Just over 100 years ago, astrologer Reinhold Ebertin’s mother Elsbeth sat under questioning in a police station in Breslau, on the border of modern Germany, after her colleague had sent Elsbeth’s astrological pamphlets to official police headquarters. The year was 1915, two years before Reinhold would first touch a book about astrology. Europe was barely a year into World War I, and there were strict laws against fortune-telling. Through her sheer cleverness, a trait she exhibited throughout her 40 years of astrological publication, she talked her way out of any trouble. Before sharing her story of how she was able to escape the firm grip of the law, let’s rewind and get to know Germany’s most prominent female astrologer of the last century a little better.1
On May 14, 1880 at 6:22 p.m. LMT, Elsbeth Ebertin was born in Görlitz, Germany — now an easternmost town situated on the border between Germany and Poland — to Herr and Frau Schmidt, who owned and ran a costume fabrication company.2 Elsbeth’s mother had grown up in the castle of Żagań where the famed general of the Thirty Years War, Albrecht von Wallenstein, lived when he hosted Johannes Kepler from 1628–1630. Stories of these luminaries and other historical greats who passed through the castle inspired Elsbeth’s mother to start a costume company.
The oldest of six children, Elsbeth spent her childhood with her siblings immersed in the various costumes being made for theatre performances and festivals throughout the Wilhelmine Empire. However, despite what must have seemed like an endless dress-up party, Elsbeth reported that her childhood was difficult. After her father’s untimely and mysterious death in a sanatorium in 1893, Elsbeth became second-in-command in the family costume business at the age of 13. Her early exposure to German literature and plays, as well as to the running of a business, had a direct impact on the development of her prolific astrological and publication career.
Her first publication, a literary biography of writer Charlotte Birch-Peiffer, emerged in 1897 on the 100-year anniversary of that author’s death. The same year, she met her future husband, Fritz Ebertin. The timing of Elsbeth’s piece proved exceedingly popular with the press, and she learned from this early success. Even before she knew about astrology, she began to gather birth data of important literary figures and write about them for publication during topical times. A professional writer was born.
As time wore on, though, Elsbeth’s entrepreneurial emancipation, uncommon for a woman at the time, threatened her husband and her own mother. They never expressed support for her publishing career, and in 1905 — four years after her son Reinhold Ebertin was born, and three years after losing her second child to a freak accident — Elsbeth Ebertin set out to make her way as an author and graphologist. She divorced Fritz, leaving him with custody of their son.
Ebertin had started to learn graphology in 1900, and over the course of 1909–1914, she published six books on the subject.3 However, graphology fell under the rubric of fortune-telling, which was banned during World War I, so in 1911, after an impressive encounter with a female “graphologist” who turned out to really be an astrologer, Ebertin began practicing astrology to support herself.
In 1911 in Hamburg, Ebertin met with astrologer Albert Kniepf (1853–1924), an early proponent of scientific astrology, who was also the teacher of astrologer Alfred Witte (1878–1941), founder of the Hamburg School of astrology.4 These were the earliest days of the astrological revival in Germany, so word-of-mouth teaching drove learning, because not many texts were to be had outside of the Theosophical publications coming over from the United Kingdom. Shortly after their first meeting, Ebertin began learning astrology from Kniepf and observing mundane and quarterly charts out of a desire to write a book on the fate of nations — a goal that did not materialize until 1923, with the publication of her book, Völkerschicksale und Deutschlands Erwachen (The Fate of Peoples and Germany’s Awakening). Through her work with Kniepf, Ebertin focused on mundane astrology as well as natal astrology from the beginning of her astrological career.
In 1911–12, Ebertin gathered natal charts and began to examine them alongside biographies to see whether the rules she was learning held merit. Her look backward, as a historian, enabled her to look forward into the future. Exploring her own chart, she read in Julius Firmicus Maternus that having the star Regulus conjunct her Midheaven (MC) indicated that she would become an astrologer to royalty.5 She began to write about the lives and charts of royals. She figured that if she wasn’t going to directly counsel royalty, she could at least focus her biographical writings on them. Maternus’s prediction of the Regulus–MC signature, however, came true: Later in her life, Elsbeth Ebertin befriended and consulted King Ferdinand I of Bulgaria.6
In 1914, she began to publish astrological pamphlets about the mundane astrology of World War I that focused on the royal figures directly related to the war effort. She called these pamphlets Zur Einführung in die Wissenschaft der Sterne (Introduction to the Science of the Stars). They became immensely popular, quickly going out of print.7 She republished the pamphlets as her first book, Royal Nativities (Könligliche Nativitäten), aimed to stimulate popular interest in the stellar influences on mundane affairs. This text includes an appendix where she recounts the story of her police encounter in 1915. The events of that day had a deep and lasting impact on the way Ebertin would practice astrology throughout her public career as one of Germany’s most published astrologers in the early 20th century. In fact, it was this moment that enabled her to shape the discourses that took place as she rose in prominence.
The story goes something like this: In mid 1915, Ebertin actually knew that she would be brought in for questioning, and it happened a little later than she had predicted from her natal chart. She noted that the policeman who kept her in custody seemed educated.8 Because of his polite demeanor, she claimed to have had a reasonable discussion about astrology with him, in which she told him of a client of hers who was an astronomer and university professor. At the time, Ebertin had been surprised that an astronomer would appear in her offices as a client. She said that he told her he would have gotten into astrology himself, were it not for the risk to his reputation as a professor. By choosing to tell a story about this particular client, Ebertin revealed the status of astrology in German society and its learned circles. She suggested further that many such public officials were secretly deeply interested in astrology, but the level of professional threat kept them from publicly declaring their interest.
She continued to tell the policeman about her astronomer client. She had successfully predicted that, within the next few months, the astronomer would face great danger of imprisonment at a very specific time. Before she could continue her tale, the policeman interrupted her with a surprised exclamation, as he realized that the imprisonment had taken place in that very police department. Another official looked up the records, and they confirmed that it had indeed been there. This softened the policeman’s attitude toward Ebertin, but he still had to maintain the official position of prohibition of fortune-telling. Ebertin launched into her next area of argumentation.
Since the issue was not her being a writer but that she was writing about astrology, he suggested that she could write about anything except astrology. She countered that she was not interested in anything else — “I want to represent this science of the stars.” She then appealed to the authority of history by telling him how sad it would be if one were no longer allowed to write about something that had had such important cultural significance in the Middle Ages. She promised that her work would stay “literary-academic” (literarisch-wissenschaftlich) — an early instance of the way other astrologers would promote astrology as the decade wore on. The official agreed on the condition that she no longer practice “occult” misfeasance. She was eventually released from custody without incident and allowed to continue working on her pamphlets in private.
Ebertin’s attitude was almost sympathetic toward the authorities, stating that it was good for them to enact a prohibition on horoscopy because there were too many people who were not “addressing astrology scientifically.” While this statement may have been sincere, it may also have been included to ensure that the very publication it appeared in, Royal Nativities, was not censored by the authorities.
This episode demonstrates two things: First, the policeman was amenable to her appeal to academic authority, in the form of history (that is, astrology was a valid subject in the Middle Ages and in German history, so one should be allowed to discuss it in those contexts); and second, including this story in Royal Nativities served as a parable to others who might raise the same objections against her. By sharing her successful encounter with the law, the supreme deciding authority, she demonstrated that her position on astrology obtained a mandate from those authorities. The implication is that were she a charlatan, the story would have gone in another direction. Further, the book Royal Nativities is surprisingly scant on actual technical (read, “scientific”) description. The final claim that set her free was an agreement to treat astrology “literarisch-wissenschaftlich,” and thus cultural history obtains significance alongside “scientific” inquiry into astrology’s claims. This story brings to life what it must have been like to be an astrologer in Germany during World War I.
The book Royal Nativities was also remarkable for the effect it had on Ebertin’s astrological career. In this text, she predicts the circumstances and manner of death of Czar Nikolaus II by observing that his natal Sun is conjoined to the Pleiades. She states, “This constellation [the Pleiades] in most cases brings a violent death by blow, stabbing or murder.”9 In addition, she notes that he has Neptune in the 8th house, which indicates a mysterious death. Indeed, the Czar and his family were murdered under mysterious circumstances in the fall of 1917. This successful prediction launched her prominent public career.
Directly after the war, Ebertin began publishing a yearly almanac, A Glimpse into the Future: Character and Fate (Ein Blick in die Zukunft: Charakter und Schicksal). This almanac contained prognoses for each of the twelve tropical zodiac signs, which formed a cornerstone of her publication output and established a wide readership. It ran until 1938, when the Nazis began shutting down astrological publications.10 Between the years 1915 and 1932, she published 21 books about astrology, including four novels that incorporated astrological symbolism into their main narratives. The topics covered include many introductory manuals; character studies (Historical and Contemporary Character Profiles, or Historische und zeitgenossische Charakterbilder, 1921); mundane astrology (The Fate of Peoples and Germany’s Awakening, or Völkerschicksale und Deutschlands Erwachen, 1922); synastry (Astrology and Romance, or Astrologie und Liebesleben, 1926); and more. Many of these books appeared out of Ebertin’s own press, Regulus Verlag, so named after the fortunate star conjoining her natal MC. The logo for her press features an abstract sketch of her Scorpio-rising chart in a triangle, which in esoteric circles evoked a “triangle of manifestation.”
Elsbeth Ebertin’s approach to astrology was experimental in that, for example, she sought to test whether the Ptolemaic techniques for mundane calculations still applied to the world around her.11 She also researched fixed stars and medical astrology, but while these appear in minor references throughout her work, she never published them in book form; Reinhold curated that research after her death.12
The postwar years, especially 1923–24, marked a high point of extremes in the Weimar Republic.13 As hyperinflation raged out of control and the political climate intensified, Ebertin increased her engagement with the public. In 1924, she published Sternenwandel und Weltgeschehen (roughly, Celestial Change and World Events), a book she co-wrote with another contemporary astrologer, Ludwig Hoffman, which includes her famous prediction of Hitler’s rise to prominence; the book went into at least a fourth edition and eventually sold more than 70,000 copies. Ludwig Hoffmann and Elsbeth Ebertin collaborated on another edition of Sternenwandel und Weltgeschehen with all new predictions in 1928.
Still, Ebertin’s output was not limited to political commentary. In 1925, her novel Mars in the House of Death (Der Mars im Todeshause) was turned into a feature-length film called It Is Written in the Stars (In den Sternen steht’s geschrieben). The novel, which she composed with the intention of turning it into a film, concerns the fate (or free will!) of a husband and wife, and appears aimed at a female readership. The film, directed by Willy Reiber, received good reviews, but it has been lost.14
Ebertin continued her work with historical biography, writing books about figures such as Emmanuel Swedenborg and Jacob Boehme, two thinkers critical to Theosophical thought.15 And in 1926, Ebertin and Hoffmann joined forces to create an almanac, to which she only contributed for about five years. Her name appeared on the cover, perhaps as a draw for the readership, but she contributed only one article to each volume.
In 1928, Ebertin began her own almanac, the Ebertin-Kalender, alongside Hoffmann’s almanac and her still-running yearly Glimpse (Blick in die Zukunft).16 She intended the former to be aimed at the masses and the latter, as always, at the amateur (as in the sense of the word’s Latin origin amator [“lover”], or lover of a subject) who wanted to go deeper with the study of astrology.
In 1926, she also produced four issues of a new, short-lived journal, Spiegelbilder unserer Zeit (Reflections of Our Time), which contained articles on astrological themes and a question-and-answer section at the end where Ebertin responded to reader queries. These volumes revealed the topics at the forefront of public curiosity, and they helped to generate in her readership a sense of her personality. In an answer directed at “some astrology students in Görlitz and Zittau,” Ebertin writes explaining fixed stars, antiscia, and the graphical horoscope (Linear oder Streifenhoroskop) as a good tool to learn about Arabic parts (she calls them sensitiven Punkte, or “sensitive points”), planetary pictures, midpoints, and points of the “‘Hamburger Schule’” of Ludwig Rudolph.17 Thus, while publishing a popular almanac with Hoffmann, she was also cultivating popular consciousness around advanced astrological techniques from multiple eras of astrological practice — from the most ancient Mesopotamian (fixed stars) and Hellenistic (antiscia) to the most modern (midpoints as interpreted by the Hamburg School).
This curious journal did not last long. By the fourth volume, Ebertin declared that she was being stretched thin and had no time to keep up with this and her other publication commitments, so readers would be able to find her work in her yearly publication, Glimpse (Ein Blick in die Zukunft). It was in this final issue of the journal that Ebertin published her son Reinhold’s first astrological article, on the topic of the calculation and interpretation of transits.18 From this immense output, it is no exaggeration to suggest that throughout the 1920s, her publishing life flourished — and widespread, in-depth consciousness and practice of astrology among the German public along with it.
As a mother, Elsbeth always fostered Reinhold’s relationship with astrology and publishing. In an autobiography, Reinhold Ebertin discusses his early separation from his mother and how she introduced him to astrology just before his legal emancipation. By 1928, he had set up his own publishing house, Ebertin Verlag, in Erfurt. He and his mother did not appear to operate as rivals.19 While his legacy within astrology surely does not belong to her, her dual role as his mother and early supporter of his own professional life in astrology is extremely significant for the history of astrology in the 20th century.
One of Elsbeth Ebertin’s more curious publications bears mentioning, as it highlights some of the later developments of astrology in Germany at the decline of the Weimar period. In 1930, Ebertin published an autobiographical study of “time twins” called Wir zwei vom 14. Mai (roughly, The Two of Us from May 14),20 which contains no astrological charts. In this text, she presents the autobiography of an author, Carl Schmidt, who shared her birthday. His piece appears first, then a selection of images, and then her own autobiography, which has informed many of the details of this article. Her goal with this narrative approach was to convince the reader that the parallels between these two lives were unmistakable, and yet, because of the slight difference in their birth times, slight differences were to be found in their life stories as well. It was another argument for the scientific approach to astrology.
While she includes the specific astrological data of the two nativities with words, they are not depicted graphically, and she implores the reader to look them up for themselves later. She expressly directs the reader to her two almanacs to learn more about the terminology of astrology so that she doesn’t have to explain them in this text. This kind of cross-pollination happens throughout her oeuvre, where she constantly refers to her other works — a savvy move that ultimately helped her bottom line as a publisher by encouraging readers to buy those works. In addition, by not scaring off readers with complicated charts, she aimed to enrapture them in the story of the two lives to convince them of astrology’s effectiveness. This time twin study, along with her almanacs, provides strong evidence of her ability to translate astrology into various genres and styles in order to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Her time twin study also served as an intervention into the conflicts between supposed “lay astrologers” and “academic astrologers.” While no academic credential existed for astrologers at the time, throughout the 1920s and into the early ‘30s academics became increasingly interested in practicing and researching astrology. This group tended to set itself apart from individuals, such as Ebertin, who did not have a higher degree but who practiced astrology professionally.
Ebertin encountered the world of academic astrology, though not often. On July 2, 1923, at the second national Kongress der Astrologie, in Leipzig, Elsbeth Ebertin gave a talk titled “Das Wesen der Astrologie und die heutige Zeit” (“The Essence of Astrology and the Present Time”).21 And she and Reinhold Ebertin attended an astrology conference in Nürnberg in 1929.22 But Elsbeth’s relation to academic astrologers was tense. In February 1930, Dr. H. O. Eitner, in a book called Der Rhythmus des Lebens (The Rhythm of Life), accused her and others who “dominate” the publication arena of being “reine Laienastrologen,” or pure lay astrologers, rather than a “Fachastrologe” or “professional astrologer” (in the sense of being an academic professional).
When Ebertin wrote her time twin study, Wir Zwei vom 14. Mai, in March 1930 and published it shortly thereafter, she specifically pointed out how ironic it is that academic researchers are only now turning to astrology after the successful results of years of “tireless and selfless labour of autodidacts living in the most difficult conditions” (including herself). Further, she stated that “even the smartest man can deceive himself theoretically, if he does not possess years of practical experience in this field.” Her emphasis on practice versus theory was resounding, but she did not call out Dr. Eitner by name. Her intention was to help everyone (not just the academy) to gain access to astrological knowledge, so her books adopted a tone that could be understood by more than just the most learned.
Ebertin continued to publish various novels, almanacs, and yearbooks well into the ‘30s, but it became increasingly difficult to do so as the Nazi censorship laws became more strict. The last year of her Blick in die Zukunft was 1938. From then until her death at age 64, she appears to have been engaged in private astrological research; however, with the full banning of astrological publication, her career was effectively over. In 1944, an Allied bomb directly hit her home, killing her and destroying all of her property. Her body was identifiable only by her shattered glasses and a ring given to her by the King of Bulgaria.
After her death, Reinhold Ebertin edited Fixed Stars and Their Interpretation (1973), utilizing what amount of his mother’s research was left in his possession. In recounting the story of her death, he suggested that the bomb to her house destroyed significant amounts of irreplaceable astrological research.23
As for Elsbeth’s presence in the English-speaking world, only one book of hers has been translated into English, Astrology and Romance.24 The paucity of translation may be due to the loss of her private astrological research, or perhaps due to her having mostly published time-sensitive material that, in the aftermath of the war, may not have seemed interesting or relevant enough to translate into English. The patina of time now enlivens the texts that remain, and we may investigate them not only for what kinds of techniques she used or omitted, but also for the social tensions (within and outside of the astrological community) of her time, which she sought to answer with her writing.
Elsbeth Ebertin stands out as a vocal representative of the practice of astrology at a time when women were emerging into having major public roles in German culture. She spoke candidly to her readers, and often. And while she may not have penned theoretical tomes that furthered the art of astrology for the technique-obsessed among us living astrologers, she did serve her community and formed one of the cornerstones for the flourishing of interest in astrology during the golden 1920s. She is also outstanding for being a well-published female mundane astrologer, something that tends to be rare even today. Her contributions deserve attention in their own right.
She was far more than just Reinhold’s mother. Her fervor for astrology provided a model for him, and two things appear to have allowed him to eclipse her: his technical innovations of astrological practice and the translation of his publications into English. In the final analysis, Elsbeth Ebertin may not have exercised direct influence over the development of new astrological techniques, but through her vast publication empire she served as a major agent for the popularization of astrology in early 20th-century German culture.
I am grateful to the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David for being the first home for this research. Linda Leaman and the late Sigrid Joel also deserve special mention for placing many invaluable primary source texts in my care.
References and Notes:
1. Ellic Howe, Astrology: A Recent History Including the Untold Story of Its Role in WWII, Walker and Company, 1967, p. 88. In quotations that follow, all translations from the German are my own, unless otherwise stated.
2. All biographical details in this section are from two of Elsbeth Ebertin’s works: Wir Zwei vom 14. Mai (The Two of Us from May 14), Hamburg-Altona, Dreizack-Verlag, 1930; and Historische und zeitgenössische Charakterbilder (Historical and Contemporary Portraits of Character, Freiburg/Breisgau: Verlag Fr. Paul Lorenz, 1921.
3. Howe, Astrology, p. 88.
4. James Herschel Holden, Biographical Dictionary of Western Astrologers, AFA, 2012, p. 406; the commentary about Kniepf’s role in midpoints comes from: http://www.iol.ie/~taeger/research/150astro.html (accessed in December 2016).
5. Elsbeth Ebertin, Die goldene Brücke zur Sternenwelt (The Golden Bridge to the World of the Stars), Talis-Verlag, 1922, p. 28.
6. Reinhold Ebertin, Das Schicksal in meiner Hand (Destiny in My Hand), Aalen: Ebertin Verlag, 1975, p. 20; see also Howe, Astrology, p. 90.
7. Howe, Astrology, p. 88.
8. Elsbeth Ebertin’s story of her encounter with the police comes from her book, Royal Nativities, Leipzig-Gohlis: Wodan-Verlag, 1915. An English translation of this work is forthcoming through Rubedo Press: http://www.rubedo.press
9. Ibid., p. 51: “Diese Konstellation bringt auch meist gewaltsamen Tod durch Schlag, Stich oder Mörderhand …”; English translation from Reinhold Ebertin and Georg Hoffmann, Fixed Stars and Their Interpretation, trans. Irmgard Banks, Aalen: Ebertin Verlag, 1973, p. 27.
10. Reinhold Ebertin, Das Schicksal, p. 16.
11. Ebertin, Völkerschicksale, 18.
12. R. Ebertin and G. Hoffmann, Fixed Stars; R. Ebertin, Anatomische Entsprechungen der Tierkreisgrade, Aalen: Ebertin Verlag, 1959.
13. Gerald D. Feldman, The Great Disorder: Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, 1914–1924, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
14. For a review of the film, see (Anonymous), “Vom Sternen zum Stern,” Die Filmwoche, Vol. 19 (1925), p. 449.
15. Elsbeth Ebertin, Emanuel Swedenborg: der größte Hellseher Europas. Gedenkschrift zu seinem 150. Todestag, Stuttgart: Rud. Zimmer Verlag, 1922; Elsbeth Ebertin, Jakob Böhme: Der erleuchtete Gottmensch und Christusverehrer, Görlitz: Regulus Verlag, 1924.
16. R. Ebertin, Das Schicksal, p. 11.
17. Elsbeth Ebertin, “Auskünfte aus allerlei Zuschriften,” Spiegelbilder unserer Zeit und ihre Werte für die Zukunft, Vol. 1, no. 4 (1926), pp. 145–147.
18. Reinhold Ebertin, “Berechnung und Deutung der Transite,” Spiegelbilder unserer Zeit — und ihre Werte für die Zukunft, Vol. 1, no. 4 (1926), pp. 104–114.
19. R. Ebertin, Das Schicksal, pp. 7–11.
20. See Note 2 above.
21. Hubert Korsch, ed., 14 Vorträge über Astrologie, Düsseldorf: Astrologische Zentralstelle, 1929, p. 122.
22. R. Ebertin, Das Schicksal, p. 13.
23. The account of Elsbeth Ebertin’s last years is from R. Ebertin, Das Schicksal, p. 20.
24. Elsbeth Ebertin, Astrology and Romance, trans. D. G. Nelson, ASI Publishers, 1973.
Ebertin before 1910: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Elsbeth_Ebertin_vor_1910.jpg - Deutschlands, Österreich-Ungarns und der Schweiz Gelehrte, Künstler und Schriftsteller in Wort und Bild. 3 Ausgaben, hier 2. Ausgabe 1910. Bio-bibliographischer Verlag Albert Steinhage, Hannover 1908–1911, S. 167.
Elsbeth Ebertin's chart: From Ein Blick in die Zukunft (1931), p. 79.
Signature: Screenshot from footage by Jenn Zahrt; Original signature in Zahrt's possession.
Regulus Verlag logo
Ebertin in later years: Illustration in the book "Der Einfluss des Mondes" von Elsbeth Ebertin, o. J.; after 1971; Image source: http://www.astro.com/astrowiki/de/Datei:Ebertin_Elsbeth.jpg
First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Apr/May 2017.
Jenn Zahrt, PhD, is an author, publisher, and historian of astrology, based in Seattle, Washington. She has taught and lectured domestically and internationally in places such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Zahrt is a company director of the Sophia Centre Press and a founding publisher at Rubedo Press, and she is currently translating and publishing the works of Elsbeth Ebertin and other prominent astrologers from the Weimar period in Germany. Discover more about her project here: https://www.patreon.com/jennzahrt
© 2017 - Jenn Zahrt - published by The Mountain Astrologer
27-May-2018, 20:19 UT/GMT
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