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, occurs approximately at a person’s birthday. It was regarded as a very important event in Hellenistic astrology, the original form of horoscopic astrology. The solar return provides indications of the major events for the year. Similarly, the Moon’s return, or lunar return, can be used for indications regarding the month.
I have personally come to regard solar returns to be one of the most informative and indispensable predictive techniques. In this series of articles, we will start with some Hellenistic basics of return interpretation. Future article may add additional ways of interpreting returns as given by later Hellenistic and medieval astrologers.
The Solar Return as a Set of Transits to the Natal Chart
For the most part, in early Hellenistic astrology, solar returns were not regarded as separate charts in their own right. Rather they were viewed in terms of transits to the natal chart. That is the approach of Dorotheus (1st century CE). In this post, I address Dorotheus-style returns, in which we examine returns as a series of transits about the natal chart. The rules for interpreting returns in Dorotheus do not rely heavily upon exact timing of the return. Therefore, 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
Dorotheus of Sidon gave some guidelines and aphorisms for the interpretation of transits “on the day on which that native was born” and “in the turning of the years”. These guidelines can be found in Chapter 1 of Book IV of his Carmen Astrologicum. His approach focuses on planetary transits into specific natal houses, such as those occupied by certain natal planets.
For a complete understanding of the guidelines given by Dorotheus, I urge the reader to pick up a copy of his work (click image below for best translation). It is essential reading in Hellenistic astrology, and one of the most influential astrological works of all time. Later Persian and European medieval astrology owes a great debt to Dorotheus.
Dorothean Return Guidelines
For the reader’s convenience, I summarize some of his guidelines below. Generally, there are many guidelines that relate to the bad indicated when a return malefic is with, opposed, or square itself or an important natal position. By contrast, there are many good indications pertaining to when a return benefic is with or trine itself or an important natal position. There is even good pertaining to a return benefic dominating (right side square) a natal malefic (see below).
1st Rule: Return Oppositions to Natal Positions Show Difficulties
These are whole sign oppositions of a planet to itself. For instance, if Mars were in Capricorn in the natal chart but in Cancer on the solar return. Note that this configuration is impossible with the return Sun, Mercury, or Venus (except in regards to their twelfth-part positions).
2nd Rule: Transit of Out of Sect Malefic to Natal Sect Light or Benefic is Difficult
This pertains to the out of sect malefic of the natal chart transiting to the sign containing the sect light or sect benefic in the natal chart. For instance, take a person born by day with Sun or Jupiter in Sagittarius. If the solar return Mars is in Sagittarius this would indicate difficulty concerning those placements. 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.”
3rd Rule: Watch Malefic Squares and Oppositions, and Benefic Trines
Overall, it is good when a malefic (Saturn or Mars) is in a whole sign trine to its natal position. It is generally difficult if the malefic is in a whole sign opposition or square to its natal position, particularly if dominating the natal position. It is also good if a return benefic (Jupiter or Venus) is in a dominating position to a natal malefic. If dominating a return malefic, it is also likely to ease the difficulty. 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, take one with Mars in Gemini. It would be good for Mars to be in Libra or Aquarius at the return. Furthermore, it is especially good if return Venus were in Pisces because that sign is in a dominating position to Gemini.
4th Rule: Watch Transits to Dark Places of the Natal Chart
It is difficult when a return planet is in a place (i.e. house) of the nativity which is bad. This is especially so if it also occupies such a place in the natal chart. 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, while the 8th, 2nd, and 3rd are moderately bad (from worst to least bad).
For instance, take one born with Aquarius rising and Mars in Capricorn. It will be particularly bad if Mars is in Capricorn (natal 12th) or Cancer (natal 6th) in the return. Cancer would be the most difficult as it would also be opposed its natal position (see above). It could also be difficult if Mars is in Virgo (natal 8th), Pisces (natal 2nd), or Aries (natal 3rd). Of those placements, Aries would be more difficult due to the square to the natal position, while Virgo would be least difficult due to the trine to natal position.
5th Rule: The Natal and Return Moon are Particularly Important
The house of the return Moon is a focal area, as are return planets reaching the house occupied by the natal Moon. The Moon is particularly important for health. Overall, the idea is that the return Moon with benefic natal planets shows good things,while with malefic natal planets shows bad things. It is similar when return benefics and malefics reach the place of the natal Moon.
Dorotheus notes many miscellaneous indications for the Moon. The return Moon with natal Mercury shows work pertaining to the signification of natal Mercury. Solar return Moon in natal 1st can show health danger. The solar 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. Solar 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 important life matters. For instance, take one born with Pisces rising and Saturn as the out of sect malefic in the natal 10th (Sagittarius). The Moon transiting in Sagittarius in the return could be indicative of some difficult public event, and even of health problems pertaining to cold or depletion.
6th Rule: Annual Profection of the Ascendant Shows the Most Important Places
The natal and return factors in the sign of the annual profection of the Ascendant are particularly important. The ruler of the annual profection is also highlighted, both in terms of return transits to it and in terms of its solar return placement.
Solar returns were meant to be used with profections as part of a suite of annual predictive techniques. Therefore, the fourth book of Dorotheus 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
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 Dorotheus ignored.
Example 1: 10th House Mars Opposed Natal 4th House Mars
Mercury-Saturn and the Profection
Example 1 (above) is the 1958 return of someone born in 1935, and thus is that of someone who has turned 23. Age 23 signals an annual profection of the Ascendant to the 12th place, Gemini, ruled by and natally occupied by Mercury.
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. Therefore, by rule #4, 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. This is difficult in itself given Mercury’s status as lord of the year, but it also emphasizes the natal configuration of Saturn dominating Mercury. Natally, Saturn in IX dominates Mercury, and IX concerns religion and foreign influence. Saturn transiting in the 6th in the return dominates (right-hand square) natal Saturn, exacerbating the maleficence of Saturn (see rule #3).
Influence of Venus
The transit of Venus through the sign of the profection, Gemini, is mixed. She is the sect benefic and has influence upon the lord of the year. Venus provides a positive and protective indication but she 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.
4th House Mars and the Angles
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. However, Mars is opposed to it and opposed to its natal position (see rule #1). This activates the worst of the difficulty signified by Mars in the 4th. With return Mars in the rather public and authority-oriented 10th, it is bringing violence from on high from authority. Additionally, return Mars is in a dominating position to the natal Sun, signifying the threat of violence to the native.
Return Moon in IX with Saturn
The return Moon is in the 9th of foreign influence and religion.It is with natal Saturn, the out of sect malefic. This is a sign of great difficulty and threat. The Moon and the 9th naturally signify journeys, so it suggests a focus on a journey, with great difficulty.
Dalai Lama XIV
Example 1 was the chart of the 14th Dalai Lama (chart rated A for accuracy). The solar return is that which preceded his fleeing his country, Tibet, which he had previously ruled. He fled in fear of his life to his exile in India, amid the spring 1959 Tibetan uprising.
Example 2: 7th House Saturn Opposes Natal 1st House Saturn
1st House Profection Ruled by 11th House Jupiter
Example 2 is the chart of someone turning 72, and as 72 is a multiple of 12. Therefore, the annual profection was to the 1st place, Pisces. Pisces is occupied by natal Saturn and ruled by Jupiter. Jupiter, the lord of the profection is returning to its natal position in the 11th. The 11th is Jupiter’ joy and this is a great placement, 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.
Saturn, the 1st House Occupant
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, pertaining to partnership and sexuality. Saturn is opposed to its natal position (see rule #1). The natal Sun is additionally dominated by that angular Saturn in the 7th (as is Mercury). Therefore, we find Saturn (constriction, death) in the house of partnership and sexuality (VII) activating the adverse indications for the body (I) and reputation (Sun in X) signified by the natal partile Sun-Saturn square.
Return Mars in the 10th
Looking at other angular factors, we find that return Mars, the out of sect malefic, is in the 10th and actually conjunct the Sun within a degree. Given the affliction of the 1st house and the Sun by both malefics, we are seeing some major indications of danger to the health and reputation.
Examining the Moon we find that it is in the 2nd, ruled by Mars. The Moon is opposed to its natal position (see rule #1). It is also in a bad place (2nd) and occupies a bad place in the natal chart (8th). Additionally, in the natal chart she is in the 8th pertaining to death and she is with Mars, the out of sect malefic. Mars (violence) with the Moon (physicality) is a natal indication of bodily harm. The return Moon’s opposition to that configuration while under the rulership of Mars (Scorpio) reinforces the difficult natal indications in that regard. 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). His 2008 solar return preceded his death by autoerotic asphyxiation. His manner of death had a particularly damning effect upon the public image he left behind.
Example 3: Out of Sect Saturn Conjoins Natal Sun
I will briefly touch on one more chart to emphasize the difficulty of return malefics with Lights. Example 2 had return Mars (out of sect malefic) conjoin the Sect Light (Sun) reflecting Rule 2.
Profections Alone Are Not Enough
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 is lord of the profection and natally is in its joy in the 11th. However, the solar return reveals a different story. 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. Additionally, Saturn is returning to its natal place and the return Moon is square to natal Saturn (and all the other planets in Pisces).
Example 3 is the chart of Kurt Cobain (rated A for accuracy). The solar return is the one from 1994, which preceded his suicide.
Return Malefic to Natal Light
This theme of a close conjunction between a malefic and a Light occurs with some frequency in returns that precede death, even those by suicide. It can strongly indicate a threat to health, even from one’s own self! For instance, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the founders of the social network Diaspora, had a similar tight Sun-Saturn conjunction in the return preceding his own suicide. I wrote about that configuration at the end of my article on Diaspora.
So far, I’ve only looked at a few solar return examples, and very briefly. From Dorotheus we learn that returns can be significant as a set of transits to the natal chart itself. The natal angles, the Lights, and the annual profection help to guide our way and show which significations are most important. Dorotheus looked at the overall influence of the benefics and malefics. He paid particular attention to the role of sect, house, and aspect in modifying indications for better or worse. Later astrologers would expand on these notions. In the medieval period, the houses and Ascendant of the return itself also came to be important. However, the guidelines laid out by Dorotheus provide us with a solid foundation from which to start our examination of the year from the solar return.