Saturday, January 15, 2011

Much to do about how wrong astrology is

This past week, one of the things that went viral on the internet was the tidbit about how the twelve zodiac sign system should really be a thirteen sign system.

I guess it was a slows news day and no one wanted to read about 2012 anymore.

Honestly, this was old news. As in astronomers have been pointing out that astrology is not a science for at least a century...ok, maybe not that long, but at least from the 1960s. And then there was the 1980s. I wonder if I am the only one that remembers the big fuss over Ronald Reagan consulting an astrologer.

Astrologers have known for a long time that the zodiac signs do not match up to the constellations. For about two thousand years. If you are properly trained as an astrologer (in my less than humble opinion), you know that the zodiac you are using bears little relationship to the actual constellations as we know them today. Astrology works despite this. But someone thought that we needed a system to address the problem.

That "new and improved" thirteen zodiac sign system is Constellational Zodiac. There are some problems with it.

But first, what are the other two main zodiac systems?

There is the Tropical Zodiac, which divides the ecliptic (the sun's apparent path though the heavens) into twelve equal parts of thirty degrees apiece. This is your standard Western astrology, including the type most hated by astronomers---sun sign astrology. The Tropical Zodiac ignores precession (the drifting of the Vernal Equinox westward by one degree every 72 years). The Tropical Zodiac setpoint is the Vernal Equinox; it is annually adjusted to be measured from that point in time and space.

The other type is the Sidereal Zodiac. The Sidereal, which is typically used in Eastern astrology, takes in precession. The Sidereal Zodiac is measured from a particular setpoint, typically zero degree of Sidereal Aries, but not always (the RR et AC esoteric version of astrology, a form of sidereal astrology, is measured from Regulus which is considered the zero degree of Sidereal Leo). Those who support the Sidereal Zodiac argue that it keeps the zodiac in line with the constellations. Well, not really---sidereal astrology also divides the ecliptic into twelve equal parts.

Enter the 1990s and the arrival of the Constellational Zodiac. It measures the ecliptic based on the actual constellations. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this system; all of which seemed to be designed to drive people out of astrology.

First, the constellations that we have today are not the constellations from two thousand years ago. For instance, at one time, the constellation Libra did not exist, and the constellation Scorpio was longer than its current size. The constellations do not take up the same amount of space along the ecliptic either. For instance, Libra is only 21 degrees long (the shortest of the constellations); Virgo, on the other hand, is 46 degrees in length (being one of the longest constellations).

Second, two thousand years ago, the constellation Ophiuchus did not exist. There is also the fact that the entire corpus of astrological lore is based on a twelve sign, 360 degree system. Throwing a 13th sign in means that everything must be rethought and reinvented. For instance, thirteen signs implies that there should be thirteen houses. Of course, that is probably why the astronomers like it---heavens knows that science would like to get rid of esoteric art and philosophy.

Correction (16 Jan 20111): Ophiuchus was known since at least 130 BCE---so the question is why didn't the ancient astrologers use it?

Third, and most importantly, the math to use this system will really s***. I am a professional astrologer (in the sense I get paid to write a monthly astrology column for a college newspaper), and I have no reference tables to figure this new system out. For instance, take a look at the new dates for the signs. See how each sign shares two dates with the adjoining signs? Flip a coin if you are born on those dates.

For the record, I will continue to use the Tropical Zodiac (though I do note where Regulus is---after all, I am a working magician). I don't think that the Tropical Zodiac is busted, and this is despite the little astronomical training I have (college class, some hobby time---what can I say). And if you do want to experiment with constellational astrology, just note where the constellations are in relation to the zodiac system that you already use (much like marking where the fixed star Regulus is).

[I will post a list of the current constellation boundary points are as soon as I figure all of them out. In the meantime, here are the new dates that science would like us to use for the signs.]

Capricorn: Jan. 20 – Feb. 16

Aquarius: Feb. 16 – March 11
Pisces: March 11- April 18
Aries: April 18- May 13
Taurus: May 13- June 21
Gemini: June 21- July 20
Cancer: July 20- Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10- Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16- Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30- Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23- Nov. 29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29- Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17- Jan. 20

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