Where Did Astrology Signs Come From? An In-Depth History

Astrology has become an incredibly popular and mainstream part of modern culture. Horoscopes can be found in nearly every newspaper and magazine. Astrology-themed memes circulate social media daily. People proudly wear apparel representing their sun signs.

But where did the concept of astrological signs come from in the first place?

What is the origin of this ubiquitous pseudoscience?

Ancient Beginnings

The history of astrology signs begins thousands of years ago with the ancient Babylonians. The Babylonians were masterful astronomers, mapping the night sky in detail. They divided the zodiac into 12 sections – the signs we know today as Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.

Around 2000 BCE, the Babylonians believed that the changing positions of the Sun, Moon and planets relative to these 12 zodiac signs held meaning for events on Earth. For example, the movements of the planets could signify whether a battle would be won or lost. The Babylonians did not originate the 12 signs themselves but adopted them from earlier Mesopotamian cultures.

Spread Through the Ancient World

Astrology migrated from Babylon to Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Horoscopes began appearing in Egyptian papyri around 1500 BCE. The Greeks modified astrology based on their sophisticated mathematical and astronomical knowledge. By 431 BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the Babylonians were experts in the art of astrology.

The Romans embraced astrology as a way to divine the future. Astrologers became influential advisors to Roman emperors and military leaders. After Rome fell, astrology continued spreading via the Islamic world and into Medieval Europe. Europeans relied heavily on astrologers for guidance until the 17th century scientific revolution.

Surviving Enlightenment Skepticism

As science advanced, many intellectuals grew skeptical of astrology’s claims. How could the planets influence events on Earth from so far away? What was the mechanism for this alleged cosmic influence? As astrology could not provide scientific explanations, it was relegated to pseudoscience.

Yet astrology proved resilient in the face of Enlightenment-era skepticism. The fascination with horoscopes exploded again in the 20th century with professional astrologers like Alan Leo popularizing sun sign columns. Astrology had appeal as a form of mysticism and divination for seekers not satisfied with pure rationalism.

New Age movements embraced astrology as well. Astrology was seen as a way to explore human potential, inner life and synchronicity. Carl Jung emphasized astrology’s symbolic value in relating the external cosmos to internal archetypes and the human unconscious.

Thriving in the Modern Era

Today astrology is thriving, indicating that its appeal goes far beyond the merely scientific. Social media allows astrology to spread rapidly through memes and viral content. Astrology is inherently social – it gives people a language to talk about personality and relationships.

Apps like The Pattern, Sanctuary and Co-Star use algorithms to generate hyper-personalized astrological readings. AI makes astrology feel high-tech rather than primitive. With scientific oversight, apps ensure astrological claims remain grounded.

So although astrology may not meet scientific standards, its longevity shows it meets deep human needs for self-understanding, meaning-making and relating to the universe. Exploring astrology can be valuable when done responsibly with an open yet critical mind. In this cultural role, the 12 signs are likely here to stay.

References

Carroll, Robert Todd. “Astrology.” The Skeptic’s Dictionary. 2007. https://skepdic.com/astrolgy.html.

Campion, Nicholas. “A History of Western Astrology.” Bloomsbury Academic, 2009.

Hanson, Ralph. “Constellations, Stars and the Zodiac.” Space.com, 2006. https://www.space.com/4415-constellations-stars-zodiac.html.

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