During the second half of the first century BCE, a new system of astrology magically appeared. This new language of the stars used the ascendant for the first time. And consequently, the twelve houses emerged, showing how we act, what we need, and what we are here to learn in each area of life. Today we call this ancient astrology system Hellenistic astrology.
Hellenistic astrology is a tradition of horoscopic astrology that was practiced in the Mediterranean region from approximately the first century BCE until the seventh century CE, according to astrologer Chris Brennan. It’s the oldest tradition of the same system that many astrologers use today.
But the idea that the heavens reflect earthly events goes back to ancient times. Nearly 2,000 years before the advent of Hellenistic astrology, the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians were keeping meticulous records of cosmic events and their significations. And eventually, this led to a massive reference bank of planetary cycles for future astrologers.
Then Greek speaking rulers came to power in the Mediterranean, sparking a knowledge exchange between the Mesopotamians and Egyptians. The Mesopotamians shared information about planetary movements through the zodiac signs, while the Egyptians shared about the rising, culminating and setting of stars. Naturally, Hellenistic astrology is partially a celestial blend of both traditions.
Yes, the evolutionary path to Hellenistic astrology isn’t entirely clear. During the Hellenistic period, there was an explosion of fresh techniques and doctrines. Did they just ‘poof’ into consciousness?
The Hellenistic astrologers attribute this new system to mythological figures, such as Hermes Trismegistus (also known as the Egyptian god Thoth, the Greek god Hermes, and the Roman god Mercury), Nechepos “the King”, or Petosiris. These three figures were believed to rule over Egypt in some distant past.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic carving of Thoth, Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt
Hellenistic astrologers frequently quoted foundational astrology texts that carried these mythic names. But sadly, the original texts are lost to history. Not to mention, they were written in a cryptic manner so that only ‘the initiated’ could truly understand. Thus, there are many different interpretations of the same source texts.
As we journey along the Hellenistic timeline, astrologers attributed their work to other legendary figures, such as Timaeus, Orpheus, Abraham, and Zoroaster. Why? Perhaps it gave their work credibility.
And so, we really don’t know the exact origins of Hellenistic astrology. Was it a gradual development? Was it invented by genius astrologers? Or perhaps the sky gods handed it down to initiates of the Egyptian mystery schools? We may never know.
In any case, we’re just happy to have a system that helps us better navigate daily life. Now let’s dive into Hellenistic astrology.
Hellenistic Astrology for the Modern Astrologer
Hellenistic astrology incorporates many elements that modern astrologers use today, including the planets, zodiac signs, aspects (angles the planets make to each other), and the houses (areas of life). But this ancient language of the stars used concepts that many modern astrologers don’t use.
Here are two techniques that are no longer popular today, but perhaps should make a come back:
Benefic and Malefic Planets
Benefic and malefic, good and bad, positive and negative — the ancients made a hard distinction between the two opposites. When you look at the night sky, the visibly bright planets, Venus and Jupiter, were believed to be experienced as positive. And the visibly dark planets, Mars and Saturn, were thought to be experienced as challenging. Of course, it’s not always black and white. The ancients also considered sign placements, house placements, and aspects too. But this simple distinction set a good starting point for analysis.
Day and Night Charts
When determining the energies of benefic and malefic planets, Hellenistic astrologers looked at whether it was a day or night chart.
In a natal chart, if the sun is located in the top half of the chart (above the ascendant/descendant axis), it’s a day chart. And if the sun is located in the bottom half of the chart, it’s a night chart.
In a day chart, Jupiter is the most positive planet, Mars is the most challenging planet, and Saturn is the most constructive planet. And in a night chart, Venus is the most positive planet, Saturn is the most challenging planet, and Mars is the most constructive planet.
In addition to these two basic techniques, Hellenistic astrologers had other tricks up their togas. Some predictive techniques ‘wow’ even the seasoned astrologer. To learn more, check out Chris Brennan’s online course on Hellenistic Astrology.
The Fall of Hellenistic Astrology
By the 7th century CE, the world was rapidly changing. In the west, Rome fell, ushering in the Middle Ages (aka the Dark Ages). In the eastern Byzantine Empire, Christians and astrologers didn’t exactly see eye to eye. Indeed, there were petty arguments about free will. And lastly, the Islamic Empire was spreading like wildfire, and eventually took over Alexandria, the astrology capital of the ancient world.
In the midst of these wild religious and political changes, Hellenistic astrology began to fade. However, the tradition was transmitted to the Persians, Indians, and eventually to the Islamic Empire. And today, we see a sparkling revival of Hellenistic Astrology with the New Age movement.
What’s your favorite ancient astrology technique? Share in the comments!
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- The Hellenistic Astrology Course by The Astrology School
- “Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune” by Chris Brennan
Photos by Natalia Mikhalchuk, BasPhoto, Tanya Antusenok and Viacheslav Lopatin on Shutterstock