There are clues hidden in the archaeological findings of pre-history that show that the heavens inspired and shaped the beliefs of the earliest civilizations. The first peoples saw that the Moon was linked to the tides and to womens monthly cycles. Later they observed a belt of fixed stars (constellations), along with five prominent ones (planets) that had their own irregular movements.
Gradually, the early sky gazers noticed patterns, and began associating them with events happening around them. Creation myths often came from observing the sky and seasons, with important rituals timed against an astronomical calendar. At Machu Picchu in Peru, for example, an Inca ceremony took place during the winter solstice (June 21st in the Southern Hemisphere) to tie the Sun and keep it from moving too far north on its daily arc.
Planetary Alignments and Ancient Ruins
At Stonehenge in England (built in phases from around 3300 to 2000 BC), the Sun rises up over whats known as the Heel Stone on Mid-Summer (early August) and sets on Mid-Winter (early February) on a point exactly across on the circle of great stones. The meaning of these alignments has been debated, but Stonehenge itself played a role in the science of astronomy, and is considered the first astronomical observatory.
At the Great Pyramids of Egypt (built 2600 BC), an astronomer discovered that a Kings burial chamber aligns with both the belt of Orion and Thuban, called the Imperishable Star by the ancient Egyptians. For the afterlife-minded Egyptians, these constellations gave the pharaoh two pathways of renewal and resurrection. The study of these types of planetary alignments is called archaeoastronomy.
The Constellations Become the Zodiac
Across cultures, ancient observers saw creatures and objects in the constellations, and soon stories of mythic importance were told and passed down against this starry backdrop. The movement of the stars and planets had great symbolic significance. In China, with perhaps the oldest astrological system, a planetary conjunction might provoke the rise or fall of ruling dynasties. And in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) centered around Babylon, the Sumerian astrologer-priests interpreted celestial events as a divine message from the Gods to the earthly kings.
Arab and Egyptian Beginnings
Though it likely began at the beginning of time itself, findings such as clay tablets with astrological symbols unearthed at the site of ancient Babylon date to about 3000 B.C.. A people known as the Chaldeans are thought to have spread a highly developed astrological system throughout the Middle East and Egypt. Some believe Mesopotamia is the birthplace of astrology, but Egypt was cited by the Greeks as an important source, as well.
The Greeks Discover Arab Astrology
The Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered parts of Mesopotamia in 334 B.C. and absorbed its rich astral lore. The Greeks embraced this astrological wisdom and developed it further with schools across the Hellenic world created for its study, the most famous in Alexandria, in Egypt. The word Zodiac comes from a combination of Greek words meaning circle of animals.
Horoscopes for Everyone
In the Greek world, the Sun signs became part of common knowledge and soon the wider public became interested. Greek astrologers added the time of birth, creating a more nuanced personal portrait that combined both the Sun and Rising signs. Before mostly the concern of the ruling elite, now the individual could study their own horoscope and ponder what fate the stars foretold.
The Greek Influence Spreads
The Greek astrological system spread as far as India, where the Zodiac and many Greek terms were adopted. But this only added to an already deeply rooted astrological tradition, which included holding Hindu rites to coincide with spring and autumn equinoxes.
Because astrology is the art of finding cosmic meaning in the patterns of stars and planets, its been called the oldest science. And for millennia, the study of astrology and astronomy were interwoven into one discipline. In China, astrology enjoys an unbroken lineage, since it never fell into disrepute, as it did during the age of Enlightenment in the West. Today many are taking another look at the wisdom of these earliest cultures and rediscovering that link we all have to the sky above.