Ophiuchus (known as the serpent holder) is one of the 88 constellations, and was also one of the 48 listed by Ptolemy. Of the 13 zodiac constellations (constellations that can contain the Sun during the course of a year), Ophiuchus is the only one which is not counted as an astrological sign. Ophiuchus is depicted as a man supporting a snake, Serpens; the interposition of his body divides the snake into two parts, Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda, which are nonetheless counted as one constellation.


There are several mythological possibilities for whom the figure represents. The most recent interpretation is that the figure represents the legendary physician Asclepius, who learned the secrets of life and death from one serpent bringing another some herbs which healed it (Asclepius had previously tried to kill it). In order to avoid the human race becoming immortal under Asclepius's care, Zeus eventually killed him with a bolt of lightning, but placed him in the heavens to honour his good works. The involvement in the myth of Chiron may be connected to the nearby presence of the constellation Sagittarius, which was in later times occasionally considered to represent Chiron (who was more usually identified as the constellation Centaurus). Another possibility is that the figure represents the demise during the Trojan War of the Trojan priest Laocoön, who was strangled by a snake or a sea serpent after warning the Trojans against accepting the Trojan Horse. A suggestive statue in the Vatican Museums depicts the tragedy. A third possibility is Apollo wrestling with the Python to take control of the oracle at Delphi.


Johannes Kepler's drawing depicting the location of the stella nova in the foot of Ophiuchus. This constellation, known from antiquity, is one of the 48 constellations described by Ptolemy. It has also been known as Serpentarius, a Latin form of its name. The most important historical event in Ophiuchus was the Supernova 1604, also named Kepler's Supernova, whose explosion was first observerd on October 9, 1604, near Ophiuchi. Johannes Kepler saw it first on October 16, but studied it so extensively that the supernova was subsequently named after him. He published his findings in a book entitled De stella nova in pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in Ophiuchus' Foot). Galileo used its brief appearance to counter the Aristotelian dogma that the heavens are changeless. It occurred only 32 years after another supernova in Cassiopeia that had been observed by Tycho Brahe; the last supernova before then had occurred in 1054, and after Kepler's no further supernovae were observed until 1987.


In the 2nd century, Ptolemy listed 29 stars in Ophiuchus. He recognized that most of those stars were north of the ecliptic (the path of the Sun through the sky) - however, 4 of them (today known as 36 Oph, 42 Oph, 44 Oph and 51 Oph) he recognised as being south of the ecliptic. Therefore, the Sun passed through the constellation of Ophiuchus as it was recognised by Ptolemy. Many astrologers (incorrectly) state that the phenomenon of the Sun passing through Ophiuchus dates from a decision by the International Astronomical Union to adopt constellation boundaries in 1930 - in fact, the phenomenon predates that decision by over 1,700 years. The reason why Ophiuchus is not a part of the western astrological zodiac is because that zodiac is defined on the basis of the sun spending an equal amount of time in twelve astrological signs starting at the vernal equinox - this is called the tropical zodiac. There is also, for instance, a sidereal zodiac, which is based on the actual location of the stars in the sky, and which is used by Hindu and some Western astrologers. At present, the sun is in Ophiuchus from November 30 to December 17.

Ophiuchus Wikipedia

Medicine Man is an English term used to describe Native American religious figures; such individuals are analogous to shamans. The term "medicine man" has been criticized by Native Americans, and various scholars.

The primary function of these "medicine men" (who are not always male) is to secure the help of the spirit world, including the Great Spirit (Wakan Tanka in the language of the Lakota Sioux), for the benefit of the community.

Sometimes the help sought can be for the sake of healing disease, sometimes it can be for the sake of healing the psyche, sometimes the goal is to promote harmony between human groups or between humans and nature. So the term "medicine man" is not entirely inappropriate, but it greatly oversimplifies and also skews the depiction of the people whose role in society complements that of the chief. These people are not the Native American equivalent of the Chinese "barefoot doctors", herbalists, or of the emergency medical technicians who ride our rescue vehicles.

To be recognized as the one who performs this function of bridging between the natural world and the spiritual world for the benefit of the community, an individual must be validated in his role by that community.

The medicine man was a very important figure in Native American society. When European missionaries came over to try to convert the Natives into Christianity, the medicine man stood as a major obstacle to the missionaries in trying to convert them.

One of the best sources of information on this subject is the story of a Lakota (Sioux) wicasa wakan ("medicine man") recorded in a book produced with his cooperation called Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, by John Fire Lame Deer.

On a broader scale, Mircea Eliade's Shamanism puts the whole area of religious experience and practice into a broad historical and ethnographic context.

The term medicine man was also frequently used by Europeans to refer to African shamans, also known as "witch doctors" or "fetish men".

Articles in the News

Doorstep Astronomy: The Celestial Medicine Man

Space.com - August 13, 2005

During the early evening hours, we can gaze toward the south and see the "celestial medicine man" Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, a star pattern that is teamed with the constellation Serpens. 

Serpens, the Snake is the only constellation that's cut in two.  The head of the Serpent lies west of the giant constellation Ophiuchus and is known as Serpens Caput; while to the east of Ophiuchus lies smaller Serpens Cauda, the tail. 

To the naked eye, four stars brighter than magnitude 4.5 mark the head of Serpens.

The three brightest, Beta, Gamma and Kappa Serpentis are set in a nearly equilateral triangle.  Off to the south of the Serpent's head is the location of Messier 5, one of the sky's finest globular clusters with a much-compressed center, appearing roughly half the apparent diameter of the full Moon.  Believed to contain over a half million stars, M5 can be seen without optical aid as a fuzzy "star" on a very dark, clear night. 

Small binoculars show a tiny fuzz ball.  Giant binoculars (10x70s and up) show the cluster rapidly brightening toward the center with perhaps the slightest hint of a mottled texture.

King James I of England, who reigned in the 1600's, once referred to Ophiuchus as "a mediciner after made a god," because the Serpent Bearer was often identified with Aesculapius, who, in Greek mythology, was originally a mortal physician who never lost a patient by death. 

This alarmed Hades, god of the dead, who prevailed on his brother, Zeus, to liquidate Aesculapius.  In recognition of his merits, however, Aesculapius was put into the sky as a constellation.  The association with a serpent may have come from the belief that, by shedding its skin, it is rejuvenated.  And to this day, the symbol of the medical profession is the caduceus insignia of our Army's Medical Corps, which is a winged staff with serpents twined around it.

The constellation's odd name of Ophiuchus derives from the Greek root ophis (serpent) and cheiro-o (to handle).  As for Hygeia and Panacea, they were Aesculapius's daughters.  Although not represented in the sky, like their father, both have long been patron saints to modern-day physicians.   

Interestingly, during late autumn the Sun, moving along the ecliptic, will be in Ophiuchus for 19 days.  It enters Scorpius on November 23, leaves a week later for Ophiuchus on November 30 and enters Sagittarius on December 18.  Thus, the Sun is in Ophiuchus more than twice as long as in Scorpius, an "official" zodiacal constellation.  Astrologers on the other hand do not recognize Ophiuchus as one of the traditional houses of the Sun.

The International Astronomical Union all officially approves the constellations shown on modern star atlases, but while constellations are official, asterisms are not.  An asterism is often defined as a noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a constellation, but that is not always the case.  In addition, many old star charts show constellations that fell out of favor with astronomers and failed to make the list of 88 that have been recognized since 1930. 

One such pattern is just off of the shoulder of Ophiuchus.  It is Taurus Poniatovii, or Poniatowski's Bull.  It was created in 1777 by the AbbZ Martin Poczobut, director of the Royal Observatory of Vilna in honor of King Stanislaus Poniatowski of Poland.  This is a V-shaped pattern of five stars ranging from magnitude 3.9 to 5.7 and its likeness to the V-shaped Hyades group forming the face of winter constellation Taurus probably inspired Poczobut to place this bull in the summer sky.

If Taurus Poniatovii were still recognized as a constellation, it would have the distinction of containing the star with the largest known apparent motion ("proper motion") in our sky.  Barnard's Star is a 9.5-magnitude red dwarf that is named after Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923), one of those legendary telescopic observers of an era long gone. 

It was Barnard, who in 1916 spotted its rapid motion during a comparison of photographic plates of the Milky Way made in 1894 and 1916.  Now called Barnard's "Runaway Star," it has a mass computed to be just 16 percent that of the Sun and a luminosity only 1/2500 that of the Sun.  It's the next closest star to us after the Alpha Centauri system, at 5.9 light years; its actual velocity is about 103 miles per second and its proximity plus high space velocity combine to give it a proper motion of 10.31 seconds of arc each year. 

Put into layman's terms, from our Earthly vantagepoint, this carries it across the sky at roughly the apparent width of the full Moon in less than 180 years.