The term “lunacy” itself derives from beliefs in periodic influences of the Moon. As the shining beacon of the nocturnal sky, Earth’s satellite was thought to exert quite a pull on terrestrial affairs.
There is little evidence that the Moon has driven anyone mad, or induced anyone to sprout extra facial hair. Yet, especially for those attuned to the rhythms of the sea, it clearly exerts a pull on many lives. For those who earn their living hauling in lobsters from the Bay of Fundy off the coast of maritime Canada, each working day is shaped by lunar forces. Amid some of the highest tides in the world, one could not help but concede that the sandstone of human destiny is carved by heavenly guided waters.
Today we distinguish between scientific forces and spiritual influences. To the ancients this distinction was not so clear. Early astronomers did double duty, serving both to record the positions of the celestial spheres and to apply this information for astrological forecasts. Their expertise in predicting eclipses, planetary conjunctions, and other celestial events, as well as offering critical navigational knowledge, earned them the mantel of exalted prophets.
Even as late as the 16th century, many scientific researchers, such as the German mathematician Johannes Kepler, sold horoscopes on the side for extra income. Kepler, in his first astrological calendar, proudly predicted a cold spell and a Turkish invasion of Styria (now Austria). Not only did he peddle forecasts, he deeply believed that they offered special insight into the determinants of human character. He once wrote that his father was “vicious, inflexible, quarrelsome and doomed to a bad end” because of the clashing influences of Venus and Mars.
How did the heavenly orbs set the pace of their own motions and influence the course of earthly events? Kepler originally thought this happened because the planets somehow possessed minds of their own. However, after he developed a clearer understanding of celestial mechanics, he realized this could not be the case. “Once I firmly believed that the motive force of a planet was a soul,” he wrote. “Yet as I reflected, just as the light of the Sun diminishes in proportion to