Your computer’s spell checker may not know how to correctly spell his name, but medieval astrologer/astronomer Johannes Kepler is no stranger to those who study the night sky from entirely different – and disparate – perspectives.
Kepler was the brilliant 17th century astrologer who discovered the three laws of planetary motion named for him. Though the idea must have seemed wildly counterintuitive to contemporaries, Kepler was able to mathematically prove the earth and neighboring planets all were orbiting the sun in predictable elliptical orbits – as Copernicus before him had suggested.
In an article posted on the Cosmic Patterns Software website, astrological researcher David Cochrane describes Kepler as one of the greatest scientists of all time. What Kepler was able to achieve “marked an important transition to a scientific age where mathematics combines with careful observations to explain the rational basis for a great many things,” he said.
But lost on many modern observers is the fact that Kepler’s accomplishments also marked a crowning triumph for astrology and ongoing efforts by serious astrologers to pragmatically improve their craft by producing more accurate birth charts (horoscopes).
Historian John North makes the point that had Kepler not been an astrologer he would very probably have failed to produce his planetary astronomy in the form we have it today.
What bothers Cochrane is revisionist history that trivializes Kepler’s motives.
For example, he says an article about Kepler posted on the prestigious Harvard.edu website derisively portrays the mathematical genius as someone who, driven by economic necessity, was reduced “to making astrological predictions for noblemen who wanted their fortunes told.”
Kepler did earn a living reading horoscopes for the rich and powerful. But, Cochrane says, those who say Kepler only practiced astrology to survive have not examined the evidence very carefully.
Because his contribution to astronomy was so profound, Kepler is often romantically identified with the scientific revolution that purportedly rescued humanity from the slagheap of medieval mysticism. But this, Cochrane insists, was never his intention.
“Kepler fully believed in and endorsed astrology as a meaningful and important study. Those who trivialize his sincere involvement distort the historical record,” he believes.
Other modern astrologers have weighed in on the subject. In his astrological blog, British astrologer Robert Currey writes that Kepler produced yearly almanacs with astrological and other phenomena. In addition to the three laws of planetary motion he also connected the tidal cycle with the lunar nodes.
In 1601, Kepler wrote De Fundamentis Astrologiae Cetoribus, a book defending the physical foundations of astrology. In it he revealed his rapture with the Pythagorean concept of celestial harmony and what he called the “geometricizing” God in creation.
Currey says Kepler drew inspiration from classical Greek thinkers but also was a devoutly religious man who described himself to mentor Michael Maestlin as a “Lutheran astrologer.” In line with the changing times he wanted a reformation of astrology, but implored theologians, physicians and philosophers not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
In 1606 Kepler wrote to Oxford scientist Thomas Harriot, informing the academic that 10 years earlier he had rejected the division of the Zodiac into 12 astrological signs and other traditional astrological concepts. At the time he told Harriot he was focused solely on aspects (the angular relationships of planets to each other expressed in degrees) and was transferring astrology to the science of harmonics.
“On the surface of it, these widely quoted comments seem to support the popular myth that Kepler did not believe in astrology but had to practice it simply to pay the bills. But the comments do not appear to be a genuine reflection of Kepler’s personal view of astrology,” Currey writes, adding:
“Kepler was seeking information from Harriot on his experiments in refraction. Clearly he was attempting to recast astrology within what he thought might be a more acceptable Harmonic-Pythagorean framework.”
Although Kepler apparently worried about his professional image he continued to publish his almanacs until 1624. However, in correspondence with Maestlin, he did express his concern that the almanacs might harm his scientific reputation, Currey points out.
In 1999, an astronomer found a horoscope drawn up by Kepler for an Austrian nobleman. The horoscope clearly showed the traditional positions of the houses and astrological signs, which Kepler told Harriot in 1606 he had stopped using 10 years earlier.
“The Austrian nobleman was born in 1587. For Kepler’s claim to Harriot to be true, the Austrian would have been less than 10 years old – and Kepler age 25 – when the chart was made,” Currey said.
In two private letters to Maestlin in 1611 Kepler discussed the horoscopes of his family and the astrological reasons for his son‘s death. This private exchange, where no financial gain was involved, reveals Kepler‘s interest in astrology “was unquestionably sincere,” he added.