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Astrology as Divination
Part 1
by Cris Merrill

Since earliest antiquity the purpose of observing and recording the movements of the stars and planets has been to "divine" their influence on terrestrial events. Divination is understood as being a means for knowing a destiny that is foreordained. The philosophic doctrine is the idea of the unity of the cosmos and the interdependence of all its parts.

The earliest astrology known is that which has been inscribed on clay tablets discovered by archaeologists in Mesopotamia. The concern of these first astrologers was with the determination of the fate of the rulers and the nation. The oldest surviving codified astrological text dates from circa 2000 BCE (Babylon). This type of astrology is termed Mundane. By 1900-1600 BC astrology can be recognized as a discipline, that is the preservation of highly trained experts who made predictions of significance to the ruler and state drawn from the movements of the stars and the planets.

In each city throughout the Empire a team of observers kept watch over the heavens. Reports were sent to the King on observed astrological phenomena along with an interpretation. One surviving report explicitly gives instructions following the observation that Mars had left the constellation Scorpio, but then, turning retrograde had re-entered the constellation. This, the astrologer informed the King, indicated an evil day upon which the King should not leave his palace.

Astrologers were always under pressure to produce prediction from astronomical phenomena, however at times reports were given without prediction or meaning attached. In this era these early astrologers were at serious risk of expulsion or execution if predictions proved inaccurate, or if through negligence they failed to warn of an impending disaster.

The Greek concern for individual life and freedom combined with their desire to understand the natural world resulted in the creation of natal astrology, one whose elements we recognize today. The Greeks perceived that new analytical techniques were needed to transform Babylonian astrology, with its emphasis on the king and the state, into a predictive tool for individuals. The zodiacal system and horoscopal astrology, as we know it today, probably came into being during the 5th century BC. A tablet from the early Greek period has been found that lists - cookbook style - the effects of planets in opposition found in natal horoscope.

I.e.: If a child is born when Jupiter comes forth and Saturn had set, it will go excellently for that man; his personal enemy will die.

In 2 AD the outstanding astrologer and Greek scholar Thrasyllus was introduced to the innermost circle of the aging Emperor Augustus in Rome. He came to have a great deal of influence over the Roman ruler and his court. His son Balbillus inherited his role serving the Emperors Claudius, Nero and Vespasian.. Astrology as practiced by Thrasyllus, Balbillus and other astrologers within the circles of the upper class, had influence on the most important affairs of state.

What was this astrology like? We have among the surviving astrological manual of Dorotheus of Sidon, author of Carmen Astrologium from the late first century CE. In Carmen Astrologium we find detailed instructions for giving judgments of nativities (natal delineation) and interrogations (answering specific questions, later known as Horary).

Dorotheus from Carmen Astrologium "I shall show you of my work and words according to the stars which indicate for men what will pertain to them from the time of a native's birth till his leaving the world, if God wills."

It became a standard practice for the upper classes to have the nativities of their children examined at birth for signs of an "imperial horoscope." The Emperor Augustus issued a coin with the sign of the constellation Capricorn on it, the sign under which he was born.

The less affluent classes also made use of astrology. History records that a slave named Athenio, who worked for two wealthy brothers as a shepherd, was also reputed to be an astrologer. He used his astrological skills to persuade his fellow slaves of freedom if they followed him. Athenio participated in and finally led a successful slave rebellion which lasted four years.

Agrippina, mother of the Emperor Nero, received an astrological prediction at her child's birth that he would become emperor, but that he would also murder his mother. Agrippina carefully arranged the time of Nero's proclamation as emperor in close consultation with astrologers and was subsequently murdered by her son in AD 59.

Astrology played a significant role in politics and culture during the Roman Empire. As part of the tradition of the Eastern wisdom of the Chaldeans (Mesopotamia), it had the respectability of being part of their culture's inherited and respected ancient wisdom.

Many (though not all) of the Greek philosophies which found favor with the aristocracy of the Roman world were favorably disposed toward astrology as a means of explaining the structure of the cosmos and the way that visible changes in the physical world could be traced to celestial influences. Astrology was, to the Romans, the most scientific and prestigious of all the means of divination available to them.

The study and understanding of the extant astrological works from this and other periods is the task of those of us interested in Ancient astrology. During recent years many of these texts are being translated by modern scholars who are also astrologers. This is helping to make this work much easier. We find the astrological techniques contained in these and other later texts reaffirms the ancient concept of the unity of the cosmos and the interrelationship of all its parts, while offering a means of prediction that is reliable. But the work involved is far from complete.

If this endeavor interests you, and you would like to participate, call me at Heritage Astrology for more information (503-359-5779). A free newsletter is available and my website will soon be available.