What’s Your Sign? (Better Look Again)
So, you get up in the morning, settle at the breakfast table with your coffee and newspaper (ok, or phone or whatever) and turn to your horoscope. As you do every day, you run your finger down the list until you reach the section that deals with your sign.
Leo… Virgo… Libra… Scorpio… Ophiuchus… Sagittarius… Wait. WHAT? Ophiuchus?!
Yes. Ophiuchus. The zodiac, which had the same 12 signs for nearly 3,000 years, now has a 13th. It’s not new, exactly. The constellation Ophiuchus hasn’t just magically appeared. It’s been there all along, in the path traced by the sun through the constellations that dictate your astrological sign. In some forms of astrology signs are determined by the position of the sun on the day a person was born. But for some reason, the Babylonians decided not to quibble about the 19 short days that Ophiuchus was in evidence. Maybe they just preferred the symmetry of the number 12. Who knows? For whatever reason, Ophiuchus (the snake bearer) was squeezed out of the rotation, like an unwanted pustule on prom night. And for thousands of years subsequent, the zodiac has been based on 12 signs.
Suddenly, though, attention is being focused on the snake-bearer constellation. Its existence was pointed out by astronomers at the Minnesota Planetarium Society — who really don’t care about astrology and who almost certainly didn’t intend to mess with zodiac believers. So Ophiuchus emerges from obscurity to wedge its 19 days into the astrological calendar, and in so doing, dramatically changes the zodiacal landscape.
But that’s just the beginning.
The term for what is happening is precession. Basically, the earth is like a spinning top that is affected not only by gravity but by the forces of the sun and moon. Because Earth is not a perfect sphere, these forces cause it to tilt as it rotates, resulting in minute but definite position changes. Over time, this accumulated adjustment has become significant.
Interestingly, precession also has affected the North Star. Polaris, which currently is the North Star, was not the North Star 3,000 years ago. That star was Thuban, in the Draco constellation. In another 12000 years, the North Star will be Vega, in the constellation Lyra. It also was the North Star in about 12000 BC. A site that gives a very thorough explanation of precession is Crystalinks.
How Do You Pronounce Ophiuchus?
Before delving into the arcane reasoning and annoying ramifications of changing zodiac signs mid-stream, let’s try something simple: Pronunciation. Shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Let’s see.
o fee YO cuss?
Or perhaps oh FIE ick us?
Maybe oof EEE shuss??
I amused myself with alternatives for awhile, but finally gave up and checked for an official pronunciation. Here it is:
So, What’s Your New Sign?
Capricorn: Jan. 19-Feb. 15
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11
Pisces: March 12-April 18
Aries: April 19-May 13
Taurus: May 14-June 19
Gemini: June 20-July 20
Cancer: July 21-Aug. 9
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 15
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 31-Nov. 22
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 30-Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 18-Jan. 18
Do I have to change my sign?
Good news. If you follow the Western Zodiac, the likelihood is that Ophiuchus isn’t in your future. <Insert sigh of relief here.> The Western system is based on sun alignment, not constellations, so the new delineations probably won’t affect you. So there’s no need to rush to your favorite tattoo parlor to have the word “former” added to your zodiac tattoo.
Note: This is a topic that crops up every so often. I wrote this article a couple of years ago, when the Ophiuchus controversy first made the rounds and am reposting now because the topic seems to be trending again.