Friday, January 14, 2011

The Tropical and Sidereal Zodiac

Despite all the recent activity on the Internet regarding "wrong Zodiac signs" the debate over sidereal versus tropical astrology is actually quite old. It is in fact largely a "east versus west" difference in methodology - European astrologers generally use the tropical system, in which the sign Aries begins on the Vernal Equinox, while Vedic astrologers in India use the sidereal system, in which the signs are determined in reference to the actual location in the sky of the specific constellations.

Here's what started off the latest round of posts and comments:

According to Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, cool or not, it's written in the stars. Star signs were created some 2,000 years ago by tracking where the sun was in the sky each month. However, the moon's gravitational pull has slowly moved the Earth in its axis, creating about a one-month bump in the stars' alignment, reports the Minnesota Star Tribune. Now, during what we think as the month of Pisces, the sun is actually in the sign of Aries.

The new dates would therefore be:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 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-Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23-Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20

All that really happened here is that Kunkle discovered the sidereal Zodiac - the one that's been used in India for many centuries - and presented it as some sort of new revelation. As a matter of fact, if a Vedic astrologer did your chart and you were born at the beginning of May, your Sun sign would indeed come out as Aries rather than Taurus. My Sun is still in Taurus in my Vedic chart, but only because I was born on May 18th at the very end of the sign.

So does this mean Western mystics and magicians should change the dates for the signs? It could be argued, of course, that charts done using the two systems are both accurate but give insight into different factors of personality or destiny. It seems to me, though, that it might be possible to use science to answer this question. To do this, we need to have some idea of how astrology influences personality. We know that there is no scientific evidence for "energy waves" or "gravitational fields" related to astrological influences. So what else might be a possible explanation?

My working hypothesis about astrology is that it is an organic system that evolved over time to explain the influence of natural cycles on the various areas of life that are said to be ruled by particular planets. Modern astrology has moved away from the more predictive Medieval model and in the direction of personality typing. From this standpoint, the clock analogy is fairly obvious. Nobody argues, for example, that human hormonal cycles seems to follow a pattern in which the cycle length is approximately one lunar orbit. It is the significance of longer cycles that is more controversial.

Recent research has found evidence that the solar cycle is important as well - it turns out that the season in which mice are born seems to have some influence on health and personality.

This study, conducted on mice, showed that mice born in the winter showed a "consistent slowing" of their daytime activity. They were also more susceptible to symptoms that we might call "Seasonal Affective Disorder."

Whether or not this can be applied to humans remains to be seen, but it's wiorth noting that the two signs most associated with winter months, Capricorn and Aquarius, are ruled by Saturn under the system that was in use prior to the recent discovery of the outer planets. These "winter traits" certainly sound Saturnine to me. And since the effect is seasonal, this would support the tropical rather than the sidereal model of the signs.

"What is particularly striking about our results is the fact that the imprinting affects both the animal's behavior and the cycling of the neurons in the master biological clock in their brains," said Ciarleglio. This is one of the core principles of astrology: That the position of the planets at the time of your birth (which might be called the "season" of your birth) can actually result in changes in your brain physiology which impact lifelong behavior.

The explanation for this in humans could prove positively prosaic. Depending on the season in which we are born, the first year of our lives will progress differently. Children born in the spring will likely spend much more time outdoors in their early months, for example, while those born in the winter will have to wait until the weather improves. Is it much of a stretch to view astrology as a proto-scientific distillation of how our reactions to those conditions can shape our personalities?

So far research has not been done on birth time, which would relate to the Ascendant, so it's unclear whether or not there is any normal scientific basis to the claims of astrology in that area. But if such research does return positive results, the conclusion that our astrological personalities are largely described by Sun Sign, Moon Sign, and Ascendant starts to look feasible. This model suggests that the time of the year is what we should be looking at for Sun Sign, not where the Sun is in reference to any particular section of the night sky. If you were born in the spring, you were born in the spring - plain and simple.

Testing this hypothesis would be relatively easy - with a large sample we should expect to see greater conformation of personality types to astrological signs in parts of the world where the climate changes the most between summer and winter. Scientists could also compare people who are born in the southern versus the northern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed. The problem with getting this sort of research done has nothing to do with testing methodologies and everything to do with the fact that anyone looking to perform it is going to encounter all sorts of problems securing funding in our current academic environment.

So my advice to anyone who is wondering about this would be to leave your tropical Zodiac sign as is, unless of course you want to visit a Vedic astrologer and see what they come up with for your entire chart.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Magick Microwaves

I seriously hope this question is a joke, because if anyone out there is actually this stupid then my hope for humanity has just been ratcheted down a notch.

Question by Fight for your rights!: If witchcraft is wrong, then what about microwave ovens? Don’t they use magic to heat your food? I know they don’t use flame or electric coils, so the only other alternative is magic.

Here we go! Finally someone online has come forth as the ultimate advocate for the "energy model." Not only is all magick energy, apparently all energy is magick. You know, like the electromagnetic kind.

So magick runs my computer, my car, this blog, and the entire Internet. I'll bet all those skeptics are feeling pretty dumb right about now!

At least the response gives the question it the seriousness it deserves.

Answer by Firey: You’re right. Not to mention the divine non-dairy powdered coffee creamers.

I think this situation is probably the most appropriate one I've ever come across for quoting "The stupid! It burns!"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Romanian Witches and Wizards Now Legit

In an effort to increase its tax rolls the eastern European nation of Romania has declared witchcraft an official legal profession. In Romania income taxes only apply to individuals working in professions defined as such by the government, and up until now sorcery has been practiced under the table - and therefore earnings from it have been tax-free. Needless to say, given the new taxes some magical practitioners are not happy about the change.

Why are people upset that Romania declared witchcraft legal? Apparently people who perform witchcraft services will now have to pay taxes. The government is actually cracking down on tax evasion, and witchcraft is joined by astrology, embalming, valet parking and driving instructors as new groups that must pay taxes. It is not surprising that governments are looking for ways the increase revenue during the poor economy, and declaring certain jobs legal professions seems to be a good way to collect more money.

The legalization of witchcraft has been hotly debated in the region, and many witches have protested. Since Romania declared witchcraft legal, one witch named Bratara has plans to retaliate using black pepper and yeast to cast a spell that will create discord in the government. If she is successful, will Romania change the new law? It is hard to tell.

Maybe I don't know the Romanian government as well as this particular individual, but my immediate thought is that if this is how Romanian witches deal with laws they don't like it's amazing that they get paid for anything at all. When you want a government to change a law the most efficient and effective magical approach is to cast a spell with the intent of getting the particular law changed or repealed. Don't worry about the means - just cast with the final result in mind.

Lashing out at lawmakers and the government in general is going to become counterproductive very quickly because the government nedds to be operating efficiently in order to repeal the law once your spell is set in motion. You might be able to get some mileage out of a spell causing confusion in the agency that collects the taxes, but that still would only be temporary. It's kind of like casting a curse on someone who owes you money - how are they supposed to pay you back if bad luck follows them everywhere?

Monday, January 3, 2011

New "Great Disappointment" Scheduled for May

I blogged on this topic awhile back, but now that 2011 is here it seems as good a time as any to revisit it. According to radio evangelist Harold Camping, the long-awaited Rapture that heralds the End of Days as described in Christian scriptures will take place on May 21st of this year. I'm hoping that somewhere in the world a large group of Camping's followers will gather in white robes and spend the day trying to fly. If I can get to wherever that happens to be, I'm totally taping it and putting it up on YouTube.

Camping, 89, believes the Bible essentially functions as a cosmic calendar explaining exactly when various prophecies will be fulfilled.

The retired civil engineer said all his calculations come from close readings of the Bible, but that external events like the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 are signs confirming the date.

"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment," he said.

The doctrine known as the Rapture teaches that believers will be taken up to heaven, while everyone else will remain on earth for a period of torment, concluding with the end of time. Camping believes that will happen in October.

Yes, I know, there are folks who sincerely believe in this movement and I'm making fun of it. But seriously, haven't people figured out by now that trying to predict the end of the world has a really bad track record? William Miller's original Great Disappointment happened in 1844. Obviously he was off by a lot, since we're still here over 150 years later. Over that period various religious groups have offered up their own predictions which have come and gone. Scanning the history of these predictions is like watching Bullwinkle Moose try to pull a rabbit out of his hat. "This time, for sure!"

The belief that Christ will return to earth and bring an end to history has been a basic element of Christian belief since the first century. The Book of Revelation, which comes last in the New Testament, describes this conclusion in vivid language that has inspired Christians for centuries.

But few churches are willing to set a date for the end of the world, heeding Jesus' words in the gospels of Mark and Matthew that no one can know the day or hour it will happen. Predictions like Camping's, though, aren't new. One of the most famous in history was by the Baptist leader William Miller, who predicted the end for Oct. 22, 1844, which came to be known as the Great Disappointment among his followers, some of who subsequently founded the Seventh Day Adventist church.

"In the U.S., there is still a significant population, mostly Protestant, who look at the Bible as kind of a puzzle, and the puzzle is God's word and it's predicting when the end times will come," said Catherine Wessinger, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who studies millennialism, the belief in pending apocalypse.

Even ignoring that the whole idea of the Rapture pretty much originated with Miller in the 19th century and is not well-supported in the Bible, shouldn't it be clear by now that making these sorts of predictions is just a bad idea? Either you're right, in which case the world just ends, or you're wrong and are left with a bunch of angry followers. And let's face it, the predictions are always wrong. Except this time, insist believers - like they always do.

Past predictions that failed to come true don't have any bearing on the current calculation, believers maintain.

"It would be like telling the Wright Brothers that every other attempt to fly has failed, so you shouldn't even try," said Chris McCann, who works with eBible Fellowship, one of the groups spreading the message.

Unless, of course, the Wright Brothers had been using the wrong approach all along, like trying to build an airplane out of cement or something ridiculous like that.

As a Thelemite, my interpretation of the "apocalypse" is quite different from that of just about any Christian group, and even among Christians there is considerable debate. I would put forth that interpreting the Bible as some sort of calendar has been proven wrong again and again, whenever some new Bible scholar emerges with their own estimate of the date. That suggests to me that an alternate interpretation of the events described in the Revelation must be in order.