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How to read your Birth Chart   Part Seven: A Key to the Symbols

Your birth chart, or horoscope, is usually shown in the form of a wheel, symbolising the cycles periodically undergone by all living things on this planet. The symbols ("glyphs") displayed stand for the astrological signs, planets and other chart factors representing forces which may affect your life at any given time.

Each of these astrological factors represents a coded set of drives in your sub-conscious. Drives may be activated and brought to your awareness by circumstances in your life, presenting you with a range of choices. Of course, your choices are to a considerable extent limited and determined by your character, which is itself revealed through an understanding of the symbols that make up the chart.

A Key to the Symbols used in Astrology

Zodiac Signs | Planets | Aspects | Other

The language of astrology is a symbolic one, and it has its own alphabet! This shorthand alphabet, or collection of symbols (also called glyphs, or sigils) is one that we need to learn if we are to be able to interpret a horoscope chart. Each symbolic glyph has a standard meaning, though, like a gem, it has many subtle facets which come to light when interpreted in a delineation of the chart.

The symbols fall naturally into four main groups:

  1. Signs of the Zodiac
  2. Planets and planet-like items
  3. Aspects, both major and minor
  4. Other useful symbols

Not every arcane symbol is represented here—there is an almost limitless number of sigils, especially in alchemy and in magical figures—but I have selected the most important ones, which are used on a daily basis in Western Tropical Astrology. The glyphs I have chosen are easily recognisable and widely used in modern times, although you might find variations in the literature.

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Signs of the Zodiac

Aries Aries Leo Leo Sagittarius Sagittarius
Taurus Taurus Virgo Virgo Capricorn Capricorn
Gemini Gemini Libra Libra Aquarius Aquarius
Cancer Cancer Scorpio Scorpio Pisces Pisces

There are 12 equal signs of the zodiac, occupying 30 degrees each (there are 360 degrees in the whole zodiac, which is a symbolic circle inscribed along the ecliptic on the heavenly sphere surrounding the earth). The signs are geometric constructions, not to be confused with the constellations of the same name.

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The Planets

Saturn Saturn Moon Moon (Luna) Part of Fortune Part of Fortune
Jupiter Jupiter Dragon's Head Dragon's Head Ceres Ceres
Mars Mars Dragon's Tail Dragon's Tail Pallas Athene Pallas Athene
Sun Sun (Sol) Uranus Uranus Juno Juno
Venus Venus Neptune Neptune Vesta Vesta
Mercury Mercury Pluto Pluto Chiron Chiron

There are 9 traditional planets ("wanderers"), namely the 5 visible planets, plus Sun and Moon, along with the Moon's North and South Nodes. 3 transpersonal planets, Uranus, Neptune & Pluto, have been discovered in modern times, plus Chiron and the 4 main asteroids (Note: Ceres is now classed as a "dwarf planet", as is Pluto;other recently discovered bodies such as Eris are not yet classified for their astrological influence). The Part of Fortune also has planetary status, being the primary relationship point between Sun, Moon and Ascendant.

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The Aspects

Conjunction and Major Aspects (Ptolemaic Aspects)
conjunction glyph Conjunction (0°) opposition glyph Opposition (180°) square glyph
Square (90°)
trine glyph Trine (120°) sextile glyph Sextile (60°)
Minor Aspects (Keplerian Aspects)
semisquare glyph Semi-square (45°) octile sesquisquare glyph
Sesqui-square (135°)
inconjunct glyph Quincunx (150°)
quintile glyph Quintile (72°) biquintile glyph Bi-quintile (144°) semisextile glyph Semi-sextile (30°)
Ternary Aspects (Esoteric Aspects)
Septile Septile (51°25'43") Novile Novile (40°) Quindecile
Johndro (165°)
Noel Tyl's "Quindecile"
Decile Decile (36°)
Vigintile Vigintile (18°)
Quindecile Quindecile (24°)
parallel glyph Parallel contra-parallel glyph Contra-Parallel

The most important aspects are Major Aspects and Declinations, as used by Ptolemy, followed by Minor Aspects devised by Kepler and Lily. Ternary Aspects are of little value in normal chart work, though some modern astrologers find them useful. Kepler in World Harmony specifically eschewed septiles as non-musical: "God did not play with these figures". He also warned we should "prevent the number of aspects from becoming too great" (to avoid confusion), not using derived aspects to an extreme, such aspects being extremely weak. Kepler tried to base astrological aspects on musical divisions, platonic solids and harmonic ratios derived from Pythagoras. He favoured the major aspects used by Ptolemy and says he found by strict analysis of over 800 charts and personally recorded weather observations over many years that there were three more aspects with significant value: these are the quintile, biquintile and sesquiquadrate. He recognised several other aspects, but noted that they had little practical value.

My own view is that the 150 quincunx, though not technically an "aspect" as by traditional standards planets are unable to "see" each other in aversion, is an important unfavourable influence and is to be ignored at our peril. Neil Giles gives the 30 semi-sextile considerable weight (it is also in aversion), but I do not often find it very significant. Planets in aversion were considered very unfortunate by the ancients, but this condition is not held to be unduly evil by most modern Western astrologers.

Harmonic relationships employed by modern astrologers influenced by Marc Edmund Jones's psychological, numerical reformulation of astrology would not have been considered by earlier practitioners. The proliferation of such techniques has led to an "anything can mean anything" approach, the tide of which needs to be stemmed.

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Other Useful Sigils

solar eclipse glyph Solar Eclipse lunar eclipse glyph Lunar Eclipse Retrograde Retrograde
Ascendant Ascendant Mid Heaven Mid-heaven Gemini Descendant
Gemini Vertex Lilith Lilith Pluto Alternative Pluto (alternate)
New Moon New Moon Full Moon Full Moon First Quarter First Quarter First Quarter
Third Quarter Third Quarter Third Quarter Terra Terra Elemental Fire Symbol Fire Element
Elemental Air Symbol Air Element Elemental Water Symbol Water Element Elemental Earth Symbol Earth Element

Now, as mentioned earlier in this article, this set by no means covers every possible sigil, glyph, or symbol to be found in the literature, but will nevertheless prove useful as a reference for what are by far the most frequently used symbols in astrology. The only main one not given is the IC, for which the symbol is "IC", so pretty self-explanatory.

This is the end of the article.

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This page was last modified on Tuesday, 14 February 2017