Most people know what sign of the Zodiac they were born under. This is also known as a Star or Sun sign and these are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. These signs are also actual star constellations in the sky (* note1) and whatever sign the Sun is in when you are born is your Star or Sun sign. The Sun is not actually “in” that sign but appears to be from our viewpoint on Earth.
These constellations appear to follow each other in a track across the sky which is called the Zodiac belt and they take a year to complete the circuit. The Sun takes approximately a month to “travel through” each of the twelve signs. The Moon and planets also roughly follow this path hence the terms – Moon in Capricorn or Venus in Aquarius for example. The Moon orbits the Earth in just over 28 days or about a month and spends only 2 – 3 days in each sign. The planets vary in their orbit times, Mercury the closest to the Sun orbits in only 88 days. Pluto, the farthest from the Sun completes its orbit in 248 years.
The first sign, Aries, starts on the first day of Spring. This is also the Vernal Equinox when the days and nights are equal in length and the Sun (viewed from our perspective) is now moving into the Northern hemisphere for our summer. The fourth sign, Cancer, marks the Summer solstice (around June 21) when we have our maximum hours of daylight. The beginning of Libra marks the Autumn Equinox and the beginning of Autumn. Capricorn, the tenth sign, begins at the Winter Solstice which is when the hours of darkness are at their greatest – midwinter.
Our Natal or birth chart is calculated using our birth date, time of birth (if known) and place of birth. This chart will show the placements of all the planets at the time of birth (a sort of snapshot of the heavens) and an experienced Astrologer can use this chart to help you understand who you are, where you are going, where you have come from, your character, your personality, emotional responses, potentials, strengths, weaknesses and much, much more.
A birth chart (I am sure that if you are reading this, you will have seen a chart before) is divided into twelve sections called houses. There are four angles (at 9, 6, 3 and 12 on a clock face) dividing the chart into quadrants. The beginning (the cusp) of the first house (the Ascendant, at 9 o’clock) marks the moment of birth and whatever sign was rising in the sky at this moment is the rising sign of that chart. The rising sign will give an indication of the face the individual shows to the world – the persona or personality. According to some Astrologers, the Ascendant can be just as important when interpreting a chart as the Sun sign. The opposite position in the chart, moving anti-clockwise 180º from the Ascendant (at 3 o’clock), is the Descendant (the sign that was setting at the moment of birth) at the cusp of the seventh house. This can indicate how we relate to others, relationships and how we interact and cooperate with others. At the cusp of the fourth house (at the bottom of the chart circle) is the Imum Coeli (IC) and this refers to our roots, early life experiences and subconscious urges. Right at the top of the chart is the Midheaven or MC, on the cusp of the tenth house. This can symbolise our life’s purpose, our vocation and what we want to be known or remembered for.
Your Sun or Star sign can say much about who you are and what you are about. It represents the main direction and focus that you would like your life to take. The planets in a Natal chart represent our basic drives and impulses and the energies of the planets can influence our everyday lives. The houses in a Natal chart show where a planet is working and in what area of life they are having an effect. The signs affect how a planet in that sign operates. Each planet is modified by the sign it is in and each house is modified by the sign on its cusp. No matter what sign your natal Sun is in, all twelve of the signs are represented somewhere in your chart and it is up to the Astrologer to work out how the planets, signs, houses and the aspects and relationships between them work together to form the map of your life and experiences.
So you can see that the daily newspaper’s Horoscopes and “Stars” is a very simplified generalisation and are probably not very relevant at all to our lives – nevertheless they are very popular.
Around 2000 years ago the constellations and signs did actually coincide in space but due to a complication called the Precession of the Equinoxes, the constellations now lag about 25º behind the signs of the same name. The Sidereal Zodiac describes the positions of the constellations and Western Astrology generally uses what is known as the Tropical Zodiac which takes these differences into consideration when calculations are made.