originally published January 16, 2013
Every so often, which is to say almost every day, I find myself writing about a topic I know nothing about, flailing desperately to sound slightly educated on the matter, when in fact I’m mostly relying on information from my dark she-mistress, Wikipedia, and the crap I make up as I go along. This will be one of those days.
Last week, I penned an in-depth horoscope for those who still possess the child-like naivety that fate is guided by the relationship between the stars and planets and (because we’re that important) us. Later that day, whilst chatting with Cynndie, the naturopath who works at the place where I receive my thrice-daily skin-buffings, the topic arose of the mysterious ‘13th Sign’.
In case you missed it, there was a controversy a couple years ago in the astrology world. Old-school Babylonians – whose wisdom should no doubt directly influence whether or not you’ll meet an old acquaintance today – invented the Zodiac signs by reading which constellation the sun was creeping through on a given day. That clearly worked out well for them, given that you can’t find a single Babylonian wandering the streets today. Really, these are the people who are telling me what career choices I should make?
Anyway, the moon had the last laugh on the Babylonians. It played its prank over the past few millennia, tweaking the Earth off its axis and messing up the appearance of the sun’s trajectory. In early 2011, the idea was proposed to shift the star signs and even introducing a thirteenth sign to balance everything out. That’s right, meet the guy who might be guiding your future, depending on when your parents had sex. This is Ophiuchus:
Ophiuchus is located just northwest of the center of the Milky Way galaxy – well, northwest if you’re looking up at it from Earth. If you want to head outside tonight and check it out, you’ll need to be patient; until sometime in February, Ophiuchus is hiding under the shadow of daylight. Since the 4th century BC people have looked up at these eleven stars (62 in its general region, but eleven that count) and found the majesty of a serpent God. Me, I see a child’s house drawing with a collapsing chimney.
In 1994, British astrology buff Barry Parkinson decided he’d had enough of writing electronic repair manuals and science course-work for kids, and decided to drop the 13-sign Zodiac bombshell on the world. His book dropped in 1995, and caused enough of a wave for him to change his name to the more ethereal (and possibly Jewish)-sounding Walter Berg, and aim his pointy wizard’s hat at the stars full-time.
According to Berg, the way that planets, stars, asteroids and comets zoom through deep space affects our solar magnetic field. This then influences the geomagnetic field, and because human bio-resonant systems are tuned in to the magnetic cycles around us, it’s pure science to state that someone born between Date X and Date Y is more likely to wet the bed into their teens.
Leaping boldly onto the bandwagon of weirdness, and making more headlines and Daily Show appearances than Walter Berg, is professor Parke Kunkle, teacher of astronomy at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Normally I’d dismiss his credentials outright, but just look at his honest face:
According to Kunkle, whose name I could feasibly adopt as a mantra to lull myself into a blissful state of meditation, modern astrologers simply aren’t looking up at the sky often enough these days. He is approaching this controversy from a place of pure logic, simply telling us which constellations the sun passes through in our modern sky. And some astrologers have jumped all over it, ascribing the traits of longevity and inventiveness to those born under the new sign of Ophiuchus.
Others are outraged. London’s Daily Mail astrologer calls professor Kunkle’s statements the work of a “jealous astronomer”. That’s fair though – why wouldn’t astronomers be jealous of astrologers? Astronomers have to research, investigate, and document stuff, while astrologers can use pseudo-science to make shit up and sell it in checkout-line books to people who’d rather not take responsibility for their lives.
I don’t want to beat up too heavily on astrology. If you glance at your daily horoscope and it sparks a conversation, or makes you feel a little better about the day you’re heading off to endure, that’s great. Just remember what it is – fiction, delivered in generalizations for the purpose of providing light entertainment for a modest income. It’s not real, like reading tea leaves.
The thing is, Walter Berg’s 13th Zodiac sign only conforms to a sect of ‘sidereal astrology’ that was popular in parts of India. The system he devised for correcting this system with modern constellation positions has gained traction in Japanese pop culture (even showing up in the Final Fantasy video game series), but hasn’t really taken flight in this side of the world.
The main reason is that the astrology we’ve come to know and love has nothing to do with which constellation the sun is dancing with at any given moment. ‘Tropical Astrology’, as well as the simplified Sun-Sign Astrology that rents a corner of the newspaper every day, was concocted by dividing the sky into twelve equal segments, and watching where the sun happens to be.
That makes sense. Doesn’t make it any more scientific, but I guess it makes sense, and it keeps everything nice and mathematically divisible by twelve. Very convenient. But it isn’t science.
If you insist upon a little astrological confusion in your life, why not try out this homely monstrosity? That’s Cetus, the sea monster. In 1970, a guy named Stephen Schmidt advocated a 14-sign Zodiac, which included Ophiuchus as well as Cetus. This might be a career path for me. I’ll invent my own constellation (Squirmy, the three-toed sloth) and start promoting a 15-sign Zodiac. Those born under the sign of Squirmy are untrustworthy, more prone to snorting when they laugh, and slightly more flammable than anyone else.
It’s all pseudoscience anyway. If you’re rooted in logic, you’ll stick to more legitimate ways to tell your future, like actually preparing for it. If not, here’s a look at the new Zodiac calendar, according to Berg and his disciples. Hopefully, if your sign has switched you don’t feel sad and demoted: