The Ancient History of Astrology: Early Civilizations and The Stars

Astrology, an ancient practice that has captivated civilizations for centuries, holds a rich history deeply intertwined with the development of human civilization. From the earliest recorded civilizations to the present day, astrology has played a significant role in shaping our understanding of the cosmos and our place within it. In this blog post, we will delve into some of astrology’s earliest roots, exploring its origins, its connection to ancient astronomers, and how it was utilized by various ancient civilizations.

Deep within the caves of Lascaux, France, an extraordinary collection of prehistoric cave paintings was discovered in 1940. Created approximately 17,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic period, these depictions offer a glimpse into the minds and beliefs of our ancient ancestors. The presence of zodiacal symbols, including the bull, the lion, the scorpion, and the fish, suggested a connection to celestial bodies and their influence on earthly events. These symbols bear a striking resemblance to the zodiac signs we recognize today. The positioning of these symbols in relation to other animals and human figures indicated a systematic arrangement, suggesting a belief in astrological associations.

The discovery of these cave paintings provides invaluable insight into the early development of human thought, bringing us closer to the origins of astrology. While the exact purpose and rituals associated with these cave paintings remain speculative, their existence highlights the timeless fascination humans have had with the stars and their potential influence on our lives. The fact that these astrological symbols have persisted for thousands of years demonstrates the enduring power of astrology as a cultural and spiritual practice.

The roots of astrology can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia around 4,000 BCE, where the ancient Sumerians resided. This ancient part of the world is often referred to as the ‘cradle of civilization’. These ancient peoples left behind a rich legacy of advancements in various fields, including mathematics, writing, and astronomy. One particularly intriguing aspect of their knowledge is their apparent use of astrology. 

The Sumerians’ deep understanding of astronomy is a crucial piece of evidence. They were skilled astronomers who meticulously observed the night sky, mapping the movements of celestial bodies and recording their positions. The Sumerians’ observations were so detailed and accurate that they were able to predict celestial events like eclipses and planetary alignments with remarkable precision. This level of astronomical knowledge undoubtedly laid the foundation for their astrological beliefs.

Another compelling piece of evidence is the existence of ancient Sumerian texts that explicitly mention astrology. One such text is the Enuma Anu Enlil, a collection of around 70 tablets that provide detailed information on celestial omens and their interpretations. These omens were believed to provide insights into the future and guide decision-making. The Enuma Anu Enlil demonstrates the Sumerians’ belief in the connection between celestial events and human destiny.

Furthermore, the Sumerians’ zodiac system, which divided the sky into twelve equal parts, is another indication of their engagement with astrology. Each division, known as a “sign,” corresponded to a different constellation. The Sumerians associated specific traits and characteristics with each sign, believing that the position of celestial bodies at the time of a person’s birth influenced their personality and destiny. This concept, known as natal astrology, remains a fundamental aspect of astrology to this day.

The Babylonians, who inhabited the region of Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE, were among the first, which was thoroughly recorded, to develop a sophisticated system of astrology. They believed that celestial objects, such as the Sun, Moon, and planets, held immense power and influence over human lives. By observing the movements of these celestial bodies, the Babylonians sought to gain insights into the future and understand what they believed to be divine will.

The Babylonians’ astrological practices were closely tied to their advancements in astronomy. They meticulously recorded celestial events and developed a comprehensive catalog of celestial phenomena. These observations formed the basis of their astrological predictions, as they believed that the positions and movements of celestial bodies were indicative of future events on Earth.

Astrology played a central role in ancient Egyptian society, where it was deeply intertwined with religion, politics, and everyday life. The Egyptians believed that the movement of celestial bodies could reveal profound insights about the world and its inhabitants. They observed the stars, planets, and other celestial phenomena to predict events, understand human behavior, and even guide decision-making processes.

One of the key astrological practices of the ancient Egyptians was the creation of the zodiac. The Egyptian zodiac consisted of twelve signs, each associated with a particular deity and representing different aspects of life. These signs were based on the movement of the sun and were highly influential in determining an individual’s personality traits and destiny.

The Egyptians also developed a complex system of astrological charts and horoscopes. These charts were used to determine the positions of celestial bodies at the time of a person’s birth, allowing astrologers to make predictions about their future. These predictions included potential career paths, relationships, and even health concerns. Astrologers would interpret these charts and provide guidance to individuals seeking insight into their lives.

The influence of Babylonian and Egyptian astrology spread to Ancient Greece, where it merged with Greek philosophical and mathematical traditions. The Greeks, particularly the renowned astronomer, and mathematician Ptolemy, made significant contributions to the field of astrology. Ptolemy’s work, the “Tetrabiblos,” served as a cornerstone for astrological practices throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

During the Hellenistic period, astrology gained widespread popularity and became deeply ingrained in various aspects of society. It was used to determine propitious times for important events, such as the founding of cities, the inauguration of rulers, and even military campaigns. Although Roman emperors often consulted astrologers before making crucial decisions, believing that the alignment of the stars could guide them toward success, they hypocritically discouraged their citizens from practicing astrology.

In ancient China, astrology, known as “Tianwen,” also held a prominent place in society. The Chinese believed that the celestial bodies were connected to the earthly realm through a complex web of cosmic energies. Astrologers, known as “Li,” were consulted to interpret these energies and provide guidance on matters ranging from agriculture to politics. The Chinese Zodiac, which assigns an animal sign to each year in a twelve-year cycle, is a popular astrological system that is still widely used today.

Although astrology did have an early start in China, the way it was used (and is still used today) has quite a different structure. For example, to the majority of Astrologers, there are 12 zodiac signs; and each has its own month-long period of time that a person can be born within them. Chinese astrology, however, uses astrological years, such as the Year of the Rabbit, the Year of the Ox, and the Year of the Horse. etc.

In India, astrology, known as “Jyotisha,” has been an integral part of the country’s cultural and spiritual heritage for thousands of years. The ancient Indian astrologers, or “Jyotishis,” believed that the celestial bodies were divine beings with the power to influence human lives. Astrology was used to determine auspicious times for important life events, such as marriages and the birth of children. The ancient Indian texts, such as the “Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra,” provided detailed guidelines for astrological calculations and interpretations.

Astrology has a rich and fascinating ancient history that spans various civilizations. From the Sumerians to the Babylonians to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese to the Indians, astrology played a crucial role in shaping the beliefs and practices of ancient societies. While its influence has waned in scientific circles, astrology continues to captivate and intrigue many people today, offering insights into our personalities, relationships, and life events.

Because each of the civilizations mentioned above had several key differences in how they interpreted astrology, with different systems, we now have a vast web of opportunities to use astrology in various ways. For example, there is an obvious difference between Eastern and Western astrology. For many of us, we use multiple approaches from various backgrounds to form the most likely and accurate reading.

  1. Campion, Nicholas. “The Dawn of Astrology: A Cultural History of Western Astrology.” Bloomsbury Academic, 2008.
  2. Rochberg, Francesca. “The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture.” Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  3. Pingree, David. “From Astral Omens to Astrology: From Babylon to Bīkāner.” The Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1997.
  4. Burnett, Charles. “The Introduction of Astrology into Greece.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 1994.
  5. O’Connell, Robert J. “Astrology, Science, and Society: Historical Essays.” The MIT Press, 1981.
  6. Budge, E. A. Wallis. Egyptian Astrology: The Ancient Egyptian Zodiac. Dover Publications, 1971.
  7. Koch-Westenholz, Ulla. “Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia.” In A History of Western Astrology. Edited by Nicholas Campion, 17-45. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2009.

From Within the Labyrinth,


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