Norah the Astrologer reveals the origins of astrology
Ancient stargazing gave birth to both astronomy and astrology
How did astrology first come to be? In your mind’s eye, imagine the ancient world.
When fire provided the only man-made light after sunset, the night sky loomed even more dramatically for our ancestors than it does for us today. Many of us now live in areas where electric lights obscure the stars. Used to movie special effects and accustomed to air travel, we take the starry night for granted. But ancient peoples gazed on the night sky with awe and curiosity and out of those reactions grew the sciences of astronomy and astrology.
Astronomy and astrology were intimately intertwined at the beginning of civilization. Careful observation of the changing face of the moon and of the shifting planets and constellations in the sky enabled ancient astrologer-astronomers to learn much about the world around them. Ancient astrologer-astronomers helped define their cultures’ concept of time, creating calendars. They also developed enough understanding of the movement of the sun and moon to be able to predict eclipses. Every civilization developed some method not only of noting the changes in the night sky but of observing how those changes corresponded with shifting fortunes in the human world.
Many of the most famous remnants of the ancient world have a connection to astrology and astronomy. The giant stone pillars of Stonehenge were precisely placed to help astronomer-astrologers predict eclipses. Amidst the remains of the ancient city of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula, still stands the Caracol Observatory from which Mayan astrologers tracked the movement of the planets. The three largest pyramids at Giza are situated to align with the belt of Orion.
Asian cultures also observed the changing positions of the planets in the sky and developed sophisticated systems not only of tracking these movements but of reading their meaning. The Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived during the 5th century B.C.E., commented on the wisdom of listening to these portents: “Heaven sends down its good or evil symbols and wise men act accordingly.” In China, astrology and astronomy became connected with feng shui, a system of geomancy, or alignment homes and objects with positive energies. In India, where a few ancient astronomy-astrology texts dating from the last centuries B.C.E. still remain, astrology emphasized the karmic journey of the soul through multiple reincarnations.
Before telescopes, people who observed the planets relied on the naked eye along with instruments such as the astrolabe. Astronomer-astrologers, as well as sailors, used this tool. These complex computational instruments consisted of both fixed and moving parts, usually made of brass. Depending on the specific design, astrolabes could perform a variety of functions including triangulating the user’s location relative the planets and computing the position of the planets on a specific day. Early Greek astronomers are believed to be the first to develop this instrument, around 15. B.C.E. The use of astrolabes was developed and highly refined by Islamic astrologers during Europe’s medieval era. Astrolabes remained essential for observing the skies until the invention of telescopes in the 1600s.
The connection between astrology and astronomy persisted in Western culture until relatively recently. Famous astronomer-scientists including Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and even Galileo Galilei, one of the inventors of the telescope, were also astrologers. Galileo even taught astrology while he was a professor of mathematics at the University of Padua.
During the time when astrology was considered a vital branch of knowledge for any educated person, it was sometimes abused by those in power, as monarchs had astrologers draw up charts which supposedly proved their divine right to rule. This led to astrology falling out of favor with the rise of more democratic modes of government. However, modern astrology emphasizes not auspicious days for crowning kings, but a mode for personal understanding of each individual’s unique collection of talents and weaknesses, as well as the timing which permits us to make the best of strengths.
Norah the Astrologer has studied all facets of astrology, from its early beginnings and its differing emphasis in different cultures of the world, as well as the meaning of individual horoscopes. She shares this wisdom with clients who seek insight into the events of their lives.