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The Length of the Ages - an essay on Astrological Signs
by Simon at 10:02 01/09/09 (Blogs::Simon)

This is actually a starting point, but one that I haven't got round to starting for about 15 years :-)

When talking about the Great Year or Precession of the Equinoxes (the length of time it takes the direction of Earth's axis of rotation to revolve once around the sky - 25920 years or so), it's conventional for people then to go on and talk about the length of individual world "Ages" - when the Sun was in a particular sign at the Vernal Equinox - as 2160 years, a twelfth of a Great Year.

It's always been obvious to me that this must be wrong because the zodiac signs are not all the same size - some are small (eg Cancer) and some are large (eg Virgo).

Finally I've had a stab at estimating the correct lengths of the Ages based on the angular size of each of the constellations that lie along the Ecliptic (which is the path the Sun takes through the sky every year).

Here they are:

ConstellationAngular Size
along the Ecliptic
Duration in YearsStart YearShifted Start Year
Leo35° 30'255610880 BC10458 BC
Cancer20° 30'14768324 BC7902 BC
Gemini28°20166848 BC6426 BC
Taurus36° 30'26284832 BC4410 BC
Aries24° 45'17822204 BC1782 BC
Pisces37° 15'2682422 BC0
Aquarius24° 30'17642260 AD2682 AD
Capricornus27° 45'19984024 AD4446 AD
Sagittarius33° 15'23946022 AD6444 AD
Ophiuchus18° 30'13328416 AD8838 AD
Scorpius6° 30'4689748 AD10170 AD
Libra23° 20'168010216 AD10638 AD
Virgo43° 40'314411896 AD12318 AD
Check Total360°25920

I've arranged this table so that the Age of Leo appears first in the list, which corresponds to the right starting point for this Great Year (10880 BC) if we accept that the turning point of Betelgeuse in Orion marks the midpoint.

But I've also shifted forward by 422 years the start year, because my initial choice of Betelgeuse is arbitrary and there are what I feel are strong mythological clues to the Aries/Pisces boundary being tightly associated with Year 0 of the modern western calendar.

The shifting has the effect of moving the Great Year's midpoint forward 422 years as well of course, from 2080 AD to 2582 AD. That would mean the Great Year midpoint marker would not be Betelgeuse but would instead be a line almost exactly straight down the middle of Orion less than half a degree west of Mintaka - which is rather more pleasingly symmetrical.

Naturally, these precise dates are somewhat misleading - the counstellation boundaries I've used are our modern astronomical ones and I believe the ancient astronomers themselves would not have tried to impose a purely mathematical tyranny of precision on precession.

Instead I suspect they would, by watching the sky, anticipate a forthcoming change of the vernal equinox position of the Sun from one sign to the next and begin predicting and watching for exceptional astronomical events (eg sufficiently notable conjunctions) that they would use to signify the moment of change from one World Age to the next.

However flawed my approach, at least I now have a better idea of how the Great Year might have been split up into Astrological Ages based on direct observation, prediction and ritual rather than simply dividing 25920 by 12. It's interested to notice that Scorpius's angular size on the Ecliptic is tiny compared to the other signs. 13th sign Ophiuchus - often described as just encroaching into the Zodiacal band - is much more signficant and yet...

PostScript I keep coming back to the story of Moses telling the Israelites off for worshipping a golden calf (Taurus symbolism) when he's just returned from confirming that the Age of Aries (lamb symbolism) has begun. On my crude figures that should have happened in 1782 BC, putting the biblical exodus back by about 400 years from the conventional dating (though not, it seems, too far from the date of the Hyksos Kings in Egypt).


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