A 13th sign isn’t ‘in the stars’

Garland of Letters, a new-age, incense-burning bookstore on South Street, Philadelphia, has been around for more than 30 years. Its owner, Candace Smith, says worried customers have been dropping by, clamoring for information on their inevitable identity crisis.


“I think if they check in with a professional astrologer they’re going to find out that what astronomers are talking about everyone has known for a long, long time,” she said.

Well, let’s start with an Astronomer. Derrick Pitts is the chief one at the Franklin Institute. He describes what’s at the center of the controversy: precession.

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“Everybody knows what precession is. Everybody has seen it,” he said.  ” When you were a child you played with a top and as the top rotated you noticed that it had the very fast motion around its rotational axis. But you also noticed that it had a slower rotating motion. And that rotational axis sort of described a circle. And as that top slowed down, that circle got larger and larger. Well, that slow circle that you see is the same motion that the earth has which is called precession.”

Precession is an enduring scientific fact, says Pitts. It’s nothing new. This slow spinning gradually changes many things: Which star is the “north star,” for instance. It also changes the constellations against which you see the beginning of a season. Which led to the reported ‘change’ in the zodiac signs, and the ensuing uproar.

“I got a deluge of emails and phone calls and there was a ruckus,” said Heather Saker, a full-time counseling astrologer based in Philadelphia.

“Oh God, not again,” was her reaction to the ruckus.

Saker says Western Astrologers do not base their work on the stars — it’s all about the alignment of the planets and the sun. It’s not the first time precession has stirred up the pot, she says. But the controversy proves something.

“One thing it does point out is how identified people are with their solar sign and how little they understand about their chart as a whole,” said Saker.  “Because even if their sun sign were to shift around a bit, it certainly wouldn’t warrant the amount of emotional intensity that people seem to be responding with. I mean they truly seem to feel that they’ve been deceived by astrology and that their world is being turned upside down and that definitely is not the case.”

If they need help figuring out why they’re so upset, Saker is open for business.

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