The Dark And Twisted Origins of Psychics And Astrology


Clay Arnold

Various symbols that have garnered similar connotations surrounding the world of astrology and psychic mediums

Clay Arnold, Editor

The twenty-first century has showcased a huge increase in astrological trends and fads. Nowadays everybody has an obsession with astrology and star charts. More than 90% of the adult population knows their zodiac sign but do not say they know much about astrology as a whole. You may hear this and think “ how did this come to be?” or “Where do psychics play into this?” after seeing this article’s title. To answer these questions we must start at the beginning, the very beginning. In 2000 BCE, the same year math was invented, prehistoric humans mapped where stars were and marked lunar phases with rock and bone tools. By 1200 BCE the people of Sumer,(modern-day Iraq) and Syria began to note the movement of planets and stars. Sumerians are credited with many early advancements in agriculture, mathematics, and astronomy. Next, the Babylonians came up with the first astrological system over thousands of years. This system theorized that the position of planets, stars, and moon at the time of a person’s birth helped determine their personality and influence the course of their life. To analyze this, horoscope charts were introduced. The oldest known horoscope chart dates back to 410 BCE. Similarly, the Babylonians created the zodiac wheel in 700 BCE. The presence of astrology is seen throughout ancient cultures such as the Chinese, the Mayans, and the Polynesians. There are also theories that Stonehenge was used to follow the sun and moon. Astrology was also used for navigation, calendar creation and even predicting the weather. The information gathered assisted in agriculture and migration. In some cases, astrology served as a key component of survival. 

In 331 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the Babylonians, leaving the Greeks in control of further developing astrology. They are credited with naming the planets and the twelve zodiac signs. The word “ zodiac” comes from the Greek language. No conversation regarding Greek astrology would be complete without the Oracle of Delphi. This is where psychics come into play. Oracles were what we know today as psychics. While they are not the same as astrologers, they are both known for their predictions. People would come from far and wide for advice from an oracle. Some say the Oracle of Delphi was similar to a telephone psychic like we used to see in recent decades. As Christianity began to spread, the Oracle’s popularity and credibility decreased. 

Fast forward to the 1500s. By this time, astrology has become mostly mainstream. Universities had astrology chairs, royal courts had personal astrologers, and even the pope had his charts read. Astrology was so popular that Paris, France had over 30,000 astrologers. One of the most famous astrologers of all time would be Michel de Nostredame or Nostradamus. He was born in France in 1503. In addition to his work in astrology, he was a doctor. At the time, a requirement for a medical degree was the study of astrology/ astronomy. Since astrologers believed that planets influenced people’s health and personality, they linked this with their medical practices. Nostradamus was well respected among his ranks and wrote a very respected almanac for the year 1550 that got him high attention from wealthy members of society. Even the Queen of France consulted him and had him create charts for her children. Nostradamus may be most well known for his book, “Les Propheties” which contains 942 poems predicting the future using astrology. This book has been in print almost consistently since his death in 1566. Many credit Nostradamus with predicting the death of Henry II, the French Revolution, the rise of Hitler, and even the 9/11 attacks. However, many academics claim these predictions were based on incorrect interpretations or total inaccuracies. 

One of Nostradamus’s predecessors was none other than Nicolaus Copernicus. He played a significant role in advancing modern science. He is even known as the father of modern astronomy. Copernicus was born on February 19th, 1473 in what we now call Poland. His parents were wealthy copper merchants but he was mainly raised by his uncle. Copernicus was trained in law and medicine but was more interested in math and stars. His claim to fame was reimagining the solar system and his work led to advances by Galileo and Kepler. One may say all this reimagining may change people’s view of astrology, but its impact had no change on preexisting beliefs. 

Previously Johannes Kepler was mentioned. He was born on December 27th, 1571. His mother, Katharina Kepler, was a supposed witch. Johannes received a scholarship to study theology where he began learning the theories of Copernicus. These ideas led him to give up his current studies to pursue math and astrology. He went on to popularize Copernicus’s view on the solar system and many other astronomical advancements. Johannes is known as the last major astrologer/ astronomer. He wrote multiple books regarding his view of heavenly occurrences having an impact on what happened on earth. Along with his astrological work, he was a practicing seer. Over a thousand horoscopes he wrote still exist today. Johannes made numerous predictions and to the surprise of many, several of them were quite accurate. He predicted an awful cold spell, a peasant uprising, and even the Turkish Invasion. This brought him lots of notoriety but not all with psychic and astronomical abilities were treated equally. Kepler’s mother was placed in jail for sharing his interest in astrology. As previously mentioned she was considered to be a witch. 

Katharina Kepler was born in Germany in 1546 and raised by her aunt. It is thought to be this aunt is the origin of Katharina’s witchcraft since the aunt herself was burned at the stake for also being a witch. Katharina had four children including Johannes. She made a living as a so-called “Wise Woman”. In other words, she made herbal potions, spells, and charms. One may say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, except for Johannes having the prestige of a renowned university behind him. Katharina on the other hand had a somewhat bad reputation. During this time, thousands of people were rounded up and accused of witchcraft. Of course, the accused were typically poor, outsiders, mentally ill, assault survivors, or in some other way, an easy target. Single women and widows were especially targeted. Katharina was nearly 0 years old and with her husband long gone she was free to express herself in a rather impolite manner. So it is no surprise that she was swept up in her own accusations. Her case went on for six years while Johannes worked tirelessly to defend her. This damaged his reputation and career but he was able to have her released from prison. Unfortunately, she was banished from their town and died six months later. A few years after, Johannes died with his work lasting to our present day. 

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a shift known as the age of enlightenment is brought along. Science and logic began to overshadow superstition. This point in history is when astrology and astronomy are separated. With the superstitious nature of astrology gaining a dirty reputation, the enlightenment died down at the end of the eighteenth century. This led to an era of spiritualism. On March thirty-first, 1948, came the birth of spiritualism, a movement that supported communicating with the deceased. This came with the introduction of mediums who were known as experts in talking to the dead. While this may seem unorthodox but by the end of that century, it is estimated that 4-7 million people in the US were spiritualists. 

Spiritualism may seem unrelated to astrology but they surely tie together. Spiritualistic ideas evolved from two eighteenth-century Europeans. While they weren’t exactly psychics or astrologers but their ideas led to them gaining immense respect from those communities. The first of which is an Austrian doctor named Franz Anton Mesmer who put patients into a hypnotic state called “Mesmerized”. The word mesmerizing indeed is a product of his work. In this state, he would “rebalance their magnetic fluid”.  Mesmer theorized that an invisible fluid connected everything in the universe and if it becomes imbalanced in the body one could become ill. This idea was originally known as animal gravitation. Over time the term was changed to animal magnetism. Indeed, Mesmer is responsible for two very famous terms used today.

Meanwhile, Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher, and mystic were developing his theory of an afterlife with multiple levels; three heavens, three hells, and an interim level. His reason for having three of each afterlife was simply based on the idea that there were too many souls in existence for one afterlife. As for the interim level, a world of the spirits was where people went following death. It was similar to limbo. 

These two men’s ideas were unified by a man named Andrew Jackson Davis. He combined their ideas into what is now known as spiritualism. He claimed Emanuel spoke to him from beyond during mesmerization and wrote these conversations down in order to publish in 1847. He claimed, “Spirits commune with one another while one is in the body and the other is in the higher spheres.” 

Two sisters who best embody these ideas are 14-year-old, Margaretta and 11-year-old Catherine Fox. Maggie ( Margaretta ) and Kate ( Katherine ) were the daughters of John D. Fox and Margaret Fox. the home they lived in reportedly had “ nightly Knocking on the walls and furniture” which they claimed were the sounds of a murdered peddler who had been buried in the cellar. Others say it was a Fox sister playing tricks on her superstitious mother. They successfully convinced their mother that the sounds were actually otherworldly. Soon word spread about the alleged haunting and people would swarm the house to see for themselves. For their safety, Maggie and Kate were sent to live with their sister. This decision led to Maggie and Kate exposing their alleged abilities to speak with the dead. A story floated around Rochester, Pennsylvania that the sisters were in touch with a man who had been murdered five years earlier. Soon people wanted a demonstration proving their ability. 400 guests gathered to witness the sisters communicate with the deceased daughter of a prominent couple in town. Many claimed to hear otherworldly sounds yet stayed skeptical. After a search for anything that would have helped fool their audience and nothing was found. Regardless of what you believe, the sisters became a huge phenomenon and quite famous. One of their biggest supporters was none other than Mary Todd Lincoln who had recently lost a son to typhoid fever. When she heard of the sisters she immediately began holding seances at the white house. People came from far and wide just to get a site of what the Fox sisters were able to do. 

Of course, there will always be a naysayer. One of the biggest skeptics the sisters had was a man named Elisha Kent Kane who admired Maggie heavily. In 1856 he convinced Maggie to give up her spiritualist ways in order to marry him in the catholic church. Sadly, he died shortly into the marriage but she continued her conversion to Catholicism. With her husband gone, Maggie still kept her distance from spiritualism and began drinking. Kate on the other hand married a fellow spiritualist who allowed her to fine-tune her faith. One could say that in the world of spiritualism, Kate was a trailblazer. She was known to have been able to transcribe her conversations with spirits for others to read. Many reported she could hold a blank card and have words from a spirit miraculously appear. 

The popularity soared during the civil war because so many people had lost loved ones and were desperate to have more time with them in any way they could. By this point, Kate had moved on to conjuring fully formed ghosts on stage. In other words, she upped her performance. Spiritualism spread to the UK where Kate took people there by storm as well. Soon though, Kate followed in her sister’s footsteps and turned to the drink. The two’s older sister, Leah made a comfortable life with the money made from the practice. She married a wall street businessman and seemed to have everything she wanted. Things took a turn on October 21st, 1888. The New York World newspaper posted a scandalous interview with none other than Maggie fox. In her frustration with her sister and other psychics for accusing Kate of being an unfit mother,  she accused Leah of exploiting her younger sisters and called spiritualism a fraud. She exposed the tactics she and Kate used to fool everyone. Two years later Leah died and Kate soon followed. Maggie died eight months after Kate. 

Spiritualism did not die with the Fox sisters. In fact, it thrived. Many high-profile people supported its theories. Even the Nobel Prize winner, William Butler Yeats, and Carl Jung, a visionary psychologist, used aspects of it in their work. Part of spiritualism’s legacy is the presence of horoscopes in newspapers and fortune tellers became more prominent. This age also has the credit of labeling psychics and mystics as frauds, thanks to the fox sisters. 

There was one many so determined to prove that spiritualism was false that many claim it is what led him to his demise. Erik Weisz, better known as Harry Houdini was born on March 24th, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. His family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin when he was four.  His mother died from a stroke, leaving him in a downward spiral. He consulted mediums and attempted to communicate with his mother through seances. These attempts failed, leading him to attempt to debunk and even criminalize psychics. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the “Sherlock Holmes” series, had a very public disagreement with Houdini about communicating with the dead. Arthur and Houdini were friends even though Arthur was a spiritualist. Things took a turn between the two when Arthur’s wife claimed to have communicated with Houdini’s mother. Houdini accused her of lying because the message she relayed was in English whereas Houdini’s mother did not speak English. Though Arthur claimed mediums received messages in the language they speak, Houdini was already convinced. While Arthur tried to promote spiritualism, Houdini dedicated his efforts to take it and Arthur down. 

In 1924, Arthur partnered with “Scientific American”, a popular magazine that sponsored a contest offering a cash prize to anyone who could prove their medium abilities. Arthur chose to partner with this magazine because it was known to debunk myths. This was when a popular medium named Margery Crandon took up the challenge. Reportedly, people placed their faith in her abilities so much that if she was faking then she would have to be a magician on the order of Houdini himself. As a member of the jury on this contest, Houdini feared his influence would not be enough to persuade a favorable decision. He even wrote a 40-page treatise titled “ Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used By Boston Medium Margery”. Harry Houdini got his way and Margery did not win the cash prize. For the next few years, Houdini added a bit to his act devoted to disproving Margery and other spiritualists. He even gave his audience a pamphlet exposing all of Margery’s Tricks. Over thirty-five years, Houdini went after hundreds of spiritualists. 

Many suspect this was a strategy to attract more attention to his acts and eliminate competition. He even testified before a congressional subcommittee in 1926 about the “ evils of psychics, astrologers, and mediums”. This was in attempts to criminalize spiritualistic practices. Many find it so interesting how one of the world’s most famous magicians was dedicated to eliminating spiritualism. After four days of court proceedings and brutal fights during recess, most people sided with psychics and mediums under the idea that Houdini was simply being overdramatic. While his efforts were a failure, Houdini severely tarnished the reputation of spiritualism. Only six months after testifying, Houdini died. Funny enough, a woman who testified against him as a medium, predicted his death during the hearing. This led to rumors saying that psychics had a hand in his death but those did not go far. 

A few years after Houdini’s Death, some research came out supporting the idea that someone’s health is impacted by when they were born. Allegedly, when we are born will determine the likelihood of us getting certain diseases such as schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Bipolar disorder, and even type 1 diabetes. Over 200 studies since then have reiterated these findings, including one from 2003 that considered over 86 million births from 27 different regions. While some consider this to be a seasonal affective disorder, many say that astrology itself shows through in the form of that. 

One surprising believer in all things astrology was none other than Adolf Hitler. He consulted the most famous astrologer of the time, Erik Jan Hanussen. Between 1932 and 1933, Hitler consulted Hanussen. Hanussen predicted success for Hitler and as a Jewish man himself, Erik likely was attempting to keep himself safe by encouraging Hitler’s plan. Sadly, when Hitler found out Erik was Jewish, he had him killed.

Since then, psychics and astrologers have had a steady stream of relevance in pop culture and media reception. There was a slight spike in popularity during the new age movement of the 60s and 70s. In the 80s the pentagon spent a large cut of its budget to explore the paranormal and in the 90s, television psychics became extremely popular. One of the most famous was Youree Dell Harris, or as she was more widely known, Miss Cleo.  Many first ladies have been known to consult mediums and astrologers. In addition to Mary Todd Lincoln, Edith Wilson, and Nancy Reagan consulted psychics for personal advice. Some report that Nancy Reagan even kept a psychic on the payroll. 

A large theme among the Spiritualists and psychic community is the most famous of each group being the biggest frauds. Perhaps that is because the most legitimate and gifted mediums and psychics prefer to stay anonymous. If there was no proof or evidence to back up their claims then why are psychics regularly consulted by law enforcement? Many propose that the only hindrance to psychics and astrologers is their lack of support and if we provided them with the same faith we do with other lines of work such as science and mathematics then they would be more able and willing to provide their services. Provided this would mean they do possess the ability to see past our predetermined laws of natural science.