Learning Astrology: An Astrology Book For Beginners

Learning Astrology: An Astrology Book For Beginners

by Damian Sharp


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While there are numerous astrology books available, many are decades old and require you to wade through a morass of technical details just to get to the basics. In Learning Astrology, Damian Sharp provides a fun, fresh approach to understanding this ancient art, making it easily accessible to those who are completely new to the subject and/or put off by older, more complicated books. In clear, concise language and an easy-to-follow order, he provides insight into sun signs and planets, houses and aspects and shows us how to actually read an astrological chart, simply and accurately. And if you want the more technical details, Sharp provides those, too. By the end of the book, you'll be discussing conjunctions, sextiles, squares, and trines like a pro. Learn astrology from Damian Sharp and become your own astrologer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578632985
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 10/01/2005
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Damian Sharp was born in Australia and was the recipient of two Literary Fellowship Awards from the Australian Council for the arts. He is also the author of Simple Feng Shui and Simple Chinese Astrology and has published short stories in periodicals such as the Chicago Review. He lives in San Francisco.

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Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2005 Damian Sharp
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-580-0


The Horoscope and the Signs of the Zodiac

Astrology is both a science and an art. It is a symbolic representation of all of the elements—religious, spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical, invisible and visible—that exist in the universe and come together in diverse combinations that account for individual human beings and the forces that shape and act upon them. We are microcosms manifesting the macrocosm, an ancient concept set forth in the Bible as Man made in the image of God. Astrological interpretation relies heavily on an informed intuition and a familiarity, gained from practice and time, with the complex and multilayered meanings underlying its seemingly simple symbology. Interpreting a horoscope is partly science, partly intuitive discipline, and ultimately a synthesis of both. The particular reading will reflect the personality and outlook of the astrologer in much the same way as a psychologist's analysis is also colored by his or her personal views.

Astrology tells us that as individuals we are peculiar and particular, while at the same time a direct manifestation of a cosmic whole to which we are inexorably linked. It reminds us that we are bound to the karmic wheel, that we come into the world with special gifts as well as certain burdens and travails. On the surface it can appear to tell us that our fortunes and our personalities are preordained, that our fates are completely in the hands of the gods. But a man's character is his fate, the Greek philosopher Heracleitus tells us, and in the end there is no disguising or excusing who we are.

Correctly understood and applied, a horoscope is a precise instrument based on real forces, events, and relationships occurring in nature. It is, most importantly, a diagram of an individual's purpose in life and a symbolic language that describes how different factors—signs, planets, and houses—are combined to produce a meaningful whole. Each horoscope is a complex combination of factors, a graphic depiction of a particular determining and synchronistic moment in time and space when the bodies of the solar system form a unique pattern. The art of astrological analysis lies in intuitively synthesizing all the relationships in the horoscope to create a complete and integrated picture or profile.

In reading any horoscope, it is important to remember that the energies symbolized by the planets and signs represent birth potentials that the individual may or may not choose to actualize in the manner described. Age, sex, socioeconomic conditions, education, environment, spiritual development, and many other factors contribute to the ways in which we express our natal energies.

Astrology does not preclude personal willpower, selfdetermination, and dynamic action upon those very forces that seem to have cosmically preordained who we are and what we are to become. What it presents us with are the lessons we need to learn within this particular turn of the Great Wheel, along with our innate potential, in order to become and ultimately be. How well we learn these lessons and gain from them is up to us as individuals. We are all, in a sense, Odysseus using all of his courage, guile, strength, and wits to defy Poseidon (the god of the sea), of whom he'd made an enemy, in order to simply get home. How well the lessons are learned is not the responsibility of the teacher, who simply presents them for what they are and moves on. It relies solely on the intelligence, receptivity, perception, and tenacity of the pupil.

Constructing a Horoscope or Astrological Chart

You may find it useful to obtain a horoscope for your time and place of birth so you can learn the principles presented in this book by studying your own natal, or birth, chart. Constructing an individual horoscope is a fairly complex process, involving precise calculations, the exact time, date, and place of birth, latitude and longitude, an ephemeris, a table of the houses, a list of time changes, and other tools. In this day and age, however, there are many Internet sites and computer software programs for casting astrological charts. Several books on casting techniques are also available, among them Alan Leo's Casting the Horoscope and Margaret Hone's Modern Textbook of Astrology. The American Federation of Astrologers (AFA) also puts out an excellent series of math handbooks.

The Origins of Astrology

In our earliest art, that of the Upper Paleolithic, between 32,000 to 12,000 years ago, depictions of the heavens, of the Sun, Moon, and the stars, are totally absent. Our remote Cro- Magnon ancestors were not stargazers beyond an awareness of the moon and its phases, depicted, perhaps, in bas-relief cave carvings of women holding bison horns with thirteen incisions and as marks on antlers and bones found on the cave floors. These people were basically earthbound in their preoccupations, concerned with their immediate and animistic world. For them, magic and power resided not in the sky above, but in the earth, in deep caves in which these ancient artists chose to render, by the meager light of crude lamps and small fires, remarkably beautiful, sophisticated, and accurately detailed depictions of the fauna that both sustained and threatened their existence: aurochs, bison, horses, ibex, and reindeer; mammoth, rhino, lion, and the cave-dwelling bear. The symbolic meaning beyond their naturalistic representations spoke of the creatures' inherent personalities and attributes, as well as a host of abstract ideas associated with them (like speed, agility, courage, strength, nurturing, fierceness, cunning). Chinese astrology is in part based on this kind of observation. What did these creatures represent to our ancestors, who knew and observed them so intimately? It does seem that the images on the cave walls are not just the beginning of art, but the beginnings of written language, visual symbols drawn from nature conveying meanings beyond their simple and mundane representations.

The deep cave is the realm of the shaman, of the vision quest, of the underworld where nature's mysterious power, the miracle of existence itself—birth, being, death, and regeneration—reside. It was the role of the shaman-artist to penetrate this dark realm of the invisible and make contact with and capture this power, conjuring the animals and their attributes from out of the living rock in which their spirit-essence dwelled and snaring them as though art was the hunter's trap. The creation of these magnificent works of art was usually part of a form of ritualistic magic.

With the end of the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherer cultures were gradually replaced by nomadic tent-dwelling herders with their domesticated flocks and agrarian and city-building societies as civilization began its long emergence. Having solved certain earthbound problems and reduced mundane concerns, the philosophically minded began to look upward to observe and ponder the glowing bodies in the firmament and their cyclic movements across the sky, which observers came to correlate with the changes of the seasons and other earthly events. In observing how the seasons of the year and the movement of the stars and planets followed fixed and correlating laws of change and transformation, they identified a possible relationship between the earth and the sky and a key to understanding the nature of all beings in time and space. Determining the meaning of the influence of the stars and planets became the role of the astrologer-priests. Thus, astrology came into being as a practice that belonged to the priesthood and the royalty they served.

Almost all ancient peoples from the Mesolithic period onward had some system of reading the heavens for divinatory purposes. The belief and study of celestial omens without the use of a chart, or a map of the stars, do not constitute what we call astrology. The most commonly held belief among scholars is that astrology came into being in Mesopotamia (the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is modern Iraq). Around 6000 B.C.E., Babylonians observed the planets as "wanderers," and early Babylonian records attest to the existence of astrology as we know it today, that is, a horoscopic astrology used for predicting the future, answering questions, and analyzing an individual's destiny based on the time and place of birth. Initially, Mesopotamian astrology was much like that of other cultures: a simple reading of the heavens for omens that might effect or foretell happenings on earth. However, the Mesopotamians soon developed a system that identified recurring patterns in the night sky and their direct correspondence to human events. The first known astrological texts, written in cuneiform on clay tablets, are from the old Babylonian period around the time of Hammurabi, the king who introduced the first written rule of law known as the Hammurabi Code and quoted in the Old Testament—"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Like the peoples of many other cultures, the Mesopotamians believed that the stars and planets were in fact gods and goddesses. Venus was Ishtar, one of their major deities. The Egyptians identified the constellation Orion with Osiris, the god of the underworld. The Mesopotamians however were unique in their view of the stars and planets as being indicators of divine will at any given moment in time, the here and now, thus making them the originators of astrology as we understand it today.

The evolution of astrology seems to have gone through three major phases. First came the development of lore surrounding the observation of omens. Then came the development of a Zodiac, without personal horoscopes, of twelve signs through which the transits of Jupiter were recorded at the rate of one sign per year. From this, some believe, came the basis for the Chinese system of assigning each year to a zodiacal animal sign (the Chinese animal signs have a direct correlation to Western zodiacal signs). Then came horoscopic astrology, involving the casting of personal birth charts.

In the fifth century B.C.E., the Chaldeans developed rules for erecting royal horoscopes. April 29, 409 B.C.E. is the oldest known Babylonian horoscope for an individual. It was also Chaldean astrologers who were the "Three Kings," or Magi, who traveled from Persia to pay homage to the newborn Christ with their symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity, and myrrh for death (embalming) and healing—meaning that Christ was king, god (in Buddhist terms, a Bodhisattva), and physician. The Magi, or astrologer-priests, held special positions of power in Babylonian society.

The Babylonians became particularly adept, based on the records of their observations, at accurately predicting the positions of the planets at any given time in the future. Systematic eclipse records were kept from 747 B.C.E. into the Hellenistic period.

With the conquest of Persia and Egypt by Alexander the Great, Babylonian ideas, in particular astrology, were incorporated into Persian, Egyptian, and Hellenic cultures. In 331 B.C.E., following Alexander's conquests, Mesopotamian astrology was introduced into Greece. Around 280 B.C.E., Berossus, a Chaldean astrologer and historian, directly related events to star movements and worship.

Greek astrology took a more personal form than that of Mesopotamia, with the assignment of mythological correspondences to the Zodiac and planets. Indeed, natal astrology grew in popularity after the Greeks introduced their humanistic and individualistic ideas into Chaldean star lore. The Stoics appear to have been particularly receptive to it, and the medical ideas of Hippocrates were apparently influenced by it.

Around 280 B.C.E., Rome began to be strongly affected by Greek astrology. In 135 B.C.E., Posidinius furthered astrology among Roman intellectuals. Later, it was opposed by Cicero and the Epicureans. In 70 B.C.E., the Greeks set up the firstknown personal horoscope based on the exact time of birth, thus deriving the Ascendant. In 30 B.C.E., the Emperor Augustus had his horoscope erected and interpreted by Thrasyllus, establishing a precedent that was followed by later Roman emperors.

According to some theorists, the birthplace of astrology as we have defined it was pharaonic Egypt. In 1375 B.C.E., the pharaoh Akhenaton established monotheistic sun worship, only to be overthrown by the priesthood and the army, which feared that this monumental change in the established order of Egyptian society made Egypt vulnerable to a Hittite invasion armed with a new weapon, the iron sword. That the Egyptians were accomplished astronomers we have no doubt. The accurate alignment of the pyramids and other temples to certain fixed stars clearly attests to this. But it is a later Egypt, one influenced by Babylonian ideas brought first by the Persians and then by the Greeks, that became the primary source of horoscopic astrology.

The Egyptian texts referred to in later astrological literature were written in Greek. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and Egypt and penetrated into northwestern India, Greek became the dominant language from North Africa to the far reaches of Central Asia. Even the Bactrian peoples of what is today Afghanistan and Pakistan had Greek-speaking rulers into the early centuries of the Common Era. Ancient statues of Buddha draped in Greek togas (known as "Hellenic Buddhas") are still relatively common (or were, as many were destroyed as pagan idols by the Taliban in Afghanistan). As a result, the Babylonian beliefs embodied in Egyptian astrology traveled easily to India.

In the West, astrology reached a high point with the Greeks and the Romans. Around 10 C.E., the poetastrologer Manilius wrote his Astronomicon, the first major Greek work on astrology, and astrology was embraced by several of the Mediterranean mystery religions, some of which had come from the East. In 140 C.E., Ptolemy of Alexandria published his Tetrabiblos, the first major textbook on astrology. In the fourth century C.E. after Rome's conversion to Christianity, St. Augustine led an early Christian attack on astrology. It experienced a resurrection under the reign of the emperor Constantine after Julius Firmicus Maternus published his Mathesis supporting astrological theories and beliefs. The fall of the Roman Empire saw the decline of astrology in the West.

During the Middle Ages, the Arabs kept divinatory astrology alive, and it was reintroduced to medieval Europe by Islamic scholars in the universities of Spain during the Moorish conquests. Around 800 C.E., Charlemagne became fascinated and influenced by the craft and helped further promote it in the West. In the eighth century, a school of astrology was established in Baghdad, and Chinese astrology was developed by Han Yu and Li HsuChung. In the ninth century, Sabian star worship took firm root in Mesopotamia and Albumasar published his Introduction to Astrology.

In England during the twelfth century, after journeying to the Middle East, Adelard of Bath was instrumental in reintroducing astrology to the Christian West. Later, St. Thomas Aquinas helped reconcile astrology with the teachings of the Church. Universities in France and Spain then adopted its study and established chairs in its name. During the Renaissance, the astrologer/physician Paracelsus and others furthered its acceptance and development. Astrology became associated with alchemy, magic, and other occult arts. But by the mid-1540s, the Copernican view of the universe was seen as a scientific refutation of geocentric astrology. In 1555, Nostradamus published the first of his "prophecies," and soon after Catherine de' Medici and several other rulers of the period became passionate believers in astrology. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who was also Johannes Kepler's teacher, secretly practiced astrology, and later Kepler actually sought to develop a new astrology. But all of this activity ultimately did little to stem astrology's fall into disrepute. In 1666, astrology was officially banished as superstition from the French Academy of Sciences.

Astrology's hidden appeal and knowledge, however, remained irresistible, like a forbidden fruit. In the seventeenth century, a Benedictine monk and teacher, Placidus de Titus, published a series of important astrological works, which were widely well received. He was followed by the court astrologer and physician to Louis XIV of France, Morin de Villefranche, whose Astrologia Gallica also had a profound and widespread effect. In England, William Lilly published a major literary work on astrology in 1675 and successfully predicted the 1676 fire in London. However, astrology continued to be practiced mainly by charlatans and during the Age of Enlightenment was basically driven underground.

In 1781, William Herschel discovered Uranus. The Vagabond Act of 1824 officially outlawed the practice of astrology in England. Four years later, Raphael (Robert Gross Smith) published his Manual of Astrology. Along with the discovery of Uranus, the discovery of Neptune in 1846 enabled astrologers to resolve some of the old ambiguities of their craft.

Excerpted from LEARNING ASTROLOGY by DAMIAN SHARP. Copyright © 2005 Damian Sharp. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part 1 Surveying the Horoscopic Skyscape          

Chapter 1 The Horoscope and the Signs of the Zodiac          

Chapter 2 The Planets          

Chapter 3 The Twelve Horoscopic Houses          

Chapter 4 The Major Aspects          

Part 2 The Planets in the Signs, Houses, and in Aspect          

Chapter 5 The Sun          

Chapter 6 The Moon          

Chapter 7 Mercury          

Chapter 8 Venus          

Chapter 9 Mars          

Chapter 10 Jupiter          

Chapter 11 Saturn          

Chapter 12 Uranus          

Chapter 13 Neptune          

Chapter 14 Pluto          

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