Navigating the stars with an Astrolabe


An astrolabe is a tool that has been used in astronomy as far back as the ancient world, though it wasn’t used widely in Europe until about 1200 A.D. They were used well into the 1600’s to measure the position of celestial bodies, such as the visible planets and the stars, in order to help determine where someone or something was located. It was a critical component of early astronomy and navigation.  Learn more about astronomy and navigational tools here:

What is an Astrolabe made from?

Astrolabes are made of a rimmed plate, called a mater, that is deep enough to hold flat plates known as tympans or climates. Each of the tympans is engraved with circles that denote the altitude and azimuth of a section of the night sky over the horizon. Along the rim of the mater are marks and engravings that denote time in hours, degrees of arc, and some mater’s may even have markings for both. Above the mater and tympan is the rete which functions as a star chart. It is free moving and when rotated moves over the coordinates. A complete rotation of the rete corresponds to the passage of a day and the astrolabe is an early predecessor of the planisphere.

History of Astrlogical use

In the later centuries there are examples of astrological astrolabes, instruments that not only worked to map the world, but because they did so through the skies, these astrolabes were also used to map the lives of people via the skies. These astrolabes added an astrological volvelle which plotted the position of planets and stars in relation to the astrological houses. These volvelles could be quite detailed, providing not just the name of the houses, but a solar calendar, the decanates, the rulers, and the four elements: earth, fire, air and water. An astrolabe with an astrological volvelle could be used to pull together a very detailed natal chart which allows an astrologer to pull together the details and potentials of the life of the person they would be working with. Much in the same way a modern astrologer will use a computer program to develop a natal chart, an ancient astrologer would have used their astrolabe to look back at the lay of the stars at the time and location of a client’s birth.

The Future of Astrolabes

Sadly, detailed instruments like the astrolabe have fallen out of fashion and modern astrologers rely almost exclusively on computer programs. To this end, a company developed a natal chart computer program appropriately called Astrolabe. This program works the same as the ancient astrolabes, charting the stars and planets in conjunction with the astrological signs. It looks at each and every detail, from where you were born, as well as the time, to which planets were where and what influence they hold on the life of the person born beneath them.

When it comes to astrology an astrolabe, whether the computer program or the ancient tool, is a critical part of making sure that a natal chart is accurate and appropriately representative of the person that is seeking guidance from the astrologer.


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