What is Vedic Astrology?May 11, 2021
as•trol•o•gy: the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies and their influence on human affairs and the natural world
Maybe you know your sun sign, based on your birth date. Maybe you even know your “big three”. These are things that Western astrology (widely used in the United States) uses. If you hear the word “astrology” in the United States, the person using it is probably referring to the system based on Hellenistic astrology, that sprung from the Mediterranean area thousands of years ago.
There are many systems of astrology and divination that utilize the stars across many different cultures. In psychology, we call things like this sense making tools. So whether you believe the stars and planets have any real influence over our daily life or not doesn't make astrology any less valuable as a jumping-off point for introspection, but I digress 😅 I’ll get off that soap box, but if you want to hear more, my podcast is a great place to start, especially the episode I did comparing astronomy with astrology with a real life physicist.
If you're from the U.S., you've probably heard of and may be a little bit familiar with Western Astrology, which is a solar based system. This means the "sign" you know and hear about is roughly where the sun "was" when you were born. This is calculated using the tropical zodiac which views the signs as fixed and the earth as the starting point in the center.
So why would I, a yoga teacher living in the United States, choose to study a system people may be less familiar with? Or maybe a better question, why should you learn about this different system?
Vedic Astrology, or Jyotish, which roughly translates to the Science of Light, comes from the same ancient knowledge and texts that yoga and Ayurveda do. Vedic astrology is a primarily lunar system, meaning we study the influences of your moon sign and rising sign (or ascendant) instead of placing all of the emphasis on your sun sign.
Debatably, Vedic Astrology is more precise than Western Astrology because it uses the sidereal zodiac, which factors in the procession of the equinoxes or ayanamsa —because we know the Earth isn't actually fixed—its position and tilt changes just slightly through the years. This is why when you calculate your birth chart under Vedic Astrology, your signs may be different than what you're used to in Western Astrology. They will typically be about a whole sign off, but the placements in your Vedic birth chart (called Kundli in Sanskrit) will be accurate to where the celestial bodies were in the sky at the time of your birth! You can even cross-check it with astronomy apps!
Here are a few of the major differences between Western Astrology and Jyotish:
Solar vs. Lunar Based: Western astrology is solar based, whereas Vedic Astrology is lunar based. When a Jyotishi says “I am a Libra” for example, they would be referring to their ascendant—the constellation that was “rising” on the Eastern horizon at their time of birth—most typically. This is much more precise than a sun sign, because the rising sign changes every couple of hours rather than once a month, like the sun. The moon sign also has higher importance in Jyotish, which makes sense, because it changes almost every day as well. Using those two signs (rising and moon) gives us much more accurate insights into what makes a person unique.
Zodiac System for Placement Calculations: Vedic astrology uses the sidereal zodiac, which is more astronomically precise than the tropical zodiac that Western Astrology uses—but that also means the placements in your birth chart can be almost a whole sign off from what you may be used to!
Emphasis on different planets: Vedic astrologers most often do not factor in the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) into birth chart readings, because they do not change signs very often, meaning their effects are more generational than they are personal. In Vedic astrology, we also refer to the nodes of the moon as Rahu (north node) and Ketu (south node). Stay tuned for another blog post detailing these karmic nodes, or shadow planets—it is too much to describe in one bullet point!
Planetary Periods: Vedic astrology has a system, based on the moon’s placement at your birth, that factors in what planets are having a greater effect on you at different times in your life. We know we go though “seasons” of life that have different feels to them, and that can be explained by your dasha, or planetary period. Western astrologly simply does not have anything like this—in fact, Jyotish is the only system that does!
Overall Approach: Vedic astrology takes an overall karmic approach. The culture among Jyotishis is more one of how to achieve the desired results in life factoring in the “hand you’ve been dealt” by the universe—a.k.a. your birth chart. Nothing is final or fatalistic. You are not bound to being a certain way because you have certain placements. Vedic astrologers will strive to help you find and live out your dharma, or life path.
Here are a few of the major similarities between the two systems:
For the most part, the signs have the same meanings and characteristics. However, Vedic Astrology still tends to be more precise because it uses the lunar mansion system, called nakshatras, to get even more specific about planetary placements.
The houses also mean mostly the same things.
They both are systems of archetypes and symbols that assist us in better knowing ourselves, and having a better understanding of our relationships and how we operate in the world. Whichever system resonates with you more can be a great tool to assist in your yogic practice of svadhyaya, or self study.
If you’d like to learn more, calculating a free copy of your Vedic birth chart is a great place to start, or book a reading to get a copy of your chart along with an in-depth analysis of what all your placements mean, and some insights into your karma (where you’ve been) and your dharma (where you’re going).
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