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Vedic Astrology: A Guide to the Fundamentals of Jyotish

Vedic Astrology: A Guide to the Fundamentals of Jyotish

by Ronnie Gale Dreyer

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Vedic, or Jyotish astrology, has its roots in Indian and Hindu culture, making it markedly different from its Western counterparts. The author of this book explains how it can be used, and how it shouldn't be used, in this introduction. Complete instructions, easy to understand. Charts. Glossary. Bibliography. Index.


Vedic, or Jyotish astrology, has its roots in Indian and Hindu culture, making it markedly different from its Western counterparts. The author of this book explains how it can be used, and how it shouldn't be used, in this introduction. Complete instructions, easy to understand. Charts. Glossary. Bibliography. Index.

Editorial Reviews

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"A major bridge between the astrological heritage of India and the cultural needs of the West. [Dreyer's] work enables any thoughtful reader with a basic knowledge of Western astrology to encounter the Indian tradition, the power of its methods, and the richness of its thought... perhaps the best text of its kind in print." -Rob Hand

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Vedic Astrology

A Guide to the Fundamentals of Jyotish

By Ronnie Gale Dreyer

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1997 Ronnie Gale Dreyer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-226-7


History of Indian Astrology

TO TRACE THE EARLIEST roots of astrology in India, it is helpful to go back to the third and fourth millennia (between 4000 and 2000 B.C., the approximate dates of the Age of Taurus) when there were four major Eastern civilizations whose communities centered around fertile river valleys. The locations of these thriving cultures were the Nile Valley in Egypt, the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Sumer, or Southern Mesopotamia, the Hwang Ho Valley in China, and the Indus Valley in India. Due to advanced irrigation techniques, agriculture flourished and food was abundant in these valleys. Sailors and merchants from India and Sumer traded profitably with each other, and these two areas were introduced to the other's cultural and natural resources. What each of these agrarian cultures ultimately had in common was their commitment to self-sufficiency, maximum productivity, and economic stability—qualities of the sign of Taurus from which this era derives its name.

These early farming communities depended upon seasonal changes and meteorological conditions to stimulate their crops, and they adjusted their planting methods accordingly. By directly observing the patterns in the sky, they came to understand how certain configurations affected weather conditions and, in turn, their harvest. They were soon able to predict auspicious times for planting based not only on the seasonal changes but on the prominence of the Sun and the phases of the Moon. In Sumer, China, and India, the Sun was viewed as a destructive entity due to its intense heat which scorched the earth and left the land parched. The Moon, on the other hand, was revered as a creative power which brought the cool night air and promoted growth. Planting during the waxing phase of the Moon was common among the farmers of these cultures and is practiced even today. In fact, it is still said that a project should begin during the waxing moon, but never during a waning moon.

Between approximately 3500 B.C. and 1750 B.C., Southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) was populated by the Sumerians who probably migrated there from the East. When Semitic tribes from southern Arabia known as Akkadians (named for their Semitic dialect) settled the region around 2350 B.C., the area was initially renamed Sumer-Akkad to designate the cohabitation and cooperation between these two cultures. The Akkadians proved to be the stronger power, however, and they eventually took over the region. The great civilization of Babylonia was inaugurated around 1848 B.C., with Babylon as its capital, replacing Nippur, the former capital of Sumer-Akkad. Northern Mesopotamia (present-day northern Iraq and Turkey), inhabited by Indo-European tribes who hailed from the Russian steppes and dispersed throughout England, Rome, Greece, Iran, and, eventually, India, was taken over by the Semitic Assyrians around 1400 B.C.

The Babylonian Empire gained prominence throughout the ancient world for its intellectual and scientific advances, including astrology. In their role as soothsayers, Babylonian priests developed an extensive method of divination linking certain events and growing patterns to earthquakes, floods, wind directions, thunder, lightning, and other meteorological phenomena which they thought to be manifestations of the divine will. These conditions guided Babylonian farmers in the timing of their harvest, the king as to when he could travel, and merchants and sailors in planning their voyages. Precision and attention to detail made the priests impeccable record keepers and many of their omens were recorded on clay tablets as early as 1750-1500 B.C. By studying the heavenly bodies, however, the Babylonian priests soon found the luminaries to be superior omens from which they could efficiently anticipate natural phenomena and their accompanying significant events.

Within the hierarchy of Babylonian society, the priests were the scientists and, as such, the most educated class. They were given access to the libraries and observatories, where they spent countless solitary hours observing the sky using the most advanced instruments of their day. In Babylonia, as well as in Greece, India, and China, these early observations of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets were made with the gnomon, a vertical stick which measured astronomical distances by the length and direction of the shadow it cast. By methodically studying planetary configurations, Babylonian priests were able to time planetary cycles, estimate astronomical distances, and observe celestial relationships. In time, they developed a more advanced method of prediction by which they could chart recurring configurations such as eclipses, phases of the moon, and the positions of the most prominent "stars"—The Moon, the Sun, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, and Mars. These phenomena were coupled with what appeared to be coinciding events, growing patterns, or meteorological condition. With this knowledge, they were soon able to predict, with amazing regularity, weather patterns, auspicious planting times, and whether the ensuing period would bring peace or hostility. Though all ancient civilizations were aware of the correlations between the timing of celestial movements and mundane conditions, the Babylonians methodically logged this information and are thus credited with creating the first recorded astrological system.

The Babylonians methodically recorded the movements of the planets with their accompanying celestial occurrences as early as 1701 B.C. with the writing of the Venus Tablet of Amisaduqua, listing the cycles of Venus. But it was not until the Middle Babylonian Period (1000 B.C.) that the astronomical data for each planet, along with accompanying effects, was recorded onto thousands of cuneiform tablets and compiled in a volume called Enuma Anu Enlil. The most complete extant volume was excavated from the site of the palace of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (668-635 B.C.) and is presently stored at the British Museum. Cuneiform writing entailed scratching marks and symbols onto wet clay tablets with a pointed stick or reed stylus. By uncovering and translating these tablets, which had lain buried for thousands of years, archaeologists in the 19th century were not only able to decipher astronomical and astrological data, but to learn about life in Mesopotamia itself.

The desire to know beforehand when to expect certain climatic conditions, holidays, and other phenomena brought about the creation of a calendar and accurate scientific data to back up the calendrical listings. Since approximately 3000 B.C., the Egyptians had been using a completely solar calendar which based the year on successive heliacal risings of Sirius, the dog star, which average 365 days apart. The Babylonians, on the other hand, constructed a soli-lunar calendar which fit lunar months into the solar year by intercalating, or adding, an extra month every few years. The Egyptians had been dividing their year into three seasons of four months, each marked by distinct climatic changes; by contrast, the Babylonians divided their year, the way we still do today, by the spring (vernal) equinox, summer solstice, autumn equinox, and winter solstice—the four cardinal points. The months were marked off by the phases of the Moon and the days were divided by the appearance and disappearance of the Moon rather than by the rising and the setting of the Sun. The calendar also included planetary placements and conjunctions, phases of the Moon, and lunar and solar eclipses. It was with the gnomon that the equinoctial and solstitial points, along with other lunar measurements included on the calendar, were discovered.

In the eyes of the priests, the celestial bodies were manifestations of their gods and goddesses. To this end, many religious holidays held in their honor were celebrated in accordance with the New Moon or Full Moon, whereas other pagan festivities occurred on one of the equinoxes or solstices. The Babylonians celebrated their New Year around the spring equinox, the time of reaping the harvest, whereas the Sumerians before them had celebrated their New Year around the autumn equinox, the time of sowing the crop. By marking off the holidays on their lunar calendar, the Babylonians knew in advance when to make the necessary preparations for these rites, which were such a vital part of the religious and social life of the community.

Influenced by the Persians, who conquered Babylonia in 539 B.C., the Babylonians continued to make great strides in the fields of both astronomy and astrology. These advances included the discovery of the astrolabe (an instrument used to measure altitudes), the perfection of lunar measurements, and the early use of the zodiac. Records of the period indicate that the oldest extant individual horoscope is dated 410 B.C. The earliest horoscopes were most probably the charts of kings and other royal personages whose destinies represented the fate of the nation. Until this time, the Babylonians had been concerned primarily with agricultural planning as well as political and economic forecasting.

The philosopher Herodotus and the mathematician Pythagoras were among the Greek intellectuals who visited Babylonia in the fifth century B.C. and brought back impressive astronomical data which included lunar measurements, the equinoctial and solstitial points, the constellations of the zodiac, and the construction of individual horoscopes. When Babylonia was finally conquered by the Greeks in 331 B.C., this information was transmitted intact to Greek scientists who combined Babylonian findings with their own astronomical theories. Unlike the combined field of Babylonian astronomy and astrology, Greek astronomy had been, up until this time, neither mathematically sophisticated nor religious. It was only when Babylonian astronomy was introduced into Greek culture that the planets took on qualities similar to those of the Greek gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus. Gradually, as in our own culture, two sciences developed side by side—astronomy and astrology. While astronomers mapped out the positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets which determined, among other things, the length of the year and the timing of the seasons, astrologers raised these physical bodies to the level of religious deities or other influential symbols.

The Greek astronomers Hipparchus and Ptolemy delved deeper than their Babylonian counterparts by calculating the rate of the movement of the equinoxes called precession. Likewise, Greek astrologers—whose philosophy emphasized the inherent dignity and self-determination of man—lifted the horoscope beyond its religious and mundane aspects in order to view the fate of the individual. These early Greek astrologers greatly influenced the way we approach astrological interpretation today.

As the Euphrates River changed direction, the canals could no longer transport water, and the once-fertile Mesopotamian Valley became dry and barren. With the water supply practically cut off, the great agrarian communities of the Middle East slowly disappeared and the population the region could support was drastically reduced. Egypt was conquered by Caesar in 44 B.C. and, by the time of the Christian Era, the Roman Empire ruled the ancient world. The Julian calendar, implemented throughout the Roman Empire, was not initially calculated according to Christian dates. Later on, however, the Christians introduced their own holidays, which were Hebrew in origin. Most of the ancient astrological cuneiform tablets were either destroyed or buried when Babylon was finally pillaged by the Romans in the first century A.D.

During the Christian era, astrology was rejected as heresy by the Church, and did not resurface in the Western world until the Renaissance, when it was once again taught in universities and revered as a science. Only since the ancient tablets were recovered during the 19th-century excavations in Iraq have we learned that it was not the Greeks who originated the astrology we use today—though they did indeed perfect it—but the Babylonians.

It is the consensus of most archaeologists and historians that astronomical and astrological knowledge was disseminated throughout the ancient world by sailors, merchants, and, most important, by conquering peoples. The Babylonian system of star gazing and time measurement was the forerunner of most modern astrological systems and it especially influenced the lunar-based system of India which is still used today. Though each culture used its own particular observations to develop an astrological system which best suited its religious and cultural needs, the origins of astrology, as we know it today, lie in ancient Babylonia.

The Development of Astrology in India

2500-1600 B.C.

Contemporaneous with Egypt and Sumer, the progressive Harappan civilization located in the Indus River Valley was named for its largest excavated cities, called Harappa and Mo-henjo-daro. Not much is known about these people except that their sailors and merchants most probably traveled to the Near and Middle East, where information as well as goods was shared. Like the Egyptians and the Sumerians, these Indians were adept at working with metals and bronze and were innovators in the arts and sciences. On the symmetrical avenues and streets of their well-planned cities stood architecturally advanced buildings used for living quarters, government offices, and temples. There were courtyards, bathing facilities, and even advanced drainage systems. Irrigation techniques made them successful farmers, and their cities prospered and became great commercial centers. It has been surmised that the Indus River floods which occurred around 1700 B.C. devastated the land and destroyed many of the cities.

1500-1000 B.C.—Vedic Era

Sometime during the second millennium, India was, according to some scholars, inhabited by Indo-Aryan tribes from the Russian steppes who resettled the Indus River Valley and formed their own communities in the Ganges River Valley. In the same way that the Akkadians overran the Sumerians and conquered Southern Mesopotamia, the Indo-Europeans, more adventurous and aggressive than the early Indian farmers, are thought to have taken possession of the land, inherited their cities, and merged their two cultures.

This period is famous for the Mahabharata and Ramayana, two great epics of the earliest heroes of Hinduism.

The Epics were passed on by word of mouth.... The longest of the two Epics is the Mahabharata, ... the longest poem in the world. ... It is the story of a great civil war in the region where now is located the city of Delhi. Its most famous portion is the Bhagavadgita. The second of the two great Epics, the Ramayana, tells the story of Rama, a heroic Aryan king of Vedic times. It relates the adventures of Rama as he undertakes to rescue his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by a devil-king of Ceylon.... Originally the tales in the Epics were told to preserve the memory of the deeds of famous Aryan warriors. However, as the stories were passed down from generation to generation they began to take on religious significance. Many of the basic beliefs of modern Hinduism became embodied in the tales.

These Indo-Aryans are also credited by some scholars with authoring the Vedas, the primary source of religious knowledge, which were probably composed and orally transmitted as early as 1400 B.C. Considered to be the "Hindu Bible," the Vedas, a rich body of literature comprised of sacred hymns and poems, map out the basic creation myths and legends of the people. These scriptures outlined the original tenets of Hinduism, the religion of four-fifths of today's Indian population.

The Vedic hymns are said to have been revealed by the seven stars or planets, called rishis, literally meaning "to shine." The priests who wrote the Vedas were called Brahmins and they dedicated the Vedas to their God, Brahma, the source of life. The Vedas, as well as other religious and astrological scriptures that followed, were written in Sanskrit, the original language of the Hindu people. The following passages from the Vedas illustrate some of the ideas which form the doctrine of Hinduism.

1) The essence of all things is one supreme energy which permeates every aspect of the universe. It is an impersonal, immaterial, unborn, and undying force. It is called Brahman.

2) There are individual souls which are unbreakable and eternal parts of the universal soul. They are named Atman. Brahman and Atman are one and indivisible, yet the Atman living in the world of senses as nature, seems to exist apart from Brahman.... This apparent separateness is Maya or illusion.

3) Nature is the manifestation of the supreme energy ... Brahman, and is in continuous evolution according to its immutable law.

4) So long as we live in illusion we place our faith in ever changing things of nature. The effect of the fickle nature incites our pains and pleasures as experiences in our life. Only through the realization or reabsorption of oneself into Brahman can one become free from worldly sensations of pain and pleasure.

Excerpted from Vedic Astrology by Ronnie Gale Dreyer. Copyright © 1997 Ronnie Gale Dreyer. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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