Ancient civilizations grew and formed certain beliefs based upon what they observed in nature, and most important, in the sky. Archeological findings support this idea by providing physical proof of how the planetary movements and other characteristics of the heavens have inspired ancient people. Relying upon their observations, the first stargazers in the world made a connection between the Moon and the movements of the tides or a woman’s monthly cycle. Years later, they discovered the constellations and the five prominent planets, each with their own irregular movements.
Once these discoveries were made and, therefore, their knowledge enriched, the ancient people noticed the existence of certain patterns, arrangements that they could associate with major events and happenings in their lives. If we look at various peoples’ mythologies, we will notice that the majority of creation myths and legends are the result of the observations made by studying the sky, the planets, and the seasons. Sometimes, important rituals were timed against an astronomical calendar, such as an Inca ceremony that was organized in Peru, at Machu Picchu, during the winter solstice, the purpose of which was to “tie the Sun” and keep it close during the day.
Around the Glove, there are several ancient ruins that are clearly associated – or can be associated – with planetary alignments. For example, Stonehenge in England was built in such a manner that the Sun rises up over what’s called the Heel Stone in early August and sets on a point found exactly across the circle of great stones in early February. Many archeologists, astronomers, historians, and so on, have discussed about the meaning of these alignments, but one thing everyone agreed upon is that Stonehenge represents a central piece in the science of astronomy, being generally considered the first astronomical point of observation.
Another good example is found in Egypt. An astronomer discovered at the Great Pyramids that a pharaoh’s burial chamber aligns perfectly with Thuban – that ancient Egyptians called the “Imperishable Star” – and with the belt of Orion. This alignment is due to the Egyptians’ belief regarding the afterlife that these constellations offered two possible pathways of resurrection for their defunct king. When it comes to this type of planetary alignments, their study is known as archaeoastronomy.
One thing that all ancient cultures have in common is that their stargazers saw creatures or objects in the constellations they observed, from which they drew stories of mythic importance. For these people that believed in magic and fantastic creatures, the stars’ and planets’ movements held great symbolic significance and power. Chinese astrology is probably the oldest system on Earth. In China, it was believed that a planetary conjunction could provoke the rise or fall of ruling dynasties. Also concerning rulers, Sumerian astrologers in Mesopotamia – who were priests, too – interpreted celestial bodies’ movements as a divine sign from the Gods to the kings on earth.
Nobody could possibly affirm with complete certainty when astrology appeared or how – it may probably be as old as humankind itself. However, archeological findings, such as clay tablets with astrological symbols on them, were unearthed at the site of ancient Babylon and it was proved that they date back to about 3000 B.C. Another ancient people, the Chaldeans, are thought to be the promoter of an extremely intricate astrological system, all throughout the Middle East, to Egypt. There are some who consider Mesopotamia the birthplace of astrology. Another major source is Egypt, as cited by the Greeks.
The Greeks discovered astrology after Alexander the Great’s expedition that resulted in him conquering certain parts of Mesopotamia in 334 B.C. and in assimilating some of the local rich astral lore. The Greeks were very receptive to this astrological wisdom, absorbing it and further developing it. They built schools throughout the Hellenic world dedicated to the study of astrology, the most famous one being in Alexandria, Egypt. In fact, the origin of the word “zodiac” is Greek, a combination of words that mean “circle of animals.”
The Sun signs were part of common knowledge among the Greeks. Their astrologers added the time of birth to the Sun signs creating a more accurate personal portrait of an individual. Soon enough, the Greek astrological system spread all over the world – even as far as India –, enriching already deeply rooted astrological traditions of various people.
Given that astrology is like an art the purpose of which is to find cosmic meaning in the patterns of planets and stars, it is considered the oldest science by many. Nowadays, we can draw precious lessons and wisdom from studying some of the earliest cultures, an endeavor which can hopefully help us rediscover that connection that we all have to the sky and the heavens.