If you are my friend on Facebook, you may have noticed how appalled I was about the change in zodiac signs. This past week, a news article which originated at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that there has been a change in the equatorial alignment of the Earth since 3000 years ago when the study of astrology began. Back then, 12 zodiac signs were assigned to 12 different periods of the year. But because of the Earth’s wobble on its axis, the sign you thought you were born under was reported to have changed to the following:
Since I have never studied or put any stock in astrology, I was very much surprised by my feelings of disappointment over the idea that I was now a Libra. I realize that part of my identity had indeed been formed around the idea of my astrological sign! I saw that I wasn’t alone, as many others were protesting the change, as well as the addition of a little-known constellation, Ophiuchus, to the zodiac.
“When and where does someone get the authority to change zodiac signs?” people were asking.
The appeal to authority struck me as interesting. We Latter-day Saints have a lot of feelings surrounding the principle of authority. Priesthood authority in our Church comes from the very greatest source — it is the authority to act in the name of God. Arranged hierarchically, and organized by stewardship, authority is taken very seriously. It can be considered a great comfort, that we have authority figures to make decisions in the name of Deity. In a changing world, one with such authority can make unequivocal decisions about things. Let’s say society decides that gay marriage is now politically acceptable. Authoritative Mormon leaders can tell us whether or not this has the sanction of God.
The problem comes in when the low men on the totem pole have different ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Revelation from God is tricky, you see. Were those whisperings of the Spirit simply an emotional response? Did the ecclesiastical leader really receive direction from on High, or is his decision based on his own feelings informed by his experiences and upbringing? Do we trust our authority figure, or our own understanding of scripture and answers to prayer? And if we don’t listen to our leaders’ counsel, what is the use of even having authority?
I think most Mormons find having authority figures comforting. For these members it feels safe to have leaders with a direct line of communication to God, who can settle controversy and lead the way. But Mormonism has a tradition which provides tension with hierarchical leadership. Our foundational story about the Prophet Joseph going into the grove as a young boy for revelation puts the onus on the individual to discover the will of God. Beneath our strains of “Follow the Prophet” are undercurrents of “find out for yourself.” That’s why parsing Mormon’s relationship to authority isn’t as simple as it looks.
A few days after the astrology debacle, I read that Western astrologists agreed we didn’t have to change our zodiac signs. It turns out that the first point of Aries is determined by the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, and not by the position of the constellation Aries. The divisions of the map of the “celestial sphere” – the space around Earth – proceed from there, 30 degrees for each sector or sign. So — who to believe, Parke Kunkle, astronomer, or Shelly Ackerman of the American Federation of Astrologers? But the news story went on:
“…if you don’t want to take her [Ackerman’s] word for it, take it from NASA. By understanding just one definition in the star-gazer glossary at NASA.gov, you will understand that the news of a supposed “new zodiac” featuring 13 signs – and the claim that people’s sun signs have changed – were bogus “news” from the start.”
NASA? Finally, someone with authority has spoken.
I remain a Scorpio.