Some Aspects of the History of Astrology in Estonia

Enn Kasak. Vőru

The present treatment is an essay rather than an analytical treatise. The title of the paper might give the wrong impression that the subject is ancient Estonian folk astrology. This is certainly a subject worth discussing, but at some other time. Here I would like to deliberate over the rise of astrology as a kind of new folk religion in Estonia, which has taken place just recently, under our very eyes. Unfortunately the introductory part of the paper must be quite extensive, but I hope I shall be able to touch upon the subject as well.

I am an astrophysicist, but my principal hobby is the history of cosmology, astronomy and astrology and the problems of interrelationship between cosmology and culture. At the present age of technocracy, though with the growing prestige of the humanities, people usually are not aware of the significance of the cosmological world view to culture, and vice versa. To give a rather commonplace and arbitrary example, the situation might be compared to the Olympic sprint, where the spectators see the weighty role of the stadium, but are not conscious of the fact that the stadium lies on the ground.

If we try to understand the great popularity of modern astrology, the relationship between humanities and sciences gives us a key. If a physicist with linguistic interests is approached by someone who has invented an impressive theory about the linguistic relationship between, say, the Sumerian, Japanese, and Estonian languages and illustrates it with vivid examples and analogues, it may sound quite convincing. Let us bring forward the problem: How can a man of sciences protect himself from the humanities' nonsense?

Let's go on a man of humanities is approached by a man (or woman) preaching the cosmic influence or the effect of esoteric energy fields on human body, psyche, spirit and fate He or she illustrates the theory with beautiful scenes, convincing stories and complicated calculations All that may also sound convincing Hence the problem How can a man of humanities protect himself from scientific nonsense?

Both problems can be solved if we find out what it is that protects a man of humanities from the nonsense of the humanities and a man of sciences from scientific absurdity The solution is in the technical terms If a scientific babbler talks about energy, a physicist sees that this individual applies the word "energy", a technical term in physics, in a totally wrong meaning The nonsense-man replies to his criticism, saying that the scientist is narrow-minded and cannot grasp new, expanded ideas about energy He calls for tolerance and wise consideration A humanitarian often cannot see the joke in this answer The joke begins, however, if we look what in the world of the humanities would correspond to the terminology of physics in the world of the sciences The answer is personal names For example, if a nonsense man of humanities says, "When Immanuel Kant left China in the 5th century VS and moved to India ", then, for some reason, a scholar of the humanities will also grow cynical and would know nothing about the expanded interpretation of Kant's biography So the solution to the problem is you can protect yourself from the nonsense when you make it clear to yourself what exactly the terms in the question mean.

I would not like to elaborate on why astrology seems to be, and perhaps sometimes is, very successful What I think important is that specialists in astronomy and the history of astronomy have long ago understood that astrology is not a science and therefore no astrologist has written a really good and thorough treatise on the history of astrology for centuries, with the exception of some writings concerning the history of culture (Boll 1926) (A little remark for fans of astrology that astrology is not a science does not mean that this field of human activity can be dismissed automatically).

I cannot ignore some very characteristic and significant moments in the early history of astrology Astrology began when people, especially in Mesopotamia, noticed that seasons were connected with the position of the fixed stars in the sky They drew the conclusion that if the movement of fixed stars determined the seasons and the level of water in the river, then wandering stars (ie the planets) should determine the fate of kingdoms and kings (Barton 1994) An astrologer could always talk himself out of a dangerous situation when it came to the interpretation of events, but his predictions of the movement of stars and planets had to be correct So, while in ancient physics knowledge was held true only as far as it corresponded to the investigator's idea about the world order, an astrologer had to be able to predict heavenly events and that was called salvation of the event (The term "salvation" itself is worth a whole treatise, it is not indisputable what it really means ) Anyway, it is clear that the concept of truth in ancient astrology was much closer to its contemporary meaning than in ancient physics (Newton 1978).

The greatest of ancient astrologers, Claude Ptolemy, has turned out to be one of the greatest falsifiers in science Why? He was, above all, an astrologer, his Almagest is probably only an introduction to his Tetrabiblos If so, facts cannot really be serious obstacles when seeking the truth This explains one of the reasons for the popularity of astrology - common sense (some antifemimsts call it female logic) The principal equation in common sense is if V follows from A, and if this V is pleasant, then A must be correct (Newton 1978).

It would be a shame if I would totally neglect folk astronomy and astrology Perhaps the most original star in the Estonian popular tradition is Kuusulane ('Servant of the Moon') It is a bright star beside the Moon When Kuusulane approaches the Moon, evil times are anticipated - the servant is looking for the master, when the star ebbs away from the Moon, good times are ahead - the master is looking for the servant Of course there is no such star, this role has been played by a number of bright stars that have been seen beside the Moon (Pruller 1968).

The following argument is based on observations rather than statistical analysis, and that is why this paper is rather an essay Under the influence of an euphoria of materialism young people of this century took an overbearing attitude to folk belief, considering it out-of-date This applied to folk astrology as well Between the World Wars astrology did not enjoy much popularity in Estonia, England was the only country where astrology survived in a considerable refined degree (Barton 1994) In the Soviet era astrology was forbidden and people's knowledge of it equalled to nothing There were a few fans but they were isolated from the rest of the world and mostly had to rely on their own knowledge. Men of culture used to go in for astrology secretly, partly from interest in subject itself, panly from the excitement of doing something illicit and as a protest to the prohibition. Then came the liberation and astrology was among other things that reached Estonia and came out from the underground (Kasak 1986).

In 1986 and 1987, astronomers published a number of articles against astrology, but this could in no way stop its upsurge. Astrology triumphed as the knowledge of especially wise and exceptionally broad-minded people. It was only very recently, and in parts still is, a common hobby among the pick of creative people, scholars of the humanities and mathematicians. A category of professionals emerged who made their living from astrology. The Society of Antiquarian Sciences and several astrological societies were founded. Astrologers were frequently transmitted on the radio and TV, practical handbooks were published (Paukson & Paukson 1990-1995).

From the beginning of the 90s astrology in Estonia became a hobby of the masses, and maybe for this very reason it is beginning to lose its hold over the elite of the cultured people, while among the masses astrology is continuing to gain ground. It has made its way to farmers, schoolteachers, and this year even into the most common school diary (Koolipäevik 1995). The fact that astrology is becoming principally a plebeian hobby signifies that Estonia is catching up with western countries; it is simply that the period of the revival of astrology was gone through at a quicker pace than in Europe and the USA (Eysenck & Nias 1988).

Since astrology gives instructions on how to live and, according to the so-called Barnum effect, functions as a psychotherapeutic remedy, there is a reason to believe that it will remain one of the most common folk beliefs in Estonia for a long time. One may find here fans as well as those who believe "just in case". It is very usual for somebody to introduce him/herself, saying, "Hello, I am a Virgo". Although astrology is also very popular in Russia, the Baltic states, Scandinavia and other European countries, the interest here is considerably deeper, as show the observations of my colleagues in Russia, Germany, Sweden and Finland. A good example is the case of an Estonian family of scientists moving to Uppsala three years ago. When they returned to Estonia later, after the first encounter with locals their children started to ask questions about astrology, because it turned out that they were the only children in the block who did not know their signs of the zodiac and their characteristics.

Of course, one may find several reasons for this - among other things, deteriorating economic situation and the feeling that there is not much that depends on oneself. Anybody who has just recently been a devotee of the religion of science finds it easier to believe something that reminds him of science; they also find things from popular beliefs of elderly people that are related to astrology. A man from the street lacks the most elementary competence for psychoanalysis. Many people want to know how the world really works, and at the same time their faith in the natural sciences has weakened - these are the very reasons that the communist regime used to justify its actions and experiments. The materialist euphoria has deprived people of their faith (Uus 1994). It is interesting to see how naive are the materialists who had not been able to easily accept older forms of folk belief and are now adapting their own knowledge of astrology to form a new one.

Since astrology came to Estonia suddenly and found a gap here which it could fill, it is a most interesting experiment. It is possible to study on very pure grounds, how a form of folk belief begins and develops. Today we could also observe how such things depend on the level of education, place of residence, mentality, gender, etc. When conducting such experiments, however, one of the problems is that the investigator may also be under the strong influence of astrology. Inquiries in the USA show that the character of those who believe in astrology really depends on horoscopes (Carlson 1985). I assume that if we study the distribution of astrology as a kind of folk belief in Estonia, it should give us very interesting information and conclusions for a general theory of the origin and nature of folk belief.

The present paper is meant to be a description of the current situation and an offer for co-operation. As an astronomer I am interested in finding a folklorist and a psychologist to join me in studying the phenomenon of modern astrology in Estonia and I hope that this material will give rise to a serious scientific paper at the next conference.

Translated by Kai Vassiljeva


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