Astrology as Heresy in Contemporary Belief


  • Garry Phillipson University of Wales Trinity Saint David



astrology, cosmologies, cultural understanding


Astrology has been characterised as a heresy by many Christian thinkers, from the time of the early Church Fathers to the present day. In contemporary discourse, astrology is often treated as if it were a heresy against science. I provide examples of astrologers being treated as heretics in the name of science, and an alternative conception of astrology as a form of divination, not dependent on scienti?c substantiation. I argue that the ‘astrology’ often criticised in the name of science may be de?ned as much by scientism’s need for a construction to de?ne itself against, as by the actual views of horoscopic astrologers. The emerging picture is that criticisms of astrology are typically based on a mixture of legitimate objections and scientistic belief. I conclude that scientism’s unspoken aspiration to orthodoxy emerges through the parallels between its approach to astrology and that of the Church.

Author Biography

Garry Phillipson, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Garry Phillipson, Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales.


Adorno, Theodor. 1994 [1974]. The Stars Down to Earth (London: Routledge).

Aldridge, Robert E. 1999. ‘The Lost Ending of the Didache’, Vigilae Christianae 53.1: 1-15. Doi:

Aquinas, Thomas. 1922. Summa Theologica Part 2.2, in The ‘Summa Theologica’ of St Thomas Aquinas, Part II, Second Part (trans. The Fathers of the English Dominican Province; London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne).

Armstrong, Karen. 2010. The Case for God: What Religion Really Means (London: Vintage).

Augustine of Hippo. 1873. Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel of John, in The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo—A New Translation Vol. X (trans. Marcus Dods; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).

Augustine of Hippo. 1887. Writings in Connection with the Donatist Controversy (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, IV—St Augustine: The Writings Against the Manichaeans, and Against the Donatists; ed. Philip Schaff; trans. J.R. King and Chester D. Hartranft; New York: Christian Literature Publishing).

Augustine of Hippo. 1984. Concerning the City of God against the Pagans (trans. Henry Bettenson; London: Penguin).

Augustine of Hippo. 1995. Arianism and Other Heresies, in The Works of Saint Augustine—A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. 18 (trans. R. Teske; New York: Hyde Park).

Beattie, Tina. 2007. The New Atheists: The Twilight of Religion and the War on Religion (London: Darton, Longman & Todd).

Berlinerblau, Jacques. 2001. ‘Towards a Sociology of Heresy, Orthodoxy, and Doxa’, History of Religions 40.4: 327-51. Doi:

Bird, Alison Gwendy. 2006. ‘Astrology in Education: An Ethnography’ (PhD diss., University of Sussex).

Bok, Bart J., and Lawrence E. Jerome. 1975. ‘Objections to Astrology’, in Bok, Jerome, and Kurtz 1975: 10.

Bok, Bart J., Lawrence E. Jerome, and Paul Kurtz. 1975. Objections to Astrology—A Statement by 192 Leading Scientists (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).

Campion, Nicholas. 2008. The Dawn of Astrology: A Cultural History of Western Astrology, Vol. 1: The Ancient and Classical Worlds (London: Continuum).

Campion, Nicholas. 2012a. Astrology and Cosmology in the World’s Religions (New York: New York University Press).

Campion, Nicholas. 2012b. Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West—Prophecy, Cosmology and the New Age Movement (Farnham: Ashgate).

Carlson, Shawn. 1985. ‘A Double Blind Test of Astrology’, Nature 318: 419-25. Doi:

Cassidy, Laurence L. 1994. ‘The Believing Christian as a Dedicated Astrologer’, Astrology Quarterly 64.3: 3-13.

Chapman, Geoffrey (trans.). 1999. Catechism of the Catholic Church (London: Burns & Oates, rev. edn).

Conkle, Daniel O. 1995. ‘Secular Fundamentalism, Religious Fundamentalism, and the Search for Truth in Contemporary America’, Journal of Law and Religion XII.2: 337-70. Doi:

Coogan, Michael D. 2010. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4th edn).

Cooper, Michael T. 2007. ‘New Testament Astral Portents: God’s Self-Disclosure in the Heavens’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 1.2: 189-209.

Cornelius, Geoffrey. 1998. ‘Is Astrology Divination and Does it Matter?’. Online:, originally published in The Mountain Astrologer 81 (Oct.–Nov. 1998).

Cross, F.L., and E.A. Livingstone. 1997. ‘Heresy’, in F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone (eds.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Catholic Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn): 758-59.

Cumont, Franz. 1912. Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons).

Currey, Robert. 2014. ‘Wikipedia Has Been Hijacked by “Guerilla Skeptics”! An Idealistic Project Is Infected with Systemic Bias’. Online:

Davies, Owen. 1999. Witchcraft, Magic and Culture: 1736–1951 (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

Dawkins, Richard. 1995. ‘The Real Romance in the Stars’, Independent on Sunday, 31 December: 17-18. Online:

Dawkins, Richard. 1996. ‘The Real Romance of the Stars’, The Astrological Journal 38.3: 135-41.

Dawkins, Richard. 1998. Unweaving the Rainbow (London: Allen Lane).

Dawkins, Richard. 2007. ‘Bible Belter’, The Times Literary Supplement, 5 September. Online:

Doe, Norman. 2013. Christian Law: Contemporary Principles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Ehrman, Bart D. (ed. & trans.). 2003. The Apostolic Fathers, Volume I (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Ertel, Suitbert. 2009. ‘Appraisal of Shawn Carlson’s Renowned Astrology Tests’, Journal of Scienti?c Exploration 23.2: 125-37.

Eysenck, H.J., and D.K.B. Nias. 1982. Astrology: Science or Superstition? (London: Maurice Temple Smith).

Feyerabend, Paul. 1975. ‘How to Defend Society Against Science’, Radical Philosophy 11: 3-8.

Feyerabend, Paul. 1978. Science in a Free Society (London: NLB).

Feyerabend, Paul. 1999. Knowledge, Science and Relativism—Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Fuller, Steve. 2007. Science vs Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Grayling, A.C. 2006. ‘Apparently it’s Emetic’, in ‘Letters’, London Review of Books 28.21, 2 November. Online:

Grothe, D.J. 2013. ‘Will You Join the Battle against Unreason?’. Online:

Hammer, Olav, and Kocku von Stuckrad. 2007. ‘Introduction: Western Esotericism and Polemics’, in Olav Hammer and Kocku von Stuckrad (eds.), Polemical Encounters—Esoteric Discourse and its Others (Leiden: E.J. Brill): vi-xxii.

Hegedus, Tim. 2007. Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology (Patristic Studies, 6; New York: Peter Lang).

Irenaeus of Lyons. 1992. St. Irenaeus of Lyons against the Heresies, Vol. 1 Book 1 (trans. Dominc J. Unger and John J. Dillon; New York: Newman Press).

Jerome. 2007 [1893]. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series: Vol. VI—Jerome: Letters and Select Works (ed. Philip Schaff and Rev. Henry Wallace; New York: Cosimo).

Kim, Young Richard. 2015. ‘The Transformation of Heresiology in the Panarion of Epiphanus of Cyprus’, in Geoffrey Greatrex, Hugh Elton, and Lucas McMahon (eds.), Shifting Genres in Late Antiquity (Farnham: Ashgate): 53-68.

Kurtz, Lester R. 1983. ‘The Politics of Heresy’, American Journal of Sociology 88.6: 1085-115. Doi:

Leach, Edmund R. 1968. ‘Ritual’, in D. Sills (ed.), International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 13 (New York: Macmillan): 520-26.

Mühlenberg, Ekkehard. 2001. ‘Heresies and Schisms’, in David B. Barrett, Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Mili? Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Lukas Vischer (eds.), The Encyclopaedia of Christianity, Vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill). Online:

O’Neill, Rebecca. 2014a. ‘Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia Project—a Discussion’. Online:

O’Neill, Rebecca. 2014b. ‘A Critique of Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW)—Part 2’. Online:

Oestmann, Günther, H. Darrel Rutkin, and Kocku von Stuckrad. 2005. ‘Introduction: Horoscopes and History’, in O. Günther, H. Oestmann, Darrel Rutkin, and Kocku von Stuckrad, Horoscopes and Public Spheres: Essays on the Historyof Astrology (Berlin: W. de Gruyter): 1-12. Doi:

Origen, 1911. The Philocalia of Origen (trans. George Lewis; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).

Phillipson, Garry. 2000. Astrology in the Year Zero (London: Flare).

Pierce, Jerry B. 2012. Poverty, Heresy and the Apocalypse: The Order of Apostles and Social Change in Medieval Italy 126–1307 (London: Bloomsbury Academic).

Polanyi, Michael. 1962. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (London: Routledge).

Popper, Karl. 1969. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scienti?c Knowledge (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 3rd edn).

Royalty, Robert M. 2013. The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity (New York: Routledge).

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. 1992. Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages: The Search for Legitimate Authority (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock).

Sagan, Carl. 1976. ‘Readers’ Forum’, The Humanist 36.1: 2.

Tertullian. 1987. Tertullianus, De Idololatria—Critical Text, Translation and Commentary (trans. J.H. Waszink, J.C.M. van Winden, and P.G. van der Nat; Leiden: Brill).

Tylor, Edward B. 1920. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art, and Custom, Vol. 1 (London: John Murray).

Versluis, Arthur. 2006. The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Williams, Richard N., and Daniel N. Robinson (eds.). 2015. The New Orthodoxy (London: Bloomsbury Academic).

Willis, Roy, and Patrick Curry. 2004. Astrology, Science and Culture—Pulling Down the Moon (Oxford: Berg).



How to Cite

Phillipson, G. (2019). Astrology as Heresy in Contemporary Belief. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 13(1), 12–30.