If you're new to all this astrology stuff then you've probably only encountered sun sign astrology through magazine and newspaper horoscopes. Most people can tell you what sign they are. What most people don't know is that this is only a small part of astrology. Every planet is important in astrology as well as their positions relative to each other and the Earth.
The sun is the only planet (the sun and moon are considered planets in astrology, just go with it) that's going to be in the same place, at the same time (roughly) every year. This is why you just use your birthday to look up your sun sign. For everything else you need to specifically look up the year, the time, and the location. So, while sun sign horoscopes can be accurate, they're general by design and limited. Keep in mind, not all horoscopes are actually written by astrologers.
This post is going to be going over the basics of what astrology is and what it looks like for people completely new to it. Just keep in mind as I'm explaining things that I'm leaving a ton of details out.
Astrology can be broken up into 4 main components
Planets are THE most important part of astrology. The planets are like actors and everything else is just background and setting. An important conceptual note is that the ancient Greeks viewed the planets as being representatives or physical incarnations of the gods. They created myths to anthropomorphize and explain the behavior of the planets. Hermes, or Mercury, is associated with trickery and travel because the planet moves quickly, it retrogrades (appears to move backwards in the zodiac) frequently, and it often disappears due to being hidden by the sun's light.
Traditional astrology, which is what I practice, uses the 7 "traditional" planets. Pluto, Uranus, and Neptune hadn't been discovered yet since they can't be seen by the naked eye. I still use the 3 outer planets but much more sparingly. I'll mention a few significations for each of the original 7.
· Sun - vitality, spirit, the conscious mind, intellect
· Moon - the body, emotion, the "gut brain," intuition
· Mercury - the exchange and transfer of all things. This includes everything from communication and transferring your thoughts to someone else i.e. speaking, to exchanging money for an item or service, to just physically travelling.
· Venus - relationships and social connections of all kinds, not just romantic. Beauty, harmony, peace, pleasure.
· Mars - cutting, burning, severing (literal and metaphorical, usually metaphorical). Anger, aggression, the assertion of will, war, violence.
· Jupiter - allies, prosperity, fertility, justice, faith, expansion
· Saturn - restriction, decay, death, time, darkness. Think about Saturn the way you would think about winter if you were a farmer in ancient times.
You may notice that two of these planets sound kinda shitty. Those are Mars and Saturn. Mars and Saturn are known as "malefics" which means they generally do things we don't like. On the other hand, Venus and Jupiter are known as "benefics" which generally means they do things we like. Mercury can go either way and the sun and moon are generally considered to be more neutral.
Aspects are what we call the relationship between two points, usually involving two planets, and they generally indicate how planets interact with each other. An important conceptual note is that this relies heavily on the idea of sight. The idea is that planets who aspect one another are bearing witness. It's kind of like having a witness at your marriage. If no one witnessed it, did it even happen?
The qualities of aspects were determined by the relative position of planets in their own signs (each zodiac sign is ruled by a planet) to the signs of the luminaries (the sun & moon) in an ancient teaching tool called the Thema Mundi. I won't get into all that now, just know there's a logic behind it.
It's also important to consider the nature of the planets involved in an aspect. A square or opposition with a benefic would generally be more positive than a conjunction with a malefic.
· Conjunction, 0° - this technically isn't an aspect but it still counts. The planets are generally aligned and working together.
· Sextile, 60° - this aspect is of the nature of Venus. It's mildly positive. The sextile indicates some sympathy between the two planets but they aren't full-fledged allies. The sextile is more like an acquaintance.
· Square, 90° - this aspect is of the nature of Mars. The square is combative, there's some friction. It's like the planets have similar goals but disagree on how to achieve them. There's enough common ground to be productive together but they're disharmonious.
· Trine, 120° - this aspect is of the nature of Jupiter. Trines are the most positive aspects and indicate harmony and ease. Planets that are trine are allies with one another. They share the same goal and they're working together in harmony.
· Opposition, 180° - this aspect is of the nature of Saturn. Oppositions are like a refusal to work together. Where a square is more like a disagreement and you can come to a compromise, oppositions are totally opposed ideas. A square would be like someone saying they want to defund police and you want to abolish police. An opposition would be like someone saying "blue lives matter" while you're saying "Black lives matter."
Houses are divisions of the sky that are associated with different areas of life. There are many different "house systems" that use different calculations to determine where each house begins and ends. The most common house system is Placidus and it's what most programs and apps use as the default house system. I use a system called Whole Sign Houses (WSH) which is what most "traditional" astrologers use. There are conceptual reasons behind my decision but let's stick to the basics.
Remember how I said planets are THE most important part of astrology and they're like actors? Well, houses are like what role they play. Planets can have more or less strength depending on the house they're in and their responsibilities depend on the house(s) they rule.
The following image is what a "horoscope" actually is. It's a circular chart that's a 2D representation of the sky at a given moment. The small circle with the X in the center is Earth. The line on the left labeled "AC" is the ascendant or the eastern horizon. The numbers 1-12 around the small circle in the center are the houses. This chart is set for 6:30am so you can see the sun (symbol that looks like a donut) getting ready to rise over the ascendant.
· 1st house - this is at the Eastern horizon where the sky meets the Earth. The horizon itself is known as the "ascendant" and it signifies your spirit(sky) meeting your body(Earth). This house is all about you as a person and your body. This is the only house solely focused on you. The sign of your "ascendant" is also known as your "rising" because this point is where the sun, and other planets, rise.
· 2nd house - this is below the eastern horizon, moving counter clockwise from the 1st house. This signifies material resources and finances.
· 3rd house - still under the Earth, still moving counter clockwise. This house signifies siblings, neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins, k-12 "lower education," generally things that are local and familiar. This also includes regular communication and virtual spaces you frequent. The newspaper you get every day would be 3rd house, the book you read once would not.
· 4th house - this is where the sun is at about midnight. The 4th house signifies the place you rest. It is both your home where you rest your body and your grave where you rest your bones. It also signifies your ancestry as well as your parents (to a certain extent). It's a private, hidden place.
· 5th house - still moving counter clockwise and under the Earth, the sun being here was the ancient equivalent of demon time. This would be the time of night after you've had dinner and now you get to just relax. This house signifies pleasure, creation, children, sex, romance, etc.
· 6th house - still under the Earth, the 6th house signifies injury, illness, menial labor, chores, maintenance (of your body or your things). Pets also go in the 6th house except for big animals like horses.
· 7th house - this is where the sun sets in the West, opposite the ascendant at a point called the "descendant." Where the 1st house represents self, the 7th house represents other. This usually translates to committed 1 on 1 relationships. This can be your spouse, your business partner, your best friend. The 7th house can also signify rivals. Think Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak kinda rivals though, not like Batman and Joker type shit.
· 8th house - we're above the horizon now. This is where the sun goes to die every day. Even though the sun actually sets in the 7th house, the 8th house is a declining place. It signifies death, debt, taxes, and other people's money.
· 9th house - still above the horizon, the sun is here in the mid-afternoon every day. This is about the time you probably got out of school as a kid and felt both the relief from the last bell and the excitement of being able to go play. As the 3rd house signifies that which is familiar, the 9th house signifies that which is unfamiliar. The 9th house signifies travel to foreign lands, meeting foreign people, expanding your mind through philosophy/religion, "higher learning" (college/university). It also signifies skilled counsel (advice from professionals) and law/justice.
· 10th house - this is generally where the sun is at 12pm noon, the highest part of the sky. It signifies leadership, authority, reputation, what you're known for. It's also associated with career.
· 11th house - this is where the sun is in the late morning, approaching noon. The 11th house signifies allies, friends, organizations, hopes, and dreams. It's basically people you ally with and the dream you're helping each other realize. These are your comrades, not your coworkers.
· 12th house - this is where the sun has just risen and if you're awake you're probably groggy and half asleep. The 12th house signifies isolation. It's both that feeling of peace as you quietly drink your morning coffee before everyone else gets up as well as the awkward discomfort of staying at a friend's house and waking up before them. Being alone can be great and we all need alone time but humans are social creatures. Think of it in terms of pack animals; if you're alone, you're dead. None of us can survive completely alone.
I debated about even including signs as one of the main components but I know it would be confusing as hell if I didn't. Signs are WAY less important than most people think. They're still important, but remember signs are not the focus.
The zodiac consists of 12 equal divisions of the ecliptic (the path the planets follow in the sky). These equal divisions are inspired by the constellations but they are not the same things. First, the constellations aren't equal, they vary in size. The signs of the zodiac however, are each 30°. Second, the constellations are moving due to precession, the zodiac is not. Don't worry about the specifics too much, just know that zodiacal signs and constellations are not the same things. This is why there's no 13th sign, Ophiucus is bullshit, and we been knew about precession.
There are more than one zodiacs. You've probably only ever seen what's called the "tropical zodiac" which is what we primarily use in the "west." The tropical zodiac is tied to the equinoxes and solstices. The sign of Aries begins at the vernal equinox every spring, Cancer begins at the summer solstice, Libra begins at the fall equinox, and Capricorn begins at the winter solstice. People in the southern hemisphere who use the tropical zodiac have different seasons but they still use the equinoxes and solstices.
The sidereal (pronounced like boreal) zodiac is mainly used in India. The signs themselves are the same but they're tied to certain fixed stars (stars so far away they don't appear to move) rather than the equinoxes and solstices. This puts the tropical and the sidereal zodiac significantly off from each other. Beginners don't need to worry about this, just keep it in the back of your mind.
Take a second to think about what we already covered. Planets have their own natures and significations, they interact with each other by making aspects, and they're in charge of different areas of life based on houses. So, what are signs?
Signs are like locations. They were conceptualized as being like estates belonging to the planets. For example, Mercury in Libra is like a guest in Venus' home because Venus rules Libra. Each of these planetary "estates" is filled with things that planet likes. Venus' signs are filled with things that Venus likes and those things become the resources that guest planets have to use. Mercury in Libra has to use Libra/Venus things to communicate which would be like poetry, prose, etc. Beautiful language. This is just an example though, people with Mercury in Libra don't literally go around talking in sonnet form.
Each planet has signs it functions better in than others. This is known as "essential dignity." Mercury is "peregrine" or neutral in Libra. It's still able to communicate and do what it needs to do but Libra stuff isn't particularly helpful to Mercury. Mars however, is in its detriment or exiled in Libra. Mars cuts and burns things. Libra, as a sign of Venus, is about connecting things, balance, and proportion. These things are antithetical to Mars so it can't properly do its job there.
Here are the different distinctions of essential dignity:
· Domicile - a planet in a sign that it rules. It's at home and comfortable.
· Exaltation - planets that are exalted are honored guests and their importance/influence is raised up.
· Peregrine - a planet that is neutral or indifferent to the sign it's in. Neither helped nor hurt.
· Detriment/Exile - planets that are exiled are in the sign of their antithesis. They experience challenges and must adapt
· Fall/Depression - planets that are fallen are brought low (kinda like how Cinderella was treated)
Besides being ruled by a planet, each sign also has an elemental quality (known as triplicity) and a modality (known as quadruplicity).
· Aries - cardinal fire sign ruled by Mars. Exaltation of the sun. Detriment of Venus. Depression of Saturn.
· Taurus - fixed earth sign ruled by Venus. Exaltation of the moon. Detriment of Mars.
· Gemini - mutable air sign ruled by Mercury. Detriment of Jupiter.
· Cancer - cardinal water sign ruled by the moon. Exaltation of Jupiter. Detriment of Saturn. Depression of Mars.
· Leo - fixed fire sign ruled by the sun. Detriment of Saturn.
· Virgo - mutable earth sign ruled by Mercury. Exaltation of Mercury. Detriment of Jupiter. Depression of Venus.
· Libra - cardinal air sign ruled by Venus. Exaltation of Saturn. Detriment of Mars. Depression of the sun.
· Scorpio - fixed water sign ruled by Mars. Detriment of Venus. Depression of the moon.
· Sagittarius - mutable fire sign ruled by Jupiter. Detriment of Mercury.
· Capricorn - cardinal earth sign ruled by Saturn. Exaltation of Mars. Detriment of the moon. Depression of Jupiter.
· Aquarius - fixed air sign ruled by Saturn. Detriment of the sun.
· Pisces - mutable water sign ruled by Jupiter. Exaltation of Venus. Detriment and depression of Mercury.
Let's look at the modality or quadruplicity. Notice how we have a repeating pattern of cardinal, fixed, and mutable. This is by design! The cardinal signs occur at the equinoxes and solstices which is when the seasons change. Thus, cardinal signs have the quality of completely changing from one thing to another like the change of seasons. Next we have the fixed signs which occur during the middle of the seasons. This is where the weather is fixed and steady, giving these signs a fixed, steady, and unchanging quality. Lastly, the mutable signs are at the ends of seasons when the weather is beginning to change. I'm writing this near the beginning of Virgo season and the weather has been cooling off all week but this weekend it's back in the 90's. This is the type of unsteady change or flexibility that mutable signs have.
I'm going to avoid getting too complicated with triplicity or element but know that these also have unique qualities. Fire signs are generally associated with passion. Air signs are generally associated with logic. Water signs are generally associated with emotion. Earth signs are generally associated with practicality.
You may be wondering why I didn't just explain what the signs mean. That's because I want you to understand that astrology is based on symbolic reasoning. Astrology is a language of archetypes. The way I see Saturn isn't the way everyone else sees Saturn. The way I see Libra isn't the way everyone else sees Libra. It's a personal connection, like the difference between how I see my mom as her son and how you would see my mom as a stranger. Perspective is everything.
Even using the same system, the same qualities, the same sources, astrologers interpret things differently. Astrology used to be called "the art of judgment," which is incredibly apt because so many things are judgment calls. We look at all these different symbolic factors while considering the context of your life to make a judgment. This is why astrologers can't be replaced by apps. This is also why astrologers aren't in competition with one another. My colleagues can't replicate my style and I can't replicate theirs.
In closing, hopefully you have a better idea of what astrology really is and what astrologers do. I'm not gonna lie, astrology is complicated as fuck and this post barely scratches the surface. BUT if you have the desire to learn then remember that you're bringing something to the table that no one else can!