Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This is the Dawning of the Age of ... Capricorn???

Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer
Have you ever read your horoscope in hopes of gaining some supernatural preparation for what the future holds? Or have you ever looked at a breakdown of your astrological sign, latching on to all the vague tidbits that accurately represent your personality type (or rather the personality type you wish you had), and conveniently ignoring the ones that aren't so insightful? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you might have already heard that the astrological sign you always used to define yourself could be wrong.

Last Monday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported a claim made by astronomer Parke Kunkle that, thanks to a gravitational shift, the Earth is no longer aligned with the zodiac signs the way it used to be. That means that on your next birthday the sun (or moon or whatever) might not be "in" the same constellation it was in on the day you were born. The news took a few days to go viral over the Tweeters, and the Diggits, and the FaceUnions, and it's been a few more days until my scheduled post where I can tell you all about it.

Many astrology buffs have reacted with feelings ranging from annoyance to rage at finding out that their favorite pseudo-science has suddenly proved unreliable. And I can't say I blame them. I didn't read my horoscope before the big change, and I don't plan to now. But do I have to start identifying myself with a whole new portion of the population? And what's with this crazy 13th sign, Ophiuchus? And Scorpio only lasts a week now!? There's plenty to read about after the jump.

First of all, let's break down the numbers: what are the 12 13 signs of the zodiac, what dates do they encompass, and what dates did they used to encompass? Please look at this handy chart:

Everything has shifted forward about a month. Some have been lengthened, some have been shortened (some significantly - I'm looking at you, Scorpio), and everyone involved has been thoroughly confused.

What does this mean for everything we've always known about our personalities? We all know that certain aspects of ourselves are governed by the position of the heavenly bodies at the time we were born, and surely the historical locations of the planets and stars haven't changed. So by that logic, for everyone born before 2009 - the year when Ophiuchus was fished out of the Babylonian trash bin and reinstated as a legitimate astrological sign - their signs remain the same. Everyone born after that must adhere to the new system.

But what does that mean for all us toddlers, adolescents, teens, adults, and seniors who unexpectedly had our signs switched? Going forward, which horoscope do I read in tomorrow's paper if I want some insight into the future? Sure, I can still identify as a Cancer based on the astronomical positioning during my birth-moment two and a half decades ago, but as we progress through and past 2011, do I have to read Gemini's horoscope to see what's going to happen to me? Or can I read both and choose which one I like better?

Ophiuchus, the constellation
And if we're now each associated with a different astrological sign, how can we be sure that the personality traits we used to describe ourselves haven't changed as well? Will the change from a feminine water sign to a masculine air sign cause me to feel more extroverted and outgoing? Hey, with 2012 approaching, I wouldn't be surprised. Stranger things have happened in the cosmos...

What surprises me most about this whole situation is why this just became news now. From what little I know about astronomy, the Moon's gravitational pull has caused Earth to "wobble" on its axis, a phenomenon first noticed before the birth of Christ. And then there's this "Ophiuchus" sign, that was supposedly rejected by the Babylonians who wanted their high drama on the celestial stage played out by an even 12 constellations. I'm no stargazer, but I don't know how they got from the little pentagon-y box (pictured right) to the dramatic rendition of the "serpent-bearer" (pictured above - and is it just me or does it look like he's drying his crotch with a big snake in place of a towel?).

This all smacks of a "rebranding" of sorts for Western Astrology. We've seen it before: when Gatorade began feeling a little dull, they replaced it with the "G-Series." The SciFi channel became "SyFy" to keep viewers interested. Maybe people weren't reading their horoscopes regularly, so the Freemasons or the Illuminati or whoever it was that invented astrology decided to shift all the dates and add in a new sign. From a publicity standpoint, it's a risky maneuver - the potential payoff has people paying attention to twice as much astrology as before, since they'll invariably want to keep track of both their old, nostalgic sign and their new, accurate one. But it also has the risk of syphoning credibility from an already questionable pursuit.

To avoid the upcoming drama, I think I'm just going to remove myself from the situation and continue to not give a "phiuch" about astrology.