What is Astrology?
Astrology is the art of applying symbolic meaning to our physical world. When our ancient ancestors looked up at the night sky, they saw thousands of twinkling lights. Without knowing what they were, they did notice that their patterns were consistent and predictable. Our ancestors noticed the correlation of these patterns with the seasons, the tides, and the harvests. They relied on these correlations to navigate their physical existence, and human experience.
The foundation of astrology is based on human’s observations of the physical world. When we look up into the night sky, we see thousands of stars. From our point of view on Earth, we group stars together into constellations like the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt. There are thousands of constellations in the sky, but in astrology, we focus on twelve. These twelve clusters of stars are positioned in the sky on what we call the ‘ecliptic’. The ecliptic is the visible path, from our point of view on Earth, the Sun travels through the sky over the course of a year.
The Sun moves one degree or so per day along the ecliptic. On the spring equinox, the sun is at zero to one degree in the sign of Aries, marking the start of the astrological new year. The second day it is in the second degree, and so on. In one year, the Sun travels 360 degrees, hence, there are around 365 days ( we have about 5 days in change caused by our calendars and other astronomy stuff I will not bore you with at this point in time). In fact, all the planets in our solar system travel across this ecliptic, which is what makes it so symbolically significant.
The Zodiac, is the general area (approximately eight degrees above and below) this ecliptic line. Moreover, the ecliptic roughly aligns with the plane of the equator, projected out into space. When we hear the term ‘Zodiac Signs’, this is simply referring to the twelve constellations of stars positioned along the ecliptic. They line up neatly in a celestial sphere, like a little belt that circles around the sky in order of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
The physical foundations of astrology are rooted in astronomy, the purely scientific interpretation of the physical world. Thousands of years ago, Astronomy and Astrology were interchangeable. Now days, astrology separates itself from astronomy because it instills symbolic meaning to the physical universe. This symbolic interpretation of the physical world is not approved by the scientific methodology. Thus, astrology is considered a pseudoscience.
Astrology posits that these twelve constellations (and other celestial bodies in our solar system) represent twelve essential energy patterns. These energies contain attributes that are universally recognized and understood. For example, the ‘Aries’ sign generally connotes attributes of being pioneering, self sufficient, or impulsive. All signs symbolize concepts, ideas, attributes, and patterns that, as humans, we can relate to and understand.
The most common technique used in popular astrology is looking at someone's ‘Sign’. You may have talked about your sign when you were on the playground at school with your friends. Your ‘Sign’ is a simple way of answering what constellation the Sun was traveling through at the time you were born. For example, if you were born in the Spring on April 1st while the Sun was in Aries, you are considered an Aries. Astrologers refer to this as your ‘Sun Sign’, but it gets simplified down to just your Sign in pop culture. Horoscopes tend to get a bad rap because popular Astrology tends to emphasize the importance of one’s Sun sign, but Astrology is much more complex and nuanced than that. We can interpret and absorb the essence of the Sun in isolation, but if we want the rich insights Astrology has to offer, it is best to examine the entire sky. Each planet in the solar system matters. The time you were born and the position of the sky matters. When we look closer at the position of the Sun, Moon, and the time of our birth and see what sign they fall in, we can see an astonishingly accurate depiction of our character and life experiences.
Fundamentally, Astrology is the interpretation of energy through symbolic archetypes. The word astrology literally means “Star Language”. The Greek root of ‘astro’ meaning star, ‘logo’ meaning speech. Simply put, astrology is the language of energy. We interpret these symbols of the universe, and in an act of sacred synchronicity, these symbols correspond with our personality and our life experience.
Origins of Astrology, A Quick History
The origins of astrology are as old as mankind, and did not come from one culture, or one place. It’s in our nature. The earliest evidence of humans tracking celestial events dates as far back as 23,000 BCE when our ancestors decorated the inside of caves with depictions of the lunar cycle. This was just the first step in recording the Moon's influence on the tides, rivers, and organizing our societal calendar. No wonder everyone and their mother is doing new moon and full moon rituals now days, it's in our human DNA. Astrology can be traced back to ancient cultures across the globe. From Egypt to Asia, to South America, all ancient cultures became astute observers of astronomical events for practical matters like navigation, agriculture, and calendar making. Societies have been built around the observation astronomical events.
As humans, we have always understood our connection to and dependence on Nature. Our society was reliant on understanding the patterns in the sky, and relating them to our earthly experience to know when to plant crops, when the land would flood, when to harvest crops, when to expect rainfall, in order to sustain our existence. Human consciousness was developed under the understanding ‘as above, so below’. Ancient temples and sacred sites almost always correlate to the heavens, and the celestial bodies that move through them.
Scholars have traced the western astrology we know today back to 2,000 BCE. The practiced stemmed from ancient Babylonia. The ancients noticed there were roughly twelve new moons over the course of a year, so they divided the path into twelve. Each marked by a constellation of stars. They imposed the symbols we know today like ‘Taurus’ and ‘Leo’ onto these constellations. From there, astrology was used for prediction and divination. In certain respects, astrological symbolism was seen as messages from the gods.
One of the OGs of astrology is Ptolomy. In 2nd century Egypt, Ptolomy wrote one of the first astronomy books in history titled Tetrabiblos. There was no division between astronomy and astrology. Ptolomy’s work accurately mapped the planets and their speeds around earth, which determined how people calculated calendars for the next 1,500 years. Tetrabiblos helped spread spread Greek astrology throughout India and the Middle East. China already had their own zodiac system, which goes back thousands of years too.
Astrology shaped western society, and was considered a scholarly pursuit. Back in the day, astronomy and astrology were the same thing. Without astrology, it's hard to imagine having the astronomy we have today. Scholars even used astrology in other academic traditions like medicine and meteorology. It was Hippocrates who said, “A physician without a knowledge of Astrology has no right to call himself a physician.” Can we get that inserted into the hippocratic oath? Monarchs employed astrologers, while Shakespear referenced astrology on the regular. Even Galileo wrote horoscopes for side income, and predicted that he would end up under house arrest.
When academics realized and the Sun was the center of the solar system, the theoretical basis of Astrology was undermined. By the end of the 17th century, the Renaissance and scientific method ushered in new scientific concepts like heliocentrism. Telescopes revealed more of our solar system, and the age of Enlightenment ushered in strict adherence to the scientific methodology. At this point, astrology was downgraded in academia from a science to a pseudoscience.
Astrology went underground and survived in obscurity through certain occult/pagan/spiritual circles for the next 200 years or so. It wasn’t until the 1930’s, when horoscope columns came into publication through a guy named RH Nailer. Nailer predicted significant life events of public figures. Finally astrology became another form of entertainment as it crept into the funny pages. Then, along came Carl Yung. Yung popularized the invention of personality types, and he himself practiced astrology. Thanks to Yung, astrology saw another resurgence in the 20th century. After Yung came the hippies, who brought Astrology back into fashion with the New Age Movement. And now, here we are today.
Basic Astrology Vocab
Astrology vocab can be confusing! Here are some common terms and what they mean...
Zodiac | The English word zodiac means “little circle of animals”. The name comes from ancient greek and literally means “little circle of animals” in English. This cute little name reflects the prominence of animal symbolism in the twelve zodiac signs.
Horoscope | The word horoscope means “nativity” or “observer of the hour”. It refers to the time you were born, or what the sky looked like when you were born. Literally, this word refers to your birthchart. Culturally, this word has been adapted to be more of a description of the current astrological behavior. Astrologers use the term horoscope to refer to what is going on celestially now, and how that relates the the personal and the collective energy.
Astrology | The word astrology comes from the early Latin word astrologia, which means ‘Star Study’ and/or ‘Star Language’. Astro (astron) meaning ‘star’, and logia meaning ‘study’, and logo meaning ‘language’. Astrology refers to the act of divination through celestial observation, where astronomy is used to indicate the study of the cosmos using the modern scientific method.
Zodiac Sign(s) | this is simply referring to the twelve constellations of stars positioned along the ecliptic. They line up neatly in a celestial sphere, like a little belt that circles around the sky in order of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
Sign(s) | When people ask what your ‘Sign’ is, they are asking what constellation the Sun was in the time you were born. This is referred to as your ‘Sun Sign’ by astrologers, because you actually have more than one sign.
Ecliptic | The ecliptic is the visible path, from our point of view on Earth, the Sun travels through the sky over the course of a year. It describes holds horizontal longitudinal.
Birth Chart/Natal Chart | Your birth chart is a snapshot of the sky at the time you were born. See the ‘What is a Birth Chart’ section for a full breakdown.