Friday, January 14, 2011

Ophiuchus- the 13th Zodiac Sign astrologers already knew about

Forgive my quick reaction to the news:

A lot of you Sagittarians out there may be a little concerned about the "news" that there is a 13th Zodiac sign called Ophiuchus. Don't worry too much just yet!

This astronomer, Parke Kunkle, is just stirring up excitement and getting attention by proposing that our Zodiac is out of date and missing a sign. This, however, is nothing new, and I am adamant that this gentleman not take credit for something that astronomers and astrologers alike have studied for thousands of years. It's called the Procession of the Equinoxes.

The western zodiac was developed in ancient times in relation to where the chief constellations (or signs as we know them) were located in relation to the equinoxes and solstices of the year. Aries is associated with the spring equinox, Libra with the fall equinox, and everything else falls in between. This is the system that has been used, and continues to be used with great accuracy, in Western Astrology.

There is another system called the Sidereal zodiac, and this system accounts for the procession of the equinoxes. This term simply means that the signs of the zodiac have moved from their original placement thanks to a very slow rotation of the earth's orientation to the heavens. To get an idea of this, picture a top. You spin it, and it spins very quickly around the axis. This is the earth's rotation. But you may also notice the odd, much slower wobbling of the handle of the top. This same motion occurs with the earth, and it changes our orientation to these constellations. This Sidereal zodiac is used extensively in Indian Astrology, or Vedic Astrology. India has an ancient heritage of astronomical and astrological study, and this sidereal zodiac is in common use there today.

In addition, this 13th sign, Ophiuchus, has long been known by astronomers and astrologers alike. It's there, along with other constellations that litter the sky close to the ecliptic.
This is a little small, but this shows the ring, called the ecliptic, which is essentially the path the sun takes around the heavens. The constellations closest to this line were associated with the even division in ancient times of the ecliptic path into the twelve different sections of the Zodiac. The constellations are by no means neatly cut into perfectly even 30 degree sections (just take a close look at this picture, you see that Leo is walking on the ecliptic, Cancer's got one claw on it, Pisces is sort of snagged on it, etc.). Rather, they are associations based upon their proximity to a mathematical division of the sky, based upon the four points of the Spring and Fall equinox and Winter and Summer solstices. This association has been long studied, and long used, with great accuracy. In Sidereal astrology, the shifting forward of this same division to keep up this association with the processed position of the constellations today has been used as a different system with great success in its own right.

Whoever wrote this paragraph on Wikipedia sums it up pretty well:

A small number of sidereal astrologers (such as Walter Berg) wish to include other constellations, such as Ophiuchus, in their zodiac and use 13 signs instead of 12. While Ptolemy noted that Ophiuchus is in contact with the ecliptic, he was aware that the twelve signs were just conventional names for 30 degrees segments (especially since the Aries sign had ceased to be in contact with the Aries constellation already in his time).
For the purpose of determining the constellations in contact with the ecliptic, the constellation boundaries as defined by the International Astronomical Union in 1930 are used. For example, the Sun enters the IAU boundary of Aries on April 19 at the lower right corner, a position that is still rather closer to the "body" of Pisces than of Aries. Needless to say, the IAU defined the constellation boundaries without consideration of astrological purposes."

Those 30 degrees segments are what we base astrology on, and they are just as meaningful today as when they were developed by the Babylonians thousands of years ago. The dates, if you compare the IAU's determinations to the dates given by Kunkle, are basically the same. Much like the Babylonians made their conventions in ancient times, Astronomers made similar conventions of how they saw the Zodiac in 1930. And it doesn't have anything to do with traditional western astrology.

So Sagittarians- don't let some astronomer from Minnesota tell you what your zodiac sign is. Ophiuchus has many interesting ramifications that you can study in relation to your chart (and I'd be happy to point you in the right direction about what you could study in relation to it), but so do other stars that don't fit in the zodiac signs. There's nothing wrong with Ophiuchus. But nothing has changed! There's no new discoveries here! You're still a Sagittarius!

If only it wasn't so early (and I had to go to work)... I'd drown my frustration in a hearty winter brew of some sort. Say what you will about Minnesota astronomers- but they sure have some great beers up there!


Sarai said...

This is a bit of a relief. "some astronomer from Minnesota..." Too funny bro.

Thanks for clearing this up...once again your knowledge and ability to tie it all together really amazes me.

Nikki Davenport said...

Beau, as I posted on Twitter you are an astrological word wizard & this post is the most lucid explanation of the "bad science" being spread around since the Ophicus story went crazy! World - read Beau's blog & learn!

Anonymous said...

It's the Precession of the Equinoxes (or Axial Precession) not Procession, kitten :)

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