The Supposed 13th Sign: Ophiuchus
Everyone knows there are 12 signs in the zodiac, right? Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces.
Ophiuchus is the serpent bearer or serpent holder otherwise known as Asklepios (sometimes written as Asclepius, Aesclepius or Aesculapius). The story goes that Asklepios was the first doctor. The beginning of his medical mastery came about when he was visiting a friend and a snake entered the room. Asklepios killed it, but then another snake entered carrying an herb in its mouth and immediately revived the first snake with it. Asklepios took the herb and thus began his medical career. He became more masterful with this and other herbs, able to bring people back from death, such as Hippolytus (by 'gluing him back together').
Hades was not thrilled about losing all those souls and perhaps being out of a job, so he talked to his brother Zeus. Eventually, he argued, all mankind would be immortal, which should only be a privilege of the gods. Zeus agreed with him and struck Asklepios dead with a thunderbolt. He honored Asklepios' talent, though, by placing him in the stars. We humans have honored him as well, in our well known symbol of medicine, the rod of Asclepius (right), which is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Caduceus (another story entirely; see further reading links below).
It is unclear to me how the name Ophiuchus is actually the Greek story of Asklepios, but the most logical source I found seemed to indicate that Ophiuchus was sort of like his nickname, because Ophiuchus comes from two Greek words meaning "serpent" and "holding."
|The constellation of Ophiuchus lies between Scorpio and Sagittarius, or rather, sort of on top of Scorpio. As the sun seems to dance across our sky, we can trace itís path every year. That path is called the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun. Scorpius and Ophiuchus share space a bit - in fact, the foot of Ophiuchus rests on Scorpius along the ecliptic.|
The 13th Sign
If Ophiuchus was considered the 13th sign of the zodiac, it would take up most of the period of time each year that now belongs to the sign of Scorpio, about the first 20-24 days. So is Ophiuchus really the 13th sign? No, but that's because a sign and constellation are not the same thing. The signs are equally divided sections of sky, and in Western astrology, which is typically what's practiced here in the United States, begins the zodiac with Aries, at the beginning of spring, the vernal equinox. The sun passes through these sign sections throughout the year. Western (Tropical) Astrology measures the passage of the Sun, Moon, and other planets through the signs, not the constellations.
Sidereal astrology does measure the passage of the planets against the backdrop of the stars, the constellations. The signs share names with the constellations, but the constellations are groupings of stars that are all different sizes. However, even astrology methods that use the constellations rather than signs have still standardized the constellations within 30 degrees of space. Both techniques create a 360 degree circle around the earth, the zodiac ("circle of animals") and it's divided into 12 sections.
Some people have said that many of the Ophiuchus sign traits have been mistakenly assigned to Scorpio. Ophiuchus, from the stories in mythology, would seem to indicate the ability to come back from death into life, to heal. The myth of Scorpius says that it was the scorpion that was sent to kill Orion. So Scorpio, from the stories in mythology, would seem to indicate death. Death and Life. That is the modern interpretation of the sign Scorpio. Scorpio represents the transformative process of dying and living again in a new state. It's a snake shedding it's skin or a phoenix rising from the ashes.
I think all our quibbling about the rules or the names or the math doesnít matter. Ophiuchus by any other name would smell as sweet. The result is what it needs to be: Scorpio and Ophiuchus share their section of sky, and our collective consciousness has blended the two beautifully.
For more about the medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius:
(Asclepius, Ophiuchus, Imhotep, oh my!)