Johannes Kepler and Horoscopes Reading

Kepler was a deeply religious man who had originally aspired to become a Lutheran minister.  Like Phillip Melanchthon, his astrology was part and parcel of his Christianity.  As the Imperial Mathematician, he not only interpreted horoscopes for the emperor and his court, he published regular almanacs and predictions and made himself available for questioning on astrological and meteorological matters by the people of Prague, about which he complained, “…those of the lower classes with straight-forward and active minds…I get such a working over that I might as well call them my teachers.”

Kepler’s biographer Caspar relates an incident which occurred as a series of sextile aspects were shaping up in the heavens:

“Kepler swore 15 days before, in front of doubters, that there would be wind and rain on that day.  In due course, on the day in question, came a fierce gale, driving black clouds, so that at noon it was as dark as half an hour before sunset.  Amazed, the people asked themselves what was happening.  Then the cry grew loud, ‘Kepler comes’.”

In the course of his work for the Imperial Court, as ‘district mathematician and calendar maker’ in Graz, and later as astrologer for the famous General Wallenstein, Kepler made some interesting and accurate predictions that have been preserved in his publications and biographies. For instance, in 1595, he predicted a peasant uprising, an invasion by the Turks, and an especially cold winter, all of which came to pass and bolstered his reputation.   His calendar for 1618 said that ‘if a true comet should appear in the heavens’ then the other calendar writers would have to ‘sharpen up their pens.’ Three comets in all appeared that year, including one with a spectacularly bright tail.

Kepler also published extensively on his passion for reforming astrology: something of a hot topic in his time.  His astrological works have only just recently been translated into English – again, some would say, they were deliberately suppressed.  It is surprising how, even today, many English-speaking astronomers and physicists will adamantly deny that Kepler had any genuine interest in astrology.

In 1601 Kepler published De Fundamentis Astrologiae Certioribus, or, On the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology, in which he explains his opinions on how, and to what extent, astrology works. He published Tertium Intervens, or the Third Man in the Middle, in 1610.  In this classic of astrological reform, he presents himself between the two extremes of those who practice superstitious star-gazing and those who want to throw astrology out altogether.  In 1619 he published his masterpiece, Harmonices Mundi, which was also not translated into English.  Kepler poured twenty years of his life’s work into this grand synthesis of geometry, arithmetic, music, astrology and astronomy, which also contained his third law of planetary motion.

Astrology was not something that Kepler did merely to make money.  He cared deeply about it and he saw the world through his own unique Pythagorean, harmonic paradigm. He was, as he described himself to his mentor, Michael Maestlin, a ‘Lutheran astrologer’.  He was not, as later biographers have styled him, a radical rationalist out to make the world safe for science by ridding it of medieval superstition: and neither were his contemporaries. It was because of his passion for astrology, and not in spite of it, that he made the discoveries that brought him lasting fame as one of the greatest astronomers of all time. The quote below from his correspondence reveals just how personal Kepler’s astrology was.  In a letter to Johan Herwart from 1599, he discusses his own horoscope:

“In my case, Saturn and the sun work together in the sextile aspect (I prefer to speak of what I know best).  Therefore my body is dry and knotty, and not tall.  My soul is faint-hearted and hides itself in literary corners; it is distrustful and fearful; it seeks its way through harsh brambles and becomes entangled in them.  Its habits are similar.  To gnaw bones, to eat dry bread, to taste spiced and bitter things is a joy to me.  To walk over rugged paths, uphill and through thickets, is a holiday treat for me.  I know no other way of seasoning my life than science; I do not desire any other spice and I reject it if it is offered to me.  My fate is precisely similar to this attitude.”

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Tycho Brahe was Astrologer. Oh Really

It has often been alleged that astrology and astrologers were put out of business by the discoveries of the Copernican revolution. Actually the fact is otherwise,  astrologers were enthusiastic promoters and educators, putting the powerful public forum of their annual almanacs into the full service of science.

The three most important astronomers of the yesteryears were all practicing astrologers. The historians of science, in celebrating the glories of science past, have been totaly dumb on this point which in itsel is a question mark.

Tycho Brahe, whose discovery of the “New Star” in 1572 caused a sensation because it shattered the Aristotelian theory of the immutability of the celestial spheres, was at the time of the discovery, working as astrologer to the Danish court.

While Tycho is lauded in science history for his painstakingly accurate observations, the fact that Tycho originally undertook these observations both to improve the accuracy of his horoscopy and to demonstrate the celestial harmonies underlying astrology, alchemy, and medicine, is conveniently overlooked.1 Some might say deliberately suppressed.

Tycho was not only a competent astrologer who made some very accurate forecasts for the Danish monarchy, he was equally interested in alchemy, particularly the medical alchemy of Paracelsus. While two of his early tracts, Against Astrologers, For Astrology, and another on new methods of house division, have since disappeared, other works have survived. For instance, in 1574, lecturing in Copenhagen, Tycho elaborated on his theories about the astrological correspondences between the heavenly bodies, terrestrial substances (metals and stones) and the organs of the body.2 Tycho not only wrote astrological interpretations of both his ‘New Star,’ (the supernova of 1572) and the comet of 1577, he did extensive work in astrological weather prediction. Some of his basic principles of astro-meteorology were published in 1573 in De Nova Stella, but his work in this direction continued throughout his life and he left behind copious notebooks and accounts thereof.

In 1599, Tycho resettled in Prague, taking the post as Imperial Mathematician, (which meant ‘astrologer’) to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, whom he provided with horoscopes and predictions. When he died two years later, the successor to his position as Emperor Rudolph’s astrologer was his assistant, Johannes Kepler.

Ibn Yunus Muslim Astrologer and Astronomer

Ibn Yunus

Ibn Yunus (950?-1009) was born in Islamic Egypt and served the Fatimid dynasty for twenty-six years. His most famous work, al-Zij al-Hakimi al-kabir, is notable for its very accurate tabulated results. These may have been obtained using very large instruments.

Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Ahmad Ibn Yunus al-Sadafi came from a respected family in Fustat, his great grandfather having been a companion of the famous legal scholar al-Sahfi and his father being a distinguished historian and scholar of hadith (the sayings of Muhammad). Little is known about his early life or education. Indeed, his date of birth is not known, although 950 have been suggested. As a young man Ibn Yunus witnessed the Fatimid conquest of Egypt and the foundation of Cairo in 969 (Fustat was just outside the new city of Cairo). He served two Caliphs of the dynasty, al-Aziz and al-Hakim, making astronomical observations for them between 977 and 1003. To the second, al-Hakim, he dedicated his major work al-Zij al-Hakimi al-kabir (a zij is an astronomical handbook with tables). He died in 1009.

Astrology

In astrology, noted for making predictions and having written the Kitab bulugh al-umniyya (“On the Attainment of Desire”), a work concerning the heliacal risings of Sirius, and on predictions concerning what day of the week the Coptic year will start on.

Astronomy

Ibn Yunus’ most famous work in Islamic astronomy, al-Zij al-Kabir al-Hakimi (c. 1000), was a handbook of astronomical tables which contained very accurate observations, many of which may have been obtained with very large astronomical instruments. According to N. M. Swerdlow, the Zij al-Kabir al-Hakimi is “a work of outstanding originality of which just over half survives”

Ibn Yunus described 40 planetary conjunctions and 30 lunar eclipses. For example, he accurately describes the planetary conjunction that occurred in the year 1000 as follows:

A conjunction of Venus and Mercury in Gemini, observed in the western sky: The two planets were in conjunction after sunset on the night [of Sunday 19 May 1000]. The time was approximately eight equinoctial hours after midday on Sunday…. Mercury was north of Venus and their latitude difference was a third of a degree.

In many respects his astronomical works have a modern appearance; many of the parameters which he used in his Zij are much superior to those of his predecessors and he is also known for his meticulous calculations and attention to detail. For example, where applicable his calculations took into account the atmospheric refraction of the Sun’s rays at the horizon, and his figure of forty minutes of arc between the observed and ‘true’ (level) horizon is probably the earliest specific figure recorded for this quantity. His observations are considered so reliable that some of the thirty eclipses reported by him were used by Simon Newcomb in the nineteenth century, in determining the secular acceleration of the moon.

Modern knowledge of the positions of the planets confirms that his description and his calculation of the distance being one third of a degree are exactly correct. In the 19th century, Simon Newcomb found Ibn Yunus’ observations on conjunctions and eclipses reliable enough to use them in his lunar theory to determine the secular acceleration of the moon. Ibn Yunus’ other observations also inspired Laplace’s Obliquity of the Ecliptic and Inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn’s. Ibn Yunus also observed more than 10,000 entries for the sun’s position for many years using a large monumental astrolabe with a diameter of nearly 1.4 metres

Ibn Yunus was renowned as a poet, and has been associated with some large instruments. One was an armillary sphere with 9 rings, each of which weighed 2,000 pounds, and was large enough for a horseman to pass through, and the other was a copper instrument resembling an astrolabe, three cubits across.