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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 traveled 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 the constellations.


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.


Basic human 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 is concerned…


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.


However, in 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 then?


Some anticipate 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 its diversity