The most important thing in your horoscope is your own birth sign. This is also called the Sun Sign or Sign of the Zodiac. During the time of year when you were born, the Sun was moving across a certain section of the sky. There are twelve sections of the sky in the study of astrology, and each of these is called a Sign of the Zodiac. The Zodiac is the path of the Sun through the heavens. It takes the Sun thirty days to move through one sign, and it takes one year for the Sun to go all the way round the entire circle of the Zodiac. Your Sign of the Zodiac is the particular section of the sky the Sun was in when you were born.
Zodiac is a Greek word meaning "circle of animals". The ancient astrologers observed that when the Sun moved into a new sign each month a new kind of energy seemed to be released which affected life on Earth. They described these twelve different kinds of energy by the names of different animals, types of people or objects. These animals, people or objects reminded them of how each kind of energy seemed to influence the personality and behaviour of human beings.
If you were born between 20 March and 20 April, your Sign of the Zodiac is Aries the Ram. Between 21 April and 21 May, the Sun is in the sign of Taurus the Bull. After this come Gemini the Twins, Cancer the Crab, Leo the Lion, Virgo the Maiden, Libra the Scales, Scorpio the Scorpion, Sagittarius the Centaur, Capricorn the Goat, Aquarius the Waterbearer, and last of all, between 20 February and 19 March, Pisces the Fishes. On 20 March of each year the Sun moves back into the sign of Aries again.
As well as showing the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky at the time and place of your birth, the horoscope also shows another very important astronomical position. This is the ascendant or rising sign.
The entire zodiac wheel appears to revolve once every twenty-four hours, because of the earth's rotation on its axis. Due east of the place you were born at the time you were born, a particular part of this zodiac wheel was coming up over the eastern horizon. One of the twelve signs was rising at that time. This is what is called the rising sign or ascendant. The ascendant is calculated very carefully when an astrologer casts a horoscope, and it is necessary to have a very accurate birth time in order to do it.
Next to the birth sign, the ascendant is the most important part of the horoscope. It shows how a person acts to the outside world, while the birth sign shows what he really is like inside. Knowledge of both is helpful to see a person's goals and unique identity more clearly.
No one is influenced by only his birth sign or his ascendant. The entire horoscope is a complicated map and many different influences must be looked at to assess a person's character. This is why you can talk to a dozen people all born under one sign and they will all act differently when they are around others. Inside, the essence of each one of them is similar, because the sun signs are the same. But if the ascendants are different, they will behave differently. For example, a Leo with Cancer on the ascendant will be more quiet and shy around others than a Leo with Aries on the ascendant. But they will still both be Leos, and inside there will be the same deep need to be creative and to be recognised for their uniqueness. The matter becomes even more complex if you look at all the other planets in the horoscope.
This introduction into the basic ideas of astrology is taken from the children's book "Looking at Astrology" by Liz Greene. It was published by Coventure in 1977. Although once written for children, the text is very interesting for everyone who wants to take first steps in astrology.