Astrology has been used in so many cultures and in so many applications over the millennia that it’s no surprise there is a huge amount of variation in astrological traditions. Many are well known, others not so much. Enjoy a meander through some of these astrological systems and traditions.
Astrology and Astronomy
Up until the 17th century, there was no distinction between astrology and astronomy. Both were considered equally valid. The Platonic School added the study of the heavens to philosophy, as in their view, the cosmos presented a harmonious and orderly system of explaining the whole of existence, including human life.
This is the system we use today in the west. It is derived from Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions, and refined by Ptolemy in his work, ‘Tetrabiblos’, written in the 2nd century AD. This text was used to teach astrology at universities throughout the western world until it was dismissed in the 17th century as “the Devil’s work”. Yet its popularity revived and it is used as a reference in Western astrology to this day.
Western astrology is based on the principle that the whole cosmos works in harmony, and that observed cycles of the heavens are reflected as qualities, events and changes on an individual level.
Chinese astrology is connected to the study of astronomy during the Han Dynasty, which flourished for 400 years from the 2nd century BC. It’s also strongly tied to Chinese philosophy, which is centered on the ‘Harmony of Three’: heaven, earth and water.
Chinese Astrology has some components that are similar to Western Astrology, but also some that aren’t, such as the 12 year cycle of animal signs based on Jupiter’s orbit of the sun.
Vedic astrology is a recent term for Indian astrology that is based on the scriptures, the Vedas. The Vedas promotes the connection between the microcosm and macrocosm: “As above, so below”, a theme which permeates all astrological systems. Vedic astrology, although with similar roots to the Western discipline, is based on the sidereal system, rather than the tropical.
Tibetan astrology takes aspects of both Indian and Chinese astrology. Interestingly, astrology is one of the several disciplines studied under ‘astro science’. The astro sciences also include the calendar, astronomy and mathematics. Tibetan medical students are required to have a certain level of knowledge of all astro sciences, including astrology.
Historically, Islamic astrology followed the traditional Hellenistic and Babylonian influences and was included in the study of astronomy. In modern times, astronomy is considered ‘lawful’, i.e in keeping with the teachings of the Koran, but astrology is ‘unlawful’, as only Allah can have knowledge of the ‘unseen’. Yet astrology is still popular among many Muslims, with horoscopes appearing in daily newspapers.
The precursor to many astrological traditions is Arab and Persian astrology. This branch of astrology was influenced by ‘The Introductorium’, a text by a renowned Muslim astrologer, Abū MaʿShar. His work was profoundly important to Muslim intellectuals of the time – around 800 AD. His texts were translated to Greek and Latin, and subsequently influenced Western astrology as it exists today.
The terms, sidereal and tropical refer to the two systems adopted by Hindu and western astrology. Sidereal assumes that the stars are in a fixed position. Tropical is based on the position of the vernal equinox. The third term, synoptical is an attempt to combine the two.
Electional astrology is a sub-sector of western astrology which attempts to determine the best time for an event to take place. It was used to plan battles, weddings and other important events that depended on favorable auspices.
Another sub-sector of western disciplines, and based on electional astrology. It is used to determine the best planting and harvesting times. The famous ‘Old Farmer’s Almanac’ is based on agricultural astrology and moon cycles.
The first recognized system of astrology that arose during the second millennium BC. It was used to divine the intents and purposes of the gods, and to identify good and bad omens.
Celtic astrology developed apart from mainstream western astrology and was based on the Celts’ extensive knowledge of planetary movement and constellations. The first lunar and solar calendar was devised in 1100 BC.
Hellenistic astrology developed around the Mediterranean countries, in particular, Egypt. The texts were mostly written in Greek, hence its name. Hellenistic astrology, like most modern systems was a mash-up of Babylonian, Chinese and other traditions.
Mayan astrology bears little resemblance to traditional sidereal and tropical astrology. It is purely calendar based, called the ‘Tzolkin’. This is a 260 day calendar used for everything from analyzing personality to predicting events.
This is a very old system that assigns parts of the body to the astrological signs as well as the planets, sun and moon. As astrologer would check the patient’s birth chart and then treat the disease accordingly.
Meteorological astrology attempts to forecast the weather based on knowledge of the positions and movement of the heavenly bodies.
A branch of electional astrology that was focussed on human history and events that shaped the world.
Quite a modern development, financial astrology connects the movement of the planets, sun, earth and moon to the financial stock markets.
An interesting combination of astrology, humanistic psychology, and transpersonal psychology as adopted by Carl Jung. He claimed to have observed a correlation between his theory of archetypal imagery and astrological themes. From his work, he developed his theory of synchronicity. Jung’s conclusions were that the planetary systems were acausal, meaning related to, but not the cause of, human behavior, experiences and events.
We have by no means covered all the systems that have been part of human history for so long. However, we hope we’ve given you a taste of the wider astrological traditions which have colored our development as a species, and which still influence us today.