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The parallel Daoist developments will also be surveyed, such as their practice of astral magic, which has many parallels with the Buddhist system. The astrological iconography and how artists sinicized it will be studied, demonstrating that Iranian, rather than Indian, planetary icons became dominant in East Asia.

Specific attention is given to the Japanese traditions of astrology, for which we have numerous sources. This chapter discusses the hitherto unrecognized significance of Tang Buddhist astrology, and how it impacted other cultures and time periods. Finally, I have produced a timeline that provides an overview of relevant developments related to astrology and astral magic see appendix 1.


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Astrology is a practice of divination in which an observer primarily tracks the movements of celestial bodies the Sun, the Moon and the planets through the celestial sphere in an attempt to foretell the future, identify auspicious times, or discern the fortune or fate of an individual, community or nation. It is divided into several fields. The simplest type is the discernment of omens in the sky, such as comets, that are interpreted as either favorable or unfavorable.

People in the modern age, however, are most familiar with horoscopes. These are normally circular charts, displaying the positions of the planets, the Sun and the Moon at a specific time, such as when someone was born. The significance of the arrangement is explained and predictions are made. This art is called horoscopy Skt. This is natal or genethliacal astrology Skt.

Additionally, there is electional astrology, also called katarchic astrology Skt. Related to this is hemerology, in which the success of activities is coordinated with days understood as auspicious on the calendar. Hemerology is effectively a branch of electional astrology.

These branches of astrology are not defined in this manner in the Chinese tradition, but nevertheless in Chinese Buddhist astrology we still see these same categories in practice, in particular horoscopy and hemerology. In accordance with present conventions, however, I will adopt the modern definitions. Astronomy here will refer to scientifically falsifiable observations and calculations. Astrology will refer to largely unfalsifiable truth claims concerning the significance or influences of the stars and planets.

As will become clear from this study, astrology is better understood as religion, rather than science. Additionally, when referring to planets, this will include the Sun and the Moon, unless otherwise specified, following the understanding of the term prior to the s in Europe. In Europe, the planets until recent centuries only referred to bodies visible to the naked eye.

The Ecliptic in Three Civilizations Astrology has historically been geocentric, rather than heliocentric. This means that the point of reference for observations and measurements is from the perspective of the observer on the ground of the Earth. Astrologers are chiefly concerned with the movement of planets through the ecliptic, the band of space representing the apparent annual path of the Sun as seen from the Earth. It is within this space that the planets, including the Moon, move.

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This perspective is produced as a result of the bodies of the solar system orbiting on a relative plane. The occidental systems of astronomy divide the ecliptic radially into degrees. This is further divided into twelve sectors. These sectors are each comprised of 30 degrees and collectively make up the zodiac. Their respective names are derived from constellations. It must be understood that the zodiac signs are only nominally connected to these constellations. The zodiac signs were finalized in Mesopotamia around the year BCE, being an amalgamation of an earlier model of eighteen signs.

This is called a sidereal zodiac. The zodiac signs were originally calibrated to the seasons, so that certain stars would always rise on the horizon at dawn at specific times of the year for instance, the stars comprising Aries would rise at the vernal equinox , but over time the positions of the stars move due to axial precession. The visible result from earth is the apparent movement of otherwise stationary stars over time.

This model is called the tropical zodiac and is characteristic of late Hellenistic astrology. Indian sources originally defined the ecliptic in relation to the path of the Moon. The Moon revolves around the earth in a period of There were a number of different calendars and dating systems used throughout ancient Indian civilization. The Greeks introduced their own separate models. The twenty-seven model drops Abhijit, which is of small dimensions. This will be discussed below 4. This stands in contrast to the zodiac signs, which are of uniform dimensions. This difference in systems would become an issue later on when the zodiac signs were introduced into Indian astronomy.

See below.


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These are defined by a set of constellations relative to the celestial equator, which are different from the Indian system. Ancient Chinese astronomy divides the equator into It has often been speculated in modern scholarship that these two systems must share a common origin based on their similarities, or that one civilization first developed the model of lunar stations before transmitting it to the other.

The evidence, however, now indicates independent origins for both. This also resulted in a number of predictable problems, which will be discussed throughout this study. For the purposes of this study, we will divide these traditions into five relevant developments: Mesopotamian omenology, Hellenistic astrology, pre-Hellenized Indian astrology, Hellenized Indian astrology and Iranian astrology. During the Tang dynasty, many relevant developments came together with Chinese astrology, leading to new traditions of astrology that were integrated into Buddhism and Daoism.

In Mesopotamia, a practice of accurate and constant astronomical observation developed as a result of a belief that divine omens concerning present and future developments — particularly with respect to the military, ruler and state — could be discerned from natural cycles and apparent anomalies.

The 13 David W. In , Bezold claimed to have discerned Babylonian influences in early Chinese astronomical texts in translation. This was subsequently accepted by influential figures like Joseph Needham and Edward Schafer. See David W. The Enuma Anu Enlil, running to a total of seventy tablets, included recorded omens and provided advice concerning what were perceived to be divine signals.

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Clive L. Around BCE, a series of Babylonian star lists recorded the twelve zodiacal constellations among eighteen star groups along the path of the Moon. This new political landscape with its common language of Greek facilitated unprecedented interactions between Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt. It was within such an environment that astrologers could draw on materials from multiple traditions in Babylon and Egypt, while also enjoying a greater freedom of movement than before.

Mesopotamian astronomy was, within this political, linguistic and social environment, transmitted by figures such as the Greek astronomer Hipparchus c. The practice of horoscopy requires such advanced knowledge in order to accurately calculate the positions of planets at any given hour in the past or future. The astrologer therefore need only refer to such a guide in drawing up a horoscope, either on parchment, or using a board and stone markers for the same purpose.

As Rome seized Greece and the Mediterranean, it inevitably met with astrologers who provided an alternative practice to traditional forms of Roman divination. Horoscopy was tailored to the individual and, at least initially, was foreign and exotic to the Romans. In the upheaval of the late Roman Republic of the first century BCE, astrology was utilized towards political ends, and with this came an increasing awareness of it among elites.

Astrology by this time was quite popular across the Roman empire both among Latin and Greek speakers, which facilitated its vibrant evolution. Hellenistic astrology would likely not have developed to the extent it did without elite Roman interest. Hellenistic astrology was connected to the Greco-Egyptian practices of astral 27 magic, which was heavily concerned with the timing of rituals and calendrical considerations.

Specific stones were used to represent them on horoscope boards and also in art. Incense are also prescribed for each planet. A basic chart could be easily constructed this way if one is in possession of ephemerides.

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The colors of these stones correspond to the prescribed colors for the planets in later literature. In 11 CE, he issued a ruling criminalizing all consultations about death i. Nevertheless, it seems he simultaneously officially published his own horoscope. In the year 16, Tiberius reasserted the official stance against unsolicited astrological consultation, expelling astrologers from both Rome and Italy.

Steven J.