Astrology is an intriguing practice with a rich history that spans several thousands of years. The core belief that drives astrology is the notion that there is a relationship between celestial phenomena and events that happen on Planet Earth. Several iconic ancient cultures such as the Babylonians, the Mayans and various Chinese dynasties held astrological phenomena in very high esteem, developing highly detailed systems that were intended to help them predict certain terrestrial events based on the movements of the sun, moon and stars. For this reason, astrology is often referred to as a form of divination, or a method by which a person can gain hidden or supernatural insight into a situation by way of some type of occultic ritual or practice. In Western thought, astrology is commonly associated with horoscopes, which attempt to explain a person’s personality traits–as well as various future events in their life–by the positions of heavenly bodies at the time of their birth.
There was a time when astrology was considered to be an area of scholarly study, on par with other fields of endeavor such as alchemy, astronomy and medicine. As new scientific discoveries in the areas of physics and astronomy continued to proliferate, the validity of astrology began to be called into question. By the late 17th century, the emergence of important scientific concepts such as Newtonian mechanics and heliocentrism contradicted many of the assumptions that were considered to be the underpinnings of astrology, causing the ancient practice to begin losing ground with scientists and academics. In today’s world, astrology is considered to be an area of pseudoscience, and is largely rejected by the scientific community.
Although astrology is considered to be somewhat of a “fringe” practice in modern times, it held a position of eminent importance in many ancient civilizations. Records of astrological practices date as far back as the ancient Sumerian civilization (circa 3,000 B.C.), but most scholars agree that the Babylonians were the first civilization to practice astrology as an organized system. By 1,600 B.C., Babylonian scholars had compiled over 7,000 omens derived from or pertaining to celestial activity. This massive collection of astrological information was inscribed on a series of 70 cuneiform tablets that are collectively known as Enuma Anu Enlil, meaning “in the days of Anu and Enlil.” As Anu and Enlil were the Babylonian deities that controlled the heavens and the earth, ancient Babylonian astrologers took very seriously the task of discerning any messages that these deities may have been communicating through the movements of the heavenly bodies. Much of the Enuma Anu Enlil was considered to be important advice and guidance for the king in reference to matters of the state; Babylonian astrologists evidently believed that they could divine key insights from celestial phenomena such as lunar eclipses and solar eclipses, as well as from terrestrial events such as earthquakes and thunder.
The ancient Mayan civilization practiced astrology as an integral part of their religion. Mayan priests meticulously recorded data regarding the movements of the sun, moon, stars, and other heavenly bodies such as Venus. The information they collected was primarily used as a form of divination in order to derive prophetic insight into future events. By the time the Europeans first made contact with the Mayans during the Age of Discovery, they were astonished to discover that the Mayans had developed highly sophisticated astronomical knowledge (e.g., calendars, eclipse tables, etc.) that far surpassed that of their European contemporaries. The Mayans also tied much of their religious practices, including human sacrifice, to the movements of various celestial bodies.
Chinese astrology integrates much of Chinese philosophy into its practice, including important cultural principles such as the yin and yang, as well as the “three harmony” theory (heaven, water and earth). The Chinese zodiac, a system of certain elements and animals that represent different times of the year, is also a key element of their astrological practices. Hindu astrology (a.k.a. Indian or Vedic astrology) focuses on the connection between the macrocosm and the microcosm. Astrology spread into Ancient Greece and Rome by way of Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Asian continent. In practically all ancient civilizations, astrology played an important role, and some scholars assert that astrology was actually one of the key factors that initiated the Renaissance in Europe. It is well-known that famous astronomers such as Galileo and Johannes Kepler held occupations as court astrologers.
To the modern Western mind, astrology commonly conjures up images of 900-number “dial-a-psychic” commercials and daily horoscope readings. Much of Western astrology is heavily dependent upon the zodiac, which is a belt-like zone in the celestial sphere that frames a certain pattern of planetary movements. Although there are several different variations of the zodiac, Western astrology tends to lean towards the use of the tropical zodiac, which begins with the crossing of the Sun over the celestial equator and into the zone represented by the sign Aries. There are 12 total signs in the tropical zodiac (including Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, etc.), each one representing a longitudinal range of 30 degrees, adding up to 360 degrees total. The idea of being “born under a certain sign” is an offshoot of this astrological methodology, as each sign represents a certain period of time during the year. For example, a Virgo would be someone who was born in the August-September time frame. Astrologists and horoscope practitioners typically believe that each astrological sign represents a certain influence of the heavenly bodies on an individual’s personality, character traits and destiny. Countless theories abound regarding how zodiac signs affect relationship compatibility (e.g., two Tauruses should never marry each other, etc.), as well as other important matters of life and human affairs.
In today’s times, astrology finds virtually no support from the scientific community. Proponents of the practice assert that although there is little to no scientific evidence available that validates the claims of astrology, it can still provide comfort, guidance and encouragement to people who seek answers in the movements of the heavenly bodies. While the scientific veracity of this popular practice will probably remain questionable at best, no one can deny that astrology holds a historically significant place in the annals of human civilization.