The ancient Babylonians looked up at the glittering night stars and saw the shapes they knew from nature and from the myths of Mesopotamian civilization: a lion, a maiden, a scale, a scorpion, a centaur archer, a water goat (?), a water bearer, a pair of fish, twins, a ram, a bull, and a solipsistic crab. For thousands of years, these ancient emblems fascinated the imagination and represented the changing influence of the heavens upon humankind throughout the year. Roman astronomers and calendar makers formally enshrined the twelve symbols as a circle of twelve 30° divisions of celestial longitude: a calendar for the whole year. This zodiac has been with us for a long time. The twelve figures lie at the center of the fun pseudoscience of astrology (which has no rational validity but which is a great way to strike up conversations and analyze the most fascinating subject of our times: the self).
But what if the Babylonians and the Romans got it wrong? There was always some awkward wiggle room in their calculations. Was there a 13th zodiac sign which ancient magi/natural philosophers skipped out of ignorance, fear, or fascination with the number 12? This is the provocative but largely meaningless question posed by NASA in a spectacular announcement of a newly found thirteenth constellation! Well actually they have not so much found this constellation Ophiuchus, as reinstated it in the circle of the night sky as illustrated in the stunning graphic below.
Orpiurchus, “The Snake-bearer” has long been in the heavens—although it is hard to see from northern latitudes–and astrologists and iconographers have flirted with the idea of including him in the classic zodiac (which kind of only works in the northern hemisphere anyway). The snake bearer does have an emotional resonance with Mesopotamian, Greco-Roman, AND Judaeo-Christian cultures, all of which have intense snake-themed myths about knowledge, hubris, and humankind’s uneasy place in the cosmos.
ZodiacBooks.com presents us with an overview of the emotional traits of these new snake carriers as, “spirited, magnetic, impulsive, clever, flamboyant, and at times jealous, power-hungry, and temperamental [people born in this sign] want to heal the world of all ills and bring everyone closer together.” Hmm, it sort of sounds like everyone I know except for my crabby Cancer friend. Obviously shoehorning a whole 13th symbol into the calendar has moved everything around, so here are the new dates, if you are afraid you might actually have some other personality than the one you have always had:
Capricorn: January 20-February 16
Aquarius: February 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-August 10
Leo: August 10-September 16
Virgo: September 16-October 30
Libra: October 30-November 23
Scorpio: November 23-November 29
Ophiuchus: November 29-December 17
Sagittarius: December 17-January 20
Of course a cynical natural scientist might surmise that random patterns of stars (which lie many many light years from each other) have no influence whatsoever on our little lives. NASA, which deals in real science and engineering, but which desperately needs ATTENTION to thrive in our chaotic late-stage democracy says as much on their website. They have essentially slapped a “for novelty purposes only” asterisk on this entire story (AND on astrology). We will see if Orpiurchus becomes a lasting part of the heavens or if he slinks back into dark obscurity like he did in the 1970s (or in this beautiful Rouseeau painting below which has nothing to do with this attention-seeking story). In the meantime, this is a fine opportunity to talk to people about their personalities and their birthdays and about what they want from the world. Whatever his nature, the snake-bearer can thus help us fulfil the true purpose of astrology!