Jyotish (Vedic astrology) and Western astrology are by no means completely different from each other. After all, both (likely) emerged out of Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC, Jyotish developing in India and Western astrology in Hellenistic Greece.
With the exception of the lunar nodes (more on that later) the planets are more or less the same in both systems, and the house system is also largely identical in both systems, as are the elements, air, water, earth and fire (although Jyotish adds a fifth one called Akash, or “space”).
However, many other aspects of these systems are different – and it would be too much to cover everything in one post, so stay tuned for more later. For now, let’s get started with four differences between Vedic and Western astrology.
If you know anything about Vedic astrology, this is probably the difference you’re aware of: Jyotish uses the sidereal zodiac while while Western astrology uses the tropical zodiac.
So what the heck does that actually mean?
In a nutshell, the tropical zodiac is an Earth-based zodiac that follows the synodic cycle of the sun and the seasons. It does not, however, follow the planets according to where they currently are in the sky but rather where they were in around 290 CE. In other words, if you tell someone you “I’m an Aries” and your birthday is in late March, what you might as well say is “I would have my sun an Aries if we still lived in the Roman Empire.”
The sidereal zodiac, on the other hand, follows the stars where they currently are in the sky (you can read a more detailed comparison of the two zodiacs here). In practical terms, what this means is that all signs in Vedic astrology are 23 degrees earlier than in Western tropical astrology.
But which one is “right”?
Well, if you mean which one “works” then the answer is both. Arguing over the one true zodiac – and believe me, there are people doing this in the netherworlds of Twitter among other places – is a waste of time. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. I’ve gotten accurate results with both zodiacs, as have thousand upon thousand other astrologer.
That said, it can be a bit disorienting at first to see your chart in the sidereal system at first if you only know your chart in the Western system. For example, I have Virgo rising and Capricorn moon, but in sidereal charts my rising sign is Leo and my moon is in Sagittarius. Hard to wrap my head around at first, but when I dove into the chart I saw it was saying the same thing as my Western natal chart, just using slightly different language to do so.
The number of charts
In terms of natal charts (called the Rashi in Vedic astrology), both system have one. This chart is basically a map of you and all aspects of your life which can be read with surprising precision in the hands of a skilled, experienced astrologer. However, Vedic astrology allows you to dive even deeper into this chart with Varga charts.
Also called divisional charts, a Varga chart hones in on a specific house in your chart and offers fine-tuned details. The most commonly used divisional chart is the D9, which clearly shows and person’s skills and gifts, sexuality and “spouse(s)” (i.e., serious relationships whether or not you were actually married).
Another commonly used chart, the D10, shows everything about your work life, including your attitude towards work, whether or not you prefer to be employed or self-employed and what kind of bosses/business partners you have and more.
Then there’s the D16 for comfort and vehicles, the D-7 for children, the D-24 for knowledge, the D-30 for misfortune and even the D-60 for past life – although this chart changes every two and half minutes, so you need an accurately timed chart to use it correctly.
Some Western astrologers do use harmonic charts, which are based on this technique. I’ve never used this technique before, but from what I read on Astrowiki, it seems to be rather esoteric and abstract compared to Varga charts which (in the D3) can literally tell you what your brother does for a living.
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Rahu and Ketu
The lunar nodes are marginally used in Western astrology: in most schools and traditions, they are used to show increase and growth (North node) or decrease and elimination (South node). However, the spiritual evolutionary astrology school works more closely with the nodes, claiming that the position and sign of the South node is past (life) conditioning and experiences while the position and sign of the North node is what your soul needs to move towards, even though you might feel reluctant to do so.
When I first read this and looked at my North node, which is conjunct the moon in the 5th house, I thought, There is no way in hell that is where my soul should go. That aspect, and the state of my moon in general, has been the cause of a lot of emotional turmoil in my life, and leaning into that more was most definitely not something I was eager to do – not because I was resistant or reluctant but because every inch of me said there’s no way this is true.
In fact, Rahu is one of the reasons why I became interested in Vedic astrology in the first place.
Jyotish considers Rahu (the North node) and Ketu (the South node) to be shadow planets which are both malefic in nature. Rahu stands for shock, confusion, addiction, and poison. He is corrupt politicians, misinformation campaigns, gangsters and thugs, pollution and insatiable material desires. On a more positive note, he also stands for research and that which is foreign and unusual. He especially digs tribal style clothing, drugs and rebellious behavior, which makes Burning Man a big old Rahu extravaganza.
Considering who he is, I bet Rahu is laughing his ass off that an entire school of astrology is instructing people to paddle themselves right into his jaws. (Please note that I don’t mean to dismiss evolutionary astrology as a whole here, which I’ve never studied nor been particularly drawn to. However, this theory of the nodes is one aspect of their system I wholeheartedly disagree with).
Ketu, on the other hand, is malefic for material matters but beneficial for spiritual endeavours, and can symbolize a thief. He can cause mental confusion and psychic disturbances and is responsible for mental illnesses like schizophrenia. On a more positive he’s the (headless) guy who brings truly mystical experiences.
This description of the nodes fits my own personal experience, and both feature rather prominently in my chart. Not always easy, but I’m working it.
Besides good old Rahu and Ketu, the main reason I decided to study and start practicing Jyotish after 20+ years studying and practicing Western astrology is because of the remedy system it offers.
I started my astrological journey in the late 90s with modern Western psychological astrology, but got bored with it at some point because the system tends to be a bit too vague, abstract and soft.
About four years ago, I switched to traditional Western astrology (a mishmash of Hellenistic and Renaissance techniques), which offers more detailed techniques that allow you to go deeper into the chart. However, after a while I found the systems I was learning too harsh. If you can see a person’s shortcomings, obstacles and grief so much more clearly, but not really give them any insight into what to do about it, then what good is it in the end?
This is exactly what Jyotish can offer: the traditional lineage I’m learning offers incredible ways to look deep into a chart and remedial measures you can do to improve difficulties and unlock your potential in amazing ways. These measures are customized to a person’s chart and can help alleviate suffering and boost gifts and blessing in a way that truly changes lives – and yes, I’m speaking from experience.
More on this and how it works in the future.