The Zodiac: which is the first sign?

The twelve signs of the zodiac have been with us since ancient times. They were known not just to the Greeks, but also to the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Hebrews.

The signs are ordered beginning with Aries (The Ram) and ending with Pisces (The fishes). Why?

These twelve constellations lie on the ecliptic, the path that the sign appears to follow through space as viewed from the earth. If you imagine the solar system as a disc, then the zodiacal constellations lie in the same plane, distributed around the rim. The first sign is the sign that the sun is in at the spring or vernal equinox (around March 20th).

Now the earth’s axis is not at right angles to the plane of the solar system, but at an angle, giving rise to our seasons. However, like a wobbling spinning top, the direction in which this points is slowly changing. The angle remains the same, but the direction wobbles round in a circle, taking approximately 26,000 years to complete a rotation. 13,000 years from today, our winter will be summer because the earth will be pointing the other way. Thought of another way, the place on the earth’s orbit where it is, for instance, spring equinox, is moving round the sun in a cycle of 26,000 years.

Astronomers aren’t interested in the weather, but in the stars. Because the earth is at a slightly different point in its orbit each spring equinox, the sign of the zodiac the sun is in at that point is slowly changing. This they call The precession of the equinoxes. Since there are 12 signs, the sun is in each sign for about 2,160 years. These are referred to as astrological ages.

The age of Aries (the Ram) ended with the death of Jesus (the lamb that was slain). Since then we have been living in the age of Pisces. Right now we are moving into the age of Aquarius. Going back the other way, the age of Taurus, which preceeded the age of Aries, would have begun c. 5000BC. This tells us that the order of the signs was decided somewhere in the period 2000BC – 32AD.

So which is the first sign? Is it even meaningful to talk about a first sign?

In The Witness Of The Stars, Bullinger argues that the first sign is Virgo, which would make the last sign Leo. He sees this suggested by the sphinx, which has the head of a man and the tail of a lion.

These beautiful images, which show the artwork from Hevelius’s Uranographia overlaid on a true astrophoto of the real sky, are from Digital Sky.

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~ by scalambra on February 14, 2011.

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