Hyperallergic: 'An Enchanting Visual History of Astrology'

Published 12 July 2021 in Insights

Hyperallegic

'An Enchanting Visual History of Astrology'

By Hakim Bishara

Hyperallergic - Books

Published 29 June 2021


Introduced in Mesopotamia some 2,500 years ago, astrology continues to fascinate poets, writers, and artists.


Paul Rumsey, "Astrologers" (2020) from Astrology. The Library of Esoterica (TASCHEN, 2021) (all images courtesy TASCHEN)

Since the dawn of humanity, cultures around the world have looked to the sky in search of meaning and a better understanding of the self. This cosmological fascination birthed astrology, the most ancient of all esoteric practices. Introduced in Mesopotamia some 2,500 years ago, it still holds its appeal, continuing to fascinate poets, writers, and artists. From its ancient origins as astronomy’s sister science to our current Age of Aquarius, astrology has been supported by a rich visual culture. This is the subject of 'Astrology', the second volume in TASCHEN’s 'Library of Esoterica'. The book delves deep into the visual language of astrology with 400 captivating images, from Egyptian temples and illuminated manuscripts to works by international contemporary artists.

Astrology. The Library of Esoterica (TASCHEN, 2021)

Written by Andrea Richards and edited by Jessica Hundley, the book begins with prehistorical celestial sightings found in the 20,000-year-old Lascaux Cave paintings in France. It continues with works of art from the Chaldeans of Babylonia, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Arabs. Modern and contemporary artists highlighted include Hilma af Klint, Alphonese Mucha, Arpita Singh, Manzel Bowman, Lu Hong, and many others. All of these works are arranged to mirror the movement of the planets and the wheel of the zodiac over the book’s 520 pages.

This volume of 'The Library of Esoterica' also features a foreword by the popular astrologer Susan Miller — whose website is visited by millions every month — and interviews with other astrologers like Robert Hand, Jessica Lanyadoo, and Mecca Woods.

For centuries, astrology was synonymous with astronomy: The King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid at Giza was built to align with constellations; Persian scholars created some of the first observatories; and even Galileo, the father of modern physics, cast horoscopes for the Medicis. With the advent of the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, astrology was cast out from science to literature and art, influencing the likes of William Blake and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

“Astrology, whether perceived as a science, an art, a psychological tool, or a mass folly, has resonance and relevance to humankind,” writes Richards in a preface to the book. “It has inspired worship as a divinatory practice, with its practitioners changing the course of historical events; it has altered our understanding of our deepest selves and human possibilities.”

The images in 'Astrology. The Library of Esoterica' are sequenced to mirror the wheel of the zodiac.

Immersed as we are in technology, astrology has seen a mainstream revival in recent years. With varying levels of belief, many of us remain drawn to the notion that the movement of celestial bodies could affect our terrestrial lives. Be it an outcome of these times of uncertainty or a way to cope with the angst of living, it’s clear that astrology gives us something that science and technological advancement can’t.

But for those who count on the stars to reveal their future to them, Miller includes an important reminder in her foreword: “This is a good time to mention that there is no fortune-telling or predestination in astrology, only influences that you can choose to take advantage of (or in the case of adverse aspects, prepare for) as they come up.”

Take a look at a few of the images from the book here.