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Short History of Astrology in the Western World

Today, the average person raised in any Western world culture knows their Tropical Western Zodiac Sun Sign placement (i.e. Hey baby! What’s your sign?) and millions read their daily horoscope as a source of momentary entertainment and amusement.

And heck! Who knows? Maybe today will be your lucky day, and you'll finally meet that tall, dark stranger that your horoscope is bragging about.

Originally Reserved For Royalty
From the very dawn of humanity (until today), people have oddly enough looked to the heavens and the planets for guidance and inspiration.

Thousands of years ago astrology was, generally speaking, reserved for members of the royalty. For astrologers there were good points to astrology being embraced by those in ultimate political power, and there were several bad points.

One of the chief advantages was that an astrologer could often look forward to a nice, comfortable, civil service job in the palace.

One of the worst "difficulties" was when the astrologer inevitably made his/her royal benefactor angry. That was when the court astrologer most often (literally) lost his/her head over the matter.

The Roots/Greek Thought
The roots of Western Tropical astrology (the type of astrology most Westerners are familiar with today) date all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia (2300 BC). From there, perhaps as early as 600 BC, it's thought that astrology began making its way into ancient Greece.

Astrology's entrance into Greece coincided with the beginning of the first great Greek philosophers and with the rise of the Greek state and culture.

  • Socrates - 469 to 399 BC
  • Plato - 427 to 347 BC
  • Aristotle - 384 to 322 BC

Then Alexander the Great burst onto the Western Civilization scene by beginning his famous conquests over much of the entire (then known) world. Alexander's conquests lasted between the years of 336-323 BC. Due to Alexander's powerful influence and control - and his having been tutored by the master philosopher Aristotle - Greek culture and thought was then spread throughout much of Alexander's vast conquered domain.

Hellenizing The World
In this process of "hellenizing" the world - Alexandria, Egypt became the established cultural center of ancient Hellenistic Greek thought and philosophy between the years of 323 - 31 BC.

It was during this 300 year period that the study, development, and acceptance of astrology flourished among many of the prominent thinkers of the day... and it was during this period of time, when the roots of horoscopic, zodiacal, individualized astrology (much as we recognize it today) first came into existence.

In this Hellenistic Greek atmosphere, astrology was no longer reserved for royalty. Later ancient Hellenistic sky watchers such as the famous Ptolemy (85-165 AD) served in dual roles as both the scientifically minded mathematical astronomer searching out the skies and as the metaphysically minded astrologer divining the higher purposes of the heavens.

The Quiet Period In The West
After a several hundred year “heyday” in ancient Greek and then Roman culture - astrology in the Western world, while never totally dying out, became rather quiet during the dark period of time now called the Middle Ages.

During this time, astrology continued to flourish and evolve in other cultural environments. However... in Western world cultures, in fourth century AD, the Christian Church was busily at work establishing itself as the predominant Western world political power and belief system during the next several hundred years.

Suffice to say that during the Christian Church's rule in the medieval period, the Church in Rome vacillated back and forth over its official viewpoint and level of tolerance regarding astrology. At times Christian church leaders condemned astrology and astrologers as being heretical, while at other times church leaders sought out the guidance of astrologers.

According to historian Valerie Flint (The Rise of Magic In Early Medieval Europe), in the early Middle Ages, some Christian church leaders actually encouraged a belief in astrology in order to keep believers away from what seemed to be more dangerous magical practices. Some church officials during this very large span of time, such as French Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1420), were practicing astrologers.

Renaissance/Age of Enlightenment
For the most part, in the Western world, astrology kept its low profile until a reemergence and renewal during the European Renaissance (ranging in date anywhere from 1453 - 1598 to as late as the 1670s).

Spurred on in Italy by the Medicis, the philosopher, astrologer, and Catholic priest Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), along with the revival of Greek neo-Platonic philosophies - astrology once again began gaining prominence among many of the scholastics of the day.

During the European Renaissance (ranging from 1453 - 1670) the vast majority of Western astrologers were practicing Christians; and many of the Popes were astrologically friendly.

One of the more notable English astrologers during the latter Renaissance period, William Lilly (1602-1681), remonikered astrology as being "Christian Astrology," although it's thought by some that this naming was to keep the still rather powerful (and vacillating) Christian church leadership at bay.

The, all too brief, European Renaissance was then followed by the bright rationalistic light of the Age of Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution of the 17th century AD, with the scholastic world finally determining, once and for all, that the Earth was not the center of the universe.

Ideological Earthquake
What we today take for granted, knowing the Earth to be a very small cog in the greater wheel of the universe, was - for the peoples of that time and age - a huge shift in consciousness. It’s literally impossible for us to imagine how chaotic and devastating this paradigm shift and “ideological earthquake” was to become or how effective it would be in rocking the religious world of the day.

Astrology was only one among a much larger group of metaphysical aftershock casualties of this mind bending paradigm shift. As a result of this “ideological earthquake,” the physical science of astronomy and the metaphysical art of astrology began the slow process of being split off from one another - and, for the first time, they became separate, often contrary disciplines.

While astronomy blossomed under the watchful eye and blessing of the new Age of Enlightenment - mystically minded astrology was cursed and cast aside under its disdainful, disapproving glare... Once again, Western astrology began disappearing into the mist, shadows, and darkness. At the same time, it would be a mistake to say that the practice of astrology totally died out as a result of the Age of Enlightenment.

Modern Revival of Astrology
Around 150-180 years ago, astrology in Western culture slowly began rising up from the ashes once more and back into public favor, imagination, and consciousness.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a final grand revival of astrology came about owing much to the efforts of the charismatic, enigmatic, and controversial astrologers, Sepharial (1864 - 1929) and Alan Leo (1860-1917), who became the founding fathers of the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society in Great Britain. Since Sepharial and Leo’s time, Western culture’s fascination with astrology has continued on with us and grown and evolved through the years.

Hey Baby! What's Your Sign?
It was during this final 20th century pop revival of Western astrology that Sun Sign Astrology, ideas on karma and reincarnation, and the reading of daily horoscopes first began coming back into vogue.

According to esteemed astrologer, Dane Rudhyar, at the beginning of the 1930's, astrologer Paul Clancy decided that popularizing astrology was to be his life mission. When Clancy's magazine "American Astrology" became a huge success in 1934, it started a new "epoch" in astrology.

It was primarily Clancy's venture in "American Astrology" that brought about the popularity of daily and/or weekly astrological horoscope columns, with readings of the twelve signs, to appear in the newspapers and periodicals throughout the United States and Europe. (from the preface of Astrology, The Divine Science by written by Marcia Moore and Mark Douglas)

What the esteemed and quite respected astrologer, Dane Rudhyar, failed to mention in his preface is that it was none other than he, Dane Rudhyar, who was the original writer of these popular "American Astrology" horoscopes.

Coming Out Of Their Metaphysical Closets
In recent years... many otherwise reasonable, rational people from all walks of life have (so to speak) "come out of their metaphysical closets" in defense of astrology.

Here are just a couple of examples of scientific community renegades:

  • The visionary English astrophysicist and astronomer Dr Percy Seymour "threw his hat into the ring" by publishing Astrology: The Evidence of Science, appearing in April 1989. In his groundbreaking book – Dr Seymour, a chartered member of the Institute of Physics and Fellow member of the Royal Astronomical Society, explained his revolutionary theories of "celestial harmonics" in regard to why he felt astrology may work in the first place.

  • Then there's the late Victor Mansfield (b.1941-d.2008), astrophysicist and author of Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making in 1995. In 1997, when Dr Mansfield was a featured speaker at a major astrology conference (the Cycles and Symbols Conference San Francisco 1997), he caused quite a stir.

    Born in Norwalk, CT, Mansfield attended Dartmouth College and completed his Ph.D. at Cornell University, leading to a thirty-five year career of teaching physics, astrophysics, and popular cross-disciplinary courses at Colgate University. His course, Core: Tibet, was particularly loved by his students. His gifts as a teacher culminated in April 2008 when he received the Sidney J. and Florence Felten French Prize for inspirational teaching.

    His other two books are Head and Heart: A Personal Exploration of Science and the Sacred (Quest, 2002), and Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge (Templeton, 2008).

    In the forward to Dr. Mansfield last book, Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama described him as “someone who has reconciled his professional involvement with science with a deep interest in spirituality and Tibetan Buddhism in particular.”

Yep! It appears that in our modern world... while one needn't be a rocket scientist to believe astrology has validity, it also doesn't hurt.

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