The History and Importance of Egyptian Astrology

By Hayley White

Reading time: 11 minutes

Whether you believe in it or not, astrology has been central to pretty much every culture in history. The ancient Greeks used astrology with astronomy dating all the way back to Mesopotamia and Babylon around the 19thcentury B.C, and Vedic astrology comes from the Bronze Age Vedas. The Vedas are ancient Sanskrit texts written by sages during deep meditative states. They decipher the idea that the cosmos can affect our individual lives. Eastern Chinese astrology’s mythological zodiac is symbolised by animals, and looks deeper into what is known as people’s Ming, or destiny, and how that is affected by the universe.

At the centre of these astrological theories are the stars and planets in the greater cosmos. The stars have been our guides for many years, way before we started using them for divination. Even then, predictions were essential to helping civilisations run smoothly. Astronomy was central in foreseeing whether there would be floods or famine, or whether harvests would be bountiful.

 

By Hayley White

Reading time: 11 minutes

Whether you believe in it or not, astrology has been central to pretty much every culture in history. The ancient Greeks used astrology with astronomy dating all the way back to Mesopotamia and Babylon around the 19thcentury B.C, and Vedic astrology comes from the Bronze Age Vedas. The Vedas are ancient Sanskrit texts written by sages during deep meditative states. They decipher the idea that the cosmos can affect our individual lives. Eastern Chinese astrology’s mythological zodiac is symbolised by animals, and looks deeper into what is known as people’s Ming, or destiny, and how that is affected by the universe.

At the centre of these astrological theories are the stars and planets in the greater cosmos. The stars have been our guides for many years, way before we started using them for divination. Even then, predictions were essential to helping civilisations run smoothly. Astronomy was central in foreseeing whether there would be floods or famine, or whether harvests would be bountiful.

It was known by Egyptians that whenever the star Sirius (associated with the deity Sepdet) annually appears in the sky at dawn, the Nile would flood. The appearance of Sirius heralded the New Year. Because of this, Sepdet became central to celebrations for the Egyptian New Year, Wep Renpet, and was the goddess of fertile soil.

The Egyptians believed that their Gods and Goddesses showed themselves at their most opportune moment; their maximum point of force or power – their moment of At. The Egyptians understood that Gods manifested in different forms depending on the time, and each God was associated with a planet or star. The main example of this is the rise of the star Sirius.

So, astronomy quickly linked into astrology – especially in ancient Egypt.

Historians traced back ancient Egyptian astrology to a specific point of time in the Hellenistic period (323 B.C. to 32 B.C.) where people believed that the God Thoth (known as Hermes Trismegistus) taught magic, science, writing and astrology to disciples and priests. Others believed that Thoth carved the magical teachings of the heavenly bodies on the walls and columns of holy temples. There are believed to be forty-two books written by Thoth, four of which were devoted to astrology (Schoener, translated by Denson, 2002). The pharaoh of the 26th dynasty (677-672 B.C.) described one of his revelations: “It appeared to me, as I prayed the whole night and looked up to the heavens, that the sky opened up and out of the heavens sounded a voice. Then a sky-blue robe, which depicted the night sky, wrapped itself around my body. And thus I experienced the whole immortal order in the movements of the universe,” (Schoener, translated by Denson, 2002, p. 36).

Stone tableau
Photo: Reno Laithienne, Unsplash

One of the more important aspects of Egyptian astrology, even more so than assigning Gods to certain planets, was the implementation of decans (each of three equal ten-degree divisions of a sign of the zodiac). The decans were used as a system of time measurement for the Egyptians and consisted of 36 groups of stars that would appear right before the sunrise at dawn to mark the beginning of a 10-day week. The groups of 36 were multiplied by 10 to make up a 360-day year, with an added 5 days for the solar year. The sequence of these stars would always start with Sirius, and each had a corresponding God or Goddess exerting different influences and playing different roles.

The first evidence of the decan system was found on the lid of a 2100 B.C. coffin lid. These decans would later go on to be an essential part of Western astrology, and Greek astrologers would adopt the decans into their new system.

 

 

Egyptian zodiac dates, Greek zodiac sign equivalents and planet rulers:

  • Osiris (Aries, planet rulers Pluto and Sun): 1st – 10th March and 27th November – 18th December
  • Amun-Ra (Taurus, planet rulers Saturn and Sun): 8th – 21st January and 1st – 11th February
  • Seth (Gemini, planet ruler Mars): 28th May – 18th June and 28th September – 2nd October
  • Bastet (Cancer, planet rulers Sun and Moon): 14th – 28th July; 23rd – 27th September and 3rd – 17thOctober
  • Anubis (Leo, planet ruler Mercury): 9th – 27th May and 29th June – 13th July
  • Thoth (Virgo, planet rulers Moon and Mercury): 1st – 19th April and 8th – 17th November
  • Geb (Libra, planet ruler Earth): 12th – 29th February and 20th – 31st August
  • Mut (Scorpio, planet ruler Sun): 22nd – 31st January and 8th – 22nd September
  • Hapi (Sagittarius, planet rulers Moon, Earth, and Uranus): 1st – 7th January; 19th – 28th June; 1st – 7thSeptember and 18th – 26th November
  • Horus (Capricorn, planet rulers Sun and Moon): 20th April – 8th May and 12th – 19th August
  • Sekhmet (Aquarius, planet ruler Sun): 29th July – 11th August and 30th October – 7th November
  • Isis (Pisces, planet rulers Moon, Earth, and Uranus): 11th – 31st March; 18th – 29th October and 19th – 31st December

One of the most interesting things about Hellenistic astrology is that the ancient Egyptians used it to form an advanced system of medicine called Iatromathematics. They were so important and became so central that some astrological writings even included this term in their titles. Everything on earth – rocks, plants, or animals – was assigned a God. This meant that in any stone or organism, there was a God at work (Schoener, translated by Denson, 2002).

It was the same for humans. Anything in the human body, including individual organs and body parts, was assigned a God. This meant that if a particular body part became ill, it was assumed that the assigned God was causing issues. From this, the Egyptians believed that particular organ or person could be healed by the plant or animal that was inhabited or ruled by the same God.

This was important because the Egyptians believed that each person was influenced by the cosmos (as above, so below). This went hand in hand with every other form of astrology that followed the influence of the macrocosm (cosmos, universe) on the microcosm (individual). This, as well as the decan system, was inherited by hybrid Greek-Egyptian astrology.

When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt at around 330 B.C., he created Alexandria – a city that produced some of the most prolific writers. It was there that Greek-Babylonian astrology mixed with Decanic astrology to create the Egyptian zodiac as we know it. Not too long after Alexander the Great died came Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy (A.D. 90 to A.D. 168) was an Egyptian mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer who was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy wrote several scientific works, one of which was the Tetrabiblos. It was a radical thing to write considering the Romans did not believe in astrology at the time. It was a work written extensively on the relevance of horoscopic astrology but mostly in the medicinal sense, especially in the second book of the Tetrabiblos. Ptolemy explained the different factors that could predict both good and bad events based on the positioning of the stars and planets in contrast to their geographical location. It held a lot of similar concepts to previous Egyptian astrology, especially in how planets could determine illnesses or successes.

For example, Ptolemy says that Saturn can cause destruction by cold, particularly when the event in question concerns men, and can also cause illness, withering, poverty, exile, imprisonment, and deaths, among other unpleasant occurrences. One of the interesting things he has said about a dominant Saturn is that it brings about scarcity of certain animals and that when man use that certain animal, men perish.

He also mentions good outcomes where some planets are concerned, for instance, when Venus is dominant in a particular event, fame, honour, happiness, marriage, abundance, and profit are all that Saturn can bring. But even Ptolemy says these should all be taken with a grain of salt as there are many other factors outside of the actual horoscopes that can affect people and events (Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy).

It is quite disappointing that critics dismiss astrology as nothing more than a funny thing to read out of the back of a newspaper or magazine. Without astronomy, the Egyptians would have had no way to predict when the Nile would flood, or when would be the best time to plant their crops in a fertile soil. Likewise, they also relied heavily on astrology for medicine, making sure their people were treated with the appropriate remedies for their ailments. Obviously for the ancient Egyptians and many other ancient civilisations, astrology was a sacred and powerful form of divination that was given to them directly from their Gods. Who are we to spit on what the Gods have given us?

 

Sources: 1. Oxford languages 2. Egyptian astrology: What is my Egyptian zodiac sign? astrofame.com 3. Origins of astrology: The Egyptian legacy, keplercollege.org 4. History of astrology, faust.com 5. Tetrabiblos, hermetics.org 6. Astrology: Between religion and the empirical. Esoterica IV, 29-60.

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