Astrology is a rather loose collection of traditions, beliefs and systems about stars and planets and their relationship to human events. While almost every ancient society had some form of astrological beliefs, it was the Babylonians who rigorously pursued a system of heavenly omens as a bit of a misguided early evidence-based system somewhere around 2500 BC.

Babylonians looked to the heavens first, and when they saw something that they thought was significant, they looked at the world around them to figure out what it might mean. It certainly seemed logical at the time. Look at the stars for smoke, then look around the world for the fire.

Babylonian traditions and systems of looking into the heavens spread out through their neighbouring cultures over the next couple of millennia. It was certainly a whole lot less messy than looking for omens in entrails. The Babylonian traditions were absorbed into whatever local astrological traditions were already prevalent.

When it washed up in India, and merged with the local traditions, an interesting thing happened. Someone noticed that there appeared to be only a certain number of types of people around, and that people of each type were more likely to be born around the same time of the year as each-other. Curious as to why this should be, the obvious thing to do at the time was to look up and see if there was some indication in the stars – being that the sun, the moon and the stars were really the only objective calendar available. It would be many centuries before those cheap ones given away by pharmacies and automobile-parts manufacturers would be invented.

This new form of astrology was early Vedic astrology – well, okay, so it was new in 600BC or so. It started out simply enough. Whichever of 12 major constellations the sun was passing through at the time of your birth (the Zodiac) put you into one of the observed categories of personality thought to be prevalent during that period. The stars themselves weren’t an important factor in this form of astrology, other than lending the name of constellations to the specific groups, and marking the time at which each group was thought to begin and end. The stars, it was thought, did not guide man. The Zodiac was considered just a big clock to measure something which was thought to be already happening independently, and whose actual causes were a mystery.

Whether there actually are any such grouped traits around the time of year of birth is a good question. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there is – certainly temperature during gestation is a critical development factor – but whether people fall into twelve broad groups or five or five million – and if they do, why they do, there isn’t really any data on. It’s certainly something that many like to believe, even though there seem to be more exceptions to the rule than examples that follow it.

Vedic astrology caught on and took hold in Hellenistic Egypt, finally becoming Horoscopic astrology with its four main branches. Trust the Ancient Greeks to complicate things. The core Babylonian traditions became Mundane astrology and Horary astrology, while ancient Vedic astrology was adapted into Natal astrology and Electional astrology.

As this happened, the Greeks came to be of the notion that it was the stars that controlled events, rather than simply measuring time. After all, the gods ruled the stars, therefore the heavens reflected the will of the gods, and after that it’s all obvious and logical and lots and lots of charts, observations and calculations.

By then everyone had pretty much forgotten about Aristarchus of Samos a couple hundred years earlier, who had already figured out that – since the earth was spinning like a top and orbiting around the sun – it should suffer the same sort of precession, and calculated it at about 1 degree per century (it’s actually about 1.38 degrees, but give the man some serious credit for figuring this out. The only reason he missed those two decimal places was a limit on the precision of the unaided eye). Therefore, as the world turns. By this time, Horoscopic astrology was already adrift, since the sun, Earth and moon weren’t actually keeping quite the time that most everyone had been relying on.

Aristarchus spent a whole lot of time looking at the stars, but he wasn’t an astrologer, so his opinion didn’t count for all that much. Besides the whole notion was suspiciously Pythagorean in nature, and thus quite possibly heretical, and serious-minded astrologers were probably safest just ignoring all of that.

So, the world turned, and the constellations whirled and their positions in the sky simply changed and keep changing.

About six centuries later, the study and practice of astrology was adopted by Islam, which further developed it into the practices and traditions that we know today, having spread back across Europe(and thence to the rest of the world) and replacing old, half-forgotten and fragmented astrological traditions, from about the beginning of the 20th Century.

This, more modern, astrology took root rapidly in the West, which was wearying of other forms of fortune-telling games imported from the East, and looking for something new and novel. Since Jersey Shore and MTV hadn’t been invented yet, the complexities and mystery of astrology caught on as an amusing pastime, first among the upper-classes, and then rapidly spread to all segments of society.

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Categories: Culture, Opinion.



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