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The fascinating origins of zodiac signs

December 01, 2018

Humans have always had a deep connection with the skies above us and we can be certain that we’ve always been stargazers. Early humans didn't understand the causes of things like eclipses, the movement of planets, or even seasons, and so they created stories that tried to explain them. It is here that the story of the origins of zodiac signs begins. You might think that you know that zodiac signs have been around a long time, but you will be surprised at just how long. Read on to find out more.


Older than the gods


The beginning of zodiacs and horoscopes lie in astrology which is very ancient. Astrology is so old it’s even said to come from a time before the gods hung out on Earth, creating drama and having half-human children! But even if it’s not that old it certainly pre-dates recorded history and all known religions and philosophies.

The movement of planets, the Moon, the Sun and stars have been linked to changes in the seasons, the tide, weather patterns, planting times for crops and such for thousands of years. Extremely clever astrological charts were developed to help predict all this and so the first astrologists were deemed extraordinarily clever. So in the beginning, more than 5,000 years ago, astrology and astronomy were the same science.

Because they had successes in predicting future events like weather etc, it was a natural progression for astrology to be used to predict more and more - such as the expected victor of a war, or the gender of a child. So astrology took on a fortune telling element and was used as counsel for emperors, kings and warlords. It then became used to predict day to day outcomes like personal health and wealth. In ancient Egypt, for instance, astrology was a used for diagnosing the causes of disease.

Astrology today is the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies (planets, stars, comets etc.) and an interpretation of that to human affairs, fortune, health and illness. It has stopped being a science because we know now that the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth and that you can’t divide the ‘zodiac’ into 12, but that doesn’t stop our endless fascination with what the movement of planets and other celestial bodies could have to do with how we are feeling.


The origins of zodiac signs and the Babylonians


The Babylonians created the very first set of 12 zodiac signs at around 1500 BC. So that is more than 3,000 years ago. Did you guess that it was that old? They knew it took 12 lunar cycles (months) for the Sun to return to its original position. They then identified 12 constellations that they observed to be linked to the seasons. They also assigned them names which are quite similar to the names of the zodiac signs we use now.

Babylonian astrologers believed that the Sun, Moon, and the five planets they had discovered back then  (Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus) possessed powers. Mars, for example, appeared red and so became paired with aggression.


The Greeks and the origins of zodiac signs


The word zodiac comes from the Latin/Ancient Greek meaning "cycle or circle of little animals".

During the time of Ancient Greece, the first day of spring started when the sun appeared in the constellation Aries and then everything was marked from that time forward around the circuit of the year.

The Greek Scientist Ptolemy helped popularise the 12 signs of the zodiac. This idea that there were 12 signs that were 30° wide, and that the Sun moved through these signs during the year was all written down in his famous book. So he really popularised it and helped to spread the zodiac signs across the globe and throughout history.


The Romans influence over zodiac signs


The zodiac signs and astrology, in general, was embraced massively by the Romans. The Roman names for the zodiac signs are actually still used today. 


Why do we still love the zodiac signs and horoscopes?


Magic and mythology is a language for ordering the world. For some people, the constellations above us provide the narrative for navigating our personal lives and the world around us. Astrology asks you to look at the events of your life as part of a larger pattern. And we find meaning and continuity looking at ourselves as part of a cycle.

Astrology and learning about your zodiac sign can keep you connected to something larger than yourself and that can be comforting and give meaning to your life.

To find your zodiac sign click here

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