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Fig. 1 Signs of the Zodiac & the Constellations (modern)
At the end of November I promised to write a blog entry about astrology. My intent was to work my way through the Marion March's 'The Only Way to Learn Astrology' series book one and then discuss it. I have done some of book one, to date, but not a lot and while I would highly recommend this author she is not perhaps the best introduction to the field. In particular I did not find her explanation of the astrological signs and their relation to the constellations basic enough for my purposes. I opted out of 'The Only Way' series for the very user friendly KISS Guide to Astrology coupled with the Dummies book (Astrology for Dummies) but will be coming back to March when I feel I have a better handle on the basics.

So what did I learn from these books?

The first observation I would make about astrology is that it is somewhat complicated even without the math! Understanding how it all comes together required (for me) a three dimensional model like Figure 1 above. This is because an astrological chart takes into consideration two discrete planes (the houses and the signs) complicated by the precession of equinoxes. In this article I will do my best to describe my understanding of the signs, and their relation to the heavens.

Fig. 2 The Earth's Wobble (More info at
As just about everybody knows, the earth orbits and rotates and wobbles. The effects of orbit and rotation create the seasons of the year and the 24 hour day and is pretty straight-forward but the wobble (Fig. 2 above) can be confusing. Imagine a top at the end of it's spin. The axis as it slows is no longer straight up and down but begins to circle and this is basically what the axis of the earth does though it is perceptible only over hundreds of years (and relatively stable). The wobble is significant in this article because it causes our view of the fixed stars to change over time.

Sumerian Bas-Relief circa 2000 BCE
Imagine yourself as a speck on the very tip of a wobbling top on your own kitchen table. As you wobble to the left, you see the cabinets, circling around to the right, you see the refrigerator. It is the same, over a much longer period of time, for our view of the fixed stars of the galaxy. This phenomena is applicable to the study of astrology only because the signs of the zodiac are named for certain fixed stars or groups of stars called constellations. It doesn't really matter where the stars are (relative to our location) because astrology confines itself to the influence of the Sun, Moon and planets of our surrounding solar system. It does create some confusion however because the signs are named for these constellations implying a relation which is no longer accurate.

The zodiac - comprising the twelve individual sun signs we are all familiar with - is an imaginary band which follows the elliptic or apparent path of the sun around the earth (this is the path shown in Fig. 1 which defines the seasons of the year). The band of the zodiac is divided into segments of 30 degrees (30 x 12 = the 360 degrees of circle) and each segment is given a name from Aries all the way around to Pisces (Fig. 1). The signs correspond to the seasons, solstices and equinoxes because of the oval shape of the elliptic in the same way that months of calendar correspond.

What makes this confusing in an astrological sense is the fact that these signs were originally named, some 4000 years ago by the Sumerians and Chaldeans, after the constellations (the cabinets or refrigerator of our wobbling top example) which appeared behind each signs 30 degree spot on the elliptic. 4000 years ago the sign of Aries stood before the constellation of Aries (at the equinox), for example, but this is no longer the case (Fig. 1).

If Leo is not really in Leo (or more correctly the segment of the Zodiac band called Leo does not line up with the distant constellation of Leo), skeptics argue, astrology doesn't work. Modern astrologers believe however that it is the motion of the planets in our solar systems that influences us, not the distant stars. They are concerned with the placement of the planets (including the luminaries of the Sun and Moon) in terms of the signs and houses.

The astrological houses are a second and separate category of placement and I think I'll try to write about that next post. My goal at this point is to develop a solid basic or overall understanding of the components of the birth chart. I am less troubled by the relationship of the astrological signs to the galaxy as a whole but still feel that there is something arbitrary in the inherent structure of the horoscope. It is important to remember that the constellations themselves have no real bearing on modern astrology. In this respect, precession does not necessarily negate the validity of astrology even if it does seemingly misplace the field.

Moving into 2011, I plan to look at Kabbalistic astrology beginning with Matityahu Glazerson and Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi. I'm going to reference the Marion March series as well, if compatible.

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