People who know their natal chart in the Western astrology are often shocked and/or even highly sceptical when they find out their planets or ascendant are suddenly in a different sign in the Vedic system. In fact, I almost called this post “But I’m a Sagittarius, not a Scorpio! (said with a hint of desperation)”
This tendency is so strong that I don’t always mention the names of the signs when giving a Vedic reading, especially if the Sun, Moon or ascendant have changed (people don’t seem to be as attached to the sign their Mercury, Venus or Mars are in, let alone Jupiter and Saturn, unless they are very into Western astrology).
Instead, I tend to focus on what I can see in the person’s chart and what it means for their lives. When they ask about the signs, I do mention if something has changed significantly and then do my best to reassure them that it’s not that big of a deal – really!
Here’s the lowdown on why this is the case.
Why signs (sometimes) change in the Vedic system
The answer here is easy: Western astrology uses the tropical zodiac and Jyotish (Vedic astrology) uses the sidereal zodiac. The primary difference between these two zodiacs is the starting point for measuring the positions of the planets and stars.
In a nutshell, the tropical zodiac is based on the Earth’s relationship with the Sun and the seasons, while the sidereal zodiac is based on the relationship of the Earth to the stars.
In the tropical zodiac, the starting point is the vernal equinox, which marks the beginning of spring and the start of the astrological year. The positions of the planets and stars are measured relative to this point and the twelve signs of the zodiac are based on equal divisions of 30 degrees each. Originally devised in 331 BC, the system was officially standardized by Cladius Ptolemy in 140 CE. However, since the actual signs remain fixed to the seasons, they now longer represent the actual position of the stars, but rather the position they were in during this point in the Roman Empire.
In contrast, the sidereal zodiac uses the position of the fixed star group called the “spine of the dragon,” or the constellation of Aries, as its starting point. This system is based on the actual positions of the stars in the sky and takes into account the precession of the equinoxes, which causes the position of the vernal equinox to slowly shift over time.
At this point in time, the actual position of the planets is 23 degree behind their position in the tropical zodiac (i.e., where they stars and planets were in around 140 CE).
Since each planet/sign has 30 degrees in total, this means if, for example, your sun sign is at 28 degrees Aquarius in the Western tropical zodiac, it will be 5 degrees Aquarius in the sidereal zodiac. However, if your sun sign (or moon/ascendant/venus, etc.) is at 20 degrees Aquarius in the tropical zodiac, it will be at 28 degrees Capricorn in the sidereal zodiac.
Why it’s not that big of a deal
A good way to compare Western and Vedic astrology is to think of them as two languages that are very closely related: some of the vocabulary is the same, the grammar (mostly) follows the same rules and it’s possible for two people who speak these languages to have a conversation and more or less understand each other, as long as things don’t get too complex.
However, this doesn’t mean the languages express things in exactly the same way.
Take my chart, for example. Since my sun sign is in the late degrees of Aquarius in Western astrology, it is also in Aquarius in the Vedic astrology. However, both my moon and ascendant change signs. This was definitely weird for me at first, because I had identified with those signs for a long time.
But when I dove deeper into the chart, it was clear to me that the sidereal zodiac describes key features about my life and personality as much as the tropical does.
Here are some of the details and the technical astro deets that describe them:
I have a tendency to focus on my partner and adapt to their desires rather than push through my own will.
- Western astrology=Virgo rising, ascendant ruler in the 7th
- Vedic astrology=ascendant ruler in the 7th house along with two other planets, no planets in the 1st house
I’ve had difficulties with communication, and was intensely shy when I was younger.
- Western astrology=Mercury retrograde in its sign of detriment and fall square Saturn and under the sun’s beams
- Vedic astrology=Mercury MKS in a parivartana with Saturn
I’ve had difficulties with delays and obstacles in my career.
- Western astrology=Saturn in the 10th, lord of the 10th house in poor shape
- Vedic astrology=lord of the 10th MKS, badhakesh in the 10th
I could go on with more examples, but I think that’s enough technical astro talk for now.
What I hope I’ve brought across here, even if you don’t understand the terms I’ve used, is that the person I am is accurately described in my natal chart in both systems – however, how these details are described varies depending on the “language” used.
How to approach the difference between Western and Vedic astrology
When I used to teach EFL, I occasionally had students who got frustrated with the idiosyncrasies of English grammar and spelling compared to their native language.
Why do you have to use “do” when asking a question in English when my language just uses the verb?
Why can’t I just say “I open the window now” instead of “I’ll open the window now”? English is stupid!
They would insist on knowing which language had the right approach, and it was always clear they thought the answer was theirs.
Don’t fall into this trap when it comes to the differences between the tropical and sidereal zodiac. After all, whether or not you are really an Aries is ultimately just a concept.
Astrology is the study of time, and time is a million times more complex than just hours and minutes and seconds. The movement of the stars planets act as a cosmic time piece that allow astrologers to interpret the quality of time as it unfolds, and the role each of us play in it.
Both zodiacs work, just like both a digital watch and grandfather clock can both measures time in a mundane sense, although they’re built diffrently. That said, some people might prefer digital watches to grandfather clocks or vice versa.
Personally, I’ve switched to focusing more on Vedic astrology because I loved its practicality: the system offers remediation techniques that allow people to actively better their lives as well as more detailed timing techniques compared to the Western system (more on both of these later). In general, Western astrology tends to take a more abstract, symbolic approach (i.e., your Venus is in Pisces in the 2nd house and what this means is….) whereas I can give an entire Vedic reading without mentioning anything about astrology at all and still help someone.
But that’s just me.
May you enjoy and benefit from the path astrology takes you down, in whatever form that may be – and stay forever open.