The #DecodingTheAll Mercury REtrograde series
REvisiting Ophiuchus, Part I:
What IS the zodiac?
“Hello, people, 364.25 days equals one year!”
“Um, NO, stupid! There are 52 WEEKS in a year!”
“Ugh. Are you blind? A year is 12 MONTHS!”
“You must be delusional. Everyone knows a year has THREE seasons.”
“Dude. Guys. It’s only ONE year at a time. And it’s called 2015. Y’all trippin.”
This is what people sound like to me when fighting for their particular astrological schools.
Mercury retrograde means that the planet of communication appears to stop its usual forward motion and go backwards. Of course, no planets ever actually move backwards, but the way our solar system is set up, from our vantage point on Earth, it looks to be so. It’s an illusion of relativity, but everything in existence is illusory yet still has an impact on our lives.
The themes of Mercury REtrograde always have to do with “RE-” words: RE-vise, RE-visit, RE-read, RE-write, RE-do, RE-hab, RE-plenish…
True to form, on cue, the constellation of Ophiuchus and the 13 signs RE-REared its controversial head, at least in my corner of the Internet.
I’m part of a Facebook group of indigenous astrologers. At 6 a.m. the day Mercury first turned Rx, a woman posted a question asking, “So, what is the difference between 13 signs and 12 signs astrology? A chart reader told me 13 signs is real and the other schools aren’t. Help!”
The discussion ensued, the debate began, supporting links and “proof” were shared from all sides, and this conversation didn’t actually wrap up until over 24 hours later.
It was hilarious and ridiculous all at the same time. People go hard for their systems, but I don’t believe in anything outside of myself. I couldn’t Stan for anything so much that I will stop my day to fight for it on the internet. I will, however, take advantage of the wealth of knowledge shared to enlighten myself, because these are all tools, anyway.
What Is the Zodiac?
Before we can even talk about Ophiuchus, we have to understand the zodiac and what astrology IS.
As the planets rotate around the sun, they all travel within a particular plane of space, kind of like a racetrack. This narrow, circular belt of space is called the ecliptic.
There are 88 designated constellations in our solar system, but only about 12-14 are within the ecliptic path along which the planets travel (and the sun appears to pass through, even though it’s not moving). In the video above, at :47 seconds you can see where Ophiuchus is between Scorpius and Sagittarius.
The 12 zodiac signs we’re all familiar with are named after the primary constellations that are mostly contained within the ecliptic path.
Western astrology is also called Tropical astrology because it is based on the seasons. The Tropical system is based on the relationship between the sun and the earth as a measure of time.
Eastern astrology is also called Sidereal astrology and is based on the relationship between the sun and the stars. It is also the perspective of astronomers, who look to see what sign the sun is appears to be passing through. I’ve also heard Sidereal astrology described as “metaphysical astronomy.”
The two systems are looking at the same galaxy but with different perspectives.
Like the seasons, the zodiac represents the cyclical archetypal themes of birth (Aries, Taurus, Gemini – spring), growth (Cancer, Leo Virgo – summer), maturity (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius – autumn), and death/transcendence (Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces – winter).
Sidereal astrology is older; developed by the ancient Egyptians, based on the stars, and clearly present in their hieroglyphic records. Tropical astrology is newer; developed by Ptolemy and the ancient Greek astronomers.
The Greek astronomers were well aware that there were more than 12 constellations within or near the ecliptic (such as Ophiuchus and Orion) but chose to make the celestial circle an even 12-sectioned pie.
- It could have been for simplicity.
- It could have been they wanted to devise a simple mathematic system so as to not confuse lesser-educated masses with more complex calculations and zodiac signs of varying sizes/lengths.
- It could have been superstition and a fear of the number 13 and/or serpents.
- It could have been a conspiracy with the Greeks wanting to diminish the legacy of Egypt’s astrological contributions via Imhotep, the Kemetic serpent healer for whom the Ophiuchus constellation is named.
We may never publicly or largely know the actual reasons why they devised the system the way they did, but this does not mean that the Western Tropical zodiac is without merit.
A circle is 360 degrees. Although a year on earth is 365.2421934 days, dividing the 360 degree circle into 12 equal parts is quite equitable. Four seasons of three months each makes harmonic sense.
Around the year 221 CE, the Sidereal and Tropical zodiac systems were aligned, meaning the zodiac signs and the corresponding star constellations were all in the same place.
However, the constellations in the sky and the Tropical zodiac signs are not the same, and are not presently aligned. This is because our universe is expanding, our galaxy is moving, earth’s axis has a wobble, and everything is in a constant state of movement with the precession of the equinoxes.
This precession means that the spring/vernal equinox, or the “start” of the year, shifts backwards ever so slightly (1 degree every 72 years). So naturally, where the sign of Aries and the place where the spring/vernal equinox starts today is not the same place is started 2000 years ago when the Western astrological systems were being developed.
For the purpose of Western astrology, the relationship between the earth and the sun is what matters– we go by the archetypal themes of the seasons.
The signs and seasons going together create these archetypes for existence.
When it’s Cancer time, we up north are showing out, emotionally free, and warm and happy.
When it’s Capricorn time, we up north are bundled up, going within, and stone-faced for winter time.
When it’s Aries time, we up north are getting ready to bust out of winter hibernation mode, embarking upon spring cleaning, and starting our new beginnings for the year as we thaw out.
Again: the constellations are one thing. The zodiac signs are another.
Western astrology is geocentric, considering Earth as the center with all the planets rotating around us. It is egocentric, and makes sense that the Sun sign is primarily discussed in Tropical astrology because the Sun represents the ego.
It also makes sense to hold this perspective when thinking about our incarnation on earth for this cycle. We ARE on the earth, after all, so just like our location of birth on the planet counts in producing a natal chart, I don’t see anything wrong with having an earth-centered perspective of the cosmos.
With this in mind, stay tuned for Part II where I discuss more about Western vs. Sidereal astrology, alongside the Ophiuchus confusion and the 13th sign.