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Michael Psellos and Byzantine Astrology in the Eleventh Century

The following work forms the first chapter of my doctoral thesis which uses the writing of one of the most outstanding personalities of the Byzantine Empire, Michael Psellos, as a conduit into the world of Byzantine astrology. The focus of the chapter is his celebrated chronicle, The Chronographia, which documents his life and experiences as an influential courtier at the Byzantine court in the eleventh century. Psellos was at the forefront of political life in the Empire and its fluctuating fortunes but somehow managed to combine these duties with a prodigious scholarly vocation. He taught extensively in both public and private capacities – he was appointed Consul of the Philosophers at the University of Constantinople – and was at the forefront of intellectual activity, touching on everything from theology to law, military strategy to esoterica.

Psellos’ writings on esoteric subjects of all sorts, including astrology and other related divinatory practices, are a true treasure trove of information for historians of astrology and practising astrologers alike. This chapter looks at a number of astrological and divinatory episodes in The Chronographia before the investigation broadens out to consider Psellos’ relationship to astrology in detail in a variety of other sources. This context is very important because The Chronographia is an imperial commission and, like many of his contemporaries both before and after, Psellos had to toe the line of official disapproval of astrology. It is quite clear, however, that Psellos’ curiosity and attraction to the subject is barely concealed beneath the surface text.

For those who are unfamiliar with Byzantine history, the astrological episodes in The Chronographia throw much light on the niche occupied by astrology and astrologers in Byzantine culture. It may well surprise those readers who are accustomed to hearing of the achievements and activities of astrologers in the adjoining Arabic empire to be introduced to astrological activity in a Byzantine context which, if not as equally prolific, is never devoid of interest and relevance for historians of astrology. This work aims to offer a small corrective to the accepted notion of a moribund astrological culture in Byzantium. For all the work done by their Arabic counterparts in the Abbasid Dynasty, it still remains true that Hellenistic astrology was preserved and transmitted to posterity by the Byzantines.

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The Dragon of the Eclipses—A Note

The astrological concept of the ‘dragon of the lunar nodes’, responsible for eclipses of the sun and the moon, may have derived from a combination of ideas prevailing in Late Antiquity with respect to the ourobóros or ‘tail-biting serpent’—that it constituted a ring of darkness, that it was bent around the sun and that it was positioned on the ecliptic band. Various Mithraic, astrological and alchemical images of celestial dragons appear to represent this aspect of the dragon.

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How the Sun Stood Still: Old English Interpretations of Joshua and the Leap Year

The Leofric Missal (late ninth- or early tenth-century French-English) explains that the ‘sun stood still’ for Joshua at Gibeon because the battle occurred on leap day, precisely when, in the Roman calendar, two consecutive days had the same date. A tenth-century Old English text by Ælfric also mentions and critiques this ‘priestly’ computistical explanation.

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Astrologers at War: Manuel Galhano Lourosa and the Political Restoration of Portugal, 1640–1668

This paper analyses the involvement of the astrologer Manuel Galhano Lourosa in the restoration of political independence of Portugal from Spain between 1640 and 1668. Lourosa was the most successful astrologer and almanac maker in seventeenth-century Portugal. He published astrological almanacs for several decades, wrote an astrological and astronomical treatise on comets, and addressed astrological writings to Portuguese society urging support for the new political order that issued from the revolution of 1640. Some of these writings were consistent with the feelings of the urban professional and mercantile classes. We argue that, by publishing and using his social prestige in favour of the Restoration cause, Lourosa used the sphere of public opinion to act politically along with the interests of the urban middle class.

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Astrology’s Role in New Age Culture: A Research Note

The practice of, or belief in, astrology is generally considered a central feature of modern New Age culture. Research conducted by Stuart Rose in the 1990s contradicted this assumption. This paper does not argue that astrology is a New Age discipline, but challenges Rose’s methodology and his reasons or arguing that it is not New Age. The paper reports on research relying on two other measures by used Rose to argue that astrology can be New Age but does not have to be New Age.

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Science versus the stars: a double-blind test of the validity of the NEO Five-Factor Inventory and computer-generated astrological natal charts.

The authors asked 52 college students (38 women, 14 men, M age = 19.3 years, SD = 1.3 years) to identify their personality summaries by using a computer-generated astrological natal chart when presented with 1 true summary and 1 bogus one. Similarly, the authors asked participants to identify their true personality profile from real and bogus summaries that the authors derived from the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; P. T. Costa Jr. & R. R. McCrae, 1985). Participants identified their real NEO-FFI profiles at a greater-than-chance level but were unable to identify their real astrological summaries. The authors observed a P. T. Barnum effect in the accuracy ratings of both psychological and astrological measures but did not find differences between the odd-numbered (i.e., favorable) signs and the even-numbered (i.e., unfavorable) signs.

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Cognition and belief in paranormal phenomena: gestalt/feature-intensive processing theory and tendencies toward ADHD, depression, and dissociation.

Belief in paranormal phenomena and cryptids–unknown animals such as Bigfoot–may predispose individuals to interpret real-world objects and events in the same way that eyewitness identification can be biased by unrelated information (P. James and N. Thorpe, 1999). Psychological tendencies toward attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dissociation, and depression, even at subclinical levels, may be associated systematically with particular paranormal or cryptozoological beliefs. The authors evaluated these psychological tendencies using the Conners Adult ADHD Rating Scales (C. K. Conners, D. Erhardt, and E. Sparrow, 1999), the Dissociative Experiences Scale (L. Coleman & J. Clark, 1999), and the Beck Depression Inventory-II (A. T. Beck, 1996). They performed regression analyses against beliefs in ghosts, unidentified flying objects (UFOs), extrasensory perception (ESP), astrology, and cryptids. ADHD, dissociation, and depression were associated with enhanced tendencies toward paranormal and cryptozoological beliefs, although participants who believed in each of the phenomena differed from one another in predictable and psychologically distinguishable ways. Cognitively biasing influences of preexisting psychological tendencies may predispose individuals to specific perceptual and cognitive errors during confrontation of real-world phenomena.

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Belief in astrology inventory: development and validation.

After the paper by Mayo, White, and Eysenck in 1978, a considerable number of papers studied the so-called sun-sign-effect predicted by astrology: people born with the sun in a positive sign are supposed to be extraverted, and those with the sun in a negative sign are supposed to be introverted. In these papers, researchers used ad hoc questionnaires with a few questions related to belief, knowledge, experience, or attitude toward astrology. However, an appropriate inventory with known psychometric properties has yet to be developed to assess the belief in astrology. In the present paper, the Belief in Astrology Inventory is presented with some psychometric data. The participants were 743 undergraduates studying Psychology and Social Sciences at a university in Spain. Correlation of scores on Belief in Astrology and Extraversion was small but significant (r = .22; r2 = .04) for positive sun-sign participants. This value accounts for negligible common variance. Women had significandy higher scores on the inventory than men.

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The perceived efficacy of various “future-ologies” and complementary medicine

OBJECTIVES: To examine the relationship between beliefs in ways of telling the future (astrology, graphology, palmistry etc) and beliefs in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

DESIGN: Participants completed a short questionnaire that requested that they rate the efficacy of 8 CAM therapies along with 12 other ways of predicting the future ranging from the well known and established (astrology) to the less well known (tasseography, oneiromancy). Short descriptions of each were provided. They also answered four attitude statements on science as applied to medicine.

SUBJECTS: Two hundred three (130 female, 73 male) adult Britains obtained from a university subject panel served as unpaid volunteer subjects.

RESULTS: CAM therapies were judged as modestly effective and most of the other “-ologies” ineffective. Further analysis confirmed two clear factors with the different methods loading on two different factors. Regressions showed females who were less concerned with scientific evaluations but more concerned with treatment believed more in the efficacy of the “future-ologies.” Also females, who had heard of fewer “future-ologies” but more CAM practices were more likely to believe in the efficacy of CAM therapies.

CONCLUSION: Belief in CAM is unrelated to belief in “future-ologies.” Interest in the scientific evaluations of treatment is the best predictor of beliefs about efficacy.

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The planetary positions and relationships at the dates of birth of a cohort of Nigerian schizophrenics.

Some astrological hypotheses related to predisposition to severe mental illness were tested by analysing the zodiacal signs, the interactions between planetary qualities (aspects), and the occurrence of full and new moon dates, on the dates of birth of 221 schizophrenics, compared with 112 normal subjects. The sun signs of the schizophrenics were significantly more likely to be in the signs associated with introversion, while those of the control population were significantly more likely to be in the outgoing signs. A significantly higher proportion of schizophrenics had their Mars (i.e., symbol of aggressiveness) in the outgoing signs than the normal population. A significantly higher proportion of control subjects fulfilled operational criteria for adequacy of number of aspects between the sun and the other planets. The tendency for a higher proportion of schizophrenics to have “difficult” aspects just failed to reach significance. A significantly higher proportion of control subjects had aspects between the sun and mars; and also a significantly higher proportion of control subjects had “soft” (helpful) aspects between the sun and mars. These findings are in keeping with the well-known oddity of schizophrenia (schiz = split; phren = mind); such that, a group which collectively is characterised by an “introverted” self (i.e. sun sign), has a coexisting aggressive tendency (i.e. strong mars) and poor integration between the elements of the psyche and the self (i.e. inadequacy of aspects between Sun and other planets). However, the findings give only partial support to key astrological postulates because there was a non-significant trend for more schizophrenics to be born in “water” signs and on full moon dates.

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