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Reconnecting Astrology with its Animist Roots

By Brian Taylor

The belt of sky along which the planets wander has long been known as the zodiac, from the ancient Greek zodiakos – ‘circle of animals’ or ‘sculpted animal figures’. Western (and many other) astrologies are, therefore, woven around stories about celestial powers or presences -perhaps we might call them the Wanderers -also from their ancient Greek name planetes– moving in a cyclic dance, through a succession of animal (including human, centaur, and other-than-human hybrid) figures and forms. A vivid depiction of the zodiac from Andreas Cellarius’s Atlas Coelestis of 1660 (above) reminds us of astrology’s deep animist roots.

In the first volume of his cultural history of Western astrology, Nick Campion finds, for example, remarkable similarities between stories about the Pleiades from North America, Europe, and Australia, and comments on the antiquity of bear mythology and shamanistic practice linked to the constellation of the Great Bear or Big Dipper in both northern Europe and North America. In the first millenium B.C.E. Babylonian astrologers had already established an astronomical framework for divination, effectively comprising an 18 constellation lunar zodiac that included most of our current zodiacal signs. But, of course, ancient astronomer/astrologers were watching the colour and brightness of stars and planets, and observing them rise and set in the sky, rather than gazing into a computer monitor. Without the frisson of direct obervation, contemporary astrology can all too easily feel divorced from the fabric nature.

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