I received an email with some questions about the so-called “thirteenth sign” of the zodiac that often confounds moderns. There is a constellation that touches the ecliptic – the apparent path of the Sun around the earth – from the north side. It is called Ophiuchus, or Serpentarius, the Serpent-Handler. The 12 zodiacal constellations straddle the ecliptic.
Here are parts of the email (most of it) and my responses to it.
I have been trying to ascertain from Astrologers all over the US their opinions as to why so many who follow the classical model do not recognize Ophiuchus … a recently popular but ever-present 13th constellation found along the Solar ecliptic like all the houses of the Zodiac, which sits between Scorpio and Sagittarius.
Ophiuchus was never part of astrology, so there it makes no sense to include it if one is interested in returning astrology to its roots.
During Ptolemy’s time it was an included as part of the horoscope while Libra was excluded,
That’s not correct. Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos refers to Chelae, the claws of the Scorpion. This falls between Virgo and Scorpio, but was not actually considered a part of Scorpio (as evidenced by the fact that it has a separate entry). (See Ashmand’s translation, p. 26). Chelae was eventually renamed Libra, but is essentially the same star group. Ophiuchus is on the other side, as you state, between Scorpio and Sagittarius. It is listed on p. 29 of Ashmand as “Serpentarius” (an earlier Latin name for it) as one of the Constellations northof the Zodiac. So Ptolemy clearly did not include it as part of the Zodiac constellations, and as far as the evidence we have, no one else did.
but apparently at some point in history which no one can pinpoint the “serpent-bearer” was removed (perhaps because of the serpent reference being interpreted as satanic?).
As I say, no one removed it. It was simply never part of the 12 zodiacal signs. The satanic reference is dubious, since Serpentarius/Ophiuchus is actually the serpent handler, not the serpent. Perhaps the reason is that the constellation doesn’t really cross the ecliptic, rather it just barely touches it to the north, but that’s just a guess on my part.
This constellation has always been there in the sky. It isn’t as if is mysteriously just appeared… it’s huge in comparison to its neighbor Scorpio, but astrologers seem to still pretend it isn’t there.
It’s not that we pretend that it’s not there. Those of us who work with Traditional astrology work not only with the 12 zodiacal signs, but also the fixed stars in the other constellations as well. However, if it doesn’t actually cross the ecliptic line, then the planets do not actually move through the constellation, they move above or below it.
With the return of interest in sideareal systems which emphasize ACTUAL observation (i.e. taking our noses out of dusty old books and looking up for a change) it seems common sense to re-introduce it… it’s right there for everyone to see after all.
There is really nothing to “reintroduce”, since as I’ve said, it never formed part of the zodiac.
But let me be clear, those of us who are practicing traditional Western astrology are not practicing sidereal astrology. From the beginning, two systems emerged: sidereal and tropical. The sidereal system is based upon the relationship of the earth to the stars, specifically to the alpha star in the constellation of Aries. However, the constellations are not all composed of neat, 30 degree figures, and even sidereal astrologers use a stylized “12 signs x 30 degrees each” system. The tropical zodiac is based on the relationship between the earth and the sun, and consequently on the seasons. It’s about life in our very own solar system, not all the rest of them. So neither system is based upon what one “actually” sees in the sky. From the very beginning, as I indicate above, astrology was stylized. There is an intimate connection between sacred geometry and sacred number. The number 12 is divisible by 3 modes and 4 elements. It’s divisible easily by 2 polarities (masculine/feminine, diurnal/nocturnal, positive/negative, etc.). The theory of astrological aspects is tied to this. The number 13 may be sacred for other reasons, but it does not serve the purposes of astrology.
Finally, astrology has never been about exact physical observation alone. It has always been combined with the idea that there is a magic about it, and that the Hermetic law of “as above, so below” is the ideal. Those who insist on a purely scientific approach to astrology misunderstand it, and whether consciously or not, buy into the modern atheistic mindset (yes, even if they themselves are astrologers). That is not to say that astrological methods can’t be tested and repeatable, but not everything can be explained in terms of billiard balls knocking against one another.
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