This week’s question comes from Carolyn in Seattle, Washington:
I have always thought of myself as an Aries, my whole life. I was looking at a website that said as of 2009, the sun is in Aries from April 19 to May 15. I have always known it as March 20-April 21 (ish). Does this affect my personal star sign, or does it only matter when I was born, not when my birthday is?
This is a great question, Carolyn, and one I’m asked often. What makes it so confusing is that we’re talking about two separate systems of tracking planetary movements. It’s comparing apples and oranges.
The zodiac is the belt of constellations along the ecliptic, the path the Sun makes in the sky throughout the year. The Sun currently moves through the constellation of Aries from April 19 to May 14, but it is in the sign of Aries from roughly March 21 to April 20. The exact dates vary slightly from year to year. The scientific community observes the movements of the Sun against the actual constellations, while astrologers refer to the Sun in the signs.
As the article you cited in your e-mail explains, this discrepancy didn’t always exist, but arose due to a phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes. When astrology was first developed thousands of years ago, Aries was on the eastern horizon at sunrise on the spring equinox. But because of the tilt of the earth on its axis, this point has shifted backwards.
To address precession, astrologers in ancient Greece devised a system whereby the sky was divided into 12 parts, with 30 degrees assigned to each sign, starting with 0 degrees Aries on the spring equinox. This is the basis of our popular Western astrology, and it applies to the date you were born and every birthday in your lifetime. Even for those born on the cusp, you are the sign you were born under. That’s why it’s so important to look up your chart and not rely on the dates given in horoscopes in the current year. Further, if you were born on a day when the sign changed, it’s critical that you have your birth time, or you won’t know for sure what sign you are.
Now, at the risk of confusing you further, there are other branches of astrology that use calculations closer to the Sun’s actual path through the constellations. The most widespread of these is Vedic astrology, which is practiced throughout India and other Eastern countries. According to that system, Carolyn, you would be a Pisces from birth.
But unless you want to convert to that system and completely ignore Western astrology, you should consider yourself an Aries and not worry another minute that you’re anything but an Aries.
To anyone who would like to know more about the origins of astrology, I highly recommend the A&E “Ancient Mysteries” series, with Leonard Nimoy as host. You can find it, along with several other recommendations, in the RealAstrologers bookstore (yes, that’s where all my book links went!).
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