I am a Sagittarius. I don’t know what that could mean, except that I was born between November 22 and December 21. That said, for some who are into astrology, it seems to have more meaning and I was curious to know where does that came from. So, I looked into it:
Who created Astrology?
According to Merriam-Webster, “Astrology is the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.” Its history spans thousands of years, beginning in ancient Mesopotamia and continuing until the present day. It is not anything new.
The history of astrology can be traced back to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, in the 3rd millennium BC. In these ancient times, astrology was intimately entwined with astronomy, and the distinction between the two disciplines was blurred. The celestial bodies, including stars and planets, were seen as potent forces that could influence earthly affairs and human lives.
Babylonian Astrology: A Pioneering System
The earliest recorded organized system of astrology emerged in Babylon, around the 2nd millennium BC. While there is speculation about the presence of astrology in earlier Sumerian periods, the first systematic records date back to the late old Babylonian texts around 1800 BC. These texts, often written on cuneiform tablets, contained celestial omens and formed the foundation of Babylonian astrology.
During this early period, Babylonian astrology primarily focused on mundane matters, such as predicting weather patterns and political events. The practitioners of this astrology had a rudimentary understanding of astronomy, and their mathematical methods were still developing. The celestial symbols they used likely represented seasonal tasks, serving as a yearly almanac for agricultural and societal activities.
By the 4th century BC, Babylonian astrologers had made significant strides in their mathematical methods, enabling them to calculate future planetary positions with reasonable accuracy. This advancement led to the creation of extensive ephemerides, which provided detailed records of celestial movements.
Babylonian astrology was deeply intertwined with divination. In particular, the Babylonians employed liver models, inscribed on 32 tablets and dating back to about 1875 BC, as tools for divination. These models were used to interpret blemishes and marks found on the livers of sacrificial animals. These marks were believed to convey messages from the gods to the king.
Moreover, the Babylonians associated gods with celestial images. When evil omens were linked to a specific planet, it was seen as a sign of the displeasure of the god connected to that planet. To appease the gods and mitigate potential harm, rituals, and symbolic actions were performed.
The Birth of Horoscopic Astrology
One crucial distinction in ancient Babylonian astrology was its focus on mundane astrology, which primarily concerned cities, nations, and the well-being of the state and its ruler. Natal astrology, which focuses on individuals and their personal destinies, had not yet taken center stage.
However, the gradual emergence of horoscopic astrology in the 6th century BC marked a significant shift. Horoscopic astrology introduced techniques and practices related to natal astrology. This development marked the beginning of the personalized astrological readings we are more familiar with today.
Babylonian astrology had a profound impact on neighboring cultures, especially those under Babylonian rule or influence. After the conquest of Egypt by the Persians in 525 BC, there is evidence of Mesopotamian influence on Egyptian astrology. For instance, the Dendera Zodiac in Egypt shows similarities to Babylonian constellations.
Furthermore, the city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in Egypt, became a hub of intellectual activity during the Hellenistic period. It was here that Babylonian astrology merged with Egyptian Decanic astrology to give birth to horoscopic astrology. This hybrid system incorporated elements from both cultures, such as the Babylonian zodiac, planetary exaltations, and the division of the zodiac into thirty-six decans.
The Hellenistic Influence on Astrology
The Hellenization of Egypt following Alexander the Great’s invasion in 332 BC had an impact on the regional intellectual and cultural scene. The previous Egyptian Decanic astrology was combined with Babylonian astrology by Hellenistic academics in Alexandria, creating a more complete and complex system.
With its twelve signs and planetary correlations, the Babylonian zodiac evolved into a key element of Hellenistic astrology. Each sign was connected to particular personality qualities and life experiences. Astrological interpretations included the idea of planetary exaltations, which defined the strength of a planet in a certain sign.
The zodiac was split into 36 decans by Hellenistic astrologers, with each decan containing 10 degrees. These decans contributed to the improvement of astrological forecasts. The rising decan at the moment of birth was given special attention since it was thought to have a substantial impact on a person’s life.
Additionally, the Hellenistic system gave the planets names for gods, strengthening the link between celestial entities and divine powers. The idea that certain planets rule over particular signs added to the intricacy of astrological interpretations. The idea of the four classical elements—earth, air, fire, and water—was also introduced into the analyses, and each element was connected to a certain sign and temperament.
The Dendera Zodiac
An important artifact that demonstrates the effect of the Hellenistic culture on Egyptian astrology is the Dendera Zodiac, which dates to the first century BC. The twelve zodiac signs are shown in this circular bas-relief at the Dendera Temple complex together with many Egyptian and Greek symbols. It demonstrates how Egyptian and Babylonian astrological practices merged at this time.
Ptolemy and the Tetrabiblos
Claudius Ptolemy, who lived in Alexandria in the second century CE during the Roman occupation of Egypt, is one of the most important characters in the development of Western astrology. For many years, the “Tetrabiblos,” one of his works, was the foundation of Western astrology. In the 12th century, Ptolemy’s books were translated from Arabic into Latin, which reignited interest in astrology in medieval Europe.
The Dichotomy of Astrology and Astronomy
Due to the overlap between the two disciplines, the terms “astrologia” and “astronomia” were frequently used interchangeably during the Hellenistic era. Astrology has kept its mysticism and divinatory elements while astronomy has developed into a scientific field devoted to understanding the universe via observation and measurement.
Astrology in the Middle Ages
Aspects of astrology both persisted and changed during the Middle Ages. While it continued to be well-liked, particularly among intellectuals and the ruling class, astrology also encountered difficulties and opposition from religious authorities.
Numerous courts in medieval Europe used astrologers to counsel kings on everything from politics to combat. Astrology was seen as a useful resource for making decisions. Additionally, it was used in medicine, with doctors studying astrological charts to identify ailments and choose the most favorable times to provide medicines.
During the Middle Ages, the writings of Hellenistic and Persian astrologers, as well as fresh insights from Islamic experts, were translated into Latin. This amount of information benefited Western astrology even further.
Astrologers continued to forecast national and political events using prosaic astrology. Electional astrology was also prevalent, assisting people in selecting favorable periods for significant initiatives.
Challenges to Astrology
The use of astrology during the Middle Ages was uneven, shifting from area to region. Some monastic institutions accepted astrology because of its theoretical and applied value, while others did not.
Different levels of hostility to astrology were present throughout Europe with the emergence of Christianity. While some Church leaders were interested in its potential, others denounced astrology as being heretical. The ideas of eminent Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas profoundly influenced how astrology was seen. Astrology, according to Aquinas, could not properly foretell individual destiny since it did not take into account human free choice.
Despite these difficulties, astrology persisted in a variety of forms throughout the Middle Ages. A rebirth of interest in classical knowledge, including astrology, was a hallmark of the Renaissance, which started in the 14th century. As a result, there was a reevaluation of astrological ideas and practices during this age of intellectual enlightenment.
The lines between astrology and astronomy continued to be hazy. A lot of astronomers, including Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, experimented with or utilized astrological methods. The development of a more objective and rational approach to celestial research, however, also occurred during this time.
A period of rationalism and skepticism was introduced by the Enlightenment, which started in the latter half of the 17th century. The legitimacy of astrology was contested by Enlightenment intellectuals, who were influenced by the scientific revolution and the work of individuals like Isaac Newton. However, astrology underwent substantial changes during this era instead of disappearing altogether.
Astrology in the Modern Era
Astrology had a rise in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, in part because of the expansion of well-liked astrological sections in newspapers and publications. Psychological astrology was developed by astrologers like Carl Jung and Dane Rudhyar, who emphasized the use of birth chart interpretation as a tool for self-awareness and personal development. Then, the New Age movement, which originated in the 1960s and 1970s, came to be associated with astrology. This movement embraced astrology as well as other esoteric and spiritual activities.
Astrology is still a complex discipline with many different interpretations, ranging from conventional and horoscopic astrology to more contemporary and psychological ones.
If you are more into astronomy than astrology, I previously wrote about the invention of the Telescope.