Astrology 101: the Major Symbol-Sets (Planets, Signs, and Houses)

If you want to learn Astrology, there are three major symbol-sets that you’ll have to grasp: Planets, Signs, and Houses.

Birth-chart of famed Icelandic singer Bjork -- like any such chart, it features all the great Planets, Signs, and Houses...but if you don't know what they are, and how they interrelate, this will be pictorial gibberish to you...
Birth-chart of famed Icelandic singer Bjork — like any such chart, it features all the great Planets, Signs, and Houses…but if you don’t know what they are, and how they interrelate, this will be nothing more than pictorial gibberish to you…

This came as a real surprise to me when I first felt my interest in the field catch fire. I’d vaguely assumed that Astrology was just concerned with the Signs of the Zodiac, and that would be about that. It’s pretty true, after all, that even non-astrologers know enough about the Signs to name them, and to be able to cite their own Sun Signs when asked. What else is there, right?

As it turns out, though, the Signs represent only one of the primary sets of symbols that populate the realm of Astrology. If you want to practice in this arena, you’ll also need to understand the Planets and the Houses.

But what are these other things, you might wonder…? For that matter, what are the Signs, really?

Despite the relative popularity of the Signs, I’d personally suggest to any would-be astrologer that they’d do themselves a favor by starting with the Planets first. These are the real drivers of the action in Astrology. And it’s important to first realize that “Planets” to the astrologer are not quite the same thing as “planets” to the astronomer. When talking about the Planets, astrologers include things that aren’t technically planets in scientific terms – the Sun and the Moon are prime examples here. And then as a counterpoint, our own Earth is not included as an astrological Planet in the same way that the rest of the members of the symbol-set are, even though an astronomer would cite it as one of the planets of Star System Sol.

Also, astrologers often have trouble agreeing on which Planets are worthy of being included in this symbol-set in the first place. Some will cling to the classic seven Planets that were recognized by the Greeks, and that are visible to the naked eye: the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Other practitioners will add in the more modern, post-telescope discoveries, such as Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Still others include Planetoids such as Chiron, and various Asteroids, like Ceres, Juno, Vesta, and Pallas, and other increasingly fringe-feeling sorts of bodies and theoretical points in space… It will be up to you to decide which of these myriad items feel essential to you in your own astrological practice…

Each Planet in Astrology is like a powerful spotlight that shines from within each person, to cast light outward into the world...but note that while the factory-issue versions of these lights are pretty much all the same, each individual device can then be customized in certain ways...
Each Planet in Astrology is like a powerful spotlight that shines from within each person, to cast light outward into the world…but note that while the factory-issue versions of these lights are pretty much all the same, each individual device can then be customized in certain ways…

Once you do come to terms with these finer points, the next step is getting a handle on just what the Planets represent in Astrology… They basically stand for our most primal urges: the urge to exist and thrive (the Sun)…the urge to communicate (Mercury)…the urge to expand and grow (Jupiter).

Each human on Earth is like a collection of Planetary drives...so if each Planet is a spotlight in our analogy, then each person might look like this luminous assemblage...
Each human on Earth is like a collection of Planetary drives…so if each Planet is a spotlight in our analogy, then each person might look like this luminous assemblage…

Let’s build an analogy… Part 1 of it: the Planets are unique lights that shine forth from within us. Imagine a collection of spotlights bristling inside of you; next imagine that each person ever born is issued a complete set of these same lights. You have a Venus-spotlight, for example, and so do I…so did Genghis Khan, and so did Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, I’d advise moving on to the Signs. There are 12 of them, and they modify the expressions of the planetary drives. Analogy, Part 2: if the Planets are spotlights that we shine outward, then the Signs are like colored filters that we place over the business ends of those spotlights first, before we switch them on. And every spotlight must have a filter to shine through – that’s important to note, too. No Planet exists in a chart without working through a Sign.

Here's an example where someone took a standard spotlight...and then ran it through a blue filter.  The Signs of the Zodiac are much like filters of this nature, in that they modify the energy-beams cast forth by the Planets.
Here’s an example where someone took a standard spotlight…and then ran it through a blue filter. The Signs of the Zodiac are much like filters of this nature, in that they modify the energy-beams cast forth by the Planets.  The Pisces Moon in our example might look a lot like this if rendered in real world terms!

Let’s say you and your best friend each have a big silvery spotlight that you direct out from yourselves into existence – say this is the astrological Moon at work. Everybody has a Moon in their birth-chart, and stripped down to their pure, core essences, each person’s Moon – pre-filter – is pretty much the same as all the other pre-filter Moons out there.

But maybe your Moon-spotlight is beamed through the red filter of Aries, while your best friend’s moon-spotlight might be shining through the cool blue cellophane of Pisces. The two Moon-spotlights themselves are more or less the same…but the quality of the light that each one will ultimately emit is going to be differentiated by the layers of material that are being wrapped over their respective lenses. The resulting light-beams will be of the same strength, the same size, the same duration…but because of the filters that are being added into the mix, one Moon-spotlight will create a fiery red circle on the wall, while the other’s circle will be a cool ocean-blue…

And remember: once we've fitted our Planetary spotlights with the filters of the Signs, we then see them pointed in various directions -- and the locations where they land make up the stuff of the astrological Houses.
And remember: once we’ve fitted our Planetary spotlights with the filters of the Signs, we then see them pointed in various directions — and the locations where they land make up the stuff of the astrological Houses.

And now consider the Houses… If the Planets are what we shine forth, and the Signs tell us something about the quality of light that each Planet ends up emitting, then the Houses explain where we point those colored lights. Look again at your Aries Moon: that bright red-filtered light… Now say that instead of a blue Pisces Moon, your best friend also has an Aries Moon, just like yours. But – here’s Analogy, Part 3 – maybe you tend to shine your red, red Aries Moon-spotlight into the bank vault in your home, the place where you keep your money and the things you value…while your best friend shines their red Aries Moon-spotlight into their special, secluded meditation room, where they go to be alone and to get in touch with the pulse of the Universe, to let their ego dissolve… In more astrological terms, your Aries Moon is placed in your Second House, while your best friend shines their almost identical Aries Moon-light into their Twelfth House. The Houses are different areas of life that we all experience.

So the Planets tell us what drive is being expressed…the Signs explain how each drive gets expressed…and the Houses reveal where the drives get expressed.

If you learn the members of each of these three symbol-sets, and then get a feel for the ways in which they interrelate – i.e., Planet beams through Sign, into House – you’ll be well on your way toward being an astrologer!

2 comments

    • Aww, thanks, Uncle Jim! I actually almost used the big wooden Moon you carved as a visual additive in one of my posts, but I couldn’t make it fit into the frame the way I wanted at the time. It may well appear at some point in a future post, though! And thanks for reading — I’m really happy that you enjoy my posts here!

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