Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sagittarius or Serpentarius?

The introduction of a new zodiac sign is confusing those who still believe in astrology and horoscopes, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Zodiac horoscopes are nothing but superstition, though an ancient one that has survived down the ages. They are not scientific,” Somaya Saad, a professor at the Academy of Science and Technology and the National Research Centre in Cairo, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“I am an astronomer, not an astrologer. Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences, and the study of the stars, the planets and the celestial forces has nothing to do with whether there are 12 or 13 signs of the Zodiac.”

She added, “I was once on a television programme with an astrologer who believed in the Zodiac, and I told him point blank that he was talking rubbish. I am supposed to be an Aquarius, but I am very different from other Aquarians I know. I believe that this is all just make believe.”

“I study galaxies, comets, asteroids and planets, and I do not believe in superstitious astrology or in Zodiac horoscopes. I study the skies like the ancient Egyptians did — not from a religious viewpoint, but from a scientific perspective. Astronomy today is oriented towards the development of computer and analytical models in a scientific fashion.”

Saad believes that many people resort to astrology today, however, and adds that though it is “mainly a women’s belief” many men also consult astrologers.

“I know of politicians and businessmen who consult them to find out what is the best time for them to travel or to conduct a business deal. But even though some people may be gifted with the art of foreseeing the future, I do not believe this is based on scientific reasoning. Many Egyptians attach importance to astronomical events, but not for scientific reasons.

“Astrology is based on the premise that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world.

But in ancient Egypt the priests were astronomers, not astrologers.”

In Hebrew, astrology is called hokmat ha-nissayon, “the wisdom of prognostication,” as distinct from hokmat ha-hizzayon, “the wisdom of star-seeing”, or astronomy. As a rule, the monotheistic religions are dismissive of astrology and of astrologers who pretend to know the fate of humanity. But many Muslims, Christians and Jews still believe in astrology and the zodiac.

Antiquarians also believe that it worth keeping the words of the ancient astrologers in mind. The most popular form of astrological belief is the selection of propitious days. Astrologer Ashraf Fares concurs with Saad that religious and social conventions do not necessarily approve of the concept of the zodiac.

I am convinced of its authenticity,” he says, but he still rejects moves to introduce a new sign, Ophiuchus. The move has arisen because the sign of Scorpio has been relegated to seven days, and most ancient solar calendars have 13 as opposed to 12 months.

Numerous astrologers have welcomed the new sign, however. Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn are the most concerned by the implications of the new calendar, but other signs are also implicated.

My own sign, Pisces, for instance, has changed. I myself am still a Piscean, but my late mother and aunt, who were Pisces, are now designated as Aquarians. My sister and my son were considered Cancer, but now, according to the redefined 13-sign calendar, are designated as Gemini.

Many people in Egypt and elsewhere are confused by this new designation. “I hate Sagittarius. I still consider myself a Capricorn,” said one of my colleagues.

But why do many people identify with their zodiac sign? It seems to be part of their character. Many people resent being designated as a sign that they dislike. Many Gemini friends who are now considered Taurus hate it.

Some Gemini friends who are now considered Taurus, though, love it. Ophiuchus, the new sign, supposedly represents unity. Its people are spirited, magnetic, impulsive and clever.

Ophiuchus, or “the Serpent Bearer,” is also the 13th sign of the Jewish Mazzaroth. In Yiddish tradition, the term mazalot came to be used in the sense of “astrology” from mazel tov, meaning “good luck.”

It dates back to when the Hebrews were exiled en masse to Babylon in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, in a history recounted in the books of the Old Testament. Indeed, the word mazalot may be related to the ancient Assyrian manzaltu, or “station”. Ophiuchus is used in the signs of the tropical zodiac and is identified with the healer Asclepius, the son of Apollo, according to Greek mythology.

Even though Jewish tradition, like the other monotheistic religions, including Christianity and Islam, eschew divination and the astrological constellations, the belief persists among believers. The biblical King Solomon was believed to be a great astrologer, and the Qur’an confirms this legacy.

“You shall not practice divination or soothsaying,” according to the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Yet soothsayers and fortune-tellers continue to exist. Ophiuchus, depicted as a man grasping a serpent, was formerly referred to as Serpentarius. The people born into this sign have a special affinity with serpents and especially with Zawinder, a mythological monster.

Despite the injunctions against it, astrology still flourishes. “Away with your astrology, for Israel there is no mazal” (“luck”; literally “planet” or “constellation”), admonished the ancient Hebrew priests who warned that individual Jews may not consult an astrologer.

“They gaze and know not at what they gaze at, they ponder and know not what they ponder,” the Jewish scripture in the Talmud says as far as divination is concerned. When the ancient Hebrews were banished to Mesopotamia, they found the ancient Babylonians had 13 constellations, but the Hebrew astrologers insisted on only 12, so they discarded Ophiuchus altogether.

The zodiac signs have long been changed for the strangest of reasons. Libra did not exist until the Romans introduced it as “the balance” during the days of Julius Caesar.

According to Babylonian and Jewish astrologers, Ophiuchus once represented femininity, and it is interesting that in contemporary Egyptian Arabic, Ophiuchus is referred to as Hawaa, or Eve.

Hence, Ophiuchus need not be binding even today, since the zodiac signs change according to the ideology of the day. Eve was banished because, in ancient times, women had second-class status. It appears that in this day and age Eve is back with a vengeance.

A new sign in the zodiac

Following the proposed revision, the dates of the signs of the zodiac have been changed and a 13th sign, Ophiuchus, added:

Capricorn: 20 January-16 February
Aquarius: 16 February-11 March
Pisces: 11 March-18 April
Aries: 18 April-13 May
Taurus: 13 May-21 June
Gemini: 21 June-20 July
Cancer: 20 July-10 August
Leo: 10 August-16 September
Virgo: 16 September-30 October
Libra: 30 October-23 November
Scorpio: 23-29 November
Ophiuchus: 29 November-17 December
Sagittarius: 17 December-20 January

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