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The Signs: Part 1 of 12

One of the starting points for understanding astrology is understanding the 12-fold cycle of the zodiac:
THE SIGNS. The following information on signs is limited to the Western, tropical zodiac, since this is the type of astrology most widely practiced in the Western Hemisphere. The sidereal zodiac, used widely in India and in a small but dedicated group in the West, is based on the actual constellations of stars. The tropical zodiac is not directly based on the constellations but rather on the seasons (which, in turn, are based on the relationship between the Sun and the Earth).

The two zodiacs are constantly drifting farther apart due to what is called the precession of the equinoxes (they are currently about 24 degrees apart). On the spring equinox, the beginning of the sign Aries in the tropical zodiac, the siderealist will see the Sun rising with the 6th degree of constellation Pisces behind it. The astrologer of the future will be proficient in working with both systems.

The 12 signs describe a circular rhythm – in fact, you have directly experienced it since the day you were born. From the initiative and new beginnings of Aries to the dissipation and compassion of Pisces, this unceasing cycle conditions the expression of the various planets as they pass through the sections of space attributed to each of the signs. The section of space carved out by the Sun from the spring equinox until about April 21 each year is called Aries; the section of the sky in which the Sun can be found from April 22 to May 22 is called Taurus, and so on. Each sign has 30 degrees. The Sun passes through one degree of the zodiac in almost exactly one day (360 degrees take 365.25 days).

To understand signs, think of them as lenses through which planetary light must pass. Each planet (Sun and Moon included) symbolizes a different energy force, and the sign each is passing through at any given time conditions that energy in a way consistent with the meaning of that sign. For example, when Mars is in Aries, it is in a sign it is compatible with, and the light or energy of Mars comes through bold, direct, uninhibited, very fiery. When Mars moves into grounded and sensual Taurus, the energy of Mars must work through the denser, slower style of Taurus. Mars is still Mars, though. But if Mars in Aries is a flame-thrower, Mars in Taurus is baking bread.

All the planets pass through all the signs, usually in direct motion (from Aries to Taurus to Gemini to Cancer and so on), but sometimes in the opposite direction for various periods of time. These reversals, from our Earthly perspective, are called retrogrades. (The Sun and Moon are never retrograde.) The planets move through the signs at different speeds, taking from 1 month (in the case of the Moon) to over 240 years (in the case of Pluto) to move through all 12 signs.

When a person says they have Venus in Leo, for instance, it means Venus was in that sign on the day they were born. If they say they have Venus at 15 degrees of Leo, it means that Venus had passed through about half of that section of the sky we associate with the sign of the Lion.

We will leave the description of the personality traits of each sign to any beginner's book or beginner's class. The animal (or human) symbol of each sign (and the glyph used for each sign) gives a good head start to understanding the energy of each sign.

The 12 signs are categorized in different ways. The signs of Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, and Aquarius are said to be masculine signs. The signs of Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces are said to be feminine signs. There is some feeling of truth to this, but a more useful classification is the elemental one – fire, Earth, air, and water signs. Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are fire signs, while Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius are air signs. Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn are Earth signs, while Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces are water signs. We will cover in detail these elements and an even more useful classification system in the following section.

We all have the influence of all 12 signs operating all of the time. Likewise, at the moment you were born, the energies of all 12 signs were present in various ways – some of them were more emphasized than others (due to the groupings of the planets in one or more signs, or because a particular sign was on the horizon at your birth). Also, the 12 signs wrap around your chart and influence the different areas of your life, no matter where the planets happened to be in the sky at the time you took your first terrestrial breath. Generally speaking, each sign primarily influences one of the 12 houses in your chart.

The signs (and planets) act as basic archetypes in astrology. Archetypes are internal forces that influence the psyche. The study of the infinite combinations of signs, planets, aspects, and houses, and how they manifest in humans and human affairs, is downright exciting and enlightening. However, it should be said that there are astrologers who downplay the signs and focus more on planetary aspects and the relationship between planets and the angles on the Ascendant, Midheaven (MC), Descendant, and the IC.

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