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Christian Astrology, the Dark Ages, and the Celtic Church
by Courtney Roberts


The practice of astrology all but died out in Europe after the fall of Rome, succumbing to both the condemnation of the Church and the lack of the necessary mathematical skills. At least, that seems to be the general consensus. Nevertheless, astrology did survive the Dark Ages. It re-emerged initially during the 8th/ 9th century, and was further revitalized by the introduction of Arabic and Greeks texts into Europe, becoming an important part of Medieval Christian cosmology. But how did it survive, and where? The forces that drove astrology underground are fairly obvious, but what kept it going?

To attempt to answer these questions, this paper will examine the development of the earliest Christian cosmologies; how Christianity absorbed the sacred time-keeping traditions of the pagans, co-opting and Christianising their neighbours' calendars, festivals, zodiacs, et al, amidst the simultaneous emergence of the Church in the image of Imperial Rome. A thorough examination will be made of the underlying cultural astronomy of the Celtic Church, and of a people who, although generally lacking the mathematical skills to produce a proper Greek horoscope, nevertheless maintained a reverent interest in celestial motions and their meanings, despite 'official' condemnation. Somewhere within the confluence of these two streams, of the young, heterodox Christianity with the underlying Celtic culture, the matrix of Irish/Celtic monasticism emerged. Within these unique oases of learning, astrology and the other arts and sciences found some shelter and survived, albeit, along Christian lines. We will look there for explanations of astrology's resilience.
 

Early Christian Cosmology

From the very beginning, astrology and Christianity have been strange, but almost inseparable, bedfellows. In the second chapter of the first book of the New Testament, the gospel of Matthew, with the coming of the Magi, following the star that foretold the birth of the King of the Jews, a morganatic marriage was brokered between the Church, the bride of Christ, and the astral art. Astrology would cleave unto Christianity throughout the course of the young religion's development, proving a more than worthy helpmeet as it struggled to define its place in this world, and in the cosmos. At the same time, as with all unsuitable matches, astrology suffered the scorn and disapproval of the offended, extended family.

Many contemporary Christians would hotly dispute the idea that their religion has any connection with astrology at all, but that is an entirely modern delusion. Among the earliest Christian writers, there was considerable argument over astrology, but not about whether the heavenly bodies exercised any influence. That they did was common knowledge. The argument was generally over how, and how much, and what was right and proper to do with that knowledge? "Natural astrology," and the wholesale influence of the sun, moon, and stars over everything from the weather to the infirmities of the body, were rarely the cause of contention. Early Christians saved their invective for astrologers; those scandalous rascals whose vain attempts to forecast the future not only made planets into deities and duped the general public, but who threatened in their boldness to usurp the prerogatives of an almighty God.

Thinking Christians found themselves in a bit of a dilemma. While wanting to differentiate themselves from the gullibility and excesses of their pagan neighbours, who were generally quite fond of horoscopes, these early Christians coveted the cosmological implications of astrology's overarching worldview, and not only sought to attribute that orderliness to the hand of God, but to read the preordained sanctification of their own faith into the cosmic order. Their attempts to reconcile and reattribute these conflicting drives animate many of the earliest texts, resulting in a confusing multiplicity of doctrines.

While Matthew's story of the Magi made the canonical cut, the following tidbit from the Arabic Infancy Gospel languished in apocryphal obscurity. In chapter 51, we find the familiar story of the Christ child, then twelve years old, lost and found in the temple of Jerusalem, where he had been discoursing with the priests for some three days.

... "And a philosopher who was there present, a skilful astronomer, asked the Lord Jesus whether He had studied astronomy. And the Lord Jesus answered him, and explained the number of the spheres, and of the heavenly bodies, their natures and operations; their opposition; their aspect, triangular, square, and sextile; their course, direct and retrograde; the twenty-fourths, and sixtieths of twenty-fourths; and other things beyond the reach of reason."

These verses imply that Jesus received something more from the Magi than the traditional gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The same story is found, almost verbatim, in the 1st Gospel of the Infancy of Christ, Ch. XXI, verses 9-10, which add that Jesus even made a few prognostications from all of the above, practicing, by implication, both natural and judicial astrology, to the continued astonishment of the priests.

The Syrian poet, Bardesanes (154-222 CE), an impassioned missionary for Christ, but also a highly trained astrologer, in The Dialogue Concerning Fate (attributed to his authorship but probably written by a disciple) introduces an elaborate argument lauding both Free Will and Fortune, but limiting the operation of either within the bounds of societal and natural forces, all subject to the will of God, and implicit within the motions of the planets and stars. That is a lot to contemplate at any one time, but it did represent a liberating step forward, beyond the more fatalistic astrology of the Chaldeans and Egyptians then current, and at least attempted to positively reorient astrology within a Christian paradigm.

The arguments of Bardesanes are included, almost verbatim, in the 9th book, Ch, 19-30, of The Recognitions of Clement. Here, they are stated within the context of a delightfully plotted literary attack on the astrological doctrine of "genesis" in a story that confounds the pagan determination to read an unalterable future in the stars. However, Book 8 of The Recognitions contains in Ch. 45-46, a most tidy description of natural astrology, attributing to the motions of the Sun and Moon the causes of everything from good and bad weather, to plague and pestilence, accordingly as God chooses to use these, the instruments of his design. Further, Book 1, Ch. 32 contains this most intriguing reference to Abraham: "From the first this same man, being an astrologer, was able, from the account and order of the stars, to recognise the Creator, while all others were in error, and understood that all things are regulated by His providence." In this implication that monotheism itself was born of astrology, within the same work that damns the predictions of horoscopy, the author straddles the very crux of the Christian dilemma.

At this point in Christian development, any assumption of orthodoxy is an illusion; in fact, orthodoxy would have been redundant where ever true consensus reigned. Throughout the Church's long history of violent differences of opinion and the brutal suppression thereof, uniformity has never been entirely enforced and heterodoxy still reigns supreme. Consequently, to speak of Christian doctrine or dogma on any point demands strenuous qualification as to time and place. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of the 3rd century theologian, Origen, one of the most saintly and learned men of his time, and one of the most anathematised thereafter. Origen is said to have been officially condemned at the 5th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553 AD, but even that point is still debated, [1] further demonstrating the utterly byzantine nature of early Church proceedings.

In his collected writings in the Philocalia, Origen illustrates the depth of the Christian astrological dilemma. Origen's opinions of fate and astrology are summarized in the introductory notes to Chapter 23: "Of Fate, and ... how the stars are not productive of human affairs, but merely indicate them; ... Astrology seems to have some elements of truth..."

Origen continues In Verse 6, "...that observers may take and know the signs from the grouping of all those stars which have a special or general influence. And when I say "observers," I do not mean men (for ability to really learn from the movements of the stars what will befall every individual soul with all its possibilities of doing or suffering, far transcends human capacity), but I refer to the Powers, which must for many reasons have this knowledge,..."

...But men being deceived by certain observations, or even by the teaching of Angels... supposed that they from whom they thought they received the signs were the original causes of the events which the Word says the signs indicate. ...These, then, are the problems which confront us----(a) How, if God knows from all eternity what we regard as done by the individual, Free Will is to be maintained; (b) in what way the stars are not productive of human affairs, but only indicate them;  (g) that men cannot have an accurate knowledge of these things, but the signs are shown to Powers superior to men; (d) why it is that God has made the signs for the Powers to know, ..."

And this Origen proceeds to explain, but to virtually no one's satisfaction. He insists that the order and meaning of life can be read in the stars, but not by us. However, he then implies that there may be certain exceptions to this rule: "...For, as we have already shown that the fact of God's knowing the future conduct of every person does not disturb the argument respecting our Free Will, so neither do the signs, which God appointed to be indicative, interfere with our Free Will; but, like a volume of prophecy, the heavens as a whole, being as it were one of God's books, may contain the future. And thus what is said by Jacob in the prayer for Joseph may be understood: "For I read in the pages of the sky what shall befall thee and thy sons." Perhaps also the passage, "The heavens shall be rolled together as a book," shows that the declarations therein indicative of the future shall be brought to completion, and, so to speak, fulfilled,..."

Origen's confusion on this issue is typical of his time, when, as Tamsyn Barton noted in Ancient Astrology, " ...in the period when there was no institution able to create and enforce orthodoxy, many Christians might find encouragement to take astrology seriously...' [2]

Early Christians did take astrology seriously. In part, because their cultures had longstanding astrological traditions, but also because the greatest minds among them were struggling to resolve fundamental theological issues, such as where Christianity fit within the cosmos, and vice versa, and how to differentiate from their pagan neighbours, while co-opting and appropriating the best of the pre-Christian world into their "new" world view.

Barton refers to Bishop Zeno of Verona (d. 380 AD) who, in a sermon to the newly baptized, welcomes their rebirth under the signs of a Christian zodiac. [3] It's the same signs as the pagan zodiac, but with Christian interpretations. Zeno's work still circulated among Christians in 6th century Gaul, but the tradition of Christian zodiacs was at least as old as the Gnostic Theodotus (c.190 AD). [4]

The contradictory arguments for and against Christian astrology were never definitively resolved in any philosophical or theological sense. However, the official condemnation and exclusion of astrologers began with the Romanisation of the Church. This period, dating from the reign of Constantine, gave rise to a new breed of Christian leader, less concerned with the love and forgiveness of the gentle Nazarene, and emulating instead the heathen Emperors of Imperial Rome.
 

Astrology in The Roman Empire

The Church was hardly the first entity to persecute and outlaw astrologers. It was in good company in that respect, following directly in the footsteps of its mentor and chief role model, the Roman Empire.

As Barton says, "We may expect political shifts to be mirrored in religious shifts in Rome, since religious activity is so much a part of the political process." [5] "Divination, like other religious activity, is closely implicated in political activity; indeed, it is an integral part of it...The power of auspicium (taking the auspices) was a concomitant of imperium (political authority)." [6]

State auspices were taken before every pubic action, and government augurs were responsible for reading omens at all popular assemblies. The official college of augurs dealt mainly with bird omens and feeding the Republic's sacred fowl, while the XVviri sacris faciundis, the Fifteen Men for Doing Sacred Things, kept the Sibylline Books. A third class of diviners, the haruspices, interpreted prodigies and the entrails of sacrificial animals. [7]

Astrology didn't really arrive in Rome until the 2nd century BC, and then it was more of a Greek novelty. It is during the 1st century BC that astrology began its ascendancy, coincident with the rise of powerful individuals and the fall of the Republic. Horoscopic astrology was allied with the struggle for individual power, and with a new breed of imperial Romans; ambitious men like Caesar, Tiberius, Anthony, and Octavian. In the demise of the collective Republican ideals, astrology began to challenge the traditional augers for supremacy.

Augustus used and abused astrology to the utmost, proudly promoting it to legitimate his own ambitions and proclaim himself saviour of Rome, and then legislating against astrology to prevent others from using it against him.

With the establishment of the principate, Augustus began to publicize his own birth chart, and to stamp his coinage with the sign Capricorn. Augustus completely identified himself and his empire with the 10th sign, exalting it above the other eleven. After his triumph over Antony at Actium in 29 BC, Augustus minted dozens of coins and commissioned ubiquitous artworks that permanently enshrined his name with Capricorn in splendour among the traditional symbols of Rome. The irony is that Augustus was actually a Libra.

Capricorn was probably his moon sign, but it was also the birth sign of the Sun at the winter solstice. In crafting his Imperial image, Augustus carefully cultivated associations with the sun and Apollo, and with that glorious, central organizing principle. As the Republic transformed into an empire, so the emperors began their eventual transformation into solar deities; a crucial point three centuries later, when Constantine wed Church and Empire.

With such encouragement in high places, astrology became very popular. While Romans had a traditional sacred calendar, they began, for the first time, to use the planetary days of the week. Astrology even caught on among those who were not especially friendly to its most illustrious patron. Just as Augustus had used astrology to advance his own ends, others could use it against him. Augustus moved to cement his control over the power of astrology. In 11 AD, he issued the first decree proscribing its use, prohibiting any private consultations without witnesses, and any discussions regarding death, especially his own.

This move was in keeping with the state's traditional control over auspices, and the decree was invoked regularly by his successors. The subsequent Emperors feared the power astrology gave to their enemies to predict their death or demise, or to plot against them. In the 1st century alone, Romans of high rank were charged with astrological violations on eleven different occasions. In the year 16 AD, Tiberius passed two more senatorial decrees against astrologers and magicians. Diocletian passed an edict in 296 AD, later included in Justinian's Codex (9.18.2), which stated, "It is in the public interest that people learn and exercise the art of geometry. But the mathematical art (astrology) is punishable, it is absolutely forbidden." [8]

Seven later cases of astrological crime were reported up to the year 371 AD. Most involved complicated plots against the emperors, and astrologers came to be associated with rebellion. Tacitus, in Histories 2.78, reports on an uprising brewing in 69 AD in which "after this speech from Mucianus, the other officers crowded round Vespasian with fresh confidence, reminding him of the responses of the heavenly bodies."

It's not that the emperors wanted to stamp out astrology. They all used and abused astrologers, often to an absurd degree. They wanted to control it to their own ends. Barton quotes from the work of Denise Grodzynski, saying "In principle, any private magical or divinatory act could be punished by death, as a crime against the state, except from 319 to 357, when the constitutions of Constantine only laid pain of death on haruspices themselves and not on their clients." [9]

Was there any real difference between astrology under the heathen emperors, and astrology under the Christian emperors?

Barton remarks on the "...continuities between pagan and Christian emperors as regards their attitudes to astrology. We hear of an attempted coup involving the astrologer Heliodorus under a Christian emperor in 371. Valens, following the example of Ptolemy Seleucus, seems to have made the offender his court astrologer." [10]
 

Astrology, Christianity, and the Cult of the Sun

As astrology increased in power and popularity, there was a concurrent increase of interest in the eastern solar cults, as the emperors continued to cultivate their identification with the Sun God. In the 2nd century AD, as the cults of Mithras and Sol Invictus flourished, the emperors increasingly co-opted the image of the Sun. Septimus Severus began calling himself Invictus on his coins. In 218 BC, under the emperor Elagabalus, the cult of Sol Invictus Elagabal was proclaimed the official state religion.

The trend escalated in the reign of Aurelian (270-5 AD) who proclaimed Sol Invictus the supreme god of the state, building a splendid temple to the Sun at Rome, and declaring himself the Sun's divine representative on Earth. Aurelian's imperial Sun cult persisted under Diocletian (emperor from 284-305 AD), as he divided the empire into east and west. The Sun cult culminated in the rise of Constantine.

Constantine's religious leanings seem awfully broad for a man credited with boosting Christianity to dominance. After his famous vision of the cross, to which he supposedly credited his victory over Maxentius at the Mulvian Bridge, he erected the Arch of Constantine, still standing in Rome, which dedicates this triumph to Rome's traditional pantheon. Constantine also indulged in the Mithaic cults so popular with his soldiers. In fact, the cross with which he reputedly emblazoned his banners was probably more of a Chi-Rho symbol, and would have rallied Mithrians among his troops as much as Christians. Despite his mother Helena's persistence, Constantine delayed his own baptism until 337 AD, when he was on his deathbed! [11]

Constantine was an astonishing syncretist, who united, within his reign, the monotheistic Sun God of both the official state cult and popular Mithraism, with the Judeo-Christian God, in, to quote David Ewing Duncan, "a move that would soon fuse the political and military might of a still-potent empire with what would become an even more potent state religion." [12] Forget St. Peter. This was the birth of the Roman Church.

Constantine turned his attention to the Roman calendar, already a religious means of measuring time. Secular time is a relatively modern conceit. In the 4th century, time, calendars, and the astronomy behind them, were still priestly concerns. Constantine made three major changes in the Julian calendar. He proclaimed Sunday a holy day, inserted the 7-day week of the planetary gods, and included official Christian holidays with both fixed, solar dates, like Christmas, and movable, lunar dates, like Easter. [13]

In 321 AD, Constantine made the controversial choice of the Sun's day as the first in the week, and as an official day of worship and rest. Constantine ordered all citizens, except farmers, to abstain from work, ordered the courts closed for litigation, and told his armies to limit military exercises so the soldiers would be free to worship. [14] His choice of the Sun's day contained an implicit suggestion of which deity they should be worshipping.

Now Christ's official birthday was fixed at the winter solstice, the birth of the Sun. Constantine's calendar encapsulates crucial concepts in the emerging Christian cosmology. Christ, as God, was increasingly arrayed in solar imagery. Time was still sacred, and timekeeping, revealed in the heavenly motions, remained a religious precinct, but whereas earlier calendars symbolized the pivotal points of the solar year in pre-Christian lore and ritual, the Christian calendar could do no less, and re-consecrated these potent dates with Christian imagery, and Christian mythology.

The birth and conception feasts of Christ and his cousin/counterpart, John the Baptist, formed the crux of the Christian calendar at the solstices and equinoxes, while the holy days of saints and martyrs sprang up around the other ancient feasts. Christmas is obvious, but the feast of St. John the Baptist is still enthusiastically celebrated at the summer solstice with hilltop bonfires in the remotest parts of Ireland. St. Patrick's Day, The Annunciation, and Easter were tied to the Spring Equinox, while the conception of St. John and the feast of St. Michael followed the Autumn Equinox. The Christianised cross-quarter days included All Saints and All Souls, St. Brigid's Day, Candlemass, May Day, Garland Sunday, and Lammastide, most of which are still kept in some way throughout Christendom. This was early Christian cultural astronomy, when time and the heavens were still most sacred, as they had always been.

The proud, new Roman Church continued to condemn astrologers and astrology, but to portray this as a Christian development stretches credulity. The evidence shows clear continuity with Roman practice, and highlights the expanding divide between Christianity and 'The Church'. For example, Jesus repeatedly taught (if we can rely on the accounts in the synoptic gospels) 'judge not, that you be not judged, for with what judgement you judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again (Matt 7:1-2). 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which ...use...and persecute you (Matt 5:44). As Christianity, that is pretty far removed from the character of the Roman Church, where judging, condemning, and persecution stem from a more secular source.
 

The Dark Ages

Soon Rome fell, and invading hordes swept the continent. What astrology was available to Christians in the Dark Ages? Pliny's Natural History was influential, and the 2nd book contains astronomy, some of it tinctured with meaning that strikes modern readers as astrological. Expressing suspicion regarding popular astrology, Pliny still attributes to Saturn 'a cold and frozen nature,' and describes the Sun as the ruler of the stars and heavens, 'the soul, or more precisely, the mind of the whole world.' [15]

Other astronomical authorities in the early Middle Ages, according to Jim Tester, were Calcidius, Martianus Capella, and Macrobius. Calcidius's books were not widely distributed, but Capella's Marriage of Mercury and Philology, was. While bypassing the subject of genethliace, it is full of the cosmology of the planetary and celestial spheres. Macrobius, in a Neo-Platonist commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio, describes the genethliacal attributes of the planets, and asserts that the stars do signify 'events on earth'. [16] Macrobius also transmitted through the Dark Ages the idea of the soul's descent through the planetary spheres, collecting planetary characteristics before it joins the body in the sublunary, and the thema mundi, the world horoscope, or 'birth-chart of creation' which includes the planetary sign rulers.

On the western edge of Europe, the Pricillianist heresy in Spain, though repressed, spun off a certain amount of Christian astrology. Barton lists Sidonius Apollinaris, a 5th century Bishop of Lyon, whose letters contain respectful references to astrology, revealing not only his own technical skills, but also the names of high-ranking contemporaries conversant in the art. He also mentions long-lost astrological textbooks by Julianus Vertacus and Fullonius Saturninus. [17] How many other textbooks have since been lost to us?

Still, the most influential source of what Theodore Wedel calls 'patristic condemnation of astrology' was the 7th century Etymologiae and the De Natura Rerum of Isidore of Seville. [18] As Wedel is quick to point out, Isidore continued the same confused stance, both for and against astrology, as his predecessors. The good bishop toes the company line in Ch. XXVI of the Etymologiae, 'On the Difference Between Astronomy and Astrology,' describing but dismissing the claims of superstitious astrology. However, as Wedel succinctly puts it, 'Isidore's logic is hardly equal to his learning,' [19] for quite a bit of astrology shows through the rest of his work.

In Medieval Attitudes toward Astrology, Wedel summarizes Isidore on medicine, etc.: "The good physician, he says, will study astronomy as well as his own art, inasmuch as it is well known that our bodies change with the varying state of the weather and the stars. In the De Natura Rerum, Isidore ascribes to the moon an influence over fruits, over the brains of animals, and over oysters and sea-urchins. He even refers to it, in a phrase of unmistakable astrological coloring, as the dux humentium substantiarum. The dog-star is said to be a cause of sickness. As for comets, Isidore accepts them without reserve as the prognosticators of revolution, war and pestilence." [20]

Jim Tester adds that in Chapter 9 of Book VIII of Etymologiae, Isidore includes such enticing descriptions of "the fascinating but illicit subject of astrology" that "The idea, at least, of a potentially valid science of astrology was kept alive by the very authorities who condemned it." [21]

Not much had changed, from Origen to Isidore. The Roman/Byzantine Church controlled astrologers like the Empire before it, while the philosophical arguments remained unresolved. Gallic bishops could correspond about astrology, while elsewhere, astrologers were run out of town. As complicated as the situation was in Rome and Byzantium, imagine the confusion in Gaul and the British Isles. Here, the new, contradictory Christianity was imported into the culture of the Celts, whose learned druids, according to Julius Caesar, [22] "discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion..."
 

Druid Astrology?

Consider the following controversial passage from The History of Diodorus Siculus, Book 3, Ch. XIII, entitled Of the Hyboreans: "Amongst them which have written old histories, resembling fables, Hecateus and some others have said, that in the Ocean, opposite to the Celtes, there is an island little less than Sicily, under the arctic pole, where they who are called Hyperboreans do inhabit, so named because they are very much subject to the north wind... Apollo is adored there above all other Gods. The men of the Island are as it were priests of Apollo, daily singing his hymns and praises, and highly honouring him. They say moreover that in it there is a great forest, and a goodly temple of Apollo, which is round and beautified with many rich gifts and ornaments, as also a city sacred to him, where of the most part of the inhabitants are harpers, on which instrument they play continually in the temple, chanting forth hymns to the praise of Apollo, and magnifying his acts in their songs...They recount likewise, that in this island the Moon is seen very little distant from the earth, having in her, as it were, the resemblance of certain heaps of earth, which are evidently discerned. They say also, that this God Apollo comes into the Island every nineteenth year, and how in that space the revolution of the stars is performed; for which cause the time of those years is called by the Greeks, the Meton year..."

This fanciful passage has been broadly interpreted through the ages, and I quote it, not with any absolute certainty of its meaning, but as an exercise in implication. If, this northern island opposite the Celtes, (or Gaul) is either England or Ireland, then the round temple of Apollo, the sun god, deserves our attention. Celtic enthusiasts have long assumed this must be Stonehenge, and it may well be. However, the subsequent phrases regarding the Moon and its features, in the light of recent discoveries, have led to speculate that Diodorus, and Hecateus before him, may have preserved an obscure reference to the circular mounds of the Boyne Valley.

In the closing decade of the last millennium, Dr. Phillip J. Stookes of the University of Western Ontario, a specialist in mapping the surface of asteroids, was searching for ancient maps of the Moon's surface. He quickly became dismayed, not finding anything earlier than Da Vinci's work from 1505 CE. Then he looked into the rock carvings from the two passages of the great mound at Knowth, in Co. Meath, which are nearly 5,000 years old. [23] There, on Orthostat 47, the stone which forms the end wall of the eastern passage, are carvings he is certain depict not only the features of the lunar surface, but the changing orientations of those features as the disk of the full moon crosses the night sky.

The "passage tombs" of Meath are oriented to the sun, and its light, on pivotal days, penetrates the passages to illuminate the interior chambers. Martin Brennan and Jack Roberts demonstrated in March, 1980, that the passage in the great mound at nearby Loughcrew is also oriented to capture significant shafts of moonlight which illuminate a carved stone on its back wall. In the case of Orthostat 47, the moon's beams would shine on "a map of the moon itself, the world's oldest known depiction of the lunar maria." [24]

Knowth's Kerbstone 22, the 'calendar stone,' presents further possibilities, for the carvings describe something about the moon and its phases, but is it, as some speculate, a picture of the Metonic cycle?

Such feverish speculation shall remain beyond the scope of this paper. However, England and Scotland are littered with stone circles and megalithic sites, and their astronomical alignments spawn some stimulating controversy. Stephen McCluskey summarizes it thus: "...these studies of megalithic alignments indicate that the prehistoric peoples of Britain had a tradition of observing the Sun and the Moon. They kept a solar calendar dividing the year in eight equal parts, and performed the kind of lunar observations that could lead logically, but not necessarily, to attempts to reconcile the motions of the Sun and the Moon." [25]

I introduce these references mainly to illustrate the extraordinary length, depth, and breadth of cultural astronomy within the British Isles. For thousands of years, people lived there who obviously derived some meaning from the motions of the Sun and Moon, accurately tracked their courses, and engineered them into these lasting memorials.

These early megalithic building activities came to a halt around 1500 BCE, long before the arrival of the Celts and their druids, and long before the advent of Christianity, but the lingering memories and myths attached to the stones remain prominent within both the cultural and physical landscape. Nick Campion, in his insightful article, Astrology in Britain before the Normans, [26] makes a similar point when he refers to the existence, in medieval England, "of a general climate of opinion which placed great importance on astronomical observances and planetary symbolism, and which we may call an 'astrological viewpoint.'" This is not a superficial, passing interest in the heavens, but something that runs very deep in these parts, and played a formative role in the unique development of early Celtic Christianity.

Of the Druid astronomy which Caesar mentions, we must derive much from very little, for the Druids preserved a strictly oral tradition on religious principal, declining to commit their sacred teachings to writing. Still, the number of references and inscriptions is growing all the time. Caesar is one of the more articulate sources, and, while he did travel extensively throughout Celtic Gaul, he came, he saw, he conquered. Consequently his knowledge, while presumably first-hand, might be a bit biased. He may have done less fieldwork than it first appears, relying instead on the earlier, and no longer extant, works of Posidonius for much of his information.

Caesar does make an interesting comment, for which there is scant reference elsewhere, when he says, in Chapter 14 of his Gallic Wars, referring to the annual assembly of Druids in Gaul, that:

"This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it."

Did the Druid caste arise in Britain? Caesar's comment should at least make us wonder how and why they came about. Again, this question is beyond the scope of this paper, but is raised to remind us that we do not know the origin of the orders united under the Druid banner, the vates, euhages, bards, etc., and we are especially uncertain as to whether these orders, in some form or other, pre-dated the arrival of the Celtic tribes in Gaul and the British Isles. We simply do not know.

We do know that the Greeks and Romans were aware of the existence of the Celtic intelligentsia, and of their reputation as philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers. The Greeks, with long-standing military and trade alliances with the Celtic tribes, extending all the way to the tin trade in Britain, would have known at least something about their neighbours' philosophical inclinations.

Among the following classical authors, we find these intriguing comments regarding the Druids, and their interest in mathematics, astronomy, and natural philosophy:

Strabo, in his Geographica (IV, 4, c197) comments on the skill of both the Vates and the Druids in divination and natural philosophy. In the works of Ammianus Marcelinus (XV 9, 8) he describes how the "euhages strove to explain the high mysteries of nature", while the Druids were "uplifted by searching into secret and sublime things." Pomponius Mela, in De Situ Orbis, (III, 2,18 &19) may have been drawing on the same source as Casesar when he describes how the Druids "profess to know the size and shape of the world, the movements of the heavens and of the stars, and the will of the gods." Lucan, in his Pharsalia (I, 450-8) makes an impassioned plea to the Druids, "to whom alone it is given to know the truth about the gods and deities of the sky." Pliny, in his Natural History (XVI, 249) describes the Druid procedure for gathering the mistletoe, which he says is done, with due religious ceremony, "if possible, on the 6th day of the moon (for it is by the moon that they measure their months and years, and also their ages of thirty years.)" Pliny says that the Druids choose this day because "the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable influence." Pliny's comments lead us back to the work of Caesar, where in Chapter 18 of De Bello Gallico (VI), he writes that "they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night."

In his article, 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Peter Berresford Ellis quotes Hippolytus, who quotes an even older source in claiming that the Celts divined the future by means of stars and numbers, like the Pythagoreans. The question of whether the Celts influenced Pythagoras, or vice versa, was debated within the Alexandrian School as early as the 2nd century BC and the argument continued for centuries. [27] McCluskey refers to Alexander Polyhistor (c. 50 BC) who, "...in the lost De symbolis Pythagoricis...sought to place the roots of Greek philosophy among the barbarians. Polyhistor claimed that philosophy had flourished before the Greeks among the prophets of Egypt, the Chaldeans of Assyria, the druids of Gaul, the shamans of Bactria, the philosophati of the Celts, and the Magi of Persia." [28]

The argument for Celtic influence found one of its strongest proponents in Clement of Alexandria (born 150 A.D., in Athens.) [29] The influential Stoic astrologer Posidonius, studied as he travelled among the Celts, and, is the single, lost source for so many later writers on the Druids. Still, as Diogenes Laertius says, debating possible foreign origins for philosophy in Verse III of the Introduction to The Lives of the Philosophers, "... those who say this, ignorantly impute to the barbarians the merits of the Greeks, from whom not only all philosophy, but even the whole human race in reality originated." This attitude is still with us today.

The Greeks were great compilers, but they weren't always good about listing their sources. If the archaeological evidence matters, then clearly some native astronomy existed within the British Isles, and the early inhabitants derived meaning (i.e., astrology,) from it thousands of years before the Greeks. Megalithic astronomy/astrology was different from the Babylonian brand, but appears to have been a significant part of their culture, their religion, their calendar and concepts of time. Obviously, much more research and translation needs to be done.
 

The Lore

If the Druid orders cultivated astrology up to and during the introduction of Christianity, then we should find some reference to it in the early literature. Some interesting examples are quoted in P.W. Joyce's The Social History of Ireland, Vol. 1. [30] On page 230, he relates an apparent example of electional astrology, from an Irish poem found in an 8th century manuscript, housed, in his day, in a monastery in Carinthia. It tells of the building of a house by a Christian architect, the Gobhan Saer. It reads, "There is no house more auspicious, with its stars last night, with its sun, and with its moon." The implication is that at least some of the early Irish Christians were electing their foundations, and that a good election was worth lauding in poetry.

A delightful story is told in a collection of three Middle Irish homilies on the lives of Sts. Patrick, Brigit, and Colombcille. The boy, Colombcille, was fostered by a noble priest, Cruithnechan MacCellachan. When it came time for the boy to learn to read, the priest sought out a spaeman (Scottish, a diviner) and asked him when the boy ought to begin. "When the spaeman had scanned the sky, he said, "Write for him his alphabet now." [31] The lessons thus begun, Colombcille became one of the greatest Irish scholars ever.

There are a number of intriguing points in this story. First is the idea, then current, that there were better and worse times to begin one's education, so one should elect carefully. Picture this 'spaeman' as a sort of 6th century William Lilly, patiently awaiting the right time for his next client to appear. Second, a noble Christian priest, the very one who baptized Colombcille in the first place, sought a diviner for help in this crucial decision. Third is the manner in which the spaeman scanned the sky to come to his decision, and last, but certainly not least, that this incident was considered worthy of inclusion, several centuries on, in a homily intended to edify the Irish in their faith.

We find, in early Irish literature, Druids performing what appears to be natal astrology. For instance, Peter Beresford Ellis relates this story in The Druids. [32]

"Eoghan of Munster met the Druid who realized from the horoscope that the king would be slain in his next battle but if he conceived a son at that time he would become a great and powerful king. The Druid had a daughter named Moncha and he told her to sleep with Eoghan. She became pregnant and Eoghan was killed. Moncha, in order to prevent the birth occurring before the right planetary configuration, sat astride a rock in a stream. When the child was born, at the right time, his head had been flattened by Moncha's pressing against the stone which had prevented his birth and he was called Fiachu Muilleathan, or the Flathead. The horoscope was then fulfilled."

According to Ellis, the earliest surviving text of the story of Moncha and her baby is the Lebor Laighnech, written about 1160 A.D., however there may be references to the story from as early as the 8th century.

In The Social History of Ireland, P.W. Joyce introduces another story revealing the druids' skill in divining from the sky.

"On the eve of a certain Samain (1st of November- perhaps the most important cross-quarter solar festival, marking the death of the old year) Dathi, king of Ireland (A.D. 405-428) who happened at the time to be at Cnoc-nan-druad (the druid's hill, near Skreen in Co. Sligo)... where there was then a royal residence, ordered his druid to forecast for the events of his reign from that till next Samain. The druid went to the summit of the hill, where he remained all night, and, returning at sunrise, addressed the king somewhat as the witches addressed Macbeth: - "Art thou asleep, O King of Erin and Alban (Scotland)?"

"Why the addition to my title?" asked the king: "I am not king of Alban." And the druid answered that he had consulted "the clouds of the men of Erin," by which he found out that the king would make a conquering expedition to Alban, Britain, and Gaul: which accordingly he did soon afterwards." [33]

Here is a hilltop observatory, used by Druids for all night sky-gazing. It's location, nearby the royal residence, reveals the cultural astronomy current in the early days of Irish Christianity.

As Nick Campion observed regarding this passage, [34] "One of the Druids' most favoured method of divination was to analyse the shape of the clouds, and the Celtic word for this, naladoracht, appears also to have been applied to astrology (we are reminded of the eighth century BC Babylonian omen collection, the Enuma Anu Enlil, in which meterological and celestial omens are considered together) Presumably they adjusted to the climate, looking at the stars when they could, and observing the clouds when they couldn't." Anyone familiar with Irish weather, in Skreen in particular, can well appreciate the need for that adaptation.

From the Acallam na Senorach, of which the earliest texts are dated to about 1200 A.D., comes an astrological anecdote about the High King Conn Cetchathach, who figures in the much older Fenian Cycle. He is said to have gone to the ramparts of Tara with his Druids, Mael, Bloc, and Blucine in the hours before dawn to observe the skies "to see whether any hostile beings might descend on Ireland from the heavenly bodies." [35]

The Druids guarded their knowledge jealously, trusting it neither to writing nor the uninitiated, which may be why these references are in the language of outside observers, with no instructions or detailed explanations. While this makes it more difficult to determine exactly how they "cast horoscopes," there is increasing evidence that at least some of them did. Ellis cites a further example from a text dated to the 7th century, in a question directed to one Cillin, "Denamh me an learsgail na realtai. Cen uair rathciuil agam?" This translates to "Make me a map of the stars. What hour will be auspicious for me?" [36]

McCluskey covers all the cultural bases in quoting from the 9th century author, Sedulius Scottus, who, "...attributes the following words to Joseph on seeing the three kings: 'It seems to me that these who are coming are soothsayers (augures). Notice how every moment they look up to heaven, and argue amongst themselves.' The Irish Lebar Brecc, a fifteenth-century compilation of earlier material, describes the Magi as three druids to whom the kingly star appeared." [37]
 

Welsh Wizards

Early Welsh literature affords some fascinating references, such as the inclusion in the Welsh Triads, the Trioedd Inys Prydein, of the three skillful astrologers of Britain; Idris Gawr, Gwyddion, son of Don, and Gwynn, son of Nudd. [38]

Of Idris Gawr, or Idris the Giant, Edward Davies (not the most reliable source) mentions his association with one of highest mountaintops in North Wales, called Cader Idris, which may have been an observatory. [39]

The early 12th century works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, which he claims to draw from a much earlier source, provide examples of astrology co-existing with early Christianity. In Historia Regum Britanniae, [40] is this wonderful story about Arthur, who, filled with great joy over his military success, at the approach of Whitsuntide, desired to hold a high court and to "set the crown of the Kingdom upon his head." After consulting with his advisors, he repaired to Caerleon, the City of the Legions, a town, which had, among other advantages:

"a school of two hundred philosophers, learned in astronomy and in the other arts, that did diligently observe the courses of the stars, and did, by true inferences foretell the prodigies at that time that were about to befall King Arthur.

Caerleon appears in the Trioedds Inys Prydein as one of the Three Seats of the Arch-Druids of Britain, along with Caer Troia, also known as Caer Lud, or Caer Llyndain (London) and Caer Evroc (York). [41] In Hume's History of England (Ch. 1), the author refers to the Romans' unusual determination to destroy the Druids: "...the Romans after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile those nations to the laws and institutions of their masters while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes, a violence which had never in any other instance been resorted to by those tolerating conquerors." Perhaps the Romans stationed their legions in Caerleon to unseat the Druids?

Geoffrey also relates a story set in the reign of King Edwin of Northumbria (c. 616-636 A.D), who was at war with the British leader, Cadwallo. According to Geoffrey, there came to King Edwin...

"a certain right cunning wizard out of Spain, by name Pellitus, who was learned in the flight of birds and the courses of the stars, and did foretell unto him all disaster that might befall him." [42]

Under the wizard's guidance, Edwin had great success in his campaigns against Cadwallo, anticipating his every move in surprise attacks. Pellitus consolidated his influence, taking command of Edwin's army, until he was defeated in a surprise attack of a different kind. Cadwallo's brave nephew, Brian, infiltrated the court, assassinated Pellitus, and made good his escape. The British troops rebounded and defeated Edwin, who was lost without his astrologer.

A natural storyteller like Geoffrey may have embellished this tale, but it does imply the continued reliance of kings on their astrologers, well into the Dark Ages. It again presents astrology through the eyes of outside observers. There are no DIY instructions here, and no Druid Vetius Valens comes forth from the college at Caerleon to spell it all out for us. That was not the tradition.

Geoffrey's first literary effort, on the wizard Merlin, was embedded within his larger Historia. In the dramatic climax, the young Merlin confounds the older wizards, and delivers his famous prophecies, in a jumble of classical astrological allusions, like the 'malignity of Saturn' and the houses of the planets, along with arcane references to 'the amber of Mercury' and 'Stilbon of Arcady.' [43]

Geoffrey's inspirations are obscure, but he tapped one of the deepest veins of Welsh folklore. Still, in trying to penetrate the astrological mind of this most famous druid, we once again come up empty handed. Geoffrey's Merlin isn't giving anything away, and this 12th century chronicler had to resort to references from classical writers like Lucan and Martianus Capella to put astrological words in his Druid's mouth.
 

The Evidence of Language

The Celtic languages have proven more forthcoming than any Druid, for they are rich in native astronomical and astrological terms. Irish monks were quick to adopt Greek and Latin terminology, and this led earlier researchers to believe that no native terms existed, but recent evidence demonstrates that the opposite is true. Ellis identifies seven Old Irish words for an astrologer: "Rollagedagh (one who gains knowledge from the stars), fisatoir (one who gains knowledge from the heavens), eastrolach (one who gains knowledge from the moon), fathach (one steeped in prophecy), neladoir" (one who divines from the clouds and the sky, practicing the naladoracht which we encountered in the earlier story) " realt-eolach (one versed in astrology) and realtoir." [44]

Dr. Whitley Stokes noted the earliest Irish word for a horoscope in his Thesaurus Paleohibernicus: nemindithibh, while nemgnacht means a study of the heavens. [45] Another native term for horoscope was tuismea, which meant beginning (tuismed). The Old Irish phrase for casting a horoscope was fios a bhaint as na realtai: to gain knowledge from the stars, similar to another Old Irish phrase, eolus leis an reltainn: 'directing the course by the stars'. Scottish Gaelic has the phrase, suidheadchadh nan reull aig am bhreith: 'laying the foundations from the stars.' [46]

Old Irish also had its own words for the zodiac. Reithes grian was used to indicate the zodiac in the Maundeville Gaelic manuscript. It means 'wheel of the sun.' In Middle Irish, we find the term crois greine, meaning 'the girdle of the sun,' which also occurs in Manx Gaelic as cryss greiney. In The Folklore of the Isle of Man, A.W. Moore lists an older Manx term, cassan-ny-greiney: the 'footpath of the sun.' It also appears also in Scottish Gaelic as grianch-rios. [47]

The Irish were quick to adopt the Latin names for the planets; almost too quick. By the eleventh century, Latinised names like Sathurn and Mearchair appear. Both Ellis and Dr. Tomas De Bhaldraithe, who compiled the modern English/Irish dictionary, see this as an example of Druid lore concealing itself. Ellis contends that the Druids had great reverence for the power of words, names, and incantations, and held specific geis, or prohibitions, against speaking the proper names of the planetary deities, or even of the sun and the moon. They could only be referred to by euphemisms.

Dr. De Bhaldraithe is credited by Ellis with the idea that the moon had a proper name, probably the name of a god or goddess, but there may have been a Druid taboo against speaking or writing it. [48] Consequently, a word like gealach (brightness) was commonly used for the moon. The Old Irish word esca or aesca, which survives in Manx as eayst, was also used. Esca, which also refers to water, is similar in derivation to eicse, meaning wisdom, knowledge, poetry and divination. Ellis gives an example in the Old Irish word esclae, which means a good aspect or auspice, such as for starting a journey, and is a compound of the words for moon and day. The term re was used for the moon in Old Irish, and survives in Manx as well, in the term rehollys (moonlight). Also, Luan, which survives in the modern An Luan (Monday), is probably derived from an Old Irish word for 'radiance' and not, as might be assumed, from the Latin Luna. While all of these words were used to describe the moon, none of them are proper names. [49]

Ellis makes a striking example of these Druid taboos surviving into modern times. "When Manx fishermen set foot on ship, it was taboo to speak of the moon as eayst. Until they returned to shore they could call the moon ben-reine ny hoie (queen of the night). There were similar practices among the fishermen of the Hebrides. And neither could Manx fishermen refer to the sun under the name grian, but only as gloyr na laa (glory of the day)." [50]

Ellis has identified two Celtic names each for the planets Mercury and Venus surviving in the Manx language, which developed away from Old Irish between the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Mercury is Yn Curain and Yn Crean, while Venus is Yn Vadlag and Yn Vaytnad. [51] Ellis also identifies a name for Mars, An Cosnaighe, meaning 'the defender', and two names for the Pole Star: An Gaelin, 'the beam that lights the way home,' and realta eolais, 'star of knowledge.' He identifies native names for The Milky Way, Bealach na Bo Finne, 'the way of the white cow', and for the belt of Orion, Buaile an Bhodaigh, 'the enclosure or belt or the enlightened.' He also notes that the constellation Leo was designated An Corran, the reaping hook, (an apt description in a land without lions) [52] and he identifies Med as the name for the constellation Libra. [53]

More technical terminology appears throughout Old Irish. P.W. Joyce gives the native Irish terms for solstice, grien-tairisem (sun-standing) and for the autumnal equinox, Deiseabhair na grene, which means the 'southing, or going south by the sun' and refers to the sun going south of the ecliptic. [54]

While Middle Irish picked up the loan word eiclips, Manx has retained doorey, for 'the darkening', while Scottish Gaelic uses dubraich and dubharachd, drawing on the same root for 'dark'. The Greek ekleipsis implies failure, as in a failure of the sun, so the Celtic languages may be from a different descriptive tradition. Hence the use in Old Irish of the term dorchaigid, in the Leabhar na Nuachonghbala, or co rodorchaig grian, for a solar eclipse in Leabhar Breac. [55]

Ellis also identifies native terms for: zenith/buaic, parallax/ saobhdhiall, nebula/neal, penumbra/leathscail, orb/meal, and for comet/realta na scuaibe, meaning a star with a brush or broom. [56] Earlier researchers, like A.H. Allcroft and Lewis Spence, were distracted by the Greek and Latin loan words in the later texts, and concluded there was no native tradition. The Old Irish of the earlier manuscripts, so many of which have yet to be translated, reveals a different scenario, of an extensive native tradition, reflected in both the lore and the language.
 

Conclusions

Having examined both the development of Christian cosmologies and the astral traditions of Celtic culture, astrology's survival amidst these two streams is the next concern.

Popular Culture: The extent to which popular astrological practices persisted among the common people is perhaps best judged by the volume of complaints against them. The Church complained frequently, especially about the cults of Moon, the most common celestial denominator. Wedel mentions the English laws of Cnut, which forbid "all heathenish practices, and incidentally, the worship of the sun or moon," and the Liber Paenitentialis of the 7th century Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, a collection of sins and penances, condemns lunar superstitions, pagan observations of New Year's Day, and those who try to stop eclipses by enchantment. [57]

Wedel also quotes The Homilies of Aelfric, who "rebukes those in particular who 'regulate their journeys by the moon, and the acts according to days, and who will not undertake anything on Mondays.' " [58] Campion quotes the Homilies of Aelfric Vol. 1, for 'No Christian man shall practice anything in the way of divination by the Moon.' [59] Were the women already a lost cause?

McCluskey contends the 'conversion of the countryside' was inconsistent until the 13th century, and it was only then that "time, space, and ritual observances came to be defined and grasped essentially in terms of the Christian liturgical year. [60] He finds ample condemnation of Celtic astral traditions throughout Gaul in the writings of Bishop Caesarius of Arles (470-542), Martin of Braga (c. 515-586), Eligius of Noyon (c.588-659), and Pirmin of Reichenau (d. 753). Eligius 'rebuked those who attend to the Moon in the morning before beginning the day's work,' while Martin condemned the observation of the Moon and stars to choose the time to build a house, plant trees, or sleep with one's wife. [61]

The average Celtic Christian, particularly in the countryside, came from a culture rich in astral tradition, and their continuing fascination with cosmic influences, regardless of their mathematical deficiencies, created a demand for astrology that contributed greatly toward its eventual renaissance.

The Quadrivium and Computus: The Irish monastic schools taught both the trivium and quadrivium, and the quadrivium included astronomy/astrology. Often no distinction was made between the two, and even astronomy could be highly astrological. [62] Joyce provides a list of "The Seven Grades or Orders of Wisdom" of the Irish 'Monastic or Ecclesiastical Schools.' Grade V is 'The Foirceadlaidhe,' the 'lecturer of ...Enumeration or Arithmetic, and the courses of the Sun and Moon, i.e. Astronomy.' [63]

Every foundation had its different texts and ideologies. Duncan describes the library at Wearmouth, near Bede's home, stocked by Benedict Biscop in the late 7th century. "Taking five trips to Rome, Benedict brought back a great mass of... books,' including calendars, among them almost certainly Dionysius Exiguus's charts and calculations, and the latest martyrologies (lists of saint's days and other holy dates)." [64]

Disagreement continues over which texts were available, because, surprisingly, Irish monasteries quickly produced a number of world-class, Dark Age astronomers. According to Ellis, the first 'acknowledged expert' was "Mo-Sinu maccu Min (d.610AD), the abbot of Bangor, Co. Down. His pupil, Mo Chuaroc macc Neth Semon of Munster, is recorded as having written a major work on astronomical computations" [65] which has since been lost. The work of Cummian (d. 633 AD) of Clonfert survives, as does a mid-7th century text by Aibhistin (the Irish Augustin). Aibhistin is the earliest medieval source on the relationship between the tides and the moon, where he may have been influenced by Posidonius. [66] Irish astronomers acclaimed on the continent include Virgil, Bishop of Salzburg (8th century), Dungal, who explained eclipses to Charlemagne, and Dicuil (both early 9th century).

The age-old Irish obsession with sacred timekeeping reappears in the 9th century Sanas Cormaic, which Ellis quotes as saying "...that all intelligent people could estimate the hour of the night throughout the year by studying the position of the moon and stars." [67] It rings through the Saltair na Rann (c. 10th century), attributed to Oengus the Culdee, which proclaims "the five things every intelligent man should know namely, the day of the solar month, the age of the moon, the height of the tide, the day of the week, saints' festivals." [68]

The perfect expression of Irish sacred astronomy was computus, the art of calculating Easter. In what began as the reconciliation of the solar and lunar calendars, and exploded into an international religious crisis, the instinctive Irish passion for the sanctity of time as revealed in the heavens, as well as the need to argue endlessly about it, were both fulfilled. Computus alone ignited sufficient interest in mathematics and astronomy to vouchsafe astrology's future.

Monkish Natural Astrology: The identification of Christ/God with the supreme Sun struck a deep chord within the Celtic psyche, resonating with ancestral religious archetypes and their calendars. The solstice festivals of Christmas and St. John the Baptist spurred contemplation of how "John and his light declined from his birth at midsummer, while Christ's grew from his birth in the dark of winter." [69] As the Baptist said, "he must grow greater, while I must diminish" (John 3:30), while, every morning, the Sun of Justice arose with healing under his wings (Mal 3:20).

Archaeologist Vance Tiede claims there is an architectural analogue between the Christian solar deity and the 'orientation of the single eastern window of Irish monastic stone chapels or oratories.' [70] He completed extensive field surveys throughout Ireland, and the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland Islands, which, he said, in a paper delivered at the 2002 conference of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society, reveal that the windows of Irish oratories 'framed the rising solar disk on the Feast Days of selected saints of the Celtic Early Christian Church.'

Tiede found that the most frequent target skyline declinations were to sunrise on the Feast Days of St. Patrick (March 17th) and St. Aidan of Lindisfarne (August 31st). St. Patrick's feast at the Vernal Equinox seems a natural target, but why St. Aidan? Tiede believes Aidan (d.651 AD) inspired this solar commemoration because of his loyalty, during the Synod of Whitby (664 AD), to the Jewish 84-year cycle determining Passover, and was a hero to the Celtic Christian diehards who resisted the imposition of the new Roman nineteen-year computus.

The painstaking and provocative work done by chronologist Daniel McCarthy indicates that Irish monks were not only making regular and systematic observations, beginning possibly as early as the 6th century, [71] but they were interpreting, or deriving meaning from them as well.

In his comprehensive article, 'Astronomical Observations in the Irish Annals and their Motivation' McCarthy both raises and answers the question of what criteria the annalists used, as they compiled from volumes of monastic records, to edit the available astronomical data. He concludes that "observations were not admitted to these annals on the basis simply of their objective interest or dramatic content ... but rather if in the annalist's judgement, the observation constituted a 'sign' or 'portent'."

McCarthy notes a distinct preference for double events in the annals; for eclipses or auroras that coincided with a specific feast, such as "Crucifixion/solar eclipse, aurora/lunar eclipse, St. Martin's feast/lunar eclipse, and lunar/solar eclipse pairs within the same month." Further, the language used in the records, e.g. 'blood-red moon, colour of blood, dark sun, dragons, horrible portents, and a horrible and wonderful sign' reveal that the annalists were inspired by the Bible, and specifically, the Book of Revelation. McCarthy concludes that they were interpreting these celestial omens within an eschatological perspective on history and chronology, which they probably inherited from Supulcius Severus of Gaul, who they already revered as the originator of their preferred 84-year Paschal cycle, and the further work of Hydatius of Spain. [72] The annalists were waiting for the end of the world.

So the monks continued the old ways of interpreting the meaning of celestial portents, but within this radical, new Christian paradigm. That may have seemed adventurous at the time, but by the 9th and 10th centuries, when the second coming was overdue, the novelty had worn off, superseded by the promise of both the exciting, new Arabic, and the venerable, old classical cosmologies. Astrology, resurrected from its empty tomb, arose to become the new centrepiece of Medieval Christian cosmology.
 
 

End Notes

1-Shahan, T. 'Second Council of Constantinople' at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04308b.htm accessed on Dec. 2, 2003

2-Barton, T. Ancient Astrology, pg.71

3-Ibid

4-McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg.39

5-Barton, T. Power and Knowledge, pg.36

6-Ibid, pg. 34

7-Ibid, pg. 33-34

8-Ibid, pg. 59

9-Ibid, pg.60

10-Ibid

11- Duncan, D.E. The Calendar, pg. 57

12-Ibid

13-Ibid

14-Ibid, pg.58

15-Tester, J. History of Western Astrology, pg.114

16-Ibid, pg.118

17-Barton, T. Ancient Astrology, pg.71

18-Wedel, T. Medieval Attitudes Towards Astrology, pg. 27

19-Ibid, pg.28

20-Ibid, pg.28

21-Tester, J. History of Western Astrology, pg.126

22-Julius Caesar, GallicWars, vi.14

23-Anon. 'Prehistoric Moon Map Unearthed', (22 April, 1999) at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/325290.stm accessed on Nov. 29, 2003

24-Stooke, P. 'The Lunar Maps of Knowth' at http://publish.uwo.ca/~pjstooke/knowth.htm accessed Nov. 29, 2003

25-McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg. 14

26-Campion, N. 'Astrology in Britain Before the Normans,' at http://www.nickcampion.com/nc/history/articles/astrology_b4_the_normans.htm accessed Nov 25, 2003

27-Ellis, P.B. 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Realta, 1996, vol. 3, no.3, reprinted at http://cura.free.fr/xv/11ellis1.html accessed Nov. 25, 2003

28-McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg. 52-53

29-Ellis, P.B. 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Realta, 1996, vol. 3, no.3, reprinted at http://cura.free.fr/xv/11ellis1.html accessed Nov. 25, 2003

30-Joyce's quote is taken from O'Curry's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, II, 46, and note +

31-Stokes, W, editor, Three Middle-Irish Homilies on The Lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba, Calcutta, 1871, pg.103

32-Ellis, P.B., The Druids, London, Constable, 1994

33-Joyce, P.W., The Social History of Ireland, Vol. 1, pg. 229. Joyce lists "MS. Mat.,285: HyF, 99" as his source for the story

34-Campion, N, 'Astrology in Britain Before the Normans,' at http://www.nickcampion.com/nc/history/articles/astrology_b4_the_normans.htm accessed Nov 25, 2003

35-Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 243,

36-Ellis, P.B. 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Realta, 1996, vol. 3, no.3, reprinted at http://cura.free.fr/xv/11ellis1.html accessed Nov. 25, 2003

37-McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg. 53

38-Davies, E. Celtic Researches on the Origin, Traditions, & Language of the Ancient Britons, pg. 161. Davies quotes from Thomas Jones, who translated these triads from the book of Caradoc of Nantgarvan, and from the book of Jevan Brechva. Caradoc would have written about the mid-12th century, compiling from older sources.

39-Davies, E. Celtic Researches on the Origin, Traditions, & Language of the Ancient Britons, pg. 163

40-Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae, Book 9, Chapter XII

41-Anon. The Gildas MS (Julius, D. xi), Cottonian Library at http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/texts/welsh/triads.htm accessed Dec. 2, 2003. Also translated as the three Arch-Flamens. Geoffrey of Monmouth appears to have found the same titles in the Armorican version of Tyssilio's History.

42-Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae, Book 12, Chapter IV

43-Wedel, T. The Medieval Attitude Toward Astrology Particularly in England, pg.47-48. The story of Merlin is from the 7th book of Historia Regum Britannieae.

44-Ellis, P.B. 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Realta, 1996, vol. 3, no.3, reprinted at http://cura.free.fr/xv/11ellis1.html accessed Nov.25, 2003

45-Ibid

46-Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 241

47-Ibid

48-Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 239

49-Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 240

50-Ibid

51- Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 239

52- Ellis, P.B. 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Realta, 1996, vol. 3, no.3, reprinted at http://cura.free.fr/xv/11ellis1.html accessed Nov.25, 2003

53- Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 242

54-Joyce, P.W., The Social History of Ireland, Vol. 1, pg. 466

55-Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 242

56-Ibid, pg.243

57-Wedel, T. Medieval Attitudes Towards Astrology, pg. 42-43

58-Ibid, pg.45

59-Campion, N, 'Astrology in Britain Before the Normans,' at http://www.nickcampion.com/nc/history/articles/astrology_b4_the_normans.htm accessed Nov 25, 2003

60-McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg. 45

61-McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg. 46. McCluskey further lists Audoenus of Rouen, Vitae Eligii liber II, pg. 705.12, and Martin of Braga, Canones, 72.

62-Tester, J. History of Western Astrology, pg. 102-3

63-Joyce, P.W., The Social History of Ireland, Vol. 1, pg. 435. Joyce quotes O'Curry, for a document called caogdach in a Law Glossary compiled by Duald Mac Firbis from older authorities, explaining the "Seven Orders of Wisdom."

64- Duncan, D.E. The Calendar, pg. 107

65- Ellis, P.B. 'Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument,' Realta, 1996, vol. 3, no.3, reprinted at http://cura.free.fr/xv/11ellis1.html accessed Nov.25, 2003

66-Smyth, M. Understanding the Universe in Seventh-Century Ireland, pg.245-6

67- Ellis, P.B., The Druids, pg. 244

68- Stokes,W. The Saltair Na Rann A Collection of Early Middle Irish Poems, Preface, iii, b2

69- McCluskey, S.C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, pg. 27

70- Anon. 'HAD in Washington DC, January 2002' at http://www.aas.org/~had/HADN60.pdf accessed dec.10, 2003

71-McCarthy, D. 'Astronomical Observations in the Irish Annals and Their Motivation', Peritia, Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland, 1997, Vol. II, pg.21. McCarthy includes on page 23 the following analysis of a comment made by Dr. Marina Smyth, "regarding the scholarship of gifted Irishmen in Europe in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries" in Understanding the Universe in Seventh-Century Ireland, pg. 171: 'We do not know where these men obtained their knowledge; there is little reason to suppose that they got it in Ireland.' The matter of these five centuries of sustained observation, recording and interpretation of astronomical phenomena, commencing in the sixth century and all undertaken on the island of Ireland shows there are good grounds for supposing that they did obtain their knowledge in Ireland.
He also contends that Smyth's "specific conclusion that 'Irish scholars did observe the sun and the moon, but their attention was limited to the more obvious phenomena, such as the regular waxing and waning of the moon' cannot at all be reconciled with the eclipse records in these annals. In particular, the records of the low magnitude solar and lunar eclipses of 688 and 691 demonstrate that close observation of the sun and moon at conjunction was well established by the seventh century."

72- Ibid, pg. 22
 
 

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Reference of the page:
Courtney Roberts: Christian Astrology, the Dark Ages, and the Celtic Church
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