Dr Kunkle's Kerfluffle

3243412034_f760fbe04f_mYou may have heard, dear readers, about the astronomer who went on NBC and made a pronouncement that has led astro-philes everywhere to worry that their Sun signs were misdiagnosed.

Setting off the ruckus was a timeworn objection to modern astrology that turns up like a bad penny now and again (the last time I heard it was 35 years ago). In this latest reiteration, it was declared by Dr Kunkle (after whom I hope they name the next new planet, or maybe a trendy new search engine) that “The 12 signs were designated to different periods of the year almost 3,000 years ago, when astrology began, and since then the Earth’s position in relation to the Sun has changed.”

Well, yes, that’s true. That’s why we have both a sidereal zodiac and a tropical zodiac. Both zodiacs (the word means wheel of animals) are in wide use, and have been for a long time — as all astrologers are aware. You’d think scientists, too, would be aware of it; at least those who presume to speak publicly as experts on astrology. In fact, the idea that an astronomer could be ignorant of the difference between the sidereal and the tropical zodiacs seems so implausible that it makes me wonder whether this whole kerfluffle isn’t a deliberate faux-scoop: an example of somebody trying to make a splash on a slow news day.

Sidereal astrology is used by Vedic astrologers; tropical astrology is used mostly by Western astrologers. If you had your chart done by a sidereal astrologer, you may indeed end up with a different Sun sign than if you had it done by a tropical astrologer. That’s because they’re different systems — not because you’ve been living a lie all this time and you’re really a Capricorn instead of a Sagittarius. Astrologers normally specialize in one or the other system. Now that we have computers, it’s just a matter of clicking on either the sidereal or the tropical option on our chart-erecting programs.

The sidereal zodiac derives from the apparent movement of planets through the constellations, which provide a fixed frame of reference (relatively speaking) against which to map a planet’s wanderings. Thus the sidereal zodiac is based on space. The tropical zodiac, on the other hand — the one most Western astrologers use — is based on time: It begins when the Equator intersects the Ecliptic (zero degrees of Aries is when the Sun is overhead at the Equator, midway between its extreme north and south declinations).

It has always seemed fitting to me that the Vedic system, which is based on the idea of predestination and uses the sidereal zodiac, continues to be used in India — a culture whose ties to the ancient world’s fatalism are far closer than in the West. By contrast, the tropical zodiac — in use in the more psychologically-oriented cultures of the world — gets its meaning from pure symbolism: that of the four seasons, whence the signs are understood to get their character.

It’s not about one being true and the other false, any more than we’d say that the tarot was true and the runes false, or that the I Ching is true whereas the Enneagram is false.

The slow backward movement of the equinoctial point that the good doctor mentions is called the precession of the equinoxes. This is an astronomical anomaly that happens because the Earth, not being a perfect sphere, has a wobble to its orbit; which causes its rotations around the Sun to end up just a hair behind the [Vernal] point at which it began its orbit the year before. Add up all those tiny little fragments of a degree, and after a couple dozen thousands of years you get a Great Year: twelve World Ages of about 2,000 years each. The World Age we’re on the threshold of now is the Age of Aquarius, which has gotten a lot of press; even Dr Kunkle has probably heard of it. If he has, I don’t know how he imagines astrologers could have come up with the World Ages without knowing about the precession of the Equinoxes.

So yes, astrologers who use the tropical zodiac are fully aware that the Equinoxes have diverged over time from their celestial reference points. We realize that it has resulted in the sidereal signs being 24 degrees behind their seasonal counterparts. The crux of the matter is that most modern astrologers use the zodiac as a symbolic construct, not a literal one. If we depended on literal astronomy to measure planetary placements, consider the difficulties that would arise. Trying to determine the exact beginning of a sign by looking at when the Sun seemed to be entering a specific cluster of stars? Pretty much a crap shoot.

As for the professor’s advocacy of Ophiuchus, that constellation does not fall on the ecliptic (the narrow band of sky that the planets seem to travel through, from Earth’s point of view), so it isn’t included within either the sidereal or tropical schema. Goddess knows there are oodles of star-pictures up there, beyond those included in the ancient twelve. I guess anybody who has nothing better to do is free to lobby for their favorite constellation to become a thirteenth sign. But approaching astrology as a parlor game in this way would reveal the person’s fundamental ignorance of what it’s all about.

It would indicate that the person sees astrology’s twelve houses and twelve signs (which are composed of 3 modes times 4 elements: 12) not as essential components in a holistically structured system, but as a collection of random ingredients, arbitrarily assembled… which is the way a mechanistic thinker tends to see everything. It would betray a blindness to the signs’ spiritual and numerological interconnectedness. Astrology is a complex holographic language with a very precise geometrical logic. It works not because of Western scientific principles but because of an underlying matrix of numinous meaning.

In the end, one either takes the leap of faith or one does not. One either sees archetypal significance in this system of orbiting rocks and stellar dust, or one does not. To those who do see the planets and stars as something more than accidental outgrowths of astrophysical material, it will be obvious that the zodiac can’t be added to and subtracted from without violating the system’s integrity. To imagine, as Dr Kunkle does, that all there is to astrology is what’s physically up in the sky is to get it all wrong; which is what happens when scientists expect mechanistic materialism to explain esoteric truths.


email
15 comments
Carisa
Carisa

FYI - Dec/Jan 2009/10 of The Mountain Astrologer has an interesting response by Diana K. Rosenberg to claims of Neil deGrasse Tyson for 14 signs. One of which is Ophiucus. Also, the Feb/Mar 2010 issue contains a printing of a facebook discussion re: southern hemisphere zodiac applications, the postings may still be on the TMA FB page.

jessica
jessica

Jay, Thank you very much for raising this point. It's an unresolved and virtually unnoticed issue, that should be addressed by all of us -- yet I've never seen it discussed in a satisfyingly way. My first impulse is to wonder how Dane Rudhyar explained this conundrum since it was his sublime explication of the tropical zodiac that inspired me to see it as a universal archetype. I have no memory of his discussing this question, but that doesn't mean he didn't. Do any readers know? My second impulse is to ask whether anyone has read anything enlightening about this by any Australian or other southern-hemisphere astrologers -- ? Jessica

Jay Linden
Jay Linden

This is the fifth astrology blog I have read to explain the tropical zodiac as relating to seasons with Aries signifying spring. No one has thought to mention how this plays out for those of us in the southern hemisphere - in New Zealand, Australia and South America for example Aries signifies the entry into Autumn. For us the dark, cold time of Capricorn is actually more about heatwaves and harvesting fruits and veges. For those living near the equator there aren't vernal seasons, simply rainy and dry times. Don't get me wrong, I love astrology and the zodiac signs and times as used in the west have always fitted whoever's astrology I am studying - but, this explanation of using the seasons to explain the zodiac sucks - it strikes me as way too off the cuff, a quick flick answer and really only applies to a small portion of the planet - astrologers are very intelligent, used to handling layers of information and symbolism - I am sure there are better, deeper, richer answers if we take the trouble to look for them.

Patricia
Patricia

I am always amused by these scientific "experts," who, despite their claims of objectivity and open-mindedness, dismiss astrology as silly superstition without even knowing the least thing about it -- or, for that matter, not wanting to know. I can't understand why it seems to threaten them so much. But thanks, Jessica, for the lucid explanation, as always.

southbaygal
southbaygal

I just knew that there was a logical explanation for this kerfluffle. I was waiting to see what knowledgeable professional astrologers had to say about this. Notice, not a practicing astrologer was interviewed by the media.

C Andrews
C Andrews

It is not the stars. It is the force that moves the stars. ---- P.R.Sarkar

Michael
Michael

Back in 1974 Colorado Springs, when I was buying every astrology book I could find (afford), I bought a book in which the author claimed Cetus (the whale) as the thirteenth sign. At that time, being a beginner, I didn't know enough about astrology to know if having thirteen signs made sense or not. I wish now I'd kept the book for posterity.

Sky
Sky

It is good to hear your explanation, for I have mentally and logically agreed with the Vedics on this one. If these aspects are measured from the intersection of the Ecliptic with the Equator, then the the continued use of the names of the Constellations of the Ecliptic are misleading and wrong, in my opinion. I suggest that a transition be made to a clearer naming of the twelve areas.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

I feel it is important for people to be discerning when listening to others. I have noticed how quickly people believe another rather than feeling the truth within themselves. It is very important right now to think and feel for yourself. You are intelligent, you just need to exercise it. Just because some talking head is on TV does not mean that they are being truthful. Look for leaders that have a track record of being straight forward and being of service to others. And please turn of the TV. It numbs your mind and spirit like a drug. Thank you, Jessica.

John
John

I have always had an intuitive knowledge of astrology's truths. At age 20, I accurately "guessed" 9 out of 9 sun signs of people that I'de just met! That kind of freaked me out and I chose not to persue astrological studies. I just recognized the feeling and characteristics of those persons as specific to their sign, uniquely so. This fuss about another sign is shallow and irrelevant to reality. Semantics, nothing more. I am very much a scorpio and I have long since been amazed at the accuracy of the symbology, not only of my own life's experience, but others, and the whole of this planet's experience. Exactly and precisely accurate with the caveat of "within its realm", which the human spirit goes beyond. If a huge thing like a soul is going to fit into this "peanut shell" we call a body, its gotta fit!

jessica
jessica

Maureen, I think the phenomenon you mention is the scoring point, and one that no scientist -- or astrologer -- can "explain" using the terms of ordinary logic. This, and the ability many people have to guess the sign (often the rising sign) of another person. Jessica

alan blumenfeld
alan blumenfeld

Thank you so much for your measured intelligent explanation. Slow news day indeed. People love a good controversy.

MaureenT
MaureenT

Isn't it interesting how those of us 'believers' have immediately said 'oh, I know for sure I am not a Capricorn (for example), I am a Sagittarius, having recognized our own characteristics from the Signs profile! Particularly those of us with a Fire Sign vs., something less dramatic!