January 18, 2011

13th Astrology Sign Hoax

Last week an article was published to ridicule astrology, by exposing a “calculation error” and revealing another astrology sign. This kind of thing is nothing new. It is just surprising that the media picked up on it. Suffice to say this “Ophiuchus” thing is an old debunking tactic. I was busy packing for a teaching trip to New York and not really able to post anything at the time. Instead, I watched others discuss and debate the issue.

Of course, many who “believe in astrology” had no idea whether this “the 13th sign” thing was actually true or false. This shows you the problem of turning a science like astrology into a belief system. But even more interesting (and a bit disappointing) were the comments of many astrology students and some astrologers who immediately went into a defensive mode and began the worn-out “tropical versus sidereal zodiac” debate.

Keepers of astrology in the West should see this as an opportunity to restore some dignity to astrology by engaging intelligently these questions. For that to happen, there needs to be awareness of the zodiac, the calculations used and the cycles of time astrology refers to.

The Makers of Cosmic Time
Whether we realize it or not, time and our life cycles on Earth come from the Sun and Moon. The Earth makes one revolution around the sun in 365 days. We call this a year. There are four crucial points in the Earth’s orbit, the seasonal points. Two exist when the Sun is either at one extreme of light or dark (winter and summer solstice) and the other two exist when the Sun crosses the equator, bringing more light into either the northern or southern hemispheres for the next six months (equinoxes). These “Cardinal points” are due to the Earth’s tilt in the sky. This Earth/Sun relationship is crucial to the year and the seasons.

The other maker of time, the Moon, has much to do with the growth process here on Earth itself. Reproductive cycles of women and all creatures revolved largely around lunar cycles. It is the Moon which regulates the water in the oceans and whose gravity and presence distributes the energy of the Sun to the earth. Indeed, it is the Moon who transforms the power of the Sun into a creative principle of life on Earth.

As the moon goes around the earth, it maintains a special relationship with the Sun, from our vantage point. When the Sun and Moon line up at the same point of ecliptic longitude, a new synodic cycle begins. A full moon is the halfway point in  this cycle. Many romantic people and astrologers mistakenly look at full moons as the “beginning of a cycle”. It is not. But on the beginning day, the New Moon is dark and hidden, so it is not so romantic.

When the Sun and Moon come together, it is like sperm meeting egg or new life appearing from the birth canal or the seed sprouting and pushing up through the soil. Thirty days later, a new cycle begins when the Sun and Moon join again. In the English language we call 30 day cycles a “month”, from the word “Moon.”

Gregorian Calendar, Ophiuchus and Tropical Zodiac Signs

In the Western world the Gregorian calendar approximates these two cycles, with 12 months existing each year (12 lunar cycles) and the solstice/equinox points solidly established (Earth/Sun orbit markers) and falling on the 21st or 22nd of their respective months. From Wikipedia “The motivation for the Gregorian reform was that the Julian calendar assumes that the time between vernal equinoxes is 365.25 days, when in fact it is about 11 minutes less. The accumulated error between these values was about 10 days when the reform was made, resulting in the equinox occurring on March 11 and moving steadily earlier in the calendar. Since the equinox was tied to the celebration of Easter, the Roman Catholic Church considered that this steady movement was undesirable.”

In both Vedic and Western astrology, the Zodiac signs approximate the distance the Earth moves in one lunar cycle in its orbit around the Sun. After 30 days (an approximate lunar cycle) the Sun moves into the next zodiac sign, relative to our vantage point on Earth. In Western astrology the zodiac is not  connected to the constellations in the sky. Just like the Gregorian calendar, Western astrology is related to the seasons. The first day of spring is the first day of “Aries”, not the beginning of the constellation Aries in the sky. The introduction of another constellation along the ecliptic (Ophiuchus is in this case), has no impact on your Western, tropical astrology sign because it has no relationship to the constellations / stars.

Sidereal Zodiac Signs and Time

Most Eastern calendars, such as the Indian calendar, are  not based on the seasonal zodiac described above. These calendars are more dynamic and based on the Sun/Moon relationship. Meaning, the month can start any time that year. It is based on when the Sun and Moon join, not a point calculated forward from the previous Cardinal point or the vernal equinox (Western, tropical zodiac). Many Westerners are confused by this.

To illustrate the difference, it is traditional to celebrate your birthday in India in the month you were born, but on the day that corresponds to your birth Nakshatra (star) or tithi (lunar phase), not the Solar day as we do in the West. Using the Indian calendar, you have a different birthday every year! It falls roughly in the same month, but more importance is placed on the same Nakshatra (star) or lunar phase.

Indian festivals and holidays are celebrated on lunar days, not Solar / calendar days of the year. There are 15 lunar days in the waxing half of the Moon and 15 lunar days in the waning half of the Moon. These 30 days make up a month in the Indian calendar system.

The Indian zodiac signs are not just archetypes of seasonal energy, like the tropical zodiac mentioned above. The Vedic zodiac signs are sections of the sky directly related to the planets that rule them and corresponding to the stars that inhabit them, the Nakshatras. The “revelation” of another constellation along the ecliptic (Ophiucus) does not affect or influence the synergistic relationship we have with the sky or the zodiac signs have with each other, or with the energy patterns they translate. In Vedic astrology especially, the zodiac signs are considered the “Kala Purusha” – the being in time, placed on the eternal wheel of karma. The fixed architecture and stability of the zodiac and sky mirror the fixed, stable physiology of our body, our world and the divine love that permeates all of creation.

Here is a video that explains the astronomy and astrology of the two zodiacs:

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