By Alison Bodhani, Vedic Astrologer and Guest Author for Astrological Gem International
In order to understand the differences between gem prescription in Western Astrology and Vedic Astrology, one must first understand some of the key differences between the two systems. There is actually not a terrific amount of overlay between them, but to the casual observer, it can become confusing because of the one (sort of) overlay that they do share.
To understand this (sort of) overlay we must first consider a few astronomical basics. Every ancient culture spent a lot of time with the night sky. There was no electricity so the only available light after sundown, other than a fire – a dim event by today’s night baseball standards- was the vast smorgasbord of stars overhead. Today, electrical lighting means that two-thirds of the world’s population cannot see the Milky Way from home. Only a few of the brightest stars bleed through the perfusion of artificial light. It makes stars seem almost scanty, nicely spaced, a bit Zen as it were, but if one sees the night sky without this obstruction, a fecund glittering awaits, a carpet of twinkling jewels so thickly heaped, they can only have been strewn by an excessively generous hand.
In the ancient world, we spent every night with that sky, stewing in its rich meanings for a sufficient amount of time to translate some of its cosmic information into human understanding. Part of that understanding particularly equated, in many cultures, to a particular band of sky termed the zodiac. This is the band of sky that the Sun, Moon and planets appear to traverse. Like a circular race track, all planetary bodies stay within its confines. It is 16 degrees wide.
Different cultures have taken this particular band of stars and divided it up into different star groupings that correlate with particular archetypes. These groupings of stars are called constellations. They are both culturally subjective and universal and how the stars are grouped varies from culture to culture.
Herein lies the confusing overlay between Western and Vedic astrology. While the two systems are very different, both make use of twelve constellations of 30 degrees each (12×30 = 360 = a circle) whose names and images are mostly identical. When either a Western person or an Indian person identifies themselves as being born under a particular sign, they are referencing one of these twelve constellations, but what they mean by that appellation is not the same for two major reasons.
Firstly, Western astrologers usually use the tropical zodiac while Vedic astrologers usually use the sidereal zodiac. What this means is the following. While both systems are making use of the same ribbon of sky, they see its start point and end point at different places on the ribbon. In Western astrology, the starting point of the ribbon is the position of the Sun at the vernal equinox. Western astrologers term this 1 degree of Aries. However, the constellation the Sun occupies at the vernal equinox changes through time, so except for once every 26,000 years, it is not an astronomical reality that the Sun occupies 1 degree of Aries at the vernal equinox.
In Vedic astrology this change is tracked such that 1 degree of Aries remains 1 degree of Aries regardless of what constellation the Sun falls in at the vernal equinox. Right now, the Sun falls at around seven degrees of Pisces at the vernal equinox. Pisces precedes Aries. Therefore (30-23=7), planets ascribed in one constellation in Western astrology will usually occupy the preceding constellation in Vedic astrology. They will only continue to occupy the same constellation, but at a different degree, if they fall in the last seven degrees of a constellation. That is difference number one.
Secondly, it is important to remember that the Sun, Moon and planets all occupy constellations. In the Western world, when someone references their “sign” they are describing the constellation the Sun occupied at their time of birth. The Sun travels 1 degree per day. Therefore, it takes 30 days for it to pass through one constellation. A very large number of people are born in a month. In Vedic astrology, when someone references their sign, they are describing the constellation on the Eastern horizon at the moment of their birth. The Earth rotates 360 degrees in 24 hours, or about 15 degree per hour. That means the same constellation is on the Eastern horizon for about two hours, a much shorter span of time than 30 days. In the Vedic view, the Eastern horizon is where the Sun rises and the day begins. A birth is the beginning of individual being and therefore symbolically correlates to sunrise, so the constellation on the Eastern horizon most strongly represents the individual. Also, it is the fastest changing astronomical factor in a horoscope, and is, therefore, the most individual specific.
Thus, the initial seeming similarity breaks down quickly.
Now, let us turn to the subject of gemstone prescriptions. While both systems make use of gemstones, they do so in very different ways. In Western astrology, each Sun sign has a birthstone or two, but there is no great depth of meaning to which Sun sign is accorded which birthstone. This practice of assigning birthstones is quite new in Western astrology. Various scholars state that it began in Germany in the late 1500s or in Poland in the 1800s. Supposedly, the original gemstone lists, which also varied, were to be in accordance with the 12 gemstones on Aaron’s breastplate, but there is no definitive scholarly work on what gemstones were on Aaron’s breastplate to begin with. Lists of gemstones varied from place to place until a the National Association of Jewelers met in Kansas in 1912 and standardized the list. It was updated in 2013.
In Vedic astrology, gemstones occupy a much older, richer and more complex tradition. Gemstones are recognized as carrying very special, potent energies that can influence the wearer and his/her reality. Gemstones are assigned, not to constellations, but to planets. They are assigned because their inherent qualities accord with the inherent qualities of the planet in question. Both the mineral and its color represent attributes of its ruling planet. By the rules of correspondence, the gem of a planet can enhance the effect of that planet in a person’s life for good or ill.
With Vedic gem prescription, people are not divided into twelve groups with everyone in a group getting the same gemstone assigned. Rather, gemstones are prescribed on an individual basis after looking at the entire horoscope of an individual. It is understood that the right gemstone can alleviate suffering and contribute to success, prosperity and harmony while the wrong gemstone can have the opposite effect. It depends on the placement of the planets in the horoscope. Such a prescription is best done by a knowledgeable expert.