 1070 BCE), the moon was honoured with temples with Amenhotep III (Akhenaten’s father), even portraying himself as a lunar king. The lunar phases then became firmly syncretised with Osiris, the god of the underworld whose theology offered the potential of an afterlife to all followers, and in the Ptolemaic period (305 BCE – 30 BCE) the lunar phases became a critical component of Osiris’ resurrection celebrated in the month of Khoiak, our modern October (Eaton, 2006:76). Over its two-and-a-half-thousand-year journey, the Egyptian moon has carried a complexity of theological meanings. This lecture considers these shifting meanings as an example of the reception of an astronomical phenomenon responding to the changing political and cultural needs of the people of ancient Egypt.

Allen, J. P. (2005). The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.
Eaton, K. J. (2006). 'The Festivals of Osiris and Sokar in the Month of Khoiak: The Evidence from Nineteenth Dynasty Royal Monuments at Abydos', Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, 35, pp. 75-101.
Faulkner, R. O. (1973). The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts v.I. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips Ltd.

Name: Stephen Vanden Broecke

Historicizing agency and politics in astrology. The case of Conrad Heingarter (before 1440-after 1504 CE)

1. Introduction

Historical narratives on astrology and politics often adopt a hermeneutic distinction between knowledge and power, in which power occupies the driver’s seat. More specifically, historians tend to assume that there is a realm of elite political practice with its own rules and requirements, which (astrological) knowledge was expected to support. It did so either by refashioning its content into “propaganda” or “manipulation”, or by making itself available to optimize the technical efficacy of political actions. In the 1990s, a handful of scholars (for the early modern period, Denis Crouzet, Anthony Parel, Patrick Curry come to mind) questioned this a priori distinction between astrological and political practice. And yet, this does not appear to have become a widespread view in subsequent histories of astrology.

In this paper, I would like to show that late medieval astrologers had little difficulty conceiving of astrological practice as inherently (rather than accidentally) political. I do so through the case of Conrad Heingarter (before 1440-after 1504), a largely unstudied physician-astrologer who was active at the Bourbon and Valois courts of late 15th-century France. My argument proceeds in three steps. First, I highlight the prominence of “regimen” and “government” as actor’s categories of late medieval astrological discourse, and foreground the specific meanings which this terminology entailed. Second, I show how the courtly negotiation of astral government was associated with a moral ethos. The imperative of virtuous self-government, which was also key to late medieval conceptions of political rule, was deeply and explicitly woven into astrological predictions. Finally, I suggest that the new genre of the astrological prognostication played a key role in generalizing the ethos of astrological self-government across a broader political space.

2. Government

On 15 February 1469, Heingarter finished an extensive judgment on the nativity of his friend Jehan de la Goutte (1418-1487), financial governor-general to Duke Jean II of Bourbon. Heingarter’s judgment comprised both an analysis of de la Goutte’s birth chart and a tabulated inventory of fatidic astrological times for de la Goutte’s consideration. Sometime after 1469, Heingarter complemented his judgment with an even more extensive personalized medico-astrological regimen, comparable to the ones he composed for the Duke and Duchess in 1477 and 1480.

The second part of Heingarter’s judgment began with a discussion of the 'seven ages of man', which approached human existence as a planetary relay race in which successive planets “governed” (gubernare) man through life: from the Moon who fashions a turgid, soft, almost grotesque body in infancy, to Saturn whose "regimen" fatally chills and disables this body in old age. Likewise, Heingarter’s astrological regimen for de la Goutte began with the following observation:

"The course of the condition of human life is alternatingly executed by a sharp or a tranquil motion. For the course of the celestial stars, the dispenser of our entire life (by which the entire virtue of this microcosm is governed), will guide the steering-oar".

"Governing" was one of Heingarter’s favored terms to characterize the stars' manner of relating to sublunary bodies. When Heingarter wrote de la Goutte’s nativity, Thomas Aquinas’s Summa contra gentiles (c. 1263-5) was among his resources for conceptualizing astral fate. As is well known, book III of Summa contra Gentiles offered an authoritative analysis of God's providence and government over creatures. And "governing", Aquinas explained, is "nothing else than directing the governed towards an end that is some good". The stars, then, were interpreted as key agents of the providential government of creatures towards their appointed end.

However, these narratives of astral government also recommended practices of self-conduct. Indeed, "governing oneself" (regere sibi) and the cognate substantive regimen were Heingarter's preferred terms to describe the practices through which one negotiated the permanent reality of celestial influence. Heingarter’s use of regimen probably drew on the language of medical advice literature after the 14th century, but the word also carried a much broader range of soteriological, political, and ethical meanings, whose semantic core referred to the practice of governing self and others towards a given end.

3. Self-government

If, as Heingarter wrote to de la Goutte, "the course of the celestial stars, the dispenser of our entire life (through which the entire power of this microcosm is governed), will guide the steering-oar", then what did it mean to engage in self-conduct vis-à-vis the cosmos? What kind of self-government did astrology promote?

First, of course, the negotiation of bodily fortune. A key reference for Heingarter was aphorism 5 of ps.-Ptolemy’s Centiloquium, which (in the Plato of Tivoli-translation that Heingarter used) reads

"The best astrologer can prohibit much evil to come forth by the stars, if he foreknows their natures. For he who is to suffer this evil, will fortify himself so as to endure it".

Notice how this aphorism casts astrological self-government as a matter of enduring (pati) misfortunes by fortifying (praemunire) oneself against them. This was also Heingarter’s own line when he recommended the following response:

"Clearly, we cannot simply impede the celestial operations and influences as such. Nevertheless, we can dispose the recipient in such a manner that when this celestial virtue comes, it will find the former ill-disposed for itself".

Heingarter is emphatic: the inherent relations between celestial and sublunary bodies cannot be distanced –let alone severed-- as such. Human agency revolves around altering the effects, not the fact, of celestial influence. Put differently, astrological self-conduct revolved around practices of appropriating celestial influence from within, as it were.

Court astrology not only assisted in governing bodily fortune, but the soul as well. How was astrological knowledge relevant for care of the soul? Three different answers emerge from Heingarter’s preserved texts. First, astrological knowledge of the soul’s affects was important for securing bodily health, as suggested by the standard medical doctrine of the six non-naturals ("that is, the air one breathes, sleep, food and drink, evacuations, movement, and emotions" ). Secondly, astrological monitoring of corporeal health was valued as a necessary precondition for the practice of princely virtues of the soul. In the dedication of his astrological regimen for Jean II of Bourbon, Heingarter thus wrote:

"I will give you longevity through uncorrupted and firm health, so you would be able to exercise the most noble virtues of your rule (destined to the conservation of this reign) for the longest time. For in you are to be found all virtues worthy of a supreme prince: fortitude, justice, severity, gravity, magnanimity, largesse, beneficence, and liberality. Which prince of our age is more pre-eminent than you in nobility or briskness, constancy, greatness of soul, or indeed any kind of praise?"

Thirdly, astral bodily passions were occasionally styled as bearing direct relevance to virtuous dispositions of the soul. Heingarter presented bodily immoderation as a stimulus of vice, advising de la Goutte to "embrace the golden mean, which leads to the end of all goods: justice and temperance". "Virtue," Heingarter continued on the subject of his friend’s gluttony, "has no place in the reign of voluptuousness," and was necessary for the prudent fulfilment of de la Goutte's office towards the Duke of Bourbon. Even the Duke himself, whom Mars saddled with a choleric temperament, was warned for the capacity of one accident of the soul (anger) to "confound every act of reason", making Jean II "do things you will regret".

This firmly moved astrological practice onto terrain traditionally occupied by virtue ethics or the medieval culture of princely mirrors. But in what sense could astrological practice also be regarded as an ethical practice? One clue is offered in the annual prognostication for 1476 which Heingarter authored for King Louis XI (1423-1483). There, Heingarter began to rely on Duns Scotus’s theory of the human will to conceptualize the relation of the human soul to the stars:

"A double affect is found in the rational soul: one for personal advantage (affectio commode) and one for justice (affectio iusticie). The one called affect for justice is the first moderator of the affect for personal advantage, because it is not suitable for it to pursue that to which the affect for personal advantage inclines, in as far as this affect for justice is an innate freedom of the will. As such, it can refrain itself in choosing an action, so the affect [for personal advantage] would not be followed. Beyond that affect for personal advantage, the will is also born to delight in the sensitive appetite. This is why Aristotle says that the qualities of the soul follow the complexions of the body. (…) From this follows the solution of our question: the astrologer can judge (more securely than physicians and natural philosophers) the inclinations of the soul, not its acts (if he is experienced)".

In themselves, such statements are hardly remarkable: they offer a variation on the astrologer's creed that the stars incline, but do not necessitate. However, Heingarter's take on this topos (by way of Duns Scotus's Sententiae) is the basis of a few interesting developments. [slide 10] First, he is emphatic that astrological knowledge not only serves to have human action governed by rational rather than sensitive appetites, but that its ability to capture the inclinations of the rational soul also opens up a road to true human freedom. Second, notice how Heingarter’s ethical interests focus on the formality, so to speak, rather than the content of princely action: governing celestially induced passions and appetites is its own reward, in as far as it liberates and disposes towards an affect for justice. Third, Heingarter is explicit in connecting this to moral philosophy. The Tetrabiblos commentary which he presented to Duke Jean II in 1477, retained a passage from Ibn Ridwān's commentary to Tet. I.2, which stated that:

"When this art teaches us about future mores through knowledge of bodily spirits --since the latter follow bodily complexion--, we can direct and emend these before any malice manifests itself, according to the methods which moral philosophers determined [my italics]".

This suggests that when Heingarter’s astrology considered bodily passions as threats to the virtuous dispositions of the soul, he envisaged both medical regimen (echoed in Heingarter's analyses of the non-naturals) and ethical cultivation of virtue as appropriate moral technologies.

4. Annual prognostications

Alongside individual human bodies, late medieval astrology also posited social bodies as subjects of celestial influence. Indeed, one of the major innovations in 15th-century European astrology concerns the sudden proliferation of a new genre of astrological prediction: the annual prognostication. Unfortunately, we only know the aforementioned manuscript prognostication for King Louis XI to have been composed by Heingarter. Even so, it is noteworthy that this text approached celestial influence as a source of "disturbances", "rumours", or "deceptions", and prognosticatory knowledge as a resource that enables readers to anticipate and compensate for these, so as to secure proper natural and social order.

For a more detailed understanding of the intended use of prognostications in this milieu, the next best thing may be had at the court of Louis de Bourbon (1438-1482), Duke Jean II's younger brother and prince-bishop of Liège since 1456, who was the dedicatee of several (print) prognostications by the Flemish astrologer Johannes Laet (fl. 1476-1485). As was usual in late medieval astrology, Laet's prognostications systematically sought to unveil the "dispositions" and "passions" of a wide variety of sublunary bodies. In the case of crops and livestock, his focus lay clearly with the anticipation of dearth and famine. Interestingly, Laet presented these predictions as means for managing passions of hope and fear, not so much as resources for maximizing material profit. Laet's predictions on bodily health, too, were paired with prophylactic advice.

Finally, consider Laet's extensive predictions for the body politic, i.e., the dispositions of rulers, the common people, ecclesiastical prelates, and men of war. It is easy to read these straightforwardly political predictions as princely propaganda, but this runs up against the double difficulty that (1) such predictions were highly general and non-specific, and (2) their standard repertoire was advisory. Indeed, political action was typically styled as a privileged site for cultivating the virtue of prudence in itself, not as a site for the maximization of prudence’s 'downstream' profits. Consider, for instance, Laet’s prognostication for 1476. Taking his cue from the horoscope of a Saturn-Mars conjunction in Leo on 20 September 1475, Laet detected ample celestial inducements towards treason and deceit, even during peace negotiations, so that:

"(...) captains of princes and lords should conduct themselves shrewdly, protect themselves well and wisely from this, and should not believe every spirit".

Notice how the pursuit of prudence is explicitly cast as an ethical issue of self-government, to the point where Laet associates it with the theological project of the "discernment of spirits". True to the classic epithet sapiens dominabitur astris, the prognostication served as an exhortative memorandum of the web of hidden influxes and spirits into which men were born, and inside of which reason was enjoined to painstakingly carve out a different path. The ethical valuation of the pursuit of prudence is even clearer in the dedication of the 1479 prognostication to Louis de Bourbon, where Laet writes:

"With God as our witness, this prognostication is written for no other purpose than to have men’s hearts convert to the good, and so men could take thorough precaution against menacing future evils. For instance, when the stars threaten us with future evils on earth, we, forewarned, would implore God with devote minds, so that He, from his infinite goodness, would will to change the bad stellar influences that we fear into good. For God's will and human prudence alter and lift the influences of the stars on earth, as Ptolemy confirms when he says "The wise man will dominate the stars"".

Here, the transformative nature of human prudence is not separate from the agency of God's will in negotiating the stars. Indeed, throughout Laet’s prognostications runs the message that such negotiation involves the twin virtues of prudence and piety towards God: a message that cannot be solely interpreted as a disingenuous means to placate suspicious theologians, and which is hardly uncommon among late 15th-century prognosticators. Similarly, Laet's 1481 prognostic for the inhabitants of the Brabant town of Mechelen identified them as disposed towards "many good and virtuous works", but made the realization of such dispositions contingent on the reader's earnest consideration of these celestial possibilities, as well as on "the inclination of one's own spirit".

5. Conclusion

Heingarter’s astrological productions, like those of many working astrologers before and after him, offered far more than mere 'predictions'. They frequently featured advice, and even instructed readers on how to integrate predictions into their own lives. Not unlike prophecy, astrology was explicitly conceptualized as the study of occult government, and was expected to be practiced as an art of self-government.

This meant several things. First, astrological self-conduct was expected to revolve around the judicious appropriation of astral influx. Bodies were stabilized by a prophylactic fortifying of one's complexion. Fortunes were improved by diminishing the effects of unfortunate influxes, and by shaping propitious conditions for the advent of good ones. Souls were exhorted, through vivid 'predictions' compiled from authoritative textbooks, to embrace the pursuit of virtue and faith in God. Second, astrological self-conduct was also relative to a given end. The negotiation of astral influx was the object of a moral ethos because such negotiation also transformed humans into works of art, worthy of their creator.

We know that such an understanding of self-government was also key to late medieval notions of politics. The success of princely mirrors, for instance, testifies to the way in which princely authority revolved around the incarnation of specific virtues (justice, later prudence) through education, hortatory exempla (just as the collages of annual prognostications were primarily intended as exhortatory exempla of what might happen in the absence of reason), and vivid analogy. To the extent that courtly astrological self-conduct pursued the same goals, it makes sense to suggest that astrological practice was understood as inherently political.

Name: Nick Campion

New Light on Space and Time: Celebrating Twenty One Years of the Sophia Centre

Our home planet, the Earth, floats in an immeasurable, effectively infinite, vastness of space, and a duration of time between the Big Bang and a possible future Big Crunch, which is so huge it might as well be infinite. It is a feature of human self-consciousness and that we reflect on our position on our planet, in relation to the sky, stars and planets, and the immensity of time and space. We express this relationship through the arts and sciences, religion and politics – and throughout every aspect of our culture.

The MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology is the only academic programme in the world which explicitly considers the ways in which we imagine, conceptualise, and act on our relationship with the cosmos. The programme is now in its symbolically important 21st year, of which the last 15 have seen it flourish in its home in the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and its physical location on the Lampeter campus. The programme is based in the University’s Sophia Centre which has a wider engagement with research and a remarkable record of publishing, conferences and public outreach.

This presentation will report on the Sophia Centre’s contribution to the twin topics of cultural astronomy and the history, culture and philosophy of astrology, as well as to the wider framework of cosmology and culture. It will celebrate the achievements of students, staff and researchers and will examine how the subject area has developed, and what it can contribute to both the academic arena and popular understanding of our world.

Lecture Sunday 9 July 16.00-16.45

Modern Western Astrology as Indigenous Thought and Practice

This paper will report on my recent work exploring increasing concern with the concept of indigeneity, Indigenous thought and practice, and indigenous religion. Literally, to be indigenous, means to belong to a place. Indigeneity is usually thought to be confined to cultures which were colonised by western powers or otherwise are not part of the Western world, such those of the Aboriginal Australians, sub-Saharan Africans, or the First Nations of the Americas, and the notion of indigenous thought is usually regarded as existing in a binary opposition with Western thought and culture.

This chapter explores whether modern western astrology can be considered as a form of indigenous thought and practice. It does so by examining the debates surrounding indigeneity, the literature on indigenous astronomy, and the claims of modern western astrology concerning the importance of the relationship between people and place. The chapter concludes that modern western astrology makes parallel claims to those made on behalf of indigenous astronomy, chiefly in their shared understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, regards people as inseparable from place, and therefore can genuinely be considered a form of indigenous thought and practice.

Name: Ilaria Cristofaro

Sirens and Stars: The Wisdom of the Pleaides in Ancient Campania

The statistical analysis of towns orientation in ancient Campania, South of Italy, from the 8th to the 3rd cent. BC, highlighted the importance of the sun rising position at the heliacal rising of the Pleiades in early summer. This result rises questions on the possible cultic and mythical role of these stars in the region at the time. Thus, as witnessed since Hesiod, the observation of this asterism was relevant in the ancient Mediterranean world for its synchronisation with the timing of harvest, ploughing, and navigation. At least in the Classical period, Campania was a hub of wheat agriculture, with Neapolis in a strong seafaring commercial partnership with Athens for grains supply. This link was reinforced at Neapolis by the institution of a nocturnal torch race in honour of the siren Parthenope by the Athenian Diotimo around the mid of the 5th cent. BC. At Neapolis, the civic cult of Demeter Achaia and Siren Parthenope were related to cereal production, but it is not clear how far a correlation with the Pleaides is realistic.

Sirens and Pleiades are both represented as birds, they are virgins (parthenoi), they are both related to agriculture and navigation. A tradition mediated by the arrival of Pythagoras of Samos on the Campanian coast, may include the role of music and celestial harmony within the Sirens' cultic sphere as well as in the Pleiades lead of the celestial chorus. Finally, by the end of the 4th cent. BC, winged ladies interpreted as the Pleaides decorated the main Campanian temple in the forum at Kyme (Temple A) as architectonic antefixes, which motif was also diffused in Etruria. An intertwined mythical network might thus be read in all these elements, which may converge into a far more relevant wisdom of the stars in the region than previously believed.

Breglia Pulci Doria, L. “Le Sirene. Il Canto, La Morte, La Polis.” AION (Arch.) 9 (1987): 91–93.
Mele, Alfonso. I Greci in Campania. Vol. 5. I Quaderni Di OEBALUS. Roma: Scienze e Lettere, 2014.
Molina Moreno, Francisco. “The Pleiads or the First Cosmic Lyre.” Hyperboreus Studia Classica 14, no. 1 (2008): 28–38.

Name: Giuseppe Cuscito

From Angels to Aliens: the Reinterpretation of the Vigilants in 1 Enoch

The pseudepigraphical First book of Enoch (1 Enoch) has always fascinated its readers because of its recounts of what supposedly happened “behind the scenes” of some biblical events. It expands on the story that is briefly sketched in Gn 6:1-4, regarding the “sons of God” that united with the “daughters of men”. That passage also mentions the Giants that were on Earth before the Flood.

In the book, Enoch is depicted as the receiver of heavenly wisdom, which was acquired during his travels at the edges of the cosmos, accompanied by angels who instructed him. The book also tells how the Vigilants (i.e. heavenly creatures) united with women and taught them all the knowledge on arts and crafts.

Contemporary ancient aliens theory has reinterpreted the book of Enoch as the recount of a close encounter between the protagonist and some aliens. In this view, the trip to the edge of the cosmos has been interpreted as an alien abduction, the Giants as hybrids between humans and aliens, and the Vigilants as extraterrestrials who have taught techniques and science to humans, besides mating with them.

The paper will point out the quasi-religious aspects of ancient aliens theory, especially how it uses religious (both canonical and noncanonical) texts to validate and promote its ideology.

Name: Karine Dilanian

Victory over the Sun – a Russian avant-garde’s vision of the wisdom of the skies

On December 16, 1913, the premiere of the futuristic performance Victory over the Sun (Pobeda nad Solntsem) took place at the Luna Park Theater in St. Petersburg: 'an illogical dreamlike spectacle, a grandiose theatrical metaphor...’ The performance was a declaration and manifest of Russian Cubo-Futurists who proclaimed new principles of art.

The authors of the performance were the leaders of the Russian literary, musical and artistic avant-garde: Mikhail Matyushin, artist, musician and art theorist, Alexei Kruchenykh, futurist poet, artist, publisher, collector, theorist of poetry, critic, journalist and Kazimir Malevich, cutting-edge artist, teacher, art theorist, and philosopher. The poet, artist, mathematician and experimental linguist, Velimir Khlebnikov, wrote a prologue to the opera. In reality, almost all avant-garde artistic circles engaged in the creation of this performance.

The specific pioneering art principals included the innovative linguistic and poetic structure of the text, named ‘zaum’ by the authors of the opera – a word derived from the Russian ‘um’ – ‘mind’, but in an abstruse sense. The cacophonic consonants, the disruptive and dissonant rendition of the chorus formed the innovative musical content. The newly invented forms of artistic thinking found their expression in cubist costumes and lighting design by Kazimir Malevich. The scenery paved the way for the concept of Suprematism - decomposition into elements and complete disintegration in the pictorial space. For the first time, ‘the Black square’ appeared here, foremost as a stage backdrop and as a part of the costume of ‘undertaker’, who buried the Sun.

The very title of the opera challenges the old classical doctrine of Sol Invictus. The doctrine contains meanings and undergoes metamorphosis from the pagan festival of the winter solstice to solar monotheism, supposedly brought from Syria in 274 AD by Emperor Aurelian. He exalted the eastern Sol Invictus to the level of dominant solar cult dominus imperii romani, the Invincible Sun that is the Ruler of the Roman Empire, and later established in the triumph of Christianity.

The capture of the Sun and the victory over it as the general idea of the opera becomes a symbolic designation of the victory of the futurists over the old world.

As the libretto of the opera declares:
...One: - We must to establish a holiday: the Day of Victory over the Sun.
Singing: (Chorus).
- We are free
Broken sun...
Hello darkness!

Malevich and Matiushin postulated their manifesto in an interview for the St. Petersburg newspaper, Day, on December 1, 1913:
Its meaning is to overthrow one of the greatest artistic values – the sun, in the present instance. Futurists want to break free from this regulated world... to plunge the world into chaos... to smash established values into fragments... create new values out of these fragments... discovering new, unexpected and unseen links. So then, the sun – that former authority – cramps their style and they feel like overthrowing it... It is, in fact, the plot of the opera. The cast of the opera should express this in both language and sound.

The paper examines the cosmological and philosophical context of the opera through the prism of ideas and motives of Russian cosmism, presented in the works of Nicolay Fedorov — the ‘forerunner’ of Russian cosmism. His main concept — the philosophy of the ‘Common Cause’, is regarded as a golden standard, which highlights some essential features of Russian cosmism as a whole. Fedorov, perhaps, is the first to interpret the ‘end of the world’ promised by the Apocalypse as a phenomenon that can and should be fought, with the help of science, rather than dutifully accepted as predetermined fate. He wrote: ‘The question of the fate of the Earth leads us to the conviction that human activity should not be limited to the terrestrial planet. We must ask ourselves: does knowledge about the fate awaited by the earth, about its inevitable end, oblige us to anything or not?’ The study analyzes Fedorov’s concepts of Copernican and post Copernican art and his apocalyptic symbolism as the sources for the temporal and utopian metaphors for the Victory over the Sun.

Name: Barbara Dunn

The Doctrine of Critical Days: Theory and Practice in Early Modern England (c.1580-1700)

For over two millennia, astrology and medicine had been interrelated aetiological pursuits: the vocation of the astrologer paralleled that of the physician, since both investigated the causes of the emergence of signs (symptoms). The doctrine of Critical Days, developed for the understanding of sickness trajectory, perhaps in response to malaria, was discussed in Galen’s (c.129-216/7) treatise ‘De diebus decretoriis’ 1). Certainly, in terms of mediaeval medicine, Roger French notes that no kind of astrology was more important (and acceptable) than Critical Days 2). Yet its importance to early modern medicine is unclear. The methodology relating to Critical Days makes occasional appearances in astrological literature, but the extent of application in practice is unclear. This paper discusses the use of Critical Days and considers whether it was simply a theoretical concept included in astrological literature for the sake of completeness, or a useful prognostic tool deployed by a range of practitioners in early modern England.

1) G. Cooper, ‘Approaches to the Critical Days in Late Medieval and Renaissance Thinkers’, Early Science and Medicine 18-6 (2013), 536.
2) R. French, ‘Astrology in Medical Practice’ in L. Garcia-Ballester, R. French, J. Arrizabalaga, A. Cunningham (eds.) Practical Medicine from Salerno to the Black Death (Cambridge,1994), pp.50-52.

Name: Darrelyn Gunzburg

Richard Fitzjames and the Stained Glass window horoscope of Merton College, Oxford: charlatanism or an expression of the wisdom of astrology?

Merton College, Oxford, was the leading centre in England for the study of astrology and astronomy in the fourteenth century. To consolidate its standing as an institution of educational excellence, it established a building programme in the fourteenth century which continued into the later fifteenth century. Major works undertaken by Richard Fitjzames (d.1522), Warden of Merton College from 1483 to 1507 and chaplain and almoner to Henry VII, included astrology in the Warden’s Lodgings in the form of sculptural and glazed decorations. The stone vault of the arch joining the hall to the Warden’s House between the quadrangle and the city wall displayed the arms of King Henry VII surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, and a glazed horoscope was included as part of the stained glass in Warden Fitzjames’s Lodgings. However, The Catholic theologian Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466-1536) had seen the painted horoscope when he visited Oxford on his first visit to England mid-1499 to January 1500 and he dismissed Fitzjames as a superstitious man who indulged in astrology. He claimed that Fitzjames had elected the time for the laying of the foundation stone of a college building, an argument he used to challenge astrologers’ claims about the nature of a horoscope.(1) Although many of the painted glass windows were destroyed by Warden Lydall in 1693, in 1601 an eyewitness, John Chamber (1564-1604), copied the horoscope and wrote down the inscription in his work A Treatise against Judiciall Astrologie.(2) Chamber continued Erasmus’s claim that the window contained a horoscope for the laying of the first stone of a building complex. He then argued that the Merton College astrologer was a charlatan since the horoscope was incorrect for the given date. This claim of charlatanism has been taken into contemporary scholarship by Alan Bott, Hilary Carey, and Tim Ayres. The question has to be raised, therefore, as to why a college of such eminence as Merton where astrology played such a prominent role in the education of its students, would propagate ‘such egregious mistakes’.(3) This lecture investigates the Merton College glazed horoscope as a way of understanding whether this was indeed a case of charlatanism or an expression of astrology viewed as academic wisdom.

(1) Desiderius Erasmus and P. S. Allen, Opus Epistolarum Des Erasmi Roterodami, vol. 4 (1519-1521) (Oxford: Oxonii (OUP), 1922), p.523.No.1211 (1521). Cited in Damian Riehl Leader, A History of the University of Cambridge: Volume 1, the University to 1546, ed. Christopher Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
(2) John Chamber, Treatise against Judicial Astrologie (Amsterdam; New Jersey: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd; Walter J. Johnson, Inc., 1601 [1977]). Cited in Alan Bott, The Heraldry in Merton College, Oxford (Oxford: Merton College, 2001), pp.202-203 and Figure 205; and Tim Ayers, The Medieval Stained Glass of Merton College, Oxford, 2 vols., vol. 1 (London: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2013), pp.cxix-cxx.
(3) Hilary M. Carey, 'Henry Vii’s Book of Astrology and the Tudor Renaissance,' Renaissance Quarterly 65 (2012) 1-50: p.34.

Ayers, Tim. The Medieval Stained Glass of Merton College, Oxford. 2 vols. Vol. 1, London: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2013.
Bott, Alan. The Heraldry in Merton College, Oxford. Oxford: Merton College, 2001.
Carey, Hilary M. 'Henry Vii’s Book of Astrology and the Tudor Renaissance.' Renaissance Quarterly 65 (2012): 1-50.
Chamber, John. Treatise against Judicial Astrologie. Amsterdam; New Jersey: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd; Walter J. Johnson, Inc., 1601 [1977].
Erasmus, Desiderius, and P. S. Allen. Opus Epistolarum Des Erasmi Roterodami. Vol. 4 (1519-1521), Oxford: Oxonii (OUP), 1922.
Leader, Damian Riehl. A History of the University of Cambridge: Volume 1, the University to 1546. A History of the University of Cambridge. Edited by Christopher Brooke Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Name: R. Hakan Kırkoğlu

Whispers of an Ottoman chief astrologer, the yearly judgments of Fethiyeli Halil Efendi

The practice of astrology was no stranger to the Ottoman ruling elite and indeed it was one of the salient themes of the court life. The royal patronage of astrologers (munajjims) had been firmly incorporated into the court mechanism since the reign of Bayezid II in the late 15th century. The advisory services of astrologers towards building the imperial edifice can be clearly seen through their celestial interpretations which were supposed to support the continuity and political legitimacy of the state.

Although the ebb and flow of interest in astrology (ilm-i nudjum) had been directly affected by personal interest and inclinations of the sultans and the ruling elite, the Ottoman state archives contain plethora of astrological documents, tables and horoscopes. In the eyes of the religious scholars, astrology was not clearly rejected but seen as harmful and at the edge of blasphemy. However, the fatwas regarding making predictions based on the occult arts seem to leave a margin in which astrology could be practiced as long as religious sensitivities were not violated. In fact, the timings of religious holidays and prayer times was carried through the timing offices (muvakkithanes) where astrology was also taught in a secondary syllabus.

My subject astrologer Fethiyeli Halil Efendi (1699-1773) was the longest serving chief astrologer, holding the office for 26 years, during the reigns of Mahmut I, Osman III and Mustafa III, from 1746 until his death in 1773. Interestingly, his yearly judgments provide us some clues about the prevailing conditions in the court politics as well as how he played the role of a silent advisor behind the scenes.

Through his estate inventory, we come accross with a polymath whose interests spanned from the standard subjects of the madrasa curriculum to Sufism and especially Sufi philosophy and from astronomy, astrology and medicine to the occult studies as well as history and geography. It is reasonable to think that his wide-ranging interests would have served Halil Efendi well, as he carried out his routine duties as chief court astrologer but also worked as a close mentor the sultan and the ruling elite.

In this talk, I am going to emphasize his witnessing role especially when certain actions were favored by the dominant factions in the court politics. How he urged his Sultan Mustafa III in relation to produce offspring for the throne ? How he whispered the execution of the Chief Black Eunuch ? Why he might had written almost identical interpretations for the incoming grand vizier using the same words for two different years ? What were the changing shift in his interpretations before and during the Ottoman-Russian war ?

Although no specific names were used in these judgments, they appear to suggest political maneuvring with regard to sensitive issues developing in and around court life.

Moreover, the distinct layout of these yearly judgments closely followed the hierarchical stratification of the Ottoman imperial edifice with each member of the edifice being assigned a celestial body indicating his rank within the cosmological order. These reports were designed in a way that mirrored a timeless cosmic order.

Name: Ulla Koch

Divine stars - an aspect of Mesopotamian celestial divination

Most of the gods of the Babylonian pantheon had a celestial incarnation. A god was both transcendent and immanent, being equally present in the cult statues in his/her temples, in the abode of the gods in the uppermost heaven, and in a star in the visible sky. This gave celestial divination a special religious dimension compared with other forms of divination. The link between the divine and the human realms was visible and intuitive, almost personal, the gods could signal the king directly using their celestial form. At the same time celestial phenomena could be read simply as signs, sent by the gods of course, but in the way all kinds of signs were sent, not perceived as a personal message from e.g., the goddess Ishtar to the king Ashurbanipal. In this talk I will explore some of the examples of these personal messages as evidenced in the letters and reports from scholars to the Assyrian kings.

Name: Jeffrey Kotyk

Understanding Sexuality in East Asian Astrology: The Lot of Eros

Jeffrey Kotyk (PhD, Leiden University, 2017) is presently an Associate Researcher at the University of Bologna, Ravenna Campus, where he is researching Sino-Iranian relations in antiquity. He has extensively published on the history of astrology in China and Japan, with a particular focus on the religious engagement, modification, and incorporation of foreign astrology.

Name: Tore Lomsdalen

How Temple Location and Orientation Reflected the Worldview and Belief of Maltese Settlers

The first Neolithic settlers to Malta came from Sicily around 6,000 BCE. The monuments their descendants constructed – so-called temples – were sophisticated and architecturally advanced. This talk will look at how the choice of temples' location and their orientation reflected their builders' worldview and belief system. With a methodology that combines landscape archaeology, horizon astronomy, skyscape archaeology, field observations and statistical analysis., it was observed that the temples were positioned in the most inherently visible part of the landscape and were not arbitrarily located.

In addition, it is observed that temple orientations were not randomly chosen by their builders. The viewscape through the temple entrances displays stellar alignments towards Gacrux, the top star in the Southern Cross constellation, and Avior, the bottom star in the False Cross asterism. The cyclicality of these two stars may have been a seasonal indicator for timing of initiation rites and/or life sustainable agriculture. This research also suggests that, in the Ġgantija Phase (3,800-2,800 BCE), society was more stellar oriented whereas, in the subsequent Tarxien Phase (2,800-2,400 BCE) this seems to have been lost, and the sun starts to gain prominence. Finally, the two stars targeted by the temples would have played a key role for seafaring astronavigation – therefore showing that the prehistoric Maltese were deriving wisdom from the stars.

Name: Chris Mitchell

The Beginning of Wisdom: how medieval astrology opened the door to modern science

There is a perception today that astrology is condemned on two fronts: modern scientists consider it an irrelevant and misguided pseudo-science not worthy of study, while many authorities of monotheistic religions condemn it because of its perceived pagan roots and consider it blasphemous. In the medieval period, though, astrology was enthusiastically studied and promoted by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars, taught in universities, and considered a very important natural science.

The relationship between medieval astrologers and religious authorities was not a universally comfortable one. Authors of medieval astrological texts had to tread carefully and justify their studies to avoid any charges of blasphemy. The medieval Jewish rabbi and scholar Abraham ibn Ezra, who wrote numerous astrological texts in addition to devout exigeses of biblical texts, began one of his best known astrological texts, The Book of the Beginning of Wisdom, with the sentence "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", a direct quote from Psalms. The biblical text exhorts its readers to follow God rather than earthly desires, but ibn Ezra uses this quote in a rather different manner - his argument is that the astrologer, by employing a rational and scientific methodology, can remedy physical harm that could otherwise be inflicted by the stars.

This talk will examine the approach taken by medieval astrologers working within Muslim and Christian milieus, and demonstrate how the study of astrology led to the development of other disciplines, opening the door to modern science in the process.

Name: Fabio Silva

The Forgotten Stars: a critical look at the (lack of) stars in archaeoastronomy

There is overwhelming ethnographic and historical evidence indicating that most, if not all, societies have been interested in the stars. Yet, despite this, stars hardly-ever feature in contemporary archaeoastronomical reports. The number of academic projects concerned with the orientation of archaeological structures that considered the stars as potential targets is very small, especially when compared with the sheer number of studies reporting solar and lunar alignments. The often-quoted reason for this is that because there are many stars in the sky, and their rising and setting positions change over the centuries, it is all easy to find a star that appears to fit any randomly selected structural orientation. This was a major concern for Clive Ruggles, Anthony Aveni and the generation that was primarily concerned with distancing the field from the speculations and ethnocentric projections of previous popular figures such as Gerald Hawkins and Alexander Thom.

This talk will argue that the movement away from the stars, necessary though it may have been, has now resulted in another form of ethnocentric bias and colonial thinking – one that assumes the sun to have pride of place among all celestial objects and ignores the stars and Milky Way precisely because their wonder is lost in the West due to light pollution. In fact, the very motions of the stars, both during the course of a year and over the centuries, are often misunderstood even by key figures in the field – further illustrating how disconnected the modern western, even the archaeoastronomer, is from the stars.

This talk aims to restore the role of the stars and Milky Way as key celestial targets that should be regarded on equal footing with the solar and lunar targets routinely employed by researchers. Firstly, with recourse to probabilistic thinking, it will be shown that a stellar alignment by chance is less likely than a solar alignment – thus completely undermining such arguments. Then, how the stars move in the sky will be discussed in some depth – especially by clarifying the issue of precession, raising the issue of coincidence of stellar and solar/lunar targets, highlighting the five types of star and their yearly motion, and drawing attention to the motions of Milky Way on the horizon. Such “Wisdom of the Stars” will form a foundation for future skyscape archaeologists to take the stars seriously in their research projects.

Name: Wendy Stacey



Lampeter Campus

University of Wales Trinity Saint David
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Tel: 01570 422351

London Campus

University of Wales Trinity Saint David
London Campus, Winchester House
11 Cranmer Road
London, SW9 6EJ
Tel: 0207 566 7600

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