Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Planetary Science. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 07 October 2022

The Planets in Alchemy and Astrology (Medieval and Renaissance)locked

The Planets in Alchemy and Astrology (Medieval and Renaissance)locked

  • Nicholas CampionNicholas CampionUniversity of Wales Trinity Saint David, Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture

Summary

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.

Subjects

  • History of Ideas about Planets and Planetary Systems

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription