Did your Zodiac Sign Change?

A Response to Astronomer Parke Kunkle Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved

by David Cochrane

I received several emails and FB messages about the recent news that an astronomer in Minnesota, Parke Kunkle, has stated that astrologers do not have the zodiac signs properly placed in the sky. Here are my thoughts on this:

1. This idea is not new and astrologers already know about it. There are many zodiacs: there is the tropical zodiac which is the main one in use in the western world, the sidereal zodiac which is usually preferred by astrologers in India, and there are also various attempts at a constellational zodiac. There was also a zodiac of 18 signs in ancient Babylonia and there is another ancient zodiac of 27 signs, known as nakshatras, which is used mostly by astrologers in India.

The astronomer Parke Kunkle is suggesting that a kind of constellational zodiac is the true zodiac that the original Babylonian astrologers devised and it has been misunderstood in modern times. There is no historical evidence to support Mr. Kunkle's idea. There is evidence that suggests that in the earliest development of astrology the zodiac signs were understood to be based on the seasons just as they are today in western astrology. See the note at the bottom of this article for an example of text from the earliest extant astrological writings which suggests that zodiac signs are related to the seasons. Note that Kunkle gives various dates for entry of the Sun into the constellational signs but these are rather arbitrary because the zodiacal constellations have gaps and overlaps between them and one can also devise a constellational zodiac with varying numbers of signs and not necessarily 13 as Mr. Kunkle suggests.

2. The 27 nakshatras are arguably the best zodiac that has a close association with star groups and constellations and is a more reasonable choice than Kunkle's suggested 13 zodiac signs. For an example of an excellent astrological analysis based on nakshatras see The Nakshatra Report and to see modern renditions of imagery for the 27 nakshatras see The Nakshatra Symbols

3. Anyone can call himself or herself an astrologer. There are no standards or requirements for becoming an astrologer. Consequently many "astrologers" understand very little about astronomy, the history of astrology, or even advanced methods of astrological interpretation. Do not be surprised if some astrologers do not offer a coherent and educated response to Mr. Kunkle's statements regarding zodiac signs.

4. Of most concern to me about this news item is the poor scholarship of Mr. Kunkle. Universities turn out many thousands of graduates and the vast majority of them, in my opinion, are well-trained and understand the importance of basing statements on careful scholarship, especially if they have a graduate level degree as Mr. Kunkle has. However, there are rare exceptions and Mr. Kunkle's pronouncements regarding zodiac signs are an example of this.

I suggest that universities require 1 credit hour of training in academic ethics to help ensure that statements made authoritatively by M.S., M.A., and Ph.D. graduates are responsible and ethical to help prevent the rare but serious cases of incredibly poor scholarship as exemplified by Mr. Kunkle. Historical research clearly indicates that astrology as we know it was originally formulated around 500 BC to 100 BC (probably over less than 200 years within this time range) based on Babylonian omens and conceptual paradigms, and at this time the sidereal zodia cand tropical zodiac were very similar and both are quite different from a constellational zodiac such as the one that Kunkle suggests.

Kunkle's statements regarding the historical basis of astrology are very flawed and are an embarrassment to people like me who hold in very high regard the high standards of scholarship and excellence that normally are maintained at upper level universities and colleges and by the graduates of these educational institutions. He makes a suggestion regarding "new" information on the nature of zodiac signs that is already part of the basic knowledge of any certified astrologer.

5. In astrology there has been a growing movement over the past several decades for astrologers to see astrology as a form of divination or psychological/mythological language that is not capable of providing factual information but rather provides meaning or understanding only. These are rather abstract ideas compared to the simpler notion that the stars incline human behavior in particular directions and also affect human personality in clearly observable and measurable ways. Some of these astrologers are not so completely different from astronomers in their skepticism of the ability of astrology to provide definitive and measurable effects. How many times have you heard that Mercury is retrograde so communication is bad or no wonder this person travels a lot because he is a Sagittarian? Some of these astrologers believe that statements like this should not be made because astrology is not capable of providing this kind of objective information.

6. There are also approaches to astrology that do not use zodiac signs at all. For example, there is an approach to astrology known as cosmobiology that became popular in the 1980's and is still practiced and some cosmobiologists do not use zodiac signs.

7. My own approach to astrology is based on a complex analysis of patterns formed by the arrangement of celestial objects, especially planets. The system that I use puts very little emphasis on zodiac signs and removing zodiac signs entirely from the analysis based on this system does not greatly affect the interpretation.

8. If astrology is capable of measurable effects, they have not yet been discovered. Nothing in astrology has been scientifically validated and, as mentioned above, even some astrologers do not think this is possible. I have conducted research that suggests that complex patterns may have measurable effects but more research is needed. My research may be more threatening to astrologers than skeptics of astrology because little emphasis is placed on the astrological factors that astrologers normally use and the system is based on a sophisticated pattern analysis that requires a different way of thinking about astrology both philosophically and in practical terms, and the research is directed towards finding measurable effects and is quantitative in nature, and some astrologers agree with non-believers in astrology that quantitative research in astrology is a waste of time.

* So for all those who have asked if their zodiac sign has changed, the answer is no. The zodiac signs are still the same.

The news item on Mr. Kunkle's insights into zodiac signs does not shed any light on anything. However, it might be helpful to keep in mind that the sidereal zodiac used in Vedic astrology (astrology that evolved in India and is still used today) is different from the zodiac signs used in western astrology, and that there are a great many ideas even among astrologers on what astrology is, how astrology works, and what astrology can do.

People have different opinions about astrology and I think we should be open-minded to different possibilities. I have no problem with people who may think that astrology is a science all the way to people who think that astrology is pseudo-science. I have a problem, however, with poor scholarship. For this reason, I think that the news item by Mr. Kunkle is not helpful.

Note: The following quote from Section 17 of Book 1 of the Tetrabiblos by Claudius Ptolemy (translation by J. M. Ashmand. See Tetrabiblos for the text) indicates that Ptolemy associated the rulership of hte zodiac signs with the seasons. This text strongly suggests that the zodiac signs were understood to be based on the seasons, i.e. a tropical zodiac during the early development of astrology in Hellenistic times, thus contradicting the basis of Kunkle's ideas. Given below is the relevant part of Book1, section 17 of the Tetrabiblos:

"The system of houses is of the folIowing nature. Since of the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and of warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries, as houses, Leo, which is masculine, to the sun and Cancer, feminine, to the moon. In keeping with this they assumed the semicircle from Leo to Capricorn to be solar and that from Aquarius to Cancer to be lunar, so that in each of the semicircles One sign might be assigned to each of the five planets as its own, One bearing aspect to the sun and the other to the moon, consistently with the spheres of their motion and the peculiarities of their natures. For to Saturn, in whose nature cold prevails, as opposed to heat, and which occupies the orbit highest and farthest from the luminaries, were assigned the signs opposite Cancer and Leo, namely Capricorn and Aquarius, with the additional reason that these signs are cold and wintry, and further that their diametrical aspect is not consistent with beneficence. To Jupiter, which is moderate and below Saturn's sphere, were as signed the two signe next to the foregoing, windy and fecund, Sagittarius and Pisces, in triangular aspect to the luminaries, which is a harmonious and beneficent configuration. Next, to Mars, which is dry in nature and occupies a sphere under that of Jupiter, there were assigned again the two signs, contiguous to the former, Scorpio and Aries, having a similar nature, and, agreeably to Mars' destructive and inharmonious quality, in quartile aspect to the luminaries. To Venus, which is temperate and beneath Mars, were given the next two signs, which are extremely fertile, Libra and Taurus. These preserve the harmony of the sextile aspect; another reason is that this planet at most is never more than two signs removed from the sun in either direction. Finally, there were given to Mercury, which never is farther removed from the sun than One sign in either direction and is beneath the others and closer in a way to both of the luminaries, the remaining signs, Gemini and Virgo, which are next to the houses of the luminaries."

David Cochrane AUTHOR: David Cochrane