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Vedic Astrology

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About Vedic Astrology

Vedic astrology is also called Jyotish or Hindu astrology.  It is the astrology of India originating from the Vedas which were transmitted orally until they began to be recorded about 400 BCE.  It is one of the oldest and most revered forms of astrology in current practice. It provides many varied tools for helping people understand their lives and their place within it.

What is astrology?
Webster defines astrology as the art of predicting or determining the influence of the planets and stars on human affairs.  Astronomy, on the other hand, is the science of the heavenly bodies.  Astrology, therefore, is assigning meaning to the science of the heavenly bodies.  Astrology and astronomy were one and the same until the scientific revolution.  People lived in a world where they were intimately connected to nature and the heavens.  The heavens were seen as a mirror of human life.  “As above, so below” was the maxim that expressed the belief that the macrocosm reflects the microcosm, and by understanding one, you can understand the other.

Astrology was the paradigm that humans used to make sense of their existence until just a few hundred years ago.  Our culture is still permeated with it, though we are largely unconscious of it.  Our word consider is from the romance language word con, meaning with, and sider, from the Latin sidereus, meaning starry, heavenly, relating to the stars.  Thus, to consider means to make a decision in alignment with the stars.  Conversely, the word disaster is from the Greek dys, meaning bad, difficult, painful, and aster, meaning star.  A disaster is a misfortune indicated by the stars.

How does astrology work?
In ancient times the planets were considered gods, or agents of God, who could influence life on Earth.  More modern explanations include planetary influences on Earth and its inhabitants via “rays” or electromagnetism, and the pull that bodies in a solar system exert on each other.  These possibilities aside, astrology is also seen as not so much a cause of events, but an indicator of events.  The clock in the room at the time of an event does not cause the event, but tells when it happened.  It’s not that the planets cause anything to happen, but their meanings correspond with people and events on Earth.  Just as a clock repeats its cycle of time over and over, so the cycles of the heavenly bodies indicate repeating patterns in human existence.

What is the history of astrology?
There is historical record of following the heavenly bodies and assigning meaning to them in ancient cultures, most notably Babylonia, Greece, and India.  There is evidence that Greece and India influenced each other.  At the fall of Rome, astrology disappeared or went deep underground in western culture.  Some documents were smuggled out into Byzantia, but many were lost.  When public learning returned to the west during medieval times, these documents, which had been translated from Greek to Arabic, were now translated into Latin.  Astrology fell out of favor during the Scientific Revolution, but was resurrected in the 19th century by the many spiritualist movements.  Thus, western astrology has a checkered piecemeal history while Vedic astrology has continued uninterrupted for thousands of years.  Vedic astrology is the astrology of the Vedas, which were transmitted orally until they began to be recorded about 400 BCE.

What is a birth chart?
A birth chart is a representation of the positions of the planets in the sky at the moment of one’s birth.  From the point of view of us on Earth, the Sun travels a path around the Earth known as the ecliptic.  The series of constellations, or signs, along this circular path is known as the zodiac.  These are:  Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.  The birth chart shows which sign was rising on the eastern horizon at the time of one’s birth, which sign was setting on the western horizon, which sign was at the Sun’s highest point in the sky, and which sign served as a backdrop for each of the nine planets.  The chart is divided into 12 portions called bhavas or houses, based on the rising sign.  Meaning is assigned to the intricate interplay of planets, signs, and houses to indicate one’s personality, natural tendencies, likes and dislikes, gifts and challenges.  Carl Jung said that whatever is born or done in a moment of time, has the properties of that moment of time.

Why is accurate birth data important?
The birth chart is a rendering of one’s incarnation into time and space.  It represents the pinning of the incarnated soul to the cross of matter.  The more accurate the data, the more accurate the representation.  The birth time is what indicates the sign rising on the horizon and its degrees.  The rising sign changes approximately every two hours, so if a difference in birth time indicates a different rising sign, this is significant, since the rising sign determines the placement of houses in the chart.  Planets do not generally change signs in the course of a day, though that could happen if a planet is just at the end or beginning of a sign.  The Moon moves faster than any other planet (from the point of view of Earth) and changes signs every 2.5 days.  If the Moon changes signs on the day of your birth, it is important to know the birth time accurately in order to get an accurate sign placement for the Moon.

What if I don’t know my time of birth?
Most people know their birth date, but not everyone knows their birth time.  It is helpful to pin down as accurately as possible a time range in which one was born.  It is sometimes possible to pinpoint a more accurate time by comparing one’s life events and characteristics with the birth chart for different times.  Here are some ways to find out when you were born:

—Look at your birth certificate.  Birth times were just beginning to be recorded in the 1950’s, so if you were born then, your birth certificate may or may not give the birth time.  Even if it does, the times were often rounded off to the nearest quarter or even half hour.  Birth times began to get more accurate as medical care providers became more concerned with liability issues.  Starting in the 1990’s, fetal monitor clocks were set to atomic time, so the birth time entered by the nurse is extremely accurate.

—If you don’t have a birth certificate, contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the city of your birth to get one.

—If your birth certificate doesn’t list a birth time, contact the hospital where you were born and ask for Medical Records.  Sometimes the medical record of your hospital stay as a newborn can be located, with a birth time listed.

—Talk to your mother or other relatives.  If they give you a definite time (like 9 am), ask what that is based on.  It’s usually a ballpark estimate.  Often mothers remember something about the time of day, like being around dinner time.  They can then give a more accurate span of time, such as between 5 pm and 7 pm.

What is the difference between a sign and a constellation?
Signs are the twelve constellations along the zodiac, the circular path that the Sun seems to travel around the Earth.  (We know now that the Earth travels around the Sun.  The Sun’s apparent movement around the Earth is caused by the Earth rotating on its axis, with any given point on Earth moving away from the Sun, then back around toward it.  This appears to us on Earth as sunset and sunrise.)  The constellations of the zodiac are not equal in size, but at some point in history the 360 degree circle of the ecliptic was divided into twelve equal portions of 30 degrees each, with each portion containing one of the constellations of the zodiac.  Some think they were called signs to differentiate this even division from the physical constellations.  Now they are called signs because in the tropical zodiac the signs are not the same as the actual constellations.

What is the difference between the tropical zodiac and the sidereal zodiac?
Because all the planets of the solar system orbit the Sun on approximately the same plane, the planets all seem to travel on the ecliptic, or apparent path of the Sun around the Earth.  They can be seen in their travels against the backdrop of the constellations of the zodiac.  The sidereal, or “star” zodiac, measures these placements against the actual constellations that the signs are based on. The tropical zodiac measures the signs against the vernal equinox.  Thus, at the exact time of the spring equinox in March, the Sun is said to be at zero degrees Aries, and the placement of the other planets is apportioned accordingly.  Because of the precession of the equinoxes, the difference between the sidereal and the tropical zodiacs is continually increasing.  At present the tropical zodiac is 24 degrees later than the sidereal zodiac.  Thus, the tropical zodiac is symbolic, based on the seasons, while the sidereal zodiac is based on actual astronomical placements.  The following websites explain this in more detail:

What’s my sign?
Because all the planets of the solar system orbit the Sun on approximately the same plane, the planets all seem to travel on the ecliptic, or apparent path of the Sun around the Earth, as seen by us on Earth.  The circle of the ecliptic passes through the twelve signs of the zodiac.  Thus, from our perspective, each of the planets, including the Sun, can be seen moving through the zodiac along the ecliptic.  The birth chart shows the zodiacal position of all the planets at the time of one’s birth.

At the turn of the 20th century, an astrologer named Alan Leo was attempting to make astrology more accessible to the masses.  Because one’s birthday is based on the zodiacal location of the Sun at one’s birth, he was able to make general statements that were published in the printed media about people born within the span of a Sun sign.  These were based on current positions of the planets in relation to a birth Sun in each sign.  As a result, many people even today think astrology consists of little more than knowing the sign placement of one’s birth Sun.  Leo himself perhaps rationalized this, saying that the Sun is the single most important factor in the chart since it is the giver of life.  People identify themselves as a particular sign, not knowing that each planet in their chart is in a sign.  In fact, Vedic astrology places as much if not more significance on the natal placements of the Moon and Ascendant.  In India, no one is interested in your Sun sign.  They want to know the nakshatra placement of your natal Moon.

Why are the Sun and Moon considered planets in astrology?
The word planet comes from the ancient Greek word planetai, which means the wanderer.  While all the other stars in the heavens seem to stay in one place, there are certain starry bodies that can be seen to move across the sky.  This includes the Sun and Moon.  We now know that all the planets orbit the Sun, and the Moon orbits the Earth.  Still, from our perspective on Earth (which so far is the only perspective we can physically know), all these bodies travel roughly along the ecliptic around the Earth.  Even in ancient times, the Sun and Moon were differentiated from the other planets as the luminaries (givers of light) and given special importance.

In Vedic astrology, the word for planet is graha, which means a grasping or seizing of energy.  Planets actually form from the consolidation of debris swirling around a Sun.  So this ancient Vedic description is remarkably accurate:  physical planets come into being due to an energetic movement bringing matter together.  In this case, the word graha would apply to all the bodies we consider to be planets, as well as the Moon and even the Sun, which revolves around the Galactic Center.  Vedic astrology also considers Rahu and Ketu (the North Node and South Node) to be planets, because even though they are not actual physical bodies, the points at which the orbit of the Moon crosses the ecliptic are considered to also be seizers of energy.

What is a nakshatra?
Nakshatra is a Sanskrit word translated as star map, heavenly body, star group, or constellation.  The ecliptic, or path of the Sun around the Earth, is divided into twelve signs.  In Vedic astrology, it is also divided into 27 equal portions called nakshatras.  Each sign covers 30 degrees of the ecliptic circle, and each nakshatra covers 13 degrees, 20 minutes.

Each nakshatra contains a group of stars, and has a rich meaning which includes host planet, characteristics, gender, nature, quality, deity, animal, shakti or power, and seed sound. In Vedic mythology, the planets are all masculine (which differs from western astrology, in which the Moon and Venus are feminine), and the nakshatras are feminine.  The nakshatra placement of the planets in a chart gives more nuanced meaning.  In India, people are far more interested in your Moon nakshatra than your Sun sign.

What are the seed sounds?
Each nakshatra is divided into four equal portions called padas.  Since there are 27 nakshatras, there are 108 padas in all, the holy number.  Each pada is associated with a particular syllable.  Sanskrit is considered a holy language that, when pronounced correctly, connects one to the divine.  Sound is the vibration by which energy is converted into matter.  This idea is found in many spiritual traditions, including the Holy Bible story of creation—God spoke, and it was so.

The syllable associated with the nakshatra pada location of one’s birth Moon is the syllable one’s name should start with in order to maintain one’s connection with the Divine.  Moon represents emotions and the wandering mind.  Hearing one’s seed syllable pronounced is thought to calm and center the mind and emotions.  Hindus wait after the birth of a child for the astrologer to tell them what syllable the baby’s name should start with.  Since we are not named this way in the west, other ways to activate one’s seed syllable include adopting a spiritual name or nickname that starts with that syllable, or meditating on one’s seed syllable.  Deepak Chopra’s center offers training in Primordial Sound Meditation that is based on this.

According to my Moon nakshatra placement, my name should start with Yoo.  I have adopted the name Yuma for my grandchildren to call me.  Now other people have started to call me Yuma as well.  I don’t know if it’s just because I love these people so much, but I definitely feel calmed and centered when I hear myself addressed that way.  In addition, I sometime meditate on the sound Yoom on each outbreath.

Why is 108 the holy number?
The Moon’s diameter times 108 is the Moon’s distance from Earth.  The Sun’s diameter times 108 is the Sun’s distance from Earth.  In other words, 108 Moons could be placed between Earth and the Moon, and 108 Suns could be placed between Earth and the Sun.  Because of this, from the point of view of us on Earth, the Sun and Moon appear to be the same size, even though objectively they are vastly different in size.  Some think this synchronicity is what supports life on Earth.  108 is also the number of nakshatra padas in the zodiac (27 nakshatras of 4 padas each), and the number of signs (12) times the number of planets (9).  And 1 + 0 + 8 = 9, the number of completion, since it is the last single number.  There are nine enneagram points.

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