A Brief Historical Treatise Concerning the Roots of
Stargazing and Modern Sky Lore

A very, very long time ago, before anyone invented writing, but certainly after humans discovered fire and developed language, people gazed up at the magnificence of shimmering lights in the dark heaven.

It is a safe speculation that some early humans felt a sense of awe worth communicating to others and may have done so in story and song. At least some were enticed enough by the stars, planets, Moon and Sun to observe them regularly, to study their movements, to become learned in sky lore. They may have scratched notches on wood or bone for counting movement in celestial cycles. Of course, without surviving written language revealing their practices along with suviving artifacts, much of this speculation remains speculative about where and when.

At some point, humans noticed a correlation between the time of certain celestial phenomenon, "signs," and certain seasonal events. Stargazers made predictions season by season, Moon by Moon. Some reverenced the luminaries of the night, all the starry multitudes, for their wonderful and predictable passage. From these rhythms materialized the concept of measuring time. The sky set the order of time, which mirrored seasonal events on Earth.

Long-term observation can establish the period of celestial cycles with remarkable accuracy.

In the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, people organized and systemized their observations and ideas about the heavenly bodies visible to the naked eye. Ancient Sumer was the cradle of modern western astronomy-astrology. The ancient Sumerians first divided the circle into 12 segments.

The oldest known recording of stars grouped into visual patterns, or constellations, originated around 3000 bce, during the Age of Taurus, in the Tigres-Euphrates valley. Apparently the visual star patterns, called constellations, that were perceived by peoples in the development of Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations were connected with both seasonal events and mythological figures.

Around 1600 bce, the Babylonians completed their first star catalogs with planetary motions. They painstakingly observed and recorded the motions of Sun, Moon, and five visible planets, or "wandering stars," from atop the ziggarats and the retrograde motions of those seven "wandering stars." According to Babylonian traditions, each celestial body was controlled by a power or deity. In this Babylonian or Chaldean system, each deity and her or his heavenly orb1 ruled a day in a seven-day week. (See Planets, Magic, and Myths) Each heavenly orb ruled the first hour of her or his day. The observation of the stars by astronomer-astrologer priests upon the ziggarats was supported by the Babylonian kings as far back as the reign of Hamurabi. The sky lore that the priests gathered was necessary for the Babylonian calendar and the prediction of upcoming events. For example, during Babylonian times, the Sun rose on the autumn equinox in the zodiac constellation which was perceived as resembling a scorpion. Hence, Scorpio signified the autumn equinox, which heralded the approach of the winter seasons, just as Taurus2 signaled the new year in spring. These early astronomer-astrologers imagined star patterns depicting beasts and humans and their knowledge of sky lore and descriptions passed through many generations.

The Babylonian version of the creation myth, the Enuma Elish, was read each vernal equinox at the beginning of the new year. In the Enuma Elish, the universe was created by Marduk. He shaped the constellations and set the duties of the seven sky luminaries. It was in 1800 bce that the Age of Taurus was replaced by the Age of Aries. See Astronomical-Astrological Ages. The Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, circa 1200 bce, recounted the slaying of the Bull of Heaven.

Any predictions made by Babylonians from stargazing usually related to major events, effecting the fortunes of their city states--weather, war, etc.

According to tradition, this Sumerian/Babylonean/Chaldean system was introduced to Greece by a "Chaldean priest" or "mage" by the name of Berosus in the fourth century bce during the Age of Aries. It is true that in the third century bce the Greeks had completely adopted the Chaldean Order of the heavenly bodies of the cosmos.

The Greek world view perceived their universe as a harmonious kosmos and embraced the concept, "as above, so below," as proof of the movement of celestial bodies effecting events on Earth. In Greek tradition, the seven "wandering stars" were controlled by Selene, Hermes, Aphrodite, Helios, Ares, Zeus, and Chronos.

Claudius Ptolemy (70-125 ce) was one of the most influential Greek writers about astronomy-astrology and geography of his time. Ptolemy, like Plato, Eudoxus, Aristotle, and Hipparchus, propounded the model of the geocentric cosmos. This Ptolemic system remained in use for 14 centuries, well into the Christian era. Ptolemy was the first to design a complete system to describe and predict planetary motions. His most famous work was the Mathematical Composition of Claudius Ptolemy. Interestingly, it is often referred to by its Arabic name, Almagest. In his Tetrabiblios, Ptolemy explained that astronomy-astrology could be used to calculate past, present, and future planetary positions to cast horoscopes. Tetrabiblios established traditional horoscope interpretations, some of which are still used by modern Western practioners of astrology. It was Greek scholars of philosophy, astronomy, and astrology that developed the concept that each human, not just leaders, were effected by the influence of the stars.

In the second century bce, during the Age of Aries, the Romans absorbed the Greek geocentric cosmology along with the practice of astronomy-astrology. The Romans renamed the seven celestial bodies after their Roman gods: Luna, Mercury, Apollo (Sol) 3, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.

Although much of this system orginated with earlier civilizations, the Romans put their indelible mark on it.4 Many of the planets in English still have Roman names. The terms, "astronomy" and "astrology," come from the Latin terms astronomia and astrologia. These Latin terms were used interchangeably up into the Middle Ages. Horoscopes were cast for important individuals in Roman times, but the average citizen could purchase one too. Horoscopes were drawn up over important events, like expensive business ventures. Indeed, at one point during the Roman empire, it became illegal to have someone cast a horoscope about the emperor. People interested in pulling a coup might request such a horoscope about the emperor.

This Roman cosmology, which derived from the Ptolemic system, fitted in with Saint Thomas Aquinas's synthesis of Christian and Aristotelian physics. The Catholic Church didn't exactly approve of the use of astronomy-astrology to foretell the future. Making predictions denied the sovereign will of God. Yet, some church scholars argued otherwise.

During early Renaissance, around 1400 ce, sundry Arabic works were being translated and old Greek and Roman texts were re-examined. This intellectual activity spurred arguements for and against the practice of using heavenly bodies for divination. It also eventually led to discussions about the nature and form of the universe.

It must be remembered, however, the geocentric Ptolemic system was still in use as the Catholic Church sanctioned cosmology. The Ptolemic system was a useful system to mathematically calculate planetary positions among the zodiac.

The Pagan astronomer-astrologer Aristarchus, during the third century bce, had already proposed a heliocentric cosmology, rather than geocentric. Aristarchus stated that the Earth rotated on its axis and revolved around the Sun. There is no direct record that Aristarchus worked out the mathematical details of a heliocentric cosmos the way Ptolemy had worked them out for a geocentric cosmos.

In any case, the heliocentric cosmos contradicted common sense. Anyone from the Sumerians onward could look up and see it was the objects in the sky that moved. The Babylonians had tracked these movements with meticulous precision. Furthermore, a heliocentric system contradicted Aristotelian physics. Aristotle gave several reasons which explained why the Earth must not move, and was fixed stationary in the center of the universe.

One reason was if the Earth moved, heavy objects such as stones could not be expected to fall back to their point of departure if they are thrown exactly straight up. Yet, "heavy objects, if thrown forcibly upwards in a straight line come back to their starting place."

Aristotle considered and rejected the heliocentric universe because if the Earth moved in a circle around the Sun, the stars would display an annual parallax or heliocentric parallax. As this change was not observed, the Earth must be in the center.5

It's true that the theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy were wrong, but they were based on accumulated knowledge, logic, and aesthetics. One feature of Aristotlian physics was that the Earth must be spherical, because the sphere shape was perfect and was therefore "the primary shape in nature."

In the 16th century ce, Copernicus devised a heliocentric system of the universe. Of course, even Copernicus assumed all the planets moved in circular orbits, rather than the eliptical orbits which they actually move in, because circles were a perfect shape. He also speculated the geocentric system was flawed, because it was too complicated to be aesthetically pleasing to the mind.

In the 17th century ce, Galileo had begun observing our solar system through a telescope. He observed lots of things that didn't quite fit with contemporary scientific theory. For example, he observed the Moon's surface was rough, not smooth as it was assumed to be. He published his Dialog on the Two Chief World Systems, which supported the Copernian heliocentric system as opposed to the Ptolemic geocentric system. In spite of the fact that most histories like to paint that the Enlightenment began taking root in the 1600's, the Church still supported a Ptolemic geocentric system. Copies of the book were seized. Galileo was hauled before the inquisition. He publicly recanted his scientific beliefs. Galileo was not executed as a heretic, but he was placed under perpetual house arrest.

It was during the Enlightenment that the two practices of astronomy and astrology finally split. Astrology became solely a system for divination. European universities ceased to teach anything about using the sky luminaries in divination practices.

Nevertheless the practice of astrology and its ancient legacy continued through sundry esoteric schools of thought. In the 1800's, there was an astrological revival. Robert C. Smith and Aleister Crowley both wrote about it. Alice Baily (1880-1949) wrote A Treatise on the Seven Rays, a three volume work which was very influential. In fact, you will still read references to the rays of heavenly bodies affecting people in some astrology sources.

In the 20th century, Carl Jung also embraced astrological imagery as another wellspring of archtypal symbology, along with the mythology and legends.

Critics of the modern practice of astrology, observing the stars for divination purposes, often claim that astrology is stuck in the geocentric Ptolemic system, and therefore, all modern astrologers are still stuck in the Middle Ages. Actually, part of the practice of modern astrology is stuck in the Age of Aries. Look at any astrology page in the newspaper and you will see a list of Sun signs relating to one's birthdate.

March 21 - April 19:Aries
April 20 - May 20:Taurus
May 21 - June 21:Gemini
June 22 - July 22:Cancer
July 23 - Aug 22:Leo
Aug 23 - Sep 22:Virgo
Sep 23 - Oct 23:Libra
Oct 24 - Nov 21:Scorpio
Nov 22 - Dec 21:Sagitarius
Dec 22 - Jan 19:Capricorn
Jan 20 - Feb 18:Aquarius
Feb 19 - March 20:Pisces

Observe the dates. These dates mark a year in a zodiac calendar that starts in March on the vernal equinox in the Age of Aries. The zodiac calendar year moves through all 12 Houses of the zodiac.

However, as we are in the Age of Pisces, the Sun now rises in the constellation of Pisces. See Astronomical-Astrological Ages. Thus, the dates of the zodiac calendar need to be adjusted by about 30 days. One such proposed adjustment is:

March 21 - April 19:Pisces
April 20 - May 20:Aries
May 21 - June 21:Taurus
June 22 - July 22:Gemini
July 23 - Aug 22:Cancer
Aug 23 - Sep 22:Leo
Sep 23 - Oct 23:Virgo
Oct 24 - Nov 21:Libra
Nov 22 - Dec 21:Scorpio
Dec 22 - Jan 19:Sagitarius
Jan 20 - Feb 18:Capricorn
Feb 19 - March 20:Aquarius

Some modern astrologers have adjusted their system to match the correct zodiac calendar year in the Age of Pisces. Others do not. There has long been an ongoing discussion among astrologers about the significance of the sun no longer rising in the actual constellations.

Some argue that the Houses of the zodiac Sun signs were always an artificial division. The Sun sign Houses never accurately indicated all the time where the Sun rose throughout the year. The actual constellations of the zodiac are different sizes. Therefore, the Sun spends a different amount of time in each zodiac constellation or sign. These modern astrologers still continue to start the zodiac at Aries 0 degree on the vernal equinox. Like Jung, they claim certain personality types are associated symbolically with certain signs.

In January 2011, a new "astronomically correct" zodiac with 13 signs proposed by Professor Parke Kunkle of the Minnesota Planetarium Society became "news" in the USA.

Kunkle's Zodiac Sign Chart
March 11 - April 18:Pisces
April 18 - May 13:Aries
May 13 - June 2:Taurus
June 21 - July 20:Gemini
July 20 - Aug 10:Cancer
Aug 10 - Sep 16:Leo
Sep 16 - Oct 30:Virgo
Oct 30 - Nov 23:Libra
Nov 23 - Nov 29:Scorpius or Scorpio
Nov 29 - Dec 17:Ophiuchus
Dec 17 - Jan 20:Sagittarius
Jan. 20 - Feb. 16:Capricorn
Feb 16 - March 11:Aquarius6, 7

This system is based solely upon observation of when the sun rises in a constellations of the zodiac. It totally ignores the artificial division of the houses of the signs of the zodiac.8 It also adds back in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the "serpent-bearer." This constellation Ophiuchus is also known as Serpens, Serpentarius, and Anguitenens, meaning the "snake." The cluster of stars is supposed to represent a man holding a snake. Part of this constellation lies between Scorpius to the west and Sagittarius. According to Roman mythography, the figure represented Asclepius, a deified mortal who became the Roman God of medicine.

For reasons that are not clear, Ophiuchus was not recorded through the centuries as being part of the traditional zodiac.

Without question the constellation of Ophiuchus was observed by the ancients. Ophiuchus was listed by the 2nd century ce astronomer Ptolemy as one of 48 constellations in the sky. In ancient Babylonian astronomy, the Ophiuchus constellation was apparently known as the "Sitting Gods" constellation.

The whole thing about the actual signs, the Houses of zodiac, and the constellations do pose an interesting conundrum.

Astronomers explain that the traditional zodiac calendar simply does not match what is happening in the sky.

Some skeptics of astrology also complain that statements that certain personality types are associated symbolically with certain signs actually smack of prejudice--insisting that a person born at a certain time of year has certain personality traits. They state emphatically that there are more than 12 types of personalities in the world. Etc. Etc. They have an intriguing argument.

Astrologers and astrology enthusiasts continue to argue back: (a) Of course there are more than just 12 types of personalities. Certainly, more than just the month of one's birth influences one's personality--aside from the year, day, and hour marking the movements of heavenly bodies, there are also factors such as personal experiences, cultural influences, methods of upbringing, etc. (b) Some astologers explain that they do not care that the calendar of the divination system no longer matches what is in the sky because it still works as a divination system. (c) The power of the archtypes is visible in the symbology of the 12 constellations. (d) The personality traits of 12 signs largely a serve as a useful metaphore. Etc. Etc.

Nevertheless, the charge that modern astrologers are stuck in a geocentric universe is false. Numerous books on astrology in the 1960's clearly described the nine--not seven--planets, including Earth, as orbiting the Sun. The motions of the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto have been absorbed into the practice of astrology. Astrologers have assigned these planets various meanings.

Neither did 21st century astrolgers miss the news that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) demoted Pluto in 2006 to a "dwarf planet," so astronomers now only recognize eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. This new class of dwarf planets, created in 2006, initially contained three objects: Ceres, Pluto, and Eris. Later, astronomers included Makemake and Haumea under the lable of "dwarf planets."9 In time, modern astrologers will simply adjust their calculations in their systems--just as they did when Pluto was discovered in 1930 and orginally hailed as a planet.10

Modern adherents of astrology definitely know our planet orbits the Sun with the other planets of our solar system. They also know the universe is not heliocentric. Our Sun is only one star in the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Our galaxy is only one of many galaxies. Modern practitioners of astrology are aware of these facts gleaned by astrononmers and do not dispute them.

It is true that modern practitioners and adherents of astrology use observations of the heavenly bodies for divination. This form of divination is extremely complicated. It often uses the concept of "synchronicity." The term, synchronicity, was coined by Jung, and related to the theory that two seemingly random and unrelated events are linked simply because they take place at the same time. In the case of modern astrology, the appearance of sundry sky luminaries mirrored events on Earth in a form of preset cosmic harmony. This concept harks back to the ancient Greek idea of the kosmos, "as above, so below." 11

Astrology is based on ancient religious and magical roots. For example, the seven heavenly bodies were originally associated with Babylonian deities, Sin, Nebo, Ishtar, Shammas, Nergal, Marduk, Ninib.11 The characteristics of these Babylonian deities were passed along with various sky lore even though these heavenly bodies were reassigned Roman deities, Luna, Mercury, Venus, Apollo (Sol), Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

The same applied to the constellations of the zodiac, which were first ordered in ancient Sumer and later carefully charted by the Babylonians.

An understanding of these historical roots provides a fuller and richer understanding of the subject.

--copyright 2005, 2006, January 2011, March 2011 Myth Woodling

Liz Greene, Star Signs for Lovers, 1980

Mason Inman, "Pluto Not a Planet, Astronomers Rule," National Geographic, August 24, 2006, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060824-pluto-planet.html

"Pluto and the Developing Landscape of Our Solar System," International Astronomical Union.

Tom Lyden of FOX 9 News, Zodiac Sign Changes and New Sign Ophiuchus, New Zodiac sign chart and addition of Ophiuchus, Published: Thursday, 13 Jan 2011, 7:38 PM CST, Updated: Friday, 14 Jan 2011, 9:50 AM CST. Accessed 1/31/11.

Michael Zeilik, Astronomy: The Evolving Universe, 1976

1 The Chaldean Order of the "seven planets" or "wandering stars"--using their modern names--are Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. These seven heavenly bodies were perceived by the Babylonians to wander the sky independently of the fixed stars. True, the Moon and Sun are not planets. The Moon is a satelite that orbits the Earth. The Sun is a star at the center of our solar system. The Babylonians didn't know that. However, for centuries, the Sun and Moon were considered to be two of the seven planets. I've tried to avoid saying, "seven planets," because it is just too confusing to the modern reader and is simply inaccurate by modern definitions. Instead, I use "seven celestial bodies", "seven heavenly bodies", "heavenly orbs", "wandering stars", or "heavenly bodies."

2 Taurus was referred to as the "Bull in Front" by the Babylonians. This constellation was the Bull at the beginning of the year. See Astonomical-Astrological Ages.

3Sol is the Latin word for Sun. Apparently the Romans did not originally have a Sun God. There were several Roman deities with solar or light-bringing attributes. Some scholars have speculated that the Roman Diana may have once been connected to both the Moon and Sun. In any case, the Romans adopted Phoebus Apollo into their pantheon in the fifth century bce to avert a plague. Phoebus Apollo was a deity of medicine, healing, music, and the Sun.

4 Another example of how the Romans added their own layer of symbolism involves the planet Mars. This planet was known as Nergal in the Babylonian tradition. Nergal was an ancient Sumero-Babylonian God of the netherworld. Generally, he was an evil deity who brought war, pestilence, fever and devastation. The Greeks identified Nergal with their own tempestuous God of war, Ares. Mars, on the other hand, was a benificent deity. He was a guardian of agriculture and cattle. He was called Mars Gardivius from gandiri, meaning, "to grow, to become big." As Rome became more militaristic, his protective nature eventually extended to protecting the people of Rome and legions of Rome as a warrior. Hence the planet Mars in modern astrology not only relates to war, but to self-defense, honor, loyalty and male virility. Therefore, the symbology associated with the Roman Mars overlaid the symbology of the Greek Ares and the Sumero-Babylonian Nergal.

5 Aristotle was mistaken about the size of the cosmos, which he viewed as finite. Since he believed the fixed stars were much closer than they were, large portions of the visibile cosmos should disappear from sight as the Earth moved around the Sun, while other portions would become visible again. Aristotle did not see this annual parallax or heliocentric parallax.

6Tom Lyden of FOX 9 News, Zodiac Sign Changes and New Sign Ophiuchus, New Zodiac sign chart and addition of Ophiuchus, Published: Thursday, 13 Jan 2011, 7:38 PM CST, Updated: Friday, 14 Jan 2011, 9:50 AM CST acessed 1/31/11.

7Statement from Prof. Parke Kunkle, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Minnesota Planetarium Society board member:
”In science we deal with a long tradition of fact based investigation. We are not in the business of interpreting the purported relation between the positions of planets and human affairs.

“The Earth spins and, like a toy top, the spin axis moves around, pointing in different directions. Today, Earth's spin axis points toward the pole star, Polaris. Around 3000 BC Earth's spin axis pointed toward Thuban. Wait 26,000 years and the north star will again be Thuban. Astronomers call this motion of the spin axis precession. About 130 BC, Hipparchus noticed that the Earth's spin axis had changed directions, so astronomers and astrologers have known about the Earth's precession for over 2000 years.

“But this means that if the sun was "in" a certain constellation on a particular date, it is in a different constellation on that date today. For example, the sun was in Pisces on March 1, 2000 BC but it is in Aquarius on March 1, 2011 AD.” --as quoted by Tom Lyden of FOX 9 News, Zodiac Sign Changes and New Sign Ophiuchus, New Zodiac sign chart and addition of Ophiuchus, Published: Thursday, 13 Jan 2011, 7:38 PM CST, Updated: Friday, 14 Jan 2011, 9:50 AM CST acessed 1/31/11.

8Many called Kunkel's chart new. In sundry interviews, Kunkel explained he didn't invent this chart, nor was it "new." It's been well known to astronomers for many years. It was neither new nor unknown to astrologers and the rest of the occult community. There were references to it in books in the 1960's such as the following: "In astrology the signs of the zodiac are not the constellations which have the same names. On March 21 each year astrologers say that the sun is in Aries. In reality, the sun is not in the constellation Aries (though it was 2,000 years ago) but in the constellation Pisces. When an astrologer today says that the sun is in one sign of the zodiac it is really in the preceding sign, which seems to cast some doubt on all astrological findings for several hundred years past. But astrologers distinguish between the constellations and the signs. The constellations are groups of stars in the sky. The signs are artificial divisions of the sky and are not affected by precession of the equinoxes (the phenomenon which has caused the difference in the sun's apparent position in the constellations)." Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, 1967.

9Therefore the order of planets and dwarf planets as recognized by International Astronomical Union (IAU) are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Makemake, Haumea, and Eris. (Although, it is always possible that other objects such as Sedna may be reclassified as dwarf planets.) [This footnote added March 2011.]

10It is entirely possible that since Pluto was a late comer to the system of astrology, not even discovered until 1930, that Pluto may be dropped from astrology lists of the heavenly bodies used in horoscope charts. There was a nice symbolism to having nine planets circling the Sun. However, the symbolism of eight planets dancing around our star works well too. It would be a simpler adjustment rather than trying to add all dwarf planets into the calculations.

11 Another explanation used by some modern astrologers was that certain forces emanate from other planets as they along with the planet Earth dance around the Sun. These forces are described as gravity, magnetism, or rays, or a combination thereof.

Many modern astrologers describe their divination system as both a learned skill and an intuitive artform. The skill involved learning a well-ordered system of calculation, including drawing up a natal horoscope.

To provide a reading, the astrologer must blend together the calculations and other information about the sky luminaries using an intuitive approach to the art of interpreting this data. It is also assumed the stars impell, they do not compell.

11 At least one source of Sumero-Babylonian mythology states Ninib's name is more correctly spelled in English as Ninureta. He was a hunter God associated with rain, fertility, thunderstorms, wells, canals, floods, the plow, and war. Humanity owed to him the healthy livestock and fertile fields.

Astrological-Astronomical Ages
Astronomy: Planets and Myths
Planets, Magic, and History

Main Index Page