Did your horoscope sign change? Regardless, learn what the words for the zodiac signs literally mean.

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Suddenly, a zinger about the zodiac seems to be everywhere online. If you haven’t heard, the Minnesota Planetarium Society has pointed out that the dates associated with horoscopes have been incorrect for a very, very long time. This means that the astrological sign you have always associated with yourself may be “wrong”. We discuss the reasons behind this age-old discrepancy, here.

Another fascinating consequence of this astronomical correction of the pseudo-science of astrology is the addition of a 13th sign, Ophiucus. This blog has enthusiastically chronicled the meaning behind this zodiac anomaly for a while now. Read about the history and meaning of this additional astrological associate, here.

Whether or not your sign has shifted overnight, regardless if you take the zodiac seriously or approach it with laughter, the meaning behind the traditional zodiac characters is fascinating and more than a little random when you look at all of symbols and names collectively. Here is some background on the history of these 12 symbols, along with the terms that relate to them:

  • Aries is Latin for “ram.” In Greek mythology, the story that inspired the sign involves a brother and sister being saved from human sacrifice by a flying ram whose wool is made of gold. After the brother, Phrixus, sacrifices the ram, its wool becomes the famous Golden Fleece.
  • Taurus is Latin for “bull,” and this story is a tad salacious. This bull is associated with Zeus, who appeared to the princess Europa as a bovine in order to kidnap her. The region where Zeus apparently absconded with her is a little place now known as Europe.
  • Gemini, Latin for “twins,” refers to the brothers Castor and Pollux, one of whom was mortal, the other immortal. A tale goes that when the mortal Castor died, Pollux convinced Zeus to let both of them share Pollux’s eternal life. The twins purportedly found immortality as part of a constellation.
  • Cancer is Latin for “crab.” The mythological basis for this sign is bizarre and minor. When Hercules was fighting the monster called the hydra, the goddess sent down a giant crab to help defeat the Greek hero. Instead of being turned into a humongous crab cake, the crab was placed in the sky to honor its valor in battle.
  • The constellation of Leo, Latin for “lion,” has been identified as such by many different cultures, but in Western culture it’s generally associated with the Nemean Lion, another creature Hercules destroyed.
  • Virgo, Latin for “virgin,” doesn’t have a single mythological association. The Greeks associated the constellation with their harvest goddess Demeter.
  • Libra, Latin for “scales of measurement,” overlaps with the mythological meaning behind Virgo. Sometimes the scales are considered to be held by the Roman goddess Astraea, associated with justice.
  • Scorpio, Latin for “scorpion,” derives from the story of Orion the hunter. Orion apparently claimed he would kill every creature on Earth. The Olympian gods, not too keen on this notion, summoned a giant scorpion to kill him. The two fought so long and hard that both were placed in the heavens to honor their toughness.
  • Sagittarius means “archer” in Latin. The figure in Greek mythology is often considered to be a centaur, half man and half horse, but Babylonian mythology associates it with a bizarre creature that has wings, a scorpion’s tail, the head of a man and the head of a panther.
  • Capricorn is Latin for “horned goat,” and is represented by a mythical creature known as the sea-goat, half-goat, half-shark. This imagery dates back to ancient times, but emerges in Greek myth as a goat or nymph who was the nurse-maid for the infant Zeus.
  • Aquarius, Latin for “water-bearer,” is associated with a number of figures in mythology, including Ganymede, a handsome young prince whom Zeus abducted.
  • Finally, Pisces, which is Latin for “fishes,” may refer to the myth of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, and her son, Eros, being transformed into fish to survive the wrath of another Greek monster, Typhon.
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