top of page

The Real Meaning of the Zodiac in Modern Times - Part 1

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Art by Andy Kehoe -

Astrology is a very old science, possibly the oldest of them all, but it is today a very different discipline from the one which spread among cultures of the past, when it was mostly a tool for protection against overpowering natural forces. Ancient societies were observing the regular changes of moving bodies in the sky and their parallels in the natural environment. Very early they came to realize that everything which periodically changes, while following an evident pattern, can be used to time and predict future events. The realm of the stars has been sparkling Man’s imagination and curiosity for millennia, even more than it does today, but for a very different reason. Throughout the ages, human beings’ main preoccupation had been to come on top in the fight against the elements if they were to ensure physical survival. Thus, for the most of its history, astrology has been valued mostly for its capacity (as speculative as it still is) to ‘tell the future’. Calamity could be avoided if there was a means to know when to expect it and in what shape and form. And for the most part, astrology often provided such means.

Today, however, we live in a new era, in a time when the focus is shifting rapidly from the urge to satisfy basic biological needs (food, shelter, sex, material security) to the realization that self-actualization and participation in harmonious human relationships is the new ‘leitmotif’ of the times. Individual happiness, self-knowledge, channelling of personal abilities and one’s unique potential, building personality both through self-initiated action and as part of couples or groups… For the younger generations these are no longer merely abstract concepts. They seem to be naturally tuned to the idea of self-exploration and integration in society as conscious individuals. Maybe that’s because many have witnessed through the confusion of their parents the first definitive signs of the now general realization that material prosperity can be no substitute for real personal development. Adaptability today means more than learning practical skills and accumulating money and possessions. It requires a genuine interest in oneself and others, as well as an openness to constant change. Nowadays, men and women face new challenges, mostly psychological ones, and seek to explore and understand life beyond the surface of the material world. The problem is that they are not, in the most part, well equipped to do so.

Here is where contemporary, person-centred astrology, modernized and reformulated in the writings of the prominent philosopher Dane Rudhyar can, and eventually will, enter the picture. It is the astrological equivalent to the popular ‘Third Force’ in psychology and presents a system of thought in which the Zodiac is also revealed to be a model of the most basic cyclic processes, one that is closely interlinked with the Seasons of the year. What stands behind the meaning and characteristics of each zodiac sign is its particular place in the big cycle of the seasonal changes which every living organism on the planet experiences personally and directly. The Zodiac itself is a symbolic concept, which illustrates a unifying factor, a shared environment which affects everyone and everything on Earth with its ever-repeating rhythm. It provides common ground but also differentiates by revealing how the same basic energies exist in unique combinations in every individual.

It takes a truly modern approach to astrology to comprehend the real meaning of the 12-sign Tropical Zodiac which still remains largely unknown, despite the increasing mainstream interest in astrological studies. Among astrologers of today, still too great an emphasis is being placed on archaic concepts taken directly from ancient astrological text books and applied mechanically, often using too complicated technical terms. Most are completely out of touch with the needs of the present day and age. And what is worse, astrological positions, signs, houses and aspects are often labelled positive or negative, benefic or malefic, while in reality they are neutral or embody, as a minimum, dualistic meanings.

In contrast to the popular ‘black or white’, ‘right or wrong, ‘good or bad’ attitude, the true value of astrology is in its study of natural recurring cycles, where its real essence lies. The Zodiac itself can be called the ‘aura’ of the Earth, an imaginary division in 12 equal sections of the space through which we observe the Sun moving in relationship to our planet during the year. Of course, it is not the Sun that moves around the Earth, but the other way around, though for people on Earth the observable ‘truth’ is quite the opposite. This is what is meant by Geocentric astrology, in which every moving body in the Galaxy appears to be revolving around our centre of existence. This was the only type of astronomy and astrology that ancients knew of.

Scientific advances in the last century, especially space travel, have revealed the absurdity of people’s common perception of the Cosmos. Heliocentric astronomy and astrology now concentrate on the place of the Earth within the larger scheme of our Solar System, the centre of which is the Sun. Since only very recently and for the first time ever were people able to see the Earth as if from a distance (note the great popularity of the Globe symbol in all sorts of advertising and publicity since the 90s after first space photos were distributed in the media). Many previously enigmatic natural phenomena have received scientific explanation and people reason about them. Still, we are getting more and more alienated from the actual fact of living in nature and as integral parts of it.

We are no longer as acutely aware of the seasonal changes as people once were. Life in big cities with provisions for warmth in the winter and sufficient food throughout the year, has blurred our perception of the varying rhythm and distinct processes in the natural environment. But if observed closer, natural phenomena such as the germination, growth and decay of vegetation, are a grand display of a series of cyclic changes which also apply to the gradual physical, mental and emotional development of a human being. Rudhyar writes that ‘the experience of seasonal change is basic for man. Greatly creative cultures seem to have developed mostly where the change was deeply marked.

Spring and autumn equinoxes, summer and winter solstices. These are the four major turning points in the yearly journey of the Earth around the Sun. In astrology they come under the names of, respectively – Aries, Libra, Cancer and Capricorn. When the Sun enters Aries and Libra at the equinoxes, it sets exactly on the West. But at that point in the spring, it starts setting higher and higher (to the North) every day until it comes to its peak in the middle of summer, where it enters Cancer (the Summer Solstice). At the autumn equinox, days and nights are equal again and the Sun sets exactly on the West for the second time in the year. Then, we see it more and more to the South as the nights get longer and the days shorter until it reaches its lowest setting point while observed from the Northern Hemisphere, entering the sign Capricorn (the Winter Solstice).

In Western astrology (which differs from that of other cultures, like the Chinese and Indian), the 4 seasonal turning points, also called Cardinal, are symbolized by the 4 elements of nature – Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

Fire – Aries (Spring Equinox) – the period of most intense organic growth in nature, germination. Fire is the animating principle, a symbol of initiation, vitality, forward motion; commonly appears as intense, emotional expression of individuality.

Water – Cancer (Summer Solstice) – organic grown reaches its peak. The accent is on universality and accumulation of concentrated energy, which is emotional, sensory, unconscious and creative. The water element as it appears in Cancer represents the principle of assimilation in nature, all metabolic, digestive processes.

Air – Libra (Fall Equinox) – the balancing principle of adaptability; it refers to the power of the intellect and the capacity to make connections and integrate differing factors for the sake of collective goals. This is the end of the process of organic growth and what is now important is the preservation of seeds, only the very essence of what will remain to be preserved from vegetation.

Earth – Capricorn (Winter Solstice) – from that point a new cycle of organic growth is expected to begin, seeds planted in the soil waiting for the next spring equinox, when only some will germinate; it is the principle of consolidation and stability. The earth element is concerned with the practical, mundane affairs that provide a sense of ‘common ground’ between members of the same group or society.

Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn are the 4 different channels through which the first, biological, ‘Life’ force manifests itself in nature and in living organisms. Each is a culmination point of a 4-fold process, the phases of which can be associated with early childhood (Aries), young age (Cancer), maturity (Libra) and old age (Capricorn). Still, there are 8 more intermediary phases which will repeat twice (2x4) the cycle of the fire, water, air and earth at other 2 levels of human existence. All that to be explored in the soon-to-follow Part 2.

…to be continued…


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page