Tropical, Sidereal & Constellational Zodiacs:

The Tropical Zodiac has come under considerable criticism primarily because it does not correspond to the material/physical stars and constellations. While this criticism is sometimes made by adherents of the Sidereal Zodiac, they are also subject to criticism based on this criterion because the Sidereal Zodiac is composed of 12 signs of 30 equal degrees and also does not correspond to the material/physical stars and constellations, except as regards its start point and even then there is considerable controversy over the proper Sidereal ayanamsa.

So if one feels that the physical/material stars are the only possible basis for the signs then one must use a Constellational Zodiac, that is a Zodiac where the boundaries of the signs are the same as the boundaries of the physical/material stars and constellations.

Let's develop some of the differences between the Zodiacs in more detail. First, of all we should be clear that contrary to many modern assertions with regard to the foolishness and lack of knowledge of ancient astrologers, that traditional and Hellenistic astrologers were very well aware of the fact that the Tropical Zodiac did not correspond to the physical/material stars and constellations. We can see this in the various lists of fixed stars and their Zodiacal longitude which astrologers knew changed over time due to precession. The choice of the Tropical Zodiac was made in full awareness and despite the fact that it did not correspond to the material/physical stars and constellations.

The key to the attraction of the Tropical Zodiac to ancient astrologers is two fold. First, its orderliness and regularity and secondly, its orientation to the Seasons. The first orderly characteristic of the Tropical Zodiac is that it is composed of 12 equal signs. The medieval Italian astrologer Guido Bonatti says, "But perhaps it might be asked, why the signs are only twelve?...One {reason} that twelve [or the duodenary] is more perfect than practically all other [numbers] not exceeding it...For it arises by the multiplication of the ternary {3} by the quaternary {4}, and the quaternary {4} by the ternary {3}, and the binary {2} by the senary {6}..." Book of Astronomy, Tr II, part 1, ch. 1, Dykes trans, at 27-8.

The importance of the divisibility of the 12 signs of the Zodiac can be seen quite clearly in the Ptolemaic aspects. The sextile being 2 signs, the division of the 12 signs by 6, the square being 3 signs, the division of the 12 signs by 4, the trine being 4 signs, the division of the 12 signs by 3 and the opposition, a division of the 12 signs by 2. An additional example of the orderliness of the 12 signs is that each sign is classified as being of the element of fire, air, water and earth, known as the triplicities and as being that which begins (traditional moveable, modern cardinal signs), that which is in middle (traditional and modern, fixed signs) and that which ends traditional common and modern mutable signs), known as the quadruplicities. Thus each sign has a different combination of triplicity and quadriplicity:
  • Aries - moveable fire
  • Taurus - fixed earth
  • Gemini - common air
  • Cancer - moveable water
  • Leo - fixed fire
  • Virgo - common earth
  • Libra - moveable air
  • Scorpio - fixed water
  • Sagittarius - common fire
  • Capricorn - moveable earth
  • Aquarius - fixed air
  • Pisces - common water
Aries Sagittarius The seasonal orientation of the signs in the Tropical Zodiac is also very important. One reason is because the nature of the signs themselves corresponds to their seasonal attribution. The English astrology William Lilly says,

"Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn are called moveable and Cardinal: moveable, because when the Sun enters into Aries and Libra, the Weather and Season of the Year quickly varies and changes; they are called Cardinal, because when the Sun enters into any of those Signs from that time we denominate the Quarters of the yeer. For from the Sun entering into Aries and Libra the Equinoctial or the Spring and Autumne arise; from the Sun his entrance into Cancer and Capricorn ariseth the Solstice of Summer and Winter.

The Fixed Signs doe in order follow the Equinoctial and Tropicks; and they are called fixed, for that when Sun enters into them, the season of the yeer is fixed, and we doe more evidently perceive either Heat or Cold, Moysture or Drinesse. The fixed Signes are these, Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius.

Common Signes are constitutes between moveable and fixed, and retain a property or nature, pertaking both with the preceding and consequent Sign:"

Christian Astrology,, page 88. We can see many examples of the importance of the seasonal attributions of the signs of the Tropical Zodiac, for example, the exaltations of the planets. The English astrologer William Ramesey says,

Enter we shall here (as in the preceding Chapter) with the Luminaries, and first with the Sun, as being the chief light, and Fons vita, the Fountain of life; the Sun then is said to be in the point of his Exaltation when he is in the 19. degree of Aries, he being then in the highest Northern point of the Ecliptick, by which all things are made to spring and flourish, the heat of weather and the length of days being increased; therefore for the same reason contrary is he said to be in his Fall in Libra, it being the opposite sign in the heavens to Aries, in the which he declineth Southward, by the which the shortness of the days and cold is increased, to the hinderance of the fertility of the earth."

Astrologia Restaurata, page 69. The Tropical Zodiac, therefore has the advantage of being regular and orderly, part of a complex and interrelated system that is itself regular and orderly. Take away the regularity of the 12 signs and substitute 13 irregular signs and the system of aspect is thrown into confusion, the triplicities and quadriplicities are lost and the very meaning of the individual signs is thrown into question. We should also consider the fact that the Tropical Zodiac is highly effective and has been used to make precise and accurate predictions for 2,000 years. It is so highly integrated into Western astrology, even modern psychological astrology, that if one eliminates it, then one must invent from scratch, a new astrology!

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