American College of Vedic Astrology News Header

Precession of the Equinox - The Sky is Falling!

By Bill Levacy

Springtime heralds an important event in calendar systems and time keeping. The gears of the year in the zodiac are renewed and adjusted at this time. The zodiac, or bha chakra, is a wheel. Anything round is eternal in its flow. If you want to make the wheel temporal or a timekeeping device, you have to define a starting point on the natural seamlessness of the wheel.

A traditional starting point on the wheel of the zodiac, also called the ecliptic (where eclipses occur), is the spring equinox.

Ancient astronomer priests would look for the Sun rising at a certain spot on the horizon each year (often with the aid of temples, marker stones and the like) to mark the start of the spring season and a new year in the constellation of Aries.
Using  Objects to Marking the Sun at the Seasons

The problem has been that the universe is moving -- astronomically things don’t stay the same for observers on earth. The wheel keeps on turning but it wobbles back a bit. Among other things, the earth is not round and doesn’t spin evenly. A few thousand years ago, at springtime (around 285 CE per the Surya Siddhanta), the Sun rose in both the stars of the constellation of Aries as well as the sign of the zodiac called Aries. The backward spinning of the earth on its axis, called precession, causes the signs of the zodiac to fall out of alignment with the group of starts that approximate the same area of the sky. This misalignment between the symbolic start of the sign of Aries and when the Sun rises in the constellation of Aries is called the ayanamsha.

Comparison of Tropical vs Sidereal (Vedic) Zodiacs at Spring EquinoxTo keep the circle of stars and their associated signs in alignment, Vedic astronomers, make an adjustment of about 24 degrees or days from where the Sun appears to rise at the spring equinox to when the Sun actually rises in the stars of Aries (and within the approximate sign boundaries of Aries).

Following this method, the Sun rises sidereally around April 14, and 24 days after the Sun rises in the equinox.

For many reasons, the Tropical systems, which many people use as astrology in the West, do not compensate for the backward wobble of precession. (The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this short article).Tropicalists say that on about March 21 each year, the Sun rises symbolically in the sign of Aries.

The group of stars in the background where the Sun rises at that time is actually about 6 degrees of Pisces. The Sun does not actually rise in the stars of Aries until around April 14 or so each year, in the Vedic system.

Thus the Western or Tropical System and the Vedic sidereal (stars) system, mark the start of the sign of Aries on different days and they mark the location of the Sun at the equinox
in different signs/constellations. One of the reasons that modern astronomers have trouble with astrology in general is that the Western systems signs and constellations are out of alignment.

This astronomical anomaly makes most astronomers dismiss astrology as an inexact and uninformative study.

Those astronomers who have also investigated sidereal astrology will see that the offset between the location of the signs and stars of the zodiac is compensated and minimized by ayanamsha adjustments for precession.

While the astronomers might not accept astrology still, they find more comfort in knowing the signs and constellations are not that far apart.

To be honest, the astronomers will also reveal that when they want to point their telescopes to certain sections of the sky, they follow the tropical sign system.

The astronomers divide the360 degree dome of the sky into 12 sections.

With the boundaries of the sky marked out by signs, the astronomers can describe the location in which they are observing celestial events.

In summary:
Span of the Constellations in Relationship to Zodiac Signs.
  • The Vedic astronomer/astrologers divide the 360 degree ecliptic into the 12 signs of the zodiac (rashis) and the 27 moon signs (Nakshatras).

  • The wheel of the zodiac moves eastwards starting from a reference point, e.g. Aries.

  • The precession of the equinoxes is the slow westward (backwards) shift of the autumnal and vernal equinoxes along the ecliptic.

  • Vedic astrology, which is sidereal or star based, tries to keep the stars and signs of the Zodiac as closely overlapped as they can, while the earth spins slowly backwards on its axis about 1 degree every 72 years. They try to keep the zodiac “fixed” to the stars they represent.

  • Remember Chicken Little said, “The sky is falling!”—that was about precession. In fact, many cultural myths include precession stories. The Rig Veda is full of precessional images).

  • This point is traditionally calculated as a mark on the ecliptic directly opposite the star Spica called Chitra (Alpha Virginis)

  • You can’t see the stars at Sunrise because the sun is too bright, so astronomers look opposite this point into Chitra (Alpha Virginis) to make their mark.

  • The difference between Meshadi , zero degrees of Aries, and the present equinox is known as ayanamsha or a division of ecliptic. While scholars vary on the exact date, given the 25,800 year cycle for the precession of the equinoxes, the equinox was directly opposite Spica around 285 CE, per the Surya Siddhanta. Other scholars and groups have created other ayanamsha, such as Lahiri created by an Indian government panel, by B.V Raman, Sri Yukteswar and others.

  • Since that time, the Sun rises at the equinox point located around 6 degrees of the stars/sign of Pisces. Vedic astrology and sidereal systems compensate for this precession offset, tropical astrology does not.
Links on Precession:

Go Back    |   Newsletter Archive