Astrology Astrology FAQ:
Basics for the Beginner or Student of Astrology
by Michael Star, Astrologer (c)1997 MAY 26
in STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine.

Kelly's Questions, Michael's Answers

1. How were the twelve Signs made up?

Link-to: | Question 1| Question 2| Question 3| Question 4| Question 5|

 Received: from for
 Date: Sat, 29 Mar 1997 15:28:05 -0500 (EST)
 Dear Reader,
 For my eighth grade English report I chose the topic of 
 Astrology. I have to interview three people, and I was 
 wondering if you could answer some questions for me. 
 My report is due on April 10, so it would help a lot 
 if you could reply before then.  Here are the questions...

Since sending my email reply to Kelly, I have edited and added to the original answers to create this series of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) pages for the STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine web site. Her questions were good ones, and probably represent the kind of questions many children, teenagers, and adults ask about Astrology. I hope that these answers based on my experience with Astrology will be helpful to the many people who may read them here on the world wide web. These are one man's opinions, and you are welcome to take what truth you see here, or to ignore what does not resonate with your personal view of what is true for you.
- Michael Star, Astrologer

Hi Kelly!

I'm glad you wrote to look for some answers to your questions, as it has stimulated me to write quite a long explanation, as you will see...

1. How were the twelve Signs made up?

Michael's Answer 1:

We can't really know for sure how the Signs were "made up", since they were already established before the time of the oldest known written records that have been found - which I believe are from a site near Babylon (now Baghdad, Iraq) and date back to more than 5000 years ago. The names were different, because the Signs usually were associated with the mythical gods of the civilizations that named them, such as the early Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Aryan or Aztec peoples. The names we use today came from later Greek and Roman terms, and are associated with the mythical Greek and Roman gods and demi-gods. When astronomers discover a new asteroid or planet, it is usually named after one of these mythical gods or goddesses. (It seems unusual that scientists would like to dabble in mythology, doesn't it?)

The planet Pluto was not discovered until 1930, but was named after the ancient Roman god of the Underworld. By some strange coincidence, the scientists named this planet after a mythical figure whose symbolic (archetypal) qualities have been discovered to be similar to the interpretation astrologers have learned to associate with this newly-discovered heavenly body. Though some "scientists", especially astronomers, often prefer to disassociate the science of Astronomy from its roots in "unscientific" Astrology, they seem to be aware (even if only at an unconscious level) of the association of heavenly bodies with psychological concepts and symbolism that forms the basis of Astrology. These mythical symbols or archetypes are also the basis of dream interpretation by psychologists, of reading the Tarot cards, and of other things that have to do with the unconcious (or sub-conscious) mind of man.

Although the average person may not be aware of this, the Signs are not some stereotyped category you fit into according to a range of birth dates in the newspaper. In astrological terms, Signs are actually sections of the sky which form divisions of the region we call "the zodiac". This zodiac is a fairly narrow band across the sky in which all the planets always appear, at least when you see them from our vantage point on Earth. To visualize the zodiac, think of an imaginary ribbon wrapped all around the Earth, but floating way out in Space. The Sun and Moon and Planets are only seen within this narrow band, which may appear higher or lower in the sky, depending on how far you are from Earth's equator as you look at it. In North America and Europe, the Sun and Moon never appear directly overhead; but in countries near the equator, like Ecuador, Zaire, or Borneo, the Sun is at the highest point in the sky ("the Midheaven") at "high noon".

The Signs are equal sectors of the sky, each exactly one-twelfth of the entire circle around the Earth, which is 360 degrees divided by 12, or 30 degrees per Sign. The symbol associated with each Sign sector may have been an image seen in the night sky by some ancient man who noticed a pattern in the stars that vaguely resembled some mythological figure or a deity in his religion. The stars were something anyone could see with their eyes, but the Signs (the patterns in the stars) were something that could only be seen by using one's imagination, to relate what was seen to something that was something like it. Strictly speaking, the star patterns are called "constellations" (which means "groups") and in ancient times the constellations and the Signs were the same thing. In modern times, they do not necessarily refer to the same sections of the sky, depending on which system of Astrology you are using - Sidereal (referenced to the stars) or Tropical (referenced to the earth).

The Signs don't change positions with respect to each other, but because the Earth rotates once every 24 hours, a different Sign appears to rise in the East about every 2 hours and then slowly cross the night sky until it disappears below the horizon in the West. If you have ever seen a view of the night sky recorded with time-lapse photography and then speeded up, you'd have seen all the stars move across the sky at the same rate as the Earth turns.

But some of those "stars" actually do move a little in relation to the others, and they were called "wandering stars". They are actually the moving Planets we can see with the naked eye, from Mercury out to Saturn. The word "planet" originally meant "wandering star". In the Christian and Hebrew holy books, the word "star" usually refers to one of these "wandering stars" which we would call "planets" in the English language of our time period. Because the Sun's light is reflected from the Planets, they appear to us as bright as the stars in the sky.

You might find it interesting that in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 14, God is said to have made the sun and moon and stars "for signs" on the fourth day of Creation. For thousands of years, astrologers have been doing just that - looking "for signs" in the heavens as a way of understanding what is happening, or will happen, on Earth. Sometimes I wonder if the people who quote the Bible to condemn Astrology have ever read what is on the first page? It says God made these heavenly bodies to show us "signs" of His intentions, and those signs are there for anyone to read - if they would only learn how to interpret them. That is what Astrology is all about, and why Kings and Popes have consulted Astrologers, also called Magi (wise men) or Chaldeans (many were from the land called Chaldea), throughout the entire recorded history of mankind.

The "magi" referred to in the Book of Luke in the New Testament, who followed a wandering "star" known as "the Star of Bethlehem" and came from out of the East (probably Persia) to find and worship the baby Christ, would be called "astrologers" in the language of today. In a modernized English edition of the New Testament published for Catholics, called "The Way", the magi ARE referred to as "some astrologers".

It has been theorized, and discussed in a documentary film often aired on American public television, that this new "star" they noticed in the Sign of Pisces was actually two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, appearing in the same place in the sky three times during the year 7 B.C., which would make them look like one bright new "star" when they formed this "conjunction" and appeared to be very close together. There had been an ancient prophecy that when this "star" appeared it would be "a sign" of the arrival of a Messiah, and since "the Sign of Pisces" was associated with the Hebrew people, the magi would interpret that as the arrival of a new Messiah or "King" for the Jews. Unfortunately the ruling King Herod was not too pleased with the prospect of giving up his throne when his own astrologers advised him of this "sign" of a new King being born!

I find it interesting that the Bible says these foreign astrologers found the baby Jesus to pay their respects and give gifts, while the King of his own nation tried to find Jesus to kill him. Yet some Christians today believe that Astrology is the work of the devil, and again I wonder if they have read what it says about these astrologers in their own Bible. It says God spoke to them in a dream. They obeyed God's will, and they saved the life of Jesus by not telling King Herod where they had found him by using Astrology. It is speculated that they also helped Jesus and his family escape to safety in Egypt, which was the place where the Bible says Jesus dwelled throughout his childhood.

The city of Alexandria in Egypt was then a place where the largest Library and the greatest scholars were found, and Astrology was studied and taught there by learned men who considered it part of the wisdom of the ages. It is even possible that Jesus was trained in Astrology and other ancient arts, for the New Testament quotes Jesus as prophesying that when he came again there would be signs in the sun and moon and stars. And how will Christians know those signs of the second coming of Christ unless they learn how to interpret them? The study of astrology is an ancient art practiced by wise men throughout all of history, and many kings and queens and popes had personal astrologers to counsel them. The Catholic Church has a long history of Popes who used astrologers as personal advisors, even though more recent Popes seem to hold astrology in disfavor. But this does not seem to deter many Catholics from consulting astrologers. I have done readings for several Catholic priests over the years.

One of the brightest "stars" is actually the nearby planet Venus, also known as "the Morning Star" or "the Evening Star" because it appears just before sunrise for part of each year, and just after sunset for the other part. You can tell if you are looking at a star or a planet by noticing that stars "twinkle"; while planets shine with a steady light. The Sun is a real star, but it is so close that its light keeps us from seeing the other stars in the daytime, while at night its light is reflected from the nearby planets and makes them look like shining stars.

That's the "short" version of the answer, but there's much more to the 12 astrological Signs than that...

Did you ever see cloud formations that looked like a horse or some other figure? It may have been a similar stretch of the imagination when the earliest astrologers gazed in wonder at the starry skies. Though people often talk as if Astrologers are reading "the stars", the stars themselves are only the reference points, like a background grid, for locating the positions of the Sun and Moon and Planets. The patterns of stars are called "constellations" and thousands of years ago the Signs and the constellations had the same names. But over the years the Earth's axis rotates a little (like a wobbling, spinning, toy top) so that it points in a different direction; and this makes the Signs shift slowly backwards, so that the Sign called Aries is now covering the constellation called Pisces.

Astronomers call this process "precession" or "precession of the equinoxes". In a century or so the constellation which the astronomers call Aries will start to overlap the part of the zodiac that western astrologers call the Sign of Aquarius; and this will begin the time in history people are already calling "the Age of Aquarius". It takes the Earth about 26,000 years to precess one full revolution so that its North Pole points back to the same Pole Star; and this long period is called a "Great Year". There are 12 "Ages" in a Great Year, one named after each Sign, and each Age lasts as long as about 2,160 of our Earth years!

Is it a coincidence that Jesus Christ began his ministry about 2000 years ago, which was the beginning of the Age of Pisces? The astrological symbol for the Sign of Pisces is "The Fishes", and the secret sign for the early Christians was also a symbol for a fish. Jesus chose his first Disciples from a group of fishermen, and He is quoted in the Bible as saying He would make them "fishers of men". Is all this astrological symbolism a coincidence, or was Jesus familiar with the system of Astrology which was then considered an essential subject to be studied in the ancient schools of wisdom?

In The Old Testament, which was recorded in "The Age of Aries", there are many references to the sacrifice of a lamb or a "Ram", which happens to be the astrological symbol for the Sign of Aries. In the Book of Exodus (and in the film "Exodus") there is an account of Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets containing The Ten Commandments and discovering that his people had made a golden calf. A calf is a young "Bull", and the Bull was the symbolic figure for the earlier religion of Mithraism which flourished in "The Age of Taurus". The Bull is the astrological symbol for Taurus. The Bible is full of astrological symbolism. Even the Twelve Tribes correspond to the 12 astrological Signs (see Astrology in the Christian Bible), and the Twelve Disciples of Jesus may also be represented by the qualities of the 12 Signs. A coincidence? I think not...

Some Astrologers - the "Siderealists" who are mostly the ones known as "Eastern" or "Occidental" Astrologers, and particularly the ones from India who use systems called "Vedic" or "Jyotish" - prefer to use Sidereal Astrology, which is based on the stars. "Sidereal" is pronounced "sih-DER'-ee-ahl" and means "of the stars". Their system adjusts things so that the Signs are assumed to stay in the same alignment with the constellations as they were 5000 years ago. Their view is that the constellations and Signs are the same thing.

The majority of North American and European Astrologers - known as "Western" or "Occidental" Astrologers, or as "Tropicalists" - prefer to use Tropical Astrology, which is based on "the Tropics" like "the Tropic of Cancer" and "the Tropic of Capricorn", which are in turn based on the changing tilt of the Earth towards the Sun, which causes the Seasons on Earth. The system used by Tropical Astrologers keeps adjusting the Sign boundaries as the Earth itself keeps changing its alignment with respect to the stars by about one degree every 7.2 years. Their view is that today the constellations and the Signs are not the same thing as they were 5000 years ago when somebody looked up into the night sky and gave names to the imaginary pictures he saw in the stars.

I prefer to use the Tropical Zodiac because it reflects our present reality on Earth; for we all live on Earth, and we all live in the Present, not in the ancient Past. Well, maybe some people still live in the ancient past in the way they think. We earthlings have gradually seen things differently (changed our belief systems) as our planet gradually changed direction and pointed to different stars, so why shouldn't our system of Astrology change along with it?

In Tropical Astrology, the Sign of Aries is always considered to start at the position where the Sun appears to be, in relation to the background of stars, at the Vernal Equinox around March 20th each year. Also known as the Spring Equinox, this is a phenomenon that is caused by the motion of the planet we live on. Where we see the Sun coming up on the eastern horizon at sunrise on that special day in spring when the hours of day and night are exactly equal, is defined in Tropical Astrology as "0 degrees of Aries", and this is a position which changes over time as the Earth itself changes over time. In the system of Tropical Astrology, the Sign of Aries is moving back by about 1 degree every 7.2 years in relation to the fixed stars and the constellation originally called Aries. Remember that this is from the perspective of us human beings, looking at the Signs from our position on Earth.

If it should ever be discovered that there is some unknown force or energy which comes from the Planets, or from some kind of energy radiated from the Sun being reflected from the Moon and planets onto the Earth, then it makes sense to measure everything from a point on the Earth, since that is the location where human beings are going to be influenced by such cosmic energies.

Both systems seem to be worthy in their own ways. I think perhaps they represent different levels of our consciousness and can be used to understand different aspects of ourselves and our place in the Universe. In other words, you can study both systems and use them in different ways to gain insights from one system that would not be seen in the other system. We are creatures of the planet Earth, and also creatures of the star systems called galaxies, and of the Universe itself.

In India another system of sidereal astrology, called Vedic or Jyotish astrology, has been practised for thousands of years, and it works for them. In China, another system of astrology has been used, and works for the Chinese people. The Mayans and Aztecs in Central America had their own system of astrology, too, but one which is quite different from modern Western Astrology. This system of astrology practised by the majority of European and North American astrologers has its roots in Greek and Persian traditions and techniques.

I have been raised in Western (Occidental) systems of thought, and I prefer to use the Western system of astrology, which is predominantly Tropical Astrology; just as I prefer to use Western philosophies and follow a Western religion like the Judao-Christian one. If I were Chinese, I would be using Chinese Astrology and following some Eastern (Oriental) philosophy or religion like Buddhism or Confucianism; and I would be using Chinese symbology, and thinking and speaking in Chinese. The thought systems are quite different, and I choose to use the systems which I naturally relate to best. This is why I do not study or use Indian or Chinese Astrology, though I respect them as equally valid systems for people who relate to them better than to Western systems of astrology.

Today we are not really concerned with how well the star patterns actually look like any figures at all, but we do find that the figures used for the Signs in our culture are wonderful symbols and "archetypes" representing various universal themes and various parts of our own psyche, in the same way the Greek and Roman mythological heroes represented these themes and archetypal aspects of the human psyche to ancient peoples. These symbolic figures also help students remember the various themes and qualities associated with each Sign.

When I think of Aries the Ram, I think of two male sheep "ramming" their heads together, and see that sometimes "Arians" or Aries types figuratively "butt heads" or act like "butt-heads" - no offence intended, all you assertive Arians! Aries types love and need challenges, are competitive, and have the courage to fight for what they want or what they believe in. They are also tend to figuratively put their heads down and "charge into things" without caring to look where they are going first. They do want to be first, just as the competing rutting rams want to be first to the fertile ewes! After all, Aries is the FIRST Sign of the zodiac.

All this sounds pretty much like a male sheep, which is called a ram, and this symbolic similarity helps teach the ideas I just mentioned, and helps us all remember them.

Symbolism gives us a new way of looking at things. Once you understand the symbol, you can imagine all sorts of possible variations on any of its main themes. And you can see how things that look different really are similar, in some other sense. I often get new ideas about astrological interpretations by thinking about the symbolic meanings of a Sign or a Planet, and imagining how different themes could fit together to make some new combination. (If you read Part 2 of my Pluto Takes on Sagittarius article (at you will see a long list of themes for the Sign of Sagittarius and for the Planet Pluto.) It's a great way to get new insights which let you see new ways of looking at yourself and others, and realizing things which you didn't understand before.

The Signs, as far as we can tell, originated as symbols or imaginary figures seen in the patterns of stars in the night sky. Today they retain their same symbolic meanings, even if many astrologers no longer assume the Signs are the same as the images which ancient men saw in those star patterns over 5000 years ago. It is these symbols, and not the stars themselves, that help us understand the relationship between the motion of planets and the motivations of people.

Today, a person born when the Sun appeared in that section of the sky called Taurus is just as "bull-headed" as someone born under the Sign of the Bull 5000 years ago. Because I am "a Taurus" myself (i.e. I have Sun in Taurus in my birth chart), I can see this quality is part of my nature (to the degree that I am willing to admit it). But a more extreme example of "bull-headedness" is the dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq (the place once known as Babylon) - a Taurus who never surrendered even when he lost the Gulf War, a Taurus who tenaciously clings to power even when so many people want to take it away from him. Now that's being as stubborn as a bull!

(c)1997 by Michael Star

"More of Kelly's Questions" will be answered in each weekly issue of STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine, starting Monday, May 26 1997. Look in the" What's NEW" section of the HOME page for the latest weekly topic.

Next question: 2. Why do the Signs all have an animal of some kind as their symbol?

Link-to: | Question 1| Question 2| Question 3| Question 4| Question 5|

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First Published MAY 26 1997. Last Updated AUG 01 2001 12:00 EDT.

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