In this posting, I’m using the signs of Virgo and Leo as examples, but the explanations are for all signs. The reason I’m using Virgo and Leo is because the first, and actually most, of the people who asked me about the whole “your sign is changing” debacle were Virgos. But this posting is for everyone.
It’s fascinating to see that along with news of floods, earthquakes and assassination attempts, doubt over which Zodiac sign you should consider yourself has taken on huge proportions. I guess that means that even though many people don’t “believe in” Astrology, very many others do, and are concerned that their ideas of themselves might be wrong. So, let’s take these things one at a time and see if we can clear things up. This is a big topic, so I’ll cover it in multiple posts.
First, we need a bit of Astronomy. This is first because Astrology is based on Astronomy (the science of planets, stars, galaxies, etc) and because it was an astronomer, Parke Kunkle, who, this time, put out the word that Zodiac signs are changing, and that there might be a 13th one. (I say “this time” because from what I understand, something like this comes along every 20 years or so, with a scientist claiming that Astrology can’t be real because it isn’t accurate, etc.) Let’s be kind and say that Professor Kunkle doesn’t really understand how Western Astrology works, and that it seems he is also misinformed about some basic astronomical precepts.
Okay, here goes. Basic Astronomy. From our point of view on Earth, our Sun moves through a series of constellations—twelve of them—spending about a month in each one per year. This is called the Plane of the Ecliptic, and those twelve constellations are our Zodiac.
I think Professor Kunkle may be confused, because while there is a constellation called Ophiuchus, it is not in the Plane of the Ecliptic, and has nothing to do with our Zodiac. There are gergillions (to use a technical term) of constellations out there, but only twelve of them comprise our Zodiac. Back in 1977, a science fiction author named John Sladek (writing under the name James Vogh) wrote a fantastical book in which he claimed that a 13th sign of Ophiuchus had been deliberately ignored and even suppressed. Perhaps Professor Kunkle didn’t catch the satirical tone of the book, which was to show that people will believe just about anything. Who can say? But Kunkle has definitely got it wrong about the Zodiac having another new sign.
Okay. Twelve signs = Zodiac. So, when the Sun is in the area of the sky whose background is a particular constellation, we say the Sun is “in that sign”. The day you were born, the Sun was in a particular sign, and in Western Astrology, the common vernacular is that you “are” that sign. So if the Sun was in Virgo when you were born, you are a Virgo. With me so far?
Now. Here’s the thing. The Earth’s poles are not straight up and down, but tilted. That’s what gives us seasons in temperate zones, because the angle that the Earth faces the Sun changes due to the tilt. When the slant of the Earth is at its furthest point away from the Sun, it’s at the Tropic of Capricorn, and the day it reaches that point is the Winter Solstice. This is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the longest in the southern hemisphere. Later in the year, the Earth is tilted closer to the Sun, and we get to a time when the days and nights are exactly equal, which is called the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. Three months later we have the Summer Solstice, when the Earth gets as close to the Sun as it will be, at the Tropic of Cancer. This is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, shortest in the southern hemisphere. And then three months later we’re at the Autumnal Equinox, with the days and nights equal again.
Why am I going into all this stuff you probably learned in 3rd grade? Because there’s a very important piece of information that Professor Kunkle forgot to mention, and I’m going to tell you about it.
There are different Zodiacs used in different kinds of Astrology— the Sideral Zodiac is used in Indian or Vedic Astrology, and the Tropical Zodiac is used in Western Astrology. Vedic Astrology is based on the actual stars and constellations. Western Astrology, however, is based on the seasons, or on the tilt of the Earth toward the Sun between the two tropics I mentioned (that’s why it’s called the “Tropical Zodiac”). Professor Kunkle obviously didn’t understand that, as what he was talking about was reflective of Vedic Astrology, not Western.
The constellations have shifted slightly, from our viewpoint on Earth, since Western Astrology first came into being, and because of that, there are now differences (about 23º, or nearly a whole Zodiac sign) between Sidereal and Tropical Astrology. Here’s a very brief explanation of that shift:
Let’s start with a very large astrological cycle known as the Great Year. It’s about a 25,765-year cycle in which the tilted axis of the Earth makes a circle in space, just as a spinning top makes a circle on a table. Because of the change in position of the Earth’s axis, the Vernal (Spring) Equinox changes zodiac signs every 2,150 years or so. Each of these 2,150-year cycles is called an astrological Age.
Back about 4,000 years ago, Spring began in the constellation Aries, and Western Astrology still uses Aries as the first sign. But by around 2,000 years ago, when Christ was born, we were in the Age of Pisces (the precession of the Equinox travels backwards through the Zodiac). That’s why Christ is associated with the sign of the fishes; Pisces is the sign of connected fish pointing in opposite directions. Now we are in the very beginning of the Age of Aquarius. There’s no hard and fast date for when these Astrological Ages begin and end, but the energies begin to shift.
It’s this Precession of the Equinoxes that Professor Kunkle was talking about. Astronomically, we are at the beginning of the time when the day of the Vernal Equinox will happen with the background constellation of the Sun in Aquarius. In Western Astrology, though, Spring always begins in the northern hemisphere and Autumn begins in the southern hemisphere on a day when the Sun is in Aries.
So there are two different astronomical models for setting up your astrological system. If the model that you subscribe to, be it from the Sun sign horoscopes in the paper or from deep studies of the Tropical Zodiac, your sign is not changing. There is no 13th sign, either way, as far as I know. Have no fear. Your model is still accurate, even if astronomers in Minnesota aren’t.
In the next posting I’ll talk more about Sun sign Astrology and why some people were happy to think that they might “be a Leo” instead of a Virgo.