Astrological sign

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In Western astrology, astrological signs are the twelve 30º sectors of the ecliptic, starting at the vernal equinox (one of the intersections of the ecliptic with the celestial equator), also known as the First Point of Aries. The order of the astrological signs is Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.

The concept of the zodiac originated in Babylonian astrology, and was later influenced by Hellenistic culture. According to astrology, celestial phenomena relate to human activity on the principle of "as above, so below", so that the signs are held to represent characteristic modes of expression,[1] or specific qualities of experience, through which planets manifest their dimension of experience.[2]

The twelve sector division of the ecliptic constitutes astrology's primary frame of reference when considering the positions of celestial bodies, from a geocentric point of view, so that we may find, for instance, the Sun in 23º Aries (23º longitude), the Moon in 7º Scorpio (217º longitude), or Jupiter in 29º Pisces (359º longitude). Beyond the celestial bodies, other astrological points that are dependent on geographical location and time (namely, the Ascendant, the Midheaven, the Vertex and the houses' cusps) are also referenced within this ecliptic coordinate system.

Various approaches to measuring and dividing the sky are currently used by differing systems of astrology, although the tradition of the Zodiac's names and symbols remain consistent. Western astrology measures from Equinox and Solstice points (points relating to longest, equal and shortest days of the (tropical year), while Jyotiṣa or Vedic astrology measures along the equatorial plane (sidereal year). Precession results in Western astrology's zodiacal divisions not corresponding in the current era to the constellations that carry similar names,[3] while Jyotiṣa measurements still correspond with the background constellations.[4]

In Western and Asian astrology, the emphasis is on space, and the movement of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky through each of the zodiac signs. In Chinese astrology, by contrast, the emphasis is on time, with the zodiac operating on cycles of years, months, and hours of the day. A common feature of all three traditions however, is the significance of the Ascendant - the zodiac sign that is rising (due to the rotation of the earth) on the eastern horizon at the moment of a person's birth.


Western zodiac signs

Zodiac history and symbolism

The twelve ecliptic signs. Each dot marks the start of a sign and they are separated by 30º. The intersection of the celestial equator and the ecliptic define the equinoctial points: First Point of Aries (Aries.svg) and First Point of Libra (Libra.svg). The great circle containing the celestial poles and the ecliptic poles (P and P'), intersect the ecliptic at 0º Cancer (Cancer.svg) and 0º Capricorn (Capricorn.svg). In this illustration, the Sun is schematically positioned at the start of Aquarius (Aquarius.svg).
The symbols used in Western astrology to represent the planets.

While Western astrology is essentially a product of Greco-Roman culture, some of its more basic concepts originated in Babylonia. Isolated references to celestial "signs" in Sumerian sources are insufficient to speak of a Sumerian zodiac.[5] Specifically, the division of the ecliptic in twelve equal sectors is a Babylonian conceptual construction.[6]

By the 4th century BC, Babylonians' astronomy and their system of celestial omens were influencing the Greek culture and, by late 2nd century BC, Egyptian astrology was also mixing in. This resulted, unlike the Mesopotamian tradition, in a strong focus on the birth chart of the individual and in the creation of horoscopic astrology, employing the use of the Ascendant (the rising degree of the ecliptic, at the time of birth), and of the twelve houses. Association of the astrological signs with Empedocles' four classical elements was another important development in the characterization of the twelve signs.

The body of astrological knowledge by the 2nd century AD is described in Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, a work that was responsible for astrology's successful spread across Europe and the Middle East, and remained a reference for almost seventeen centuries as later traditions made few substantial changes to its core teachings.

The following table enumerates the twelve divisions of celestial longitude, with the Latin names (still widely used) and the English translation (gloss).

Celestial longitude


[0º, 30º[[30º, 60º[[60º, 90º[[90º, 120º[[120º, 150º[[150º, 180º[[180º, 210º[[210º, 240º[[240º, 270º[[270º, 300º[[300º, 330º[[330º, 360º[
GlossThe RamThe BullThe TwinsThe CrabThe LionThe MaidenThe ScalesThe ScorpionThe ArcherThe GoatThe Water-bearerThe Fishes

Polarity and the four elements

A simple diagram displaying the planets' sign positions on May 16th, 2012. The signs are colored according to the associated element. Each planet is represented by a glyph next to its longitude within the sign. Additional symbols may be added to represent apparent retrograde motion(Retrograde-symbol.svg), or apparent stationary moment (shift from retrograde to direct, or vice-versa: S).

Empedocles, a fifth century BCE Greek philosopher, identified Fire, Earth, Air, and Water as elements. He explained the nature of the universe as an interaction of two opposing principles called love and strife manipulating the four elements, and stated that these four elements were all equal, of the same age, that each rules its own province, and each possesses its own individual character. Different mixtures of these elements produced the different natures of things. Empedocles said that those who were born with near equal proportions of the four elements are more intelligent and have the most exact perceptions.[7]

Each sign is associated with one of the classical elements,[8] and these can also be grouped according to polarity: Fire and Air signs are considered positive or extrovert, masculine signs; while Water and Earth signs are considered negative or introvert, feminine signs. A modern description[9][10] is summarized in the following table.



FireAlchemy fire symbol.svgEnthusiasm; drive to express self; faithAries; Leo; Sagittarius
AirAlchemy air symbol.svgCommunication; socialization; conceptualizationGemini; Libra; Aquarius


EarthAlchemy earth symbol.svgPracticality; caution; material worldTaurus; Virgo; Capricorn
WaterAlchemy water symbol.svgEmotion; empathy; sensitivityCancer; Scorpio; Pisces

Classification according to element has gained such importance, that some astrologers start their interpretation of a natal chart, by studying the balance of elements shown by the position of planets and angles[12] (especially the Sun, the Moon and the Ascendant).

The three modalities

Each of the four elements manifests in three modalities: Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable.[13] As each modality comprehends four signs, these are also known as Quadruplicities.[14] They are occasionally referred to as crosses because each modality forms a cross when drawn across the zodiac. Christian astrology relates the three qualities to the three aspects of God in the trinity[citation needed].

CardinalCardinal symbol.svgAction; initiativeAries; Cancer; Libra; Capricorn
FixedFixed symbol.svgResistance to changeTaurus; Leo; Scorpio; Aquarius
MutableMutable symbol.svgAdaptabilityGemini; Virgo; Sagittarius; Pisces

The combination of element and modality provides a basic sign characterization. For instance, Capricorn is cardinal earth, meaning that the sign is associated with action in the material world[citation needed]. That can translate into ambition (search for security through professional achievement)[citation needed] or practical application to the concrete, everyday necessities of life.[18] The next table displays the twelve combinations of elements and modalities.


Planetary rulerships

In traditional Western astrology, each sign is ruled by one and only one of the seven visible planets (note that in astrology, the Sun and Moon are termed The Lights by astrologers, while the other bodies are called planets, which literally means wanderers, i.e. wandering stars as opposed to the fixed stars). The traditional rulerships are as follows: Aries (Mars), Taurus (Venus), Gemini (Mercury), Cancer (Moon), Leo (Sun), Virgo (Mercury), Libra (Venus), Scorpio (Mars), Sagittarius (Jupiter), Capricorn (Saturn), Aquarius (Saturn), Pisces (Jupiter).[19] Psychologically-oriented astrologers often believe that Uranus is the ruler or co-ruler of Aquarius instead of Saturn, Neptune is the ruler or co-ruler of Pisces instead of Jupiter, and that Pluto is the ruler or co-ruler of Scorpio instead of Mars. Some other astrologers believe that the planetoid Chiron may be the ruler of Virgo, while other group of modern astrologers acclaim that Ceres is the ruler of Taurus instead. Traditional astrology adheres to the rulerships system listed in the paragraph above, and the debate continues between those who consider the newly discovered planets as rulers or co-rulers of certain signs and those that do not.

Alternatively, some[who?] astrologers use the former planets Pallas, Vesta, Juno and Hygiea in their delineations and rulerships, for example Vesta to Taurus and Pallas to Virgo.

Some astrologers do not even use the astrological signs at all (mostly Cosmobiologists and Uranian Astrologers/Hamburg School); therefore they do not take into account planetary rulerships and the essential dignities when interpreting an astrological chart.

Note that, if one starts from Leo and Cancer, the traditional planetary rulers are arrayed outward in the same order from the sun as they occur in the natural solar system. A luminary ruling Leo and Cancer, Mercury ruling Virgo and Gemini, Venus ruling Libra and Taurus, Mars ruling Scorpio and Aries, Jupiter ruling Sagittarius and Pisces, Saturn ruling Capricorn and Aquarius. The result is a symmetry of traditional rulerships across the 0° Leo/Aquarius axis. Note that modern rulerships which attribute Pluto as ruler of Scorpio break this symmetry.

The following table shows the zodiac names in Latin, with their English translation along with the element and mode associated with each sign. The celestial body ruling each sign, follows the modern rulership, by including Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.[20]

SymbolSign namesElementModalitiesPolarityAssociated

celestial body


Dignity and detriment, exaltation and fall

A traditional belief of astrology, known as essential dignity, is the idea that the Sun, Moon and planets are more powerful and effective in some signs than others, because the basic nature of both is held to be in harmony. By contrast, the Sun, Moon and planets are held to find some signs to be weak or difficult to operate in because their natures are thought to be in conflict . The most important of these categories are Dignity, Detriment, Exaltation and Fall.

In traditional astrology, other levels of Dignity are recognised in addition to Rulership. These are known as Exaltation (see below), Triplicity, Terms or bounds, and Face or Decan, which together are known as describing a planet's Essential dignity, the quality or ability to give of one's true nature. Contemporary traditional astrologers like John Frawley or J Lee Lehman explain further on the concept of Essential Dignity.[21]

In addition to Essential dignity, the traditional astrologer considers Accidental dignity of planets. This is placement by house in the chart under examination. Accidental dignity describes the planet's "ability to act". So we might have, for example, Moon in Cancer, dignified by rulership, is placed in the 12th house it would have little scope to express its good nature.[22] The 12th is a cadent house as are the 3rd, 6th and 9th and planets in these houses are considered weak or afflicted. On the other hand, Moon in the 1st, 4th, 7th or 10th would be more able to act as these are Angular houses. Planets in Succedent houses of the chart (2nd, 5th, 8th, 11th) are generally considered to be of medium ability to act. Besides Accidental Dignity, there are a range of Accidental Debilities, such as retrogradation, Under the Sun's Beams, Combust, and so forth.

Additional classifications

While knowing the element and modality of a sign is sufficient to define it, several other groupings[citation needed] can be used for those interested in better understanding their symbolism. The most common is a sequential cycle detailed below.[citation needed] Although most commonly used to define planets, it is valid for signs as well. This cycle has been used as a metaphorical descriptor of the process of birth, development, and death, of humans, societies, or even humanity.[23]

The Tropical Zodiac Primary Factors: These factors were presented by Dane Rudhyar[25] and are used in the curriculum of the RASA School of Astrology.

The tropical zodiac is the zodiac of seasonal factors as opposed to the sidereal zodiac (constellation factors). The primary seasonal factors are based on the sunlight. In fact, the tropical zodiac could be defined as the changing ratio of light and darkness across the year.[26][27]

First factor: Half of the year daylight is increasing, and the other half darkness is increasing.

Second factor: Half of the year there is more daylight than darkness, and the other half there is more darkness than daylight.

Third Factor: the four seasons. Winter: Daylight is increasing and there is more darkness than daylight. Spring: Daylight is increasing and there is more daylight than darkness Summer: Darkness is increasing and there is more daylight than darkness. Autumn: Darkness is increasing and there is more darkness than daylight.

Indian astrology

In Indian astrology, there are five elements: fire, earth, air, water and space. The master of fire is Mars, while Mercury is of earth, Saturn of air, Venus of water and Jupiter of space.

Jyotish astrology recognises twelve zodiac signs (Rāśi),[28] that correspond to those in Western astrology. The relation of the signs to the elements is the same in the two systems.

NumberSanskritInternational Alphabet of Sanskrit TransliterationSanskrit glossWestern nameGreekGlossTattva (Element)QualityRuling Planet
1मेषMeṣaramAriesΚριόςramTejas (Fire)Cara (Movable)Mars
2वृषभVṛṣabhabullTaurusΤαῦροςbullPrithivi (Earth)Sthira (Fixed)Venus
3मिथुनMithunatwinsGeminiΔίδυμοιtwinsVayu (Air)Dvisvabhava (Dual)Mercury
4कर्कटKarkaṭacrabCancerΚαρκίνοςcrabJala (Water)Cara (Movable)Moon
5सिंहSiṃhalionLeoΛέωνlionTejas (Fire)Sthira (Fixed)Sun
6कन्याKanyāgirlVirgoΠαρθένοςvirginPrithivi (Earth)Dvisvabhava (Dual)Mercury
7तुलाTulābalanceLibraΖυγόςbalanceVayu (Air)Cara (Movable)Venus
8वृश्चिकVṛścikascorpionScorpioΣκoρπιόςscorpionJala (Water)Sthira (Fixed)Mars
9धनुषDhanusbowSagittariusΤοξότηςarcherTejas (Fire)Dvisvabhava (Dual)Jupiter
10मकरMakarasea-monsterCapricornΑἰγόκερωςgoat-hornedPrithivi (Earth)Cara (Movable)Saturn
11कुम्भKumbhapitcherAquariusὙδροχόοςwater-pourerVayu (Air)Sthira (Fixed)Saturn
12मीनMīnafishPiscesἸχθεῖςfishJala (Water)Dvisvabhava (Dual)Jupiter

The dates for these zodiac signs are those in sidereal astrology, different from those in Hellenistic tropical astrology. Aries begins at the date when the sun enters into the constellation Aries, taking into account the precession of the equinoxes, while in tropical astrology Aries begins at the vernal equinox.


A nakshatra (Devanagari: नक्षत्र, Sanskrit nakshatra, from naksha- 'approach', and tra- 'guard') or lunar mansion is one of the 27 divisions of the sky, identified by the prominent star(s) in them, as used in Hindu astronomy and astrology (Jyotisha).[29]

Chinese zodiac signs

Unlike the Western or Indian zodiacs, the Chinese zodiac signs are not derived from constellations, and are not assigned to sections of the ecliptic. Instead, Chinese astrological signs operate on cycles of years, lunar months, and two-hour periods of the day (also known as shichen). A particular feature of the Chinese zodiac is its operation in a 60-year cycle in combination with the Five Phases of Chinese astrology (Wood, Fire, Metal, Water, and Earth). Nevertheless some researches say that there is an obvious relationship between the Chinese 12-year cycle and zodiac constellations: each year of the cycle corresponds to a certain disposal of Jupiter. For example, in the year of Snake Jupiter is in the Sign of Gemini, in the year of Horse Jupiter is in the Sign of Cancer and so on. So the Chinese 12-year calendar is a solar-lunar-jupiterian calendar.

Zodiac symbolism

The following table shows the twelve signs and their attributes.

SignYin/YangDirectionSeasonFixed ElementTrine

The twelve signs

Chart showing the 24 cardinal directions and the symbols of the sign associated with them.

In Chinese astrology the zodiac of twelve animal sign represents twelve different types of personality. The zodiac traditionally begins with the sign of the Rat, and there are many stories about the Origins of the Chinese Zodiac which explain why this is so. When the twelve zodiac signs are part of the 60-year calendar in combination with the four elements, they are traditionally called the twelve earthly branches. The Chinese Zodiac follows the lunisolar Chinese calendar and thus the "changeover" days in a month (when one sign changes to another sign) vary each year. The following are the twelve zodiac signs in order.[30]

  1. Rat (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Water): Rat years include 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008. The Rat also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Rat are 11pm – 1am.
  2. Ox (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Water): Ox years include 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009. The Ox also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Ox are 1am – 3am.
  3. Tiger (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Tiger years include 1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010. The Tiger also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Tiger are 3am – 5am.
  4. Rabbit (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Rabbit Years include 1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011. The Rabbit also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Rabbit are 5am – 7am.
  5. Dragon (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Wood): Dragon years include 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012. The Dragon also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Dragon are 7am – 9am.
  6. Snake (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Snake years include 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013. The Snake also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Snake are 9am – 11am.
  7. Horse (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Horse years include 1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014. The Horse also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Horse are 11am – 1pm.
  8. Goat (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Fire): Goat years include 1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015. The Goat also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Goat are 1pm – 3pm.
  9. Monkey (Yang, 1st Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Monkey years include 1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016. The Monkey also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Monkey are 3pm – 5pm.
  10. Rooster (Yin, 2nd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Rooster years include 1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017. The Rooster also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Rooster are 5pm – 7pm.
  11. Dog (Yang, 3rd Trine, Fixed Element Metal): Dog years include 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018. The Dog also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Dog are 7pm – 9pm.
  12. Pig (Yin, 4th Trine, Fixed Element Water): Pig years include 1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019. The Pig also corresponds to a particular month in the year. The hours of the Pig are 9pm – 11pm.

The five elements

The elements differ in Chinese astrology from their Western counterparts: Air is not one of the elements as defined by the Chinese. Instead, Wood and Metal are elements alongside Earth, Fire and Water. In addition, the elements also govern various aspects of one's personality, and are assigned to various other things such as directions (North, South, East and West), colours, seasons and planets. The characteristics of the four elements are as follows:[31]

The five elements operate together with the twelve animal signs in a 60-year calendar. The four elements appear in the calendar in both their yin and yang forms and are known as the eight heavenly stems. When trying to calculate the relevant year of the cycle in relation to the Western calendar, an easy rule to follow is that years that end in an odd number are Yin, those that end with an even number are Yang.

External links


  1. ^ Mayo (1979), p. 35.
  2. ^ Arroyo (1989), p. 27.
  3. ^ Bobrick (2005), p. 10, 23.
  4. ^ Johnsen (2004).
  5. ^ Rochberg (1998), p. ix.
  6. ^ Sachs (1948), p. 289.
  7. ^ “Astrology and The Four Elements by Charlie Higgins” 1997.
  8. ^ Robert Pelletier & Leonard Cataldo Ibid p 43, 1984; Maritha Pottenger, Ibid, pp 383–93, 1991
  9. ^ Arroyo (1989), pp. 30-34
  10. ^ Hone (1978), p. 42
  11. ^ Glyphs from the alchemical symbology.
  12. ^ Arroyo (1975)
  13. ^ Arroyo (1989), p. 29.
  14. ^ Robert Pelletier & Leonard Cataldo Ibid p 44 , 1984; Maritha Pottenger, Ibid, pp 383–93, 1991
  15. ^ As used in Sepharial's "The Manual of Astrology"-Brazilian edition (1988) by Editora Nova Fronteira S/A, Rio de Janeiro
  16. ^ Hone (1978), p. 40
  17. ^ Arroyo (1989), p. 30
  18. ^ Hone (1978), p. 75
  19. ^ "Rulerships." Carol Wills 2007. 25 Nov.2007.
  20. ^ Hone (1978), p. 21.
  21. ^ a b c “Glossary of Astrological Terms”. Logos, Asaa 1998–2004. 26 Nov 2007.
  22. ^ “Accidental Dignity”. Astrological Dictionary 1998–2007. 26 Nov 2007.
  23. ^ “Introduction to Astrology”. Self Healing Australia. 26 Nov.2007.
  24. ^ a b "An Introduction to Astrology." 25 Nov.2007.
  25. ^ Rudhyar (1943)
  26. ^ "The Signs and the Houses", by Robin Armstrong, RASA School of Astrology 2009
  27. ^ "I Ching: The Sequence of Change", by Robin Armstrong, RA Publications 2009
  28. ^ The Essentials of Vedic Astrology, by Komilla Sutton, The Wessex Astrologer Ltd, 1999, England, pp. 74–92.
  29. ^ The Essentials of Vedic Astrology, by Komilla Sutton, The Wessex Astrologer Ltd, 1999, England, p.168.
  30. ^ Theodora Lau, Ibid, pp 2–8, 30–5, 60–4, 88–94, 118–24, 148–53, 178–84, 208–13, 238–44, 270–78, 306–12, 338–44, 2005
  31. ^ Theodora Lau, Ibid, ppxxx– xxxvi, 2005