Astrology finds an important, if not central place in almost all traditional cultures. Astrological ideas and concepts are thus the underlying basis for many a religious and cultural belief, in almost all major ancient societies. Man has always looked to the heavens for inspiration while for their part, the stars have never failed to oblige. These beliefs have thus strongly influenced ideas of the interconnectedness between the celestial realm and human existence, offering insights into destiny, character and the will of the divine.
Despite its close association with many religious beliefs and practices, astrology is a form of knowledge and is not a religion. In order to practice astrology, an astrologer is not required to swear allegiance to any particular religion, or even believe in any form of spirituality. In fact, there are many who do not.
Interpreting religious texts and teachings is a widely subjective matter that varies from person to person. Almost anything is at risk of being termed as sacrilege, depending on who you ask and their understanding of the world around them. When taken in its truest sense, astrology cannot be considered to be blasphemous to the doctrine of any major religion.
We will examine how different religious and cultural traditions have been influenced by astrology and what view these societies take of this discipline.
Astrology and Hinduism
Hindu beliefs and mythology are very deeply intertwined with knowledge of the cosmos. In fact, Indian culture arguably bears a stronger influence of astrology than any other major culture. This is something that is reflected in everything from ancient Hindu mythology to present day Indian traditions. Much can be written about the various ways in which astrology is represented in Hinduism. However, you've probably heard most of it before and as a reader, you are likely to begin dozing off before you reach the end. So, we'll just go with the short version.
Hinduism can be a somewhat complex religion with a multitude of gods, scriptures, fables, traditions and customs. Astrological concepts originated very early on in Hinduism. As is explained in greater detail on our 'Fortune Telling' page, the practice of Hindu or Vedic astrology was taught to the sages by the gods, as the religion evolved. However, first seven and then nine planets were recognised as spiritual entities, even before the formal advent of astrology. That is, according to Vedic astrology, there are nine planets and these are divided into two groups, headed by the Sun and Saturn, respectively. These planets are personified by deities and astrologically, each planet bears characteristics that are consistent with the nature and personality of its representing deity. This is where sceptics and even some spiritual teachers often go off tangent when trying to rationalise or refute astrology. The undeniable argument that distant bodies made of gas and rock cannot possibly affect life on earth, is often cited as a claim. It however, requires a certain degree of study and practice of astrology to realise that it is not the heavenly body itself that astrology alludes to, but the spiritual force or deity associated with a planet, that affects the course of events on earth.
All the nine planets recognised in Vedic astrology, including those belonging to the demonic realm, are subservient to the higher gods. Hinduism holds that our lives are bound by the laws of 'Karma' while astrologically, a horoscope is analogous to a map that charts out the course of our past and future 'Karma'. Astrology allows for changes to the way that this 'Karma' is dispensed, through the pleasing and appeasing of the planets. Astrology is thus simply a means through which our limited minds can better conceptualise the unlimited knowledge and formless expanse of the divine. That is, astrology is really just a vehicle to bring us closer to divinity, but as it comes packaged as a shiny Lambo, there is greater incentive to press the pedal to the metal!
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Astrology and Christianity
The influence of astrology on Christian beliefs can vary among the different denominations of Christianity. However, the official stance of many Christian denominations discourages a reliance on astrology for guidance or divination. The Catholic Church, for example, considers astrology as a superstitious practice and cautions against placing undue importance on astrological predictions. Some early theologians of the Western Church, such as Augustine of Hippo, criticised astrology as a form of divination and warned against its practice.
The Bible is often cited as the source of opposition to astrology, with passages condemning divination and fortune telling. The clash between astrology and Christianity can however, be traced back to figures like the early Protestant reformer, John Calvin who made a distinction between so called good and bad astrology. Good astrology being associated with weather predictions, medical diagnosis and calendar creation. Whereas 'Bad' astrology involved predictions about the future made in order to determine a person's fate. The concern being that people would turn to astrology for guidance about the future, rather than doing the Christian thing and placing their trust in God's will. As astrology does not find mention in the Bible, it is viewed as a competitor to Christian teachings.
The Bible itself does not explicitly endorse or condemn astrology. However some passages in the Bible, such as references to the Star of Bethlehem, have been interpreted by some as astrological phenomena. Others contend that these references were symbolic, rather than astrological in nature.
Despite the official positions of churches, individuals within Christian communities may hold diverse views on astrology. Those with conservative Christian beliefs are likely to reject astrology on the basis of their interpretation of Christian teachings, while people with more liberal or contemporary views may be open to following it, guided by their own sense of right and wrong.
Syncretism and Cultural Influences
In some cases, astrology and Christian beliefs have been syncretised or blended together in certain cultural contexts. This can be seen in practices such as horoscope readings marketed towards Christians or the incorporation of astrological elements into Christian-themed products.
Astrology in Islam
Astrology is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran, the central religious text of Islam. Islamic teachings focus more on monotheism, moral conduct and submission to the will of Allah or God. Traditional interpretations of Islam believe in Allah's absolute control and knowledge of the universe and hold that he alone has knowledge of the unseen and the ability to determine the future. Seeking knowledge or guidance through astrology can therefore be interpreted as a deviation from Islamic beliefs and a form of 'Shirk' that is, the worship of any entity other than Allah.
The Quran however, does acknowledge the existence of celestial bodies and highlights their purpose as signs of Allah's creations. Verses in the Quran mention the sun, the moon and the stars as signs of Allah's power, emphasising their roles in providing light, marking time and guiding navigation. These references are meant to inspire awe and reflection on the greatness of Allah's creation rather than endorse the practice of astrology.
Islamic scholars and theologians generally discourage Muslims from engaging in astrology or seeking guidance from astrologers. They advise adhering to Islamic teachings and relying on prayer, seeking knowledge and making well-informed decisions based on the teachings of the Quran, rather than placing faith in astrological beliefs.
Islamic scholars with more permissive views do permit certain aspects of astrology within specific guidelines. This has given rise to a form of astrology known as, Arabic or Persian astrology. This refers to the practice of using astrological methods within an Islamic framework. It incorporates elements of traditional astrology, but attempts to reconcile this with Islamic beliefs and teachings.
Islamic astrology differs from mainstream astrology in that it often emphasises the lunar calendar and places a greater importance on the interpretation of dreams and the use of talismans. It also incorporates Islamic concepts and symbolism into its astrological practices.
Geomancy in Islam
There is a concept known as 'ilm al-raml' or 'ilm al-nujum' in Islam which refers to the knowledge of geomancy and astrology. This involves making divinatory predictions based on the interpretation of markings or patterns made in the earth, while astrology deals with predictions based on celestial bodies. However, this cannot be said to be an integral or sanctioned part of Islamic teachings. Islamic scholars generally discourage Muslims from engaging in such practices and encourage them to seek out knowledge and guidance from reliable Islamic sources, such as the Quran, 'Sunnah' (teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad) and the advice of knowledgeable scholars.
Astrology and Buddhism
Buddhism has many similarities to Hinduism, as this religion originated in India around the 5th century BC. Lord Budhha began preaching the principles of Buddhism after he achieved enlightenment, but he was born as a Hindu prince named 'Siddharth Gautam'.
One key similarity between these two faiths is that both subscribe to the concepts of 'Karma' and 'Rebirth'. 'Karma' is the law of cause and effect and rebirth refers to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. As explained above, in Hinduism, 'Karma' and astrology have a close association. Vedic astrology however, is based on Hindu mythology, which is not a part of Buddhism. One reason for the dissociation of Hindu mythology from the Buddhist belief system is that Hinduism has evolved over several thousands of years, much before the advent of Buddhism. Some Hindu beliefs have gained a fair degree of complexity, giving rise to inequality between those who possess this knowledge and those who do not. Religions like Buddhism found an appeal and space to evolve, as they eliminated much of this complexity and inequality.
An Acceptance of Astrology
In Buddhism, the acceptance of astrology varies among different traditions and sects, as it is not a universally recognised or an essential component of Buddhist teachings. Buddhism places a strong emphasis on individual responsibility, self-awareness and the cultivation of wisdom and compassion. While some Buddhists may incorporate astrological beliefs and practices into their cultural and religious traditions, it cannot be considered to be a core or essential aspect of the religion itself.
Buddhism lays emphasis on a believer's ability to rely on their own efforts, practice mindfulness and thereby seek liberation from suffering through the 'Noble Eightfold Path'. The Buddhist way is to develop inner qualities and appreciate the nature of reality. Hence seeking the assistance of external influences, such as through the use of predictions is not explicitly advocated.
Given the strong connection between most major religions and astrological beliefs, it would be fair to say that a belief in both is not mutually exclusive. That is, practicing one's religion and holding a belief in astrology, are two activities that are completely compatible.
Nothing is absolutely good or bad, not even a belief in God. How we interpret and practice our beliefs is what determines their nature. This is why religious beliefs can sometimes breed fanatical views, where a person certainly believes in their religion, but fails to understand its true meaning. Almost any form of knowledge, astrology included can be used for good or bad, it all depends on how we choose to use our knowledge. One thing is for sure though, religious views have resulted in more human suffering than any belief in astrology ever did.