AramcoWorld, a long-standing non-political magazine covering all things related to historical and modern Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe, published a lengthy history of astrology in November/December 2017.
The title of the article is “12 Things Twitter Won’t Tell You About Zodiacs” with the subtitle, “So I’m Not a Leo anymore?” referring to the proposed addition of a 13th house to the traditional 12-house wheel of the zodiac.
The impetus for this fuss came from NASA’s update of the Western zodiac to correct for a 3,000-year shift in star positions. That calculation by NASA created a 13th house placed between Scorpio and Sagittarius. That house was named for the constellation of the serpent-handler, Ophiuchus.
This change moved an “estimated 4 out of 5 people into a different natal birth sign or into becoming Ophiucans.”
The author, Robert Lebling, and artist Kitty Yin Ling Miao are of the view that the 12-sign zodiac is part of the history of science—especially of astronomy and history. So, they argue, it should be kept unchanged.
The 12-house zodiac is actually part of many world cultures and art, and should be preserved on account of its origin in observations of ancient peoples of the night skies. Also the 12-sign zodiacs are in accordance with our modern 12-month calendar.
Much of the art surrounding the Western zodiac is based on ancient Greek culture, particularly on the mathematician Ptolemy of Alexandria. Ptolemy’s Greek zodiac is traced back to Mesopotamia to the Sumerians who lived between Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in what is now Iraq). They were superseded by the Akkadians, then the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and finally the Greeks. This is one theory.
Others suggest that the 12-house zodiac came from Elam, far northwest of Mesopotamia, or from Armenia back in 3000 BCE. However most agree that there was a star catalog produced in Mesopotamia in 1000 BCE that contained all 12 constellations of the zodiac, along with many other constellations.
Art based on zodiacs traces back to cave dwellers in prehistoric times. Some zodiac figures and especially Taurus the Bull could be as old as 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The authors assert that the West inherited the Babylonian zodiac thanks to Alexander the Great and Ptolemy, king of Egypt. Both of these two ancient zodiacs, set in clay tablets, show 12-zodiac figures plus four more animals: crow, serpent, eagle, and fish.
According to the British Astronomical Association, the Egyptian zodiac was thought to have been the only complete chart they had of the ancient sky.
Colorful illustrations of a number of these ancient “planispheres” and globes” from various cultures in A.D. times are shown in the pages accompanying the article. They look very much like the Aztec calendar stone you can see in Mexico City.
Going outside of Greek culture, the Babylonians left their mark on Arabs, who created their version of the zodiac. Al-Jallad, a professor at Leiden University, traced the Arab 12-sign zodiac back to the Babylonian zodiac.
The Hebrew zodiac too was influenced by Greeks and Mesopotamian cultures.
The Hindu zodiac, dating as far back as 1,500 BCE, is said also to have come from Greek culture and to be more accurate in its positioning of the celestial bodies. From Alexander the Great, the Hindus later on were said to have incorporated more of the Greek zodiac images.
The difference was that the Greek system used the “tropical” zodiac, measuring the planets against the position of the sun, on the spring equinox. The Hindu (or Vedic) system used the more stable Babylonian “sidereal “zodiac, in which the stars are regarded as a fixed background against which the motion of the planets is measured. The sidereal zodiac, the authors explain, is more stable because it adjusts to the slight wobble in the Earth’s axis.
Asia is not left out of this article. The Koreans had a planisphere of the zodiac dating back at least to the Koryo dynasty of 1100-1300 CE.
China’s zodiac was different in that it was based on 12 years rather than one year or 12 months. In 2000 BC Chinese astronomers confirmed that it took Jupiter 12 Earth years to orbit the Sun. They called Jupiter the “Year Star” or Sui-xing.
The Chinese had and still have a lunar calendar. The Chinese lunar calendar specifies animals of their zodiac for each lunar calendar year according to the moon’s cycles.
Sheng xiao (“birth likeness”) was a popular form of astrology in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It dates back to the fourth century BCE and contains some similarities to Greek and Babylonian zodiacs.
Later in Silk Road times in the second century BCE when Emperor Wu ruled the Western Han Dynasty, he sent an envoy to the West to open trade. With this trade came an awareness of knowledge each culture across the continent from China to the West.
In the 7th to 13th centuries AD in Northwest China were found paintings of the Greek/Babylonian zodiacs accompanied by Chinese star representations on the ceilings of Xauanhua tombs in Hebei Province and Mogao Caves (numbered at around 1,000 of them) in Gansu Province.
The authors seem to feel there is still a question of how far the Greek and Babylonian zodiacs influenced the Chinese astrologers. Many scholars feel there was little outside influence on the ancient Chinese systems of wisdom.
I would side with those who feel the Chinese have developed a far different system of viewing the world than the West, and there is more of an influence traveling from the East across the Pacific Ocean to the West today.
That’s because their two ancient books belonging to Taoism, the ancient religion of the Chinese, the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, have had such a great influence on the West starting in the last century.
I’ve written a book about the I Ching that I hope will expand our knowledge even further concerning these two mysterious ancient Chinese books of wisdom.