Astrology and Culture

Until the 17th century, astrology was an integral part of Western culture. In India, it still is. You will find references to astrological symbolism in literature, art, music and other cultural expressions. In several of his plays, Shakespeare used astrological descriptions as a short-hand description of the personality and attitudes of his characters. The artists of the Renaissance used astrological symbolism in their paintings, sculptures and in the stained glass windows of churches. We still refer to people as firey, airy, and earthy. It is interesting that wetness has not retained a similar adjectival role. And even though astrology is decried in public on a regular basis, nearly all newspapers and magazines still have the horoscope column and polls continue to show that 25% - 30% of people believe astrology can work.

As her senior project and final paper for her East/West major, BA graduate Inga Thornell wrote a research paper on the role of women and myth in society.

The study of mythology and literature can be a useful means of determining the paradigms of a culture. This paper will examine examples of Goddesses and women from Greco-Roman and Indian mythology and epic poetry to determine what these stories show us about women's roles in these cultures and how these characters compare to what is known of real women in each society. The historical period under examination is each culture's "Epic period." The Epic period encompasses different years for each civilization in the same way that the term "iron age" does.

The Knight's Tale

Under the cover of a standard medieval romance, Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale is a grim and astrologically-rich contemplation of human passion, fortune, and destiny. This article ponders the purposes of the Knight’s Tale’s uses of astrology and astrological symbolism in the context of these larger issues. Why do gods and humans take on qualities of astrology’s planets? Why is so much timing for the action according to planetary hours and days? Of particular note is the poet’s presentation of “Duc” Theseus and his planetary symbolism. These issues also allow us to understand better the tie between the Tale and its narrator.

Dante's Divine Comedy

The author of The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, employs the astrological zodiacal wheel in his work and refers to the zodiac as "the twelve-toothed cogwheel" (Purgatorio, Canto IV, v. 64). Dante mentions that his realization of having strayed from the true way came in his thirty-fifth year as "the sun was climbing Aries" (Inferno, Canto I, vv. 37-39).

We will start discussing this topic by going back to the roots of Jyotisha-not in the Jyotisha texts themselves, but In related thought and other important texts.

Vedic Astrology, or Jyotisha is considered one of the Vedangas or "limbs" of the Vedas.  As a matter of fact, it is considered the "eye" of the Vedas. The legends of the Vedas do represent the chief gods of the Vedas as being omniscient beings, such as Varuna, the lord of dharma who encompasses the night sky and who judges everyone's actions, and Indra (who succeeds Varuna as chief deity) as having a 1,000 eyes:

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