Astrology is the method of predicting an individual’s personality and future through studying the correlation between the alignment of cosmic objects like the sun, moon, planets, and constellations; and their influence due to this positioning. Let’s get to know the origin of the horoscope and astrology and also its evolution and influence on civilizations around the world.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines astrology as; ‘the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.’ Astrology was considered a part of astronomy until the 17th century when they were divided. It is regarded as a pseudoscience because, while the actual process of studying the heavenly bodies is conducted quite scientifically (via astronomy), there is no empirical evidence that has proven astrology to make accurate predictions during controlled, scientific studies.
The first known observations of the sun, moon, and stars (known as astronomy) date back to the Babylonians in Mesopotamia in 3000 BC. They were responsible for recognizing and naming the constellations, plus were the first to notice five of the original seven visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). The names for the days of the week came from adding these planets (Tuesday – Saturday) with the Sun and Moon (Sunday and Monday). The Babylonians observed the planets and considered them to deliver messages or omens from the gods. An example of this and something which people still cite today is, “If in Nisannu the normal sunrise (looks) sprinkled with blood: there will be battles in the country,” which in the Bible reads, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.”
The Babylonians discovered that time could be measured and broken down celestially into twelve parts, which lead to the development of the Zodiac (although it was the Greeks who gave it this name).
Astrology within the Mesopotamia society was practiced uniquely in service of the King, but within the ancient Greek culture, it became much more widely implemented. Originally used to help make decisions in relation to state affairs, it soon expanded across society to help prognosticate the futures of ordinary men and women and was a central feature of Greek culture.
Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy was well-known for his research in astronomy, astrology, geography, and harmonics. He wrote the first scholarly book on astronomy around 141 CE. It became known as the Almagest and described an earth-centered cosmos, along with a mathematical framework for predicting and understanding the positioning of cosmic objects in the past, present, and future. Within this book, he also defined the sun signs of the Zodiac as we know them today.
Living and working in Alexandria, the capital of Roman Egypt, his detailed investigation of the moon was more elaborate than ever before and continued to be used until the Renaissance. His work remains useful and informative today, but he has been proven wrong about several claims he made.
Ancient Indian astrology (also known as Vedic astrology) dates back to 5000 BC, with its roots in the Vedas: the oldest scriptures in the world. It is considered vastly different from Western and Chinese astrology. Vedic astrology is focused on time-keeping and is one of the six disciplines of Vedanga. It is based on star constellations and planetary influences, and its predictions are considered to be the most accurate of all types of astrology. The belief is that the supreme power decides the precise moment when someone is born, depending on their past life, so they have the life that is best suited to them (karma). Karma is believed to be influenced by heavenly bodies and planetary movement.
In modern India, astrology remains a fundamental part of Indian culture. It is used extensively to determine the future and improve life: guiding important decisions about marriage, starting new businesses, and moving house; even naming newborn children. More and more Hindus construct houses following the principles of Vastu Shashtra (“the science of architecture”), which are said to bring peace, prosperity, and good luck to the occupants if done correctly.
In some religious, legal, and political contexts, astrology retains a place among more traditional sciences in India, with numerous astrologers in India claiming that it is a scientific method of predicting the future. It is possible to study Vedic astrology and advanced astrology degrees in India. The decision to permit these courses was controversial and raised protests from the scientific community both within India and those Indian scientists working abroad due to lack of scientific credibility.
Chinese astrology originally dates back to the Zhou dynasty, (1046-256 BC) but was formalized and consequently flourished during the Han dynasty over 2000 years ago. It is based on the theory of the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. China was isolated from the western world for a long time, which is why Chinese astrology is so different. Even Chinese zodiac signs differ from other types as they are animals that are representative of the birth year in a 60-year cycle. Chinese and Indian astrologers did occasionally communicate, so some connections are found between these types of astrology. Any similarities between western and Chinese astrology, however, can only be put down to surprising coincidence.
Chinese astrology believes that someone’s future can be understood according to several factors at birth: the positioning of the major planets, time of birth, zodiac sign, and positions of other cosmic objects.
Feng shui is the philosophy and practice of arranging a living space to achieve harmony between the individual and their environment. It is regularly used in conjunction with Chinese astrology to achieve the best levels of chi (energy). Nowadays, Chinese astrology mainly relates to important events such as birth, marriage and death. For example, someone’s time of burial is dictated by their zodiac sign.
Some of the other well-known civilizations of the world have also used astrology extensively for centuries. As we’ve already seen, the ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations practiced astrology at some point or the other. Astrology was also really important to ancient Egyptians. They used to focus at the sky and wait for guidance, using clouds as a means to focus their sight. There is a theory that Egyptian priests shared their astrological knowledge with the Babylonians. Some of the astrological signs of the zodiac are said to have originated in Egypt, based on the Gods and Goddesses as they replaced the Greek zodiac denominations. For example, Khum, the Egyptian water God, was used to replace Aquarius.
Astrology was practiced at a basic level in the Arabian world before the advent of Islam, with people simply using stars to guide travel. However, after the rise of Islam, the Arabian kingdom encompassed many more people and foreign cultures, some of which were already utilizing astrology as a divination tool. In comparison however, scientists in the Islamic world made vast contributions to the field of astronomy, updating methods of measuring and calculating planetary movement. Baghdad was a major center of study in the 8th, 9th and 10th century. Many people believed that it was against Islam to suggest that forces other than God could determine human events, and this led to a significant decline in astrology in the 13th century.
Even though astrology started and developed in the east, the west has never been without its fair share. The first horoscope written in a newspaper was almost 100 years ago, back in 1930, and the trend of reading daily horoscopes has caught up with the western world. With instant access through the internet and mobile phone apps, people seem to have suddenly woken up to embrace the possibility of knowing and improving their future through astrology. Astrology has never been scrutinized and researched as deeply as over the last few years, particularly by western scholars. There is a theory that people often turn to astrology in an attempt to find solutions to stressful situations, so there is no surprise that, with the current global pandemic and political environment, people turn to astrology for some solace and reassurance of a brighter future.