Interval 1: Asterisms: Astrology for the Space Age

Greeting Psychonauts,

Welcome back! It has been a long hiatus amounting to just over 2 years (my last post was November 2nd, 2017) and counting since I have posted and it is quite lovely to be back. The hiatus was an important step as it allowed your astrologer to complete a portion of my education and also became a time of repose that allowed me to study more intensively into the symbols of Astrology and generate new ideas. Since putting digits to keyboard the ideas have been spilling out much like a dam wall breaking. It has been a struggle to be judicious in writing so as not to strain you my beloved readers. With brevity with impact in mind let’s waste no more column inches and get to it!

I begin with the first of what I hope will become a regular series called Asterisms which will provide some primers on Astrology for better understanding of past and future posts. Here I discuss why I prefer to use the astronomical zodiac that modern Astronomers use as opposed to the more abstract Tropical and Fagan/Bradley Sidereal zodiacs (I can’t speak to Jyoti systems although in my limited experience they track closely with the Fagan/Bradley sidereal zodiac, with a few points of reference having different names reflective of their grounding in Hindu culture). Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs have been useful as far as they go however there are many ways in which these zodiacs are out of synch with the actual cosmos and based on faulty mathematics. Here I provide a few of the objections to using them that inform my usage of a more modern zodiac.

Precession of the Equinoxes

Ancient astronomy was largely observational and relied on a phenomenon of heliacal rising of constellations along the local horizon. As a result it has meant that prior to Aristarchus (280 B.C.E.) Hipparchus (146-127 B.C.E.) and Ptolemy (100 C.E.) the ancients did not have a working understanding of the precession of the equinoxes and the related phenomenon that caused it. In essence the Earth’s rotational axis is tilted by roughly 23.5° and the planet is not a perfect sphere but an oblate spheroid which bulges at its middle along the Equator. This bulging creates a gravitational attraction related to the orbit of the Moon. Due to these factors the Earth tends to wobble on its axis and as a result the coordinates we use to measure our place in space will shift with this wobble.

The primary aspect that both Astronomers and Astrologers use to orient the Sun’s apparent motion along the ecliptic (the band of constellations that tracks with the Earth’s orbital plane) is called the Ascending Node of the Equinox or Equinox Point (it’s opposite is the descending node or Autumnal Equinox Point) and is essentially an intersection between the Celestial Equator (an arbitrary circle around the Earth that runs North to South, sort of) and the Ecliptic which defines Earth’s orbital path. This point started in the constellation Aries when the mathematics of precession were worked out, however it has been shifting ever since. This isn’t the only thing that is shifting in the sky. Polaris is the current placeholder of the North Star but in roughly a little more than 12,000 years from now it will shift into Vega the brightest star of the constellation Lyra.

The Ancient gap in knowledge surrounding the precession of the equinox point at the marker of the Vernal or March Equinox has thrown off calculations by 72 years for every degree of constellation/sign, meaning the clock that western astrologers use has stopped running 72 years for each degree of constellation, and does not account for a Universe that does not sit still. Earth’s axial wobble changes the orientation of the Equinox Point (a fixed point that changes its orientation over time) and creates the phenomenon of the Astrological ages (a topic for another post). The ascending node of the Ecliptic or Vernal Equinox Point as we have come to call it has been tracking westward at a regular clip along the ecliptic as a result of axial-wobbling (in a map of the sky the directional points of East and West swap places to how they would work on Earth. Using Pisces as a reference point, the Sun and planets move along the ecliptic due East towards Aries and the Equinox Point has been moving due West towards the early degrees of Pisces and late degrees of Aquarius, why is this occurring? The ecliptic is not moving but the observation platform or Earth is and it is wobbling on its axis which creates this precessionary movement, in a word we are on an organic spaceship that is moving in a stationary orbit and so our frame of reference is constantly shifting, kinda neat really).

Currently the signs as used in tropical astrology are for where the Sun was in relation to constellations about 2,200 years ago, when Aristarchus, Hipparchus, and Ptolemy worked out the mathematics of precession , and the Equinox Point was in Aries (to be fair they worked this out sooner than 2,200 years ago). Since 68 B.C.E. as a result of precession the Vernal or March Equinox now occurs in Pisces as of 2019 it is at 8° Pisces, or the latter third of the Western Fish (yes, that is a bit confusing but keep in mind it is moving backwards towards Aquarius not forwards towards Aries, hence precessionary movement and not processionary movement).

A system that requires a logic pretzel and creates cognitive dissonance as a result is not one that I can get behind. Precision and accuracy matter. The Tropical belief is that signs are seasonal markers and reflect the seasons on Earth, problem is this is no longer true as precession means that the Vernal Equinox occurs in Pisces. I suppose ultimately I agree with the position of sidereal Astrologers that we are dealing with universal energies that remain fairly constant and not seasonal attributes and so it is better to track with the actual locations of asterisms because it is those locations that are the source of the emanations that we speak of in Astrology, hence the reliance on Fixed Stars in the constellations.

The IAU modernized the constellation boundaries in 1930

The International Astronomers Union consensed in 1930 and determined new constellation boundaries based on observations of the apparent path of the Sun along the ecliptic and other calculations. It was also a development to address the fact that the Ancients from the Babylonians through the Romans did not provide any boundary demarcations for the asterisms and as a result relied on a mathematical assumption of a circle with equal demarcations of 30° for each of the constellations, based on observing the sun over a month time interval, as it appeared to be in the domain of the constellation for roughly 30 days (not a very accurate demarcation). Later iterations did not fare much better as they attempted to modernize the boundaries without challenging Ptolemy’s descriptions. One atlas included demarcated boundaries but left out the figures. Other authors took liberties with the boundaries and as such demarcations varied from one ephemeris to another.  Other attempts proved too radical including an attempt at using spherical quadrilaterals which moved too many major stars between one asterism and another.

The central problem with undefined boundaries is that so much of the work of astronomy and ultimately astrology is dependent on these demarcations, particularly measuring meteors and determining numeric variables and investigating novae and so on. The first demarcation which united the constellations across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres was deciding on the epoch (Equinox point) which was demarcated at 1875.0 (the declination), this squared with existing atlases of constellations and established the coordinate system used by astronomers (and astrologers) today is hour circles (also called Right Ascension) and Declination. Given these new coordinates the real estate of the ecliptic band (the constellations that make up the zodiac the tracks the closest to the orbital plane of Earth) was finally determined, and based on this the zodiac changed. There are now 13 constellations that the Sun moves through (the Babylonians omitted Ophiuchus, no one is sure why, symmetry, or perhaps the number 12 was sacred?) and each of their boundaries has a different spread along the ecliptic. The sign or constellation that gets the most is Virgo at 45° (or 44° when interdigitating it with the Gregorian calendar, which oddly omits a day from a sidereal year, there are in 366 sidereal days in a sidereal year as opposed to the culturally recognized 365, but that is another post!). The sign that gets the smallest amount of real estate is Scorpio or as it is known in Astronomy Scorpius with 7° of the ecliptic. All zodiacal mathematics at least since 1930 are based on these boundaries, and the apparent path of the Sun along the ecliptic the Earth’s orbital plane that the zodiacal constellations fall upon. The definition did not come without some significant adjustments and some of the constellations did get new shapes as a result for instance the star δ Pegasi is now α Andromedae and is delegated to the Andromeda constellation as opposed to Pegasus.

There remains a cognitive dissonance even in light of these more precise calculations that underpins the tropical zodiac and that is that signs are not constellations. This emerges from an underlying belief that the signs are seasonal markers which results from the fact that the tropical zodiac at the time of the Babylonians when it was developed were used to time agricultural cycles and were fused with a separate administrative calendar. When the zodiacs were taken up by the Greeks there was an almost immediate acceptance of the tropical zodiac as it was uniquely helpful with agricultural cycles which were essential to survival (and to this day, as agricultural is the backbone of our civilization). However due to the precession the equinoxes the tropical zodiac is no longer accurately timed to agricultural cycles, and if you were to rely on it today and using the constellations that square to it  planting would be a month too late! Aries no longer demarcates the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) that distinction now belongs to Pisces and will until 2597 C.E. When the ascending Node (Equinox Point) will occur in Aquarius, the proverbial dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

The Modern demarcation provides a better foundation for understanding the Sun’s apparent motion through the ecliptic, and better represents the physical space occupied by that motion at various times of the year. As a result of this the tropical belief of signs as seasonal markers begins to fall apart. Constellations are signs even when considering the seasons on Earth.

Constellations are Signs

Tropical Astrology is quick to point out that the constellations are not the signs. Signs are not constellations is faulty logic for a few reasons. Sign meanings were derived from the constellations and their relative placement along the ecliptic. Since this is the basic premise using the logic that signs are not constellations is a direct contradiction of the symbolic basis for all of the signs and speaks more to the fact that dynamic systems are not static and there is a need to adapt symbols as prevailing conditions do and as cultures evolve.

Furthermore, it is based on a conflation between the tropical zodiac and a Babylonian administrative calendar which was fused with the zodiac to determine agricultural timing and the start of seasons and hence planting cycles. It is from these associations that some of the more practical meanings of the signs emerged, and still it was because these are the constellations that were rising on the horizon at the time. We return again to the fact that every bit of the signs meanings are still derived from the constellations only this time their heliacal rising over the local horizon. The thing is, Aries doesn’t rise over the local horizon on the Vernal Equinox anymore, Pisces does!

Constellations are signs, full-stop!

Ophiuchus upends the Patriarchy and Exalts Medusa

Ophiuchus, the Snake-Bearer, “13th” constellation. The Babylonians omitted Ophiuchus because they preferred a 12 sign zodiac as opposed to 13 signs. Perhaps this is where our cultural uneasiness (Triskaidekaphobia) around the number 13 began as we are heir to their cultural traditions (the Greeks were the inheritors of Babylonian culture after the Babylonian empire collapsed, most of western cultural heritage is from the Greeks).

Ophiuchus represents a catalytic converter that completely upends the legitimacy of the Patriarchy. The Snake-bearer conjures the image of the Snake Priestess of Minoan Crete a deeply egalitarian and matri-focal culture that contained the seeds for Classical Greece. Medusa would be the most recognizable archetype for this sign, and she represents a major pain in the ass for Patriarchy. Here is a woman of immeasurable power who can turn men to stone by a single gaze, it is no surprise that in her myth she had to be destroyed lest the Patriarchy be turned to stone. Ophiuchus says no and grabs back. Medusa rightfully is re-headed and given back her voice in a zodiac that acknowledges that the Sun passes through her namesake for 18 Sidereal Days of the year!

Ophiuchus in the mix invokes the very superstitious and auspicious number 13 and why not there are roughly 13 lunations lasting roughly 29.5 days each, in a single lunar revolution. Call this the triumph of the Moon, and the fact that 13 is a prime number, indivisible only by one and itself, that certainly knocks the uniformity of Patriarchy off its pedestal. I could essentially stop writing at this juncture because Medusa and the Moon; that and I really despise Patriarchy and really any system of gender based dominance (I wouldn’t want Matriarchy either, I prefer egalitarian latitude, I want to stand hand in hand with the Goddess, as equals in partnership, call it Age of Aquarius thinking), which brings me to the next point.

I’m an  (Astronomical) Aquarius

In tropical Astrology my Sun falls at 0° Pisces, well at least it did 2,200 years ago when this zodiac was accurate. In Fagan/Bradley Sidereal Zodiac I fall at 6° Aquarius certainly approaching a more accurate orientation until we consider that this system uses a 30° equal sign configuration, which is an assumption challenged by the IAU border designations; the constellations that signs are based on do not have equal boundaries or spread along the ecliptic. In Astronomical Sidereal zodiacs or the system I use, I am at 3° Aquarius and this is much more precise to how I actually operate as a personality in the world, and what cosmic emanations populate my archetypal imagination, to say nothing of the fact that the Sun was physically located in this position on the day of my inception.

Aquarius is deeply contrarian and if not provided a focus will rebel for the sake of rebelling. Thankfully because I have other natal chart factors and in general a number of focuses my rebellion has cause. I generally have a hard time with any type of status-quo, and especially any social structures that rely on strict hierarchies of power, much as our current society does (no, not all hierarchy is bad, nested systems are an example of good hierarchy, I refer only to systems of disproportionate power) In the interest of horizontal systems and not wanting to accept a static status quo I use the contrary system however much controversy it courts. I get that I will piss people off, and especially those who have vested interest in these systems and that is okay; innovation can be disruptive and Aquarius being highly idealist doesn’t mind tipping apple-carts in service to a different kind of awareness. I am not going out of my way to disturb anyone it is simply that contrary systems will inspire resistance. I can’t please everyone, and the Cosmos does not conform to human expectation.

Astrologers don’t get to invent their own rules (and I am no different), and deny the reality of a dynamic cosmos, we have to adapt just as astronomers have had to as the mathematics and observation have become more refined. It is for these reasons that I cannot, personally, use the tropical or Fagan/Bradley sidereal zodiacs (I have no objection to others using these systems as they can produce insightful observations). Neither of these squares with reality and the physical placements of the asterisms or their vibrations. This post will surely piss some people off, and I am no stranger to inviting controversy, but it is slavish attachment to tradition that is being challenged. Evolution challenged many dominant religious paradigms and spawned entirely new ones.

Astrologers have embraced the modern Planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (the latter now considered a planetoid, but in my mind still a planet), and went so far as to change three of the signs rulers as a result (for reference Pisces got Neptune it once had Jupiter, Scorpio got Pluto whereas once it was Mars, and Uranus got Aquarius where once it had Saturn). We have embraced the planetoid Eris, and the asteroids Juno, Pallas-Athena, Vesta, and Lilith and it has only added to the cannon. Perhaps the time has come to embrace Ophiuchus and the changed reality of our zodiac, it can really only add to the richness of this practice and better align with a dynamic cosmos. And it is perfectly okay if some of us don’t because we enjoy the insight that the other two zodiacs provide, I’m not here to judge, merely to state why I, personally, as an Astrologer don’t use the other two zodiacs, to each their own.

I wish Good Vibrations to all of you my beloved psychonauts and I hope you all join me again for another installment of Asterisms and all the other posts you have come to love,

Until Next time!


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