There’s been a lot of talk the last few days about the “recent discovery” regarding the zodiac. People are wondering whether their sign has changed. The answer is no. Before we get into it, let’s get a few things straight-
1. This is not a recent discovery. This phenomenon was documented in 280 BC by a Greek fellow named Aristarchus, and was quite likely understood quite a bit earlier. It’s called “precession.” Astrologers have been aware of this for over 2000 years- the entire time that astrology’s been around.
2. The zodiac used in Western astrology is not based on the position of constellations. You’re still an Aries.
The Tropical and Sidereal Zodiacs
The zodiac used in Western astrology is not based on the constellations. It uses the Tropical zodiac, which is based on a 12 fold division of the Sun-Earth cycle, from the Earth’s point of view (geocentric). So yes, you’re still an Aries.
In fact, the reason that Western astrology uses the Tropical zodiac is because it doesn’t move over time. It’s anchored by the solstices and the equinoxes.
Indian (Vedic) astrology, as well as some Western schools of astrology, use the constellations rather than the division of the Sun-Earth cycle to define the zodiac. The zodiac that uses the constellations is called the Sidereal zodiac. Astrologers have been having discussions about the relative merits of the Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs for quite some time.
The confusion comes in because the 12 divisions of the Sun-Earth cycle are named after the 12 largest constellations on the ecliptic. Astrologers are aware of the difference between the Tropical zodiac (Sun-Earth) and the Sidereal zodiac (constellation-based), and have been. The changing relationship between the two zodiacs is called “precession” and it was documented by Aristarchus of Samos in 280 BC. That’s a long time ago. This is not news.
The Age Of Something
One particularly interesting thing is that the changing relationship between the Tropical (Sun-Earth) zodiac and the Sidereal (constellation based) zodiac is actually the mechanic behind one of the most widely known astrological concepts- the Age of Aquarius.
The relationship between the two zodiacs changes at the rate of about 1 degree every 72 years. Since 1 zodiac sign is 30 degrees, that means it takes 2,160 years for the zodiacs to be one sign off. These 2,160 year periods are what define the ages.
Each age takes its name from the constellation the Sun is in front of during the Vernal Equinox. In the Tropical Zodiac, the Vernal Equinox defines the 1st degree of Aries. So we’re looking at what constellation the first degree of Aries overlaps with. Right now it’s Pisces, so it’s the “Age of Pisces.” In about 150 years, the first degree of Aries will overlap with the constellation Aquarius and it will be the “Age of Aquarius.” Get it?
What’s A Sign?
While we’re talking about “Signs,” we should probably talk about how astrologers use them. The core of astrology is the planets. Their movements and geometrical relationships, from Earth’s point of view, is the most important part of astrology.
Signs are used to add detail about how these movements and relationships between the planets will translate into action down here on earth. The zodiac is a filter we place on the planet’s arrangements in order to get more information. However, the filter most people are acquainted with, the Tropical zodiac, is not the only one. As mentioned above, there’s also the Sidereal Zodiac. And more! There are also filters based on the Lunar cycle, which divide the sky into 27 different sections.
You Are Not Your Sun Sign.
Part of the recent craziness is because people think that astrology defines people by a single sign, be it Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc. This inaccurate.
The idea that “I’m an Aries” is a radical simplification of how astrology actually looks at a person. If horoscope columns tell you that you’re an Aries, it refers to the portion of the sky that the Sun was in when you were born. The Sun was in Aries. But astrology also looks at the position of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and a host of other bodies and points, such as the Moon’s ascending and descending nodes, Pluto, Chiron and others. And guess what? All of these bodies and points are in a sign! Most people have planets in 6 or more of them, in fact. Not only does any one person’s astrological chart take into account all of these bodies, it also looks at the geometrical relationships between them. Astrology does not, and has never, defined a person with a single label. Instead, astrology represents a person with a chart full of dynamic complexity. You know, how people actually are.
So how did people get the idea that they’re just a single sign?
It’s impossible to know where someone’s Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, etc by simply knowing what day of the year they were born. All you can tell based on the day of the year is what sign the Sun was in. So when people write astrology columns, they use the only piece of astrological information they have about their readers- the sign that their Sun is in. The Sun is a particularly useful piece of information, and so an astrologer can make some statements based on the Sun’s position relative to the planet’s current configurations- horoscopes. Although horoscopes can be fun and useful, astrology based only on the Sun’s position is a radical simplification. It doesn’t begin to represent the complex dynamics of a person’s entire astrological chart.
Hope this was helpful.