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I Understand

The True History of Sun Sign Astrology

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This is the story of Sun sign astrology – the sort of astrology that makes up horoscope columns. The sort of astrology that leads people to believe that there are twelve types of people and that those types are described by their zodiac signs. In fact, this is often cited as a reason for its invalidity – how can there be only twelve types of people in the world? Oddly, this statement is often made by people who have no problem in classifying people as either extrovert or introvert.
There are plenty of histories of astrology. They detail thousands of years of astrological practice and theory, highlighting famous practitioners, placing them in their historical context and describing their techniques. Along the way, they mention Sun sign astrology, often as an aside. This book takes a different approach. Here our main concern is popular and mass market astrology, which in the West is Sun sign astrology, and it goes back a lot further than most people realise.

Kim Farnell

Kim Farnell

Past horoscope columnist for Company and Bliss magazines amongst others, Kim was President of the Astrological Lodge of London for twelve years. ...

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British astrologer Kim Farnell may not be as familiar to US readers as she should be. Her astrological background — past President of the Astrological Lodge of London, Diploma holder from the Faculty of Astrological Studies, recipient of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology — is multi-layered. She has a special interest in the history of astrology and the occult, and is a terrific writer with a sly sense of humor, whose scholarship is presented with a light touch.

The common view that Sun sign astrology began in 1930 with a column in the Sunday Express newspaper by R. H. Naylor takes a back seat to the history here, which begins with the first text to connect a child’s fate to the month in which he was born (from the Hittites in the 13th century BCE), “… the earliest reference to the use of Sun sign astrology known today.” The author takes us on marvelous journey with 26 chapters, from “The Ancient World” to “Astrology Online.” Sun sign astrology is the thread, but the context is wide and encompassing, as the development and applications of astrology across cultures and time have had many permutations. Farnell details the style and content of Sun sign columns and also places them within their respective larger cultural and historical phenomena, all of which creates an intriguing work.

Vignettes in this book evoke the wood, horn, and metal almanacs of the Middle Ages that marked the lunar cycles and feast days; popular astrologers in the late 1930s reassuring anxious people that “the war would be short-lived”; the use of astrological predictions as “a propaganda weapon by both sides” in the 1940s; and the CSICOP episode (1976). In The True History of Sun Sign Astrology, Kim Farnell tells a charming, lucid, and entertaining story of “the astrology of ordinary people, those who were either not skilled enough to perform the calculations necessary for more complex astrology, or those who weren’t interested in doing so.”

The book contains a 20-page Bibliography and Index.

In closing, who can resist an opinion expressed in 1941 by a UK social research organization: “Women who believe in astrology tend to be appreciably more cheerful, confident and calm than those who do not.”  Mary Plumb The Mountain Astrologer Cap Sol 2023

Kim Farnell’s comprehensive history book on Sun sign astrology, the kind that gives us our horoscopes, is announced and beautifully heralded with Forewords by two top authorities in the field, Dr. Nicholas Campion and Shelley von Strunckel. What more can I say? This is a well written and precisely researched account of all things “Horoscope” as the practice and persistent
prevalence has unfolded since antiquity. Highlights of each chapter range from whole centuries, Almanacs, cultural attitudes as they have developed by popularity, condemnation, and mass use over the centuries until today; movements such as Theosophy, and iconic individuals have brought Sun Sign Astrology and themselves to lasting reputation, like Evangeline Adams, Alan Leo and Linda Goodman.
In the beginning of my studies of astrology, a close friend and teacher recommended Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. What a welcoming gateway into the world of astrology that was. Lately, in an ancient Egyptian papyrus, a calendar of daily readings based solely on the changing appearances of the Moon and Algol, a binary star system that flashes and sparkled in its own rotational dance. Can you imagine how clear the sky must have been for them to follow that?
I must admit that I had begun to think less of Sun sign astrology because of the criticisms and mockery around horoscopes in the newspapers and magazines, some deserved. But one of the most precise and influential astrologers I know, Monica Dimino, who is always booked weeks and months in advance without ever advertising, praises the Sunrise chart as a valid and viable tool when exact birth time cannot be known without the considerable rectification process. Such is the power of the chart’s sacred geometry of its angular relationship of planets.
Writing horoscopes is a skill of considerable magnitude as testified to by this historical account of its development and lasting appeal from non-astrologers to master astrologers alike. In defense of the craft to answer naysayers, astrology students, clients, and practitioners all deserve to know the true history of Sun sign astrology. This book by  Kim Farnell is that history.
Victoria Smoot ISAR Journal August 2022

History is the context in which we evolve. This book gives us the context in which astrology has developed. This is a wonderful comprehensive account of Sun sign astrology’s story. As it happens it offers us great insight into the history of astrology in general too. Kim writes in an entertaining and easy to read style. I love this book and suspect that I’ll read it a few times, dipping in and out.
Ana Isabel – Lightways Astrology

Kim Farnell knows what you think about Sun sign astrology: it’s simplistic, inaccurate (or, rather, too simplistic to be accurate), bad for astrology’s reputation, and the worst kind of tabloid  distortion of true astrology. Maybe, you concede, it’s the first introduction to astrology that many people have, to be replaced by real astrology at the first opportunity. Sun sign astrology is, as Farnell says, “a low form of astrology.”
But Farnell knows a few other things, too, like the real history of astrology and how Sun signs fit in with it, and how popular astrology has never been far from the center of our art. Sun sign astrology has brought astrology to prominence, and kept it afloat during lean times. And like it or not, Sun sign astrology is at the core of most interest in astrology today.
I’m sure that professional astrologers and serious students have had the experience of telling someone that astrology is so much more than Sun signs – there’s the Moon, and the ascendant, and the planets, and asteroids, and houses, and aspects… it’s a great strategy if you want to know for sure what a blank stare looks like. Rather than decrying Sun sign astrology, it might be better to understand its role in astrology’s development, and to see it as a foundational part of the whole – certainly not everything, but also not other.
The book begins with the early history of astrology, with a particular focus on the development of the zodiac. The signs of the tropical zodiac are tied to the movement of the Sun through the course of the year, and so the zodiac itself is in a way a solar construct. The meaning of any given sign relates at least in part to the position of the Sun, and so “Venus in Sagittarius” or “Mars in Taurus” are relating the position of the planet to the Sun’s path.
Farnell traces the characteristics of Sun signs back into antiquity, where they related mainly to physical features and actions, plus some pronouncements on one’s destiny (for example, one source suggests that Taurus will be poor). Coming forward in time, one finds descriptions that are both familiar and outlandish. Pisces women, according to one source from the 15th century, are given to pleasure, have the courage to please with familiarity (?), will have sickness of stomach and childbirth, and will be slandered. That’s a hard life, but it will only last for seventy-two years. Yet as much as Sun sign astrology has always been given to overstate its case, it has also reflected some of the best in astrological thinking. After all, while the Sun may not be everything in an astrological chart, it does have a central role.
If not quite a Sun sign astrologer, William Lilly was a popular astrologer and wrote the first newspaper astrology column. Farnell shows that many of the luminaries from astrology’s past were figures in the popular culture of their day. Evangeline Adams, Alan Leo, and others are given their due in the book.
The role of calendars and almanacs in the history of astrology (and vice versa) is an especially interesting part of the chronicle of Sun sign astrology. What we might call ‘folk astrology’ has been instrumental in both popularizing and preserving astrology, particularly at times when the Church was cracking down on astrology or when it fell out of repute in more intellectual circles.
The dance between popular and ‘serious’ astrology is far more complex than we might have thought, and Farnell shows how the two have supported each other as much as they have been at odds. In fact, I came away with the impression that they are ultimately different facets of the same field, which we distinguish today more as intellectual construct than as historical fact.
There are parallels between the history of astrology and that of music, another discipline in which intellectual strains tend to both disavow and build upon more popular trends.
The True History of Sun Sign Astrology is a wonderful book for any astrology enthusiast at any level of expertise. One is about a third of the way through the book before encountering the more familiar names and histories of Sun sign astrology, and the earlier material is outright fascinating. The chapters on more recent astrologers that are perhaps better known to us show how they maintained the balance between popularity and solid astrology.
The latter chapters bring us right up to the present day, with topics like the “13 sign” controversy. Not only is there an extensive reference list, the book also has an index, a rarity in astrology books. I strongly recommend this book to everyone. It’s scholarly without being pedantic, and it’s very entertaining. You will learn much about astrology’s history – Sun sign and otherwise. Rarely do I finish a book and rush to order more by the same author, but I can barely wait to read Farnell’s other offerings.
Armand Diaz NCGR Newsletter March 2023

Sun sign astrology has a dubious reputation, provoking both love and hate, depending on who you ask. Focusing exclusively or primarily on Sun signs seems inadequate and so general as to possibly do more harm than good. Yet Sun sign astrology is and has been massively and sustainably popular, and it’s going strong in the age of the internet. It’s safe to say that almost everyone alive knows their Sun sign. Some of these people become clients and a few become students hooked on what we might call “real,” or at least more thorough, astrology.
There’s also a mystique about the origins of Sun sign astrology. Kim Farnell’s mission is to set the record straight. She’s done this before. Her new book The True History of Sun Sign Astrology is a revision of her 2007 book Flirting with the Zodiac. She’s also the author of numerous books about astrology and divination. She holds an MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and was President of the Astrological Lodge of London for twelve years. The accepted account, according to two reputable histories Farnell cites, is that Sun sign astrology was invented in 1930 when British astrologer R.H. Naylor wrote a forecasting newspaper column and it took off like wild fire. That’s not the true origin of Sun sign astrology according to Farnell, nor did Sun sign astrology even begin with mass print media. Sun sign astrology has always been “disposable astrology,” the kind of stuff found in fortune-telling books, printed on cheap paper, not preserved in libraries. “How old is Sun sign astrology?” Farnell asks. “The answer appears to be that it’s as old as astrology itself.”
This book is a fast and fun read, packed full of names, dates, and quirky anecdotes. What I really appreciate is that Farnell treats Sun sign astrology within the broader evolution of the art, and rightfully as a sociological phenomenon, entwined as astrology has always been with developments in politics, mass media, and religions. The history begins with Babylonian texts, known as zodiologia, which catalogued the appearance, character and fate of people born under certain Sun signs. Then the Greeks and Romans used Sun signs, though perhaps not for prediction, Farnell notes. During the Dark and Middle Ages, the Catholic Church complained frequently about common people practicing folk astrology. From the 10th century Welsh language, the oldest surviving text is an astronomical writing that discussed the zodiac. Astrology was so common around the 10th century that there are at least seven words meaning astrologer in old Irish.
One great boon for astrology was the collapse of censorship in England in 1641. That set off a frenzy of publishing on every subject, the rise of the newspaper, and the publication of astrological texts in the English language. The first of these was William Lilly’s Christian Astrology (1647). Lilly’s role as a mass media astrologer – he was the first to pen an astrological newspaper column – makes him an important figure in this book, even though his work was primarily in horary, not Sun signs. (Lilly was also a colorful occultist and political operative, in legal trouble over some of his highly charged predictions.) Mass produced almanacs were a later boon. Some, though not all, almanacs included Sun sign delineations. Farnell quotes from one 17th century almanac about women’s fates under various Sun signs:
“Under Taurus they would be thieves, under Gemini liars, under Scorpio harlots and under Sagittarius witches…”
Modern astrology traces its roots to the late 19th century rise of spiritualism. There was an eccentric cast of characters in the Theosophical Society and an offshoot/competitor group called the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. From within this rarified milieu emerged Alan Leo, considered the “father” of modern astrology. Leo gave priority to Sun signs as reflective of “inner character.” About Alan Leo, Farnell writes that “his work ensured that in England as least, Sun sign astrology was no longer restricted to the ‘lowest’ form of astrology, but could be valid as a part of ‘higher’ astrology.” Like Alan Leo, across the Atlantic in the U.S., Evangeline Adams popularized Sun sign astrology. In the late 1920s, Evangeline Adams was charging $50 (equivalent to over $800 today) for a client consultation. She received up to 4,000 letters per day, employed 25 assistants in her New York office and, writes Farnell, “almost single-handedly…created a market for Sun sign astrology in the U.S.”
In the 1930s, Sun sign astrology was wildly popular. Print media, especially women’s magazines, expanded  dramatically, as did radio and going to the cinema, where movies often included astrological themes. In the print media mix at the time was none other than the erudite and prolific Dane Rudhyar, who wrote the first Sun sign forecast column in the U.S., shortly after British astrologer R.H. Naylor started his, which appears to have been chronologically the first. We think of Rudhyar as an elite spiritualist and philosopher of astrology, and he was. He was also key in popularizing astrology for the U.S. masses.
Then came the 1960s when hippies and others in the counterculture gobbled up astrology. Linda Goodman’s 1968 Sun Signs sold over five million copies and was often the first book read by people who later became professional astrologers. Nowadays, there are plenty of astrological internet celebrities, including some of the favorite Agents of the Cosmic Intelligence Agency. There’s no end in sight to the current wave of astrological popularity, much of it Sun sign driven. By tracing the long and ubiquitous career of Sun sign astrology, Farnell makes the case for its enduring appeal into the future. She concludes that “Whenever you read your horoscope column, you’re using a form of divination that has existed for unknown centuries and shows no signs of disappearing. The world has changed much less than we’d like to believe.”
Review by Sara Diamond For Timelords magazine August 2022

“In his Foreword to this title, Nicholas Campion avers that ‘The astrology we find today in women’s magazines, on the internet…is the direct descendent of the system worked out in the [ancient] Babylonian temples’. This observation may surprise the many grand astrologers who flourish dismissive nosegays at modern media astrology, yet it forms the thesis of Farnell’s book which offers an astrology timeline linking ancient practice with the likes of Russell Grant’s work.
En route, we come across the likes of the medieval bestseller The Shepherd’s Calendar which among other things showcased Sun sign astrology – it was a bit like Old Moore’s Almanack (still going strong) with its zodiac lucky days, talismans and gardening by the Moon. In the 19th century Theosophy – which gave the Sun centre stage cosmologically – helped to clean up astrology’s diminished name before we get to Alan Leo, commonly regarded as the first ‘modern astrologer’. Farnell reports that he made a fortune from mass-produced horoscopes and simplified astrology for the hoi polloi by making the Sun the focal point, chucking out a lot of astro-clutter that nowadays is returning in the garb of traditional astrology.
The chapter on popular astrology in the 1920s is especially interesting – the primary vehicle of star sign astrology being women’s magazines, especially those that carried problem pages. Astrology had now become part of the entertainment suite with customised messages to suit the medium.
The popularity of astrology is tracked through the decades of the 20th century up to the present time. We are reminded that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books feature centaurs practising astrology to make major predictions, and that the computer game Final Fantasy has an astrological basis. Mystic Meg makes a brief appearance in the book as the Sun’s kohl-eyelinered astrologer, as does Jonathan Cainer who took astrology phonelines to a whole new level of profitability for the Daily Mail.
The last chapter on online astrology serves as a reminder of just how popular media stargazing still is. Farnell’s History is a pacy exploration of a much-ignored branch of astrology with original research and sharp analysis. It also has a very welcome index.”
Victor Olliver The Astrological Journal Sept/Oct 2022

“Sun sign astrology has in recent years been the despised poor relation of ‘proper’ serious astrology and widely assumed to have been a popular media invention from the 1930s. Sceptics sneer that not every twelfth person can be the same but how the zodiac sign interpretations are any different from the psychological test definitions of Myers-Briggs labelling types as extraverted, introverted, intuitive etc I’m not sure.
Kim Farnell’s latest book The True History of Sun Sign Astrology is an eye-opener which sets the record straight on where sun sign astrology fits in to the wider discipline as she follows its winding path from earliest times in Mesopotamia four thousand years ago. From a Babylonian temple to the Daily Express of 1930 sounds an unlikely trajectory but she makes a plausible case for the Sun having been at the centre of the astrological canon since the start.
It was certainly a driving force for the best-selling almanacs of the day in medieval times. Though sometimes with questionable interpretations “Those born under Pisces shall be wise and cunning, a marriage breaker and very covetous. Her husband shall forsake her and she shall have great pain with strangers and she shall not have it that it is her fault.”
As astrology moved from being a tool for the monarch in earliest times to gain popularity amongst the masses it continually ran into critics, none of which made any inroads into the public appetite for teasers about their prospects – emotional, financial and medical. Nor did its illegality, with astrologers continually charged with criminal behaviour for fortune telling.
William Lilly, the 17th Century English ‘Merlin’ advised politicians and soldiers in the febrile times of the civil war and was summoned to appear in the courts for having predicted the Great Fire of London in 1666 in the form of a coded drawing.
The next notable Alan Leo, the theosophist, picked astrology out of the doldrums in the late 19th century during Neptune Pluto in Gemini and stimulated a revival of interest which disseminated his work across Europe and America. He made a fortune from mass produced horoscopes as well as writing 30 books some of which are still in use today.
In the 20th Century Linda Goodman is credited with doing more to popularise sun sign astrology than any. Her book Sun Signs was a runaway success and a New York Times best-seller, introducing a wider public to credible descriptions of the signs. She dined with the Kennedys, knew Howard Hughes and moved amongst the celebrity set. Her private life was troubled with three of her five children dead in infancy and one daughter dying of suicide in her twenties. She earned millions from her books but ended up bankrupt with an amputated leg from diabetes complications.
What marked out her chart for success from lowly beginnings in West Virginia was her lucky Jupiter in her career 10th square her Sun-Chiron in Aries on her Ascendant. She was an upfront, outgoing personality who was a healer as well as an attention-grabber and who would attract increasing appreciation the older she got.  Her Sun was also square Pluto on her IC suggesting a troubled childhood and later adult domestic life, especially since her Pluto was trine a 7th house Saturn in Scorpio. Good fortune shone on her achievements but not her emotional life. A 5th house Neptune in Leo indicated both her talent as an entertainer in a Neptunian sphere; and confusion and disappointment around children. She also had a ‘leadership’ North Node in Leo in her performing 5th house. What is intriguing is that Linda Goodman’s chart shares some similarities with William Lilly’s. Both had Neptune in Leo square Saturn in Scorpio.
Lilly was a Sun Venus in Taurus opposition Saturn in Scorpio widely square Neptune in Leo.  His Mercury in Taurus was conjunct Uranus on one side and Pluto on the other, trine Mars in Virgo – so his words would pack a punch.
Alan Leo had a more obvious astrologer’s Uranus in his 10th house with an influential-communicator Pluto in his 9th in a confident square to Jupiter and his Sun in Leo which would help him gain attention.
For a readable and well-researched dance through astrology’s multi-millenial existence this book will fascinate Astro-historians and give copious ammunition to defend against the nay-sayers.”
Reviewed by Marjorie Orr

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