The Zodiac in the Ancient and Modern World


Just the sound of the name hints at something mysterious, something powerful, something beyond the scope of complete human understanding.

The name Zodiac has its origins in the Greek language; they referred to the twelve signs of astrology as ZodiakosKuklos. Zodiakos means circle and Kuklos means Animals, thus referring to the Circle of Animals in the night sky.

The Zodiac in the Ancient and Modern World

A Desire to Understand

Humans have always searched for meanings in the sky. Every ancient civilization had its own unique system to try to decipher what they saw as signs from the heavens.

The Mayans, the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Indians, the Chinese, the Babylonians - these are but some of the ancient cultures that have left their own indelible mark on the study of the will of the Universe in our lives.

An Evolution of Ideas

Many of these civilizations adopted the systems of earlier ones and developed them to their own needs and purposes. The origins of the Egyptian system lay in that of the Mesopotamians (also known as the Babylonians), who in turn had a system very similar to that of the Sumerians, with whom they had close trading ties.

An understanding of the zodiac and how the planets and other celestial bodies interacted and affected us and each other could clothe ancient priests in an aura of almost supernatural power.

In Egypt, painstaking and precise observations of the night and dawn skies over decades allowed the Pharaoh’s priests to make the connection between the rise of the Dog Star, Sirius, over the horizon at dawn and the annual flooding of the Nile. With this momentous event seemingly predicted with divine accuracy, the ancient Egyptians revered their clergy.


A Case of Ancient Inspiration

Such observations and knowledge garnered by scanning and recording the night skies were not uncommon across the world. When the Hindus developed a zodiac system of their own, it bore an uncanny resemblance to that of the Greeks.

Whereas the names of the Indian zodiac signs and the Greek zodiac signs are very different, that is a fact which can attributed directly to differences in etymology instead of a difference in origin. This is made abundantly clear when we investigate the meanings of the individual names.

What is called The Archer, Sagittarius, in the Greek zodiac is known as Dhanu, The Bow in Sanskrit, the language of the ancient Indians. Aquarius, the Water Carrier in the Greek zodiac is called Kumbh, which means the Water Pitcher in Sanskrit. The same follows for all the other ten zodiac signs.

The symbols of all twelve houses from both cultures are virtually identical, too.

A Case of Unique Invention

Just next to India, in China, the ancient sages also developed a system based on a division of the sky into twelve equal segments. However, the Chinese zodiac is quite unlike any of the others – its symbols are all animals and they are not based on the constellations.

These animals are all not all the most glorious examples from nature – the rat, pig and monkey share the celestial space with the tiger, horse and dragon – and their origin remains unclear. It is speculated that the twelve animals chosen might have been those that the people of ancient China hunted, reared and/or ate. Of course, that does not explain the Dragon…

Chinese mythology offers up a far more interesting tale – the Emperor of Heaven organized a race for all the animals and the first twelve across the finish line were granted the honor of a place on the zodiac.

Inspiration by Numbers

The prevalence of the number twelve in many ancient systems from across the world are believed to have been inspired by the twelve signs of the zodiac. The twelve months of our calendar, twelve hours of night and day, the twelve disciples of Jesus and the twelve tribes of Israel can all find their origins in the zodiac.

Many are truly shocked to discover that even the symbol of the European Union is twelve stars in a circle – the number has nothing to do with how many member states are part of the organization.


Modern Recognition

Almost all of us are all familiar with our own star signs and many of us have attributed shortcomings in our own behavior to our astrological signs. Not many of us can resist reading our horoscope, even if we do not completely accept the veracity of the predictions.

Despite the widespread belief many people have in the real life applications of astrology (aside from making excuses), it is not recognized as a science by academia.

India has a deeper connection than most other countries to mysticism and a belief in the influence of nature in human life. It is perhaps that which explains how a study of ancient Indian astrology, Vedic astrology, has been a recognized science in India since 2001.

That status even survived a challenge in the Mumbai High Court and remains unchanged.

A Very Old discovery

The argument for that recognition is firmly backed by the fact that the ancient Hindus made allowances for precession – the gradual shift of the stars in relation to each other – which gave them a sidereal system. Called Ayanamsa or Small Transit, its Sanskrit origins have never been found.

We do have the first official mention of precession by Hipparchus in 130 B.C.

That means that we already see the constellations differently from what our ancestors saw. In the centuries and millennia that follow, the signs of the zodiac in the sky from Earth’s perspective might be unrecognizable.

Mixing the old and the New

Many companies have recognized our attraction to the name and the aura around the Zodiac. There are Zodiac boats, a Zodiac Aerospace and Zodiac menswear among others. A growing segment is the online casino market.

When eager hope and gambling combine, the Zodiac name can never be very far away. One online casino that has adopted the trend wholeheartedly is Zodiac Casino.