No matter where you fall on the spectrum, whether brand new to astrology or more seasoned, our Student Section offers readers wisdom and insight from various astrological lineages and branches.

A Primer to Understanding Your Birth Chart:

The Luminaries and the Inner Planets

by Frank C. Clifford

Author’s Note: This introductory article on the inner planets has been written as a warm, second-issue welcome to our Dell subscribers and as a primer for regular readers and students of astrology.

In the last issue, I looked at the twelve signs of the zodiac as descriptive of twelve specific journeys or “callings” in life. In this follow-up, I shall introduce the luminaries — the Sun and Moon (often referred to as planets) — as well as Mercury, Venus, and Mars. These five celestial bodies are the closest neighbours to us on Earth and move through the zodiac faster than the other planets. Accordingly, their sign placements are considered more personally descriptive of our nature, skills, desires, and needs.

In this primer, I’ll be looking at what these five planetary bodies represent in the birth chart, along with some keywords and what to expect if that planet — or the sign(s) it rules — dominates your chart.

Being born on the cusp

There are many chart calculation services online to help you discover in which signs your five planets fall. The one I use for my school can be found here:’ll need your date, place, and time of birth (an estimate of the time will usually suffice). If you have no idea of your birth time, enter 12:00 p.m. but be aware that the Moon changes sign every two and a half days and may have changed during the day of your birth.

For those of you born on the cusp (i.e., a day that the Sun changes from one zodiac sign to another), you’ll need to know your birth time (or an approximation) to know the sign in which the Sun is placed. Being “on the cusp” doesn’t mean you’re a mix of two signs, but your horoscope may contain planets in both signs.

Before I introduce the five planets, it’s important to know that the sign in which a planet falls will say much about how you specifically express the various meanings of that planet. Imagine the planets are the actors in your personal drama (the nouns, the energies). The signs are the clothes these actors wear (the adjectives, the archetypal energies, and how the planets act through them). Have another read of “Part I” in the April/May issue of The Mountain Astrologer for a reminder of the qualities of the twelve signs.

Let’s begin with the star of the show, the Sun:

Your Sun sign spotlights:

• Your mission, purpose in life, and vocation

• Your identity, essence, and character — who you were born to become

• Your set of core principles

• The route to achieving something significant and meaningful in your life

• The self-expressive activities that make you feel alive

• The image you have of what makes a hero

Sun keywords: journey, vocation, purpose, courage, hero/heroine, leader, authority.

If the Sun is prominent in your horoscope (e.g., heavily aspected by other planets, or conjunct one of the horoscope’s four angles) or you have numerous placements in Leo, it’s indicative of a creative personality and a life path in which forming an identity and cultivating self-expression are key themes. Life can be a self-involved quest to discover who you are (solar journeys in pop culture include those of comic book superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, and characters like Harry Potter, Simba the Lion King, and Luke Skywalker). Ideally, once this discovery has been made, you can mentor others to “find” themselves, too.

Being a solar type, you “display” well and may attain positions of authority because you exude a measure of confidence, charisma, and dignity that others gravitate towards. Less attractive qualities can be a sense of narcissistic self-entitlement — believing the world owes you before you’ve earned it — as well as vanity and an unwillingness to share the spotlight or begrudging others their time in the sun. And sometimes there’s a squandering of early promise or a parent that dominates the childhood landscape — both of which require courage so that you can get back on track and assume personal control over your destiny.

 Full article available in the June–July 2020 issue of TMA!


Our beloved Forecast section includes by sign Horoscopes, daily aspect interpretations to help empower the skillful navigation of changing planetary currents, and every Full & New Moon Lunation guide. 


Sagittarius Solar Eclipse — December 3–4, 2021

by Diana McMahon Collis

December 3, 2021 — 11:42 p.m. PST /// December 4, 2021 — 7:42 a.m. GMT

The Sagittarius solar eclipse is a total eclipse and indicates that stronger changes may occur than we imagined were possible — whether for better or worse. How we perceive such changes may depend quite a lot on what we were expecting in the first place, of course. It can be easy to assume that a planned course of action will emerge in exactly the linear way that the imagination first painted it. Yet life is not always so straightforward. Besides, what we think we want may be easily replaced by what we truly need, ultimately. Only once a little more time has passed might we then see the very clear picture of why it was so necessary that things ended up the way they did.

For some people, the eclipse will bring a revelation that helps to make more sense of a situation — but for others, what is shown may now seem more confusing. This could be especially relevant when dealing with a relationship where strains and tensions start to tilt behaviour in a peculiar direction. It could be important to remind ourselves that this is not quite the whole picture — or that we cannot yet appreciate the depth and breadth of the entire situation. Having this heightened sense of awareness may help us cope with a greater understanding if someone else’s behaviour seems out of sorts. And it might even help to explain if we, personally, feel off-kilter for a while too.

Since Mercury is conjunct the eclipse, it could seem that someone’s thinking is far from straightforward. Rationale may appear to have gone out the window temporarily — or worse still, someone is convinced that what they believe is real and makes sense, when to another the opposite is true. If we can see that something is amiss, then we can perhaps cut some slack and avoid getting caught up in a panic or otherwise over-reacting.

On a more practical note, this can be a time when Mercury operates in frustrating ways on a mundane level. It may be that information is not fully revealed — whether intentionally or unwittingly — and the net effect, either way, is that we are at something of a disadvantage, at least temporarily. It could be important, therefore, to check specific details — almost as we might do under the rays of a retrograde Mercury. This can mean checking with more than one source, because one version of the so-called truth, or set of facts, may not match another.

Asteroid Vesta is on the other side of the eclipse pair, reminding us of the importance of holding on to ideas and inspirations. We may be in the middle of a creative process that doesn’t feel as progressive and awe-inspiring as we’d at first hoped for. Yet we’re probably making progress — of a sort. If we struggle to spot this, then we can perhaps cast our thoughts back to previous times — maybe involving other people — to see how we have, in reality, already advanced. This could be as simple as having more resources available to us now than we or others had access to in previous scenarios.

A sextile of Saturn to Vesta, the Sun, and Moon lends a sobering, steadying influence. Saturn in Aquarius reflects strong principles, including fairness. If we stress this point in our dealings with others, we may be able to mitigate certain excesses that the planets in Sagittarius could want to lead us toward. Expansion can, of course, be a great bonus — but we may have a reminder soon that not everyone can handle changes, expansion, or progress equally well or at the same speed. A little emotional catch-up may be required on certain fronts — and any patience we can demonstrate may support us, as well.


Postcolonial Astrology: Reading the Planets through Capital, Power, and Labor, by Alice Sparkly Kat, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 2012. Softcover – 312 pp. – $17.95 (ISBN 978-1-62317-530-6)


Astrology is not neutral. In Postcolonial Astrology, Alice Sparkly Kat asks the question, “Why do we keep taking Greco-Roman ideas and archetypes and applying them to everyone as if they’re really universal and overarching?” This book aims to “make astrology a more responsible cultural practice” by showing how astrological symbolism has been constructed “within political economic history” and unpacking how the Roman roots of contemporary astrology fasten it to an identity-building culture that appears to be outside race, gender, and class — but is not.

In the span of ten chapters, Sparkly Kat reveals the Roman origins of Western astrology’s symbolism and offers an expanded palette of interpretations for the traditional visible planets (the Sun through Saturn).

From the Introduction, the author situates themselves as a first-generation immigrant from Henan province, China. As the author of this review, I acknowledge my own position as a cisgendered white woman who has benefited from the privileges of whiteness and the hegemony of publishing and the systems of inclusion and exclusion that it reinforces. This book challenges those very systems on every level, in nearly every sentence.

If one has had the luxury of not having to think critically about capitalism, race, or the social construction of reality, this book will be a possibly uncomfortable, eye-opening experience. For many, though, this book will come as a balm, for it addresses deep omissions in contemporary astrological discourse and makes room for people who have been left unaddressed.

Each chapter in this work plunges the reader into a crash course in the history of the invention of the West. Certain sections contain trigger warnings, as the material in this book covers topics such as rape culture, cannibalism, genocide, and much else. In bringing these histories and narratives to the surface, the author shows the vulnerable underbelly of the West’s construction of itself. Over the course of the book, a case is built for realizing the debt that “Western” civilization owes in its global domination schemes. By becoming aware of the political and social forces at work, Alice Sparkly Kat creates the conditions for another way to engage with astrology.

The traditional planets are covered in pairs: Luminaries with Saturn (Capital); Venus with Mars (Power); Mercury with Jupiter (Labor). Each planet is first explored in its own “Etymology” chapter. After presenting these etymologies for each cluster, a synthesis chapter appears, tying together the relations between these apparent oppositions. A traditionally trained astrologer will immediately notice this structure being influenced by the Thema Mundi (chart of the world), where the two Lights (the Sun and Moon) rule signs counterpoised to “dark” Saturn’s signs (Leo/Aquarius and Cancer/Capricorn), respectively. The Venus-ruled signs oppose the Mars-ruled ones, and the same goes for Mercury and Jupiter’s signs.

The prose reads like an advanced college seminar, with quotes and references to historians, social scientists, and critical thinkers peppered throughout the text. In composing this symphony of voices, Alice Sparkly Kat adds nuance to the understanding of these astrological symbols across the last few centuries, and forges critical awareness of how astrologers may use them going forward. Rather than offer a prescriptive way to apply these new readings of planetary symbolism, the author suggests that the planets function as lenses through which to view one’s possible complicity in systems of oppression and power. By questioning and revealing contemporary astrology’s origins, Alice Sparkly Kat frees the reader to think and be outside the apparently “neutral” narratives that hold the current social practice of astrology together. This is a challenging and important book.

— reviewed by Jenn Zahrt




Our Features & Interviews section is where the most exciting minds in astrology today set their sights on the big picture. A resource and a retreat, our archives are a space to slow down and breathe deep with longform pieces to enliven your practice, expand your mind, and lift your knowledge to new heights.
Unearth the past with astro biographies, scholarship on the history of astrology, and studies of the transits that shaped our world. Explore the present with cutting-edge research, game-changing techniques, and conversations with leading and up-and-coming astrologers. Imagine the future with visionary forecasts, commentary on how we create community and culture, and meditations on the cosmologies that inspire our ever-evolving tradition.
Step outside the rush of mundane life, take a trip to the Mountain, and remember — time is on your side.


Our Dangerous, Beautiful Assignment:

Trickster Tales with Caroline Casey

An interview by Rae Sapp

Dear TMA Readers: I don’t know about you, but the current astro-weather forecast of Jupiter in Sagittarius squaring Neptune in Pisces sextiling the Capricorn cluster conjunction of Saturn, Pluto, and the South Node has me feeling like I am Robin Williams playing Peter Pan in the movie Hook, and I’m in the scene where I have to start screaming, “I do believe in fairies, I do, I do,” or else everything good and magical on Earth is going to stop existing! Yeah, it is that kind of heavy, isn’t it?

While we don’t need the zodiac to tell us that life on Earth is naturally anxiety-inducing, there is always hope in humor and good company. Since I can’t serve tea through the cyber or print sphere yet, I offer instead these soothing word balms from my favorite astrology metaphor maven, Caroline Casey.

May her art of reframing remind us how to re-language our lives using astrology, myth, and fairy tales in a way that allows comedy and spicy playfulness to reign over the Dementors of Doom. My hope is that the following transcription will serve as guidance for all of us on how to be defiantly lovely in these tumultuous times.

Caroline Casey is a Visionary Activist Astrologer who has had her own radio show for 23 years and uses astrology as a language to help guide people through the inner democracy of their psyches. The Visionary Activist Radio Show is archived for free listening and download at, where one can also subscribe to the podcast. Contact Caroline via e-mail:

Caroline encourages us to cahoot with Liberating Trickster Magic that loves against all odds and comes alive at times of greatest danger.

So, without further ado …

Rae Sapp: Caroline, will you please share with us a brief intro to Trickster philosophy?

Caroline Casey: There is no prison for the unexpected! I lived with an actual coyote (Stella Coyote) for 19 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks. It was part of our evolutionary experimental alliance, so I have indeed earned my Trickster credentials. With Trickster, ’tis all wheel and deal. “I give you this, you return the glove … Okay, I give you two. All right, we got a deal.” Democratic Animism. So, we exchanged a lot of guidelines and came up with our own Trickster creation myth that goes something like this: Long before there were humans, there was Trickster — raven, coyote — who, with a sizzle of lightning, set the whole shebang into action, and that sizzle of uniqueness moves through every flora and fauna.

Every now and then, the unique creative Trickster force that runs through all things gets inquisitioned, orthodoxed, or imprisoned. So, Trickster learns to become a great escape artist and queries every corrupt kerfuffle by wondering, What/who did this want to be before it got hoodwinked by the reality police? Trickster tracks everything back to its originating liberating impulse, to unlock and set it free. The Uranus glyph looks like an archaic jail key: “Unlock yourself and pass it on!” Hafez: “The small man builds prisons for everything he meets, but the Wise Woman ducks under the Moon and tosses the keys to the beautiful, rowdy prisoners!”

Let’s replace the word “fight” with “dance”! Let’s cultivate and practice spiritual, linguistic aikido and metaphoric agility so that we can spiral-dance with everything.

This is it, team: “We ain’t play-actin’ now, children,” as they say in the South. The 2020 Saturn–Pluto (soon joined by Jupiter) conjunction in Capricorn describes our giant cauldron of collapsing systems — everything into the cauldron, with the criterion: “Is it equal male and female, Mars and Venus, humans and flora/fauna? Does it guide humans to their own autonomy?” Yes? We ladle it out. No? We toss it back in for another round of bubbling.

Evolutionary challenge: Please don’t feed the dementors!

We have outsourced leadership (Saturn) to sociopathic monstrosities that feed on cruelty. The Dementors of Doom thrive on the polarity of conflict … which naturally elicits our rage, which then feeds the dementors. So, here we go. Through the alchemy of Pluto, we toss our outrage into the cauldron and ladle out the irresistible, invitational story of sane reverence.

If the dementors fill the collective mind with vituperative polarity and invite the worst of humans to mob mind, it behooves us to invite the best into the memeosphere.

Let us dedicate ourselves to being agents of cool response in a hot reactive world. Animate the Guiding story. High John the Conqueror, the great Trickster Redeemer folk hero of the South, said the heroism of the oppressed is to liberate the entire circumstance.

With Neptune, let us be artists of atmosphere, Public Dreamers, conjuring the atmosphere conducive to the desirable. Neptune says: “Strategic cultural advantage goes to those cultivating intimacy with the power of symbols.”

Let’s toss our species’ addiction to having an enemy into the cauldron, and ladle out collaborative accord.

RS: That sounds very Uranus in Taurus!

CC: Yes! I am wildly enthused by the possibility of Uranus in Taurus to help foster our willingness to participate in the more-than-human world and remember that everything is alive, everything has spirit and is a potential dance partner for us — we are all kin. It is human’s humble opportunity to follow nature’s guiding genius. Let this be a renaissance of Entheo Endogenous Indigenuity!

A guest I hosted on my Visionary Activist Radio show said it was 4,000 years ago that the Greeks got rid of all their animal deities, so now with Uranus in Taurus, it seems like a great time to revisit this fork in the road, to liberate our image of the divine. To see the divine as the great coyote bowing down in front of each of us and saying, “Woof, woof, wanna play?” Dangerous in a good way.

Uranus Trickster magic is “believe nothing — entertain possibilities,” and it encourages us to experiment, experiment, experiment! Uranus is nature’s evolutionary Genius that has no category of success–fail (other planetary parts of us do) — merely try this, nope … try this, nope … try this, yes! Venus magnetizes, Mars animates, and together they spiral the guiding meta-narrative.

RS: The last time you graced the TMA interview stage was in the Aug./Sept. 1995 issue, in which you spoke about the Uranus–Neptune conjunction in the late degrees of Capricorn. You said it was an invitation for us to re-invent everything along a vision of equality. With Saturn and Pluto now transiting those same late degrees of Capricorn, how do you think they add to that conversion/vision of equality?

CC: Saturn and Pluto together definitely bring a strong incentive for public discourse about what desirable leadership really is, especially as the old structures are falling and failing on every level, from bridges to cathedrals to leaders.

I had a dream then (1995) and woke up with this voice that said we must work with water in a revolutionary way. I am now starting to have people born during the Uranus–Neptune conjunction come in for readings, and many of them tell me they are working on how to restore the oceans. All these transits are such an accumulated choreography, so I love that Saturn and Pluto are in the same spot now. We are pattern-tracking beings.

The outer planets represent huge forces of evolutionary Intelligence; they are the keepers of the whole cultural and even biological conversation, and when they dance with us, they remind us that we are part of a much larger story than just our own.

Neptune, in the largest sense, relates to everything that mainstream culture has exiled, forgotten, or imprisoned, but is also where a culture’s soul and replenishing vision live. In regards to a vision of equality, this ties into Daniel Giamario’s research — or maybe he made it up, but I like it, so if it isn’t true, let’s make it true! — in which he says the earliest image for Capricorn is the council of wise women dedicated to the next seven generations. We are stuck, kind of, with the Greek and Roman names for the planets, but all of them are bisexual or more. I grew up using Saturn as father, and while this has worked, some things that have been true get truer, while some are just a mere passing cultural moment.

RS: Yes, let’s make the council of wise women Capricorn’s anthem again, please! I think this energy is being seen right now as we shift away from the patriarchal idea of authority being a male-dominated role, and witness more women stepping into greater authority on the world stage.

CC: Right! There are two women in American politics right now who are Full Moon Libras (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris), and we go, “Right on, woof, woof!” The Wolf model of leadership is admirable, and I think it would be great for humans. Wolf leadership is based on charisma, not dominance. Charisma in wolf culture applies to the one who initiates play the best — that is their top criterion. An alpha can be recognized within ten days of birth as the pup with the lowest resting heartbeat. So, it is the coolest pup who elicits the playful ingenuity of the pack.

Language play around the feminine — the goddess language — has almost gotten kind of boring and expected, but whatever we mean by it, the woofy, womb-y, fierce side of the feminine is gracing the stage!

The great heroine Scheherazade from The Arabian Nights liberates all women, liberates the land, and is willing to liberate even the tyrant who has hardened his heart. She’s not counting on it — but willing! The Arabian Nights are all about Women Redeemers. Scheherazade’s name means “City Redeemer,” and her sister Dunyazade’s name means “World Redeemer.”

At the heart of her stories is the tale of the Princess Perizada (“Faery-Born”). It is a tale about the importance of manners and respect. For, in the story, she must climb a high mountain, and at its base she meets an old beggar man. Unlike the others who have climbed before her, Perizada asks, “Dear sir, do you have any advice for me?” Surprised, he says, “No one has ever asked me that before! Yes! As you go up the mountain, there will be voices that will hurl customized insults at you, and you must not react or turn around! If you do, your heart and body will turn to stone.” So, she stuffs chamomile in her ears and marches on — thus able to make it to the top. As she makes her way back down, instead of leaving behind the bodies of those who could not resist reacting, she sprinkles the waters of life to liberate them all.

RS: I think this is great for incorporating both genders into the Saturn/Capricorn mythos and fulfilling the plural parental aspect of its nature, like we see with Wolf packs having both an alpha female and an alpha male that lead.

CC: Saturn is our experimental willingness to acknowledge complicity, because it is the part of us that inherited the constraining family condition or cultural script. So, any astrology or spiritual practice is now valid only to the extent that it guides people back to their own autonomy — their own Saturn. You get them to ask, “How have I been complicit with this collective nightmare? If I have, unbeknownst to me (consciously or unconsciously), I am now willing to inhale my chi from that story and exhale it into a much better one!” It is very useful, especially when something unpleasant happens, to go, “Hmmm, now why would I have directed the movie that way? And just in case I did, let me throw it into Pluto’s cauldron and ladle out a better story.”


Full article available in the August–September 2019 issue of TMA.


Our Wyrd Arts & Poetry section is dedicated to the magical, intuitive side of astrology, and serves to celebrate all the different ways we can express this timeful language.



Plant Planet: MARS

by Paetra Tauchert

Editor’s Note: This column explores the relationship between plants and planets from a personal, experiential, and astrological perspective. As an elemental language, astrology plugs into other elemental systems, such as plants and herbs. The elements are the building blocks of all life, as every manifest thing expresses some mix of earth, air, fire, and water. All plants contain a unique blend of elemental compositions and, when studied, may be worked with to counteract conditions of excess or deficiency in the human being. This is the basis of herbal medicine.


I am an enthusiastically devoted grower of any and all species of Nicotiana, the genus of tobacco. In the modern world, tobacco has been commodified and somewhat bent into submission at the hands of big biz, and is largely pumped out into very questionable-quality packs of smokes, filled with pesticides, herbicides, sugar (carcinogenic when smoked), and other chemicals. In combination with nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, you have a potent cocktail of addiction and disease. It’s all packaged in very seductive marketing to make you feel like smoking will be the cherry on top of your stylish coolness. (Tommy Shelby’s chain-smoking in Peaky Blinders is enough to make anyone want to smoke lol.) But once you get past the glamour, there is a fierce addiction with which the seductive charmer pulls you in — and then there is a grumpy old man, demanding his pound of flesh, again and again.

My friend and teacher, Kat Harrison, says that there is something very ritualistic about tobacco smoking even when used unconsciously/habitually, in that it grants the user an excuse to step out of the fray and go to the edges and light up, taking a break and taking off the edge. She says that the way to properly smoke tobacco is to do it consciously, always in connection with a prayer, invoking the spirit of tobacco to send your prayer out into the ethers.

When people try to quit smoking, they lose not just the nicotine hit, but also the excuse to step out and away from normal routine. There is more of a war on smokers than there used to be, but for a long time, someone stepping out to have a smoke was recognized as having a respected need. Smoking tobacco for anyone with addiction tendencies is walking the knife’s edge, and Mars rules knives. The people I have known over the years who truly struggle with the addiction to tobacco are all what I call “lightning rod” people; they are very open and sensitive and tend to attract intense people and energies in their lives. I have seen that, for them, tobacco is the only thing that seems to protect and ground them. 

Like Mars energies in a chart, tobacco is a mixed bag of potential blessings and curses. Tobacco is used in ritual to exorcise and break hexes, also to send and reverse curses. The malefic qualities of tobacco are very evident in the cases of associated lung cancer; these days in my home state of California, tobacco smokers are vilified, and in many areas there is nowhere to go to smoke, even while cannabis smoking is generally now allowed in public places.

Mars is a provocative planet and this is evident in the ways tobacco is received in this world.

For more about this beautiful plant ally & other Mars-ruled plants, be sure to SUBSCRIBE so you don’t miss our Aries Nox 2022 issue!


Plant Planet: Saturn available in the June–July 2021 issue of TMA.
Plant Planet: Jupiter available in the Capricorn Sol 2021–2022 issue of TMA.