All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


The zodiac, literally the circle of animals, is constituted by the 12 stellar constellations through which the Sun appears to pass in its annual movement through the heavens. The 12 constellations form a belt across the night sky some 8 to 9 degrees on either side of the solar orbit. The Moon and the planets of this solar system also move within that belt. The path of the Sun is called the ecliptic as eclipses occur when the Moon's orbit crosses the Sun's path.

The idea of a zodiac is relatively complex, and long-term observation of planetary motion is quite possible without it. The idea of naming the various constellations in the sky for gods and animals is ancient; the singling out of the 12 constellations that constitute the zodiac goes back at least to the second millennium B.C.E. in ancient Mesopotamia. The zodiac as it appears in modern astrology was certainly in use by the sixth century B.C.E. Each culture gave the constellations of the zodiac different names, the modern Western zodiac being derived from the Greeks. The designation of 12 constellations, a worldwide phenomenon, relates to the division of the year by the Moon's 12 complete orbits through the zodiac in each solar year.

In modern astrology, two different zodiacs are popularly recognized. The sidereal zodiac reflects the actual location of the constellations in the night sky. Practitioners of Vedic astrology use this zodiac. The position of the constellations relative to the beginning of the years shifts slightly each year due to the phenomenon known as the procession of the equinoxes. Most Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac as defined by Ptolemy in the second century C.E. According to Ptolemy, the astrological year would begin each spring equinox and it would assume that the sun was at 0 degrees Aries. Due to the progression of the equinoxes, the sun at the spring equinox is close to 0 degrees Pisces. Much of the symbolism of the signs of the zodiac in Western astrology is tied to the seasons of the year. That symbolism would be lost with the acceptance of the sidereal zodiac.

The 12 signs of the zodiac are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

(See also Astrological Houses ; Astrological Planets ; Astrological Signs ; Astrology )


Brau, Jean Louis, Helen Weaver, and Allen Edwards. Lau-rouse Encyclopedia of Astrology. New York: New American Library, 1980.

Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1971.

McCaffery, Ellen. Astrology: Its History and Influence in the Western World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942.

views updated


ZODIAC , in astrology, an imaginary zone in the heavens within which lie the paths of the *sun, the *moon, and the planets. The zodiac is divided into 12 signs which are mostly symbolically represented by animals (Gr. Ζώδιον, "a little animal"). The twelve-fold division of the zodiac was first developed by the Chaldean astronomers and was almost certainly suggested by the occurrence of the 12 full moons in successive parts of the heaven in the course of one year. It spread to the West about the beginning of the Christian Era. There is no mention of the zodiac in the Talmud, probably as a result of R. Johanan's statement, based on the verse "Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the nations and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the [gentile] nations are dismayed at them" (Jer. 10:2), to the effect that "Israel is immune from planetary influence" (Shab. 156a). It is first mentioned in the Sefer *Yeẓirah; and the names given to the 12 signs are direct translations of the Latin names. Thus Aries is called Taleh; Taurus, Shor; Gemini, Te'omim; Cancer, Sartan; Leo, Aryeh; Virgo, Betulah; Libra, Moznayim; Scorpio, Akrav; Sagittarius, Keshet; Capricorn, Gedi; Aquarius, Deli ("a bucket"), and Pisces, Dagim.

According to the Yalkut Shimoni (Lev. 418), however, the standards of the 12 tribes correspond to the signs of the zodiac. Thus in the east were stationed Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, corresponding to Aries, Taurus, and Gemini; Reuben, Simeon, and Gad in the south correspond to Cancer, Leo, and Virgo; Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin in the west with Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius; and Dan, Asher, and Naphtali in the north with Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. A long piyyut based on the 12 signs of the zodiac, Yittaḥ Ereẓ le-Yesha, is included in old maḥzorim accompanying the prayer for rain on Shemini Aẓeret, and the signs of the zodiac usually accompany the printed text. This piyyut has, however, been excluded from all modern maḥzorim, and the only place where the signs appear today are in some calendars. In the Pesikta Rabbati (27–28 ed. Freedman p. 133b) a passage occurs which explains the names of the signs homiletically in accordance with Jewish history. The Temple could not be destroyed in Nisan, since the ram which it represents in the zodiac is a reminder of the * Akedah; Taurus is connected with the calf which Abraham slaughtered for his angelic guests (Gen. 18:7); the Gemini represent Jacob and Esau; while the Temple was destroyed in the month of Av, since its zodiacal sign Aryeh, the lion, corresponds to Ariel, a name given to the Temple (Isa. 29:1).

The signs of the zodiac figured prominently in early Jewish art, for example on the mosaic floors of ancient Palestinian synagogues (e.g., *Bet Alfa, *Hammath) as well as in prayer books, on ketubbot, etc.

views updated

712. Zodiac (See also Astrology.)

  1. Aquarius water-bearer (Jan. 20Feb. 18). [Astrology: Hall, 314]
  2. Aries ram (Mar. 21Apr. 19). [Astrology: Hall, 314]
  3. Cancer crab (June 21July 22). [Astrology: Hall, 314]
  4. Capricorn goat (Dec. 22Jan. 19). [Astrology: Hall, 315]
  5. Gemini twins (May 21June 20). [Astrology: Hall, 314]
  6. Leo lion (July 23Aug. 22). [Astrology: Hall, 315]
  7. Libra balance (Sept. 23Oct. 22). [Astrology: Hall, 315]
  8. Pisces fishes (Feb. 19-Mar. 20). [Astrology: Hall, 314]
  9. Sagittarius archer (Nov. 22Dec. 21). [Astrology: Hall, 315]
  10. Scorpio scorpion (Oct. 23Nov. 21). [Astrology: Hall, 315]
  11. Taurus bull (Apr. 20May 20). [Astrology: Hall, 314]
  12. Virgo virgin (Aug. 23Sept. 22). [Astrology: Hall, 315]
views updated

zodiac (Gk. ‘circle of animals’) Belt on the celestial sphere that forms the background for the motions of the Sun, Moon, and planets (except Pluto). The zodiac is divided into twelve signs, which are named after the constellations they contained at the time of the ancient Greeks: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. The constellations inside the Zodiac do not now correspond to those named by the ancients, because precession of the Earth's axis has meanwhile tilted the Earth in a different direction. To modern astronomers, the zodiac has only historical significance. See also astrology; astronomy

views updated

zo·di·ac / ˈzōdēˌak/ • n. Astrol. a belt of the heavens within about 8° either side of the ecliptic, including all apparent positions of the sun, moon, and most familiar planets. It is divided into twelve equal divisions or signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces). ∎  a representation of the signs of the zodiac or of a similar astrological system. DERIVATIVES: zo·di·a·cal / zōˈdīəkəl/ adj.

views updated

Zodiac ★★½ 2007 (R)

Drawn-out and detailed examination (with strong performances) of the still-unsolved Bay Area serial killings from the 1970s. The self-named Zodiac sends cryptic messages to the San Francisco Chronicle, where dissolute reporter Paul Avery (Downey Jr.) is on the crime beat. The paper's editorial cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), figures out the killer's cipher and becomes obsessed with helping out. Then, SFPD detectives Dave Toschi (Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Edwards) are assigned to the case, which eventually goes cold. Graysmith later wrote about the killings and drew his own conclusions as to the Zodiac's identity. 156m/C DVD, HD DVD . US Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, John Carroll Lynch, Charles Fleischer, Zach Grenier, Philip Baker Hall, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, Dermot Mulroney, John Terry, John Getz, Adam Goldberg, Candy Clark, John Lacy, James Le Gros; D: David Fincher; W: James Vanderbilt; C: Harris Savides; M: David Shire.

views updated

zodiac a belt of the heavens within about 8° either side of the ecliptic, including all apparent positions of the sun, moon, and most familiar planets, which is divided into twelve equal divisions or signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces). The supposed significance of the movements of the sun, moon, and planets within the zodiacal band forms the basis of astrology. However, the modern constellations do not represent equal divisions of the zodiac, and the ecliptic now passes through a thirteenth (Ophiuchus).

Owing to precession, the signs of the zodiac now roughly correspond to the constellations that bear the names of the preceding signs.

The word is recorded from late Middle English and comes via Old French and Latin from Greek zōidiakos, from zōidion ‘sculptured animal figure’, diminutive of zōion ‘animal’.

views updated

zodiacaback, alack, attack, back, black, brack, clack, claque, crack, Dirac, drack, flack, flak, hack, jack, Kazakh, knack, lack, lakh, mac, mach, Nagorno-Karabakh, pack, pitchblack, plaque, quack, rack, sac, sack, shack, shellac, slack, smack, snack, stack, tach, tack, thwack, track, vac, wack, whack, wrack, yak, Zack •cardiac • zodiac •haemophiliac (US hemophiliac), necrophiliac, sacroiliac •umiak •bibliomaniac, dipsomaniac, egomaniac, kleptomaniac, maniac, megalomaniac, monomaniac, nymphomaniac, pyromaniac •insomniac • celeriac • Syriac •hypochondriac • Mauriac • theriac •amnesiac •aphrodisiac, Dionysiac •Dayak, kayak •Kerouac • bivouac

views updated

zodiac belt of the celestial sphere within which the apparent motions of celestial bodies take place, divided into 12 ‘signs’ named after the 12 constellations. XIV. — (O)F. zodiaque — L. zōdiacus — Gr. zōidiakós, f. zṓidion sculptured figure (of an animal), sign of the zodiac, dim. of zôion animal, f. zōós living; see -AC.
So zodiacal XVI. — F.

views updated


a recurrent series; a round; a set of twelve.

Examples: zodiac of the twelve apostles, 1631; of my expectations, 1609; of fcasts, 1856; of life, 1560; of learned lives, 1742; of wit, 1586.

More From Encyclopedia.com