The truth about What’s Your Sign???

January 16, 2011     The airwaves have been buzzing about an article written for the Minnesota Star Tribune about an astronomer who states that due to changes in the position of our dear planet Earth over the past thousands of years, that your astrological sign may have changed. Even more shocking is the suggestion that Scorpio lost over half its territory to a new sign, Ophiuchus. This was all reported as revolutionary breaking news. Yet, I and every other astrologer on the planet yawned, wondered, “What’s the big deal?” rolled over, and went back to bed. Imagine my surprise when I realized that people were really concerned, even “freaking out.” Was it true? What had happened? Were they no longer a Leo? And who or what the heck is Ophiuchus?? So I decided to get to the bottom of it all and lay this mystery to rest.

Below is my description of the truth of the matter. Astrology is not as simple as some people might think, and therefore the material below is more extensive than a short sound bite. But if you are really interested in getting to the bottom of this, read on. To me, there is rarely anything more fascinating than our universe.

Good new travels at the speed of light.

The extent of the response to this news, the speed of its spreading, and the clear concern of many people led me to several conclusions. First, that people are interested in astrology. Second, that people really do know their astrological Sun sign and are quite attached to that part of their identity. And third, that people are becoming more curious about our cosmos and what’s happening out there. New discoveries in our universe seem to be announced on a weekly basis, some of it quite exciting. There are giant energy bubbles in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, water is discovered on Mars, and a new earth-like planet is found that might be capable of supporting life. And into this exciting mix comes a change in your Sun sign! The possible changes to your own Sun sign brought all these cosmic and galactic happenings down to a level you could understand. You found a connection between what goes on in the universe and what goes on in you, which is really at the heart of astrology. Astrology says that there is meaning in the placement of the stars and the planets in our solar system. You tapped into the excitement of astrology, feeling the link between you and the heavens. For me, that is the most exciting news of all.

Two different systems….First, the Sidereal

Astrologers have been talking about this shifting of the earth’s alignment and its effect on the placement of the zodiac for thousands of years, and in quite a bit of depth. It’s a complicated subject and as an avid sky watcher, one that I have sought to understand. I found it quite revealing and unfortunate that a news article touting a major astrological breakthrough, i.e. the changing of your zodiac sign, didn’t consult even one astrologer! It’s hard to imagine breaking news on a medical discovery and not getting the opinion of even one doctor.  But when many view astrology as nothing more than the simplistic Sun sign columns in the daily newspaper, it is easy to see why the idea that Astrology might be complex and multifaceted was not ever considered, or that Astrologers might  be able to shed some light on the issue.

So, since you are interested, let me briefly fill you in on the fact that you really might have another astrological sign. Astrology is a complex and very extensive field of study. Historically, some of our most brilliant minds have been interested in Astrology, including Galileo, Johannes Kepler, Nicolas Copernicus, Isaac Newton, and Carl Jung. Astrology is such a complicated topic that it is divided into specialized fields of study. One of the most basic divisions is the different systems of astrology that are associated with geographical and historical areas. There is Western Astrology (which most people in the U.S. and Europe practice), Chinese Astrology, Mayan Astrology, Indian Astrology, Tibetan Astrology, Native American Astrology, and so forth. These different types of astrology use different techniques to map the sky and to understand its meaning. In Chinese astrology the simplest designation is the year you were born, like the out going year of the Tiger or the upcoming year of the Rabbit. Mayan astrology is connected to the Mayan calendar. In the astrology practiced in India for the last thousands of year, the position of the stars is most important, and so its astrology is called “sidereal” which means “star.” In Western Astrology, the focus is on the Sun and the relationship between the Earth and the Sun that marks our four seasons. Western astrology is called “tropical” which means “sun.” Some astrological systems are more focused on the movement of the Moon. The fact that these different astrological systems use different ways to track the movement of the heavens does not mean that one is correct and another is incorrect.

The Minnesota Star Tribune newspaper article referred to a widening split between the original constellations that the zodiac signs were associated with thousands of year ago and the current zodiac signs. This is true. In ancient Mesopotamia, around 4000 years ago, sky watchers noticed that while most of the stars in the heavens stayed in certain formations, some of the bright lights in the heavens moved. These wandering lights, which seemed to be circling the Earth, were called planets and are the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn which have been seen with the naked eye for millennium. Of course, we know now that the Sun is a star and does not move, and that the Moon is a satellite of the Earth. But for simplicity’s sake, Astrologers still refer to these as the seven major planets. The planets were always observed moving within the same 16 degree band of sky around the earth, which is called the ecliptic. The way ancients could understand where these planets were at any given time was to map the stars in this ecliptic into 12 groups of constellations, which we recognize as the twelve zodiac signs. Since there are 360 degrees in the ecliptic circle, each zodiac sign was given 30 degrees. The starting point of the zodiac was 0 degrees of Aries. The movement of any planet could be tracked through the entire constellation of Aries, into Taurus, through Gemini, and so on, until it made the full circle and was back to the starting point of 0 degrees Aries. Then the cycle began again. In this way, Astrologers were able to track the positions of the planets with systematic regularity and share that information with each other. Since the zodiac is based on the position of stars in the constellations, it is called the “sidereal” system.

Over thousands of years, however, that starting point of 0 degrees Aries shifted. The media and the astronomer from Minnesota acted like this shift was new news. In fact, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in 129 BCE discovered this shift over 2000 years ago when he noticed that the stars were not in the same position as those calculated by the Mesopotamians thousands of years before. He discovered it wasn’t that the stars had moved, since they were fixed. But rather the earth had moved slightly due to the wobbling of the Earth’s axis of rotation. Imagine that the earth is spinning like a top, and as it wobbles on its axis it makes a small circle in the sky. This small circular movement is called the precession of the equinoxes, and it moves at about 1 degree every 72 years. It will take nearly 26,000 years for the earth’s axis to complete that circle. This precession of the equinoxes is what gives defines the turning of the Ages, which each last about 2000 year. We are now at the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, and 2000 years ago, at the time of Jesus of Nazareth, we were at the beginning of the Age of Pisces. The procession of the equinoxes will continue slowly to move the alignment of the original 0 point Aries that was created by the Mesopotamians thousands of years ago further and further away. Right now there is about 23 degrees 57 minutes difference between the ancient zodiac constellations and the ones we see today in the sky. This difference is what led Parke Kunkle, the Minnesota astronomer, to say that your original astrological sign has now changed into a different one.

Next, the Tropical…

In addition to this sidereal system of measurement, there is another system for establishing the starting position of 0 degrees Aries, and that is based on the Sun, and so it is called “tropical.” The tropical zodiac is based on the same system that establishes the dates of our four seasons, and that is the intersection of the celestial equator (which is the extension of our equator out into space) with the ecliptic (the band around which the planets move). The celestial equator and the ecliptic cross at two points. When the Sun moves past these two intersections it sets our Spring Equinox around  21 March at 0 degrees Aries, and our Fall Equinox around 21 September at 0 degrees of Libra. The advantage of the tropical system is that it stays constant, unlike the slowly shifting sidereal system.

It can be confusing that there are two systems – the sidereal and tropical —  to calculate the starting point of our zodiac at 0 degrees Aries. Astrologers don’t agree on which system to use, and there is quite a bit of on-going discussion about it. I can see in my astrological calculations that the Moon today January 15, 2011, according to tropical astrology, is in the zodiac sign of Gemini. But when I look to the sky tonight, I will visually see the Moon in the sidereal constellation of Taurus. The sidereal and tropical are two overlaying systems. It is best to talk about the sidereal placement according to the constellation sign, and the tropic placement in terms of zodiac sign. Think of the two astrological systems as a Mac and a PC. Two different processors, that both can produce good results, depending on who is working them.

The astrology of India, called Vedic, or Jyotish, uses the sidereal system. Born 2 March 2n I am a Pisces in the tropical zodiac of Western Astrology (which I use). When I had my astrological chart done in India, I was an Aquarius. The difference in the sidereal and tropical systems doesn’t just change your sun sign position, it changes all your other planetary positions as well by about 24 degrees. This well known distinction between astrological systems is what the “Is your Zodiac changing” hoopla is all about.

So no, your astrological sign hasn’t changed according to the Western tropical astrology most Astrologers in the U.S. and Europe use. But in the sidereal system practiced in India and elsewhere, you are a different Sun sign. If you really resonated to the possibility that you were a new Sun sign, you might want to have your astrological chart done by a practitioner of Jyotish. There are many Jyotish astrologers in the U.S. and abroad. If you felt very strongly about your original astrological sign, then your can take a deep breath and relax. Nothing has changed at all.

Who is Ophiuchus and what is he doing in my zodiac?

Now, about Ophiuchus. Anyone who thinks that Scorpio is going to give up a huge chunk of its territory to a new zodiac sign, doesn’t know anything about Scorpio!!! Good luck Ophiuchus! There are 48 ancient constellations that are the brightest and easiest to see. But there are a total of 88 constellations that are recognized today. Ophiuchus is one of these constellations, and he does have a spot that crosses into the ecliptic. Ophiuchus has been connected to the great healer Asclepius, which would be a wonderful addition to our sky lore at this time when we so desperately need healing. But it is not part of the traditional twelve astrological signs. Will it be one day? Should it be? Astrology is based on 4000 years of observation, and Astrologers are capable of moving with the changing times. We now use Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and a host of asteroids that were not known to earlier Astrologers who only had the naked eye for their observation. I suspect Astrology will continue to develop, and maybe including Ophiuchus in the traditional zodiac will be part of that. But if there’s going to be a new constellation added to the existing twelve, then I’m rooting for Orion, my favorite constellation that is also near the ecliptic, and very easy to see in the night sky.

There is much to be excited about in astrology, much to learn and to understand. But rather than seizing on some trendy, momentary excitement, on a newly hyped “discovery” about the changing dynamics of how the heavens move and touch our lives, we should seek perspective. We should realize that this is a discovery already made thousands of years ago. It is clearly old news. This is why it makes more sense to be excited about an insight that has stood the test of time, one that reminds us nearly every day of the profound and subtle relationship we all have to the wondrous reality which is our sky.