The Tropical Solar Zodiac



Definition: [Zodiacs] A band of the heavens approximately 14º wide, centered on the Ecliptic, against which the Sun and planets are seen to move, as seen from the Earth. This band is divided into equal 30º segments, each one of which corresponds to a fixed set of dates in the calendar year. In this system, each Sun sign is of equal length and the first Sun sign is Aries which starts on 21st March at the Vernal Equinox. The Tropical Zodiac is the Solar Zodiac with which most of we Western astrologers are familiar. It is not the Zodiac used in the East, where a Sidereal Zodiac is used..

The word Tropic relates to the apparent reversal [or "turning"] of the direction of the Sun at the Solstices [the Sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky for the year]. It means that the dates of the signs of this particular Zodiac Wheel are kept constant with respect to the seasons - which are based on the sunlight we get, and therefore also how high or low the Sun gets in the sky. However, because of the Movement of the Ages, the seasons don't keep in step with the stars, so over the past two millennia the Tropical Zodiac has become disconnected from the stars it was originally based on.

'The Greatest Blunder That Has Ever Been Made in the History of Astrology*': [* A quotation from Cyril Fagan's, Zodiacs Old and New, Llewellyn, 1950 AD, p 53.] Unfortunately, because the Tropical Zodiac has lost its original connection with the heavens, almost everything about it is now inaccurate when related to the stars. This has crucial implications for standard Western astrology. If we look at the real stars its easy to see the following:

* There are in fact thirteen signs in the Real Solar Zodiac. The 10th sign is Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer.
* The signs don't have the same length, Scorpius for example is only seven days long.
* The first sign of the zodiac isn't Aries it is Pisces.
* Aries does not start on the 21st March, it starts on the 19th April.
* In fact all the 'Tropical signs' are now shifted by almost one whole sign in comparison with Reality.

Examples: Follow these links to see examples of what this means for the horoscope star charts of Prince William: inner solar system; outer solar system. For the real Sun sign dates see the Real Solar Zodiac.

In Defense of the Tropical Zodiac? Even though the Tropical Zodiac is now disconnected from the stars, we Western astrologers mostly continue to use it as the basis of our astrology. Hence a number of astrologers, who are aware of the problems noted above, have spent considerable amounts of time trying to justify our current position. Their argument is essentially as follows:

1. Western astrology has no connection whatsoever with the stars.*
2. Instead the important factor is the Earth's cyclical relationship to Sun.
3. The Earth orbits the Sun once a year: it is this cycle which astrologically affects all of us.
4. The cycle starts at the Vernal Equinox and this date marks the first date of the sign of "Aries".
5. The sign of "Aries" has nothing to do with the stars of Aries which are in a different place.
6. This is the case with all the other "signs" and the stars.
7. There are twelve "signs".
8. They are of equal lengths.
9. Our relationship with the Moon and planets is not based on the stars.
10. Our relationship with the Moon and planets is based on where they appear to lie relative to our orbit around the Sun.

* Have you ever wondered why your standard Western horoscope never says a word about the stars, only the signs? This is the reason.

To this I have to respond: why? why? why? why? why? why? why? why? why?and why? None of those ten statements is how our Ancient Babylonian and Ancient Greek ancestors, who founded astrology, thought about astrology. Their astrology was of the stars. As is at least a part of Vedic Astrology today. As is at least one branch of Chinese Astrology today. Really, in my opinion, all we conventional Western astrologers are trying to do is to defend the indefensible.

The Classical View of Stellar Astrology: Here is a small part of what Claudius Ptolemy the 'Father of Classical Astrology' [c 130 - 170 AD] has to say on the subject of the stars and astrology, taken from his master work - and the seminal text of astrology - Tetrabiblos [the Quadpartite Thesis] :

As it is next in order to recount the natures of the fixed stars with reference to their special powers, we shall set forth their observed characters in an exposition like that of the natures of the planets, and in the first place those of the ones that occupy the figures in the zodiac itself.
The stars in the head of Aries, then, have an effect like the power of Mars and Saturn, mingled; those in the mouth like Mercury's power and moderately like Saturn's; those in the hind foot like that of Mars, and those in the tail like that of Venus...

[He goes on to list the powers of the stars in the remaining Zodiac Constellations and Non-Zodiac Constellations.]
... Such, then, are the observations of the effects of the stars themselves as made by our predecessors.

[ Tetrabiblos Book i Part 9.]

Clearly, Classical astrology was based on the stars, not Tropical Zodiac signs strangely out of step with the stars. Why isn't ours?

The simple answer is that back in the history of the Zodiac Wheels a huge mistake was made. See Zodiac Wheels for more information on this.

So What Exactly is the Tropical Zodiac? Western astrology is no longer star-based. So what is it based on? Those of us who feel the need to defend the Tropical Zodiac normally say that it's Earth based, i.e. it's relative to us on Earth. But what exactly does this mean?

Everything in Tropical Zodiac Western astrology is based on one key point: the Vernal Equinox, and not on the stars. This point is also known as the "First Point in Aries" because it defines where so-called "Aries" begins in the Tropical Zodiac. Essentially this point starts the circle in standard Western Astrology and starts the cycle in Western astrology. So this point is rock solid, right? Never moves? Same for all time? Er, sorry, no.

The Vernal Equinox moves because of the Movement of the Ages. And this means that over the centuries the place where the Earth actually is in its yearly path around the Sun at Vernal Equinox changes too. Below are two charts, one showing the position of the Earth at Vernal Equinox now, the other where our planet was at Vernal Equinox two and a half millennia ago, at just about the time when the Vernal Equinox was being used for the first time in conjunction with the Zodiac Wheel in astrology. Because of the Movement of the Ages, the Earth is at a different place in its cycle around the Sun at Vernal Equinox compared to two and a half millennia years ago, and this place keeps changing year by year in the cycle of the Great Year. So even if we did ditch the stars and choose "the yearly cycle around the Sun" to base our astrology on, the Tropical Zodiac is still incorrect, because it does not keep pace with our yearly cycle around the Sun. TheTropical Zodiac is not relative to the Earth as some of us assume to to be.

Solar system zodiac chart at vernal equinox 2000 AD.


Vernal Equinox 2000 AD. A solar system chart of the Earth, Sun and Real Solar Zodiac signs at the Vernal Equinox in 2000 AD. The circle is the Earth's yearly cycle around the Sun. The Earth View Point of the Real Solar Zodiac signs is shown by the red lines. The Sun is seen against the stars of Pisces, the Fishes. Hence we are in the Age of Pisces. The Tropical Zodiac essentially pretends that the diagram to the right is true and that the Sun is in Aries at Vernal Equinox. It is not.

Solar system zodiac chart at vernal equinox 500 BC.


Vernal Equinox 500 BC. A solar system chart of the Earth, Sun and Real Solar Zodiac signs at the Vernal Equinox in 500 BC when the Zodiac Wheel foundations of astrology were being laid down by the Ancient Babylonians. The circle is the Earth's yearly cycle around the Sun. The Earth View Point of the Real Solar Zodiac signs is shown by the red lines. In 500 BC the Sun was seen against the stars of Aries, the Ram. Hence it was the Age of Aries. The reason for this is that the Earth was not in the same place in its yearly cycle around the Sun as it is for Vernal Equinox today. It was about 35° anticlockwise from its current place at Equinox.

The Seasons and the Tropical Zodiac? The only thing that the Tropical Zodiac does keep pace with are the Seasons. [This may have once seemed significant, when centuries ago it was thought that the stars caused the seasons. But now we know that the seasons are simply caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis.]

So What About Southern Hemisphere? However, the idea that for some curious reason we should give up the stars and base our astrology on the Seasons has one, huge, logical flaw. What about Australia? New Zealand? South Africa? South America? The Seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere to those in the northern. Should astrology work backwards in Australia? I doubt it! And then there is the Earth's equatorial belt where there aren't proper seasons at all. Are we saying astrology doesn't work at all at the equator? Well, we are saying exactly that if astrology is based on the seasons and nothing else. Really, it's just nonsense!

The Future of Astrology? My opinion is that for the future of astrology we have no choice but to stop using the Tropical Zodiac. How long would you tolerate a map which said you were in London when you were really in Paris? And then had the temerity to say: no, look, this is London in our system.

We have to admit we've got it wrong and move on. I think there are two ways forward: stay with the Sun, but use the Real Solar Zodiac, [ i.e. the Solar Zodiac of stars that is actually up there, already accurately charted and dated]; or think about astrology on the larger scale and use the Galactic Zodiac.

Post-Script: Its odd to think about, but this whole page is about something that doesn't actually exist...

The Zodiac and Astrology:

01:  What is a Zodiac? What are Zodiac Wheels?
02:  Galactic Zodiac
03:  Real Solar Zodiac and Zodiac Charts
04:  Tropical Zodiac
05:  Sidereal Zodiac [Vedic Zodiac]
06:  Comparison of Tropical and Sidereal Solar Zodiacs
07:  Examples of Tropical and Sidereal Zodiac Wheels for Prince William's Horoscope
08:  Planetary Zodiac
09:  Lunar Zodiac and Lunar Mansions
10:  Chinese Zodiac
11:  Celtic Zodiac
12:  The Non-Zodiac Stars and Constellations

© Dr Shepherd Simpson, Astrological Historian


Historical Astrology

See the new Astrological Index for the meaning of other astrological words and phrases

Galactic Zodiac