Brief History of Traditional Astrology


The Astrological tradition which we are most familiar with in the West can trace its historical roots back to Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, although it is probably far older than this.

The astrological traditions of India and China can also trace their roots back to pre-history, and it is highly probable that the three traditions influenced each other through the ancient trading routes, such as the Silk Road.

The native peoples of Central and South America also developed highly advanced astrological systems (and the Ancient Brits who built and aligned Stonehenge also knew a thing or five).

The reasons why astrology evolved in many different areas of the planet were probably the same:

  • An agricultural need to plan and predict the seasons and growth cycles
  • An awareness the lunar cycle influenced women and the menstrual cycle
  • A need to understand the reason for existence and to give life meaning
  • An appreciation of the beauty of the heavens and a fascination with the stars and the night sky
  • An attempt to predict, and so control, the future (and we must remember that pre-history was a much more dangerous and unpredictable place then now, so anything which gave you an edge was worth having)
  • And because our ancient ancestors believed it worked.

I know… that last one is quite controversial… but for the moment, let’s keeping moving forwards…

Although modern man has more accurate ways for defining time then our ancient forebears, we also have the need to find a meaning for our lives, along with a sense of purpose (and we would also like to predict and control the future). And like our ancestors, we also enjoy the beauty of the night sky – so we’re not that different.

As human mortality is a time-based phenomenon, and the ancient world kept track of time through the movement of the Sun, the Moon, observable planets and stars, it is no surprise that people came to believe that the heavens above had an influence on what occurred on earth – ‘as above, so below’.

In the words of Plotinus, the most influential philosopher of the later Classical period:

The stars are like letters which inscribe themselves at every moment in the sky… Everything in the world is full of signs… All events are co-ordinated… All things depend on each other; as has been said “Everything breathes together.

In ancient Mesopotamia, astrology was concerned with the fate of the city state, and also the fate of the city’s ruler / king, for the two were believed to walk hand in hand.

Over centuries, Mesopotamian astrologers mapped the placement of the 7 planets which are visible to the naked eye – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – with the events which occurred in their city state and to their ruler, and from these observations they were able to draw up tables to predict the likely influence for each planet / sign combination, and also the meaning for the aspects between the planets.

Note: Uranus is actually visible from the Earth… but because it is so slow moving, those ancient astronomers took it for a star.

Whenever astrology developed, it also required the development of astronomy, mathematics and geometry to support it, and so astrology was one of the catalysts for the development of early science.

When astrology reached Ancient Egypt, the Egyptian astrologers added the concept of the 12 astrological houses, which was passed down to the Greek astrologers of the ancient world.

There is hard evidence that the Greeks were making clockwork mechanisms to predict the position of the planets, and the belief is that they were doing this to make it easier for the ordinary, common man (or at least those with enough money) to obtain their own natal chart, and also to predict the movement of the planets in the future.

This is in keeping of with the movement of astrology at that time away from only concerning itself the fate of the king, city-state or country, and with a greater focus on the needs of the individual, and the development of the art of the individual birth chart, which is the most common form of astrology in our own time. The first known individual natal chart dates from around 400 BC.

The development of astrology was influenced by works of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Gnostics, and in turn astrology influence the development of Christian, Islamic and Jewish thought and philosophy, and astrology was a major influence during the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Also medical astrology was one of the few wisdom traditions permitted to exist by the early and medieval Catholic Church (as was dowsing for water)… because every other wisdom tradition was perceived as competition… and persecuted into non-existence. But all Popes need some kind of medical system for when they call ill, and clean water to drink… and so they were allowed to co-exist with Christianity… as long as they knew and kept to their allotted place.

With the development of the European Enlightenment, during the 17th and 18th centuries, astrology was perceived as being unscientific and non-rational, not worthy of series investigation, and so virtually disappeared from mainstream culture and science.

During the Romantic period of the late eighteenth century, astrology started to experience a revival, alongside a growing interest in esoteric traditions, and in the twentieth century a rebirth of astrological investigation began in England, and the spread to Europe and North America.

In the twentieth century, two of the primary forces behind the greater acceptance of this ancient art were:

  • C.G. Jung, who proposed the theories of synchronicity and the archetypes of the collective unconscious, both of which are highly applicable to astrology
  • Michel and Françoise Gauquelin who together amassed a considerable amount of statistical data to support the link between personality traits and the astrological birth chart

Building on the work of the psychological movements and discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, modern astrology has focused on the natal chart as a tool for understanding the individual psyche, although many astrologers still concern themselves with mundane astrology (the application of astrology to world events), just as those ancient astrologers did 5000 years ago.

Another major influence on astrology in recent years has been the development of the computer and astrological software, which drastically cut the amount of time needed to draw up an astrological chart, and so has opened up the art to people who were never very good at mathematics.

How astrology actually works is still a matter for vivid conjecture and debate, and there appear to be two schools of thought on this subject:

  • The planets emit a subtle field of energy which influences life on earth, although what this energy may be has still to be identified
  • Everything in the universe is co-ordinated in some subtle way, and so the planets do not cause an event to occur, they are merely another part of the harmony which is taking place at a moment in time. As was stated earlier, everything breathes together

The prominent academic psychologist Hans Eysenck, who was himself hostile to astrology until he studied it at length, wrote with his co-author David Nias in 1982:

“We feel obliged to admit that there is something here that requires explanation. However much it may go against the grain, other scientists who take the trouble to examine the evidence may eventually be forced to take a similar conclusion. The findings are inexplicable but they are factual, as such they can no longer be ignored; they cannot just be wished away because they are unpalatable or not in accord with the laws of present-day science… Perhaps the time has come to state quite unequivocally that a new science is being born.”

How astrology will develop in the 21st century… ?

(c) Brian Parsons September 2016

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