The Signs of the Zodiac
So far we’ve looked at the origins of astrology, the meanings of the planets, planetary loudness, and general planetary prominence. A discussion of the signs of the zodiac, which figure so prominently in popular astrology, has been put off until this point. This is because the significations of the planets are more central to work in ancient astrology than those of the signs of the zodiac. However, the signs of the zodiac are very important in their own right, and we will explore them deeply here.
An Examination of the Most Important Facets of the Zodiac
We will look at the key features of signs, as well as how they relate to the fixed stars (sidereal) and the seasons (tropical). I show that the most commonly used features of the signs stem from the tropical (seasonal) cycle, while the sidereal (fixed stars) features play a comparatively minor role. Additionally, we will explore the 4 signs in every chart that refer to prominent personal matters (the “stakes”).
Moving Beyond Signs in Popular Astrology
Nearly every test of astrology by the scientific community has been a test of Sun-sign astrology and Sun-sign based newspaper horoscopes. It is ironic that the newspaper blurbs are called “horoscopes”, as the term “horoscope” (from horoskopos) initially referred to the hour-marker (rising sign), which changed about every two hours. Contrast this with the Sun-sign which changes once each month.
And so, the domicile occupying the rising [place] is called the horoscope; the effect of this [is] over the body and life of a man itself, and all his undertakings. (Abu Ma’shar, The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, Book I, 109, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 71)
The Rising Sign Depends on Location, Hour, and Date
In Hellenistic astrology, the rising sign is the symbol of the individual. The rising sign is based on the primary motion of the Earth, its rotation. The eastern horizon moves through all 12 signs in 24 hours (about one sign every two hours). In other words, in ancient astrology, the personal symbol is a factor of the location, time of day, and time of year of the birth. Sun-signs are a factor which applies to everyone born in a given month-long period. You can have a completely different rising sign from someone born in the same hospital a few minutes later (if you were born near the end of the sign). Similarly, it can be different from someone born at the same time as you in a different part of the country or someone born at the same time of day at a different time of year.
I the Ascendant, life, steering-oar, body, breath. (Valens, Anthologies, Book IV, Ch. 12, The Names of the Twelve Places, Riley trans., 2010, p. 80)
Signs Contain Micro-Signs
Nearly all Hellenistic astrologers also utilized the twelfth-parts, which are twelfths of the sign that project into other signs. In this division of the zodiac, the first 2.5 degrees of each sign corresponds to the sign itself, while the next corresponds to the next sign, and so forth. These twelfth-parts are seldom used today but they are a feature of the zodiac that is almost old as the zodiac itself, dating back to at least the 5th century BCE. See my introductory article on the twelfth-parts for more.
The twelfth-part of the rising sign (Ascendant) changes about every 10 minutes of clock time. Someone born at 10 am may have Taurus of Sagittarius rising (i.e the Taurus micro-sign in Sagittarius) while someone born at 10:10 am may have Gemini of Sagittarius rising. The twelfth-parts are one of the most important divisions of the zodiac and they apply to the zodiac as a whole. Not only the rising sign has a micro-sign, but also the signs of the Sun, Moon, and all other chart factors. The twelfth-parts bring in a degree of complexity and nuance that is lacking in popular astrology.
Faster Factors are More Personal Factors
The Sun was not symbolic of the personal ego or personality center in ancient astrology. In fact, in many ancient astrologers’ techniques for personality delineation, the Sun plays a minor role or is absent altogether. The faster moving Ascendant, Moon, and Mercury played a greater role. For instance, check out Ptolemy’s instructions for examining “the quality of the soul“. In a chart, we can see how the Ascendant (rising sign), symbolic of the person, interacts with the Sun, symbolic of power, exposure, leadership, and brilliance. The Sun does not need to symbolize the person or their ego.
In a nativity the all-seeing sun, nature’s fire and intellectual light, the organ of mental perception, indicates kingship, rule, intellect, intelligence, beauty, motion, loftiness of fortune, the ordinance of the gods, judgement, public reputation, action, authority over the masses, the father, the master, friendship, noble personages, honors consisting of pictures, statues, and garlands, high priesthoods, one’s country other places. (Valens, Anthologies, Book I, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 1)
Signs are Not Constellations
The 13 Signs of the Zodiac?
You may recall sensational news stories about a 13th sign of the zodiac. Often these stories would be accompanied by click-bait headlines declaring that “you have a new Sun sign”. These stories were based on the work of an astronomer who was trying to draw some criticism of astrology for its supposed lack of logic. The idea was that there are 13 constellations which fall on the ecliptic. Recall that the ecliptic is the path of the Earth around the Sun, or from the vantage point of the Earth, it is the path of the Sun around the Earth.
By this astronomer’s logic, since the Sun now passes through 13 constellations, not 12 as in ancient times, there are now 13 signs of the zodiac. However, he made the mistake of confusing constellations for signs. His mistake has fostered such widespread ignorance regarding the difference between sign and constellation that even the Wikipedia entry for constellation Ophiucus, the so-called 13th sign, now addresses the difference.
Constellations are Groups of Stars, Signs are Mathematical Divisions of the Sky
Constellations are special groupings of stars. They have been used in astrology for many thousands of years. They are much older than the signs. The twelve zodiacal constellations have varying dates of origin, with Taurus going back as far as the bronze age (4,000 BCE). The twelve constellations on the ecliptic were not regularized into “signs” until about 600 BCE, by the Babylonians.
Signs, unlike constellations, are all equal in size, at exactly 30 degrees each, while constellations dramatically vary in size. The signs are mathematical divisions of the sky into a coordinate system to precisely measure the travel of the planets along the path of the ecliptic. Not long after the signs were introduced, the concept of divisions of each sign into twelve micro-signs was also introduced. Both signs and twelfth-parts are mathematical in nature and not to be confused with the constellations with which they share names.
Stars and Constellations in Ancient Astrology
Stars and constellations were also used in ancient astrology. Some astrologers, such as Manilius and Ptolemy, extensively used the constellations and the stars within them. Sometimes they even used extra-zodiacal constellations, such as the so-called thirteenth “sign”, Ophiucus, to provide additional significations. But these stars and constellations are separate from and in addition to the significations of the signs.
Signs as Feature Bundles
Importance of Equinoxes and Solstices
In the discussion of planetary advancement, we looked at the early importance of planetary alignments with the local horizon (Ascendant/Descendant) and meridian (MC/IC) among ancient cultures. The most important of such alignments were typically those on the days of the equinoxes and solstices. The equinoxes and solstices are important points in the Sun-Earth cycle that cause seasonal transitions in the year.
Equinox means Equal Daylight and Dark
The equinoxes are the times when the day and the night are of equal length. The solstices are the times of the longest day or the shortest day (longest night). These times take on these features by virtue of the extent to which the northern hemisphere of the Earth is inclined toward or away from the Sun. The point where the Sun appears to travel farthest north is the summer solstice. The point where the Sun travels farthest south is the winter solstice. When the Sun crosses the equator toward the north it is spring equinox. The Sun crossing the equator toward the south is autumnal equinox.
Two signs are called equinoctial, the one which is first from the spring equinox, Aries, and the one which begins with the autumnal equinox, Libra; and they too again are named from what happens there, because when the sun is at the beginning of these signs he makes the nights exactly equal to the days. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, Robbins trans., 1940, I.11, cam. p. 67)
Beginning in Spring
Hellenistic astrology began in the last couple centuries before the start of the first millennium. At that time, the signs of the zodiac where loosely situated over the constellations, but the zodiac, unlike the constellations, had a starting point. The starting point was the beginning of the sign of Aries, as the beginning of that sign was marked by the spring equinox. The zodiac is essentially a circle with no beginning or end, but the sign of Aries was considered to sort of kick things off as it signaled the transition to spring in the northern hemisphere.
For this reason, although there is no natural beginning of the zodiac, since it is a circle, they assume that the sign which begins with the vernal equinox, that of Aries, is the starting-point of them all, making the excessive moisture of the spring the first part of the zodiac as though it were a living creature, and taking next in order the remaining seasons, because in all creatures the earliest ages, like the spring, have a larger share of moisture and are tender and still delicate. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, Robbins trans., 1940, I.10, cam. p. 61)
Northern Hemisphere Orientation
Horoscopic astrology has a bias for understanding the signs in terms of the northern hemisphere due to originating in that hemisphere. While some find this bias disquieting, it is indeed the case that the northern hemisphere is the dominant hemisphere when it comes to human affairs. The northern hemisphere accounts for more than two-thirds of the habitable land on earth. Additionally, about 90% of humans on Earth live in the northern hemisphere.
Decomposing Signs into Features
The signs of the zodiac take on their astrological significance by way of a conglomeration of various features. Some of these features are based upon the seasonal cycle. In fact, the most important features used in Hellenistic and Persian astrology are based on the seasonal cycle. Other features are based upon the images of the constellations, their associations, and the significations of the stars.
In the centuries that followed the advent of Hellenistic astrology, it migrated to India, where it transformed the astral lore of the subcontinent (see Yavanajataka). However, the relationship between the seasons and the stars changes over the centuries. Due to what’s called the precession of the equinoxes, the equinoxes slowly move backward across the backdrop of the constellations. They do this at the rate of about 1 degree every 72 years. Therefore, in astrology, it becomes necessary to choose whether the features of the constellations or the seasons are key to the nature of the signs.
Two Zodiacs: Which do you choose?
The famous natural philosopher and Hellenistic astrologer, Claudius Ptolemy, of the second century CE, asserted that the signs of the zodiac should be defined by the equinoxes and solstices. In this way, they always overlay the same seasonal light/dark relationship. This is now known as the Tropical Zodiac. By contrast, in India, the trend of defining the zodiac by way of a reference star prevailed. Today it is usually Spica which marks the beginning of Libra. This Sidereal Zodiac ensures that the signs always loosely overlay their constellations.
East and West Diverge
Today the choice of two zodiacs has caused quite a stir. Astrologers in the west often choose the Tropical Zodiac simply because they are western. Those in India choose the Sidereal Zodiac simply because they are Indian. Arguments made for the Tropical Zodiac typically include the readily apparent effect that the Sun’s passage through the zodiac has on life on earth as exemplified in the seasons. Arguments made for the Sidereal Zodiac typically include the fact that its signs still loosely overlay the constellations for which the signs are named.
The Origin of Features Matter
My opinion is that the debate is wrongly framed. In ancient astrology, the signs are defined by bundles of various features. One of the most important of these features is the rulership of signs by planets. This feature is almost certainly tropical in origin.
The Lights (Sun and Moon) are assigned the signs of summer in the northern hemisphere (Cancer for the Moon and Leo for the Sun, approx. June 21st to August 21st). Saturn, the lord of darkness and cold, is assigned to the signs opposite. These are the signs of winter in the northern hemisphere (Capricorn and Aquarius, approx. December 21st to February 20th). These rulerships originated with the signs, not the constellations, and are clearly related to the seasons. Therefore, the planetary rulerships are intimately tied to the tropical zodiac.
A Place for Two Zodiacs
It is possible that the sidereal zodiac is more appropriate for some purposes in astrology than the tropical zodiac. Since the signs signify in terms of their features it’s instructive for us to divide the features into two types, those derived from the tropical cycle and those derived from the constellations. The tropical zodiac is the appropriate zodiac for the most commonly used significations in ancient Hellenistic and Persian astrology. However, there are important significations which appear to be sidereal in origin. Perhaps we should use two zodiacs, one for signifying the tropical features and another for signifying the sidereal ones.
Tropical Sign Features
Domicile and Exaltation Rulerships
As noted, the most important sign feature that is tropical in origin is that of sign rulership. These are rather systematic, with the signs of the Sun and Moon adjacent to each other and marking the peak of summer. The other 5 planets get two signs each straddling those of the Sun and Moon based on planetary speed. By this arrangement, the signs of Saturn are opposite those of the Lights.
Take a Few Minutes to Learn the Signs
Note: if you are unfamiliar with the glyphs of the signs and the planets, you should take a couple days to familiarize yourself with them before continuing (you can find flashcards for planetary glyphs, helpful mnemonics for signs, and there’s more help here with a video).
The Domiciles of the Planets
In the image below, you can see that the Moon rules Cancer and the Sun rules Leo. Mercury is the fastest of the 5 other planets and it rules Gemini and Virgo. These are the signs on either side of those of the Sun and Moon. Venus is the next fastest and she rules Taurus and Libra, Those are on either side of those of Mercury. Mars rules Aries and Scorpio which are on either side of those of Venus. Jupiter rules Pisces and Sagittarius which are on either side of those of Mars. Saturn, the slowest, rules Aquarius and Capricorn which are on either side of those of Jupiter, and opposite the signs of the Lights.
Signs are the Houses of the Planets
The signs are domiciles of their rulers. Domicile means house. So the signs are the houses which belong to the planets. For example, if someone was born with Cancer rising then they have the Moon’s house rising. Cancer would be considered the 1st House of the chart and the Moon, ruler of Cancer, would be the ruler of this 1st House. The ruler is viewed as the owner and major player in affairs pertaining to the 1st House. Similarly, the next sign to rise, Leo, would be the 2nd House, with its ruler, the Sun, as the ruler of the 2nd House. This continues in the order of the rising of the signs in a chart.
Houses and zones of the stars [are what] they term the 12 twelfths of the zodiac, which they also call signs. Of these, the most northerly and closest to us are given to the luminaries–to the Moon, Cancer; and to the Sun, Leo. And [then] in order to the one nearest them, Mercury, [they give] Gemini and Virgo; after which , to Venus, Taurus and Libra; then, to Mars, Aries and Scorpio; then, to Jupiter, Sagittarius and Pisces; then to Saturn, the one farthest from us, Capricorn and Aquarius. (Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 5, p. 9)
Meaning of Domicile
The planets have a connection with, an influence upon, and a responsibility to their houses. The planets want to be able to see or monitor their houses (this is done by configuration, the topic of the next lesson), so they can more directly influence their affairs. When a planet is in a house it has the most direct influence on its affairs. So a planet in its own house is less dependent on circumstance. It is more independent and unencumbered in its indications. Such a planet will be less dependent upon and influenced by the relationships it has with other planets, for good or ill.
In lessons 6 and 7, we will learn how to assign responsibility for various topical areas of life to the houses. The rulers of a house, especially the domicile lord, influence the manner in which these topics are indicated to manifest in the life.
Each sign is either masculine and diurnal or feminine and nocturnal. This distinction is derived from the domiciles of the Sun and Moon. The Moon’s domicile, Cancer, is feminine and nocturnal. The Sun’s domicile, Leo, is masculine and diurnal. The signs then alternate in order as masculine/diurnal and feminine/nocturnal. I’ll just state them as diurnal or nocturnal, but know that diurnal signs were also said to be masculine, and nocturnal ones were said to be feminine. So, the next sign, Virgo, is nocturnal, then Libra is diurnal, Scorpio is nocturnal, Sagittarius is diurnal, Capricorn is nocturnal, Aquarius is diurnal, Pisces is nocturnal, Aries is diurnal, Taurus is nocturnal, and Gemini is diurnal.
An easier way to remember this is that air and fire can lighten and rise, and Air and Fire signs are diurnal/masculine. Water and earth can darken and sink, and Water and Earth signs are nocturnal/feminine. The elements are dealt with in the discussion of the feature of triplicity below. Note that each of the 5 non-luminary planets has a day house (diurnal) and a night house (nocturnal).
Meaning of Sign Gender
Diurnal signs were used as symbolic of masculine and extroverted or overt traits related to a set of indications. Nocturnal signs were used as symbolic of feminine and introverted or covert traits related to a set of indications. However, this sign gender is only a minor indication of such.
Modern Sign Associations: Ruler Plus Gender
I bring up the gender of the signs because the modern associations of the signs largely derive from the domicile lord plus the gender of the sign. However, there are some associations which also derive from modern planetary ruler (Uranus with Aquarius, Neptune with Pisces, Pluto with Scorpio).
Associations such as those of Leo with leadership and confidence (Sun) and Cancer with sentimentality and emotion (Moon) come right from the rulers. Compare the playfully clever and curious Gemini of modern descriptions (extroverted Mercury) with the critical and self-deprecating Virgo (introverted Mercury). Taurus is described as slow and sensual (introverted Venus) while Libra is harmonious and indecisive (extroverted Venus). Aries is pioneering and loud (extroverted Mars) while Scorpio is touchy and strategic (introverted Mars). Sagittarius is adventurous and optimistic (extroverted Jupiter) while Pisces is dreamy and mystical (introverted Jupiter). Capricorn is conservative and managerial (introverted Saturn) while Aquarius is independent and stubborn (extroverted Saturn).
A Note on Modern Sign Associations
If you’ve been exposed to a lot of modern astrology, as I have, then the modern associations of the signs, derived from their rulers, will immediately jump out at you. However, I would avoid thinking of the signs this way. Think of the signs instead based on the other features discussed here. The ruler’s influence on the nature of a specific house will vary according to whether it is in the house, configured to the house, and the relationship of the house to other planets. There is more to the signs in any given chart than the ruler and the gender of the house, so please consider all of the sign features explored in this lesson.
Exaltations of the Planets
Each of the planets also has a sign that is said to be its exaltation or kingdom. The motivation for this is not as clear, but appears to also be based on tropical considerations. The exaltations center around the signs of the equinoxes and solstices. The Sun and Moon are associated with the signs of spring in the exaltations.
Exaltations Emphasize the Equinoxes and Solstices
The Sun is exalted in the sign of the spring equinox (Aries). The exaltations of the Moon (Taurus) and Venus (Pisces) straddle that sign. Saturn is exalted in the sign of the autumnal equinox (Libra). Mercury is exalted in a sign that straddles that sign (Virgo). Jupiter is exalted in the sign of the summer solstice. Mars is exalted in the sign of the winter solstice. So, we have the four slowest planets, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and the Sun all exalted at the equinox or solstice signs, and the other three planets exalted at signs which straddle one of the equinox signs.
Additionally, Porphyry noted that the sings of exaltation are in a configurational relationship to the domiciles. The diurnal planets (Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn) are exalted in a sign that is trine to one of their houses. The exaltations of the nocturnal planets (Moon, Venus, and Mars) are sextile to one of theirs. Configurations are the topic of the next lesson, so don’t worry too much about this at this time.
Meaning of Exaltation
The exaltation is a house where the planet is given more power and freedom to act. The planet is a celebrated guest of honor. The sign opposite a planet’s exaltation was called its fall or descension. The house of its fall was considered a place where a planet is more downtrodden in its significations, like an unwelcome guest. I personally liken the effect to the planet being given aid or freedom to realize its significations (for good or ill). Similarly, the house of a planet’s fall is a house where it is being disadvantaged or restricted (fall).
And the signs opposite the exaltations are their falls, in which they have weaker powers. (Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 6, p. 10)
Exaltation Lords are Rulers Too
The planet who has its exaltation in a house was also considered to be a ruler of the house with the ability to aid in the managing of the affairs symbolized by the house.
They are said to be co-ruler with each other, whenever it is their domicile or their exaltation. (Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 7, p. 10)
Avoid Detriment and Point Systems
Some astrologers use a similar concept for the signs opposite a planet’s domicile, calling them the “detriment” of the planet. This concept of detriment does not figure into Hellenistic astrology as a distinct or widespread concept. Starting in the late medieval period and continuing to this day, many astrologers also assign point values to the different forms of rulership. This is a practice started by a medieval Persian astrologer. I find this to be more misleading than useful and strongly advise against the practice.
Quadruplicity and Stakes
Quadruplicity is a fancy word for a grouping of four signs. This very important concept creates three types of signs. Signs of each type form a cross pattern. Such signs are said to be each other’s “stakes” as well (more on this below). These features are tropical in nature, as they divide each season into 3 parts, a beginning, middle, and end, with distinct features.
The cardinal signs are those which start with an equinox or solstice. The cardinal signs are also called the changeable, moveable, tropical, or equinoctial signs. They mark the turning of a new season, and thus a bold step in a new direction. Cardinal signs are associated with frequent change, boldness, and fast initiation. They are not associated with depth nor staying power. For instance, Mercury in a cardinal sign was considered good for oratory ability, as cardinal signs signify quickness and bold projection.
The cardinal signs are as follows: Aries (0 degrees Aries is the point of the spring or vernal equinox); Cancer (0 degrees Cancer is the point of the summer solstice); Libra (0 degrees Libra is the point of the autumnal equinox); Capricorn (0 degrees Capricorn is the point of the winter solstice).
Each cardinal sign is followed by a fixed sign. These are also called the solid signs. These are the signs at the heart of the season when things are most stabilized. The fixed signs are associated with steadiness, staying power, slowness, thoroughness, and depth. They are the signs which Dorotheus (1st century CE) recommended emphasizing in choosing times for general important endeavors because they signified carrying things to completion and making them last. Mercury in these signs was thought to signify depth in thought and possible writing ability. The fixed signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.
Each fixed sign is then followed by a mutable sign. These are also called the common or twin signs. These signs are said to participate in two seasons. They mix the season that is drawing to a close with the coming season. For this reason, they are dualistic and signify complication, confusion, exchange, and mediation. In electional astrology, they were believed to signify a need for additional conditions to be met (i.e. things getting more complicated). Mercury in these signs was thought to be a bad indication for intellect by some astrologers. This is because mutable signs are unstable, prone to confusion and frustration. The mutable signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.
The signs of the same quadruplicity as the rising sign are known as the stakes, angles, or pivots of the chart. These are the most important houses of the chart, as their topics are the cornerstones of life. “Stakes” is the preferred translation given by Ben Dykes, Ph.D. for “kentra”, the Greek term of these places. These places operate to fix the sky (signs) to a location with four corners like stakes are used to fasten a tent.
Four Key Topics
The stakes of a birth chart are those houses which form a cross with the rising sign. The rising sign is the 1st House, pertaining to the individual/body. The 10th House, pertaining to the career/attainments is an important stake of the 1st House. The 7th House, opposite the first, pertains to marriage/partners. The last stake is the 4th House, pertaining to family/home. We will return to the assignment of life topics to the houses in Lesson Six.
Stakes of a Chart; Stakes of a Planet
Planets in the stakes of a birth chart have a type of prominence, in that they have a strong influence upon the person, as they are in the house of an important area of life and are strongly configured to the rising sign (configurations are the topic of the next lesson). Similarly, a planet can be in the stake of another planet or of a house simply by being in a sign of the same quadruplicity (cardinal, fixed, mutable).
Barack Obama Chart Example
Barack Obama has the sign of Aquarius rising, which is a fixed sign. The fixed signs are Aquarius, Scorpio, Leo, and Taurus. Barack has Jupiter in Aquarius, the 1st House. He also has the Sun and Mercury in Leo. Therefore, Jupiter, the Sun, and Mercury are in the stakes of the chart and are directly operative in particularly important areas of life. He has Aquarius rising, which is a diurnal/masculine sign ruled by Saturn. Saturn is in Capricorn which is a cardinal sign. Other cardinal signs include Cancer, Libra, and Aries. Only Venus is also in a cardinal sign, Cancer, so she is in one of the stakes of Saturn’s position.
Triplicity and Elemental Lords
Triplicity is similar to quadruplicity but signifies groupings of three signs. These are 4 groups of signs that are in triangular relationships to each other (trine each other). Today these 4 groups are identified by the elements: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. However, originally the triplicities were not associated with the elements in early Hellenistic astrology, but with the winds and directions. Here I will label them by element as is commonly done. There are three signs in each triplicity, and each triplicity has one cardinal sign, one fixed sign, and one mutable sign.
Triplicity is Tropical
Triplicity is of tropical origin as it was originally associated with the directions. The tropical signs are fixed in terms of their direction. In fact, this is built into our concepts of the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The Sun reaches its greatest northern latitude (the Tropic of Cancer) on the summer solstice, which marks the beginning of the sign Cancer. The Sun reaches its greatest southern latitude (the Tropic of Capricorn) on the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of the sign Capricorn. The sidereal signs are not directionally fixed with relation to the Earth but shift over time due to precession.
The triangles are also associated with another system of rulership, called the triplicity rulers. Each triangular set of signs is associated with one planetary ruler by day, another by night, and a third which is a lesser participant. The triplicity ruler of the sect of the chart was typically used to signify an initial influence, while the one of the other sect showed the middle influence, and the participating ruler had a final influence.This would allow one to look at how some state of affairs (such as a relationship) would change over time.
The Fire Triplicity
The Fire triplicity has Aries as its cardinal sign, Leo as its fixed sign, and Sagittarius as its mutable sign. It is a masculine and diurnal (day) triplicity. Its rulers are the Sun by day and Jupiter by night, with Saturn participating. The Fire triplicity is particularly associated with power and leadership. The Persians associated these signs with the east because their cardinal sign is Aries which is to the right of the northernmost sign, Cancer.
The sun, being fiery, is most related to Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, and this triangle of the sun is called “of the day-sect” because it too is fiery by nature. The sun has attached Jupiter and Saturn to this sect as his co-workers and guardians of the things which he accomplishes […]. Therefore the sun is the lord of this triangle for day births; for night births Jupiter succeeds to the throne; Saturn works with both. (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25)
The Earth Triplicity
The Earth triplicity has Capricorn as its cardinal sign, Taurus as its fixed sign, and Virgo as its mutable sign. It is a feminine and nocturnal (night) triplicity. Its triplicity lords are the Moon by night and Venus by day, with Mars participating. The Earth triplicity is particularly associated with the working of the land. The Persians associated these signs with the south because Capricorn marked the winter solstice which was the point when the Sun reached its farthest southern point.
Next the moon, being near the earth, is allotted the houserulership of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, a triangle earthy in nature and the next in order. It has Venus and Mars as members of the same sect […]. Therefore for night births the moon has preeminence; in the second place is Venus; in the third is Mars. For day births Venus will lead; the moon will operate second; Mars, third. (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25)
The Air Triplicity
The Air triplicity has Libra as its cardinal sign, Aquarius as its fixed sign, and Gemini as its mutable sign. It is a masculine and diurnal (day) triplicity. Its rulers are Saturn by day and Mercury by night, with Jupiter participating. The Air triplicity is particularly associated with culture and movement. The Persians associated these signs with the west because their cardinal sign, Libra, is right of the southernmost sign, Capricorn.
Next is the airy triangle of Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. For day births Saturn will rule this; Mercury will operate second; Jupiter, third. For night births Mercury will lead; Saturn will come second; Jupiter, third. (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25)
The Water Triplicity
The Water triplicity has Cancer as its cardinal sign, Scorpio as its fixed sign, and Pisces as its mutable sign. It is a feminine and nocturnal (night) triplicity. Its rulers are Mars by night, and Venus by day, with the Moon participating. The Water triplicity is particularly associated with all things water. The Persians associated these signs with the north because Cancer marks the summer solstice which is the point when the Sun is at its northernmost declination.
In the same fashion, next is the moist triangle of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Mars will have the houserulership for night births; in the second place is Venus; in the third the moon. For day births Venus will lead; after it comes Mars; then the moon. (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25)
An Example with Rulership, Quadruplicity, Stakes, and Triplicity
Cardinal Stakes with Mars, Venus, and Jupiter Advancing
Bill Clinton has the sign of Libra rising as the 1st House (the self). The stakes of the chart are cardinal, and they are Libra (1st House), Cancer (10th House), Aries (7th House), and Capricorn (4th House). Only Libra is occupied, with Mars, Venus, and Jupiter all advancing. Mars is prominent on the Ascendant. We expect him to have a very Mars-y life, one that is in a sense quite combative and competitive. Also, we generally expect Mars, Venus, and Jupiter to directly signify in relation to more important matters in the life (stakes). The Ascendant, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter are all ruled by Venus, so we expect the self to be strongly influenced by aesthetics and sexuality, especially with Venus in the actual 1st House.
Cardinal and Air Rising with Venus and Mars Together
Venus and Mars are out of sect, and Mars, as a malefic, signals trouble in relation to Venusian matters (cardinal is bold and impulsive). His initial aspirations to be a professional musician are also very clearly shown by the presence of Venus and her rulership of the 1st. Libra is a cardinal sign, so we expect a bold expressive character. The planets in the 1st House also make their more important expressions in terms of boldness and rapidly sweeping changes in circumstances. The 1st House is an air sign, so we might expect the self and the planets in the 1st to have a strong connection with thought and movement.
Saturn with the Sun and Mercury in Fixed Leo
Clinton was born during the day and Libra is both the exaltation of Saturn and the triplicity lord of Saturn by day, so we expect Saturn to have some influence over 1st House matters as well. Saturn is in Leo, a fixed, fire sign, signifying steadfastness (fixed) and leadership (fire). Saturn is also with the Sun in the same house, and the Sun rules the sign Leo and the fire triplicity by day. Therefore, the solar influence (which is of power, exposure, prominence) is very strong. Saturn is also with Mercury, the planet of intellect. Saturn, Mercury, and the Sun are in a fixed sign, so they signify in a more stable and progressive, less episodic, manner. As they are all with each other they mix their significations of leadership and honors (Sun) with struggle, authority, and discipline (Saturn), as well as communication, commerce, and analysis (Mercury).
Other Tropical Features
There are a great many additional features of signs that are tropical in origin but of less importance. For instance, whether signs were of short or long ascension was an important consideration in choosing times for actions according to Dorotheus. Also, there are relationships which pertained to signs and degrees mirroring each other (i.e. equidistant) across the points of the equinoxes and solstices (see my article on this). Additionally, the Persians spoke of the southern signs (Libra thru Pisces) as being cold while the northern signs (Aries thru Virgo) were hot, with both the directions and the temperatures being a reference to the tropical cycle. The signs were also divided up into seasonal quarters, the spring signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini) being hot, moist, infant-like, and sanguine; the summer signs (Cancer, Leo, Virgo) were hot, dry, young, and choleric; the fall signs (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius) were cold, dry, middle-aged, and melancholic; the winter signs (Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces) were cold, moist, elderly, and phlegmatic. These features of the signs are not used as commonly as those cited in the previous section, so we won’t explore them further.
Main Sidereal Features
The Greek word for sign, zoidion, meant image or species. Indeed some of the features of the signs are direct associations with the species of thing that is imaged by the corresponding constellation. For instance, Dorotheus noted that an eclipse in Aries would likely affect sheep, one in Sagittarius would affect horses, and so forth. Additionally, there are some sign classifications that pertain to these imaged species of things, such as calling some signs four-footed, others lacking a voice (because they image animals lacking a voice), and some rational (because they include an image of a person). While these sign associations are used less often than rulership, quadruplicity, and triplicity, they are important to some techniques. I believe it is an open question as to whether the sidereal zodiac (or even the constellations themselves) would be a more appropriate zodiac to use for these considerations.
Star Cluster Delineations
Certain segments and degrees of signs have distinct significations in many Hellenistic texts, based on stars and segments of constellations. Such delineations are prominent in many Hellenistic authors, including Valens, Ptolemy, and Maternus. However, very little has been done to revive the use of such material. This material is truly sidereal in origin. The sidereal zodiac or even the constellations themselves are more appropriate to this type of delineation than the tropical zodiac.
There is an Egyptian division of the signs into thirds, called the decans. The decans were used for time-keeping in ancient Egypt and were based on the rising of 36 different star clusters. Therefore, this division is star-based.
The nakshatras, a division of the sky into 27-28 lunar mansions, have been used in India since before the arrival of Hellenistic astrology. They are associated with star clusters the Moon passes through over its 27-28 day monthly cycle. They are probably not appropriate for use with the tropical zodiac. A similar lunar cycle division into 28 mansions also appeared in ancient Chinese astrology. In Arabic medieval astral magic, a 28-mansion division derived from the Indian nakshatras was used.
Bounds or Terms
There is one last division of the signs which we need to address, and it is one which we will be using in future lessons. The bounds or terms are divisions of each sign into 5 segments. Each of the five non-luminary planets rules one of the segments (bounds) in each sign. As each sign is a planet’s house, think of the bounds as five rooms of the house. Each room belongs to a planet (except the Sun and Moon). The bounds are unequal divisions of the signs. No one knows the rationale behind this division of the zodiac. Some authors (including Ptolemy) proposed multiple systems of dividing the signs into bounds. However, the most widespread and the oldest (see this article on pre-Hellenistic evidence for bounds), are the Egyptian bounds.
Download a Bounds Reference Chart
Project Hindsight provides a convenient rulership tables PDF which includes the Egyptian bounds and other types of rulers. If I’m online and need to look up bounds quickly, I typically prefer to check the Altair Astrology page for his article on bounds, as it has a very easy-to-read table of the Egyptian bounds. Additionally, the bounds are displayed in almost all charts on this site, as I use the Valens software which allows one to view the bounds within the chart.
Two Zodiacs Revisited
In conclusion, both the tropical and the sidereal zodiacs have their own motivations. While we are primarily concerned with significations that are tropical in nature, the western astrologer may be missing out on the correct source of a big chunk of significations. The sidereal zodiac appears best suited for image associations and delineations of degrees and clusters influenced by stars and constellations. Perhaps one day we will come to find some happy synthesis in the use of both zodiacs for those domains where they are most appropriate. However, in these lessons, we will stick with the tropical zodiac.
You now have many new tools to work with. The rising sign is particularly symbolic of the person, so take a look at the sign of the Ascendant, and that of the Moon, in various charts. Pick apart the possible significations based on the features of the signs. Look at which planets are in the rising sign and which are with the Moon. Take a look at the rulers of the Ascendant. The domicile ruler pertains more to the character and spirit of the person while the Ascendant itself pertained more to the body and temperament. Examine the nature of the rulers and they are affected by the significations of the sign. How might character and bodily temperament change over the life based on the triplicity lords of the rising sign and its ruler?
You also have an additional planetary prominence consideration, that of a planet being in the stakes. Think about how a planet in a stake may impact a person. Even a planet that is not prominent in a general way may have a very strong influence over important matters in the person’s life by virtue of being in a stake. In such cases, you’ll find the influence of the planet more focused in those areas of life, and less pervasive and broad in its significations.
Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf
Featured image of the Dendera zodiac (cropped)by Louvre Museum [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Twelfth-parts of Aries image by groupuscule (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Domicile rulerhips and Exaltation rulerships images are by Meredith Garstin (Meredith Garstin) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image of Surya surrounded by the signs of the zodiac is in the public domain.
Celestial map image from the Zubdat-al Tawarikh in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul, dedicated to Sultan Murad III in 1583 (in the public domain).