What is my Sign?
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 Astrology Zine by Michael Star

What is a Sign?

Sign - as in "What's my sign?" - is a word the average reader of horoscope columns in newspapers thinks of as a "label" for a stereotype applied to him simply because he was born in a certain one-month time period. This is NOT exactly true.

Sign is a term used by astrologers to define a a sector of the sky (like the segments of a peeled orange). Each of the twelve Signs of the zodiac is a 30-degree arc in a 360-degree circle around the Earth (360/12=30). It is one of the twelve sections of Space in which we observe the Sun (by day) and Moon and the other planets which are visible to the naked eye.


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A Place in Space

From our point of observation on Earth, all the Planets appear to move within a narrow 7 and 1/2 degree circular band in the sky called the Zodiac - which comes from a Greek expression meaning "circle of animals". (Eight of the twelve Signs have animals as their symbol). While we can see stars appearing in every part of the night sky from the horizon to directly overhead, we can only see a Planet or the Moon appear somewhere within this narrow belt or band which is only 7.5 degrees in height but stretches in a wide arc from the eastern horizon to the western horizon. This band continues across the sky on the other side of the Earth, which we cannot see until the Earth rotates over the course of the next 12 hours and gradually reveals to us the sectors of that other half of the sky.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you have to look to the South to see the band of the Zodiac where the Moon and Planets appear. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you have to look to the North. Over the course of the Seasons each year, the band of the Zodiac appears a little higher or lower in the night sky. From our perspective here on Planet Earth, the Sun also appears to travel along the band of the Zodiac where we see it cross the sky during the daylight hours, and it too appears to travel a little higher or lower across the sky as the Seasons change over the course of one year. (Only if you are standing on the Equator, does the Sun ever appear so high that it is directly overhead, at a 90-degree angle to the horizon.)

This occurs because the Moon and all the planets are located close to the same plane in relation to the Sun (called the plane of the ecliptic). If you imagined the Sun as the center part of a man's hat (like a Mexican sombrero), it's like the Moon and all the planets were shiny sequins or beads sewn somewhere onto the upper or lower rim of the hat. They could be spread all around the rim, but none of them would be very much above or below the plane of that rim around the hat. They could not be above the man's head or below his ears, but would always be somewhere on the rim of his hat.

Strictly speaking, Signs are areas in space, or areas on the map of space called the horoscope chart, in which the Sun and Planets are positioned at various times. The Signs are EQUAL sections along the band of the Zodiac which divide it into 12 sectors spanning exactly 30 degrees out of the total 360 degrees of the circle. The constellations (groupings) of stars whose names originally became the names of the Signs in which they appeared, once appeared all along the Zodiac band.

Relative to the Sun, the Earth is continually tilted a little on its axis, and this axis very slowly moves in a kind of cicular motion like the axis of a spinning top (called Precession of the Equinoxes). Since we are observing the heavens from our place on this Planet Earth, this changes our perspective a little. So over the course of the 5,000 years since the constellations and Signs were observed and named by ancient astrologers, our perspective has changed; so the original constellations now appear farther back along the band of the Zodiac.

The majority of astrologers use the Tropical Zodiac system which adjusts for this slow-moving precession year by year, so it defines the Signs of the Zodiac as twelve 30-degree sectors of the Zodiac referenced to a specific starting point. This point is defined at sunrise on the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (the exact time of the Spring Equinox) and that point is named "0 degrees of Aries". So the constellations no longer match the Signs exactly, but since "constellations" are really only imaginary pictures based on how the distant stars appeared to ancient peoples, it really doesn't matter how they are named. What matters is how we use them as a reference backdrop to mark the positions of the Sun, Moon and Planets relative to a defined starting point in the 360-degree circle in Space which surrounds the Earth.

So astrologers refer to the position of the Moon or a Planet in the night sky as, say, "at 15 degrees of Aries" - which means it is 15 degrees beyond the "cusp" (the 0-degree starting point) of the Sign of Aries, or 15 degrees along the 360-degree circle. Since Aries, like all other Sign sectors, is 30 degrees in width, 15.0 degrees would be right in the center of Aries. A Planet appearing at a point on the Zodiac just before 30 degrees of Aries would be on the cusp of the next Sign, which would be called "0 degrees of Taurus".

Astrologers mark the position of the Sun plus any Planets (or sometimes the Moon) which appear in the daytime sky in the same way. But we cannot actually SEE the constellations and Signs of the Zodiac when the Sun is shining and its bright light overpowers the light from the stars and Planets. They are still there, and we use the same reference system to mark their positions, except we have to use computers to calculate their positions instead of relying on observations with the naked eye as our ancient astrologers did.

So that is what a Sign really means - a sector of the sky or a place in Space. How the Signs relate to your personality or the events in your life is a more complicated matter.

It is actually the Sun, Moon and Planets which symbolically represent parts of your psyche, and the Signs they happen to be travelling through indicate various influences on those parts of your psyche, and how those parts of your inner being get expressed or projected into the world you live in. That is simplifying things a lot, but in general you might say that Sun, Moon and Planets (we refer to them all as "Planets" in astrology just for the sake of convenience) symbolize "energies" or "drives" within the human spirit that can express themselves in 12 typical ways which are symbolized by the 12 Signs of the Zodiac.

When dealing with symbolism, realize that symbols do not have just one or few "meanings". If they represented a precise thing or only a few exact things, they would NOT be "symbols" but would be another kind of "sign" (but don't confuse this with an astroglogical Sign, which is actually a symbol). For example, a "STOP" sign means only ONE thing... "STOP moving now!" Symbols are more like metaphors, while signs are more like words (which have rather precise definitions).

Think of a "status symbol". Is it a mansion, a Mercedes Benz automobile, a yacht, a diamond ring, a Rolex watch, or an iPhone? It could be any of these, and also many more things. But all of them are parts of that symbol which represents "status".

A "symbol" is like an "icon" - either an "object" such as the Christian Cross, which has many symbolic meanings; or a widely-recognized "persona" like Elvis Presley who is seen as a human "icon" representing masculine beauty, a beautiful singing voice, showmanship, fancy clothes, sexiness, straighforwardness, politeness, etc. An icon has various nuances of meaning. Symbolic meanings are often attributed to many human figures in mythology (like Achilles, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn), history (like Caesar, Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Benedict Arnold, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi), literature (like Horatio Alger, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Harry Potter), and in our current culture (like John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger) who represent a certain set of traits, characteristics or qualities.

If someone is referred to as "a little Hitler" or "a Doctor Kavorkian", or another someone is said to be "a Paris Hilton" or "an Anna Nicole Smith", many people today would "get" the symbolism and would instantly have a pretty good picture of that someone's character traits in general.

And if someone is referred to as "an Aries" or "a Taurus" many people also "get" the astrological symbolism and have a pretty good idea about that person's general character.

What makes the astrological symbolism work in a way which lets you look at person who was born when the Sun was in a certain Sign (e.g. if a man was born on the first day of Spring, "his" Sun will be at 0 degrees of Aries in his birth chart) and then instantly understand that his inner character, "being" or "BE-ing" and typical strategies for expressing his "beingness" (symbolized by the Sun) will have many traits common to the Sign of Aries is still somewhat of a mystery. The symbolic correspondence between the Signs, Sun, Planets and people seems to work, but we don't fully understand WHY it works.

Dr Carl Jung's theory of "Synchronicity" seems like the best explanation of how Astrology works in this way. Two things having "synchronicity" means that one thing does not CAUSE the other thing, but that these two things always occur simultaneously in the same Time (but not necessarily in the same Space).

So if you know one of them is occurring, you can assume the other is occurring too. It's something like the connection between roads and roadmaps. Maps don't make roads, and roads don't make maps - but you can observe a current roadmap and know that a certain road which exists on the map will also exist at this time at the same relative place in the landscape symbolized by the map. It doesn't matter where the map is located when it is being read, the road will still be in the exact place (i.e. Space) indicated by the roadmap (as long as the map was made in the same Time period when the road was made, or continues to exist).

So What Is My Sign?

But getting back to the question, "What is my Sign?"... let's understand that astrological Signs indicate traits through the symbolic meanings assigned to each of the 12 Signs. Let's understand that you have a Sun Sign, but you are not "a Sign" (which is what many people have been led to believe by "horoscope columns" on-line and in newspapers). You are not "Aries" even though you may be referred to as "an Aries".

You are not the Sun or a Planet either; but the Sun symbolizes your individual sense of Self, and how you EXPRESS that Selfhood is indicated by the Sign the Sun was passing through at the exact time of your birth. So to say you are "an Aries" really means that because the Sun was in the Sign of Aries at the exact moment of your birth, you have certain traits symbolically indicated by the position of the Sun in the Sign of Aries.  Click for "What is my Sun Sign?"  ©2001 by  Michael Star

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What Is My Sign?