Symbols / Signs

The term symbol (ancient Greek σύμβολον sýmbolon 'recognition sign') or also allegory is generally used for carriers of meaning (signs, words, objects, processes, etc.) which designate an idea (of something which need not be present). Which conception is then concretely meant by the word 'symbol' is defined more precisely and sometimes very differently in the fields of application.

Empirical research on symbols has - after controversial approaches in the Third Reich - not been established at university level, but it is mainly carried out on an interdisciplinary basis. Important research associations are Symbolon - Society for Scientific Symbol Research (1955) and the Swiss Society for Symbol Research (1983). Symbol research as a theory of signs is referred to overarchingly as semiotics. The research of symbolic inscriptions, petroglyphs and ideographic symbols is called epigraphy; the research of symbolic images is part of iconography.

The signs of the zodiac are the symbolic images that mark the twelve sections of the zodiac. Beginning with the Aries point, they are defined as geometric circular sections of 30° each on the ecliptic, in front of which the Sun is located successively during a year, each one twelfth of the length of the year. In the antiquity, at the time of the naming of the signs of the zodiac, one believed however still to be able to recognize the topics of the year in the respective constellations. Therefore 12 of the 88 constellations have the names of signs of the zodiac. More than 2000 years ago Hipparchus discovered the precession, which made clear that the constellations are useless as indicators of the seasons in the long run. Then, from the 5th century onwards, in the astrology of the Orient and Eastern Mediterranean, the beginning of the zodiac sign Aries was consistently associated with the point of Aries. Prior to this, the signs of the zodiac were mainly equated with the ecliptic constellations of the sidereal zodiac, which appeared to shift due to precession.

The zodiac and its division into "signs" of 30° was possibly already developed or even already known during the Seleucid Empire in the 4th century BC in the area of Mesopotamia. For this time also the application of mathematical astronomy for the precalculation of planet positions, which would have been possible with the help of this coordinate system with 30° sections, is provable.