A research conducted while living in Washington D.C.
Capital cities reflect the spirit and the history of a country and Washington, DC is no exception. Considering that it bears the name of a man profoundly linked with the independence of the United States and later its first President, perhaps it reveals even more of the spirit, history and condition of the early years of the new country than any other capital.
Washington, DC has in its official buildings, monuments, street architecture an unusual number of Zodiacs and other esoteric signs. More than twenty Zodiacs and numerous references, symbolic and explicit, to fixed stars, constellations, mythological gods and goddesses adorn the city [i]. They date from the founding of Washington in 1791 to 20th century additions. The abundance of the symbols, some more prominently displayed than others, raises the questions: “Why do they appear? What was their function? Is their choice driven only by mystical cosmology or aesthetically defined decorations? Or does it tell a story of the impact of astrology?
The purpose of this paper is to answer the question “was there a connection between astrology and the founding of the United States?”
In order to attempt to answer this question, the condition of astrology in late 17th and 18th century colonial America will be explored in the first place. Then some biographic information on selected participants of the Continental Congress as it relates to their interest in astrology and other forms of esoteric knowledge will be researched. Finally the circumstances surrounding the election of dates and times for specific events in the early United States history will be analyzed as they might reveal knowledge or consideration of astrology. The facts and the hypothesis and deductions drawn from those areas will determine the conclusion.
II – ASTROLOGY AND THE FOUNDING OF THE UNITED STATES
1. Astrology in colonial America
With the advent of the scientific revolution astrology suffered a decline in popularity in the 17th century. Advances in mathematics, empirical method and causal determinism, a heliocentric view of the cosmos contributed to that lowering of status. Roughly at the same time religious attitudes turned sharply against astrology and consequently Universities discontinued its teaching, concentrating on astronomy, physics and other sciences.
On the eve of the 18th century astrologers were few in number in Western Europe and Britain and operated underground. A letter from one Oxford astrologer to another written in 1680 comments on this state of affairs “But do you hear the news from Alma Mater. All Astrology must be banished, and that also, as it shall not so much as find room in the imaginations of men”[ii] . Concurrently with astrology’s loss of popularity in learned circles, and possibly to fulfill the need for a connection to Spirit and kindle “the imagination of men”, esoteric groups such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucian and the teachings of alchemy, numerology and the kabala were blossoming.
These semi secret societies such as the Freemasons and Rosicrucians preserved a tradition of cosmic symbolism mixed with numerology and therefore provided astrologers with safe environment for their art. They shared some common ground and certainly a common language based on symbols. For example the contemporary “”Royal Arch Mason” is so named to celebrate the arc of the ecliptic that stretches from 0º Aries to 0º Libra, with the focal point of that arch being where the Sun is on St. John’s Day, theoretically 0º Cancer”[iii]. The Masons had their roots in the medieval, cathedral building era but their teachings, rituals, symbolisms were ultimately inspired by the Egyptian mysteries dating from an time when religion, cosmology, astrology were fused in one.[iv]
The cultural, political, social and religious influence in colonial America was predominantly British therefore astrology and secret societies became part of America’s fabric, just like Thomas Paine’s revolutionary message was imported from England and bore extensive fruits in America. “Freemasonry …. found a fertile ground in America.” [v]The fraternity offered this nation of immigrants a complete support system with ethical rules, ceremonies that had the comforting feel of religious rituals, a welfare system and intellectual stimulation therefore enjoyed great popularity and during a 30 year period from 1730 to 1760 lodges were installed in 10 of the 13 colonies. “The Masonic Orders of Fraternity also acted as media for the dissemination of the high doctrines of liberty, equality and fraternity.”[vi]
Astrology was also popular with early settlers especially in matters connected with sea voyages. Practitioners were busy in port cities to give advice on all important shipping matters since the early settlers depended so much on the success of these Atlantic crossings. Astrology was also probably used within a medical context as it was in Europe. “Editions of Bonatti, Cardano, Lilly Gadbury and other astrology books were imported from England by trunkload” [vii] for those who wanted to pursue its study. So it is no surprise that the first book printed in Pennsylvania was an Almanac: Kalendarium Pennsylvaniense or America’s Messenger for the year 1686 compiled by an astrologer Samuel Atkins, sold and printed by William Bradford.
Other astrology books appeared around that time namely Holwell’s Predictions: of Many Remarkable Things, which may Probably Come to Pass. Bradford continued to publish astrological works, for example, “Pensilvania, 1746. An almanack, and ephemeris … for the year 1746: With the origin, progress and character of soothsayers, sorcerers, astrologers, fortune-tellers, and wizards. Collected from the most illustrious authors of the present century, and the last preceding.”[viii]
Astrology was so alive and well that when Benjamin Franklin started publishing Poor Richards Almanac under the pseudonym of Richards Saunders it became widely distributed and so popular that it was published for 25 years (1733- 1758), distributed throughout the colonies and even abroad. It was a potpourri of proverbs, meteorological information but revealed knowledge of astrology and astronomy and certainly, due to its success, met the curiosity and information needs of its readers.
2. The Founding Fathers
- According to the Tabernacle Masonic Lodge of Forth Worth, Texas, among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, eight were known Freemasons: Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Joseph Hewes, William Hooper, Robert Treat Payne, Richard Stockton, George Walton and William Whipple. Among the signers of the constitution, nine were known masons but none are known to have practiced astrology. Ben Franklin is the only one to appear on both lists.
- Peyton Randolph was President of the First Continental Congress, died in 1775 and was Provincial Grand Master of the Williamsburg Lodge in Virginia. He was no longer alive at the time of the Declaration of Independence but it indicates that as the first President he probably had considerable influence in the proceedings.
- George Washington was part of the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775, as one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and later become President. He was a member of the Masons since 1752 and of such elevated standing that he was offered the position of Grand Master of the Commonwealth of Virginia Lodge (which he declined). His affiliation continued and his relationship with Masons was so close that when he became President the swearing in was conducted by Robert Livingston, Grand Master of the New York Masonic Lodge.
- Ben Franklin became a Freemason in 1731 when he joined the Philadelphia Lodge (the first one in America). He was a life long friend of Marquis de Lafayette who was extremely influential in French Masonic circles. At the time of the Continental Congress he had written and published an Almanac for 25 years. Lina Accurso in an article published by Dell Horoscope, July 1998, states that Franklin wrote about “The Names and Characters of the Seven Planets”: the Sun was called Sol, the Moon was referred to as Luna, and the North and South Nodes were named Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Tail, respectively. The same author quotes from the 1736 edition “Mercury is never distant from the Sun a whole sign, nor Venus above two; you’ll never find Sun sextile Mercury nor Sun square Venus.”, and Franklin added on the subject of eclipses “Suffer me to observe that whoever studies the eclipses of former Ages and compares them with the great events in the history of the times and years in which they happened shall find that the fall of the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian and Roman monarchies each of the was remarkably preceded by great and total eclipses of the heavenly bodies. Observations of this kind, joined with the ancient and long-tryed rules of our art….make me tremble for the Empire now in being.”[ix] In the front page of the 1739 edition of Poor Richards Almanac kept in the Library of Congress Rare Book Collection the contents are described as follows: Lunations, Eclipses, Judgements of Weather, Planets motions and mutual Aspects…. specifying in the same front page that it was Fitted for the Latitude of Forty Degrees and a meridian of five hours West of London but may without sensible Error serve all the adjacent places, even Newfoundland and South Carolina.[x]
It can be safely stated that Franklin was fluent and knowledgeable in astrology which he believed to be a valid forecasting system.
3. Astrology in action: Election of dates
- “The birthday of the USA is celebrated on the 4 of July, but in fact the crucial vote for independence was taken 2 July 1776”[xi]. This assertion is backed by important constitutional historians and by information contained in a letter from John Adams to his wife written on July 3rd where his prose shows he was sure that July 2nd was going to be celebrated as the national day.
On July 2nd, 1776 the Moon was in Capricorn, in its detriment, fact that at least Ben Franklin might be considering. According to Campion, “Franklin was probably the only one (of the signers of the declaration of independence) who knew how to cast a horoscope”.[xii] On the other hand, the 4th of July chart is potent with symbolism: for example, Regulus was setting signifying the end of the monarchy and the Sun was in the 13th degree (13 bearing symbolic significance for the Masons that transcend the 13 colonies).
- The Sibly chart – Sibly was member of a Masonic lodge in England and it was through Masonic ties that he probably had first hand information that allowed him to set a chart for a precise time – 5:10 pm. “Sibly was excellently placed to receive an account of the time of the Declaration of Independence was signed from Freemasons in the USA including Washington, Franklin and Hancock” [xiii]
- George Washington was sworn in as the 1st President of the US on 30 April 1789 around 2.45 pm in New York.[xiv] This is an extremely strong chart evaluated by the prevalent techniques of the time: it features Leo rising with the Sun in the 9th house, Venus in Taurus ruling the MC and the Moon in Cancer applying to a conjunction to Jupiter in the 11th house. Was this just a lucky coincidence?
- The first marker for the capital was set on March 15, 1791 at 4.11.30 pm. [xv]. Ovason’s research indicates that it was placed on April 15 of that same year and that it was astronomically and astrologically significant as around 3.30 pm Jupiter was rising over the horizon. In the Masonic tradition the laying of markers was a significant event as it symbolizing the raising of consciousness and in fact the birth of event.
- George Washington laid the Cornerstone of the Capitol building in concert with Grand Lodge of Maryland[xvi] and with full Masonic honors. He did so on September 18, 1793 probably around lunch time while Jupiter was again rising over the horizon.
III – CONCLUSION
Masonry functioned as an elite club for the learned men during the Revolutionary period and had an enormous influence in the spreading of the revolutionary message and the ideals of equality. Ben Franklin, John Hancock and George Washington were members of the fraternity, along with at least six others who signed the Declaration of Independence. Many revolutionary figures and military men were known to either belong to the fraternities or have sympathy for them. They surely had beliefs that were consistent with the Masonic philosophies.
It cannot be asserted that astrology was integral to Masonic activities but there was a certain sympathy and common language. There is no evidence that they used judicial astrology but there is very strong evidence that they regarded the heavens, the motion of planets and the fixed stars as potent symbols in the affairs of men.
Jessica Harland–Jacobs writes that “ With its claims of descent from glorious civilizations of the past, Freemasonry exposed the brethren …to ancient languages, texts and mysteries” and adds that “the lodge provided the setting for the exploration and the for the teaching of lessons through allegory and symbolism”[xvii]. Therefore we can safely assume that some the Founding Fathers, namely Ben Franklin and George Washington were sympathetic to esoteric teachings and might have felt the need to infuse the nation with the symbols of their beliefs. There is no greater proof than the design of the Great Seal of the United States which is full of Masonic symbols with roots in the Egyptians mysteries. “Into Freemasonry have been poured the irradiations of the mystical schools of antiquity. Particularly is this so in the higher degrees of the Order, such as the Scottish Rite, (which was the prevalent one in colonial America) where undeniable traces of Cabalism, neo-Platonism, Rosicrucianism, and other mystical cults are plainly discernible. I do personally contend that Freemasonry is the direct descendent of the Mysteries”[xviii]. This opinion is shared by the great American philosopher and esoterist Manly P. Hall.
Although there is no direct evidence, there is a strong probability that the publicized date of the Declaration of Independence and hour used by Sibly to set the United States chart (which historians debate if it is the real one or not) was timed to coincide with a specific set of planetary positions that were astrologically relevant to the mindset of the members of the Brotherhood. However we must take into consideration that although “those who were Freemasons were familiar with the mystical cosmology which permeates Masonic symbolism, but that in terms of neo-platonic philosophy, could equally imply a hostility to judicial, horoscopic astrology”[xix] which might explain the lack of evidence and written material connecting all these “coincidences” with a specific plan.
This research was motivated by curiosity driven from the abundance of zodiacs and astrological symbolism in Washington seen through my direct observation and from the exhaustive list contained in Ovason’s book. However there is no direct evidence that the addition of astrological symbolism in monuments was a result of the impact of astrology, in its stricter definition, in the founding of the United States. The Freemason establishment condemns Ovason’s book for lack proof: “Ovason’s theory stands or falls on the assumptions …that freemasons held similar views about astrology that he does, and that Freemasonry places any significance in Virgo. All his assumptions are unproven and his theory fails to pass any reasonable examination.”[xx] It is a fact that Freemasonry in not steeped in astrology but it certainly dips in a common source of knowledge and uses symbols that consistent with the astrological framework.
Further examination of the zodiacs of Washington reveals that they were spread throughout time and are, therefore, poor indication of the impact of astrology at the inception of the United States.
The election of dates, although speculative, provides a better sign that astrology was a factor that was taken into consideration. The knowledge, beliefs and influence of two great figures in the birth of the United States, Ben Franklin and George Washington, emerged as key aspects in this research. They spent time together in Cambridge in 1775 since they were part of small committee that designed the Colonial Flag. Ben Franklin was a man great influence throughout the revolutionary period and in the Continental Congress. The influence of George Washington is self evident.
Considering a favorable climate for astrological beliefs in the general population and within the Masonic circles, the personal beliefs and preferences of Ben Franklin and George Washington and the strong “coincidences” suggested by the election of dates for important events there are strong indications that astrology, in its wider definition as a dialogue between man and the heavenly bodies, had an impact on the inception of the United States of America.
Bobrick, Benson. The Fated Sky – Astrology in History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005
Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995
Evans, Henry R. A History of the York and Scottish Rites of Freemasonry, 1997
Hall, Manly P. The Lost Keys of Freemansory. New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2006
Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages”. New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2003
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica. Hands across the Sea. Geographical Review Vol.89, N.2, April 1999, p.237-253
Holden, James Herschel. The History of Horoscopic Astrology. Tempe: AFA, 1996
Kohout, Edward. The Riddle of the Sibly Chart for American Independence. http://cura.free.fr/xxv/22sibly.html
Ovason, David. The Secret Zodiacs of Washington DC. London: Century Books, 1999
Tester, Jim. A History of Western Astrology. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1987
Tabernacle Masonic Lodge, Forth Worth, Texas, http://www.mason.itgo.com/who.html
 Ovason, David. The Secret Zodiacs of Washington DC. London: Century Books, 1999
 Bobrick, Benson. The Fated Sky – Astrology in History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005, pp.241
 Kohout, Edward. The Riddle of the Sibly Chart for American Independence. http://cura.free.fr/xxv/22sibly.html
 Hall, Manly P. The Lost Keys of Freemansory. New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2006
 Harland-Jacobs, Jessica. Hands across the Sea. Geographical Review Vol.89, N.2, April 1999, p.237-253
 Hall, Manly P. The Lost Keys of Freemansory. New York: Tarcher Penguin, 2006, pp 243
 Bobrick, Benson. The Fated Sky – Astrology in History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005, pp.252
 University of Pennsylvania Library Catalogue. www.devplw.library.upenn.edu/cgi-bin/sdi/vbook/browse?type=lcsubc&key=Astrology
 Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995, pp 404
 Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995, pp 407
 Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995, pp 415
 Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995, pp 434
 Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995, pp 424
 American Masonic History. Tabernacle Masonic Lodge, Forth Worth, Texas, http://www.mason.itgo.com/who.html
 Harland-Jacobs, Jessica. Hands across the Sea. Geographical Review Vol.89, N.2, April 1999, p.237-253
 Evans, Henry A, A History of the York and Scottish Rites of Freemasonry, 1997, p. 8
 Campion, Nicholas. The Book of World Horoscopes. Bristol: Cinnabar Books, 1995, pp 407
 David Ovason, zodiacs and Washington, DC. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/washington_dc/ovason.html