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The history of astrology

Updated: Nov 4, 2022


 


Photo Credit: Nastya Dulhiier


Astrology: The study of the movements of celestial bodies in relation to our own behavior and personality traits. For many of us, knowing our zodiac sign or star sign forms an integral part of the decisions that we make in our lives. From deciding whether we might be compatible with a partner to planning our vacations – the zodiac seems to offer unending insight into who we are.

That’s all great, but the real question is whether or not astrology actually bears any weight in terms of the decisions that we make. More importantly, what is the history – as well as the science – behind it all?

To answer these questions, let’s take a step back in time to the 2nd millennium BC.


Babylonian Astrology



A far cry from astrology as we know it today, the Babylonians used astrology as a means to chart their activities such as farming. The appearance of certain star formations would signal the early changing of the seasons and would be used to plan their times to plant and harvest. Other than farming, the stars also directed this ancient civilization with regard to water collection, fishing by line, fishing by net, and even directed certain political aspects of their community.


As time went on, the Babylonians soon turned to astrology as a means of divination, believing in omens from the gods as presented in the stars and basing rituals of animal sacrifices around these omens. However, there was never an air of evil to this supposed “magic.” It was used in a very scientific manner, with rules and protocols for its use in daily life.


At this point in time, astrology was used to plan around future events for the betterment of the Babylonian people and it wasn’t used in the horoscopic or natal way that we know it today.


We have Alexander the Great’s global conquest pursuits to thank for how quickly astrology, as a concept, spread around the world. As he went on to conquer Asia, he was exposed to the astrological beliefs of the Syrian and Babylonian people, taking this knowledge back home with him and, in turn, dispersing the information from Greece to Rome.


Not long after, Roman leaders would begin using the stars that they were born under to solidify their status as emperors. This is arguably the first sign – no pun intended – of the stars being used as a symbol of one’s personality traits such as leadership skills.


Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek astrologer, would then go on to create the very first school of geography using astrology as a way to create more accurate maps of far-reaching lands. He would have a hand in how several astrological schools of thought would merge into the horoscopes that we use.


Egypt is where two schools of astrology were blended to give us the horoscopic form of astrology that we are all familiar with today. After Alexander the Great’s invasion of Egypt and occupancy of the region that he would go on to call Alexandria, the Babylonian influence of astrology would merge with Egypt’s own Decanic astrology.


And so, the early emergence of the modern-day zodiac was seen.


It was around this time, between 127 and 141 AD, that Claudius Ptolemy relocated to Alexandria and, using the influence of Babylonian and Egyptian astrology, wrote the Tetrabiblos – arguably the equivalent to the Bible by those who followed the ideology of astrology.


Egyptian Astrology

Egypt is where two schools of astrology were blended to give us the horoscopic form of astrology that we are all familiar with today. After Alexander the Great’s invasion of Egypt and occupancy of the region that he would go on to call Alexandria, the Babylonian influence of astrology would merge with Egypt’s own Decanic astrology.

And so, the early emergence of the modern-day zodiac was seen.

It was around this time, between 127 and 141 AD, that Claudius Ptolemy relocated to Alexandria and, using the influence of Babylonian and Egyptian astrology, wrote the Tetrabiblos – arguably the equivalent to the Bible by those who followed the ideology of astrology.

Islamic Astrology

As Alexandria collapsed and was overtaken by the Arabic nation in the 8th century. Incredibly, the astrological texts that were created alongside the Tetrabiblos were added to and further refined by Arabic scholars. These refined texts would shape the way European astrologers viewed the science, focusing more on the science of astronomy than astrology. This was mainly because Arabic scholars found that the divination elements – or magical, horoscopic elements – of astrology were not based on empirical science and were not proven facts such as mathematics and studies of the time.


European Astrology

By the renaissance period, many of the Babylonian, Syrian, Persian, Egyptian, and Arabic astrological texts had been translated into Latin. This allowed scholars from across the known world to work collaboratively on expanding the science.


Medical practitioners began studying the effects of celestial bodies on our own physical wellbeing, surmising that the moon had just as much of an impact on our bodies as it did on the tides. This meant that invasive surgical procedures were guided by the phases of the moon, with certain times of the month being a “no-go” for surgery. The idea was that the phases of the moon would affect the amount of bleeding during surgery in a similar manner to how they would affect the ocean tides. Everything from literature to medical practices was guided by astrology during this period, but this would quickly fade as had been the case amongst Arabic astrologers.


Eastern Astrology

The use of astrology in a similar fashion to that used in Babylon was recorded in China and India as far back as the 2nd century BC. The two nations seemed to make up two sides of the same coin, with India embracing divination and China toward astronomy as well as calendar charting using the stars. This shift in China’s stance toward astrology came long after the renowned philosopher, Confucius, had proposed that the gods sent down forms of evil and good from the heavenly bodies above us. That being said, astrology didn’t just disappear into obscurity in the region, as astrologers often foretold of propitious periods around the times that new leaders rose to power.


Mayan Astrology

The inscriptions of the ancient Mayans have long steered modern-day beliefs. How can we forget the belief that the world would end in 2012 as was prophesied by the end of the Mayan calendar? However, the Mayans are only one faction of the Mesoamerican region who have undeniably been popularized by the media. Before the Mayans, came the Zapotecs, followed closely by the Olmecs. Only thereafter did we see the rise of Mayan astrology which had its own subsequent branches within the Mixtecs and Aztecs.


The Mayans are of significance in astrology because our Gregorian calendar of roughly 365 days a year is similar to the Mayan solar year of 360 days. This was used much like the Babylonian astrological charts. The Mayans planned crop rotation, hunting, and fishing around important astrological dates according to this calendar, but the other calendar of importance is the 260-day ritual chart which the Aztecs would later call “Tonalpohualli.”


The stars under which a boy was born would determine whether he would have a studious profession or a more labor-oriented profession. If neither were discerned from the stars at his birth, he might have lived to become a sacrifice to the gods.


Astrology in Pop-Culture

In the 1680s, Sir Isaac Newton’s take on physics practically annihilated our use of astrological principles in the sciences. His work marked the climax of the 17th-century scientific revolution and it wouldn’t be until the 1960s that the use of astrology would reappear. As more people moved away from religion and turned toward a more spiritual way of life, astrology began gaining popularity once more. New Age philosophers by the likes of Carl Jung did their fair share of the heavy lifting in terms of shining a light back onto astrology – this time with a completely new understanding of the stars that was, nonetheless, based on ancient teachings.

Horoscopes were seen in movies and TV shows. The concept even got notable mentions in hit songs. Have a look at this list of smash hits that feature astrology in their album or song titles:



In the West, the Zodiac is tied to the months of the year and the equinoctial points across the earth. It was also tied to the celestial bodies or astronomical constellations in which the sun appears at the time of a person’s birth. This is why we have sun signs and moon signs, supposedly taking influence from both as they form the foundation of our personalities. You might be surprised to know that the sun and moon signs are just 2 pieces of a 12-piece puzzle that make up modern astrology.



Astrology and tarot card divination have moved in and out of importance over the years since the 1960s, with many people believing that they are nothing more than “mystery” science and superstition. With all of this uncertainty and with many scientists tossing the idea of astrology out the window in favor of scientific astronomy, there are still upwards of 100 million people in the US who believe in astrology. That’s close to 30% of the population who believe in the science with an estimated 90% of the overall population at least knowing what their zodiac sign is, even if they don’t believe it has any merit.


Looking at the Stars Today

For the purpose of our exploration into the history of astrology, we’ll look at the 12 Sun Signs that many of us identify with, detailing their month of appearance and character traits, as well as the highest compatibility amongst them.




Aries (March 21 – April 19)

Most compatible with Gemini, Leo, Sagittarius, Aquarius

Aries tend to be highly competitive and have a desire to always be number one in everything that they do. They love the limelight and being the center of attention.


Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Most compatible with Cancer, Virgo, Capricorn, Pisces

If decadence had a picture in the dictionary, it would be a picture of Taurus. They love living in the lap of luxury and pampering themselves is always on the agenda.


Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Most compatible with Libra, Aries, Aquarius, Leo

The twin sign of the zodiac loves anything and everything playful. They are spontaneous and erratic but are also incredibly loving and communicative.


Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Most compatible with Taurus, Virgo, Scorpio, Pisces

Cancerians can be both emotional and materialistic. They can be quite emotionally charged and love the finer things in life.


Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Most compatible with Aries, Gemini, Libra, Sagittarius

Leos love the spotlight too. They are regal and incredibly theatrical in nature. They can also be off the cuff and a little dramatic at times.


Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Most compatible with Scorpio, Cancer, Taurus, Capricorn

Virgos are some of the most logical and systematic people out there. Everything has its place and everything needs to be in its place. They can do it all and are often masters of multitasking.


Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Most compatible with Gemini, Leo, Sagittarius, Aquarius

Libra is all about justice and speaking their truth. They must have balance and symmetry throughout the elements of their life or they will feel like they’ve gone off course.


Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Most compatible with Cancer, Pisces, Virgo

Scorpio is the sign that plays between reality and the spiritual world. They are incredibly insightful and, as such, can often be mistaken as being aloof or cold. It is only because they are so observant.


Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Most compatible with Leo, Aquarius, Aries, Libra

Sagittarius is the globetrotter of the zodiac family. They love change and often cannot stand the mundane. They must be learning something new or going someplace they’ve never been to before.


Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Most compatible with Virgo, Pisces, Taurus

Still waters run deep with this zodiac sign. Capricorns can be both introverted and extroverted, depending on who they are around.


Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Most compatible with Aquarius, Gemini, Libra, Sagittarius, Aries

Aquarians are the revolutionaries of the zodiac sign. They constantly seek out knowledge and ways to progress. They are also known as the humanitarians of the zodiac, always striving to make an impact in the world.


Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Most compatible with Taurus, Cancer, Scorpio, Capricorn

Pisces is divided between the fantasy realm and the realm of reality. They are highly intuitive – sometimes, to a fault – and are the most empathic of all the star signs.


Astrology has evolved leaps and bounds over the years, waxing and waning in popularity like our moon. One thing is for sure, it seems to have a profound impact on how countless people relate to one another and it seems to be here to stay.








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