With all the astrology in the news and flying around Twitter lately, Ryven asked if he could write an Immediate Interrupt article in addition to his normal +4 to Initiative geeky horoscopes. And who am I to turn down the wisdom of our very own geeky astrologer? Here’s Ryven Cedrylle, explaining it all!
An article surfaced yesterday morning reported by NBC about an astronomer in Minnesota who reconstructed the ancient Babylonian zodiac. The “new” zodiac moves all the dates around and includes some crazy constellation called Ophiucus. While I realize that very few people are actually “worried” about their sign changing, this gives me the opportunity to explain a little bit more about how astrological calculations are made for those readers who find it interesting.
The original zodiac – which the NBC article references – includes the major constellations along the plane of the ecliptic. These are all the constellations that the Sun actually appears to move across from our perspective at one point or the other. Due to wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, the Sun doesn’t always cross them identically every year, but they all at least get ‘touched’ somehow. Early astrologers did their work by actually looking into the sky and seeing where the various ‘wandering stars’ (planets) were in relation to these constellations and other important “fixed” stars like Regulus or Aldebaraan. This is where Ophiucus – who also sometimes goes by the equally metal “Serpentarius” – comes from; it’s a constellation along the plane of the ecliptic.
You’ll also notice that the signs last for varying amounts of time. Capricorn goes 26 days and Leo runs 36 where Cancer only runs 20 and Scorpio a piddly 6! This is a combination of the apparent size of the constellation and the eccentricity (elliptical nature) of Earth’s orbit. Scorpio is a relatively small constellation and the Earth is close to the sun at that time, meaning that the Sun seems to move very quickly across that sign as Earth’s angular velocity picks up.
Now as various other mystic disciplines and beliefs progressed, folks decided that 12 was an important magical number (mostly due to the Moon’s cycles and some numerological stuff) and so Ophiucus was tossed out. Why not little tiny Scorpio? I suspect it has to do with the mythology of the culture but I can’t tell you for sure. (Note to self: go look that up.) I’m a big Scorpio fan, though, so I’m happy it’s still around. Anyway, the astrological zodiac thus began to diverge from the physical realities of the sky. The sky was divided into 12 equal portions (similar in theoretical shape to sections of an orange) starting at the beginning of Aries and each of the 12 remaining signs got a section regardless of how long the Sun seemed to appear in front of the actual sign. This zodiac is still in use in Vedic (East Indian) astrology and is called the Sidereal zodiac.
Then as time went by and calendars became more complex and accurate, astrologers/astronomers noticed something else. The Sun didn’t always hit 0° Aries on the first day of spring. Over long periods of time, the 0° Aries hit date changed. This is a phenomena due to a type of wobble in the Earth’s revolution called the Procession of the Equinoxes. The Sun appears to be ‘backward’ about 1° from where it was on the same day 75 years ago. This marked an even greater rift in astrological theory. Given that Aries is the beginning of the Zodiac representing energy, vitality and life, should it always line up with the first day of spring or not? Someday in the sky, the Sun will appear at 0° Aries in the dead of winter. This issue was never fully resolved; different schools of thought and cultures made their own decisions. Today, Western astrology uses the Tropical zodiac that we’re familiar with. 0° Aries is always marked as the position of the Sun on the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, regardless of what constellation it appears to be in. (Sorry Southern folks!) Right now, the discrepancy between the Sidereal and Tropical zodiacs is about 24.°
This is an important if somewhat obscure point about astrology. What started as a belief that the actual position of stars and planets affected things has changed over thousands of years into something quite different. While you’ll never get quite exactly the same answer from any two astrologers, we generally agree that the orbital times of the planets and the signs represent cycles of human psychology and sociology. The actual planet Mars doesn’t really have a cause-and-effect action on you, but its 687 (Earth) day “year” tells us something about the rapidity and timing of action, heroism, violence and competition among human societies. It’s symbolic, not scientific.
It’s fun to look up your “new” sign and see where in the sky the Sun actually was the day you were born. That doesn’t change the sign you should look up in your horoscope though, since the horoscope is built around the derivative zodiac, not the physical one. When you do astrology, you’re really studying the cycles of history in an indirect, beautiful and humbling way. The stars and planets just happen to be the vehicle for that study.
Ryven Cedrylle is a Christian, husband, pharmaceutical chemist, gamer and astrologer – in that order. He contributes regularly to the At-Will Blog and the Power Source Podcast . Find out more about astrology and Ryven’s unique services at http://www.christian-astrology.com. Also, please take a moment to help Ryven’s wife’s dream of being a mommy come true! “Like” Everlasting Adoptions on Facebook to improve their publicity and unite needy children with loving homes.