The Ecliptic and Nothing Else?

First published in The Other Dimension, the NCGR Declination SIG Journal, Volume 13 No. 2

Do most of us modern-day astrologers have an over-investment in the ecliptic? As important as this system is to us (which is clear because the chart wheel is based on the ecliptic), focusing solely on the ecliptic leads directly to the exclusion of other forms of measurement such as declination, right ascension and celestial latitude. This results in a misunderstanding not only of the chart but also of basic celestial mechanics.

An easy way to demonstrate this is through the use of fixed stars. There are currently two different systems in use for showing the location of the fixed stars, and each system has its proponents. One is the method used by Bernadette Brady, whereby the location of the stars is defined by their location along the horizon or the meridian. This system was developed in antiquity and uses parans (stars and planets rising, setting, culminating or anti-culminating at the same time) extensively. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the method I prefer because it more closely matches what I see in the sky!

The second method is used by fixed star maven Diana Rosenberg, whereby each star is projected onto the ecliptic. This system was invented by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE in order to create a base measurement of stars which would then permit future astronomers/astrologers to track precession over time.1

This system is familiar of course, because we measure the planets by projecting them onto the ecliptic. It makes sense to do so for the planets since they are so close to the apparent path of the sun. Many stars, however, are nowhere near the ecliptic. So it can create some very odd situations when looking only at a list of fixed stars and their positions in celestial longitude. The list will not match what you see in the sky.

It is not enough to simply look at the ecliptic position of a star. One must also look at the declination and other forms of measurement. Polaris is a good example.

As we all probably know, Polaris is the North Star, the one around which all other stars revolve. It is very north in the sky, far away from the ecliptic. However, when projected at a right angle onto the ecliptic – the accepted manner of listing stars in celestial longitude — the position reads approximately 28 Gemini 17 (in our current era). If you were simply looking at a list of stars along the ecliptic, Polaris would be right next to Betelgeuse, a prominent star in the constellation Orion, which is visible in the southern sky here in North America, at 28 Gemini 28. Now, these two stars are very far apart in the night sky, but the ecliptic list makes it seem as if they are right next to each other, the way two planets would appear if they were close together on the ecliptic.

However, this is clearly not the case. One must consider other forms of measurement rather than simply the ecliptic. Polaris has 89 North Declination, while Betelgeuse is only 07 North Declination. That is a huge 80-degree-plus difference in the sky. In celestial latitude—that is, how far north or south of the ecliptic a body is located—Polaris has 66 North Celestial Latitude, while Betelgeuse has 16 South Celestial Latitude, again reflecting a huge locational separation. However, from what I’ve seen, these additional measurements are rarely taken into consideration by most people when interpreting a fixed star.

That having been said, we still must admire both of these ladies (Brady and Rosenberg) for their extensive work on fixed stars, which has added immeasurably to our understanding. Their research into the meanings of the fixed stars is legendary!

And my sincere hope is that more astrologers will begin to use declination and others forms of measurement in addition to the ecliptic.

1 Brady, Bernadette. Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars, p. 10: “Ptolemy’s method was simple. He first developed an instrument which would enable him to make the measurements needed. He found the poles of the ecliptic and then he projected every star onto the ecliptic via the lines of longitude from those poles. The point where the projected star cut the ecliptic was carefully measured, as well as the star’s latitude north or south of the ecliptic.”