The term symbolism comes from the Greek word 'symballein' (to bring together). It refers to creating a whole out of individual parts. In a metaphorical sense, a symbol is an image or sign that stands for a complex whole.
Astrology is a symbolic language which means that it is both simple and complex and multifarious at the same time. The challenge for astrologers is to decipher and translate the symbols.
The symbolism of the zodiac
In modern astrology the astrological signs stand for different modes of human experience. For example, Aries, the first sign, commences with the spring equinox. Its symbol is the young ram. By analogy, Aries represents the inherent dynamic element in new beginnings, incentive, and initiative. Aries, ruled by the planet Mars, strives to overcome any obstacles blocking its path. The energy of Aries is bold, optimistic, courageous, direct and very competitive because, naturally, not everyone can be first. The beginning of Aries is also the beginning of spring in the temperate climates of the northern hemisphere, when nature awakens from winter dormancy as the first shoots of the season become visible.
The head-butting proclivities of rams further suggest some potentially negative aspects of Aries. The ram can also be a symbol for reckless aggression, egotistically following one's own interests at the expense of others and quickly losing interest and lacking endurance to see a project through to completion.
Taurus, the sign which follows Aries, is a symbol for the solid ground under our feet and enjoyment in the material aspects of life. It strives to create an environment in which it feels comfortable. In the calendar of the zodiac, the sun is in Taurus when the flowers of spring are in full bloom. Taurus relishes and thrives in this lush and sensual environment. Like its animal symbol the ox, Taurus is persevering, faithful and patient. A possible negative side of Taurus is that it can become lazy, lethargic and stubbornly resist change.
Signs of the zodiac are often symbolized by glyphs or sigils, a kind of shorthand notation. In a highly stylized way, most of them represent their signs in a highly stylized way. The symbols for Aries suggests the curving horns of the ram; while the circle topped by a crescent symbolizes the bull's head and horns.
Symbolism of the planets
Planetary symbolism has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology. The gods of Antiquity were an inspiration for the naming of the planets. The planet Venus symbolises qualities associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite (Latin Venus). The planet is the second brightest celestial body in the night sky viewable from Earth after the Moon. To ancient Greek astrologers, this planet is a gentle, beautiful light, and Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty. Astrological Venus stands for beauty and pleasure in life.
The planets are also represented by symbols in the form of glyphs or sigils. Originally these were literal emblems of the Graeco-Roman gods. During the Middle Ages the glyphs were imbued with more esoteric meanings appropriate to Christianity. In their esoteric formulations, the planetary symbols are varying composites of three basic symbols: the circle, the crescent (or semicircle) and the cross. The circle stands for spirit or eternity, the crescent for soul or personality, and the cross for the physical body. This results in the following interpretation:
There is no planet which is symbolised by the cross alone because esoteric astrologers do not believe that something can exist in the physical form, totally divorced from spirit or soul.
- Mercury is composed of spirit, soul and body, the spirit connecting the soul to the body. This is in line with Mercury's role as the messenger of the gods whose task was to connect the various levels of reality.
- In the symbol for Venus spirit rules over body.
- In the symbol for Mars body rules over spirit. The transformation of the cross into an arrow underlines the dynamic aspect of the god of war without changing the quality of the basic symbols.
- In the symbol for Jupiter the soul rules over body because it is in the soul that the highest ideals are to be found.
- In the symbol for Saturn the situation is reversed with the concrete, physical body ruling over the soul.
- The symbol for Uranus used in German speaking countries has an arrow pointing upwards which indicates the breakthrough into new dimensions. The symbol for Uranus used in most other countries shows the cross of matter bracketed by two crescents of soul surmounting the circle of spirit. Spirit is the basis for the expansion of body and soul.
- In the trident symbol for Neptune the intuitive energy of the soul rules over the body.
- The symbol for Pluto is, as in the case of Mercury, composed of all three symbols, although in this case the soul, not the spirit, is the connecting link. The other symbol used for Pluto is a simple combination of P an L and has no deeper meaning. As the name Pluto was intended to evoke both the Roman god of the underworld and the initials of the astronomer Percival Lowell, famous for the decade long hunt for this planet, one can also see Lowell's name represented in the glyph.
Astrological aspects are represented by geometrical symbols which can be generally understood and which have a practical rather than an esoteric significance. For example, the triangle stands for a trine.
- The Full Circle: Spirit in Matter (Patricia Godden, 2010; Astrodienst)
- Hickey, Isabel M., 1992. Astrology: A Cosmic Science, CRCS Publications
- Loftus, Myrna, 1983, A Spiritual Approach to Astrology, CRCS Pub