home authors books contributors books for sale links
The Library of Renaissance Symbolism
The Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance

Support the Library!
Buy your books here.

Find On Worldcat
Find On This Site


Authorities: Menestrier 1694

What is this?

     Divination is the genus of a large number of specific methods which were and still are used to foretell the future or assist in decision-making. Michael Scot in the 13th Century listed twenty-eight types of divination and there are as many or more such categories recognized today. A short list of these would include: astrology, augury, clairvoyance, dowsing, geomancy, horoscopy, lotteries, oneiromancy or the interpretation of dreams, oracles and prophesies, palmistry, tarot. Some of these warrant a separate category in this web site since they were highlighted by contemporaries in their anthologies. In this article we highlight astrology, perhaps the most widespread of all the methods of divination.

     Astrology was a practice justified by the belief that microcosm and macrocosm, the planets, stars and the Earth, were a living whole of which each element influenced the others in complex ways. Plato (Timaeus 33) had said “the Creator .. made this world a complete whole..... that was to contain within itself all living beings.” This unity was called in Greek, sympatheia and as Plotinus said, (Enneads 4) “this One-all, therefore, is a sympathetic total and stands as one living being.” Under most circumstances, the fate of man could not be avoided but it was possible with the right understanding or by a supreme exercise of will to manipulate and control the force of nature thus influencing fate, and this was the task of magic. Plotinus said, “the magician, too, draws on these patterns of power, and by ranging himself also into the pattern is able tranquilly to possess himself of these forces whose nature and purpose he has become identified.” 

     Astrology, astronomy and theology were believed to be closely linked. Synesius of Cyrene (c370-c430) a Christian Bishop writing about 400 AD said that “astronomy besides being itself a noble science, prepares men for theology,” which was understandable when God was to be found in the highest sphere of the heavens above the sphere of the stars. To many writers throughout the period, astronomy and astrology were barely distinguishable. Isidore of Seville (c560-636) in his classic and much quoted Etymologies which was, in effect, an encyclopaedia of all knowledge of his time, said that he believed there was a difference between astronomy and astrology but he did not know what it was. In the West, the subject was reintroduced in the 12th century from Arabic sources along with alchemical texts. Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos was translated in 1138. The greatest astrological treatises of the Middle Ages both written in the 13th Century were called the Speculum Astronomiae, the Mirror of Astronomy and the Liber Astronomium, the Book of Astronomy and in practice the distinction between astronomy and astrology remained very close right through the end of the 17th Century. It was recognized that “if the public did not believe in astrology, books on astronomy would not sell.”

See also: Dreams, Lotteries, Prophesies, Wands