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Astrolatry refers to the worship of stars and other heavenly bodies as deities, or the association of deities with heavenly bodies. The most common instances of this are sun gods and moon gods in polytheistic systems worldwide. Also notable is the association of the planets with deities in Babylonian, and hence in Greco-Roman religion, viz. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The term astro-theology is used in the context of 18th to 19th century scholarship aiming at the discovery of the original religion, particularly primitive monotheism. In contradistinction to astrolatry, which unambiguously implies a polytheism frowned upon as idolatrous by Christian authors since Eusebius, astrotheology is any "religious system founded upon the observation of the heavens",[1] and as such may include monotheism.

Contents

Astrolatry

Babylonian astronomy from early times associates stars with deities, but the heavens as the residence of an anthropomorphic pantheon, and later of monotheistic God and his retinue of angels, is a later development, gradually replacing the notion of the pantheon residing or convening on the summit of high mountains. Sayce (1913) argues a parallelism of the "stellar theology" of Babylon and Egypt, both countries absorbing popular star-worship into the official pantheon of their respective state religions by identification of gods with stars or planets.[2]

Astrolatry does not appear to have been common in the Levant prior to the Iron Age, and becomes popular under Assyrian influence. The Sabaeans were notorious for their astrolatry, for which reason the practice is also known as "Sabaism" or "Sabaeanism". Similarly, the Chaldeans came to be seen as the prototypical astrologers and star-worshippers by the Greeks.

Astrology in the Hellenistic period grew out of Near Eastern and Egyptian practices of astrolatry. Mithraism was a Roman era mystery religion which incorporated many aspects of arcane astral lore derived from Hellenistic astrology.

Prohibition in Abrahamic religions

The Hebrew Bible contains repeated reference to astrolatry. Thus, Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3 contains a stern warning against worshipping the sun, moon, stars or any of the heavenly host. Relapse into worshipping the host of heaven, i.e. the stars, is said to have been the cause of the fall of the kingdom of Judah in II Kings 17:16. King Josiah in 621 BC is recorded as having abolished all kinds of idolatry in Judah, but astrolatry was continued in private (Zeph. 1:5; Jer. 8:2, 19:13). Ezekiel (8:16) describes sun-worship practiced in the court of the temple of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah (44:17) claims that even after the destruction of the temple, women in particular insisted on continuing their worship of the "queen of heaven".

Augustine of Hippo criticized sun- and star-worship in De Vera Religione (37.68) and De civitate Dei (5.1-8). Pope Leo the Great also denounced astrolatry, and the cult of Sol Invictus, which he contrasted with the Christian nativity.

The Qu'ran contains strong prohibitions against astrolatry, and Muhammad's prohibition of intercalation is also to be understood in the context of his aim to eradicate the astrolatry of Arabian paganism.

Astro-theology

Astrotheology is the study of the astrological origins of religion; how gods, godessess, and demons are personifications of astrological phenomena such as lunar elipses, planetary alignments, and apparent interactions of planetary bodies with stars. Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and the ancient Egyptian religions are examples of faiths derived from observations of the bodies on the celestial sphere. Examples of deities created as astrological allegories are Yahweh, Ra, Horus, Osiris, Mithras, Zoroaster, Helios, Apollo, Lugh, Quetzalcoatl, and Jesus.

The term astro-theology appears in the title of a 1714 work by William Derham, Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens based on the author's observations by means of "Mr. Huygens' Glass". Derham thought that the stars were openings in the firmament through which he thought he saw the Empyrean beyond.[3] The 1783 issue of The New Christian's magazine had an essay entitled Astro-theology which argued the "demonstration of sacred truths" from "a survey of heavenly bodies" in the sense of the watchmaker analogy. Higginson (1855) argues a compatibility of "Jewish Astro-theology" of the Hebrew Bible, which places God and his angelic hosts in the heavens, with a "Scientific Astro-theology" based on observation of the cosmos

The same term is used by Irvin, Maxwell and Rutajit (2006) in reference to "the earliest known forms of religion and nature worship", advocating the entheogen theory of the origin of religion.

References

  1. ^ OED, citing Derham (1714) as the first attestation of the term.
  2. ^ Archibald Henry Sayce, The religion of ancient Egypt, Adamant Media Corporation, 1913, 237f.
  3. ^ Michael J. Crowe, Modern theories of the universe: from Herschel to Hubble, Courier Dover Publications, 1994, ISBN 9780486278803, p. 67.
  • William Derham, Astro-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens, printed by W. and J. Innys, 1721
  • Jan Irvin, Jordan Maxwell, Andrew Rutajit, Astrotheology and Shamanism, Book Tree, 2006, ISBN 9781585091072.
  • Edward Higginson, Astro-theology; or, The religion of astronomy: four lectures, in reference to the controversy on the "Plurality of worlds," as lately sustained between Sir David Brewster and an essayist, E.T. Whitfield, 1855.

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