Before we get started, there is a term I must define. A glyph (rhymes with “cliff”) is a simple visual symbol or pictograph. Two glyphs that you may already by familiar with are the glyphs for Mars and Venus.
These have been repurposed as the symbols for male and female in modern Western culture.
We’ll be discussing the planets later, for now we’re going to keep it to the zodiac.
For every zodiac sign, I’ll be describing its general symbology, nature, and attributes. Just like the elements the zodiac signs have layers of meaning, and you will most likely never stop deepening your understanding of their symbolic interplay. A book could be written on each zodiac sign. Here, I’ll just be giving you some ground to stand on in terms of understanding each sign, as well as the system as a whole.
Just so you know, some constellations and Zodiac signs have been associated with the same images for thousands of years, such as Aries and Taurus, while others have varied across time. As this is just a preliminary introduction, we won’t be going too far into this.
We’ll start with the first Zodiac sign: Aries.
Aries is the ram. Its glyph is an image of ram’s horns:
It holds the honor of being the first zodiac sign on the wheel.
Time wise, Aries begins at the spring equinox. Symbolically, it is extremely appropriate that Aries comes in spring. Aries is all about creation, power, birth, and beginnings. This isn’t a gentle creation, I tend to think of Aries as the big bang sign. It is the unbridled, undirected explosion of energy that is ultimately capable of anything, yet it is so powerful that it is almost impossible to direct.
The zodiac sign Aries is named after the Greek god of war Aries, who was so powerful that some Greeks were afraid of building Aries temples too close to the city. Aries is the Greek equivalent of Mars, so the sign also shares most of its symbolism with Mars: power, war, conflict, strength, all with a dab of unpredictability. Aries is often associated with fire, for obvious reasons.
Key words for Aries would be activity, quick, initiating, and dynamic.
Taurus is the bull. It is the second zodiac sign. Taurus shares most of its symbolism with the bull: it is slow, powerful, and earthy.
Taurus’s glyph is a bull’s head with horns:
If Aries is the explosive creative energy of the universe, Taurus is the power that is able to take that energy and actually direct it in some way. In fact, an ox with a yoke plowing a field would be a perfect image for Taurus.
Taurus is also the sign most associated with the Earth. It is stable and solid, unlike its predecessor, Aries. It is also fertile and fecund, like the Earth. Non-coincidentally Taurus comes in the spring.
Taurus as a Zodiac sign is often about the power needed to navigate the physical world, it is also associated with the physical world itself.
Gemini is the twins. Its glyph is two in Roman numerals, or two pillars standing side by side:
It is the third zodiac sign and the last spring sign.
The twins are a perfect image for Gemini. Gemini is dual, often alternating between two poles. It can be capricious, mysterious, and elusive for this reason.
Gemini is also associated with the air, and shares many symbolic aspects with air: it is transitory, shifting, intellectual, abstract, and communicative.
Gemini is often associated with intelligence and being quick witted or clever. It is also a sign of communication, so it is associated with eloquence.
When depicted, Gemini is most often shown as two twins, sometimes one is black and one is white (this is in an alchemical and non-racial sense) emphasizing the dual nature of this sign. Gemini is the sign of opposites, be they polarized, or temporarily mixed together.
Cancer is the crab (here, I’ve used a lobster, as I’m posting a set of illustrations from the 1400s, and in some times and places, they used a lobster instead of a crab. They have a similar symbolic character). It is the fourth zodiac sign. Its glyph is sometimes said to be two crab claws:
It can also be seen as two interlocking spirals, which we will discuss momentarily (perfectly suits Cancer’s nature as a sign of new beginnings).
In Western occult, the deep ocean is often a symbol for the subconscious, so animals like the crab that live at the floor of the ocean are often associated with delving deep into the subconscious mind. You may remember that the element of water itself is also associated with the subconscious. Like water, cancer is changeable and fluid.
The crab was often said to have the ability to regenerate its claw if one was lost. Cancer shares this notion of possessing a dark and powerful regeneration and healing. Cancer is also the only zodiac sign ruled by the moon, and it shares many qualities with the moon: mystical, emotional, fertile, and subconscious. Cancer is the moon’s ambassador on the zodiac.
Cancer’s glyph is sometimes said to have originated as two interlocking spirals, like this:
This idea of interlocking spirals perfectly embodies Cancer’s relationship to new beginnings and growth.
Key words for Cancer would be: the moon, water, healing, emotion, subconscious, and growth.
Leo is the lion. It is the second summer sign. Its glyph can be seen as a very abstract that is mostly head and tail:
Leo shares most of its symbolism with the lion. It is regal, powerful, strong, courageous, and righteous. As Cancer is the Moon’s sign on the zodiac, Leo is the sun’s sign: it is the sun’s ambassador on the zodiac wheel. It also shares most of the symbolic qualities of the sun: radiant, regal, and glorious.
Leo is like an earthly king. If Leo was a metal, it would be gold. If Leo was a part of our body it would be your heart. That is not to say that Leo is better, higher than, or more important than any of the other zodiac signs. For example, in a negative sense, Leo can be associated with pompousness, an over-inflated ego, and arrogance.
Leo is often related to the life force, to the fire that burns inside of you and all creatures. Like Aries, Leo is associated with fire. It is appropriate that Leo comes in mid to late summer: a bold, bright, and beautiful time of year.
Virgo is the sign of the maiden. It is generally alleged that its glyph developed from a greek word for virgin, but I can’t confirm that as a fact here:
In my personal work I use the second one because it’s cooler (in my opinion) so that’s what we’ll be using here. People should recognize either.
Virgo comes after Leo at the end of the summer, the time for the harvest. Virgo shares many symbolic qualities with the harvest, namely abundance, fertility, and sustenance. When depicted, Virgo is invariably shown as a maiden with wheat.
Virgo also shares qualities with its namesake, the virgin, in that it is strongly associated with physical or spiritual purity. A very intelligent, scholastic, chaste, and beautiful girl would be an excellent earthly embodiment of Virgo.
Virgo is the sign of physical, intellectual, or spiritual fertility. It is the sign of positive growth. It is the sign of harvesting the fruits of your labor.
Virgo is also the sign of methodical action. Some Zodiac signs relate to the subconscious (Cancer) or impulse (Aries), Virgo is the cool and calculating nature of the rational intellect. This is conveyed in its symbol of wheat, as wheat is something that can only be obtained through precise planning and accurate follow through, yet it is also necessary to sustain civilization. In this sense Virgo is the higher nature of the discriminating and analytical intellect that makes life on Earth possible.
Libra is the sign of the scales. Its glyph is a balanced pair of scales:
It is appropriate then that Libra comes at the fall equinox, when the day and night are of equal length. It also makes sense that Libra begins at the fall equinox, because Libra is the opposite of Aires, which begins at the spring equinox.
Libra is the sign of balance and harmonic dualities. Gemini is the dynamic interplay of opposites, Libra is those opposites brought to equilibrium. It is stable, well constructed, and refined.
Libra also, as the scales, relates to justice. As a sign it reflects the nobler pursuits of man, and the higher aspects of society. Libra is the sign of the more essential, beautiful, and refined aspects of civilization: museums, righteous governments, universities, etc.
In the individual it relates to our higher and more noble endeavors. Theology, philosophy, science, all of the intellectual arts relate to Libra in some way. In terms of action Libra would be the work that benefits others, and raises society and the individual to a higher plane. A noble judge or a refined but sensual or worldy scholar would be an excellent earthly manifestations of Libra. If the Zodiac signs were kings, Libra would be a king that sought peace at any cost.
Libra is associated with the air, and thus retains the more refined qualities of air, such as eloquence and communication, for example. As I’ve been extremely kind to Libra here so far, I’ll balance this out by saying that the negative manifestations of Libra usually have to do with stagnation and being overly passive: the downside of a system that has reached a state of equilibrium.
Scorpio is the sign of the scorpion. Its glyph is an abstract scorpion and its tail with a stinger:
Sometimes it’s drawn this way:
Scorpio was given the sign of the scorpion because it was said that the scorpion’s tail could kill any animal, but that the scorpion often accidentally struck and killed itself. This perfectly embodies the nature of Scorpio: it is an extremely concentrated power that is so intense it can often be dangerous, even to the one who wields it. Yet, if it is properly refined and controlled it is almost unstoppable.
Scorpio has a kinship with the mad scientist archetype. It also has a resonance with the tortured artist archetype: creative geniuses who were driven mad by their own visionary capacity.
This is not to make Scorpio out to be a dark or evil sign, but Scorpio is the zodiac sign with the most refined relationship to the apparently darker aspects of life.
This has its place in nature as well. Scorpio relates to substances like datura, which can heal in small doses and kill in larger doses. Things like putrefaction, death, and rebirth also fall under Scorpio. In some Christian interpretations of the Zodiac, Libra is the sign of Christ’s crucifixion, and Scorpio is the sign of his resurrection.
This idea of rebirth also related to the lesser used symbol of Scorpio, an eagle. Rarely, Scorpio will be directly associated with the phoenix (the eagle is often an analogue for the phoenix in Western occult, especially in modernity).
Like the phoenix, Scorpio directly embodies this death and rebirth, which can obviously be spiritual as well as physical.
Sagittarius is the sign of the archer centaur. Its glyph is his arrow crossing the string of a bow:
As Sagittarius is a half man half animal, this sign is all about using the intellect and understanding to transcend boundaries. The arrow is pointing upwards moving through another (often horizontal) line because this sign is all about our higher impulse to always move forward and be reaching up, always growing, primarily in a mental or spiritual sense. It is also significant that the glyph for Sagittarius is an arrow, a man made object, born from a fusion of nature and his intellect. In its image, the centaur, we can see that Sagittarius is the noble aspects of man married to the free and wild nature of the horse.
Sagittarius is one of the signs associated with fire on the Zodiac wheel. It is the final fire sign, so it represents the higher and more refined aspects of fire. It is the tendency of fire to reach up, and push boundaries. It is the fire of the refined mind, the light of the intellect that illuminates and understands.
Sagittarius has a drive behind it that is often related to idealism. In alchemy Sagittarius is related to the process of incineration, where the physical aspects of a substance are burned away. Sagittarius also represents this aspect of fire, the fire that burns away the lower aspects, leaving only that which is higher and more refined. Key words for Sagittarius would be fire, regal, intellect, understanding, idealism, drive, and transcending boundaries.
Capricorn is the sign of the mountain goat or goat-fish. It’s glyph is an abstract goat with a fish tail:
We’ll use the second one, but you should recognize both.
Capricorn is the initiator of the mysteries. It is the last earth sign on the wheel, it is the dark and secluded parts of the earth that hold secrets and riches for those that dare to travel there. The mountain goat is an ideal embodiment of Capricorn because though it is chained to the earth, it still ascends the mountain, constantly climbing higher and higher into the upper realms. For this reason Capricorn has a special relationship to the archetype of the hierophant, the keeper of the esoteric mysteries.
Also like the mountain goat, Capricorn is hard working, serious ambitions, and pragmatic. This is different than the hard work of Taurus because this work is being directed upwards into the higher realms.
Capricorn certainly has a darker edge to it, just like Scorpio, and many of the pagan or esoteric goat based deities such as Pan or Baphomet (we’ll discuss these later) are often associated with Capricorn.
Capricorn’s other symbol, aside from the mountain goat, is the half goat half fish. Usually it looks something like this:
This may come to us from an ancient Mesopotamian deity, but its origin is somewhat lost to time. This creature also embodies Capricorn because it is strange, esoteric, and enigmatic. We’ve previously discussed that animals that can dive into water represent delving into the subconscious, that aspect of Capricorn is nicely embodied here by this half fish creature.
In alchemy, Capricorn is related to fermentation. This slightly off-putting death based transformation process that produces something beautiful, healing, and elegant is a perfect representation of Capricorn. Fermentation also usually happens in a secluded or dark place, often underground: the domain of Capricorn.
Capricorn is the first winter sign. Winter is a perfect season for Capricorn because it is mysterious, dark, and contemplative. The longest night of the year, the winter solstice, happens in Capricorn.
Aquarius is the sign of the water bringer. Its glyph is two waves of water
Aquarius is invariably depicted as a man bringing water, usually pouring this water out. This is in the context of water being essential to life, as Aquarius is the sign of one who is a redeemer, a healer, a prophet. If we were looking at the Zodiac from a christian context, Aquarius would be the sign for Christ himself. It would also be the sign for any other monumental person who has come with the intention of enlightening their society and those around them.
Redemption is a big aspect of the Aquarius sign. Appropriately, it comes near the end, just before the whole wheel resets (it is the second to last sign).
This is the water Aquarius is bringing: redemption and life. Aside from being the water that is needed to sustain life, it is also the water in which the soul is cleansed. It is symbolically the baptismal waters that wash away the stains of the past.
Despite being depicted with water, Aquarius is actually an air sign and has many of the higher qualities of the air element: intelligence, eloquence, and imagination.
Aquarius is the image of the refined individual who has solidified and discovered his true nature. In an individual the Aquarius impulse might manifest as imagination, scientific endeavors, or charity. In a negative sense it might be associated with a hyper idealism that can make it into an aloof extremist.
I like to think of Aquarius as the final non-abstract culmination of the Zodiac before the final and ultimately mysterious sign of Pisces. Aquarius is the hand reaching out through the veil, where as Pisces, the final sign, kind of is the veil itself. It makes sense that Aquarius comes near the end of the Zodiac wheel for this reason. Key words for Aquarius would be altruistic, benevolent, and redemptive.
Pisces is the sign of the two fish. Its glyph is two fish tethered together:
Pisces is the final Zodiac sign, so in a sense it is the culmination of the zodiac. Pisces in a sense is the complete mystery of life and the universe embodied in a single sign. It is symbolic that Pisces is two creatures, it is like two harmonious halves forming a complete whole.
We’ve established the fact that the ocean often represents the subconcious mind, and animals with the ability to dive deep into the water represent traveling into the deepest, least illuminated aspects of the mind. This must be true for the fish of Pisces.
Something is mysterious if it refuses to collapse into our typical models of understanding, even upon close examination. This is the mystery that Pisces embodies: the fundamental nature of life which is omnipresent yet enigmatic, plainly there yet impossible to describe. It is fitting then that Pisces comes after Aquarius, the sign of the revelatory teacher – this mysterious nature of life and the universe is often the subject of great teachings by prophets and wise men.
Pisces is the final water sign on the wheel, and it shares most of the positive and refined qualities of water: deep, changeable, intuitive, subconscious, and understanding. Pisces is the instinctual intuitive, and positive impulse which is somehow found everywhere in the universe.
It is extremely fitting that Pisces is a sign that embodies the nature of the universe, as it comes last on the wheel. Its more passive side is almost like the canvas onto which the new spark of Aries may paint itself. Pisces non-coincidentally comes at the time of year when winter is just beginning to release into spring.
Now that you’re casually familiar with each Zodiac sign, you can use the image below to get more familiar with the signs, to learn their order, and to cement the zodiac wheel in your mind.