The word “astrology” comes from the Greek “astrologia”, which means star study. In it’s early days, astrology was used to predict weather patterns, primarily for agricultural purposes. Gradually, it began to be used to forecast natural disasters, war and other events. As time went on it became commonplace to use astrology to advise kings and emperors and finally began to be used by people in general.

Astrology was for many centuries inseparable from astronomy; it was the aspect of astronomy involving interpretation. It is the art of studying the movements of the planets and other celestial bodies and the connection they have with life on Earth.

Not all forms of astrology are based on the zodiac or casting horoscopes, but this is the most common form throughout history.

The zodiac (from the Greek word meaning “circle of animals” developed in ancient Mesopotamia. It was noticed that it took twelve lunar cycles (months) for the Sun to return to its original position. Therefore, twelve constellations that were linked to the progression of the seasons were assigned the names of certain animals and persons and used to track the progress of the Sun.  This gives us the modern Sun Signs.

The apparent path of the Sun through the skies is known as the ecliptic (a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the Sun’s apparent path during the year; so called because lunar and solar eclipses can only occur when the Moon crosses it). From our point of view, the paths of the Moon and visible planets remain close to the ecliptic, within the belt of the zodiac, which extends 8-9 degrees north or south.

The zodiac is a coordinate system which uses the ecliptic as the origin of its latitude and the position of the Sun as the spring equinox as the origin of its longitude.

Although the constellations used in the zodiac are ancient, the zodiac of twelve signs did not appear fully-formed. Different zodiacs with different sign boundaries were used in ancient times, and early zodiac had eighteen, not twelve signs.  Also the signs have been known by different names, notably Libra (my Sun Sign), which used to be known as “Scorpion’s Claws”.

Over time, two zodiacal systems of signs came into being. One was the “sidereal” (star) zodiac, based on the constellations of fixed stars. The other is now known as the “tropical” because of its relationships to the tropics.

However, because of a phenomenon known as the “precession of the equinoxes”, the slow shift of the equinoxes along the ecliptic where they move west at a rate of one degree every seventy-two years, the two zodiacs began to separate.

Ancient Greek astronomers decided that the seasonal issue was more important than the constellation one and this led to our modern zodiac. This is why modern zodiac signs do not match the constellations.

However, in India and some other locations, a sidereal zodiac is used meaning that currently there is about twenty-nine degrees differences between the signs (in other words, a planet at 15 degrees of Cancer in the tropical zodiac will be at 16 degrees of Gemini in the sidereal zodiac.)

A “horoscope” is a map of the zodiacal circle with Earth at the centre. The top of the circle shows where the Sun is at its highest point during the day. On the left and right are the eastern and western horizons.

The Sun, Moon, and planets are placed on the map according to their positions in the zodiac. Each of the planets (the Sun and Moon are planets in astrology) have distinct meanings associated to them. Mars, for example, appeared to be red and therefore has long been associated with aggression and bloodshed.

The word “Horoscope” comes from the Greek word “Horoscopos”, which means “hour watcher”. Originally it defined only the Ascendant or the sign that is rising on the east for the time and place that the horoscope is cast.

Today the word horoscope is used to describe the Sun sign forecasts that appear in the popular press. A horoscope can be calculated for a person, business, city or nation – anything that has a defining starting place and date.

The chart is further divided into twelve segments known as “houses.” The division of the houses is based on Earth’s daily rotation and each sector relates to an area of life.

An individual horoscope represents the position of the planets at a particular place and a specific time. Therefore your horoscope is unique to you. Interpretation of the chart allows the astrologer to describe your characteristics and help you understand yourself better.

Although a horoscope shows the likely path you take through life, this doesn’t mean every action you take is fated. You have the free will to make your own decisions and astrology supplies you with information so that you can make the decisions that will best suit you.

This is why most astrologers only make forecasts for a short period of time (not all astrologers make forecasts.) The decisions you make will change your path through life as you progress, adjusting the possibilities open to you.

There is a wide variety of theories that attempt to explain how astrology works. In modern times, the most popular theory is that of Carl Jung’s who suggests the idea of “synchronicity”. Simply put, this describes the “meaningful coincidence” of planetary patterns tending to occur at the same time as types of events. There is no casual relationship between the two.

Fields of Astrology:

Electional: Choosing the best time to go ahead with an activity.

Decumbiture: A chart cast to give medical diagnosis.

Esoteric: Used to anaylyse spiritual factors.

Financial: Predicting cycles on the stock markets with planetary cycles - it’s often illegal to give financial advice based on astrology alone.

Horary: A chart is cast for the moment a question is asked and the answer is derived from the chart.

Local Space: Similar to feng shui, and tells where the best and worst areas are for a person. Also known as astro ‘carto’ graphy.

Medical: Determination of bodily strength and weakness – it’s usually illegal to give medical advice based on astrology alone.

Mundane: Application of astrology to world affairs.

Psychological: An approach based on modern psychological theory.

Rectification: Astrological method for ascertaining an individual’s time of birth.

Sun Sign: Assumes the sign the Sun falls on the date of birth is the first house of the chart, and used for writing daily horoscope columns.

Synastry: Comparison of horoscope to determine compatibility.

Vedic: Eastern astrology system used in the Indian subcontinent based on the Vedic texts. It uses the sidereal (star-based) zodiac.

Article byTania Padley