Your Sign is Your Sign, Or, When It Comes to Astrology, Astronomers Wouldn’t Know Your Ass from UranusBy Greg Olear
January 13, 2011
Today, an astronomy professor at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, the wonderfully named Parke Kunkle, told a (nameless, far as I can tell) reporter at NBC News something that astrologers have known for hundreds of years.
Here’s the intro to that “news” story:
If you’ve ever read your horoscope, you may be interested in what at least one astronomer has to say about it. Turns out your sign may not really be your sign.
“This is not something that happened today. This has gone on for thousands of years,” said astronomer Parke Kunkle.
The star doctors say Earth is currently in a different spot in relation to the Sun, and its equatorial alignment has changed from 3,000 years ago when the study of astrology began — back when 12 zodiac signs were assigned to 12 different periods of the year.
Those signs you were born into are different now because the Earth’s wobble on its axis has created a one-month bump in the alignment of the stars, according to Kunkle.
“Because of this change of tilt, the Earth is really over here in effect and Sun is in a different constellation than it was 3,000 years ago.”
First of all, no fucking shit. The entire concept of the Age of Aquarius is predicated on said wobble of the Earth (see below), so it’s safe to assume that any astrologer worth his or her horoscopical salt will know that the constellations are different now than they were thousands of years ago.
Second, astronomers are not astrologers. They are celestial trainspotters. They voted to demote Pluto from planet to “dwarf planet,” which no astrologer would do (we know what a whallop that outer planet can pack). Asking an astronomer about astrology is like asking a stage-light manufacturer about Method acting.
Third, most astrologers use the tropical, not the sidereal, method of calculating Sun signs. In this method, the sky is divided into twelve equal sections; the constellations are irrelevant. I’ll let Robert Hand, the world’s greatest astrologer, explain, in a terrific essay called “The Age and Constellation of Pisces,” published back in 1982:
Constellations have not played much of a role in modern astrology. Fixed stars taken individually have been investigated from time to time, but not usually as parts of constellations….
The ancients made a distinction between two kinds of zodiacal sign, the zodia neota, which roughly translates as the “knowable zodiac,” and the morphomata, “that which has form.” The zodia noeta consist of…twelve 30-degree sidereal signs. The morphomata…are the unequal constellations forming pictures of forms in the heavens….
But while the constellations (morphomata) have retained their form fairly consistently from somewhat before Ptolemy to the present, it is quite apparent they were different before that time.
Fourth, and most importantly, even if the morphomata were used, all of modern astrology—and thus, every last word you read about the secretive Scorpio, the stubborn Capricorn, the sensitive Pisces, and so on—begins with Ptolemy’s book Tetrabiblos. Since the sky looks more or less the same today than it did when he was writing, it doesn’t matter one iota, practically speaking, where Aries was in ancient Babylonia. We are what we are; where the stars are located is beside the point.
(Hand, incidentally, and many other astrologers, talk about the “thirteenth sign,” Ophiuchus. Ophiuschus is like the zodiac’s Pete Best.)
As the learned astrolomer observes, this has gone on for thousands of years. The only mystery is why it is news.
So what is the Age of Aquarius, anyway?
The Earth moves in three different ways. Two of these motions you know already, because rotation and revolution are how our basic units of time—day and year—are derived. The seasons, another unit of time, are caused by the interplay between rotation and revolution.
But there is a third motion to the planet, one that takes far longer than the other two: the wobble. Ever spun a top and observed how its top wobbles as the body spins? The Earth does the same thing—slowly, very slowly, but ineluctably.
It takes one day for the Earth to rotate on its axis, one year to revolve around the Sun, and a whopping 25,868 years (give or take) to wobble around completely. One 360-degree wobble is called a Great Sidereal Year—or, more frequently, a Platonic Year (PY).
Now, imagine that you’re up in space, staring down at the North Pole. Also imagine that some celestial cinematographer recorded the Earth making a full wobble in time-lapse photography. What you would see is a point moving in a circle—like the tip of the second hand on a clock, except wicked slow.
Let’s give this circle of completed wobble a name. Let’s call it Dave.
There are 360 degrees to Dave. We mark these degrees in units of twelve—just like we do on a clock. But instead of numbers, we use the zodiac—a series of “fixed” stars near the equator, visible from both hemispheres, by which we track the motion of the Earth.
Continuing our clock analogy, if Dave lives on a second hand, then 1 is Aries, 2 is Taurus, 3 is Gemini, and so on, to 12, which is Pisces. Each of these twelve divisions of the Platonic Year—a Platonic Month, if you will—is called an Astrological Age.
With me so far?
One more thing: the Earth wobbles backwards through the zodiac. So Dave is moving in reverse. Instead of going from Aries to Taurus, Dave travels from Aries to Pisces, and from Pisces to—ta da—Aquarius.
Right now, we are in the Age of Pisces. It has been the Age of Pisces for a really long time. We’re waiting for Dave to break the plane of the 11—and for Earth to enter the Age of Aquarius.
(Sidenote: the term “New Age” is thus derived: the Age of Aquarius is the New Age).
A Platonic Year lasts, as discussed, 25,868 Earth years. A Platonic month—that is, an Astrological Age—lasts about 2160 Earth years. The Earth wobbles about one degree every 72 years. These are just estimates, of course, but they are close.
As if all this Dave business isn’t confusing enough, there’s one more curveball. There are two different zodiacs. The tropical zodiac divides the heavens into twelve equal pie-slices, just like a clock, based on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.
The sidereal zodiac is based upon the stars themselves, rather than arbitrary points in the sky. Because some constellations are bigger than others, according to apologists of the sidereal zodiac, some Ages last longer than others. And Pisces is one of the big ones. If a regular Age is a two-hour movie, Pisces is Gone With the Wind. It’s a double videotape of a constellation.
Summing up, we know an Astrological Age is roughly 2160 years, give or take a decade or three. We’re pretty sure that we’re still in the Age of Pisces. But we’re not sure when the Piscean Age ends, because we’re not sure when it begins—or, for that matter, how long it’s supposed to last.
When is this dawning-of-the-Age-of-Aquarius business going to start?
Astrologers disagree about when the Age of Pisces began. Here are some hypotheses, in chronological order:
608 BCE Madame Blavatsky
317 BCE David Davison
255 BCE Gerald Massey
125 BCE Thierens
111 BCE Robert Hand
100 BCE Dane Rudhyar
1 CE Paul Council
25 CE Charles A. Jayne
213 CE Cyril Fagan
496 CE Gavin Arthur
Add 2160 years to the start dates, and here’s when the experts suggest the Age of Aquarius might begin. (Note: all but Robert Hand have been dead for at least a quarter century).
1552 CE Madame Blavatsky
1843 CE David Davison
1905 CE Gerald Massey
2035 CE Thierens
2049 CE Robert Hand
2060 CE Dane Rudhyar
2161 CE Paul Council
2185 CE Charles A. Jayne
2370 CE Cyril Fagan
2656 CE Gavin Arthur
Given that living astrologers concur that we are still in the Age of Pisces, we can safety discard Blavatsky, Davison, and Massey. The two astrologers I find the most illuminating are Hand and Rudhyar, so it is telling that they are in virtual agreement.
In short, the New Age is coming. But not until the middle of the century. Unless Parke Kunkle tells a reporter at NBC News otherwise, that is.