What Is the Thirteenth Sign and What Does It Mean in a Natal Chart?

If you have even a passing interest in astrology, you may have heard of the ‘thirteenth sign’. Embraced by some astrologers and debunked by others, it has certainly caused a stir in astrological circles. Whether or not it should be included in a chart reading is entirely up to the individual astrologer and his or her client

Astrology is traditionally based on the twelve signs of the zodiac: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Combined with the planets in our solar system, they create an interlocking series of meanings that help define a person’s character according to the birth chart.

But what happens when the traditional view of astrology is turned upside down and another sign is added to the twelve? The thirteenth sign is called Ophiuchus and it is characterized as ‘The Serpent Bearer’. It is far from a new discovery, having been noted by the ancients, and described in the poetic Astronomica by Manilus, around 10 AD. The thirteenth sign has been advocated for inclusion in general astrology since the 1970s.

The drive to include Ophiucus in the zodiac is due to the fact that the Sun passes through this constellation for just over two weeks, from November 29-December 17. But as its detractors point out, the key word is ‘constellation’. There are twelve signs in the zodiac, not twelve constellations. The difference is the interpretation of the signs as opposed to the nature of constellations. Each sign has its own peculiar characteristics, set down since the birth of astrology, when the Sun was noted to pass through only 12 signs.

What Ophiuchus means in practical terms is that anyone born while the Sun is in this constellation can actually choose to have it incorporated into the interpretation of their birth chart. Not all astrologers will do this, but there are many who are intrigued by the ‘new’ sign, and by its connotation as ‘the Serpent Bearer’.

Astrology looks to mythology to help to interpret planets and signs. Thus Venus is associated with relationships, love and beauty, like the ancient Roman goddess, rather than the inhospitable planet itself, and Taurus with stubborn bullish behavior (from the Latin word for bull). Ophiuchus is another name for Asclepius, a son of Apollo the Sun God and a healer. He fell foul of Hades, the God of the Underworld, who persuaded Zeus to kill him with a thunderbolt. Asclepius was then placed in the Heavens as a constellation.

Asclepius is depicted in Roman statuary as a handsome, healthy chap, leaning on a staff entwined with a serpent – a traditional sign of the healer. His name means ‘to cut open’, indicating that part of the myth that says his father Apollo cut him from the womb when his human mother was burned for being unfaithful to her divine lover. Asclepius was then raised by Chiron, the ‘wounded healer’ of mythology, and taught the healing arts.

The greatest skill of Asclepius was bringing the sick back from death. As he had himself evaded death when he was born, he brought others back to life, but in doing so he aroused the wrath of Hades. It did not take much persuasion to make Zeus agree that the healer was a dangerous man, making gods of mortal men.

Interpretations in astrology are often drawn from the mythological associations, and so the primary characteristic of Ophiuchus is this ability to regenerate and heal. Ophiuchus is perennially believed to be a beneficial sign, conferring blessings, but as was proved with Asclepius, it is the kind of luck that can run out eventually.

There is a natural affinity with medicine, healing and health. Ophiuchans are likely to enter professions that deal with well being, and also sciences that seek to improve the human lot. Ophiuchans are dedicated to learning, and do well at anything that involves study, such as astrology. They may rise high in their professions, only to be cast down and have to start again. But the new beginning may be greater, less concerned with personal glory, and more with the greater good.

A glyph has been designed for Ophiuchus, for those astrologers who choose to use the thirteenth sign. It is a U with a wavy line running across the centre, like a serpent. Like everything else in the birth chart, the position and aspects to the Sun or other planets in this sign have to be taken into account.

For example, Ophiuchus as a rising sign indicates someone tall, good looking, with good people skills. Think Prince William, whose ascendant is in Ophiuchus. The Sun in this sign is likely to lead the native to consider the healing arts as a profession, while Venus here would indicate a natural healing love of humanity. To have Mars here would show a battlefield healer whose power is expressed by bringing peace, and Mercury would show a fine mind devoted to learning. The Moon in Ophiuchus would give the native a powerful emotionally healing presence.

It is unlikely that astrology will overturn the twelve sign zodiac in favor of thirteen signs. The basic zodiac wheel is divided into twelve for a purpose, giving not only twelve signs but twelve areas of endeavor through the houses. It has worked for millennia, and will continue to work, giving all the information that is needed to interpret a birth chart.

But neither is astrology a closed door. Many additions and changes have been made over the centuries with no detriment to its original form. Planets like Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have been incorporated into astrological readings since their discovery – and while Pluto may have been downgraded by astronomy, astrologers are reluctant to let it go because it works as a key to interpretation.

Lesser bodies like Chiron, Juno and Ceres have also become more commonly used, and even some very surprising asteroids with names like Shakespeare and James Bond have proved to be relevant in someone’s chart. While Ophiuchus may not be entirely significant to everyone, there are still natives to whom its appearance in a chart is worth noting.

Just like every other tool at the astrologer’s disposal, no matter how obscure, Ophiuchus has its uses. If some details are proving slippery and indefinable, taking note of the presence of the handsome healer can often be the key that unlocks the secrets held in the human heart – and that is what astrology aims to do.

If you enjoyed this article, check out Ophiuchus Zodiac Traits

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