March / April 2014 Issue
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A Brief History of Astrology
This article was written by Stephanie Clement
posted under Astrology
Anyone can use astrology in their daily lives, but it hasn’t always been that way. Once astrology was reserved for kings and nations, and only the court astrologer/astronomer could cast and interpret the chart. Now anyone with a computer can obtain a highly accurate birth chart and interpret it. Let’s look at the development of this ancient art and science.
Ancient astronomy and astrology were one and the same. To be an astrologer, you first had to be able to identify the stars in some systematic way, and then track the movement of the Moon and planets against the background of the constellations you identified. To keep track of time and the seasons, you had to be reasonably accurate in your calculations.
- Circa 1700 BCE: During the Bronze Age, Chinese astronomers divided the sky into twenty eight segments, roughly equivalent to the Moon’s path through the heavens each month. Each segment was associated with a specific star. This meant that the movement of the planets could be tracked by relating them to the fixed stars. We know some of the stars they used: Antares, the Fire Star, was in the Spring Palace; Alphard, the Bird Star, was in the Summer Palace; the Pleiades (actually a group of stars) governed the Autumn Palace; and Sadalssud was at the center of the Winter Palace.
- Circa 1500 BCE: The site at Izapa, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, was already inhabited. This is the place where the Mayan long count calendar was created. The monuments still in place today date from the beginning of the modern era (about 50 to 300 BC). These buildings include features that allow the sighting of the planet Venus rising with the Sun on certain dates.
Calendar dating used relationships that occurred on a regular basis, such as the Sun rising with a specific star. An example we still relate to is the “dog days of summer.” The dog days begin when the Sun rises at the same time as the star Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius is called the Dog Star because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog. Sirius is also the brightest of all the stars.
Think about it—astrology has come a long, long way. Where once the Sun, Moon, and planets were only observed through plain sight, now we each can own delicate instruments that can be programmed to locate specific objects by themselves! Where once only a handful of people could anticipate an eclipse, we now have almanacs that tell us eclipse times and much more. Where once only the court astrologer could predict the future using astrological charts, now anyone with the desire can study the subject and forecast events and trends.
- Circa 900 BCE: Ancient Indian astrologers had developed a system of nakshatras, or reference stars, that seem to have been used to track the movement of the Moon. This system originally had twenty-seven stars, and added the Pleiades to make twenty-eight.
The stars used in these early systems do not form identical lists. Several of them, however, are the same stars used by the Babylonians. Eventually each system gravitated toward uniform divisions of the heavens, rather than the uneven placement of the identifying stars around the ecliptic (the path of the Earth around the Sun, and the apparent path of the Sun around the Earth from our perspective).
- Circa Third Century CE: The Babylonians developed the mathematical schema to support creation of the ephemeris, or listing of planetary positions by date. Not initially a tool of astrologers, the ephemeris has now replaced the need to observe the planets in the sky with accurate positions of the planets for each day of the year.
- Circa 400 CE: Astronomy/astrology took a great leap forward with the invention of the astrolabe. Developed by Arab astronomers, this device used to measure the location of stars became a highly sophisticated tool in the Islamic world of 800 AD. In fact, the astrolabe continued to be the most powerful instrument for astronomers until the 1600s.
- Circa 1500 CE: The reformation of the Church caused the decline of astrology in Europe. The shift did not occur on especially religious grounds. Rather, the dependency on ancient knowledge decreased as people began to reject religious authority, and with it other kinds of authority. Just because something was written in a book, that didn’t make it valid. People began to seek other sources of information. So people became skeptical of astrology. By about 1650 AD, astrology had lost favor.
- The Year 1609: Galileo pointed his telescope toward the heavens, and astronomy hasn’t been the same since. Neither has astrology. Galileo quickly discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter in 1610. Since that time telescopes have been developed that can see into distant galaxies and identify planets circling stars there.
- Circa 1850 CE: Almanacs grew in popularity in the 1800s, with sales of 58,000 copies of Zadkiels’s Almanac in 1864, and 80,000 by 1870. Zadkiel correctly predicted the end of the American Civil War when Robert E. Lee surrendered on the day of an eclipse.
- Circa 1890 CE:
Astrology met theosophy and the branch of esoteric astrology was born. Another big shift came with the emergence of modern psychology. Freudian and Jungian psychology have also had a heavy impact on contemporary twentieth- and twenty-first century astrology. Once the tool of monarchs and their astronomers, astrology now was applied to the study of individual lives. Anyone could employ an astrologer to predict the future.
- Circa 1970 CE: The advent of astrological computers produced the most dramatic change in the way astrology is practiced. Many astrologers had previously spent as much as four to eight hours constructing a person’s birth chart, moving the planets forward for purposes of prediction, and calculating the relationships among the planets (aspects). Today a birth chart can be created, along with progressions and transits, in a matter of seconds. In fact, any computer user can calculate charts and print out computerized interpretations.
Astrologers also are able to use far more sophisticated methods. Computer speed and graphic design make the use of maps, midpoints, arcane forecasting methods, and relocation simple. Birth times can be corrected within minutes, a procedure that once took days of research and recalculation.
- Twenty-First Century Astrology: With personal computers becoming commonplace, any interested student of astrology can have software to calculate charts of all kinds. In addition, you can purchase books to explain the chart you produce in great detail. Inexpensive programs are included in books to help you understand your own personality, predict the future, learn about your relationships, and a host of other topics. You can study the planets and their meanings from just about any perspective you choose. Do you want the Sun at the center? Heliocentric astrology is a growing subject. Fancy standing on the Moon or Mars? It’s not a problem for today’s astrology software to help you imagine the view.
The gift at the beginning of the twentieth century was insight into human psychology. Perhaps the gift of twenty-first century astrology will be placing self-understanding in the hands of anyone who seeks it.
Krupp, E. C. Beyond the Blue Horizon. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Jenkins, John Major. Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. Santa Fe, Bear & Co., 1998.
Holden, James Herschel. A History of Horoscopic Astrology. Tempe, Arizona: American Federation of Astrologers, 1996.
A professional astrologer for over twenty-five years, Stephanie Jean Clement, Ph.D., is a board member of the American Federation of Astrologers and a faculty member of Kepler College and NORWAC. Her Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology has prepared her to... Read more
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