The Stars of the Constellations and Astrological Meaning – Part 1

Using Orion to find Aldebaran, Procyon, Sirius...

Using Orion to find Aldebaran, Procyon, Sirius, Castor and Pollux. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a re-working of an article first published in the WellBeing Astrology Guide 2000.  The article was called Written in the Stars? but now I am using the sub-title for a short series about some of the major fixed stars in the heavens and what they mean.  Since writing it, my work on the stars (and harmonics) has declined considerably, overtaken by a focus on asteroids.  Some of the text has been re-jigged to reflect changes in the interval since writing in 1999 and today. This series is divided into three parts: an introduction with tables, and then two more parts which canvass some basic meanings for a small but significant sample.  From time to time I shall be referring to the fixed stars in other posts, especially the Thursday-Friday-Saturday ‘watches’; and as I began this practice over the last couple of days, it seemed the right moment to do some star talk.

 

Is anyone reading this unfamiliar with the experience of looking up to a night sky in wonder, entranced by the blue-black vault of heaven and the myriad stars glittering upon it?  Who put the stars there, what do they do, what do they mean?  Long ago it seemed to human beings, struggling to create the cultural traditions taken for granted today, that the stars were divine – either the symbols of divine presences, or gods and goddesses in their own right.

In these early wonderings astrology began, and as long passages of time went by and early observers accumulated records of the changes in the skies at night, a sense of order in the cosmos emerged, and with it the first efforts at descrying meaning from the heavens.  It was not only the stars themselves that our forebears noticed, but the rhythm of the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the wanderings of particular stars which occurred with such regularity that it was realised they were not stars, as such, at all, but planets (the name ‘planet’ means ‘wanderer’).

But what of the stars themselves?

In all cultures, people have discerned patterns in the stars, and described from them ‘constellations’ – a word that means ‘with stars’, or ‘stars together with each other’ – which in themselves became the focus of a rich mythological tradition.  There are, of course, many more constellations than the twelve signs of the zodiac.  These twelve are famous simply because they are the star patterns most closely aligned to the ecliptic – the path of the earth around the sun, which looks in the sky like an arc around the earth through which the sun is circling.  The zodiac signs, therefore, are a sort of backdrop for the drama of the solar journey in astrological divination.

The oldest astrology used many more stars than the clusters of the zodiac constellations.  Even today, some astrologers incorporate a number of stars into their delineations of horoscopes, for there are many stars in the sky which carry potent meanings of their own, just as the sun and moon and planets do.

In this series I would like to introduce you to the stars in their own right, taking centre stage for a change instead of lurking in the background as zodiacal constellations (often called sun-signs) or as constellations that are not even considered at all.  How many of you have wondered if the great constellation Orion might have had a direct influence at the time you were born?  Have you heard of constellations like Cetus, the Sea-monster, or Boötes, the Herdsman, or Crater, the Cup?  Most Australians and New Zealanders know about Crux Australis, the Southern Cross, and many of you will know the Greater and Lesser Bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor – even if you know only that part of Ursa Major called ‘The Big Dipper’.  But do the stars of the Bears have any bearing on a horoscope, so high do they seem in the sky, apparently circling the North Pole forever?

There are contentions amongst astrologers about the most appropriate way to use the stars in chart delineation, with most (including the author) subscribing to using the positions of the stars as projected onto the ecliptic.  There are some astrologers who prefer a more ancient observational method involving measurements of spherical geometry which would be complicated, and possibly confusing, to explain here.  Those who are more seriously interested in these issues should consult the more technical references in the books listed at the end of this article, and especially Bernadette Brady’s compendium and the earlier work of George Noonan.

One other technical point: You may find that many astrologers, when talking about the stars themselves, will refer to them as the ‘fixed stars’.  Now they are not really fixed in the sky at all – everything in the universe is moving.   But owing to the precession of the equinoxes – the effect of the earth’s axial wobble as it revolves around the sun, which makes it appear as though the sun and all the other stars have moved slightly backwards during the course of each year – it takes nearly 72 years for any star to move through a degree of ecliptic longitude.   This is long enough, however, for the stars to appear changeless to any human observer, since the precessional motion is so close to the average human lifespan.  The stars looked fixed, compared with the rapid movements of the visible planets and the moon.

History of the stars

As far as the western astrological tradition is concerned, those stars which comprise the major constellations were first catalogued by a Greek astronomer-astrologer called Ptolemy, in his book The Almagest, in about 150 AD.  He listed 48 of them, mostly named for people or creatures in Greco-Roman mythology.  Later astronomers split some of Ptolemy’s constellations and created new ones, making a total of 88 named star patterns today.  Even before Ptolemy’s day, however, the major constellations were identified, and a Roman poet-astronomer called Manilius gave an account of the stories and meanings of them in a verse book called Astronomica, which he began and dedicated to Augustus Caesar, first of the Roman emperors.  This work seems to have been completed during the imperium of Augustus’s successor Tiberius, after 14 AD.

As an example of the kind of thing Manilius described, three of the constellations referred to members of a mythical Ethiopian royal family.  They were King Cepheus, his haughty wife Cassiopeia, and their daughter Andromeda, whose sacrifice was demanded to appease the anger of Neptune, after Cassiopeia claimed she was more beautiful than the Nereids, the sea-nymphs beloved of Neptune.  Andromeda appears as though chained to a rock in the sky, whilst nearby are the constellations of Perseus, the hero who rescued her, and of Pegasus, the winged horse ridden by Perseus.  Also in the vicinity of this group is the constellation Cetus, the sea-monster sent by Neptune to devour Andromeda, which Perseus turned to stone by flashing at it the head of the gorgon Medusa, slain in one of his earlier adventures.

Constellations close to the great hunter Orion include his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor – the Greater and Lesser Dogs.  Canis Major’s brightest star is the splendid Sirius, around which much very important Egyptian mythology is accreted.  And near these three is Lepus, the constellation of the Hare, which Orion and his dogs pursue endlessly in the sky.  These are all significant patterns alongside the twelve most famous constellations, the signs of the zodiac – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and so on.

Finding the stars for interpretation purposes

Using ecliptic projection, the stars of the various constellations can be listed as they appear in the twelve zodiac signs rather than in their own ‘homes’, as it were.  How and why this should be are issues beyond the scope of this introductory account, and the main stars of interest to astrologers will appear for you under the headings of the zodiacal signs they now appear to occupy.   The relative importance of a star is usually taken from its brightness, or magnitude.  The brighter a star, the more powerful its influence is generally considered to be.  There are some exceptions to this, however.

At the end of this first part you will find a table listing most of the stars described so briefly below, together with their magnitude, current zodiacal position and the approximate date each month on which the sun would line up in a conjunction aspect with them.  This will give some of you an indication of whether or not a star is aligned with your sun, at least.  For other placements you would need to ask your friendly astrologer.  The orb of influence for a conjunction with a star is sometimes based on magnitude as well, with brighter stars allowed a wider orb.  But one degree only is a good maximum to begin with.

One important point to note – the stars all seem to bestow a powerful energy, which often manifests in the world as some form of power.  This can be used for good or ill.  Even the stars traditionally ascribed the worst meanings have positive aspects, and the best stars also have negative potentials.  Do not panic if your sun links to a difficult star, nor sit back on presumed laurels if it links to one of the really good stars like Spica.  There are all sorts of ways that stellar influences can work out in a chart, and any of them need to be considered in the context of the horoscope as a whole.  Treat this account as an introduction; and if it stimulates you, look for more.  The information is available in many places if you want to follow up on it.   A suggested reading list follows on from the table.

Icon of constellation Ursa major (Big Dipper).

Icon of constellation Ursa major (Big Dipper). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

STAR TABLE

The positions of the stars offered below indicate how slowly the stars appear to move in the sky – less than a degree and a half during a century.  The approximate date of the Sun alignments could be reduced the further back from year 2000 you were born, and if you were born before 1950, you could appropriately use the day previous to that listed.  One day either side could be effective for the brightest stars, which have wider orbs of influence.

A note on reading magnitude: the greater the number, the more dim the star.  Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, with a magnitude of -1.4.  The next brightest stars range from 0.1 – 0.9.  Up to magnitude 2 is bright, and after that the stars become increasingly less easy to see – especially in cities with lots of streetlights at night!  Eye visibility goes for all but the most acute of sight between magnitude 5 and 6.

 

Common Name(s) Astronomical Name Magnitude Projected Zodiacal Position   1900 Projected Zodiacal Position   2000 Approximate Date Sun   Conjunct (2000)
Difda (Deneb Kaitos) Beta Ceti 2.2 1 Aries 10 2 Aries 34 23-24 March
Algenib Gamma Pegasi 2.9 7 Aries 45 9 Aries 09 30 March
Alpheratz Alpha Andromedae 2.1 12 Aries 55 14 Aries 18 4-5 April
Mirach Beta Andromedae 2.4 29 Aries 01 0 Taurus 24 21 April
Stella Mira Omicron Ceti variable2-10 0 Taurus 07 1 Taurus 31 22 April
Hamal Alpha Arietis 2.2 6 Taurus 16 7 Taurus 39 28 April
Almach Gamma Andromedae 2.3 12 Taurus 50 14 Taurus 13 5 May
Menkar Alpha Ceti 2.8 12 Taurus 55 14 Taurus 19 5 May
Algol Beta Persei variable2-3 24 Taurus 46 26 Taurus 10 17-18 May
Alcyone Eta Tauri 3.0 28 Taurus 36 29 Taurus 59.5 21-22 May
Prima Hyadum Gamma Tauri 3.9 4 Gemini 24 5 Gemini 48 27 May
Aldebaran Alpha Tauri 1.1 8 Gemini 24 9 Gemini 47 31 May -1 June
Rigel Beta Orionis 0.3 15 Gemini 26 16 Gemini 49 8 June
Bellatrix Gamma Orionis 1.7 19 Gemini 33 20 Gemini 56 12 June
Capella Alpha Aurigae 0.2 20 Gemini 28 21 Gemini 51 13 June
Polaris Alpha Ursae minoris 2.1 27 Gemini 11 28 Gemini 34 20 June
Betelgeuze Alpha Orionis variable0-1 27 Gemini 22 28 Gemini 45 20 June
Sirius Alpha Canis majoris -1.4 12 Cancer 42 14 Cancer 05 6-7 July
Canopus Alpha Carinae 0.9 13 Cancer 36 14 Cancer 58 7-8 July
Castor Alpha Geminorum 1.6 18 Cancer 51 20 Cancer 14 13 July
Pollux Beta Geminorum 1.2 21 Cancer 50 23 Cancer 13 16 July
Procyon Alpha Canis minoris 0.5 24 Cancer 24 25 Cancer 47 19 July
North Asellus Gamma Cancri 4.7 6 Leo 09 7 Leo 32 31 July
South Asellus Delta Cancri 4.2 7 Leo 20 8 Leo 43 1 August
Dubhe Alpha Ursae majoris 2.0 13 Leo 48 15 Leo 12 8 August
Alphard Alpha Hydrae 2.2 25 Leo 53 27 Leo 16 21 August
Regulus Alpha Leonis 1.3 28 Leo 26 29 Leo 49 23 August
Alioth Epsilon Ursae majoris 1.7 7 Virgo 31 8 Virgo 56 1-2 September
Zosma Delta Leonis 2.6 9 Virgo 55 11 Virgo 18 4 September
Labrum Delta Crateris 3.8 25 Virgo 18 26 Virgo 41 20 September
Benetnash (Alkaid) Eta Ursae majoris 1.9 25 Virgo 31 26 Virgo 55 20 September
Vindemiatrix Epsilon Virginis 3.0 8 Libra 33 9 Libra 56 3 October
Algorab Delta Corvi 3.1 12 Libra 03 13 Libra 26 7 October
Spica Alpha Virginis 1.2 22 Libra 26 23 Libra 50 17-18 October
Arcturus Alpha Boötis 0.2 22 Libra 50 24 Libra 13 18 October
Acrux Alpha Crucis 1.6 10 Scorpio 29 11 Scorpio 51 4-5 November
South Scale(Zubenelgenubi) Alpha Librae 2.9 13 Scorpio 41 15 Scorpio 04 8 November
North Scale(Zubeneschamali) Beta Librae 2.7 17 Scorpio 58 19 Scorpio 21 12 November
Unukalhai Alpha Serpentis 2.8 20 Scorpio 40 22 Scorpio 04 15 November
Hadar (Agena) Beta Centauri 0.9 22 Scorpio 24 23 Scorpio 46 16 November
Toliman (Bungula) Alpha Centauri 0.1 28 Scorpio 13 29 Scorpio 28 22 November
Antares Alpha Scorpii 1.2 8 Sagittarius 21 9 Sagittarius 45 2 December
Rasalhague Alpha Ophiuchi 2.1 21 Sagittarius 02 22 Sagittarius 26 15 December
Eltanin (Etamin) Gamma Draconis 2.4 26 Sagittarius 33 27 Sagittarius 56 20 December
Pelagus (Nunki) Sigma Sagittarii 2.1 10 Capricorn 59 12 Capricorn 22 3 January
Wega (Vega) Alpha Lyrae 0.1 13 Capricorn 54 15 Capricorn 17 6 January
Altair Alpha Aquilae 0.9 0 Aquarius 21 1 Aquarius 45 22 January
Rotanev Beta Delphini 3.7 14 Aquarius 56 16 Aquarius 19 5-6 February
Sualocin Alpha Delphini 3.9 15 Aquarius 59 17 Aquarius 22 7 February
Sadalsuud Beta Aquarii 3.1 21 Aquarius 59 23 Aquarius 23 12-13 February
Fomalhaut Alpha Piscis australis 1.3 2 Pisces 27 3 Pisces 51 23 February
Deneb Adige Alpha Cygni 1.3 3 Pisces 57 5 Pisces 19 24-25 February
Achernar Alpha Eridani 0.6 13 Pisces 53 15 Pisces 18 6-7 March
Markab Alpha Pegasi 2.6 22 Pisces 05 23 Pisces 28 14-15 March
Scheat Beta Pegasi 2.6 27 Pisces 58 29 Pisces 22 20 March

 

REFERENCES FOR FURTHER READING:

The most usually referenced compendiums of stars are found in two major old texts:

Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars & Constellations in Astrology, Aquarian Press, 1969 (first published 1923)

Reinhold Ebertin, Fixed Stars and Their Interpretation, Ebertin-Verlag, 1971 (translated Banks)

A newer and valuable addition – a new major text – is:

Bernadette Brady, Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars, Samuel Weiser, Inc, 1998

A modern authority on the stars was the late (and great) Diana K. Rosenberg of New York.  She self-published an Encyclopaedia of the stars which is available via her website, and from the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR) in the USA.  Ms Rosenberg has a splendid essay in the book Essentials of Intermediate Astrology, published by the NCGR

The indispensable reference on the history of the stars and constellations is:

Richard Hinckley Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Dover Publications Inc, New York, 1963 (re-printing an original 1899 edition)

Other works of interest are:

Eric Morse, The Living Stars, Amethyst Books, 1988

George C. Noonan Jnr, Fixed Stars and Judicial Astrology, American Federation of Astrologers, 1990

Joseph E. Rigor, The Power of Fixed Stars, Astrology and Spiritual Publishers, Inc (USA), 1979

And – although not astrological as such, relevant broadly and full of fascinating ideas and information:

Robert K. G. Temple, The Sirius Mystery, revised by the author and re-issued in 1998 by Century (Random House UK)

 

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