A Few Frequently Asked Questions

What is Astrology?

The History of Astrology

Astrology: An Ancient Wisdom

About the Zodiac

The History of Astrology

Our ancestors were much more in touch with the natural cycles and rhythms and more dependent on them than we are today. They noticed, and kept track of any changes and activities associated with, not only, the Sun and Moon, but other heavenly bodies as well. And, as they became more civilised, they meticulously recorded all they saw. As they followed the movements of the planets, eventually, it became clear that the position of the planets seemed to bear a direct relationship to what was happening, and how people were acting here on Earth. Scholars realized that the position of stars and planets can provide insights on personality and human affairs, help explain past and present events and even predict the future.

Early stargazers were called astrologers, from the Greek word astro, which means, "star" or and logia which means, "study of " and they really practiced both astrology and astronomy for the two were synonymous until fairly recently (the late 17th century). In earlier days the study of stars for advice and divination was well known and appreciated, but astrology was not as we know it today. Over the course of thousands of years, it went through many developments and changes - from the discovery and incorporation of the zodiac to the use of personal birth charts.

No one knows when man first raised his eyes to the heavens and began to notice the stars, but we do know that prehistoric man painted maps of the heavens on the walls of caves. The pyramids in ancient Egypt, showed precise geometric alignment to the constellations. The angles of the chambers pointed most accurately to certain points in the heavens.

In 3000 BC the Sumerian civilization that flourished in the Mesopotamian region diligently observed and recorded the movements of the stars and the planets. Priests were primarily concerned with predicting natural events such as weather. They did not use the zodiac then, nor did they know about the system of "houses " in use today. The oldest astrological document still extant is from this period. It is called "Namar-Beli " (Illumination of Bel) and was composed for King Sargon I. Each Sumerian priest-king had a seer, who could interpret the sky for omens such as an eclipse of the moon. They built huge structures called "ziggurats " which they used as observatories and to map the formations of the stars. Under pressure to predict correctly, the seers learned to use mathematics to predict eclipses, designed a calendar; divided their year into twelve lunar months, and tracked the cycles of the sun, moon, planets and stars.

There are also records of astrology dating back to the Old Babylonian period, in 1654 BC. The focus was on the well being of the kingdom (and therefore the king). The Babylonian priests observed that the planet Venus revolves around the sun backwards and associated it with love and war. Around 1300 BC, early individual birth charts based on the month of a child’s birth, began to be formulated.

In 729 BC, the Assyrians conquered Babylon and a new phase began in the development of astrology. They created an accurate calendar, plotted star maps, and listed the stars. Omens became very important and those who could forecast good things were well respected. The Assyrians plotted eighteen constellations all together. Between 630 and 450 BC, in the New Babylonian period, astrologers began to use twelve zodiac signs of 30 degrees each along the ecliptic. Once the zodiac had been discovered, it was only a matter of time until astrologers worked out how to make a birth chart, or “snapshot” of the heavens at the precise moment and place of a person’s birth. The oldest birth chart we know about was made for the date of April 29, 410 BC.

The Greeks exerted the next great influence on astrology. They wove it into their mythology, giving us the names and images with which we are familiar today. Their model of the cosmos, called Hermetic Astrology, is based on the principal "as above so below "’ - that what is happening in the heavens and in nature is echoed by what is happening in human life. The Romans tried to ban astrology at first, but eventually accepted it. Greek and Roman astrologers were often given prestigious positions as royal advisors. However, the job was tricky, as it could end rather unpleasantly when those on power didn’t like what the astrologer had to say. In the second century AD, a man called Claudius Ptolemy, an Egyptian scientist said by some to be the head librarian at the museum or library at Alexandria, mapped more than one thousand stars, and listed 48 constellations. One of his works now known as the Tetrabiblos, drew upon almost every astrological work up to that point, and became the foundation for modern Western astrology. Most of what we know as astrology comes from this work. Carl Jung in his Theory of Synchronicity later echoed one of Ptolemy’s concepts.

Despite the references in the Bible to the star of Bethlehem and the Magi (Astrologers), Christianity opposed astrology. After Saint Augustine criticised it, and claimed that it was aided by demons, it became associated with heresy, paganism and the work of the devil - a view still held by the Vatican to this day.

During the dark ages, knowledge of astrology all but disappeared in Europe, but Persian, Arabic, and Jewish astrologers still flourished. Later, in medieval times, as Christianity began to accept astrology, Europeans relearned astrology from the Arabs. Thomas Aquinas stated ‘"the stars incline, not compel’ ", and astrology became an integral part of all-Medieval science, art and medicine. In the Renaissance period, the principal of "as above so below " became very popular. Nostradamus used astrology, and Elizabeth I chose her coronation day according to its divinations. Everyone who was anyone used astrologers. In the 1700’s the newly developing sciences became everybody’s darlings and astronomy separated from astrology. However, reading the stars never really went out of fashion and astrology is enjoying an enormous revival of late. In 1930 the London Sunday Express printed the astrological profile of the newly born Princess Margaret, an act which marked the beginning of horoscope columns in almost all major newspapers.

Different countries have different systems of astrology. The three main ones are Western astrology, Vedic astrology, and Chinese astrology. Though all versions hare some points, they also have important differences.

Western, or Classical Astrology is, as the name suggests, the system mostly used in the western world, with which many of us are familiar. Classical Astrology measures the zodiac from the equinox point of zero degrees of Aries. This is called the Tropical Zodiac. Vedic astrology used in India and other parts of Asia developed in a slightly different way. They measure the zodiac from the fixed star constellation of Aries. This is known as a Sidereal Zodiac. Chinese astrology uses twelve-year cycles; each represented by an animal, which symbolizes personality and characteristics.

Though it has been used in modern times, largely as a light-hearted entertainment, this proud and ancient science is once more being taken seriously and horoscopes now, as thousands of years ago, are seen as a tool to provide insight into the past and present and prediction for the future.

By Sylvia Richards 17th August 2009

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