Hellenistic Astrology: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | An Amazing Encounter | Nexus of Probability
An Introduction to Hellenistic Astrology
What are the sources and origins of Astrology? Can we gain useful knowledge and perhaps decide some of the persistent questions that have dogged modern Western Astrology? Astrologer and philosopher Steven Birchfield looks at these issues in this, the first of a series on Hellenistic Astrology.
|"And since in the quarrel over the general teachings of the divisions, some made use of them in relation to the concomitants of the bounds, others in relation to the minor periods, others in relation to the twelfth-parts which are assembled from 10 years and 9 months, others in relation to the exaltations, while the subdivisions of these signified events, which were false. And so then, we spent much time wretchedly, and while distressfully making changes of place, mixing with those who are zealous about such matters." |
As you can see, our astrological forebears suffered as much from the same human intrigues as us today. In fact, we find a fairly substantial rift exists today between the various approaches and practices. There seems to have been a distinct polarisation into two camps. In the modern camp are the Uranians, Humanistic, Esoteric, Archetypal and Psychological approaches. In the Traditional camp are those that practice Electional, Horary, Medieval, Mundane, Hellenistic and Vedic. Since the mid-nineties, more and more ancient texts have been translated and revealed. Unfortunately the division seems to be growing wider and wider. No truer words have proven themselves so accurately throughout history, "A house divided cannot stand!" The question that has plagued me most is, where does one find then, the necessary continuity that yields a solid foundation in the practice.
This has been the motivation for my quest back through the ages. To study and learn from the experience of those that have formed astrology, who shaped it to what we have today. To follow the winds and twists and rediscover those threads of continuity that is missing today.
What is so special about Hellenistic Astrology?
This is the question most are probably asking and is more to the point of this introduction. In order to answer properly however requires a closer examination of our astrological history. When starting my investigations I have to honestly admit that I was in no wise prepared for the enormous amount of historical and philosophical evidence I was to have to examine. It is a record that would and does in fact fill several volumes of books. My recapitulation here of the historical record is therefore going to be much abbreviated. 
I am not going to dwell in depth on the astrology before the Hellenistic period. The reason being that Astrology as we know it today, where we fix an Ascendant  point and divide the Zodiacal circle for the purposes of analysing (natal horoscope astrology), answering of questions, picking favourable times for doing things, etc, was not in existence prior to this period.
This fact alone makes the Hellenistic period unique and worthy of closer examination. Before this period, Astrology was oracular in nature. That is to say that the fixed stars, constellations and planets, as well as the natural phenomena associated to them (eclipses for example), were examined and interpreted as giving signs and omens concerning physical events. Those plying the Astrologer's trade were interested in the state of the King and kingdom and there was nothing "personal" about it.
However, the most noteworthy consideration about the Hellenistic period is the transformation that occurred through the synthesis of the Persian and Chaldean astrology, with Egyptian religion and astronomy, and the Greek Natural philosophy. This single event would appear to be the catalyst, which changed the oracular to the very personal. While I use the term event, I use it rather loosely here. In the "time-line" of history, it fills a rather large period from about 800 - 100 B.C.E. As you can see it did not "happen over night".
The Pre-Hellenistic Advent: 800 - 400 B.C.E.
The political and cultural events leading into the Hellenistic period were very instrumental in setting the stage for the transformation that was to unfold.
Assyria had established a "world" dominion by 730 B.C.E. They controlled all of Mesopotamia and most of Persia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. While it is politically correct to say that Assyria governed, it was however Babylonian culture that pervaded the entire kingdom and for the first time, there was a free "cultural" flow between the subject territories. Up to this point, there were distinct differences in astrological, astronomical and philosophical culture, one line moving from the Babylonians, One from the Persians and one from the Egyptians. As it was the first time that Egypt, Babylonia and Persia were under the same political system, one has to recognise the importance of these great cultures meeting. In 612 B.C.E, the Babylonians once again regained regional domination only to be shortly thereafter subjugated by Persia. This was an important time in the mixing of these three main astrology lines, Persian, Babylonian and Egyptian.
Another important ingredient to the cultural "stew" that was brewing was the Semitic influence and the monotheistic religious teachings. When the New Babylonian Empire took the reigns of control, one of their first conquests was the overthrow of Jerusalem and the captivity of Israel.
"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.|
And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god."
"And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus."
"Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.
Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king." 
One wonders just what kind of influence Daniel and his friends had as "governors over all the wise men". It is interesting to note that it is in this time period that the first Zodiac appears in Babylon as we know it today, divided into twelve 30° segments. It is clear from the Bible that Daniel's influence extended into the reign of Cyrus the Persian .Read part two of Hellenistic Astrology
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