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What are Zodiac Signs?
The zodiac is divided into 12 signs, each 30 degrees long. The cycle of zodiac signs starts with Aries, which begins at the spot on the ecliptic where the Sun is on the first day of spring. These 30 degree sections of the sky are actually blocks of space, not time. Zodiac signs are often confused in the popular mind with "sun signs". When a person says, "I'm an Aries!” what they're really saying is they were born at a time of the year when the Sun is in the zodiac sign of Aries.
Because our calendar is designed to mimic the motions of the Sun around the zodiac, the Sun is in Aries at nearly the same time period each year (roughly March 20th or 21st to April 19th or 20th). Hence the 12 sun signs are like months of a calendar based on the zodiac. They represent time, not space. The motions of the other planets through the zodiac signs can be quite irregular, compared to the Sun's motion. On average, they range from the fast moving Moon (which spends about 2-1/2 days in each sign) to the slow poke Pluto (roughly 12 to 24 years in each sign).
Planetary Rulers of the Signs:
Each sign is associated with a planet that is called the "ruler" of that sign. Usually, there is some similarity in meaning or energy between the sign and its ruler. A planet is supposed to express its energy in the most natural, straight-forward fashion through the sign it rules. Some signs (Scorpio, Aquarius, Pisces) have two rulers, an old, traditional ruler and a modern one. Since the discovery of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto the last few centuries, these planets have replaced the traditional rulers. And with the introduction of Chiron and the major asteroids into astrology, yet-another-round of arguments about rulers is breaking out. Perhaps the entire notion of "rulership" should be taken with a grain of salt.
Although a certain amount of mythology is associated with the meanings of each sign, most of these meanings are actually derived by looking at the zodiac as a collection of overlapping cycles within cycles.
For instance, the cycle of the 4 elements (fire, earth, air, and water) describes 4 different personality types. This cycle is repeated 3 times around the zodiac. The 3 modalities (cardinal, fixed, mutable) establish 3 distinct styles of expressing energy; this cycle is repeated 4 times. Each sign has a polarity (positive/negative, or in the older texts, masculine/feminine) that alternates with each sign.
Fire: Aries, Leo and Sagittarius - The fire element desires freedom. The three fire signs have in common the desire for freedom. Actually the air signs have this characteristic as well, but whereas the air signs tend to go for freedom of expression, thought and movement, the fire signs go for freedom of action, the power to do as they wish. The three signs in all four elements are further categorised as cardinal, fixed and mutable.
The cardinal fire sign is Aries. Here, the basic desire of the fire signs is seen in its most raw form, the desire to initiate, to get things going, with the consequent frustration when matters do not go as intended.
The fixed fire sign is Leo. The common characteristic of fixed signs is to fix things to that they are preserved. Leo expresses its freedom by taking the initiatives that Aries has generated and arranging them to that they continue to be effective, while retaining authority for itself. Thus management is a function often associated with Leo.
The mutable fire sign is Sagittarius. Here, the freedom of fire is expressed as the desire to expand one's horizons, the means used being religion, philosophy, advanced education and travel.
Earth: Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn - The earth element needs security. The three earth signs have in common the need for security. They have this need in common with the water signs, whose need is for emotional security. The requirement of the earth signs is physical security. The three signs in all four elements are further categorized as cardinal, fixed and mutable.
The cardinal earth sign is Capricorn. All the cardinal signs initiate, but with Capricorn the action taken is one that seeks security within the world or social order.
The fixed earth sign is Taurus. Here the security-seeking characteristic of the earth signs is seen at its most basic, the acquisition and preservation of money and tangible assets being felt as fulfilling that need. Taurus also enjoys the senses for their own sakes.
The mutable earth sign is Virgo. Here the security need of earth is expressed by organizing things so that they operate in the most efficient way possible, and so that people always know where to find what they want.
Air: Gemini, Libra and Aquarius - The air element (like fire but with a different emphasis) desires freedom. The three air signs have in common the desire for freedom. Whereas the fire signs desire freedom of action, the air signs go more for freedom of expression, thought and movement. The three signs in all four elements are further categorized as cardinal, fixed and mutable.
The cardinal air sign is Libra. All the cardinal signs initiate, but with Libra the action taken is one that seeks the freedom to live in a balanced harmonious environment.
The fixed air sign is Aquarius. All the fixed signs seek to fix something in order to preserve it, and the material fixed by Aquarius might be an ideal or some way of thinking that is seen as freedom giving. Unfortunately, with the fixing process the freedom is sometimes lost.one is attached in some way.
The mutable air sign is Gemini. The moveable nature of air is here seen in its most basic form, with the desire to move from one thought to another, maybe from one book to another without finishing either and puts great value on the mind and its thinking function, to the extent that emotional experiences may be regarded as complications that are best avoided.
Water: Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces - The water element (like earth but with a different emphasis) needs security. The three water signs have in common the need for security. The earth signs also need security, but whereas they need physical security, the water signs seek emotional security. The three signs in all four elements are further categorized as cardinal, fixed and mutable.
The cardinal water sign is Cancer. All the cardinal signs initiate, but with Cancer the action taken is one bring about the feeling of security through belonging to a family of some kind, whether a traditional human family or a group of people that can be perceived as a kind of family.
The fixed water sign is Scorpio. Here, the sense of security is sought, often obsessively, through a search for the deepest layer of a person or a society to which one is attached in some way.
The mutable water sign is Pisces. For Pisces, the forms within which matter or ideas are contained do not offer any ultimate sense of security, a security which is sought more through a sense of the universe as unbounded. This can lead to a sense of unreality in the tangible world, or, more positively, it can infuse the tangible world with a sense of the mystical.