Astrology FAQ 1:
Basics for Beginners and Students of Astrology

by Michael Star, Astrologer (c)1996-2007
in STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine.

The language of Astrology, the symbolism, and some basic astrological terms and definitions, explained in plain English for the education of beginners and serious students of Astrology. For a list of Astrology books recommended for beginners and students, link to Michael Star's Astrology Book List.

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Astrology FAQ:
Basics for Beginners and Students
of Astrology

by Michael Star, astrologer

The Language - Defining the Terms

Astrology is a SYMBOLIC language which has proven to be a very useful tool for gaining new insights into the human psyche and communicating ideas to others in a common language. Just as you can talk Mathematics to anyone in any foreign language and understand the same mathematical concepts, you can talk Astrology to anyone in any language and the astrological concepts will be understood and generally agreed upon.

But Astrology is also based on Astronomy (actually Astronomy was originally practised as a basis for astrological forecasting for the rich and powerful patrons of the early astrologers, who had to be astronomers too). We need to define our terms on a basic level before we can use those words as part of our symbolic language of Astrology. The DEFINITIONS section explains the basic terms used in Astrology from a strictly mundane (worldly) view. In other words, these are the literal meanings of astrological terms like Planet or Sign or House, not the symbolic themes or mythical associations of these same terms.

INDEX of Astrology Terms

Astrological TERMS introduced here: Tropical Astrology, Signs, Seasons, Zodiac, Vernal Equinox, Sidereal Astrology, Star, Constellation, Precession of the Equinoxes, A Great Year, An Age, Age of Aquarius, Ecliptic, Heliocentric Astrology, Rising Sign, Ascendant, Descendant, Midheaven, M.C., I.C., Angles, Cusps, Houses, House Systems, Equal Houses, Placidus Houses, Koch Houses, Diurnal, Rotation, Revolution, Planet, Lights, Luminaries, Elements, Qualities, Horoscope Chart, Jyotishi, Vedic Astrology.

Free Daily Horoscopes by Michael Star at STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine

Definitions of Astrology Terms


Planet is a term used by astrologers which includes the known planets of our Solar System (listed in order from the Sun outwards): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. In Astrology, a Planet may also (for the sake of convenience, not accuracy) refer to the two heavenly bodies which are also called Lights or Luminaries (because they send or reflect light to us on Earth): the Sun (a Star) and the Moon (a Satellite of planet Earth). Since we are Earthlings and observe the heavens from Earth itself, the Earth is not often mentioned as one of the Planets in astrology because we do not see it in the heavens.

The origin of the word Planet is a Greek term which translates as wandering star. Even though the nearby planets and the distant stars both appear as pinpoints of light in the night sky, the planets (including the Moon) appear to move (relative to the stars) or be "wandering" across the heavens over the course of days or years, while the stars appear to remain fixed in position (relative to each other). Stars appear to twinkle, but planets have a steady light. The Sun is also a star, but we are so close to it that its light overpowers the light of the distant stars, and we cannot see them when the Sun appears above the horizon.


Planet as defined in Astrology includes all the heavenly bodies which ancient astrologers could see in the sky, plus those planets discovered since the invention of telescopes. The Planets, listed in order of distance from the Sun (with their Roman/Greek mythical links) are:

  1. Mercury - named after Mercurius or Hermes (Messenger of the gods)
  2. Venus - named after Venus or Aphrodite (goddess of Love and Beauty)
  3. Mars - named after Mars or Ares (god of War)
  4. Jupiter - named after Jupiter (Jove), or Zeus (King of gods)
  5. Saturn - named after Saturn or Kronos (god of Time)
  6. Uranus - named after Uranus or Ouranos (god of Sky)
  7. Neptune - named after Neptune or Poseidon (god of Sea)
  8. Pluto - named after Pluto or Hades (god of Underworld)

Though the Sun (a Star) and the Moon (a Satellite of Planet Earth) are not planets by the usual definition, for the sake of convenience astrologers refer to them as Planets too:

In Geocentric (Earth-centered) Astrology, the Earth itself is usually not included in the Planet list because we are living on it and are a part of it. We don't see it in the sky. In Heliocentric (Sun-centered) Astrology, the Earth is considered a Planet because the Sun is the point of observation.

Link-to: PAGE-TOP| The Language| Definition List| Planet| Sign| House| HOME-INDEX Quick Index|


Sign, as in ("What's your Sign?") is a word the average reader of horoscope columns in newspapers associates with a group name he is labelled by, simply because he was born in a certain one-month time period. This is NOT strictly true. You are NOT "a Sign".

Sign is actually a term used by astrologers which refers to a sector of the sky (like the segments of a peeled orange). Each of the 12 Signs is a 30-degree arc in a 360-degree circle around the Earth (360/12=30). It is the section of Space in which we can observe the Sun (by day) and the Moon and the other planets which are visible with the naked eye. From our point of observation, all the Planets appear to move within a narrow 7.5 degree band in the sky called the Zodiac (which comes from a Greek expression meaning circle of animals). (Eight of the twelve Signs have animals as their symbol).

In ancient times (over 5000 years ago in Babylon and Sumeria, where Iraq and Kuwait are now), early astrologers named the Signs after the major constellation or star-pattern which appeared to form in the sign's sector of the sky; but because the Earth slowly rotates on its axis like a spinning toy top (or precesses), the Signs and the original constellations are no longer aligned. The constellations appear to drift westward in the sky, and each Sign appears to shift backwards from its original constellation into the one before it.

The majority of western astrologers, who use the Tropical system, are not concerned with those constellations arbitrarily named by ancient men; but only with the 30-degree sectors of the sky defined as starting at the point on the horizon at sunrise on the day of the annual Vernal Equinox, which is the first day of Spring (around March 20th on the modern calendar, plus or minus one day).

The Tropical astrologers are only concerned with the Signs as parts of the sky where the Planets are positioned relative to us on Earth; not with imaginary star-patterns called constellations, that served as familiar place-markers for the early astrologers who did not have the use of telescopes or computers. Both the Tropical astrologers as well as their Siderealist and Vedic (Jyotishi or Hindu) colleagues have chosen to stick with the original names associated with both the constellation and the Sign; but the two groups are actually referring to two different things which no longer coincide as they did 5000 years ago when the Signs were named after the corresponding constellations.

A minority of astrologers holding to the traditional Sidereal System ("Sidereal" refers to "stars"), which is based on the ancient star-patterns, still define the Signs by the same constellations they were originally named after. So, depending on which system you use, the Sign called Aries still appears to include the constellation called Aries (in the Sidereal system), or (in the Tropical system) the Sign called Aries now covers most of the star-pattern called Pisces by astronomers and sideral astrologers.

Astronomers and other scientists, who would naturally be concerned with the star-patterns as reference points, but not as astrological Signs, sometimes point to the present-day difference in "constellations" and "Signs" as a reason Astrology cannot be taken seriously. Yet those who attempt to discredit Astrology on these grounds appear not to understand that the sidereal astrologers still DO use the original star-patterns as Signs (as defined in system which uses the "Sidereal Zodiac"). The Tropical astrologers know about the shift in the Signs, but are more concerned with the position of Planets in relation to earthlings on Earth, and not with the background of far-distant stars. Remember, the stars are real; but the patterns they form are imaginary. Can you actually see "a crab" in the constellation of Cancer? Tropical astrologers are not overly concerned with ancient star patterns, only with the use of present-day Signs as reference points for the present-day positions of the Planets.

If we believe the position of the Planets somehow affects, or at least indicates, the psychological make-up or life situations of humans on Earth, then it makes sense to use a system which measures the position of Planets in relation to Earth, not to far-distant stars. Since it is the Earth itself which is slowing changing the tilt of its axis, and aligning itself differently with respect to the stars, it makes sense for us earthlings to re-align our astrological system with respect to the Sun and stars - and not stay stuck in Time by insisting on the alignments of 5000 years ago to imaginary constellations. Men and women have evolved over those 5000 years; so wouldn't their astrological system and their personal horoscopes have evolved along with them? This is a judgment call you'll have to make for yourself, and when you do, you'll be joining one of the two major camps of astrologers: the Tropicalists or the Siderealists.

As the Earth itself precesses (changes the direction it tilts) so that its North Pole points to a different Pole Star), the Tropical system automatically takes this into account by continually adjusting the Sign boundaries as the Earth, and we earthlings inhabiting it, change positions gradually over time. The shift is slow and slight, taking about 26,000 years (a Great Year) to precess one full circle of 360 degrees. It takes an average of 2160 years (an Age) to shift 30 degrees through one whole Sign. The concept of the Age of Aquarius refers to the Vernal Equinox precessing backwards into the constellation of Aquarius (it has passed through most of Pisces now, and is due to touch Aquarius in about a hundred years).


Signs are the twelve 30-degree sectors of the Zodiac (a band in the sky), starting at 0 degrees of the Sign of Aries. Strictly speaking, Signs are areas in space or areas on the map of space called the horoscope chart, in which the Planets are positioned. Signs are associate with traits of people, and you have the Sun and Moon and Planets appearing in various Signs in your natal horoscope (a map of the sky) which was cast at your exact time of birth; but you are NOT "a Sign" (e.g. "I am a Taurus"), which is what many people have been led to believe by newspaper horoscope columns. What many people think of as "my sign" is really the zodiac Sign in which the Sun appeared at their time of birth, which is known as their "Sun Sign".

The Moon and other Planets also appeared in various Signs, so you have a Moon Sign and a Venus Sign and Mars Sign too. In fact, you have one for each of the eight planets of our solar system, not counting the Earth. Some of them might have been in the same Sign; but not even counting the Rising Sign and Midheaven Sign, you might possibly have as many as ten different "Signs" in which the Sun and Moon and Planets were positioned at your time of birth. You are much more than just your Sun Sign, though the Sun Sign is very important as an indicator of your basic nature and strategies for dealing with life. If you thought Astrology was simply the traits of "your Sign", I hope you can see now that it is much more complex (and revealing) than the Sun Sign alone. In fact, there are more possible birth horoscopes (with the Sun and Moon and Planets in various positions) than there have been people born since Man first appeared on Earth. Not even twins have identical horoscope charts, since they are not born at exactly the same time.

The NAMES of the 12 SIGNS, in order of number 1-12 are:

  1. Aries - The Ram, associated with the Planet Mars and the Sun
  2. Taurus - The Bull, associated with the Planet Venus and the Moon (and sometimes with Earth)
  3. Gemini - The Twins, associated with the Planet Mercury
  4. Cancer - The Crab, associated with the Moon and the Planet Jupiter
  5. Leo - The Lion, associated with the Sun
  6. Virgo - The Virgin, associated with the Planet Mercury
  7. Libra - The Scales, associated with the Planets Venus and Saturn
  8. Scorpio - The Scorpion (or Eagle), associated with the Planets Mars and Pluto
  9. Sagittarius - The Archer, associated with the Planet Jupiter
  10. Capricorn - The Sea-Goat, associated with the Planets Saturn and Mars
  11. Aquarius - The Water-Bearer, associated with the Planets Saturn and Uranus
  12. Pisces - The Fishes, associated with the Planets Jupiter and Neptune and Venus

Notice how three of the Signs that do not have animals as their symbol are also the three Signs of the Air Element, which is the Element associated with Thinking and Talking. These are qualities that humans possess, but lower animals and inanimate things do not. (The other non-animal Sign is Virgo, an Earth Sign that is ruled by the Planet Mercury, which is also the ruler of the Air Sign of Gemini. Two traits of Virgo are being analytical and logical.)

Signs whose numbers differ by 6 (e.g. 10 - 4 = 6) are opposite each other in the horoscope chart. Signs whose numbers differ by 3 are square (at 90-degree right angles to) each other. Signs whose numbers differ by 4 are trine (at 120-degree triangular angles to) each other.
(Symbolically, Signs can be categorized by Element and also by Quality. The three Signs that are of the same Element - also called "Triplicity" because there are three of each Element - are trine to each other, and there are four sets of three Signs; while Signs that are of the same Quality - also called "Mode" or "Quadriplicity" because there are four of each Quality or Mode - are square or opposite to each other, and there are three sets of four Signs.)
Remember that Signs correspond to, and are determined by, the Earth's revolution (circling, revolving) around the Sun, (i.e. its movement in space), the seasonal cycle, and the Day, Month and Year.

The Sun Sign

The Sun Sign (as in "What's your sign?") is a special case in astrology because man has conveniently but arbitrarily constructed his calendar to be based on the movement of the Earth around the Sun, with one year being defined as the time it takes for one revolution. Our concept of Time and the seasons is based on the apparent motion of the Sun.

This means the Sun will appear (to us on Earth) as being in the same position (degree) in the same Sign on the same day of each year - which makes it easy to guess what Sign the Sun is in, just by memorizing or referring to one-month ranges of dates when the Sun was in each Sign. For the Moon and Planets, there is no simple correspondence to the calendar, so their positions must be calculated by computer, or by hand using tables called ephemerides in a reference book called an Ephemeris. Nowadays the ephemerides themselves are created by computers.

Ascending or Rising Sign

The Ascending Sign or Rising Sign is the Sign which was "ascending" (rising) on the Eastern Horizon at the time of a person's birth, as observed from the place he was born. At night you could see the star-pattern corresponding to that Sign if you looked due East, but in the daylight you cannot see the stars. Since the Earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours, the average time it takes for a new Sign to rise would be about 2 hours (24 hours / 12 Signs = 2). This is why the exact birth TIME is important in calculating an accurate horoscope chart: every 4 minutes the Ascending Sign shifts by one degree, so the Ascendant (the exact point specified by Sign and degree) and Ascending Sign (the Sign the Ascendant is in) may be incorrectly calculated, or a Planet may be calculated as being in the wrong House, if the wrong time of birth were used.

Link-to: | PAGE-TOP| The Language| Definition List| Planet| Sign| House| HOME| Quick Index|


House is a term used by astrologers to define another set of sectors of the sky, which are similar to Signs but may differ in their size and reference point. Houses are measured from the Ascendant, which is a reference point based on the Earth's rotation on its axis (the day/night or diurnal cycle); while Signs are based on the Earth's revolution around the Sun (the seasonal cycle). A horoscope chart is composed of these two sets of sectors superimposed upon each other (like two wagon wheels on the same axle), each representing a different kind of Time: months and days (the seasonal cycle), or hours and minutes (the diurnal cycle). It seems complicated at first to understand how to read a horoscope chart; but once you realize what the Signs and Houses actually represent, and how they move over time, you get a real appreciation for the ingenuity of the people who invented this system for showing a 4-dimensional image of Space-Time on a 2-dimensional piece of paper! To understand how the Houses are calculated and constructed you'll first need to know the important Points.


The Ascendant

A Point is a mathematically determined position, not a visible body in the sky; but in Astrology is it considered to be nearly as important as the Planets. Though not a "real" thing like a Planet, the Ascendant, and another position called the Midheaven, are often referred to as Points. The Ascendant has an opposite Point called the Descendant, which is exactly 180 degrees away in the circle of the zodiac. The line or axis which connects these two important Points is called the Horizontal Axis or simply the Horizon. This horizontal axis is the line which defines the starting cusp or boundary line of two important Houses: the First House and the Seventh House, which are exactly opposite each other in every horoscope chart (i.e. 180 degrees apart).

The Vertical and Horizontal Axes ("axes" is the plural form of "axis", pronounced "axe ease") form a cross called the Cardinal Cross and are called the Angles of the horoscope. Any Planets positioned within a few degrees of these Points or Axes are said to be on the Angles, or are called angular planets.

You'll find much more about the Ascendant as you read further in this section on Houses.

The Midheaven

There is a vertical axis formed by connecting the highest point in the chart, the Midheaven, with the lowest point, the I.C.. This line forms the cusps of two other important Houses (the Tenth House and the Fourth House) in every horoscope chart except those drawn using the Equal House system.

The Midheaven is also called the M.C., an abbreviation for its Latin term: Medium Coeli. The I.C. is an abbreviation for another Latin term: Immum Coeli. On a horoscope chart, if you see the Sun located at the M.C., it must be a chart for a birth or other event at 12:00 PM, because Noon is defined as the time when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky. If the Sun is at the I.C., it must be Midnight. The House System is a lot like a 24-hour clock with 12 at the top and 24 at the bottom, and the Sun is like the hour hand.

House (continued)

Houses are the 12 sectors of the sky which may vary in width, or more technically, may cover varying arcs, not the equal 30-degree arcs of the Signs. Depending upon how far from the equator an individual was born, some Houses may have smaller or larger arcs than others in a particular horoscope chart. (Only in the Equal House System is each House assumed to span exactly 30 degrees of arc.) The Houses are always numbered in a counter-clockwise order, with the First House cusp starting at the Ascendant. Houses which are exactly opposite each other are always the same width in degrees of arc, even if they both happen to be wider or narrower than other Houses in the same horoscope chart.

If you lived in say, Toronto, Canada, and were to watch the night sky from about five hours before sunrise until the Sun actually appeared above the horizon, you would notice that a given constellation in the zodiac band might take more than the average of 2 hours to disappear below the western horizon, while the following constellation might take less than 2 hours to do the same. This is because locations in northern latitudes like Toronto's are tilted away from, or towards, the narrow band the constellations appear to move in (the zodiac), at any time of year except the day of the Vernal Equinox on the first day of Spring, or the day of the Fall Equinox. These are the only two days of the year when the hours of day and night are exactly equal).

Houses are defined in a way which corresponds to this natural phenomena, which in turn is a function of the rotation of the Earth we live on; and the 23.5-degree tilt of its poles relative to the plane of its orbit around the Sun (the plane called the Ecliptic). Think of a spinning top which is not quite vertical, and moving around on a turntable. If you drew an imaginary line through the center of the top, and an another line exactly vertical to the flat surface of the turntable, the angle those two line make to each other would be similar to the way the plane of the Ecliptic passes through the Earth's axis at an angle of 23.5 degrees. In other words, in reality things are not so simple; and the fact that the Earth is tilted at a 23.5 degree angle away from a truly vertical position in relation to the plane of its orbit around the Sun is what causes the four Seasons on Earth and their differing ranges of temperature - and what also causes the Houses to appear elongated or contracted when you are looking at the sky from a position other than right on the Equator. The further north or south you go (or were born), the greater the difference in the "width" (number of degrees between their cusps) of the Houses relative to each other. Only at the Equator do the Houses always appear exactly the same in size (because all points on the Equator never tilt towards or away from the Sun and the Zodiac, being at the center point between the poles).

If you think the Earth is a little "off kilter", you might find it fascinating to learn that the planet Uranus (which symbolizes our need to "differentiate" ourselves from our family and society and become "unique individuals") is tilted so far off the vertical that its axes are almost parallel to its plane of orbit. In other words, it looks like it is lying on its side and spinning up and down instead of from side-to-side like all the other planets. Here's a planet that dares to be "different" - just like people who were born with their Sun or Moon or Ascendant in the Sign of Aquarius, which is ruled by Uranus.

To visualize this "tilt" effect, hold up your hand, facing you; and hold your wrist and arm rigidly in one place. Then move your hand back and forth as if you were waving at yourself (or fanning yourself). You can see that because the wrist is the pivot point, it does not move in relation to your body, even while the fingers and the whole hand are moving quite closer or farther away from you. This is like "top" half of the Earth (the Northern Hemisphere) tilting towards or away from the Sun and the stars of the Zodiac, which occurs as it revolves around the Sun each year. If you were to softly breath onto your hand as you do this, you would notice the warmth of your breath increases as your hand moves closer, and decreases as your hand moves away. That is a simple illustration of how the Sun seems to make your place on Earth warmer or colder during the four Seasons. Actually, it is not just that the Sun's energy has to travel further when your part of the Earth is tilted away from the Sun, but because the tilt means that the cosmic rays have to travel through more of Earth's atmosphere to reach you at an angle than if it they were travelling to you from directly overhead, which is how it happens when you live on the Equator, or when in your hemishphere it is the time of the Summer Solstice (the middle of Summer, the longest day). The atmosphere absorbs more of the heat energy when the rays have to travel a longer distance through it, and that distance is longer when the rays enter at an angle. Now you know WHY it gets hotter in the Summer.

Twelve Houses, Determined by Time of Birth

The Houses are 12 in number, like the Signs, and are ordered in the same direction; but their starting point can be at any degree in any Sign (not just zero degrees as for the Signs), depending on the PLACE (latitude and longitude) and TIME of DAY (or night) and the DATE (month and year) you were born. It's a complicated calculation, best done by computers. The Cusp (initial boundary, or the starting line, when counting counter-clockwise) of the First House is defined as the exact point (degree 1-30 of a Sign) which is just rising over the eastern horizon at the actual place you were born, at the exact time you were born. Even twins will have slightly different Ascendant points and different starting degrees for their House Cusps, since they are never born at exactly the same hour and minute, even when they are born on the same day in the same place.

If you were born farther west, the Sun would rise later - because it would take longer for the Earth to rotate towards the Sun so you could see it from your more western position. For the same reason, the point in any Sign which is just rising at the time of your own birth would be at a slightly lower degree if you had been born a little farther west. That degree of the Sign would not have risen above the horizon yet, so your Ascendant would be a slightly lower degree of the Rising Sign, and your House Cusps would all be at slightly lower degrees too.

It may help to remember that as the Earth turns TOWARDS the Sun or any constellation of stars, then from our viewpoint ON Earth the Sun or any Sign with its background of stars will appear to RISE UP in the east and travel accross the sky until it SETS below the horizon in the west. The LATER the time in minutes, the HIGHER will be the Sun or Moon or any Planet, AND the HIGHER will be their position's degree in any Sign that is rising. At times, one or more of the planets will be in "retrograde motion" and appear to move "backwards" in the sky (but not the Sun or Moon, which never move retrograde). A planet which is "retrograde" will be moving in the opposite direction from the others, but because the Earth turns much faster than the planets travel across the Zodiac, even a retrograde planet will appear higher in the sky the later the time in minutes. Just a tiny bit less high as it would appear if it were in "direct" motion - but the difference would not be noticeable to the naked eye over the course of a few hours.

Signs appear to rise above the horizon in the same order as they are traditionally listed, from Aries to Taurus to Pisces, and back to Aries again. Since the horoscope chart has East on the LEFT and North at the TOP, the Signs and Houses have to appear in a counter-clockwise order so that the chart shows them rising in their natural order. This is often confusing at first, but becomes easier to understand when you realize that the horoscope is a MAP of the sky as seen from Earth, looking UP at the sky. This is the opposite view we have gotten used to when looking at traditional geographical maps, which are drawn as if the Earth were being viewed from the sky, looking DOWN.

Imagine yourself lying on your back with your head towards the South, looking UP at the sky; instead of flying above the Earth with your head towards the North Pole, looking DOWN. Then you will realize that East and West get reversed, depending on which viewpoint you have taken. That is why the horoscope "map" has to have East on the LEFT; because when you are in the Northern Hemishere, you have to face SOUTH to see the Sun (you wouldn't see the Sun or Moon or any of the Planets in the zodiac if you looked to the North).

To visualize the rising of the Signs, visualize the horoscope chart as a 12-spoked wagon wheel called "the Signs" with a second 12-spoked wheel called "the Houses" locked on top of it (but with their spokes not necessarily aligned) and turning clockwise once every 24 hours, so a new spoke turns past the horizontal line on the left about every two hours. But when you want to visualize the Sun (or the Moon and Planets) moving across the zodiac, think of a "sun-bug" crawling counter-clockwise along the rim of the Sign wheel even as the wheel itself is turning clockwise. The sun-bug will rise above the horizon line every 24 hours, even though it takes a whole year for the sun-bug to crawl once around the rim of the Sign wheel.

If you happened to be born exactly at sunrise, the Sun would also be in the Sign that was rising, and exactly on the horizon line at the point in the Sign which was also on the horizon; so your Rising Sign and your Ascendant Sign and degree and your Sun Sign and degree would all be exactly the same! An astrologer would call you a double Sign, such as "a double Leo", if both Sun/Ascendant or Moon/Ascendant (or Sun/Moon) are in the same Sign. If you were born in (approximately) the 2 hours JUST BEFORE sunrise, the Sun would be in your 1st House; and if it were within 5 degrees of the horizon, it would be said to be rising in the 1st House. If you were born in (approximately) the first 2 hours JUST AFTER sunrise, the Sun would be in your 12th House; and if it were within 5 degrees of the horizon it would be said to be rising in the 12th House. The term rising also applies to the Moon or any Planet positioned within 5 degrees of the Ascendant in any birth horoscope, whether it is below or above the horizon.

If you were born in the 2 hours just before NOON, when the Sun is highest overhead and approaching the Midheaven point, the Sun would be in your 10th House. Note that this applies on ANY DATE of the year, because the Ascendant and Midheaven and Houses are based on the Earth's rotation, which is what determines the TIME OF DAY. It is the Signs which are based on the time of YEAR, because the entire Earth revolves (orbits) around the Sun once a year. As it revolves, it also rotates, which is why astrologers must be aware of BOTH forms of motion and account for them in the birth horoscope chart.

Imagine yourself as a ballet dancer, spinning yourself around as you move around your partner who is standing still. From your eyes, you would see all the different sections of the scenery move past each time you spun around -- but at the same time, whenever you were facing your partner, you would observe him with a different part of the backgound behind him, depending on how far you had moved your whole body around him. That is pretty much like what is happening to the Earth, and we ride along with it like your eyes ride around in your body, seeing whatever lies in the direction you are facing at the time. Now if only you could imagine how things would look if you were able to maintain a 23.5 degree tilt towards the audience as you twirled around and circled your partner...

House Teaching Tip #1:

If you think of the horoscope chart as being like a 24-hour clock face with the numbers in counter-clockwise order and the 6 at the far left (where the 9 would normally be), you can imagine the hour hand moving clockwise to be the Sun; and then the position of that hour hand's tip would be the same position in the birth chart as the Sun would be in the sky. At sunrise it would appear near the 6, (at the farthest left) then as time progressed it would move upwards to the 12 at noon, then downwards to the 18 at sunset, then all the way to the bottom 0 (=24) at midnight. You can use this knowledge to check the accuracy of any birth chart you or anyone else creates. Just look for the position of the Sun to see if it corresponds to the time of birth. Keep in mind that the hour of sunrise (we used 6 here) actually shifts continuously with the season of the year, so this is only a rough guide.

House Teaching Tip #2:

To get a sense of the Houses and their traditional positions in a birth chart, try to imagine (or draw) a 12-hour clock called the EARTH clock, with the 1 at the point farthest left (where the 9 would normally be), the 7 at the farthest right (where the 3 would be), and the numbering in reverse order (10 at the top where 12 would normally be). If you were born at the equator, the numbers would have even spacing,; if not, they would have uneven spacing, except the numbers opposite each other (differing by 6, eg. 7-6=1, 10-4=6) would be on the same line, and the spaces following them would be the same size.

Now, imagine a second transparent clock-face called the SKY clock, with similar reverse order numbers with perfectly even spacing (30 degrees between numbers) placed over the uneven-spaced EARTH clock. Then, once every 4 minutes, turn the SKY clock 1 degree (1/360th of the circles) clockwise (top to the right) while keeping the EARTH clock (the first one) fixed with its 1 at the far left. If you imagine the Signs to be the spaces on the SKY clock, you will get a sense of how the Signs appear to move in the sky (the second clock represents the sky with its rotating star patterns) in relation to the horizon line of the Earth (the line connecting 1 and 7 on the stationary EARTH clock). So, depending on the time of day you were born, the Signs will start with number 1 (Aries) at a different position relative to the horizontal (horizon) line, while the Houses will always be fixed (like us on Earth) with number 1 (1st House) on the Eastern (left) horizon.

The reason the East is to the LEFT in the horoscope wheel, is because to see the Sun from a Northern latitude (where astrology was first developed) you would lay on your back and look UP and to the South, not down and to the North. It helps to understand why astrologers put East to the left if you remember that we are, in effect, looking UP at the sky when we view a horoscope and draw a chart, not looking DOWN at the Earth as we are when we read a map or look at a globe. Because you have to look to the South to see the Sun in the daytime or the zodiac at night, you would naturally draw South at the TOP (because your eyes are looking UP), and you would see the Sun rise in the East at your left side if you were facing South. People born in the Southern latitudes like Australia may not appreciate this tradition, because they would look North to see the Sun and their chart would be reversed. But the first astrologers lived above the equator, so they got first choice on how to draw the birth chart... ;-)


HOUSES are sectors of the sky, traditionally positioned so they are always numbered counter-clockwise and start at the farthest left point on the horizontal line; are usually of uneven width, but opposite pairs are always the same width as each other; and remain in fixed position while the Sign cusps (boundary lines) shift counter-clockwise by about one degree per 4 minutes in time from their position at sunrise (when the Sign the Sun is in would be just touching or spanning the 1st House cusp (the horizon line). There are several systems used by astrologers to define the House cusps, three of the popular ones being Placidus, Koch, and Equal House Systems. In most systems except the Equal House systems, the Midheaven (M.C.) forms the cusp of the Tenth House, and is at the top-center point of the horoscope chart on the Vertical Axis.

Remember that Houses correspond to, and are determined by, the Earth's ROTATION, the DIURNAL cycle, and the TIME OF DAY -- and they would shift counter-clockwise by one degree every 4 minutes if you had been born at a later time of day. While Signs and Houses may overlap in a horoscope chart drawn on paper, and appear to be similar things; remember that they are determined by two very different types of MOTION. The Houses shift because the Earth TURNS every 24 hours. The Signs move because the Earth TRAVELS around the Sun every 365.25 days. The horoscope chart is a very good representation of a person's place in Time and Space, a convenient way to map three-dimensional Space onto a 2-dimensional piece of paper, and also to incorporate the 4th dimension of Time into that same 2-dimensional map. When the Houses are accurately drawn in a standard horoscope chart, you can tell the time of day the person was born by looking for the position of the Sun in his chart: if it is at the very top, he was born near Noon, or if at the very bottowm he was born near Midnight. If it is above the horizon (the Ascendant/Descendant axis or First/Seventh House cusps, it was daytime; if it is below the horizon line, it was dark when he was born and the Sun was appearing on the opposite side of the Earth (which is what the bottom hemisphere of the horoscope chart represents).

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Symbolic Thinking - Metaphors and Myths

Planets and Signs and Houses are realities that can be observed, or at least MEASURED. They are actual things, and the words assigned to name and represent a thing, and differentiate one thing from another, tend to also limit the meaning we give them, for it is limited to what we can sense with our SENSORY perceptions.

But we have another way to perceive things, and that is SYMBOLICALLY. A symbolic meaning does not have to be literal; it can be metaphorical. Our own language and ordinary conversation uses many metaphorical meanings. For example, we call someone who is good-humoured jovial, which literally means like Jove or Jupiter. The adjective itself is a metaphor, a comparison of one person to another who is not that person (in this case a Greco-Roman god or mythical archetype). This same metaphor has been extended to astronomy, where the largest planet has been named Jupiter, and to astrology, where the qualities ascribed to the Planet named Jupiter include a sense of humour or "joviality".

Everybody does this naturally, any time we want to compare one person to another familiar person, or a new thing to a familiar thing. It helps us give meaning to the person or thing when we refer to it metaphorically. We say: "She's mercurial" or "He's plutocratic" or "It's lunacy" or "You are my sunshine". These words all derive from the names of planets and mythological gods or goddesses, and using them is describing a person or thing as symbolizing qualities associated with a mythological figure. That's symbolism in action in our ordinary conversations.

Poetry and popular songs and novels are full of metaphors that help us relate to the emotions and experiences of the person who wrote the words in a way which mean one thing to the writer, but may mean many other things to the audience who interpret the meaning in their own ways. We relate to the things in a metaphor which have personal meaning for us, for a metaphor is more a SYMBOL than a definition. Symbols have many possible meanings, and are not limited to any one interpretation. That is why symbols are such rich sources of new insights -- you can see them in so many different ways, so you are always finding new meanings which lead to new UNDERSTANDING.

In astrological interpretation, this function of finding MEANING just happens to be symbolically associated with the Planet named Jupiter and its Sign of Sagittarius. Jupiter thinks big, and the planet IS big -- bigger than all the other planets combined! Jupiter is called a "gas giant" by scientists, who tend to think literally; yet speaking symbolically, Jupiter can be "a gas" and often likes to "have a gas" or even "get gassed" - if you will pardon the use of outdated North American slang.

Oddly enough, "gas" spelled backwards is "sag". Besides being better able to "see the big picture" than others, Sag (Sagittarian) types often have a Jupiterian tendency to exaggerate, or to make things seem "bigger" than they really are, which is not surprising symbolically since Jupiter is bigger than every other thing in our solar system except the Sun. And it just happens that the "gas" giant Jupiter is the natural "ruler" of the Sign of Sagittarius. What a coincidence...

When we use metaphors or symbols, we are speaking or writing or thinking SYMBOLICALLY. And that is a useful and valid way to speak or write or think. In fact, it IS the way our minds process and store information - not in words, but in symbols. We may TRANSLATE our thoughts into the words of our language, but our thought process is far more complex than could ever be described in mere words.

The latest research indicates that we think "holistically", not linearly like a computer. All a computer understands is "on" or "off", which is translated into a more complex "binary" code and then into things like letters and language. We store "whole" scenes and sensations in our brains, which is why you can imagine (form an image of) a scene in your mind with all its colors and smells and emotional nuances.

Astrology is a SYMBOLIC language which relies on metaphors and on MYTHS (which are a kind of metaphor too) to gain understanding of the meaning of things, and which astrolgers use to communicate them clearly among themselves, and to other people who come to them for help in understanding things.

To hear or read an astrologer speaking his "language" may seem strange or even silly at first...if you insist on sticking to literal meanings like "descriptions" and "definitions". Yet in your own conversation or writing you use symbolic language all the time. Astrology just uses a special set of symbols which you may not be familiar with at first, but which you can easily learn and use as a tool to gain symbolic insights and give new meaning to things you presently do not understand about yourself and others and the world around you.

Astrology is not just cook-book style definitions and pat answers -- astrology is also an Art which evokes an appreciation for the subtleties of the human spirit and psyche, just as a fine piece of artwork evokes an appreciation for the subtleties of the human body and physical form.

The concepts discussed here in relation to Planets and Signs and Houses came from SYMBOLIC THINKING, based on the insights of the author and other astrological thinkers whose ideas have influenced him. Some of these concepts may reveal useful truths for you, and some may not. Some may stimulate you to realize new insights of your own, and some may not be useful to you at all. It is YOUR mind, and YOUR choice, so you're invited to take the insights offerred here as simply ideas you can choose to use or ignore.

Astrology is really an Art based on a Science. Creative concepts, checked by careful observation, is what helps it evolve. Feel free to use your imagination and intuition; for you are not bound by tradition, only supported by it. If a new concept or theory makes sense to you, try it out, and see if it works! To learn Astrology from the teachings of others is how the ancient wisdom is passed to present generations; but to add new insights and discoveries is how the study of Astrology is advanced and its accumulated wisdom passed to future generations.
-- Michael Star

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Author and Addresss

First Published JUL 27 1996. Last Update October 19 2006 01:00 EDT.

©1996-2007 Michael Star, Astrologer
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