Call for Papers  


Invited speakers

Professor Steven Vanden Broecke, Ghent University

Professor Darin Hayton, Haverford College, USA

R. Hakan Kirkoğlu

Professor H. Darrel Rutkin, Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Professor David Pankenier, Lehigh University, USA

Professor emeritus Shlomo Sela, Dep. of Jewish Thought, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

The full list of speakers to be announced after the submissions of abstracts.

Name: Steven Vanden Broecke

Abstract Title: Astrology and political order in 17th-century France

If we define politics as the art of altering social status or power, then it could easily be argued that the visible heavens have always been appropriated as metaphors through which to articulate political hopes and fears. As Patrick Curry's classic Prophecy and Power (1989) suggested a long time ago, the 17th century was different, in that it turned adherence to astrology itself into a heavily political issue: perhaps for the first time, public 'belief' in astrology became perceived as a threat to political order. One could say that, rather than being premised on harmony between heaven and earth, political order now became premised on a practical disconnect between both realms. Indeed, politics increasingly set itself up as a gatekeeper between heaven and earth, and it was arguably in France that these developments occurred first and most forcefully. Historians have tended to approach this as a process of progressive marginalization and victimization of astrology. Taking 17th-century France as a case study, my talk proposes a more positive approach, in which the early modern politicization of astrology comes forth as an occasion for the mutual redefinition of both political practice and astrological practice.

Name: Karine Dilanian

Abstract Title: Great conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, eschatology of Moscow as the Third Rome and Ivan IV Grozny political propaganda

Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions were actively discussed in Europe at the beginning of the XVI century due to the catastrophic prediction for February, 1524, which was made by the German astrologers Johannes Stöffler (1452–1531) and Jakob Pflaum (c. 1450–1500). The authors mentioned in their Almanach nova published in 1499 in Ulm that the Earth at this time was to pass through ‘indubitable mutation, variation and alteration such as we have scarce perceived for many centuries’, because of a great conjunction of the planets in Pisces. This eschatological prediction, transmitted into Muscovite Russia by the German chief physician to Vasyli III (1479–1533) and astrologer Nicolaus Bülow (fl . 1490–1533), raised a heated debate within a Russian society which, like concentric circles, stimulated wide range of questions with the center that was the astrological prediction of the new Flood in 1524. One of such ‘concentric circles’ was an idea of Moscow as the Third Rome, which was formulated, logically completed and fully reasoned within a debate against astrological 1524 predictions initiated by a monk from the Pskov-Yelizarov Monastery, named Filofei.

In the new ideology of the Tsardom the central figure of the Tsar was of great importance. During this period, Maxim the Greek (1475-1556) formulated the three main virtues of the Tsar that are necessary to rule the Orthodox terrestrial tsardom. They were ‘justice and truth’, ‘chastity and purity’ and ‘mildness’ expressed through ’righteous anger’, which rule the tsar’s life and animate his image as the Heavenly Tsar. Priscilla Hunt considers that all official Muscovite culture was oriented on the sacred and defined by ritual and myth, which expressed a system of analogies between archetypes of Christ, the king and the state. She considers Ivan IV Grozny created his personal mythology to legitimate the Tsar’s power. This mythology, derived from a system of symbols and their analogies, included several concepts, united into pairs of opposites such as Severity-Meekness, Justice-Chastity and Wisdom-Word, thus repeating Maxim the Greek’s list of virtues.

The historical document named "Bol'shaya chelobitnaya", or "Large petition" written, as considered, in 1549 by Ivan Semenovich Peresvetov (born in 16 c.), contains two compositions named "The first prediction of philosophers and doctors" and "The second prediction of philosophers and doctors". These writing are presumably based on the astrological birth data of Ivan IV and describe all the doctrines formulated by Maxim the Greek as the general virtues of the tsar. Several scholars consider Ivan IV Grozny, not Peresvetov, as the author of these compositions. The study aims to prove that Peresvetov’s writings were the part of Tsar Ivan IV Grozny personal mythology that utilized astrology as propaganda of his providential mission, which, as he considered, was provided by the celestial signs.

Name: Kim Harrer

Abstract Title: Title: Political Freedom and Subjugation in Puritan Astrology

When Puritans come to mind, the first thoughts of them might be any number of things from the Salem Witch Trials, to their resistance of the Church of England, to their simplistic lifestyles. In these initial thoughts, it is unlikely, though, that astrology would emerge as a direct association with Puritan beliefs, governing structures, and image. Much is known about the political and religious turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England and the colonies of New England; however, what is not as well-known is the emergence of astrology as a prominent practice and the ways in which this prominence manifested during, and as a result of, this conflict (Nelson 523). Often used by the Puritan political leadership of this period to explain the "downfall of the monarchy", this paper explores how astrology, its Puritan practitioners, and its believers found freedom to influence political rule; and the ways in which it merged with social, spiritual, and scientific knowledge to effect the public view of their place in the universe (focusing on almanacs of the time) to justify their leadership (Ruffin 312). It also aims shows how astrology was used to pacify Native American opposition and instil fear-based control in Puritan communities (Winship 309).

Name: Darin Hayton

Abstract Title: Conrad Tockler's Astrological Aphorisms

Conrad Tockler was a master at the University of Leipzig at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Like many astrologers at the time, he regularly produced yearly prognostications in both Latin and German, and had printed various astrological texts that he lectured on at the university. In addition to these, Tockler dedicated a number of astrological texts to George the Bearded, the Duke of Saxony. These texts were never printed but survive in fine manuscripts. Among them is a collection of 130 astrological aphorisms, which includes a long dedication to the Duke that provides a taxonomy of licit and illicit divinatory practices as well a justification for astrology. In form and style, Tockler's aphorisms resemble the ps-Ptolemaic Centiloquium, the collection of 100 aphorisms attributed to Ptolemy that was widely copied and printed, and studied universities across Europe. Yet Tockler seems not to have relied on Ptolemy’s list, choosing instead to compile his own collection of aphorisms. I will use Tockler's aphorisms to reveal his intellectual and textual debts to other astrologers and texts, to recover his astrological practice, and to locate that practice in the space between the University of Leipzig and the Saxon court in Dresden.

Name: Polapat Jittivuthikan

Abstract Title: Jupiter and Saturn conjunction in Thai astrology; the eternal struggle of Thai governments

"The manuscript states that Jupiter and Saturn are enemies. If they are either in conjunction or opposition, the world will be in turmoil such as a strange earthquake or widespread famine"

(Sarikabutr, 23)

Astrology is and has been very popular in Thailand. The same goes for coup d’états. In the past 87 years, since the abolition of absolute monarchy, Thailand experienced 13 successful coup d’états. (14 if to include the revolution) Many prominent Thai astrologers agree that the cause of this frequent turmoil and instabilities of Thai governments are due the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the 9th house of the country’s natal chart, which derived from the moment the city pillar of Bangkok was erected. The concept of auspicious time in Thai astrology is called ruek. A ruek determines whether an activity or a place or country would perform well or not in the long run. In case of Bangkok (Rattanakosin Kingdom at the time of initiation), the Ruek was consecrated by installing the city pillar during the reign of King Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty on Sunday 21st April 1782, 06.54 a.m. Thus, the natal chart which derived from the act of consecrating the city pillar on the aforementioned date and time is used as a standard by Thai astrologers to predict situations in Thailand. Nevertheless, the Jupiter in Thai astrology signifies the “righteous”, the government and the monarchy, while Saturn is associated with struggles, the mass, the lower classes. Thais also associated the ruek of the city pillar to be “saksit”. Saksit is the supernatural power in Thai religion. People who had proposed to move the capital city to other parts of Thailand are believed to be punished by the supernatural force of the astrological auspicious time. This presentation will aim to describe what is believed in Thai astrology concerning Jupiter and Saturn conjunction and how astrology itself assisted in the overthrowing of governments.

Name: R. Hakan Kirkoğlu

Abstract Title: The Sultan and his astrologer: The practice of astrology in the Ottoman court during the eighteenth century

In the early modern mind, the intersection and mutual relationship between the natural sciences and astrology as well as alchemy and the occult created a lively intellectual ground, a boiling cauldron of ideas among scholars, scientists, and philosophers. In the eyes of Islamic religious scholars, astrology was not rejected but seen as harmful and at the edge of blasphemy. However, some members of the Ottoman learned elite, with their eclectic range of interests, showed considerable enthusiasm and attachment to the astrology and produced calendars and horoscopes for various ends in their relationship with the ruling elite. The practice of astrology (Ilm-i Nücum) was already institutionally established in the Ottoman court in the seventeenth century. The astrologers (muneccims) as members of the court and sometimes having a companion status in relation to the sultans, depending on the trust they cultivated, could be seen silent advisors behind the scene.

The astrologers were expected to make different types of calendars, yearly reports of judgments, and find auspicious times for special events like setting the first stone in a mosque's groundwork, the ceremony of accession to the throne or commencing military campaigns. My MA thesis (2016) specifically focuses on one of the longest-serving court astrologer Fethiyeli Halil Efendi (1699-1773) who was also a member of the Ottoman learned establishment. How he secured a special position during the reign of Sultan Mustafa the III (1757-1774) and what were the main components of his yearly predictions to the Sultan ? We also find that he had penned a special note to the Sultan in regard to Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in Aries which occurred in 1762. In this lecture, I am going to dwell on the astrologer’s yearly predictions as well as concurrent developments in the Ottoman court life.

Name: Ulla Koch

Abstract Title: Jupiter and the Assyrian King

Astrology was an integral part of decision making at the Neo Assyrian court. The king had groups of observers posted around his realm, who would report to him what they saw, especially concerning the phases of the moon, but also other significant celestial events should they notice them. The moon played a central role in Mesopotamian astrology but the planets were not neglected. However, observation of the planets is more difficult to perform accurately and demands a thourough knowledge of the map of the sky. Most of the constellations we know and use today were defined by the Mesopotamian astrologers. The king had highly trained scholars at his court, who was in daily contact with him and helped him understand the significance of the movements of the celestial bodies. Almost all the celestial bodies were at the same time divinities in their own right and representations of the various gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon. Of special importance to the king was the planet Jupiter. As the celestial incarnation of the supreme god Marduk, Jupiter’s movements often were interpretated as pertaining to the king and his reign. In the Neo Assyrian period (ca. 900 – 600 BCE) celestial bodies, including the planets, were often mentioned in religious/magical texts alongside, or in lieu of, the gods they represented. They could also appear in political texts, such as treaties and royal inscriptions. Here I will investigate when and in which contexts the planet Jupiter is mentioned and how its special relationship to the king and kingship is reflected in the sources and what other symbolism was associated with the planet.

Name: David W. Pankenier

Abstract Title: Medieval Chinese Planetary Astrology

Portentous clusters of the five visible planets are repeatedly implicated in historical sources in connection with dynastictransitions in ancient China. The History of the Three Kingdoms, an account of the 3rd century CE struggle for supremacy among three contending kingdoms — Wei, Wu, Shu — records how timely planetary portents during the final years of the Later Han dynasty (184–220 CE) were exploited as the celestial signs sanctioning usurpation of Han by the Wei dynasty. Half a millennium later, in mid-Tang dynasty (618–907), the impetus for the devastating rebellion that nearly brought down the Tang can be shown to have been strongly influenced by both the historical precedents, and more immediately, by a conjunction of all five visible planets that occurred in 750 CE. That impressive planetary omen, as well as the parallel ambitions of Tang General An Lushan (703–757) and Han Chancellor Cao Cao (155–220), the mastermind behind the usurpation of Later Han, played a crucial role in prompting An Lushan to attempt to overthrow the Tang.

Name: Eugeny Pchelov

Abstract Title: Heraldic astronomy: dedications to monarchs on maps of the stellar sky

The report will discribe the history of constellations that were created by astronomers in honor of their patrons - European monarchs. Most of them were figures of dynastic or personal coats of arms. This tradition was characteristic of the era of European absolutism, since the middle of XVII century until late XVIII century. New constellations of this type appeared on the star maps and celestial globes, and there were attempts to realization a total symbolic reform of all complex constellations. With the new constellations, astronomers not only expressed their feelings of loyal subjects, but also sought to capture happy events or omens. This tendency was especially clear in the topography of the new constellations, which was not accidental. The political symbolism of sky was thus embodied in the heraldic, symbolic, and topographical aspects.

Name: Micah T. Ross

Abstract Title: Persian Skies over China

In his edition of the Arabic text of Dorotheus, Pingree (1976) presented the text as evidence for the translation program of Šāpūr I (c. 240-270). At the Eighth European Conference of Iranian Studies in St. Petersburg (2015), Cottrell and Ross (2019) challenged the relationship of the Arabic text to a Middle Persian original of the third century. Recent studies by Mak (2014) and Kotyk (2017, 2018) have identified elements of Western astrology in China by about 785. These scholars have asked what path might these elements have taken to China, if not through a second century Persian translation.

An identification of the Western astrological doctrines in China permits some elements to be derived from Sanskrit intermediaries. In such cases, the Indian sources might have been more easily understood than the glancing references in Dorotheus. Other elements, particularly the doctrine of lots, conform with the surviving text of Dorotheus. In fact, the Lingtai Jing preserves a fuller system of lots than Dorotheus. This larger system of lots suggests two possibilities: either a reworking and expansion (sinicization) of the Dorothean material or access to a more developed tradition of lots than preserved by Dorotheus. One such system of lots appears in Abu Maʿshar (787-886) but a Persian tradition of lots similar to early Arabic astrology may have entered China. The sources for Western doctrines in Chinese astrology may be considered individually rather than collected as evidence of a vanished tradition.

On the other hand, Theophilus of Edessa (695-785) may have described such a tradition when he mentioned a Persian paraphrase of the works of Critodemus, Valens, Dorotheus, Timarchus, and “the others associated with them.” The date and title of this paraphrase are not recorded by Theophilus. Nor can the resemblance of this work to the surviving text of Dorotheus be established. However, a seventh or eighth century Persian text may have been more accessible to Chinese astrologers than a third-century translation. Despite this description, Persian is not the only possible vehicular language of Western astrology. Theophilus, like Mashallah (740-815), knew Syriac, which may also constitute a lost tradition.

Name: H. Darrel Rutkin

Abstract Title: Astrology and the Age of Aquarius: Great Conjunctions (Then and Now), Divine Providence and the Unfolding Transformations of Human History

As a student of the history of astrology, one of the most fascinating topics to me is how people have tried to understand their places-individually and collectively—in the arc of human history. From Sasanian Persia to the present day, the Great Conjunctions of the outer planets—through the 17th century, of Jupiter and Saturn, in their strikingly triangular patterns, sure proof of God's providential creation to Kepler; now of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, discovered in 1781, 1846 and 1930 respectively-have been seen as cosmic harbingers of New Ages in politics, religion and culture. Saturn and Jupiter's upcoming conjunction in Aquarius (and the recent and recurring one of Saturn with Pluto in Capricorn) will surely prompt reflections on the role of Great Conjunctions in human history.

In this talk, I would like to focus on an authoritative analysis in the Middle Ages, by Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, that attempted to understand the broader patterns of human history as the unfolding of divine providence. Although it is not well known, Thomas used astrology to articulate his understanding of divine providence in one of his most influential texts, the Summa contra gentiles, which he wrote in the 1260s, in part relying on his teacher, Albertus Magnus's, causal analysis of how astrology works in the world and on people. This doctrine provided one of astrology’s theological foundations in the medieval map of knowledge, which continued to be authoritative into the 17th century and beyond. In exploring Thomas's and Albert's influential analysis, we will be able to more fully understand some of the most interesting and influential precursors to both modern and early modern views on the significance of Great Conjunctions in history.

Name: Shlomo Sela

Abstract Title: Historical Astrology in the Rise of Medieval Hebrew Science (Abraham Bar Hiyya and Abraham Ibn Ezra)

The twelfth century witnessed the emergence of a new Hebrew science that conveyed the Greco-Arabic world view to Jewish civilization. In this cultural phenomenon, Jewish scholars gradually abandoned the Arabic language and adopted Hebrew as the vehicle for writing about secular and scientific ideas. One of its features was a keen interest in astrology, in general, and in historical astrology, in particular.

My lecture is intended to review the contribution to historical astrology made by Abraham Bar Ḥiyya (ca. 1065–ca. 1136), the pioneer in the emergence of the new Hebrew science, and by Abraham Ibn Ezra (ca. 1089–ca. 1161), who incorporated astrological ideas into his influential biblical exegesis and created the first comprehensive corpus of Hebrew astrological textbooks that address the main systems of Arabic astrology. Bar Ḥiyya’s most significant contribution is the fifth chapter of his Megillat ha-Megalleh (Scroll of the Revealer). This chapter, an impressive astrological work in its own right, was meant to provide a Jewish and general astrological history as well as an astrological prognostication of the coming of the Messiah. Abraham Ibn Ezra’s astrological corpus includes the three versions of Sefer ha-'Olam (Book of the World). These treatises represent the first Hebrew theoretical work, unique in medieval Jewish science, to discuss the theories and techniques of historical astrology that had accumulated from Antiquity to Ibn Ezra’s time, on the basis of Greek, Hindu, Persian, and Arabic sources.

Name: Octavia Sheepshanks

Abstract Title: Calling for a contemporary understanding of ‘Political Skies’

The 1967 Space Treaty, signed by 105 countries, details rules governing the peaceful exploration and deployment of outer space. In doing so, it seeks to maintain not only political harmony on earth, but ultimately political harmony in outer space itself as the sky becomes not just a conceptual mirror of life on earth, but a literal and physical place capable of playing host to political conflict. Some fifty years ago, in the wake of the 1969 moon landings, Eugene Brooks analysed the Articles of the Space treaty in the context of potential legal issues and concluded that ‘whatever problems arise in the settlement of celestial bodies will spring from conflicts of national interests, and may aggravate tensions on earth’ (The International Lawyer, 1970).

Today, the European Space Agency website directs readers to an article by the Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who argues that ‘an aggressive program to mine helium-3 from the surface of the moon would represent an economically practical justification for permanent human settlements’ and provide enormous benefits for life on Earth (Popular Mechanics, 2004). A discussion of potential political conflict is omitted, yet Stephen Uhalley, Jr. has described ‘the controversy over the moon as a destination’ as ‘complex and political’ (American Journal of Chinese Studies, 2016). Geographer Julie Michelle Klinger has observed that our current discussion of mining the Moon is in fact a matter of the political economy of natural resources ('Chapter 6: Extraglobal Extraction’, from Rare Earth Frontiers, 2017).

In the context of both national and private companies outlining their plans for space mining, this paper will argue that insufficient attention is being paid to potential geopolitical issues. The focus will be on the moon over other locations in space, but in the understanding that the conclusions are also applicable further afield. The Space Treaty will be presented in parallel to Antarctica’s Madrid Protocol, from which there is arguably much to be learnt.

In this paper I will call for an updated conception of ‘political skies’, not only in academic contexts such as this conference, but in the global science community and worldwide political economy. A contemporary clarification of the Space Treaty, which focuses on the implications of lunar mining and which leaves no room for interpretation, needs to occur as soon as possible.

Images from the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Images from the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo just outside St. Petersburg.

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