In the beginning,
there were the stars… and ancient man wanted to use them as
points of reference to find his way through the dark, to navigate
at sea, and - ultimately - to be able to peek behind the veil of
the future. Obviously, he needed to devise a system that could serve
as a safe and solid tool. The first astrologers were most probably
the Chaldean priests in Babylonian society, who invented a system
based on astronomical facts and observations, which constituted
the basis of the astrological theories that we practise today. The
Chaldeans used this system mainly in order to predict the future,
and they kept precise records of their findings.
Has anyone ever
pondered over the fact that the circle has 360 degrees? At a first
glance, this number seems highly arbitrary. Why 360 and not 60,
or 100? Because the solar year at that era was 360 days; that is,
the Sun needed 360 days to reach the same position compared to the
background of the fixed stars. This circle was then further divided
by 30° portions, which later formed the signs. Why 30°?
Because this is how far the Moon travelled from one New Moon to
the next. Thus the Babylonians tied in the main cycles of the two
luminaries - from one New Moon to the next, from one New Sun to
the next (although this latter was much harder to detect since the
Sun did not actually change in its appearance) - in order to form
a system of reference, which they then used for making all sorts
of predictions by charting the movements of the seven planets visible
by the naked eye: the Sun and the Moon (the two luminaries), Mercury,
Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
This all happened
several thousand years ago and was most probably a very long process.
We know that there are hundreds and thousands of records in cuneiform
describing surprisingly accurate astronomical data based on observations.
These refer mainly to the movement of the planets and the angles
they formed with each other. This is how the astrological aspects
were born. The twelve 30° instalments became signs at one point
of time, although their names may have differed from the ones we
use today. The records indicate that the Babylonians used planetary
phenomena to predict various kinds of future events: the weather,
the crop, the outcome of wars, etc. They did not use the stars to
predict the destinies of ordinary people, though.
Later on, the
Egyptians and the Greeks also used the technologies invented and
developed by the Chaldean priests, and even added their own findings.
By the time of Ptolemy (150 A.D.), the system of astrology became
quite similar to what we use today. Incidentally, this was a time
when the signs and the constellations that they were named after
seemed to be in perfect correlation. In later centuries, however,
the two no longer coincided because there is a phenomenon named
“precession of the equinoxes.” It is caused by the wobbly
motion of the Earth’s axis. This axis forms an angle of 23,
5° with the Sun’s path. Since the Earth is not a perfect
globe, (it is flattened at its poles), it has a hard time trying
to keep this angle, thus it wobbles. It takes 25920 years for the
Earth’s axis to complete a full round, which is called a “World
Year” or “Platonic Year.” As a result of this
motion, the Sun seems to slowly move backward against the canopy
of the fixed stars, and thus the position it reaches each year by
the time of the Vernal Equinox (the intersection of the Celestial
Equator with the Ecliptic) slowly changes. Specifically, it takes
the Sun 72 years to move 1° backward.
As a result,
the original constellations of the Zodiac and the corresponding
signs have parted over the centuries. Some astrological systems
(like the Vedic or Indian) use the so-called Sidereal (or Starry)
Zodiac, which is made up of the twelve actual constellations. In
this system, the zero degrees of Aries (the first of the signs)
is based upon a fixed star position, thus the sign and the actual
constellation always correlate. Western astrologers, however, generally
prefer using the Tropical (or Moving) Zodiac, which is linked to
the changing of the four seasons as we experience it on the northern
hemisphere. The signs of the Tropical Zodiac are based on the fact
that the first day of spring, the Vernal Equinox, is always March
21, and this is the date when the Sun enters the sign (and not the
constellation) Aries. Astrologers call this the First Point of Aries.
The sings then are determined in equal instalments of 30° in
longitude, and thus - due to the precession of the equinoxes - they
no longer correlate with the original set of fixed stars that form
Which one is
the “real” Zodiac? Both Western and Vedic astrologers
have created tons of data that seem to prove they are both right.
To my mind, it is really a question of philosophy and personal preference.
Vedic astrologers use many other tools to back up their use of the
Sidereal Zodiac (e.g. the fact that planets accumulate strength
or weakness according to their house - and not sign - position,
the Hindu Dasa and Bhukti System for prediction, or the use of a
supporting chart called the “navamsha,” which is basically
a chart in the 9th harmonic). There is also a much greater emphasis
on the Moon’s Nodes in this system, although karmic astrologers
have always used them extensively in the West as well.
On the other
hand, the Tropical Zodiac used by Western astrologers is based on
the changing of the seasons, and thus the signs follow the rhythm
of nature. The four cardinals (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn)
are the months that start the seasons. They denote a time when the
corresponding season has invariably made its appearance: the weather
has changed accordingly, there is no turning back. The four fixed
signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) denote a period when
the seasons are in full swing and they seem to be immovable, unchangeable.
The four mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces)
are the season ending months. During those periods, the weather
is quite capricious, seasons seem to overlap, there are no sharp
definitions or exact boundaries to detect.
characteristics often correlate with these ancient observations.
If we only think of the corresponding Sun signs, we can see that
an Arian is assertive, quick, and often short-tempered; a Taurean
is usually slow and can also be obstinate, while a Piscean is quite
floaty and adaptable. The system of the Tropical Zodiac thus provides
a very valid set of references for us in the northern hemisphere.
At the same time, admittedly, if we decide to spend April in Brazil
or Australia, we do get a different picture as far as the weather
Based on the
calculations of C. Fagan, the exact date when the two Zodiacs coincided
was 221 A.D. Ever since, the difference has been accumulating and
at present it is about 23-24° of longitude, according to which
2° Cancer is, “in reality,” only about 8° Gemini…
that is, if we accept the basics of the Sidereal Zodiac. The degree
of difference between the two Zodiacs is called “ayanamsha,”
and there is some debate as to what the precise degree is. Interestingly
enough, Hindu and Vedic astrologers do not accept Fagan’s
calculations because they think it is useless when it comes to the
interface with the key Hindu forecasting tools called the Dasa System
(the Indian equivalent of Western progressions). Another ayanamsha
is called Lahiri and, interestingly enough, it was supported by
the government of India in its development. A third system is called
Krishnamurti, and Vedic astrologers usually use either of the two
latter ones but tend to disregard Fagan’s calculation.
about 400 years the two Zodiacs will diverge by one full sign, which
will create an interesting dichotomy, indeed... In effect, 2°
Cancer will irreversibly become 2° Gemini, which might generate
some disturbing considerations. For one thing, up till now there
has at least been some correlation between the two systems. If you
were lucky enough to be born, say, with the Sun at 27° Aries,
the Moon at 25° Capricorn, and the Ascendant at 28° Scorpio
your basic energies remained the same in both systems. Another 400
years and we can kiss this chance goodbye forever.
What will happen
that there may occur a decisive shift of consciousness in how astrologers
perceive the signs. Others firmly believe that it will not have
any notable consequences at all. In any case, astrologers will be
faced with the fact that the two Zodiacs have irreversibly moved
apart. To my mind, it will simply drive home the fact that the two
Zodiacs represent two entirely different systems of thought and
philosophy. Both can be equally valid, neither should be exclusive.
The beauty of the world, as we all know, is greatly enhanced by