Most astrologers and scholars who have studied astrology agree that the practice of astrology includes divination. However, very few would accept that the term divination adequately covers all branches and practices of astrology. Yet, in March 2011, the field of astrology was redefined as divination on Wikipedia. [April 2012 - See below in right hand column for the current Wikipedia specious definition]
What is Divination?
The issue has since been debated intensely on the Astrology Talk Page on Wikipedia. Many involved in the discussion brought their own definition of divination. To some divination was judgements based on subjective or random or artificial or arbitrary data rather than objective facts or natural events. To others it was using intuition rather than logic. Whether these opinions accurately reflect the common use of the term or not is irrelevant as Wikipedia will (understandably) only accept a definition that can be verified by reliable independent sources.
So what are the official definitions of divination? They all constellate around the practice of prediction based on supernatural means.
- Divination, the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers. Meriam-Websters on line (2011)
- Divination, n. the art or practice of divining; seeking to know the future or hidden things by supernatural means; instinctive prediction; prediction; conjecture. Divine vt, to foresee or foretell as if divinely inspired; to guess or make out; to prognosticate; to make divine (Spenser); L. divines from divus, deus a god]. Chambers Dictionary, 11th edition (2010)
- Divination, n. supposed insight into the future or the unknown gained by supernatural means. Oxford Compact English Dictionary, OUP (1996)
- Divination, n., the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means. From Latin divinare to predict. Oxford Dictionary of English, OUP (2006)
- Divination, n., the ability to say what will happen in the future or the act of doing this. Longmans, Dictionary of Contemporary English, Pearson Education Ltd. (2010)
- Divination , n 1. the art, practice or gift of discerning or discovering future events or unknown things, as though by supernatural powers 2. a prophecy 3. a presentiment or guess Collins English Dictionary (2010)
- Divination, the art of discovering future events as though by supernatural powers. Harper Collins, Essential Dictionary and Thesaurus (2007)
The case for Divination
Four arguments have been presented to support divination as the term for the entire field of astrology:
1. Mechanism “Since the mechanism of astrology is unknown, then this must be divination.” This is false since the mechanism for many areas of science was not and is still not known (such as Plate Tectonics or Dark Energy) – yet, projections about continental drift or dark energy were and are not considered divination. The follow up argument is that “astrology is different in that the mechanism is not sought”. Even if this were true, this has no connection with the definition of divination – this is closer to a definition of an alternative therapy. The fundamental flaw with this argument is under Wikipedia Rules it is Original Research; WP:OR and needs to be supported by independent verifiable evidence.
2. Lack of Objective Evidence “Since the claim that astrology can be used to foretell the future is not supported by objective scientific evidence, it can only be divination.” There are two problems with this.
a. First there is some objective evidence to support astrology. Besides natural astrology (see later), the evidence of Michel Gauquelin’s research has been replicated in the sceptical studies by Irving and Ertel and in subsequent tests by Muller & Menzer (1986) and Timm & Kobberl (1986) and recent reviews of the Carlson test (Ertel 2009) should not be ignored.
b. Second, the claim that any prediction or any information acquired that is not scientific evidence can only be divination is false. Is intuition the same divination? Is anticipating someone’s reaction, composing a recipe, devising a marketing strategy or reading an x-ray divination? I consider such assumptions a misunderstanding of the act of divination. However, neither my opinions nor the opinions of those who claim count here as they are unsupported and therefore "Original Research". WP:OR.
3. Subjective Basis “The basis and practice of astrology is subjective and therefore essentially divinatory”. The most persuasive argument comes from astrologer and lecturer, Dr Geoffrey Cornelius in his article: Is Astrology Divination and Does it Matter? He points out that it is widely accepted that Babylonian astrology was divinatory as it involved the reading of omens. Since that time, astrology never actually changed but merely adapted to fit in with the prevailing paradigm. So while the astrological model appeared to incorporate Aristotelian spiritual physics, Newtonian physics and more recently the Jungian/Pauli model, this is an illusion.
But even Cornelius does not claim that the entire field of astrology is divination. He proposes categorizing astrology into natural and divinatory astrology. He accepts that astrology has some objective phenomena that are amenable even to our present day science. He argues that this objective astrology of nature can co-exist with subjective intuition.
4. Verifiable Definition “Astrology is widely defined as divination.” Astrology is defined as divination by Meriam-Websters online and by the Encyclopedia Britannica. Using my own three dictionaries and the full range of those stocked in the largest bookshop chain in the UK, Waterstone’s, six sources define astrology as a study: Oxford Compact English Dictionary, OUP (1996), Chambers Dictionary, Chambers Harrap (2010), Longmans Dictionary of Contemporary English (2010), Oxford Dictionary of English, OUP (2006), Essential Dictionary and Thesaurus, Harper Collins (2007) and the Collins English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, (2010). Only my older Concise Oxford Dictionary, OUP (1987) defines astrology as an art. Though some publications are by the same publishers, only those where the wording has substantially changed, suggesting different contributing authors, were considered. Not one of the current dictionaries in ‘English English’ include the word divination in their definition of astrology. Wikipedia is much more than a dictionary WP:NOTDIC, however, dictionaries like the OED are a reliable, independent, verifiable source that are required as one of Wikipedia's core content policies. WP:VERIFY
As the first three arguments are based on unverified opinion that are not supported by the dictionary definition of divination, the only argument that counts is point 4.
The counter argument is that divination is a subordinate term for astrology – a hyponym. It would be like defining a swan as a white bird – a swan can be categorized under white birds, but a white bird is not an adequate definition for swans in general. Astrology can be divination, but it is not correct to say that all astrology is divination. The lede is required to be concise which according to the OED means brief but comprehensive in expression. Divination is not sufficiently comprehensive for astrology.
Why Divination fails as an inclusive definition:
1. Astrology is not widely defined as divination by expert sources Though standard definitions vary with astrology defined as an art, study, practice, method, system and divination, 'study' seems to be the predominant dictionary definition. In addition, scholars and astrologers rarely label the field of astrology as divination. As Cornelius concedes in his lecture advocating astrology as divination “Lecture after lecture and book after book, I almost never encountered the word "divination" in relation to astrology.”
In a survey of 7 published dictionaries from the most reputable UK publishers (3 from my private collection and 4 from my local bookshop), 6 defined astrology as a study and 1 (the oldest) defined astrology as an art. None defined it as divination.
2. Divination is too contentious and misleading for a defining first sentence. The use of the term divination to define astrology is controversial as is evident from discussions on Wikipedia and within the astrological profession as per Cornelius’s comments. Given the many different interpretations in the discussion on Wikipedia, divination is also open to misunderstanding and confusion. On both counts WP is clear that the first paragraph should should define the topic from a neutral point of view WP:MOSBEGIN and that confusing and specialised terminology should be avoided in the introduction. WP:MOSINTRO Since there are alternative independently verified terms for astrology, why not use a term that is acceptable to all parties?
3. Divination is one of several models and is not the claim of most astrologers. Astrologers consider various models from the Hermetic Maxim (as above, so below), the Aristotelian spiritual physics with a prime mover, the Newtonian causal model and the Jung/Pauli synchronous accausal model are paradigms - which do not require supernatural forces. This is explained in the Wikipedia Astrology page under mechanisms.
4. Divination fails to address all branches of Astrology.
Many areas of astrology such as Natal Astrology, Psychological Astrology or Locational Astrology are not primarily about prediction or forecasting, though it is arguable that future potential represents a forecast. However some parts of astrology are either explicitly down to natural forces or do not involve any form of forecasting.
i. Natural astrology is the study of the correlation between natural phenomena such as the tides, weather (astro-meteorology), seismic activity and Solilunar and planetary cycles and sunspots. Like the tides which operate by resonance from gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon, natural astrology is not accounted for by supernatural forces even in the frontiers when the mechanism is fully known.
ii. Electional Astrology does not involve “foretelling future events or discovering hidden knowledge” as it requires an astrologer to select a date to launch a project.
iii. Historical astrology where astrologers analyze archetypal patterns in history in relation to astrological cycles. An example is the research of Professor Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche (2007).
iv. Rectification may not be a branch of astrology, but it is an important astrological technique. It involves calculating an unknown time of birth from known information about the life of the client.
5. The etymology and current use of divination could mislead. The origin of the word divination comes from Latin divinare to predict or be divinely inspired which comes from deus (god). While this applied in a polytheistic society like Babylon, astrology has had a long tradition of not being divinely inspired and many astrologers are agnostics or atheists. In this way, labelling an atheist astrologer as practitioner of divination is to assume that his or her beliefs are not valid. Though the meanings of words change from their origin, divine inspiration is still part of the definition in Chambers Dictionary. In addition, many of the dictionaries explicitly and implicitly associate divination with prediction, which does not reflect the full range of astrological practice and is therefore misleading as a catchall definition.
If astrology is defined as a study does it make a science? No, many fields like philosophy or theology are defined as a study and are not sciences.
^ Geoffrey Cornelius has practised and taught astrology for many years. He has been teaching courses on astrological and divinatory practice and theory at the University of Kent since 2003, and the subject of his Ph.D.is the hermeneutics of divination.
^ In a separate listing, the Encyclopedia Britannica also define the nature and signficance of astrology as a "method of predicting mundane events based upon ....".
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More Definitions of Astrology by experts:
"Modern astrology might be defined as the study of the movements of the Sun, Moon, and planets in relation to events on Earth, especially human personality and behavior; or, conversely, as the study of human affairs in relation to their cosmic environment. The central assumption of astrology is that the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the birth of an individual or the beginning of an enterprise are related in a significant and observable manner to the intrinsic character and later development of that individual or enterprise." Helen Weaver (translation) from Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology. Reference:- Brau, Jean-Louis, Helen Weaver, Allan Edmands, Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology. New York, New American Library, 1982.
"Astrology is both the study of the ways in which significance for life on earth is located in celestial objects and the resulting practices.“ Dr Nicholas Campion, A History of Western Astrology, 2008, Hambledon Continuum.
"In this book 'astrology' means the study of correlations between living organisms (especially man) and extraterrestrial phenomena. It does not mean Lucky Stars or similar absurdities masquerading under the same name. Astrology has been a respectable subject for millennia; hence today's popular misconceptions hardly justify terminological repeal." Dr Geoffrey Dean, Recent Advances in Natal Astrology, Analogic (1977). However, Dean's book also includes studies of natural astrology: earthquakes, sun spots, radio waves, climate.
"Astrology is the practice of relating the heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth, and the tradition that has thus been generated" Curry, Patrick, ‘Astrology’, in Boyd, Kelly (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Historians and Historical Writing, 2 Vols. London: Fitzroy Dearborn 1999, Vol. 1, pp 55-7 (p. 55)
What do online dictionaries/references say?
1. The study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs.
2. Obsolete Astronomy.
The study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs.
Obsolete. - answers.com
The study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world. oxforddictionaries.com
1. The study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs.
2. Obsolete. The science of astronomy.
The study of the movements and positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars, and the skill of describing the expected effect that some people believe these have on the character and behaviour of humans -
Update! April 2012
- Since this article was written, a group of anonymous editors who are consistently critical of astrology have pushed the following definition: "Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world.
" This is incorrect on several counts:
- While astrology may be a belief system for some people, this definition is undermined in the article by citing the (Carlson Test 1985) which shows that astrology can be tested. Falsification is by definition impossible with any system that is based on faith.
- Astrology is not limited to events. It can describe phenomena such as personality or potential or emotions or styles.
- Astrology is not confined to the human world. Natural astrology involves the study of animals, plants, seismic activity, climate and tides in relation to cosmic patterns.
- This is not widely supported by dictionary or encyclopedia definitions.