The Ancient Art of Astrology

Image how dramatic must the night sky have seemed to ancient people, when sunset meant a darkness illuminated only by candles and torches?   Many people rarely notice the phases of the moon now, but the difference between a full moon’s brightness and the dark skies at the time of the new moon would have made some nights feel safer than others.  Feelings of awe, as well as the first stirrings of curiosity about the night sky must have begun stirring in our ancestors very early, even before recorded civilization.

To a large extent, those feelings of awe and curiosity about the sky shaped early civilization.  People observed and recorded the ways in which the moon shifted from night to night as well as noting the movement of the constellations.  This is how ancient cultures first developed calendars, with the moon’s movements creating the concept of a month.

While this may sound primitive, those early observers of the sky grasped enough about the changes in the sky to predict the timing of eclipses.  As people noted these astronomical movements, they simultaneously began to observe how changes in the sky often immediately preceded shifts in human culture.  Thus astronomy and astrology in early times formed a single united field of study.

Many of the well-known ruins of ancient civilizations were built using a surprisingly sophisticated knowledge of astrology.  The Egyptian pyramids of Giza are believed to have been placed so as to correspond with Orion’s belt.

If you have ever traveled to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, you may have visited the remains of the Mayan city Chichen Itza, which includes the remnants of the Caracol Observatory which astrologers once used to observe the planets moving through the night sky.  Stonehenge’s giant pillars of stone were placed not at random but in a precise pattern to enable astronomer-astrologers to determine the timing of eclipses.

Different cultures developed slightly different systems of interpreting the meaning of planetary movements.  The Chinese system intertwines astrology with feng shui, a system of geomancy which determines the most beneficial placement of objects and buildings on earth.

India’s ancient system of astrology, known as Jyotish or study of light, looks at the natal chart as means of reading the soul’s karmic journey through one life, following the philosophy of reincarnation or transmigration of souls.

Astronomer-astrologers working before the invention of the telescope observed through the naked eye but also developed other instruments.  One of these is called an astrolabe, a complex system of fixed and moving orbs, often made of brass.

Astrolabes had varying designs, some very large, others more portable so they could be used by sailors at sea.  They could perform different functions including computing the position of the planets on a specific day or triangulating the user’s location using the stars.   Astrolabes were first developed by early Greek astronomer-astrologers, but the instrument reached its zenith with the highly sophisticated astrological calculations of Islamic scholars during Europe’s medieval era.  Astrolabes continued to be used until the invention of the telescope in the 1600s.

Astrology and astronomy remained paired for centuries.  Such famous names in astronomy as Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe and Galileo Galilei, also saw themselves as astrologers.  In fact, Galileo, known as one of the inventors of the telescope, taught classes in astrology. 

Unfortunately, any tool can be misused.  Astrology became associated with those who abused it:  kings and emperors who forced astrologers to draw of charts which supposedly justified a divine right to rule.  With the rise of democracy, astrology began to be viewed as superstition while its one-time intellectual twin astronomy was revered as science.

Many people, without understanding the politics of this separation, still deride astrology without understanding its value.  Modern astrology does not look for auspicious days for crowning rulers but instead offers a means for each individual to claim a crown of self-understanding.  Through astrology, people can better identify their gifts and talents in order to manifest them more fully.