The 12 Signs of the Zodiac:

More than Just a Sun Sign

Hey baby, what’s your sign? Cheesy chat-up lines aside, most people know what their zodiac sign is. You may also know that your zodiac sign can also be called your Sun sign or your star sign – all of these terms are interchangeable. But your Sun sign is just one small part of your hugely complex personal birth chart, and every single zodiac sign plays a part in your astrological makeup.

What is a Zodiac Sign?

The earth orbits the Sun, taking one calendar year to complete its journey. Seen from earth, however, it is the Sun which appears to move across the heavens, even though in reality of course, it is not moving. Astrology is based on this apparent movement of the Sun and the planets.

Astrologers divide the visible celestial circle into twelve equal segments and chart the “movement” of the Sun, the Moon and the planets through these segments. Each segment is named for – but does not correspond exactly with – a constellation. It is these segments, named Aries, Taurus, Gemini and so on, which are “the signs of the zodiac”.

When we say that you are a Scorpio, what astrologers mean is that at the time and place you were born, the Sun was connected to the segment of sky that we call Scorpio.

As well as the Sun, the Moon and all of the planets were in an exact location in the sky at the time and place of your birth. All of these are important in your birth chart. So, when astrologers say that you have, for example, “Saturn in Libra”, we mean that at the time and place of your birth, the planet Saturn appeared to be traveling through the segment of sky we call Libra.

What Do the Zodiac Signs Mean in Astrology?

In astrology, each planet represents a core type of energy. For example, Jupiter represents expansion, while Mars represents initiative. These planetary energies are expressed in many different ways – astrologically speaking, planetary energies are expressed in the manner of the zodiac sign that planet happens to be in. So, Jupiter in Capricorn expresses expansion in one way, while Jupiter in Gemini expresses expansion in a very different way.

This is the true significance of the zodiac signs – that they express and channel planetary energies in different ways.

For this reason, the Sun’s energy – the energy of self-expression – comes across in twelve very different ways, depending on which Sun sign you have. That’s why the twelve zodiac signs, when acting as Sun signs, are commonly thought to represent twelve different types of personality.

What are the Elements in Astrology?

Each zodiac sign belongs to an element – fire, earth, air or water. As a general rule, fire signs are active and enthusiastic, earth signs are stable and cautious, air signs are communicative and intellectual and water signs are emotional and intuitive.

What are the Quadruplicities in Astrology?

Similarly, each zodiac sign belongs to a quadruplicity, or quality – cardinal, fixed or mutable. Cardinal signs are action oriented, fixed signs are, well, fixed or rigid, and mutable signs are adaptable and flexible.

Understanding the Role of the Zodiac Signs in Your Birth Chart

Although your Sun sign is one use of the zodiac signs that you are no doubt familiar with, each of these signs has a part to play in your overall astrological makeup. Many of the signs will have planets in them; even those which do not will rule or govern one of the twelve astrological houses in your natal chart and will therefore have an influence on a sphere of your life.

One of the best ways to understand the zodiac signs is to consider how they each express planetary energy. In the case of the Sun sign, the zodiac sign is a useful quick pen portrait of a personality, but there’s much more to astrology than just this. Each zodiac sign’s energy expression is a combination of its element and its quality: for instance, the fire cardinal sign is subtly different to the fire mutable sign.

Here’s a quick overview of how each sign expresses or processes the energy given to it by any resident planets:

The Aries Zodiac Sign – Fire, Cardinal

Aries is the first zodiac sign and indeed the concept of “first” is a major part of this sign’s psychology. Highly competitive (wanting to be first), quite selfish (putting self first) and inherently impulsive (act first, think later), Aries is a force of nature. Aries expresses planetary energy assertively, urgently and with considerable intent.

The Taurus Zodiac Sign - Earth, Fixed

Taurus is the first earth sign of the zodiac, and its nature is very down to earth and grounded. Practical, patient and reliable, those who have Taurus prominent in their birth chart are also stubborn, but sensual. Taurus expresses planetary energy possessively and with great caution.

The Gemini Zodiac Sign – Air, Mutable

Gemini is the first air sign and embodies the spirit of communication and versatility. Strongly Gemini people are lively, quick-witted, talkative and changeable, although sometimes rather superficial and shallow. Gemini expresses planetary energy restlessly, adaptably and communicatively.

The Cancer Zodiac Sign – Water, Cardinal

Cancer is the first water sign and this is a zodiac sign with powerful emotions. Being a cardinal sign, however, this emotional energy is carefully channelled into action – Cancer is protective, nurturing, loving and imaginative, but highly defensive when challenged. Cancer expresses planetary energy sensitively and moodily.

The Leo Zodiac Sign – Fire, Fixed

Leo is the second fire sign of the zodiac, bursting with enthusiasm, creativity and joy. However, being a fixed sign, Leos are also determined. This can manifest as stubbornness, bossiness or arrogance. Leo expresses planetary energy creatively, powerfully and with considerable drama.

The Virgo Zodiac Sign – Earth, Mutable

Virgo is the second earth sign of the zodiac. Practical and hands on, Virgo likes to be helpful and has strong intellectual abilities. However, the mutable part of this sign can lead to a lack of self-confidence or fussiness, and a strong critical nature. Virgo expresses planetary energy analytically, while aiming for perfection.

The Libra Zodiac Sign – Air, Cardinal

Libra is a charming, kind and sociable zodiac sign. The third air sign loves to communicate and to share, and this is reflected in a need for love and partnership. However, being a cardinal sign, Libra can also be surprisingly assertive and bossy. Libra expressed planetary energy harmoniously and sympathetically.

The Scorpio Zodiac Sign – Water, Fixed

The emotions of a water sign are certainly present in Scorpio, but because this is a fixed sign, the emotions are contained, trapped or pent up. This can lead to considerable temper and emotional force, as well as jealousy and deviousness. Scorpio expresses planetary energy intensely and passionately.

The Sagittarius Zodiac Sign – Fire, Mutable

Sagittarius as a sign is energetic, optimistic and intellectual. The fire in this sign gives rise to exuberance and playfulness, but the mutable side leads to restlessness and recklessness. There is a constant need for challenge here. Sagittarius expresses planetary energy philosophically and sometimes in an exaggerated fashion.

The Capricorn Zodiac Sign – Earth, Cardinal

Ambitious, traditional and hard-working, Capricorn is the last of the earth signs. Practical ability here is expressed in a forthright, authoritarian way, with the cardinal part of the sign needing to lead and demanding respect. Capricorn expresses planetary energy carefully, aspiringly and sometimes grudgingly.

The Aquarius Zodiac Sign – Air, Fixed

Aquarius energy is eccentric, individualistic and freedom-loving. This last of the air signs is highly intellectual and somewhat abstract but can be dogmatic and emotionally aloof due to the fixed part of its makeup. Aquarius expresses planetary energy independently and for the greater good.

The Pisces Zodiac Sign – Water, Mutable

As the last zodiac sign, Pisces is highly sensitive with strong spiritual links and intense intuition. The emotions of this water sign are all-encompassing and can be damaging; as this is a mutable sign, these emotions need to be molded into something positive. Pisces expresses planetary energy idealistically but sometimes deceitfully.

What About the 13th Zodiac Sign, Ophiuchus?

There isn’t one. There is a constellation called Ophiuchus, but it is not a zodiac sign used by Western astrology. It’s important to remember that the constellations and the zodiac signs are not the same thing. Ancient astrologers named the sky segments for the constellations, but they could just as easily have named them for fruits or animals. And if they had, we might have been reading horoscopes for Apple, Orange and Banana, instead of for Aquarius, Pisces and Aries.

Astronomers will tell you that, because of the wobble in the earth’s axis, the constellations are no longer in the same relative place as they were thousands of years ago, and that therefore a) zodiac signs are not accurate and b) there should in any case be a thirteenth sign.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of astrology – remember, the twelve equal segments of sky are not the same as the constellations. The segments have not changed, or moved, and what happens astronomically is irrelevant to Western astrology. The zodiac sign names are simply a shorthand used to describe those sky segments.

Think of it this way: if we didn’t name the sky segments, we’d have to write horoscopes for “those born when the Sun was between 0 and 29 degrees of the ecliptic” (Aries) and so on. Or when discussing your birth chart, we’d have to refer to “your Venus at 256 degrees of the ecliptic” instead of “your Venus in Sagittarius” – it’s so much simpler to have this widely understood astrological shorthand of zodiac sign names!


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