The Origins Of Popular Superstitions And Customs  ~ Magick7





Astrology is probably the oldest pseudo-science in the world; it is one of the first guesses at the riddle of existence that took on mathematical and scientific shape. To be just, I shall have to admit that throughout the ages it has been developed somewhat on the lines of observation and experiment--lines to which no man of science can take exception. The time of the birth of children has been taken and the state of the heavens noted; any serious illness was observed, and the position of the planets at the time was written down; marriage, financial disaster, loss of parents, and all the ups and downs of mortal existence were carefully compared with the signs above. These observations were then compared with those of preceding astrologers, the result being we have a huge literature about the occult heavens, and no age has been minus its astrologer. It is but fair to admit, further, that astrology in the hands of its best exponents is not lacking in dignity. If our lives are to be governed by anything in Nature, we prefer to have them governed by the starry host; in fact, a few of us would prefer the planets to some of the majorities which obtain in the House of Commons. But, judged scientifically, astrology must be regarded as a superstition, because its character readings are too vague, and its "directions" too obscure; it was a much vaunted "science" long before the discovery of Uranus and Neptune--days when the Moon even was called a planet. In the thousands of years of its existence, it has not appealed successfully to the trained mind skilled in Nature knowledge, and although a few great names are included in its list, from Isaac Newton to the late Dr. Richard Garnet of the British Museum, together with Dean Farrar, the bulk of learned mankind has never looked upon the casting of horoscopes as more than a social amusement.

"Then why," asks some devotee, "does it persist? Why does it not die, like many other so-called superstitions? Is not this persistency a testimony to its truth?" No, it is a testimony to a fact in human nature; that is, we want to know what the future has in store for us. Astrology professes to tell us, hence when the credulous (and a few who are not credulous) see an offer in the paper to the effect that for one shilling "you can know your future," there is no need to be surprised at the persistency of a superstition. In order to meet the demand for information respecting events to come, the smaller fry of the astrological world are prepared to pronounce on the details of business; they will even cater for the Stock Exchange speculator, and draw up the horoscope of a Limited Company, whose shares are quoted in the official list. This careful working out of details is no new thing: the astrologer simply adapts himself to changing conditions. Werenfels in his Dissertation upon Superstition thus describes a superstitious man:--"He will be more afraid of the Constellation-fires than the flame of his next neighbour's house. He will not open a vein till he has asked leave of the planets. He will avoid the sea whenever Mars is in the middle of Heaven, lest that warrior god should stir up pirates against him. In Taurus he will plant his trees, that this sign, which the astrologers are pleased to call fix'd, may fasten them deeper in the earth. He will make use of no herbs but such as are gathered in the planetary hour. Against any sort of misfortune he will arm himself with a ring, to which he has fixed the benevolent aspect of the stars, and the lucky hour that was just at the instant of flying away, but which, by a wonderful nimbleness, he has seized and detained."

There are modern analogies to this picture, not only in the East, but in the West. London women especially are easily vulnerable--I mean, of course, the few who have little else to do and think about. They will not take a journey without consulting their "directions" for the year; they have the right times and seasons for paying calls, and would not "hunt," no, not for the world, if the planets were in bad aspect.

Human curiosity, the keen desire to peer into the future, must have manifested itself in the earliest dawning of the human mind; and the hearts of men being the same fundamentally in all ages, the same wish for a glimpse ahead manifests itself to-day. Writers have sought industriously for the origin of astrology, but have never been successful, except in the general sense of tracing the cult of the stars to the borders of the prehistoric. In some form or other it is as old as the race.