Many of us are only familiar with astrology in the basic sense. We flip to the end of our newspapers and based on our sun sign it tells us whether or not we’re having a good month. Sometimes we scoff at how inaccurate it is and maybe make a casual remark about it being pure pseudoscience. Other times we freak out when it all seems to line up. Is this coincidence? Or perhaps where astrology really gains its believers is in its ability to describe personality profiles that often hold truth about what we observe in our friends and family’s behavior. But astrology actually has a fascinating cultural history steeped in old polytheistic religions of old and is multi-faceted beyond just your sun-signs. It also owes a lot of its continuing existence to actual astronomy.
A Brief History
Scholars attribute astrology’s general origin to Mesopotamia. We all learned about that one in grade school but unless you’re a historian you’ve probably forgotten its significance. Well, the earliest forms of writing, pictures on clay tablets, were found in Uruk, one of Mesopotamia’s biggest cities. An exact date isn’t given but it is believed that Mesopotamia was founded around 5500 BCE. This means that astrology is very, very old and as such, has evolved over periods of times to try and fit into whichever culture it found itself in. If anything its perseverance is quite remarkable. It wasn’t until 2143-2124 BC however, that we find the first evidence of a ruler, a Sumerian, Gadea of Lagash, using the behavior of the planets to form any sort of predictions. In a record, he describes how the gods revealed to him which planet constellations were most favorable for temple building via a dream he had.
Like most cultures of the time, Mesopotamia had polytheistic religious beliefs. Different planets and celestial bodies were worshipped like gods. Such beliefs persisted and were part of later Greek mythologies regarding Zeus and the like. Zeus was represented by Jupiter and Saturn was worshipped as being one of the most influential of planets, a supreme being. As you can see, this formed the foundation for the notion that the movements of planets and celestial bodies were really the gods’ ways of communicating omens and predictions with us.
But most of us modern folk don’t consider astrology a religion. And many of us that amuse ourselves with astrology might even be monotheistic. Well, would you believe it? The monotheistic Jews also incorporated astrology into their routines. The same Jews whose torah dictated mandates that were they to worship other gods, they could face severe consequences. We know they did this because of archaeological discovery, uncovering mosaics of the zodiac on the floors of several synagogues of the Byzantine period in Israel. According to information gathered at Orthodox Union, this was not a form of idol-worship however because Jews typically followed a philosophy that was truly manifest destiny. You were not bound to the grips of the stars nor their predictions, and they were not representative gods. But interestingly enough, the Talmud makes claims that an individual born under the “sign” of Mars will have a tendency to spill blood. This wasn’t always a negative; think surgeon or in a more Jewish sense, the “holy work” of circumcision. But either way, Judaism had its own form of omens and suspicions included in its own holy texts.
But we should be careful to not think of astrology as not having any religious element. The classical philologist Franz Boll is quoted as having said, “”Astrology wants to be religion and science at the same time; that marks its essence“. Astrology certainly invokes a sense of mysticism. It is not purely pseudoscientific either, since its claims are based on astronomical calculations that, in and of themselves, are mathematically correct. It’s just the implications of the calculations that get mystical. Astrology uses calculations of the orbits of the planets and observes the various movements of Earth to produce its ideas. Also, given the fact that we all literally come from stars, in that the fabric of our being is composed of elements forged within stars themselves, it isn’t exactly beyond science to think that stars affect us. Modern astrology, rather than being about planet deities or nature deities, finds its home more in the tenets of New Age religion. But so far, astrology does not yield easily testable claims and evidence of it working as a means of prediction is anecdotal. And yet, this doesn’t seem to shake people’s strong tie-ins with their identity and personality charts. You might notice that you really don’t gel well with that one sign you were forewarned about, much as you try to disprove it. Or you might notice that Aries really do have those fiery tempers. Whatever your conclusions about astrology, it doesn’t cease to entertain.
Different Types of Astrological Signs
This is the kind of astrology that everyone is most familiar with and is most commonly used in Western culture. It is based on the position of the sun, specifically where it falls on the zodiac wheel at the time of your birth. Zodiac wheels acted as a sort of calendar. Since the sun is considered to rule with dominance, your sun sign is considered your dominant personality. It is considered your basic, fair-weather persona that you express to the world on a typical day. What it doesn’t really cover is how you act when faced with high stress situations. That’s where other secondary signs come into play.
Like sun signs, moon signs are calculated by your birth, indicating which zodiac sign the moon’s presence was in during the time of birth. Much like the way the moon plays as second-act to the sun, gracing us with its presence in more subtle ways, a person’s moon sign is meant to reflect the more subconscious and primal side of a person’s nature. This is who you are in very emotional scenarios. It is our “shadow self”. It also represents our intuition.
This is an interesting sign and if anything might come to affect you more than your sun sign. This is based on what zodiac sign was on the “horizon” during our birth. It also includes any planets that were rising during our birth, which carry with them their own distinct personas. Given this basis on the horizon, the sign will metaphorically symbolize who you are to become. It is what you strive more to be like. And thusly, your rising sign might be considered your “higher self”. It represents your soul’s inherent journey if you will.
Numerology is sometimes considered to be more accurate than zodiac signs simply because it offers more depth in its personality profiles and it is based on numerical calculations. It has a slightly different history, donning back to the time of the earliest complex mathematics. Legend holds that famed Greek mathematician Pythagoras was the founding father of Numerology. Pythagorean Numerology differs slightly however from other types of Numerology in that it generally uses both the name and the date of birth, and then examines the relationships and correlations between them. Cultures often ascribed certain meaning or even “vibrations” from numbers and numerical sequences. Using this philosophy and pattern observation, most numerology uses a calculation from your birth-date to determine your life path. It focuses on aspects of your personality but might be a little more motivational in the way that it describes your purpose and what you are here to learn and overcome.