Astrology in Early Modern Scotland ca. 1560-1726
Ridder-Patrick, Janet Harkness
Patrick, Janet Harkness Ridder
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Over the last generation scholars have demonstrated the fundamental importance of astrology in the early modern European worldview. While detailed studies have been undertaken of England and many areas of continental Europe, the Scottish experience has been almost completely overlooked. This thesis seeks to address that gap in the literature and recover a lost dimension of early modern Scottish intellectual life, one that was central and influential for a considerable period of time. The thesis examines the place of, and perceptions about, astrology in Scotland ca. 1560-1726. It demonstrates that despite well-worn arguments against it on theological, theoretical, moral-psychological and effectiveness grounds, astrology was largely accepted throughout all sectors of Scottish society until at least the final quarter of the seventeenth century. Opportunities to learn about it were widespread after the Reformation. As evidenced by student notebooks, it was taught in all of the universities, whose library contents reflect the subject's importance, and it was readily available to a large proportion of the populace through almanacs and other popular literature. Its uses, too, were widespread and various. Medical practitioners, both qualified and non-qualified, drew on it as a diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic guide and natural philosophers used it to ponder the phenomena and cycles of nature and human chronology. For those involved in negotiating the environment it was an aid to the timing of activities, while individuals interested in predicting future events and conditions could attempt to do so using the rather more suspect judicial astrology. By the last two decades of the seventeenth century, however, astrology was losing credibility among the educated, and the thesis examines and evaluates the factors that contributed to this, which include the ousting of scholasticism from academia by new approaches to understanding the natural world, the increasingly tainted image of the astrologer and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of subjecting astrology to the new experimental methods of the virtuosi.