I was born yea 80 long years ago, September 6, 1942. At the time, the sun was firmly in the constellation of Leo. See the starchart for that date. So my sun sign’s Leo, right? I’m a Leo? Fire sign: A leader, strong, wise, handsome as all getout… (Not to mention androgynous, if nearby Mars and Venus are anything to go by.)
(“In” here is a relative term. You can’t see the stars in daytime, of course, so you just have to trust that’s where the sun is. And “in front of” might be a better descriptor than “in,” since the sun is close by, 8 minutes away as the photon flies. Meanwhile, the light you’ll see from Regulus, Leo’s brightest star, left there, about the time I was born. Coincidence? I think not…)
Nope, apparently I’m not a Leo. Well, shit. According to my horoscope, as now printed in about three-quarters of all daily newspapers in the US, I’m one of those fussy, wimpy, perfectionistic Virgos. Earth sign. Think mud, stick-in-the. But why (I hear you ask) if the sun was in Leo at your birth, why are you a Virgo???
It’s all about precession. Earth’s axis, which you can imagine as an 8000-mile long rod impaling our planet from the South to the North Pole, now points, more or less, to the North Star, Polaris. It wasn’t always this way. Like a spinning top as it slows down, Earth’s axis precesses, pointing to a different part of the night sky, moving in a great circle. Unlike a top, this precession takes quite a while: 26,000 years.
Fun fact: The Greek astronomer Hipparchus figured this out in the 2nd century BC.
So, in Babylonian times, so the story goes, the sun’s (invisible, remember?) apparent motion through the background stars — the ecliptic — was codified into 12 equal segments, each given the name of the relevant constellation. Back then, the sun would have been “in” the constellation Virgo on September 6. This is the tale I’ve been telling for years, any time someone looked pityingly at me when they figured out my sun sign.
But, like all astrology, it’s bullshit. Forget the Babylonians. Or Hipparchus. Or anyone up until 1936. Blame Edward Wigner, a reporter for the New York Post who set out to do an exposé on astrology, but who quickly realized that the real money was to be made from the chumps who believed their lives were ruled by the stars. He was the first one who came up with the idea of printing mini-fortunes under the 12 headings of the 12 ecliptic constellations — and Your Daily Horoscope took off. (Yours for today: “Don’t believe anything you read in LoCO.”)
Actually, before the 12 sun signs (so-called) were harnessed by Wigner, the story goes that, on the birth of Queen Elizabeth’s second daughter, Margaret, on August 21, 1930, an editor at the London Sunday Express was looking for a new hook. In some sort of desperation, he asked a Professional Astrologer (!) to “do the princess’ horoscope and predict her future.” He, one R.H. Naylor, did so, adding a few paragraphs on what lay in store for others born the same week.
You can see where it went from there, to today’s 40 million horoscope readers. By the way, I do love the late Carroll Righter’s disclaimer, which prefaced all his horoscopes. Remember Righter? He advised both Nancy and — when he was president — Ronald Reagan. Shudder. “The stars impel, they don’t compel. What you make of your life depends on you.” Nice out.
(When the NYT lost their astrologer’s copy some years ago, a copy editor quickly filled in, according to the paper’s former editor Nick Williams Sr. “It was a lot better to do that than to answer the telephone the next day.”)
But enough about our individual 12-category lives; no one will remember us in 100 years. Let’s look at the big picture, starting with the Age we’re all in. I saw Hair when it opened in London. Loved it, totally believe we entered the Age of Aquarius in 1967. Forget about those fuddy-duddies at the International Astronomical Union who say we’ll actually go from Pisces to Aquarius around 2600 AD. (I bet they’re all Virgos.) Or some dude who thought we came into the Aquarian Age 600 years ago. Who you gonna believe? Some nerdy, Earth-sign scientists? Or The 5th Dimension? Duh.