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Astrology Horoscope wheel chart.

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          Growing up, neither astrology nor the zodiacs had ever captivated me. Like the majority of others, I knew my Sun sign, Taurus, and occasionally read about the associated traits and horoscopes. Astrology seemed like nothing more than a pseudoscience that numerous people believed. It was not until the Ophiuchus dispute a few years ago when the astrological side of the constellations piqued my interest.

          In 2016, NASA published an article on constellations that included a new sign, Ophiuchus, in the zodiac. This inclusion of Ophiuchus spawned confusion and alarm among many astrology enthusiasts, with some taking strong stances for and against Ophiuchus’ addition. NASA later explained that this new constellation was not a recent discovery. Ophiuchus was always a part of the physical zodiac; it was just omitted during the creation of the astrological zodiac.

          The outrage and confusion intrigued me; I did not understand why so many people vehemently rejected Ophiuchus’ inclusion to the zodiac. Any time the 13th zodiac was mentioned, chaos ensued. Debates among longtime astrology subscribers and those who never went deeper than their star sign erupted with both groups bickering for and against Ophiuchus. From observing the discourse, I grew more curious about astrology and why the 13th zodiac was so hotly debated.

          The twelve traditional zodiac constellations are widely known and a source of fascination for many. The zodiac constellations as we know them find their roots in Babylonian astronomy almost 3000 years ago. The Babylonians first divided the constellations along the ecliptic, the plane of planetary orbits around the Sun. To fit their 12-month calendar so that the constellations could easily be delegated into the four seasons and elements, the Babylonians chose to omit Ophiuchus from their zodiac system. Thus, the orthodox zodiac system was born.

          Each of the 12 zodiac constellations are grouped into four elements: earth, fire, water, and air; and the four seasons. The earth signs consist of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn; fire signs include Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius; the water signs are Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio; and air signs consist of Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.

          The groupings for seasons are much simpler, as signs adjacent to each other are likely in the same season. The spring signs are Aries, Taurus, and Gemini; summer signs include Cancer, Leo, and Virgo; fall signs are Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius; and winter signs include Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

          The delegation of houses is complicated and varies. Sometimes, each zodiac sign has their own houses. Other times, they are grouped based on elements or modality. Elemental houses are organized similarly to how elements are arranged. For modality, there are three types: Cardinal for Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn; Fixed for Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius; and Mutable for Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.

          Historically, astrology has always been a tool used to determine futures and provide information about a person’s character. The zodiacs were also used to assist in navigation, with one of the most famous examples being the naming of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the two Torrid Zones north and south of the equator.

          Thousands of years ago, these zones that sit approximately 23.5° above and below the equator were given the names Cancer and Capricorn because of the Sun’s position during the solstices. In the southern hemisphere, during the winter solstice, the Sun would be observed to be in the Capricorn constellation. And so, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn were named.

          While the practice of astrology has retained its traditional methods and purposes, the actual zodiacs themselves have gone through significant changes. Although the Sun appeared to be in the constellations of Cancer and Capricorn during the summer and winter solstices a few thousand years ago, that is no longer the case. Due to the Earth’s wobble, which takes tens of thousands of years to complete, the constellations have shifted ever so slightly. If the tropics were renamed to account for this change, Cancer would become Taurus or Gemini, depending on who you ask, and Capricorn would become Sagittarius.

          As mentioned earlier, the zodiacs were tools to determine the futures and personalities of others. Before any professional astrologers can make any readings, you must first create a birth chart. Birth charts are essentially a chart of the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets relative to the zodiac constellations. Since the zodiac sits along the ecliptic, all of these bodies will appear in one zodiac or another. Your Sun and Moon signs are straightforward, it is just what signs they happen to appear in on that day. Your rising and descending signs are whichever signs appear to come over or disappear under the horizon, which is why astrologers will often ask for the time, not just the date, of your birth. Planetary signs are determined similarly to your Sun and Moon signs, it depends on which sign a planet can be observed on that day.

          From this birth chart, astrologers can determine your personality and predict future events, all from the positioning of celestial bodies in our solar system. Horoscopes are created according to how an astrologer interprets these positions, leading to multiple varied horoscopes across many astrologers for any given month or day.

        Nina Kahn, Bustle writer and astrologer, writes,A good horoscope is a thoughtful art that takes ancient cosmic wisdom, applies it to the current position of the planets in astrology, and interprets how those influences might play out in a person’s life.”

          However, more often than not, these birth charts are incorrect due to the Babylonians leaving out the 13th zodiac: Ophiuchus.

          Whereas the traditional zodiac constellation is only 12 strong, the actual zodiac family consists of 13 zodiacs. Ophiuchus sits nestled between Sagittarius and Scorpio, taking up 18 days between November and December. 

          From an astrological perspective, the addition of Ophiuchus does not shift the traditional zodiac system at all.  The ecliptic is divided evenly into 12 sections, each section named after the zodiac found there. Including a section for Ophiuchus shifts the dates of all other constellations and unbalances the houses and seasons, so many astrologers chose to follow the Babylonians and omit Ophiuchus from birth charts and their predictions. Interestingly, the Sun spends more time in Ophiuchus than it does in Scorpio.

          From an astronomical perspective, the zodiac family expands to almost twice the amount as the traditional zodiac, including constellations like Canis Minor, Orion, Serpens, and Hydra, to name a few. In astronomy, all a constellation needs to accomplish to be considered a part of the zodiac is to simply be 8° off the ecliptic. This wider range allows more constellations to be added to the astronomical zodiac. If the orbit of Pluto, which is about 17° off the ecliptic, was also considered when creating the zodiac system, even more constellations, like Leo Minor, would be added.

          Most astrologers continue to use the traditional zodiac constellations for their readings and predictions. Although astrologers continue to use this supposed false zodiac and considering that a majority of the population know that astrology is pseudoscience, why do so many continue to believe in astrology? The answer is also why many people believe in other pseudosciences like the Myer-Briggs Personality Types: the Barnum Effect.

          The Barnum Effect, or Forer Effect, is the phenomenon in which a person is led to believe that a certain description of their personality fits perfectly with them. This is often because the descriptions provided are so vague that they can be applied to a majority of the population. If someone with an Aquarius Sun sign read a personality analysis for Gemini or Leo, they might find that traits assigned to those other signs fit themselves just as much as established Aquarius traits do. There might be some distinction between signs, but generally, most descriptors are vague enough so that most people will believe that these analyses are specifically tailored to themselves.

          Despite knowing that astrology is pseudoscience, many people still enjoy reading horoscopes and learning about their signs. Although it is impossible for celestial bodies to dictate entire personalities and influence the future of any one individual, there is no harm in having fun and participating in astrology and the community around it.

          Whether you believe in astrology or not, there is no doubt that the history of astrology and the zodiac constellations is a varied and interesting one. Clearly, it is okay to keep up with horoscopes and analyses derived from birth charts, as long as one is careful not put too much stock in them.