An unaligned zodiac arouses deep-seated suspicions
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Do you know your sign? Gemini, Aquarius or whatever? Of course you do. Whether you're a Nancy Reagan and use horoscopes to plan your spouse's schedule, or hold a doctorate in astrophysics and view astrology as wide-scale fraud, our zodiacal signs are part of our identity.
So it was no surprise that the media went into hyperdrive two weeks ago over reports that people's signs had changed. A Minnesota astronomer was quoted as saying that the constellations have slipped around the sky over the centuries because the Earth wobbles slightly on its axis. We've been reading the wrong horoscope all our lives!
Then, after a 48-hour frenzy, the story died. In numerous interviews with remarkably unskeptical reporters, astrologers successfully peddled the notion that it was all a big misunderstanding. Of course they knew about the Earth's wobble. It was old news. Everybody could keep their signs. What a relief.
I wasn't satisfied, so I looked into it. (Okay, I concede this ain't Watergate.) I don't believe in astrology - well, maybe a teensy bit, as I explain below - but I look at my horoscope sometimes. I've always thought I was a Scorpio. If astronomers say I'm "really" a Virgo, then I want to know.
Here's what I found out:
lMinnesota astronomer Parke Kunkle was correct in saying that the constellations for which our zodiacal signs are named have been out of whack with the dates traditionally assigned to them for nearly 2,000 years. Even the astrologers concede that.
"They're not going to line up. What this astronomer said was absolutely true," Silver Spring astrologer Lynn Koiner said.
lKoiner and other astrologers said that doesn't matter, because the signs have nothing to do with the constellations of the same names. Instead, the signs measure the change in the seasons, starting with the first day of spring. They say it's just a regrettable, confusing anomaly that our signs are still named for constellations that no longer are astronomically connected to our birth dates.
lWhen questioned, however, the astrologers were unable to explain satisfactorily why something as seemingly vital as the location of the constellations in the sky has nothing to do with fortunetelling based on the heavens. I interviewed three and got fuzzy, varying accounts.
One theme was that the constellations are irrelevant because it's the planets that really matter. So, are the stars superfluous? Not quite. It seems that some stars matter - just not the 12 constellations that the vast majority of people identify with astrology. How convenient.
I had a revealing exchange with prominent New York-based astrologer Susan Miller, who owns the Web site Astrology Zone.
"The point is, the constellations do not give you your personality. The planets always gave you your personality," Miller said.