Ophiuchus - The 13th Sign of The Zodiac?

By Karen Pereczes  

As appeared in Prediction magazine. Copyright Karen Pereczes 2005.




Ophiuchus 'The Serpent Bearer' lies between Libra and Sagittarius and is the only constellation on the ecliptic (the apparent path of the sun through the stars) that is not included in our zodiac. Although some would like to see it become the 13th sign, it is a controversial matter that has divided astronomers and astrologers for thousands of years.

The worldwide symbol of healing and medicine depicting snakes coiled around a staff - the caduceus - is associated with Ophiuchus. Because of the snake's ability to shed its skin, it has long represented regeneration, rebirth, and immortality.

Ophiuchus is the only star constellation that it is said was a living person in ancient Egypt, around the 27th century BC. His name was Imhotep - a writer, scholar, priest and skilled healer who contributed to Egyptian astrology and architecture. He designed the Step Pyramid near Memphis. Following his death, he was worshipped by both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

In Greek mythology he was called Aesclepius who, like Christ, was born the son of a God, Apollo, and a mortal woman, Coronis. A centaur, Chiron, raised Aesclepius - teaching him botany, medicine and the art of healing. He became so skilled that he could resurrect the dead, possibly by using the blood or venom of a snake. Only after Aesclepius tried to revive Orion the hunter, bitten by a scorpion, did Hades, the God of the underworld, intervene. He complained to Zeus that if man could become immortal then he would be out of a job, so Zeus sent a thunderbolt to end the life of Aesclepius. He was later set in the heavens - immortalised in the stars.

Temples dedicated to Aesclepius were built throughout Greece, especially near healing springs. After fasting and bathing, the sick would spend the night in a special dream incubation chamber within the temple, where Aesclepius appeared to the patient to offer advice.

From the dawn of humanity, people have looked to the stars in the heavens for guidance. The Babylonians invented astrology over 3,000 years ago. They had a solar-lunar calendar alternating between 12 and 13 months in a year. Because they knew that constellations were of unequal size and prone to change over time, they divided the zodiac into 12 equal parts that would stay constant regardless of where the constellations moved. They didn't include Ophiuchus in their zodiac, although according to their ancient stories there were 13 constellations.

From here, astrology began making its way into ancient Greece, coinciding with the beginning of the first Greek philosophers. Plato (who was interested in both astronomy and astrology) campaigned to include Ophiuchus in their zodiac - but to no avail.  It is this same zodiac, developed around 2000 years ago, that our western astrology is based on today.  

The universe is in a constant state of movement and change. I have always believed that at the time of my birth (June 4th, 1969) the imaginary line from earth, through the sun and out into space, pointed to the constellation Gemini. Although that would have been the case had I been born around 2,600 years ago, I was actually born under the constellation of Taurus. This is because the earth is wobbling as it spins - a phenomenon called precession which is so slow that the earth takes 25,800 years to complete one wobble.

Ophiuchus and Serpens (the serpent) are separate constellations - the head and body of Serpens united by the intervening Ophiuchus - that together have more star clusters than any other, partially dipping into the Milky Way. The brightest star in the head of Ophiuchus bears the ancient Arabic name Ras al Hagus, meaning 'the head of him who holds'. Barnard's Star, a rapidly moving red dwarf and the second closest star to earth at 5.91 light years away, is also found in this constellation. There has been some speculation over the years that it is orbited by a planet the size of Jupiter.

Pluto, the planet of transformation, has been in the constellation of Ophiuchus since 1995, where it is expected to stay for approximately ten years. On November the 13th 2012 there will be a total solar eclipse in Ophiuchus. It is interesting, then, that the ancient Mayans (who, coincidentally, held the number 13 sacred) predicted the 'end of the world as we know it' one month after this, on 22nd  December 2012. During this crucial time of uncertainty on our planet, maybe it would be beneficial to have this medicine-man on our side?

If the zodiac included Ophiuchus, then one person in twenty would be an 'Ophiucan' - though very few of them know it. If you never felt in tune with your sun sign then perhaps you could look at what it might suggest when you use the 13 sign system...


The 13 Constellations:

Capricorn - January 19th to February 15th    

AquariusFebruary 16th to March 11th

Pisces - March 12th to April 18th

Aries - April 19th to May 13th

Taurus -  May 14th to June 19th  

Gemini - June 20th to July 20th

CancerJuly 21st to August  9th

Leo - August 10th to September 15th
VirgoSeptember 16th to October 30th 
Libra - October 31st to November 22nd 
Scorpio - November 23rd to November 29th 
 Ophiuchus - November 30th to December 17th 
Sagittarius - December 18th to January 18th


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