Western astrology, its origins and how we use it today.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 10 minutes

Have you ever wished upon a star? Give it a go and see what happens - you might just end up seeing your future.

For most people, astrology is just a set of vague horoscopes that they read in a newspaper or magazine. For others, it’s a practice that spans back thousands of years.

Astrology (from the Greek words astron, meaning star, and logos, meaning study) is the study of how the movements and positions of planets are believed to have an influence on us, and on our world. It is the art of reading the stars to gain divine meaning and guidance from the universe.

I’m an avid believer in astrology and follow a handful of astrology pages on all my social media. I’m always intrigued by the new aspects of my personality that show up on my

By Hayley White

Reading time: 10 minutes

Have you ever wished upon a star? Give it a go and see what happens – you might just end up seeing your future.

For most people, astrology is just a set of vague horoscopes that they read in a newspaper or magazine. For others, it’s a practice that spans back thousands of years.

Astrology (from the Greek words astron, meaning star, and logos, meaning study) is the study of how the movements and positions of planets are believed to have an influence on us, and on our world. It is the art of reading the stars to gain divine meaning and guidance from the universe.

I’m an avid believer in astrology and follow a handful of astrology pages on all my social media. I’m always intrigued by the new aspects of my personality that show up on my Instagram timeline that make me think: ‘Oh yeah, that really sounds like me!’ Of course, being a typical Gemini, the more knowledge I have, the happier I am.

There is evidence to suggest our pre-historic ancestors were aware of the planets and their movements as far back as 15,000 B.C., worshipping the celestial bodies as gods. Each planet was assigned a god, later forming the meanings in horoscopic astrology. In those historic times, people used the sun and moon to know when to plant, grow, and harvest crops, as well as to measure time. It was central practice to the day-to-day life of pre-historic people to observe the sun and moon for festivals and even for procreation. But it wasn’t until the Mesopotamian people mastered maths and astronomy that they started to sculpt the beginning of astrology as we know it today (Saunders, 1998).

The Sumerians were people from the Mesopotamian era who created the first form of writing, called ‘cuneiform’. These cuneiform tablets tell us that the Sumerians were interested in divination, or prophesy, and astrology. Saunders (1998) says that at its earliest, Mesopotamia people used astrology for omens that might affect their kingdom, for example:

“When Moon and Sun are in opposition on the 14th lunar day, the king of the realm will be possessed of an extensive ear.” – This is an excerpt from deciphered cuneiform text.

The planets were still seen as Gods and played significant roles in Mesopotamian prophesy. Saunders (1998) says that by around 750 B.C. an 18-sign zodiac was made, and people were able to accurately calculate the planets’ future positions. After 600 B.C. this developed into the 12 zodiac signs we know, but there were still no personal horoscopes until 410 B.C. And even then, it was very rudimentary.

When the ancient Greeks started studying astrology alongside astronomy (the study of planets and stars and the physical universe), they were using zodiac constellations to keep track of time through the night. There are six zodiac constellations above the horizon when the sun sets. They knew that exactly six other constellations would rise during the night. They established that every constellation which rose above the horizon would equate to two hours. So, by observing those rising groups of stars, they could tell how many hours had passed since sunset.

There are also 12 zodiac signs for each month of the year. Each sign is assigned a month. The months were originally divided into 30 days to signify the 30 positions (or degrees) of the sun (van der Waerden, 1952).

When the Greeks began developing horoscopic astrology, Plato and Aristotle, two very influential philosophers, each had two different philosophies when it came to how they viewed the universe. Plato believed that the motion of the planets (or celestial bodies as he called them) were reflections of divine reason because they upheld mathematical laws. Aristotle thought that the circular movement of the planets (or luminaries as he called them) were perfect and eternal and superior to earth (Rochberg-Halton, 1984).

The impact of these differing views brought about the analogy of the microcosm-macrocosm concept. It implied that our souls were reflections of the cosmic souls; that our lives were directly influenced by the cosmos. This gave birth to horoscopic astrology which was then known as genethlialogy. Genethlialogy, or the science of births, claimed to foretell an individual’s fate, fortune, and character through the placement of the planets and the constellations at time of birth.

There are 12 signs in the zodiac for each month, beginning with Aries (March 21-April 19) followed by Taurus (April 20-May 20), Gemini (May 21-June 21), Cancer (June 22-July 22), Leo (July 23-August 22), Virgo (August 23-September 22), Libra (September 23-October 23), Scorpio (October 24-November 21), Sagittarius (November 22-December 21), Capricorn (December 22-January 19), Aquarius (January 20-February 18), and Pisces (February 19-March 20). Zodiac dates vary slightly each year because of leap years every fourth year – the last one being 2020.

Each sign has a ruling planet, or a planet they are attributed to:

  • The sun rules Leo, symbolising the self. It is the most well-known aspect of astrology. One’s sun sign depends on the position of the sun, the day a person was born.
  • The moon rules Cancer. It symbolises our moods, feelings and emotions, and habits. The moon transits (i.e. moves through each sign) every 2-3 days.
  • Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo. It is the planet of the mind, communication, and learning new information. Mercury transits every 3-4 weeks.
  • Venus rules Taurus and Libra. It is the planet of love, attraction, relationships, and beauty. Venus transits every 4-5 weeks.
  • Mars rules Aries and is the planet of aggression, passion, action. It also represents our most primary selves. Mars transits every 6-7 weeks.
  • Jupiter rules Sagittarius. It is the planet of optimism, abundance, hope, growth, and indicates how someone may find happiness and purpose. It transits every 12-13 months.
  • Saturn rules Capricorn and is the planet of restriction. It tells us what our limits and obstacles are and how we show responsibility and ambition. While it transits every 2-3 years, it can take 29 years to return to the sign it was in when you were born (known as a Saturn return).
  • Uranus rules Aquarius. It is the planet of inspiration, change, and eccentricity. In a natal (birth) chart it can tell us where someone may experience these changes in their life. It transits every 7 years.
  • Neptune rules Pisces and is the planet of dreams, intuition, and imagination. It will show a person where they are most creative. It transits every 10-12 years.
  • Pluto rules Scorpio and is the planet of transformation and power. It shows a person how they deal with death and rebirth. It transits every 12-15 years.

The outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are generational. Their transits span years and can take almost a lifetime to return to the sign they were in when you were born, so therefore affect entire generations of people.

Based on Greek astrology, the position of the planets at the time of someone’s birth can hint at the kind of person they will become, how they will express themselves, and the kind of life they will live. This has carried through to how we engage with astrology today. So the next time you see a horoscope in the newspaper or your favourite magazine, just know that you are reading an age-old practice that has been observed throughout millennia.

 

Sources: 1. A Brief Overview of the History of Western Astrology, Astrology House 2. History of the Zodiac, Archiv für Orientforschung 3. New Evidence for the History of Astrology, The University of Chicago Press Journals 4. Astrology planets and their meanings, planet symbols and cheat sheet, Labyrinthos

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