Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hey, What's This About My Sign Changing?

Friends have been asking what the recent squawk about our changing signs is about. And I promised to address it here.

So, friends, let us travel back. Back to where, for an evening's entertainment, everybody lies down on the ground and stares at the sky, rather than staring at the TV screen. Back then, the fun thing was connecting the dots in the sky, and making up stories featuring animals or mythical characters. After a while, these stories became codified, and the zodiac was born. It was a useful measuring device, a way to tell where the planets were. Sometimes Venus was in front of the constellation of the fishes, and then she would move to the constellation of the ram, and then the constellation of the bull.

You never had to worry about what Venus would do next. She followed the steps of her sky-dance, and the moon and the other planets echoed that order. This was a big relief for those early sky watchers. They could turn to each other and say, "Hey, I knew she would do that! I was right!" In current times, this is echoed by the frequent satisfaction we feel when we guess the plot of a TV show.

Basically, the zodiac is a big round ruler. It sections off the sky around us, it tells us where the planets are hanging out, and helps us look at the relationships between the planets. Eventually, a Roman mathematician wrote about it, codifying the zodiac for the next several millenia.

However, are humans consistent? Hardly. Do we tend to share our opinions and work out something we can all agree on? Ha. Why do you think there are two kinds of electrical outlets, two ways of figuring out how cold it is, two political directions, two paths in Buddhism, two kinds of Islam? And so there are two zodiacs.

The original zodiac started at the spring equinox with the first degree of Aries. However, the stars do not actually remain still, although they are in no hurry. They mosey along at the rate of about one degree every 72 years (given 360 degrees for the entire circle of the sky around us). And so it wasn't very long before the spring equinox was no longer aligned with the first degree of Aries. That was the split. Ever since then we've had two zodiacs, one aligned to the spring equinox, one aligned to the beginning of the constellation of the ram.

And so, folks, what I'm saying is that this is really, really old news. Some folks went with the equinox, some went with constellation, and nothing has changed since this happened about two thousand years ago.

In Europe, they went with the spring equinox as the beginning of the zodiacal year. This is called the tropical zodiac, and what it means is that at the spring equinox every year, the zodiacal year begins with the sun at 0 degrees of Aries. And if the sun or a planet happens to be at 0 Aries, it is no longer in front of the constellation of the ram. The ram is over to the side now.

In India, they decided to stick with the constellations. This is called the sidereal zodiac. And so the new zodiacal year doesn't necessarily begin with the sun perched there at the spring equinox. And every 72 years, you have to move the dates for all the signs by a degree. So if you've been practicing Indian (Vedic) astrology, you're used to doing this. And if you haven't, why should you start now?

There have been plenty of rebels in the US and Europe who have agitated for the sidereal zodiac along the way, and there are plenty of westerners now who swear by Vedic astrology. I wouldn't spend my time arguing with any of them. I believe there are lots of paths that end up taking you where you need to go.

For myself, I am fine with the tropical zodiac. Why? Well, everything about astrology is earth-centered, and so it makes sense to me to align the zodiac to our seasonal rhythms. A natal chart is a picture of the sky from our perspective on earth. We are not standing outside this planet and looking at the overall picture. We are anchored here, physically present in our bodies and on the planet. The cross of the seasons - two equinoxes, two solstices - is echoed in the cross at the center of every chart, dividing the east from the west, and dividing the visible sky from the invisible sky underneath our feet.

And now the question that I keep coming back to is this. Why did this make it into the news in the first place? I realize that they are always looking for something that will trigger the urge to click in every person who happens across it. It drives me crazy, but I often feel the urge to click on odd things, just so I can find out what the heck they're talking about. And then I find myself looking at footage of swimming cats, or babies in hula hoops, or something. And I tell myself, "Never again! I will not click!"

It's not that we are all that easily distracted. It's that they've gotten distracting us down to an art. But one thing we can count on is the zodiac. Okay, there may be two of them. But if you pick one, and you're happy with it, then you know what's going to happen next in the sky. That gives a nice, safe feeling, whether you're sleeping out under the stars, or cozily tucked up in your own bedroom.