Astrology should not be confused with astronomy. Astronomy is the scientific study of the heavenly bodies, such as stars, planets, moons, comets and meteors; astrology is a more fanciful pursuit that seeks to explain and interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on earthly life. Thus astrology, even in its most basic form, was an important tool of divination. The Greeks and Egyptians became interested in astrology in the third century B.C. and added many new and complex procedures to the field, linking it to medicine and magic. Not only were the positions of the stars and planets thought to forecast events, but it was widely believed that the stars affected the physical nature of everyone and everything on Earth. Even minerals and gems absorbed influences from the stars.
During the Middle Ages, most kings and queens employed court astrologers to cast their horoscopes and advise them on the best days for taking action. In Renaissance Time, Queen Elizabeth I chose the mathematician and astrologer John Dee to select the date for her coronation according to the planetary influences.
In France, the famed astrologer Nostradamus performed similar function for Queen Catherine de’ Medici. Nostradamus explained his method of prophecy to be a combination of astrology, crystal ball, and, most of all, divine inspiration. Alone in his study in the evening, he would sit on a three-legged stool and stare at a candle flame or peer into a bowl of shimmering water, which he touched with a magic wand. Soon a vision would reveal itself and he would write down what he had seen. In 1555,he published Volume I of Centuries, the book that was to secure his reputation as the most famous seer of all time. There are ten volumes, each book contained one hundred prophecies composed in the form of rhymed verses of four lines known as "quatrains." Nostradamus believed he was laying out the future of the world until the year 3797.
The best known example of a prophecy that was fulfilled during Nostradamus’ lifetime involved the death of Henry II, the King of France. The date July I, 1559 and the event was a jousting exhibition held by the royal court in honor of the marriage of Henry’s daughter to Philip II of Spain. The monarch, a noted sportsman, had already ridden twice against the captain of his Scottish guard, the Comte de Montgomery, but neither had unseated the other, and the king insisted on a third round but he died in the third round.
Almost immediately, word flew through the kingdom that Nostradamus had foreseen the event five years earlier. In quatrain 35 of the first book of Centuries he had written:
“The young lion will overcome the older one,
In a field of combat in single fight:
He will pierce his eyes in their golden cage;
Two wound in one, and then he dies a cruel death.”
Astrology today occupies a peculiar position. Although it retains none of the intellectual respectability it once had, its popularity is vast, and many people take astrological advice as profound truth.
Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the prophecies of Centuries have an air of mystery and profundity that fascinates us to this day.