Welcome back to my intro to astrology series! Last time I went over the tropical and sidereal zodiacs and today I will be going over the zodiac signs. This series is here for people who are clueless about astrology and would like to develop a working knowledge of it. So please, do not use my series to administer astrological consultations to other people, as this will not prepare you to be able to ethically do that. This is to empower you to understand your own chart and understand what astrologers are talking about when you consult them.
From here on out, the information I write about is going to be primarily sourced by my experience with Vedic astrology and traditional methods. You may find some of the information doesn’t exactly match up if you are used to modern Western astrology. Vedic and Western have a lot in common, but some marked differences as well. Also please note that these articles are not meant to instruct you in Vedic astrology – I am not teaching Vedic astrology here. I am trying to focus on the areas where Vedic and Western overlap and will clarify differences where appropriate. Here we go!
As we covered in the previous article, the zodiac is made up of 12 signs which are derivative of the 12 constellations that cross the ecliptic. These constellations are associated with various myths and symbols which inform their archetypal significations within astrology. (If you are serious about astrology, then I highly recommend taking up comparative mythology as a side study to enhance your understanding!) Each sign has a set of attributes: a glyph, a symbol, an element, a modality, and a ruling planet. Below you will find a table outlining the different signs and their attributes, then we will break each section down individually.
|Sign Name||Glyph||Symbol||Element||Modality||Ruling Planet|
|Gemini||♊︎||Twins or Couple (Vedic)||Air||Mutable||Mercury|
|Sagittarius||♐︎||Centaur with Bow & Arrow||Fire||Mutable||Jupiter|
|Capricorn||♑︎||Sea Goat or Makara (Vedic)||Earth||Cardinal||Saturn|
|Aquarius||♒︎||Water Bearer/Jug of Water||Air||Fixed||Saturn*|
Each zodiac sign has an element, of which there are four: fire, earth, air, and water. Each element belongs to a group of three signs. Each zodiac sign of a given element has some qualities in common with each other.
Fire is hot, passionate, and inspired. The quality of fire is much like actual fire – it can take quite a bit of effort to get started, but quickly consumes everything around it once it gets going if the fire is not contained or controlled in some way. Fire needs fuel to keep it going or it will smolder and die out. Fire signs generally exhibit a lot of vitality, warmth, and enthusiasm. Too little fire means little action or willpower, too much fire becomes all-consuming and scorches the environment and surrounding people. Just enough fire keeps everybody warm and joyful. These signs include Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
Earth is down-to-earth, sensual, and material. Earth signs are concerned with what can be touched, seen, heard, smelled, or tasted – the material plane. They carry a quality of being grounded and slow-moving. Earth can be hard as a rock, or loose and workable like soil. Highly pragmatic, earth signs are interested in establishing a solid foundation upon which something can be built that will last eternity. These signs include Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.
Air is quick, cerebral, and communicative. These signs tend to inhabit the mental plane more than the material. We interact with air through our breath and speech – talking is technically all exhalation! See how well you can be heard without any air in your lungs. Breath is also one of those unique bodily functions that is both autonomous and voluntary. Controlling the breath is an effective way to regulate our mind when it is stirred. We see these kinds of concepts at the core of the air signs. These signs include Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.
Water is flowing, spiritual, and sentimental. Water takes the shape of whatever container it is held by. Without a solid container, water slips through, always flowing down the path of least resistance. Water is often associated with the emotions but it really encompasses more than that and includes your perception and how it guides your feelings. Water signs can be quite sensitive and deeply spiritual as a result. These signs include Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
Next we will go over modalities. There are three modalities: cardinal, fixed, and mutable. Modalities can be thought of as the “modus operandi” of the zodiac signs. Each modality belongs to a group of four signs. Zodiac signs of a common modality tend to orient themselves to the world in a similar way.
Cardinal signs are pioneering, initiating, and natural leaders. Cardinal signs are very independent in that, their course is not easily swayed by others. These signs represent the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, and West. The idea is that they point the way and carve out paths. The cardinal signs include Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn.
Fixed signs are stationary, rooted in place, and conservative in the sense that they focus on conserving what is already there. Fixed signs are very slow to change or there is a very gradual accumulation of momentum to their actions. Sustained, incremental results is the name of the game with these signs. The fixed signs include Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.
Mutable, sometimes called movable, signs are adaptable, flexible, and even somewhat fickle. These signs are most susceptible to being influenced by others. While cardinal signs are motivated leaders forging their own path, and fixed signs are stationary, mutable signs are open to being carried wherever the wind will take them. They can be seen as somewhat passive, but their adaptability also allows them to take advantage of opportunities that others might be blind to. The mutable signs include Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.
In traditional astrology – that is, astrology that was practiced prior to the 19th century – only five planets and the two luminaries are recognized: the Sun (luminary), the Moon (luminary), Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. That is because these are the planets that are visible in the sky to the naked eye (and are bright enough to be distinguished from stars). Later on, we eventually discovered Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto and modern astrologers began to use these planets in place of or as co-rulers of certain signs which were highlighted in the table from earlier. Many of the significations that are associated with these modern outer planets were traditionally associated with Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. For the purposes of this series, I will not be including use of the outer planets as I prefer to focus on traditional foundations.
Each zodiac sign is ruled by a planet, with which they share significations. To planets, zodiac signs are kind of like bedrooms in a mansion, and the bedrooms are decorated to the planet’s liking. Planets having rulership over signs is part of why the movements of the planets are important – the planets act as ambassadors for the signs over which they rule as they travel around the zodiac, conducting business.
The scheme of rulership begins with the luminaries and then is distributed sequentially across the planets from closest to furthest away from the sun. It is helpful to imagine that the zodiac is a ladder, with the Sun at the bottom of one leg and the Moon at the bottom of the other leg. Going up the ladder, we have Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and then Saturn. Like so:
|Aquarius ♒︎||Saturn ♄||Saturn ♄||Capricorn ♑︎|
|Pisces ♓︎||Jupiter ♃||Jupiter ♃||Sagittarius ♐︎|
|Aries ♈︎||Mars ♂||Mars ♂||Scorpio ♏︎|
|Taurus ♉︎||Venus ♀||Venus ♀||Libra ♎︎|
|Gemini ♊︎||Mercury ☿||Mercury ☿||Virgo ♍︎|
|Cancer ♋︎||Moon ☽||Sun ⨀||Leo ♌︎|
Learning the rulership scheme is helpful for understanding how all the signs in the zodiac are activated and contributing to the overall world the native experiences. You’ll notice that some of the zodiac signs are associated with traits that can seem quite negative, but that isn’t necessarily the case. We look to the placement of the ruling planets in a chart to assess how a sign’s traits will manifest in the life of the native.
We are now on to the bread and butter of this post: the zodiac signs! I know that for a lot of people this is the part of astrology that they are the most familiar and comfortable with. Most everyone knows their sun sign and what signs are compatible with them, etc. A lot of people own zodiac merchandise or love to read their horoscopes in newsletters.
It made sense to start where people are most comfortable, but I do want to stress that the zodiac is really just one component of astrology. There is a tendency to become so identified with one’s zodiac sign that the wood kind of gets lost among the trees. As we get deeper into the series, this will become more obvious as we cover topics like planets, their dignities, houses, and timing. For now, let’s turn to the signs.
Having covered the elements, modalities, and ruling planets, you may be able to have a loose general feeling for what archetypal associations are affixed to each sign. Element and modality together actually give quite a lot of information about a sign. The other details come moreso from the mythological traditions that are associated with the constellations (or seasons). Another aspect to consider is the opposing pairs that the zodiac signs form with each other – each axial pair forms an archetypal paradox that impacts each other. I’ll be lightly touching on those here.
Ruling Planet: Mars
Aries is the considered the first sign in the zodiac. The constellation of Aries is represented by a charging ram. Knowing what we know about the fire element and cardinal modality, we can say that Aries is highly willful, likes to take charge, and is passionate. Opposite Aries is Libra, which is diplomatic, concerned for others, and strives for balance. Each zodiac sign forms a pair of opposites like this – so if we know that Libra is very cooperative, gracious, and yielding, then we know that Aries can be self-centered, concerned with power, and independent. These traits are not intrinsically bad. There are times where it is important to be selfish. The way we assess whether these traits will manifest auspiciously or disastrously is by looking to the placement of the ruling planet, Mars, which we will cover in later articles. Being ruled by Mars, Aries is very much driven by conquest and power, which is why Aries is passionate and willful.
Ruling Planet: Venus
Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac and represented by a bull. With the element of earth and fixed modality, Taurus is often described synonymously with the idiom “as stubborn as a bull.” Taurus is quite concerned with material comforts and therefore also gets associated with wealth – not winning the lottery type of wealth, but the kind of wealth that is steadily gained over the course of life. Taurus can be quite sensual and reserved, as well as grounded. Scorpio sits opposite Taurus and often gets a bad rap for being possessive and explosive, but that is not quite the case. Scorpio is highly spiritual and devotional – which is the complement to Taurus’ deeply grounded and material nature. Ruled by Venus, Taurus is very much interested in what feels good and is aesthetically pleasing, hence why Taurus is considered the most materialistic sign of the zodiac.
Ruling Planet: Mercury
Gemini is the third sign of the zodiac and represented by twins, or a man and woman in the Vedic tradition. Gemini is primarily concerned with the dissemination of information. Think newspaper headlines, news feeds, instant communication or letters, etc. Its mutable nature is observable in the way that information tends to fluctuate and move in currents. This sign is highly focused on minute details and facts, as opposed to philosophizing and contemplating universal truths as Sagittarius, Gemini’s opposite, is wont to do. Gemini and Sagittarius are also both signs associated with travel – as in, the spread of information and ideology. Being ruled by Mercury, Gemini can be quite playful and mischievous due to their quick intellect and wit, but also keenly communicative.
Ruling Planet: Moon
Cancer is the fourth sign of the zodiac and represented by a crab. Cancer is associated with all the qualities of mother – nurturing, protection, family, sentimentality. As a cardinal water sign, Cancer is concerned with matriarchal values such as familial traditions and vulnerability. The relationships we form in our family of origin form the foundation for how we relate to transpersonal mothers and fathers (such as God or Goddess), which is how the water element’s spiritual nature comes out in Cancer. Opposite Cancer is Capricorn, another earthly material sign. Unlike Cancer, Capricorn hides emotions and vulnerabilities and prefers to be firmly rooted amongst material institutions rather than familial bonds. Ruled by the Moon, Cancer is deeply related to our perceptions which are imprinted upon by our early childhood family experiences and contribute significantly to how secure and supported we feel in the world.
Ruling Planet: Sun
Leo is the fifth sign in the zodiac and is represented by a lion. Like a lion, Leo is proud and regal. This sign is more patriarchal and has deep associations with royalty and power – which bears relationship to its fixed quality and the endurance of dynasties of power. Leo is kingly, which is not to say that it is egomaniacal and controlling (though this could certainly come up), but rather Leo is a leader that is responsible for the needs and administration of his kingdom. Leo’s highest expression embodies courage, power, and a healthy dose of self-importance. In contrast, Leo’s opposite is Aquarius, which is the most democratic sign of the zodiac. If you are aware of history then you understand that monarchies and democracies are fundamentally opposed – Aquarius believes that power should be distributed amongst everyone equally, while Leo wants all the power for itself. Sometimes it is good for there to be a person with a bit more power than everyone else steering the ship, and there are times when democratic values are more important. Ruled by the Sun, Leo is deeply related to authenticity and self-identity, including the ego, but also the Higher Self.
Ruling Planet: Mercury
Virgo is the sixth sign of the zodiac and is represented by a maiden woman. Virgo is very much associated with the discriminating intellect – taking stock, measurement, and appraising material objects. Virgo likes to count and account for details. This goes back a ways to when early agrarian societies would be observing Virgo season to harvest their crops and begin taking inventory and planning for how to make their harvest last through the winter. This is where Virgo gets its associations with perfectionism and organization. Sitting opposite from Virgo is Pisces, which is less concerned with details and more concerned with big picture perspectives and immaterial reality. Pisces is transcendent, while Virgo is more prosaic or earthly. Both are mutable signs, and this quality is observed in how Virgo’s preparations and plans need to be tailored and adapted to the changing landscape. Virgo’s mutable nature runs in line with the idiom “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” if that makes sense. Being ruled by Mercury, Virgo again embodies mercurial qualities such as playfulness, analytic intellect, adaptability, and communication.
Ruling Planet: Venus
Libra is the seventh sign in the zodiac and is represented by the measuring scales or scales of justice. This air sign is heavily associated with the arts and creative expression, as well as mutual exchanges in partnerships and relationships. The glyph of Libra is actually depicting the Sun setting – this is where we get the idea that Libra is about relating, sharing, and giving rather than the all-for-one conquesting mentality we see in Aries. As a cardinal sign, Libra represents the self-initiated drive to reach out to others and create space for reciprocal relationships. Ruled by Venus, Libra places great value on aesthetic pleasure and intimacy.
Ruling Planet: Mars
Scorpio is the eighth sign of the zodiac and is represented by the scorpion. Scorpio is often a misunderstood sign, being labeled as crazy or possessive. Scorpio, like other water signs, is deeply devotional and spiritual. In fact Scorpio is the most devoted sign, due to its fixed nature. The reason why Scorpio sometimes gets a bad rap is because of the fixed nature of water – the emotional life of Scorpio is something that builds deeply over time. Where Taurus is fixed earth, which focuses on the endurance of accrued material goods and wealth, the fixed water aspect of Scorpio is that enduring nature of deeply held emotions that build up over time and this is what fuels the devotional nature of Scorpio. Combined with the fiery nature of Mars, you can compare Scorpio to the way bodies of water take a long time to heat up – but also hold their heat for long periods of time. Think about it: once a kettle of water has boiled it can take a good hour before it cools back down, and it takes a LOT of energy to be able to boil it quickly too.
Ruling Planet: Jupiter
Sagittarius is the ninth sign of the zodiac and is represented by a centaur wielding a bow and arrow, also called the archer. Sagittarius is a highly ideological sign, and in Vedic astrology this sign is often referred to as the battlefield – as in, ideological debate and righteousness. Sagittarius is deeply concerned with philosophical values in a way that can even border on evangelism if an idea is inspiring enough – this is a fire sign, after all. Its mutable nature is reflected in open-mindedness and adapting one’s beliefs as experiences emerge that bring about new revelations. Sagittarius often gets described as optimistic because Sagittarius loves to feel inspired and explore new territory of belief and meaning-making. Where Gemini wants to disseminate objective facts and information, Sagittarius is after the big picture and big questions left unanswered by minute details. Ruled by Jupiter, Sagittarius expresses aspects of scholarship, inspiration, expansiveness, and righteousness.
Ruling Planet: Saturn
Capricorn is the tenth sign of the zodiac and is represented by the sea goat or the makara, another half-terrestrial half-aquatic creature, in Vedic astrology. Capricorn is heavily associated with brick and mortar institutions (think courthouses or prisons), manual labor, and traditions. Capricorn is considered quite conservative and reserved, preferring to keep strong boundaries and emotions at bay. Grounded, focused, and industrious, Capricorn is known as the taskmaster and represents the working class. Where Cancer is concerned with maintaining the hearth of home, Capricorn is focused on stoking the furnaces of industry and work in society. Ruled by Saturn, Capricorn takes on the qualities of commitment to traditions, labor, and austerity.
Ruling Planet: Saturn
Aquarius is the eleventh sign of the zodiac and is represented by the water bearer or jug of water. This sign is associated with humanitarianism, and the reason for that is because Aquarius is concerned with establishing structures of society that serve a purpose beyond the pursuit of power for the sake of the ego, compared to Leo. Where Leo is concerned with personal power, Aquarius is concerned with the people’s power and thus is an incredibly democratic sign and is often associated with revolutionary movements. Aquarius is also associated with culture, the sciences, and free expression of ideas. Aquarius represents the love of the people, and as such Aquarius strives to achieve in the name of the greater good. The fixed nature of Aquarius comes into play when we look at the idea of giving oneself to a bigger purpose, the results of which will carry on a legacy of its own long after we have passed on. Ruled by Saturn, Aquarius is concerned with humility, examining boundaries and limitations (especially to break through them when they are not in alignment with the highest good of all), and politics.
Ruling Planet: Jupiter
Finally we come to Pisces, the twelfth zodiac sign which is represented by the two fish. Pisces is the end of the zodiac, where everything returns to universal consciousness. Thus, Pisces is a sign of surrender and transcendence as our egos give over and merge with the oneness of all of existence. Its mutable nature is perhaps self-evident in the fact that a single droplet of water in the ocean must be entirely flexible and passive to be able to give up its droplet-ness in order to embrace its ocean-ness, if that makes sense. In contrast to the very detail-oriented and meticulous Virgo, Pisces is all about the big picture and expansive consciousness. Suffice to say, you won’t find Pisces sorting seeds or laundry – this is the hippie sign. The dissolution of boundaries and defined measurements or values makes Pisces incredibly empathic and susceptible to losing oneself in the experiences of others. Ruled by Jupiter, Pisces takes on the aspects of spiritual seeking and expansive consciousness.
We’ve made it to the end. This was a long one but it was important for laying down the foundations of the topics to come. Now you are aware of the zodiac signs, their elements, modalities, and ruling planets. You see the opposing patterns between each signs – and you will see with the traditional rulership scheme, that the same planets tend to oppose each other. This is worth noticing as it will give greater context to why certain planets get along better with others. My next article will be diving into the planets and their roles in natal astrology.
I am currently studying to become a professional astrologer and if you are interested in receiving a brief consultation please check out my rates and services page. I am grateful for opportunities to practice my skills and increase my experience.