The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 60, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guests Kenneth Miller and Nick Dagan Best
Episode originally released on January 3, 2016
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Mary Sharon
Transcription released January 10th, 2021
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. We’re recording this episode on Sunday, January 3rd 2016 just after 5:30 p.m. in Denver, Colorado. And this is the 60th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and get some sweet subscriber benefits, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
KENNETH MILLER: What are some of those sweet benefits?
CHRIS BRENNAN: Some of those benefits include access to a private super exclusive Facebook discussion forum, access sometimes to early access to new episodes, access to higher quality episodes and other things like that. You can see more information on our Patreon page. So, joining me on this episode as you can already hear returning to the episode is Kenneth Miller and also astrologer Nick Dagan Best to talk about the zodiac controversy and the difference between the tropical and sidereal zodiacs. So, gentlemen, welcome to the show.
KENNETH MILLER: Thank you.
NICK DAGAN BEST: Thanks, Chris.
CB: All right. Well, let’s jump right into our topic. I’m sure this is going to be a big one. And I’ve sort of prepared a pretty extensive outline that I was originally going to do a couple of months ago, but then I got sidetracked. But then I heard that the two of you recently took a trip to South Africa, and you had been talking about this issue or something related to it. Is that true?
NDB: It is.
CB: It is?
NDB: Kenneth and I have been talking about this matter for close to a decade now.
NDB: But, it came up again while the two of us were at this wonderful conference in South Africa. And we decided at some point we want to do a public debate on the matter. So, having this conversation with you I think is a wonderful sort of introduction to making this happen because I think there’s a lot to say on the matter. There’s a lot to say on behalf of both sides. And even if one takes a side, I mean, everyone here has a very strong opinion. But everyone here is also aware that the other argument has some strength to it and that it’s really worth airing all of this out because it’s something that touches on a lot of different people’s astrologies.
CB: Yeah. And I think this would be a good almost precursor sort of necessary precursor to that debate in order to make sure that everybody’s on the same page about just outlining what the difference between the two zodiacs is, outlining the sort of history and background behind this issue and other sort of things related to that that are sort of relevant before you can really understand. Yeah, the tropical and the sidereal zodiac and why different astrologers choose one or the other or in some instances both. So before we get into it, I mean, Kenneth, did you have any sort of preliminary remarks in terms of your side of that in terms of going into this discussion and the discussion you had with Nick?
KM: Yeah. Sure. So I think, as you explained, I’m anticipating this episode for us to sort of lay the groundwork like we’re not gonna approach the question. I don’t think we are. Maybe we are. But I don’t think we’re gonna really dive into the question of the utility of one zodiac over the other. It’s more, why are there two? What’s that all about? What’s the history of it? How are they used? Blah blah blah.
KM: Yeah, basically.
KM: I think that’s important too for people to listen, that we’re not gonna settle that here. But it will give someone the foundation to kind of approach those kinds of questions. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Definitely.
KM: And just for sort of full disclosure purposes, I mean, Nick and I primarily use the tropical zodiac although I put Nick in more of almost a neutral category because oftentimes many of the techniques that he uses when it comes to Venus retrogrades or Mars retrogrades are the retrograde cycles, arguably are kind of independent of the zodiac and therefore could be used regardless of which. Is that right, Nick?
NDB: Yeah, there’s a certain amount of my work that functions independently of a zodiacal consideration because I’m just looking at synodic cycles of planets. So in that sense, I can certainly be considered probably a little more neutral than you because not everything I do relies on a zodiac. Also, I’m about to go to India in two weeks. So I better be more neutral than I usually am.
NDB: If for no other reason than to be a good guest–
KM: Right. When otherwise–
NDB: –when I’m hosted by a wonderful group of Chodesh astrologers in Kolkata, India.
KM: Otherwise, you may be sleeping on the floor for the duration of your trip.
NDB: I may be.
KM: We’ll see.
CB: And, Kenneth, you primarily use the sidereal zodiac, right?
KM: Yeah, in the context of Indian astrology.
KM: Having been born and raised with Western astrology using the tropical zodiac. And I’ll just jump out right now and say that I often use a medical analogy in describing the two zodiacs in that you have Chinese medicine and you have Western medicine. And they use similar words to describe things that aren’t exactly the same. And they have their own sets of rules. But if you go to a good Western doctor, you should be able to get a decent diagnosis and treatment. And the same with Chinese medicine, you should be able to get a decent diagnosis and decent treatment even though those might be very different in terms of what they are actually saying about it. I know in my world And I don’t know if you guys come up against this so much, but I run into people who believe there can only be one zodiac. But actually, maybe that’s putting the cart in front of the horse. Maybe we want to explain what the zodiac is first.
CB: Sure, let’s jump right into it with those preliminary remarks out of the ways. So the first point that everyone needs to understand when it comes to this issue is that there’s actually, technically speaking, there are three zodiacs. There’s what we might call the constellational zodiac which is the zodiac that consists of the actual constellations which lie on the ecliptic. There’s the sidereal zodiac which also relates to or is connected with the constellations, but it’s standardized to 12 signs of 30 degrees each, whereas the constellational zodiac the actual constellations are uneven-sized so that some constellations are very big and others are very small. So, the sidereal zodiac takes that and standardizes it to 12 30 degree segments or sort of increments along the ecliptic. And then there’s the tropical zodiac, finally. That’s the third zodiac, and that also divides the ecliptic into 12 segments of 30 degrees each. But, in that case, they are based not on the constellations but instead it’s measured relative to the solstices and the equinoxes which also coincide with the seasons. So, first point, there’s three zodiacs. Historically, things actually started in the development of the concept of the zodiac. It actually started with the constellations along the ecliptic in ancient Mesopotamia. So, first things first, I mean, I guess we should define what the ecliptic is. Does either one of you wanna take a crack at that?
NDB: It’s the apparent path of the Sun from a geocentric perspective observing the Sun and it’s apparent movement. That’s the path. That’s what we call the ecliptic.
CB: Sure. So the Sun as well as the other planets, basically–
CB: –always when they in their revolutions from our perspective in the solar system from our perspective here on Earth, instead of going through the entire sky and moving through all the constellations they actually move through, they’re kind of restricted to a specific path that they take which takes them through certain constellations. And originally the specific constellations there were 12 primary constellations that the planets move through. Those are the constellations that became the zodiacal constellations. So, our sort of first starting point is basically in the development of ancient astronomy in Mesopotamia, let’s say, circa 3000 years ago. They established all of the constellations, but then they started putting a specific emphasis on the constellations the 12 constellations, let’s say, that the planets would move through over the course of first, the Sun over the course of the year or the Moon over the course of the month or the other planets according to those increments of time. So, eventually, by the fifth century BC the Mesopotamians took the uneven zodiacal constellations. And they divided them up into twelve 30 degree segments, so they standardized the signs of the zodiac to be twelve signs of 30 degrees each. And the signs still roughly coincided with the constellations, but they were much more idealized at that point. Because some, as I said earlier, some constellations like Virgo are extremely large. It takes up almost like 60 degrees or something like that of ecliptic longitude, whereas other constellations like Cancer are very small. So, already in standardizing the zodiac, they’re taking some sort of idealized form of it in sort of creating twelve equally-sized signs of 30 degrees each. And these became the signs of the sidereal zodiac.
So, several centuries later in the second century AD or the second century CE the famous and one of the most influential astrologers ever Claudius Ptolemy in his work adopted the tropical zodiac as the primary reference point for the signs of the zodiac. And he said that the starting point for the first sign of the zodiac, which is Aries, should be the vernal equinox which in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with the first day of spring. And then you measure out 30-degree increments for each of the 30 degree signs of the zodiac from that point. So, I’m not sure. Arguably, this was probably not the birth of the tropical zodiac. But this was definitely one of the first astrologers that we have on record who explicitly defined the zodiac within the context of the equinoxes and the solstices and thus explicitly adopted the tropical zodiac for the purpose of doing astrology. So, that is the point at which we have three zodiacs in play theoretically although in reality by that point there’s really just two zodiacs. There’s the sidereal zodiac that is 12 13 degrees signs but measured relative to the constellations. And then there’s the tropical zodiac which is twelve 30 degree signs measured relative to the solstices and the equinoxes which is roughly connected with the seasons. Is that about right? Does that sound like an accurate summary to you guys?
NDB: Yeah. I think it was, according to my notes, Hipparchus dating back to like I don’t know 100 BCE who talked about it might be more convenient to measure the planets and stars from a tropical zodiac. So I think that might be one of our earlier textual references, and I think then what Ptolemy does a few centuries later is he rationalizes why that is the case as he tries to scientifically “explain” astrology in his work.
KM: Yeah, and that’s an issue cuz I guess I was focusing on Ptolemy because he was definitely an astrologer or at least he was writing astrological works in addition to astronomy whereas Hipparchus for the most part seems to have been primarily an astronomer.
KM: But certainly there was a prior tradition potentially of using the tropical zodiac prior to Ptolemy. I guess Ptolemy is just important because he’s one of the earlier astrologers who it’s much less ambiguous where he goes out of his way to be clear that he’s using the tropical zodiac rather than the sidereal zodiac.
CB: And let’s tell everyone that part of the reason why this is important is that they were very close to each other at this point.
NDB: Yeah, that is important to Mesh.
CB: So the first day of spring and ostensibly the first star of Aries we’re rising at around the same point in time. So they were close together, and that’s why there has been some ambiguity in some sources as to whether they were using tropical or sidereal or even aware of that there was a difference.
CB: So the two zodiacs were roughly aligned at that point. And what’s additionally annoying is that this is also roughly the period around, let’s say, the first century BC, first century AD, and the second century when the two zodiacs are roughly aligned. This is also essentially the period out of which most of what we associate with Western astrology is emerging and was developed essentially so that the crucial period when Western astrology was developed was also the period when both the zodiacal reference systems were roughly aligned, the two different systems sidereal and tropical were aligned. But then, not long after that point they started falling out of alignment due to a phenomenon known as precession. So, with precession what it does essentially without getting into the sort of mechanics of it but essentially what it does is that it makes it so that the tropical and sidereal zodiacs move about one degree apart approximately every 72 years gradually. So they’re basically always very slowly and very gradually moving apart which is sort of imperceptible most of the time over the course of, let’s say, a person’s lifetime. But about every 72 years or so they’ve moved apart just enough that they’re about one degree off. And then if you go another 72 degrees another 72 years, then it moves two degrees off. In another 72 years it moves two degrees off. And over the centuries this really starts to add up so that you get these big differences between the two zodiacs uh to the extent that today the tropical and sidereal zodiacs differ by somewhere around 24 degrees. Is that right? What’s the actual–
CB: –full range of this point, Kenneth?
KM: I mean, you ballpark it at 24 degrees. Yeah.
NDB: Yeah. It’s 23 and change. I think there’s a slight correction to make. It’s not so much that they’re moving apart, it’s that the sidereal zodiac is moving away from the tropical because the whole point of the tropical is it doesn’t move. But yeah from each other the distance is ever growing.
KM: Although that’s from the perspective of a human being. From the divine perspective it’s the Earth’s wobble that’s messing up and moving the seasons in relationship to the fixed stars, so really just depends on where you wanna orient the stars.
NDB: Sure. But, generally speaking, as astrologers we speak geocentrically. So that–
CB: I mean, he has a good point which is that it just depends on what your reference point is.
NDB: Yeah. Sure.
KM: I’m still being geocentric. I’m just saying the tropical puts the importance on the seasons and like, “Wow, the stars are moving in relationship to the seasons.” And the sidereals are like, “We’re putting the importance on the apparent sphere of stars.” And it’s the seasons that are moving in relation to that, that’s the only point I’m trying to make.
NDB: Okay. Well, we’re getting to the crux of the argument here because apparently we can’t decide on what’s standing still and what’s moving that might underscore exactly what we’re trying to get out here.
CB: Yeah, and we’ll get there a little bit more in just a bit as we start talking about the pros and cons for each from a practical or an interpretive standpoint. So yeah. So the two gradually move apart relative to each other about one degree every 72 years which means that eventually after about 25,000 years or the exact numbers something like 25,772 years they do a complete cycle. And that actually will lead into a podcast that’s connected with the concept of the astrological ages which Kenneth and I were gonna do a separate episode on later.
So, yeah. So they’re about 24 degrees apart at this point which means that since they’re both reference systems that tell you where each of the planets is in each of the zodiacal signs, it means that if a planet is at 14 degrees of Aries in the tropical zodiac, then in the sidereal zodiac it would actually be at 20 degrees of Pisces. So it’s in a completely different sign of the zodiac and in a completely different degree of the zodiac. So that should give you some idea even if you have only a basic familiarity with the concepts of astrology why this would be such an important issue because you could have planets either being in one sign of the zodiac or another depending on what zodiac you’re using at this point in time.
All right, so that’s the sort of basis of this. So in terms of who uses which zodiac, broadly speaking, the tropical zodiac is primarily used by Western astrologers ever since about the Middle Ages. So ever since basically a few centuries after Ptolemy became this very famous astronomer and famous astrologer and his work became very influential and a lot of people ended up adopting his approach to defining the zodiac as starting from the equinoxes and the solstices and thus using the tropical zodiac. So ever since about I think it was about the certainly by the eighth or ninth century in the West, astrologers have primarily used the tropical zodiac. So the legacy of this is that the vast majority of Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac and most popular forms of astrology especially in the West but really in most places also use the tropical zodiac as well. So, for example, virtually all Sun sign columns are written using or assuming the tropical zodiac is the correct one with sort of a few exceptions.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people that use the sidereal zodiac. And the sidereal zodiac is mainly used by Indian astrologers going back about 1800 years now at least. And there’s probably different potential reasons for this. I mean, some of these might be somewhat controversial though. I don’t know. What do you think, Kenneth?
KM: Well, I haven’t heard what you’re gonna say. But, I mean–
KM: –basically, you know, and I don’t wanna jump on what you were gonna say. But, essentially, India was a–
KM: –as many cultures were, a star-watching culture from early on and the timing of religious rituals was often key to where the Moon was in relationship to stars on the ecliptic. And so they just all, you know, had a relationship with those stars and, you know, dating back prior to the invention of horoscopic astrology. Right. And they had a specific indigenous form of astrology that was called the Nakshatras which–
KM: –I think we’ve talked about on the show before. But that was specifically keyed into specific fixed stars, right?
KM: So the Nakshatras and the fact that those were sort of the oldest form of astrology in India, arguably, but also the fact that they are basically How big is each Nakshatra again?
CB: 13 degrees and 20 minutes of zodiacal longitude.
KM: Okay, so each lunar sign. So it’s like an alternate lunar zodiac.
KM: It’s about 13 degrees, and it’s tied into a specific fixed star. And so as a result of that that may be one of the reasons why Because what ended up happening is eventually in India you had a merging and a sort of synthesis of that lunar zodiac that’s clearly sidereal with the 12 sign sort of solar zodiac. And then it stayed tropical. And so one of the reasons may be because that indigenous form of astrology was already very tied into specific fixed stars that it made more sense to keep the other zodiac tied into the constellations as well.
And, you know, another interesting point that often doesn’t get made is in those early days of Indian horoscopic astrology they didn’t measure celestial longitude in exactly the same way we do now. They use something called polar longitude which requires you to draw a line from the North Star down to the planet of interest and then, you know, where that intersects the ecliptic that would be the point of polar longitude. So, I mean, from the get go it was very much tied into the sky itself more so than the seasons.
CB: Sure. And another potential reason for this and another argument especially from a historical perspective is the fact that there were interactions going on between Hellenistic astrology and Indian astrology about 1800 or 2000 years ago due to trade that was occurring between the Roman Empire and certain like colonies in India so that you have texts. We know of at least some texts on Hellenistic astrology that went over to India and were translated into Sanskrit. I mean, one of the arguments is that early Hellenistic astrology may have had more of a sidereal focus. And therefore when Hellenistic astrology was transmitted to India brought with it the sidereal zodiac, but that this was prior to the widespread popularization of the tropical zodiac that was carried out essentially by Ptolemy. So, Indian astrology then retained that. And it never had a Ptolemy who then popularized the tropical zodiac. And so as a result of that you still have Indian astrology today. The sidereal zodiac being the primary reference system that’s used for zodiacal calculations.
NDB: But what about using signs of equal ascension for timelord considerations? Wasn’t that done in Hellenistic astrology, and isn’t that a technique that would only work with the tropical zodiac?
CB: Yeah, that’s a really good point. So the issue is that in Hellenistic astrology, if you go back and if you look into it, it’s actually ambiguous because the Hellenistic astrologers were drawing concepts from both sidereal zodiac and the tropical zodiac. And that’s an artifact of the fact that both the zodiacs were basically aligned at that time. So they’re like, “Oh. Well, let’s draw, you know, stuff from both of them. We don’t see any good reason not to.” And this might be an issue for, you know, people far out in the future. But that’s not really our problem. So–
KM: And in part because they didn’t really know what was going on. You know, at first they thought it might be a wobble. Maybe it goes a few degrees one way and then goes the other way. You know, it took awhile for us to realize it was a one-way trip. Yeah, there were different theories about precession. And precession itself may not have been super widely understood or it’s sort of not clear. I mean, it was only discovered by Hipparchus about around the same time or not very long before Hellenistic astrology itself was developed. Hipparchus is usually credited with the discovery of precession, so the knowledge that the two zodiacs essentially would be moving apart. Yeah, but it’s not clear how widely known it was. And what you end up with in Hellenistic astrology is that you can see sometimes in the same astrologer. Like if you’re reading Valens, for example, you can see him sometimes talking about the zodiacal signs. And he’ll attribute certain things to the seasons which is clearly more of a tropical consideration. And in other areas he’ll talk about how certain fixed stars in certain constellations are relevant to the meaning of certain components of a zodiacal sign which is clearly more of a sidereal consideration.
So, the reality of the situation is that in the Hellenistic tradition it’s ambiguous because you have both. But one of the arguments that you might be able to make is that, you know, the Indian astrologers could have gotten this text on Hellenistic astrology. They could have thought that it was primarily sidereal and then decided to stick with the sidereal zodiac. That’s the way you could frame it if you were like a tropical astrologer and you were trying to make an argument for, you know, why the Indian astrologers got it wrong. On the other hand, if you were a sidereal astrologer an Indian astrologer and you wanted to make a historical argument about how they got it right, you could say that they got the text before Ptolemy messed everything up with the tropical zodiac and they’re the ones that are still preserving the original true sidereal astrology.
The truth of the matter really from a historical standpoint, at least as far as I can tell, is that it’s very ambiguous because they were drawing on both. So it’s hard to take either of those arguments as sort of the last word on the subject.
CB: Nick, what you said about that technique, we don’t find that in Indian astrologies. So that is–
NDB: Right. Right. That is a–
NDB: That’s a specifically Hellenistic technique.
NDB: But it’s a technique that only works with the tropical zodiac where signs can have–
NDB: –equal ascensional times if they happen to straddle the equinox points.
KM: Right, although I wanna say that there were like sidereal attempts to do that. But they’re just not necessarily as accurate. But I might be misspeaking there, so maybe we should move on.
NDB: All right.
KM: –sidereal astrology primarily used in India. However–
CB: So wait, Kenneth, let me just flesh out the counter argument of the Indian side because–
CB: And I’m not gonna get into this cuz I do a whole little talk on this subject, but there’s all kinds of weird stuff about Mesopotamia’s adoption of the 12 constellations and how that kind of appears out of nowhere.
CB: And the trade between Mesopotamia and India goes way back before all of this. That much we know.
KM: I call this the black pepper argument. So black pepper is from South India. That’s ground zero for black pepper here on planet Earth, and Pharaohs have got it. The Romans are complaining about it in the first century, how much money they’re having to spend in India to get black pepper. And we have cookbooks from ancient Greece going back to like 400 that mentioned using black pepper. So, we know there was definitely trade between India and all these different places. And I’ve heard an argument and honestly I don’t know how good it is, but there are some references to thinking of the sky as a wheel of 360 degrees spokes that are in the Rig Veda. You know, there are these weird number symbols that we’re reading that go, “Gee, that sounds kind of like the way we think of dividing the sky up.” So, I think it’s potentially more complicated who learned what from whom and how dialed in different cultures were to, you know, different aspects of the sky.
CB: Yeah. And I mean, that gets into some tricky issues because this has become a really contentious debate partially because of this separate debate that’s come up about the antiquity of Indian astrology and who came first and whether Indian astrology is thousands of years older than Mesopotamian or than Western astrology. And then it gets into, as you mentioned, this controversy about the designation of what to call Indian astrology. And some astrologers prefer to call it Indian astrology, and others call it vedic astrology. And others call it Hindu astrology, and others call it–
CB: –Jyotish. And that gets tied into this broader issue that it seems like it’s come up especially in the past 20 years where there’s some prominent practitioners of Indian astrology that argue, you know, that Indian astrology is now thousands of years old and will point to things like you were mentioning, Kenneth, the statement about the wheel with 360 degrees–
CB: –spokes as evidence for the zodiac existing in India long before it’s usually commonly agreed to have existed from an academic standpoint. I mean, I try to stick primarily with whatever the current academic sort of historical consensus is though.
KM: And so, without us getting too further derailed, the problem with all of this is, and I’m hoping to represent a moderate opinion here, but the problem with this whole, like, ‘Who invented horoscopic astrologies?’ is that at around the time people were doing this you had Greek colonies in India. So, everyone was talking to each other. You know, it’s not like you can make a case that someone had this idea in one place and they, you know, and it wasn’t for a few centuries that they had contact with anyone else to share it with. I mean, we know as astrologers that if you were paying attention to the sky and if you believe there was a connection between what was going on and what was happening on Earth and you hadn’t gotten the idea of casting a birth chart, all it would take was someone to say, “Hey, have you ever thought of like casting a chart for when someone was born?” And the other person would be like, “Oh my god, that’s brilliant. I’m gonna start doing that immediately.” So, it only takes like one conversation between two people to transmit what would have been an idea of great utility because both of those And the other interesting factor is that the Greek culture had a faith belief and the Indian culture had a karma belief, and now they have this technology that allows them to analyze what that’s all about–
KM: –in a way they hadn’t before.
CB: Sure. Although I mean, one of Pingree’s statements though as his counterpoint to that cuz that’s true on the one hand where it’s easy for us to think of like a concept or something that could be conveyed easily like a philosophical concept that the alignment of the planets at the moment of a person’s birth will signify something about their future or their character. Like that’s easy to convey. But when it comes to technical doctrines of the actual techniques of astrology even some of the basic techniques, that’s such a weird I mean, David Pingree the historian of science his argument was that it’s such a weird in a highly specialized sort of system or construct in the way that it’s outlined, that it’s not something that likely was developed or generated independently in different cultures. But instead when we see it showing up in two different cultures, it’s probably because there was an exchange between those two. Not necessarily just orally, but usually specifically of written texts and technical manuals that were translated from one language to another. Although I guess that’s not really a counterpoint to what you just said, but it’s more going along with it. And the two–
KM: Yeah. And we should tell the listener, too. I mean, one of the reasons why the evidence is on the side of Western scholarship that the original horoscopic astrology was Western and there are Indians that will say they invented it first. But the evidence is at this moment, you know, stacked in favor of a Western origin of the idea of casting a horoscope in part because people were writing on leaves in India. And there is no evidence of anything that really survives. So in terms of available evidence to sort through, you have a lot more on the western side of the equation. Actually I’d like to show what it looks like when things are written on bark and like how quickly they deteriorate in like 100 years. Yes, Nick?
NDB: Yeah. And without wanting to derail us further, isn’t part of the problem, I mean, aside from the question of what they were writing on, one of the questions that comes up with regard to the origin in this argument is the fact that you’ve got a technical terminology that is very similar between Greek and Sanskrit. But each one of these words in this technical vocabulary has an existing meaning in Greek but no outside existing meaning in Sanskrit. And isn’t that one of the sort of overlying arguments to this whole question?
KM: Yes, and my counter argument to that is that I’ll make a counter argument in two different ways. One is I was in an automobile ride once in India, and I had three Indians. And they were speaking in Hindi. But as they were speaking Hindi, they would throw in the occasional English word like, you know, surprise, birthday. I mean, just these weird words. And so I said, “Wait a minute. Why are you guys like how do you decide when to throw an English word instead of a Hindi word?” They’re like, “Well, there are some English words that just convey a concept simpler and quicker. And so we throw that into our speech.” So, there really are only a handful of technical terms that were adopted by the Indians. But I mean, that would be like saying, “Gee, did no one think of putting ice cream on top of their pie before the…” You know, they must have learned that from the French cuz they call that à la mode. And that’s not how it happened. So–
NDB: Right. Well, maybe I–
KM: –it’s a little looser than that because it’s not like there wasn’t a Sanskrit word for pivot. But yeah, they did choose to use a handful of Greek terms.
NDB: Right. And maybe this particular argument is more about the horoscope and not as much about the zodiac which like is, you know–
NDB: –yeah. Maybe I’ve sort of led us off in the wrong direction, but it is related to this whole argument–
NDB: –which is why I thought I would bring it in there.
KM: Yeah. You know, for all I know, you know, the horoscopic astrology could have easily been “invented” in the Greek speaking West and brought into India. I’m just saying the argument is not so black and white as we’re often led to believe. There’s some reasonable doubt that can be inserted in some of these arguments.
NDB: You said you had a second argument. What’s that, then?
KM: The second argument is that there is a ton of Sanskrit terminology and just a handful of these Greek words that are used to describe–
NDB: Well, okay.
KM: –certain features of the horoscope.
NDB: Okay. Well–
KM: I think that was my second argument.
CB: It’s not just a few terms though. There’s a lot of Greek terms and therefore pretty core concepts sometimes which one of the things is the argument is that it’s not just that they’re opting to use a term because it’s easier, but the argument is that they’re opting us to use a term because it didn’t exist in India and they didn’t have a word for it prior to that point. And the other thing is that it’s not unique. I mean, if that process happened then, one of the questions is, did it happen at any other point? And the answer is yes. Because if you fast forward about 1,000 years to the medieval tradition, you see the same thing happening in India where they have a transmission of Arabic texts that are translated into Sanskrit. And then they have a whole bunch of technical terms that endoctrine getting incorporated into that astrology at that point from sort of foreign sources that they then modify and change a bit. But otherwise it’s still as said before an astrology that’s being imported into India.
KM: And fortunately, it’s really reasonable to have this level of argument. We need to pull the terms, look at the etymology–
KM: –see Sanskrit equivalents, how they were used in literature at the time. And that’s kind of beyond the scope of this. So I’m not saying it’s probable, but I’m saying it’s possible that I mean, just because like the handful of terms argument, at least in my mind, isn’t enough to compel me to say absolutely I’d bet my life on the fact that the Indians didn’t have this concept prior to being exposed to a Greek text.
CB: Sure. All right. All right. And it’s funny as we–
KM: Because the third wheel, you could say, of this argument is you have these Indo-Greek colonies where the “Greek-speaking people” are fully intermarrying and adopting the culture.
KM: And if they were the ones that “invented” horoscopic astrology on Indian soil, that would also explain why some Greek terms got into the horoscope. So that’s what further muddies the waters.
CB: Sure. Yeah. And this is actually, Kenneth, Johnson and I did a whole episode on this I think about a year or two ago–
CB: –so people can go back and listen to that or I’m sure this is something that Kenneth and I, we can all have another discussion on at some point.
KM: Yes. That’s true. Yes.
NDB: Yeah, back to the zodiac.
CB: So, back to the zodiac issue. So, what that brings us to today actually that was really good timing because this is the transition point into the next section which is essentially it brings us Oh no, actually we forgot. We almost like left out this whole sort of minor school which is that it’s not just Indian astrologers who use the sidereal zodiac, but there’s also in the 20th century there was the emergence of some Western astrologers of a school of Western astrologers. Essentially it started using the sidereal zodiac, and it’s usually generally referred to it seems like the designation that’s becoming popularized recently as Western sidereal astrology. So it’s sort of designating that they’re doing sidereal astrology but that they’re doing it in a Western context basically by just using the techniques of Western astrology, but they’re using sidereal charts. And this school was founded by the Irish astrologer Cyril Fagan in the mid 20th century, and recently it’s had a little bit of a flourishing with certain astrologers such as Kenneth Boswer who wrote a book on sidereal astrology just a few years ago as well as others.
So, I needed to mention that briefly. But nonetheless, that still in terms of the overall makeup of the astrological community I think could pretty easily be characterized as a pretty small school, I think in western astrology at this point. Do you guys think that’s accurate?
NDB: Yeah, from what I know.
KM: They’re heavily proselytizing these days. But yes, it is a small faction. And it’s ironically an approach that I thought was crazy when I was a young person studying western astrology. I was like, “Why would they–It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
KM: But it is very different than the way Indians do astrology, but I’m sure we’ll get to that as we proceed.
CB: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things about that that’s true and something that people will note is that typically western sidereal astrologers often end up being very, I don’t know what term to use, but maybe loud or very–
CB: They’re enthusiastic about promoting their approach to astrology because it puts them in the position where they’re in the minority. And they are saying that there’s been a mistake, and everybody in the West has got it wrong for 2,000 years. And they’ve found like the right approach to astrology. And so when you’re put in that sort of position sometimes, you know, that can become–
NDB: You come out swinging. You come out–
CB: Right, in order to defend your position.
CB: And sometimes that’s actually probably connected with a broader–I was talking to somebody about this recently just how sometimes certain types of astrology like certain students of astrology will gravitate towards certain teachers and sometimes like the teacher’s personality becomes sort of like emulated by their followers or by their students. And I don’t know how much that might be sort of there as well. Cuz it’s kind of weird where sometimes like you’re running to certain types of astrologers that have the same kind of personality type practice and same approach. I don’t know if I’m going too far and typecasting.
KM: I know we are dangerously close to falling off the edge of something.
CB: Okay, I’ll backtrack on that statement.
KM: Let’s reel it in. Let’s reel it in.
CB: Reeling it in. All right. So–
NDB: I’d just like to say that it would explain why all of my students are so sweet and nice.
CB: Right, exactly. That’s what I was trying to convey. All right. So, this brings us to the transition point which is basically where we’re at today. And it brings us to the debate that astrologers have about what are essentially just these two choices, which of these two choices is the best to use. And this is essentially a genuine technical debate that has pretty decent pros and cons on both sides which is probably the thing that’s the most frustrating about this is that you could really approach this argument, you could make good points, you could make good arguments for both sides, and you could make good arguments against both sides. But essentially, what you have is a very long and complicated issue because there’s long traditions behind the use of each zodiac.
And then it gets further complicated, of course, because we’re talking about astrology more broadly. But also in particular it often comes down to natal astrology. And that complicates things because there’s this tendency for astrologers to identify with their chart placements. And therefore once you’ve adopted a system, there’s some investment naturally that comes with that either if you’re a practicing astrologer and you’re doing charts for other people or if you’re just an astrology enthusiast and you come to use astrology and view your life through that lens to some extent, you sort of develop some attachment to it, you know, if somebody says that it’s one way versus somebody else saying that it’s another way. So I feel that that complicates the issue. Then there’s this separate issue which is the use of precession as a sort of attack vector by skeptics who want to criticize astrology and who seize upon this sort of debate within the astrological community in order to attempt to discredit astrology.
KM: So, can I interrupt for a second?
KM: That is ridiculous, you know, because typically every few years what happens is you get an astronomer or a scientist that says, “Those crazy astrologers.” And of course they’re not even thinking of India, they’re just thinking of Western astrology. You know, “Those crazy astrologers, you know, they don’t even know that the signs of the zodiac, you know, the stars have been moving.” And then they make this basically straw dog argument. And, you know, Chris as you’ve laid out early on in this talk, using the tropical zodiac was kind of a conscious decision that was adopted by Western astrologers practically 2,000 years ago. And it’s not a mistake. And it always drives me crazy when that hits the news again cuz of that every few years.
NDB: Yeah, it always comes up like it’s some fresh new story that no one’s discussed, you know? The maddening thing is the world constantly seems to forget that, “No, this all came up. And we came out and defended ourselves, and then it went away. And now it’s come back like some kind of wok, you know, that won’t burn off.”
KM: I mean, with apologies to our Southern Hemisphere fans, you know, basically, you know, the West decided to go with the seasons. And the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere was the beginning of Aries. That was a decision made a long time ago, wasn’t a mistake. So, I went off on this little rant so that the next time this makes the news hopefully the listener of this podcast will be like, you know, “You can make a lot of arguments about astrology and against astrology, but that one is just a ridiculous one.”
CB: Right. Well, it’s the way it’s formulated. So, as you guys said, it comes up periodically although there was a huge controversy over it in 2011 when it just became this news story for what seemed like a few weeks or something. I don’t know if I’m blowing it out of proportion from what it actually was though.
KM: No. I mean, it was definitely a few days. I mean, I went on my local Fox channel here. I mean, they like were calling for astrologers. It was the weirdest thing.
CB: But it did catch like the national fever here for a week.
CB: And yeah. And the origins behind that are actually kind of sketchy and weird because what happened was, it was some little tiny independent–Cuz I researched this once cuz I was writing an article on it back when it happened about a month after it happened. And I researched it, and it was just some local newspaper or like little news affiliate that did an interview with an astronomer somewhere in the north-east. And he just made some usual sort of generic comments about astrology like astronomers usually do. And he mentions precession, and then he says that the tropical zodiac is out of alignment with the constellations. And so the signs are all one sign off. And it was pretty generic. But what happened when I retraced this cuz I tried to find the earliest articles in order to figure out how that blew up into what it was. And what was weird is that it was actually a Fox News story.
CB: Fox News actually picked it up, and they took the original this kind of obscure article. And I’m not really sure how they found it, and they really sensationalized it into like, you know, “Astronomer makes discovery about zodiac having a huge sudden recent shift, and everyone’s zodiac signs are off.” And it became this huge like sensationalized piece, and it was that article from what I could tell when I researched this a few years ago that then all of the rest of the national media seized upon. And then from there, it just got its own inertia so that everybody was doing stories on it. And then–
KM: And Chris, you actually just mentioned something that I didn’t really notice at the time. But that 2011 story did something that was different than every other time I’ve seen this come up in my lifetime. And that is the kind of focal point of the news, and this was true when I was brought into my local news station. The focal point wasn’t, “Astrologers are all crazy and wrong.” It was that your sign was wrong.
KM: That’s how it was being framed like, “Oh, astrologers have made this mistake. And you’re actually not the sign you think you are. You’re a different sign or your focus or whatever.” And like that kind of blows my mind, and it never really crossed my mind until just now. But that was like how it was different.
CB: Right. Yeah.
KM: And I’m not sure what that says about–
CB: Modern society. True.
NDB: Well, I’m sure Fox News regrets this isolated incident where they passed on some information that wound up becoming sensationalized. Not part of their usual MO, I’m sure.
CB: Sure. So, one of the thing that, you know, astrologers really objected to about that whole controversy in 2011, and that’s had actually interestingly lingering effects that I’m not sure that astrologers realized how much that was gonna do in retrospect at the time or that we can even fully take into account what it has done. But I think it did leave a sort of permanent imprint on like a large mass of the population because it got so much coverage at the time. And the thing that all the astrologers objected to at the time was that it was both very misleading and very inaccurate because there were basically three points that were being sort of argued in every one of the articles. And it was that it was presented as if one per session was discovered recently which is false. It was discovered over 2,000 years ago.
CB: Two, that it changed the composition of the zodiac which is additionally false. Because if you take either the tropical or the sidereal zodiac and you take the way that it’s been defined for 2,000 years which is that it’s 12 idealized equal 30 degrees segments of the ecliptic starting from whatever your reference point is either the equinoxes and the solstices in the case of the tropical zodiac or a specific fixed star or other sort of cluster of fixed stars or something in the sidereal zodiac, then there’s nothing about it that’s changed. And then three, the third point was that they also put in which was probably the most annoying one which is that astrologers weren’t aware of it or weren’t taking it into account.
NDB: That is the most annoying. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Right.
NDB: Yeah, cuz that one’s insulting. The line I would have, you know, to the occasional passerby who wanted to talk about this, I would point out that every map of the world has the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn and that if astrologers are wrong about the, you know, about the tropics, then so our cartographers–
NDB: –and maybe these people should get on the cases of Rand McNally and point out that, you know, this Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn thing is erroneous and that our maps should be changed.
CB: I mean, and what they’re responding to obviously is astronomers are referring to and are often themselves only familiar with a popularized form of astrology which is Sun sign columns. And it’s like there you can almost see what the line of thinking is and what their argument is for framing that way to a certain extent where oftentimes there’s an assumption that the zodiacal signs are based on the constellations and often times they’re marketed as such or even the writers sometimes of horoscope columns will refer to them as like your star sign which implies that there’s something about them that is sidereal even if the actual zodiac that’s being used is the tropical zodiac in that column. So there’s almost something about that where there’s grounds for mistaking it if you’re only paying attention to the popularized form of astrology and if, you know, you’re not paying attention very close or if you’re making some inferences or some assumptions based on that.
But, the general points that all the astrologers pointed out at the time and that is easy for us to point out now in retrospect or here in this episode is that it wasn’t precession. It wasn’t a recent discovery. There was no sudden shift. And one of the things that’s interesting that I’ve found in my research is that precession–One of the first attacks on astrology that I found that used precession in order to criticize astrology was actually from the early church father who I think his name is pronounced Origen who lived in the second or third century. And he actually pointed to precession even though the signs were only like a degree or two or a few degrees off at that point. He pointed to this as an issue in astrology. So this argument about precession being used as an attack vector for skeptics against astrology has been in use since the second or third century which adds another layer of sort of comedy on top of the fact that they were framing it most recently as something that happened recently or suddenly.
So, what ended up happening here though was that skeptics, I feel, won the battle because the primary thing that they were trying to do, even though it almost indirectly came off as like validating astrology in a way because it ended up getting framed oftentimes that kind of said as, “Your Sun sign or your star sign has changed.” What they were trying to do primarily in framing it that way in most of the skeptical arguments are many of them the point is to cast doubt and to make the public question astrology. And in that sense, they almost sort of like won the war. But they won it by or they won the battle, but they did it by lying to people essentially. And that really brings us to–
NDB: First time in history. My god!
CB: Yeah. I mean, it really brings up an issue with the modern skeptical movement and with some of the sort of attacks or criticisms against astrology which is, you know, questioning some of the tactics that are used in terms of, you know, is it worth it, you know, for you to win if you’re doing so by lying or by misleading people essentially? Because that’s kind of what happened there. And I don’t know. I mean, to me, that seems like not a great sort of route to take or not a good thing to take. I mean, it’s effective in that I think sometimes when I see astrology discussed in the public sometimes every once in a while, there’ll be that one person or there’ll be a little few people that are like, you know, “I seem to recall something a news story a few years ago about how the signs of the zodiac are off now when astrology is mentioned.” So I feel like that had some sort of lasting sort of imprint on the public psyche.
CB: But, to what extent I guess remains to be seen.
NDB: I think you’re right about that, Chris. But at the same time, it’s not like we were standing all that tall prior to that anyway.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Right.
NDB: Well, let’s be honest. I mean, yeah, they whacked us good with that. But we were already kind of in the gutter, so to speak, you know? I don’t think we fell too far–
CB: Sure. Sure.
NDB: –in the estimation of these particular people.
CB: Yeah, definitely. And although what’s funny about that, if you guys noticed, I was just remarking to Lisa about this the other day, it seems like there’s been this string of positive publicity and just general news stories about astrology over the past few months. Have you guys noticed that? There’s just like tons of articles being posted about it recently, and I’m not really sure why that is.
NDB: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been the last few months. I would have said the last month or last few–
NDB: –weeks or something quite recent. It appears that way. I haven’t been reading them too closely. I’m always, you know, expecting the worst. And so I figured there’s gonna be some little zinger at the end of them or something like that. But I know what you’re talking about. Having read them, would you say they’re especially friendly like no shade from the side, so to speak?
CB: No. I mean, there’s always that element. But they’ve been more, I don’t wanna say friendly, but they’ve almost given more of a chance for some other perspective to be mentioned than you usually see. Like usually I feel like, more often than not, they’ll just pick some random person who may or may not be an actual astrologer, who may or may not have done it for very long and who may or may not have very good things to say, you know, in representing the astrological community, whereas recently it’s been weird to see more of a string of interviews with actual astrologers or people that I would respect or people that–
CB: –you know, are representing astrologers relatively well.
NDB: Right. Right. I mean, I haven’t read these stories. I saw that Annabel Gat posted something that was done in the States about astrologers and, you know, working astrologers that I presume interviewed a number of our colleagues. And then Jonathan Cainer recently just was in a story about, you know, astrologers in Britain. So I mean, what I’m noticing without having, like I said, come through these stories themselves it seems to be the stories are about the astrologers and not about astrology. And maybe that’s why it’s coming off positive is they’re talking about us and not just treating us as a sort of massive confused, you know, ambiguous faceless people.
CB: Sure, or that horoscope column to the extent of it.
CB: Like just the idea that there’s people out there–
NDB: Right. Yeah.
CB: –that are professional astrologers that do that as a career thing, I think just is a kind of interesting thing to have out there in the first place that you don’t often see.
CB: Anyway, but maybe that can be an episode this month just sort of like rounding up a bunch of those articles and sort of discussing how that coverage has gone.
CB: All right. So, moving on. So, now we get into that astrologers really do have to settle this to whatever extent they can as a technical, conceptual, and practical issue. So, there’s some questions to ask, some questions that we could raise in the process of trying to settle this or that each astrologer should, you know, question, should think about for themselves and should try to come up with what they’re working or what their personal answer is to this.
KM: Can I preface what you’re about to say?
CB: Sure, sir.
KM: So, one thing I want everyone to remember is that this is; I’m taking a purely pragmatic approach. So, three of us were professional astrologers. We got into it because we saw something that seemed to be meaningful, and the people we learned from saw something that they thought was meaningful. And that’s what led them down the astrological path. So, just from a pragmatic point of view, clearly the tropical zodiac has in some way served Western astrology because all these techniques and all these structures that have built up since Ptolemy’s time have been based on that. And they’re all the reasons, and I would argue probably almost all of the people that even do Western sidereal first got into astrology because they were interested and found something meaningful in the tropical system.
Just like in India, they’ve been using the sidereal zodiac from the beginning with all of their horoscopic astrology. And the people that are studying that now and are into it got into it because they were impressed by work other astrologers have done. And all their techniques arise out of dealing with the sidereal zodiac. So I think just from a pragmatic point of view before we get into the technical let’s, you know, figure out what’s really going on here. The fact is we all got interested in astrology because it seemed to be meaningful based on whatever the zodiac was of the tradition we were studying, right?
NDB: Sure. Yes.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and you could go different ways with that. And I know there’s astrologers that go different ways with it which raises some of the sort of prefatory questions which are, do tropical and sidereal astrologers use the zodiac in the same way? So, do they attribute the same qualities to the signs for example? So, what would you guys say to that?
KM: I would say in my study of Hellenistic so-called traditional and modern Western astrology and, of course, the astrology I deal with which is traditional Indian astrology that it’s not used the same.
KM: Or there’s overlap, but it’s different. You know, the whole rule set of how you approach a horoscope and the way you think about it is different. And I think that’s how–
CB: With Indian astrology versus West.
KM: Yeah, in Indian astrology versus West. Because that’s how Chinese medicine and Western medicine can both be deep, decent systems of medicine even though they have different theoretical frameworks. But it is because they have different theoretical frameworks, and they’re looking at things slightly different even though they are using the same words. So, I think if I were to take all my Indian rules over to the tropical zodiac, I’m not sure that would work. Because they’re quite different from the rules used in western astrology and vice versa. So, over time it’s sort of like, “Okay, we’re giving you two different models of cars.” And they have some significant design differences, a lot of overlap, and some significant design differences. And so you’ve worked out, you know, the technique of how to keep this thing running through the centuries and those have, you know, differed.
NDB: Kenneth, would it be fair to say that the similarities are closest at a superficial level between the two? I mean, like sort of the deeper you go, the more different they are. I mean, and maybe I’m kind of stating the obvious here. But it takes us back to what we were just talking about with the question in, you know, things like Fox News and what have you is that I think it’s easiest to confuse the systems just from the surface level. First of all, they’re both called zodiacs.
CB: Right. Right. Yeah.
NDB: –which gives you the impression that they’re two different versions of the same concept–
KM: Right. Right.
NDB: –when they’re not. They are these two different concepts that at a superficial level have some overlap. And it’s just it’s that little bit of overlap that, you know, creates all the confusion that we’re touching on in this episode basically.
CB: And before we go that route cuz that’s true to a certain extent, but it’s not just the that they use, they’re both called zodiacs. But also the names for the signs are the same. So, yes. You know–
NDB: Yes. Yeah. Exactly.
CB: –it’s Scorpio in both systems.
KM: Yeah, we use all that well especially in English. If the Sanskrit names were literally used, we’d have a couple of minor differences in a couple of the signs and what they were called. But basically, right, we’re using the same language where, you know, you’re calling the planets by their English names. We’re calling the sidereal signs by the same names of the tropical signs. So, it is very easy to think that it’s the same thing when there is difference. And I would say, yes, superficially they’re similar and maybe even a little more than superficially. I mean, there is overlap. But there is definite difference which is I think how the two systems can function in each culture. And that sometimes gets muddied especially when you have someone who was raised in one tradition, and then they learn the other tradition. And they start blending it all together, and now it gets a little more confusing. But in my own work where I’ve been very careful to sort of separate that out, yes, there’s differences. You know, that’s why someone can be a Taurus Moon in one system and an Aries Moon in another because you interpret that quite differently.
CB: But I mean, from the perspective of let’s say Western sidereal astrology, I mean, they use it essentially the same. And that becomes one of the issues is that Western sidereal astrologers are just taking Western astrology, using it virtually the exact same way but using a completely different reference system. And–
KM: And unfortunately I cannot explain that.
KM: I cannot. I’m not a good apologist for that school of thought.
CB: Sure. I just wanna clearly outline what the two options are.
KM: Like yes, that is a more significant problem than I think in Indian and Western are talking to each other cuz it’s like, “Okay, we have differences.” And once we sit down and explain what we mean it’s like, “Oh, okay. That all makes sense.” But yeah, Western sidereal and Western tropical– Go to it Chris, I’m all ears.
CB: Sure. So there’s just two options here, so you have the tropical and sidereal zodiac, and then you have two options. One is that… Well, there’s a few options, but one of them is that both zodiacs are valid, but they just work in different ways or they work in different contexts or they work in different sort of frames towards things so that they’re both valid reference systems but just in different ways. Another alternative is that they work in different ways, that they don’t work or that you wouldn’t interpret the sign Scorpio sidereally the same as you interpret the sign Scorpio tropically. So another possibility is that… Well, there’s different possibilities. I mean, another possibility is that they’re two different reference systems and only one of them works. I mean, one of the issues that we run into, and I hear what you’re saying when you’re comparing Western astrology to Indian astrology, and saying that the way that you interpret the signs is very different.
But one of the issues that I have is that conceptually, especially if you’re comparing Western traditional astrology to Indian astrology, certain core conceptual things are the same. So for example, the planetary rulership scheme is the same. And that creates a huge issue if, you know, this segment of the ecliptic and the tropical zodiac is ruled by Mars, and this segment of the sidereal zodiac is also ruled by Mars. You do have what is essentially like an overlap there between the same thing being attributed to different spots in the ecliptic. And that does come off as somewhat problematic to me, where you run into an issue where either both of them are valid but just in different ways or either one of them is wrong in using that because they’re drawing on the same thing, but only one of them can work.
KM: So it’s your former argument, that’s the path I would go down because Mars is going to mean something a little different in the two systems. So we’re not even talking about the exact same thing. Even though we’re using the same word for the same object, it’s derived meanings are not exactly the same east west. And secondly, I do think we can make an argument that there is a different, you know, you’re measuring two different things, right? I mean, the tropical zodiac is intimately tied up with the Sun’s relationship to the earth, whereas the sidereal zodiac is showing a different, you know, sort of relationship with the Sun to the stars. So we might, or a philosophical type person might just start thinking about, “Okay, how would that inform interpretive differences as we, you know, tackle the reading of a chart?”
CB: Right. Yeah. And so that’s maybe what we should get into. So but broadly speaking, the question for astrologers becomes, is it the case that one approach is valid and the other is not valid or is it possible that both are valid in some way? Could one system be used for one thing and the other for another or could they show different aspects of life somehow? You know, there’s different ways that you could attempt to answer or resolve that question. All right. So in terms of attempting to answer this question from a historical perspective, there’s a few things we have to take into account. One of them, one potential way of answering the question that many people often, you know, go to, is figuring out which zodiac the ancients themselves originally intended to use. So oftentimes, arguments within the astrological community, at least amongst practicing astrologers about which zodiac is better, one of the immediate fallbacks sort of appeals to antiquity of, you know, who has the older zodiac. So there’s an issue here where oftentimes, for example, Western sidereal astrologers will then say that since the Babylonians first developed the zodiac as sidereal, that we should do that, and that was what was intended and that was the original approach, and therefore it must be the best. But one of the issues that I have with that is that most of the actual, it seems that most of the actual qualities that we associate with the signs of the zodiac, at least in terms of the fundamental qualities of the rulership schemes, the modalities, the elements as assigned to the signs of the zodiac, and potentially the gender assignments, that all of those were first introduced in the Hellenistic tradition.
And so this is a problem because of what I mentioned earlier where the Hellenistic tradition seems to have drawn on both tropical considerations as well as sidereal considerations when they were developing the core meanings of what they thought the signs of the zodiac meant. So the question then becomes, you know, are there specific conceptual motivations that we can look to for some of those basic core concepts which clearly implicate one zodiacal framework or another? So one of them that often gets talked about is the modalities. And this is the one that, at least on the surface to me, often comes off as more seasonal. So for example, the argument that the cardinal signs are associated with initiating things in Western astrology because they coincide with the beginning of the seasons. That the fixed signs are associated with stability or permanence because they fall in the middle of the seasons where there’s not much change. And then the mutable signs are associated with change and transition and instability because they coincide with the end of the seasons where you’re moving from one season to the next. So that’s an area where potentially there could be from a conceptual standpoint, like a reason for saying that one of these concepts is being derived from one framework rather than another. I mean, is there a sidereal argument for the modalities? Modalities are used in Indian astrology, right? I guess that would be–
KM: Yes, they are used. And I’m not, unfortunately, intimately familiar with the arguments. But there is an argument, and it actually has to do with the aligning of the nakshatras with this Aries zero point and kind of deriving meaning for that. Because in Indian astrology, we use the term immovable. Well, in English, we say movable, fixed and dual, but it’s the same sort of principle. And then another kind of complicating factor is that India traditionally didn’t have the four season model. They actually thought of the year as having six seasons, so it gets a little more complicated.
CB: Sure. So that’s just one of the areas I guess, where I was thinking in terms of going back and making appeals to history where you run into some issues. Elsewhere, we have Hellenistic astrologers invoking sometimes certain fixed stars with the qualities of the signs. Like I think Algol gets mentioned in the context of Taurus by Valens. And that becomes problematic since it raises the question of whether there’s some sidereal considerations coming into play for that constellation or for that sign of the zodiac. But really, the big one becomes the rulership scheme. And this is a thorny one, I guess I’ve already mentioned it, but just because it ends up being the same at least traditionally in both zodiacs. But this is one again where if you’re going back and trying to figure out what the actual conceptual motivation is for the technique or the technical concept, it almost seems to be motivated more by what I would consider to be tropical considerations rather than sidereal ones based on the notion that the Sun and Moon are assigned to the two signs that are just after the summer solstice, so Cancer and Leo. And therefore, at least in the northern hemisphere, they’re associated with the brightest and warmest part of the year with those two signs of the zodiac, and then you assign the other traditional or visible planets in zodiacal order flanking out based on the relative speed and distance from the Sun.
And that almost seems to have some sort of conceptual motivation from a tropical standpoint, but I have a harder time figuring out what the conceptual motivation would be for assigning the planets to the signs of the zodiac from a purely sidereal standpoint. Yeah, so that becomes, you know, another sort of thing to consider in terms of that and just what the motivation is for some of the concepts and some of the things associated with the signs of the zodiac. Because one of the points that I’ve always really emphasized is that, you know, we should try and go back and understand what motivated the qualities that we associate with certain things in astrology. Because even though oftentimes, these are things that have been associated with it for hundreds of years or for centuries, sometimes they weren’t just things that arose sort of organically or purely empirically, but sometimes there were specific theoretical or conceptual motivations for them. And if you can figure out what those were, it leads to a little bit better I think understanding or a little bit better grasp of what the technical mechanics are of astrology to some extent.
NDB: Well, I think this is also where our friends in the press sort of trip over themselves, and I think this is where things are at their most ambiguous. Let me frame the question this way, as we think of Aries: is Aries more ram like or is it more sort of solar/Mars like? In other words, as a tropical astrologer, I think of tropical Aries as being, you know, the exaltation of the Sun and a domicile of Mars and a cardinal fire sign. I think of those considerations far more than I think of a sort of superficial association with a ram which, you know, in a sort of Sun sign context, oh, you know, your Aries friends, aren’t they sort of impulsive? And you know, you can come up with all these little sort of personality analogies that one can associate with the animal, the ram which you find plenty of tropical astrologers doing that kind of thing but usually in a Sun sign context, for the most part. In other words, what is the source of the imagery that we’re using? I mean, I know where I fall in this in terms of how I thought this all out. While I might, you know, myself being a Leo, I might occasionally make analogies of people with the Suns in Leos to being lion-like.
But far more, I’m thinking of, you know, fundamentally as an astrologer, when I’m thinking of tropical Leo, I’m thinking of a place that is a fixed fire domicile, you know, second, third of the way after the summer solstice. I’m thinking of its place. I mean, tropical Leo to me is a spot on a map if you will, you know. And like any spot on a map, it’s got a geography to it. And any sort of imagery that I conjure as an astrologer that I would associate with tropical Leo or tropical Aries, comes down to those basic parts that we’re looking at, and less so with the sort of the animal forums or whatever we sort of conjure with the sign archetypes. Is that part of the difference? Are Indian astrologers really going right to the sign archetypes? Are tropical astrologers perhaps mistaken when they do run to the sign archetypes as opposed to sticking to the sort of the nuts and bolts of the rulership scheme?
CB: Right. And are skeptics wrong when they assume that astrologers are mistaken when they invoke those archetypes even though they’re using the tropical zodiac which is not associated with the constellations at this point?
NDB: They could be wrong, but at least we could understand why they were mistaken because we might be making it easy for them to make that mistake.
CB: Yeah, and that was my point. Although, it’s like you could make an argument that the core underlying meaning underlying the images of the constellations is still somehow contained in the crossover between the basic concepts that are still motivating, which is the planetary rulership, the modality, the gender and the element. And that those four somehow combine in order to create something that’s an approximation of, you know, the animal totem or whatever was originally associated with that constellation or with that sign.
NDB: I fully agree. I mean, I think tropical Leo is still going to be tropical Leo even now that Regulus is in tropical Virgo, as just tropical Virgo’s now going to have this very specifically lion-like star in it that it hasn’t had before. Regulus is a star that I will associate with a lion as opposed to tropical Leo if you catch my drift.
CB: Yeah, and that’s another attempt to sort of reconcile the two systems that some astrologers have been using lately in terms of seeing where the fixed stars are, fixed stars of the constellations are in terms of the tropical signs and the potential for importing certain meanings or moving certain meanings back into certain signs so that there’s overlap between them rather than using them as completely separate. Okay, so this brings up some of the issues, but ultimately, I mean, my point is just that we have to go back to the fundamentals and figure out where we’re getting some of our concepts from–
KM: And we have to acknowledge that the ancients did a poor job delineating this metatheory, right? I mean, because we have all these unanswered questions. I mean, Ptolemy comes along and goes, “Okay, I’m gonna tell you why this is the way it is.” But it’s an afterthought.
CB: Yeah, it’s Ptolemy attempting to explain those things within the context of his model of how he thinks things work.
KM: And so the danger all of us have, and it’s unavoidable, so we just have to embrace it, is that because our brains are meaning making machines, it’s very easy for us to see correlations and to find meaning and think we have stumbled upon first principles. But we don’t actually know until we can get in a time machine, go back and interview someone. We don’t know if we’re really thinking the way the originators of horoscopic astrology were or the originators of let’s assign, you know, rulerships to the constellations/signs.
CB: Sure. I mean, we can’t be sure. Although, I mean, there are arguments that if we really try, sometimes we can reconstruct, and we can find things that we didn’t know or that aren’t clearly stated in the text.
KM: Of course. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying that all of our seasonal… I mean, the problem with all of our seasonal arguments is that, does that stick with that? How do we explain why it works in Australia? And why aren’t they switching their zodiac around?
CB: Right. Well, that’s the point we’re going to in just a second.
KM: Okay, all right.
CB: Yeah, figuring out the core concepts, and I mean, that’s also part of what I showed in the planetary joys paper, where, you know, Benjamin Dykes, and I found out. We reconstructed and figured out how, at least conceptually, I think, and I thought I could argue pretty persuasively how the four elements of earth, air and fire and water originally came to be assigned to the specific signs they were assigned to. Where Aries became a fire sign, and Taurus became an earth sign, and Gemini became an air sign, and so on and so forth. That wasn’t a concept that always existed, that’s just always been there. But at some point, somebody came up with that or somebody attributed those signs those qualities at some point. And that there was a specific theoretical rationale for it, and that we were able to sort of uncover it by really focusing in on the problem and trying to figure it out. And that you can see patterns that are so suggestive that sometimes they don’t appear to be natural, they appear to be sort of people coming up with something that’s almost artificial or something that’s like a construct. But I guess that’s besides the point. So now we sort of transition into a section where there’s some important problems that supporters of both approaches still have to resolve.
So starting with the tropical zodiac, the first and primary issue is, if the zodiac is based on the seasons, then you run into an issue since the seasons are flipped in the Northern and Southern hemispheres as Kenneth just mentioned. So for example, summer coincides with Cancer and Leo and Virgo in the Northern Hemisphere, but those signs coincide with winter in the Southern Hemisphere. So it’s like a complete reversal of atmospheric qualities. And this becomes an issue because astrologers, Western astrologers that do tropical astrology, will oftentimes, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, although I’ve been talking to Kelly Surtees about this, and she says that she never saw it as much in learning astrology in Australia, and I found that fascinating. But I feel like in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s pretty common for astrologers to start explaining the signs of the zodiac within the context of the seasonal cycle and saying that, you know, Aries is associated with growth and newness and things like that because it coincides with the first day of spring and the first month of spring where everything, all the plants start growing and sort of like bursting forth.
NDB: Yeah, mind you, Kenneth and I were just down south ourselves in South Africa where astrologers are using… I mean, certainly there are sidereal astrologists there, but anyone using a tropical or a Western zodiac there, no one is sort of flipping the signs around as you suggest might be done.
CB: And that’s the issue though, is that if the quality of the signs is derived from the seasons, then it implies that the zodiac has to be flipped in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. But the issue with that is that tropical astrologers that work in the Southern Hemisphere like in Australia or other countries, often report that the tropical zodiac works just fine and should not be flipped. So then that becomes a question of, are they correct or is this open to questions?
KM: And beyond that, I can remember a time… This is dating me, but I can remember a time in the 80s where there was someone or some small group was making noise in Australia about, “Hey, we need to switch the tropical zodiac.” And it never really got traction because the astrologers self-reported that it didn’t seem to “work”. Now we get into the very discussion that’s beyond the scope of this podcast which is, what does that mean when an astrologer says something works or doesn’t work? But I mean, the consensus is… It’s not like an issue now. If you go, I think just as recently as a year ago, I was seeing if anyone else was touting this, I think I could only find one or two people that none of us have ever heard of that we’re sort of advocating the zodiacal swap. It’s definitely a super, super minority idea amongst astrologers themselves.
NDB: Yeah, at this day and age, we know a number of astrologers who live in the Southern Hemisphere, and Chris has one on the show regularly. And none of them seem to, you know, veer off the, you know, they all seem to be doing what we’re doing. I think it comes up again, what I was saying earlier about, you know, are we overly attached to some of the symbolism that we create that it masks our understanding as much as it sort of enhances or pinpoints our understanding? At what point is the imagery sort of taking over?
KM: And you mentioned that earlier, and I didn’t answer you back. But basically, you know, we don’t do that in Indian astrology. We’re a lot more planet focused in general. And so that’s what’s really significant. Aries is, you know, Mars like, it’s not that Mars is Aries like.
NDB: Okay, yeah.
KM: So that’s something that isn’t, you know, as far as I can tell-
NDB: That’s definitely how I think of it. But I can’t say that’s necessarily how most or, you know, many tropical astrologers do. I’m not sure.
KM: No, and you’re right. You get into that whole kind of mythic tradition of astrology where, you know, the 12 labors of Hercules, and there’s all kinds of things you can impose on the zodiac including the seasonal meanings. But whether that’s coincidence, whether that’s, you know, the earth decided to seize, you know, to correspond its seasons to the zodiac, you know, who knows?
NDB: I do have my own answer to this particular thing. I have my own means of reasoning why in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres why the zodiac would work in the same way. It’s a pretty obvious answer. I’m very aware of it because of my study of the synodic cycle of Mars. But anyone who knows our calendar immediately notices that in February there are 28 days, whereas in July and August, we have two consecutive months of 31 days each.
KM: I’ve noticed that.
NDB: Have you noticed that? And you know why? It’s because there’s a change in the speed of the Sun and the apparent speed of the Sun over the course of the year. And regardless of whether you’re in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, the Sun moves at a slightly slower pace during July and August than it does in February when it’s moving at its fastest pace. This is also the reason why the distribution of Mars retrogrades to the 12 signs is very, very uneven. Mars retrogrades in tropical Cancer, Leo, and Virgo are very common. Mars retrogrades in tropical Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces are very uncommon. This also comes down to the speed of the Sun. So I tend to think of, well, Leo is that spot where the Sun is moving at its absolute slowest, whereas Aquarius is that spot where the Sun is moving at its fastest. And that may have something to do with why we associate Leo with the Sun and Aquarius with being sort of anti-solar if you will. But that’s just one of my little pet theories. But it seems like a pretty obvious one. The ancients were certainly aware of this change in speed Sun. So it’s not like it’s a new discovery. And it could explain a lot of this stuff because it does add a distinction to the 12 signs of the zodiac that they don’t necessarily otherwise have. And one way or the other, we’re following the ecliptic anyway, aren’t we? Regardless of which zodiac we use. So there’s that to consider as well.
KM: And it makes sense to me. I like that, that’s a good way of thinking about it.
NDB: Yeah, because once I mean this is… When I look at the synodic cycles, it’s really obvious. Mercury and Venus have their own sort of set of rules because they’re in between us and the Sun, whereas once you get to Mars, there’s a game change because it’s on the other side. And you really know this in the difference in the synodic cycles of Venus and Mars, what’s different between them. And part of it comes down to that difference in the speed of the Sun, which like I said, adds this very interesting dynamic to the zodiac whereby the 12 signs really are sort of different from each other according to the speed of the Sun.
CB: Well, that’s really important then. Because I’ve been posing this question to astrologers for a while because there has to be a conceptual rationale that’s articulated about why we shouldn’t flip if we’re not going to flip it, the tropical zodiac and the Northern and Southern Hemispheres because it’s connected with the solstices and the equinoxes. And I’d always framed it over the past several years as there has to be something or what is it that makes the vernal point an appropriate starting point for the start of the zodiac at zero Aries that’s true in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. And that’s the way that I’d always framed it. And I remember Axel Harvey gave me an answer to the question, but I didn’t fully get it at one point where he was trying to come up with an answer to that. But otherwise, I’ve never gotten a reasonable answer from anyone yet. So maybe you’re one of the first people I’ve met that’s attempted to, you know, articulate an actual thing that would be true in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
NDB: Yeah, no. I mean, again, first of all, I’ve always followed planetary speed in general, it’s a fascinating condition in Hellenistic astrology. But even before that, I was always fascinated with stations with retrograde and direct stations for the planets. And so it was just a natural extension to study the speed of the Sun, which does change, you know, on a very regular basis. The sun has always been faster in February and slower in August.
KM: And you know, that is such an important point, Nick. Because we as astrologers typically live in this fantasy world called the average motion of a planet, but the reality is, rarely is that the case. And we’re not really conscious of that in our practice enough, I think.
NDB: Yeah, again, I think it’s something that I particularly pay special attention to because I’m so focused on planetary speed for the way I do astrology. And the question, I mean, in thinking about the zodiac, I mean, this kind of goes further. I was talking to Rob Hand about this when we were in South Africa. It may very well be the way that the speed of the Sun affects the synodic cycle of Mars and makes it so irregular. This might be insofar as the, you know, planetary movements create a sort of memory in the zodiac, that’s certainly something that comes up and it’s an idea that comes up in Hellenistic astrology. It might be, you know, this cycle of the Sun and Mars that makes the zodiac what it is, you know, one way or the other. The fact that we detect certain qualities for, you know, certain areas of the ecliptic, might be tied directly. Dare I say, this might be really controversial to say, and I’m just speculating, it might even be causal. You know, who knows?
CB: Sure. Well, I mean, this is the first time I’ve heard you mention this theory. So I’ll have to go over it more because I’d like to think about the implications of how, you know, it would be tied into the tropical zodiac and if it’d be a fully sufficient answer to that question, that I’ve been asking everybody. Which is, you know, what would make the tropical zodiac so that you should start Aries at the vernal point or at the vernal equinox in both hemispheres? But yeah, we should go over that.
NDB: The difference being the Aries equinox is the point where the Sun is going to move from fast to slow, whereas the Libra equinox is where the Sun’s gonna move from slow to fast.
CB: Okay. I mean, if that works out, well, then that becomes really useful because then astrologers would have to be more careful. Because what happens is that the Northern Hemisphere astrologers get into this thing where they oftentimes will default to the seasonal qualities that they’re associating with the signs, but that really doesn’t become the primary thing that the signs are based on. Therefore, they’d have to be much more careful about, you know, lapsing into that and referring to it in that way when in fact, the qualities would be coming from or sort of emanating from something else.
KM: Yeah, I wonder if there are regional differences in that as well. Because I’m thinking the astrologers here, where we really don’t have seasons in Southern California, you know, I don’t hear… You know, I’ve certainly heard people make that connection all the time, but now I’m also wondering too if that is partially a reflection of the environment they find themselves in, and just as they’re conceptualizing the world around them, they’re plugging in their astrology.
NDB: That’s an interesting question. Because in Montreal, all four of the seasons are very extreme like New York City, you know? The autumns are very autumn, the springs are very spring, and each one is just very, very extreme. So it might be on the minds of astrologers who live in places like that, where the seasons really do change in a really visible way.
CB: I mean, it is really notable. I was just thinking of that during the fall actually, when the Sun was in Scorpio recently. And like all the leaves and all the trees are dying, and it’s getting all cold and dark out. And like the summer is clearly gone at that point. I could understand why that became such a powerful metaphor for many modern astrologers in the late 20th century, they were doing tropical astrology.
NDB: I mean, the thing about 20th century astrology coming out of Jung, coming out of Rudhyar, is astrologers are very attached to sign archetypes and to symbolism. And I mean, I know this seems kind of like a weird thing to say on an astrology show, but
CB: And cycles, is that you meant as well?
NDB: Well, I mean, less on cycles I’d say and more on the symbolism. Whereas I’ve, from day one, I’ve always been deconstructing the symbolism. I don’t trust it if you know what I mean. I mean, I use it like other astrologers, but I’ve never sort of put my astrological money in that bank account, if you will. I’m always thinking sort of planet, maybe in some ways Kenneth, I think like the way you’re describing Indian astrologers, I think, you know, more in terms of planets than in terms of sign symbolism. The sign symbolism is almost like an artifact. I mean, we call them archetypes, but we could just as easily call them stereotypes sometimes.
KM: Yeah, good point.
NDB: I’m not sure I know the difference.
CB: And one of the issues there that I’m only starting to really get a fuller grasp upon recently when I was doing some research into Linda Goodman, and just how wildly popular her book was when it came out in the late 1960s. And it came out, you know, overlapping with the sort of cultural trends that were happening in the West in the late 1960s. And it just sold like millions of copies and was this huge sensation, and just the effect that Sun sign astrology really had on the population at the time. The other thing that was bringing that up was Kenneth, for our Age of Aquarius show, I was trying to figure out if I could get the rights to play the, you know, the Age of Aquarius song, which unfortunately, does not look like it’s going to work out. I was going to have somebody do a cover of it, like an acoustic cover, but it’s going to cost way too much to get the rights to do that. But that was actually like a number one like hit song in like 1969 or something. Did you guys know that?
NDB: Oh, yeah. Sure. Yeah, yeah. Because apart from the musical, there were groups covering it. What was Marilyn McCoo’s group? I forget. But they had a huge hit with it. And yeah, definitely, that song did a lot. I always have to explain to people that, you know, the lyric of the song when the moon is in the seventh house, I have to explain to people, well, that happens two hours every day.
KM: Yeah, when Chris and I first were talking about this, I was thinking imagine a thousand years from now, some historian of science is analyzing that song and going, “Well, this must be how they believed or were trying to reconstruct the astrology of the time and we have the artifact of this song and it could be very confusing.”
CB: You know, I was actually… Because I got on this kick about trying to figure out like the history of it and trying to research the rights because I was trying to figure out what company owned the rights, so I could figure out how to license it. And I was thinking about it more and more, and I’m actually gonna argue the opposite case that whoever wrote it did know what they were talking about. So symbolically from a modern astrologer perspective, what they’re saying is the Moon in the seventh house and modern astrologers associate feelings with the Moon, right? And then the seventh house with other people. So they’re talking about when other people develop empathy and feelings for, you know, their common man or for the other people.
And then they say when Jupiter aligns with Mars, and so they’re talking about the planet of war aligning with what is essentially the planet of peace. And then they’re like, you know, whatever the Golden Age breaks out. So it actually has what is pretty standard and straightforward astrological symbolism kind of built into it, but it’s just framed in a goofy sort of way. So that initially, when you first look at it, you’re like, “Well, that’s not,” you know, the astrologers are expecting them to mention some great alignment of planets, but they’re just using some basic like astrology analogies in order to make the point.
KM: In other words, what you’re saying is every couple of years we have this golden opportunity for this Golden Age. That’s wonderful news. And you heard first on this podcast people, pull out your femoris. Well, actually Nick, when’s the next time Jupiter aligns with Mars and we just have to put your local Moon in the seventh house?
NDB: Yeah, well, we just had a conjunction not long ago when we were in South Africa
CB: Maybe you can search your database Nick and let me know who the top Moon in the seventh house Mars Jupiter conjunctions are of all time.
NDB: I’ll get right on that, Chris.
CB: Okay. Well, and I’m now thoroughly embarrassed for having defended like the Age of Aquarius song that I’ll have to save the rest for my criticism of it for our follow up episode.
KM: Yes, please.
NDB: You’re not leaving that down, Brennan.
CB: I will edit all of this out. All right.
KM: I’m still working on getting us that song too from my own angle side of it, so I’ll let you know. Or maybe a version sufficiently different that it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s copyright, but still would sort of remind people of that song.
CB: Yeah, I mean, if you can figure it out, let me know. You had a great idea with our Christmas special on the Star of Bethlehem, and that was your idea to get some good Christmas music for it. All right, so we went over the tropical issues. The other section is the sidereal issues. And with the sidereal zodiac, the primary issues are that there’s no universally agreed upon starting point for the zodiac in sidereal, and this is the Ayanamsa issue.
KM: Chris, that’s because it’s our little secret we don’t talk about in public. I’m kidding.
CB: You have to have the secret handshake to talk about that term.
KM: Right. So it’s ambiguous what the first star of Aries is. And there’s some traditional understandings about how, you know, the sidereal constellation or sidereal sign, I should say, starts a certain distance from Zeta Pisces. And there are different traditional things. But you’re right, there is no agreed upon exact starting, but there is a ballpark agreed upon figure. You know, so most of the estimates of where to exactly start the sidereal zodiac are not all that, many of them are within a degree and a couple are a little, you know, beyond a degree.
CB: And just to be clear, so in the tropical zodiac, it’s like this is easy because you use the vernal point, and that’s always the starting point. But in the sidereal zodiac, the question is, where to start zero degrees of Aries and sometimes deciding to try to associate it with certain fixed stars or other fixed stars, and then where to measure out the other 30 degree increments of the different signs of the zodiac from there.
KM: Right. And so-
KM: Well, continue and then I’ll…
CB: I mean, my only comment is just, this becomes… This is almost like the analogy of the house division issue in Western astrology. I almost get the sense that this is the Indian equivalent of that, except there’s much greater agreement about it in the Indian tradition, right? Or at least the differences like you were just saying are not as great.
KM: Yeah, the differences are not as great because it doesn’t, you know, unless you have a planet right at the borderline, it often doesn’t change much. And where it comes into play is in many of the different predictive modalities. Now you start getting differences in time when you start the zodiac in slightly different places. But basically, my own research which is far from comprehensive, but I went back to some late 19th century sources where the consensus was, you know, they would use Zeta Pisces as the kind of the star marker, and then count a certain distance from that. And then they’d argue a little bit about what that exact distance was. What’s happened in modern times or 20th century times is, when India became an independent country that is free from the British Empire, they had different regions of India were celebrating religious holidays on different days. And they formed a calendar reform committee to basically get one calendar for India.
And so they grabbed a bunch of scientists and astronomers and said, “Okay, tell us where the sidereal zodiac actually starts.” And they decided to use Spica as like a 180 degree mark, and then start Aries like, you know, halfway across from that. And I’m kind of oversimplifying, but, you know, basically, using the astronomy of the day, this committee kind of came up with what’s called the Lahiri Ayanamsa, which is the most common Ayanamsa that astrologers post 1960s and 70s use. And then from that, you get this fallout of, you know, people tweaking it a little bit one way or the other. But it’s usually minutes difference, you know, most of them are within a degree of what, you know, the Lahiri committee came up with. I mean, even Lahiri, I’ve been told, I haven’t been able to verify this, in fact, for years, if any of your listeners have access to the report that this calendar committee came out with, it’s been out of print for forever, and I’ve been trying to locate it forever because I’d actually like to read what they said. But it’s been said that Lahiri, you know, said, “Oh, if I were to do it again, I would change it slightly by a few minutes because our astronomy is better now than it was, you know, in the 50s when they were calculating this.
NDB: I had no idea, that’s a fascinating story, Kenneth. I had no idea. Thank you.
KM: Yeah, you know, you’re quite welcome.
CB: Yeah, and that becomes, so that’s the common Ayanamsa that the vast majority of Indian astrologers use or sometimes small variations of that. But then it was this thing that was created by committee.
KM: Yeah, the chairman of which whose last name was Lahiri. That’s where the Lahiri name comes from. And so it’s been called Lahiri Ayanamsa. So when you buy Indian astrology software, the default is always set to Lahiri because that’s the official Ayanamsa of the Government of India.
CB: See, and so that becomes problematic though from a conceptual standpoint as practicing astrologers, it seems like because then it means it wasn’t motivated by astrologers or it wasn’t motivated by some ancient texts or something like that. But instead, it’s more like the government needed to like standardize things and therefore–
KM: Yes, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. Yeah, they were not astrologers, which is why astrologers themselves have been like, “Well, it’s close, but it’s not exact.” And then we kind of disagree whether it’s a few minutes this way or that way.
CB: Right. But then in the process, you end up with dozens of different Ayanamsas basically that are in practice. And then I’m sure there’s a separate issue which is, I’m sure then that becomes the Lahiri Ayanamsa became the tables that was the most widely available. So it becomes just like the house division issue with Placidus, where Holden made the argument that the only reason Placidus became as popular as it did in the 20th century, was because it was the only house system that tables were available for a long time. And so that’s what everybody used. Yeah, so it’s important to consider that, and that becomes an issue. What Ayanamsa to use? And what did you say the range was? Like it’s something at max, like what’s the maximum range of difference between the, you know, the extreme ends of the spectrum in terms of the Ayanamsa and how far off two different ones could be?
KM: I mean, I have to pull out my Ayanamsa folder for this to answer it exactly and maybe we can in a future show do that, but it’s about three degrees and some change. But that’s only because there’s like one really off one that’s way different than everyone else.
CB: I mean, is Fagan-Allen…
KM: And Fagan-Allen falls into that like two to three degrees off. But you know, if we were to look at like 12 different Indian ones, they’d be within a degree of Lahiri either forward or backward. And then there’s like a couple of gadfly ones that I don’t really know any astrologers that use that are degrees off. And I believe Fagan-Allen is like three or four, and there’s like an Indian one I know that’s like three and some change. But like I said, I don’t know anyone that actually uses that because… Now we should also frame this, that the problems that arise with different Ayanamsas is, of course, if you have a planet at the very end or beginning of a sign, that might shift. But that’s rare, you don’t get intercepted houses, plants generally aren’t changing houses as easily as they are with the house division confusion. It really affects the timing of predictions.
And so that’s where you get into this well, what techniques are you using? How good of an astrologer are you at assessing the data? As we all know, sometimes two different planets can rule the same topic and can bring about similar things in the life. So it gets trickier to test. You know, occasionally I come across these articles where someone is like, “I’m proving that this Ayanamsa is the best based on this thing.” And I’m reading it, and I’m like, “Okay, yeah, that makes sense.” But then I look at it with my slightly different Ayanamsa, and I can also arrive at the same thing. So it’s a hard thing to test when it’s just dealing with small things like that. But you’re right, it is a problem that every Indian astrologer has to wrestle to the ground with and make peace with for them to progress adequately.
CB: Yeah, and I mean, that’s really what we’re going over both in the tropical and the sidereal one, which is these issues that astrologers have, that each astrologer has to think about and decide upon, but in which there’s really no standardized methodology for and nobody’s ever really fully presented a methodology in which you could, you know, universally, this just like swayed everybody.
KM: Right. And there are interesting… Like I said, you can read position papers for people’s little Ayanamsas. And if you just read one, they all read great. You’re like, “Wow, this makes perfect sense.” [crosstalk 11:52] this also makes sense. I mean, that the problem is that you bring kind of a well-reasoned argument to the table. I mean, the funny thing is, or not funny. I mean, this is just the reality of astrology is, yes, this government committee for purposes of aligning the calendar came up with an Ayanamsa, but every American Indian astrologer who got interested in Indian astrology, did so because whoever they were like seeing or reading or got a reading from, were probably using the Lahiri Ayanamsa. Because by far, that’s probably 90% of astrologers, maybe even higher than that use Lahiri. Because that’s what their teacher taught. It’s sort of like the house system, you use the house system that you first learned because that’s what you learned.
CB: Right. Yeah, exactly. And I mean, like you said, I mean, for the vast majority, we’re only talking about a difference of, in most cases, like a couple one or two degrees. And so the vast majority of placements, no matter what sidereal zodiac you’re using, are going to be the same.
KM: Keep talking, I’m actually going to pull my file on this because I think I have a whole bunch of Ayanamsas so I can be a little more scientific. But, yeah.
CB: Sure. So it’s like whatever… Yeah, it’s only going to happen in a very small percentage of the cases that you’re going to have an issue where a planet is close to a sign boundary. Although, that being said, you know, so for example, if it’s just a two degree difference let’s say, then that’s only what about like six percent out of the entire 30 degrees of each zodiacal sign in which you could fall into that range. Although that being said, certainly in Indian astrology where you use whole sign houses primarily, but also if you’re using whole sign houses in Western astrology, you know, those sign differences can make a huge shift in terms of chart placement. So it can be a big deal, you know, to some extent.
KM: And let me correct something I said earlier. So actually, Fagan/Bradley is also within a degree of Lahiri, I misspoke. It’s at the far end. In 1950, Fagan/Bradley was 24 degrees, two minutes, and Lahiri was 23 degrees, nine minutes, so seven minutes shy of a degree. But it actually isn’t all that far off from Lahiri.
CB: And how you calculate the Ayanamsas, you basically calculate the tropical positions and then you subtract that number either 23 degrees or 24 degrees like you just said, right?
KM: Yes. And so there’s two factors to it. First is you have to decide when did the zodiacs align? And how much is the earth wobbling? Because it’s really the earth’s wobble that’s creating this precession of the equinoxes. And current science says that that wobble is not a constant. So it’s unfortunate… We’re never going to get it exact because we would actually need to kind of go back in time and actually observe the earth over the last 2,000 years to figure out A) When did they when did the zodiac supposedly actually align? And then how much was the earth wobbling? So almost all of astrology, I don’t know if either of you guys have read through the JPL Ephemeris manual. But when you do, you realize that there’s a lot of ghosts lying at the center of what we feel is like exact calculations. And this is one of those things where it’s like you just do the best you can, you know, we know what the kind of average rate is now, we figure maybe it hasn’t changed that much. And then one of the reasons why some of these Ayanamsas differ, is because people put that zero year. By zero year, I mean the year that they coincided at slightly different places because who knows when they exactly lined up? One could say it’s a Don Quixote-like exercise, but it is something we all have to wrestle with and kind of come up with. Okay, what can I live with and…
CB: Sure, yeah. So that’s just one of the occupational hazards or the things that everybody has to deal with in that approach, whereas tropical astrologers have what makes the tropical zodiac work and both hemispheres sort of issue to deal with, which is a separate sort of issue. For sidereal astrologers, there’s one more potential issue that you could bring up, which is whether you should be using the idealized signs of the zodiac, which is the 12 exact 30 degree increments or if you should be using the actual constellations because of the aforementioned difference between the idealized signs all being 30 degrees each on the ecliptic, but the actual constellations themselves, varying in size, so that some constellations like Cancer are really small or I think Aries is small as well or other constellations like Virgo being really large. And then if you were to use the constellational zodiac, then should other constellations that partially cross the ecliptic be incorporated?
So like, would you use Ophiuchus, for example? This is where Ophiuchus actually becomes relevant if you were to use a purely constellational zodiac rather than an idealized one. So that’s not really an issue for the vast majority of sidereal astrologers, although it could potentially be an issue, if somebody was to push the argument that, you know, we’re using the constellations too far. You would start to run up against conceptually an issue of, well, you know, then why are you using it in an idealized framework, and why aren’t you incorporating other partial constellations that trisect, not trisect, but that intersect the ecliptic? So that’s not an issue we have to really deal with here, but it’s worth mentioning. So I think that brings us to some of our final thoughts as we wind down this long episode. So for me, one of the final things is the issue of how to test this. And like I said before, nobody’s really worked out a good methodology for testing this issue. What ends up happening is that everybody ends up working it out on their own, using whatever their own techniques are, and their own approach to their own satisfaction. And some people research it more, and some people research it less, and just take it for granted that somebody else worked it out. Whereas other people make this like their lifelong mission to figure out, it really varies. The vast majority of people that probably don’t put a ton of, I don’t want to say thought into it, but they usually get into a type of astrology, they see that it works, and they just try to develop the best understanding of that and the best way of practicing that as they can.
So astrologers often end up testing this by using charts. Sometimes they also will try to use precession and historical events and other things like that. For myself, personally, one of the things that I did is I tried some of the time lord systems in both approaches, both in the, you know, tropical and sidereal. And one of the issues that I always ran up against was that I could see certain techniques like zodiacal releasing, for example, which became my favorite time lord system because it’s the most effective one that I found. I could see it working really well tropically but I could never get it to work or it never seemed to be as impressive in showing events in a person’s life when I used it sidereally. So that became part of my personal sort of, you know, not very methodical or at least not very well structured attempt to test this out, and come to my own conclusions about what I wanted to work with primarily or work with most of the time, but nonetheless, I still find extremism, either from the tropical side or from the sidereal side to be kind of distasteful. And I’ve seen some of that lately at different points from both sides. And it sometimes seems kind of strange.
KM: Some people adopt what I call the highlander model of astrology, and that is there can only be one. And I’m not of that school, and hopefully, all three of us aren’t because like I’ve pushed from the beginning, you know, you can have more than one system of medicine, we can have more than one system of astrology. I have like a list of like five things of how both can be “right”. Now, what you said Chris was very important, which is not every technique is transferable over into both systems. So you have zodiacal releasing, which might be intimately the symbology, the methodology, the meaning of that may be intimately tied up with the Sun’s, you know, relationship with the earth, and so tropically it’s dialed into that. Just like I know of some Indian techniques where people have tried to use them tropically and it didn’t work out. So when they use those, they, you know, hit the sidereal button on their solar fire.
CB: Like the Dasha system, the Vimshottari Dasha system is explicitly predicated on the nakshatras, right?
KM: Correct, absolutely.
CB: And I mean, you could make this argument then that if it’s explicitly predicated on the nakshatras and the nakshatras themselves are tied into specific fixed stars, then that technique is specifically tied into the sidereal zodiac.
NDB: Yeah. Although, that being said, I mean, you know, I use the Dashas. And even though they’re a sidereal construct, they can be applied by a tropical astrologer. They can be very easily–
KM: Oh, yeah. And I’m not saying they can’t.
NDB: Yeah, no, I know, you’re not saying they can’t. This is something for the listeners, is that–
CB: You’re saying you use them tropically or you’re saying that they work…
NDB: It’s that I can use this sidereal creation and very easily slide it into my otherwise tropical astrology work seamlessly. You know, these two systems do not necessarily need to be in conflict. They can be in harmony. Yeah, they can be… Yeah, exactly.
CB: Yeah. I mean, there could be ways of reconciling them. And I think obviously, that’s ideally, the best solution is to figure out how to reconcile the two zodiacs. And there’s some areas where that might be possible, and there’s probably other areas where that’s not possible. But at least with the problems outlined clearly, we can all approach the issue with a better understanding of what we’re dealing with and what needs to be addressed coming from all sides.
NDB: Indeed, I mean, I know one of the things when Kenneth and I take our debate further, one of the things we’ll be talking about will be the transits of planets through history. I mean, I use a historical model for investigating astrology. When I discovered astrology for myself, one of the first things that struck me, one of the first things that spoke to me about astrology was the simple fact that just prior to the First World War, Pluto had ingressed into tropical Cancer. And just prior to the Second World War, Pluto had ingressed into tropical Leo. And it seems like a really simple, almost overly simple type of phenomenon. But that spoke to me at the time, you know, and still does. It still suggests that when one of these outer planets enters a new tropical sign, that there’s a game changer involved, that you know, the times have shifted in some discernible way that’s going to show itself historically. And I have a lot of examples like that, a lot of my ongoing defense of the tropical zodiac just has to do with associating the sign ingress of a given planet with the introduction of some new historical event that was itself a game changer for civilization.
So what I’m curious to see is how well you know, maybe we have, maybe we can come up with a sidereal model of these sign ingresses that works just as well. That’s what I want to see from my position, advocating for the tropical zodiac, I want to see if the sidereal zodiac works as well in that context. And I think that’s one of the things that Kenneth and I are going to be looking at in this collaborative debate, possibly the first of its kind.
CB: Sure. Well, definitely, I look forward to hearing that. And I mean, that’s going to be difficult just because there’s a few different possibilities like we’ve outlined in terms of, are you comparing and contrasting the two in order? What happens is it shows that one works more, one works and the other doesn’t. Will you come to the conclusion that both work but from a different perspective or they show different things? Like one of the things that came up as a possibility during the house division debate was that one house system maybe shows things that are more like literal circumstances in a person’s life, whereas one house system maybe shows things related more to a person’s psychology or how they feel subjectively.
KM: I mean, I guess the worst outcome is if the both models seem to produce a meaningful historical timeline that’s differentiated from each other. But hopefully, we will be able to tease out, oh, there is something different going on, and that might aluminous into what one zodiac is doing versus the other. Obviously both, again, just from the pragmatic view, I presented the very first minutes of this thing, they’re both serving people. You’ve got millions and millions and millions of people in India doing Indian astrology, and you’ve got thousands of people in the United States benefiting from it.
CB: There’s dozens of us.
KM: Yeah, dozens of us here. That’s just because of our different cultures, not saying one astrology is better than the other. One’s just delved into the culture better. But it’s, you know, the fact that astrologers from both camps have been helping their relative civilizations for so long, tells us there is something meaningful going on. It’s our job, I think, in this generation to try to tease out a little more detail as to what exactly is going on and how do these things relate to each other. And hopefully, we’ll arrive at those answers. Now there’s one thing, there’s one historical document that we are missing that would make our job a lot easier. And that is if we had the chart for the birth of horoscopic astrology.
NDB: Oh, right.
KM: Because that… If we’re astrologers, and we do electional work or in my world, we call it Muhurta, that moment, that chart of the wherever happened, and whenever and wherever it happened, that chart would tell us a lot about how astrologies dialed up.
CB: Well, the funny thing about that, that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and reflecting upon, especially after the house division debate, but even for the past few years, was when I wrote that paper when Benjamin Dykes and I in the spring of 2012 made that discovery about the planetary joys. And one of the things that’s funny, you know, is that the purported founder of Hellenistic astrology was Hermes, which is the Greek word for Mercury. And in this system of planetary joys, where you have the nocturnal planets, the Moon and Venus and Mars in the bottom half of the chart, and then you have the Sun and Saturn and Jupiter, the diurnal planets, in the top half of the chart. And then you have mercury right there on the Ascendant, like halfway between the two. And Mercury always plays that role where it’s halfway between or it’s both at the same time. And it shows up again and again practically speaking all over like that in astrology, and one of the things just from a practical standpoint where Mercury can be male or female, it can be diurnal or nocturnal, it can be, you know, on either side of the horizon, being the only planet that has its planetary joy in house that can be either above the horizon or below the horizon because it’s associated with the first. And traditionally astrologers always associated Mercury with astrology. Prior to the modern period, Mercury was the planet associated with astrology. And I keep coming back to this point where there’s so many things in astrology that are like debates, where you end up with two different groups that are doing things that appear to be like polar opposites. But both of them reporting that they seem to be working in different ways. And then both sides like get into arguments with each other saying like, “I’m right.” And then the other side says, “No, I’m right.” And there may be like one of the funniest sort of tricks about all of this, ultimately, it may be that sort of Mercurial nature of astrology it may have at its very core, something about the nature of being able to hold two different realities in either hand at the same time and both sides being correct in different ways without being mutually exclusive.
KM: Well said, sir.
CB: Yeah. So that’s just where I’ve been going and thinking about that, and you mentioning the, you know, the chart for horoscopic astrology made me think of that just in that question about, you know, to what extent was Hellenistic astrology invented? And that’s a chapter that I’ll be working on in my book this month as I try to lay out the pros and cons for both sides of that argument. So, all right, I guess that brings us to the end of this episode. Do you guys have any final thoughts? Are there any things that we forgot to mention that are going to be things like five minutes later we remember to mention but it’s too late?
KM: That’s gonna happen in five minutes unfortunately.
CB: It’s pretty much pre-determined.
NDB: I kind of feel we might have let listeners down by not erupting into a screaming match at some point during this episode. But I think that that speaks well for us.
CB: Right, there’s still time for that. I mean, there’s follow up episodes.
KM: Right. We first practice our civility.
CB: Right, now you have to, in keeping with the Mercurial nature of astrology, then you have to practice being at each other’s throats in the next episode.
KM: Although Mercury himself was quite charming, let’s not forget.
NDB: Yes, that’s right.
CB: All right. Well, I look forward to hearing you guys’ debate in the future. So Nick, your website, you’ve got a couple websites worth mentioning for people to check out your work related to some of the stuff you mentioned here.
NDB: Yeah. nickdaganbest.com is my website. I’ll also be reintroducing my podcast soon, Iloveastrologypodcast.com. I’m gonna have another episode coming out relatively soon. For those of you who are in the Vancouver area, I’m appearing January 11th. The Fraser Valley astrological association is hosting me. I’m going to be doing the talking about the astrology of 2016. That’s on January 11th. And also as I mentioned earlier, I’m going to be in India at a big international conference in Kolkata, India from January 21st to 25th. So hey, if you’re in the Kolkata area, drop by and come see this extraordinary, huge astrology conference going on there.
CB: Definitely. And, Kenneth, what are you working on? And where can people get a hold of you?
KM: People can get ahold of me at email@example.com or com, kennethdmiller.com. And yeah, I’ve got a book on fixed stars coming out later this year that I’m working on with Andrea Garrets, who retranslated Anonymous of 379, and I’ve been writing a commentary on that. Otherwise, I do Indian astrology here in San Diego.
NDB: I was gonna say your talk on the fixed stars in Cape Town was excellent, Kenneth. I’m really–
KM: Thank you. Yeah, that was my first public presentation of that material. And it’s actually a very easy way for astrologers to incorporate fixed stars by following Anonymous’s method.
CB: Nice. Well, it would be good to talk to you about at some point, maybe later in the year. And we’ve got a follow up episode to do that will tie in nicely with this one about the Age of Aquarius at some point in the not too distant future.
KM: Can’t wait.
CB: Excellent. We’re gonna have you singing the cover track, Nick.
NDB: Okay, I can do it. I’ll do a Weird Al Yankovic type of…
CB: That would be great. Maybe that would be the way to solve this whole issue.
NDB: Yeah. Get out the accordion, write some silly lyrics, and there you go.
CB: Alright, sounds good. All right, guys. Well, thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
KM: Thank you, Chris. And thank you, Nick.
NDB: Thank you, Kenneth.