Watch CBSN Live

Why the New Zodiac Changes Nothing

zodiac changes CBS

Why all the fuss about a 13th astrological sign?

Most people, whether they believe in astrology or not, are in the habit of looking up their sign in the newspaper or receiving a daily update via social media. As a student of astrology, I can say that at best this is a great way to pass a few minutes of time each day. But it is not in any way an accurate example of what astrology offers people interested in insights about their personality or challenges in life.

On paper, an astrological chart is a series of symbols arranged in a wheel that creates a statement or series of statements -- much like a sentence written in any language. Imagine trying to construct a clear sentence interpreting the meaning of only one word from that sentence. To me, this is what looking up sun sign astrology in the newspaper is like. The only way to use astrology in the way it was created is to look at an entire chart.

Let's think for a moment that astrology is synonymous with the language of words. Language has grammar, punctuation and words which function as nouns, verbs and adjectives. Astrology has all of these things too, but they are called houses, signs, planets,and aspects. From a person's birth information an astrologer will create a natal chart -- an essay about a person if you will -- out of which the 10 planets in the solar system (The Sun and Moon are called planets in astrological charts because Earth is at the center of the chart.) are oriented in relationship to the constellations in the sky along the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the path in the sky of the Sun therefore only a certain number of constellations or signs "cross" the ecliptic. A few thousand years ago there were only 12. Now there are 13.

Just as different cultures created different languages made of unique symbols and grammar, it is also so in astrology. Here is where I think all the recent confusion and Internet hysteria seem to come from. In the Western world, most people are only familiar with one type of astrology -- or one language and set of grammar. This type, known as Tropical, uses the 12 signs in an equal-house system (12 signs, 12 houses) in a circular. This creates a system where each sign holds 30 degrees out of 360 in a full chart.

Astrologer Steven Forrest looks at astrology in a symbolic forum. In his book "The Inner Sky," he writes that signs are symbols of our identity, or the "why and how." Planets are the "what" in the part of our mind and houses are the "where" in a person's life. In his view, it makes sense to use 30 degrees for each sign and equal houses to represent parts of a whole person. Many astrologers look at charts in the same way. It's a mystical point of view towards the questions astrology answers.

Other types of astrology such as Vedic, which stems from Hindu culture, use a chart based on the actual space in the sky each constellation or sign takes up in the ecliptic. This is also known as sidereal astrology. Therefore, instead of each sign taking an equal 30 degree piece of the sky, they take more or less depending on our perspective from Earth. Due to the precession of the equinoxes (a term gaining more interest as the year 2012 approaches with "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius") the position of the signs is not only unequal, but unfixed. As the Earth shifts on its axis and our perspective of the stars changes, over time stars and constellations will "move" in and out of the ecliptic.

In this model, science dictates the amount of space each sign or house takes in a chart, therefore dictating the answers to questions sought from astrology: What are my traits? How will I achieve my goals? Where are my obstacles?

Which brings us back to the announcement of a 13th sign. This isn't new or surprising if you are a follower of Vedic or sidereal astrology. See this announcement as learning a new word in a different language. Often astrology fills in for "a slow news day." It's a good way to get people to become more aware of astrology and to sell new charts and readings. But if you are like me and used to the way you look at your chart or your signs, there's no need to change a thing.

View CBS News In