Introduction to Astrology

As noted in a brief history of astrology, many ancient cultures attached importance to astronomical events and used structured methods to predict the future from observations of the night sky. Markings indicating lunar cycles date from about 25,000 years ago. By the 3rd millennium BCE some civilisations had detailed awareness of celestial cycles. Many histories of astrology mention Babylonian astrology and ancient history from Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, India, Greece and Rome prior to the astrology of Medieval times.

What is astrology?

The English word astrology is derived from the Latin astrologia, which comes from Greek words meaning "star" and "study of". Both astrology and astronomy involve study of stars and planets. Astronomy is the physical science concerned with study of the material universe beyond Earth's atmosphere. Astrology relates to ancient ideas about correlations between the positions of stars and planets vast distances from earth with personalities and events on earth. Centuries ago there was no distinction between what are now termed "astrology" and "astronomy", the combined subject then being a scholarly pursuit in the academic context of universities. It was studied along with meteorology and the medicine of the time, among other disciplines. A clear distinction between astrology and astronomy emerged from about the late 1400s, although it had been suggested much earlier e.g. by Isidore of Seville writing c.630. It is generally accepted that by the end of the 1600s astrology had come to have the separate meaning it has today.

Some people are disparaging of interest in any form of astrology yet scientists continue to research the beliefs and practices of many ancient 'long lost' civilisations from all over the world. The historial and cultural context of the role of astrology in our own known past renders unsurprising its echos in the form today's astrology and horoscopes.

According to astrology the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the time of a person's birth influence his or her character and potential destiny. Modern astrologers acknowledge that many other factors including the person's decisions (free will) have a significant role in the progress of anyone's life. Only a rare and bold astrologer might assert that human lives are predestined by movements of celestial bodies. Instead, conversations are more likely to refer to personality traits associated with the signs of the zodiac and perhaps consider if specific individuals reflect the classic characteristics of their Sun signs, how different people get along with each other (or not) and so on. Astrology has become one of the many ways people use to relate to and describe themselves, others, and the world around us. It doesn't compete with or replace other approaches such as the language of psychology, nor does it appeal to everyone, or need to. Ideas from astrology, such as in the form of horoscopes in newspapers, not only entertain but reassure by serving as a subtle reminder that there are far more possibilities in life than what has now been placed under predictable material control. People who adhere to the rigour of the scientific method in many areas of their lives also have general knowledge of star signs and interest in this system to which many of our ancestors attributed far greater significance.

Starting with Sun signs

There are 12 Sun signs, also known as star signs, birthsigns and signs of the zodiac. Each of these corresponds to a range of dates or section of the year so that every date and time falls within one, and only one, of the 12 Sun signs. A person's astrological sign is determined by the precise time and location of his or her birth. As most people are not born on the days when one sign changes to the next, that is "on the cusp", it is usually sufficient to consult a simple list such as What is my Star Sign? to check which of the 12 signs apply to anyone whose birthday is known.

Each sign has a symbol. Here's the full set:

The Sun signs are the starting point from which to learn more about astrology. Each sun sign is associated with one of 4 elements and one of 3 modalities. Each Sun sign also has a planetary ruler and other associations, e.g. with specific tarot cards. In addition to a Sun sign, each person also has a Moon sign, Mercury sign, Venus sign, Mars sign, and so on.

Short horoscopes in newspapers are gross simplifications because each prediction (by Sun sign only) applies to about 1 in 12 people. Those interested in astrology obtain individual birth charts, also called 'natal charts', that include personally specific information. These are not as expensive as in the past due to computer processing removing much of what used to be labour intensive work.


Celtic Angels were believed to act as guardians or companions - much as totem animals in other traditions.

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