Have you ever given up on temptation and read your horoscope in the newspaper on Sunday morning? Sure, we all have it. For most of us, it’s curious and fun to see what they say our day will be based on the zodiac sign we were born under. Sometimes we forget that this little diversion is actually part of an ancient science called astrology that has had a powerful influence on many cultures dating back centuries before Christ.
This does not mean that astrology is a dead art today. Advocates of astrology are easy to find in every city, advertisements in newspapers and on television try to convince us that they can discover our wealth and our future and help cure our ailments by exploring the secrets of astrology.
When you are an astronomy enthusiast, the confusion between astronomy and astrology on the part of those who do not truly understand the differences can be exacerbated. In early civilizations, the two systems were not separate. Astrology was only the religious aspect of astronomy. So what has changed?
The most important change that began with the separation of the two lines of thought began in the first century when Ptolemy wrote the first astronomy book called Tetrabiblos. In it, he began to suggest that astronomy should be considered a separate science from astrology. It was quite a revolutionary book because it was also the first scientific document that indicated that the Earth was not the center of the universe and that astronomy had to focus strictly on observing and recording events in the universe.
We have come a long way in the next 2,000 years. Not only have science and religion cut their paths completely separate from the time of Ptolemy, but astronomy is making great strides every year that are so outstanding, and Ptolemy was truly amazed.
Perhaps the biggest turning point among an astrology and astrology student is the belief that the position of the stars has significance over the events in our life. Of course, we know that the weather, tides and other important aspects of our life are influenced by the stars, planets and celestial bodies, especially the moon. But these things happen because of fully explainable scientific laws, not because of mysterious forces at work.
What can we conclude, as devoted followers of astronomy, of the close relationship between astrology and astronomy? Well, we definitely want to be able to explain to anyone confused by the similarity in words what the differences are. We don’t want to see the two approaches to the stars and planets blurry again. But we must do everything in our power to keep this distinction clear without questioning or humiliating those who may still adhere to the teachings of astrology.
It is important to remember that what is part of an individual’s religious life has a sacred level of faith for the person who embraces it. It is not respectful to make fun of these things. If there is no other reason than to respect the ancient origins of astronomy, then we must offer courtesy to those who are still exploring whether astrology has any validity for them.
If we can treat each discipline with respect while maintaining the separation that should exist between astrology and astronomy, then there is no reason why both approaches cannot coexist for our admiration for galaxies in peace and harmony. And for our purposes as astronomers, this harmony will give us much freedom to enjoy our pursuit of knowledge for many more centuries to come. And who knows, you may still want to read your Sunday morning horoscope from time to time.