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History of Astrology in the Renaissance
Christopher Warnock, Esq.
History of Astrology in the Renaissance

Renaissance Astrologer

History of Astrology in the Renaissance
Revival of Ptolemaic Astrology
Growing Popularity & Attacks
Height & Decline of Astrology
Agrippa Biography
Ficino Biography
Lilly Biography
Paracelsus Biography
Ramesey Biography
Bruno Biography
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This series of articles


Originally Published


Mountain Astrologer

October/November 2002

Along with literature, painting and sculpture, the art of astrology reached new heights in the rebirth of classical culture in the European Renaissance of 1450-1700. The Renaissance philosopher and astrologer Marsilio Ficino, writing in 1492, proclaimed, "This century, like a golden age, has restored to light the liberal arts, which were almost extinct: grammar, poetry, rhetoric, painting, sculpture, architecture, music...this century appears to have perfected [astrology]." Quoted in Peter & Linda Murray, The Art of the Renaissance (London, Thames & Hudson, 1963) page 7.
Several contrasting trends were manifest in Renaissance astrology. There was a tendency towards the adoption of Hellenistic astrological techniques and a new emphasis on the Greek astrologer Ptolemy, alongside a continuation of medieval astrology largely derived from Islam. There were also efforts to rationalize and improve the accuracy of astrology, although many astrologers persisted in their accustomed ways. Astrology also became more popular than ever with the adoption of printing and the dissemination of almanacs, yet it increasingly came under fire as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment.

The Arabic and Medieval Legacy


Classical Astral Religion
Astrology flourished in Europe during the Hellenistic period from 300 B.C. to 1 A.D. and under the Roman Empire from its foundation in the first century A.D. until its fall in the 5th century. With the subsequent barbarian invasions and the disintegration of the Roman system of learning, astrology all but disappeared from Europe.
While a good deal of learning was conserved by the eastern Christian Byzantine Empire, it is to the advanced Islamic civilization of the Middle East that we owe the preservation and further development of Greek and Roman astrology. Moreover, while they wrote in Arabic, many astrologers of the Islamic civilization were Persians, Jews and pagan Harranian Sabians. This lent a new diversity to astrology in sources, techniques and philosophy.
Al-Biruni Islamic
Scientist & Astrologer
The development of astrology in the Middle East followed a course with considerable continuity, but there were some significant changes from Hellenistic and Roman practice. One of these changes was the adoption of house systems and aspect orbs. Greek and Roman astrologers appear primarily to have used the whole sign or sign-house system.
In the whole sign system, no matter what the degree of the rising sign, it is considered to be the first house, the second sign is the second house and so forth. One corollary of
Al-Biruni on the
12 Houses
the whole sign house system is that aspects are sign to sign such that a planet in Aries is considered to be in sextile to a planet in Gemini and Aquarius, square to planets in Cancer and Capricorn, etc.
Arabic astrologers, by contrast, adopted various house systems, including the Porphyry and Alcabitius systems, which broke the one-to-one correspondence of sign and house. These new practices initiated a controversy over the proper choice of house system that has continued through the present day.
Arabic Astrologer
As a result of the adoption of these house systems, Arabic astrologers also began to use aspects based on degrees rather than signs. Thus, if a planet were at 5 degrees of Aries and another planet at 25 degrees of Gemini, they were no longer considered to be in a sextile aspect.
William Lilly's
Orb Table
Along with the utilization of aspects using degrees rather than signs, came the introduction of zones of influence or orbs, consisting of a set number of degrees in which the aspect is effective both before and after the exact degree of the aspect. Unlike modern practice where each aspect has a particular orb in Arabic astrology each planet had its own orb.
More Information on
Orbs & Aspects
In addition to adopting orbs and aspects based on degrees rather than signs Arabic astrologers also began using a very complex system of separating and applying aspects and such arcane relationships as translation, abscission and collection of light, refrenation, prohibition and frustration. These changes allowed them to extract a great deal of information regarding the interaction, both past and present of the planets involved.
Arabic astrology represented a heady mix of Persian, Hebrew, Harranian Sabian and Hindu astrologies, though its basis was Greek and Roman astrology. This core of classical astrology, as further developed by the Arabic astrologers, was then transmitted to the West as part of the "new science" in the twelfth and thirteen centuries.
As medieval civilization grew in size and complexity, the necessary knowledge to erect and delineate charts became more widely dispersed and employed. It became commonplace, particularly in the advanced city-states of northern Italy, for nobles, kings and the wealthy bourgeoisie to consult astrologers for guidance in their affairs. Astrology was taught at many universities and was a generally accepted part of the medieval world view, metaphysics and philosophy. Thus, Greek and Roman astrology, modified by Arabic practice and passed on to Europe in the Middle Ages, became the astrology of the Renaissance.

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