Sidereal Zodiac

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Sidereal Zodiac (Fixed Zodiac)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The zodiac is the belt constituted by the 12 signs—Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. The names of the signs correspond with a belt of 12 constellations ringing our solar system that, several thousand years ago, gave their names to the zodiac. The sidereal zodiac, also referred to as the fixed zodiac, is located where these constellations are actually positioned. Practitioners of Hindu astrology are the most notable users of the sidereal system. The other zodiac originated with Ptolemy, the great astrologer-astronomer of antiquity, who was very careful to assert that the zodiac should begin at (i.e., 0° Aries should be positioned at) the point where the Sun is located during the spring equinox. Because of the phenomenon known as the precession of equinoxes, this point very gradually moves backward every year; currently, 0° Aries is located near the beginning of the constellation Pisces. Astrologers who adhere to the Ptolemaic directive—the great majority of modern Western astrologers—use the tropical zodiac (also called the moving zodiac, for obvious reasons). The sidereal zodiac, however, has become increasingly popular in the West over the last decade or so.

The question of which zodiac to use is more involved than might be initially imagined. When the astrological novice first encounters this issue, the initial tendency is to think that the zodiac should correspond with the constellations; why, after all, should one keep shifting the zodiac just because Ptolemy said to? There is more at stake, however, than the authority of Ptolemy. For example, much seasonal symbolism is associated with the signs: Ever-youthful, pioneering Aries is the sign of spring; cold, restrictive Capricorn is the sign of winter; and so forth. In the tropical zodiac the signs are congruent with the seasons; in the sidereal zodiac these associations are lost. A siderealist, on the other hand, could make the observation that in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, these associations are meaningless anyway (unless the zodiac is shifted 180° in southern latitudes—a highly problematic but nevertheless logically possible response). There is thus no decisive argument favoring one system over the other.

Some attempts to resolve this problem have been made by assigning different significances to the two zodiacs: The tropical zodiac, some have argued, provides a “map” of the personality (the outer self), whereas the sidereal zodiac provides a chart of the soul (the inner self). Other astrologers, most notably James T. Braha in his Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer, have argued that Western, tropical astrology has better tools for analyzing the psyche, but Hindu astrology (the principal form of sidereal astrology) works better in the area of predicting future conditions. Neither of these attempts at reconciliation is likely to become widely accepted. Nor does it seem likely that either zodiac will supplant the other, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Sources:

Braha, James T. Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer. Hollywood, FL: Hermetician Press, 1986.
Brau, Jean-Louis, Helen Weaver, and Allan Edmands. Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology. New York: New American Library, 1980.