Crash Course: Astrology

A not-so-brief outline of common astrological terms you may see on the blog. It is organized first by level of prior astrological knowledge, then organized intuitively.

Level 0

“What’s astrology?”

Astrology: A process that relies on the mathematical positions of celestial bodies across the ecliptic in relation to the earth to predict various events, personality traits, societal turning points, and personal milestones. My more personal interpretation of astrology is that it is an intuitive, psychological tool that is useful for assisting in the process of self-actualization. Some believe it can also predict future events or provide guidance as you move through life. Whether it works by sorting the abstract into easily definable terms so that our brain can translate to us what it already knows, by the actual power and energy of the cosmos, the seasons, something else entirely, or it’s purely fictitious, one cannot know for certain. The only certain thing in this universe is that it is uncertain. It is either a spiritual practice, a subjective psychological tool, or an artform, but it is no longer considered a science since it diverged from astronomy. Some astrologists may still refer to it as a science, however this blog will not.

Tropical Astrology: The type of astrology that I use the most and that this blog focuses on. It is utilized by western astrologers, and the most common form of astrology in America where I am from. All of the following definitions refer to their tropical astrology definitions and may mean different things in other forms of astrology that I do not typically cover.

Planet: While I’m certain you know what an astronomical planet is, the astrological “planets” include the astronomical planets of the solar system, the Sun, the Moon, and the planetoids. May or may not include Earth depending on the topic.

Zodiac constellations: 12 constellations that the celestial bodies travel through as they cross the sky. Their names are used to represent the 12 zodiac signs. These are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

Zodiac signs: The ecliptic (the astrological sky) is divided into 12 even sections of 30 degrees, each named by one of the zodiac constellations. However, due the differences in the sizes and spacing of the constellations, and the solar system’s constantly moving location, the signs do not line up perfectly with the constellations they are named after anymore. The power of astrology comes from the positions of celestial bodies in relation to us on Earth and the position of the Earth itself, not from the constellations, but at the time that they were named the constellations were convenient ways to identify these positions.


Level 1

“My horoscope says I’m a Leo”

Horoscope: Technically it’s predictive astrology, but if you read yours in a magazine, newspaper, or anything like that, it is at best written by someone with knowledge about astrology making very basic predictions based on very little information, and at worst made up on the spot by a bored intern. Feel free to check them out for fun, but the colloquial usage of the word horoscope isn’t really astrology.

Sun sign: The astrological planet representing identity, spirit, self, ego, and creation. This is the sign that you probably already know. While it is actually one of MANY signs a single person has, it is arguably the most important planet in natal astrology. Like all celestial bodies, the sun is always in one sign and one house at a time and its position modifies its effects on us. It changes signs once a month.

Moon: The astrological planet representing emotions, the soul, hidden traits, and the most intimate self. Arguably one of the most important single planets in natal astrology, some astrologists consider it even more important than the sun. Like all celestial bodies, the moon is always in one sign and one house at a time and its position modifies its effects on us. It changes signs every couple of days and can be calculated if you know your general place and time of birth.

Cusp: The name of the line of transition between signs, planets, or houses. It refers to the exact moment one sign or house ends and another begins, or the exact moment that a celestial body changes signs. It regard to planetary signs, it does not represent a “blending” of sign traits, which is a common misconception. Even if you’re only a Virgo sun by less than a degree, you are still a Virgo sun.

Rising sign: Also known as the Ascendant sign, is the sign on the eastern horizon at your exact time and place of birth. While your Sun sign is your identity you’re born with at your core, your Rising sign represents the person you become in response to the world. Some astrologers believe it is even more important than the Sun sign. Personally, I believe they are both equally important, however your Rising sign personality gets stronger the older you get.

Element: The zodiac signs can be divided several ways, but the most common is by the classical elements. The four elements—water, earth, fire, and air—each rule over three signs with similar characteristics. It’s good to know which signs are ruled by which element, especially the signs of Aquarius, Scorpio, and Sagittarius since most people find their ruling elements to be counterintuitive.

Fire: A zodiac sign that embodies the concepts representing Fire—willpower, individuality, inner strength, creation, and spirit. They are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. Fire aligned planets, houses, and individuals exist harmoniously with each other. Its natural opposite is Water. The Fire planets are The Sun (identity), Mars (drive, motivation, masculine energy), and Jupiter (spiritual philosophy). It is a yang aligned element (positive, active, masculine). Fire is associated with the Tarot suit of Wands.

Earth: A zodiac sign that embodies the concepts representing the element of Earth—foundation, practicality, endurance, determination, and the physical body. They are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. Earth aligned planets, houses, and individuals exist harmoniously with each other. Its natural opposite is Air. The Earth planets are Venus (-) (sensuality, beauty, feminine energy), Mercury (-) (opportunity, politics, coordinating), and Saturn (structure, challenges, responsibility). The dwarf planet Ceres (protection, respect, grief) is also an Earth planet. It is a yin aligned element (negative, receptive, feminine). Earth is associated with the Tarot suit of Pentacles.

Air: A zodiac sign that embodies the concepts representing Air—information, logic, communication, society, and the mind. They are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. Air aligned planets, houses, and individuals exist harmoniously with each other. Its natural opposite is Earth. The Air aligned planets are Mercury (+) (communication, transportation, ideas), Venus (+) (relationships, love, attraction), and Uranus (innovation, discovery, originality). It is a yang aligned element (positive, active, masculine). Air is associated with the Tarot suit of Swords.

Water: A zodiac sign that embodies the concepts representing Water—intuition, emotions, change, compassion, and the soul. They are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Water aligned planets, houses, and individuals exist harmoniously with each other. Its natural opposite is Fire. The Water planets are the Moon (emotions, introspection, empathy), Pluto (change, chaos, transformation), and Neptune (enlightenment, compassion, illusion). It is a yin aligned element (negative, receptive, feminine). Water is associated with the Tarot suit of Cups.

Polarity: The zodiac is divided in two halves known as yin and yang

Yin: There are six yin signs which contains the signs in the elements of Earth and Water. It represents receptive, introverted, feminine, negative (withdrawing), indirect energy

Yang: There are six yang signs which contains the signs in the elements of Fire and Air. It represents active, extroverted, masculine, positive (expanding), direct energy

Level 2

“I’m a Leo, but I have a Pisces moon and Taurus rising”


Quality: Cardinal, Mutable, and Fixed. Refers to the method in which a sign’s energy is utilized. Each quality contains four signs, one for each of the elements.

Cardinal signs: Initiatory, active, dynamic energy. Represents the beginning of each season. Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn.

Fixed signs: Stable, consistent, concentrated energy. Represents the middle of each season. Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.

Mutable signs: Flowing, adaptable, versatile energy. Represents the end of each season. Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.

Axis: Formed by the six pairs of opposition signs (and houses) on the zodiac wheel. Aries-Libra (1-7), Taurus-Scorpio (2-8), Gemini-Sagittarius (3-9), Cancer-Capricorn (4-10), Leo-Aquarius (5-11), and Virgo-Pisces (6-12)

Ecliptic: The path that the astrological planets and luminaries (Sun and Moon) appear to follow when looking from Earth. It is divided into 12 equal parts known as the Zodiac.

Natal chart: Also called a birth chart. A circular chart representing the ecliptic calculated based on the locations of the planets, Sun, Moon, and horizon as they appeared at the exact time and location of your birth. It can tell you information such as the sign each planetary sign, planetary house, house positions, and aspects. You can get yours calculated online for free at several locations just by looking it up, but for an accurate interpretation it’s best to find an astrologist since it takes a long time to learn how to interpret them.

Planetary Sign: The sign that a given planet is in at a particular time and place

Personal Planets: These are the planets that make up your personality. They are the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars. These planets change signs fairly quickly, so they are all about differentiating you from your peers, and what makes you unique. Sometimes Jupiter and Saturn are included as personal planets, but the line is fuzzy.

Mercury: The planet of communication and the intellect. A person’s Mercury sign determines how they communicate their ideas to others. When you are speaking with someone in a social setting, they are probably expressing their Mercury sign more strongly than their Sun or Rising. It also relates to the way you learn and process information. It is always either in the same sign as the Sun, or one sign over.

Venus: The planet of relationships. Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, people act out their Venus sign when they are flirting or with someone they have romantic interest/involvement. This is why some people are very different in romantic relationships than they are the rest of the time. It also can represent the types of people (romantic interests, or women in general) that they are drawn to, as well as general likes and dislikes. It can also give insight into which kind of people you attract.

Mars: The planet of action and motivation. A person’s Mars sign determines their primary motivations, what their strive for, and how they go about achieving their goals. Depending on your Mars sign, you could be motivated by family, financial success, public recognition, competition, perfection, etc. Are you an idea person, constantly jumping from one project to the next, or do you prefer to slowly chip away at one project? Mars also represents sexuality on a more physical level than Venus—basically what you’re like in bed, and how you like your sexual partners to treat you.

Jupiter: The planet of spiritual philosophy, luck, and optimism. Your Jupiter sign just wants you to have a good time. Sometimes too much. It determines which areas of life you will find the most good fortune, and how will you earn your good karma. It will also give you an idea about your moral, political, and spiritual philosophies. While on the surface Jupiter is a very fun planet, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Jupiter doesn’t know when to quit, so it will also tell you where you’re prone to overindulgence or even addiction.

Saturn: The planet of restraint, strife, and responsibility. This is the sign that kicks in when you need to drag your drunk ass home after Jupiter convinced you to take a few too many shots. It is there to help you, but it will not be fun. The way Saturn gets you home is determined by the sign it’s in, but regardless of the sign it can be VERY unpleasant if that’s what it takes to get through to you. If you fight it, it’ll drag you home kicking and screaming, but if you can force yourself to take the responsibility and get home on your own, it’ll stand back with a gentle “I told you so”, and maybe next time you just won’t listen to Jupiter in the first place.

Generational planets: These are the slow moving planets—Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. They take a while to change signs, and even once they do, they’ll still retrograde back a few times before leaving a sign for good, so a lot of people in the same age group will have these signs in common. They say more about how the attitude of the generation as a whole affects the world, rather than an individual. Some people consider Jupiter and Saturn as sort of a bridge between the personal and generational planets and have qualities of both.

Uranus: The planet of innovation. What will this generation bring to the table that’s brand new? What unexpected inventions or movement will this generation throw into the limelight? These are the grand schemes and ideas that will shake the world. In order to achieve something like this, there will be a lot of trial and error, which means there will be a lot of unforeseen pitfalls as well. It also can predict mental health issues that are prominent in each generation. On the smaller scale, people with heavy Uranus influence in their chart with have a zany, somewhat chaotic ingenuity about them expressed in a manner determined by its sign. As with all generational planets, people who have more Uranus influence than others will be more directly involved in the innovation the generation creates.

Neptune: The planet of inspiration and illusion. Neptune is the dreams and fantasies of the collective consciousness. While Uranus brings forward the game changing innovation, Neptune expresses new hopes for the future. Uranus is the cause, Neptune is the effect this generation will have on the future, even (and especially) after they are gone. Which parts of history will be remembered; which will be forgotten? Which will be made up, and which will be purposely omitted? Even though it’s a generational planet, it does affect some people more than others which then spills over into their personality. People who have heavy Neptune influence are in tune with the butterfly effect their every action could cause, specifically in areas ruled by its sign. They are dreamers, and idealists, thinking in terms of the big picture. They have big hearts and heavy escapist tendencies.

Pluto: The planet of transformation and rebirth. Pluto is interesting in that it represents the wheel of time that humanity cycles through again and again. Each generation plays a particular role in this cycle. Some generations are meant to take advantage of the established society for personal gain (*cough* baby boomers *cough*), while the following generation must spend their entire time in the spotlight cleaning up the mess that the previous generation left for them (sorry Gen X…). Some generations are Pluto’s favorite playthings and must burn down the old world (that’s us millennials), so the next generation can lead the new world out of its ashes (that’s all you Gen Z). People with heavy Pluto influence will play a more direct role in the world’s transformation and will have highly experimental, progressive tendencies, and will spend a lot of their time having an existential crisis (literally every millennial since Pluto was in its own sign for us).


Level 3

“I have calculated my own natal chart and understand the meanings of all or most of the signs and planets”

Houses: 12 segments that encircle the Earth. Similar to the 12 segments of the sky where the 30 degree segments are called zodiac signs, but the two exist independently of each other, and the houses are not necessarily equal in size. No matter where you are on the globe, the 30 degrees directly below eastern horizon as it appears to you will always be the first house. The only thing that changes is which of the zodiac signs is located directly below the eastern horizon, which changes every few hours or so. Because the houses change signs so quickly, exact time and location of birth or other event are necessary to provide accurate readings. The houses are just as important as the planets in a natal chart, and can change the overall tone of a natal report. However because it requires more precision to calculate the houses than the planetary birth chart alone, it can be omitted from a report. Unless you have at least a general idea of the hour and place of your birth, it’s best to skip the house report entirely and stick to the planets.

House Cusp: The first degree of a house. The sign that it falls under in a natal chart is that house’s sign, regardless if some or most of the house is in a different sign.

Planetary House: The house that a given planet is in at a particular time and place

Midhaven (MC): The 10th house cusp. It can also be called the medium coeli, which means ‘middle of the sky’. It represents a person’s career and is one of the most important houses. It is directly across from the imum coeli.

Descendent: The 7th house cusp. It represents the important relationships in your life. It is directly across from the ascendent.

Imum coeli (IC): The 4th house cusp. Literally translated, it means ‘bottom of the sky’ and it deals with your home life. It is directly opposite the medium coeli.

Aspects: The angle, or number of degrees apart, that planets form with other planets and house cusps in comparison with each other, which represents the relationship between those planets and houses.

Orb: How exact an aspect is. For example, an exact trine is when a planet is 120 degrees from another planet or house cusp, but anywhere between 111 and 129 may still be considered a trine depending on the astrologer. The orb is the absolute value between the measured distance and the exact degrees of an aspect. Two planets that are 126 degrees apart would be Trine to each other with an orb of 6. The smaller the orb, the stronger the aspect.

Conjunct: The aspect that occurs when a planet on a natal report, synastry report, or transit report is within approximately 10 degrees of another planet or house cusp. An exact conjunction would be if the planets were 0 degrees apart. It is usually interpreted as a challenging aspect that could be either positive or negative depending on the signs, houses, and planets involved.

Opposition: The aspect that occurs when a planet on a natal report, synastry report, or transit report is directly across (approx. 180 degrees) from another planet or house cusp. 170-190 degrees can still be considered in opposition. This is a challenging aspect that causes tension between the planets, houses, and signs involved. It can be turned into a positive or negative aspect depending on how it is utilized.

Trine: The aspect that occurs when a planet on a natal report, synastry report, or transit report is approximately 120 degrees from another planet or house cusp. 111-129 degrees could still be considered a trine. This is a flowing aspect, meaning the planets, houses, and signs involved relate to each other harmoniously. This is usually positive, however it can sometimes signify lack of motivation or laziness in the areas involved.

Sextile: The aspect that occurs when a planet on a natal report, synastry report, or transit report is approximately 60 degrees apart, or half of a trine, from another planet or house cusp. Objects can still be considered in sextile when they are between 54-66 degrees apart. This is a harmonious aspect, although it is not as strong as a trine, and suggests that the areas of life represented by the planets and houses involved tend to occur hand-in-hand. Usually positive with a few exceptions

Square: The aspect that occurs when a planet on a natal report, synastry report, or transit report is approximately 90 degrees away from another planet or house cusp. 81-99 degrees could still be considered a square. This is a challenging aspect. It causes tension between the planets and house cusps involved. It is usually interpreted as a negative aspect, but sometimes can simply mean excitement or intrigue.


Level 4

“I’ve pretty much got natal chart interpretation down.”


Synastry: The branch of astrology that deals with compatibility between two people. Usually involves overlaying the charts on top of one another and calculating the aspects between the two charts, but there are several other methods.


Transits: The current position of the planets, houses, and signs based on your location.


Transiting aspects: Aspects that transiting planets or house cusps form with your natal chart should they be overlayed. Used for predictive astrology.


Level 5+

“I’m at least familiar with most or all branches of astrology”

That’s awesome! Feel free check out my weekly blog posts for more in-depth astrological exploration 🙂

That’s it for the basic terms! There are a few important terms I did not include, however I will be exploring them deeper in upcoming posts so don’t worry, they’ll be covered! There is much MUCH more to astrology than the terms I outlined for you here. It can be daunting to learn a new subject from scratch, but hopefully this can help you ease in. Most of my posts will not require that much prior knowledge to understand, however I’ll tag each post with the “level” of astrological knowledge that I would recommend knowing to get the most out of your reading.

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