Origins of the Zodiac

By: Jeannette Glen

Have you ever wondered how the zodiac came to be? How did early astrologists name the zodiac signs? Who were the earliest of astrologists? How did they observe the planets?

Astrology is the study of how the movement of the stars and planets affect our lives. Early astrologist recognized lunar cycles. They knew it took 12 cycles for the sun to return to its original position in the solar system. As astrology studies advanced, astrologists learned for each movement (i.e. lunar cycle) groups of people who were born around that time had similar traits, thought processes and behavior patterns; from this knowledge formed the zodiac.

The idea of astrology was created around 4000 B.C.E. (before Common Era) by the Sumerians. They used it as a form of religion. They thought that their gods lived on these galactic bodies. They worshiped the sun god, Utu, the moon god, Nanna, and Venus god, Inanna.

The Sumerians had a temple system, with the priest in charge. Using astrology, the priests would communicate with the Gods. Later when the government changed to include kingship, the kings were in charge, and the Baru- Priests answered to the king.

The Sumerian Baru-Priests (Baru means diviner) could predict correctly using astrology. At that time, Baru-Priest were known as interpreters of the skies. They would read the sky for warnings, which usually involved eclipses of the moon. To read the signs of the sky Ziggurats were built. A Ziggurat is a form of temple common to the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians of ancient Mesopotamia (Google). Records show that they reached 300 feet in both height and length. These made it possible for Baru-Priests to observe the sky.

The Akkadians were ultimately defeated by the Sumerians. The Sumerians were soon after defeated and the Assyrians rose to power. In 1300 to 600 B.C.E. they adopted astrology and made significant advancements. The Assyrians created an accurate calendar and plotted star maps correctly with what stars formed which constellations, and created a master list of stars with their names.

By 600 BCE some of the constellations were combined and those deemed of lesser importance were deleted to form the 12 constellations that make up the 12 current constellations.

Although the Greeks gave us the origin of the name of each zodiac sign, the origin of why certain constellations were named for the signs is still unclear. Questions like, “What made a certain group of stars, Leo, Pisces or Scorpio? Still exist. Greek mythology points us to a deeper understanding of how each sign was named.

         Aries is said to be the golden ram (Aries) sacrificed to Greek god Zeus, who then placed it into the constellation. (astroyogi)

         The bull (Taurus) was Zeus, the ancient Greek God in disguise who fathered three children with Europe who he helped cross the sea while in his non-human avatar. (astroyogi)

         The twins symbolizing the Gemini sun sign are Castor and Polydeuces. Although out of the two, only Polydeuces is divine, both had grown quite close to each other and came to be known as the twins representing the Gemini sun sign. (astroyogi)

         A huge crab was sent by Hera to kill Hercules as Hercules was trying to kill Lernaean Hydra, a large water snake. Though the crab eventually died, Hera in recognition of its efforts set him amongst the stars and since then it has been known as the sun sign Cancer. (astroyogi)

         Zeus had put the famous Lion that Hercules killed and skinned to wear as armor that could not be penetrated by any weapon, in the sky as a constellation, now popularly known as Leo. (astroyogi)

         Virgo, known as the sign of the Virgin, has its origins in the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone who was abducted by Hades, God of the underworld. Persephone was known for her innocence and good character and is believed to be responsible for the different seasons. (astroyogi)

         Scales, the Libran symbol is linked with the Greek God Dike who was famous for serving justice through retribution. Prior to that, there was no sign separating Virgo and Scorpio. (astroyogi)

         Gaia, is the personification of Earth in ancient Greek mythology. She sent a Scorpio to kill Orion who had become too boastful of his might and beauty. Upon accomplishing the task set out for it, Gaia placed the Scorpio in the sky as a gesture for its courage and heroism and later came to be known as the Scorpio sun sign. (astroyogi)

         Centaur, represents Sagittarius, and is a half human and half horse creature.  Cheiron was the most famous king of the centaurs and is believed to be the wisest and able of them all. The symbol of the Sagittarius was made to pay homage to him.(astroyogi)

         Capricorn is believed to be Pan, ancient Greek God. He is usually portrayed as a human with tails and horns of a goat. While trying to escape Typhon, the god of the winds, he fell into the river Nile and the lower part of his body developed fins while the upper took the form of a goat. (astroyogi)

         Aquarius is believed to be Ganymedes, who Zeus had assigned the task of being the cupbearer of the gods which infuriated Hebe, who was previously assigned the task. Zeus took offence and set Ganymedes in the sky as a constellation. (astroyogi)

         The fishes in the symbol of Pisces are love gods Eros and Aphrodite who turned themselves into fishes to escape Typhon, the God of strong winds. (astroyogi)

Over the years Astrology, like many other practices and beliefs, has evolved.  Astrologists today use the exact time of birth, first and last name, birth city and state to give determine the longitude and latitude of your birth location. They draw a chart that looks at much more than your sun sign based on the day you were born. You also have a rising sign, a moon sign and 12 zodiac houses that can influence your life according to astrology. This does not mean people have no free will. In the words of Mason Cooley, “Do we make a hullabaloo among the stars, or do they make a hullabaloo down here?” In other words, who’s to say that we can’t influence the universe as much as it influences us?


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