Why we have 12, not 13, zodiac signs

Worry not, my friends!  Your sun-sign is not going to change—not now, and not ever.  There’s no such thing as a 13th sign of the zodiac, contrary to what you may have read or heard.


Here’s why: the 12 signs of our tropical zodiac and the constellations of the same name are different things.  Those who suggest there is a 13th sign are confusing the two.


So, what's the difference between the signs and the constellations?


The zodiac is an invisible sphere visualized around the ecliptic, the annual path of the Sun across the sky.  It is divided into 12 sections of 30 degrees each—the signs as we know them.  These 12 signs together symbolize all the possibilities of creation, in which the three modes of divine action (cardinal, fixed, and mutable) combine with the four elements (fire, earth, air, and water) to form material reality.  The zodiac begins at 0 Aries, symbolizing the initial impulse of Creation.


In contrast, the constellations are the actual clusters of stars in space.  In the traditional conception of the cosmos, the sphere of the zodiac lies above the sphere of the fixed stars, which contains the constellations.  Below the sphere of the fixed stars are the planetary spheres, beginning with Saturn.


Here’s the key: the constellations are to the zodiac as form is to essence.  With the Fall came all the imperfections of the material realm; it is this that accounts for the variations between the divine essence (signs) and the material form (constellations). 


Contributing to the misunderstanding is the phenomenon of precession, in which the stars are drifting east one degree every 72 years due to a ‘wobble’ in the Earth’s axis.  Around two thousand years ago, the Sun entering 0 Aries in the (invisible) zodiac and its entrance into the (actual) constellation of Aries happened on the same day.  Even then, however, the signs and constellations were not in perfect alignment--another common misconception.


The 12 signs do align with our four seasons, however, as follows:


- The Sun enters 0 degrees Aries at the Spring Equinox.  The signs of spring are Aries (cardinal fire), Taurus (fixed earth), and Gemini (mutable air).


- The Sun enters 0 degrees Cancer at the Summer Solstice.  The signs of summer are Cancer (cardinal water), Leo (fixed fire), and Virgo (mutable earth).


- The Sun enters 0 Libra at the Fall Equinox.  The signs of fall are Libra (cardinal air), Scorpio (fixed water), and Sagittarius (mutable fire).


- The Sun enters 0 degrees Capricorn at the Winter Solstice.  The signs of winter are Capricorn (cardinal earth), Aquarius (fixed air), and Pisces (mutable water).


This alignment is invariable.  It was the same hundreds of years ago as it is today, as it will be hundreds of years from now.


So where does Ophiuchus come into the story?  One of the constellations that falls within the area of the ecliptic is Ophiuchus, the Serpent-bearer or Snake Handler.  Scientists, working from a purely material understanding of the cosmos, believe that the Babylonians made an arbitrary decision to leave Ophiuchus out of the zodiac.  If you think I’m kidding, read what NASA writes here:




To be clear, it’s not that the constellations are unimportant in astrology.  The stars that comprise them are meaningful when they fall in important places in the birth chart, such as on one of the seven planets or key Arabic Parts, or on one of the four chart angles.


To give an example:  the alpha star of the constellation Ophiuchus is Rasalhague (“Head of the Snake Handler”). Rasalhague is currently measured at 22 degrees 35 minutes of Sagittarius (the sign).  If you have a planet or house cusp at 22 Sagittarius, then the Ophiuchus myth and its themes will have some personal meaning for you.


So there you have it!  To learn more, I highly recommend John Frawley’s The Real Astrology.  The whole book is wonderful and a must-read, but Chapter 5 (“The Order of the Cosmos,” pp. 51-62) elaborates on the topics I’ve addressed briefly here.


Thanks for stopping by!


Kathryn at The Sun’s Joy


Photo credit: Rho Ophiuchi from Pixabay (www.pixabay.com).  Used under a CC0 license.