The 12 signs of the Western zodiac are foundational archetypes in astrology. They give your chart context and let us know where in the sky the planets were located the day you were born. The backdrop of the signs provide information on how the planets’ specific energies can be accessed in your life. They represents a spectrum of the human psyche, existence, and expression. Each of the signs has correspondences with particular elements, myths, and character traits; setting up unique patterns throughout your individual chart. Let’s get to know these essential archetypes in astrology!
A Brief History of the 12 Zodiac Signs
Ancient Greek Astrologers looked at the zodiac signs as sections of the sky divided like 12 pieces of a pie. The zodiac signs were named after the main constellation that occupied each of these 12 particular spaces of the sky. Due to the astronomical precession of the Equinox the constellations no longer line up precisely with the zodiac signs. Today, we still use the 12 original sections of the sky to track the location of the planets, regardless of the constellation in the backdrop.
What is an Archetype?
Each of the signs are associated with an archetype, which is a term borrowed from Jungian psychology. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist practicing in the early to mid 1900s, helped develop the idea that an archetype is a particular pattern of symbolic meaning derived from our collective conscious and subconscious experiences. The zodiac signs are further categorized by element and modality or quality of expression. Mythology has also lended a huge hand in the development of the zodiac signs’ origin stories and characteristics. Astrology seems to drink from the deep well of human memories; drawing from the ideas, belief, and patterns of being.
Try this! Get a copy of your chart and follow along on the zodiacal wheel as we read through the meaning of each sign. Make notes as we go of which planets are located in which signs in your own chart!
About Each of the 12 Zodiac Sign Archetypes
When it comes to the zodiac signs there is a huge amount of information associated with each one. They are often described in terms of behavior, characteristics, and correspondences. It is important to keep in mind while on this astrological journey that the chart does not direct your fate or destiny. Each sign is a collection of ideas that can provide further detail and meaning about our experiences but are not set in stone regarding how our life has to be. We are the captains of our own life journey and the chart is a symbolic map to help guide the way.
The 1st sign on the zodiacal wheel is Aries and is working with the element of fire. This zodiac sign archetype is symbolic of assertive and initiating energy. It possesses a sense of impulsivity and urgency with a need to experience life from a personal first hand perspective. Planets located in Aries are often expressed in a headstrong manor. There is fearlessness and boundless energy in this archetype. Aries enjoys the spirit of competition and sometimes confrontation. This archetype is often fired up spiritually and emotionally. It is often associated with leadership, courage, and passion. Ruling planet is Mars.
The 2nd archetype in the zodiac is Taurus, which is rooted and grounded in the vibration of the earth element. Planets located in this zodiac sign will be concerned with the expression of sensuality, physicality, and sensation. Taurus is often associated with building community, safety, and comfort zones. This archetype is working with the energy of the craftsperson or builder along with the ability to express desire in a material and physical way. Planets that are located in Taurus will often be symbolic of a nurturing or artistic expression in your life. You are working with personal values, self-love, and a relationship to self-care in the sign of Taurus. Ruling planet is Venus.
The 3rd zodiac sign on the wheel is Gemini and is working with the element of air. Gemini’s archetype is concerned with the expression of curiosity and understanding the mind. This sign is often associated with communication and learning. Gemini is always on the search for more information regarding a topic of interest, making new friends and social connections. Planets located in Gemini will have a tendency to be symbolic of your friendships, communication styles, and personal duality. Gemini is known for having multiple expressions of self and planets in this area of your chart will often have surprising, creative, and witty way of coming through. Ruling planet is Mercury.
Cancer is the 4th sign on the zodiacal wheel and is working with the emotional element of water. This zodiac sign operates from the heart-center of one’s being. With seemingly endless feelings and the need to protect others, the Cancer archetype is often associated with a nurturing parental figure or leader. Cancer is in touch emotionally and known for having a sensitive nature. Planets located in this sign will often have a soft receptive interior while expressing themselves with passion and sentiment on the outside. Cancer is associated with home, family, and emotional and physical nourishment. Ruling planet is the Moon.
The Leo archetype is associated with fire and creativity. It is the 5th sign on the wheel and is symbolic of the development of self-expression in life. Leo is known for conveying prideful and charismatic energy. Planets in this sign are often seen as our need of appreciation for our abilities and talents. This archetype is working with creativity and endless possibilities for reaching our potential. Planets placed in this sign may come through as being very bold and dominant in nature. Leo enjoys sharing and creating community with others, family, and close friends. Ruling planet is the Sun.
The archetype of Virgo is grounded in the earth element and involved in the inner workings of the body, mind, and soul. Virgo places very high expectations on the planets located in its domain. If you were born with planets in Virgo then the energy will often be expressed through practical and down to Earth means. By helping others the Virgo archetype is striving for optimal health, wellness, and being. There is a very close connection to the body and the physical world through this archetype. A desire to heal and be of service to others often comes through the planets that are located in Virgo. Ruling planet is Mercury.
The 7th sign on the zodiacal wheel is symbolic of our relationships with others. Libra is paired with the air element and often associated with our search for justice, balance, and peace. This archetype is working with collaborative and cooperative energy, desiring to find a perfect compromise so everyone can get what they need. Planets in Libra are known for being highly creative, aesthetically inclined, and accommodating. Libra represents the need to understand ourselves through others and the various relationships we develop in doing so. The Libra archetype is charismatic and charming. Ruling planet is Venus.
Scorpio is the 8th sign on the zodiacal wheel and is working with the intense emotional element of water. The archetype of this sign is often penetrating, transformative, and secretive. Planets in Scorpio often find expression through the most intense or meaningful experiences. Scorpio embraces the cycles of life through gaining insight into birth, death, and evolution. When planets are in this sign there is immense potential for personal growth by discovering a deeper understanding of our psychological motivations, impulses, and desires. There is an investigative and spiritual quality to the archetype of Scorpio. Ruling planet is Pluto.
The Sagittarius archetype is the philosopher in the zodiac. With an experiential need to discover why and how in all areas of life. The element Sagittarius is working with is fire and it is the 9th sign on the wheel. Planets located in Sagittarius will be colored by an idealistic nature and a need to fight for social justice causes. The desire to understand oneself within the context of the larger conscious universe is essential in understanding this archetype. There is a need to branch out, travel, and adventure through life in order to see what lies beyond the boundaries of everyday existence. Highly social, liberated, and direct the archetype of Sagittarius is known to be a fun loving explorer. Ruling planet is Jupiter.
Capricorn is one of the most public or achievement oriented signs in the zodiac. As the 10th sign on the wheel it is often associated with career, promotion, and hard work. This sign is working with the earth element and is often footed securely in the real world with a desire to visit the spiritual world here and there. The archetype of Capricorn is symbolic of overcoming obstacles and creating situations in life where they can be recognized for their hard work and dedication. Planets located in Capricorn are symbolic of the journey towards acceptance of our authenticity, without the need for external approval or recognition. Ruling planet is Saturn.
The archetype of Aquarius is innovative and unconventional. This is the 11th sign in the zodiac and is associated with the air element. When planets are placed in this sign they often have an expanded and universal essence to their expression. The Aquarius archetype is social yet detached with a desire to create radical change, disruptions, and revisions to the world. It can feel hard to access the energy of planets in Aquarius at times as they are often operating a few steps ahead of everything else in the natal chart. Any planets in this sign will have an idealistic approach to transforming and reforming every aspect of being from personal relationships to sweeping social changes. Ruling planet is Uranus.
Pisces is the final and 12th sign on the wheel and is symbolic of everything merging and coming together. The keyword with this archetype is emotional and spiritual connection. Pisces is a dreamy energy, existing within the water element associated with this sign. Planets located in Pisces have a need to dissolve into everything in order to experience existence from every possible perspective. Pisces is working with intuition, psychic energy, and across time and space. Multiple planets in Pisces in the natal chart can symbolize artistic, musical, and highly sensitive self-expression or talent. Ruling planet is Neptune.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have an idea of the archetypal energy of each sign it is time to start interpreting the meaning of the planets in the signs!
Try This! Start by locating the symbol for the Moon in your birth chart. Next try to identify what sign it is in using the symbols as a key. Next you will want to read the description of the Moon from the planets article followed by the description of the sign it is. Start to think in your mind how these energies blend. How does the energy of the Moon through your emotions, intuition, and memory get expressed through the archetype of the zodiac sign it was located in at the time of your birth? Maybe take some notes on what you have learned about the planets in the signs in your chart so far.
This is the foundation for how a chart is read! Piece by piece until a clearer picture of the evolution of the psyche begins to emerge. As you navigate through your birth chart you will start to notice that there are many ways to weave the meanings of your chart together; it can be a highly creative, intuitive, and deeply transformative process.