Category Archives: Divination

Looking to the sky to save me…

Assyrian Garnet cylinder depicting Ishtar, 700 BCE

So, the Mesopotamians, to continue our story of the history of astrology, aligned the workings of the cosmos rotating above them with the politics and people they found so difficult to control on earth.

Divine sky gods had dialogues of a sort with the priests in Babylon who were trained to understand the language of the gods. Not surprisingly, since these were a literate people, these ‘conversations’ began to be inscribed (as on the tablet in the previous post).

The sky gods told the Babylonians how to conduct themselves, and because the Babylonians saw that the Sun and the Moon ‘died,’ but also held primacy of rank in the heavens, they expected the same for their king. So they conducted ritualistic ceremonies, in which they ‘killed’ their king, replacing him with a new king that represented Marduk, the great king of heaven.

Look up! The sky is falling!
Imagine you’re a priest, interpreting this message from the heavens…

Now, all of this sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? In fact, these same types of rituals dominate the belief systems of Western religions, this ritualistic death and rebirth of a god that comes from the heavens.

When this god was reborn for the Babylonians, during a communal festival known as ‘Akitu,’ the people reconnected with the anthropomorphized versions of the two rivers their land relied on for sustenance.

The goddess Ishtar and the god Tammuz were appealed to by kings who believed, as you would in those days, that these deities had power over the outcomes of battles, the future of one’s dynasty, over life and death.

This was the relationship between humans and the sky and earth gods and goddesses; this is what it felt like to believe with every part of you that something outside of you controlled your destiny, especially when you were constantly reminded of human limitation by the flooding of the two rivers every season, droughts, plagues, etc.

Human limitation in the face of natural forces, and the belief that the heavens and the earth were part of humanity, allowed the Mesopotamians to take speaking with the gods seriously. And they expected an answer, too, and spent years learning how to decipher the answers the priests received.

Assyrian priests, in living color

You immediately begin to see the connection between astrology and myth, don’t you? Sacrificial rituals all relate to the Mesopotamian‘s acceptance of this overriding order, the fact that, for them, the earth, the sky, all of nature, was connected, and each aspect of that connection had a myth and a story attached to it.

These myths predated the Babylonians, and were so old, in fact, that by the time the Venus tablet was inscribed, in the Bronze Age, and then later copied, the myths had been recycled, the actors and actresses in the myths renamed, the entire mythic ritual reenacted thousands of times.

We have inherited every bit of this mythic, ritualistic, way of thinking about our relationship to nature. This is a complex story; it involves seeing the heavens as containing wisdom and language, and learning how to interpret that language.

This is where the study of astrology comes from, this fertile valley of myth and ritual.