I used to be really into astrology. I mean really into it – I had multiple books, drew up my own charts with computer programs, and even did a speech on it for my high school speech class. Being a lifelong atheist, it was my one woo of choice, and I’ve written about this embarrassing fact before. So when this “story” broke that astrological signs have now been “updated” and everyone’s sign is different, I did a triple facepalm.
The first facepalm was shared with the rest of the skeptical community:
1. It doesn’t matter if the signs up are updated, because both new and old signs are complete and utter bullshit. (I admit, I’m a bit hurt at PZ saying “only the deeply gullible and ignorant can fall for it any more.” It’s no more crazy than religion… though I guess a lot of teenagers, including teenage Jen, are gullible and ignorant to an extent.)
The second facepalm was the old astrologist in me bubbling up:
2. This is not news. Most Western astrologers use the Tropical Zodiac. It’s not based on the position of the stars in the sky, but rather when the sun crosses the Tropic of Cancer (the summer solstice), the Tropic of Capricorn (the winter solstice), and the equator (which happens twice). These four points are used to divide the Zodiac into 12 neat little sections that are basically the same from year to year. The “new astrological signs” this press release is talking about is actually using the Sidereal Zodiac, which has been used for ages by Eastern astrologers. That uses the position of the constellations.
If you ask an astrologer why they use one and not the other, they’ll give a BS answer about how one is better for showing certain aspects of your life. I “understood” this ten years ago, so it’s annoying seeing this covered by every news outlet or having a flood of facebook friends babbling about their new sign. Old news, guys.
The third facepalm was aimed at myself:
3. I still have a visceral emotional reaction to people not “understanding” astrology even though I now logically know that it’s all horseshit. If you were formerly religious, you can probably relate to this feeling. Someone says something incorrect about Catholic doctrine, and you feel compelled to correct them even though you’re arguing about something irrelevant because you know the wine isn’t actually blood, or whatever. But you still emotionally revert back to Catholic mode for a second.
When I think “Eww, I am so not a Virgo, I’m totally a Scorpio,” I want to slap myself.
But I wondered how a Western astrologer would respond to this news. If someone who dabbled years ago was annoyed, they must be furious. I looked up my old buddy Eric Francis who drew up my chart around Boobquake (and was nice enough to not get too mad when I tore it apart). Sure enough, he has a post about this news, and it’s just too chock full of goodies to ignore.
After explaining what I went over in my second point, he states “This is not rocket science — but it is science.” Oh yeah, you know it’s going to be good.
So, hear ye, hear ye! Vedic astrologers use the the sidereal zodiac, and most Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac. They have different purposes, and different philosophies. Both zodiacs work. Most Western astrologers are familiar with their sidereal chart — it tells a different story, and can reveal deeper tendencies you may have noticed but not named. I’m a Pisces in tropical astrology but an Aquarius in sidereal astrology. If you’re curious, cast your sidereal chart and see where the planets show up.
The differences between the two or the reasons behind them are not explained here, or anywhere, but they both work! Because he said so! I mean, isn’t it proof enough that astrology can produce vague descriptions that sort of fit anyone? Oops, I meant “deeper tendencies you may have noticed.”
As for Ophiuchus. This is an old hoax. Historically, Ophiuchus has never been listed as a constellation in the sidereal zodiac. It is a constellation out there, but it’s off the ecliptic (that is, it’s not along the path of the Sun through the sky). I’ve read that Ptolemy mentions it in his literature as an off-zodiac constellation, meaning that the Sun never travels through it. In any event, there are some two dozen constellations that touch the ecliptic; but the sidereal zodiac uses just 12 of them.
The origin of the hoax is a sci-fi author named John Sladek — a satire writer who died in 2000. Sladek liked to prank astrology, and he has a whole novel about a fictitious 13th sign based on Ophiuchus he called Arachne that was “suppressed by the scientific community.” The Ophiuchus hoax first made its rounds in the late 1990s and pops up again like those emails from the guy in Nigeria who wants you to send him your bank account number so he can transfer $15 million your way.
Or like astrologers who say they can explain your personality and predict your future, except those pop up in newspapers every freaking day. Glad we cleared up that that’s legitimate, but everything else is a hoax. Thanks.
The irony. It burns like the fire of a thousand Suns conjunct Aries.
*slaps self* Whoops, sorry about that.