The Progress of the Stars in American Literature from Colonial Almanacs through the American Renaissance

Held December 5, 2015

New astrology students quickly learn that the practical art of astrology was segregated from the rational endeavor of astronomy over the period we call “the Age of Enlightenment,” and died a hard death at the hands of the new science. Meanwhile, thousands of colonists emigrated to America during this same Age of Enlightenment, and brought with them instruments for making astronomical calculations and equipment for printing almanacs with page after page of ephemerides, or tables for tracking planetary motions for home use.

Eighteenth-century theses at Harvard questioned whether astrology had really been debunked, and early American school-masters clung to the beauty of the Ptolemaic universe, and rejected the Copernican system. The celebrated American writer, medical doctor, and professor, Oliver Wendell Holmes, complained of astrology’s continued influence over popular medicine in the mid-nineteenth century.

Had the European astrological tradition brought to the New World by the colonists ever really been stamped out – or did it develop instead into a recognizably American astrology, with such characteristic hallmarks as inveterate positivity and the assertion of free will? This is the question Thea Wirsching will explore via the print culture of early America.

Starting with the almanac, the “most despised, most prolific, most indispensable of books, which every man uses, and no man praises,” moving on to the first American play, and ending with the great writers of the American Renaissance, most notably Herman Melville, she will consider the national state of astrology prior to the occult resurgence of the late nineteenth century.

Along the way we’ll examine Edgar Allan Poe’s book-length cosmology and the most popular novel of the 1840s, a “porno-gothic” pot-boiler with an astrologer at the center of its plot. I hope you’ll join me on this whirlwind tour of the early American practitioners (and promoters) of the sacred art!

Thea Wirsching (Lana)Thea Wirsching is an astrologer and academic, and she believes that knowing the history of the esoteric tradition performs the important work of honoring one’s ancestors.  Her counseling practice is based on the idea that the natal chart reveals avenues for liberating stuck patterns of behavior, as well as claiming one’s highest potential.  

In her work as an English professor, Thea encourages students to step into a metaphorical “time machine” in order to develop an understanding of early American culture.  Only by knowing where we’ve been can we grasp where we are today.  Her scholarly research focuses on the history of the Hermetic tradition in America, and she is currently at work on a literary Tarot deck.  Thea Wirsching is available for readings and sees clients at her office in Long Beach, California