The Hidden Story of Capricorn

- or, how the sea-goat lost its tail

‘Capricornus’, from Urania’s Mirror - a set of cards produced in 1824 as an introduction to the constellations.

In the landscape of commercial astrology, the zodiac sign Capricorn is typically represented by a mountain goat. But while the name (from the Latin Capricornus, literally “horned like a goat”) betrays no aquatic connection, Capricorn’s associated astronomical constellation is traditionally endowed with a fish tail. In other words, the Capricorn of the sky is not just a goat. It is a mythical goat-fish, a sea-goat.

But to where - and more importantly, why - has its tail vanished in the earthly plane? Could it be that we have no frame of reference, these days, for a goat-fish? The other zodiac signs are easy to understand, and to place into context - the fish, the twins, the water carrier, the scorpion. So perhaps a newspaper or magazine, or the makers of zodiac mugs or keyrings you can get on holiday in a British seaside town (next to the mugs or keyrings with names on) might find it easier to present a picture and description of a goat, than a goat with the tail of a fish. “You are born between December 21st and January 21st. Like the mountain goat, you are tenacious, strong-willed, and know how to climb to the top!” Take away ‘mountain’ and insert the prefix ‘sea-’, or the suffix ‘-fish’, and you might have lost your audience.

           A Capricorn “Positive Traits”  magnet . But where is the tail?

           A Capricorn “Positive Traits” magnet. But where is the tail?


Unfortunately for my argument, I have observed in my internet research that a number of websites floating about do acknowledge Capricorn’s original embodiment: that of the sea-goat, reflecting the constellation and original mythology. But a large proportion of these pages, while they present a picture of a goat-fish, discuss only mountain goat qualities. And the few sites that verbally acknowledge Capricorn’s aquatic side do so with statements like: “Goats do not gamble: they plan, rehearse, and execute [...] Remember that this Astrological Sign is part animal and part fish, and the fish half has emotions that run very deep. These feelings rarely show themselves, making relationships convoluted.” Sorry,, but you have missed the mark. The mark of the subtleties of the Capricornian archetype, in all its sea-green glory.

And these superficial watery references are themselves few and far between. Overall, it seems that certain of the sea goat’s qualities have floated away, in tandem with its tail. Why does this matter? Well, from a PR point of view, Capricorns are not doing well at all. And I worry that children born between the winter solstice and January 21st who are already - being Capricorns -  very sceptical, might reject astrology out of hand when it fails to explain their characters in accurate soundbites.

For me, it was being told that I was a Capricorn that led to 15 years of heavy astrological scepticism. The list of Capricorn characteristics I encountered probably looked a lot like the following, from a Capricorn Pinterest post: ‘You are serious, cold, patient, thoughtful, ambitious, indomitable, cautious, persistent, introverted, wilful, resourceful, realistic, loyal, resolute, and reliable.’ ‘But you can also be,’ - one hopes here that some more positive traits will now be listed - ‘distrusting, inhibited, pessimistic, fatalistic, ruthless, selfish, miserly, and dull’. Since I was, at the age of seven - and indeed still am - impatient, unfocused, impulsive, extroverted, unrealistic and unreliable, as well as optimistic, overly trusting, and, in general, warm, interesting and not especially serious, I was unimpressed with such a list. Astrology was over as far as I was concerned. It had failed at its most basic task (categorising humans).

Which brings me to my position today, as an advocate for the hidden depths of astrology. If all you think you know about astrology is your star sign, I envy you and your potential for astrological adventure; read the appendix below to begin. The problem is this: the reduction of astrology to a single ‘star sign’ for each individual already misrepresents it in almost all possible ways. You are not your star sign. You are a glorious mix of zodiacal archetypes. The last thing we - pioneers of the new-old astrology - need is for those archetypes themselves to lose dimensions. The tail of the goat-fish may still exist in some circles, but the qualities it symbolises have faded from the astrological consciousness. Let’s bring them back.

- Octavia Sheepshanks



A bit about what astrology is

Astrology is a complex study of the exact location of the planets in the sky, and of their mathematical relationships to each other (known as aspects), at the time of birth of an individual. A map of the sky (known as a natal chart) at the exact moment of birth is produced and this is believed to form the basis of an individual’s personality, and according to some astrologers, their destiny. Most westerners are exposed to this in the form of what they know as star signs, which in astrology-speak are called sun signs - your “star sign” represents the location of the sun in the sky when you were born, leaving out the other planets and the aspects. But this means that one in twelve people have the same sign. Sun sign astrology is popular with publications because we already live according to a solar calendar; if you’re reading a star sign column in a newspaper, you don’t need a computer to know your sign, just your birthday - which we all know already. But many professional astrologers believe that this gives astrology a bad name. Individuals whose charts are dominated by other energies are likely to become very sceptical of astrology, upon learning that their 'star sign' hardly reflects their personality traits at all. And this extends, too, into the sphere of predictive astrology, which is largely ineffective when only a minute fraction - the general placement of the sun - is considered.