Why the Constellation of Ophiuchus was Not Included in the Zodiac
By Mark Lerner
Back in January of this year, an astronomer and professor in Minnesota (Parke Kunkle*) gave an interview to a reporter at the Star-Tribune newspaper in which he tried to disparage Western Astrology. As has occurred on numerous occasions over the past few hundred years, people with apparently “scientific backgrounds” who have never made a full and fair study of astrology attempt to poke holes in our 12-fold division of zodiacal signs by claiming (a) the Sun-sign dates are now inaccurate and (b) there is a thirteenth constellation in the zodiac – Ophiuchus – that astrologers have ignored.
This article will set the record straight.
*Note: I have viewed a video online – at the Star-Tribune website – showing Parke Kunkle and he clearly believes (erroneously) that astrologers here in America work with 12 zodiacal “constellations” or apparent star-groups in the sky. As I will explain below, astrologers in America and throughout Europe primarily work with the 12-fold Tropical Zodiac of “signs” – which are 12 equal divisions of the year, starting from the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.
When I first heard about this new attempt to disparage our science-art-language, I published a reply on the front of my website. Here is the essence of what I said:
Your Sun-sign and Sign Placements of the Celestial Bodies in your Natal Chart Have Not Changed! Apparently — a few days ago — an astronomer from a Minnesota group tried to make it seem as if we professional astrologers doing our work in the Western Hemisphere are completely confused because the constellations have moved, and dates are different, etc.
The problem here is that astronomer’s ignorance of the two different kinds of zodiacs used — one Sidereal or Constellational (primarily used in India) and our Tropical one (primarily used in America and Europe) — based on equally dividing the year (starting at the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere) into 12 components of 30-degrees of space.
Our zodiac is really the Earth’s electro-magnetic field and I can assure anyone who has had a chart done by a reliable professional astrologer using our Tropical Zodiac — using accurate birth data (month-day-year of birth; time of birth; city and state of birth) — that the Sun-sign you have always had is still your Sun-sign, and all the familiar celestial bodies — in whatever signs they have been placed within your chart wheel — have not changed.
The astronomer in question is mixing up star-groups and constellations — which may not all be equal to 30-degrees of space — with how we equally divide our scientifically accurate zodiac in the West.
Every so often, an ignorant astronomer — who has never made a clear, focused, and in-depth study of astrology — tries to toss this kind of ridiculous, bogus, monkey-wrench into the astrological realm — because most astronomers believe astrology is a pseudo-science, which it is not.
It is a shame that so many equally ignorant news media ran with this story, embellished it in a silly manner, and that the story was then taken up by other media sources.
Now professional astrologers have to speak up once again and reveal that it is actually the ignorance of modern astronomers that keeps causing them to not understand how scientific and remarkable modern astrology actually is.
Extra Note: By the way, all of our scientifically accurate Sun-sign and Celestial Body zodiacal placements in Western Astrology come from — the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), connected to California Institute of Technology and NASA. And the US Naval Observatory and the Royal Greenwich Observatory in England use the same data from the JPL that astrologers use in their creating a joint publication that is called The Astronomical Almanac. We know what we are doing in calculating dates, times and cycles correctly. And this is especially true if one utilizes the indispensable book entitled The New American Ephemeris for the 21st Century 2000-2100 at Midnight, Michelsen Memorial Edition — published by Starcrafts Publishing in New Hampshire.
Thanks for reading this…Sincerely, Mark Lerner
However, because the Minnesota skywatcher also brought up the idea that Ophiuchus is somehow being denied its rightful place as a thirteenth constellation in the zodiac, it feels appropriate to delve into why this star-group was not originally acknowledged as a member of the zodiac.
To figure this out has demanded a lot of time, energy and research. Plus – for the answer, we really need to go back about 2000 years when the so-called Constellational Zodiac and the Tropical Zodiac of Signs approximately coincided (something that only happens around every 25,800 years due to the Earth wobbling in space like a spinning top and during which our North Pole points to various “Pole Stars” and while the Spring Equinox point slides backwards through the constellations, known as the Precession of the Equinox).
First of all, I am fortunate to have a very good library of astrology and astronomy books. I am indebted to these sources in order to focus on the subject of Ophiuchus: Universe published by DK or Dorling Kindersley Limited (Copyright 2005, 2008) – a masterpiece, and state-of-the-art volume of over 500 pages on astronomy; The Fated Sky: Astrology in History by Benson Bobrick (paperback published 2006 by Simon & Schuster); The Living Stars by Dr. Eric Morse (paperback published by Amethyst Books, Copyright 1988); Esoteric Astrology by Alice A. Bailey (paperback published 1971 by Lucis Publishing Company).
Let’s deal with some cogent facts about the zodiac itself. While the Earth’s path or orbit around the Sun is known as the Ecliptic (and from our vantage point on Earth it appears as though the Sun is moving along that Ecliptic), the zodiac is a band of the sky extending approximately 9 degrees on either side of the Sun’s apparent path.
Note this exact quote from page 24 of Universe: “The band of sky extending for 9 degrees … on either side of the Sun’s path is called the zodiac and incorporates parts or all of 24 constellations…Of these, the Sun passes through 13 constellations, of which 12 form the ‘signs of the zodiac,’ well-known to followers of astrology.”
In the story-line that follows, the key numbers from the quote above – 9, 24, 13 and 12 – will help us to understand why Ophiuchus didn’t make the cut, so to speak, around 2000 years ago and didn’t become an official member of the zodiac.
The Minnesota skywatcher – after confusing the Constellational or Sidereal Zodiac used primarily in India with our Western Tropical Zodiac of Signs – gave out an erroneous list of alternate Sun-sign dates that he suggested astrology students should use. He thought that his list of alternate Sun-sign dates was accurate, but because he didn’t realize that Western Astrology does not work with constellations – and hasn’t for almost 2000 years – and that we divide the year into equal 12-fold divisions starting from the first moment of spring in the Northern Hemisphere – he wound up confusing millions of people.
What was also proposed – out of all this error and confusion – was that people born from approximately November 29 to December 17 ought to be “Ophiuchans” since the Sun’s apparent path in the sky moves through the lowest section of this constellation.
Of course, as you should now be realizing, the 9th division of the Tropical Zodiac of Signs – Sagittarius – starts approximately on November 22 of any calendar year (when the Sun appears to enter this section of the zodiacal circle) and ends approximately on December 21 of any calendar year (when the Sun appears to enter the sign Capricorn).
Since Ophiuchus is not a zodiacal sign (it is a constellation of stars), it has no place in between our signs called Scorpio and Sagittarius. In addition, any celestial bodies that are placed in the sign of Sagittarius in your birthchart or the birthchart of a family member, friend or associate of yours are still there in the sign of Sagittarius, and are not located in Ophiuchus.
Had the Minnesota skywatcher had a copy of The Fated Sky, and particularly read pages 50 – 51, he would have realized that “…Hipparchus (about 140 B.C.) assembled the first great catalogue of stars, established the modern form of the tropical zodiac, and discovered and accurately measured the annual precession of the equinoxes to within four seconds of arc…”
The Minnesota skywatcher would also have learned that via the scholarly research (classic astrology texts, the Almagest and Tetrabiblos) by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D., “…he expanded upon the industry of Hipparchus, and based on the latter’s data, identified forty-eight constellations and mapped the longitude of over a thousand stars.” And keep the following in mind that Ptolemy was born in a Greek city in Upper Egypt and he was “…a government-salaried research professor at the great library at Alexandria, the most famous institute of learning in classical times.”
One more pithy notation should reveal why our Western Astrology – using the Tropical Zodiac of 12 signs, each having 30 degrees of space – is based on rigorous studies from around 2000 years ago: “Still in certain respects the classic textbook on the subject – the stem and branch of astrological teaching in the West – the Tetrabiblos established the tropical zodiac as canonical, laid down the rules for drawing up a chart, identified the influence of various fixed stars, described the astrological rulership of nations, and gave a method for determining the length of a person’s life.”
The bottom line is that Claudius Ptolemy (in the 2nd century A.D.) and Hipparchus (living several hundred years before) were well aware of the difference between constellations and signs, they knew of the Precession of the Equinoxes (whereby the 12 zodiacal constellations and the same-named 12 zodiacal signs did not always coincide), and that the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere (the Vernal Equinox or 0 degrees of Aries the Sign) was sliding backward in the constellations, so that now (around 2011) our springtime rebirth every year has the stars of the constellation of Pisces as a backdrop. And probably in several hundred years, we will have the beginning of spring energizing the stars at the end of the constellation of Aquarius.
How Ophiuchus Fits or Doesn’t Fit into 12-Fold Zodiac
In an earlier quote from Universe, it is mentioned that the Sun’s apparent path on the Ecliptic makes it pass through 13 constellations. Well, if both zodiacs – the Constellational one used primarily in India, and the Tropical one used in the West – do not include Ophiuchus, then why this reference to 13?
Ophiuchus, otherwise known as The Serpent Holder, is a rather large constellation inhabiting the space north of the Ecliptic and north of the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius.
Ever since 1930, 88 major constellational zones divide up the entire sky for astronomers. And the zone for Ophiuchus not only includes the stars of this ancient constellation, but additional space that modern astronomers have added making it appear that the constellation of Ophiuchus is bigger, wider and more elaborate than it actually is. The Universe book even states on page 365 that the “…Sun passes through Ophiuchus in the first half of December, but despite this the constellation is not regarded as a true member of the zodiac.”
What is true is that a few stars of the actual constellation of Ophiuchus connect close to the Ecliptic and actually go a little south of it. These stars are in the lower calf and right foot area of the “Star-Man & Serpent Holder” Ophiuchus.
Ophiuchus Still Doesn’t Make the Final Cut
Since Claudius Ptolemy and the Greeks/Egyptians working around Alexandria two millennia ago formulated the rules of the Tropical Zodiac of 12 signs, there was no need to add any extra “constellation” since they were simply using higher mathematics (dividing the 360-degree circle of the sky into 12 equal parts).
The astrologers in India and anyone else still using the 12-fold Constellational Zodiac could have added Ophiuchus, but here are several reasons why they didn’t.
(A) As I will show in the next section, the constellation of Orion – a very formidable star group in the heavens – occupies almost an opposite placement in the sky, and certainly relative to the Ecliptic and the Celestial Equator as Ophiuchus. Because Orion and Ophiuchus are nearly opposing twin constellations, they would both have to be added to the Constellational Zodiac – thereby making a 14-fold Constellational Zodiac, clearly something undesirable, mathematically speaking, because 14 does not equally divide into the zodiacal circle of 360 degrees.
(B) The Constellational Zodiac is much more than the Ecliptic or the apparent Sun’s path in the sky. It extends around 9 degrees north and south of the Ecliptic. Therefore, the planets (“planets” meaning “wandering stars”) are given some leeway in their orbits, so that they are moving above and below where the Sun appears to be moving. Note: And now that astrologers around the world use the 4 main asteroids discovered in the first decade of the 19th century (Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta), Chiron (discovered in 1977), Sedna and Eris (two planets discovered in the last 8 years beyond the orbit of Pluto) as well as other sky objects not always moving along the Ecliptic or even 9 degrees north and south of the Ecliptic, I will show that at certain times some of these celestial bodies, used in astrology charts, could be located in or close to constellations like Orion the Hunter, Cetus the Sea Monster, Bootes the Bear Herdsman, Hydra the Water Snake, Eridanus the River, and even Lynx, Delphinus the Dolphin, and Sagitta the Arrow.
(C) The Minnesota skywatcher is a person who gazes at planets, stars, galaxies, comets, meteor showers as well as constellational star-groups, and who focuses attention on the apparent Sun’s path in the sky called the Ecliptic. He isn’t thinking about the 9 degrees north and south of the Ecliptic (a total of 18 degrees of space) in which celestial bodies are moving and still inside the zodiacal region of space. Therefore, not only Ophiuchus but several other constellations not too far from the Ecliptic and not already included in the 12-fold Constellational Zodiac, might have to be included in an all-encompassing Constellational Zodiac.
(D) And, finally, the biggest reason not to include Ophiuchus in the original band of 12 Zodiacal Constellations is something that the Minnesota skywatcher doesn’t understand because he isn’t recognizing the southern nature of the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, in between which but north of the Ecliptic lies Ophiuchus.
The point here is that due to the Earth being tilted approximately 23.5 degrees from the vertical, the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius hold up the southern nature of the zodiacal band in opposition to Taurus and Gemini which hold up the northern nature of the zodiacal band. It was and is still not logical to add an extra constellation – Ophiuchus – in between Scorpius and Sagittarius because Ophiuchus as a star-group resides mostly and strongly north of the Ecliptic whereas the actual constellational zodiac in this sector of the sky is moving southward.
Thus, were Ophiuchus actually south of the Ecliptic, and residing between Scorpius and Sagittarius, then logic might dictate adding Ophiuchus as another constellation to the zodiac or even kicking out either Scorpius or Sagittarius as constellations. However, Ophiuchus is clearly and largely north from that zone and therefore doesn’t make the cut into the true Constellational Zodiac as used in India.
Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder and Orion the Hunter Share Mythological Connections
When you look at star charts of the heavens, and concentrate your attention on the northern zone of the Ecliptic (around Taurus and Gemini) as compared to the southern zone of the Ecliptic (around Scorpius and Sagittarius), you can’t help but see that Ophiuchus and Orion are almost like mirror images in that they are large-size constellations, both strongly placed on the Celestial Equator (and not mostly on the Ecliptic), and that just as Ophiuchus is located almost entirely north of the Ecliptic that Orion is located entirely south of the Ecliptic.
This means that were Orion to be located 180 degrees away and in between Scorpius and Sagittarius, it should be the extra constellation in the zodiac because its southern placement – relative to the Ecliptic – fits in nicely to the southern positions of Scorpius and Sagittarius.
As I wondered about the prominence and synchronicity of Ophiuchus and Orion, I found some startling answers in The Living Stars. Dr. Eric Morse, on page 155, expounds about the link between Ophiuchus and Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. “Aesculapius, and the name does have a linguistic connection with Ophiuchus, was taught the healing arts by Apollo and Chiron, and he became the ship’s doctor to the Argonauts during their search for the golden fleece. It seems that in some sense he actually found it, for later he became a healer extraordinary, much like the later Jesus, able even on occasion to restore life to the dead, as he did for King Hippolytus. But his attempt to revive Orion alarmed the gods once too often, and they removed him from this life forthwith.”
I have made the last phrase of that sentence bold and italicized because of the mention of Orion in association with Aesculapius and Ophiuchus.
Furthermore, Dr. Morse, on page 133, says the following in reference to Orion the Hunter: “But in mythology he was a demi-god, son of Neptune and Euryale, and unfortunately shared Cassiopeia’s talent for boasting. He claimed he could fight and slay any animal of any size, and took on Taurus the Bull to prove it. Juno was jealous of him, she preferring her female warrior Diana, and she sent little Scorpio to sting him in the foot just as the Bull was about to meet its ‘moment of truth.’ Jupiter, not liking his wife’s display of female chauvinism here, because he was a male chauvinist himself (!), placed Orion honourably in the sky, but opposite to Scorpio so that the hunter should not be troubled again.”
I found the above two quotations very appropriate because they back up my sense as well as the logic that Ophiuchus and Orion are representing mirror images of qualities in human nature that are then imprinted upon into zodiacal lore.
Just as we know that in the Taurus-Gemini region of the early stages of the zodiac, human beings need to be strong, physically-oriented warriors, we find the great constellation of Orion the Hunter. In the opposite region of the zodiac – the Scorpius-Sagittarius zone – human beings need to transcend the physical realm, and be more of a warrior of the psyche, and spirit-forces – hence the great constellation of Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder, alias Aesculapius who has apparently almost magical powers to raise the dead and cure the ill or diseased.
In a little picture on page 386 of Universe, there is mention of the following in reference to Ophiuchus’s Misplaced Foot: “Like other old star charts, Jean Fortin’s Atlas Celeste shows the foot of Ophiuchus awkwardly overlapping Scorpius.”
It is almost as though Orion’s early evolutionary journey in mythology is then reincarnated through the later evolutionary journey of Ophiuchus, with Scorpius the Scorpion’s sting killing Orion in one life and then resurrecting him as Ophiuchus in another life.
Also – let’s stop referring to Ophiuchus as a potential 13th zodiacal constellation. Had it made the cut a long time ago, it would have made it in position 8 or 9 – and meaning that Scorpius or Sagittarius would have been eliminated because – let’s face mathematical facts – 13 does not divide evenly into the zodiacal circle of 360 degrees.
Plus – the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans worked with the numbers 4 and 3 (as well as 4 times 3 = 12) in astrology since there were four elements (fire, earth, air and water) and four seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter), but three celestial sections of 30 degrees of space in each season (representing a thesis, antithesis and synthesis of the electro-magnetic energy-field), and the astrology chart was separated into four quadrants – each of which contained three houses or domiciles.
Thus, to keep pretending that astrologer-astronomers of ancient, medieval or modern times should add a 13th constellation to the mix is to deliberately try and make astrology unworkable and unwieldy since it doesn’t make logical sense relative to how charts are mathematically constructed and interpreted based on the practical and reliable numerical system of 4 X 3 = 12.
In Esoteric Astrology, especially pages 230 – 231, there is a discussion about Leo-Virgo originally being more united (as the Sphinx, head of a woman – Virgo – and the body of a lion – Leo) as well as Libra being a part of Scorpio. The Tibetan Master D.K. – overlighting Alice A. Bailey in this treatise – goes on to say the following: “Eventually, in some mysterious way, there will be only ten signs of the zodiac again; Aries and Pisces will form one sign, for ‘the end is as the beginning.’ This dual and blended sign is called in some of the ancient books ‘the sign of the Fish with the head of the Ram.’…Fire and Water will then blend, veiling the past which has gone instead of the future as is now the case. Earth and air will then fuse and in this way the old prophecy, repeated in the Bible, that ‘there shall be no more sea’ will be proved correct. Air (heaven) will then have ‘come down to Earth’ and fusion will be established.”
Who knows? This kind of 10-fold Zodiacal set-up could occur if there is a shifting of the poles of the Earth, and a reorientation of how we look at the sky and Sun-Earth connection many millennia from now. [“10” is the Perfect Number from Pythagorean Mathematics because it represents the unity of the Monad or “1” raised to the next, higher level. “10” also divides evenly into the 360 degrees of the zodiacal circle.]
Some Examples of Celestial Bodies Moving Outside of the Zodiac
Here are some examples of celestial bodies moving in or toward other constellations than the traditional twelve associated with the Constellational Zodiac used in India. Note: Declination is calculated north or south of the Celestial Equator. Latitude is calculated north or south of the Ecliptic
(A) Pallas was at 7 degrees of the sign Scorpio on June 1, 2010. It was also located at 27 degrees north Declination and 43 degrees north Latitude – putting Pallas in or close to the constellation Bootes the Herdsman.
(B) Juno was positioned from 25 to 29 degrees of the sign Gemini during June 1 to 7, 2010. It was also located at 15 degrees north Declination and 9 degrees south Latitude – putting Juno in and near the upraised club of Orion the Hunter.
(C) Venus made a station and turned retrograde at 14 degrees of the sign Scorpio on October 8, 2010. It was also located at 23 degrees south Declination and 7 degrees south Latitude – putting Venus between the constellations Libra and Hydra the Water Snake.
(D) The recently discovered planet Eris – far beyond Pluto – was at 22 degrees of the sign Aries on January 1, 2011. It was also located at 5 degrees south Declination and 14 degrees south Latitude – putting Eris in between the constellations Pisces and Cetus the Sea Monster.
(E) Pallas* is positioned now – as this feature is being written April 18 – 20, 2011 – at 11 degrees of the sign Aquarius. It is also located at 13 degrees north Declination and 32 degrees north Latitude – putting Pallas somewhere between the constellations Delphinus the Dolphin and Sagitta the Arrow (not to be confused with Sagittarius the Archer). *Pallas was stationary at my own birth and I have a strong resonance with this asteroid. Among its many key meanings are problem-solving, strategizing, brainstorming, and conducting in-depth research.
(F) The largest asteroid Ceres (raised up in stature to being a “dwarf planet” by astronomers meeting in the Czech Republic six years ago) will be at 26 degrees of the sign Gemini on September 5, 2012. It will also be located at 21 degrees north Declination and 3 degrees south Latitude – putting it in the raised club of Orion the Hunter.
(G) Ceres will be at 12 degrees of the sign Leo on February 1, 2018. It will also be located at 31 degrees north Declination and 14 degrees north Latitude – putting Ceres close to the constellation known as the Lynx.
(H) Juno will be at 23 degrees of the sign Taurus, and having just united with the discovery placement of Ceres, on December 1, 2018. Juno will also be located at 5 degrees south Declination and 24 degrees south Latitude – putting Juno just a little north of the large constellation known as Eridanus the River and not at all close to or in the zodiacal band of 12 constellations.
In the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, a nobleman – Cassius – says the following (now famous) lines to his friend Brutus, trying to convince Brutus that Caesar must be prevented from becoming a dictator and tyrant over Rome. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Fate may have temporarily put skywatcher Parke Kunkle into playing a Caesar-like role recently in the national and global media via his attempt to disparage Western Astrology, but we free-spirited and free-willed “underlings” within the American astrological community still know how and why our own science-art-language works, and the proof is in the good consultations we provide to clients who are eager to learn the best ways to fulfill their higher destiny on Planet Earth.
©2011 by Mark Lerner and Great Bear Enterprises. All rights reserved.
[Mark Lerner can be reached at MARKL@MARKLERNERASTROLOGY.COM ]