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The 12 Signs of the zodiac are not the constellations.
The Signs are 30° segments that mark the journey of the Sun through the changes of the Wheel of the Year.
The two solstices and the two equinoxes are the anchors that set the order and the placement of the Signs, and create a quartered circle in astrological charts.
Then, if you divide each quarter into three pieces, you have the twelvefold structure of the Signs.
Sailors in open waters far from land use the stars as surrogate landmarks.
Relative to the short spans of human lives, the stars seem to be fixed points.
When the science of Astrology was being formulated, the collections of stars that we name as constellations were used as navigational points in the deep of the sky.
In fact, because of the slow wobble in Earth’s rotation, the stars do move about 1° every 72 years.
As such the constellations that we see in the night sky do not match up with the Signs of the zodiac.
I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve encountered the assertion that Astrology cannot be valid because the Signs do not line up with the constellations.
In Astrology, the Signs are not about those distant stars; the Signs depict the journey of the Sun through its 12 stations.
As such, the cycle always begins with the northern Spring Equinox marking the beginning of Aries and proceeds from there.
Before going any further I should explain that the Zodiac is actually an ecliptic coordinate system.
In other words, if you take the apparent motion of the Sun across the sky and widen that line by 8° north and south so that it becomes like a ribbon that circles the skies of Earth, you have the path of the Zodiac.
The vernal equinox is the origin point for the degrees of longitude in Astrology within this coordinate system.
This ribbon, this band in the heavens, is where we see the motion of the Sun, Moon, and the Planets that can be seen with the naked eye.
The Zodiac is the road of the Sun, not the stars. My first teacher of Astrology, Ellen Riordan, taught me the Signs as a dance.
She lit a candle in the center of the room and then proceeded to do 12 different styles of motions as she circled around the flame, dancing the dance of the Earth’s relationship to the Sun.
I wish I had recorded a video of her dance. If you follow one of the numerous paths of Witchcraft or Paganism, then the idea of the changes of the seasons marking changes in the energy of the world is very familiar.
Many traditions make use of the change of the seasons as markers for their holy days, although the number of holidays varies from tradition to tradition.
By extension, then, you can understand the 12 Signs as a twelvefold Wheel of the Year. In the chapter “The Astrology of Time,” we’ll explore how the various wheels within wheels of cyclical time relate to each other.
The 12 Signs can be thought of as the 12 styles of human wisdom and human folly.
You could also say that they are 12 modes of human consciousness.
If you wish to think of the Signs as vibrations, then you can think of them as named colors or as notes in a musical scale.
Although it is true that both colors and notes are part of an unbroken continuum, there is great value in naming specific colors and specific notes.
Astrologers and magickal practitioners have been working with and elaborating on the meaning of the Signs for many, many generations.
It is a well-known tenet in many systems of Magick that when people apply thought, emotion, and imagination in a consistent and coherent manner, that over time a thought-form is developed.
Taking this magickal perspective into consideration, it is also clear that in addition to the qualities that are inherent to the Signs, there are also highly developed thought-forms attached to each of the Signs.
In the chapter devoted to the Signs, I will describe the attributes of each of the Signs in some detail.
Many things in Astrology are changeable, but the structure of relationships between the 12 Signs does not change.
The natural order of the Signs starts with Aries and ends with Pisces, and the flow of the Signs is counterclockwise.
Each of the Signs has a unique combination of an Element, a Modality, and the Polarity.
Many secrets and mysteries are encoded into this patterned sequence.
If a person had a deep understanding of the meaning of the Elements, Modalities, and the Polarities but had never been taught anything about the 12 Signs, they would be able to make educated guesses about the nature of each of the 12 Signs with a bit of contemplation on each unique combination .
The Signs can be thought of as the equivalent of adjectives and adverbs because they modify or color the power of a Planet through a unique combination of an Element, a Modality, and a Polarity.