What's the Difference Between Astrology and Astronomy?: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Sep 16, 2019

As the slowest-moving of the naked-eye planets, Saturn marked the boundary of time in ancient astrological tradition, rather like boulders at the shore, steadfast, reliable, only changing over long slow periods of time.

The planet Saturn resumes direct motion on Wednesday this week, after nearly five months in apparent retrograde, or westward, motion. Saturn appears to make a retrograde every year, and since it’s the slowest moving of the naked-eye planets, ancient astrologers always associated Saturn with the boundaries of time.

Saturn was regarded by the ancient Romans as the guardian god of the Golden Age, when it was believed that human beings lived in a state of innocence and happiness, free from toil, and illness. There were no laws because there was no violence or war. Life was lived in an everlasting springtime, because there was Saturn, guarding the boundary.

This idea about the guardianship of the gods from their abodes in the celestial spheres changed during the scientific revolution of the 15th century, when knowing the stars according to ‘astrology’ gave way to the ‘astronomy’ of the newer age.

So what’s the difference between astrology and astronomy? Astrology refers to the ‘astro-logos’ or star word, that the ancients experienced in the movements of planets and stars around the Earth. They regarded this motion as the language used by the divine in order to guide humanity.

The 'astro-nomia' of the scientific revolution concerned itself not with divine spiritual beings, but with the physical properties of celestial objects, and things like gravitational force or the distance of objects and the speed of light, and our physical, rather than spiritual, origins.

And still, there’s Saturn, marking the visible boundary of it all. Catch the planet near the handle of the Sagittarius teapot this week, especially when it begins to move toward the east again on Wednesday.