chapter  17
22 Pages

Beliefs about Astrology across Europe

WithNICK ALLUM, PAUL STONEMAN

Anyone reading this chapter is likely at some point to have read their horoscope. Astrology columns are widespread in print media, and have been a staple for a surprisingly long time. The fi rst columnist was 17thcentury astrologer William Lily, who famously predicted the Great Fire of London, albeit 14 years early. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defi nes astrology as ‘divination of the supposed infl uences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.’ A horoscope on the other hand is defi ned as a ‘diagram of the relative positions of planets and signs of the zodiac at a specifi c time (as at one’s birth) for use by astrologers in inferring individual character and personality traits and in foretelling events of a person’s life.’ The more common understanding of horoscopes is that they are astrological forecasts, such as those that appear in newspapers. It is this defi nition that we use for the rest of the chapter. Ten years ago, just under half of Americans read their horoscope at least occasionally (National Science Board, 2000), and there is little reason to think that the numbers have declined since then.