What is Western astrology?

The significance of planetary positions and alignments relative to the earth and its apparent effect on human affairs has seemingly been a fact of life throughout the world since ancient times; this is evidenced by such artefacts as Stonehenge in Britain and the Mayan architecture of Central America, which looked to be deliberately configured to align with solstices and equinoxes, respectively.

Astrology as we know it, practiced in its current form, with its familiar zodiac signs and precise mathematical calculations, came to us by way of the earliest civilisations of Babylonia and Mesopotamia, with additional Classical Greek and Islamic Arabian influences along the way.

It’s important to remember that in those days it was believed that the earth was the centre of the solar system—a geocentric as opposed to a heliocentric viewpoint—and the planetary bodies appeared to transit in an ecliptic (circular motion) across a band of twelve distinctive constellations or signs—the zodiac—which appear fixed from the perspective of the onlooker. The term zodiac, used by Western astrology, is derived from Latin and Greek sources (think of zoo) and literally means circle of animals.

Practitioners of Western astrology believe in an old maxim: ‘As above, so below’, and therefore the nature of a person, along with their fate to some degree, can be discerned by plotting the position of all the visible planets relative to the signs, and to each other, in a kind of snap-shot of the solar system at the exact point of birth, referred to as a natal chart.

Different planets represent different aspects of the personality; and how they align with the zodiac reflects the full personality of an individual: astrologers believe a composite mosaic of personal characteristics can be revealed by examining the natal chart. By comparing the planetary alignments at birth with the present configuration, a sense of the future can also be determined. A comparison of one natal chart with another—a potential lover or business partner for example—can reveal the degree of compatibility… and so on.

The astrology in tabloid newspapers tends to focus only on the sun-sign, or the star-sign as it is more commonly known, so that if somebody was born when the Sun was transiting the constellation of Taurus for example, they would refer to themselves thereafter as a Taurean—but this offers only a partial picture: the Sun, although important, is associated with the persona, but doesn’t necessarily account for the subconscious—the emotional interior of an individual—which is more closely associated with the Moon… nor does it govern the sexual nature and drives, which are thought to relate to the planet Mars.

A key to the nature of the planetary rulers can be found within the Greek myths which narrate the stories of the gods—their words and deeds.