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In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, alchemy and astrology shared a common language in the meanings and characters attributed to the celestial bodies, which provided a cosmic framework for understanding all terrestrial affairs. Astrology is the name given to a series of diverse practices based in the idea that the stars, planets, and other celestial phenomena possess significance and meaning for events on the Earth. In practical terms, astrology’s function was to predict the future, manage the present, and understand the past. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, these three functions were not seen as separate, because time existed as a single entity—past, present, and future coexisted in the mind of God. Astrology assumed a link between Earth and sky in which all existence, spiritual, psychological, and physical, is interconnected. Time and space existed in a mutually dependent continuum, in which both were infused with the same qualities, represented in terms of astrological language by zodiac signs and planets. The practice of alchemy applied such assumptions to the material world, attempting to convert one metal into another, typically lead into gold. As all things were interconnected, including soul and body, the physical practice of alchemy was intimately connected with spiritual practice intended to purify the soul in preparation for its meeting with the divine. The planets had roles in both astrology and alchemy. A planet, from the Greek planētai, meaning wanderer, is a star, a point, or source of light in the sky that constantly alters its position. This is in contrast to the so-called fixed stars, which appear to keep exactly the same position relative to each other, at least over historic periods of time. Technical astrology largely developed in the Hellenistic, Greek-speaking world from the early third century BCE onward. With the collapse of the Roman Empire and classical learning in most of Western Europe from the 5th century, the complex astrology of the Classical world largely disappeared. It returned to Western Europe in two phases. The first phase, mainly in the 12th century, included the translation into Latin of major texts from Arabic, including those originally composed in Greek, and was accompanied by Aristotelian works that justified the use of astrology in naturalistic terms, thereby negating Christian disapproval. Alchemy was introduced into Western Europe at the same time. The second phase began mainly in the 15th century, during the Renaissance, as part of a wider revival of Classical thought encouraged by the translation of Platonic, neo-Platonic, and Hermetic works from Greek directly into Latin. By the end of the 17th century, the practice of both astrology and alchemy had largely disappeared. Astrology was confined to popular almanacs and alchemy was replaced by modern chemistry.

Article

Astrology was a central feature of Greek and Roman culture. A knowledge of astrology’s claims, practices, and world view is essential for a full understanding of religion, politics, and science in the Greek and Roman worlds. Astrology is the name given to a series of diverse practices based in the idea that the stars, planets, and other celestial phenomena possess significance and meaning for events on Earth. It assumes a link between Earth and sky in which all existence, spiritual, psychological, and physical, is interconnected. Most premodern cultures practice a form of astrology. A particularly complex variety of it evolved in Mesopotamia in the first and second millennia bce from where it was imported into the Hellenistic world from the early 4th century bce onward. There it became attached to three philosophical schools, those pioneered by Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, all of which shared the assumption that the cosmos is a single, living, integrated whole. Hellenistic astrology also drew on Egyptian temple culture, especially the belief that the soul could ascend to the stars. By the 1st century ce, the belief in the close link between humanity and the stars had become democratized and diversified into a series of practices and schools of thought which ranged across Greek and Roman culture. It was practiced at the imperial court and in the street. It could be used to predict individual destiny, avert undesirable events, and arrange auspicious moments to launch new enterprises. It could advise on financial fortunes or the condition of one’s soul. It was conceived of as natural science and justified by physical influences or considered to be divination, concerned with communication with the gods and goddesses. In some versions, the planets were neither influences nor causes of events on Earth, but timing devices, which indicated the ebb and flow of human affairs, like the hands on a modern clock. Astrology had a radical view of time in which the future already existed, at least in potential, and the astrologer’s task was to intercede in time, altering the future to human advantage. In this sense astrology was a form of “participation mystique” in which time and space were conceived of as a single entity and individual and social benefits were to be derived from engaging with it. There was no one single version of astrology and there were disputes about what it was and what it could do, for example, whether it could make precise predictions about individual affairs or merely general statements. From the early 4th century it went into a progressive decline, facing challenges from Christianity and the fragmentation of classical culture, especially in Western Europe. It survived in Persia, exerted a powerful influence on Indian astrology, and was transmitted to the Islamic world, from where it was reimported into the Latin West in the 12th century.

Article

Although the Inca state (ca. 1200–1572 ce) was called the Empire of the Sun, the Moon was, in some respects, an equally important divinity in the official state cult. The regulatory function of the phases of the synodic cycle of the Moon in different kinds of social activities, especially those framed in calendrical systems but also military campaigns, is well documented. As far as the orientation of architectural structures is concerned, the researchers focus their attention almost entirely on the position of the Sun. However, a more accurate analysis of two well-known sites—the caves of Intimachay and Inkaraqay—may provide evidence of their function as observatories of the lunar 18.6-year cycle. Those results may confirm the hypothesis, presented some years ago, that the Incas had elaborated a rudimentary method of predicting lunar eclipses. The determination of the exact role of Venus and other planets in the Inca worldview encounters a serious limitation: in contrast to Mesoamerica, in Tahuantinsuyu and the Andes, there are no important “first-hand” sources such as the calendrical-astronomical data of the Maya or the Aztecs. Only Venus seems to have enjoyed a cult of Pan-American range. The morning appearance of Venus was apparently related to the puberty initiation rites of male adolescents, while its appearance as Evening Star seems to have been closely symbolically related to the Inca sovereign and his military activities. Putting aside the information available on Venus and its cult, there is an almost complete lack of data on the other planets. Another problem must be considered: To what extent did the Incas inherit their knowledge from their predecessors, the Chimus, or even earlier cultures?

Article

Joachim Friedrich Quack

The five visible planets are certainly attested to in Egyptian sources from about 2000 bce. The three outer ones are religiously connected with the falcon-headed god Horus, Venus with his father Osiris, and Mercury with Seth, the brother and murderer of Osiris. Clear attestations of the planets are largely limited to decoration programs covering the whole night sky. There are a number of passages in religious texts where planets may be mentioned, but many of them are uncertain because the names given to the planets are for most of them not specific enough to exclude other interpretations. There may have been a few treatises giving a more detailed religious interpretation of the planets and their behavior, but they are badly preserved and hardly understandable in the details. In the Late Period, probably under Mesopotamian influence, the sequence of the planets as well as their religious associations could change; at least one source links Saturn with the Sun god, Mars with Miysis, Mercury with Thot, Venus with Horus, son of Isis, and Jupiter with Amun, arranging the planets with those considered negative in astrology first, separated from the positive ones by the vacillating Mercury. Late monuments depicting the zodiac place the planets in positions which are considered important in astrology, especially the houses or the place of maximum power (hypsoma; i.e., “exaltation”). Probably under Babylonian influence, in the Greco-Roman Period mathematical models for calculating the positions and phases of the planets arose. These were used for calculating horoscopes, of which a number in demotic Egyptian are attested. There are also astrological treatises (most still unpublished) in the Egyptian language which indicate the relevance of planets for forecasts, especially for the fate of individuals born under a certain constellation, but also for events important for the king and the country in general; they could be relevant also for enterprises begun at a certain date. There is some reception of supposedly or actually specific Egyptian planet sequences, names and religious associations in Greek sources.