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Ep. 88 Transcript: NASA Changes Zodiac Signs? Astrologers Respond

The Astrology Podcast

Transcript of Episode 88, titled:

NASA Changes Zodiac Signs? Astrologers Respond

With Chris Brennan and guests Austin Coppock and Kelly Surtees

Episode originally released on September 27, 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 astrologue@gmail.com.

Transcribed by Andrea Johnson

Transcription released July 23rd, 2020

Copyright © 2020 TheAstrologyPodcast.com

CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is recorded on, what is it, Tuesday?


CB: It’s Monday — Monday, September 26, 2016, starting at 2:10 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 88th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a patron, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. 

In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Austin Coppock and Kelly Surtees about the recent controversy surrounding NASA supposedly redefining the signs of the zodiac and a lot of the news and hoopla surrounding that over the course of the past few weeks. 

So Austin and Kelly, welcome back to the show. 

KS: Hey, Chris.

AUSTIN COPPOCK: Thanks for having us. 

CB: All right. I’m really glad that you guys were available to join me to talk about this today. So yeah, this has become a whole thing again. It’s like déjà vu; it’s the 2011 zodiac controversy all over again. This already happened in January of 2011 and it was virtually the same exact story, but this time, supposedly, the redefining of the zodiacal signs is being attributed to NASA. 

So I wanted to talk a little bit about how this specific controversy came about to give a little breakdown of the timeline of it. I want to talk about the underlying issue that keeps coming up over and over again in the media every few months or every few years surrounding the difference between the tropical and sidereal and constellational zodiacs and why these stories are often misleading or outright mistaken or many other things. And then finally, maybe we could talk a little bit about the broader, I don’t know, sociology of it, or broader issues about how astrologers can respond to things like this when they come up and other preliminary things. I think we can just jump right into it. 

So one of the things that I worked out this morning was a timeline or a chronology for how this controversy came out, and for me, the starting point of that timeline is actually the zodiac controversy of 2011, which started in January. And that was a pretty big deal in the astrological community because what happened is over the span of just a few days, suddenly all of the major media outlets are talking about astrology and saying that the constellations or that the zodiacal signs have been redefined now there’s a 13th sign called Ophiuchus or something to that effect.

KS: Yeah.

CB: And you guys remember that. That was like a huge deal at the time.

KS: It was huge. And I wrote a post on my blog–which I still have, which is still on my blog–just explaining a lot of what we’ll go into today, but it was really just a storm in a teacup. But one of the points I think you’ve got that we’ll mention is the idea that it ends up being a massive click-bait thing. I commented on my website, unbeknownst to me, it ended up being the most visited post on my blog probably for that year. It just generates so much… 

AC: Exactly the same thing happened for me. I was like, “Wow! This is really popular.”

KS: Yeah. So I guess if you’re looking to generate traffic to your site, this is a good thing to post about. 

CB: Right, and that’s actually going to be part of the argument that I’m going to make for this one. This originated, hilariously enough, out of a paid blog post that somebody did in order to generate traffic for what appears to be a health and nutrition site basically. 

Anyway, so 2011 was my first experience. I mean, this comes up periodically and there’s always different blips of this, but 2011 was unique because for some reason all of the major media outlets reported on it, all of the local news affiliates–like the local news stations for different cities started doing stories on it. Suddenly you’re seeing, in some instances, astrologers getting interviewed about it back in 2011. I remember when Jeff Jawer and Rick Levine did an interview with Time magazine about it at that point which seemed like a pretty big deal. 

So that was a huge thing, and I was really late to the game because I was out of town giving a talk in Seattle at the time. And I didn’t end up publishing my article on it until the very end, so I didn’t reap the traffic benefits that you two did. 

But that article had sort of always been around that I wrote back back then, and I’ll link to it in the description page for this episode, as well as any articles that you guys have. The article basically summed up all of the main points about this controversy and the points that astrologers say to dispel it, but also, to show what the underlying misassumption is when this article is made; and all those points are still relevant here. 

So in terms of the timeline, what seems to have happened–this is the timeline I worked out–is I actually got notified of this by some high school friends messaging me on Facebook earlier this month asking, “Hey, I just saw this story. Is this true?” like pretty much every other astrologer did over the course of the past few weeks as this story gained more steam, but for some reason, I got a heads up about it pretty early on. 

And the timeline I worked out is that NASA has had this blog post up, or this educational page for children’s science education up for several years, and one of the pages has a little thing on astrology saying that it’s not scientific and then talking a little bit about the constellations and how they don’t necessarily line up with the zodiacal signs or the tropical zodiacal signs. 

And it seems like what happened is that they updated that post and added a paragraph or two, or sort of changed it a little bit on January 13, 2016. And nothing really happened; nobody seems to have noticed it. There was one blog post I found on January 20, 2016 from a high school newspaper called The Talon

I don’t know where it was located–I forgot to look at where it was–but it was just some high school newspaper that posted a blog about it, and they seemed to have taken notice of that updated page, or they must have seen it in an RSS feed or something like that. So they wrote a little story about it, but it doesn’t really gain any traction back then in January of this year. 

So then what happens is that on September 2, 2016, on some sort of random blog called Spirit Science, they published a post on this issue. And this original post–which was published on September 2nd–was titled, “Your Astrological Sign Has Shifted: NASA Updated The Zodiac Signs For The First Time in 2,000 Years.” 

So it’s got this huge click-bait-y title and it’s pretty then on information. It just has things in bullet points and it cites a few different pages, but one of the pages that it cites is that high school blog post from January 20, 2016 which had picked up on the original NASA post. 

They cite five different articles, and most of the articles are from the 2011 zodiac controversy, or another article about it in 2012, or one from last year in 2015 where every once in awhile, a different blog will write about this issue. But the one that they picked up from this year that seemed to actually stem from the NASA thing–the part where they’re trying to work NASA into their headline–is just from this high school blog post that mentioned it a few days after that page was updated. 

So what’s interesting is you scroll down to the bottom of this article and it says, “This article was written by The Hearty Soul.” And it says, “The Hearty Soul is a rapidly growing community dedicated to helping you discover the most healthy, balanced, and natural life.” And you click the link and it takes you to a Facebook page where they’re trying to sell you a book on nutrition or something like that. 

So what’s fascinating about this is I’m pretty certain–I’m about 95% certain–that this was the article that started the whole controversy this month, and it’s just this little click-bait-y post that was written probably as a paid post, which is when somebody says, “Let me write an article on your blog, and I’ll give you a good article. And at the bottom, you just have to link to my site in the byline and that’ll be my payment for this.” Or sometimes they’ll actually offer you to let them post that article on your blog if they pay you like a hundred dollars or something like that. So that seems to have been what happened here. 

They then wrote a really deliberately, click-bait-y article with random citations from a bunch of different blogs, including that high school blog that was citing the original NASA post. And then what’s really weird about this is that this post, they then pushed it on social media through Facebook. 

But what’s crazy is that it actually worked and it took off, because by September 4th, two days after this post was published, that high school friend of mine posted a link to this article on my Facebook page, and he said, “Have you heard about this?” And then I started seeing it everywhere in the next few days. And if you look in the comments sections for that post, you see a bunch of astrologers responding to it on Facebook; so all the astrologers started getting inundated with it as well. So within the first few days basically this post–which was making this outrageous claim–really took off; so that’s the first few days.

Then what happens is in the second week–between September 12th and 17th–the story gets picked up by some larger blogs. It seems like it originally got picked up by some women’s magazine blog websites. Cosmopolitan was the first big one, or Cosmopolitan UK was the first big website that picked it up on September 15th. What must have happened in the week or week-and-a-half time-span between the original post and Cosmopolitan posting about it, it must have been passed around social media–Facebook and Twitter–like crazy to the point that some other big blogs actually decided to cover it. 

So Cosmo covers it and then the next day Glamour magazine covers it on their blog. And then later on that same day, on September 16th, Gizmodo covers it and actually contacts NASA and gets a statement from them where they’re like, “We don’t know what you guys are talking about. Astrology is not a science. We don’t really even deal with it. But sure, whatever, the constellations don’t line up with the zodiacal signs as they’re currently defined.” 

So from there, the story keeps expanding. Eventually, NASA issues an updated version of the original article on their Tumblr blog that issues a statement where they’re kind of, on the one hand, distancing themselves from it and saying, “We didn’t redefine the zodiac signs,” because that’s the way it was being framed, as if NASA was the one that did this somehow and that this was a new development. So they issue a statement, on the one hand, distancing themselves from it, and on the other hand, saying, “But that’s still true,” around September 22nd or 21st.  

And then finally, by the third week–from September 22nd until the present, until September 26th–suddenly it just starts getting covered by all of the major news networks, and for some reason all of the local news affiliates have picked it up. So for example, the local Fox News station in Denver has picked it up, and I’ve seen hundreds of other little, local news affiliates reporting on the story now as well. So it’s pretty much blown up to be not quite as big, but almost as big as the 2011 zodiac controversy at this point. 

So is that what you guys saw as well–this thing picking up steam over the past few weeks? 

KS: Yeah, somebody addressed it with me on Facebook maybe a week or two ago, and I sort of throw my hands up in the air these days and just think, “Gosh, this old chestnut,” because as you’ve said, we’ve heard it before; it was huge in early 2011. 

And it just seems to be sort of the same-old, same-old where the astronomical community perhaps is trying to cast dispersions on the astrological community, sort of making us out to be idiots, but maybe without having done great research. 

CB: Right. Yeah, and maybe that’s worth breaking down, like what are the different motivations here. That often seems like one of those ‘means to an end’ type situations when it comes to the skeptical or the scientific community. Sometimes this argument originates–and certainly the 2011 one did because it actually originated with an astronomer I think in Minnesota who wrote an article about the zodiac and the issue with the constellations vs. the tropical signs. 

And even though sometimes it gets twisted by the media or it gets hyped up, there’s still some core of it which is true that’s definitely emanating from the scientific or skeptical community. It’s like their end goal is basically getting rid of astrology because they view it as a pseudo-science or view it as something that’s not true and therefore needs to either be dismissed, or to a more extreme extent, perhaps be eradicated on some level. 

And one of the issues though is it ends up getting in this situation where it’s by any means necessary, and you have this question of do the ends justify the means. The means in this instance are basically promoting a narrative that’s not true and saying that something has happened recently or that the zodiac signs have been redefined recently or that this is a new discovery, and sort of framing it in a way that’s fundamentally misleading and fundamentally inaccurate. 

Actually one of the interesting questions about this from a social standpoint that one might ask of the scientific or skeptical community is do the means justify the ends. If you basically get everyone to start questioning or stop believing in astrology, does it matter that you were able to accomplish that as a result of a lie?

KS: Well, it is interesting because when we talk about maybe it’s click-bait, what are their intentions, whatever the factual basis, whatever the scientists believe or don’t believe, clearly, the astrological idea or side of things is more popular than the astronomical side, which is perhaps why we keep getting attacked or the story keeps getting up. People are obviously interested in it and that is probably good for astrology generally speaking. If people want to know, “Has my sign changed?” obviously, there’s some curiosity there. 

So I think, yeah, it’s interesting to explore what their motivations are. But at the end of the day, it does sort of put astrology out there. And with educated responses to this sort of controversy–perhaps this podcast and other well-thought out blog posts and things–maybe we can get good information out there and challenge this because it is untrue.

CB: Sure. And I should clarify, in this particular instance actually it’s wrong to attribute this entirely to NASA as if this was something on their part, or on the part of their blog writers or whoever, in the same way that the 2011 controversy was slightly more deliberate. What we have here is a confluence here between them trying to explain some of what their issues are with astrology vs. in this instance, what is presumably this sort of sketchy health website or health blog trying to create a click-bait-y title saying NASA redefines constellations as if this is a new deal. 

So the narrative each time is partially being spun by the interests of different people, and that’s not always necessarily their fault, like in this instance. But there’s still some core of it where it’s annoying how sometimes they’ll let that go, or it’s annoying how often this can come up as a narrative, or they’ll let it become that narrative just for the sake of otherwise accomplishing the original goal, which is casting some doubt on the subject of astrology in general.

AC: Yeah. So as far as your point about ends and means, I don’t think that most of these people–even those who are otherwise well-educated–really know how the tropical zodiac is calculated, and the history of it, and the difference between sidereal and constellational zodiac. I think they read something like this and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I knew astrology was bullshit, and here’s a good reason.” I think it’s as simple as that in 99% of the cases. 

CB: Right. 

AC: And I wanted to bring up something along those lines that I found embarrassing the last time this came up, and that was that I found that a lot of my colleagues–people who were otherwise pretty good astrologers–didn’t really understand how the tropical zodiac was calculated or why we might use it, and what the difference was with other zodiacs that we might use, and that was back in 2011. 

You know the feeling where you’re embarrassed for other people?

KS: Yeah. 

AC: It’s like, “Really? You don’t understand that?” They were struggling badly on Facebook to field the questions from their friends.

CB: But you shouldn’t overstate that point necessarily though. It’s not that the astrologers are unaware of it or anything, it’s just that many of them, or there’s a good chunk who when pressed on the issue might not have a great conceptual grasp of some aspects of being able to explain it, especially to a novice. But it’s not that they are completely uneducated on the issue in the same way that the general public is, or some of the people making the accusations are, right?

AC: Well, just to finish my point, there is a whole lot of what I thought was a shocking level of ignorance in 2011, but I’m not seeing that this time. I think one of the positive things that this has done is it’s pushed astrologers to understand the composition and design of their tools a little bit better, right? 

One thing that is important to remember is that in order, for example, to wield a sword very well, you don’t have to forge a sword, right? There are a lot of tools in astrology that it helps if you understand exactly how and why they’re made, but you don’t necessarily need a PhD-level understanding of the history of all of this in order to be good at it. But in order to explain these things to other people and to field questions like this, you do need a historical perspective. And I think that this issue, this false critique has pushed a number of astrologers to understand a little bit more about how their sword is made, and that’s a positive thing.

CB: Sure. And doing any debates or anything like that, or being pushed on or questioned on one’s views or beliefs can naturally result in that. But I definitely want to underline that I don’t feel like the majority of the astrologers–even when this came up in 2011–didn’t know what the difference was between the constellations and the tropical signs of the zodiac, or didn’t know that those two reference systems don’t necessarily align; that wasn’t really the issue. It was more the issue, in some instances, of a lot of those people being, like you said, practitioners, but otherwise not being very good at articulating what the differences are. 

So we should probably–before we go too much further into this–do just that and articulate what the actual issue is and what the difference is in terms of precession and in terms of the two or three zodiacs for those that are listening. We’ve already done what astrologers generally do which is just jump into right off the bat–that’s wrong or rejecting the basic premise of the argument–but maybe we should start by explaining what the issue is and what the specific tangible reasons are that astrologers would object to this narrative; so maybe we should start with that. 

So the way that I structured this in my original article back in 2011 was by explaining that there are three “zodiacs”. And the way that I explain this is just by saying that the first thing that you could define as a zodiac was the Sun and the planets all move through a specific path in the sky, over and over again, which we call the ecliptic, and this specific path moves through certain constellations and it doesn’t move through others. And those constellations that the Sun and the planets move through repeatedly over the course of a year or over the course of many years, those are the constellations that originally started to become associated with the zodiac; so we could call that the constellational zodiac. 

So the constellational zodiac is just those constellations or groupings of stars or asterisms that the Sun and the planets move through compared to all of the rest of the constellations and stars that the Sun and the Moon and other planets will never move through because they don’t intersect that path, that very strict or narrow path that the Sun and the planets move through. Does that make sense as a starting point?

KS: Yeah, it’s beautiful.

AC: I would also add that path, the ecliptic, is basically us looking out at our solar system. And everyone’s seen pictures of the solar system from far away, and it’s more or less on a flat plane, or it’s like a big plate, right? 

CB: Right. 

AC: And what we’re looking at when we’re looking at the ecliptic is the thickness of that plate, right? Because the solar system is structured like this big disc, the planets from our perspective won’t be way up or way down in the sky; they’re going to be in that disc and that’s what we’re looking at. 

And that’s what the zodiac, all of the zodiacs do; they cut up that narrow band of the sky that we see the planets, Sun and Moon pass through.

CB: Right. And that’s like such an important point, but without a visualization, I always find that hard to describe or explain. But like you were saying, it’s the fact that when you’re thinking about the solar system and you’re thinking about all of the planets revolving around the Sun, they’re all more or less–what could you say–horizontal, or let’s say, revolving around the Sun all approximately on the same plane. 

But even when you start using terminology like that, as you’re talking about the same plane and stuff, I’m not sure if that’s not starting to lose people.

KS: I always conceptualize it as like a train track that’s through the sky. It is just from our perspective here on Earth, but it’s like the train track sort of demarcates the ecliptic or marks it out. And most of the time, we see the planets and the Sun and Moon moving through just that band of the sky rather than all over, I guess.

CB: Okay. Yeah, I like…

AC: Let’s just pause for a second. This is one of the reasons that this keeps coming up is because you actually have to think about things that you don’t already understand and visualize the solar system and visualize it from our point of view. And a person who reads a click-bait article is not necessarily the same person who investigates this thoroughly and is willing to learn something new.

CB: Right. Everybody has knowledge of their Sun sign because you can read that in a newspaper or a blog, but not everybody then can project that information using observational astronomy, like what that actually physically looks like when you’re looking at the sky. 

So that’s our challenge here, explaining that in those astronomical terms and then eventually translating that back into what that actually equates to in terms of the modern conceptualization of the zodiac. All right. So there’s this track, like Kelly said, like a train track and each of the planets and the Sun move through that specific track, and it goes across several constellations. 

So eventually, by the 5th century BCE, the zodiac was standardized so that it was divided. It’s a 360° circle because it goes all the way around the Earth, and that 360° circle was divided into 12 portions, or 12 segments of 30° each. 

So that’s what’s known today as the sidereal zodiac, which is a division of the ecliptic–of the path of the Sun and the Moon and the other planets–a division of that 360° cycle, or circle, into 12 equal 30° segments which roughly coincide with the constellations. Although the constellations, the ‘12 zodiacal constellations’ themselves vary in size, with some of them being very small, like Cancer…

KS: Yeah.

CB: …and some of them being very large, like Virgo which is almost 60°. So right from the start, the fact that the zodiac is being standardized to 12 signs of 30° each right away tells you that from a very early point, there was something about the zodiac that was more idealized and was not necessarily closely or perfectly tied into the constellations themselves. But from the very start of using 12 signs of 30° each, even when it was still sidereal, it was more of an idealized frame of reference or reference framework to use in order to study the movement of the planets and the Sun and Moon along the ecliptic.

KS: I think that’s a really key point. If this is a new thing that you are hearing about, or you’re like, “Oh, my god, there’s a difference between the constellations and the signs,” it is good to understand that the constellations do vary in size, as you said, Chris. Some are really big and some are really small. So when you look into the physicality behind them, if you like–to call stars physical might be a bit of a stretch–but that’s where we’re coming from. 

If anything, the constellations are more like the inspiration for the signs rather than the actual signs themselves. Sorry, Austin.

AC: Oh, no worries. Yeah, I was just going to say the stars are not distributed in a geometrically-perfect manner, and what we need to study the movement of planets around a circle relative to us is geometry, right? That’s why we bring 360° in. And actual astronomers know this and have used this for a long time. 

Astronomers don’t keep track of where something is in the sky by using the real, stellar zodiac, right? You have to cut up our sky using geometry and that’s been going on for an extremely long time.

CB: Sure. And right away here, the fact that the sidereal zodiac at this point is this idealized framework or reference point of 12 segments of 30° each, part of the confusion and part of the issue is that the old names that were given to the constellations were then applied to those 30° segments of the sidereal zodiac at this point. So the constellation that they used to call Cancer, or the Crab, they then applied that name to that 30° segment of the sky that only roughly coincided with that constellation in the sidereal zodiac. 

And this is happening right around the same time that natal astrology is invented. So within about a century of the zodiac signs being standardized to 12 signs of 30° each–by the end of the 5th century, by the year 410 BC–we have the first evidence of a birth chart using the 12-sign zodiac; so those two concepts are sort of coming about at the same time. 

However, at this early stage in the history of astrology in the Mesopotamian tradition, they didn’t necessarily have many of the qualities and the principles, the interpretive principles that we associate with the signs of the zodiac today. Instead, most of that actually didn’t come about until a few centuries later, until about the 1st century BCE when we see the emergence of Hellenistic astrology, which was this synthesis of the zodiac from Mesopotamia plus the decans from Egypt plus geometrical and philosophical concepts from the Greeks. And all of this gets mixed together to create this new system in the 1st century BCE, as we have talked about in previous episodes of the podcast before. 

And this is the point where many of the qualities that astrologers have associated with the signs of the zodiac over the past 2,000 years, including modern astrologers today; this is the point where many of those qualities are probably first introduced in the 1st century BCE. And the problem is that at this time, the sidereal zodiac, which is roughly aligned with the constellations, roughly coincided with what’s called the tropical zodiac, which is based on the seasons and the solstices and the equinoxes. 

So does anybody want to take a crack at explaining the tropical zodiac?

AC: Sure. 

CB: Okay. 

AC: So before I do that, I just wanted to add some of those qualities which are associated with the signs–like Aries is a fire sign, Cancer is a water sign–these are some of the qualities that have been attributed to these tropical divisions which Chris was talking about. 

CB: Including the concept of rulership–that there are certain planets and certain signs, like Mercury is associated with Gemini, or that the Sun is associated with Leo–that didn’t come about until this point in the 1st century BCE. 

AC: Yeah, and those are cornerstones in the practice of astrology now. So there are a number of issues with just using the stars, right? Number one, those ecliptic constellations–Virgo, Pisces, etc.–don’t fit into neat, 30° divisions of the sky. Another one of these issues is that the same constellation won’t rise at the same time every year. There is a phenomenon called precession, which means that there’s a slow shift, and it’s a shift about 1° every 72 years. 

And so, this is actually a problem that you see with a lot of ancient calendars which used stars for reckoning. They would say, “Okay, that’s Sirius. So Sirius is going to rise at the same time as the Nile floods every year.” This was a big deal in Egyptian calendrics. 

And so, that works fine for a couple of hundred years, but then over time–over 500 or a  thousand years–suddenly there’s two or three weeks’ difference, or about two weeks’ difference between an annual event and the rising of the star. And there’s this slippage between our Sun/Earth cycle which is the year–that’s what a year is; it’s one unit of the Sun/Earth cycle; one trip around the Sun for the Earth–and the rising of a given fixed star. 

And so, you actually see a number of issues caused in ancient stellar-based calendars, and they’re like, “Okay, Sirius rises. Why is this no longer coinciding with the Nile flooding?” And so, the tropical zodiac, the much maligned tropical zodiac—which the majority of English-speaking astrologers these days use in order to figure their planets–is an answer to that. It doesn’t move, and that’s because it’s pinned to the two equinoxes which are the days of the year when day and night are most equal and the solstices which are the two days where the day and night are most unequal; longest day, longest night. 

And what’s great about these is they don’t move because they’re based on the Sun/Earth relationship, and the Earth is just trudging around the Sun at the same old pace that it has been for a very long time. And so, when we use this cycle to anchor our division of the sky, suddenly we’ve got something that’s not going to be different in 300 years. 

And if we use this and we say, “Okay, something’s going to happen when the Sun hits 29° Gemini.” That is going to happen exactly the same time every year, and so, we don’t have to deal with all of these issues. It’s a much more effective way of dividing the sky in terms of our calendrical priorities.

KS: Yeah, it’s consistent, as you say, Austin, because it is tied to calendar events, based on that Sun/Earth relationship. So I guess for people to realize that’s what defines the tropical zodiac, it has done so for a couple of thousand years now. The fact that there is a disconnect between, say, your tropical zodiac sign of Aries and the constellation of Aries–they’re not one and the same thing–that’s not news to astrologers. 

If it’s news to the NASA people then maybe they need to, I don’t know, catch up on the background research. Great explanation, Austin.

CB: Yeah, definitely. And one of the things I want to clarify historically is we have the sidereal zodiac at exactly 12 signs of 30° each being introduced by  the 5th century BCE; around the same time, we’re getting the development of natal astrology. By the 2nd century BC, we already have the famous astronomer Hipparchus using the tropical zodiac where he says the zodiacal sign of Aries begins at the degree of the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and then you measure out 30° increments from that degree. And the next 30° increment after that will be called Taurus, the 30° increment after that will be called Gemini. The one that begins with the summer solstice will be called Cancer, and so on and so forth. 

So already by the 2nd century BCE, you have an astronomer who–and this is where the confusion comes in–is starting to use a slightly different reference point that is still roughly aligned with the constellational zodiac at that point but it’s based on the equinoxes and the solstices, which is connected with the seasons–whereas the sidereal zodiac is connected more, to some extent, with the constellations–but already these two reference systems are being used side by side or sometimes at the same time. 

But the confusion comes in because both of these two reference systems–the sidereal zodiac and the tropical zodiac–are both using the names that were originally derived from the constellations. So I think that’s where a lot of the confusion comes in, which is just that if each of the different reference systems just used different names for the signs…

KS: A good point.

CB: …a lot of this confusion amongst the general public wouldn’t be there. Because astrologers take it for granted that we’re calling the 30° division of the ecliptic that starts with the summer solstice ‘Cancer’, using the name that was originally derived from the constellation Cancer, or the constellation of the Crab, but we know that that actually just refers to a 30° increment after the summer solstice and not necessarily to the constellation of the Crab itself. 

Anyway, so that’s where part of the confusion comes from, that the different systems continue to use the names of the constellations even though neither of them was really fully-aligned with the constellations at that point. 

The other issue is that when Hellenistic astrology was developed around the 1st century BCE and you have both the sidereal zodiac of the constellations and the tropical zodiac based on the seasons roughly aligned, many of the qualities that the astrologers ascribed to the zodiacal signs, some of the were derived from the constellations or the from the fixed stars associated with them; but many of the qualities were actually also derived instead from the seasons, which is more of a tropical consideration. 

So for example, the modalities, or the quadruplicities, they would say that the signs that coincide with the beginnings of the seasons are called ‘cardinal’ or ‘movable’ signs and they indicate things that are initiated very quickly and new beginnings but don’t have a lot of staying power; or that the signs of the zodiac that coincide with the middle of the seasons will be called ‘fixed’ signs or ‘solid’ signs. And because they’re in the middle of the seasons, they’ll indicate things that are permanent or fixed and stable but have a hard time getting going, but they have a lot of staying power. 

Or they’ll say that the zodiacal signs that coincide with the end of the seasons will be called ‘mutable’ signs; and so, there’s this idea because they fall at the end of the seasons, there’s an idea of transitioning and moving from one thing to another. And so, many of the interpretations of mutable signs then get derived from that framework or that sort of thinking which is explicitly tied into the seasons. 

So part of the issue here is that during this formative stage, basically at the beginning of Western astrology, for all intents and purposes–where most of the 4-fold system that Western astrologers still use today was introduced, which uses the planets, the signs of the zodiac, the concept of aspects, and the concept of the 12 houses–when that whole system was first introduced, they were drawing on some elements from the sidereal zodiac and some elements from the tropical zodiac of the seasons. 

So the problem then is, as both of you explained pretty adequately, that those two reference systems slowly move apart; they shift apart at a rate of about 1° every 72 years. At this point in time, it wasn’t really a huge issue back then in the 1st century. They became aware of it, but it wasn’t something that the astrologers themselves were hugely concerned about; it was more like an issue that somebody else is going to have to deal with in the future. 

KS: Us.

CB: Yeah, us, 2,000 years later. Because now, 2,000 years later, the sidereal zodiac that’s connected with the constellations is about…

KS: It’s like 23° or 24° apart.

CB: Yeah, depending on what starting point you use for the sidereal zodiac, which is known as the ayanamsa; it’s about 23-24° apart. Where people start the 1st degree of Aries is 23° off in a sidereal zodiac from where tropical astrologers say that the 1st degree of Aries is located. 

And that’s really the origin of the whole ‘the zodiac has shifted and the signs have been redefined and the signs have changed and your sign is wrong’ sort of issue. The problem with it is the way that it’s presented is this twofold thing of saying, one, that this is a recent thing that’s just happened and that astrologers don’t know about it–well, no, that’s the first thing that that’s a recent thing that just happened. And two, the other argument, or the second prong of the argument is that astrologers don’t know about it and basically somebody fucked up or dropped the ball… 

KS: Yeah. 

CB: …and now we’re like letting you know what those stupid astrologers don’t realize. But the problem is that precession has been known about ever since the time of Hipparchus in the 2nd century. And certainly, an astrological community was already being taken into account by the 2nd century CE with the work of Claudius Ptolemy… 

KS: Yes. 

CB: …where he explicitly defined the zodiac in terms of the tropical zodiac and explicitly adopted the tropical zodiac as his primary reference system for the signs of the zodiac and for the qualities that he ascribed to them, and seems to have thought that that was actually intended to be the primary reference system since the earlier foundational period in the Hellenistic tradition, which arguably could actually be the case. 

So since the time of Ptolemy, since especially by the end of the Roman Empire and going into the Middle Ages, astrologers have followed Ptolemy in explicitly and deliberately adopting the tropical zodiac and using the tropical zodiac as their primary reference system for nearly the past 2,000 years now in full awareness of precession. 

That’s the other part that’s really annoying about this is there’s been a long line of, hundreds of years of astronomers who were also astrologers, and sometimes very famous astronomers– such as Johannes Kepler, or Galileo, or Ptolemy himself, as well as a bunch of prominent, Medieval Arabic astronomers such as al-Biruni–who were fully aware of precession and were still using the tropical zodiac deliberately as their primary reference system. So eventually, by the time you get to the 20th century–when Sun sign columns were invented in the 1930s–that was the type of zodiac that Sun sign columns had been predicated on since the 1930s. 

So arguably, to the extent that that’s been deliberate and known about–and everybody’s been using the tropical zodiac for that purpose and to whatever extent they think it works–nothing has actually changed, certainly not recently. And to whatever extent one could argue that there’s been a change due to precession, that’s been something that’s been going on for 2,000 years now and everybody’s been aware of it.

AC: Yeah, I would just like to add a point of evidence to that. If you look at any older astrological texts, let’s just say William Lilly for example, he’s talking about where the stars are and what their influences are. He’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, so the Bull’s heart these days is at 5 Gemini,” or “The foot of the Archer is over here in Capricorn,” or whatever. There’s quite obviously a full awareness that the stars move relative to the fixed frame of reference of the tropical zodiac. 

And I don’t know if you want to begin this point now, but one of the few things that the common person is aware of about astrology is the idea of the Age of Aquarius. There is no Age of Aquarius or Age of Pisces. This whole term comes about, this whole measurement of ages is a result of the relationship between the fixed tropical zodiac and the movement of the constellational or sidereal zodiac relative to it. This idea–whether you like it or not, or think it’s silly or has been abused to the point of uselessness–arises from an understanding of the slippage between these two things.

CB: Right. Yeah, both of those are really good points. People using the tropical zodiac have been using the fixed stars as a secondary overlay since the time of Ptolemy–because he also does the same thing; he mentions using certain fixed stars or looking at certain constellations– even though you’re using the tropical zodiac as your primary reference system. You have Anonymous of 379 doing the same thing, and then you have a bunch of Arabic astrologers doing that, and then you have Lilly. You have Vivian Robson in the early 20th century who was doing the same thing with his book on the fixed stars. 

Your second point was also well-made because that was actually something that was very much in vogue in the late 19th century, all of this work that was being done on precession–some religious or theological arguments and precession myths being the origin of Christianity and things like that that were becoming popular in the late 19th century–and some of that finding its way into the works of Madame Blavatsky and some of the early, New Age movement. 

They took some of that and turned it into a broader theological or religious notion of this coming Age of Aquarius that was going to begin. And that’s a whole episode that I’ve been putting off for awhile, but will be a nice precursor for that at some point actually. 

So back to our primary point. So we’ve established that there are three different zodiacs. I mean, effectively, there’s only two different zodiacs because nobody really uses the constellational zodiac at this point as its own thing. 

When some of the modern scientific and skeptical and some of the astronomers tried to redefine the zodiac that’s primarily what they’re focused on, just looking at the divisions between the actual constellations. And they don’t really care about or aren’t interested in what the conceptual or theoretical rationale is for dividing the ecliptic into 12 segments of 30° each, regardless of whether you’re doing that with respect to the constellations sidereally or with respect to the solstices and the equinoxes tropically. 

But what other points did we mean to focus on, just in terms of this?

AC: Well, I wanted to bring something up. One of the things that I see whenever this failed and inaccurate attempt to critique comes up is there’s always one, hardcore siderealist or Vedic astrologer, or I would say fundamentalist–let’s not say hardcore–siderealist or Vedic astrologer who’s like, “See, I’ve been saying this the whole time; sidereal is the only way to go; it’s the real zodiac,” without discussing any of the number of theoretical and practical difficulties that are entailed in using the sidereal zodiac; where you’re pretending that the constellations are each exactly 30°. 

And I will say I think the sidereal zodiac is really interesting. I think Vedic astrology is awesome. I do think that there is information to be gained from investigating that layer. I don’t think that it’s a waste of time or in any way less valuable than looking at things through the tropical lens. But that sort of, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying,” that sort of jumping on the controversy–it’s not a controversy. I don’t like that term because it’s not; it’s just a bad critique that got popular. 

But this jumping on the bandwagon and saying, “I’m using the real zodiac, ha, ha, ha,” is intellectually dishonest. It’s either dishonest or ignorant–and it’s irritating.

KS: Irritating for us, at least. 

AC: Well, it should be irritating to anybody who wants truth or accuracy, for perhaps truth with a smaller ‘t’. The sidereal zodiac is not just the stars. There’s a whole layer of idealization and rationalization that you have to go through before you can have a sidereal zodiac. And so, to pretend that it’s just the stars, “See, this is the real deal,” again, it’s either dishonest or ignorant. 

KS: Very true.

CB: This is tied in with a whole broader issue about the actual legitimate debate within the astrological community of which is the more valid zodiac–or however you want to frame that debate–and whether the idealized tropical zodiac is correct or whether the idealized sidereal zodiac is correct as the primary reference system for most of the qualities that astrologers have associated with the zodiacal signs. 

And that’s sort of a long-standing, internal debate within the astrological community that has its own issues and its own considerations, but I’m not sure how relevant it is in terms of the actual recurring issue that keeps coming up because of the way that the “controversy” is usually framed in modern times when non-astrological sources start reporting on it. They always frame it as, “This is something that happened recently, this is something that astrologers were unaware of, and we are going to–not the astrologers–define what the actual boundaries of the new zodiacal signs are, even though we actually don’t think there’s anything to astrology.” 

I mean, that’s actually the most problematic part is the implicit–actually it’s not even really implicit because it’s explicitly stated in the NASA article this time that, “We don’t believe in astrology, but even if you did then this is how you should apportion the zodiacal signs based on our considerations. But there’s nothing to it, so you shouldn’t really believe it in the first place.” 

So that’s part of the underlying rationale that’s a little bit annoying here each time this comes up. The real argument is just astrology is false, don’t believe in it; that’s really the main point, at least as far as the skeptics and the scientists and sometimes the astronomers want to get across; that’s really it. The other point about them redefining the zodiacal signs or there being a drift or shift between the tropical and sidereal zodiac is almost like an incidental thing or a way to make that argument by drawing people in and saying, “Look, the zodiacal signs have been redefined,” to get them to pay attention because that’s something that they can relate to. 

So I know there are points that we were meaning to mention but they’re slipping my mind at this point. Are there any other major things? This whole story this time in September of 2016 came about really randomly. 

If I’m at all correct in my attempt to trace where this came from this month, it really did just come from this blow-off, click-bait-y, blog post on September 2nd which took some kids’ science page that NASA updated in January, put a spin on it and then started promoting it on social media. And then suddenly, thousands of people are talking about it and it’s getting reported on local news sites, and NASA is actually having to respond to it, which is just absurd because they have no interest or focus, and they basically said as much, “We have no focus on astrology, and we don’t think it’s a valid phenomenon, and we didn’t redefine anything in point of fact. That’s been misattributed to us.” 

But suddenly, everybody’s talking about it and it all comes from what was essentially nothing, which was essentially some commercial website attempting to promote their health and wellness blog and realized this was a tried-and-true method for drawing in traffic, which is telling everybody that their zodiac sign has changed.

AC: I’d like to talk a little bit about why people care. If I announce, for example, tomorrow that phrenology was not real, nobody would care; there are probably a number of listeners who don’t even know what phrenology is. 

But why do people care? Why is this that big a deal? And the answer of course is that people care. People care about their Sun sign even if that’s all they know. 

KS: Yes. 

AC: Astrology occupies a really interesting position in culture where it has incredible longevity and incredible popularity, and yet, it is wholly at odds with the truth produced by our institutions which we rely on to guide us and to produce socially-acceptable truth. I don’t think that there’s anything else that has that unique position. 

And astrology has been in this embattled or contentious relationship with what is officially true on and off for virtually its entire history. Sometimes the official truth is a religious one, sometimes it’s a secular one, etc., etc., etc., but astrology has maintained a different position and there have been a variety of compromises and what not. 

But it’s really interesting. One of the reasons that I think astrology is so frustrating for people who see it as just total nonsense or who imagine it to be total nonsense is because it’s everywhere and it’s been everywhere. 

And I can sympathize with that because when I was 16 or 17, I had that perspective because I hadn’t actually investigated astrology. I was just critiquing this caricature that I was aware of, and it just seemed maddening–is everybody brain-damaged? But that’s part of why this matters; this is why it got traction because people who wouldn’t necessarily admit it–especially to their more intellectual friends–totally read horoscopes and they totally care about whether they’re a Taurus or a Gemini.

KS: Well, I guess part of the reason people care is that even at that maybe superficial or entry level stage, they identify with some of the concepts or the keywords or the qualities of the signs. And if somebody says to you that thing that you believe to be true about yourself is no longer factual or it doesn’t exist anymore, of course that’s part of the reason why people care, I guess. 

I mean, the fact that people are interested in and care about their astrology and their qualities, that’s how astrologers have made their living throughout the ages.

CB: Right. I mean, that’s probably why it does get talked about so much in social media when it does come up because people oftentimes–even from a skeptical standpoint, either rightly or wrongly–do identify with their zodiacal sign. Obviously, as astrologers, we’re going to say it’s because there’s actually a valid correlation there where people will identify character traits on their part or the part of people they know with their Sun sign. 

Even if you’re a skeptic and you’re arguing that they’re just being influenced by the ‘Barnum effect’ or susceptible to suggestion or what have you, the point would still remain the same, which is that people care about it because they identify with those characteristics that they have been told are thought to be associated with those zodiacal signs. 

KS: Totally.

CB: You were going to say something, Austin?

AC: Oh, I probably was. Yeah, in addition to people caring because of the identification mechanism, I would point out that it is the Sun and its position that we use in astrology to investigate patterns of identity and identification. So if what we’re doing is as valid as we think it is then a number of people should identify with qualities very similar to their Sun sign. 

But outside of the identity issue, there’s also this background thing where if you don’t have people in positions of intellectual or truth authority constantly shouting down people for being interested in astrology, if people aren’t shamed for being interested in astrology, people start accepting astrology and wanting to use it. 

Astrology has an appeal because it works. It has other appeals as well, but it has a very deep and fundamental appeal which is based on its validity. And if that’s not artificially tamped down, it starts to grow, and that’s part of why astrology has continued to exist as a discourse partially or wholly independent from whatever the dominant host culture was since its inception.

CB: Right. And that’s actually a really funny point because it has a parallel in the Medieval period. Once Christianity became the mainstream religion in the Roman Empire in the 4th century, they started very quickly issuing religious edicts against astrology, banning it and outlawing the practice and saying that astrologers had to burn their books and any parishioners caught consulting with astrologers could get in trouble. 

But the funny point that I think Nick Campion makes in one of his books on the history of astrology when he was talking about the Medieval period is we don’t have a lot of evidence for the practice of astrology in this period, but we keep seeing the Church issuing these statements saying that astrology is forbidden, or the practice of astrology or belief in it is forbidden. And he says, why would the Church keep issuing these statements if there weren’t people who believed in it and who were practicing the subject? 

So sometimes, you can actually gauge the popularity of astrology in different periods based on how frequently and how strongly the intellectual authorities at the time are condemning the subject.

AC: Yeah, that’s a good point. Right.

KS: Because why else do they have to get up there and say, “Don’t do this,” unless people are doing it and they’re scared of what might come out of the people doing it.

CB: Right. I mean, like Austin said, it is understandable, and I apologize to all of the astronomers who constantly have people coming up to them and saying, “What can you tell me about my Sun sign?” And I’m sure there are a lot of facets of that that are absolutely annoying and frustrating, and so you would take any opportunity you could to dismiss that, or to point out to people why you think that this is a questionable subject, or why you think that there is nothing to it.

AC: Were you going to say “throw some shade”?

CB: Right. I wasn’t sure if that would actually be the right–anyway. 

KS: Yeah.

CB: Yeah. So I can kind of understand that we have to sympathize when we’re talking about the actual astronomers who was the source of the 2011 controversy; I think his name was Parke Kunkle or something like that. He just wrote this little article talking about precession and talking about there’s actually 13 constellations that fall on the ecliptic and Ophiuchus is one of them. 

And it’s really funny because I traced this back at the time, and I meant to do a two-part series on it in 2011, but I never did. What happened is it was some little local newspaper reported on that after doing an interview with him, and he was just an astronomy teacher or something at a local community college or something. 

But then what happened is that for some reason, Fox News, the big, national Fox News, picked it up and ran with it, and they wrote this story that had this really over-the-top title that was like, “Astronomers Discover 13th Constellation: Zodiacal Signs Changed”–this was in January of 2011. And then suddenly everyone freaked out because then all of the other media outlets suddenly thought that there had been an actual story that was taking place, so everybody scrambles to write a story about how there was this 13th sign and how the zodiacal signs have changed. 

AC: This is even more painful to me than the signs themselves have moved. So the signs have moved. In order to understand how silly that is you have to have a reasonable understanding of the history of astrology and some astronomical phenomena, however, “Ermahgerd, there is a new sign,” should be immediately understood to be absurd. 

Okay, so where did astronomy come from? It came from people looking at the extremely bright lights in the night sky, right? What are the signs made of? Where did they come from? They start with the stellar level. 

The idea that somehow millions of people, billions of people looking at the sky for thousands of years somehow did not see some bright stars, that they just didn’t notice–these people who lived before light pollution; these people who were much more acquainted with the sky than almost anyone living today is–some bright stars that everybody can see if you just look up at the night sky, like really? To me, that is more frustrating because it’s so idiotic. 

And I apologize to anybody who didn’t think about it for a second. We all make mistakes. I just put the wrong month for the New Moon in my column this week; oversights happen.

KS: Totally. 

AC: I was like, “Oh, on October 30th, this New Moon happens.” It happens, but in general, this should not have gotten traction outside of individual brain farts and oversights.

CB: Right. And that goes along with all the famous astronomers like Kepler and Galileo and others, Copernicus.

AC: Right. Kepler, who spent his nights staring at the night sky with a telescope didn’t notice this constellation. By the way, how do we have the name? How do we have an obviously archaic name, ‘Ophiuchus’, if people didn’t notice it before.

CB: Right. 

AC: It’s just like hair-tearing.

KS: Totally. And to go back to something we started with earlier–Austin, you make me laugh; that’s hilarious–there are a lot more constellations than just these 13 in the sky. And that point that we mentioned earlier about the train track, it’s just where the ecliptic is, and it’s the constellations that are more connected to that. But there are a lot more constellations, and as Austin said, we’ve all known about them for quite some time.

CB: Yeah. And I just want to reiterate the main conceptual and intellectual objection here, the main response that astrologers have is that for most Western astrologers, the qualities that we associate with the signs of the zodiac are explicitly predicated on the 30° divisions that are connected with and measured relative to the equinoxes and the solstices, partially but not entirely in connection with their connection with the seasons. 

And therefore, anybody who’s objecting and saying that Western astrologers are wrong because they’re not measuring them relative to this other reference system just simply hasn’t looked into the subject enough in order to understand why astrologers are making the statements they are; that astrologers are fully aware of what reference system they’re choosing to use, and that they’re doing so deliberately and have been for a very long time now. Nothing has changed in the recent past that would motivate any sort of shift away from that, or there’s been no new development in recent times that would really call that into question or cause us to change that.

AC: No.

KS: Nothing new under the Sun. 

AC: And so, I suppose in the future, if some intelligent people who are of a more materialist/scientific persuasion would like to critique astrology, they should look into the tropical zodiac and how it’s structured. And if they want to critique the association of particular meanings with the division of that structure–that’s one of astrology’s real claims–we might be able to have a real conversation about that. 

That’s not necessarily a critique, but that can be meaningfully called into question, and it might force astrologers to think a little bit more deeply about the foundations of those claims; but what we have now are not real critiques and there can’t be a real discussion.

CB: Right. And that’s part of something I’ve talked about for awhile now which is what I feel is this certain level of intellectual laziness when it comes to the modern skeptical movement which is creating arguments that are primarily designed for rhetorical purposes–that primarily are good arguments purely from a rhetorical standpoint, like this one–because they serve the purpose of getting people to question and doubt the legitimacy of the topic under question which is astrology. 

But otherwise, if you look into them, you realize that they’re not actually very good arguments from a conceptual or a practical standpoint; even though there are other arguments that you could make against astrology that would be much more compelling and potentially much more damaging if one wanted to do that, but that’s not the level that most of these critiques are working on. 

Instead, most of these critiques are really just trying to win over hearts and minds by making you doubt something that you thought was the case, which is that most people have this misconception that Western astrologers base the tropical zodiac off of the constellations, or that there’s a connection between the constellation and your Sun sign; which is an understandable misassumption based on the fact that we, through historical accidents, still use the same names for the zodiacal signs that we originally got from the constellations.

AC: Kelly, you said something earlier which I thought was great. You said that the constellations ‘inspired’ the names of the signs in the tropical zodiac, and I think that is perfect from a Hollywood point of view–’inspired by’. 

KS: If we need a sound-bite to respond to these types of comments online that’s the one. 

AC: If you’ve ever watched a movie that was ‘inspired’ by real events–which isn’t even based on a true story–and then you find out what actually happened, it’s usually vastly different. 

KS: Totally. 

AC: There’s always a vague idea or some events that inspired the story. 

KS: Yes. 

AC: I just think that…

KS: It’s good, right? They’re not the same thing. They might have a similar energetic connection at some point–there’s a lineage or thread there that ties them together–but to think that they’re the same thing is a fallacy. Yeah, “This movie is inspired by true events,” that the real story has nothing to do with, for instance. That’s great. 

AC: Well, you said it. 

CB: Another thing here, just in line with that and the way that modern skeptics and astronomers– and generally, the external critiques of astrology that critique it from the outside without knowing much about it–this doesn’t just come up with the zodiac, but it also comes up with even the definition of astrology. Usually, one of their primary critiques and the primary ways that they define astrology is they say that astrologers believe that the planets and the stars directly influence life on Earth through some causal mechanism. 

And that’s another area where if one was more familiar with the astrological community, or the way that astrologers practice or have over the past 2,000 years, they would realize that that’s not even necessarily the basic premise of astrology amongst most astrologers. Instead, it’s approaching it from how they assume astrology must work if they at all believed that astrology was a valid phenomenon–which they don’t–so they don’t necessarily have to take much time to carefully define the subject; they just define it in terms of what they assume it’s about.

AC: And that’s really emblematic of some of the issues. The intellectual laziness precedes from an arrogance assuming that the right answer is already known; that the right perspective has already been obtained. 

And astrology is not the only subject which receives this treatment. A lot of the ‘skeptics’–and I say quote-unquote because this is not skepticism as a philosophical position or as an intellectual practice. Arrogance and laziness are not what skepticism is about. And there are probably some real skeptics out there who are tearing their hair out with these folks. 

But what I was going to say is if you look at critiques of, say, Christianity, they will take the most embarrassing example of late 20th century, American Christian Protestantism and say, “That’s how it’s been for 2,000 years,” taking the least defensible instance of one thing–and then generalizing that and treating that as if it were the whole–and mobilizing a really simple critique. In astrology’s case, they’re not even taking an actual opinion that astrologers hold or a real premise of the system, and so it’s even more embarrassingly lazy. 

Again, to the real skeptics, the people who are doing a project of extremely careful thinking and curating their ontology, please investigate astrology and lob us your real questions; it will probably be good for astrology; it’ll probably be good for all of us.

CB: And part of that whole theme–again, returning to the theme of intellectual laziness–is an overreliance on authorities. Even though there’s presumption of the skeptical movement being about free-thinking–or being about inquiry, or researching things and figuring things out for yourself–what ends up happening in reality in the modern skeptical movement is most of them, they don’t look into the subjects themselves; they just rely on people within that movement who they assume to be authorities. 

But part of the issue is then the same bad arguments keep getting recycled over and over again over the past few decades because nobody actually takes the time to look into the subject themselves in order to develop better critiques or more compelling critiques of the subject. 

So instead, you just keep having the same things come up over and over again because everybody’s done this surface-level, looking into the subject where you proceed from the assumption that what you’re researching is bullshit to begin with. And so, then you figure out what’s the most basic critique I can make about that subject, which on the surface seems to be a compelling argument, but I would realize wasn’t a very compelling argument if I looked further into the subject.

AC: Yeah. I would also say the vast majority of what masquerades as skepticism is really just bullying from an institutionally-produced, materialist perspective. Like, “Oh, this is what I’ve heard from universities.” This is contrary to the truth produced in our society’s institutions which are responsible for creating culturally-accepted facts about the universe. 

And it’s like, no, astrology doesn’t fit very comfortably into a materialist universe; neither does a human being having any internal life or consciousness. But a lot of it’s just like, “Oh, that’s in contradiction with the official reality.” And of course it is. 

One of astrology’s virtues, I think, is that seriously investigating it helps you overturn some of the assumptions about the limits of your world which you’ve been infected with simply by breathing it in everyday.

CB:  Right. And what’s funny is–and I think I’ve mentioned it a few times on the show before–the societal position that astrologers are in is really weird. I’m not unsympathetic most of the time to the skeptical movement and to the aims and goals of many of the things that the scientific movement tries to do when it tries to promote certain things, or call into question certain things, or critique certain things. 

Global warming is a big issue right now where you almost have the opposite situation, where you have the vast majority of scientists saying this is a real phenomenon and this is a problem that we need to do something about, and then you have a small group of people questioning it and saying, no, this is not a real thing, or this is being blown out of proportion. The skepticism almost comes in there as opposition to global warming in a conspiracy theory sense to some extent. 

Anyway, my general point though is just astrologers are in a weird position in society where the establishment is saying something about the subject, but you’re able to see that the arguments they’re making are not very strong and seem to be coming from a position of not knowing a lot about the subject because of the way that they’re articulating the arguments. 

And that is an interesting position to be in just because then it makes you sometimes look into other areas and question what is the basis of this argument that somebody else is making, or what is the evidence that this person has, or are they formulating their argument well. Not becoming paranoid or in a conspiracy theory sense where you can’t believe anything, but in the sense of being a really useful life lesson about actual skepticism and actually looking at the grounds that people are making their arguments for, or how they’re formulating their beliefs about the world, and whether they’re doing so in a sloppy fashion or not. 

All right. So I think we’ve gone on a long enough side digression. Were there any other major points that we really needed to make in this episode that we’re going to kick ourselves if we forget? 

KS: I think we’ve covered the main points.

CB: Okay. I assume this story was going to wind down a week ago and that’s why we’re covering it late, so we probably missed it. We could be completely wrong and it could blow up even bigger and continue to become a big thing; I kind of doubt that. But I figured that if we did this episode now, even if we don’t catch all of the chatter surrounding this current controversy, this isn’t going to be the last time this comes up. We’ve seen smaller, little blips on the radar of this between now and 2016 and the last big one in 2011, so I’m sure we’ll see it again in the future. 

One of the underlying issues for me that I’m concerned about is I think this does something to the public’s consciousness and awareness of astrology because I think there’s probably a lot of people who don’t look into it. They see the headlines, and they see “Zodiac Redefined by NASA,” or “Astronomer Says Zodiac Totally Off, and Astrologers Didn’t Know That,” and that might be all they’re left with. 

So I hope this will help a little bit to broaden the discussion and help to explain a little bit where astrologers are coming from when issues like this come up, or when discussions like this come up; and yeah, hopefully, this can contribute to that broader discussion. 

All right. So any parting words? 

KS: You’re fine. You can’t get rid of the quirky side if you wanted to; so it’s a little bit of a storm in a teacup. 

CB: Sure. Ironically, if there’s anyone listening to this episode that doesn’t know anything about astrology, even the basic premise of astrology, of full natal astrology–where you look at not just the Sun sign but also the other planets in the solar system and where they were placed and what signs they were located in a person’s chart–there’s going to be some people that more closely identify with their Sun sign, and there’s going to be other people that might more closely identify with their Moon sign, or with their Ascendant sign or what have you. 

That’s probably an interesting underlying issue that’s sort of connected with this as well in terms of some of the public interest and why perhaps there might be some people who respond even more strongly to this. Some people might respond strongly to it because they really connect with their Sun sign and they think that that describes them very well. Whereas, conversely, there are probably some people out there in the public who do not connect with their Sun sign. 

Let’s say their Sun is in Leo but they have seven other planets all in Cancer. And suddenly, they hear that maybe their Sun sign is different and so they want to know if it’s the one that they’ve always thought matched their personality better, something like that. I mean, the answer for all of those people is just to look more deeply into astrology and get a full copy of your actual birth chart from a website such as www.astro.com. And then you’ll have I think a much better insight into the full spectrum of what astrology does and the ways that it can help to characterize a person’s personality, or life, or what have you. 

KS: Absolutely. That’s a good point. 

CB: Cool. All right, well, I think that’s it for this episode then. Thanks, both of you guys. Austin, what’s your website again?

AC: I’m AustinCoppock.com. A-U-S-T-I-N C-O-P-P-O-C-K. 

CB: Got it. And Kelly, what’s yours? 

KS: I’m at KellysAstrology.com. So K-E-L-L-Y, S for Sam, and then Astrology.com. 

CB: Awesome. And as always, I’m at ChrisBrennanAstrologer.com. So thanks everybody for listening, and we’ll see you next time. 

AC: Take it easy.