Sunday, January 16, 2011

There is No "New Zodiac Sign"

Relax. There is no new zodiac. Every few years some clown muddles the facts and announces that there are really 13 zodiac signs, because in the sky between the constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius lies a small part of the minor constellation Ophiuchus (oh-fyoo-cus), the celestial Serpent Bearer. The newspaper article that created the confusion was written by a Minneapolis Star-Tribune staffer who misunderstood what a planetarium employee was talking about, and he in turn misunderstood astrology.

Both astronomers and astrologers use the term “zodiac.” From Earth it appears that our Sun, Moon and planets always travel along the same path through the sky. Because they travel this path “through” certain constellations, these constellations have been singled out as symbolic and special. As a group they are called the zodiac. Individually they are called “signs of the zodiac,” and for thousands of years it has been decided that there are 12 of them. The word “zodiac” is Greek for “circle of animals.”

As long as there have been mathematicians around to do it, astronomers and astrologers (who used to be one and the same) have divided the sky around earth into 360 degrees and subdivided it into 12 equal sectors to make it simpler to map and study. Twelve also honors the marvelous handiwork of God, who frequently arranges things in twelves. Of course the night sky doesn’t present itself with 12 equal anything, just as a chickens don’t lay their eggs a dozen at a time. The 12 equal sectors drawn in a sky map don’t exactly fit the actual constellations, and never have. Some of the constellations in “the signs of the zodiac” are very large and spectacular, such as Scorpio, while others are small, such as Aries.

The mathematical division of the sky into 12 equal sectors is what has given us 12 equal zodiac signs. They are also called Sun signs, because the Sun is the most noticeable celestial object that appears to travel through these signs. If a planet travels through the edges and not the heart of a 13th sign it doesn’t fit the system and is simply treated as if it doesn’t count. Astrologers and astronomers both work with a zodiac that has 12 signs and no more.

Astronomers at NASA determine the first day of spring by calculating the moment the Sun enters not the constellation of Aries but the Aries sector. But if the sectors are equal, why is the first day of spring sometimes March 20, sometimes March 21, and always at a different hour? Because the Earth is not quite a perfect sphere and wobbles on its axis, scientists make small adjustments to the hour and even the day that our Sun seems to enter the Aries sector. That’s how the date gets on your calendar. Rumors that climate change has caused the Earth to wobble are false.

The Vedic astrologers of India use sectors which better match the actual constellations, but are still idealized as equal in size. Traditional Chinese astrology divides the sky into 28 sectors. The few astrologers who acknowledge the four or five stars from the constellation Ophiuchus as a 13th zodiac sign use what is called “the galactic zodiac,” which as yet has no tradition that distills the sign’s meaning. However, the story of Ophiuchus tells that he was a healer, and his serpent continues to this day as a symbol of the medical profession.

The most widely practiced and familiar astrology is Sun-Sign astrology, with 12 equal signs, and it is not changing.

Sylvia Sky, experienced astrologer, monitors 70-plus online horoscope and psychic sites for quality and accuracy. See more reviews and articles. Copyright 2011 by Sylvia Sky.