Vedic Astrology or Western Astrology — Which Was the First?

The widely accepted by the academia history of Western Astrology goes approximately like this: Babylonians kept observing the sky and recording their observations for many centuries, this is how astrology was figured out: by comparing what happened in the sky to what corresponded to it on the Earth. THEN THE GREEKS, who adopted the knowledge of the Babylonians, INVENTED THE HOROSCOPE. For the academics, most of whom do not possess any understanding of astrology, this logical step seems quite plausible.

Those few who do possess the understanding, who are aware of how complex horoscopic astrology and its rules of interpretation are, such a sudden invention looks quite puzzling. It’s like if an indigenous tribe in Amazonia suddenly invented a helicopter.

That new astrology that emerged soon after the conquests of Alexander the Great was called Hellenistic. Technically, the main difference is in the fact that Hellenistic astrology was horoscopic, which means it made use of the Ascendant, of a system of houses, and of various derivatives based on the Ascendant and the houses, such as lots and house lords. All these new factors, together with methods of delineation based on them, dramatically increased the complexity of astrology. Generally speaking, Hellenistic astrology used similar tools and methods to those that were used many centuries later in Medieval astrology, and even to those that are used in contemporary astrology. Robert H. Schmidt wrote that most of the concepts and practices that are defining for modern astrology are still recognizably of Hellenistic origin. On the other hand, Babylonian astrology was primarily observational, and the consequent millennia of astrological horoscopic practice cannot be easily related to it.

Still, many scholars believe that Hellenic astrology is an evolutionary development of the Babylonian tradition. The general idea is that Babylonians were accumulating observations for several hundred, perhaps even for thousands of years, and after that, the Hellenistic astrologers were able to come up with something more complex, like a horoscope. The opposing camp of researchers argues that the technical sophistication of the methods of Hellenistic astrology is such that they simply couldn’t be derived from observation of any kind or length. Schmidt insisted that ‘there are simply too many variables at play simultaneously for its propositions to have resulted from such an empirical process without a priori assumptions’, and that ‘some of its concepts (such as lots) are of such a nature that they could not even in principle have been discovered empirically’. In addition, ‘many of the techniques of Hellenistic astrology are so arcane and so non-intuitive that they could not possibly be contrived by simply trying things out to see if they “worked”’. Therefore, Schmidt stated that Hellenistic astrology ‘seems to have sprung virtually fully-formed in a singular act of autogenesis’.

Somehow, the fact that Hellenistic astrology emerged right after the Greek culture came into contact with the Indian culture, as a result of military adventures of Alexander the Great, doesn’t ring any bell for the scholars — most probably because they are deeply convinced that it was Greeks who brought astrology to India. To prove the point, they even name a particular Greek who knew astrology and moved to India and an Indian book that was apparently a translation from a Greek source. Again, this logic works as far as you are unaware of the true scope of Vedic Astrology, or Jyotish, as it is commonly called.

Western Astrology next to Jyotish is like a lake next to an ocean. Jyotish has in it many, many different astrologies. Some of them are similar to the Western Astrology (for example, there is so-called Tajika Astrology, apparently brought to India by the Arabs), but there are also complete schools of astrology whose methods and ideas are unheard of in the West. It can also be noted that the method of Firdaria, which is a part of the Traditional Western Astrology, is merely a shallow simplistic snapshot of the rich and complex system of Dashi, an essential part of Jyotish.

Maharishi Parashara is named as one of the main forefathers of Jyotish. One of the most important books attributed to Parashara is Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, typically abbreviated as BPHS. It is stated that the Sanskrit in which it is composed dates to the 7th or 8th centuries CE, therefore it appears to be written after the Hellenistic period. It has to be understood, however, that in the distant past the tradition was to pass the knowledge orally, often from father to son. Only relatively recently the Vedas and the branches of knowledge related to them were written down and so became commonly available. Some Jyotish practitioners state that their art and science is 5000 years old but it is hardly possible to find any scientific evidence of this.

My point is that the knowledge of Jyotish, acquired by the Greeks in India, became the source of Hellenistic Astrology, and so of the whole Western Astrology, but the only way to appreciate this is to learn enough Jyotish to understand its scope and nature. The word Jyotish can be translated as ‘the science of light’, and to shed some light on it, I am going to offer several courses of Vedic Astrology, starting from a primer and gradually reaching advanced levels of knowledge. I am planning to announce the first module in a newsletter, either today or tomorrow.

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