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Astrology 101- Understanding The Wheel

Continuing with my Astrology Basics series, I thought it would be fun the deconstruct the Zodiac Wheel for you a bit! After first looking at the basics of the Elements and the Modalities, [take time to read those first if you haven't yet] we can now take a deeper look at the Wheel and how it works. I remember beginning my journey of studying Astrology and looking at charts feeling a bit confused or overwhelmed - what does it all mean? Why do the signs start with Aries but go Counterclockwise around the wheel? What is the ascendant? How does this wheel actually represent the sky? So many questions! I hope that this post will help you in your understanding of the Zodiac Wheel and why it is arranged the way it is.

First, a note about the graphics included here. I couldn't find any stock pictures that broke the wheel down in the way I wanted to, and I'm not very good at making my own graphics. So I hand-drew these and took the pictures with my phone. What can I say, I'm not much of a technology-witch, but this was more fun anyways! Also, this post will be long, and possibly confusing! Feel free to come back to it as many times as you need to.

First, let's just divide the circle in half so there is a top half and a bottom half. Here we see the two main ways that we experience life - through the Self, and through Others.

The bottom half of the chart is where we find our self-identity, our Ego, our inner life, and the basic structure of our reality. When I say "Ego" I don't mean it in a negative way - the Ego is simply the part of you that identifies as you, an individual. What you have, how you think, your home life, your self-expression, and what you devote your time and energy to. In the bottom half of the chart are the first 6 signs through which we explore our basic identity and individuality. (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo)

The top half of the chart is where we expand our self-identity through various relationships with others. Our self identity changes and grows through our relationships with others; romantic partnerships, business partnerships, teachers, mentors, community, friendships, and spirituality. The top half of the chart contains the 6 signs through which we explore the world around us through others. (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces)

You can further divide the circle into quarters by drawing a vertical line dividing it in half again. The exploration of Self and Others continues to apply here, and it's easy to look at this in terms of cycles. I have added both the cycles of a year (seasons) and the cycles of an average human life*. In the first quarter of a year (Spring) OR in the first quarter of a life (Early Childhood) we energetically explore our world with the sense that everything is new and fresh. There is a lot of fertile and potent energy here in the first three signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini) as these signs embody the energy of youth and spring through their curiosity, passion, and drive.

In the second quarter of the year (Summer) or the second quarter of a lifespan (Youth), the self identity-deepens through intensity and depth of emotions and experiences. Here the fertile and potent energy of spring is put to use to grow the fruits of summer, and the youth further defines their self identity as they enter early adulthood. (Cancer, Leo, Virgo) This is the journey from childhood to adulthood where we learn the balance between work and play, and begin to take care of ourseves rather than depending on a parent's care. You can see how Spring and Summer relate to the bottom half of the circle in terms of Self-Identity and the experiences you have that define your sense of Self.

With the 3rd quarter of the year (Fall) and also common in the 3rd quarter of life (Adulthood) our self-identity has been firmly established but now we begin to seek different layers of self-identity through others as we enter the 2nd half of the wheel. Partnerships are needed in the fall to harvest the crops and preserve the bounty. Once the harvest is completed, there is more time to explore the deeper mysteries of life. It is time to explore relationships, secrets, the unknown, and philosophy through the signs of Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius.

Finally, with the 4th quarter of the year (Winter) we explore more layers of identity through others and mature adulthood through the energies of Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. Social status and structures become important, as do community and inventiveness. In the final part of the cycle, we release need for self-identity at all and return to the ideal oneness of the All. And then the cycle can begin again! You can see how the Fall and Winter relate to the top half of the circle in terms of how your self-identity shifts and changes through outer experiences influenced by Others.

* Please note that the average cycles of life are meant as representations of stages in our human expeience that may or may not occur in any particular order or at a particular age. It is like the archetypical Hero's Journey, which we use as a map of our common shared human experiences.

The wheel now begins to represent both a macrocosm and microcosm of the cycles we experience. It is one year. It is one person's entire life. It is a generation, or an entire Age. It is also just one day, as all 12 zodiac signs pass above us each 24 hours because of the earth's daily rotation.

Here I added the Elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth to each of the four quarters just to add another layer of understanding the energy. While each quarter contains three elements (remember the post on the triplicities) each season is still associated with one main element.

I also added the suits of the Tarot, mostly for fun, but to add another layer of energy for those of you who are tarot card readers. See if you can find how each suit of the Tarot goes along with the season of the quarter of the wheel it resides in as well as the top half or bottom half.

Now a little fun! Stand up face the east. Imagine you can see the horizon. The point in the east where the sun would rise each day is the Ascendant. Each person's Ascendant (or rising sign) is determined by what astrological sign is rising over the eastern horizon at their time of birth. Now look up. The highest point in the sky is where the sun would be at noon or mid-day. This is the MidHeaven point on the chart. Whatever sign/costellation was at the highest point of the sky above you when you were born is your Midheaven, or MC. Look down.... of course you just see the ground below you, but try to imagine that you can see through the planet. If it is daytime when you do this, you can imagine that when you look down through the earth to the sky on the other side of the planet, it is night time there. And vice-versa, if it is night time where you are then it is daytime on the opposite side of the planet. This is the Nadir point, the one opposite from the Midheaven. Look to the Western Horizon. The point where the sun will set at sundown is called the Descendant. Whatever sign was descending (setting) at the western horizon at your time of birth is your Descendant.

Now you can also see that the top half of the chart represents the sky above us, from horizon to horizon. The bottom half of the wheel represents the part of the sky that is below us, or on the other half of the globe where we cannot see it. The earth turns, so we do have each sign above us once every 24 hours. With this in mind, again face the East. Look at the sky and slowly turn to the west. Imagine that from Horizon to Horizon, the sky is divided into 6 equal parts. Imagine the sky below the horizon, on the other side of the planet is also divided into 6 equal parts. This is the Zodiac Wheel and the Houses of Astrology.

The houses are like "areas in life" in which we experience things. On the lower half of the chart, where we experience The Self and most of our self identity are houses 1 through 6. The upper half of the chart (the part of the sky we see above us no matter what time it is) are the Houses 7 through 12. The houses remain fixed in place - no matter what time of day or season it is, the Houses remain in the same position. So, if you look to the east again, the section just above the horizon is the 12th house. Whatever sign or constellation was in that part of the sky the moment you were born, will be your 12th house sign. There is a lot to talk about with the Houses, so I will save that for another post but here is another graphic which helps outline the meaning of each of the houses (the areas of life that each house influences)

Finally, we can add in the signs. For this outline, and because it is best to learn about the signs and houses as different parts of each other - the signs are written in their Natural House. Each sign has an area of life that it naturally rules over, or where it is "at home". Though because of the seasons and the earth's rotation, we witness the signs travel through each of the houses every 24 hours.

Each sign will rise in the East, travel across the sky towards the west, and then set below the horizon and travel "Under" us back to the East. Here we see the clockwise turn of the wheel and understand that even though the order of the signs appears to be backwards (counterclockwise) around the wheel, they actually travel in the clockwise direction.

Furthermore, the planets (including the sun and moon) travel through these signs as well. When we look at someone's Sun sign, we find out what sign the sun was in when they were born. During the daytime, we cannot see the stars or constellations of each sign above us, because the sun is the brightest star in the sky and prevents us from seeing the other stars. Thus, during Aries season (March 21 to April 20) The sign of Aries rises over the Eastern horizon at dawn with the sun. At noon during Aries season, the constellation is above us with the noon sun. And then at dusk each day during Aries season, the Aries constellation sets below the western horizon.

During each season, the visible constellations at night will be those signs that are opposite the sun. When the sun in Aries sets at the Descendant point, the sign of Libra will be rising at the Ascendant point. At midnight during Aries season, Libra will be directly above you in the sky at the midheaven point, and the sun will be "below you" on the opposite side of the earth at the Nadir point. For each season, the sun will rise in the sign that it is in and together the sun and sign will travel across the sky each day. (As I write this, it is Virgo season and the sign Virgo has been rising with the sun each morning and setting with the sun each night. Virgo's opposite sign is Pisces, and the Pisces constellation is currently the most prominent through the night sky. )

For a natal chart, you will see that the signs are in different houses. This relates to the time of day a person is born. A person born during daylight hours will have their Sun sign in the top half of the chart. A person born during night will have their sun sign in the lower half of the chart. To use the example of Aries again... though Aries rules the first house, the sign brings that first house energy with it to whatever house it travels through during the day but does not remain in the 1st house all day. Say a person is born just before noon during Aries season. The sun (travelling with the Aries segment of the sky) will be approaching the Midheaven point, in the 10th house. So you have a person who has an Aries personality (Cardinal Fire, Spring, Birth, Starting New Things) but they experience this all through the 10th House - house of status, profession, structures. So here is an Aries who directs their Fiery energy in a more mature (winter season) mode, focusing their energy expression through career or social status. It blends the energy of Aries with the lessons of Capricorn (the ruler of the 10th house). This 10th house Aries person would have either Gemini or Cancer as their Ascendant (Rising Sign) as one of those signs would be right at the eastern horizon during the time before noon when the sun was almost at the Midheaven point. For another example, imagine a person was born during Aries season a couple hours after sunset. The sun in Aries would have set below the horizon and be in the 5th house - the House of Self Expression, creativity, and children. This type of Aries would probably be a more playful Aries compared to the 10th house Aries mentioned before - as the 5th House is the part of life associated with Summer, Youth, and playfulness. This Aries would be influenced by some Leo energy (Fixed Fire) as Leo is the natural ruler of the 5th house. The 5th House Aries individual would have either Libra or Scorpio as their Ascendant (Rising sign).

Okay, we covered a lot here this week! Thanks for joining me and I hope that this post has brought some clarity and understanding to both how you see the Zodiac Wheel and the sky above you!