Differentiating Astronomy from Astrology

Astronomy is different from astrology even if both concepts share the same roots, traced as far back as the ancient times of Babylonia and Mesopotamia. That is why simply citing definitions would not be enough to understand the difference between the two.

Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations had looked up at the sky with fascination and wonder; whilst trying to find meaning on why the cosmos is constantly changing. Back then, people did not have higher knowledge of how the universe and the celestial bodies work. Yet through observations, they came to understand that unseen mystical forces changed the placements of the moon and the stars.

Mesopotamia, being the region where the first known civilizations arose, had kept records of those observations. Most of the tablets containing those records were found in the city of Babylon. In believing that the movement of the stars held some parallel meaning to the events that transpired on Earth, the Mesopotamians built a religion around those unseen forces; worshipping and calling upon them as gods.

The process of observing and proving that the celestial bodies moved to certain positions at some point in time is the foundation of astronomy. Try as they might, the scholars back then were unable to clearly understand nor explain how the cosmic forces work. The belief that the forces are divine prevailed, since no other explanations could be offered, on how cosmic forces affect earthly life.

In ascribing to such belief, interpretations and predictions of what the gods wanted were based on the movements, and the positions of the moon and stars. This practice was the root of Mesopotamian astrology, which was from time to time modified to suit the current rulers of the Mesopotamian region.

Yet primitive astrology as practiced by the ancient Babylonians, was different from the astrology later developed by Mesopotamians.

A Glimpse of Babylonia’s Primitive Astrology

The foundations of zodiacal astrology were said to have been developed by later Babylonians who divided the sky into twelve sections, to which all zodiac signs known today are linked. They then devised a zodiac calendar that kept track of the time in which movements and shifts in celestial positions occurred.

Primitive ancient astrologers made predictions based on the zodiac calendar and observations of how movements coincided with favorable and adverse events that transpired on Earth.

Babylonian astrology may have been primitive, but the practice made links to the movement of the stars, and not the concept that events were caused by cosmic forces. Babylonian astrologers foretold future events based on signs gathered over time.

In later years, even Greek philosopher Pythagoras is known to have supported the belief that everything that has ever happened before, will happen again in the future at a predetermined time.

Basic Difference Between Astronomy and Astrology

After explaining the roots shared by astronomy and astrology, we now have a basic difference between the two.

Astronomy follows the goals and processes of science. It tries to understand how nature works by conducting meaningful experiments and establishing theories derived by testing and weighing of possibilities, as a means of presenting evidence.

Astrology on the other hand is a practice that furnishes interpretations and predictions of the cosmic occurrences, based mainly on beliefs.

Through thousands of years, there was no distinction between the two, until in the 1600 hundreds, Sir Isaac Newton, presented evidence of how the celestial sphere affects the physical processes that people experience on Earth. Through scientific processes, Newton gave proof that a force, which we know today as gravity, is linked to the forces created by the celestial sphere.

Astronomy, from then on was established as a completely different field from astrology. Unlike astrology that bases predictions on beliefs and observations of celestial phenomena, astronomy made a difference by furnishing explanation or predictions backed by scientific experiments.

Silvija Topić