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The History of Astrology

{written by : Julie Chandler}

Article word count : 1573 -- Article Id : 1212
Article active date : 2008-12-01 -- Article views : 7802

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Article is about :
An exploration of how and why astrology came into being.

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Ancient origins
Astrology and astronomy had a common origin in about the 3rd or 4th millennium BC and up to the 17th century the same individual practiced them both (neither in Persian nor in Arabic was there ever any distinction between the terms for astrology and astronomy). As the two sciences developed, astronomy became considered to be essentially mathematical and astrology philosophical. The basis of astrology is a mix of astronomy, mathematics, symbolism and mythology.

Early man realised that the Sun provided the necessities for life in giving light and warmth. The Moon also played its part by influencing the tides as well as other natural cycles, and even man’s own emotional stability. Because of man’s belief in the magical powers of things around him, the moving lights in the sky became regarded as gods and that in turn gradually developed into astrology. Almost every ancient civilisation examined the heavens to provide them with answers about what would happen in the future and each had their own method for interpreting what they saw.

An interest in the earliest form of astrology was common not only to the Middle East, but in the Far East, the Incan, Mayan and Mexican civilisations. In fact, where Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn could be seen by the naked eye they were identified as gods with various names and personalities. Their movements against the background pattern of the stars were regarded as obviously significant, although this was not astrology as we understand it today because no charts were produced. There is evidence that astrology as we know it emerged in Mesopotamia around 2,000 BC showing that it was already 2,000 years old when natal horoscopes and house systems were introduced 2,000 years ago.

The history of astrology closely follows that of religion, particularly as early religion and rituals required knowledge of certain phenomena, like eclipses, and these were calculated by studying the heavens. A connection was made between the cycles of life and the movement of the Sun, and calendars were formed from these cycles. Symbolic comparisons were also connected to this movement as it creates the transition from light to dark in the same way as the cycle of birth to death.

Calendars were and still are important for use in both religion and agriculture. In modem times we probably no longer make the connection between our calendars and watches with the movement of the Earth around the Sun. Ancient peoples needed to know when changes in the weather could be expected as this was of great importance for deciding when crops should be planted or migrations were necessary. Looking at the stars provided a means of predicting when these changes were likely to take place. Interestingly, this was first recorded during the Stone Age which was even before agriculture existed, showing the spiritual importance it was given before the practical benefits were realised.

Some of the earliest astrological artefacts to have survived come from the Middle East where the first agricultural systems evolved around 15,000 BC. The way the megalithic monuments of north west Europe were constructed c4,000 to 2,000 BC shows a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mathematics that compares to that in the 14th - 16th centuries. These monuments seem to have been constructed for religious and ritual reasons, showing the deep connection with the roots of astronomy and astrology. This knowledge is possibly what was transferred to Mesopotamia as the seeds of what has become the astrology we know today.

Mesopotamia (now Iraq) has long been considered as the ‘cradle’ of civilisation dating from about 4,000 BC. Around 1,830 BC the first Babylonian Empire emerged and during this time there was much superstition, and recorded astronomical phenomena was only one aspect of man’s attempts to predict the future.

As astronomer-astrologers slowly acquired more and more knowledge about the planets they began to notice the ways in which they moved. They appeared to be sometimes hesitating, sometimes moving backwards, sometimes meeting each other and then parting. From this they formed more elaborate predictions based on these movements. It would seem that this occurred in the Middle East rather than in any of the other civilisations with the same interest because the Babylonians were better astronomers and mathematicians. Using this expertise they evolved a calendar and by 500 BC they were already moving towards the invention of the zodiac (an essential element in modern day astrology).

This zodiac was probably first created as a means of measuring time by using a circle around which twelve constellations were set, with each occupying a segment of thirty degrees. Because the path that the Sun appears to take around the Earth takes more or less 365 days, astronomers in Babylon, Egypt and China independently arrived at the idea of dividing it into 360 degrees, which is easily divisible into twelve sections. The symbolic naming of the constellations has a long history and the Bull and Scorpion (signifying spring and autumn) can be found on a commemorative stone of Nebuchadnezzar I who reigned during the 12th century BC. One or two of the signs may simply have been named as the result of some early astronomer needing to call a constellation something, and the most memorable way of naming it was to connect it with a myth. It is not clear when the twelve-sign zodiac came into being but even as late as the beginning of the Christian era the zodiac as we know it was not settled. The earliest record of its being used for astrological prediction is from the 5th century in Babylon and the 3rd century in Egypt.

The earliest surviving horoscope is dated 410 BC but the early horoscopes were not set out within the familiar circle of a ‘modern’ horoscope, representing a map of the sky for a particular moment and place, they were merely lists of the positions of the planets. The word horoscope is from the Greek ‘horoskopos’ (from hora, time, and skopos, observer), meaning the sign ascending over the eastern horizon at a given moment.

The idea that the planets influenced all of our lives and that a true interpreter of that influence was of enormous value was widely spread by the Chaldeans in the centuries just before the death of Christ. Chaldea was properly a province of Babylonia whose citizens soon became the élite of the country and who dominated its ruling class as early as the 8th century BC. Eventually, ‘Babylonia’ and ‘Chaldea’ became interchangeable terms but for some reason the popular meaning of the term ‘Chaldean’ came to be ‘astrologer’. In the Book of Daniel, for instance, ‘Chaldean’ meant astrologer, mathematician, astronomer, wizard or magician!

Many leading astrologers were literally Chaldeans, although some probably came from other areas of Babylonia or other parts of the Middle East. But it was the Chaldeans who predominantly introduced astrology to other nations. The Chaldeans carried astrology from Babylonia into Egypt and more importantly into Greece.

The Greeks
The invasion of Mesopotamia by Alexander the Great in 331 BC brought the Greek and Mesopotamian cultures together which resulted in the birth of modern astrology. It has always been understood that Alexander made use of astrology throughout his campaigns but this does not confirm that he believed in it himself. He may have realised that others believed and took advantage of that fact.

As early as the 6th century BC the Greeks seem to have adopted the zodiac, and the idea that the planets influenced man as they travelled through the signs was popularised by Democritus around 420 BC. He spent much time in Egypt and the east, almost certainly visiting Persia, and this may have helped in advancing his view that the planets governed men’s lives more than any Greek before him.

Between the 5th century BC and the birth of Christ, astrology appealed to various sections of Greek society. Among them were philosophers and scientists and such men as Hippocrates, the physician and ‘father of medicine’. Hippocrates taught astrology to his students so that they could discover the ‘critical days’ in an illness. He is said to have remarked that, “Any man who does not understand astrology is a fool rather than a physician”.

Important Dates
The following dates show the development of astrology, however, not all historians agree on these being accurate due to confusing historical evidence.

  • c1,600 BC - the earliest astrological text
  • 747 BC - the first detailed astrological records
  • 687 BC - the first known star catalogue
  • 432 BC - the first use of zodiac signs as opposed to constellations
  • 410 BC - the earliest surviving horoscope
  • c308 BC - the earliest known planetary ephemeris
  • 263 BC - the first known use of zodiacal degrees
  • 68 BC - the last horoscope written in the ancient cuneiform script
  • 61 BC - the first known Greek horoscope (although evidence suggests that the Greeks cast horoscopes sometime before this)
  • 4 BC - the first recorded natal chart to make use of an ascendant (a mere 4 years after the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction of 7 BC which saw the probable birth of Christ)

As far as we know, astrology in its earliest days was practiced exclusively by priests who were in charge of divination to provide an additional source of advice for the king. By the time of the spread of the Greek culture in the final centuries before Christ, astrology was no longer practiced just by priests but by scholars and philosophers. Charts were not cast just for kings but for anyone with the interest and the money.

Author Bio :
Julie Chandler has been interested in astrology since childhood and has been producing astrological information for over 25 years. Julie set up in 2000 and the site currently receives close to 4,000 hits per day. Astral Arts includes horoscopes, relationship guides, a new mind/body/spirit section and much more.

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