Are there really 13 signs in the zodiac now? Do we all need to get our astrological charts redone?
Relax — it’s still only 12. But you can cast a healing spell with Ophiuchus, the so-called «13th sign», which is actually a constellation that represents Asclepius, the God of medicine.
Setting the zodiac straight
The story that there are suddenly 13 signs, rather than 12, is one of those viral half-truths the Internet breeds. Somehow a college astronomy teacher’s routine reply to a local newspaper reporter’s routine question about astrology got picked up and rapidly re-circulated, then breathlessly reported by the national media as if it were breaking news.
Trouble is, asking an orthodox astronomer for the facts about astrology is like asking a fundamentalist Christian for the facts about Wicca. Trained to view Nature «objectively» as something altogether separate from Man, most astronomers aggressively reject the interconnected, participatory, «as-without-so-within» universe that astrology reveals. The claim that there should be 13 signs because there are actually 13 constellations along the ecliptic (the Sun’s apparent annual path through the sky) is a timeworn tactic astronomers use to attack astrology.
The truth is, however, that there are only 12 signs because the «tropical» zodiac most astrologers use — the same zodiac you see in the newspaper sun-sign columns — is based on the seasons, not the stars. The Sun always enters the sign Aries on the spring equinox, around March 21; three months and three signs later, it always enters the sign Cancer on the summer solstice, around June 21; and so on, season by season, around the wheel of the year. A genuinely impartial scientist should recognize this 12-fold cycle as a natural harmonic resonance of the Earth’s orbit, reinforced by the Moon’s approximately 12 lunations per year — in other words, a standing-wave in space-time.
In the tropical zodiac, it doesn’t matter what stars the Sun appears to pass in front of as it enters Aries or any other sign, and it doesn’t matter if those stars appear to change position over thousands of years (as they do, thanks to a phenomenon called the «precession of the equinoxes»). The astrological meanings of the signs are based on natural factors that have everything to do with the seasons, the Moon, the Sun, and the other planets orbiting alongside us in our local solar system — but that have nothing to do with the far-off stars, or with those manmade stellar groupings called constellations, which coincided with the signs back when the Greeks devised them but have been steadily slipping apart from their zodiacal namesakes ever since.
Stars, Moon, and magic
That said, however, there is a place in astrology for various «sidereal» zodiacs, or signs that are based on stars and constellations rather than seasons. When you investigate how astrologers in India or ancient and medieval Europe traditionally have used such zodiacs, you find that they tended to emphasize the Moon’s passage in front of particular stars and constellations much more than the Sun’s. Hindu astrology is sidereal because it is fundamentally based on 27 or 28 «nakshatras,» or «mansions of the Moon» as they are picturesquely called in the West. These relate to the Moon’s 27.3-day orbit around the Earth (not to be confused with the 29.5-day cycle from new moon to new moon that is the origin of our 12 calendar months), and they play a more critical role in practical Hindu astrology than the 12-sign zodiac.
In the West and, to an extent, in India, these zodiacs of the Moon and stars are, naturally enough, strongly associated with magic and spells. (See «The Franklin’s Tale» in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales for one colorful medieval example.)
Asclepius Ophiuchus, the Serpent-bearing healer
As a Witch, I can vouch for a goodly magical use for the «13th sign». Ophiuchus, which means «the Serpent-bearer,» is a representation of Asclepius, the ancient Greek and Roman God of Healing. He holds a serpent because He would often appear in the form of a serpent to sick people in a dream; and to this day, His serpent-entwined staff, or «caduceus,» is the standard symbol for medicine. Traditionally, newly graduated doctors swear the Hippocratic oath before Asclepius.
Lady Passion’s and my experiments have shown that if you have a difficult medical problem and want to receive a dream in which Asclepius comes to you and either diagnoses your ailment or heals it outright — a practice the ancients called «dream incubation» — a good time to pray to Him is while the Moon is passing in front of Ophiuchus. This would be when the Moon is at or between 7 and 26 degrees of Sagittarius in the conventional, tropical zodiac (consult any astrological calendar).
We’ve found this spell to be just as effective and helpful as it was when the Greeks first portrayed the God of physicians in the sky. This may be the only Doctor Who still makes house calls! Complete instructions for the spell, including a traditional invocation to Asclepius you can recite, are given in our The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells for Modern Problems.