Dialogue of a Problem

At about the same time Jesus Christ lived, astrologers noted that the sun rose every year in the constellation Aries at the Vernal Equinox. They determined that the first day of spring marked the first degree of Aries. The sun and planets revolve about the Earth in a belt of twelve constellations called the zodiac; various qualities were attributed to individuals from these signs or constellations.

About a century and a half earlier, the mathematician and astronomer Hipparchus discovered that these star groups were consistently shifting away from his earlier measurements. Further study confirmed that the constellations were not moving, but the Earth was due to the tidal forces from the sun and Moon acting on Earth's equatorial bulge. He had discovered what is called the precession of the equinoxes. The Earth wobbles slightly on its axis, much like a spinning top, but to complete one wobble takes the Earth about 26,000 years. Precession causes the star zodiac to continually shift easterly at the rate of about one sign every two thousand years. So the sun appears to be moving backwards through the zodiac. From the time of Christ the motion has been from the first degree of Aries back through Pisces, and now the Aquarian age dawns. The problem arose when astrologers continued to base the first degree of Aries at the Spring Equinox, and still do in the Western world. It is called the Tropical zodiac. The difference between the two zodiacs is about twenty-four degrees.

If you would like to know where your sun is in the Sidereal zodiac, then subtract 24 degrees from its position in your Tropical chart. Or, add six degrees to your sun's position in the Tropical and subtract one sign. It is often referred to on charts as the Ayanamsha, which in my chart is: 23 degrees 54 minutes and 21 seconds. In most cases your sun sign will change.

Dialogue of a Problem

John Hammelton

What sign are you?


You know; what "astrological" sign are you?

Oh! Well, I was born on February third, so astrologers say that I am an Aquarian. But what does that mean?

That means you are inventive, intuitive, humanitarian, also a little erratic and unpredictable.

If I were born at another time, would I be none of these things?

No, but these characteristics stand out more in your nature because the sun was in the sign Aquarius when you were born. Do you understand what astrologers are saying now?

Yes, but astronomers say that if I was born on February third, the sun was in the constellation of Capricorn. The constellations and signs have the same name and denote the same characteristics yet are not the same. Is this correct?

Yes, but for astrological purposes the twelve constellations should not be confused with the twelve tropical signs which are conceived as symbolic.

What do you mean by symbolic?

Ah! Now we come to the heart of astrology. It is through this concept that the psychological aspect of astrology is grounded.

Can you explain this a little more clearly?

Certainly. When we talk about planets and stars in the astrological sense, we are not talking about the physical planets and stars, but rather about the concepts they refer to. This is what make astrology a psychological endeavor.

Oh, I was under the impression that astrologers were talking about the planets and stars that are actually in the heavens.

Well, this is confusing. The stars and planets admittedly exist in the heavens, but our understanding of them is a psychological matter. We associate the idea of stars and planets apart from their physical nature. The conceptual structure of astrological thought is a product of human myth and imagination. The human mind functions on the ideas present to it, and astrology is a concept that has developed through long ages of human thought. Does this settle the matter for you?

I understand what you are saying, but this means that astrology is purely a subjective matter with no relationship to anything external. I can easily conceive of unicorns, mermaids, and cities of gold, but there is no evidence to support the fact of their reality save through my own mental imagery, which is highly questionable at times. Astrologers talk about love, money, success or failure, and events coming to pass. How do you reconcile a subjective view with such objective facts of life? You must somehow offer an explanation to bridge the gap between your symbolic, subjective astrological notions with the external, objective world of fact.

You are certainly correct, and your question is well put. Let me attempt to clarify this point. In the first place, the objective world of conditions and events is, in our experiences, determined by human activity and actions. We generally assume that human actions are preceded by some form of motivation or inclination such as desires, interests or the attainment of some goal. Such motivations originate in a stimulus that gives rise to judgments that determine our course of action. It is not possible to think of motivations apart from psychological considerations. Thought is generally considered antecedent to actions that manifest in the physical world. Therefore, astrology understood in the psychological sense does not leave us void of an actually existent world of facts. Does this answer your question?

Only partially; I understand your view and your reasons for holding it, but I still feel compelled to inquire about actual planets and stars. Is there another view of astrology that takes the physical planets and stars into consideration?

Yes, there are astrologers that hold to the view that was established by the ancients, that is, the Egyptians, Babylonians, and the Greeks.

What is their view?

They believe that the planets and stars are the source of influences usually defined as vibrations or radiations, and that these influences have an effect upon man and his environment on Earth. Furthermore, the ancients went so far as to claim that these influences were of a spiritual nature.

Do many present day astrologers accept the ancient's view that influences are ethereal in origin?

I would imagine that some do; they claim that these influences while physical in nature, such as electromagnetic radiation, gravity, or some other force, take on a supernal quality that resonates in human consciousness.

Astrologers that seek some scientific explanation of astrology are greatly interested in the work of astronomers and scientists. While we find these studies interesting, there is no way to know if these physical forces are astrological by nature. On the other hand, our view does not necessitate a discussion of actual planets and stars, it stands on its own, as explained earlier.

Rather than ignore the scientific view, would it not be better to reconcile the two theories into one, complete, consistent theory that would be acceptable to all astrologers?

Many astrologers believe this is possible, but the two views are difficult to reconcile. The problem that has kept astrologers from agreement, and what gives rise to the contradictory status of astrological viewpoints is the problem of not one zodiac, but two zodiacs. As you mentioned at the beginning of our discussion, you were born on February 3, according to our view you are an Aquarian. But on February third the sun was also in the constellation of Capricorn, which is the Sidereal zodiac. Astronomers and scientists use the Sidereal zodiac, which are based on star groups that do not have definite boundaries, and many Eastern astrologers do too, but most Western astrologers use the Tropical zodiac. Do you see the problem now? How can a person have two sun signs? How can a person be both an Aquarian and a Capricorn without destroying the distinction between the two? To maintain that distinction requires an acceptance of either one system or the other. Our view supports the idea of a symbolic zodiac through a psychological theory that renders celestial forces an unnecessary aspect of astrology. Of course, the only way to maintain our theory is to deny the existence of celestial forces; once we allow actual stars to creep into our thinking, the Sidereal zodiac slips in with it, since the Sidereal zodiac is a star zodiac. To preserve our Tropical zodiac requires a theory that will account for its validity without any inconsistency within the theory itself. The person-centered, or psychological picture of astrology maintains and supports our symbolic interpretation of the Tropical zodiac. Does this make any sense to you?

Yes it does; what you seem to be saying is that if I were to begin a study of astrology, I would have to face a choice of deciding which theory best accounted for my astrological views. Would this be the case?

Indeed, But you would be somewhat more fortunate because you would be able to judge more objectively just which theory best explained astrological principles to your own satisfaction.

Why is this?

Because most people begin a study of astrology not by examining the various theories that support astrological thought, but rather by grasping hold of some commonly held aspect of astrology round which they build their understanding and future beliefs.

Yes, I understand now, but what would you say is the most commonly held aspect of astrology that students learn first?

Sun signs. Once a person becomes convinced that the characteristics of a particular sun sign apply specifically to him, or her, the theory they usually adopt is the one that preserves those characteristics. If, on the other hand, a potential astrologer re-evaluates the various theories and decides that one fits better than another, they may find themselves in the difficult position of having to give up one sun sign for another. Not an easy task, especially since to question some beliefs is ground enough to question them all. Some astrologers would rather give up astrology altogether than have to face changing their sun sign. Is the problem apparent to you now?

Quite apparent, but it seems to me that if astrology is ever to advance in human thought and eventually attain universal belief, it must be grounded in common principles expressed in a single, coherent theory accepted by all.

That is the hope of all astrologers everywhere, but until that day comes we must develop the best theories and hope for verification at a future time. Since you have paid close attention to the views put forward, would you care to express your own reactions to them?

Thank you, I think I have followed you closely enough to make a few general remarks. Both views, Tropical and Sidereal, qualified by you respectively as psychological and scientific, stands in need of further study. If star groups or constellations represent the twelve signs, then the question arises as to how billions of stars in any particular portion of the heavens might give rise to distinct characteristics such as inventive, intuitive, humanitarian, qualities exemplified by the sign Aquarius. On the other hand, your symbolic view attributes these same Aquarian qualities to mental concepts projected into the framework of human experience, but your account of this process is at best vague and questionable. The doctrine that stars are the source of influences sounds reasonable enough, particularly when we realize that our sun is a star that emits the energy necessary for the maintenance of all life on our world. The leap from solar energy in all its possible forms to astrological influences is not so great as to prevent a logical connection to exist between the phenomena and an astrological definition of it. Even so, a third principle seems to be required to avoid the chasm created between the idea of insensate physical forces and thinking, feeling human beings. The ancients may not have been too far wrong in attributing a divine agency operative through astrological principles. This might satisfy the criteria of a third principle. As for the symbolic picture of astrology, the theory seems to be consistent within itself, but this is also its limiting feature. The theory seems to be an attempt to justify itself rather than an account of nature's processes. The major drawback of this view is that it must deny what seems to be a fact of reality. The concept ‘sun' denotes the actual sun, yet the actual sun is denied any astrological status. It is the idea of ‘sun' that is brought forward void of physical forces, direct or indirect, that constitutes the basis of symbolic astrology, and an argument for Tropical sun signs. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to evaluating conflicting viewpoints, one is usually drawn to the simplest theory that takes account of the greatest amount of phenomena. You say that I am an Aquarian, inventive, intuitive, eccentric, etc., Sidereal astrologers say that I am a Capricorn: patient, prudent, cautious, serious, contemplative, etc. I would have to say that the one set of characteristics applies as well to me as the other set. Based on this information, it would be impossible for me to judge the validity of either system. As you stated in our early discussion, the qualities and characteristics of an individual sun sign are not denied to the other eleven signs, but rather stand out more prominently. This might be more a matter of perspective than a product of any sun sign. I think it might be easier to modify one's inner perspective in terms of encompassing the characteristics of all twelve signs, in this way no astrologers need give up anything; on the contrary, they would be expanding their own self-image twelve fold. If this is too conceptually difficult, I think a good beginning at unifying opposing points of view would be for astrologers to suspend their sun sign beliefs long enough to judge the merits or demerits of the various theories that they knowingly or unknowingly embrace. Would you agree?

I could hardly disagree. Do you have any further questions?

Yes, what's your sign?

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