Astrology — Is There Any Connection with Freemasonry?
This is a titillating question, one that was given new life recently — while adding more confusion — by David Ovason’s bestseller, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital: The Freemasons and the Building of Washington, DC. The short answer is that Freemasonry and Astrology have as much or as little in common as do Astrology and Medicine. The historical realities that have shaped the Western (and somewhat later, the Eastern) World involve long and slow processes, time periods during which everyone, including Popes, at first believed in the influence of the constellations, stars and planets on every aspect of life and nature on Earth. Over time, what we call “science” emerged from erroneous observations and inferences made from them, splintering world views and often shaking belief systems. Keep in minds, as you read this and other related articles in this site, that Astronomy emerged from Astrology, Chemistry from Alchemy. Biology, by the way, was a late-comer among what we call “the sciences” and emerged once empirical methods were becoming the norm for intellectual inquiry into the nature of the natural world. The development of empirical science is coterminus with the seventeenth century – the century in which Freemasonry was also taking shape and whose members were also often men of influential, intellectual calibre, as one can discover in such books as Robert Lomas’s Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science, or this curious, old-school, sci-fi film clip from YouTube: Freemasonry of Science.
So, let’s delve a bit into Astrology as an ubiquitous historical artifact of human culture, starting, interestingly enough, with the Book of Genesis (not the oldest book on earth, but one with which most English-speaking readers are sufficiently familiar). It’s opening chapters constitute an etiological text, that is, one that tries to account for the origin of things. First, recall that God created the stars and other celestial bodies to be “signs” for mankind. But what kind of signs? What would these signs foretell? The coming of seasons, certainly, and even of the periodic flooding of major rivers, of tides and so on. But what of human life? The moon and female biology may have been one of the first suggestions to humans who looked upward that the celestial bodies had some sort of determining power over our existence. The oldest artifacts in sculpture often depict a female fertility figure and often have hack marks suggestive of a calendar for determining human fertility tied to lunar cycles. Now, you can get an iPhone application to do the same thing.
What are the earliest references to Astrology?
The Babylonians are the first recorded calendar makers. It is to them that we owe the concept of the circle of 360 degrees (almost a year — the Egyptians worked out the five-day error later), the seven days of the week, and so on. So Geometry and Astrology/Astronomy emerge together.
What are the major themes of Astrology?
Let’s go back to Genesis. Remember the story of Cain and Abel? It isn’t really a story about two, literally historical brothers, one of whom killed the other and got cursed for it. It is an etiological legend about the emergence of mankind from the nomadic life of shepherding to the sedentary life of agriculture, with all the concommitant divisions of labor and social hierarchy — and thus – exploitation, that arose from that shift to city dwelling. Therefore, it is significant that Cain’s descendents are the builders of Babylon. The dichotomy of the virtues of country versus the supposed worse vices associated with city life has been present from the beginning of recorded history. In either way of life, calendars were needed: whether for priest-kings who made other people plant crops and schedule other labors (or predict the future using court astrologers) or shepherds who needed to know when to move to better pastures. These utilitarian functions of astrology/astronomy remained the norm even well after reliable clocks and calendars were invented, as evinced by the famous publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac.
At some point, lost in the mists of time, the functional purposes of heavenly observations went a step further. The priest-astrologers who preserved this knowledge seem to have found a new revenue stream, as we might cynically put it: they began to tell fortunes for their bosses, the kings.
Who Were the Major Players that Propogated Astrology?
The first astrologers’ names are of course, unknown. In Egypt, the first architect of known name, Imhotep, would have had to have been quite knowledgeable about the heavens, particularly if the claims made in the fascinating book by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilber, The Orion Mystery is to be believed: that the Great Pyramids are a reflection on earth of the three stars in the belt of Orion, including even the use of the Nile to reflect the Milky Way. In India and China, different systems of astrology were also invented, as anyone knows who even casually consults his or her daily horoscope and finds Chinese astrology offered as an alternative “reading” for the day, month or year.
How Has Astrology Woven its Way into the ”Main Stream” Historically, and in Modern Times?
For Freemasons, the fact that another famous architect, Vitruvius, wrote in chapter two of his Ten Books of Architecture, in which he deals with the education of an architect, that architects must know the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences well, particularly Geometry – but also Astrology, in order to understand the proper alignment of buildings, both for practical reasons (sunlight, wind and other “site-related” factors) but also symbolically, according to the belief system of his time.
It is highly significant and important to know that his books were copied voraciously and distributed across the Empire by architects and engineers who accompanied the Roman Legions. These books were never lost during the Middle Ages and were, logically, associated with the Roman Collegia – or school of Architects. This body of men, organized into guilds or at least ad-hoc working groups, is a strong candidate for accounting for the origin of the medieval guilds from which modern Freemasonry best claims its development.
What Masonic Traditions Evolved Out of Astrology, and Why?
The most obvious and publically verifiable Masonic Tradition that might be said to have emerged from Astrology would be the orientation of Lodge Rooms - an oblong square, or rectangle, extending its greater length from East to West. This arrangement is said to have arisen from the orientation of the Tabernacle of Moses, later applied to the design of King Solomon’s Temple. However, alongside this explanation, even within Masonic ritual, it is also associated with the worldview of the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean, for whom that sea was a rectangle, similarly situated, with the gates of Hercules in the West, named Calpe on the Iberian side, and Abila on the African side. Complementing these, in the Eastern shore, the Phoenecian’s had two columns as well: Melkart (Mars) and Istarte (Venus). The Temple of Solomon, perhaps in imitation of its neighbors and due to the assistance of Phoenicians in its construction, also had two columns on its porch.
How Does Freemasonry Benefit from Studying and Understanding Astrology?
The same way as anyone does: such studies help us understand the mindset or worldview of our ancestors. There are some other benefits that are unique to Freemasonry, but these emerge from comparing our ceremonies to other cultures’ esoteric traditions, myths and rituals. Both Freemasons and its critics are advised to keep in mind that Freemasonry’s rituals are not “sacramental” or “salvific” in any sense of the word, even when strong similarities might be found.
This question can also be asked of the benefit of studying Astrology or, for that matter, any subject often labeled as “occult” for students of literature. A reader of any literature, any, written before, say, 1800, would be only partially reading if he or she did not have at least a passing knowledge of Astrology and related topics. Shakespeare’s line about Romeo and Juliet being “star-crossed lovers” would make no sense at all unless you understood it as an astrological allusion. Taking the same phrase deeper, “to college”, it raises questions about fate, freewill, grace and salvation — as understood in Shakespeare’s times. The same is true of many passages in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Other than the books mentioned in the sections above, which only scratch the surface of very deep material, we suggest Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Exploring the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechen. Each chapter is likely to cause you to find other books, then go back and read the same chapter before proceeding. Not light reading, but very provocative, controversial and often convincing. Alongside this book, I recommend Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Joseph Campbell’s Man and His Myths, and Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. Written just over a century ago, Fraser’s book was considered scandalous and dangerous to faith. As all good Masons will recommend: “Read them all and decide for yourself.” All these books will pay big intellectual dividends.