Imaginary belt in the celestial sphere, extending about 8° on either side of the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun among the stars.
The width of the zodiac was determined originally so as to include the orbits of the Sun and Moon and of the five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) that were known to the people of ancient times.
The zodiac is divided into 12 sections of 30° each, which are called the signs of the zodiac. Starting with the vernal equinox and then proceeding eastward along the ecliptic, each of the divisions is named for the constellation situated within its limits in the 2nd century BC.
The names of the zodiacal signs are Aries, the Ram; Taurus, the Bull; Gemini, the Twins; Cancer, the Crab; Leo, the Lion; Virgo, the Virgin; Libra, the Balance; Scorpio, the Scorpion; Sagittarius, the Archer; Capricornus, the Goat; Aquarius, the Water Bearer; and Pisces, the Fishes.
Because of the precession of the equinoxes about the ecliptic, a 26,000-year cycle, the first point of Aries retrogrades about 1° in 70 years, so that the sign Aries today lies in the constellation Pisces. In about 24,000 years, when the retrogression will have completed the entire circuit of 360°, the zodiacal signs and constellations will again coincide.
The characters used in astrology to indicate the 12 signs represent natural objects, but they have also a hieroglyphic or esoteric meaning that has been lost. The figure of Aries represents the head and horns of a ram; that of Taurus, the head and horns of a bull; that of Leo, the head and mane of a lion; that of Gemini, two persons standing together; and so on. The physical or astronomical reasons for the implementation of these figures have been explained in great detail by Abbé Pluche in his Histoire du Ciel (1739–41), and Charles F. Dupuis, in his Abrégé de l’Origine de tous les Cultes (1798), has endeavored to establish the principles of an astro-mythology, by tracing the progress of the moon through the 12 signs in a series of adventures he compares with the wanderings of Isis.
Astrology appears to be one of the most ancient of the surviving occult sciences, and evidence of a highly sophisticated system in Babylonian and Egyptian cultures has survived.
Popular astrology is concerned with the reading of a horoscope chart cast for the moment of birth in some cases complex methods of progressing the planets of the birth chart enable the astrologer to predict the future for the person for whom the chart was cast.
The chart is interpreted in terms of the influence of the zodiacal signs and the various different powers which the planets possess in these signs. A variety of different house systems is linked with interpreting the directions in the person's life in which planetary and other influences will manifest themselves.
The planetary effects are not considered only in terms of zodiacal placing (on the basis that Mars in Leo is different from Mars in Cancer, for example), but also in terms of the angles which they may or may not hold to each other; this realm of astrology is the study of aspects.
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