Signs and Symbols
Astrology is a language of symbols that reveals a profound model of human experience. Astrology's vocabulary, terms and grammar communicates in its own unique way about our experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, feelings, humour, learning, wisdom and beauty.
The underlying, primary psychic reality is so inconceivably complex that it can be grasped only at the farthest reach of intuition, and then but very dimly. That is why it needs symbols.~ C.G. Jung
Didja hear the one about...?
...about the hit man who couldn't make a living? He had the Moon in Pisces, and he kept bursting into tears and letting his victims go! ...Until one day he met a confounded career counsellor with Pluto in the 10th square Saturn in the 7th: She kept sending her clients to interview with her Godfather, but no one ever came back to say how it went! Finally they started their own agency called Extortion Employment—now he shoots people with a camera and she makes them job offers they can't refuse!
If you are fluent in "Astrologese" this story will make sense and (hopefully) tickle your funny bone! The story illustrates how astrology can add a unique dimension that helps us understand the characters' behaviour and motives. Our poor, pathetic hit man can't disengage his compassionate and sensitive Pisces Moon long enough to do his job, and our perplexed career counsellor doesn't get it that her Plutonian Godfather is scaring off her 7th House clients! Together they create a solution in which the hit man can still be involved in something underhanded (without killing anyone) by providing the means for his friend to exert some Plutonian control over her 7th House clients.
Learning The Language
Astrology is a symbolic system with an alphabet, words, grammar and sentences.The glyphs form the alphabet. The planets are the functions or actions being done (verb/noun). The signs are the quality or style of action (adverb/ adjective). And the houses are fields of experience where the actions take place (clause/context).
Just like a normal language, Astrologese can be translated into English. For example, when someone discloses that their Sun is in Aquarius in the 9th House, they reveal something about their central sense of purpose and identity (Sun), which expresses itself in an unusual, off-the-beaten-track way (Aquarius). This person shines brightest when dispensing their unconventional insights to others (9th House).
"Astrologese" can describe the relationships between these concepts, functions and actions, as symbolized by the aspects. Say our Aquarian friend also has Jupiter in Libra in the 5th House: this alone says that s/he expands and flourishes (Jupiter) when interacting with others (Libra) in fun and creative situations (5th House). If the person's Sun and Jupiter are also in a trine aspect (120°), we know that their unconventional nature (Sun) and their fun, flirtatious quality (Jupiter) combine easily and work well together (trine).
Learning any language requires you to grasp the basic spelling, grammar, rules and word meanings. You can then build on this foundation to comprehend more complex and subtle concepts. For instance, you must first understand the meanings of "a square peg" and "a round hole," before you could even begin to fathom the idea of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
Similarly, students of Astrologese typically begin with basic keywords and associations of the planets, signs and houses. They learn that astrological grammar follows certain guidelines: a planet resides in a sign and house, not the other way around. These symbols can then be synthesized to form meaningful interpretations. Within the structure of these basics, it's possible to spin wondrous tales about the dynamics operating in someone's life.
Your Language "Bagguage"
The process of translating from Astrologese into English can be a tricky one. The more skilled your use of English (or whatever your language of choice is), the better your translation skills will be from Astrologese. Besides our articulation skills, we also bring our entire worldview, beliefs, biases and preferences to our use of Astrologese, greatly affecting the translated result. One astrologer will see your chart in a certain light, while another astrologer will see a whole different side of you. This is not necessarily a reflection of the astrologer's proficiency, but a natural phenomenon in which astrology becomes coloured by the personal perspective of its interpreter.
Astrology is primarily a neutral medium. A horoscope is merely a snapshot in time: a two-dimensional map of the three-dimensional sky at a specific cross-section of time and space. There is nothing in the chart to say that its owner is a saint or sinner, male or female, black/red/yellow/white/green, or even that its owner is human! It could be the chart of a company, a boat launch, a planet's discovery—or even your pet iguana's solar return!
Because of it's neutrality, astrology becomes a willing, reflective surface upon which to project our personal beliefs, biases, hopes and fears. It's often too easy, for instance, to see only the intimidating control of Saturn in Scorpio, or the easy-flowing benevolence of Jupiter trine Venus. Our worldview may resist a more complex view of these configurations. For example, a Scorpio Saturn can also signify the ability to keep clear, concise boundaries with people in intimate situations; and Jupiter trine Venus could indicate someone who can't say no, even when it's in their best interest. Being aware of our personal expectations and beliefs is crucial for alerting us to facets of the chart (and, therefore, the person) that we may be blind to.
What's In A Name...?
To name a thing is powerful magic! When a language gives a name to something, it acknowledges and validates its existence. It opens the door to further discussion, assessment and understanding of that thing. This named entity then becomes incorporated into the worldview of whoever learns and uses that language, permeating the perceptions, expectations and beliefs of that person. Similarly, to exclude something from a language is to be ignorant of or deny its reality, or to presume its non-existence—any of which shuts the door to further exploration.
It's awfully hard to talk about something we have no words for, and the lack of words may affect whether we perceive it at all. As our understanding of life expands and matures, we search for more words to name, examine and understand our experiences. This is why and how languages evolve: they develop and grow in order to keep up with the changing experiences of its communicators.
To name a thing is to answer the question: What is it? But answers beg more questions: Why? How? What if...? As we reach beyond the parameters of our known world, we require new words to describe and explore what we find there. Sometimes the language obliges us with a word that echoes our experience, but often it is ill-equipped to address certain obscure areas. Spirituality is a classic example, where conventional language tends to fall short of a satisfactory and meaningful vocabulary. When people search for understanding and don't find it in society's conventional worldview, they often turn to metaphysics. Students of astrology are typically hungry for answers about aspects of life disregarded or overlooked by the mainstream culture.
Astrology is a cohesive system of names (planets, signs, houses, aspects), each of which governs a range of seemingly unrelated experiences, ideas and things. Jupiter, for instance, symbolizes language, teaching, travel, law, higher education, religion, learning, philosophy, morals, expansion and understanding. The archetype of Jupiter is the common essence running through these fragments, and is harder to describe. We can say that these areas all involve reaching for a broader understanding of life; that our Jupiter nature quests after a higher Truth, through which we may know the best of who we are.
However, just as words don't translate fully between languages, this definition is approximate and incomplete. By cataloguing and working with the forms of expression that are common to "Jupiter-ness," we may come to an inner knowing about the more abstract, underlying concept. It's comparable to identifying an image in the background negative shape left behind by the foreground, like a donut hole is defined by the donut—its existence is implied more than decreed.
You Are What You Perceive
In the same way that a language is modified by its users to reflect their changing lives, language also affects change in its users. The correlation between words not only reflects the experiences of its users, but also shapes and directs their perception and evaluation of those experiences.
When you work with the vocabulary of astrological symbols (planets, etc.), you introduce fresh ideas into your knowledge and belief system. Astrology offers a system of ready-made associations which converge in specific archetypes (like Jupiter's list of concepts, above). By stretching your mind to make connections between these archetypal expressions, you shine new light on your experience of them. You begin to create new negative shapes in your consciousness, which evolve into substantial ideas in their own right.
Naming something can also close the door to further discussion, which sometimes happens when something is "labelled." We name things so that we can easily refer to them; however, labels can also prevent us from seeing their deeper, more complex nature. For instance, if we label someone a "slow learner," we may stop there in our experience of them, never seeing the unique person inside, with his or her own virtues and faults, hopes and fears, talents and struggles, feelings, dreams and goals. Convenience can block our candid perception of people and things, taking them for granted.
In the same way, Astrologese can be used to help us see certain characteristics in the person, or to blind us to them. This is especially a danger when we look at the chart piecemeal, instead of as a holistic, changing dynamic. Mercury in Pisces, for example, can indicate a person whose mental style is intuitive or illogical. However, if that person's Mercury also trines Saturn and their Sun is in Aquarius, it can indicate someone who is capable of conventional logic if they are allowed to reason things out at their own methodical pace. Such a person may struggle with linear logic as a child, but learn this skill in adulthood. It is important to remember that the chart is only the map, not the person's experience of the territory or where they are in their journey through it.
What's An Astrology For?
In learning astrology, you have access to new insights and clues for dealing with life's problems. Suppose you discover that your demanding, workaholic, @%#&*$ boss has Mars in Capricorn. For starters, it can be reassuring to know there is something in their makeup that drives their behaviour; that you're not "just" being triggered into your own struggles with authority figures.
Knowing this about your boss can help you find alternate ways to deal with him or her. Mars in Capricorn tends to combine an ambitious, authoritative and (over)responsible approach (Capricorn) to one's motivation and activities (Mars). This suggests your boss's Capricorn nature may be more accepting of your allergy to overtime if you present it in an organized, respectful way, emphasizing other responsibilities in your life which must take precedence (in other words, framed in Capricorn values).
However, it would belittle astrology to use it merely as a way of finding new and improved ways to duck out of overtime or suck up to your boss. Ultimately, it is a "sacred science" through which we are introduced to an esoteric and enlightened view of life. In learning astrology, we are initiated into a sphere of knowledge which far surpasses the conventional wisdom and awareness of the masses. We have access to a higher understanding of human nature and the meaning of life, which requires a disciplined mind and an ethical spirit to use it wisely and responsibly.
As you continue your learning in astrology, using it in your personal and/or professional life, ask yourself: Are you are using it simply as a quick-and-dirty oracle for finding easy answers? Or, are you open to being shaped and realigned by its transformative magic? Astrology is not a foolproof recipe showing the right and wrong ways to live your life; nor is it a static stone tablet imprinted with indelible commandments of who you must be. It is a profound linguistic map that portrays the dynamic, evolving territory of your psyche and life. Whether you navigate through it or get lost in it, preserve it or pollute it, how you traverse and explore that territory is always up to you.
© 1996, 2004, 2005, 2019 Wendy Guy. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Transitions Astrology Newsletter, Gemini-Cancer-Leo 1996 issue. Image based on an illustration (artist unknown) originally found in Camille Flammarion's 1888 book L'atmosphère : Météorologie Populaire ("The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology").