Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of January 28th - February 3rd,  2011

New York Times

Did Your Horoscope Predict This?
-by Jesse McKinley

Columns Archive


  Published: January 14, 2011

Polar precession

Polar precession

  SAN FRANCISCO- Astrologers, not surprisingly, say they knew this would happen.

  But that didn't stop a furious response among horoscope fans on Friday, as news shot around cyberspace- and, no doubt, outer space- that the world's zodiac signs might somehow be out of whack, a development with potentially life-changing impact on professional and personal relationships, pickup lines in singles' bars and, presumably, the day-to-day schedule of the former first lady Nancy Reagan.

  All of which left professional prognosticators seeking to calm their followers, and astronomers chuckling at the fate of their more metaphysical brethren.

  "Don't panic," Lawrence Grecco, who has worked for 20 years as astrologer and life coach in Manhattan, assured his clients. "Your sign is your sign."

  But such assurances did little to quell the cosmic kerfuffle after The Star Tribune in Minneapolis innocuously reported Monday that a naturally occurring wobble in the direction of the Earth's axis- technically known as a "precession"- had altered the alignment of stars' overhead from their traditional star signs, which date back several millennia. The report, citing Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, quickly went viral. Mr. Kunkle, suddenly cast as the Man Who Changed the Zodiac, said he had just been commenting on a well-known fact about the stars in relation to astrology.

  Reports of the shift resulted in existential, and occasionally grammatical, crises among Aries, Leos and even Ophuchices (more on this later) around the nation and online.

  "My zodiac sign changed," wrote one upset Twitter user on Friday morning. "Does that mean that I'm not anymore who I used to be?!?"

  According to the report, Capricorn, which astrologers say begins its month long term in December, actually starts on Jan. 20, based on the actual position of the stars. Aquarius, meanwhile, would be bumped to February. And so on.

Heaven's highways

Heaven's hiways

  Scientists say an ancient Greek astronomer was the first to recognize the precession of the Earth's axis, caused by the gravitational tug of the Moon and the Sun on a not-quite-round Earth. So it is, said Joe Rao, an associate and guest lecturer at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Hayden Planetarium, that "over time the Earth's north pole is pointing toward different stars." Which means, in turn, that "all of the zodiac positions which astrologers use as the foundation of their studies are inaccurate," he said.

  As are, of course, any predictions made from them, he added. "This is, after all, the 21st century," Mr. Rao said.

  But such scorn from skeptics is to be expected, said Rob Brezsny, the author of a syndicated weekly horoscope column, who added that the idea that the zodiac was shifting was just another attempt to discredit astrology, in which one in four Americans profess to believe, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center poll.

  Mr. Brezsny and other astrologers say they have long known that the pairings of constellations and astrological signs don't match, but that Western astrologers don't deal with stars- as some other branches of astrology do- but rather the planets and solar system.

  "If they're going to question its foundations," he said in an e-mail, referring to scientific skeptics, "they should at least learn it well enough to know what they're talking about."

  Mr. Brezsny said the argument that the zodiac was off kilter was old news but he was shocked how fast the Star Tribune article- inspired by a blog item on the LiveScience Web site- caught fire.

  By Friday, Monty Taylor, a veteran star man from Manhattan, said he and other astrologers were e-mailing, saying, "Oh, here we go again. One step forward and two steps back."

checking it out

Checking out the stars

  Even more shocking for some was the report that the 12-sign system would be adding a new, and ominously a 13th, sign- Ophiuchus, the snake holder- which ancient Babylonians dumped. (Maybe they were superstitious?). Its cycle runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 17, making it the unofficial sign of Holiday Shoppers.

  Some likened it to the 2006 news that Pluto- long considered the smallest, cutest planet- was being reclassified as a dwarf planet. "First we were told that Pluto is not a planet, now there's a new zodiac sign, Ophiuchus," read one tweet from someone with the handle HarryPotterish. "My childhood was a bloody lie."

  William Duvendack, a St. Louis astrologer on the board of the Astrological Association of St. Louis, said he had been inundated with questions.

  "It's been a lot of damage control," said Mr. Duvendack, fielding questions from shaken clients. "I'm having to reassure them that this is all factored into astrology."

  For all that, Mr. Brezsny and others said their craft would survive the confusion- and the skeptics- if only because its adherents are so passionate. "Astrology is a poetic language of the soul, not a scientific method," he said, likening it to "a Neruda poem, Kandinsky paintings or a Nick Cave song."

Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night

  "None of those things are rational or scientific," he added.

  Not everyone was upset with the news of the supposed star shift. Mr. Duvendack said he had at least one astrology buff respond happily.

  "A woman who told me she'd always felt there were one or two traits about Sagittarius that didn't fit her personality," Mr. Duvendack said. "But that the new sign is spot on."

  Reporting was contributed by Kenneth Chang and Andrew Keh in New York; Malcolm Gay in St. Louis; and Malia Wollan in Berkeley, Calif.


  Naturally, I've been getting inquiries on whether or not you are your sign.

  Like, wow Man...

  We've only been singing about it since the '60s. Singing and dancing and chanting, and of looking expectantly forward to hopes for the future. I'm finishing up writing a book on this topic that I began 25 years ago. Do you really think that we don't know about it?

  This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. How long have astrologers been unaware of that?

  The 'shift' of the stars against the cardinal axis of heaven is what the Ages are all about. Yes, the positions have changed, and yes the chart you are working with now, and what you think yourself to be, is correct!

Tree spirit

We approach life in an AIR Age

  The stars have ALWAYS been shifting on their axis. It's part of an over 25,000 year cycle called the precession of the Equinoxes. Three thousand years from now they will shift that much more.

  So what's your point?

  In the astrological realm, the seasonal system that marks our passage through the year illustrates the days on which the Sun is on the equator (equinoxes), and the days the Sun is most above and below this median, on the solstices. If you have had your chart done by any one of a countless number of astrologers in the western world (Europe, the Americas), this is the system that was probably used to calculate your horoscope. This is called the Tropical System as it defines the boarders of the 'tropics' on our planet.

  But the stars are operating on a different plane, running at a different speed. The Tropical System was based on the Sun, when the Sun is on the equator, when the Sun is at one of the extremes. It is based on keeping pace with the seasons.

  This doesn't really have a great deal to do with the stars, per se. The stars move in relative patterns together across the sky, marked in sequence by their relationship to each other. In India, this is the system they use, and it is called the Sidereal System, after the stars (sidus-, sidar- star).

  Both the Tropical and the Sidereal Systems have been around for a long, long time. The latter is more probably the older, but we don't really know. The question fades into the mists of the past.

When Spring passed through Aries

Left on the conveyer belt of Time

  Two thousand years ago, these two systems coincided, or more properly, crystallized. As the Mythic born 'Ages' gave way to the mathematical models, the images in the heavens monitoring Time were discarded as being 'second-rate' to the newer system, and the Ram (Aries) got left on the conveyor belt of Time, maintaining its 'hold' over the Vernal Equinox. While the Vernal Equinox continues to mark the start of the sign Aries (by definition), the constellation now guarding the Vernal Equinox is the western fish of the constellation Pisces, not the stars of the constellation of the Ram. There is a difference between the constellation Aries and the sign Aries, and this is the distinction between the two systems. One would expect the astronomers to understand this distinction, but most of them are no longer interested in the Solar System. That's old news. They're much more interested in black holes and deep space objects than they are the planets orbiting the Sun, or at least that has been my observation while working in planetariums with the astronomers. It is because our modern chronometers, those calculators of the calendar, have lost touch with that fact the heavens shift in a pictorial as well as a mathematical way. Those who were once in charge with keeping tabs of such things were fired from their jobs and discarded a long, long time ago.

  If you had lived under Babylonian skies, the charts calculated for your birth, at that time, would have been correct for that day and Age.

  If you live under contemporary skies, the chart done for you by your astrologer in this date in time is correct.

  If you were to compare the two, you'd see that they were different, and these are the effects of precession, but you're comparing apples and oranges.

  Do you live in their time? Are you subject to the same restraints, conditions, weather patters and slave-owner witticisms they were?

Babylonian male

Babylonian male

  Do they live in your time? Have they grown up with radio and TV and email and skin-inserted electronic locators?

  Wouldn't you EXPECT the stars to be different between then and now?

  I would.

  You are who you are for here and today. They were who they were for there and then. The only folk who generally try to spread misinformation like this are talking about a system they don't fully understand and certainly don't appreciate. Astronomers and the academic world truly believe that Hipparchus 'discovered' precession. He didn't. He was merely the first to publicize it and get it out to the general public.

  The mythic record suggests that precession was known around the world, by various cultures, thousands of years earlier. They recorded this information in their myths, the way they passed on cultural, historical and astronomical information.

  Chicken Little may be right, but not about this.

  If, of course, any of you are feeling insecure and need to touch celestial base, I'll be happy to give you a tune-up (update) and look at how this year is stacking up for you, affirming once again that yes, you are you, and what is supposed to happen to you, will happen to you, WHEN it's supposed to happen to you.

  Haven't we established that in each and every session?

  Our issues arrive, and leave, on celestial cue.

  Haven't they?

  So yes, Jen, Syl, Cyn, Sandy, Peter and a host of others who called in, wanting to touch base with a guiding light.

      It's OK. Your reality is still in place. But things are getting a little woolly out there, and yes, we are moving into a period of great change.

  We've been writing about that for over twenty-five years, too.

  Look around a smell the coffee.

  It's the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

  The Train's a-comin'.

          Blessings to all-



  Come on now folks! Look inside yourselves. Did this feel right to you? There are many tales on the way in the coming years that you will have to personally plumb for authenticity. Start learning to trust your own inner light over what you are hearing in the media.

  Would you like to sign up for a copy of the book? It's just about finish and explains precisely this issue in great detail.

  You're talking ancient news here.


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