Tag Archives: Western tropical astrology

Ask Real Astrologers: Tropical Versus Sidereal Astrology

Looking for AnswersThis week’s question comes from Amber in Indianapolis:

I was reading your blog and saw that there are two (I knew this) methods of tracking and measuring the planets. As a person who watches trends and impacts, I would like to know if we should have information from both systems. Does that affect our birth chart data and, if so, by how much?

Thank you for your insight and sharing your real-time issues. It makes the information much more user-friendly and comfortable!

Well, Amber, I’m not often accused of being user-friendly. But thanks all the same, and thank you for an excellent and timely question.

The issue of the two systems of astrology came up in my previous two forecasts, in which I discussed the proper date for the festival of Wesak, celebrated by Buddhists as the birth, death, and enlightenment of the Buddha. Wesak traditionally is celebrated at the Full Moon in Scorpio. However, depending on the system used, this can end up being two different dates. Many Eastern countries use the sidereal system, while here in the West, most of us use tropical astrology. According to the tropical system, today’s Full Moon is in Scorpio, but in sidereal astrology, it’s in Libra. The Full Moon on May 25 will be in sidereal Scorpio and tropical Sagittarius.

Simply put, the tropical system is a sign “ahead,” although not a full sign, but roughly 24 degrees (a sign is 30 degrees). This is not arbitrary but is based on the degree of the zodiac that appears on the Eastern horizon at sunrise on the spring equinox. This is confusing, I know, so let’s look at how it happened.

Although astrology has been around since the time of the Babylonians, it wasn’t until the 2nd century B.C.E. that Greek astrologers (they were also astronomers; back then, there was no difference) noticed that the constellations didn’t stay in the same place over time relative to the equinox. We now know that this is due to a phenomenon called precession, which is caused by a wobble in the earth’s rotation on its axis. You can envision it like a spinning top, except one full spin takes about 26,000 years. Around the time of the birth of Christ, the Sun rose in early Aries on the spring equinox. Now, it rises at around 6 degrees Pisces.

The ancient Greeks decided to address precession by carving up the sky into 12 equal parts, each representing a “sign,” and anchoring them to the solstices and equinoxes – what we call the four cardinal points – rather than the slow but constantly shifting positions of the constellations. This system became the basis for Western tropical astrology. For whatever reason, astrologers in India and the Eastern countries decided not to correct for precession. So rather than putting 0 degrees Aries on the equinox, they use the degree where the Sun actually rises, and that degree changes over time.

The key point to remember is that the signs in Western tropical astrology aren’t the same as the constellations, even though they’re named after them. One of the criticisms leveled at astrologers by scientists is that we don’t have the signs right. We certainly do, and it was an intentional decision. They are welcome to argue with the logic of that system – and many astrologers do, among themselves – but to say that astrologers don’t know the signs are “out of step” with the constellations is silly and flat-out wrong.

As for how it affects the natal chart, you may be a different sign in one system and the other, but not necessarily. If the degree of your Sun is above 23, then you’re likely the same sign in both. The same applies to your Moon, Ascendant, and other planets. If you’re curious, by all means check out the interpretations and see which system resonates more strongly with you. But once you make a choice, stay with it. Going back and forth isn’t likely to give you additional insight, but will only confuse you.

Adherents of sidereal astrology believe that their system is more accurate because it reflects the true position of the planets against the stars. I think that depends on how astrology works. We still don’t know, and so I can’t insist that they are wrong. Which system you choose to use is up to you, but I recommend picking one and sticking with it – especially if you are new to astrology.

I hope that answers your question, Amber … and that you still think I’m user-friendly. Incidentally, you might also like an article I wrote in January 2011 when this question was a hot topic in the news.

Aquarius, the sign of astrologyPat

Got a quick question? Click here to contact Ask Real Astrologers. You must use this form to contact me, or I won’t get your question. I do read all of your questions, although I am sorry that I can’t answer them all. If you need immediate guidance or in-depth advice, please check out my affordable written reports, or contact me for a private consultation. THANKS!

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Ophiuchus: Authoritative Facts About the ‘New Sign’

Maybe Ophiuchus should be a woman? The ‘Snake Witch’ stone from Götland, Sweden, dated 400-600 C.E. Photo by Berig, licensed under Creative Commons.

It just boggles my mind that if you do a Google search for Ophiuchus, you get pages and pages of false information. It may as well be written in stone.

Two weeks ago, if you entered keywords “Ophiuchus astrology,” RealAstrologers came up on the first page of hits. Thanks to last week’s “sign change” fiasco, my articles are buried so deep I can’t find them. In the flood of misinformation are sites devoted entirely to the “new sign,” listing supposed traits, Ophiuchus celebs, and their own astrological fantasies, further confusing those with little or no understanding of astrology.

Fortunately, that doesn’t include you. I’m proud and extremely gratified that most readers of RealAstrologers are sophisticated enough to know that last week’s “big news” was a hoax. I’m also happy to be gaining new readers who are looking for some real facts and authoritative information about the Snake Handler. Continue reading

Ask Real Astrologers: Does Precession Mean I’m Not an Aries?

Looking for AnswersThis 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!).

Aquarius, the sign of astrologyPat

Got a quick question? Click here to contact Ask Real Astrologers. You must use this form to contact me, or I won’t get your question. I do read all of your questions, although I am sorry that I can’t answer them all. If you need immediate guidance or in-depth advice, please contact me for a private consultation. THANKS!

Ask Real Astrologers: Why Does This Capricorn Feel Like a Sagittarius?

This week’s question comes from Leah in Hilo, Hawaii, who asks about the differences between tropical and sidereal astrology.

“I was born a Capricorn, tropically. Now I am informed I am a Sagittarius, since I am now 53 (I think the Sag started when I was 45). Should I be reading only the Sag sign info or both the Sag and Cap? I definitely feel the difference from Cap to Sag. So I am thinking there is something to this type of astrology. Any thoughts?”

Aquarius expounds . . .

Pat’s answer:

This is a great question, but unfortunately not easy to answer, since it is very complicated.

Astrology as most of us in the West know it was developed by the ancient Babylonians. At the time, Aries was on the eastern horizon at sunrise on the spring equinox. However, due to the way the Earth spins on its axis, this has changed over the millennia, so that we now have about 5 degrees Pisces on the eastern horizon on the equinox. This phenomenon is called precession.

The Greeks dealt with precession by dividing the sky into 12 equal parts and assigning one sign of the Zodiac to each sector, starting with 0 degrees Aries on the spring equinox. The exact dates change from one year to the next, but the equinox generally is around March 20. This is the Western tropical system of astrology that you’re referring to. When you say you’re a Capricorn, what you mean is that the Sun was moving through the tenth sector from 0 degrees Aries on the day you were born.

Vedic astrology, which is the system developed in India and other Eastern countries, doesn’t correct for precession. This is the basis for sidereal astrology, which is used by a small number of astrologers in the West. So while your Sun is at 19 degrees Capricorn in Western astrology, it’s at 25 degrees Sagittarius according to the sidereal system. Proponents of sidereal astrology argue that this system more accurately reflects the positions of the planets against the backdrop of the constellations.

According to the sidereal system, you were born a Sagittarius, and that has not changed. In other words, you didn’t go from a Cap to a Sag around age 45. It appears that you may be confusing sidereal astrology with the Western technique of chart progression. I will turn you over to Neith to explain more about this, since she works with chart progressions more than I do.

There is another explanation, however, for why you feel more “like a Sagittarius.” In your birth chart (Western tropical), you have 17 degrees Scorpio on the Ascendant, with the first half of Sagittarius in your first house. Pluto, the planet of transformation, was in Sagittarius throughout your 40s, so you no doubt went through a change!

I always advise my clients to read for Rising sign first, then Sun sign. In your case, either Scorpio or Sag might work. Eventually, Neith and I will do Rising sign horoscopes, which I believe most of you will find to be a much more accurate reflection of what’s happening in your daily lives.

Libra ponders . . .

Neith’s answer:

Leah, after spending some time looking at your progressed chart using the year for a day method (count one day for each year of your life), I may be able to shed some light on why you relate to Sagittarius more. Your Scorpio Ascendant progressed into Sagittarius many years ago but there were a couple of serious transits to it enhancing the Sagittarius energy.

At about 30, you experienced a conjunction of Uranus and Venus on your progressed Ascendant in Sagittarius. A couple of years earlier, Uranus transited your natal Venus in Sagittarius, just as you were having your Saturn return. It’s very possible that with Saturn conjunct your Ascendant natally (and ruling your Capricorn Sun), you may not have acted on the more extreme notions Uranus inspired at that time.

In January 2000, Pluto and Venus met at the same degree of Sagittarius that Uranus and Venus occupied when you were 30. Both of these events occurred in your first house and resonated with your natal Venus – more Sagittarius.

Lastly, in January of 2007, Pluto and Mars conjoined on your progressed Ascendant at 28 degrees Sagittarius. This conjunction was also trine to your natal Pluto in Leo, adding up to a lot of powerful fire energy affecting you. No wonder you felt far more like a Sagittarius than a Capricorn and far horizons were calling you!

Ironically, Leah, your Ascendant is now progressed into Capricorn and is within a couple of degrees of the progressed North Node, so you may find your Capricorn side beginning to reassert itself once more.

Hopefully we have helped clarify matters for you! My advice would be to choose one system of astrology and stay with it because they each are a whole system unto themselves, and you only get confused if you try to go back and forth between the two.

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