Originally appeared in The Mountain Astrologer magazine, June 2010. Reprinted with permission.
The familiar circle of twelve signs is a useful fiction. Like time, space, gender and money, it helps us organize our particular, parochial sense of reality. We watch our transits or progressions as they speed or plod along this imaginary line in the sky that we call the ecliptic, as if it were a narrow highway with hard curbs in the vastness of starry space. In our ephemerides, for example, we see Mercury zipping merrily along, 1° Capricorn, then 2° then 3˜. We see Pluto passing the same mileposts—little knowing that Pluto might actually lie thirty degrees from Mercury, way above or below it in the sky, even though we say they are “in conjunction.” In actuality, the only moving astrological point that sticks exactly to the ecliptic is the Sun. Its path, in fact, is what defines the term. Everything else follows it only approximately.
Ever wonder why we don’t have a total solar eclipse every month? Sure enough, there on your computer screen you plainly see the transiting Sun and the transiting Moon aligned in 15° 24'—but no total eclipse of the Sun. The reason is that the Moon is usually a little above the Sun or a little below it. They are “conjunct,” but only in the context of our imaginary celestial railroad track, the zodiac. They are lined up in the two-dimensional framework of the ecliptic, but not in the three dimensional framework of the heavens as they actually meet our eyes. (1)