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Ophiuchus - Your Zodiac Sign Has Not Changed

Updated on January 23, 2011

An unfortunate article quoting an astronomer in a small American newspaper sparked a huge debate on the internet recently. The media seized upon it and suddenly everyone was asking "Has my sun sign changed?"

The short answer is no and I'll explain why.

Imagine you are standing on a wide open plain with no trees or hills as far as the eye can see. Put on your imaginary sunglasses and watch the sun rise in the east, move across the sky and set in the west. If you could draw a line across the sky tracing the invisible path of the Sun that line would be called the ecliptic.

Source - Wikipedia
Source - Wikipedia | Source

Now, imagine you could project the line of the earth's equator into space. This is what we call the 'celestial equator'. At two points in space, the celestial equator hits the ecliptic. The first point is called the vernal equinox and heralds the start of Spring. The other point is the autumn equinox. The point of the Spring Equinox is considered very senstive to western astrologers. You might see it refered to as the Aries Point.

The spring equinox point is the focus of the discussion. This is what western astrologers use as a starting point for the signs of the zodiac. We use the tropical zodiac which is based on the seasons, NOT the constellations. We use a system that is a symbolic relationship between the earth and the sun. Starting at the Aries Point, western astrologers separate equally the 360 degree circle in the sky into twelve segments giving us the twelve signs of the zodiac we know and love.

This has been so since the time of the ancient Babylonians. These twelve signs represent the constellations that touch the path of the ecliptic (the path of the sun).

There is also however another kind of astrology which is practiced in India called Vedic astrology. Some people in the West also practice this system of astrology. The system Vedic astrology uses is called 'Sidereal Astrology'. It is very similar to the tropical system of the West but with one main difference. Their system begins as a measure against the fixed stars so it is more a relationship to the constellations. However, like the tropical system, the sidereal system still equally divides the great circle into twelve segments to create the twelve signs.

Both these systems are very different from how astronomers measure the constellations. The constellations do not fit neatly into 30 degree segments across the sky. They vary widely - Scorpio for example is tiny compared to Virgo. Some constellations like Cetus and the now famous Ophiuchus just brush the ecliptic (the path of the sun). Because astronomers presume we use their system for analysing the stars, they also assume they we have got it all wrong by not including Cetus and Ophiuchus in our astrology. They also assume that we do not understand precession.

Each year, compared to the backdrop of fixed stars, the Aries Point moves fractionally, around one degree backwards every 72 years. It is suggested that when astrology was first practised thousands of years ago, the tropical system and sidereal system were in line with each other. Over time, with precession, the two astrological systems are currently around 23 degrees apart but in thousands of years will once again be united. Precession by the way will also change the Pole star eventually.

Astrologers have been well aware of the existance of Ophiuchus. There are a very few Vedic astrologers who do use it in their work (around 1%). But for the most part the remaining 99% of all astrologers use the twelve signs of the zodiac.

What needs to be remembered is that astrology is about understanding the meaning of the universe whereas astronomy is about understanding how the universe functions and it's physical properties. Western Astrology, Vedic Astrology and Astronomy are all valid systems using different ways of defining and measuring the universe. One way doesn't cancel out the others.

I compared it in a recent blog post to the idea of a song. A scientist can investigate aspects of the song such as the depth of the bass, the various sound frequencies, the variable results of different types of microphones...They can study the acoustics but none of that will tell them what the song is about. To experience the song you must listen to it as a whole. Each person will experience it in a different way depending on their own life experience, their tastes and perceptions.

Astrology is the art of the universe - it studies semantics (meaning). Astronomy is the science of the universe, it is reductionist (breaks down things into parts). Both have relevance for humanity.

Unfortunately there are some on the internet who have seen the great cash cow in the sky and are now cashing in on the confusion by offering Ophiuchus personality reports, new horoscopes etc. Ignore it. Given time, the debate will die down again and the Snake Bearer (the symbol for Ophuichus) will once again sleep.

But the snake is connected to wisdom so perhaps the issued raised by this constellation are relevant for the moment. It would be nice to think that one day we could heal the rift between astronomy and astrology for once they walked hand in hand. The greatest astronomers were also astrologers: Kepler and Galileo for a start. Perhaps instead of bickering between ourselves and confusing everybody else in the process, our disciplines could serve as a unifying force instead of divisive.


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