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Precession: the Rhythm of the Spheres

The Tropical zodiac is so-called because it is based the apparent yearly motion of the Sun, northwards to the Tropic of Cancer on the longest day of Summer, then southwards to the Tropic of Capricorn during the depth of winter. The area between these two extremes, is called "the tropics", and because the Sun never goes any further north or south, this belt around the equator stays rather warm throughout the year: hence the terms "tropical heat", "tropical storm", "tropical paradise", etc. Tropic comes from the Greek tropikos ("turning").

As we all know, Summer time above the equator coincides with Winter time below the equator. When residents of Chile are basking in the warmth of the Summer Sun, the gringos in el Norte are trudging through snow and sleet. (Gringo is a mildly pejorative term used by Spanish-speakers of Central and South America, to refer to their English-speaking friends to the north. It comes from the Spanish word griegos, meaning Greek-speakers, IE those who utter an unintelligible tongue, e.g. not Spanish)

So when Hipparchus (a real Gringo or Greek) suggested the notion of a fixed zodiac - an Astrology tied to the seasons, it only made sense for people living north of the equator - like the Greeks themselves.

The constellation Cancer is not, in fact, a summer sign... if you live in Australia, New Zealand, much of South America, Polynesia: anywhere south of the equator. Such a zodiac is off by 12,000 years, or 180 degrees of precession. Moreover, the summer and winter solstices mark the middle, or climax of their seasons, not the beginnings, as we take it today... but more on this later, when we take up the subject of Domification - the construction of houses.

Multiple Greek Zodiacs

Cyril Fagan, in his 1950 masterpiece Zodiacs Old And New, details the calculations employed in ancient Greek horoscopes, and even older Babylonian epheremides and star catalogs. These Greek "charts" describe the planetary positions drawn up for eminent personalities of the day, such as Theodore of Alexandria, on the date of his election to the prefecture in 486 AD, and the coronation of Leontius at Antioch, in 484 AD. The Babylonian data was recorded in cuneiform tablets, almost 1,000 years earlier ! The Babylonians seem to have been aware of precession, and updated their almanacs on a regular basis - but told the Greeks nothing about it. The Greeks eventually discovered it, several centuries after taking up the craft.

According to Cyril Fagan, a Babylonian ephemeris from the 6th Century BC lists the position of the vernal equinox at 12 degrees Aries. At that time, Cleostratus of Tenedos introduced the Babylonian Zodiac to the Greeks. Fagan goes on:

"In 331 BC, Callisthenes, a general in the army of Alexander the Great, at the behest of his uncle Aristotle, sent from the fallen Babylon a large collection of Babylonian tablets believed to include those of Naburiannu, who placed the vernal-point at 10 Aries 10 degrees, and Kidinnu who placed it in Aries 8 degrees."

"In their eagerness to make Babylonian astronomy their own the Greeks, being unaware that the position of the vernal point was receding at the approximate rate of one degree in 72 years, concluded that the vernal-point was fixed absolutely in the 8th degree of the constellation Aries - A minority, however, favoured Naburiannu's value of 10 degrees - and amended their zodiac accordingly. This was the HELLENISTIC Zodiac of classical times, adopted by both Greece and Rome. It was the zodiac of Manilius, Firmicus, Vettius Valens, and Manetho.""

"The positions of the planets in the Egypto-Roman zodiac in the Temple of Hathor in Denderah are for the Neomenia, April 17, AD 17 - 3rd year of Tiberius - and are in terms of this Hellenistic zodiac. Although the Greeks believed that it was identical with the fixed zodiac of Kidinnu (Cidenus) it was in fact a Tropical Zodiac with the vernal-point styled "Aries 8" and not, as in modern times, "Aries 0 degrees".

In the year 139 BC, Hipparchus discovered the phenomenon of precession, while comparing the observed position of Spica or Alpha Virginis against the one recorded 154 years earlier by Timocharis. What today we call the Tropical Zodiac, was invented - by accident when Hipparchus wrongly presumed that the vernal point be established, for all time, as 0 Aries - even though he knew that it was shifting slowly backwards. His 0 Aries zodiac was promptly rejected by astronomers of the day.

Manilius, the Roman astrologer during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, wrote

"So one degree in the tropical signs is to marked out which moves the worlds and alters the seasons... some place this power in the 8 degrees, other prefer the 10 degrees, and there has even been a writer who has allocated to the first degree the alterations of the seasons".

Columella, in 60 AD, wrote

"Winter, which begins about 8 days before 1st January in the eighth degree of Capricorn.... and I am not deceived by Hipparchus' argument which teaches that the solstices and the equinoxes happen not in the eighth, but in the first degrees of the signs. In this rustic science I follow Fastus of Eudoxus and Meton and the ancient astronomers, which fits the public festivals".

In the 3rd Century AD, Achilles Tatius observed:

"Some place the tropics in the beginning, others about the eighth degree, others about the twelfth and others about the fifteenth".

In 238 A.D. Censorius made a similar observation, promoting the Hellenistic zodiac, based on the 8th degree of Aries... and the list goes on. It's remarkable that even back then, Astrology was considered ancient, and people were reluctant to take up anything new and unproven.

A European Blunder

Fagan demonstrates that in these charts, the fiducial point, or ayanamsha, changes over time, following the rate of precession, and is fairly consistent. Over the centuries, ancient astrologers, using dead reckoning IE direct observation, noted the positions of the planets, relative to the stars.

Nowhere in the charts, prior to Hipparchus, is there any mention of an adjustment made, with respect to the position of the vernal point in the northern hemisphere. They simply reported what they saw - something which changes 1 degree every 72 years. Earlier observers found the vernal point at 12 Aries, and a few hundred years later, observers found it at 8 Aries.

In other words, nowhere in these early horoscopes are Tropical positions derived or described: only the actual or apparent positions are used. These calculations are invariably based on the sidereal or star-based zodiac, whose origin is lost in the sands of antiquity. Fagan cites the 1947 work Babylonianische Planetenrechnum Eudemus, written by Van der Waerden, and another by Professor Otto Neugerbauer, which discuss a series of Egyptian planetary texts, written on papyrus, in which the vernal point changes according to the date of the document: 4 degrees of Aries from 17 BC to 11 AD, 2 degrees Aries from 71 to 132 AD, etc.

The early Greeks, when it came to the notion of precession, were apparently left in the dark by their Egyptian and Babylonian tutors - who may have been reluctant to share all their secrets, gathered over aeons of careful observation. Not knowing that the equinoxes move backwards slowly over time, the Greeks wrongly supposed that the equinoxes were frozen in Sphere VIII - the Realm of the Fixed Stars (see diagram above). When Hipparchus proposed 0 Aries, as if to resolve the dispute, his mistaken notion was picked up by Ptolemy, whose books endured, while the original texts fell out of print.

By the time Astrology was reintroduced into Europe, the blunder was over 1,000 years old: the Tropical Zodiac was off by over 15 degrees, more than half a sign. Astrologers of the European tradition have been afflicted by this colossal error, ever since. In tradition-upholding India, this accident never happened: the original nirayana (sidereal) tradition - which goes back to the Babylonians and Egyptians, was maintained intact.

Spica: The Resting Place of the Celestial Barge

According to Fagan, ancient astronomers used several "normal" stars to frame the zodiac: these stars are very bright, found near the equator, and move very slowly over time. Regulus, the Heart of the Lion, marked 5 degrees Leo. Antares (the "rival of Mars") marks 15 degrees of Scorpio, and the Pleiades marked 5 degrees of Taurus. Perhaps the most important is Alpha Tauri or Aldebaran, which marked the "bull's eye" at 15 degrees of Taurus. Its Arabic name al dabaran means "the follower": it follows the Pleiades, whose Japanese name is Subaru.

Another star of vital interest to the ancients, is Alpha Virginis, called Spica by European astronomers. It is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Virgo is the none other than the old Egyptian goddess Isis, the Divine Mother, who corresponds to the Virgin Mary. As Mother of God, she holds the baby Jesus on her lap. Goddess of the Harvest, she was known as Ceres to the Romans. Ceres held a sheaf or spike of grain or cereal in her hand: hence the name Spica

The Egyptian name for Spica is mnit or Menyet. It means "mooring peg" - from the root mn or Men, meaning "to rest", "to be secure", "to be immovable" as in death. The Egyptians referred to the West as Amentet, the place of death or final rest, the hidden place, and the portal to the Underworld.

The boats of the planetary gods, having crossed the Nile in the Skies (as above, so below), came to rest at the end of the zodiac. Thus, Spica indicates the end of the cycle, the 29th degree of the constellation Virgo. It is called Alpha Virginis, because it is the brightest star in that constellation. Fagan points out that once we place Spica at 29 Virgo, the "normal" stars fall exactly in their rightful places, and the Bull's Eye hits the "Bull's Eye" precisely.

Night and Day

When the ancients measured the stars and the planets, they did so at night - and the Moon was their principle timekeeper. For that reason, the ancient calendars are Lunar, and start in the Autumn rather than the Spring. For the same reason, the Jewish Sabbath commences at sun set, rather than sun-rise: Sunset is when the first stars come up over the Eastern horizon, as the Sun sets in the west: now we can tell what time it is. To the ancients, the year started when the stars of Aries became visible, not when the Sun entered Aries. Again, the Europeans got it backwards.

Because we can't see any stars during the day, it's hard for a sky-watcher to tell when the Sun enters anything. That's one reason why the old calendars are Lunar, and the really ancient calendars are... Stellar ! Much of the ancient knowledge that is lost to us today, may have to do with the influences and meanings of the stars. (The Edgar Cayce readings cover some of this information, but more on that at another time).

Which Which is Which ?

The Sanskrit name for Spica is Chitraa ("the pearl"). Cyril Fagan points out that while the Indian Siddhanta texts use the longitude of Spica to denote 0 Libra, the Egyptians considered it to denote the end of their Zodiac, the 29th or final degree of Virgo. In contrast to this Indian zodiac, Fagan called the Babylonian and Egyptian version the "Hypsomatic" zodiac.

Actually, the ancient Egyptians used several calendars: some for civil purposes, others for ceremonial undertakings. Their reliance on the heliacal rising of Sirius, the "dog star" of summer, is well-known. For the laying out of their temples, as far back as the 3rd millennium BC, they used another calendar, referred to as "The Calendar of the Ancients" - which was based on... Spica.

The Calendar of the Ancients

If the Egyptians called it "ancient" back in 3000 BC, it must have been very ancient ! The Calendar of the Ancients is based on Spica, or Alpha Virginis. In that calendar, Spica marks the end of Virgo, not the beginning of Libra. A difference of 1 degree: doesn't sound like much, until you use a technique which requires exact timing and positions. In that case, your predictions might be off by a year, or even more, depending on the method in question. For those born "on the cusp", or with planets at the end of beginning of a sign, it also has a meaning: is the planet in "old age" (late degree), or "infant stage" (early degree) or is it really at 0 degrees of its sign ? Since the strength of a planet is influenced by its positional strength or Sthana Bala, the difference of one degree can tell us a lot.

So which ayanamsha is right: the Egyptian/Babylonian Hypsomatic one - or the Indian ? This is a mystery. The Egyptian/Babylonian version makes perfect sense and tallies best with the ancient star tables. Even so, most Indian astrologers prefer the Spica zodiac, called the Chitraa Paksha Ayanamsha, and it's the official ayanamsha of the Indian Government, used throughout the country for the coordination of holidays and festivals - many of which are based on heavenly cycles.

Before there was a standard, different regions around the nation published their own almanacs, each with its own variation on the calculation of the ayanamsha - and this resulted in conflicts and confusion concerning dates and times for religious activities. After Indian independence in 1947, a special council of scientists and experts and was convened to make this determination, chaired by N.C Lahiri. His name has been associated with the official ayanamsha ever since, and remains the most popular: it is called the Lahiri Ayanamsha.

Speaking of precise calculations, one of the most popular methods in Indian Astrology for determining future events, depends on the exact zodiacal longitude of the Moon. In fact, the position of the Moon is the sole ingredient needed to calculate the Vimshottari Dasha, or 120-year cycle, which we will discuss in the next article. See you then !

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