Tarot Tip: Reading Space

IMG_3844Obviously, it’s not always possible to trick out a given area before you get busy with your cards. For example, if you’re reading for someone in a coffee shop, you can’t really violate local fire codes by setting up handfuls of candles and incense, and you can’t demand that the local populace shut its collective pie-hole for half an hour so that you can have the requisite ambience you desire.

But when you do have control over a space, it can be incredibly helpful to set the stage for a reading beforehand. Changing the atmosphere to signal to all involved that you’re entering into a window of time that’s removed from your usual mundane concerns can really help you to lock in to the reading, and to get that intuition blazing.

As mentioned, candles and incense are great aids, and you can also use crystals, feathers, essential oils, herbs, leaves, shells, bones, trinkets, figurines, masks, artifacts, pictures, arts and/or crafts – really, anything that helps you to feel more Tarot-attuned is “right,” and experimenting is beyond recommended. Try devoting a specific area to your readings, and then see if doing that and adding a few extra touches helps to tighten up your work.

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Tarot: the Suit of Pentacles

PentaclesIn Tarot, the Suit of Pentacles is associated with the Element of Earth, and it has to do with the physical layer of reality. Among its many concerns, you can find issues involving health and the body, career and finances, possessions, the home… This is the slowest-moving of the Suits, the most practical, and possibly the most obvious and mundane. It also asks us to find the profound lurking just beneath the surface of things that we may be tempted to write off as commonplace and unremarkable, such as our daily chores and errands. Pentacles concerns may take on extra significance in a society as focused on material wealth as ours seems to be. Then again, we undeniably exist in the tangible portion of reality, so we do need to cultivate our Pentacles awareness to some extent if we hope to lead balanced lives… 

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Astrology 101: Planets in Signs (Part 2)

In our last post, we started to get acquainted with interpreting the workings of Planets in Signs by following a single Planet – the lovely Venus – through several different Signs. This time around, let’s flip that dynamic, and accompany several different Planets through a single Sign.

Taurus the Bull -- any Planet placed in this Sign will take on a decidedly Taurean demeanor as it goes about performing its Planetary business...
Taurus the Bull — any Planet placed in this Sign will take on a decidedly Taurean demeanor as it goes about performing its Planetary business…

Since we haven’t looked at them in detail in this context yet, let’s follow Mercury, Mars, and Saturn as they beam their energies through the Sign-filter of Taurus…

First, remember that the Planets symbolize various human drives, while the Signs determine how those drives get expressed. The Planets are what we do; the Signs are how we do it.

Let’s take a quick refresher on Taurus, as it will be the common element in each of the three examples below. And please keep in mind that the following traits are generalities – they won’t apply to every Taurus person or placement, all the time. The overall broad strokes are good starting points for discussion and analysis, though…

I suggested in an earlier post that Taurus could be summed up by the archetype of The Sensualist: Taurus is an Earth Sign, and its energy is very based in the physical world and the body. Taurus is about physical things, the five senses and what they perceive, possessions, even money. Taurus is also a Fixed Sign, and these Signs don’t care much for change. So while Taurus can definitely be the mad, raging bull charging about through the streets of Pamplona when aggravated enough, it prefers to be the comfy, well-fed bull lolling about in the sunshine with all its needs freshly met. Taurus can move quickly…but it would usually prefer not to. And as a Yin Sign, Taurus may be more prone to allowing the world to act upon it, than it will be to going out and acting upon the world.

So with all that in mind as a capsule summary of Taurus energy, here we have:

The Planet Mercury can accomplish its communications-based agenda in any number of ways...and about 1/12 of the time, that will happen in ways we can describe as "Taurean."  So how is Mercury-in-Taurus different from Mercury-in-any-other-Sign...?  And how are other Planets working through the filter of Taurus different from the Taurean Mercury...?
The Planet Mercury can accomplish its communications-based agenda in any number of ways…and about 1/12 of the time, that will happen in ways we can describe as “Taurean.” So how is Mercury-in-Taurus different from Mercury-in-any-other-Sign…? And how are other Planets working through the filter of Taurus different from the Taurean Mercury…?

Mercury in Taurus. Mercury is the Planet that represents our drive to think and communicate. There are, of course, many ways in which to do these things…but here, we’re looking at thinking and communicating in the distinctly Taurean fashion. If Taurus is all about the sensual, the physical, the slow and steady…then Mercury in Taurus isn’t likely to be a lightning-quick thinker or speaker. This doesn’t at all mean that this is the placement of the village simpleton – it just means that the Mercury-in-Taurus person is probably going to think before speaking, and will then offer their opinions in a somewhat careful and measured way. People with this placement might also be less verbal than, say, the mental Air Signs – Mercury-in-Taurus may get a great deal out of tactile signals, and things happening in the taste/smell realm (pheromones, anyone…?). The Taurean Mercury may even be adept at things like braille and Morse Code, and when getting musical, this placement may also lend itself to activities such as dancing and drumming — things that can be felt. Communication through the filter of the Sensualist needs to engage the senses…

Mars in Taurus. Mars is the Planet that symbolizes our aggressions and our lusts. This is a very different set of imperatives than those that Mercury represents! Consider the fact that we can feel aggression or lust (Mars stuff) without necessarily communicating it to anyone (Mercury stuff)…and we can also communicate (Mercury) with hordes of people without ever allowing aggression or lust (Mars) to inform the proceedings. So what, then, are we looking at when Mars is transmitting through the Taurean filter? We need to apply the same set of Taurean characteristics that we just looked at in the Mercury example, only this time, they modify the expression of lust/aggression rather than thought/communication. We still have the same Taurean reluctance to break out of a comfortable status quo or to move quickly if doing so isn’t completely necessary. We still have the focus on the physical, the body, the five senses, possessions… When it’s the Mars impulses that are operating in this manner, though, we now have a person who is probably fairly slow to anger…but when they do finally get heated, you do not want to be in the vicinity! A person with this placement may be much more likely to be prodded into conflict if a given situation calls for them to defend things that they already have; roaming out and conquering new territories probably won’t create anywhere near the same sense of urgency for them. And Mars-in-Taurus will lust for tangible things rather than ephemeral ideas, principles, or spiritual experiences: think luxury in all its forms, pampering, food, sex (and probably rather unadorned sex – no intricate verbal interactions or roleplay required). The Taurean Mars lusts for gratification of the senses.

When somber Saturn comes calling, he imposes restrictions upon us wherever he turns his gaze...but how he goes about setting up our various limitations depends in great part on which Sign is channeling his energies.  What does it look like when he's working through a lens of Taurus...?
When somber Saturn comes calling, he imposes restrictions upon us wherever he turns his gaze…but how he goes about setting up our various limitations depends in great part on which Sign is channeling his energies. What does it look like when he’s working through a lens of Taurus…?

Saturn in Taurus. Saturn is all about restrictions. It’s the Planet that symbolizes our need for structure and tradition. Where Saturn appears in our charts, it flags areas where we’ll deal with issues of control in a long-term kind of way. Sometimes we have natural fears tied up in our Saturn placements. Sometimes we face hardships there. Sometimes circumstances or other people impose Saturnian limitations upon us…sometimes we impose these limitations upon others…and quite often, we impose them upon ourselves. If this is all happening in Taurean ways, then Saturn will most likely establish a pattern of working on the same physical elements discussed above: the body, the senses, possessions, money. Some Saturn-in-Taurus people will struggle regularly with financial difficulties or chronic health issues. Some may never actually experience that suffering, but will be ruled by fear of it: financial paranoia (never “having enough”) or hypochondria can emerge from out of this placement. Still other people will excel in the areas of finance or health/fitness, but maybe to extremes (that is, they do well in those areas because they become obsessive about them – think about mega-wealthy workaholics and musclebound workout-aholics who can do nothing but work or work out). But however the results might manifest, striking the right balance in terms of discipline and control around physical attributes will likely be a lifelong theme for many people with this placement in their charts.

Hopefully, these last few posts have made it clear that Planets and Signs are very different entities! The latter modify the actions of the former. No matter which ones are working together, though, they always retain their basic “personalities.” Slowly begin to memorize the meanings of each individual Planet and Sign, and then as you get into analyzing charts, just remember that each placement is saying, “Here, (this Planet) is operating in a (this Sign) way.” We looked at “This Venus is operating in a Cancer way.” We looked at “This Mars is operating in a Taurus way.” Practice interpreting each Planet acting in each Sign’s characteristic manner…and you’ll be well on your way to successful chart interpretation!

Next up: a brief glimpse into the sometimes thorny concept of Planetary Rulership…

Astrology 101: Meet the Signs (Part 2)

Last time around, we walked through a meet-and-greet with the first six of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac.  In this post, we’ll say hello to the back half of that hallowed group.  First, I’ll again supply that chart that lists all of them here (along with the Glyph, Polarity, Mode, and Element for each one), for easy reference:

Sign

Glyph

Polarity

Mode

Element

Aries

Yang

Cardinal

Fire

Taurus

Yin

Fixed

Earth

Gemini

Yang

Mutable

Air

Cancer

Yin

Cardinal

Water

Leo

Yang

Fixed

Fire

Virgo

Yin

Mutable

Earth

Libra

Yang

Cardinal

Air

Scorpio

Yin

Fixed

Water

Sagittarius

Yang

Mutable

Fire

Capricorn

Yin

Cardinal

Earth

Aquarius

Yang

Fixed

Air

Pisces

Yin

Mutable

Water

 

Libra, the Scales: think balance, fairness, equality, and a need to work in a duo (because the Other helps Libra to better know its Self...)...
Libra, the Scales: think balance, fairness, equality, and a need to work in a duo (because the Other helps Libra to better know its Self…)…

Libra. Yang/Cardinal/Air. Extroverted and active, Libra is generally considered one of the most attractive and sociable of the Signs. Libra seems to be most at ease in the world when experiencing life in the context of a strong one-to-one pairing. It’s through working in a duo that Libra can best experience itself. Libra is definitely not built for either long-term solitude or extended stays in large crowds – it’s that middle ground of the twosome that Libra craves. As an Air Sign, though, there may be an element of Libra wanting those pairings to retain some sense of being light and breezy, without the kinds of emotional depths that, say, the Water Signs might seek out for themselves. This is a Sign that can probably bear up under almost any set of circumstances in moderation, as the Sign of the Scales requires balance rather than any extremism. Libra also has the ability to see both sides of an argument, and will generally strive for both peace and equality in its interactions with others. At its worst, Libra can be indecisive, fickle, detached, and too bent on sticking to the middle ground. At its finest, though, Libra can be fair, open-minded, inclusive, thoughtful, and a sensational social facilitator. Libra might be accurately described by the archetype of The Moderator.

Scorpio is armed and armored, and well-prepared to dig deeply into some of the most ominous terrain known to humankind: secrets, mysteries, sex, power, death, and the occult are but a few areas that capture the Scorpion's interest...
Scorpio is armed and armored, ready to dig deeply into some of humanity’s most ominous terrain: secrets, mysteries, sex, power, death, and the occult…

Scorpio. Yin/Fixed/Water. As you start to study the Signs more in-depth, you’re almost guaranteed to stumble across the idea that “Scorpio is sexy!” As someone with a whole lot of Scorpio in my own chart, I don’t exactly object to that notion, either…but it’s a little misleading. For one thing, every one of the Signs intersects with sexuality in its own unique way…and for another, Scorpio is about much more than just sex. In fact, sex is simply a subset of the overall Scorpio vibe of being focused on plumbing the depths of the human experience. Scorpio is a Water Sign, and it’s the one most drawn to the deepest, darkest parts of the watery, emotional realm. Scorpio is fascinated by truth, by secrets and mysteries, by taboo, by intensity, by transformation, by power… Scorpio will choose soul-baring over small talk anytime, although, just like fellow Water Sign, Cancer, the Scorpion has sturdy emotional armor to insulate it from most of the world, plus that sharp, poisonous stinger, which can come into play should Scorpio feel threatened or wronged. In its darker modes, Scorpio runs the risk of being jealous, possessive, vindictive, destructive, tyrannical…but in its more positive manifestations, Scorpio energy can be highly intuitive, fabulous at detective work, terrific in a crisis, magnetic, and yes, gangbusters in the boudoir. An excellent archetype for Scorpio would be that of The Shaman.

Sagittarius the Archer roams far and wide, trekking off to the outer reaches of both the physical world and the philosophical...
Sagittarius the Archer roams far and wide, trekking off to the outer reaches of both the physical world and the philosophical…

Sagittarius. Yang/Mutable/Fire. Sagittarius is the Sign of the Archer…but a very handy device for understanding this particular Sign is to focus not so much on the Archer as on the Arrow. Whenever it gets utilized, the Arrow is sent hurtling far outward into new territory at high speeds, capable of staking out new terrain faster than even the quick-footed Archer could have dreamed of doing. This is the core of the Sagittarian approach to life: go forth into uncharted realms, and collect up new experiences. This actually applies in both the literal sense (Sagittarius will always benefit from physical travel to new lands) and the metaphorical sense (the Archer is highly philosophical, and finds it greatly energizing to sail off into new and complex fields of thought, including not just philosophy, but also things like the law and religion). Like its opposite number, Gemini, Sagittarius requires a constant influx of fresh experience, except that unlike Gemini with its local focus, Sagittarius is more global in its outlook. At its worst, Sagittarian energy can be flighty, distant, preachy, dogmatic, and never quite present…but at its best, this Sign can be friendly, faithful, optimistic, generous, fun, and surprisingly complex. An outstanding archetype for Sagittarius is The Explorer.

Capricorn the Goat will doggedly climb any mountain that you place in front of it...and probably without looking for shortcuts or asking for help!
Capricorn the Goat will doggedly climb any mountain that you place in front of it…and probably without looking for shortcuts or asking for help!

Capricorn. Yin/Cardinal/Earth. Capricorn is sometimes referred to as “the CEO of the Zodiac.” Often playing its cards close to the vest in the finest Yin fashion, Capricorn gets things done, achieving results that are rarely difficult to notice once accomplished (picture the Goat that symbolizes this Sign, reaching the very apex of a mountain, to stand silhouetted against the sky…). The epitome of “earthy” in some ways, this Earth Sign is very much about the practical, the tangible, that which can be measured and weighed and assessed. Capricorn doesn’t have much use for the theoretical if it can’t be boiled down into practice, and ideas don’t mean much if they won’t lead to some manifestation on the material plane. Don’t tell Capricorn about the garden you intend to plant – just plant it, cultivate it, and then show it to Capricorn when it’s already booming (preferably while handing over some giant vegetables…). This Sign has a real affinity for business and for getting things built. Capricorn can be condemned at times for being too results-oriented, too focused on money, unimaginative outside of the latest financial scheme, workaholic, and overly serious…but Capricorn energy can also be brilliant, unafraid to stand alone, phenomenal at providing, determined, supportive, and far more caring than it may at first let on. Capricorn might be captured well in the archetype of The Overseer.

Aquarius the Water-Bearer wants to bathe us in the freedom to be you and me...as uniquely you and me as we can possibly get!
Aquarius the Water-Bearer wants to bathe us in the freedom to be you and me…as uniquely you and me as we can possibly get!

Aquarius. Yang/Fixed/Air. Aquarius fits in well with that Air Sign trend of needing to socialize in some way with others in order to better define itself. But where Gemini fares best when able to ricochet off a multitude of people in its vicinity, and Libra prefers to work in more pronounced partnerships, Aquarius is most suited to examine itself against the backdrop of an entire society. Aquarius is symbolized by the Water-Bearer. Water, in any metaphysical system such as Astrology, can stand for emotions, dreams, and love…and Aquarius’ mission is to carry these things forth to its people. One of the main ideas behind this Sign’s focus is Carl Jung’s notion of individuation: Aquarius wants to be an intensely unique individual, not fitting into any standard description or role…and the Water-Bearer wants everyone else on Earth to be able to do the same. Aquarius has a great natural distaste for conformity, repression, and any other homogenizing forces that might render people more identical and interchangeable. Aquarius wants everyone’s freak flags flying, all the time. This is the Sign of the genius and the revolutionary. At the more negative end of its expression-spectrum, Aquarius can be overly eccentric, demanding, shaming, accusatory, rebellious for the sake of rebellion, and even downright bizarre. At its finest, though, Aquarian energy is altruistic, peace-loving, welcoming, forgiving, original, progressive, and innovative. Aquarius can be embodied in the archetype of The Visionary.

Pisces the Fish swim forever through the seas of consciousness, always in tune with the tide-pulse of the Cosmos...
Pisces the Fish swim forever through the seas of consciousness, always in tune with the tide-pulse of the Cosmos…

Pisces. Yin/Mutable/Water. We’re back at water again: Pisces is symbolized by the Fish, because Pisces is designed to swim through the waters of consciousness. Not built for structure or rigidity, Piscean energy wants nothing more than to be able to flow. Pisces is tuned in to the cosmic pulse, the universal rhythms. This is a Sign that’s about spirituality and transcendence, and it also at times has an affinity for notions of sacrifice. Piscean energy can bring about a very active dream life, intense imagination and creativity, and even psychic experiences. At its worst, Pisces can be unfocused, wishy-washy, scattered, and so impressionable that it loses its sense of its own self…while at its best, Pisces can be comforting, meditative, in touch with the Divine, calming, understanding, and even able to serve as a channel or medium. Pisces might best be signified by the archetype of The Mystic.

And that wraps up this quick set of 12 handshakes with the members of the Zodiac. Please take this two-part article as a starting point for your understanding of the Signs, and not as the sum total of all you’ll ever need to know! The more you work with the main symbol-sets of Astrology – the Planets, Signs, and Houses – the more their personalities will crystallize for you, and the greater your skills in reading charts will become!

Next time, before we move on to the Houses, I think it will be helpful to dig first into some examples of interpreting placements of Planets in Signs. Learning what each one of these symbols means in a vacuum is a necessary first step, but then there’s always the next equally critical step of getting a feel for how they interact within a chart…

Astrology 101: Meet the Signs (Part 1)

In the previous post in this series, we looked at the Signs in a broad and conceptual way: “How did the Signs come about? What are they based on in our physical reality? What overall function do they perform in Astrology…?” We also touched on some sub-groupings of them – Polarity, Mode, and Element – that help with understanding them better.

Before we launch into more personal introductions to each of the Signs on an individual basis, here’s the chart again that presents them by name, symbol, Polarity, Mode, and Element:

Sign

Glyph

Polarity

Mode

Element

Aries

Yang

Cardinal

Fire

Taurus

Yin

Fixed

Earth

Gemini

Yang

Mutable

Air

Cancer

Yin

Cardinal

Water

Leo

Yang

Fixed

Fire

Virgo

Yin

Mutable

Earth

Libra

Yang

Cardinal

Air

Scorpio

Yin

Fixed

Water

Sagittarius

Yang

Mutable

Fire

Capricorn

Yin

Cardinal

Earth

Aquarius

Yang

Fixed

Air

Pisces

Yin

Mutable

Water

And now let’s meet them, these filters through which the energies represented by the Planets will always be shining. Due to length considerations, I’ve decided to break this post into two parts, with the first one appearing here/now, and the second to follow in a couple of days…  Here, then, are the first six of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac:

With a charge-right-in attitude, Aries the Ram gets around! Here's Aries posing briefly for a photo just outside of Joshua Tree National Park in California...
With a charge-right-in attitude, Aries the Ram gets things started! Here’s Aries posing briefly for a photo just outside of Joshua Tree National Park in California before charging off to the next order of business…

Aries. Yang/Cardinal/Fire. Look at that mix of subcategories right there: outward Yang focus, impulsive Cardinal habits, passionate and equally impulsive Fire qualities… It’s no accident that Aries leads off our traditional sequence of the Zodiac Signs: among other attributes, Aries likes to be first! Aries energy lends itself well toward being a leader, a trailblazer, the first one into a breach. Remember that Aries is symbolized by the Ram, a creature designed by nature to charge headfirst into things, while sustaining minimal damage to itself… When a Planet is working through the Sign of Aries, it may seem to operate much as that Ram would. Aries is fiery. Aries isn’t likely to make decisions in a careful, measured, calculated way – Aries will want to follow the swell that it feels within its own spirit, and ask questions later. This Sign can have a penchant for anger, for lust, for competition and confrontation. At its worst, Aries energy can result in bullying and needless conflict, but at its best, it lends courage and conviction. It’s always difficult to try to boil down an astrological symbol such as a Sign or Planet into a single keyword, but if there is a primary archetype that best sums up the kind of energy that the Aries filter lends to any Planet (and to any person whose chart features an abundance of Aries energy), it would be the archetype of The Warrior.

Willing to stand up for what it believes in if necessary, Taurus the Bull is nevertheless, at heart, a big believer in the appeal of beauty, peace, and comfort...
Willing to stand up for what it believes in if necessary, Taurus the Bull is nevertheless, at heart, a big believer in the appeal of beauty, peace, and comfort…

Taurus. Yin/Fixed/Earth. In marked contrast to its predecessor in the sequence, Taurus tends toward being a far more relaxed and grounded Sign. Consider the Bull that’s used as the visual icon for Taurus: when roused and angered, this is one terrifying beast! But it usually takes concerted effort to goad the Bull into becoming that steam-snorting, hoof-scraping, red-eyed, charging menace – given the choice, Taurus would more likely opt for a peaceful nap in the Sun, a nice graze, pleasures of the flesh… When not provoked into an active fury, Taurus energy prefers to move at a languid pace, to revel in its own physical sensations, to exist in a given moment without racing onward to the next. Taurus can at times seem slow-moving, overly cautious, stubborn, and possibly even lazy…but this Sign is also very in tune with its own physical self, extremely durable, practical, it can be blessed with a real knack for cultivating green and growing things, and it’s often exceptionally charming. Masterful when it comes to enjoying the world through the body and its five senses, Taurus might best be summed up as the archetype of The Sensualist.

Gemini, symbolized by the Twins, can best comprehend its own identity by seeing itself reflected back in the eyes of an ever-changing cast of Others...
Gemini, symbolized by the Twins, can best comprehend its own identity by seeing itself reflected back in the eyes of an ever-changing cast of Others…

Gemini. Yang/Mutable/Air. All of the Air Signs share a need to define and understand themselves in great part through interactions with others. Gemini is represented by the Twins, because to some extent, this energy needs to see itself bouncing off of some “Other” in order to know itself. It’s during such interactions that Gemini really shines. This Sign is extroverted, adaptable, and highly mental in its approach to life. Gemini likes to converse, to sample things, to collect experiences. This Sign may in fact see life itself as one massive buffet table from which it can endlessly nibble. Sameness and repetition will feel like torture to pure Gemini energy. The more negative manifestations of Gemini can include a tendency toward being overly talkative, having a short attention span, and exhibiting a difficulty in forming any kind of deep connection…but Planets operating through the filter of Gemini can also be lightning-quick in their processes, they can function across a wealth of different situations and interact with a wide variety of characters, and they will likely possess extraordinary problem-solving skills. If we define “communication” as including both reception and transmission of information, then we might summarize Gemini as The Communicator.

Cancer the Crab: an emotion-based being, vulnerable at heart, but hidden away inside a semi-impregnable protective shell...
Cancer the Crab: an emotion-based being, vulnerable at heart, but hidden away inside a semi-impregnable protective shell…

Cancer. Yin/Cardinal/Water. Like all of the Water Signs, Cancer exists first and foremost in the realm of the emotions…and like the Crab that symbolizes it, Cancer is a very vulnerable creature that, for its own protection in a hazardous world, surrounds itself with a thick shell of armor. Cancer energy has a deep-rooted need to bond, and to act as a caretaker, but at the same time, because this Sign is so empathetic, each new interaction also carries a risk of considerable emotional pain. With its strong affinity for the Moon, Cancer may also be one of the most cyclical Signs, shuttling through phases that the rest of the Zodiac may not experience (or even perceive). As a result, Cancer can be very guarded at any given time, unwilling to share or reveal very much…but the Cardinal nature of the Sign means that at times, an impulsiveness will rear up, and result in knee-jerk actions that might seem otherwise atypical for the careful Crab. In its more negative expressions, Cancer can offer too little emotional availability (being withdrawn) or too much (being smothering), Cancer can be fragile beneath that armor, and the Crab can at times fall victim to parasitic or codependent types. On the positive side, Cancer energy can be sweet, creative, maternal, powerfully healing, possessed of keen instincts, and terrific at protecting its loved ones. A fitting archetype for Cancer would be The Nurturer.

Leo the Lion: here we have a Sign that shines forth like the Sun, often dazzling us with its sheer life-force and charisma...
Leo the Lion: here we have a Sign that shines forth like the Sun, often dazzling us with its sheer life-force and charisma…

Leo. Yang/Fixed/Fire. Like the Sun, Leo needs to shine forth. Not for nothing has Leo become associated with the Lion, the “King of Beasts.” There’s an air of celebrity about this Sign, and something of the rock star when it comes to Leo’s natural charisma – Leo energy can be difficult to ignore. This is a Sign that feels compelled to express itself, and to see the effects of that expression reflected back to the source. This can translate into a great natural aptitude for performing, or for appearing before large groups of observers as a spokesperson or figurehead. When expressed in less than ideal fashion, Leo energy can be loud, self-aggrandizing, egocentric, or too dependent on the approval and applause of others. When brought forth in a more positive manner, though, Leo can be inspiring, joyful, energizing to others, and highly effective as a rallying point or a center around which others can gather together. Leo might be described well by the archetype of The Monarch.

Virgo: the detail-oriented eye of a critic, combined with a priestess' or priest's desire to be of service to others...
Virgo: the detail-oriented eye of a critic, combined with a priestess’ or priest’s desire to be of service to others…

Virgo. Yin/Mutable/Earth. One of the more outwardly reserved Signs of the Zodiac, the prim-seeming Virgin may also offer more overall than what initially meets the eye. Virgo has a knack for keen perception and for tracking fine details, and has the gift/curse of being able to perceive “what could be” in a given situation, versus “what is”…so Virgo is often the first on a scene to notice shortcomings and failings. This can lead to criticism, but while Virgo may turn that exacting eye and sharp tongue on others, the most cutting and merciless criticism by Virgo energy is often self-directed. There’s a very compassionate and humanistic side to Virgo, as well, though, and being of service is an extremely beneficial state for this Sign. When poorly expressed, Virgo energy can be overly perfectionist, hyper-analytical, eager to lay blame, and at times unforgiving – this side of Virgo says, “You’re doing it wrong!” When expressed well, though, Virgo can be kind, reliable, restorative, humble, giving, and thorough – this side of Virgo says, “How can I help?” Given this Sign’s powerhouse perceptions, its eye for detail, and its inherent desire to serve others in some capacity, a rather appropriate archetype for symbolizing Virgo might be that of The Analyst.

We’ll break here for the moment, and reconvene in two days’ time for the second half of our tour through the Signs of the Zodiac…

Astrology 101: Intro to the Signs of the Zodiac

Right or wrong, humans can't help but see our Sun as appearing to revolve around us...which plays into the origins of the entire system of Zodiac Signs...
Right or wrong, humans can’t help but see our Sun as appearing to revolve around us…which plays into the origins of the entire system of Zodiac Signs…

At one point in our history, the majority opinion was that the Sun orbits the Earth. And it’s not difficult to see why humankind might have gotten behind that belief, either: to the garden-variety civilian, it definitely looks and feels as if our own big, blue marble of Earth is standing still, while the Sun carves out a blazing path across the sky above us.

These days, we’ve flipped that understanding, and now as a people, we generally agree that it’s the Earth that orbits the Sun. The original misunderstanding, though, is a helpful starting point for talking about the Signs of the Zodiac, which together make up the next critical set of symbols in Astrology…

Important concept: the Ecliptic is this vast belt in space that describes the pathway that -- from our earth-bound perspective -- the Sun seems to navigate around our world...
Important concept: the Ecliptic is this vast belt in space that describes the pathway that — from our earth-bound perspective — the Sun seems to navigate around our world…

So if we return for a minute to that idea that the Sun appears to be orbiting the Earth… The Sun definitely does seem to cut a pathway through the sky, year after year. Its pathway can be thought of as something like a gigantic celestial belt, encircling us down here on Earth. That belt is called the “Ecliptic.” And the Ecliptic is the center of a wider belt called the Zodiac…

Now, mentally split that belt of the Zodiac into 12 equal subdivisions – 12 patches of sky that, from our perspective, the Sun seems to travel through as it treks along on its eternal circuit. Each of those 12 patches of Zodiac-sky bears a familiar name: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer…these are the Signs.

Containing the Ecliptic, the Zodiac is an even wider belt encircling us out in space through which all of the Planets seem to move, each one forever set against the backdrop of one of the 12 subdivisions of the Zodiac that we know as the Signs.
Containing the Ecliptic, the Zodiac is an even wider belt encircling us out in space through which all of the Planets seem to move, each one forever set against the backdrop of one of the 12 subdivisions of the Zodiac that we know as the Signs.

And not only does the Sun make its way through the Signs on a never-ending basis, but so, too, do all the other Planets in our solar system, since they largely mimic the same apparent circular journey around us that the Sun seems to make (although they all move at their own individual speeds).

So to put that another way, each Planet that we just looked at in the last few posts of this series is always operating against the backdrop of one of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac. This is what we’re talking about when we say things like, “My Sun is in Scorpio,” or “She has both Venus and Mars in Taurus” – each chart we cast and observe is like a snapshot that freeze-frames the sky, capturing all of the Planets in flight, and showing which Signs they were traversing when the “snapshot” was taken. The Signs are then regarded as modifying influences that color how the planetary forces will act.

Before we launch into individual introductions to each of the 12 Signs – that will come in the next post – it might be helpful to first know that astrologers have several different ways of grouping the Signs into certain subcategories. Since 12 is such a helpful number in terms of allowing itself to be subdivided like this, there are three main such subcategories: the Signs can be grouped by Polarity, Mode, and Element:

Sign

Glyph

Polarity

Mode

Element

Aries

Yang

Cardinal

Fire

Taurus

Yin

Fixed

Earth

Gemini

Yang

Mutable

Air

Cancer

Yin

Cardinal

Water

Leo

Yang

Fixed

Fire

Virgo

Yin

Mutable

Earth

Libra

Yang

Cardinal

Air

Scorpio

Yin

Fixed

Water

Sagittarius

Yang

Mutable

Fire

Capricorn

Yin

Cardinal

Earth

Aquarius

Yang

Fixed

Air

Pisces

Yin

Mutable

Water

The Yin/Yang duality can be applied toward our understanding of the Signs, half of which are seen as being Yin in nature, while the other half are regarded as being Yang.
The Yin/Yang duality can be applied toward our understanding of the Signs, half of which are seen as being Yin in nature, while the other half are regarded as being Yang.

Polarity. It’s common practice in modern Astrology to split the Signs into two groups, each based on traits corresponding to one half of the famed Yin/Yang symbol that we know from Chinese philosophy. Since Yin and Yang are opposites of each other, this division of Signs is known as Polarity. The sequence of Zodiac Signs starts off with the very Yang Sign of Aries, and then we simply alternate between Yin and Yang until we reach the end of the series of Signs. Briefly, Yang is outwardly-focused, light, active, warm… Yin, in contrast, is inwardly-focused, dark, passive (or reactive), cool. Polarity provides some excellent bedrock on which to begin to base some understandings, and this is especially true if a given chart starts to reveal a serious swing toward either of the two Polarities.

Mode. Instead of subdividing the Zodiac into two groups, the Modes occur when we divide it into three. The Polarities tell us something about how the Signs simply are by their very natures, while the Modes offer insight into how they tend to act when they modify planetary energies. The three Modes are Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable. Quick, simple descriptions of the Modes… Cardinal Signs like to initiate things, to lead, to jump into situations and act, and they’ll ask questions and fix mistakes later. The Fixed Signs are seen as being more likely to want to enter into an already established status quo and then maintain it, stabilizing and preserving what they find – they can be actively stubborn about resisting change, but they’re also capable of displaying great focus and stamina. The Mutable Signs are generally viewed as being the most adaptable, comfortable with change, and are usually the most willing to alter their own selves to meet the needs of a given situation.

Signs are also viewed as each being representative of one of the classical Four Elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water.
Signs are also viewed as each being representative of one of the classical Four Elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water.

Element. Like much of modern metaphysical thought, Astrology incorporates into itself the Four Classic Elements System, which sees existence as a great collection of the four primary building blocks of reality: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. The 12 Signs are therefore given marching orders such that each Element is allotted three of the Signs. The Fire Signs are concerned with notions of pure Spirit, being characterized by such fiery traits as impulse, courage, and passion. The Earth Signs are concerned most with the physical side of life, and prefer to see tangible results, while being more grounded, practical, and deliberate. The Air Signs are more mental, and value ideas, communication, information, interaction. The Water Signs focus primarily on emotions, and these Signs are often intuitive, empathetic, and imaginative.

Using the chart above, before you’ve even studied the Signs individually and in-depth, you can start to assemble a sort of short-hand understanding of each one by stringing together the meanings of its Polarity, Mode, and Element. For example, Aries is active and extroverted (Polarity), prone to initiating and leading (Mode), and driven to chase the objects of its passions, even in the face of possible danger (Element). Virgo, in contrast, is reactive and introverted (Polarity), highly adaptable (Mode), and focused on realistic goals and practical concerns (Element). Any of the Signs can be profiled in this way, although this quick analysis should never be taken as yielding up the sum total of what a given Sign is about – getting to know each one as an individual entity will yield the best results in the long run…

The Four Elements: Links between Tarot and Astrology

The four building blocks of our existence...
The four building blocks of our existence…

When it comes to metaphysical disciplines, I’m a huge fan of Tarot and Astrology. Both are rich, fascinating, and deep as fractals, and they each provide their adherents with methods for peering into the very fabric of reality. However, beyond those overall similarities, the two are extremely different systems. One thing they do share, though, is a fundamental embracing of the classical worldview that everything in existence can be broken down into four “Elements.”

Empedocles: the point of origin for our familiar Four Elements system.
Empedocles: the point of origin for our familiar Four Elements system.

This theory originated with the Greek philosopher Empedocles, who held that everything is composed of some combination of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. This notion, or some variation of it, was then embraced by virtually every major culture and philosophical belief system that came about in its wake. As civilization evolved, humanity began to regard Empedocles’ concepts in more of a metaphorical light, rather than as literal truth, but his work remains hugely influential in modern metaphysical thought. One outstanding byproduct of this development is the fact that an understanding of the basics of the Four Element system will give anyone a terrific leg up in trying to become conversant with both Tarot and Astrology. In fact, as different as the two latter systems are in so many ways, they do tend to interpret the meanings of the Four Elements in remarkably similar fashion. In Tarot, the Elements primarily come into play when we look at the Minor Arcana. This is a 56-card subset of the overall 78-card Tarot deck, and one of its primary characteristics is the fact that much like our standard playing card decks, the Minor Arcana is subdivided up into four Suits. The names of these Suits can vary from one deck to the next, but the most common designations for them are Pentacles, Cups, Swords, and Wands. In the majority of decks, Pentacles are associated with the Earth Element, Cups with Water, Swords with Air, and Wands with Fire. More on what that all means in a moment…

Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: where, and what, would we be without them...?
Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: where, and what, would we be without them…?

But first, let’s take a look at how Astrology incorporates the Four Elements into its own structure… One of the ways in which Astrology differs from Tarot is that while the latter can arguably be summed up as one set of 78 complex symbols (i.e., the Tarot cards themselves), Astrology is more like a system comprised of three interlocking sets of symbols: the Planets, the Signs, and the Houses. Each of these three symbol-sets can then be broken down into terms that probably would have received the ancient Greek equivalent of a thumbs-up from Empedocles. Working with the Planets can be tricky here, as some of them are seen more as fusions of a couple of the Elemental energies we’re discussing than as pure embodiments of any single one of them. The Signs and the Houses, though, are each assigned one of the classical Four Elements much like the Tarot’s Suits are.

Here’s a handy table that captures all of this in simple, graphic fashion:

Element

Tarot Suit

Astrological Signs

Astrological Houses

Earth

Pentacles

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Second, Sixth, Tenth

Water

Cups

Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Fourth, Eighth, Twelfth

Air

Swords

Gemini, Libra, Aquarius

Third, Seventh, Eleventh

Fire

Wands

Aries, Leo, Sagittarius

First, Fifth, Ninth

So if this breakdown into the Four Elements runs all through both Tarot and Astrology, what, then, are the basic meanings of each? Another user-friendly table can summarize that in fine, cheat-sheet style:

Element

Meaning

Earth

Associated with the physical realm: career, home, family, the body, money, possessions.

Water

Connected to the emotional sphere: love, compassion, dreams, feelings, psychic perceptions.

Air

Mental/intellectual concerns: reason, logic, analysis, ideas, information, thought, communication.

Fire

Experiences of a spiritual nature: creativity, passion, impulse, courage, life-force, determination.

Some would say that if you understand these four things, you'll understand all of reality...
Some would say that if you understand these four things, you’ll understand all of reality…

So whether you’re confronted with a Tarot card drawn from the Suit of Cups, or you’re trying to interpret a bit of astrological data having to do with, say, the Sign of Pisces or the Eighth House, you’ll know that you’re dealing with issues that are rooted in the emotional plane. You’ll then want to look at matters such as romance, feelings, the subconscious mind, or even altered states of consciousness. A Pentacles card, though, or an astrological placement in Capricorn or the Second House should all lead you in equal fashion to delve into questions revolving around physical phenomena such as work, health, and/or money…

This schematic is necessarily a bit oversimplified here so as to fit into a standard blog post, but if this kind of analysis is new to you, this should be a great aid in getting you started. It can also be incredibly enlightening to occasionally look at life through that four-layered lens of physical/emotional/mental/spiritual, and realizing what your own natural predispositions are in this regard is massively illuminating. Also, the understanding that not everyone else will be wired in similar fashion can be a true epiphany, and one that can actually generate a tremendous amount of understanding and compassion for your fellow humans. Empedocles’ name might not have lodged in the greater modern consciousness, but there’s a reason why his Four Elements theory has enjoyed such widespread and enduring popularity down through the centuries…