Most traditions of horoscopic astrology use the signs of the zodiac in chart delineation, although there are some traditions such as Cosmobiology that put much less emphasis on the zodiac. There are two zodiacs; one is the tropical zodiac which correlates with the seasons, and the other is the sidereal zodiac which correlates with the constellations that lie on the ecliptic. Both of the zodiacs consist of equal divisions of the ecliptic into twelve 30-degree segments called signs. A sign is a collection of characteristics or qualities which correlate either with the symbolic meaning underlying the seasons, or with the meaning which underlies the stars and constellations, depending upon which zodiac you use. The tropical zodiac of the seasons has been used by astrologers in the west almost exclusively since sometime around the 2nd century when Claudius Ptolemy defined the zodiac as beginning with the vernal point. Traditionally Vedic astrologers have only used the sidereal zodiac.
This article will mainly explore the tropical and sidereal signs which are employed in horoscopic astrology, although there are other divisions of the ecliptic which are used in other traditions, such as the Nakshatras in Vedic astrology. Please see the appropriate traditions for other sign systems.
Rulership of a sign
Each sign has several different forms of expression such as its gender, modality, element, and also it's planetary ruler. Each sign is ruled by a particular planet and the condition of that planet affects the nature of the sign due to a process called familiarization. The ruler of a sign carries out the significations of the sign, whereas the sign itself is the passive reflection of the ruler and serves to provide a home for the planet that it is ruled by.
Modern Western Rulership Theory
Some modern astrologers feel that planets that rule more than one sign describe a higher and lower range of expression, and they sometimes call the modern rulers "higher octaves" of the traditional ruling planets that they feel have been replaced by newly discovered planets. For example, the planet Venus describes certain basic drives such as the desire for beauty, acquisition and harmony. Currently, it rules both Taurus and Libra, with Taurus representing the "lower" expression of Venus applied to the body and environment, and Libra representing the "higher" expression of Venus applied to the mind and relationships. Many modern western astrologers believe that once the three outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered that they took over rulerships of signs that were previously held by other planets. Some astrologers believe new planets will be discovered until there are 10 planets circling the sun, providing ten planets and the luminaries to represent each sign of the zodiac. Many who believe this theory think that this gradual discovery of the planets corresponds to human evolution and the ability to increase our own range of expression.
Instead of thinking in terms of higher or lower expressions, we can also simply look to the position of the sign in the zodiac. Since Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac, it is a passive earth sign and is fixed in nature by triplicty of elements and quadruplicity of qualities. We know it is ruled by Venus and is passive and earthy, and therefore seeks physical pleasure, comfort, and so on. We know it is fixed and therefore seeks stability. Putting it all together, planets in the sign Taurus express the desire for pleasure, security and comfort found in worldly things. Clearly the inherent nature of a sign is found in its ruler, and the sign itself describes that nature as it is placed in time and space at the moment of birth.
Traditional Rulership Theory
Astrology was developed long before the discovery of the outer planets, and thus much of the structure of traditional astrology is built up around the 7 visible planets and luminaries.
The Sun and Moon were said to be assigned to Leo and Cancer respectively because this was the hottest time of the year right around and just after the summer solstice. The Sun was assigned to Leo because it is a masculine sign, and the Moon to Cancer because it is feminine. The zodiac was then divided into two halves- one solar and one lunar. The solar half of the zodiac starts in Leo and runs counterclockwise up to Capricorn, and then the lunar half of the zodiac runs from Aquarius to Cancer. From there each of the five visible planets were assigned to 2 signs starting with the fastest planet Mercury and then ending in the slowest visible planet Saturn. Mercury is said to have been assigned to Virgo and Gemini which are only one sign away from the Sun and Moon's signs of Leo and Cancer because Mercury can never be more than one sign away from the Sun. Venus was assigned to Libra and Taurus because the furthest that it can be is 2 signs away from the Sun. Then Mars was assigned to Scorpio and Aries because it was the next planet in order and speed, and also because in this position it is square to the signs of the luminaries which reflects its disharmonious nature. Next is Jupiter who trines the luminaries, reflecting its benevolent nature. Finally there is Saturn who is the furthest and slowest visible planet, and he opposes the two luminaries reflecting his disharmonious and oppressive nature.
Traditional rulership theory is more about strength than it is about any sort of similarity in meaning between the signs and planets. A planet in its own sign is said to be strong. A planet in a sign that is not its own is often not as strong because it has to depend on the host planet whose sign it is in to provide it with certain significations. Many modern astrologers who practice various forms of traditional astrology such as Hellenistic, Medieval, late Classical and Vedic still only use the traditional rulerships associated with the signs. Some use the traditional rulerships and then use the three outer planets as co-rulers.
Table of Rulerships
Understanding the sign's ruler is essential to understanding the sign itself, therefore any general sign description that does not take the sign ruler into account likely to be misleading.
|Sign||Traditional Ruler||Modern Ruler|
Element & modality
Each sign is associated with one of the four elements fire, earth, air, and water.
- Fire signs are associated with intuition, passion, and energy. In combination with the other elements, fire feels that earth will smother it, water will drown it, but air will fan and enliven it.
- Earth signs are associated with sensation, stability, and practicality. In combination with the other elements, earth feels that air will dry it, fire will parch it, but water will refresh and nourish it.
- Air signs are associated with thought and communication. In combination with the other elements, air feels that water will obscure it, earth will suffocate it, but fire will inspire and uplift it.
- Water signs are associated with art and emotion. In combination with the other elements, water feels that fire will make it boil, air will evaporate it, but earth will shape and channel it.
Each sign is also associated with one of the three modalities/qualities which are cardinal, fixed, and mutable. These qualities are derived from the seasons.
- Cardinal signs are associated with the beginning of the seasons, and so they pertain to things which start and stop abruptly. The cardinal quality is also characterized by action, and planets in cardinal signs push us to get things done but are often lacking in the stamina to carry the job through to completion.
- Fixed signs are associated with the middle of the seasons, and so they pertain to things which are taken up and carried through to completion. The fixed quality is often characterized as stability, which sometimes becomes rigid and resistent to change.
- Mutable signs are associated with the end of the seasons, and so they things which are constantly in a state of transition. The mutable signs partake in both to the fixed quality in their first half and to the cardinal quality in the second. The mutable quality is also characterized by adaptibility and indicates ease in changing circumstances.
Phrases associated with each sign
- Aries -- "I want", "I am"
- Taurus -- "I have"
- Gemini -- "I think"
- Cancer -- "I feel"
- Leo -- "I am", "I will"
- Virgo -- "I serve", "I analyze"
- Libra -- "We are", "I harmonize"
- Scorpio -- "I desire", "We have"
- Sagittarius -- "I seek", "We think"
- Capricorn -- "I undertake", "I build", "We feel", "We have"
- Aquarius -- "I know", "We will", "We think"
- Pisces -- "I believe", "We serve", "We feel"
Keywords of each sign
- Aries -- action oriented, pioneering, assertive, "me" first, enthusiastic, leader, competitive, selfish
- Taurus -- sensual, cautious, acquisitive, musical, traditional, stubborn, tranquil, lazy
- Gemini -- curious, talkative, sociable, duality, mercurial, whimsical, intelligent, superficial
- Cancer -- sensitive, tenacious, domestic, helpful, nurturing, moody
- Leo -- passionate, dramatic, independent, noble, creative, leader, egotistical
- Virgo -- practical, work and service oriented, critical, sensible, intelligent, health-conscious, fussy
- Libra -- partnerships, balanced, graceful, charming, cooperative, social, ideas, peace-loving
- Scorpio -- intense, controlling, sexual, compulsive, deep, secretive, mysterious, obsessive, transformative
- Sagittarius -- philosophic, fun-loving, adventurous, klutzy, wanderlust, scattered
- Capricorn -- ambitious, cautious, authoritative, cunning, competent, stable, saturnine
- Aquarius -- friendly, cause-oriented, communal, society, progressive, eccentric, aloof
- Pisces -- empathic, duality, spiritual, soul growth, martyred, artistic, overly emotional
Body parts ruled by each sign
- Aries -- head, brain
- Taurus -- throat, neck
- Gemini -- hands, arms, lungs
- Cancer -- stomach, breasts
- Leo -- heart, back, arteries
- Virgo -- intestines, digestion
- Libra -- kidneys, lumbar
- Scorpio -- genitals
- Sagittarius -- hips, thighs
- Capricorn -- knees, skeleton
- Aquarius -- calves, ankles, veins
- Pisces -- feet
Tarot card associated with each sign
- Aries -- Emperor (IV)
- Taurus -- Heirophant (V)
- Gemini -- Lovers (VI)
- Cancer -- Chariot (VII)
- Leo -- Strength (VIII)
- Virgo -- Hermit (IX)
- Libra -- Justice (XI)
- Scorpio -- Death (XIII)
- Sagittarius -- Temperance (XIV)
- Capricorn -- Devil (XV)
- Aquarius -- Star (XVII)
- Pisces -- Moon (XVIII)