Month: January 2015

Astrologer Ralph Kraum’s Copy of the Tuckerman Tables

In the early 1960s Bryant Tuckerman realized that the latest computer technology could be put to good use calculating historical planetary positions.[1] He published a two-volume ephemerides, providing tables of planetary positions from 601 BCE to 1649 CE. The “Tuckerman Tables” quickly became the standard reference for historians of astronomy. While more recently on-line resources might have begun to erode the usefulness of the “Tuckerman Tables,” they remain an excellent resource when working with old reports of planetary positions, especially conjunctions, oppositions, and other inter-planetary aspects.

Historians of astronomy were not the only group of scholars who turned to the “Tuckerman Tables” when evaluating historical sources and events. Astrologers eagerly purchased and used these tables in their efforts both to understand the past and to assess astrology’s ability to explain the present. One such astrologer was Ralph Kraum, who in March 1965 purchased his copy of Tuckerman’s Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions, A.D. 2 to A.D. 1649 at five-Day and Ten-Day Intervals direct from the American Philosophical Society for $7.50. Kraum’s copy is filled with charts and fragments of astrological and astronomical calculations as he cast nativities for a wide range of historical figures. In many instances, he recorded the person’s name on the piece of paper as well as his own name and the date. On 6 April 1965, one of the first nativities he calculated with Tuckerman’s tables was Emperor Justinian’s, which he compared against the chart found in Maurice Wemyss’s More Notable Nativities. Unfortunately, Kraum did not record either the final version of this chart or his interpretation of it. On 1 July 1965 Kraum calculated the planetary positions for Montaigne’s natal chart, and again compared his numbers to Wemyss’s chart. Appropriately, in 1965 Kraum calculated planetary positions for Nostradamus’s nativity and then in 1967 Kraum twice calculated various data for John Dee’s nativity. In 1969 he calculated planetary positions for Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII. He noted that Elizabeth’s birth date was uncertain. On the back of a receipt for a “400 day globe” that he purchased for $2.94 from E. W. Reynolds in October 1953, Kraum evaluated some possible dates for Elizabeth’s birth before concluding that she “must have been born on 1465 Feb. 11.” Ferdinand V and Isabella of Spain attracted Kraum’s attention in 1965. Dozens of other slips of paper bear the traces of Kraum’s efforts to calculate horoscopes for historical figures.

Kraum’s efforts to calculate famous nativities was not merely a hobby. He was continuing a practice that astrologers had begun at least as early as the fifteenth century, when Martin Bylica amassed a collection of hundreds of horoscopes. He returned to these charts again and again, refining his calculations, adding notes and highlighting different features, and adjusting his interpretations. By the sixteenth century collecting and comparing famous nativities had become a key aspect of an astrologer’s professional. The Italian astrologers Luca Guarico and Giordano Cardano competed with each other through their published collections of genitures. The practice of calculating and recalculating horoscopes in order to understand better how to interpret the celestial positions continues even today. When Kraum scoured his copy of the Tuckerman Tables for the data that he could use to evaluate and judge the work of his predecessors, he was practicing critical astrology. For centuries astrologers have turned a critical eye on their own work and that of their predecessors and competitors.[2]

In addition to horoscopes for famous people, Kraum left the remnants of his efforts to calculate the important celestial data for eclipses and significant planetary conjuctions—he covered more than dozen sheets of paper calculating relevant data for the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction that occurred on 18 December 1603 and compared his results to those by an astrologer named Robson.[3] Kraum was also interested in historical transits of Venus, calculating planetary positions for the a number of them as early as 23 May 60 CE.[4] Kraum seems to have been particularly interested in the transit on 24 November 1639 (England was still using the Julian calendar; according to the Gregorian system, this transit occurred on 4 December 1639).

Ralph Kraum’s copy of the Tuckerman Tables, opened to the pages for the 1639 transit of Venus (Source: Author’s collection).
Ralph Kraum’s copy of the Tuckerman Tables, opened to the pages for the 1639 transit of Venus (Source: Author’s collection).

The transit that year was the first observed by European astronomers: Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree. Horrocks had corrected previous astronomical tables that had indicated that Venus would just miss the sun—he probably corrected Philip Lansberge’s tables. Lansberge seems to have rejected Kepler’s elliptical orbits and thus predicted that Venus would just miss the sun. Horrocks recalculated the positions and predicted that Venus would in fact cross in front of the sun’s disc.

Kraum put a small checkmark in the margin to note the date for the transit of Venus (Source: Author’s collection).
Kraum put a small checkmark in the margin to note the date for the transit of Venus (Source: Author’s collection).

Kraum covered three sheets with numbers and astrological data. How long the transit lasted, the positions of the planets (including Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto), the medium coeli and the ascendent. He also noted twice that Horrocks was the first person to witness a transit of Venus.

Kraum’s efforts to determine the relevelant astrological information from the transit of Venus in 1639. Kraum also noted on this piece of paper that Horrocks was the first person to observe a transit of Venus (Source: Author’s collection).
Kraum’s efforts to determine the relevelant astrological information from the transit of Venus in 1639. Kraum also noted on this piece of paper that Horrocks was the first person to observe a transit of Venus (Source: Author’s collection).

Unfortunately, Kraum did not record how he interpreted this information. As with his other astrological calculations, he was doing more than simply passing time. Kraum was trying to use astrology to understand his world, and the transit of Venus offered him some glimpse into that world. As did the conjunctions between Saturn and Jupiter.

Kraum enjoys two claims to fame. Beyond the world of professional, practicing astrologers, Kraum gained renown for his famous clientele—he was a prominent astrologer to the actors in Hollywood. Notably, he was one of Ronald Reagan’s early astrological counsellors. Apparently, during his acting years Reagan began seeking advice from astrologers, long before Nancy brought Joan Quigley into the White House. Amongst astrologers, Kraum gained some fame for his work on the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction that occurred in 1365. He clearly spent considerable time and energy thinking about this conjunction. The most complete and elaborate chart to survive in this book is Kraum’s chart for this conjunction.

Kraum’s chart for the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction. He returned to this chart at least twice to correct or add information (Source: Author’s collection).
Kraum’s chart for the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction. He returned to this chart at least twice to correct or add information (Source: Author’s collection).

Here Kraum adapts the theory of great conjunctions, which correlated the conjunctions between Saturn and Jupiter with broad, large-scale changes on earth. There were three types of conjunctions: great conjunctions occurred every 60 years, greater occurred every 240, and greatest occurred after 960. The rarer the conjunction the greater the effects on earth. These effects ranged from the rise and fall of religions and kingdom, to the appearance of plagues and epidemics. Kraum seems to be applying a form of this theory in his analysis of the “Mutation Conjuction” in 1365.

We may not agree with the intellectual system of astrology, but it cannot be dismissed as simple or uncritical. The trail of intellectual breadcrumbs Kraum left behind provides tantalizing glimpses at the rigor of his system and the self-imposed evaluation that occurs. It is hard to see these scraps of paper as part of some elaborate ruse to swindle customers out of their money. It also does not seem that Kraum was disingenuous in his belief. Moreover, Kraum’s work reveals a person skilled in positional astronomy, a person who seems almost to enjoy the calculations. Whatever he was doing, it cannot be equated to horoscopes in the daily newspaper or written off as the dogmatic ravings of a money-grubbing fraudster.

[This post was originally “An Astrologer’s Intellectual Breadcrumbs” at PACHS. Josh Spero’s post on second-hand books and their owners, at History Today, prompted me to repost it here.]

  1. Tuckerman wrote his program in Fortran and compiled it on an IBM 704. Then, when he calculated the positions for his second volume, he opted for “the faster, and more advanced solid-state [IBM] 7090.”  ↩

  2. Whatever charges might be leveled at astrology, the lack of critical self-analysis is not one of them. Given the intellectual framework within which astrology makes sense, astrologers have long been admirably evaluative of their own practice and the conclusions they have drawn from their charts. Astrologers apply this criticism equally to competing astrologers as well as to their own work.  ↩

  3. Vivian Robson, perhaps?  ↩

  4. I confess that I was surprised to see his interest in transits of Venus. I did not realize that astrologers found these transits to be astrologically meaningful. But for Kraum they seem to occupy a position at least as important as eclipses.  ↩

A. R. Wallace and “preter-human intelligences”

In “Wallace’s Woeful Wager” Dana Hunter tells the story of A. R. Wallace’s bet with John Hampden about the shape of the earth. In her version, Wallace—“venerable 19th century man of science”—was duped by scheming, doltish, young-earth creationists who assailed science with Biblical passages and ignored evidence in defense of their flat-earth beliefs. Hunter is right: there was no way Wallace was going to win that bet. Hampden and his friends were not going to be convinced by Wallace’s evidence. But that’s the problem with evidence, it is never free of the bias people bring to it. Wallace himself suffered from a similar problem: like Hampden he ignored or explained away inconvenient evidence and assailed science with arguments from authority.

To call A. R. Wallace a “venerable 19th century [sic] man of science” stretches our comfortable notions of “man of science” and ignores the fact that for many 19th-century “men of science” Wallace was, well, not all that venerable.[1] Science, for Wallace, included all sorts of ideas that we would now reject, ideas that undermine the rational science vs. dogmatic religion framework that animates Hunter’s post. Take, for example, Wallace’s provocative pamphlet The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural that was dismissed by many of the scientists he sent it to.[2] Here he argued against miracles as violations of the laws of nature, but argued for “preter-human intelligences”—“intelligent beings [that] may exist around and among us, unperceived during our whole lives, and yet capable under certain conditions of making their presence known by acting on matter”—and the power of mediums to summon spirits.

Over the next few decades his belief in spirits and other spiritual forces continued to grow. He became convinced of his own ability to focus mesmeric energy, despite the medical profession’s opposition to mesmerism, which he dismissed out of hand as ignorance and prejudice. In his autobiography, My Life, Wallace says:

…I found that I had considerable mesmeric power myself, and could produce all the chief phenomena on some of my patients; while I also satisfied myself that almost universal opposition and misrepresentations of the medical profession were founded upon a combination of ignorance and prejudice.

Wallace’s biography and his Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1896) attest to his unwavering belief in spirits and his own mesmeric powers as well as those of his brother.[3] Conviction and belief shaped Wallace’s interpretation of evidence and trumped the arguments of experts. He reported knocking sounds and tables floating in the air and other evidence of “preter-human intelligences” acting in our world. In many instances, Wallace’s evidence is nothing more than the reports of witnesses he considered reliable and who hold important posts in society, that is, authorities. In other cases, he experienced the phenomena himself—it’s hard to know what Wallace experienced when he says:

I will only state here that I was so fortunate as to be able to see the simpler phenomena, such as rapping and tapping sounds and slight movements of a table in a friend’s house, with no one present but his family and myself, and that we were able to test the facts so thoroughly as to demonstrate that they were not produced by the physical action of any one of us. Afterwards, in my own house, similar phenomena were obtained scores of times, and I was able to apply tests which showed that they were not caused by any one present. A few years later I formed one of the committee of the Dialectical Society, and again witnessed, under test conditions, similar phenomena in great variety, and in these three cases, it must be remembered, no paid mediums were present, and every means that could be suggested of excluding trickery or the direct actions of any one present were resorted to.

Whatever Wallace experienced, he knew what it demonstrated. Wallace’s refusal to see evidence (e.g., of trickery) or entertain other explanations for the evidence (e.g., fraud) looks a lot like Hampden’s refusal to consider evidence that contradicted his beliefs.

There’s a symmetry in all this. Hampden and Co. ignored or interpreted evidence to suit their beliefs. Wallace ignored or interpreted evidence to suit his beliefs. Now Hunter treats both Hampden and Wallace as evidence to suit her own beliefs.

I am not offering some backhanded defense of Hampden (or attack of Wallace)—he was a nut job (as was Wallace in his own way). I am trying to draw attention to the ways that Hunter’s caricature of Hampden does little to help us understand what he was doing and why it was kooky, just as her sanitized version of Wallace similarly prevents us from understanding this “man of science.” Both versions distort the past by projecting our values and prejudices onto that past and thereby obscuring any lessons that we might learn from it.[4] And, in the end, casting the Wallace-Hampden wager as an early version of our science (i.e., reason) vs. religion (i.e., stupidity) debate ignores evidence that doesn’t suit our present beliefs.

  1. Christine Garwood does a nice job explaining how and why Wallace’s peers were upset that he even accepted Hampden’s bet. Wallace had, they thought, undermined science by implying that the shape of the earth was debatable. Moreover, Wallace did not have the expertise to defend the shape of the earth—that should have been left to an astronomer like Astronomer Royal George Airy. See Christine Garwood, Flat Earth. The History of an Infamous Idea, pp. 79–117.
    Wallace’s continued belief in spiritualism and mesmerism put him at odds with many of his contemporaries, who increasingly thought poorly of him for it.  ↩

  2. Huxley’s response to Wallace is great (reproduced in Wallace’s My Life):

    I am neither shocked nor disposed to issue a Commission of Lunacy against you. It may be all true, for anything I know to the contrary, but really I cannot get up any interest in the subject. I never cared for gossip in my life, and disembodied gossip, such as these worthy ghosts supply their friends with, is not more interesting to me than any other. As for investigating the matter—I have half a dozen investigations of infinitely greater interest to me—to which any spare time I may have will be devoted. I give it up for the same reason I abstain from chess—it’s too amusing to be fair work, and too hard work to be amusing.  ↩

  3. In some of these stories Wallace and his brother abuse (or are duped by) Indian boys by enticing them into their home and sending them into trances. In return, Wallace and his brother would give them “a copper” or a little present when they released the boys from the trance:

    I will here only add that my brother Herbert also possessed the power, and that when we were residing together at Manaos, he used to call up little Indian boys out of the street, give them a copper, and by a little gazing and a few passes send them into the trance state, and then produce all the curious phenomena of catalepsy, loss of sensation, etc., which I have already described. This was interesting because it showed that the effects could be produced without any expectation on the part of the patients, and, further, that similar phenomena followed as in Europe, although these boys had certainly no knowledge of such phenomena. One day, I remember, when we were going out collecting, we entered an Indian’s hut, where we had often been before, and my brother quietly began mesmerizing a young man nearly his own age. He did not entrance him, but obtained enough influence to render his arm rigid. This he instantly relaxed, and asked the Indian to lie down on the floor, which he did. My brother then made a pass along his body, and said, “Lie there till we return.” The man tried to rise but could not, though several of his relatives were present. We then walked out, he crying and begging to be loosed. Thinking he would certainly overcome the influence we went on, and coming back about two hours later we found the man still on the ground, declaring he could not get up. On a pass from my brother and his saying, “Now get up,” he rose easily. We gave him a small present, but he did not seem much surprised or disturbed, evidently thinking we were white medicine-men. Here, again, it seemed to me pretty certain that the induced temporary paralysis was a reality, and by no means due to the imagination of the usually stolid Indian.  ↩

  4. Take, for example, Hampden’s pamphlet, The Popularity of Error. In it he defends the Bible and gestures to the Scriptures but doesn’t site any passages. Instead, it rehearses a simple set of common-sensical objections to both a spherical earth and a mobile earth. What jumps out of his pamphlet are not the Bible verses (there are none) but his opposition to Newton and Copernicus and his efforts to dismiss both as merely offering theories or hypotheses. There may be something interesting about the Hampden’s approach here and current efforts to dismiss global warming or evolution as mere hypotheses and theories. As there may be something interesting in his invocation of quotidian experiences as objections to increasingly abstract scientific theories. ↩