Astrology is as old as civilisation, and as its history shows, it incorporates many cultures and beliefs.
Man has always looked to the stars for answers. We in the west have named the planets in our solar system after the gods of ancient Rome, whose counterparts are found in Greek mythology.
People at that time believed the earth was flat, and in the centre was Mount Olympus from where the gods reigned. Their stories and exploits held fascination for the people then, as our current interest in the lives of our gods of society is so fascinating today.
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Our movie and soap stars seem larger than life and we set them on a pedestal, watching their lives and loves, triumphs and disasters and falls from grace, in exactly the same way that the ancient Greeks and Romans did with their gods.
Carl Jung saw the value of astrology and the archetypes of the planets are an expression of the human condition to which we can all relate. The myths become the stories and legends from where we draw our truths and understandings of our human experience. Below is a little glimpse into the origins of the gods from where our planets were named..
After the Sun and the Moon (of which there are many myths and beliefs), Mercury, the planet of communication is named after the Roman Mercury, messenger of the Gods (Hermes in Greek mythology).
He was the son of Jupiter and Maia. He moved between mortals and gods, bringing warnings and information.
In ancient Mesopotamia, Mercury was the God Nabu, recording information. He was also known as a rainmaker, promoting good harvests and as such came to be associated with trade, as in the words merchant and commerce.
He was also the god of travellers and was honoured by a pile of stones at the side of the road, at which each traveller made an addition, still followed by walkers today.
In the 4th Century BC saw the naming of Mercury as Hermes Trismegistos, an aspect of the god's symbolism in later magic and alchemy. In time this name was established and was credited with passing on to humankind medicine, magic, astrology and alchemy.
In Roman mythology, Venus was the daughter of Jupiter and Dione, the Greek equivalent is Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. In other cultures, she has a more sinister role particularly in Mayan mythology.
Here she is associated with the rain-god Chac, or the Aztec Tlaloc, god of rain and disaster. Human sacrifice was part of the ritualistic element associated with this and decisions on when to do battle were timed to the cycles of Venus and Jupiter.
The plumed serpent god, Quetalcoatl was identified with Venus. He is depicted on his rising throwing the spears of his dazzling rays and impaling his enemies.
However, we understand the symbolism of this planet to be feminine, representing love, relationships, healing and creativity. The mythical Venus was able to renew her virginity any time she liked, simply by bathing, so she was able to use her seductive charms on whoever she wished, god or mortal.
Mars was the rebellious son of Jupiter and Juno, the equivalent of Ares, the father of Romulus and Remus and held in high regard by the Romans.
He began as an agricultural deity and then later was associated with war, being worshipped before battle, and during. In other cultures, he is lord of the dead and the bringer of war.
Mars loved war for its own sake, indifferent to the reasons and causes of battles. He was disliked by the other gods, except for Eris, goddess of strife, and Aphrodite (Venus), with whom he had an erotic relationship. Mars and Venus have now come to represent the symbols for male and female sexual relationships.
Mars is known as the red planet, and this colour is associated with fire and blood. It rules iron which rusts red, and is used for weapons. As such, Mars is associated with sharp instruments which can be harmful.
The French statistician and psychologist, Michel Gauquelin observed the 'Mars' effect in his studies of charts of athletes, and showed the significance of the position of this planet in competitive sportsmen.
Massive Jupiter was named after the king of the gods; his equivalent is Zeus in Greek mythology, but the Romans did not place so much emphasis on his amorous exploits.
He was regarded as the god of light, their champion in battle and the giver of victory. Off the battlefield, he was known as the god of justice and morals. He was the possessor of three thunderbolts (he had dominion over thunder and lightening) which he used against mortals found to be doing wrong.
One was a warning, the second was more severe and the third was fatal. It's interesting to compare this with some current judicial systems which looks at the "three strikes" for repeat offenders!
In astrology, Jupiter is known as the great benefic, forever seeking progress and expansion. He is broad-minded, exuberant, proud. Jupiter inclines to religion and philosophy and is a wise counsellor and teacher. The Indian name for the planet is 'Guru'.
Saturn is the equivalent to the Greek Cronus, whose name is seen in crone, old woman, and chronological, and as such there is an association with time and old age.
In the myth, it was prophesied that Cronus would be overthrown by one of his children, so at the birth of each one, he swallowed them. Rhea, his wife, with the help of her parents Uranus and Gaea, gave birth to Zeus in Crete and hid the child in a cave.
She presented Cronus with a large stone wrapped in baby clothes, which he duly swallowed and Zeus survived intact to become king of the gods.
Saturn was the god of feasting and plenty, which does not quite tie in with the symbolism in astrology. The festival of Saturnalia was held for seven days beginning on 19th December, corresponding with the later introduction of Christmas.
This was a time of fun and indulgence, and slaves were served by their masters. Saturn, or Cronus, was responsible for castrating his father Uranus.
This planet is named after the sky god and he ruled over the starry night sky. In the beginning, there was Chaos and then there was earth, represented by Gaea.
She produced Uranus and then mated with him, giving birth to a race of monsters, the Titans and the Cyclopes, and Uranus pushed them back down into the earth.
Gaea was not pleased and she made a sickle for her last-born son, Cronus, who then castrated him. From the blood arose the Furies, and from the severed genitals flung into the sea, arose a white foam from which Aphrodite was born.
The myth is dramatic and unusual, a little like the symbolism of the planet and its strange orbit, unlike any other planet.
At the time of its discovery in 1781, the medieval view of seven planets now became eight, and revolutions and uprisings reigned in France and North America (War of Independence, how appropriate!)
Neptune is named after the god of the sea, the Greek equivalent being Poseidon.
He was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto and the son of Saturn (Cronus). He is usually depicted carrying his three pronged trident and this symbol has become the planetary glyph.
The figure of Poseidon is very important in Greek mythology and less so in Roman mythology as the god Neptune.
At the time of the planet's discovery in 1846, there was a surge of interest in spiritualism, the Communist manifesto was published and photography and the pharmaceutical industries were slowly developing, all subjects associated with this planet.
This is the furthest planet in our solar system and is named after the god of the underworld, Hades in Greek mythology. (Although some believe it was named after Walt Disney's famous dog!)
He ruled a place of fear and darkness, the shadowlands. He took Persephone, daughter of Demeter, into the underworld. Demeter would not allow anything to grow on the earth and it became barren until Persephone's safe return.
A compromise was reached where she spent part of the year in the underworld and part of year on earth, so we have the seasons of summer and winter.
When this planet was discovered, the atom bomb was being developed, which came to epitomise total destruction and annihilation.
Pluto's symbolism is about change and transformation through the painful process of finding truth and meaning. It also corresponded with the rise of depth psychology.
Annabel Burton . Astrology
the Astrologer : www.annabelburton.com