This week’s question comes from Rich in Boston, MA:
How many degrees of the second half of Scorpio is Ophiuchus?
This is a really great question, Rich, but unfortunately not as straightforward as it might seem. There are two separate astrological systems at work here, and we need to translate between the two. Before I can do that, I need to provide some technical background.
The zodiac is the belt of constellations along the ecliptic, the path of the Sun in the sky. Although we count twelve signs of the zodiac, there actually is a thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus, also called the Serpent Bearer. I wrote a Saturday Extra! post on this topic on November 15, 2008. As I mentioned there, when the ancient Greeks devised our system of tropical astrology, they omitted Ophiuchus and included him in Scorpio, as it was neater mathematically to divide the sky into twelve segments rather than thirteen.
In tropical astrology, we say that the Sun is in the sign of Aries from roughly March 21 to April 20 (the dates vary a little from year to year). However, the Sun currently moves through the constellation of Aries from April 19 to May 13 — off by nearly a month! This is due to a phenomenon called precession of the equinoxes.
Western sidereal and Vedic astrology use calculations that more closely follow the Sun’s actual path through the constellations, but even these aren’t exact, as the constellations vary in size. A full circle is 360 degrees. Divided by 12, this makes 30 degrees per sign. However, some constellations, like Cancer, take up less than 30 degrees and others, like Virgo, take up far more. Together, Scorpio (technically called Scorpius in astronomy) and Ophiuchus comprise less than 30 degrees of the ecliptic.
To further complicate matters, the boundaries of the constellations weren’t set until the International Astronomical Union established them in 1930. According to these guidelines, the Sun moves through the constellation of Scorpius from November 23 to November 29, and through Ophiuchus from November 30 to December 17.
If we calculate the amount of time between November 23 and December 17 that the Sun is in Ophiuchus, we arrive at about 72 percent. Expressed in degrees, that’s 22, which actually is much more than half, as I wrote in my previous post. If we wanted to translate that back to dates in tropical astrology, the Sun would be in Scorpio from October 24 to November 1 and in Ophiuchus from November 2 to November 22.
So in fact, most of Scorpio isn’t Scorpio at all but Ophiuchus.
This is far more Pat’s area of interest and expertise than mine, Rich, but since my Mars, Mercury and Ascendant technically are in Ophiuchus, it has my attention, too.
There is a correlation between Ophiuchus and Aesculapius, who was said to incarnate in the form of snakes. For many years I had my dreams invaded by snakes until I voluntarily let them bite me. Curiously enough, I never dreamed of snakes after that! My best guess is that a very important healing took place within, an acceptance of some darker aspect of myself, freeing me to move forward. As I recall, this took place when Pluto was transiting my twelfth house and the planets in Ophiuchus.
I do see a strong affinity between Scorpio’s ability to undergo dramatic transformations, “shedding” an old skin as it were, and Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. The willingness to accept a certain amount of pain when an old wound is lanced, or in my case, to endure the pain of the snakes biting me, are both part of the healing process, Scorpio-style.
Thank you for bringing up the topic of Ophiuchus, Rich.
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