Symbols are difficult to understand — there is no one-to-one correspondence between various symbols and English words, or even English concepts. You need to work with symbols a while to get a feel for what they mean. Below I will list some basic concepts or keywords that will hopefully give you a handle on what these symbols mean. These are just beginning concepts and as you work with them you will understand the symbols better.
The planes are the basic astrological symbols, so they should be understood the best. The planets are divided into four group that are based on their distance from the Earth and their speed of motion. In general, faster moving planets have a more limited, shorter-lasting effect, and slower moving planets have a more deep, longer-lasting effect.
We will be exploring the planets within two realms, the personal and the collective — that is within the world, and so each planet will have different but related meaning depending which realm is being discussed.
The Sun and Moon are referred to as the lights, to differentiate them from the other planets. They form, obviously, a pair, and so their meanings are related to one another. The Sun represents the conscious mind, the will, the left brain. On the other hand, the Moon represents the unconscious mind, the receiving side of the personality, the right brain. Traditionally, the Sun represented men and the Moon women. But both men and women have a Sun and a Moon.
In dealing with countries, the Sun represents the government and especially the president, while the Moon represents the People, the citizens of the country
The Personal Planets
These are the three planets closest to the Earth: Mercury, Venus, and Mars. Clearly Venus and Mars represent a pair, and they have traditionally been associated, respectively, with women and men. Mercury is considered gender neutral, showing that both men and women have Mercury function.
Mercury travels fastest around the Sun, and never get very far away from it, as seen from the Earth. It represents the Mind, the process of thinking and communication. When speaking about countries, Mercury represents media, the press, radio, television, and the Internet.
Venus is the planet nearest the Earth but within the Earth’s orbit. It represents how we relate to others, the connection with other people, how we seek peace, harmony, relationship. For a country, Venus is diplomacy and diplomats, the side of our foreign policy that is non-violent.
Mars is the planet closest the Earth outside its orbit. It is active energy, how we get the things that Venus wants. For a country, this is soldiers and war, how the country goes about getting want it wants other than by diplomacy.
The Social Planets
These are Jupiter and Saturn, and again they form a pair. In Persian astrology the cycle of Jupiter and Saturn, from conjunction to conjunction — twenty years — ruled the rise and fall of kings. This cycle has always had a connection with political matters. In modern times, the conjunction — like a New Moon — occurs about the beginning of an even decade — 1900, 1920,1940, 1960 — and the opposition — like a Full Moon — occurs about the beginning of an odd decade — 1910, 1930, 1950, 1970. One can see how the first decade, eg the Twenties seem like the growth of something, and the second decade eg the Thirties, is like the unwinding of the things developed in the first decade.
Jupiter is enthusiasm, expansion, growth, good fortune. Traditionally Jupiter is considered very good luck, because people consider growth and success as always good, but remember that too much growth is cancer. Growth without restrain is not good at all, something that too many people forget. Jupiter without limits would expand to fill the Universe. On a wider basis Jupiter symbolizes capitalism, an economic system that always wants More.
Saturn is the opposite. It rules limits, definition, restraint, authority, the material world. Saturn without a counterbalance would shrink to a dot. Saturn is traditionally considered very bad but obviously we all need some Saturn to avoid getting out of control.
The Transpersonal Planets
These three planets, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto were the only ones discovered in recorded history, Uranus in the Eighteenth Century, Neptune in the Nineteenth Century, and Pluto in the Twentieth Century. Their meaning are more abstract than those of the other planets and are more involved with long term trends than the others. Their meanings are associated with the time of their discovery.
Uranus signifies individuation, rebellion, revolution, the rational mind. It is considered a Higher Octave of Mercury. It was discovered with a telescope in the Age of Reason. It is Promethean in nature.
Neptune is watery as would be suggested by its name. It can be seen as a Higher Octave of Venus. It rules the unseen word of spirit, religion, it is not rational. If manifested positively, difficult for most individuals, it can represent empathy and understand of others, a sort of universal love where all humans are the same. In a negative manifestation, it can represent illusion, denial, mistakes. Neptune was discovered when spiritualism became popular in the United States, ether began to be used medically, and the Theosophical Society was formed.
Pluto was discovered in the Thirties when gangsters, fascism, and atomic reactions were coming to the fore. It represents things beyond our control, the Collective Unconscious, things from the Underworld. Pluto is Transformation.
Harmonic charts are like a magnifier – they allow you to see things in more detail but they don’t add anything that isn’t already there.
A harmonic is a small number – 1,2,3…. To produce a harmonic chart all you do is multiply all positions by the harmonic. Since a circle is only 360°, any multiples of 360 are removed from the total. For example if you have a position of 10 Sagittarius, which is 250 degrees from 0 Aries you multiply by 4 to give 1000 but since this is over 360 it is reduced to 1000-2*360 or 280 which is 10 Capricorn. So 10 Capricorn is the fourth harmonic position of 10 Sagittarius.
The normal chart is the first harmonic chart. Each aspect in this first harmonic chart is based on a small number , for example the trine is 120 degrees which is one-third of 360° so that the trine is a harmonic 3 aspect. Likewise the square is 90°, one-fourth of a circle, so it is a fourth harmonic aspect.
In a given harmonic chart, aspects of that harmonic (as well as harmonics that evenly divide it) show up as conjunctions, so that in a fourth harmonic chart squares (4), oppositions (2), and conjunctions (1) (in the first harmonic chart) all appear to be conjunctions.
I use harmonic orbs, such that the orb for any harmonic aspect is the orb of a conjunction divided by the harmonic, so if you choose 12º as the orb for a conjunction the orb for a trine — a harmonic three aspect — is 4º, that is 12 divided by 3, and the orb for a square is 3º.
One advantage of a harmonic chart is it allows you to see aspects that are normally hidden. The most common harmonic chart, other than the first, is the fourth, also called a 90-degree dial in German schools. In this fourth harmonic chart, squares are actually semi-octiles, that is odd multiples of 22½° such as 22½, 67½, 112½, 157½º and semisquare/sesquiquadrates are odd multiples of 11¼º. All these are hard aspects and are as potent as others if the orbs are small enough. That is the beauty of using harmonic orbs, the aspects shown in a harmonic chart will always be the correct ones for that harmonic chart. In other words if a very minor aspect in a harmonic chart appears tight, it will be just as tight in the first harmonic chart.
An ephemeris is just a list of the positions of the planets every day. A graphical ephemeris is an image – graph – with the positions plotted in the vertical (Y) axis and the date plotted on the horizontal (X) axis. Then the positions of the transiting planets appear as curved lines since they change position through time. One can also plot the positions of the planets in a natal chart in a graphical ephemeris and these will be straight horizontal lines since their positions do not change. Where two lines intersect a conjunction occurs.
Looking at just conjunctions is not especially interesting. But if we combine a graphical ephemeris with harmonics we can see other aspects by line crossings. For example, in a fourth harmonic graphical ephemeris, the most common, line crossings represent conjunctions, oppositions, and squares.
The image above gives you an indication of the meaning of various parts of the display. The graphical ephemeris display shows a period of time — in this case one year, indicated at the bottom center left of the darker center vertical line, and vertical lines indicate sub-periods — in this case 30.0 days — as indicated bottom center to the right of the vertical line. Each vertical line has its date indicated at the bottom. There are 12 bands horizontally across the display, alternating grey and white. The width of each band is indicated on the top of the two lines at the bottom, to the left of center. In this case it is 7.5º . Next to that figure is the distance indicated by each tick on the vertical bar — it this case each tick represents one degree. Note that every fifth tick is longer. These figures allow you to estimate orb when lines come close together. In this case we can see that on June 16, 2014 (the center line date) transiting Neptune comes within one and a third degrees of natal Uranus. The aspect can be either a conjunction, opposition, or square.
Aspects are the angular distance between two points. They range from 0° to 180° since we always measure the smallest arc separation. The most used aspects are the conjunction, hard aspect, and soft aspects. The conjunction can be considered the mother of all aspects, since the harmonic number of all aspects is divisible by 1, the harmonic number for the conjunction. Hard aspects have an harmonic number that is two or octaves – that is doubling – of two, that is 2 – opposition – 4 – square – 8 – octile – and so forth. Notice that with the octile there are two variants, the semisquare which is 45° or one-eighth of a circle, and the sesquiquadrate (technically a trioctile) which is 135° or three-eighths of a circle. Hard aspects can be considered overt – you notice them, they force their presence on you, they can not be ignored. They have a reputation as difficult, since people do not like to be forced to do anything. The soft aspects have a harmonic number of three or octaves of three such as 3 – trine – 6 – sextile or 12. There are two varieties of the twelfth harmonic aspects called semisextile – 30° – which is one-twelfth of a circle, and the quinqunx – 150° – which is five-twelfth of a circle. These aspects suggest energies — the two planets involved — that do not work together easily, that some adjustment is needed. Soft aspects can be considered covert – you may not notice that they are there, they don’t force themselves on you, they are just a gift, good or bad. They have a reputation as easy, because people can just sit back and not take action and so enjoy what they may perceive a a gift.
Note that this is not the standard definition of houses given by most astrologers.
Houses are a means of dividing the circle from a given point into a number of segments to aid in analysis of the point. The most common number used for houses is twelve and eight. The eight-fold division is use in, for example, lunar phases as the astrologer Dane Rudhyar in his book The Lunation Cycle where the beginning point is the Sun. The most widely recognized twelve-fold house system is the signs of the zodiac, where the beginning point is the first point of Aries, that is the Vernal Equinox. In the mundane sphere the houses are twelve and usually start at the Ascendant. Since it is relatively seldom that the Midheaven and Ascendant are exactly 90 degrees — three houses — apart, and the fact that both are important points, means that many astrologers uses quadrant based house systems that include both Ascendant and Midheaven points. There is a big controversy among astrologers about which house system is correct, but since they all are just approximations of a system based on the Midheaven and one based one the Ascendant, that is two different house systems, such arguments are futile.
Note that the above argument implies that a house system can be based on any point (as followers of the Hamburg School or Uranian astrology do) and that there c an be any number of houses, not just eight or twelve, but convention requires only twelve or sometimes eight, though usually eight-fold house systems are not recognized as houses.
Reinhold Ebertin was a well know German astrologer from a family of astrologers — his mother was and his son is an astrologer. He developed cosmobiology, based on the German Hamburg (or Uranian) school of astrology that uses basically midpoints. His masterwork is The Combination of Stellar Influences (CSI) which was first published in 1940. It is the most sophisticated astrological cookbook that I am familar with, with short phrases for each point, pair of points, and triplicities of points. Each phrase is a jewel, and I will often quote him as a starting point and to indicate I am not just making things up at random. I would recommend that everyone have a copy.