How long has astrology been in existence?
Although an exact point of origin is unclear, astrology had its birth when human beings participated in what researchers such as Ken Wilber and Jean Gebser call “magical consciousness” some thousands of years ago. In magical consciousness a dim awareness of selfhood distinct from nature and the external environment flourishes, yet there exists a blending, or overlapping, between one’s sense of self and the world outside. Under magical consciousness, the interior states of consciousness correspond with the external world in a very real, very literal, and unquestioned way. Consciousness is not localized in the body but rather is something that humans participate in.
The rising and setting of the sun is not an “as if” metaphorical or poetic portrait of one’s waking state, but, under the spell of magical consciousness, the sun exists as an extension of one’s being. Under this magical mode of consciousness, it fits that the feelings of awe, wonder, and mystery that the heavens evoke in modern, civilized human beings were seen as the workings of the greatest forces of nature. Thus, astrology likely emerged as a result of a deep feeling of religious participation with the world and equally as an attempt to understand and exert influence over the environment.
Forms of what might be called “proto” astrology, in which deities corresponded with visible planets, developed in parts of Asia and the Americas at roughly the same time in human history. However, astrology first developed systematically in Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C.E. Original astrologies were meant to illumine agricultural cycles and other natural phenomena with the movement of celestial bodies. The early astrologies reflected the concerns and organization of the society. Astrology at this point in history had little relevance to the individual or to fate of nations.
Interestingly, as the ego as we know it first emerged in the fifth or sixth centuries B.C.E., a shift in astrology’s emphasis away from its correspondence to natural cycles and toward its relevance to the personality first appeared. Evidence from this period suggests that Babylonian kings employed an astrological court for timely advice on personal matters and affairs of state. It is also around this era, 410 B.C.E. to be exact, (1) that the earliest surviving horoscope was found, documenting planets in their respective signs of the zodiac.
As the mind of Hellenistic Greece received the astrology of Egypt and Babylonia, a mutual reception between the ancient philosophies of Greece and the astrological cosmology occurred, and a new renaissance of astrological knowledge took place. The belief systems of the Stoics, Plato, and the Pythagoreans fit in harmony with the ordered and structured cosmos seen in the early Middle Eastern astrologies. The incredible intuition of the Greek thinkers and their advancements in mathematics and astronomy helped astrology become an esteemed and integral knowledge, not merely the idle plaything of youthful, Athenian bohemes or privileged elites.
As the Greeks systemized astrology, the Romans appropriated the art-science and applied it with greater obsessiveness to affairs of state. As the Greeks improved astrology, the Romans elevated it, ranking astrology as indispensable counsel for the rich and powerful. Although not suffering a complete collapse, as the Roman Empire waned in power and Christianity took hold in Europe during the “Age of Pisces,” astrology’s influence and popularity grew out of favor, only to be resuscitated in the Renaissance.