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Ophiuchus, Where Art Thou?

Perhaps the first question to ask is, where did this constellation go, and why do we who rely on the tropical zodiac ignore it?

The answer makes sense only in the West: we prefer simplicity, so we elide almost all difficulties, complications, and anything that does not fit into a simple equation, and end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. When it was decided that there should be an even 12 signs in an even 360 degree zodiac, Ophiuchus was left behind, since he doesn’t fit into that even scheme of even circles all flowing seamlessly into the next year, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, until the end of time.

Asklepios, transformed into Ophiuchus, with his serpent, Serpens

There are so many problems with this concept, mathematically speaking, it’s not even funny, but the real problem, in my opinion, is that we go along with this because it’s easier than doing the math. Or the research, for that matter. The simple fact is that Ophiuchus is gone because including him complicates everything. So what? Would our brains explode if we had to deal with a sign that was only 20 days long, by current reckoning?

And what would happen if the zodiac had the audacity to change from month to month, or year to year? Wait. I get it. The already nervous types who like to know what’s going to happen would implode from inner anxiety. Okay. Well, once you accept that basic premise, you understand why the sidereal zodiac doesn’t work for tropicalists. Only then can you move into a discussion of what we’re missing by shoving Ophiuchus to the back of the zodiacal closet, where he’s gathering dust.

Okay. Let me take a deep breath before I go off the deep end.

Take a look at this while I compose myself. It’s very pretty, not to mention inspiring, and reminds me why I love the stars, and you can click on the link and define stars in the night sky. Cool.

Anyway, in mythology, Ophiuchus was known originally as Asklepios, and the fact that we have eliminated this constellation associated with healers, medicine, and restoring the dead to life, and replaced its energy with a wandering asteroid known as Chiron, is rather vexing. We already had this energy represented in the heavens, so why did we feel the need to go find some vagrant piece of rock and give it those same qualities? These are my thoughts as I do my research, but maybe I’m missing some larger purpose and higher rationale.

Asklepios, a child of Apollo, was raised by Chiron (Kheiron), one of the Centaurs, after Asklepios’ mother died in labor:

The Kentauros was a great teacher who mentored many of the great heroes of myth including Jason, Peleus, Asklepios, Aristaios and Akhilleus. Eventually, however, he passed away from the earth, after accidentally being wounded by Herakles with an arrow coated in Hydra-venom. The wound was incurable, and unbearably painful, so Kheiron voluntarily relinquished his immortality and died. However, instead of being consigned to Haides, he was given a place amongst the stars by Zeus as the constellation Saggitarius or Centaurus.

Kheiron’s name was derived from the Greek word for hand (kheir), which also meant “skilled with the hands.” The name was also closely associated in myth with kheirourgosor (surgeon). In Athenian vase painting, Kheiron was depicted with the full body of a man, from head to foot, clothed in chiton and boots, with a horse-body attached to the human rump. The image probably reflected his appearance in Greek drama, where costume-limitations reduced his centaurine-form somewhat. By contrast the other Kentauroi, who do not appear in Athenian drama, were depicted unclothed with fully equine forms below the waist.

Now, as for the constellation itself, it is made up of Asklepios-turned-into-Ophiuchus and his snake, Serpens:

As Asclepius contemplated the body of Glaucus, a snake slithered towards it. He killed the snake with his staff; then another snake came along with a[n] herb in its mouth and placed it on the body of the dead snake, which magically returned to life. Asclepios took the same herb and laid it on the body of Glaucus, who too was magically resurrected. Because of this incident, Ophiuchus is shown in the sky holding a snake, which became the symbol of healing from the fact that snakes shed their skin every year and are thus seemingly reborn.

Once Asklepios became associated with the snake, he was transformed in the heavens into Ophiuchus, meaning ‘snake-holder’ in Greek. The constellation shows a snake, Serpens, with its head and tail divided by Asklepios himself:

The sun usually passes through Ophiuchus between November 30th and December 17th, but these dates might vary (as it does each time the sun ingresses into any sign. Always check your ephemeris to be certain where the planets are, and when they enter a sign, because it varies from year to year). Take a look at these blog entries: Asklepios, The Forgotten Healer, The Great Tropical-Sidereal Debate, and Where Constellations Come From, for more background on this subject.

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6 thoughts on “Ophiuchus, Where Art Thou?

    • I will update the post with the current dates, but it changes from time to time, as do all the signs in the zodiac, actually. It’s a convention that we rely on fixed dates, but you should always check an ephemeris to find out when the actual dates for any ingression of a planet into sign occur.

  1. I believe a much more salient understanding of Ophiuchus will be found outside of the centuries-old, fairly stale greco-roman symbology. I would highly suggest noticing that Ophiuchus and its serpents are very close to and point directly at The Galactic Center, where the heart of our galaxy and mayan predictions for our future lie. There are enormously rich interpretations to be found by integrating south american, egyptian, hindu, taoist, etc., understandings of the meanings of these symbols.
    Your post is useful as a starting point and orienting folks to their native cultural understanding of the heavens. A panoramic lens is what we all need to be using in our current, global situation – which is exactly why Ophiuchus has appeared as a hot topic at the moment.
    Thanks!!

    • Interpreting Ophiuchus (or any constellation) is based on the values of the era in which the constellation is/was named. Interpreting Ophiuchus “accurately” will always be an illusion. It is what we say it is; nothing more, nothing less. Constellations are 3-D illusions, and our need to label them and anthropomorphise them provides us endless hours of amusement, but we still haven’t found a cure for the common cold.

      I cannot see sense in romanticising constellations, which were never meant to be “the” zodiacal belt. The zodiacal belt was given its own, fixed interpretive meaning, yet because that fact seems to be consistently forgotten, we end up with these sorts of conversations. Best thing that can be done, it seems to me, is to educate the masses. All one has to do is look up “zodiac belt” in Wiki, and they’d find the distinctions between that fixed band and the actual constellations.

  2. I agree with you that Ophiuchus is another constellation, not a zodiacal sign. As you point out, it does not lie in the ecliptic.
    I do, however, think you may need to review the fact that our first astronomers and astrologers came from mesopotamia and their original names appear in arabic, not greek or latin; thus my suggestion for a wider search for this constellation’s meaning than just the one currently being offered in the popular media, such as wiki.
    I don’t get colds since I started with chinese medicine 20 years ago.

    • Yes, that’s a very good point. I have another blog entry about how constellations were named, and it deals specifically with Mesopotamian lore. Ophiuchus is but one of many constellations, of interest to me personally because of its connection with the Ancient Greeks.

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