The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The words “astrology” and “astronomy” derive from the Greek root word astron or “star.” Astrology is the science of the stars. Astrology’s crucial key concept is encapsulated in one phrase, “As above, so below”; the theory at the heart of astrology is that a synchronicity exists between what happens on Earth (below) and what happens up above in the sky. By studying, interpreting, and analyzing celestial activity, one can better understand what happens on Earth, enabling one to make better decisions, understand situations, and (last but not least) foretell the future.
Astronomy is the modern science of the celestial realm. Once upon a time, no division existed between astrology and astronomy, once called “natural astrology.” The ancient science of the stars was a holistic art: clinical observation of the planets, asteroids, and fixed stars (and anything else that might be floating around in the sky) was not distinct from magical and spiritual interpretation. Since the beginning of the Age of Science, however, astronomy has attempted to totally divorce itself from astrology. Astronomers frequently disparage the existence and validity of astrology. Many astrologers however remain keen observers of the heavens and are quite conversant with astronomy.
The word astrology is used here to encompass the sacred, holistic, mystical art; astronomy refers to clinical observations alone.
Astrology is a tool ideally used to improve one’s existence. Like alchemy, Tarot or Kabalah, astrology is a vast topic worthy of a lifetime of study: there is always something new to learn. However, even a minimal knowledge of astrology can be very beneficial. Many practitioners of all sorts of different magical arts incorporate astrology to varying degrees.
Astrology was originally based on observations of the heavens. Seven planets could be seen with the naked eye and thus seven planets were incorporated into the art. However, with the emergence of modern technology has come awareness of planets, stars, and asteroids previously unknown. These have since been incorporated; modern astrologers eagerly await discovery of new planetary phenomena. Astrology is an exciting, vital, living, evolving art, not one stubbornly stuck in the past.
Most modern astrologers use computer programs to cast astrological charts, once exclusively done by hand. The modern astrologer may incorporate as many as 180 asteroids into an individual’s chart. Instead of making astrology obsolete, modern technology has enhanced, refined, and improved it.
The zodiac is the wheel of the year. That wheel is divided into twelve segments, known as signs. Each sign corresponds to a constellation. A constellation is a cluster of stars that appear to make a picture; for example, Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Virtually all cultures and traditions have perceived pictures in the sky; the concept of the constellation is universal. However how people traditionally interpreted these pictures is something of an ancient Rorschach (ink blot) test. The ancient Greeks perceived Cancer as a crab; the ancient Egyptians saw it as a scarab beetle instead. Stories are often told about how these various constellations were formed or came to be in the Heavens. The ancient Greeks perceived the Milky Way as milk that sprayed from the goddess Hera’s breast, hence the name; the ancient Syrians called it the River of the Snake, while in Teutonic cosmology the Milky Way was called Hulda’s Road. (See DIVINE WITCH: Hulda.) Astrology takes these mythical and magical factors into account in addition to clinical observation.
Constellations have names, as do individual stars. Aldebaran is a star within the constellation Taurus the bull. Aldebaran is also called the Bull’s Eye, which tells you something about where to locate it. The constellations do not move but the planets and asteroids do, each at its own pace and rhythm, in a sort of complex planetary dance. Astrology charts and interprets the movement of planets and asteroids through these fixed constellations.
Every sign is associated with a planetary ruler, a symbol, and an element. Aries thus is a fire sign; its planet is the sun; its symbol a ram. Earth and water signs are considered to radiate yin or feminine energy; fire and air signs radiate yang or masculine energy.
Every year the sun travels through these twelve signs, beginning at Aries and concluding with Pisces. When an astrologer says, “we’re in Pisces,” what that means is that the sun is currently transiting through that sign.
Astrological signs may be understood as an annual, perpetual calendar. Each of the 12 signs has 30 degrees; each degree represents a 24-hour period. The following chart shows the signs of the zodiac in order alongside their symbols, ruling planets, and elements. Dates are approximate as the calendar begins anew every year in conjunction with the vernal equinox.
Those signs and symbols correspond to the Western zodiac, the one most accessible in Europe, North America, and Australia, however there are many systems of astrology throughout the world, many actively in use. Every culture that has gazed at the stars has developed some sort of star-lore, however obviously some systems are more sophisticated than others.
The modern Western zodiac derives from Assyrian, Hindu, and Egyptian astrological systems and, most especially, from the Babylonian system. The Babylonians were extremely sophisticated astrologers; they created calendars sufficiently accurate and reliable to predict eclipses.
The basic elements of the Babylonian calendar are still in use: they pioneered the concept of months, weeks, days, and hours. The first documented use of a Babylonian astrological system incorporating twelve constellations dates back to the early fifth-century BCE. Earlier systems existed but these featured a lunar zodiac, incorporating eighteen constellations.
Babylonian astrology was absorbed into the Greco-Roman system, which is the direct ancestor of modern Western astrology. Ancient Egypt’s astrological traditions also had tremendous influence on modern Western astrology.
Christianity has historically been ambivalent towards astrology. Because astrology pre-dates
Ten out of twelve signs of the Western zodiac derive from Babylonian ancestry; the remaining two, Aries and Leo, are of Egyptian derivation.
Christianity and was intrinsically identified with Paganism, it was initially damned as among the diabolical arts. On the other hand, Martin Luther suggested that signs in the sky should not be overlooked, as they are God’s work.
Italian astrologer Cecco d’Ascoli was burned at the stake in 1327 for attempting to calculate Jesus Christ’s horoscope.
Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism consider astrology a compatible art.
Islamic astrology derives largely from the Sabeans of what is now Yemen but also incorporates Greek, Hindu, and Persian influences. Albumasar, a famous Islamic astrologer (died 886 CE) wrote a book called The Flowers of Astrology, which was translated into Latin and was among the first books printed by Gutenberg.
Jewish tradition venerates Abraham as a great astrologer, steeped in Chaldean tradition. Jewish astrology incorporates imagery associated with the twelve tribes of Israel, the emblems of Abraham’s great-grandsons.
Hindu astrology is known as Vedic astrology or Jyotish, “the science of light.” Vedic astrology uses a different system of calculation: Western astrology utilizes the tropical zodiac (planetary motion is measured against the position of the Sun on the vernal equinox); Vedic astrology uses the sidereal zodiac (planetary motion is measured against the fixed background of the stars). The most obvious effect is that a substantial percentage of planets in a Western chart move to the previous sign in a Vedic chart. Thus you might be a Cancer according to Western astrology; should one cast a Vedic chart, you might be classified as a Gemini instead.
Vedic astrology has developed independently for thousands of year. It is the predominate system in southern Asia. Many swear that it is the most accurate astrological system of all.
Chinese astrology is modeled after the cycle of Jupiter, which takes 12 years, rather than that of the sun, completed in one year. There are thus twelve Chinese astrological signs but each one lasts for one lunar year, therefore the year of one’s birth is incredibly significant. The twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac are (in order): Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
Vietnamese astrology substitutes the cat for the rabbit as the fourth sign of the zodiac, hence the name of the song “The Year of the Cat.”
Chinese astrology is the oldest documented astrological system on Earth. It is among the crucial factors considered in feng shui. True Chinese astrology is more complex than merely determining one’s year sign; this is also true of Western astrology. Each day, hour, minute and so forth is assigned an astrological correspondence. Every thing on Earth (objects, ethnic groups, plants, nations) also is assigned astrological and planetary correspondences and thus astrology can be incorporated into every aspect of life and every aspect of spell-casting or other magical art.
Although there is now a deep chasm between astrology and astronomy, this wasn’t always the case. There is a tendency to “whitewash” biographies of respected scientific heroes to remove any enthusiasm and involvement with the occult. However, among the heroes of modern science who were also astrologers are the following:
Nicolaus Copernicus (February 19, 1473—May 24, 1543)
Giordano Bruno (1548—February 17, 1600)
Tycho Brahe (December 14, 1546—October 24, 1601)
Galileo Galilei (February 15, 1564—January 8, 1642)
Johannes Kepler (December 27, 1571—November 15, 1630)
Sir Isaac Newton (December 25, 1642—March 20, 1727)
Hippocrates (c. 460—380 BCE), widely acknowledged as the father of modern medicine, and author of the Hippocratic oath, still required of physicians, taught astrology to his students so that they could distinguish “critical days” in illness, treatment, and recovery. It was not an elective course, but a mandatory one. In the sixteenth century, master physician Paracelsus insisted that knowledge of astrology was essential for medical practitioners. Until the dawning of the Age of Science, physicians were expected to be well-versed in astrology.
With the coming of that Age, astrology became a neglected art, preserved only by occultists. Astrology’s decline began to reverse in the latter half of the nineteenth century, however, in conjunction with increased mainstream interest in the occult. In the 1930s daily horoscopes gained massive popularity and became popular features in mass-market newspapers. Astrology is now considered among the most innocuous of the magical arts: there are people who perceive it as silly, invalid or untrue but, with the exception of intense religious fundamentalists, few perceive astrology as evil.
See also ANIMALS: Scorpions; DIVINE WITCH: Hulda, Isis.