The 12 signs that form the circle of the zodiac are without doubt the most well known symbols of astrology in western culture. It is hardly difficult to understand - the heritage stretches back several thousand years, the structure of the zodiac is clear and logical, and the symbolism is related to the natural world of seasonal change. And of course, the meaning and character of the signs remain intriguing and exciting through their very depth and the multitude of associations that follow them. While the actual constellations of the sky indeed are the origin of the signs, the practice of astrology incorporates a different, "imagined" replacement of them. In contrast to the formation of the astronomical constellations, the twelve parts of the astrological zodiac are symmetrical and geometrically equal.
What people normally don't realize is that the zodiac per se is a passive and static structure. The signs carry no dynamic power or special direction of activity. They are colors, patterns, modifiers, pictures, modes of experience, styles of expression, areas of the human psyche and discriminators. Mainly, the signs signify different (human or other) perspectives and perceptions of reality. As soon as a sign is "activated", for example by a planet within its limits, its inherent quality is awakened and directed by that planet. Or to put in another way, a planet within a sign takes on the qualities of that certain sign according to that planet's way of functioning.
A clear example will help. The fact of being "a Scorpio", usually means that one was born somewhere between circa October 24 and November 22. In the language of astrology however, the fact of being a Scorpio means that the Sun at the time of birth stood in the sign of Scorpio, the imagined segment of heaven that is Scorpio's. Here the Sun is the dynamic factor, representing being, identity and will, and it is colored or modified by the nature of Scorpio. The same goes for other planets, having a different nature, and perhaps expressing this nature according to a different sign. The personal horoscope, calculated from the day and time of a person's birth, is the key to the position of all the planets in the signs and a great many other things.
The mathematical structure of the zodiac is closely connected to the seasonal year and the Gregorian calendar. The entire circle consists of 360 "degrees", and consequently every zodiac sign is made up of 30 degrees. At the time of someone's birth, every planet or other astrologically significant element is located at a certain degree within a certain sign. For those who were born at the very border between two signs, it is sometimes necessary to know the actual time of birth to confirm in which sign the Sun was located at birth, and hence what that person's "sign" really is. The difference is important, since having the Sun at 29.57 degrees Virgo would make someone a Virgo, whilst having the sun at 00.03 degrees Libra would make one, obviously, a Libra.
Below, I present condensed explanations of the 12 signs and their symbolical role-playing through the stages of personality. Remember, these are keywords for the zodiac signs irrespective of what planet or point triggers them. So these are not descriptions of a Taurus, or a Cancer (meaning the sun is in Taurus or Cancer) but only the passive, static symbolism of the sign archetypes in themselves. I pinpoint this fact by making the definitions philosophical, abstract and indirect.
Aries represents coming into being, and the awareness of simple ego drive. Here is the spring of life untainted by particular inclinations or traits. The instinctive experience of being an entity, "I", as separate from others. Keywords are: spontaneity, naivety, energy, idealism, freshness, openness, egocentricity, simplicity, integrity, ignorance. Aries is pure consciousness; the inner flame of the soul and the unguarded expression of individuality.
Taurus represents finding the proper "container" for one's being. Where Aries is unconditioned, Taurus is ingrained in a particular milieu of expression. It is about determining value and stabilizing a guiding principle for one's self-worth. Taurus wants to materialize, to make things physical and tangible. Keywords are: determination, concentration, inflexibility, sensuality, security and coherence. Taurus is sense-awareness and consciousness of one's lot.
Gemini represents the intellectual broadening of experience. It is impersonal and socially expansive. Where Taurus is centering, Gemini stretches out without prior discrimination. Gemini concieves of the world as symbolical representation - the world is the totality of its ideas. Keywords are: lightness, flexibility, language, detachment, speed, shallowness, dispassion. Gemini is simple mental awareness, and the channeling of experience.
Cancer represents emotional perception, the realization of a sphere of experience that is neither physical nor mental. It is awareness of the necessity for nurturing and injecting life-force into every living and changing thing. Where Gemini is detached and impersonal, Cancer is subjective and personal. Keywords are: emotionalism, tradition, sensitivity, preparation, care, mildness, defensiveness and intuition. Cancer is inner reality, the state of familiarizing and being part of something.
Leo represents the expansion and synthesization of the ego drive introduced by Aries. It is awareness of how the creative and the societal dimensions of reality converge; the desire for exhibition and prominence. Where Cancer is private and particular, Leo is public and general. Keywords are: pride, externalization, radiance, confidence, organization, disclosure, arrogance, offendedness. Leo is the recognition of human nobility and the elevation of the ego.
Virgo represents obligation to and awareness of the intricate aspects of everyday reality and civilization. It is the setting aside of Ego for the sake of effectivity and the common good, and of the ideal for the sake of utilitarianism. Where Leo is exuberant, Virgo is unassuming yet conscious of its own value. Keywords are: humility, tact, pettiness, analysis, care, curiosity, limitation, criticism, sobriety. Virgo is worldly service and the importance of being instrumental for some end.
Libra represents the direct connection between the personal and social spheres. Here is awareness of the "other" in terms of mentally significant one-to-one relationships. Libra is projection and perspective, and the sense that compromise is instrumental in the search for balance. Where Virgo is methodical and simple, Libra is imaginative and mannered. Keywords are: diplomacy, grace, art, beauty, manipulation, artificiality, sympathy. Libra is heightened aesthetic, moral and social sensitivity.
Scorpio represents the deepening and focus of emotional and private experience. It is the intensification of selfhood and its relations. Scorpio is primal soul-merging and the quest for transformation and catharsis. Where Libra is conforming and open-minded, Scorpio is penetrating and suspicious. Keywords are: intensity, intuition, self-preservation, inwardness, dedication, obsession, revenge. Scorpio is unveiling vision and attraction to the depths and heights of universe.
Sagittarius represents the release of ego drive into a greater, impersonal mind complex. Here is the striving for alignment between the private ideal of freedom and the multiplicity of cultural and social levels of existence. Where Scorpio is secretive and poised, Sagittarius is naive and overflowing. Keywords are: expansion, exploration, fanatism, academia, bluntness, joviality, irresponsibility. Sagittarius is broad speculation and the inexhaustible quest for identity and truth.
Capricorn represents the highest manifestation of concrete reality. It is the essential awareness of an objective, and the systematic organizing of experience into structural and hierarchical modes of functioning. Where Sagittarius is visionary and impractical, Capricorn is sensible and prosaic. Keywords are: perseverance, instruction, rationality, science, materialism, cynicism, enterprise. Capricorn is the fathering of energies intent on worldly status and growth.
Aquarius represents the wider orientation and elaboration of the mental faculty, with the aim of detachment and understanding. It is the selfless and unsentimental uncovering of whatever needs uncovering. Where Capricorn is conventional and purposeful, Aquarius is individualistic and scattered. Keywords are: detachment, insight, reform, friendship, altruism, coldness, alienation. Aquarius is the idea of utopian group-integration that leaves individuality untouched.
Pisces represents the spiritual letting go of ego and fixed individuality through further levels of existence. It is the selfless and unlimited distribution of emotional and intangible experience into a less personal realm of understanding. Where Aquarius is sound and distant, Pisces is irrational and empathetic. Keywords are: mysticism, elusiveness, faith, empathy, illusion, sensitivity, fantasy, hopelessness. Pisces is mystical perception and dreamlike poetic introspection.