Friday, May 30, 2008

Astra Inclinant, Non Necessitant

Early this week, somebody popped up with the idea that some of us should write an article about one particular theme and post it on Friday. Lady Tam, Stingray, Labrat, and Marko have their posts up, as does the originator of this theme, MattG.

Unfortunately, AD's new job has stomped a mudhole in his Muse's butt and walked it dry. Ah, well.

I guess I can't let the team down, so let's make with the brainstorming on astrology!

Ahem:

Way back when dirt was still new -- despite what Hollywood will tell you -- ol Thag and Og didn't have wristwatches. Worse still, there wasn't exactly a corner bookstore to pop into for the grabbing of a handy calendar.

Without a calendar one day looks very much like the next -- especially if any change from day to day is veeerrrryyyy slow and minute. This leads to such faux pas as planting your last remaining kernels of wheat on the first warm day of the year -- not realizing that said day is actually Jan 2.

So, here's Thag and Og, embracing the suck, when one of them (probably Og, he always struck me as the smarter of the two) noticed that when the sun came up over the horizon about where that cluster of sparkly bits that looked a lot like Nog kissing a woolly mammoth hung out -- well, it didn't get any colder after that. And you could plant things and not have them freeze!

This led to two traits of the human personality that are so widespread I firmly believe that they are encoded in human DNA:

1) The urge to help his fellow anthropoids ... by telling them
when the best time for planting that precious store of wheat -- to tremendous agricultural success -- co-existing with;

2) The realization that Knowledge. Is. Power
-- and not spilling the beans on how he knew this arcane knowledge.

As soon as everyone figures out that the Ogster was jolly well right -- well Ol' Og had it made in the shade. Everyone who planted anything gave him a little off the top to keep him happy and to keep the knowledge flowing -- and Og was rolling in profit without having to actually do very darned much of anything.

I'm betting that one of Og's litter was probably the one who noticed that other significant times of the year could be predicted by keeping the old hairy eyeball on the Sun and seeing which group of stars it was rising in -- as far back as 2,000 BC.

Folks are seeing Og IXth and boy howdy, does he know everything. When to plant. When to harvest. When the first snows are due. When the river will flood. When the herds start migrating. You need to know the stuff that will keep the tribe fed (and tribal leaders out of the stew-pot) you go to Og the Ninth, slip him a little somethin' somethin' -- a rabbit, a new pot, a stylin' hat -- he goes and stares at the stars for a while, next day he gives you the info.

And thus religion is born.

Well, the stars -- being up so high and all -- they must see everything. They must know more than Oggy asks for, so sooner or later someone comes up to Og the Ninth and asks him something that has absolutely nothing -- at all -- to do with the calendar. Do the stars know if that cute little Cro-Magnon in the rabbit bikini likes me? Do the stars know if Thag the 14th is mine, or does he belong to the mammoth milk man? Do the stars know if I'm going to get eaten by a sabretooth tomorrow?

Now, Og's ninth great-grandson may not have answered a question of this nature the first time -- ethics were making some kind of appearance about that time -- so the hopeful askee probably went away then came back with double the offering. And maybe sweetened it with a bit of that shiny yellow metal from the river. And Oggy says, "Oh, what the hell" and slings together some bushwa star reading to earn the dosh and make the sucker petitioner feel better about things.

Next thing you know, Og 9 is making a hell of a lot more from the bushwa side readings as he is from the legitimate stuff. Enough so that the Ogster hauls off and hires a couple of likely-looking rascals acolytes, trains them in the business -- just to keep up with demand, you understand -- and next thing you know, astrology is every-bloody-where.

Astrology really hits its stride during the Babylonian era, when you couldn't even blow your nose without having a star-chart read to make sure your brains weren't going to depart your head by way of a sinus.

Well, the Egyptian priests noticed that their Babylonian brethren were raking in the moolah and they decided to hop onto this whole "star-chart thingummy" -- which jumped their whole "power and influence" thing a good bit -- enough to get the attention of those little Greek buggers.

And things just kind of exploded from there.

Once the Greeks had astrology, they spread it thick and far amongst the nations on the shores of the Med. Any place that didn't whole-heartedly embrace the Greek idea of divination by way of the stars, got the whole concept rammed down their throats by the Greek-worshipping Romans and their
very efficient legions.

The Greeks and Romans codified the art of astrology and attempted to turn it into a half-arsed science, managing to spread it to the Indian sub-continent and then back to a very young, very vibrant Islamic Empire in the 7th Century.

European interest in astrology declined severely prior to the 1700's until the late 1800's - early 1900's when astrology became seen as a mysterious, naughty bit of occultism -- achieving its current height of popularity in the 1930's -- when Og's ggggggg-great grandchild discovered that you can still make a nice bit of dosh in the old family business (if you sell to newspapers or buy a 1-900 number).

Voila! A quick and dirty Guide To The History of Astrology!

LawDog

19 comments:

karrde said...

Quick and dirty, alright.

I remember reading this book about astrology that tried to make something (about human history) out of the fact that the astrological signs were pretty much the same all over. From China to Rome, and possibly in the astrology/astronomy of the ancient Mayans, everyone had pretty much the same groupings of stars, with similar images and name-meanings for the constellations and stars.

That book was long on claims and short on evidence. (It might even have been a reprint from the 19th Century, when astrology became enticing at about the same time that upper-class people began holding seances and seeking strange Eastern mystics...)

karrde said...

One more quick note: love the title.

Rogue Medic said...

If only real science had paid a bit better, we might have an educated bunch of people in the populace. Possibly people with some common sense.

Stingray said...

Rogue Medic: As it turns out, Real Science pays *quite* well. While I'm not, unfortunately, one of the exceptionally compensated, it remains fact that Los Alamos is not only home to one of the greatest concentrations of PhDs in Real Science in the world to staff the local national lab, but also one of the highest-average-salary counties in the entire US because of that fact. For a perhaps star-ordained coincidence, our local news rag was just going on about this very phenomenon the other day.

Unfortunately, this unique set of circumstance makes them generally no better than average when it comes to matters outside their field of choice, and interestingly on average somewhat *worse* in the common sense department. The local term is "conehead," for they have roughly the same grace, social skills, and plain common sense as the character Dan Akroyd made famous.

As the lovely LabRat is prone to noting, if that much of your brain is wrapped up in field theory, there simply isn't that much left over to worry about driving, crossing the street safely, or making sure your trousers are properly fastened before leaving the house.

Rogue Medic said...

stingray,

I guess it was a poor choice of words. I do know that real science can pay very well. But there is all of that work to do to get there. Pseudo-science only requires a passing familiarity with impressive words and a lot of charisma. For what it is, there should not be any pay.

We still have people playing the lottery almost everywhere, but have only isolated places where other gambling can take place. People just do not understand probability.

People feel comfortable criticizing science, yet they are not able to understand the things they criticize. They see theories change and do not realize that these are inevitable responses to increases in information. They do not understand how to evaluate science, so they just lump it all in the same category as other things they do not understand - the pseudoscientific ideas long ago discarded by science.

If we had better teachers and less test based teaching, maybe we could interest more people in following a career in the real sciences.

Stingray said...

Amen to that, RM. But while we're looking for these teachers, can we please get someone in here to teach the coneheads some common sense? ;)

Harrison said...

"...little Greek buggers..." Hahahahahahaha!

Tennessee Budd said...

Harrison, I think you're thinking of "little Greek buggerers. But good catch.
LD, sounds as plausible as any other explanation.

Benny of Lubbock said...

Everything I ever needed to know about astrology and religion I found in Zeitgeist part one. Parts two and three might be of interest to you as well, though part one is the only one currently on topic.

www.zeitgeistmovie.com

It's two hours long and doesn't brook much in the way of interuptions, meaning it would probably be best if you made sure your life was in a lull and planing to stay that way for the next couple of hours before starting it up.

Also, there's a reading at the beginning which can be safely skipped if one needs to get to the substance to prevent bordom.

Hope you enjoy,
Benny

Vera said...

Oh my gosh! I posted on a message board (TFL) a looooong long time ago, and I remember LOVING your stories and thinking you should write a book... I just saw your blog show up on someone else's blog and thought "I wonder if that's..." and it IS!! Yay! You're in my bookmarks now :)

Michael Llaneza said...

Like I told Mom, "He really has the history of religion nailed down tight."

But don't underrate the sheer magnitude of a project that obtains astronomical observations accurate on a scale of millenia with nothing more than the naked eye and observatories carved with great precision, with *bronze* tools out of Big Honking Huge Blocks Of Granite.

If you know anybody who works with stone, ask them how they'd like to carve blocks of granite with nothing more sophisticated than bronze, wood, fibre ropes, water and sand for tools.

Anonymous said...

Michael--

But the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by time-traveling Nazis in flying saucers!

It's true! My astrologer told me!

Word verification: ciqxuqmq. The sound I made when she told me that crap.

DeDog.

Anonymous said...

Scorpio. Whoo-hoo-hoo!
LawMom

Joseph said...

"Embracing the suck"? We need to form a list of 'Dogisms.

Rogue Medic said...

Stingray,

Teaching common sense is more difficult than herding cats. Teaching the scientific method is only slightly less difficult. :-)

Anonymous,

If Nazis could time travel they would have won the war. But, maybe none of them have seen Groundhog Day. :-)

fuzzys dad said...

Great story Dog.Keep them coming.

Kelly(Mom of 6) said...

Scorpio...me too..haha! That was a good one...a nice break from all the gloom in the world...

Akatsukami said...

"I remember reading this book about astrology that tried to make something (about human history) out of the fact that the astrological signs were pretty much the same all over. From China to Rome, and possibly in the astrology/astronomy of the ancient Mayans, everyone had pretty much the same groupings of stars, with similar images and name-meanings for the constellations and stars."

By no means entirely true (research the Chinese zodiac). To the extent that is true, it's more of a demonstration of the Weak Anthropic Principle than anything else. The ecliptic and the number of moon phases per solar year are the same whether one is in Rome, Xian, or Chichen Itza. Once you accept those constraints, the number of zodiacs you can come up with is depressingly small.

Rick R. said...

Joseph,

"Embracing the suck" is less a Dogism than a Gruntism.

It's a multistep process. . . example:

"The suck" -- it has started raining.

"The suck has arrived" -- that first drop of cold rainwater has just rolled down your collar, down your back, and now your nether regios are squelchy.

"Embracing the suck" -- you're already as wet as you're gonna get, so you stand there like a log, even though shelter may be but yards away.