Updated: Apr 7, 2021
What is a Sign?
Often, signs are said to represent adjectives that describe things. Presumably the things they are supposed to describe are the houses that they occupy. For example, the sign on the 7th is said to describe the partner. But at other times, signs are read as personality traits that the native possesses that describe and shape the way her planets act. So for example, Venus in Capricorn would presumably say something about the personality of the native especially the way she relates to others (since we are talking about Venus, planet of relationships). But what if Venus is in the 7th in Capricorn? Does Capricorn then describe the way the native relates or does it describe the partner in some way? In other words, what do signs actually indicate? In our tendency to make charts so person-centered, and everything in them to automatically say something about our personalities, we've not given enough thought to the general function of signs. Although it might sound reasonable that a sign can function like an adjective, in practice this is often not actually the case. Signs rarely describe what things are. With regard to the 7th, we can easily see this by asking ourselves a few follow-up questions with regard to the 7th house sign: Which partner is it supposed to describe? We often have multiple partners in a life. And which arbitrary aspect of an arbitrary partner would it presumably describe? The same can be said with regard to the 5th house sign and one's multiple children. Furthermore, do people not change over time? Would it then describe the partner or a child in his/her youth? or later years? why?
Let's step back and look at what we know going in. In any genesis chart -- whether that be the birth of an individual, or of a nation, or of an event -- we are dealing with a beginning moment. Since the natal chart is a birth moment, everything in it is imprinted with that act of becoming. Thus, the chart shows a state of becoming, not of being. As Heraclitus argues, nothing ever really IS anything. Everything is ever-changing and in a state of becoming. Therefore, signs cannot describe the state of how a house is, but rather the state of what it is trying to become more like! For example, Libra on a cusp, does not indicate that things in that house are fair and balanced, but rather that they need to become fair and balanced because in effect, they are probably far from being that. If Libra is on the 7th, it will indicate that the partnership (not the partner) needs to become more egalitarian because it lacks this balance. Taurus on the 2nd does not mean your resources are valuable; rather, it means there is a need to make one's resources more valuable, most likely because the native sees them as lacking value. The awareness that signs indicate a perceived lack is an important insight because it implies that signs actually have a compensatory function relative to the house they occupy. Therefore, we can think of them as indicating needs or a particular lack of something that we as natives are attempting to fulfill through that house when we embody those signs through their rulers.
It is important to realize that just because we are dealing with "our" chart, it is not a given that we always embody our planets. Sometimes others will embody them for us, particularly when they occupy houses that involve other people. If that is the case, others may be attempting to fulfill the needs of those signs in ways that will have an impact upon the way our lives change. For example, with Taurus on the 11th, and let's say, Venus and Sun in the 2nd, we might see that a friend who owns a restaurant and who wants to improve the value of her business, may offer you a coveted position of head chef at her place. That is an example of someone else (11th house = friend) embodying "our" Venus in order to fulfill the Taurus need that figures in our chart. While the Taurus need is embodied by the friend herself, who takes action as Venus and gifts us an important position, it is also ultimately fulfilled for us since it satisfies our need for material value fulfilled through our friendships (Taurus in the 11th).
The Degrees of a Sign
Signs are also compensatory in another way: they address the perceived excess of a trait belonging to the sign that comes before. In other words, the reason Libra needs to collaborate is because it recognizes that when Virgo spends so much time noticing what's imperfect (that is, by the time we get to the end of Virgo and it is "overly Virgoan"), it makes the sign overly perfectionistic or nit-picky, and the person hard to get along with. So the excess of Virgo creates the need for collaboration that we find as a defining trait in Libra. Thus, the beginning of a new sign can be seen to emerge (that is, to become) as a result of the accumulated excess of the previous sign.
This brings up the meaning of the degrees of planets in a sign. Degrees are a quantitative measurement. But what do they quantify? Literally, they quantify the degree (of experience) in the sign. In other words, they measure how much we try to attain what we need. A planet is always acting in a house environment and its actions are most immediately motivated by the needs of the sign of that house. (Its ultimate motivation is to fulfill the needs of its own domiciles, but it has a more immediate motivation in the house where it sits). Early degrees of a sign mean that the planet is new to this domicile (sign) and therefore is not very experienced at it. Early degrees (0-5) make a planet more incompetent at fulfilling that sign's needs.
Important Note: The planet is never weak or incompetent in its own capacity as a planet. So Mars is always a strong and powerful Mars -- as is the case for all the planets. It's simply that the planet is new to its occupied environment. When this "green" planet is ALSO in an aspect with a challenging planet, like Saturn, Mars, Neptune, Uranus or Pluto, we may get particular types of problems come up in its ability to fulfill that need.
Let us examine the example of Mars at 4 degrees of Aquarius, opposite Pluto. This might be like an undercover cop (let's say he rules the 9th house of laws), newly infiltrating the mafia. But he is no less of a cop (Mars) just because he's in early degrees. Rather, he's now NEWLY concerned with the need for inclusion (early degrees of Aquarius) into a relationship (opposite) with dark actors (Pluto) and may not yet know how best to make this happen. When the planet is in the middle degrees of that sign (roughly 13-18), it is most balanced and has the best expertise at meeting those needs. In other words, the cop has established relationships in that group and feels fairly secure in his inclusion therein. At the last 5 degrees of the sign, the planet is overly-saturated by the need and has become so good at meeting it that there is no longer much of a lack. Instead, he's perhaps now overly immersed in it. For example, our cop may now be so comfortable in this criminal group that he begins to lose his perspective. He may have to decide if he's still an outsider looking in or if he's now become one of them (Issues of self/vs group are always present in the Leo/Aquarius axis). Notice also that when Aquarius comes to an end, it begins to have to contemplate the emerging blurred boundaries of Pisces. Our sense of objectivity gives way to feeling and empathy with a larger whole. He's identifying too much with his targeted culture. Late degrees of a sign with aspects from challenging planets are where the potential for major problems tend to arise. So to recap: early degrees makes the planet inexperienced and unfamiliar with the sign territory and late degrees makes the planet overly-saturated with it and having to deal with qualities newly emerging from the proximal transition into the next sign.
Mode of Action
There are 3 modes of action attributed to signs: the cardinal; fixed or mutable. But a mode of action is just that: "a manner of acting." Since houses do not refer to actions, but rather to places and since signs are just absences perceived in a particular environment, signs on houses have no agency and therefore by themselves cannot exhibit a mode of action. A sign can only characterize the mode of acting that a planet has when it is in that sign and or when it is trying to fulfill its own sign's (that is, by rulership) lack. Thus, Mercury in Taurus, will act slowly, but with endurance, to fulfill its need for communication. But Taurus on the 2nd doesn't mean your money will grow slowly! Houses are not dynamic, planets are. Having said that, if the domicile lord of the 2nd house IS in Taurus, then you can say that your money may grow slowly, since the planet responsible for its generation (that is, the ruler of the money) is acting slowly. If that ruler of the 2nd is Saturn in Taurus, then it will both generate the income slowly but also commit to that over a long period of time. Now let's briefly outline what each mode of action is, for those who are unfamiliar with them:
Cardinal Signs: These are the signs that are chronologically at the beginning of each season: Aries, for the start of spring; Cancer for the start of summer; Libra for the start of autumn; and Capricorn for the start of winter. Because of the abrupt changes that occur from one seasonal climate to the next, they are known for their abrupt way of acting. I call these "the one-off" signs because when they act, they tend to produce one-off events -- that is, events that are discontinuously different from what comes before and which happen only once. For example, with Aries you get a fresh new beginning -- maybe at a new job, or in a new house. You will only ever experience that particular new start one time in your life.
In the Hellenistic tradition they subdivide the four cardinal signs into two separate categories, the Equinox signs: Aries and Libra; and the Solstice signs: Cancer and Capricorn. Robert Schmidt has argued that the actions in the Equinox signs tend to start (Aries) or end things (Libra) with fits and starts, while the Solstice signs tend to reverse things back to their previous states (Cancer) or break things off without completion (Capricorn). This particular distinction remains to be fully confirmed empirically, although there is some anecdotal evidence to support it.
Fixed Signs: The fixed signs are chronologically in the middle of each season: Taurus in the middle of Spring; Leo in the middle of summer; Scorpio in the middle of autumn; and Aquarius in the middle of winter. Seasonally, they are characterized by the continuation of the same climate already transitioned into. As such, they indicate a continuous mode of action. These are actions that are continuous and prolonged over time. They can be thought of as the opposite of the "one-off" cardinal mode.
Mutable Signs: The mutable signs are the ones that occur at the end of the season, before it is transitioning into the start of the next season: Gemini is at the end of spring; Virgo is at the end of summer; Sagittarius is at the end of autumn; and Pisces is at the end of winter. This is the time when the season is experiencing a mixture of two climates: for instance, one day it may be temperate and springlike, the next day it may be hot and summer-like For this reason, these signs are often termed "bi-corporeal" or "double-bodied" in the older literature. The imagery of three of these signs consist of double-bodied creatures: the twins (Gemini); the fish (Pisces); and the horse-man (Sagittarius). But this is NOT the reason they are called that, since there is nothing bi-corporeal about the maiden, Virgo.
Planets in mutable signs act in a fickle manner. They digress easily, and while they will complete their actions, they often do so with digressions in their course. These digressions are not like the interruptions we find in Aries; they are impermanent and frequent, while an Aries interruption will tend to be a permanent break from a given situation. In other words, they are like an opening of parentheses in one's actions. And while Gemini is the most notorious to do this, in fact, planets in all the mutable signs have a tendency to get temporarily distracted from their course: Gemini because it wants to try two different courses; Virgo because it feels the course can be improved; Sagittarius because it seeks out too many courses; and Pisces because it has trouble seeing the boundaries of its course.
Gender and Sect
Gender is the division of the Zodiac into masculine and feminine signs. However, some modern books prefer to speak of gender as a polarity of Yang (proactive, extroverted) and Yin (receptive, introverted) instead of as the Masculine and Feminine Gender axis. But whether as Gender or as Polarity, the interpretations are basically the same and refer to whether a sign is more introverted and reactive or extroverted and proactive. Gender should not be confused with Sect. Gender relates to the sign's condition by element: water and earth being feminine, and fire and air being masculine. But sect is a measurement of the sign's condition by light. When assigning planets to sect, there are thought to be 2 sects: Diurnal and Nocturnal and planets are assigned to one or the other. But when we deal with signs, there are actually 3 sects: Diurnal, Nocturnal and Mixed sects based upon where the Sun traverses their ecliptic location in latitude during the year. This means that Sect actually relates to the annual cycle and pertains to the amount of daylight present during each month of the year – not the day. But most of the Hellenistic literature has erroneously described sect as an attribute based upon the diurnal cycle. However, it is clear from Ptolemy's discussion on the climes (latitudinal bands) and the triplicities of the signs, and from a close study of the Babylonian divisions of the signs by the ways of Ea, Anu and Enlil (which are latitudinal bands), that we are actually referring to the annual, not diurnal cycle.
Therefore, we can see that the 3 sects pertain to the amount of light occurring in each month during the year. Thus, Taurus, Cancer, and Leo are considered diurnal sect signs because daylight predominates during those summer months; Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn and Aquarius are Nocturnal sect signs because nighttime predominates during those winter months; and Pisces, Aries, Virgo and Libra are Mixed sect signs, because the months flanking the equinoxes have equal amounts of daytime and nighttime.
Each sign does not belong to three sects, as mistakenly appears in the traditional literature on triplicity, but to only one! This makes it easier to assign one ruler per triplicity and to know which ruler that is. The planets that have triplicity rulership over each month are not assigned based upon the elements (since these postdate the Babylonian use of triplicities), but they are assigned based upon an affiliation between those planetary deities and the month-places they have an affiliation with in the Babylonian geographical scheme. But we don't need to get into triplicity rulerships now, since they are not needed to interpret the meaning of each sign by its light characteristics.
What we are concerned with now is how the placement of the sign occurs in terms of the three latitudinal groupings: summer, winter and equinoctial. Thus, the diurnal signs fall within the summer months in the year. Since these signs possess more daylight, the solar sect predominates, making their delineation more visible, public and individualistic. The nocturnal signs fall within the winter months in the year, making the lunar sect predominate and the delineation less visible, private, and collective. When the equinoctial signs/months are involved, the light is equal, therefore matters are both public and private. That consideration is what has gone into their chart example delineations below. [for the sake of space, I will delineate only one sign per mode.]
Selected Chart Examples
Gender: Masculine: The need is proactive, extroverted and direct.
Mode of Action: Cardinal: Spontaneous, impulsive, inconsistent, non-enduring, or single instance.
Element & Sect: Fire, Mixed: The creation of new matter in a simultaneously private and public manner.
Domicile Lord: Mars: Separating Principle
Need: The need for independence and autonomy. Unique, compensating for prior sign's lack of individuation.
Astrological Meaning Because the Zodiac is a circle, Aries is compensating for Pisces' lack of individuation. It is attempting to emerge out of the disorder and lack of definition of that previous sign. And because it is the first sign of the new cycle and from the creative fire element, the Ram signifies new beginnings or births, in which the very act of existing must be established. As such, Aries must act boldly in an environment that is new in order to establish independence of being. It is masculine, so its instinctual way of acting will be proactive and direct. However, the struggle for autonomous existence, which comes with any new endeavor, is characteristic of this sign, as is the concern for survival in an often contentious and unstable environment. A large part of that contention and instability comes from the fact that the sign needs to emerge as a unique individual apart from others. But in doing this, it will encounter resistance and require effort because entropy and lack of differentiation requires less energy to produce than differentiation and individuation. Aries on a house cusp signifies that the need for new beginnings and for autonomy will be felt in the matters of that house. Because of its mixed sect light, the matter will involve a dynamic expression of something new and bold into the simultaneously private and public spheres. There can be some strife in fulfilling this need because the ruling planet Mars, must fight to establish and maintain its existence. Thus, one will often find that the house matter under this sign will be involved in some conflict for autonomy or in some struggle to find uniqueness. Impulsiveness with a clear break in course is often characteristic of the way a planet acts in this sign.
Aries on the 5th house: One of the matters generated from the 5th house is children. With Aries on this cusp, a common way this can manifest is that bringing children into existence may be seen to require a unique, innovative or unusual approach, often with a degree of resistance or struggle. It is not unusual to see the adoption of children or in-vitro fertilization with this placement, since these actions are both simultaneously private and public and not the customary way of having children. If the house is afflicted, once children do exist in the life there can also be struggles in keeping or raising them, such as might occur with divorce or from family disputes. Since Mars will represent the native's children, the native may also experience disputes over her child's own need for independence or autonomy. For those who do not have children, the same idea may apply to the method of acquiring a leisure activity or hobby or a romantic love interest; that is to say, it may require some unique approach or a struggle to bring forth those things into the life.
For example, Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales, who has Aries on the 5th house cusp, struggled to gain autonomy in the manner in which she raised her children. Her children have also struggled to maintain their need for independence, particularly Harry, who even today, has broken with the Palace completely by seeking financial autonomy with his wife Meghan Markle. Interestingly, Prince Harry has Aries on the 4th house cusp, making his need for autonomy play out within his paternal (royal) family.
Gender: Masculine: The nature is proactive, extroverted and direct.
Mode of Action: Fixed: The action is slow, but stable. Actions are on-going and persistent.
Element & Sect: Fire, Diurnal: Involves the realm of creativity and inspiration. The diurnal sect makes it personally oriented.
Domicile Lord: the Sun
Need: The need is for identity. Self-involved, compensating for prior sign's over-concern with family and others.
While Cancer loses itself in the concern for safety and familiarity often focusing its attention on the family or group, Leo emerges to ask: but what about me? Leo perceives a lack of personal significance and validation and compensates for this by attempting to forge its own identity. But before it can do this, it must find out who it is. It does this by seeking out where it will find personal distinction, a sense of importance or noteworthiness. Leo is extroverted and slow to act, but will endure. Its tendency is to act within the realm of inspiration and creativity and to do so for personal reasons.
The lion is regal because it is ruled by the Sun, the planet that focuses its light upon whatever it shines. Thus, where you find the Sun is what you are trying to highlight in order to forge the sense of significance and identity that Leo seeks in order to know who he is. The placement of the Sun is often an area where we are forced to make significant and important decisions and where you will receive personal validation, honors or simply a sense of self-esteem. Wherever you find Leo, this will be the area where identity is lacking but where you will attempt to distinguish yourself as an individual. Ex: Leo on the 10th
In another case file study, the person has Leo on the cusp of the 10th, and the Sun is in her 6th house. Leo on the 10th does NOT necessarily imply that the native is famous. As was stated, signs are compensatory. So in fact, the native may perceive a lack of noteworthiness or significance in her occupational status. Because of this, she will seek to shape her identity and become noteworthy or simply validated through her occupation. She does this through her solar action in the 6th, that is, by focusing on being of service to others. This is the place of employment, after all. In some cases, people can often identity as a servant or "slave" with this placement or simply see themselves as overly duty-bound, particularly if the Sun is afflicted, which it is here. While she is not famous, she does however, receive validation and distinction from her employer (the Sun, as lord of the 10th) for the superior quality of her work (shining in the 6th) and in so doing, does forge a sense of her own identity from her occupation (Leo in the 10th). The Sun in this case is afflicted, so she will fulfill her need for identity, but it won't be without some challenges and difficulties in gaining that validation.
Gender: Feminine: The nature is reactive, introverted and reserved.
Mode of Action: Mutable: The manner of action is dynamic, quick, adaptable, but also given to diversions and the scattering of energy. Actions are inconsistent and meandering.
Element & Sect: Water, Mixed: Involves the realm of emotions. The mixed sect makes it both personal and publicly oriented.
Domicile Lord: Jupiter; confirming principle
Need: The need is to transcend limitations. Imagination and creativity compensating for prior sign's excessive objectivity and emotional distance.
The distance afforded by Aquarius allows one to open up one's field of vision and leads to a neutral and objective stance. But when this distance is excessive, the inability to get close interferes with one's capacity for empathy and causes rigid or inflexible definitions and boundaries. The cycle then naturally turns into Pisces, a sign that can perceive this excessive objectivity by recognizing a need to transcend these limitations and rigid boundaries which imprison us. Note that the two fishes in the sign (not in this photo) are bound together and trying to free themselves in different directions. That is symbolic of what we are talking about. The water element that characterizes this sign dissolves all hard edges and blurs defining lines and rigid emotions. In the process, creativity, idealism and imagination are allowed to develop more fully.
A good historical example of this occurred when the period of the Scientific Enlightenment (the latter, a term associated with Aquarius) gave way to the Romantic (a term associated with Pisces) movement of the 18th century. Many historians write that artists, philosophers and writers of the Romantic movement were reacting to Enlightenment thinkers for their excessive rigidity, lack of empathy, creativity or imagination. Thus, we get a period in history marked by an explosion of creativity and fantasy in the arts, new interest in exotic, ancient cultures, in subjective forms of epistemology, and the popular exploration of eastern spirituality and metaphysics. In astrology at this time, we also get more emotional and creative approaches being considered via the introduction of theosophy, intuitive and personality-based approaches.
As lord of Pisces, Jupiter can transcend the limits and boundaries imposed by Saturn, as well as counter the analytical objectivity of Mercury, by giving flight to more idealistic fancies. He does this by confirming, expanding or revealing the truth about the matter of the house he occupies. Planets in this mutable sign will be dynamic and their actions adaptable, but will tend toward digressions or be more scattered. You will see actions that are less consistent or reliable. Because it is a feminine sign, actions will be solicited externally, rather than come from the native's own initiative.
Whichever house cusp this sign rests upon will be the area where we might perceive too much rigidity and the need to resort to more creative, less well-defined approaches in order to bring about its contents. Thinking creatively outside of the box will help, as will trying to understand the situation more empathically by walking in someone else's shoes. The tendency of Pisces is toward holism, that is, to see the world in its entirety all at once, rather than to fragment it into manageable pieces, as Virgo might. Therefore, this sign tends to be difficult for those who are very analytical or like things to be well-defined, and have significant planets in Virgo, Aquarius, Capricorn, or Gemini -- as well as those with Saturn in Pisces itself. For those who do, the matters of the Pisces house can feel a little chaotic, sloppy, wishy-washy, or suffering from entropy (i.e. a natural degradation or an internal running down of things) and they may resist them. The placement of Jupiter will indicate what the native will have to confirm or expand in order to fulfill this need for transcendence. And because it is a mixed sect sign, the matter of its house will involve something that is simultaneously personal and public.
Pisces on the 3rd house
The 3rd house is the place where we find whatever is familiar to us: our siblings, our neighbors, and in particular, our knowledge in the form of any media or other document that pertains to us, or in which we might convey something of ourselves. It also contains any places to which we make familiar journeys.
The actor Paul Newman has Pisces on the 3rd house cusp with Jupiter in the 12th house, but in the 1st sign (so it is a 12-1st combination placement). Pisces here tells us that Paul will recognize a need to transcend the limitations of objectivity in the documents that convey his knowledge (we might also think in movie scripts, since he is an actor, and these are both personal documents belonging to their authors, as well as documents oriented towards the general public) and approach them with imagination and creativity. Jupiter in the 1st tells us that it is by revealing himself -- particularly the parts of himself that he keeps hidden (12th) -- that he will bring about the creative, imaginative side of these scripts [Note: Jupiter has been statistically associated with actors in the Gauquelin data, because actors try to reveal the truths about their characters]. One of Newman's quotes illustrates well what we mean by this: "Every time I get a script, it's a matter of trying to know what I could do with it. I see colors, imagery. It has to have a smell. It's like falling in love. You can't give a reason why." This quote perfectly exemplifies the need to reach beyond the natural physical limitations of simply reading a script visually, and to imagine a world that is alive with feeling and senses. He moves beyond the physical limits of the document into the sensory worlds that it describes.