Thursday, January 13, 2011

Astrological Identity Crisis

Zodiacal Change and the Revelation of the Precession of the Equinoxes

This ancient people whom we so contemn as our inferiors,...
Knew the precise position of the sun in utter space ere Britain's name begun:
Marked by precession of the equinoxes,
Three thousand years ere those first Christmas boxes
Were brought to Bethlehem by their kindred Magi;...

~ The Friend in The Age by Philip James Bailey

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.
Pisces: March 11-April 18.
Aries: April 18-May 13.
Taurus: May 13-June 21.
Gemini: June 21-July 20.
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17. (Yep, this one is new)
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

Today the media is filled with headlines concerning new dates for the signs of the Zodiac like the one posted by Time Newsfeed above. Online articles on Yahoo, MSNBC, The Huffington Post and Time posted headlines like Earth’s ‘wobble’ means your zodiac sign may be wrong which created quite a stir. In the commentary on many of these sites questions like "did your sign change" inspired confused discourse and adamant aversion to relinquishing their Sun signs. The fixed signs seemed to have the most difficulty. Those Leos just are NOT Cancers.

This astrological identity crisis is not new to Vedic astrologers who already use a sidereal zodiac, and have accurately charted the astronomical position of stars for thousands of years. The sidereal zodiac is astronomically accurate, whereas the tropical zodiac is based on seasons and equinox patterns. Both work in their own ways. In India astrology is called jyotish, meaning science of light. Thus tracking the light of the stars is at the basis of Vedic astrology. Jyotish is an ancient system that is part of the same spiritual and scientific traditions as yoga and ayurveda. In Vedic astrology the sign in which one's natal Sun is located at birth is not nearly as important as the Moon sign. Is is interesting how so many Westerners are emotionally attached to their Sun sign, which is only one aspect of the soul/spirit, and does not reveal the complete energetic image of the person like the entire astrological chart.

In addition, on this 13th day of January, the same story announce a "new" zodiacal constellation, Ophiuchus, which no doubt upset a few Scorpios and Sagittarians who fall in those zodiacal degrees. The 13th sign is called Ophiuchus, the "serpent bearer." Time posted this drawing of the 13th constellation and even presented its mythology to update and calm the folks under this sign.

It all started with this article written by Bill Ward of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (irony is ridiculous). He suggested that the stars might not be aligned in your favor due to a wobble of the earth that has messed up astrological alignments. It described the astronomical inaccuracies of astrological signs, but there was no mention of the mysterious 13th sign in that first report.

Writers at the online media site io-9 got in touch with the astronomer quoted in the article, Parke Kunkle, and asked him what he actually told the Star-Tribune.

He said he was asked by the Star-Tribune to give them a few bits of information about astronomy, not realizing the article would become a huge discussion of astrology and the relationship between astronomy and astrology. And the main stuff he talked to the Star-Tribune about has to do with the phenomenon of "precession."

And no, Parke Kunkle didn't tell the Star-Tribune that the zodiac ought to include 13 signs instead of 12 — especially since he doesn't believe in astrology at all. He did mention that astronomers tend to reckon the sun's position with 13 constellations instead of 12, and Ophiuchus is the 13th. But in the current astrology zodiac, there are just 12. "I just mentioned that it's there, and astronomers actually count it... So if you actually watch the stars in the background of the sun, it actually does go through the constellation of Ophiuchus." He adds that the Babylonians probably had totally different constellations anyway.

Wow, this so-called 'scientist' revealed his ignorance on the subject of astro-archaeology as well as bigger concepts in astronomy. The constellations have not changed, but our position to them has; and it does so in a very regular way that ancient sky watchers understood and recorded. But what he has inadvertently done is introduce the idea of precession of the equinoxes to the masses. This is not new information, so why is it suddenly 'news,'why now? Perhaps because precession is the core phenomenon tracked by ancient people to predict the shift of world ages as described in the traditions of the Vedas and 2012 Mayan calendar. It will be interesting to see how people digest this information. Once they get past their astrological identity crisis, perhaps they will actually want to understand the starry skies above and how they measure time and the evolution of consciousness.

For more on precession of the equinoxes check out this video.

The media's announcement and (re)introduction of a so-called 13th sign, Ophiuchus, is also intriguing. The 13th constellation is also described as the "eldest" sign both Western and Vedic traditions. In Vedic astrology Ophiuchus corresponds with the asterism or nakshatra Jyeshta, which contains three stars that the ancient seers envisioned as an umbrella or earring.

Jyeshta means "the eldest" or the "most senior." Some scholars suggest that originally there were only 18 nakshtras with Jyeshta designating the last lunar mansion. I believe it may also have a deeper astronomical reference. It aligns with the mass of dark dust clouds that mark the entry to the oldest part of our galaxy, the galactic center, though the Great Rift of the Milky Way. To the naked eye, the Great Rift appears as a dark road or passage into the the bright band of the Milky Way. The Mayan Calendar ends its current cycle or world Age when the winter solstice Sun enters the great rift in 2012.

What happens at that time, or is currently happening as some believe, is a shift of World Ages. Some believe a wave of interstellar energy will engulf the Sun and our Earth in waves of evolutionary energy.

The Mayans were not alone in watching this part of the night sky. The 17th Century astronomer Johannes Kepler depicted an allegorical and astronomical Ophiuchus in the drawing posted below.

Kepler was fascinated by Ophiuchus because it exploded during his lifetime. In fact it was the last visible supernova called Supernova 1604, or Kepler's Star. Like the Star of Bethlehem, this Supernova no doubt caused quite a stir as it was a visible and bright disturbance in the skies. First observed on October 9, 1604 Kepler's Star was brighter at its peak than any other star in the night sky -- and all the planets other than Venus -- with apparent magnitude 2.5.

Moreover, Supernova 1604 was visible during the day for over three weeks at the end of the 12 baktun, and beginning of the last and 13th baktun of the Mayan Calendar which we all know resets at the ends of 2012. There have been no observable supernova in the Milky Way since that time. Now that we are approaching the end of the 13th baktun, perhaps history will repeat itself and another galactic wave message might be sent from this area of space?

Although I'm thrilled that people are awakening to the idea of precession, I am disheartened that not one article mentioned the astronomical accuracy of Vedic astrology. Instead they used it as another opportunity to make snarky comments about astrology like Kunkle's:

There is no physical connection between constellations and personality traits, said Kunkle, who teaches astronomy at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. "Sure, we can connect harvest to the stars," he said. "But personality? No."

So in the unending battle to fight ignorance and bring light, I am re-posting an article called Twenty-Three on the differences between Vedic Astrology and Western Astrology. May the stars inspire you. If you pay attention you may even hear them whisper.


Twenty-three is my quick answer to the question: "what is the difference between Vedic Astrology and Western astrology?" I don't mean to be cryptic, but 23 degrees is literally the difference between the Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs. It is called the Ayanamsha -- in Sanskrit ayana meaning solstice and amsha meaning portion -- and it refers to the difference between Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs.

The zodiac is a ring of constellations often referred to as signs, such as Aquarius, Leo, Scorpio and Taurus. It is a cosmic clock around which our solar systems operates and how astrologers measure cycles of time. Most people do not realize that there are two distinct zodiacs. Vedic astrologers use the Sidereal zodiac and Western astrologers use the Tropical zodiac. The Sidereal zodiac is based on observations of planets lining up against the backdrop of the fixed stars. It is oriented to the center of the galaxy. On the other hand, the Tropical zodiac is based on the relationship between the sun and earth. It is oriented to the equinoxes. In Western astrology the spring equinox sets the beginning of the Tropical zodiac at 1 degree Aries, even though the sun is astronomically traveling in the light fields of Pisces. In other words, it does not correspond to observable position. Vedic astrology is called Jyotisha in Sanskrit, meaning the science of light, and Vedic astrology describes how the light emitted from the stars effects us. When Western astrology was in its early stages, the two zodiacs may have lined up; but over time the two moved apart approximately 50 seconds per year to the current 23 degrees of separation (even that number is debated, but the standard of India, the Lahiri ayanamsha is 23 degrees 10 seconds).

Vedic astrology is considered by scholars to pre-date Western astrology and is the only system that has accounted for the precession of the equinoxes. What is the precession of the equinoxes? The answer to that involves another occurrence of the number 23 (those familiar with the enigma of 23, like LOST and RAW fans, may find this amusing). Because Earth's axis is tilted 23° 27' in its orbit around the sun, its equatorial plane is tilted with respect to the ecliptic plane, the plane created by Earth's orbit. These two intersecting planes create an intersecting line called the vernal axis that occurs on the first day of spring, or Vernal equinox. As the Earth spins on its axis, its axis wobbles (precesses 50.3 seconds of arc per year or 1 degree every 71.6 years) very slowly over a period of about 24,000 to 26,000 years. As this occurs, the pole of the Earth inscribes an arc in the heavens called the precessional arc. The Earth's pole aligns with different stars throughout the precessional period. The current pole star is Polaris. Approximately 13,000 year ago it was Vega, one of my favorite stars. Earth's precessional cycle is also referred to as Earth's Great Year in the alchemical tradition, World Ages, or Yugas in the Vedas. David Frawley describes it a one year in the life of humanity.

In Vedic astrology there is a line of thought that suggests this 24,000-26,000 cycle (and even wobble of the earth itself) maybe be generated by a grand cycle of our sun with a companion dark star. Modern astronomy is studying this possibility as well. The ancient Vedic seers divided up the cycle into four world ages: the Satya(Truth or Golden), Treta (Third or Silver), Dwapara (Third or Bronze) and Kali (first or Iron) Ages. Each age describes a stage of awareness for mankind in which consciousness ascends, descends, and ascends in unending cycles perhaps due to the influence of this yet to be discovered companion star. Although New Age philosophers have described humanity as entering the Age of Aquarius, astronomically speaking that will not happen for approximately 300-400 years.

According to Vedic thought, the cycles of ascending and descending consciousness are connected not only to our rotation around a companion star, but also our cycle around the galactic center. According to Vedic astrologer and scholar David Frawley, "Vedic astrology orients the zodiac to the galactic center, or the central galactic sun, whose influence comes to us through fixed stars of the constellation Sagittarius." The galactic center is like our cosmic belly button -- it is sometimes called Vishnunabhi, or the navel of Vishnu-- the point from which our galaxy grew and expanded. Many ancient cultures studied and recorded their observations about this area of the night sky, including the Mayans whose calendar marks an astronomical event of our winter solstice aligning with the galactic center in 2012. It's like the earth's pole or antenna will be aligned and open to receive message from the source itself. [H]ohm is calling.

One of the most brilliant developments of the ancient Vedic seers was to further divide the zodiac into more identifiable parts. They did this by creating the Nakshatra system. In Sanskrit Nakshatra means lunar mansion. As the moon travels through the entire zodiac in 27-28 days, the ancient seers ascribed a Nakshatra for each day simplifying its location. Although too vast a subject to go into in this post, it is interesting to point out that the name for the Nakstratra that marks the galactic center is Mula, meaning root or source.

Another difference between Western and Vedic astrology is the modern use of non-observable planets and asteroids. As a Neo-Vedic astrologer I do consider some of the outer planets when I look at a chart, but I tend to be more interested in the fixed stars and Nakshatras. I marvel at how Western astrologers bring in new astronomical discoveries to their chart interpretations. Basically I see Western charts as a map of the same terrain as a Vedic chart, but indicating different types or levels of information. It's like comparing a topological map with a road map. I don't need to know the difference of elevation between Broadway and 3rd Avenue, but I might like to know the street number of Benaroya Hall. It all depends on what type of information one is seeking. Vedic astrologers come from a tradition and philosophy that focuses on the four aims of life: dharma (purpose), arthra (attainment), kama (desire),and the most important moksha (liberation). Western astrology is enriched by many diverse traditions and the information gleaned from it may be quite extensive and more suited for the modern mind. But for me, I've always been drawn to the stars in the night sky and have felt them speak to me in the language of light. And as Jyotisha is the science of light, it is the tool and filter I use to translate this information.

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