About two years ago a Minnesota astronomer created a minor crisis in humankind’s understanding of the universe when he announced that a correction was needed in the zodiac. Not only were some of the signs shifting relative to the calendar, but a 13th sign was being added; or, some would say, reinstated. Not being a follower of astrology, I took little notice of this until someone pointed out to me that I was no longer a Sagittarius. At that point the NIMBY principle [Not In My Back Yard] came into play and I decided this required at least some minor exploration.
I should clarify the statement that I am not a follower of astrology. I offer no criticism of anyone who incorporates the stars into their belief system. It’s not that I disbelieve. I just don’t care; at least not enough to do the ‘due diligence’ that would be required for me to have a sufficiently informed opinion. I’ve read my horoscope in the newspaper; though not in decades. I thumbed through my sister’s copy of “Linda Goodman’s Love Signs”; I think it was during the Carter administration. Hamlet said; “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. This is one of those things I choose not to care about. Still, with the perspective conferred on me by my two years as an Ophiuchus, I thought it might be worth a look.
The 13th sign of the Zodiac is Ophiuchus [of-ee-yoo-kuh s]. It covers the part of our calendar that spans from Nov. 29th – Dec 17th. The first thing that leaps off the page to those affected, why is Ophiuchus only 18 days long? When there were 12 signs of the Zodiac they all seemed to be about the same length. Now we are in Pisces and Taurus for 38 days each, Leo for 37 days, Scorpio for 36… and Ophiuchus for 18. WTF? It’s hard enough being the ‘new kid’ without also being the ‘runt’. The only rationalization I can create to make this tolerable is the sign arrives about 9 months after the blush of spring so we might have as many babies born on our sign as some of the longer ones.
Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer. My family traces its roots to an area where it is a not-unheard-of religious practice but I think that’s probably unrelated. Still, I don’t love the name. I was heartened to learn it was also known as Serpentarius. OK; that sounds like a planet Lord Voldemort might live on if he were making a guest appearance on Star Trek but at least the average person can pronounce it. And it conveys some sense of the whole ‘Serpent Bearer’ thing. Serpentarius; I think I could adjust to that.
But the confusion continues. The best definition I could find of Serpentarius said: “A constellation on the equator, lying between Scorpio and Hercules – See Ophiuchus” When I click the link, however, I see Ophiuchus defined as: “A constellation on the celestial equator between Libra and Aquila”. Is that the same thing? I think I’d rather be Hercules but I didn’t know that was a choice.
I’ve seen a number of explanations of why the issue has arisen. I’ve read that the zodiac required adjustment because, over long periods of time, the ‘wobble’ of the Earth’s axis of rotation has moved slightly so it doesn’t point to the same places it did in Babylonian times. I don’t know that to be true but it sounds plausible. I can certainly believe we might need to recalibrate against our calendar. Doing this every few millenia makes as much sense as having a February 29th once every 4 years.
I also read the real issue is a difference between the Western ‘tropical zodiac’ ; based on the seasons [and which has not changed], and the Eastern ‘sidereal zodiac’; based on the constellations and which has different signs; including a 13th. Intuitively horoscopes feel “Eastern” to me and astrology seems like it ought to be more connected to the constellations than the seasons. I vote for “Eastern”. Of course that lands me back in Ophiuchus; on the cusp of Sagittarius…a wannabe of my former self.
I guess, in the end, I’m still going to choose not to care about this. I wasn’t taking advantage of any of the ancient wisdom available to help me plan my life as an ersatz Sagittarius. I am no worse off by ignoring that same wisdom in my new life bearing serpents. I have come to terms with no longer being a Sagittarius.
In a seasonal vein, however, I wonder how Jesus feels about no longer being a Capricorn.