Is Ophiuchus the 13th Zodiac Sign?

or Why Astronomers Shouldn't Try to Do Astrology

The Astrology Behind the 'Zodiac Sign Change' Uproar

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Have the Zodiac Signs Changed??

By now you've probably heard about the astronomer who made the announcement that there's really a 13th zodiac sign, and that the zodiac signs have all changed, including the horoscope dates. According to Parke Kunkle, the 13th zodiac sign is Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer (sometimes called the Snake Charmer), since this constellation overlaps the ecliptic (the path the Sun takes through the constellations). While this fact is true, his interpretation of what this means for astrology was completely off the mark.

Astonishingly, this story went nova and created the biggest media frenzy about astrology since it was revealed that Nancy Regan consulted an astrologer. She did this in part to enhance the activity planning of President Regan, and who (unsurprisingly to astrologers) became known as the "Teflon President" because of how scandals involving his staff had so little effect on his popularity.

Alas, this latest "news" is just another example of astronomers deciding to get some media attention by trying to "show up" astrology. In truth, they only manage to demonstrate how little they actually know about real astrology. Just as sadly, what you'll see, hear and read in the mainstream media is merely parroted "news" with little (if any) investigation to discover what the real story and truth are (with rare exceptions, most of which were edited after the initial story was published).

So, your sign is still your sign! If you were a Leo on January 11th B.K. (Before Kunkle), you're still a Leo on January 14th A.K. To read the whole (true) story about zodiac signs, constellations and how the system of astrology does (or doesn't) use these, please read my other article about this: Is Ophiuchus the 13th Zodiac Sign? Or Why Astronomers Shouldn't Try to Do Astrology.

What the Planets Were Doing at the Time

After the wild ride we've had, I've been intrigued to see what's been behind this phenomenon astrologically, so I did a little digging, starting with the date the story was first released. As far as I can tell, this story emerged on or just before January 12, 2011. (This is the date NBC gives for the posting of their online article, and the earliest date for an article about this story that I was able to find.)

Mercury is the first place to look, since it governs communication, the media, press releases and rumors. On Jan.12, Mercury was in very late Sagittarius (the sign of publicity and publications) and in square aspect (90�) to Uranus and Jupiter (the ruler of Sagittarius). This certainly reflects the disproportionate explosion that the story has had throughout the media and the public.

Mercury was also in tight sextile (60�) to Chiron and Neptune, suggesting that the story has stirred up an old wound that never seems to heal, which certainly describes the never ending animosity that astronomers hold about astrology. However, both Chiron and Neptune can also bring healing, so perhaps the enormous publicity that astrology has received as a result of this will end up being a benefit to astrologers, since people are now asking questions and learning more about it.

The Moon was just reaching the waxing square to the Sun at that time. This is known as the First Quarter Moon and marks a major turning point in the cyclical process initiated at the New Moon. That New Moon happened to be the Solar Eclipse in Capricorn on January 4, 2011. Eclipses are known to stir things up at the best of times, and a solar eclipse in Capricorn is likely to shake up the status quo. This story has shaken up both the public's perception and understanding of astrology, as well as astrologers who have fielded millions of alarmed emails and worried questions about the subject.

The Stars of Ophiuchus, the So-Called 13th Zodiac Sign

I also thought it would be fun and interesting to take a look at the fixed stars of the constellation Ophiuchus to see if they were involved in the unfolding of this phenomenon. Not surprisingly, they are! At the solar eclipse, Mercury was conjunct the brightest star in that constellation, Ras Alhague. The orb for fixed stars is usually 1�, and granted this was a little on the wide side (1:15 degrees, applying), but this juxtaposition is too good to dismiss! And don't forget that an eclipse will magnify the energy around it quite a bit.

Both Mercury and Venus were also conjunct secondary stars in Ophiuchus when the story was released on Jan.12. Venus was conjunct Marfik, a star that doesn't seem to get much astrological attention compared to other stars in Ophiuchus. Mercury was conjunct Sinstra, a star which Vivian Robson cites as giving "an immoral, mean and slovenly nature." Similarly, Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology lists Sinstra as being "associated with depravity." Perhaps this reflects Kunkle's presumed opinion of astrology and its practitioners.

Bernadette Brady focuses on the healing influence of Ras Alhague, which she suggests "...may not be only living things but also living ideals." She cites people whose natal charts featured this star, like John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Madam Blavatsky and Vincent van Gogh, each of whom sought to bring a healing energy to their life's work.

Interpreting Ophiuchus as a Constellation

The constellation itself is a bit of a mystery in mythology. It's not clearly known who it depicts, but has often been associated with Aesculapius, the deified healer in Greek mythology who learned his art from Chiron (who himself is often referred to as the Wounded Healer).

Interestingly, it was said that Aesculapius became so skilled at healing that he was able to bring the dead back to life. This certainly sounds like the resurrection of interest in astrology that has resulted from this whole phenomenon, be it brief or ongoing.

However, Aesculapius was also killed by Zeus as a result of this ability. If mythology repeats itself, could this imply that astrology is at risk for receiving even more hostility and suppression from this incident? Or perhaps the media Powers That Be will collectively decide to ignore future stories about astrology in an effort to avoid legitimizing it or stoking further interest in it.

The constellation Ophiuchus itself was described by astrologer Vivian Robson this way (quoted on the fabulous website,; the emphasis is my own):

It is said to give a passionate, blindly good-hearted, wasteful and easily seduced nature, unseen dangers, enmity and slander. Pliny said that it occasioned much mortality by poisoning. This constellation has also been called Aesculapius and held to rule medicines. By the Kabalists it is associated with the Hebrew letter Oin and the 16th Tarot Trump "The Lightning Struck Tower".

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Fascinating! The Tarot card, The Tower, is associated with sudden change, explosive situations and tearing down old structures that no longer serve an effective function. Perhaps this implies that the anti-astrology media attention given to astronomers will finally come to an end or at least die down. Unfortunately, it could just as easily mean even more biased misinformation being promoted by mainstream media, as the scientific sharks roam the astrological waters, having tasted the blood of publicity.

Astrology ~ What's Changed and What Hasn't

In any case, this whole fiasco isn't likely to change astrology itself, as a system. The field of astrology is always exploring new ways to glean meaning from the miscellaneous bits of space dust that inhabit our universe. As a friend and fellow astrologer once quipped, astrology's motto is: "If it moves, interpret it." There will always be especially Aquarian astrologers who love to experiment with new ideas, techniques and perspectives in our craft, and astrology owes a great debt to them for expanding, developing and shaping the continuing growth of astrology.

On the other hand, the basic system of astrology of the traditional 12 zodiac signs will always be with us. Certain changes in how this system is used, measured and interpreted have evolved over the centuries, which is healthy and natural. In recent decades, astrology has also enjoyed a return to its roots as it explores the treasure trove of retranslated ancient texts, thanks to Project Hindsight and other projects.

This current media attention on astrology doesn't seem to be changing society's conventional view of astrology as the "black sheep" of the star gazing family. This family has long been dominated by astronomers and other physical scientists who regard astrology with contempt and that is not likely to change in a hurry, if ever.

Nevertheless, recent events have given us lunatic astrologers a chance to respond to some renewed interest about our craft. As Irish poet and dramatist Brendan Behan once said: "There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary." But no worries—astrology has lasted and even thrived through centuries of bad publicity, vilification and ridicule. We're not about to go away anytime soon.

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