This is the beginning of the series! Part 2
Greetings. You may not know this about me, but I am a student of Vedic astrology or Jyotish. I started out in the Western tradition when I was a teenager due to my interest in Greek mythology. It was during my college years that I discovered more traditional western methods that rely on the sidereal zodiac, and from there it was not long before I discovered the Vedic astrological tradition. I have been a hobby astrologer for over ten years and in the last year have started taking up formal courses in Vedic astrology so that I can practice astrology professionally.
I thought it would be a good idea to start sharing my knowledge of astrology, if only because I noticed that I really love to ramble on and on about it. In particular I find there is a great need for accessible information about the very fundamentals of astrology – not just chart interpretation, but its history, the rationale behind techniques, and the application of those techniques. For my first post, I will be giving a brief overview of the history of astrology. Subsequent posts will focus on more specific techniques and basics in depth.
My goal for this series is to give people the tools they need to approach astrology with confidence and an appropriate amount of discernment. This series will not turn you into a professional astrologer, but it will help you gain a working knowledge of astrology. A good analogy is automobiles – some people are clueless about cars, and talking about them is like speaking in a foreign language. Unfortunately these people are the ones who are most vulnerable to being taken advantage of by unethical shops and mechanics who will use scare tactics to get someone to pay for extra services or products they don’t really need. Then, you have people who have a working knowledge of cars – maybe they have performed their own oil change before and understand the basic components of an engine and how they are meant to behave. They understand enough to be able to keep up on maintenance and have a general idea of what might be wrong with their car when problems come up, but they cannot assess, diagnose, and repair more complicated issues. After that you have your backyard and full-fledged mechanics, who are experienced and deeply knowledgeable about cars – so much so that they are ethically able to charge money to service other person’s vehicles. So please, do not use my series to administer astrological consultations to other people, as this will not prepare you to be able to ethically do that. This is to empower you to understand your own chart and understand what astrologers are talking about when you consult them.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I am excited to get started.
History of Astrology
Humans have been tracking the movements of the stars for millennia. It is natural to be attracted to the sky and marvel at its awe. Many astronomical phenomenon such as eclipses, comets, meteorites, and constellations played a huge role in the spiritual culture of all early civilizations around the world. You may already be aware that there exist all over Europe many stone monuments that are oriented to the position of the sun during winter solstice, including the famous Stonehenge, which generally was a popular time of year for feasting rituals. Solstices, in fact, are universally celebrated around the world. We also find that the cardinal directions (North, South, West, East) are universally recognized around the world and play a large role in the alignment of the Egyptian Great Pyramid. From Iron Age meteorite worship to the Star of Bethlehem to ancient eclipse omens, humans have placed great meaning on the sky and its various celestial objects and navigation.
In modern times, astrology and astronomy are treated as separate – which isn’t necessarily wrong. During ancient times however, the two studies were often side-by-side and interchanged with each other. Before the dawn of digital astrological software and mobile apps, astrologers had to know how to look up at the sky and map the coordinates of the planets manually to paper. Astrologers had to be astronomers to do their work, though not all astronomers of the past were necessarily astrologers. While astronomy encompasses the study of celestial objects and phenomena, Astrology is specifically the practice of looking at relationships between celestial objects and events down on earth. Nearly every culture around the world practiced some kind of astrology, and therefore there are many astrological traditions around the world. This did not always look like natal astrology, which is the form we are most familiar with today and focuses on casting natal charts of individuals at the time of their birth to assess their lives. Often primitive astrology focused on predicting events in the interest of advising and protecting leaders or rulers of a given civilization, regulation of agriculture, or for charting out dates for festivals and worship of specific deities. Predicting omens by following eclipse patterns, meteors, the brightness and color of planets, and other celestial events was common. Around the world there are rich mythical traditions involving the stars and constellations identified by early civilizations and these contribute significantly to the astrological practices that have evolved over time. Therefore it is important to be aware of the cultural context out of which astrological traditions have grown.
The early foundations of natal astrology, which is our primary focus, started to emerge around 500 BCE in ancient Mesopotamia. The Babylonians divided the ecliptic into the 12 zodiacal signs we are all familiar with. This solar zodiac was used to keep track of the movements of the planets for the purpose of predicting omens, especially in regards to agriculture. Natal horoscopes would emerge later around 410 BCE and became commonplace by 200 BCE. The Greeks soon picked up Babylonian astrology and introduced their own ideas into it, eventually becoming what we know as the tradition of Hellenistic astrology. Much of modern astrology practiced in the west originates from the Hellenistic tradition, and especially Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, his landmark treatise on astrology which was produced around 2nd century CE.
Around the same time as the Babylonians, Chinese natal astrology also began to develop. The two systems are entirely independent of each other, but share many parallels, including the fear of eclipses and 12 zodiac signs. Unlike the Babylonian zodiac, the Chinese zodiac is not associated with the constellations that span the ecliptic plane. Instead, the Chinese zodiac is based on a 12-year cycle where each year is assigned a zodiacal animal. Chinese astrology also included the use of a lunar zodiac, or lunar mansions, which followed the movements of the moon along stars of 28 constellations, estimated to have been established around 3200 BCE. Lunar mansions were also used in Arabia and ancient India, where the tradition of Vedic astrology, known as Jyotish, arose and is still actively practiced today. While these systems of lunar mansions had some traits in common, they were also distinct from each other. This demonstrates that there is no one single “astrology” – there are different traditions across different cultures, each being influenced by their respective culture of origin’s myths, traditions, and philosophies.
As mentioned before, India was using lunar mansions, called nakshatras, to practice astrology alongside the Chinese. Their lunar mansion system is estimated to have emerged around 1700 BCE. The Indian tradition of astrology is well-preserved and referenced in ancient Vedic texts such as the Rigveda. One of the earliest known texts concerning Indian astrology is the Vedanga Jyotisha, estimated between 1370 and 1150 BCE. At some point around 1st century CE, the Greeks introduced Hellenistic astrology to India and some of its elements were adopted into the Vedic tradition, such as the 12-sign solar zodiac. This exchange was evidenced by the existence of the ancient text, Yavanajataka (“nativity according to the Greeks”), a Sanskrit translation of Greek astrology. The Vedic astrology tradition went on to evolve into a few different schools, one of the most widely practiced being the school of Parashara. Its tenets are outlined in the text Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, which is a compilation of teachings thought to have been written around 600 CE.
Vedic astrology is a living tradition that is still practiced and taught in universities to this day. The Hellenistic or Western tradition fell out of favor amidst the rise of Christianity and the 16th and 17th century astronomical discoveries of heliocentrism by Copernicus and Kepler’s discovery that the orbit of planets are elliptical rather than circular, which contradicted Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system. Western astrology experienced a revival in the late 19th century when psychologist Carl Jung made reference to it in his work, and with the 1920’s seeing the emergence of newspaper horoscopes. Not long after, New Age spirituality heavily popularized sun sign astrology in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, with Linda Goodman’s 1968 release of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs being the first astrology book to make it on the New York Times Best Seller List. This modern western astrology is more focused on the personality of the individual being read for, a reflection of the individualistic values of modern western society. Other traditions such as Chinese are still practiced today in some folk traditions, though not with the same widespread recognition as Western and Vedic astrology. As a whole, astrology is still widely regarded as pseudoscience outside of spiritual or folk communities, though many people enjoy indulging in sun sign horoscopes and merchandise.
Still, those who practice astrology in the modern age do take it seriously and there exists rigorous programs of study for those who are serious about becoming a professional astrologer or astrological scholar. As previously mentioned, Indian universities offer courses in astrology and students can go on to earn their PhD in astrological sciences. There exist scholarly journals devoted to publishing astrological research. Additionally, there exist organizations that provide professional certifications such as the American Federation of Astrologers and the Council of Vedic Astrology. Other astrology organizations include The Organization for Professional Astrology, The Astrological Association, and International Society for Astrological Research. Worldwide every year there are astrology conferences where professional astrologers and scholars gather to exchange ideas and continue their education. By no means is astrology dead, nor is it anything to sneeze at either.
That concludes my brief overview of the history of astrology. I hope this was useful and helped broaden your understanding of modern astrology and its origins. Again, I am currently studying to become a professional astrologer and if you are interested in receiving a brief consultation please check out my rates and services page. I am grateful for opportunities to practice my skills. I currently do not offer predictions, but am happy to briefly look at your natal chart and convey what comes to me. I’ve included my sources below. I especially recommend the Great Courses’ The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy available on audible. Thank you for reading!
Perry, G. (2021, March 1). The Two-Zodiac Problem: Toward an Empathic Understandng. Glenn Perry. https://aaperry.com/two-zodiac-problem-toward-empathic-understandng/
PsyMinds, P. M. (2021, February 21). A Brief History of Vedic Astrology. PsyMinds. https://psy-minds.com/vedic-astrology-jyotish/
Schaefer, B. E. (2017). The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy [E-book]. https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Remarkable-Science-of-Ancient-Astronomy-Audiobook/1629976121
Wikipedia contributors. (2022a, June 4). Vedanga Jyotisha. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedanga_Jyotisha
Wikipedia contributors. (2022b, June 20). Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brihat_Parashara_Hora_Shastra
Wikipedia contributors. (2022c, July 28). Yavanajataka. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yavanajataka