Mythology amplifies the background meaning of the signs' archetypes. Stars were of practical use for navigators and farmers- myths were born for these reasons. Ancient and academic sources are available on this site because I think that approaching things with an understanding of their literary and cultural environments helps to contextualize the fundamental rationales underlying different parts of astrology. In other words, we can seek to understand things like: where are the origins of horoscopic astrology? How did beliefs spread, which ancient people evidently contributed and what did they believe?
I. Paleolithic art and astronomy
II. Mesopotamian star myths
III. Egyptian practice and tradition
IV. Inventions of the Greek world
V. Between the Republic and the Empire
VI. Astrology and Christianity
VII. Ancient Indian developments
VIII. Arabic Astrology
IX. The Middle Ages and Catholicism
X. Elizabethan Era and Beyond
All about Birth Charts
Paleolithic art and astronomy
Within the venn diagram made by the general academic landscapes of astronomy and archaeology comes archaeoastronomy— and academics from both disciplines have made efforts for decades to investigate evidence that humans of this time period practiced observational astronomy. Claims have been made that circular engravings on certain Scandanavian or Baltic artifacts such as fossils and decorative bones were meant to portray astronomical bodies or star maps. But at the end of the day, we have no way to definitively prove that any form of such early art actually represents any astronomical phenomena in the realm of constellations and celestial bodies; nor can we conclusively confirm that such early people held spiritual beliefs involving the cosmos.
Located above is a diagram indicating the two clusters of small round marks on bull #18. This particular painting became a major attraction of such claims and has generated a fair amount of discourse regarding the potential existence of Paleolithic astronomy. At this point we turn to the saying, "Seek and ye shall find." It is simply the truth that we are too distant from this period in time and space, and thus "limited to the vagaries of archaeological discovery." It would be hubris to decisively assert that we can derive the true meaning of prehistoric people's art, especially when only citing a single instance. Furthermore, the Pleiades are all but absent from the Pyramid Texts— one of the most ancient bodies of religious texts in the world, renowned for their astronomical content. Based on this it is not likely that people 10000 years prior were already recognizing and making art of these stars. In fact it is doubtful whether there exists one unequivocal depiction of this asterism anywhere prior to 2000 BC. Dots on a cave face do not readily indicate the impression of stars; these could be anything. Now, in Neolithic rock art, it seems certain that we have depictions of stars and shapes resembling the sun (e.g. Dowth, Ireland). But there are no evident Paleolithic representations of the sun. If there is not even any evidence that Paleolithic people were making representations of the sun, how can we assume they were depicting our constellations?
Mesopotamian star myths
The idea that certain constellations originated in Sumer is reasonable. The Sumerian term UDU.IDIM.MES (Akkadian bibbu) "wild sheep" gained the meaning of "planets." In the religious text Nanna-Suen Hymn 1 (Sumerian period, 3rd-millennium BC), the mention of cows is an allusion to the stars and the sky is a cattle pen. In the later religious text the Exaltation of Istar (Middle Babylonian period, circa 1150-1000 BC), the Sun and Moon are herdsmen keeping the stars as cattle in their order. Beyond this analogy, some Sumerian texts circa 2500 BC contain references to apparent stations of the Moon called "houses." In the Post Sargonic/Ur III Period the Sumerian term for "house" is apparently used to denote the position of the Moon. Circa 2100 BC Šulgi, king of Ur, recorded that he had learned how to calculate the appearance of the new Moon. In my opinion this is worth its investigation, though the evidence is ambiguous; exclusively at face value this is somewhat reminiscent of the nakshatras of Indian tradition; however, this comment is rather elucidating:
"I find it misleading to mention the zodiac, which was invented around 400 BC, in connection with the term "house" of the Moon, since the meaning in the older texts is clearly not the same as in the younger. Even if the passages quoted refer to places in the sky, they could not be defined by fixed stars, because the Moon is not in the same place on the same calendar date each year. Also, e-[u.sub.4]-7 seems to me to mean "house of day seven" and not "seventh house." And that could be a building on earth, as are the other "houses of the Moon" mentioned."
During the Old Babylonian period, the sky was divided into three concentric zones of influence running parallel to the celestial equator, with the ecliptic passing through all three zones. Each of these zones were controlled by a chief god: they were known as the ways of Anu, Enlil and Ea, and they were used for locating the position of the 17-18 constellations recognized from about the first millennium BC.
It is now believed that the MUL.APIN series, which evidences this significant change, is dated to 1000 BC, although its earliest surviving copy dates to 686 BC. This compendium established the preconditions for the traditional zodiac. The first tablet describes the Path of Sin which crossed the boundaries between the three divine zones. This referred to 17-18 constellations as "gods standing on the path of the Moon." The dual purpose of the scheme was both calendrical and also to serve as sky markers. By 600-500 BC these were systematized in such a way that they were distributed among the twelve months; for instance, the second month of the Babylonian year (mid-April to mid-May) had both Taurus and the Pleiades; the third month Gemini and Orion; and the twelfth month Pisces and Pegasus. By 400 BC the zodiac was reduced to the twelve signs that we are familiar with, each covering 30 degrees of the sky, and beginning with Aries.
So, the formulation of what were to become the zodiacal constellations occurred over some 500-600 years. Circa the 5th-century BC, Babylonian skywatchers needed a suitable frame of reference to indicate the positions of the Moon and the planets between the stars along the path of the ecliptic. With the demands of their developing astronomy it was no longer sufficient to continue with a scheme that simply noted that the Moon or a planet was close to this or that star.
Personal Babylonian horoscopes in which astrologers calculated the degrees of placements did exist. But the few personal predictions found were given in the form of omen apodoses. The subjects are generally concerned with family and fortune, "he will be lacking in wealth," "his days will be long," "he will have sons," or, "he will have sons and daughters."
Other astrological texts which make use of the zodiac signs include texts giving associations between the zodiacal signs and cities, associations between the zodiacal signs with parts of the human body, and associations of the signs of the zodiac and the signs of the microzodiac (1/12th of a sign of the zodiac) with medical ingredients and cultic sites.
The Babylonian kalendertext use a simple numerical scheme to connect dates in the calendar with positions in the zodiac. The zodiacal sign of this position is then associated with terrestrial items such as cultic sites and the materials for making medical remedies:
8 12 1 6 nam.tar-wood, ú.gír-wood, white-plant, thyme-plant, [...]-plant, sag.gil.mud-stone. Eanna. Day of the city god. Opening of the gate, Sin, Šamaš, and [Ištar, A]nu, Enlil and Ea and the warrior Ningirsu. Jupiter. Weapons, strife. He should go out for judgement. He should prostrate before Sin and Šamaš, and he will prove to be merciful.
The example entry above begins with four numbers: The first two numbers are the sign of the zodiac and the number of degrees within that sign (in this case 12° of the 8th sign which is Scorpio). The second two numbers correspond to the month of the year and the day within the month. The sign and degrees are calculated from the month and day according to calculation based upon the rule that the position increases by 277° each day.
ARIES was not originally a ram, but a hired man, an agricultural worker. Since the LU and HUN-GA signs have several associations in the late Babylonian ductus and because the hired man was equated with Dumuzi, the shepherd par excellence of Sumerian literature, punning likely led to the metamorphosis of this sign from the hired man to the ram we know today. As a whole the pictorial evidence shows that the ram and by extension, ram-headed staff (for example carried by Ea), were regarded as highranking cult symbols from 1600 BC (take note that this is roughly the date which kudurrus first appear in the archaeological record).
A majority of newborn lambs appear in the springtime. On the other hand, the name of the hired man refers to the hired labour used to bring in the spring harvest. Over time, the lore was purposefully contrived to reflect the concerns of both barley farmers and herders. So Aries assumed its role as herald of spring. Even though Dumuzi represents the spirit of life, it is his fate to die. As summer grips the land, the rains cease, vegetation dies back and the abundance of springtime wanes. At the height of summer the demons of the underworld search him out, bind him and carry him off to the land of the dead. But the spirit of life is irrepressible and always triumphs over death; in the form of Damu, "Child," he escapes and the cycle begins again.
TAURUS was identified with the Bull of Heaven, slain by the hero Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu. Before 267 BC we find cases of the names: the Bull of Heaven and the Chariot (GIGIR). The Bull of Heaven seems to be used only for roughly the first half of Taurus and the Chariot is only used for the second half of the sign. The whole constellation encompassing Taurus was called the Stars (i.e. Pleiades). The Sumerian Bull of Heaven is described as a destructive beast, which came down from heaven to drink the rivers dry and to parch the land. These seasonal attributes are no doubt derived from the fact that the Bull of Heaven rises late in the 2nd month of the year when the temperature starts to rise and the rains diminish.
In the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the heroes tears off a leg of this heavenly Bull, throwing it to Ishtar who wails over it. Ishtar equates to Venus, who in Greek tradition became the ruler of this sign. In response to this apparent insult, Inanna assembled her courtesans and performed rites of mourning over the Bull's haunch. There is an intriguing parallel to this incident in Egyptian mortuary traditions where a bull's foreleg is one of the chief offerings made to the deceased. And it can be no coincidence that the Egyptians placed their constellation of Seth's Foreleg among the stars of Ursa Major – which the Babylonians envisioned as their funerary Wagon. This constellation, the foreleg of Seth which had been tethered to a mooring post by Taweret, is also additionally reminiscent of the Babylonian epic of creation, in which Marduk fashioned the earth and heaven by dividing the body of Tiamat. He used her thigh to prop up the two realms, and, to keep them together, he bound them with a rope made from her tail.
GEMINI, in the Astronomical Diaries, was only ever called the Twins; always written as MAŠ-MAŠ. This sign was represented visually as the twin gods Meslamta'ea and Lugal'irra. The identical duo each held an axe and a mace, were worshipped at Kisiga, and were portrayed with Lugal'irra on the left and Meslamta'ea on the right.
The name Lugal'irra (Lugalgirra) probably meant "mighty lord" and Meslamta'ea may have meant "he who comes out of Meslam." Meslam or Emeslam was the name of a temple in Cuthah (modern Tell Ibrahim). Cuthah was also the name of the capital of the Sumerian underworld, Irkalla.1 The word Meslam, meaning "luxuriant Mesu tree," perhaps indicates that he was originally a tree god, in agreement with his general chthonic character.
Meslamta'ea was the son of Enlil, god of the atmosphere, and of Ninlil. He became syncretised with Nergal2 by the Ur III period, and by the Old Babylonian period, Lugal'irra and Meslamta'ea became known as the "twin deities." During the Neo-Assyrian period, small images of the two gods were buried at entrances— they were clearly regarded as effectual in guarding doorways. It is possible that they were originally thought to stand at the gates of the netherworld ready to dismember the dead who entered. Meslamta'ea's weapons; however, sometimes seemed to be turned against his own people and their herds, when he killed them in great plagues.
Babylonian mythology held the tradition that there were two entrances to the underworld, each of which was associated with a solstice. The wintertime entrance was primarily used by discarnate souls journeying to the afterlife. But the summer entrance, located in the region of Cancer, was used by the spirits of ancestors when they returned to earth to visit their familial homes for the ancestral festival celebrated in month 5. The summertime entrance was also the route that the souls of newborns used to enter into the world of men.
The pair of gods were connected with the River of the Ordeal3 and its god sometimes too. In a letter written under the name of Ninšatapada, daughter of Sin-kašid, king of Uruk, she refers to herself as the high-priestess of Meslamta'ea.
CANCER was originally identified with the Tigris and Euphrates, the primary sources of life for the region: "The stars which stand in front of the Cancer (are) the Tigris, the stars which stand behind the Cancer (are) the Euphrates, the Cancer (is) the Euphrates" (Enuma Anu Enlil). This association remained in late Babylonian tradition where Cancer is represented as two streams. The association of Cancer with rivers is so strong that the following omen is understood to refer to Cancer even though it isn't explicitly mentioned: "If the moon is surrounded by a river: there will be great floods and cloudbursts"– the Crab stands in the halo of the moon.
When and how this imagery was eclipsed by the symbol of the water creature— the crayﬁsh or crab— is difficult to precisely argue, though there is an obvious relation in the later symbol being a freshwater animal. There is also some obscurity in whether the terminology attributed to Cancer was referencing the constellation we recognize or rather Praesepe, a cluster of stars within Cancer. Regardless, what was Cancer to the Mesopotamians was used in astrological omens to predict the coming floods. The fundamentals of the scheme are expressed in binary form: "If the stars of the Crab scintillate: high floods will come. If the stars of the Crab are faint: high floods will not come." This basic scheme is developed further in the Great Star List where the front stars of the Crab specifically represent the waters of the Tigris, and its rear stars are used to foretell the water levels of the Euphrates.
There are no known depictions; however, of a crab on any entitlement stones, a circumstance that has led some commentators to suggest that it may be represented on these monuments by the figure of a turtle. The Crab's name can be written as Kušu, a "water creature," which according to the lexicon can refer to a crab as well as a snapping turtle. The turtle gives every impression of being an important symbol on entitlement stones, occasionally combined in the presence of the Goatfish. Late astrology texts refer to Cancer simply as "the Waters" (A-meš).
There are two alternative ways of writing the Crab's name that could throw some light on its perceived meaning: A-meš, which simply means "the waters," and A-lu, which can be understood as "abundant water." Given these forms, ancient astrologers could have reinterpreted the Crab's name as A-lul, which would mean something like "the deceptive waters" – in reference to it withholding the waters of heaven during the summer dry season.
The Al-sign depicts a hoe or pickaxe, perhaps alluding to the Crab's claws as digging implements, or to the turtle's spade-like flippers. The Lul-sign depicts a fox; it has a variety of meanings as an individual sign, including, "false, deceptive, criminal and rebellious." It is the primary element in the name of the Fox-star and the False Star, both of which are commonly used to refer to Mars.
Various elements of the Hercules myth have striking parallels in the mythology of the Mesopotamian god Ninurta. His exploits against a series of fantastic monsters called the Slain Heroes are now thought to provide the inspiration for Hercules' Labours. Listed among the monsters which Ninurta defeated is a seven-headed dragon, a prototype for the Greek Hydra. Hercules' encounter with the Crab is paralleled by another episode in Ninurta's mythology, where he battles with a turtle. Ninurta coveted the powers and symbols of civilised life (called the Me in Sumerian) for his own selfish ends. Enki divined Ninurta's selfish intent, and fashioned a turtle to battle with him. The adversaries, locked in mortal combat, fell into a pit where the turtle kept "gnawing Ninurta's feet with his claws."
The essential action of the Hercules myth– the slaying of the Hydra and the creation of the Cancer– can be understood as a calendrical reform of the stars, reflecting the ongoing effects of precession. The ancient constellation of the Serpent had slipped back in the calendar to the point at which it no longer rose in its appropriate season and had consequently been "killed off" and replaced by the Crab, which now embodied the symbolic traits previously associated with the Serpent.
Also of note is the necromantic lore surrounding the Crab, which can be variously utilised to "take hold of a ghost and let it associate with living men, to reveal the nature of men's deaths, and to offer water to a ghost." Comparable symbolism is prominent in astrological lore, where "If the Strange Star (Mars) comes close to the Crab: the ruler will die" and, "If the Crab is dark: the ghost of a wronged person (or the spirit of death) will seize the land, there will be deaths in the land." Part of this deathly symbolism can be accounted for in calendrical terms as the Crab makes its annual appearance in the course of month 4, when the death rites of Dumuzi are celebrated. In many respects these rites form a prelude to the festival of the ancestors celebrated in month 5, in which the ancestors are temporarily invited back to the upper worlds to commune with the living– which would account for much of the magical lore mentioned above.
During the era when the MUL.APIN was composed, Cancer occupied the most northerly section of the ecliptic. This fact probably informs its description in MUL.APIN where the constellation is called the "seat of Anu." The god Anu, who is literally the god of heaven, rules the highest and most remote of the three superimposed heavens found in Babylonian cosmology. It is thus fitting that he should rule the highest sector of the ecliptic. Perhaps for the same reason, the special station of Jupiter, the "king of the planets," is traditionally stationed between the Lion and the Crab, an association that has survived into modern times where his astrological exaltation is located in Cancer.
LEO'S earliest textual evidence as a lion constellation in Mesopotamia is found in Hilprecht's Nippur Text (HS 245 (= HS 229)), dated to the Cassite Period circa 1530-1160 BC. It continued its representation as a lion in the MUL.APIN, and was also identified with Latarak, a lion-headed protector god.
Also important to note is the fact the war goddess, Inanna in Sumerian and Ištar in Akkadian, is sometimes simply known as the "Lioness of Heaven" (in Akkadian, the lioness). According to mythological texts, her throne was supported by a pair of ferocious lions, but more often than not, Inanna could be found on the battlefield where the roar of her sacred lion enunciated war. "The lion, the dog of Ištar, roared and did not stop roaring." Inanna's lust for carnage is frequently praised in Sumerian literature. Many of her warlike attributes are recorded in the Sumerian poem, "Inanna and the mountain of Ebih," which recounts the goddess' destruction of a mountain realm that refused to submit to her will. The poem praises her as the 'lady of battle', who is 'clad in terror' and 'drenched in blood' (cf. the Egyptian Sekhmet). "In the heavens and upon the earth she roars like a lion and devastates the people."
In astrology, Inanna's sacred planet is Venus, whose appearance in the Lion naturally enough portends war. Her aspect as morning or evening star indicates the theatre of battle: "If Venus stands inside the Lion in the east: in Elam there will be a battle. If in the west: in Akkad there will be a battle." The association of Venus and the Lion is so close that she is regarded as having her second exaltation or "secret place" in Leo: "If Venus reaches her secret place: good fortune will come to pass."
VIRGO was depicted as the constellation of the Furrow in the MUL.APIN. By the Hellenistic era, the Babylonian figure around the ear of grain (our Spica) is depicted, for example on the clay tablet AO 6448 (Louvre) as a young woman, and not the Furrow. This woman was interpreted as the goddess Shala (at least in Uruk: Steele 2018). It is unknown whether the Greek image of a Maiden goddess influenced this Babylonian depiction or the Babylonian image had changed before being transferred to Greece.
LIBRA was seen as the Scales (Akkadian zibanītu). It was also given the epithets of "Star of Šamaš" and Šamaš's star (i.e. constellation) of justice." This is because the constellation of the Scales, as well as actual standardized weights and measures, were held to be especially sacred to the sun god Šamaš (Utu in Sumerian). As the sun illuminates the world and therefore sees everything that happens upon the earth, Šamaš held the role of the god of truth and justice. He is the ultimate witness of all actions and therefore the arbiter of truth. Thus it was believed that he would punish anyone foolish enough to swear false witness (cf. similar law in the Ten Commandments of Exodus). Kings and heroes, as well as ordinary men, called upon him as the upholder of truth and righteousness.
In the Astronomical Diaries, the Scales are always written using the sign RÍN. The constellation of the Scales had been common in Mesopotamia by the time of MUL.APIN as well as in the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries. The neighbouring Virgo had been the Furrow in which there is an ear of wheat. This suggests a connection of the weight of grain measured with the Scales, possibly as a calendar symbol for the harvest time.
SCORPIO was indeed a scorpion, but also directly representative of Išḫara, a love goddess whose worship spread from Syria to Mesopotamia. This was one symbol among her various other associations including cannabis (qunnabu called the "aromatic of Ishara"), oath or marriage, prophecy or oracle, the snake (Old Babylonian period- the scorpion was Middle Babylonian) and the bashmu. In some texts she is clearly identified as an underworld deity. Ishara's scorpion was depicted under the bed of copulating couples in the art of 3rd millennium seals, which also depicted beer. The association between drinking and sex was highly apparent in the Old Babylonian period.
This sign also may be attributed to the Epic of Gilgamesh where the gate of the sun is guarded by scorpion-people. This gate marks the start of an underground tunnel that was travelled by the sun during the course of each night, which also was traversed by Gilgamesh on his way to the visit the immortals. In terms of astronomy, this tunnel can be thought of as symbolizing the sun's autumnal descent into the darkness of the underworld.
Scorpio's array of weaponry and its armored body segments have naturally led it to symbolize the clash of weapons in battle, and possibly its rulership by Mars. It is described posed for attack with "its pincers extended like the horns of a wild bull, and its tail raised up like that of a raging lion" (cf. Fixed signs).
SAGITTARIUS was imagined as the tutelary deity by the name of Pabilsaĝ, son of Enlil. Though its meaning is unconfirmed, with attempts like "arrow shooter" or "the elder is the leader" discounted, this name was sometimes shortened to Pabil or Pa. In the Sumerian širnamšubba4 to Ninurta, he is called "Hero Pabilsag, devastator of lands, pillager of cities."
He belonged to the local pantheon of Larak, and many functions are suggested for him: a healer god (analogous with his wife's functions), a divine judge, a god of war, and a netherworld god, called the "military governor of the netherworld," due to his syncretism with Nergal. Also suggested is the god of hunting, which neatly correlates to the theme of the hunt inherent in his bow and arrow and in various images where he hunts down a demon or an antelope. Because he was so frequently portrayed as the beloved spouse of the healing goddess Ninisina, Gula or Ninkarrak, he remains quite nondescript next to her (what a historical reversal... if you ask me).
Together with Ninisina, he had the children Damu (Damušaga in Sumerian), Gunura, and Šumaḫ. He was in fact included in some of the oldests lists of gods from the early Akkadian period onward, and he apparently had at least one temple5 as well as an account of a priestess.6 From the Early Dynastic period he was syncretized with the god Ninurta.7 It is said that Ninurta was his Nippurian name, Ningirsu that in Lagaš, and Pabilsaĝ in Isin. Sheep were regularly sacrificed and offered to Ninurta among other gods in the Nippurite festival known as eššeššum.
As depicted in Babylonian8 art, he was half man and half winged horse, with the tail of a scorpion as well as the tail of a horse. In some instances, this creature is shown with with two heads (human and lion or dog). Alternatively he was shown to be a scorpionman shooting a bow, with the hind part of the body being that of a scorpion9 instead of a horse. We know that from the Early Dynastic period onwards he had cult centres at Isin and Nippur.10 It's a shame there remains so little information on him— he wasn't given an entire constellation for no reason!
Sagittarius is also depicted at the Egyptian temple of Esna as a half man, half winged horse with the second head of a lion and tail of a scorpion.
This constellation rises in the ninth month- the time of year that the sun descends to its lowest ebb at the winter solstice and the gates to the underworld are opened. Pabilsaĝ is located directly within the course of the Milky Way where it abruptly rises from the southern regions close to the horizon into the higher reaches of the heavens. Judging by the other constellations found in this part of the sky, such as the Eagle and the Panther, this section of the Milky Way arguably represents the souls of the dead on their way to the afterlife. These features paint a picture of Pabilsaĝ as a guardian and guide to the souls of the deceased.
The symbol of CAPRICORN may also have Egyptian origins, appearing on coffin lids in the Middle Kingdom from roughly 2000 BC. But in Sumerian literature, Capricorn is described among Ea's attendants. Thus as a constellation it was regarded to belong to the Way of Ea. In Akkadian magic this creature, the suḫurmašu (carp-goat) may have been invoked in bathing rituals, cleansing the self of troubles and seeking clear direction from one's personal god. The lower half of this creature's body is a carp of the Tigris:
"This ﬁsh, which can normally reach up to 1 meter in length, nowadays is among the Iraqi national dishes, the masgouf. If walking along the Tigris bank, in Baghdad, an event which sadly you will hardly experience in the next future, you stop in one of the small restaurants in the promenade, the owner will take you to a pool where carps swim. Once you have chosen your victim, the owner takes the ﬁsh and splits it in two halves with an hatchet. This is the sort allotted to Tiamat. Marduk splits her body like a masgouf or like a ﬁsh to be dried, and proceeds to the creation. The two halves of the body tied together will constitute the sky and the earth, while from her two eyes Marduk makes ﬂow the rivers Tigris and Euphrates."
AQUARIUS was the constellation of the "Great One," a reference to Ea, patron deity of Eridu, sometimes represented sitting on a throne pouring water from a vase or with two streams running from his hands or shoulders. He is also sometimes represented with an eagle11 resting on his arm. The typical representation is that of a seated or standing god, with an aryballos between the hands from which two streams of water ﬂow. The ultimate origins of Aquarius may be traced back to a figure called the lahmu or "nude hero." He first appears in the artwork of the early 3rd millennium, at times appearing in depictions of the "Lion-bull conflict." These images typically portray him as a benevolent figure, protecting the herds from the attack of savage lions.
PISCES was originally only one fish. This western fish of Pisces was not an aquatic animal at all; rather it was the Swallow. The meaning of the Swallow is lost (possibly symbolic to the season, as swallows migrate southward when this constellation is up in the sky; and arrive when it rises heliacally). In the MUL.APIN, the other part of Pisces was represented as the goddess Anunitu. The first clear reference in Mesopotamian literature to the fish is found in late Babylonian sources where DU.NU.NU or Rikis-nu.mi is written, meaning "fish cord." Either in later epochs or by the influence of geographically disparate cultures, this picture of a Swallow tail was equalled to the picture of a bird and a fish connected with each other– the so called Swallow-fish. Likely, we deal with a Babylonian wordplay here: it is well possible that the Swallow-fish originally designated a species but was depicted later with the sketch of a fish and a bird connected with a ribbon.
1. Alfred Jeremias, The Babylonian conception of heaven and hell, D. Nutt, 1902.
2. The close affinity of the Twins to Nergal is concisely stated in astrology texts: "If the Twins rise: devouring by the disease god Nergal."
3. For their association, see A šir-namgala to Mešlamta-ea and Lugal-era for Ibbi-Suen. For the River of the Ordeal, see Idlurugu.
4. Hymn located here.
5. An Akkadian inscription (G. G. Hackman, BIN 8, 170), possibly originating from Nippur, details the sale of fields, referencing the men who directed the court procedure at the "site of Pabilsag" ("ki-dpa-gis-bil-sag-ka"). Thus what is meant is likely the temple of Pabilsag as the site of judgement- where the court hearing took place.
6. The lapis lazuli inscription U.9315 from Tomb PG 580 at the Royal Cemetery of Ur reads, "HE-kun-sig, priestess of Pabilsag."
7. A Lagaš inscription refers to Pabilsag as the "warrior of Enlil", an epithet commonly used for Ningirsu (Ninurta).
8. Depicted on a seal; for an Egyptian example, see the Dendera zodiac.
9. Like the snake, the scorpion was a symbol of healing, fecundity, and prosperity; and a widespread apotropy throughout ancient Mesopotamia, and later throughout Greece and Rome. This symbolism makes sense with Pabilsag's role of husband to multiple healing goddesses.
10. One Sumerian tale which survives in fragments is given the name of "Pabilsag's Journey to Nibru" (Nippur). It narrates his marriage with Ninisina.
Egyptian practice and tradition
Judicial astrology, derived from Babylonian omen literature, had its introduction during the 27th dynasty of Egypt. By this time period, Egypt, Babylonia, and the Assyrians had long interacted and battled. The heliacal rising of the star Sirius (Sopdet in Egyptian, Sothis in Greek) took place in Cancer and was perceived as the principle of generation to the world. Sirius was sometimes written as Sothis-Isis. Osiris was sometimes identified as Orion, as in the temple of Esna. The application of the figures of Isis and Osiris to these stars may be explained through the image of Isis as Sirius following Osiris as Orion (who turns his head back to "look" at her) through the sky for the whole night until Orion sets in the West.
THE DECAN SYSTEM was a rather major distinctive feature of Egyptian tradition, involving 36 star groups which rise at consecutive 10-day intervals. These decans would regulate not only the passage of time but the behaviour of humans. The decans were represented in art, for example, at the temple of Esna.
Even more fascinating is the idea that perhaps a new meaning might be gleaned from the purported words of Hermes Trismegistus in The Perfect Discourse, where it is stated, "Egypt is an image of heaven." There is argument that the Egyptians etched their constellations onto the very map of Egypt.1 Each nome was identified with a constellation, making the Nile an earthly reflection of the Milky Way; a celestial river upon which the star gods and the souls of the deceased sailed.
THE DODEKAOROS2 is known to us from the late Hellenistic period. Depicted in art (see the Daressy zodiac) and evidenced by Teucer3 of Babylon, this system visualized twelve animal metamorphoses of the Sun god in twelve double hours of the day (i.e. 120 min). This was exactly the same in Babylonian4 time reckoning: mathematically the whole day was reckoned as 12 hours of 120 minutes each.
According to Iamblichus: "It indicates his immutable, stable, never failing, unique, collective largesse to the whole cosmos. The changes of form and configuration reside in the recipients. For this reason they say that the Sun is changing according to the zodiac sign and the hour." And as related by Chaeremon, a 1st-century AD priest of Serapis, "These prayers report a myth and say that he appears from the mud, is seated on the lotus flower, is travelling οn a ship, and changes his shape every hour by taking a form according to each zodiac sign."
The most widespread mythological system recognized the Sun's forms of a lotus5 in the morning, a lion at midday, and a ram in the evening (however, at the temple of Esna, the sun takes the form of the ram god Khnum-Ra [who was widely venerated at Esna] at noon and at midnight). According to the Dodekaoros, though, the forms were as follows: cat, dog, serpent, scarab, donkey, lion, goat, bull, falcon, baboon, ibis, and crocodile. Evidently, the Greeks also adapted this system into their syncretic magic; there are papyri (PGM IV.1596-1715) which preserve these forms as manifestations of Helios.
There was a reason for each of these symbols: they were derived from paranatellonta, constellations which co-rise with the signs. Cancer was associated with the scarab, represented by Khepri6 (God of the morning sun) and widely metaphoric of Ra. As representative of his head in the Late Period, the donkey was sacred to Set. The bull in the eighth slot was representative of the constellation Taurus setting as Scorpio rises. The falcon was assigned to the ninth slot in the Dodekaoros because the constellation Aquila, seen as a falcon7 to the Egyptians, would have been rising with Sagittarius while Gemini sets. Apart from this system, Gemini was represented in hieroglyphs as a pair of falcons.
1. Berio, A. "The Celestial River: Identifying the Ancient Egyptian Constellations." Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 253, University of Pennsylvania, 2014. Link.
2. ἡ δωδεκάωρος, lit. "of twelve-hours" substantive.
3. Teukros. His work only survives through excerpts in the works of other authors. He was called "The Babylonian" by Porphyry. There exists a hypothesis by Wilhelm Gundel that this refers to the Egyptian Babylon Fortress near Cairo, and not the Babylon of Mesopotamia, but according to Neugebauer there is hardly any evidence which supports this claim.
4. See also the Jewish practice of this tradition. Link.
5. Due to its physical quality of opening daily at sunrise, the lotus was a symbol of rejuvination and rebirth in relation to figures of status; deities, royals, and the elite. This particular lotus lion ram grouping of symbols is found on several hypocephali and referenced in magical incantations.
6. The word for scarab was kheperer from the verb kheper meaning "to become" or "to be born."
7. Falcon of Horus or Nemty (see section on the 18th nome of Egypt in the Berio paper).
Inventions of the Greek world
After the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, astrology became radically changed with its spread. It passed into the Greek world just as Pythagoras was putting the supernatural back into rational Greek astronomy. It is evident that the zodiac was formalized by the latter half of the 5th-century BC (perhaps circa 420 BC). While we are unable to pinpoint an exact route of the diffusion of astronomical knowledge from Mesopotamia to Greece, the Babylonians and Ionian Greeks were subjects of a unified Persian Empire in the 6th-century BC. As time moved forward, given the dynamic tension resulting from Greek philosophy meeting Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian and Jewish religions and ideologies, the Hellenistic era provided fruitful soil for the further cultivation of what began in Mesopotamia.
Homer, in the epic poems the Iliad and Odyssey, mentions six constellations and the star Sirius circa 750 BC. Hesiod's later poem Works and Days names almost the same constellations and shows that by 700 BC the Greeks had established a cyclical calendar and made observations of the rising and setting points of stars. The two Greek astronomers Meton and Euctemon both included the zodiac in their parapegmata.
ARIES is best preserved in Greek tradition where it appears as the ram with a golden fleece, possession of which conferred kingship.
CANCER is described in Greek mythology through its position in the path of the sun: after travelling northwards for half a year, it turns its direction southwards at the summer solstice. During the latter half of the year, the sun is therefore walking backwards, in the manner of a crab.
VIRGO was compared by Eratosthenes to Dike, the goddess of justice who carries a balance. The Babylonian goddess Shala does not carry a balance, but an ear of grain. Eratosthenes also reports the identification with the goddess Demeter because of the ear of grain in her hand, with the Egyptian goddess Isis, the Syrian goddess Atargatis and the Greek goddess Tyche, because the constellation figure had no head. At any rate, this example demonstrates that there was no canonical image of the Greek constellations in his time.
LIBRA was included in the Babylonian zodiac but was later described by Hellenistic astronomers such as Ptolemy, as "the Claws (χηλαί) of the great Scorpio" and was included with Scorpio. So in these cases the archaic Greek zodiac was actually comprised of 11 figures. We don't officially see the 12 constellation zodiac of the Greek-Roman world until the 1st-century AD with the introduction of Libra in place of the Claws. Geminus and Manilius were two figures who reintroduced the separate constellation of the Scales.
SCORPIO'S symbol had such a bad reputation in antiquity and caused such fear that Greek hoplites allegedly placed their images on shields to strengthen the terror of the opponents. Unfortunately, paint does not age well, and as a result there exists little evidence of real painted shields (though we can see clearly painted shields in pottery depictions). Though a Roman example, the Praetorian Guard, refounded by Tiberius, was identified by the distinctive scorpion emblem that can be seen on depictions1 of praetorian shields and standards. It has been suggested that the scorpion must be connected with Tiberius because it was his birth sign. Pliny recorded the superstition that, if one said the word "duo," a scorpion wouldn't sting them.
In Ovid's Metamorphoses (II.63-89), the celestial Scorpion encountered Phaethon while he was driving his father's Sun Chariot. Sol says to his son Phaethon: "Even if you keep your course, you must still avoid the horns of Taurus the Bull, Sagittarius the Haemonian Archer, raging Leo and Lion's jaw, Scorpio's cruel pincers sweeping out to encircle you from one side, and Cancer's crab-claws reaching out from the other."
In fact, the constellations are so shocking to Phaethon, that they are the cause of Phaethon's dropping of the reins- and thus his death. "He sees the marvellous forms of huge creatures everywhere in the glowing sky. There is a place where Scorpio bends his pincers in twin arcs, and, with his tail and his curving arms stretched out to both sides, spreads his body and limbs over two star signs. When the boy saw this monster drenched with black and poisonous venom threatening to wound him with its arched sting, robbed of his wits by chilling horror, he dropped the reins" (II.178-200).
SAGITTARIUS, though there is extensive artistic evidence of centaur imagery, was allegedly described by Eratosthenes as the satyr2 Krotos, son of Pan and Eupheme, in his Katasterismi. Ovid called Sagittarius the "Haemonian Archer" as in the passage seen above. Haemonia, an ancient name for Thessaly, was used in this myth to describe Sagittarius' formation when the Thessalian centaur Chiron was placed among the stars by Zeus.
The Greeks calculated with an entirely different system, which we still use today, to locate the starting points of the zodiac signs. Unlike this new system, the Babylonians did not correlate the beginning with the vernal equinox. As shown by Franz Kugler, Bartel van der Waerden, and Otto Neugebauer, they linked them with fixed stars: bright reference stars. Because the Greeks instead fixed the zodiac to the tropical points, precessional movement would unknowingly, gradually displace the signs. Hence we know have two measurements of astrology; the tropical or moving zodiac, which is measured from the 4 tropical points, and the sidereal zodiac of fixed stars. The resulting constellational (sidereal) zodiac and schematic sign (tropical) zodiac are the legacy of a slow and unplanned development that extended across cultural borders.
Astrology found a stage of fruitful development in Greece during the 1st and 2nd-centuries AD. Across the Mediterranean, Alexandria was also a location for major intellectual developments of this subject. Though subject to skepticism3 it was acceptable not only at the popular level, but also at an intellectual and philosophical level, incorporating ideas of Plato and the Academy, the Pythagoreans, the Stoics, the Aristotelians and the Hermetists. This period concurs with the widening interest in daimonology and divine fortune (Plutarch's Moralia, Pseudo-Plutarch on De fato). Valens' nine-book Anthologiae, gives both a comprehensive view of his contemporary astrology and his own philosophical and religious inclinations. Thus we can see that practical astrology really did not conform to one particular philosophical model offered by anyone in particular. However, the Neopythagoreans, Platonists and Stoics all provided foundational influences on the development of the art.
With the collapse of Olympian religion and popularity in the belief of Fortune and Fate, astrology, as part of divination, grew dominant and degenerated into heavy superstition. For pre-Socratic philosophers, personified powers like Moira (Fate), Ananke (Necessity), Nemesis (Revenge), Heimarmene (Fate), Sumphora (Chance) and Tukhe (Fortune) took on metaphysical significances that obscured distinction between the theological and ontological. To thinkers such as Anaximander, Moira and Tukhe play a part in cosmology that exceeds— and is possibly even prior— to the gods. While the Olympians may be given foresight into the workings of Moira, both they and nature itself were often left without the power to transgress her. At this time in Greek thought, Fate and Fortune, with Zeus as their capricious dispenser, fell outside human understanding. Leading a virtuous life was no insurance from material ruin. Thus we get pessimism, in the attitudes of Ionian thinkers such as Mimnermus and Semonides, and Archilochus, to whom Moira and Tukhe were the sole dispensers of good and evil, with no possibility of mediation. Hellenistic astrologers attempted to provide astral logic to explain the apparent injustices of Fate, turning it into a predictable science.
It was the Greeks who adopted the notion that all celestial bodies operate as a single influential system. To read this mechanism, they assigned the attributes of the old Olympian gods and other mythical personages to the stars and planets, and also to the constellations bearing their names. It was then inferred that, as the stars and planets have predictable motions; when we enter the world, we fall into step with the predestined movements of the celestial sphere. The laws of nature were therefore believed to transcend even the will of the gods. So, in such a universe of ordered movement, it was appropriate to forecast the fate of an individual. Astrology was now the science of casting a horoscope. Those who consulted astrologers were seeking to know the future— not to change it. By the attractiveness of such emphasis on destiny, astrological practice would soon conquer the Roman world and eventually maintain its sway side by side with astronomy into the Middle Ages. Astrology was systematized into its most influential form by the noted 2nd-century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, who wrote the bible of astrology, Tetrabiblos. All things considered, since his time there have been relatively minor changes, in spite of the tremendous advances in astronomy and the redeveloped views of the universe that have taken place since.
Surviving Greek astrological writings were catalogued over a period of fifty years in the Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (CCAG). These codices reveal that for the sake of credibility, many early works were attributed to mythologized figures such as the pharaoh Nechepso, an Egyptian priest associated with Petosiris, or Hermes who was credited with astrology's invention, or with historical figures such as Orpheus, Asclepius, Anubio, Zoroaster, Abraham, and Pythagoras. In turn, these practices informed Greek medical theory with zodiacal melothesia, iatromathematics of auspicious and inauspicious times, and prognostication of an illness, life expectancy, or recovery, based on the moment a person fell ill. The former two principles are found in the works of Manilius, Teucer, Ptolemy, and Firmicus Maternus, as well as a variety of anonymous and pseudepigraphal texts. The notion that your sign dictates your physical appearance (today more often it is said the Rising) is classified as melothesia. This idea continued to appear in Roman works, "Those who belong to the sign of Taurus are recognized by their round head, abundant hair, their square-shaped, dark eyes and bushy, black eyebrows, and their broad face..." (Hippolytus4 Refutatio 4.15.1).
The end of Hellenistic astrological tradition was essentially marked by the Muslim conquest of Egypt, beginning in AD 639.
1. The standard of the III praetorian cohort, depicted on the tomb of Marcus Pompeius Asper, shows a scorpion on a stylized standard.
2. Archaic and Classical satyrs nearly always have horse, not goat features. Horses have long, flowing tails, while goats have short, perky tails. There is even an Attic black-figure kyathos dated to ca. 520 BCE that depicts a satyr and a goat right next to each other, making it easy to compare their tails and see that they are different.
During the Hellenistic Period, Greek artists began to portray satyrs with goat features instead of horse features. This trend likely emerged as a result of satyrs being conflated with the god Pan; depicted in Greek art with the legs and horns of a goat and who was sometimes believed to appear in plural forms, known as Panes.
The Romans, however, equated satyrs with Fauni, plural forms of the god Faunus, whom they equated with the Greek god Pan. The Romans most commonly portrayed Fauni with the horns and legs of goats. Thus, during the time of the Roman Empire, this became the standard image for satyrs as well.
3. Thinkers in the skeptical Academy and Pyrrhonic schools sought to attack the theoretical underpinnings of the practice of astrology, using a variety of arguments centering around freedom, the ontological status of celestial bodies, and the logical limitations of astrological claims. For Plotinus, horoscopic astrology was absurd: the planets could never bear ill will toward human beings whose souls were exalted above the cosmos. Though he is considered the founder of Neoplatonism, other Neoplatonists such as Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus found some aspects of astrology compatible with their philosophy.
4. Hippolytus of Rome. Book 4 of this compendium sought to refute astrological practices among other forms of magic, as the author was Christian. Regardless, it provides further evidence of these practices to us today.
Between the Republic and the Empire
Personal horoscopal astrology rose in popularity during the late Republic, reaching a peak with the reign of Hadrian who himself had trained in it. In 139 BC, the first recorded expulsion of astrologers from Rome occurred. Astrology remained firmly integrated throughout the Roman population even during the period of Augustus' decree of AD 11 which prohibited both private consultation with astrologers and the prediction of anyone's death. An Egyptian by the name of Apollonius foretold in Egypt the fate of Caligula and was arrested for violation of this edict, sent to Rome to receive the death penalty on the day of Caligula's assassination, and thus survived because Caligula did not. Aside from this decree, other Roman bans on the practice, or orders for the expulsion of unrepentants, were not intended to be permanent or include astrologers from outside Rome itself. We know from Suetonius and ample numismatic evidence that Augustus had not only minted coins bearing his image with the sign of Capricorn, but also, as recorded by Dio Cassius, published in a risky move his own placements including the Ascendant.
Even in the time of Johannes Kepler, there has been modern debate over which astrological placement(s) of Augustus had been in Capricorn in order for him to publicly identify with the sign. One leading theory accepted today is that Augustus was a Capricorn Moon; the Moon was revered with incredible importance during this time, as evidenced by Cicero who claimed Rome's own Moon sign was Libra, leading Manilius to call it Rome's birth sign in his Astronomica, a work which showed much deference to the emperor.1 Another popular accepted theory infers that Augustus' sign was Capricorn because it was not based on the moment of his birth, but on the moment of his parents conceiving him.2 At this time, not only the Sun would have been in Capricorn, but also the Moon, Ascendant and Mercury.
Tiberius was the second Roman emperor, stepson and successor to Augustus. Taught in astrology by his Greek Alexandrian advisor Thrasyllus (head of the Platonic Academy), he executed prominent citizens whose horoscopes predicted imperial futures, ruthlessly enforcing Augustus' decree during the spread of rumors regarding his own demise, and yet issued Augustan coins in his twentieth year. Thrasyllus chose his son Balbillus to serve Tiberius' successors as court astrologer. In AD 52 Claudius evidently exempted him from the renewed banishment of astrologers not just from Rome, but from Italy as a whole. Nero appointed Balbillus praefect of Egypt from 55 to 59. Domitian purposefully began his rule with the Sun in Capricorn; this symbol continued to recur in imperial art until at least the 3rd-century AD among themes such as the aurea aetas and Aeternitas Augusti. Ironically, Pescennius Niger using those themes in rebellion against Septimius Severus hardly lasted a year in the wars of succession. While visiting Egypt as emperor, the aforementioned Severus enclosed seized magical writings in the tomb of Alexander the Great to ensure that they could not be used against him. He also put to death men who inquired about his fate and condemned the governor of Asia as a result of a dream by the governor's nurse which foretold that he would rise to the throne instead. The corresponding reign of Caracalla saw the end of Roman astrological influence.
The most familiar Roman forms of divination were haruspicy and augury, and both long-held customs were societal rather than personal. With the influx of foreign ideas, the Roman senate grew weary of new practices overtaking the old (cf. mos maiorum). Privately consulting an astrologer to obtain an imperial horoscope for oneself could be employed, in the Roman view, to seed a plot for seizing imperial power. There was fear over the belief that determining the time of an emperor's death from his astrological placements might encourage a coup d'état for that moment, or even inspire enemies to plot for this time of demise. On the other hand, an emperor promoting his own astrology exhibited his divinely ordained destiny to reign in power. It is ultimately the case that astrologers competed with each other when asked to provide an astrological identity for an emperor— whether assuming links with Rome's founding or the beginning of the world, the most appropriate symbols were adjusted for their leader. If Capricorn was a logo, it was devised to sell the product that was imperium. The prominence of astrology during this era was no coincidence; for it reflected the contemporary political shifts, emerging in the Roman world as individual generals began to dominate unchecked by the Republican system. State diviners under control of the senate gave way to the privately acquired astrologers of such generals, then would-be emperors, and finally, emperors, as the Republic collapsed into Empire. Astrology became a significant component of imperial rhetoric and a source of persuasive power.
We also find that the Moon's position is considered auspicious or inauspicious for engaging in a specific activity during the month. These moments have been collected in Latin handbooks called Lunaria, preserved from the 2nd-century AD onward, to which Babylonian texts represent some close parallels. The Lunaria not only indicate the auspicious moments but also the times to be avoided when engaging a specific activity.
The Mainz celestial globe. This may be a photograph of a replica of the original. Roman celestial globe, dated 2nd-century AD.
The Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes constructed the first celestial globe on record, but it is believed other celestial globes had existed prior. We later see these globes in Roman tradition. Cicero's De re Publica quotes (from 166 BC) Gaius Gallus, a Roman consul and astronomical writer, as stating that the philosopher Thales of Miletus (6th-century BC) constructed a celestial globe. However, this seems improbable. Though there is really no positive statement for such in ancient literature it is thought that Eudoxus likely constructed a celestial globe. The Kugel Globe (suggested to be part of an armillary sphere), dated 2nd-century BC, may be the earliest celestial globe to survive from Classical antiquity.
1. Likely either Augustus or Tiberius. Imperial praise through a poetic medium was certainly not uncommon. Several famous Roman works were either dedicated to Augustus, written in praise of him (e.g. certain Odes of Horace), or were comissioned for publication by him, such as Vergil's Aeneid.
2. Determining someone's placements by the moment of conception was an accepted astrological practice; a common method was to calculate this 273 days before the birth. This amount equaled ten sidereal revolutions of the Moon.
Astrology and Christianity
Historically, Christians have interacted with astrology through a spectrum of views, with some accepting certain aspects of astrology while disagreeing with others (e.g. St. Augustine), adapting it to suit their own religious views, and using astrological themes to decorate their work (e.g. Dante Alighieri and Chaucer).
This combination eventually resulted in antisemitism. St. Augustine (circa 4th-5th century) called Saturn "god of the Jews,"1 aligning Saturn's reputation as a malevolent deity, associated with poverty and the "low born," with an antisemitic view of the Jewish population. The negative association of Saturn with the Jewish faith continued in the Muslim astrologer Al-Qabisi (circa 9th-10th century), who names Saturn as both presiding over Judaism and devils and demons, and far later in the German author J.W. Appelius (circa 18th century), who took the idea to the extreme.
1. Zafran, E. (1979). Saturn and the Jews. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 42, 16. Link.
Ancient Indian developments
Mithuna, the name for Gemini, was the word for a "loving couple." Texts from the 5th to 9th centuries called for the display of mithunas at temple doorways as auspicious symbols.
Probably the most famous artifact from the Nabataean religious site of Khirbet et-Tannur (near Petra, Jordan) is a sculpted zodiac now in the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM 233). In the center of this zodiac is a bust of Tyche. The signs are divided: at the top of the circle, Aries on the top left runs counter-clockwise down the left side to Virgo, while Libra on the top right runs clockwise down the right side to Pisces (Virgo and Pisces missing in the photograph). Iconographically, zodiacs may run either clockwise or counter-clockwise, but very few zodiacs run in two directions. No other extant zodiac puts Aries and Libra at the top of the circle with their consecutive signs running in opposite directions.
Medieval astrological tradition began in the latter part of the 8th-century AD and flourished in Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate.
The Middle Ages
Elizabethan Era and Beyond
The practice of royal court astrologers didn't end in the Roman era. John Dee (1527-1608) was the court advisor and astrologer to Elizabeth I.
About astrological calculations
If you are interested in an "up to date" system, sidereal charts such as those calculated in Indian astrology do account for precession by the use of corrective ayanamśa. The difference may seem dramatic to some. Your Aries friend would now be a Pisces through this calculation. A Virgo becomes a Leo. The sidereal formula must be done separately and specifically, but websites for it are also freely available online.
1. This has and will still remain true, here is a recent visualization of the ecliptic dates: Link
Mapping a birth chart from the Astrologosphere
Your sign is only a fraction of astrology
From what I've seen in old forums- late 90s to early 2000s- people used to casually identify with their Sun and Rising rather than the big three like we do online today. I've seen a lot of, "I'm a Scorpio (Sagittarius Rising...whatever that means to you)" and "Gemini, Leo Rising, for all the other astrology freaks out there." I'm interested in where and when the shift towards including a third major influence occurred.
You may find it very revealing to see how this polarity point applies to you personally. However, you need your exact time of birth to get it. Once established, it is possible to "map out" the planets into houses by using the Rising as a starting point.
In the ancient sense, the Ascendant was the helm (οἴαξ) of the ship by which we steer the course of our life. My opinion is that the sign on the Ascendant correlates with the desires that the person has on a subjective level: those which support their own sense of self-discovery as an independent being distinct from everyone else. So this placement operates instinctively, without forethought or preconception, whereas the persona is a constructed phenomena which more naturally corresponds with the descendant. The Descendant side of the polarity represents how we consciously construct a way of interacting with others.
If you are born at sunrise (or around 06:00 local time), your Rising generally will be the same as your Sun sign. However, this is only a general rule because latitude and longitude as well as whether or not your local area uses any time changes, also play a part in the calculation.
In both Mesopotamian and Hellenistic tradition, this planet was seen as both male and female (Akkadian zikar sinniš 'male [and] female') or common of either gender1 (cf. Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos 1.6 and 7). It was called "star [i.e. planet] of East and West [i.e. sunrise and sunset]." Mercury represents our need to communicate. It is a key to our verbal ability, our logic, and our capacity to be objective and detached. Mercury symbolizes the conscious, reasoning mind that observes the world, gathers information, learns, teaches, and disseminates knowledge. Wherever Mercury is in our horoscope (by house and sign), we are curious, interested, and want to know. We may learn, and/or teach in that area. Our Mercury placements help to describe our verbal styles and the way we use our minds.
An analysis of Mercury's solar phase as morning star or evening star, direct or retrograde, visible or hidden under the beams of the Sun, can reveal the deeper workings of this planet in individual behavior. Three times each year, Mercury turns retrograde for three weeks. The planet "travels through the underworld" and engages with what is normally hidden from consciousness.
Which of Mercury's faces do you have in your chart– the youthful and energetic gatherer of information and experiences, the wise and thoughtful sage, or the magician who studies and guards the mysteries?
Serapion of Alexandria said, "Whatever gifts Saturn gives, no other star can take away." One of the essential functions of Saturn is to provide a conditioning- bearing both gifts and challenges. An individual with, for example, Saturn in Leo, has a chart that is structurally defined around a Leonean conditioning or archetype. And that then means that every other astrological function, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Pluto, etc. is defined and conditioned by, in this case, the Leonean archetype, meaning the self-creative principle, the inner given right for creative self-actualization.
Uranus represents the evolutionary need to define oneself as a unique individual in the broadest context. It is the urge to evolve beyond current cultural and personal boundaries and establish total freedom of expression and new original ways of being that reflect the essential needs of the individual. Here is the ability to receive inspiration and insight. It further relates to the ability for cooperative involvement in groups or organizations with which we have a common or shared vision that reaches beyond a personal agenda. Insight, invention, breakthrough, genius, the rebel or eccentric. This planet represents originality and unconventionality. It tells us the areas in which we break with convention, become innovative and experiment with new and exciting ways.
Neptune represents the need to move beyond individual ego concerns and connect at an emotional level with universal values. The dissolution of the personal ego is one of the processes of this intent which ultimately leads one to an emotional opening or empathy with other beings. This planet relates to an emphasized imaginal ability which often leads to inspired artistic ability and overall aesthetic refinement. Self sacrifice or selfless action in service to the collective needs of society is one of the manifestations of this planet in an integrated expression. Positively expressed it indicates pronounced spirituality, artistic inspiration, clairvoyance or heightened psychic sensitivity, compassion, self-sacrifice, dissolution of the ego, empathetic unity, emotional attunement to higher levels of consciousness. Negative manifestations of this planet take the form of escapism and avoidance of responsibility, deception of the self and others.
Pluto has been qualified by some as the power of the evolutionary intent of the soul since its process is related to the deepest levels of the psyche and operates in a transformational way. Initially leading to the overemphasis of dysfunctional elements of the psyche, eventually leading to confrontation in whatever area it is related to. Positively expressed manifestations are personal transformation, regeneration, collective and personal power, charisma, and profound psychic abilities. Pluto then, can be seen as the planet of transformation. Nothing stays the same where this planet is concerned.
How to read a chart
Here's an example of a circular chart wheel with Gemini Sun, Sagittarius Moon, and Scorpio Rising. The Rising is the starting point. Look to the left where you see the blue symbol for Scorpio and "AC" written on the degree where the Ascendant is. All western chart wheels will appear rotated like this.
Notice the numbers in the middle of the circle? Those are there to easily help you with what sections of this wheel make up which houses. Not all calculators include those numbers, but the Rising is naturally always the 1st house, so you'll be able to count them yourself. This chart's Sagittarius Moon is in the 2nd house.
Lots of one sign, but only a single of another
Looking for more
1. This reminds me of Hermaphroditus, the dual-sex deity and child of Hermes and Aphrodite.