Never has the question, "What's your sign?" been the subject of so much controversy. Ever since Parke Kunkle, an astronomer out of Minneapolis, gave an interview to a Minnesota TV station last Saturday, discussing how there's a so-called 13th sign, the oddly named Ophiuchus, the world has gone topsy-turvy.
Kunkle's revelation (which both astrologers and astronomers agree is old news) that the Earth's wobble—which has moved it 23 degrees since the Babylonians began reading the skies—means that the constellations have shifted. The news has provoked outrage and dismay from astrology fans. One blog headline even joked, " Parke Kunkle Must Die."
If only for a minute, people like Amanda Fialk, 32, of New York, had to come to terms with her newfound identity. A proud Gemini with a tattoo to prove it, she suddenly found herself contemplating her new, seemingly less scintillating life as a Taurus. "While I do not know much about astrology, I do know that I am definitely a Gemini. There is no doubt about the fact that I have two sides to my personality. In terms of being told that I am now a Taurus, from what I know about that sign, one of the main traits is that people are stubborn," she said. "I like to consider myself to be very open-minded and willing to change. Being told I am now a Taurus did not sit well."
Fialk was not alone; the news set Twitter and Facebook on fire. Astrologist Susan Miller, who has been dispensing long and detailed readings on her site astrologyzone.com since 1995, where she says gets 18 million page views a month, says she was getting her nails done when her iPhone started "popping like popcorn. I've never seen so many instant messages on the face of it. I couldn't keep up with them all." In quick succession, she filmed appearances on Good Morning America, CNN, and Fox and Friends, to dispel the notion that the Zodiac was changing, and—it seems—talk the entire nation off a ledge.
"Everything stays the same," she said. "This is so not new!" she said of "equinox precession," which has caused the Earth to shift gently from where it was thousands of years ago. "I got this feeling that scientists are trying to debunk astrology as if to say, 'Oh you are so silly, you don't even know your own sign, but we have been studying this for years. It's in my book Planets and Possibilities—I wrote that 10 years ago."
"The constellations have changed a little, but the part of the sky that we are looking at—that still is the same," she said. "It's almost like—have you ever put a belt on and you're walking around and you look down and you realize the buckle is all the way to the left side? That's kind of what happened. The belt shifted, but your hips are still in the same place."
Besides, says Miller, people should pay less attention to their sun signs and more to their rising signs, "You need to know your rising signs," said Miller. "That's what everybody should be obsessed with, finding that out."
Another astrologer, Rob Brezsny, who writes the popular column, Free Will Astrology ( www.freewillastrology.com), which runs in over 120 publications worldwide, is equally aghast. "It's truly daunting how a story filled with misinformation can spread so fast. It's shocking," he said. "It's just that this story does come up at least once a year for the last 10 years. But this is the first time that it's reached this meltdown stage."
For a practice that many dismiss as being hocus pocus, it sure struck a chord (a 2009 Harris poll revealed that 26 percent of Americans believe in astrology). "Every astrologer I know has been besieged by people who are freaking out, worried that their entire life plan has gone to muck because they are not who they think they are," said Brezsny.
“It’s truly daunting how a story filled with misinformation can spread so fast. It’s shocking,” said astrologist Rob Brezsny.
Part of the confusion, says Brezsny, is that the constellations and the zodiac names are the same. Though the constellations have shifted, this doesn't affect how astrology works. "Modern Western astrologists don't regard the stars and constellations as their raw material. We're dealing with planets and solar systems for hundreds of years. We don't think about stars and constellations. We don't regard them as part of our work. Ideally we would have names of signs be different from the names of the constellations since they are not related," he said. "It's unfortunate. I understand there is some confusion. It does take a bit of explanation. It's not a Twitter-sized piece of information."
Even though Brezsny and Miller, as well as other astrologers, have done their part to dispel the myths, people are still debating the possibility that they might be another sign. Says Miller: "You grow up with a concept of who you are and the description of the signs fits you and the other sign doesn't fit you—of course it's upsetting."
As for Amanda Fialk: Luckily, she doesn't have to get new ink. "When I thought my sign might have changed, I started brainstorming ways to change the Gemini symbol into a Taurus symbol," she writes. "It would have made for an interesting looking tattoo."
Tricia Romano is an award-winning writer who has written about pop culture, style, and celebrity for the New York Times, the Village Voice, Spin, and Radar magazine. She won Best Feature at the Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award for her Village Voice cover story, about sober DJs and promoters in the nightlife industry, " The Sober Bunch ."