A Study of the Development of Astrology in the Nineteenth Century
Being Based on an Analysis of Nineteenth Century Astrological Bibliography.© Copyright 1996 Robert Zoller All Rights Reserved
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
The Bibliotheca Astrologica was originally published privately by the author F. Leigh Gardner as A Catalogue Raisonné of Works on the Occult Sciences: Vol II, Astrological Books, 1911, London. It has an introduction by Dr William Wynn Westcott and provides the broadest survey of astrological works then available. This study takes Gardner’s publication as its main guide.
The book received a wide circulation among many serious occultists. For example a copy may be found in the library of George Winslow Plummer's Societas Rosicruciana in America. It is cited, as another example, by Marc Edmund Jones in his Fundamentals of Number Significance (1978). In the 1960's and 1970's the book was often known to rare book dealers specialising in the occult. In its entirety it presents us with a bibliography covering printed books dealing with astrology from the 15th to the 19th centuries. While not comprehensive, it is nevertheless more than adequate providing printing and publishing details on many books and giving an overview to the field. The entries are arranged alphabetically by author. A digital copy of the 1911 original may be obtained by application to the New Library archivist from our contact page.
The 19th century entries of books have been extracted together with a few almanacs and re-arranged chronologically by date of publication, grouped according to decades. I have then made what observations suggested themselves as justifiable. To have included the list of 19th century periodicals would have increased the scope of this study and was therefore avoided. I have emphasised works on practical western astrology and astronomy, studies of ancient astronomy and some literature relating to astrometeorology. I have not listed all the works Gardner lists for example all those dealing with Indian astrology, though I have most of them. This study in no way supersedes Gardner's survey.
A word as to why I engaged in this project may be in order. Just as the 20th century follows the 19th century, so "New Age" astrology follows the 19th century revival of astrological studies. It is valuable to know what was available for study and who was studying what in the 19th century in order to understand why 20th century astrology went in the direction it went (i.e. towards psychology and non-predictive, symbolic, mythological emphasis). More than this, it is clear from the study of astrology I have pursued for more than 25 years, now, that the astrology of the last quarter of the 19th century sets the tone for the astrology of the 20th century. The astrology of the end of the 19th century therefore becomes important to understand as exerting a formative or directive influence over the current century's astrology.
Yet a question arises in this meditation: "Where did the astrologers of the later 19th century get their early astrological training?" "Did the late 19th century astrologers spring full blown from the brow of Zeus?" The logical answer, which is, as it turns out the right answer, is that they stood upon the shoulders of their predecessors. Now the present mini-study seems to indicate in a general sense who these predecessors were; that they were few in number; and that there existed throughout the 19th century, an astrological tradition in England linking the 18th century to the 20th.
This English astrological tradition was in a state of decline from the 1700's until the end of the 19th century, but the important point is that it survived. From the eighth decade of the 19th century into the 20th astrology had a re-birth of a sort, but the kind of astrology practised was somewhat altered.
Gardner's survey, seems to show a mutation of the English astrological tradition towards the last quarter of the 19th century as Western revisionist influences, such as Heliocentric astrology, joined orientalizing influences then coming into vogue. This influences being the result of almost a century of academic study of oriental astronomy/astrology and as a result of the activities of the Theosophicial Society. Prior to the 1870's all English speaking astrologers practised a traditional astrology, derived from Medieval Practice but having been repeatedly "reformed" during the 16th to 18th centuries. So that, by the time we get to the early 19th century, much of the valuable theory and practice of Medieval Astrology had been either lost or thoroughly misunderstood.
Following the 1870's, the above mentioned innovation, reformation and orientalizing result in a plethora of techniques, theories and usage affecting both pop-astrology and professional astrology so that few if any astrologers follow the truly Traditional Astrology of the pre-1870 period, let alone the Medieval Usage.
We can see a shift take place in the last 30 years of the 19th century which opens the door to changes in the 20th century.
Gardner's book does not allow us to see the impact of psychology upon astrology - largely because, once again, that influence was primarily a 20th century affair - not a 19th century one. As is shown in this study the 19th century astrologers were interested in fortune telling (i.e. prediction), astromythology, medical astrology and in promoting a more liberal public attitude towards astrology.
Gardner's survey seems to indicate, as I see it, that notwithstanding the body-blow given to all the occult sciences by 19th century materialistic science; especially by Darwin's theory of evolution in the seventh decade of the century, interest in astrology continued to widen in the second half of the 19th century.
OVERVIEW OF STUDY CONCLUSIONS
The view that the Almanac makers alone perpetuated astrology from 18th - 19th centuries in England is incorrect.
There were able, competent, learned and mathematical astrologers practising their art through-out the 1800’s.
The practice of astrological magic was not unknown in England circa 1850. These practices necessitated a level of astrological competency involving mathematics and delineation far beyond that of pop-astrology.
The Occult Revival of the late 19th century, was exactly that, a revival of a tradition which had never entirely died out, but which had been weakened, deteriorated, and mutated into the form the said "revival" took, namely a Theosophic direction alá Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine.
This Blavatskyan redirection may be qualified in that from one point of view the general practice of astrology seems to have remained unaffected by Blavatsky's metaparadigm of Theosophy.
Astrological practitioners, for the most part, have remained parochial, reading only pop-astrology level books made available by the publishers to exploit the market in astro-pabulum. As a result of this, the general level of astrology has declined since the beginning of the 20th century and many mediocre astrologers, such as Sepharial, are seen as Masters, whereas competent astrologers, such as a John Varley, a Pearce or a Simmonite, are often unknown.
Although Theosophy has often been credited with the revival of astrology in the later part of the 19th century, in fact Blavatsky and her followers were critical of the contemporary practice of astrology. They opposed "fortune telling," believing that in ancient times it had been a far loftier and recondite affair, resembling, in fact, their version of Theosophy. This criticism, and the belief that astrology had once been Theosophy or something like it, opened the door to revisionist efforts such as that of the 20th century astrologer and Theosophist Marc Edmund Jones and a spate of "Esoteric" astrologies. In this way, and others, Blavatskyan Theosophy became one of the influences directing the development of 20th century astrology.
After the eighth decade revisionism enters the astrological scene with the rise of innovations such as Heliocentric Astrology and the spread of an interest in Indian Astrology. This represents a break in the integrity of Western Astrological practice; an universalisation of the art which entails a willingness to try a number of astrological techniques regardless of the metaphysical, cultural or religious milieu to which they belong. That this could happen at all shows that the practitioners of astrology were by this time unable to appreciate the importance of such concepts. They had become mere practitioners; no longer were they philosophers.
It is this fact, perhaps more than any other, which permits the 20th century development of New Age revisions of astrology, characterised as they are by a lack of method, integrated philosophical or metaphysical vision and a patchwork of "techniques" drawn from wholly unconnected traditions: Medieval, Western, "Uranian", Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Mayan, Aztec, American Plains Indian etc - or even from non-existent traditions, e.g. the Celtic Tree Zodiac.
The study sheds no light upon the development of psychological astrology, but then, this is largely a 20th century affair and the scope of this study has been limited to 19th century sources. But while the phenomenon of psychological astrology is a 20th century affair, the roots of 20th century astrology's infatuation with psychology are to be found in 19th century occultism, not 19th century astrology. To investigate this question would entail the study of C. G. Jung's involvement with spiritualism, occultism and alchemy as it was understood after 1850. It would also entail a discussion of the alchemical understanding of 19th century occultists and such is an endeavour far outside the scope of this present study.