Returns: What Are They?
A return, also called a revolution, is the arrival of a transiting planet to the same position it held at the time of one’s birth. The solar return, or return of the Sun, which occurs approximately at a person’s birthday, was regarded as important even in the first strains of horoscopic astrology, in the Hellenistic world. The basic idea is that the transits occurring at the time of the return give signs of the major events for the year. The transits at the time of the Moon’s return, or lunar return, were later also considered important for giving signs of the important events for the month.
I have personally come to regard solar and lunar returns as among the most important and informative predictive tools at the astrologer’s disposal. In this thread, we will start with some Hellenistic basics of return interpretation , and from there add additional ways of interpreting returns from later authors.
For the most part, it appears that in early Hellenistic astrology returns were not regarded as a separate chart in their own right, but rather those transits occurring around the time of the birthday, when the Sun returns to the position it held at birth. Therefore, in this post, I address Dorotheus-style returns, in which we examine the rules for interpreting returns as a series of transits about the natal chart. As the rules for interpreting returns in Dorotheus do not heavily rely upon exact timing of the return and do not seem to use a return chart in its own right, questions of precession and relocation of the return chart are largely irrelevant. To find the transits of the return, we look to “…when the Sun enters the beginning of the minute in which it was on the day of the native’s nativity” (Dorotheus, Book IV, Ch. 1, #4, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 245).
Dorotheus on Returns
The 1st Century Hellenistic astrologer Dorotheus of Sidon gave some guidelines and aphorisms for the interpretation of the transits “on the day on which that native was born” or “in the turning of the years” in Chapter 1 of Book IV of his Carmen Astrologicum. His entire exposition of this matter focuses on the occurrence of transiting planets into signs occupied by natal planets, and certain places or houses of the natal horoscope. For a complete understanding of the guidelines given by Dorotheus, I urge the reader to pick up a copy of his work (click here to purchase on Amazon), which is essential reading in Hellenistic astrology, and one of the most influential works on later Persian and European medieval astrology. For the reader’s convenience, I summarize some of his guidelines below:
- Being in whole sign opposition to natal position shows difficulty. For instance, if Mars were in Capricorn in natal but in Cancer when the Sun returns to its natal position near the birthday.
- Out of sect malefic in natal chart reaching the place of the natal sect light or sect benefic shows great difficulty. For instance, if a person was born by day with Sun or Jupiter in Sagittarius, and at the time of the return Mars is in Sagittarius. From Dorotheus (Book IV, Ch. 1, #188, Pingree trans., 2005): “It is worse for this [native] and more difficult in its maleficence if Mars is reaching the place in which Jupiter or the Sun was by day, or [if] Saturn is reaching the place in which the Moon was by night.” Generally, there are many guidelines that relate to the bad indicated when a return malefic is with, dominating (superior or right-hand square), opposed, or in inferior square to itself or an important natal position and the good indicated when a return benefic is with or trine to itself or an important natal position (and even good when dominating a malefic, see below).
- Overall, it is good when a malefic (i.e. Saturn or Mars) is in a whole sign trine to its natal position, and bad if it is in a whole sign opposition or square to its natal position, particularly if dominating (right-hand whole sign square) the natal position. It is also good if a return benefic (i.e. Jupiter or Venus) is in a dominating position to a natal malefic (or even a return malefic?). Similarly, it is good when the benefics are trine their natal positions. However, it is difficult when the malefics are trine the natal positions of the benefics. For instance, if one was born with Mars in Gemini, then it would be good for Mars to be in Libra or Aquarius at the return, and especially so if Venus were in Pisces because that sign is in a dominating position to Gemini.
- It is difficult when a return planet is in a place (i.e. house) of the nativity which is bad, especially if it possesses such a place natally as well. According to Dorotheus (Book I, Ch. 5), the best places are the 1st, 10th, 11th, 5th, 7th, 4th, and 9th, in that order. The worst places are the 6th and 12th, and after these the 8th, 2nd, and 3rd, in order from the worst of them. For instance, if one were born with Aquarius rising and Mars in Capricorn, then it will be particularly bad if Mars is in Capricorn (natal 12th) or Cancer (natal 6th) in the return (Cancer would be particularly difficult as it would also evoke rule 1 above), and also could be difficult if Mars is in Virgo (natal 8th), Pisces (natal 2nd), or Aries (natal 3rd).
- Whole sign place occupied by the return Moon is particularly important, as are return planets reaching the place of the natal Moon. Overall, the idea is that the return Moon with benefic natal planets shows good things,while with malefic natal planets shows bad things (particularly to health, and it is also so when return malefics reach the place of the natal Moon). Some other notes include that the return Moon with natal Mercury shows work pertaining to the signification of natal Mercury, return Moon in natal 1st can show health danger, return Moon in natal 10th shows public events which are good or bad in accordance with influence of benefics and malefics, return Moon in natal 7th shows success over enemies, while return Moon in natal 4th shows secret matters and/or success with writing a will. Overall, these four whole sign places, also called the angles or stakes of the chart (the 1st, 10th, 7th, and 4th), give indications regarding more important matters in the native’s life. For instance, if one were born with Pisces rising and Saturn was the out of sect malefic in the natal 10th, Sagittarius, then the Moon transiting in Sagittarius in the return could be indicative of some difficult public event, and even of cold or depleting health conditions.
- Planets in or transiting to the sign of the natal annual profection of the Ascendant, as well as the ruler of the profected Ascendant, are particularly important. That is, solar returns tended to be used together with profections as part of a suite of annual predictive techniques. The fourth book of Dorotheus thus explains both profections and solar returns. For example, Dorotheus noted, “If the year reaches the sign in which Saturn was and Saturn is in it or aspects if from trine or quartile [i.e. square] or the seventh [i.e. opposition], then the native will have a bad reputation, and there will reach him folly and injury and hostility from men …” (Book IV, Ch. 1, #23, Pingree trans., 2005).
A Few Examples
For these examples, I’ll be using the free open-source astrological software, Morinus. You can download the traditional version of Morinus here.
I will examine the return by look first at the annual profection and indications related to it from the natal and return, then the impact concerning the angles of the chart and the lights, especially the Moon. For each example, ignore the numbers on the outside of the chart, as those are for the house positions in the return chart itself, which we will for now ignore.
Example 1 (above) is the 1958 return of someone born in 1935, and thus is that of someone who has turned 23, signalling an annual profection of the Ascendant to the 12th place, Gemini, ruled by and natally occupied by Mercury (see here if you don’t know how to figure out profections). Mercury in the return is transiting in the natal 2nd, which is considered one of the bad places. Natally, Mercury is in the 12th, which is considered one of the worst places, so by rule #4 above, we are getting the sense that the year could be difficult for this native, relating to Mercurial themes of movement and communication. Furthermore, the out of sect malefic Saturn, is transiting through the 6th of the natal, opposing Mercury, which is difficult in itself given Mercury’s status as lord of the year, but also emphasizes the natal configuration of Saturn dominating Mercury. Natally, Saturn dominates Mercury, with Saturn in the 9th, concerning religion and foreign influence. Saturn transiting in the 6th in the return dominates natal Saturn (see rule #3 above), exacerbating the maleficence of Saturn. The transit of Venus through the sign of the profection, Gemini, is mixed, as she is a benefic with influence upon the lord of the year, but Venus is transiting through one of the worst places (the 12th), and occupies a bad place natally (the 2nd) – she rules the 4th of land and origins and the 11th of friends and aid, so she connects the native with those themes.
Both Jupiter and Mars are transiting in natal angles. Jupiter in the 4th, where natal Mars is, signifies some degree of fortune as concerns land, origins, and workings in secret, but Mars is opposed to it and opposed to its natal position (see rule #1 above), setting off the difficulty pertaining to Mars in the 4th and with Mars in the rather public and status-oriented 10th, it is bringing violence to the fore. Additionally, return Mars is in a dominating position to the natal Sun, signifying the threat of violence to the native. The return Moon is in the 9th of foreign influence and religion, with Saturn, the out of sect malefic – this is both a sign of great difficulty and both the Moon and the 9th naturally signify journeys, so it connects that difficulty with journeys.
Example 1 is the chart of the 14th Dalai Lama (chart rated A for accuracy) and the return is that which preceded his fleeing the country he ruled in fear of his life to his exile in India, amid the spring 1959 Tibetan uprising.
Example 2 is the chart of someone turning 72, and as 72 is a multiple of 12, the annual profection was to the 1st place, Pisces, occupied by natal Saturn and ruled by Jupiter. Jupiter, the lord of the profection is returning to its natal position in the 11th, which is a great place and significant for popularity, friends, aid, and so forth. This person is a movie star and did in fact have a dozen films in the works in the year under consideration.
Deeper inspection reveals that not only is natal Saturn highlighted by the profection to the 1st, but Saturn is also transiting in an angle, the natal 7th, which is opposed to its natal position (see rule #1 above). Looking at other angular factors, we also find that Mars is not only in the 10th, but actually conjunct the Sun within a degree. The Sun is additionally dominated by that angular Saturn. Given the affliction of the 1st, profection, and the Sun by both malefics, we are seeing some major indications of danger to the health, and public violence (Mars in the 10th). Examining the Moon we find that it is in the 2nd, ruled by Mars, which is both opposed to its natal position (see rule #1) and also a bad place while in the natal it occupies the 8th, similarly a bad place pertaining to death, where she is with Mars, the out of sect malefic. Therefore, we have strong indications of threat to health in the chart.
Example 2 is the chart of David Carradine (chart AA rated for accuracy) and his 2008 return which preceded his death of autoerotic asphyxiation, which had particularly damning effects upon the public image he left behind.
I will briefly touch on one more chart to emphasize something that came up with Example 2. Example 3 is the 1994 return of someone born in 1967, thus 27 years of age, in a 4th place profection. From the profection alone, the indications appear to be largely positive. Jupiter, lord of the profection, may be transiting in one of the bad places (the 3rd) but it is the least bad of the bad, and natally Jupiter is in its joy in the 11th. However, what is striking about the return is the occurrence of a conjunction of transiting Saturn to the Sun within a degree in an angle of the chart (and Saturn is returning to its natal place). This theme of a close conjunction between a malefic and a light occurs with some frequency in returns that precede death, as it strongly signifies threat to health. For instance, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the founders of Diaspora, had a similar tight Sun-Saturn conjunction in the return preceding his own suicide (I blogged about this briefly here). The 4th itself, place of the profection, also can signify death.
Example 3 is the chart of Kurt Cobain (rated A for accuracy) with the transits from his 1994 solar return, which preceded his suicide.
So far, I’ve only looked at a few solar return examples, and very briefly. I will be examining more solar return examples and further techniques for interpreting returns and integrating them with other techniques in the future. Overall, from Dorotheus we learn that returns can be significant as a set of transits to the natal chart itself, with the natal angles, lights, and the annual profection helping to guide us to which significations are most important. Dorotheus looked at the overall influence of the benefics and malefics in this sense, and paid particular attention to the role of natal sect, natal and transiting place (i.e. whole sign house), and type of whole sign regard in modifying indications for better or worse.