The Two Zodiacs

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Most of us are under the impression that there is only one zodiac, that of the fixed stars or the constellations. We think that when an ephemeris, an astrological table of planetary positions, mentions that a planet as located in particular sign, for example Jupiter in Sagittarius, that if we were to look up into the sky to the stars of the constellation Sagittarius, we would see the planet located there. This, however, is usually not the case. The zodiac used by most Western astrologers today, what is called "the Tropical zodiac", is no longer based directly on the stars. It does not correspond to observable positions. Our astrological Jupiter in Sagittarius would more likely be found astronomically among the stars of Scorpio. It could even be found near Antares, the red first magnitude star at the heart of the Scorpion, if it were around 8 degrees Sagittarius.

The signs of the Tropical zodiac, over the millenia, may come to correspond any of the constellations of the fixed stars. Today, the tropical sign of Aries corresponds to the fixed stars of early Pisces. Soon it will correspond to Aquarius, with the beginning of the age of Aquarius that we hear so much about. In 10,000 years or so, tropical Aries will correspond to the fixed stars of Libra, its opposite, until some 23,000 years hence it will once more correspond to the actual stars of Aries.

This is because the signs of the Tropical zodiac are based upon the equinoxes, not the fixed stars. The beginning of the Tropical zodiac, its first degree of Aries, is always identical with the point of the vernal equinox, the place of the Sun at the first day of spring, not with any specific group of stars. The orientation of the equinoxes to the fixed stars changes over time according to the precession of the Earth on its axis. This phenomena, a changing of the tilt of the Earth, causes the point of the Earth relative to the fixed stars to move backwards in the zodiac. Over of a period of around 25,000 years the point of Earth relative to the fixed stars makes a full circuit of the zodiac.

The zodiac which corresponds to the actual constellations or the fixed stars is called "the Sidereal zodiac". Vedic astrology uses this, as does Western Sidereal astrology, which was took its orientation from the Indian model.

Around 2,000 years ago, when Western astrology was in its formative stages, the two zodiacs coincided. Since then, with the precession, the two zodiacs have been slowly moving apart, around 50 seconds per year. Hence the Tropical zodiac shows the actual astronomical positions of some two thousand years ago. The Tropical zodiac is based not upon the stars but on the orientation of the Earth to the Sun. The Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn denote the places of the Sun at the summer and winter solstices. The Tropical zodiac begins with the Sun at the vernal equinox. This it designates as the beginning of the sign Aries. Its position at the summer solstice becomes the first degree of Cancer, at the autumnal equinox, the first degree of Libra and at the winter solstice, the first degree of Capricorn. The seasons mark the cardinal points of the Tropical zodiac. Yet as the precession continues the fixed stars marking these seasonal points is slowly and inevitably changing.

The Tropical zodiac remains identical with these seasonal points. It does not consider the precession. Indeed, many who have used it have not even known of the precession. The Sidereal zodiac, on the other hand, calculates the precession into its positions. Its signs are always identical with the fixed stars. The ancient Hindus maintained knowledge of the precession throughout the course of human history, something no other culture was able to do. In the Vedic system the sign Aries, for example, is always equal to a thirty degree section of the fixed stars, in which are located the stars of the constellation of Aries.

Today, however, Tropical astrologers realize that their signs no longer correspond to the fixed stars. They rest their validity upon other factors. Some say their validity depends upon the seasons; others say it is a temporal rather than a spatial symbolism, with the signs more as a division of time than a division of space. This they hold corresponds to the difference between the static, eternal or space oriented cultures of the oriental and ancient cultures, as relative to the time and progress oriented cultures of the West and modern times. This is not to say that Tropical astrology does not consider the precession. It does so relative to world-ages, as its recognition of the age of Aquarius with the precessional movement of the vernal equinox back into the fixed stars of Aquarius. Tropical astrology does recognize the Sidereal zodiac and consider it to be of value but for longer collective time periods, not of direct relevance to the individual chart.

Vedic astrology, on the other hand, does consider the position of the planets relative to the points of the equinoxes and solstices. Yet this is used as one of several points for determining planetary strengths and weaknesses, not as a major factor in interpretation.

We see, therefore, that two different methods of determining the signs of the zodiac exist. Each is based on a different kind of calculation. Neither is necessarily wrong. Both are using different measurements, though they employ the same language to speak of them. The signs of the Tropical zodiac are not really star signs, though they follow the analogy of the twelve constellations or star groups. They measure the heavens according to the Sun-Earth relationship, not that between the solar system and the fixed stars. The signs of the Sidereal zodiac, however, are identical with those of the fixed stars (or, more properly, of a thirty degree section of the sky in which they are located). There are a few people today who try to relate the signs to the actual stars only, rather than to a thirty degree division in which they are located. For example, they would see Aries as only equivalent to the stars of that small constellation, not the greater band around it. Vedic astrology does not agree with this. It sees in the twelvefold division of the zodiac a harmonic division of the light coming from the center of the galaxy. It is this harmonic division that is most important, not the individual stars within that division, though these have their significance as well.

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