How Astrology Started? An In-Depth Look at the Origins and History of Astrology

Astrology is one of the oldest practices still in use today. For thousands of years, humans have looked to the stars for guidance and meaning. But how did the practice of astrology actually start? What are its origins and early history?

In this in-depth blog post, we’ll explore the roots of astrology and how it developed over time into the complex system we know today. From its beginnings in ancient Mesopotamia to its evolution in Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and Medieval Europe, astrology has a long and fascinating history.

Astrology’s Origins in Ancient Mesopotamia

The first recorded evidence of astrology dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern day Iraq. This area was home to early civilizations like the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.

Around 2000 BCE, the Babylonians began developing a form of astrology that was heavily focused on omens and celestial signs. Using cuneiform script, Babylonian scholars meticulously tracked and recorded the movements of celestial bodies like the sun, moon, planets, and stars. They also took note of phenomena like eclipses, comets, and meteors.

The Babylonians believed that the gods communicated messages and warnings through these celestial signs and omens. By carefully studying and interpreting the heavens, they thought one could divine the will of the gods and gain insight into future events. This marked the beginning of astrology as we know it today.

The Importance of the Zodiac in Babylonian Astrology

A key development in Babylonian astrology was the creation of the zodiac – the system of 12 constellations we still use in astrology today.

The Babylonians divided the sky into 12 equal sections of 30 degrees each. Each section was assigned to a constellation along the ecliptic, or the path that the sun appears to follow through the stars. These 12 constellations became known as the zodiac signs – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

The Babylonians believed that the movement of the sun, moon, and planets through these zodiac signs affected events on earth. By tracking planetary movements through the zodiac and correlating them with happenings in their kingdom, the Babylonians developed an elaborate system of astrological techniques we now associate with horoscopes and birth charts.

The Spread of Astrology Through the Ancient World

The Babylonian form of astrology gradually spread across the ancient world. By the 2nd century BCE, the Greeks adopted astrology from the Babylonians and went on to make their own advancements in the field.

Notable Greek astrologers include Berossus, Manetho, Ptolemy, and Thales of Miletus. These astrologers wrote important early manuals on astrological techniques that would influence astrology for centuries to come. The Greeks added new astrological concepts like the four elements (fire, earth, air, water), the concept of aspects between planets, and advanced predictive techniques.

The Romans also practiced astrology, associating different planetary gods with agriculture, war, love, commerce, and more. Astrology reached as far as India during this time, where Indian astronomers expanded upon Greek and Babylonian astrology using their advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge.

The Evolution of Astrology in the Middle Ages

After the fall of the Roman empire, astrology entered a long period of evolution in the Middle Ages from the 5th to 15th centuries. During this time, knowledge of astrology was preserved by the Persians, Arabs, and Jews.

Islamic astrologers played an important role in absorbing, preserving, and expanding upon earlier astrological traditions. Astrologers like Albumasar and Al-Kindi authored detailed volumes on techniques like planetary dignities, aspects, and prediction methods. Their works were later translated and transmitted back to European astrologers in the late Middle Ages.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, astrology slowly regained popularity after a period of decline under Christianity. It was employed by royalty, church leaders, and physicians. Notable developments included the introduction of Arabic astrology techniques, the translation of ancient astrological texts, and the application of astrology to medicine.

The Growing Respectability of Astrology in the Renaissance

Astrology continued to evolve through the Renaissance between the 15th and 17th centuries. Several key factors contributed to astrology’s growing prominence and respectability during this era:

  • The decline of church authority and rise of humanism allowed astrology to flourish.
  • The invention of the printing press enabled the wide dissemination of astrological texts and ephemerides.
  • Advancements in astronomy from Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler improved astrological calculations.
  • Influential astrologers published popular astrology books. Key figures include Lucas Gauricus, Girolamo Cardano, and William Lilly.

By the 17th century, astrology had become an accepted facet of intellectual life and natural philosophy in Europe. Though still viewed with skepticism in some circles, it gained significant visibility through widespread publication and use by the elite.

Astrology Finds a Niche in the Modern World

From the 18th century onward, astrology began to face greater skepticism and lose mainstream scientific credibility during the Enlightenment and afterward. New branches of science like astronomy, physics, and psychology took on formerly astrological domains like predicting weather and human behavior.

Though no longer part of mainstream science, astrology still maintained a niche following. Simplified Sun sign horoscopes became popular in newspapers during the early 20th century. Late 20th century psychology and New Age movements sparked new interest in astrology’s spiritual dimensions.

Today astrology is primarily seen as a mystical, spiritual practice separate from its earlier status as observational science. However, it maintains a strong following in many parts of the world as a tool for guidance, self-understanding, and divination. Its long history and evolution attests to mankind’s persistent urge to seek meaning in the heavens above.

References

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia (2020, July 15). Astrology. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/astrology

Campion, N. (2009). A History of Western Astrology: Volume II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Graßhoff, G., Green, D., & Steele, J. M. (2016). From Ancient Omens to Statistical Mechanics: Essays on the Exact Sciences Presented to Asger Aaboe. Springer.

James, L. E. (1987). The Origin and Development of the Concept of the Zodiac [Master’s thesis, Sophia University]. Sophia University Institutional Repository. https://ir.lib.sophia.ac.jp/handle/10026/3573

Kollerstrom, N. (2016). Astrology in the Year Zero. Sophia Centre Press.

Tester, S. J. (1990). A History of Western Astrology. Ballantine Books.

Veenstra, J. R. (1997). Magic and Divination at the Courts of Burgundy and France: Text and Context of Laurens Pignon’s “Contre les Divinateurs” (1411). Brill.

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