Sidereal or Tropical?

 Vedic astrologers use the same zodiac as Western astrologers… but with a 24 degrees shift!



You can be born an Aries in Western, and be a Pisces in Vedic. I have listened to a video about Pisces by a Vedic Astrologer… Everything he says is very similar to the Pisces I know as a Western Astrologer. So, there is a real contradiction.


In Western astrology we call our zodiac “Tropical”. For us, Aries starts with the spring equinox, around the 21st of March. In you live in the Southern hemisphere, Aries also starts at that time, but for you it’s Autumn. 


What matters is that the tropical zodiac is based on the seasons – not because of the weather, but because of the equinoxes and solstices. 


Even our prehistoric ancestors, without any idea of the earth being round were able to observe that the days and nights become alternatively longer and shorter. 



If you watch the horizon every morning and every evening all year round, as you do when you have no internet connection, no TV, no radio, no books, no electricity and the local story teller has been eaten by a giraffe, or maybe a tiger, you keep watching and you can see that the Sun doesn’t rise and sets always at the same place.


In the Northern hemisphere, in Autumn, the Sun rises not exactly East, but a little bit further South every day, and it sets, not exactly West, but a little but further South every day as well. At the Winter solstice, the time of the shortest days, the points where the Sun rises and sets are as close to each other as they will ever be. After the Winter solstice, everyday the Sun rises and sets a little further North. When the lengths of day and night are equal, it is the equinox. The Sun carries on rising and setting a little further North on the horizon every day until the summer solstice – this point will apparently remain stationary for three days or so before the movement is reversed. 

Equinoxes and solstices were times of celebrations. When Christianity took over, the people would have gone to both Christian and Pagan celebrations. The churchmen decided to celebrate Christian ceremonies at the same dates as the Pagan ones to prevent this from happening. Thus, we have Christmas at the Winter Solstice – Just a few days after it actually, when it becomes possible to observe that the Rising and Setting points are now moving in the other direction. The solstice is a kind of stationary time.  

Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first Full Moon after the equinox.


I mention this to emphasise the importance of solstices and equinoxes as part of human life. 

They are astrological events: they are special moments of the relationship between Earth and Sun. For me, this alone is a powerful argument in favour of the tropical zodiac. Seasons are defined by equinoxes and solstices. Each season is divided in three equal parts, so we get twelve signs or one month each. 




More than 2000 years ago, at the spring equinox, the constellation that could be seen on the Eastern horizon just before the Sun rose was Aries. I say “just before” because once the Sun is rising, you can’t see stars anymore, but you can guess they are still there. According to Robert Hand, we don’t know if Babylonians were aware of the precession of the equinoxes. Given that the earth is wobbling on its axis – like a spinning top but more slowly – we don’t get the same constellation rising at the time of the equinox. 


Since the time of Jesus-Christ it was Pisces, but now, we are at the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. Our zodiac signs are not aligned with the constellations anymore, but we don’t care. They are just named after them. 


I was listening to Chris Brennan recounting the history of astrology on his podcast, and I learned that the Babylonians standardised the zodiac to include twelve signs of exactly thirty degrees each by the fifth century BC. This is worth thinking over. The constellations are of unequal sizes. In some cases, they overlap. When the zodiac became standardised, it became detached from the irregular reality of the constellations. 


When people argue that the sidereal zodiac – the zodiac that is used by Vedic astrologers – is the right one because it takes into account the real position of the constellations, they are wrong: the sidereal zodiac is also a zodiac of twelve equal signs of 30 degrees each and this is not the reality of the stars. Even if the current position of the constellations aligns better with the signs named after them in sidereal than in tropical, the constellations still are of unequal sizes and sometimes overlap. The sidereal zodiac doesn’t reflect this reality. The sidereal zodiac is defined thanks to the Fixed Star Spica. When the Sun opposes it, it is the beginning of the sidereal zodiac. (I should actually say “one of the sidereal zodiacs is defined thanks to Spica, there are other systems) 


Thinking of how important solstices and equinoxes are as astronomical events, and to the fact that the zodiac was standardised by the Babylonians in the fifth century BC – and therefore detached from the constellations, I had come to the conclusion that the tropical zodiac was the right one. 


I’ve come across a video by Vic DiCara. He mentions some passages of major Vedic texts which define the beginning of the zodiac at the equinox. Vic DiCara is a Vedic astrologer who uses the tropical zodiac. This definitely confirms my opinion. 


Still, how come the whole Vedic system that uses the sidereal zodiac works then?

I am thinking of various possible answers. I’m not happy with answers like “Choose the one that works for you”. I want to understand what’s going on if possible! 


Robert Hand, when asked the question about Vedic versus Western and the problem of sidereal versus tropical answered with another question: 

“What language is the right one? French or German?” 


Robert is a top scholar but I am not satisfied by his answer. You can’t say that 2+2 = 4 in one language, that 2+2 = 5 in another and be right in each language just because it’s another language. If the description of Pisces by a Vedic astrologer is the same as what a Western astrologer would say, but this description applies to someone who is actually an Aries in Western… this does not work. 


It’s possible to say that maybe the Pisces description applies to the Western Aries person but “at another level”. I’m not happy with that either. If an Aries Sun can identify as a Pisces Sun at another level, everyone of us can identify with any random sign, and with any random birth chart for that matter. 


So, if Vedic works, I think it’s because they have other techniques than the zodiac placements. For instance, they put a lot of emphasis on the lunar mansions, the Nakshatras; In Vedic the house placements and the aspects remain the same as in Western… so they have enough of it right.


Or maybe there is another explanation. 


But before that, I have to talk about another problem we have with the tropical zodiac. Aries is the beginning of spring… in the Northern Hemisphere, but not on the Equator, where days and nights are always the same length, and not in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are reversed. In the Southern Hemisphere, Aries starts with the beginning of autumn. 


This is annoying if we define the signs in reference to the seasons: Aries is the burst of energy as we can see it in spring, or Leo is the expression of mid-summer… In the Southern hemisphere, Leo time is winter time. 


So, to come to terms with this problem we need to stop looking for causes in the world of the senses. Astrology can only make sense in the context of a spiritual worldview. What comes first are not the constellations that we can see in the night sky, nor the seasons such as they pass in temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere.



What comes first is the universal soul, or the collective psyche, whatever you name it. Actually, not even soul or psyche come first, but Spirit. Spirit creates Soul and Soul generates Organic Life, something like that. 


We happen to find a great expression of the symbols of the zodiac, in the right order, as the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, but that’s just a manifestation, not a cause. The archetypal zodiac, with its perfectly balanced geometry, is in the collective psyche, or in the spiritual world, or maybe in something like Plato’s world of ideas. I don’t see how it could work otherwise. 


So, to come back to the question of sidereal astrology. If causes belong to the world of the psyche, universal soul or collective psyche, why couldn’t the sidereal zodiac work for people who belong to a culture which has the sidereal zodiac in their collective mind? Maybe it could become real because it is created as a collective thought? Then it will work for babies being born through that wheel. Maybe? I just leave a big question mark here. 


The only problem we would have, then, would be to know what culture we belong, or possibly are attuned to…? I leave a question mark here, but my opinion is that tropical is the right system.


I am a modern Western astrologer. 



Jean-Marc Pierson