What Is A Horoscope?
by Jenny Yates
I would never suggest living your life completely by the stars. But when fishing people get ready to go out in their boats,
they look at the clouds, taste the wind, check the color of the dawn. Astrology can be like that: a little extra information that
helps you to be safe, open and effective.
Do you need to study for years, memorize arcane lore, master calculus? Not at all. The main thing you need is a strong
curiosity about the people around you, and a desire to understand them on a deeper level.
What can astrology give you? It can contribute to ongoing self-awareness. It can be a route to accepting and appreciating
yourself and others. It can help you figure out what’s going on in your relationships. It can tell you the duration of a
particular life-lesson, or a funky mood.
The most commonly asked question in workshops is: “What is a horoscope, anyway? What do they mean when they say
houses, aspects, rising sign, and all the rest?”
In a nutshell, your horoscope is a picture of the sky at the moment of your birth. The upper half of the wheel shows the
dome of the sky, from eastern to western horizon. The bottom half shows what you’d see looking through the earth, if you
happened to be born with x-ray vision. You can look quickly at any birthchart and see whether the person was born at day
or night, and whether the moon and planets had risen or set, just by knowing their symbols.
The zodiac is a round ruler divided into 12 even sections - the 12 signs. This goes around everything else - the earth,
moon, sun and planets. When you say, “Her moon is in Leo,” you’re saying that she could’ve looked up at the moment of
birth, seen the moon, and behind it would have been that section of the starry sky that we call “Leo”.
Your rising sign is that bit of the sky that was visible at the eastern horizon when you were born. If you were born at
sunrise, your sun-sign and rising sign will be the same. If you were born at moonrise, your moon-sign and rising sign will
be the same.
Your rising sign marks the beginning of the 1st house, and the houses chop up the space around the earth into 12
sections. When you say, “Her moon is in the 10th house,” you’re saying that the moon was directly above at the time of
birth. If the sun was in the 10th house, it was around noon.
The houses refer to the directions: east, west, above and below. They appear to be fixed reference points, as long as you
stay in one spot on the earth. Meanwhile, if you look at the eastern horizon, the stars wheel by, presenting you with a new
rising sign every two hours. Of course, it’s really the earth that’s moving and not the stars.
The main players in a horoscope are the sun, moon and planets. You look at their signs, their house positions, and their
aspects. The aspects are the relationships between the planets. If you looked up, would you see a pair of planets
nestled snugly together? Or are they on opposite sides of the sky? Or somewhere in between? Certain angles between
the planets have a lot of power.
These are the bare bones of horoscope interpretation: the relationship between earth, sky and planets (including the sun
and moon in the latter category for convenience). On these bones, there are layers and layers of meaning. Each planet
has its own flavor. The houses have their own significance, and so a planet shows a different face when it’s setting and
when it’s rising. Each zodiacal sign has its own style, and many women have figured them out just by checking out their
friends’ signs. And the aspects are different: a 90-degreee angle between two planets is not like an 120-degree angle.
So you have a language of symbols, an alphabet. Putting them together, you find the messages. When you say, “My 10th
house moon in Cancer opposes my 4th house Venus in Capricorn,” you’re dealing with seven different symbolic
references. Yet if all you know is that your moon is in Cancer, you still know a lot. You can take off from there and explore
your relationship to mother, home and food. And the more of the language you can read, the deeper you can inquire.
I think astrology is a useful, accessible tool for everyone, and I dedicate myself to this premise in workshops and writing. I’
d like to see every woman with a copy of her own birthchart. So that when a woman asks your sign, you don’t just say, “I’m
a Taurus,” but perhaps, “I have a Taurus sun and a Scorpio moon, and my Aries Venus is rising in the 1st house.”
And the other woman can look into your eyes, and see the romance of your fiery Venus, the power of your Scorpio moon,
and the stability of your Taurus sun. And she’ll know how much there is to explore, how much to celebrate, whenever two
people come together - whether for a lifetime, an hour, or an instant.
(This essay was first printed in Womyn’s Words in July 1998.)