Living on a ball of rock which is spinning at unimaginable speed, we like to cling on to what certainties we can. There are seven days in a week. There are 24 hours in a day. And there are 12 signs of the Zodiac.
But as someone who spends their time studying astrology, one thing I know for sure is that there are very few constants in our ever-changing universe. So when stories began to re-emerge this week of a 13th star sign, I wasn’t shocked.
Does it mean that we need to recalibrate the sky? Have the heavens been turned upside down? Thankfully, it’s nothing quite so dramatic!
Cosmologists at Nasa first ‘discovered’ a 13th constellation, — Ophiuchus, aka the snake-bearer — several years ago, claiming it as a new Zodiac sign for people born between November 29 and December 17.
Cosmologists at Nasa first ‘discovered’ a 13th constellation, — Ophiuchus, aka the snake-bearer (pictured) — several years ago, claiming it as a new Zodiac sign for people born between November 29 and December 17
Astrology aficionados were debating its significance even before that. So why has Ophiuchus resurfaced now?
The skies, as always, have the answer — this time in the form of Comet Neowise.
It is one of the few comets that can be seen with the naked eye. Growing brighter as it prepares for its closest run by Earth on July 23, the comet is throwing into relief some of the mysteries of our cosmos. Its sudden dramatic appearance has encouraged more of us to look towards the heavens to seek insight into these strange times. And who should be looking back but the long-forgotten Ophiuchus?
It was the Babylonians who originally spotted Ophiuchus about 3,000 years ago, along with the 12 constellations we know so well. As Nasa put it, the Babylonians ‘divided the Zodiac into 12 equal parts — like cutting a pizza into 12 equal slices’. Each 30-degree slice of the 360-degree path of the Sun was given its own star sign, to match the Babylonians’ own 12-month calendar, based on the Moon’s phases. So the 13th, Ophiuchus, got conveniently left out. And now it’s back!
Well, you would inherit a lot of the characteristics of the Sagittarian sign it sits within: naturally optimistic, with a gung-ho attitude to any challenge or situation
Well, sort of. I’ll explain why this intriguing interloper won’t be getting its own slot in your Daily Mail forecast shortly.
But if you are born under the Ophiuchus ‘sign’, what does it mean?
Well, you would inherit a lot of the characteristics of the Sagittarian sign it sits within: naturally optimistic, with a gung-ho attitude to any challenge or situation. People born within the Ophiuchus dates tend to be flamboyant and outgoing, while ready to commit deeply to the right person once they find them. They are generous folk who strive hard for success. Celebrities born between November 29 and December 17 certainly include a fair share of these passionate extroverts. Billy Idol (November 30) and Ozzy Osbourne (December 3) celebrate their birthdays in the 13th Zodiac timeframe. And Winston Churchill (November 30), led Britain to victory during its darkest hours.
So if the constellation of Ophiuchus the snake-bearer exists, shouldn’t we squeeze it into the forecasts? That would mean changing the dates of the other signs to incorporate it, so if you were Taurus you might slip into Aries, and so on.
The answer is no! There will be 12 signs in your forecast tomorrow, next week and next year — as there has always been. And to explain why, we have to draw a distinction between a constellation and a sign.
Astrology goes back thousands of years, and my predecessors always knew the signs and constellations would drift ever further apart over time. That’s why we have never used the constellations for our predictive work. They’re unreliable and unequal. There are arguments over where they each begin and end. Plus, over time, they change.
Astrologers needed a different, more reliable way to measure the sky. So they created 12, exactly equal, mathematical divisions of the ecliptic. As the ecliptic is the path that the Sun appears to follow through the sky, with the constellations behind it, we named each of our signs after one of those.
For daily prediction purposes, what matters to modern-day astrologers remain the 12 divisions of the Zodiac that we know and love. And astrology readings in newspapers and magazines focus on the major influences and the biggest events, such as eclipses, full and new moons, conjunctions of planets and rare comets. (To order an individual chart reading, visit cainer.com.)
To the ancient Greeks, and the Babylonians before them, there was no separation between astronomy and astrology. In studying the sky, you would automatically read symbolic meaning into it.
This didn’t change until surprisingly recently. Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus and even Newton were just as interested in mystic interpretations as in measuring planetary orbits.
These great astronomers knew about the ‘two different Zodiacs’. They fully understood that you did your astrology with the mathematically equal divisions and that the constellations were for decorative purposes only.
They also knew those constellations didn’t match up with the equal Zodiac signs. The ‘drift’ began to happen long before.
But sometimes our modern astronomers (even the incredibly smart boffins at Nasa) overlook these crucial distinctions. The history gets forgotten and the Zodiac signs and the constellations are mixed up together. However, at this time of great uncertainty in the world, it is natural that we reconsider the cosmic influences on our lives. That is why Comet Neowise is so significant.
Pictured: Comet Neowise passing Glastonbury Tor in Somerset on July 12. Over the centuries, comets have been seen as harbingers of doom
Spotted back in March, when we went into lockdown, it has defied expectations to grow stronger and brighter.
Over the centuries, comets have been seen as harbingers of doom. That’s partly because their appearance is a surprise, unlike the cyclical nature of the planets. In fact, comets often signify periods of dramatic political and financial realignment — which is why I like to think of this one as the Covid Comet!
And, as well as drawing our attention to a certain snake-bearer, this message from the skies offers a hidden mantra: as long as we choose to focus on the positive, we really can work to build a bright, new future.