Help! I'm clueless about Astrology

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If you'd like to know something about astrology, but find it all baffling and don't know where to start, you've come to the right place. This is a little course in the subject, starting with the most basics of basics, and building up in easy steps. It won't make you a master astrologer, but it should bring you to the point where you're comfortable with the lingo and have a solid notion of the important concepts and how they work.

What is Astrology?

Simply put, astrology is the practice of studying the heavens to learn about ourselves and our lives.

How Does Astrology Work?

When you look up into the sky, if it is night time, you can see the stars. The stars form familiar patterns, like the Big Dipper or the constellation Orion. These patterns have been there, basically without change, for all of human history and before.

Besides the stars, though, there are objects in the sky that move around as time goes by. The Sun and the Moon are obvious ones. There are also five planets that can be seen in the night sky (if you know where to look): Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Astrology interprets the movements of these "wanderers" (where they are with respect to the stars and each other) according to a tradition that has been growing since the time of the Sumerians, several thousand years ago. Since the discovery of the telescope, additional planets, asteroids, and other celestial objects have also come under the attention of astrology.

The most common use of astrology is to use the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the time of one's birth to gain insight into that person's personality, challenges, and potential. To do this, astrologers need to be able to calculate where all the celestial bodies were at that moment, and must be able to interpret those positions in human terms. Today, the calculations are usually done with computers, so the astrologer can focus on the interpretation.

So Does Astrology Really Work?

The honest answer is "It depends on what you mean by work." As a predictor of a person's fate, astrology does not fare well under scientific testing. Studies that have tried to confirm that certain planetary placements make someone more likely to be a competitive athlete, have a stable marriage, become wealthy, etc., generally do not show any significant result that holds up under scientific scrutiny.

However, if you regard astrology as a spiritual practice that helps us to understand ourselves and make positive change in our lives, astrology has been unquestionably beneficial for many people. Astrology helps us put things in clearer perspective, helps us ask the right questions, and provides suggestions for how we can make life richer and more satisfying.

Isn't Astrology Incredibly Complicated?

Like any field of study that's been around for centuries, astrology has accumulated a lot of special terminology, nuances, and details. But much of astrology's reputation for complexity comes from the fact that before computers, one had to know astronomy and mathematics (in addition to astrology) to calculate where the planets were at a given time.

One does not need to master every detail in order to use astrology effectively. You can have a good working understanding of astrology by learning how to interpret the following basic elements:

  • 7-10 planets
  • The 12 signs
  • The 12 houses
  • 5-9 aspects

Once could say there are about 40 basic "words" in the language of astrology. One needs to learn what each of these words mean, and how to make sentences out of them. This is not an overwhelming task. Compare it with learning the 78 cards of a tarot deck, or the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching.

The power and subtlety of astrology comes from the way these basic components come together and make patterns.

Next Steps

Ready to start learning? Go to Page Two.


Resources for this Page

The Astrologer and the Psychologist: a nice essay by my friend Doug Muder, with a refreshing way to look at what astrologers do.

Astrology: Wikipedia article

Copyright 2008 Tom Waters