All hail Ophiuchus, the new zodiac star sign

Some horoscope readers are probably still sore after this week's news that their astrological sign might not be, in fact, their astrological sign.

But this revelation has greatly benefited Capricorns like myself. No longer “introvert signs” represented by a goat with a stupid fish's tail (natural selection would've taken care of this thing long ago), we are now Sagittarii, much more acceptable (and sexy) centaurs and liege to the biggest planet on the block, Jupiter.

The person trumpeting this error in astrology is, of course, an astronomer. Parke Kunkle, a member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, says that a “wobble” in the earth's rotation has caused the position of the heavens to gradually shift in our view over the last 3,000 years. That would mean the zodiac calendar is off by about a month, and your true astrological sign is the one preceding your birthday by a few weeks. (See the revised astrological calendar below.)

And there's a thirteenth sign that astrologers should acknowledge, Kunkle says. It's Ophiuchus, represented as a man butt-flossing with a snake.

For perspective on this odd story, I sought out the nearest available D.C. astrologer. He turned out to be in Iowa City, having moved in the past few years. Christopher Warnock, an attorney and practitioner of Renaissance astrology, immediately said that he is “so sick to death of the whole [expletive] [expletive]. You will not hear a coherent explanation from anybody about this.”

That might include this journalist, but I'll do my best.

The story of the earth's wobble is old news to astrologists, who naturally keep up with astronomy, it being the source of many a paycheck. Warnock wanted to convey a message to all the Kunkleheads out there: You might make fun us for the science we choose to ignore, but we can pound you with all you don't know about astrology.

The target of Kunkle's criticism appears to be the constellational zodiac, a system that corresponds with the location of constellations, including Ophiuchus. But there are at least two other systems used in astrology: a tropical zodiac oriented to the seasons and a sidereal zodiac used by Vedic astrologers. An attack on one is not an attack on all.

There is already controversy in the astrological community surrounding the constellational zodiac, because its signs have irregular sizes and murky boundaries. Sometimes you just have to believe in the effectiveness of the whole astrological field, position of the stars be damned.

“This is the standard constellational zodiac argument. Physical placement of the actual stars trumps all,” Warnock says. “This is like saying, 'The standard timezone-based system can't work, because it doesn't say it's noon when the sun is actually overhead! [Ed: that's the definition of solar noon.] Oh no, I'd better throw my watch out!'”

If Kunkle wanted to damage astrologists, he didn't frame his argument right, Warnock says. An argument based on things like matter and energy isn't going to change the minds of people who believe that the location of Saturn determines the right time to take out a second mortgage.

“This is a scientific critique of astrology, but that's ridiculous because the whole basis of astrology is spiritual,” he says. “The real objection is not that the signs are wrong, but that it's all garbage.”

Here is the revised astrological calendar, according to the Minnesota Planetarium Society:

Capricorn: Jan. 20 - Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 16 - March 11
Pisces: March 11 - April 18
Aries: April 18 - May 13
Taurus: May 13 - June 21
Gemini: June 21 - July 20
Cancer: July 20 - Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10 - Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16 - Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30 - Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23 - 29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29 - Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17 - Jan. 20