If you’ve read a newspaper or a magazine in the last eighty-plus years, you’ve probably come across a horoscope column or two. R.H. Naylor was the first to write an astrology column in a newspaper, and Paul Clancy and Dane Rudyar were the first to create the sun-sign horoscopes in magazines we know today, both of which happened in 1930. Nowadays, most newspapers and women's magazines still dedicate at least one page to colourful glyphs and short predictions, sometimes crafted by a hired professional astrologer, sometimes made up by someone in the office. You might recognize their common descriptions: Taurus are stubborn, Leos are dramatic, Libras can’t make up their mind. Virgos are picky, Pisces are confusing, Cancers are emotional. Aries are impatient, Scorpios are dark and scary, Aquarians are weird. Capricorns are all about business, Sagittarians are adventurous, and Gemini are crazy. Match up your birthday to the right sign it falls under and you get a complete personality analysis and your future predicted all in one go. But is that all astrology is?
Nope. It goes way deeper than that.
The horoscopes and simple Sun-sign descriptions you read in magazines are what most people think of when they think of astrology. But ask a practicing astrologer and most of them will foam at the mouth when you bring them up. “Astrology is so much more complicated than that! You have a whole Natal Chart full of planets in different signs and houses. And newspaper horoscopes are bullshit, anyway.” Then they might demand to know the date, time, and place of your birth, enter it into Astro.com, and bring up what is probably at first glance one of the most confusing looking diagrams you’ve ever seen.
It doesn’t look like it makes any goddamn sense, I know. But from there, with this mess of symbols and lines and letters and numbers, they can tell you, in scary accurate detail, all the intimate nuances of your personality. A Virgo Ascendent means you are insecure about your body. A Libra Moon makes you indecisive. Mars in the 7th House means you date assholes, and Uranus in the 4th House means you moved around a lot growing up. Venus trine Neptune means you carry a beautiful fantasy world inside your mind, and Moon square Uranus means you are never satisfied being fully intimate with or fully independent from another person.
When you first hear all of this stuff you might get a little freaked out. You might not like the idea of somebody being able to look at a circle and suddenly know all of your deepest secrets. On the other hand, you might love it! You might get excited and start spilling stories all about your life. Some people are really into learning about themselves and other people’s personalities. And if you are one of those people astrology can make your life a lot more interesting, for sure.
If getting a reading has made you curious, or if you’ve read your Sun-sign horoscopes for years and now you want to learn more, this blog is for you. But first, let’s start by clarifying what astrology actually is.
What is Astrology?
Astrology is a secular practice (like yoga, meditation, witchcraft, numerology, or tarot), meaning it is a practice without any particular religious or moral framework. Anybody can practice astrology. The basic idea behind it is that human nature and decision-making correlates to movements of planetary bodies around us. But beyond that, there are as many ways to do it and as many beliefs about how it works as there are astrologers themselves.
Where Does Astrology Come From?
While astrology itself is many thousands of years old (as old as civilization itself), the idea that astrology is for personal or spiritual enlightenment is actually a fairly recent idea. For most of our history, common people did not know their exact date of birth, let alone the time or location; that kind of information was only recorded for kings and aristocrats, whose births and deaths were historical events in and of themselves. Most of the astrology practiced was therefore more predictive than personal. Astrologers would cast a horoscope for the time that a question was asked in order to determine the fated answer. Or, looking at how the planets were moving and the seasons to come, would predict the weather, the best times to plant crops, what the price of grain would be, what could be causing sickness in a patient, when love or money would walk into their life, and so on.
Predictive astrology is still very much around and still practiced by many astrologers around the world. But our modern personality-describing astrology, where the Signs describe character traits and where astrology is a tool for personal growth, really started with the British astrologer Alan Leo (1860-1917) and his connections to the Theosophical Society. As stated by Nicholas Campion in A History of Western Astrology, Vol. II:
Given that the language of birth signs is now so familiar, we need to establish just how recent it is. Until the late nineteenth century there had been virtually no change to Claudius Ptolemy’s descriptions of the zodiac signs, set out in the second century, and which had served the medieval world so well. [...] Aries was, for example, hot, dry, diurnal and masculine, attributes which might be applied to description of character, the diagnosis and treatment of disease or the prediction of general events for the year, but is not exactly useful to the environment of the modern counseling session.
Campion continues to say:
In Leo’s opinion, such descriptions were of no use at all if people were to prepare for the New Age, so he set out to create a zodiacal astrology which would fulfill this purpose by encouraging people to reflect on their inner character.
Alan Leo worked to "recast the whole system and make it run more along the lines of character reading and less as the assertion of an inevitable destiny". He chose to focus on the Sun for all of his horoscopes, which were handwritten and mass-produced in the style many astrologers still work in today. While Sun-centered horoscopes date back to the years before Leo started practicing in the nineteenth century, he is largely responsible for birthing them into popular culture. So while astrology is very, very, very old, the kind of astrology we practice today has really only been built in the past 120 years or so.
What Kinds of Astrology Are There?
You will hear people debate about which category astrology falls under and what else we can lump it together with. Astrology is a language, astrology is an art, is divination, is magic, is a science, is a soft-science, is a divine science. As you learn and practice astrology more you will begin to form your own opinions. But here are the three basic types to get you started:
This kind of astrology is the most scientific, as it incorporates the modern science of psychology and neurology into its practice. These astrologers use birth charts like a map of the personalty, seeing into your mind and observing your behaviour. More emphasis is placed on counselling, diagnosing, and using astrology as a tool for understanding the way human beings think and feel. Transits are seen as pivotal phases of psychological development rather than fated events. Carl Jung and Liz Greene are among the most well-known astrologers of this type, both wielding enormous influence over the development of this branch in their lifetimes.
Spiritual (or Metaphysical) Astrology
The Theosophical Society of the late 1800s laid down the foundation for the counter-culture spiritual movement of the 1960s, which has since turned into the New Age movement of today. Here we have astrologers who combine astrology with various religious beliefs, spiritual views, and secular practices from all over the world. Eastern religions and spiritual sects like Hinduism and Buddhism combined with Western Abrahamic religions and European paganism, as well as some Native American influences, to create a mashup of gods, demons, angels, nature spirits, chi, karma, positive and negative energies, reincarnation, and many levels of the afterlife. Astrology is often practiced alongside tarot card reading, numerology, witchcraft, and palmistry, as well as crystal therapy, Reiki, chakra balancing, energy healing, dream interpretation, mediumship, divination, yoga, meditation, and so on.
If you are looking to astrology more for guidance and wisdom to the ways of the world, this last sect may be right for you. Here astrology is not a science, not a spirituality, but a form of natural wisdom. It is a tool for better living, teaching you to observe the natural cycles of nature and relate them to your own life. You become more enlightened to the complex inner worlds of both yourself and others and how they relate to both internal and external influences, such as transits and aspects between you and other people. You learn how to live your life well, what particular path you need to walk on your way to maturity, which obstacles to overcome, and how you can live your life in the best way possible. Astrology becomes a way of thinking about the world. And in turn, offers some wisdom on your own path to enlightenment.
This is the start of a series dedicated to teaching you how to do astrology. Now that you are familiar with the general landscape and a little bit of history, you can move forward and begin learning how to actually practice it. In the meantime, familiarizing yourself with the Signs is a great place to start. I encourage you to read from many different authors, watch lots of videos, get as many readings as you can, and talk to your fellow astrologers. The more voices and opinions you hear the closer you will get to finding the right astrology for you. If astrology is a tool for growth and personal betterment, everybody's path to get there will be different. Enlightenment for you may look different to you than it does to someone else - but astrology can enlighten anyone to their own personal truths and lead everybody to where they need to be.