And Why Both are Important
by Cayelin K Castell
And we now have a New YouTube mini-teaching (15 minutes) on this issue with great visuals that explains this even more!
Signs and constellations are not the same thing. The confusion occurs because a time long ago when people forgot they were different they named the constellations and the signs the same names. However, they are not the same as the signs describe the seasons or months of the year and are measured from the Solstice and Equinox points. The zodiacal constellations are the back drop the signs or seasons move through and are found along the ecliptic or the path the planets track through the sky. The signs, or seasons of the year are slowly moving through all the constellations, precessing one degree every 72 years. Approximately every 26,000 years every sign will move through every constellation along the ecliptic. It is this movement of the signs, or seasons, through the constellations that is the mechanism of how myth and symbol change over time.
The star patterns of the constellations have different meanings to different cultures at different times. This corresponds to the opening line of the Emerald Tablets of Hermes that in its simplest form says “As Above, So Below”. For example, the constellation astronomers currently call Aries, (a.k.a. the Ram), was known as the hireling or Indentured Servant prior to the shift of the Spring Equinox (or the zero Aries point) into that constellation about 4,000 years ago. The shift of the Spring Equinox moving into the constellation of the Ram coincided with the shift in how that constellation was viewed. Several mythic stories reflect this shift. One such story is of the Cretan Bull Dancers and the slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus. This story symbolized the death of the Age of the Bull (when the zero Aries point or Spring Equinox was rising in that constellation) and the coming of the age of the Ram (a.k.a Aries) when the Spring Equinox (or zero Aries point) moved into the constellation of the Ram about 4,000 years ago. Similarly the story of Jesus, also known as the lamb of God, was sacrificed on the cross symbolically giving birth to the current age of the fish, coinciding with the movement of the Spring Equinox into the constellation of the Fish, (also known as the age of Pisces), about 2000 years ago.
It is easy to see why there is such confusion about the difference between the signs and constellations because they were named the same names at a time when the people forgot they were different. This has given rise to the misunderstanding that occurs between tropical and sidereal astrologers and who has the “correct” system or the system that really works. From the Shamanic Astrology perspective it is not Either Or but rather both systems are part of our evolutionary process. The polarization between tropical and sidereal creates further separation where as understanding that both the tropical or seasonal signs and the sidereal or constellations interact and when we understand that interaction greater wholeness is possible.
One way to remember the difference between signs and constellations is to think of the constellations as constant, they are the back drop the signs (or seasons) are moving through. The signs are seasonal. They represent a seasonal energy that is determined by our experience of the Sun at different times of the year. This experience also depends on where we are located on the planet. Near the equator the seasonal shifts are hardly noticeable. The further north or south you go the more extreme the seasonal shifts are. The four cardinal points zero Capricorn, zero Aries, zero Cancer and zero Libra mark the Solstice and Equinox points when we experience the seasonal shifts depending on where we are on the planet. For example, zero Capricorn, marks the Winter Solstice point north of the Equator and the Summer Solstice point south of the Equator. Zero Aries marks the Spring Equinox north of the equator, and the Autumnal Equinox south of the equator.
The Solstice and Equinox points are defined by the relationship of the Celestial Equator (the equator of the Earth expanded into space) and the Ecliptic (the path the planets travel). The equinoxes are formed by the intersection points of these two circles and the Solstices are where the two circles are farthest apart. These are the four cardinal points in space that define our yearly cycle. Our current system uses the Spring Equinox or Zero Aries to begin the division of the circle into 12 segments or 12 signs of 30 degrees each covering the 360 degrees of the circle.
It is helpful to remember that the seasonal points are moving through the constellations. Again the confusion occurs because there was a time when the precessional cycle was forgotten and the signs and constellations were named the same names. The reality is they never have been the same. That is why in Shamanic Astrology we do not call the constellations by the sign names but rather what they depict. In otherwords, we call the constellation known as Capricorn, the Goat Fish. Aquarius is the Waterbearer, Pisces is the Fish, Aries is the Ram, Taurus is the Bull, Gemini is the Twins, Cancer is the Crab, Leo is the Lion, Virgo is the Virgin Priestess, Libra is the Scales, Scorpio is the Scorpion, and Sagittarius is the Archer. This is designed to help us remember that the constellations are different from the seasonal signs.
Over a 26,000 year period all the signs will move through all the zodiacal constellations. As each sign moves through each constellation, the sign and the constellation create a natural synthesis of their individual mysteries that automatically expresses in the Great Below or in our Earth based reality. We have seen evidence of this because different ages have different myths and symbols that define them, i.e. the bull, the ram, the fish, and so on. These ages are marked by the movement of the Spring Equinox of zero Aries into those constellations.
Another type of example that does not use the cardinal points might be helpful. Currently the sign or season of Sagittarius (or 30 days before the Winter Solstice) is overlaying the constellation of the Scorpion. The heart of the Scorpion is marked by a bright red star known as Antares. This star is currently located at about 10 degrees of the sign Sagittarius, and the Sun passes by here around the 2nd of December every year. 13,000 years ago the Sun would have been passing by the fixed star Aldebaran in the exact opposite part of the sky on December 2nd. Aldebaran is currently located at about 10 degrees Gemini where the early June Sun is now rising. 13,000 years ago the early December Sun rose near Aldebaran and the early June Sun rose near Antares exactly opposite of what is happening now. This means the seasons are in the opposite constellations of what they were 13,000 years ago.
So really saying this again helps us to remember that the signs are seasonally based and the zodiacal constellations are the star patterns found along the ecliptic. These are entirely two separate mechanisms that are different but that do interact with each other. Part of our collective remembering now is around the significance and meaning of the movement of the signs through the zodiacal constellations.
The challenge is to let go of our deeply programmed way of thinking that Taurus is the Bull, when in fact much of the Bull is now occupied by the sign or season of Gemini. And the constellation of the Twins is occupied by the sign or season of Cancer and even a couple of degrees of Leo. At the season of Summer Solstice, the Sun (at zero Cancer) is rising on the boundary between the constellation of the Bull and the Twins.
This is further illustrated by the fact that currently the Winter Solstice or the Zero Capricorn point is on the boundary between the Archer and the Scorpion near Galactic Center. This means the sign of Capricorn has almost entirely left the constellation of the Goatfish. The constellation of the Scales (a.k.a. Libra) is now mostly occupied by the sign of Scorpio. In fact, one of the brightest fixed stars in this constellation, the fixed star Zuben Algenubi, is currently marking 15 Scorpio. This is the zodiacal degree of the mid-way point or cross-quarter point between the Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice, meaning that the Sun is currently rising near Zuben Algenubi at the Samhain astrological cross-quarter on Nov 7 each year. Remember the precession occurs at the rate of one degree every 72 years so the Sun rises within one degree either side of this star at the November cross-quarter for 144 years. We are well into that 144 window now.
Understanding the difference between signs and constellations helps to give us a greater understanding of what time it is in the big cosmic picture so we can participate with greater conscious awareness. This is especially important now at this great turning of the wheel of time Shamanic Astrology refers to as the Turning Of The Ages. Therefore, as we remember more of these mysteries we are actively engaging a more current and conscious relationship with the Sky as it relates to the Earth. Again this approach recognizes the importance of both the constellations and the signs and how working with both is helping to restore balance between the Great Above and the Great Below as each magnificently reflects the other.