Western astrology

Western astrology is the system of astrology most popular in Western countries. Western astrology is historically based on Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos (2nd century CE), which in turn was a continuation of Hellenistic and ultimately Babylonian traditions.

Western astrology is largely horoscopic, that is, it is a form of divination based on the construction of a horoscope for an exact moment, such as a person's birth, in which various cosmic bodies are said to have an influence. Astrology in western popular culture is often reduced to sun sign astrology, which considers only the individual's date of birth (i.e. the "position of the Sun" at that date).

Because astrology has failed in predictions when under scientific tests, it is generally regarded as pseudoscientific.[1][2]

Core principles

Robert Fludd's 16th-century illustration of man the microcosm within the universal macrocosm

A central principle of astrology is integration within the cosmos. The individual, Earth, and its environment are viewed as a single organism, all parts of which are correlated with each other.[lower-alpha 1] Cycles of change that are observed in the heavens are therefore reflective (not causative) of similar cycles of change observed on earth and within the individual.[lower-alpha 2] This relationship is expressed in the Hermetic maxim "as above, so below; as below, so above", which postulates symmetry between the individual as a microcosm and the celestial environment as a macrocosm.[lower-alpha 3]

At the heart of astrology is the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or 'tones' of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios.[5] In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum based on their orbital revolution,[lower-alpha 4] and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear.[4] Subsequently, Plato described astronomy and music as "twinned" studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.[lower-alpha 5]

Later philosophers retained the close association between astronomy, optics, music and astrology, including Ptolemy, who wrote influential texts on all these topics.[9] Al-Kindi, in the 9th century, developed Ptolemy's ideas in De Aspectibus which explores many points of relevance to astrology and the use of planetary aspects.[10][11]

The zodiac

Main article: Zodiac

The zodiac is the belt or band of constellations through which the Sun, Moon, and planets move on their journey across the sky. Astrologers noted these constellations and so attached a particular significance to them. Over time they developed the system of twelve signs of the zodiac, based on twelve of the constellations through which the sun passes throughout the year, those constellations that are "Enlightened by the mind". Most western astrologers use the tropical zodiac beginning with the sign of Aries at the Northern hemisphere Vernal Equinox always on or around March 21 of each year. The Western Zodiac is drawn based on the Earth's relationship to fixed, designated positions in the sky, and the Earth's seasons. The Sidereal Zodiac is drawn based on the Earth's position in relation to the constellations, and follows their movements in the sky.

Due to a phenomenon called precession of the equinoxes (where the Earth's axis slowly rotates like a spinning top in a 25,700-year cycle), there is a slow shift in the correspondence between Earth's seasons (and calendar) and the constellations of the zodiac. Thus, the tropical zodiac corresponds with the position of the earth in relation to fixed positions in the sky (Western Astrology), while the sidereal zodiac is drawn based on the position in relation to the constellations (sidereal zodiac).[12]

The twelve signs

In modern Western astrology the signs of the zodiac are believed to represent twelve basic personality types or characteristic modes of expression. The twelve signs are divided into four elements fire, earth, air and water. Fire and air signs are considered masculine, while water and earth signs are considered feminine.[13] The twelve signs are also divided into three qualities, Cardinal, fixed and mutable.[14][15]

Sign Approximate dates of
Sun signs
Sun signs dates
for current year 2015-2016
Element Quality
Start End Start End
Aries The Ram March 21 April 20 March 21 April 19 Fire Cardinal
Taurus The Bull April 21 May 20 April 20 May 20 Earth Fixed
Gemini The Twins May 21 June 20 May 21 June 21 Air Mutable
Cancer The Crab June 21 July 21 June 22 July 23 Water Cardinal
Leo The Lion July 22 August 21 July 24 August 23 Fire Fixed
Virgo The Virgin August 22 September 21 August 24 September 23 Earth Mutable
Libra The Scales September 22 October 21 September 24 October 23 Air Cardinal
Scorpio The Scorpion October 22 November 21 October 24 November 20 Water Fixed
Sagittarius The Archer November 22 December 21 November 21 December 21 Fire Mutable
Capricorn The Mountain Sea-Goat December 22 January 20 December 22 January 17 Earth Cardinal
Aquarius The Water Bearer January 21 February 19 January 18 February 20 Air Fixed
Pisces The Fish February 20 March 20 February 21 March 20 Water Mutable

Zodiac sign for an individual depends on the placement of planets and the ascendant in that sign. If a person has nothing placed in a particular sign, that sign will play no active role in their personality. On the other hand, a person with, for example, both the sun and moon in Cancer, will strongly display the characteristics of that sign in their make up.

Sun-sign astrology

Main article: Sun sign astrology

Newspapers often print astrology columns which purport to provide guidance on what might occur in a day in relation to the sign of the zodiac that included the sun when the person was born. Astrologers refer to this as the "sun sign", but it is often commonly called the "star sign". These predictions are vague or general; so much so that even practising astrologers consider them of little to no value. Experiments have shown that when people are shown a newspaper horoscope for their own sign along with a newspaper horoscope for a different sign, they judge them to be equally accurate on the average.[16] Other tests have been performed on complete, personalized horoscopes cast by professional astrologers, and have shown similarly disappointing results,[17] contrary to the claims of professional astrologers.

The planets

Main article: Planets in astrology

In modern Western astrology the planets represent basic drives or impulses in the human psyche. These planets differ from the definition of a planet in astronomy in that the sun, moon, and recently, Pluto and Ceres (considered as dwarf planets in astronomy), are all considered to be planets for the purposes of astrology.[18] Each planet is also said to be the ruler of one or two zodiac signs. The three modern planets have each been assigned rulership of a zodiac sign by astrologers and Ceres has been suggested as the ruler of Taurus or Virgo.[19][20] Traditionally rulership of the signs was, according to Ptolemy, based on seasonal derivations and astronomical measurement, whereby the luminaries being the brightest planets were given rulership of the brightest months of the year and Saturn the coldest furthest classical planet was given to the coldest months of the year, with the other planets ruling the remaining signs as per astronomical measurement. It is noteworthy that the modern rulerships do not follow the same logic.

Classical planets

The astrological 'planets' are the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients. The sun and moon, also known as 'the lights', are included as they were thought to act like the astronomical planets. Astrologers call Mercury, Venus and Mars the 'personal planets', as they represent the most immediate drives. The 'lights' symbolise respectively the existential and sensitive fundamentals of the individuality.

The following table summarizes the rulership by the seven classically known planets[21] of each of the twelve astrological signs,[22] together with their effects on world events, people and the earth itself as understood in the Middle Ages.[23]

Traditional planets with their rulership of signs and effects on people and the world
Symbol Planet[21] Rules the sign[22] Effect on world events[23] Person's nature[23] Effect in life[23] Effect in earth[23]
Sun Leo Wisdom, generosity, 'sunny' disposition Good fortune Gold
Moon Cancer Wandering Travel, lunacy Silver
Mercury Gemini and Virgo Action Changeability, eagerness, quickness, 'mercurial' temperament Rapid change Mercury (quicksilver)
Venus Libra and Taurus Fortunate events Beauty, amorousness Good luck Copper[lower-alpha 6]
Mars Aries, classically also Scorpio War Strength, endurance, 'martial' temperament Conflicts, misfortune Iron
Jupiter Sagittarius, classically also Pisces Good times, prosperity Cheerful, magnanimous, 'jovial' temperament Good fortune Tin
Saturn Capricorn, classically also Aquarius Disastrous events Wisdom, stability, persistence, 'saturnine' temperament Accidents, disease, treachery, bad luck Lead

The moon's nodes

Also important in astrology are the moon's nodes.[24] The nodes are where the moon's path crosses the ecliptic. The North, or Ascending Node marks the place where the moon crosses from South to North (or ascends), while the South, or Descending Node marks where the moon crosses from North to South (or descends). While Lunar nodes are not considered by Western astrologers to be as important a factor as each of the planets, they are thought to mark sensitive areas that are worth taking into account.

Essential dignity

In astrology, "essential dignity" is the strength of a planet or point's zodiac position, judged only by its position by sign and degree, what the pre-eminent 17th-century astrologer William Lilly called "the strength, fortitude or debility of the Planets [or] significators."[25] In other words, essential dignity seeks to view the strengths of a planet or point as though it were isolated from other factors in the sky of the natal chart. Traditionally, there are five dignities: domicile and detriment, exaltation and fall, triplicity, terms, and face. However, the later two have diminished in usage. A planet's domicile is the zodiac sign over which it has rulership.

The horoscope

Main article: Horoscope

Western astrology is based mainly upon the construction of a horoscope, which is a map or chart of the heavens at a particular moment. The moment chosen is the beginning of the existence of the subject of the horoscope, as it is believed that the subject will carry with it the pattern of the heavens from that moment throughout its life. The most common form of horoscope is the natal chart based on the moment of a person's birth; though in theory a horoscope can be drawn up for the beginning of anything, from a business enterprise to the foundation of a nation state.


In Western horoscopic astrology the interpretation of a horoscope is governed by:

Some astrologers also use the position of various mathematical points such as the Arabic parts.

The primary angles

There are four primary angles in the horoscope (though the cusps of the houses are often included as important angles by some astrologers).

The ascendant is generally considered the most important and personalized angle in the horoscope by the vast majority of astrologers. It signifies a person's awakening consciousness, in the same way that the Sun's appearance on the eastern horizon signifies the dawn of a new day.[26] Due to the fact that the ascendant is specific to a particular time and place, it signifies the individual environment and conditioning that a person receives during their upbringing, and also the circumstances of their childhood. For this reason, the ascendant is also concerned with how a person has learned to present him or herself to the world, especially in public and in impersonal situations.[27]

The opposite point to the ascendant in the west is the descendant, which denotes how a person reacts in their relationships with others. It also show the kind of person we are likely to be attracted to, and our ability to form romantic attachments. In most house systems the descendant lies on the cusp of the 7th house of the horoscope.

The opposite point to the midheaven is known as the imum coeli. For astrologers the nadir or IC traditionally indicates the circumstances at the beginning and end of a person's life, their parents and the parental home, and their own domestic life. In quadrant house systems it lies on the cusp of the 4th house of the horoscope.

The houses

Main article: House (astrology)

The horoscope is divided by astrologers into 12 portions called the houses. The houses of the horoscope are interpreted as being 12 different spheres of life or activity. There are various ways of calculating the houses in the horoscope or birth chart. However, there is no dispute about their meanings, and the 12 houses[28]

Many modern astrologers assume that the houses relate to their corresponding signs, i.e. that the first house has a natural affinity with the first sign, Aries, and so on.


Main article: Astrological aspects

The aspects are the angles the planets make to each other in the horoscope, and also to the ascendant, midheaven, descendant and nadir. The aspects are measured by the angular distance along the ecliptic in degrees and minutes of celestial longitude between two points, as viewed from the earth.[29] They indicate focal points in the horoscope where the energies involved are given extra emphasis. The more exact the angle, the more powerful the aspect, although an allowance of a few degrees each side of the aspect called an orb is allowed for interpretation. The following are the aspects in order of importance[30][31]

Modern modifications to the Ptolemaic system

Modern planets

These are the planets discovered in modern times, which have since been assigned meanings by Western astrologers.

Planets discovered in modern times, with signs and effects
Symbol Planet Representing Rules the sign Claimed effects on world events Claimed effects on people
Uranus Letter 'H' for planet's discoverer, William Herschel[32] Aquarius Innovation, technology[33] Sudden or disruptive change[34]
Neptune Trident, weapon of sea-god Neptune[35] Pisces[36] Confusion, sensitivity[36]
Pluto PL for astronomer Percival Lowell who predicted Pluto's discovery[37] Scorpio Transformation,[38] fate, death
Ceres Sickle, Ceres being goddess of corn[39] (sometimes taken to be Virgo) Mothering, compassion[40]

Sidereal and tropical astrology

There are two camps of thought among western astrologers about the "starting point", 0 degrees Aries, in the zodiac. Sidereal astrology uses a fixed starting point in the background of stars, while tropical astrology, used by the majority of Western astrologers, chooses as a starting point the position of the Sun against the background of stars at the Northern hemisphere vernal equinox (i.e. when the Sun position against the heavens crosses over from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere) each year.

As the Earth spins on its axis, it "wobbles" like a top, causing the vernal equinox to move gradually backwards against the star background, (a phenomenon known as the Precession of the equinoxes) at a rate of about 30 degrees (one Zodiacal sign length) every 2,160 years. Thus the two zodiacs would be aligned only once every 26,000 years. They were aligned about 2,000 years ago when the zodiac was originally established.

This phenomenon gives us the conceptual basis for the Age of Aquarius, whose "dawning" coincides with the movement of the vernal equinox across the cusp from Pisces to Aquarius in the star background.

Astrology and science

Main article: Astrology and science

The majority of professional astrologers rely on performing astrology-based personality tests and making relevant predictions about the remunerator's future.[41] Those who continue to have faith in astrology have been characterised as doing so "in spite of the fact that there is no verified scientific basis for their beliefs, and indeed that there is strong evidence to the contrary".[42][43][44]

Astrology has not demonstrated its effectiveness in controlled studies and has no scientific validity,[41]:85[45] and as such, is regarded as pseudoscience.[1][2][lower-alpha 7] There is no proposed mechanism of action by which the positions and motions of stars and planets could affect people and events on Earth that does not contradict well understood, basic aspects of biology and physics.[47][lower-alpha 8]

Where astrology has made falsifiable predictions, it has been falsified.[50] The most famous test was headed by Shawn Carlson and included a committee of scientists and a committee of astrologers. It led to the conclusion that natal astrology performed no better than chance.[51]

See also


  1. "the entire universe is alive in mutual concord of its elements and is driven by the pulse of reason, since a single spirit dwells in all its parts and, speeding through all things, nourishes it like a living creature".[3]
  2. Al-Kindi (9th century) is clarifying this point where he says in his text On the Stellar Rays, ch.4: "... we say that one thing acts with its elemental rays on another, but according to the exquisite truth it does not act but only the celestial harmony acts".
  3. "The doctrine of the Pythagoreans was a combination of science and mysticism… Like Anaximenes they viewed the Universe as one integrated, living organism, surrounded by Divine Air (or more literally 'Breath'), which permeates and animates the whole cosmos and filters through to individual creatures… By partaking of the core essence of the Universe, the individual is said to act as a microcosm in which all the laws in the macrocosm of the Universe are at work".[4]
  4. "…occasionally Pythagoras draws on the theory of music, and designates the distance between the Earth and the Moon as a whole tone, that between the Moon and Mercury as a semitone, .... the seven tones thus producing the so-called diapason, i.e. a universal harmony".[6]
  5. "As the eyes, said I, seem formed for studying astronomy, so do the ears seem formed for harmonious motions: and these seem to be twin sciences to one another, as also the Pythagoreans say".[7][8]
  6. Lewis notes that Venus was associated with the island of Cyprus, the classical source of copper.
  7. "To optimise the chances of finding even remote relationships between date of birth and individual differences in personality and intelligence we further applied two different strategies. The first one was based on the common chronological concept of time (e.g. month of birth and season of birth). The second strategy was based on the (pseudo-scientific) concept of astrology (e.g. Sun Signs, The Elements, and astrological gender), as discussed in the book Astrology: Science or superstition? by Eysenck and Nias (1982)."[46]
  8. "About three-fourths of Americans hold at least one pseudoscientific belief; i.e., they believed in at least 1 of the 10 survey items[29]" ... "Those 10 items were extrasensory perception (ESP), that houses can be haunted, ghosts/that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places/situations, telepathy/communication between minds without using traditional senses, clairvoyance/the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future, astrology/that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives, that people can communicate mentally with someone who has died, witches, reincarnation/the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death, and channeling/allowing a "spirit-being" to temporarily assume control of a body."[48][49]


  1. 1 2 Hansson, Sven Ove; Zalta, Edward N. "Science and Pseudo-Science". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  2. 1 2 "Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List". Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
  3. Manilius (77) p.87-89 (II.64-67)
  4. 1 2 Houlding (2000), p. 28
  5. Weiss & Taruskin (2007), p. 3
  6. Pliny the Elder (77) pp.277-8, (II.xviii.xx)
  7. Davis (1901) p.252.
  8. Plato's Republic VII.XII
  9. Smith (1996), p. 2
  10. Lindberg (1997), p. 245
  11. Smith (1996), p. 56
  12. Wood (1970)
  13. Lofthus (1983), p. 8
  14. Pelletier & Cataldo (1984), pp. 24–33
  15. Pottenger (1991), pp. 31–36
  16. The Forer Effect
  17. The AstroTest, An account of a test of the predictive power of astrology, with references to other experiments.
  18. "The Planets And Points". Astrologyclub.org. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  19. Fenton (1991), pp. 106–115
  20. Pottenger (1991), pp. 11–17
  21. 1 2 Planet description
  22. 1 2 Signs description
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Lewis (1994), pp. 105–109
  24. Parker & Parker (1990), p. 149
  25. Lilly (2005), p. 101
  26. Mayo (1991), p. 71
  27. Fenton (1989), pp. 13–14
  28. Fenton (1991), pp. 117–118
  29. Mayo (1991), p. 97
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Pelletier & Cataldo (1984), pp. 57–60
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Fenton (1991), pp. 137–139
  32. "The meaning of the symbol H+o for the planet Uranus". Original letter by F. Herschel, The Observatory, 1917. SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). 30: 306–307. Bibcode:1917Obs....40..306H. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  33. Bidisha (9 December 2011). "I'm starry-eyed about horoscopes". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  34. Parker & Parker (2007), p. 237
  35. "Neptune's Symbol". NASA. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  36. 1 2 Parker & Parker (2007), pp. 240–242
  37. "Pluto's Symbol". NASA. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  38. Padel, Ruth (20 April 2013). "Pluto by Glyn Maxwell – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  39. "Ceres". Universe - Galaxies and Stars. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  40. Parker & Parker (2007), p. 201
  41. 1 2 Bennett et al. (2007), pp. 82–84
  42. "Objections to Astrology: A Statement by 186 Leading Scientists". The Humanist, September/October 1975. Archived from the original on 18 March 2009.
  43. The Humanist, volume 36, no.5 (1976).
  44. Bok, Jerome & Kurtz (1982), pp. 14–18
  45. Zarka (2011)
  46. Hartmann, Reuter & Nyborg (2006), p. 1350
  47. Janis (1989), p. 249
  48. Peter D. Asquith, ed. (1978). Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. 1. Dordrecht u.a.: Reidel u.a. ISBN 978-0-917586-05-7.
  49. "Chapter 7: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding". science and engineering indicators 2006. National Science Foundation. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  50. Zarka (2011), p. 424
  51. Carlson (1985)


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