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What is the Zodiac?

by Rebecca Brents

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What is the Zodiac?

The Zodiac is an imaginary belt in the heavens approximately 20 degrees wide, containing the path of the Sun, the Moon and that of the principle Planets in this Solar System with the occasional exception of Pluto.

It is divided into Twelve equal parts or signs, of 30 degrees each across its circumference. Each sign is named for a different constellation contained there ... and these comprise the list of astrological signs: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.

The word Zodiac comes from the same base as the word zoo ... or zoology, denoting things to do with animals. Ancient sky observers and star-gazers examining the star placements in the heavens saw patterns or configurations of creatures and familiar objects outlined in the constellations. (Let's face it, too ... some of these old guys had pretty wild imaginations.)

Over time, they developed stories ... ancient legends and myths ... based on what they saw -- and how it fired their creative fantasies. This history colors some of the ways we use and describe Astrology -- and its incalculable wisdom -- today.

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Ok, so that's the basic idea of the Zodiac.
Need something else, something more?

So, that's the basic definition of the Zodiac, & if you got what you came for, you can stop reading there. But as someone who has loved Astrology & devoted many years of her life to studying & learning it, I'll keep adding stuff here (as I think of it) both to tell you more -- & so I can remember and find it again. My website; my rules. (Most of all, my convenience.) Carry on, if you like. Otherwise, have a good day!!

Lots of this will come in bits & pieces, so if it seems a little haphazard from time to time, well, it's free, it's a work-in-progress, & that's the chance you take. Maybe I'll get back here & organize it better someday. Then again, maybe not. It depends on whatever else I've got going on & whether this is important or not. If it's not high on my priority list for the day, guess which I'll choose -- until it works its way up.

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Back to the Zodiac

Need a little more? Maybe something more technical? Ok, how 'bout this?

A dictionary description of the Zodiac says this is "a belt of the heavens within about 8° either side of the ecliptic, including all apparent positions of the sun, moon, and most familiar planets. It is divided into twelve equal divisions or signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces)." I'll try to explain this more -- or better -- both here & elsewhere.

So, you may stumble over it again, if you prowl around. I talk a lot about the Zodiac & what it contains, & link back to this article -- which is why I'm adding more notes & substance to what I originally wrote when this site was brand new ... 20+ years ago now. I was a lot younger then. In more of a hurry. Life was different then. Different rules. Different priorities. Different intentions.

Only the theme & the lessons were constant. That part always is. So this article will change shape from what I originally wrote on the Zodiac. Keeping up with the times -- & occasionally trying to keep ahead of them.

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Better defining the Zodiac

Here's how Wikipedia describes the Zodiac.

The zodiac is an area of the sky that extends approximately 8° north or south (as measured in celestial latitude) of the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year. The paths of the Moon and visible planets are also within the belt of the zodiac.

In Western astrology, and formerly astronomy, the zodiac is divided into twelve signs, each occupying 30° of celestial longitude and roughly corresponding to the constellations: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

These astrological signs form a celestial coordinate system, or even more specifically an ecliptic coordinate system, which takes the ecliptic as the origin of latitude and the Sun's position at vernal equinox as the origin of longitude.

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WTF does that mean in plain English?

In both astronomy & Astrology, the Zodiac is an imaginary belt around the heavens, a complete circle extending 8 - 9° both north & south of the plane of the ecliptic. What is the ecliptic? It's the circular path the Earth travels in its orbit around the Sun. (In reality, it's not a perfect circle. It's a bit lopsided & a little bit elliptical. But it is virtually circular.)

To visualize the "plane of the ecliptic" imagine this slightly imperfect circle that the Earth travels in its yearly trip around the Sun to be the edge of an old fashioned phonograph record. Now place the Sun in the center of the record ... where the hole exists -- for the spindle to fit through. The Earth orbits around the Sun as the record spins. The record itself is the plane of the ecliptic.

Theoretically & conceptually, this record extends infinitely into space -- way out beyond the path of the Earth itself. All the planets in the Solar System orbit near or on this plane. (And to complicate things, we consider that because the Earth seems stationary to us & that instead the Sun moves, the plane of the ecliptic seems to trace the Sun's annual path through the sky relative to Earth.)

Now, beyond the edge of the record ... out beyond the position of the Earth as it travels is a vertical band, like a wall around the record or an old-fashioned carousel hovering in space -- like the stars in the heavens. (Literally true.) This wall is divided into 12 segments, each painted with a constellation you can actually find in the sky. Each segment represents a sign of the Zodiac -- starting with Aries & ending with Pisces.

All the other Zodiac signs exist side by side to one another in a fixed, predictable sequence -- Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius ... & in the course of a yearly journey, the Sun appears to move through this sequence of constellations, spending about a month in each one.

(Again, it's the Earth that moves, but we perceive it as stationary -- & see the movement as occurring with the Sun. It marks the Sun's apparent annual path.)

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Photographed over the course of a year, it looks like this.

analemma
This is called an Analemma. *

* In astronomy, an analemma is a diagram showing the position of the Sun in the sky as seen from a fixed location on Earth at the same mean solar time, as that position varies over the course of a year.

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Ok, let's try this again. What is the Zodiac?

Ok, I'll take another run at it. In astronomy & Astrology, the Zodiac is a band around the sky reaching 8 - 9° both north & south of the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth's orbit & the Sun's apparent annual path, as I said above. So the Zodiac extends about 20° in all.

This band of the Zodiac contains the orbits of the Moon & our Solar System's principle planets. (Scientists think this is evidence for how the Solar System formed. But that's another essay ... someday.)

This celestial band contains the familiar sequence of the Astrological signs. There are twelve of them, each with its own constellation. Each one occupies about 30° of this circle -- in Astrology. In the sky, the constellations are irregular in both size & shape, & there's an extra one ... Ophiuchus. It's not included in the traditional Zodiac, but every so often everyone gets real upset about it. (Never mind. It doesn't matter.)

The Greeks called this band of star-pictures the Circle of Animals. Zodiakos kyklos. You might notice possible links to our word zoo. There are lots of animal symbols in the Zodiac. In fact every Zodiac sign except Libra has a living creature for an icon. (Ok, one is mythological. But even the Sagittarius centaur was depicted as a living, breathing corporeal creature.)

There are still plenty of constellations symbolized by animals that are not part of the Zodiac. So that's not really a surprise. Anyway, that defines the Zodiac physically. Symbolically, the Zodiac & its signs are the story of creation, the process from inception to completion. Each sign has a role to fill. Understanding yours is a huge step toward understanding your place, your purpose, your life & its meaning.

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Other Astrological Definitions

What Is a Conjunction? ---> Conjunctions are aspects in astrology where the planets or elements involved occupy approximately the same degree and minute of arc in the Zodiac. (In practice, an "orb of aspect" of 8 - 10 degrees is still considered a valid conjunction.)

What is a Horoscope? -- Astrology's Most Essential Tool ---> Sometimes this word is used to designate the forecast or prediction of events based on the alignment of planets in the sky at any given time. As such, it has been seriously abused and twisted by the popularized (and usually meaningless and sappy) "fortune-cookie" versions that appear in newspaper features and other products we all know so well.

The Houses of the Horoscope -- What life areas do your Natal Chart Houses rule? ---> Defining the Departments of Life -- 1st House = Personal presentation, the way you "come across" to the world, things you personally embody, stand for or promote; interests, traits and attitudes that define you; who you tell the world you are

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The Zodiac
From the Blogs, Ezines
and Elsewhere

From EDA The Zodiac ---> Everyday Astrology October 23, 2019 The Zodiac ---> A dictionary description of the Zodiac says this is "a belt of the heavens within about 8° either side of the ecliptic, including all apparent positions of the sun, moon, and most familiar planets. It is divided into twelve equal divisions or signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces)." Well, yes, that's the basics of it, but there's a lot to unpack there. The Zodiac is a concept fundamental to the study of Astrology.

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  astrology  definitions  

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Photo Credits

Photo courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/rcooper/3388110258/
Original images used under this Creative Commons license or this Creative Commons license and modified by added text.


Astrology Tarot New Age Enchanted Spirit Metaphysical Resource Center
logo - river 2 Enchanted Spirit is a non-denominational spiritual center of healing, support, self-improvement, personal guidance, education and writing. We publish multi-media works of New Age thought and information to encourage serenity and growth in individual life choices, advance the universal search for life's meaning, and promote tolerance for positive ideas from all philosophies and religious traditions, believing as we do that truth is where you find it.

Copyright © 1999 - 2021 by Enchanted Spirit and Catweasel Ink.
Contributed works copyright by their respective authors. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction specifically prohibited.

Last updated February 24th, 2021


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