Ancient Zodiacs, Star Names, and Constellations: Essays and Critiques


The Influence of Religion and Astronomy on the Development of Astrology by Gary D. Thompson

Copyright 2004-2016 by Gary D. Thompson


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The Influence of Religion and Astronomy on the Development of Astrology

Note: This particular sketch is based on the approach loosely suggested by Bartel van der Waerden in his book Die Anfnge der Astronomie (1965). (The revised English-language edition appeared in 1974). One book reviewer stated that the extensive chapter on "Cosmic religion, astrology and astronomy" was quite inaccurate and should have been left out of the book. Bartel van der Waerden held quite a number of controversial positions regarding early astronomy. David Pingree could be quite scathing of van der Waerden and his methods of argument.

(1) Chronology: Circa 3200 BCE: Start of the Sumerian and Akkadian Period.

Type Of Religion

Polytheism (multiple gods and goddesses).

Elemental religion involving the belief that the natural forces such as storms and winds have spirit forces animating them. Vitalistic interpretation of the universe and experience. The (non-Semitic) Sumerians changed the elemental deities into astral deities.

Type Of Astronomy

Simple descriptive ("Shepherd" (but this is not a good term)).

Names given to the sun, moon, planets and a few stars and constellations. Indications for implementation of the "two ways" (as the basic scheme for the division of the sky). Establishment of lunar calendar of Ur. Incorporation of informal astronomical knowledge into mythical themes.

Type Of Astrology

None.

(Some evidence of dream omens.) It is evident that the Sumerians never developed anything on the scale of Babylonian divination. (Astrology may have had a purely Akkadian origin - dating from circa 2200 BCE.)

(2) Chronology: Circa 2000 BCE: Late Sumerian Period.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Widespread influence of lunar calendar of Nippur (due to general accuracy). The early Mesopotamian calendars are lunar calendars, and the earliest astral omens are omens connected with the moon. It is probable that the establishment of lunar calendrical systems influenced the beginnings of omen astrology. Establishment of star names and constellations as: (1) Reference points in the description of celestial omens, and (2) Calendrical aids for establishing the months of the Babylonian calendar.

Type Of Astrology

The practice of divination precedes astrology. It is not very likely that astrology had its origins separate from that of other divinatory beliefs. The use of terrestrial objects such as animal entrails and livers for divination helps lay the foundation for celestial omens (astrology) – and becomes an adjunct tool. The practice of omen astrology probably originated by the (Semitic) Akkadians. (The fundamental ideas of astrology are religious ideas. Celestial omens originated because the gods and goddesses are in the sky.) "Signs in the sky" were signals from the gods and goddesses in order to affect the conduct of the king - the actions he should take. (Also, these signs could be interpreted and reacted to.) Most forms of divination cannot be dated earlier than the Old Babylonian period. The extispicy texts – the liver models from Mari (circa 1875 BCE) – are the earliest known texts of Babylonian divination. Astrology can be historically differentiated from the branch of Babylonian divination that interpreted celestial signs as portents. Babylonian celestial divination is characterized by an overall segregation of the various celestial phenomena and their portents into separate units.

(3) Chronology: 1813 BCE: Start of the Old Babylonian Period.

Only one astrological text and one astronomical text ("The Venus Tablet" of Enuma Anu Enlil) can be dated to the Old Babylonian period. (The tenets of Panbabylonism circa 1910 - 1910 (holding to a developed astronomy in the Old Babylonian period) single-handedly demolished by Franz Kugler circa 1907 - 1914.)

Type Of Religion

Old Babylonian polytheism.

Babylonian gods and goddesses assigned to the planets.

Type Of Astronomy

Informal descriptive (non-mathematical).

No evidence of the mathematical knowledge - existing in "Golden Age" that was the Old Babylonian Period - having an impact on the astronomy of this time. Some risings and settings of stars and planets noted and establishment of scheme of measuring distances between celestial objects. Early Babylonian focus on moon centred round the fundamental problem of the lunar calendar, i.e., the prediction of the first and last visibility. (In the Babylonian lunar calendar, the month started with at the first sighting of the new crescent moon.) Some use of calendar stars. Two versions of a "Prayer to the Gods of the Night" (i.e., the stars) surviving from the Old Babylonian period (that is the 18th or 17th century BCE) identify 10+ stars and constellations.

Type Of Astrology

Omen (Judicial Astrology).

The bulk of Old Babylonian celestial omen texts concern lunar eclipses. Prediction of fate of king and/or state based upon observation of things seen in the sky. Babylonian astrology concerned with the public good of the state and the king. The practice of divining astral omens: - directed to determining the future of the nation's welfare (i.e., king and/or state); - non-mathematical art (non-causal); - technique involved celestial phenomena, atmospheric phenomena and earthquakes (and liver divination – as a double check). - predicted events were not inevitable and could be avoided through magical ritual. The early systematization of omens in Babylon meant that whatever happened under a given set of circumstances would always happen whenever those circumstances reappear. Also, in Babylon an astrological omen was believed to be valid only for a specified period, depending on the nature of the omen.

"[Jeffrey] ... Cooper makes the significant observation that when Mesopotamians affirmed that omen x "predicts" event y, they did not so so, as widely thought, from a belief that in the universe x was always linked to y, independent of divine will. It was, to paraphrase him, that omen x was a kind of lexeme in a divinely ordained language, where it referred to the class of y events, and that once the gods[/goddesses] had decoded to bring y about, they might then select x to communicate their decision to a diviner, the human specialist in their language, who would, in turn, translate it for his clients." (Book review by Peter Machinist of Death in Mesopotamia edited by Bendt Alster (1980) (Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 104, Number 3, July-September, 1984, Pages 568-570, Pages 568-569).

(4) Chronology: Circa 1582 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Observations of Venus for a period of 21 years (i.e., perhaps circa 1582 BCE to 1561 BCE). (The reign of Ammizaduqa.)

Type Of Astrology

Unchanged.

(5) Chronology: Circa 1530 BCE: Start of the Cassite Period.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Development of systematic observations. (Start of Babylonian focus on mathematical approach to the prediction of lunar and planetary phenomena.) The beginnings of a variety of astronomical calculations regarding the risings and settings of the moon, planets and stars. Many of these calculations are imprecise and incorrect. An example is the listing of 34 heliacally rising stars.

Type Of Astrology

Unchanged.

(6) Chronology: Circa 1500 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Development of the 12 stars of Elam, 12 stars of Akkad, and 12 stars of Amurru. The "three ways" established on eastern horizon. (The scheme of the "three ways" may be loosely termed an "equatorial" scheme. There is no evidence, however, the Babylonians formally recognised the celestial equator.)

Type Of Astrology

Omen astrology concentrates on the positions of the planets in the "three ways". (Omens based on what may be loosely termed an "equatorial" scheme.) In the Babylonian Creation Epic Enūma Elish the signs of the gods/goddesses were to be found in the heavens.

(7) Chronology: Circa 1300 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Development of systematic observations of the risings and settings of stars and planets. Use of stars and constellations as reference points to mark the movements of the moon and planets.

Type Of Astrology

Existence of some form of the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil by circa 1300 BCE (completed by circa 1100 BCE). 23 of 68 Enuma Anu Enlil tablets deal with lunar eclipses. Idea of "correspondence" is evident in the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil. All omens have the pattern: If A occurred in the sky, then B will happen on earth. High point (classic period) of omen astrology was circa 1400 BCE to 900 BCE.

(8) Chronology: Circa 1160 BCE: Start of the Assyrian Period.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Increased interest in, and development of, astronomy during Assyrian period (i.e., greater accuracy in celestial observations). Start of simple mathematical astronomy/Start of greater accuracy of systematic observations. Planetary movements of primary interest. "Astrolabes" (star calendars) – Accurate observations of the risings and settings of the planets (and sun and moon) (using precursors to "System A" and "System B"?). By perhaps 1000 BCE lunar eclipses could be predicted with reasonable accuracy. The "Astrolabes" represent the beginnings of scientific astronomy: They are calendar stars; the first attempt toward systematization of pre-scientific popular knowledge about stars appearing in the sky during the different seasons of the years.

Type Of Astrology

No evidence that Assyrian kings before Sargon II (722 BCE to 705 BCE) took more than a marginal interest in astrology. Total sky phenomena,- stars, etc – of interest regarding omen astrology. Traditional Mesopotamian astrology reaches its zenith circa 1000 BCE. Beginnings of a definite concept of "correspondence" is evident during the Late Assyrian Period circa 800 BCE. Assyrian recension: Belief in stellar irradiation. Celestial divination did not assume the status of scholarly discipline until the Assyrian period. Babylonian divination thought of what happens in the sky as indicating events on earth. The fundamental assumptions behind omens were that the gods and goddesses spoke to people by means of the phenomena they controlled. Thus anything out of the ordinary could be a warning. Greek astrology (birth horoscopes) thought of what happens in the sky as influencing events on earth.

(9) Chronology: Circa 730 BCE: Late Assyrian Period.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Recognition of ecliptic and establishment of zodiacal constellations. The 36 stars (marking the "three ways") become mixed up with the 12 zodiacal signs. The "equatorial" system of 36 stars in the "three ways" give way to another system of (variously) 27-30 stars (named "normal stars"; situated close to the ecliptic) being placed along the ecliptic circle to serve as markers for the paths of he planets. Use of 18 "counting stars" (star/asterisms) along the path of the moon to measure the progress of the moon through the month. Development of Mul Apin series. The Mul.Apin series modified the scheme of the "Astrolabes." After circa 700 BCE the "three ways" decline in use as astronomical co-ordinates for the positions of the stars and planets (longitude and latitude are used from circa 200 BCE).

Type Of Astrology

Evidence of decline of royal acceptance of astrology when regularity of planetary motions discerned with mathematical methods. The bulk of our evidence for Babylonian celestial divination dates from 700 BCE.

(10) Chronology: Circa 630 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Influence of Zervanism – Astral fatalism. (Introduced into Mesopotamia from Persia.) Involved: - Fatalistic worship of Infinite Time; - Zervan the highest god is the god of Time; - "Everything depends upon the stars – we all have an inevitable destiny."

Type Of Astronomy

Start of accurate systematic observations. Systematic and accurate observations of the moon and planets, and their positions, with respect to the fixed stars.

Type Of Astrology

Start of primitive zodiacal astrology. (Omens based on ecliptic as main reference line.) Developed out of systematic observational activity begun circa 1000 BCE. The use of the "three ways" is discontinued in astrology with the growing emphasis on the zodiacal constellations and signs in astrology. (Change from an "equatorial" system to the ecliptic as the primary reference line.)  

(11) Chronology: Circa 612 BCE: Start of the Chaldaean Period.

Type Of Religion

Late Babylonian period: Process of astral religion.

Type Of Astronomy

Start of developed mathematical astronomy. Establishment of a system of (variously) 27 to 30 "normal stars" (= reference stars) close to the ecliptic in order to give the positions of the moon and planets. In the Mul.Apin series (700 BCE) the zones of Ea, Anu, and Enlil still prevail. Later texts (from 600 BCE) always determine the positions of stars and planets with respect to the ecliptic. The zodiacal constellations no longer have any connection with the zones of Ea, Anu, and Enlil. (In the lunar and planetary tables of the Seleucid Period (from 200 BCE), longitude and latitude are the only co-ordinates used.)

Type Of Astrology

Unchanged.

(12) Chronology: Circa 539 BCE: Start of the Persian Period.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Beginnings of applied mathematical science. Independent mathematical astronomy - beyond the needs of astrological requirements. Development of "Astronomical Diaries." (Earliest form of "Astronomical Diary" is from 652 BCE.) Establishment of accurate lunar calendar in 528 BCE.

Type Of Astrology

Start of development of "new astrology" during Persian (and Seleucid) period. Celestial phenomena no longer regarded as willed communication from the gods and goddesses. The ability to exactly calculate in advance the movements of celestial bodies leads to the planets and stars now being seen as meaningful in themselves and imparting their characteristic qualities by their sheer physical presence.

(13) Chronology: Circa 430 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Greek knowledge of, and borrowing of, Persian myths circa 450 BCE.

Type Of Astronomy

Introduction of zodiacal signs (i.e., 12 equal 30 degree divisions of the ecliptic). Sidereal zodiac (i.e., constellations - and signs - of the zodiac marked by the fixed stars). The zodiac of signs invented for use as a reference point in mathematical astronomy. (The division of the ecliptic into 12 equal signs was the final measure in the reform of calendar; that is an exact time keeping system.)

Type Of Astrology

Incorporation of the zodiac of signs into astrology.

(14) Chronology: Circa 400 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Influence of Zoroastrism (the religion of Zarathustra) – Astral origin of the soul. Involving Greek form of Persian myth that the soul comes from the realm of the stars to unite with a living body – and so human character is determined by the heavens. Astrologers were particularly concerned to know the positions of the "heavenly elements" at the moment of the individual's birth, for celestial configurations marked the path that the soul had taken in its descent into the body. These same celestial forces had accordingly exerted, and would continue to exert, an influence on the soul, perhaps determining its experiences. (Introduced into Mesopotamia from Persia.)

Type Of Astronomy

Accurate methods of mathematical astronomy.

Type Of Astrology

Development of early "Babylonian" horoscopes. The methods of horoscopic astrology were taken from mathematical astronomy. The mathematical tools necessary for casting horoscopes are just the methods of mathematical astronomy. Both the Persian myth of the soul coming from the realm of the stars (= emanationism) and the development of a mathematical theory of planetary motion are the keys to the problem of how horoscopic astrology of the Hellenistic period originated from the totally different omen astrology of the preceding millennium. Hellenistic and modern astrology concerned with the fate and character of the individual.

(15) Chronology: Circa 331 BCE: Start of the Hellenistic Period.

Astrology can be historically differentiated from the branch of Babylonian divination that interpreted celestial signs as portents. Babylonian celestial divination is characterized by an overall segregation of the various celestial phenomena and their portents into separate units.

Type Of Religion

Greek gods and goddesses assigned to the planets.

Type Of Astronomy

"Babylonian" astronomical and astrological ideas introduced into Greece (i.e., ideas of Zervanism and Zoroastrism incorporated into Mesopotamian astrology).

Type Of Astrology

Start of Horoscopy (Modern astrology = horoscopic astrology) (i.e., individual birth horoscopes using the 12 zodiacal signs). (Possibly introduced from Greece.) Start of combination of mathematical astronomy and astral omens. Developed primarily in Hellenistic Egypt. Astrology (Hellenistic) is the study of the impact of celestial bodies - Sun, Moon, and visible Planets - upon the world. Hellenistic astrology took the major form of genethlialogy (or horoscopy) in which the individual obtained personal predictions.

(16) Chronology: Circa 300 BCE.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Beginnings of true mathematical science - grounded in astronomical observations. Developed mathematical theory of planetary motions. Development of accurate predictions of lunar movement and lunar eclipses.

Type Of Astrology

Establishment of horoscopy: - the technique of predicting an individual's future; - mathematical art (causal); based on planetary positions in zodiac, at time of birth; predicted events are inevitable and cannot be avoided. Though largely geometrical Greek horoscopic astrology is still based on concept of astral religion (i.e., gods and goddesses residing in the planets). Also the early belief that planets and stars establish a system of influence on peoples lives by emanating rays.

(17) Chronology: Circa 170 BCE: Hipparchus.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Astrology had no importance in the Greek world until after Hipparchus. The role of Hipparchus was to develop astronomical methods of predicting heavenly positions – especially sun, moon and planets at the time of birth and enable easy calculation of birth horoscopes.

Type Of Astrology

Greek development of idea of "correspondences."

(18) Chronology: Circa 150 CE: Claudius Ptolemy.

Type Of Religion

Unchanged.

Type Of Astronomy

Invention of tropical zodiac by Claudius Ptolemy (i.e., zodiac of signs marked by the vernal equinox). This was done as a solution to the problem of precession and the occurrence of two zodiacs – the zodiac of constellations and the zodiac of signs.

Type Of Astrology

Claudius Ptolemy the father of modern Western astrology. Modern astrology is a development of Hellenistic astrology. Western astrology arose out of the astrological writings of Claudius Ptolemy. 


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