(Roughly) Daily

“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.”*…

(Roughly) Daily has looked at almanacs before (e.g., here and here), but never with an eye to their astrological underpinnings. Livia Gershon plugs that gap…

Some Christians today see astrology as a clear affront to their beliefs, and possibly a dangerous manifestation of the occult. And yet, as historian T.J. Tomlin writes, through the eighteenth century, it was a central aspect of the almanacs that were ubiquitous in Protestant American homes.

By 1800, Tomlin writes, U.S. printers produced enough almanacs to provide one to every household in the country. People turned to the books for a clear, simple idea of how the universe worked. Their astrological calculations helped readers gain practical know-how about agricultural management, weather, and personal health.

Like the study of the natural world in general in that time and place, almanacs were rooted in Protestantism. They presented simple, widely held religious ideas—God’s power, redemption through Christ, the promise of heaven—to an increasingly literate public. “This was the liturgy of early American popular culture,” Tomlin writes.

But there were debates about what sort of astrology was compatible with this religious belief. “Natural astrology,” using the movements of heavenly bodies to draw conclusions about agriculture, medicine, and the weather, was widely regarded as “a way to illuminate God’s creative impulse in the universe,” Tomlin writes. But “judicial astrology,” predicting the events of individual lives or political affairs, might be seen as blasphemous…

Wildly popular, almanacs helped people understand farming and health through the movement of the planets, in a way compatible with their faith: “The Protestant Astrology of Early American Almanacs,” from @LiviaGershon in @JSTOR_Daily.

* Arthur C. Clarke


As we study the stars, we might send multi-faceted birthday greetings to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

While Leonardo’s attention (and thus his notebooks) extended to astronomy, there’s no evidence that he believed in astrology. That said, his chart has been cast myriad times (e.g., here).

 Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 15, 2023 at 1:00 am

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