Your Go-to Glossary for Astrology Terms

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Just when you thought you'd finally figured out the quirks of your zodiac sign—like, if you’re a Gemini, your strength of communication and weakness of commitment—along comes your daily horoscope to perplex you anew. Mars is retrograde in your third house? There's a supermoon solar eclipse squaring Mercury? If you’re getting tripped up by confusing astrology terms, we’ve got you covered

Indeed, astrology has a lexicon all its own. While it's tempting to just skim over the more intimidating words, being able to speak the stars' language offers some perks: It opens you up to a whole new level of insight about what's really going on up in space. It allows you to look beyond an astrologer's interpretation to understand on a deeper level how cosmic events are impacting your life, and those around you. You can also gain key insight into aspects of yourself and how you relate to others, like what you need in a romantic partner or your parent-child compatibility.

Plus, it'll help you spark some juicy conversations at cocktail parties. (No joke—bring up the concept of a Saturn return next time you're out for drinks, and just wait for the cringe-inducing stories that follow.) Consider the glossary below your go-to primer for decoding celestial goings-on.

Keep reading for your go-to glossary for astrological terms, from A to (Z)odiac.

Photo: Stocksy/Hayden Williams


Also known as your rising sign, the ascendant is the sign and its degree that was rising, or ascending, on the eastern horizon at the time you were born. It’s the sign that is on the cusp of your first house and discerns your chart ruler (more on that in a bit). Your ascendant sign determines how you express your energy and your physical attributes. To find your ascendant sign, you’ll need to know your birth time, along with your birthday and location.


When two or more planets line up in the sky at certain angles, they're "aspecting" each other. The planets' energies are said to mingle, and some believe this affects our experience down here on Earth. (The real-life manifestation of "stars aligning," basically.)

The most common aspects involve a pair of planets. Some of these combos are compatible (think almond butter and bananas), while some are not (almond butter and hot dogs).

Conjunct, Sextile, Trine: If planets meet each other in one of these "soft angles," the aspect takes a positive, easy spin. For instance, when communication planet Mercury is trine spiritual Neptune, our thoughts and conversations are said to have a dreamy, inspiring vibe.

Square, Quincunx, Opposition: These are the "hard angles," which bring out the more challenging aspects of the two planets' blended energies. So when Mercury is square Neptune, your head can be so in the clouds that you, say, accidentally send a gossipy email to your boss, instead of your work wife. (Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything....)


Astrocartography, also known as "relocation astrology," is a lesser-known astrology discipline that uses aspects of geography and astronomy to provide insight into the best and worst places to live or travel. Learning how to read astrocartography can make vacation planning a breeze and help you decide where to relocate to.

Big Three

The “big three” consist of the sun, moon, and ascendant (aka your rising) signs. The sun represents your outward personality and is often the sign that you tell people when they ask what your sign is (and the one you typically read for your horoscope).

The moon is your emotional temperament. It’s the planet of intuition, deep desire and emotional vulnerability, needs, and responses. Think of your moon sign as the part of your personality that you show to people you trust.

Your ascendant sign is the sign that others may perceive you as, as it shows the outward expression of your personality (see: ascendant). Because it discerns the way you see the world and how you see yourself, some astrologers believe you should consider reading your horoscope for your rising sign, too.

Chart ruler

A chart ruler refers to the zodiac sign and its ruling planet that occupies your ascendant. As the name suggests, your chart ruler discerns the general themes and energy of your birth chart, including how you approach life and its many obstacles.

If your rising sign is Aries, for example, your chart ruler then would be its ruling planet, Mars. You would experience themes of aggression, passion, and even competitiveness, as the planet Mars rules over, even if your sun sign is Uranus-ruled Aquarius.


The zodiac wheel is made up of 12 signs and 12 houses. (More on houses later.) The dividing line between two different signs or houses is known as the "cusp." So if you were born on the cusp of Cancer and Leo, that means the sun was hovering over that dividing line at the moment you were born. (And your personality is probably a little bit sensitive Cancer and a little bit Leo drama queen.)


An astrological decan (aka decantes) are three divisions of certain concentrated energies of individual zodiac signs. If you felt like you didn’t align with certain qualities of your sun sign, you could consider your decan, which may explain why you possess certain characteristics of another zodiac sign.

The zodiac wheel is 360 degrees, meaning each zodiac sign occupies 30 degrees, and decans are split up in 10 degrees of that zodiac sign. The decan you fall into is determined by when your birthday actually is. If it falls approximately between the first ten days of when your zodiac sign’s season begins, you fall under the first decan, the second decan falls roughly in the next ten days, and the third decan is classified approximately in the third ten days of the season.

These decans will always be signs within your astrological element, BTW. So, even if you’re an Aries, your birthday could fall under Sagittarius and Leo.


The descendant is the point in your chart that explains relation, or how you operate with other people. It’s located on the cusp of your seventh house aka the house of partnerships, sitting opposite of the first house. The descendant is the adverse of the ascendant, where the latter represents your self-identity, and the former is all about what you seek from others in relationships. You can identify what you’re naturally attracted to and what you need for relationships to thrive by looking at what energies are concentrated in the descendant.

Dualities (Active/Receptive)

Among the many different classifications that the zodiac signs are divided into (see: elements and modalities) are dualities. The 12 zodiac signs are split up into two categories: active and receptive energies, also called masculine and feminine, respectively. Dualities discern one’s overall energetic alignment, or how it’s expressed in their environment.

You may notice the zodiac sign’s dualities are a part of either element: the active dualities are either fire or air signs, while the receptive dualities are either Earth or water signs. In the zodiac wheel itself, the dualities switch off between active and receptive signs—in other words, the odd-numbered zodiac signs will be classified as active while the even-numbered zodiac signs belong to the receptive duality.

Active zodiac signs are motivated by action, thought, and social interaction. Receptive zodiac signs are motivated by intuition, emotions, and their inner world. Because of these complementary energies, zodiac signs that share a duality are a good way of determining astrological compatibility.

Active: Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, and Aquarius

Receptive: Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces


A BFD in the astrology world, an eclipse happens when the earth, moon, and the sun line up in the sky. These astrological happenings go down a few times a year, and both types are tied to big, dramatic, unexpected changes in our lives.

Solar eclipse: When the moon moves in front of the sun, you've got a solar eclipse. Depending on the part of the world you're in when it happens, you might see the moon blocking out all or part of the sun at the moment of the eclipse. Solar eclipses are the ones people get excited about—they're generally positive and herald surprise new beginnings, like a promotion or a meet-cute at the farmers' market.

Lunar eclipse: These happen when the earth moves between the sun and moon, casting a shadow on the moon so it goes dark. Lunar eclipses have a bad rap, as they're tied to abrupt endings and difficult emotions. But they can also bring much-needed closure to situations that are dragging you down, like "eclipsing" that deadbeat dude out of your life for good, or finally closing the door on a toxic friendship.

Element (Triplicities)

The 12 zodiac signs are grouped into four elements: Air, earth, fire, and water. If your natal chart (check yours below) includes many planets in a certain element, you'll see the qualities of that element show up a lot in your life. Alternatively, if your chart is lacking in an element, you'll have to work hard to cultivate its presence.

Air sign: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius; intellectual, always on the go, the realm of communication

Earth sign: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn; grounded, practical, the realm of material things

Fire sign: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius; passionate, confident, the realm of creation

Water sign: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces; compassionate, sensitive, the realm of emotion

Equinox / Solstice

There are two equinoxes and two solstices every year, each of which ushers in a change in seasons, and mentions of these occurrences tend to pop up often in horoscopes. The winter (December 21) and summer (June 21) solstices are either the longest or shortest days of the year, depending on which hemisphere you're in. On these days, the sun either reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky. The spring (March 21) and autumn (September 21) equinoxes are when there are equal amounts of sunlight, as the sun is striking the equator.

Ancient civilizations used to throw huge parties on these days, so they're worth putting on your calendar if you want to revive the tradition and throw a kombucha-fueled rager with your own friends.


Along with the 12 signs, the zodiac wheel is also divided up into 12 houses, pie-chart style. Each one represents a specific area of life, and each adds another layer of interpretation to the planet-sign formula.

Here's how it works: When a planet enters a certain house, it's said to reflect the energy of that house—and that energy is layered on top of the planet's own energy, and the energy of the sign it's in. So if your horoscope says the love planet, Venus, is in sexy Scorpio in your futuristic 11th house, it indicates an opportunity to get hot and heavy (Scorpio) with a romantic interest (Venus) you meet through technology (11th house).Fire up the dating apps!

Here's what the 12 houses represent, in very simplified terms:

1st house: The self, new beginnings, independence

2nd house: Money, material possessions, day-to-day work tasks

3rd house: Communication, ideas, short-distance travel

4th house: Home, family, emotions

5th house: Creativity, fun, romance

6th house: Health, organization and routines, service

7th house: Relationships (both professional and romantic), contracts, marriage

8th house: Sex, mystery, other people's money

9th house: Learning, spirituality, long-distance travel

10th house: Achievement, tradition, authority

11th house: Friendships, technology, humanitarianism

12th house: Intuition, the arts, endings

Midheaven (Medium Coeli)

Midheaven, aka the medium coeli, refers to the highest point in the sky at the time you were born as well as the highest point in your chart. It’s also where your tenth house is located. The midheaven is the most public part of your personality as it rules your public sphere, how you portray yourself to others, your natural gifts, along with your ambitions and accolades. (If it’s giving Capricorn vibes, it’s because the 10th house is ruled by the determined sign!).

To find your midheaven, you need your birth time, birthday, and birthplace. It’s located at the very top of your birth chart.

Modality (Quadruplicities)

A zodiac sign’s modality, or quadruplicity, refers to its position in relation to the seasons. The zodiac signs are broken up into three modalities: cardinal, fixed, and mutable, where four zodiac signs belong to each. A modality determines how one expresses energy or interacts in the world.

Cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn) are the zodiac signs that kick off each season. Likewise, cardinal signs are ambitious, trend-setting, and determined in the face of challenges.

Fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) are the zodiac signs that happen in the middle of a season, or when it’s in full bloom. Fixed signs are unwavering, devoted, and let’s be honest, stubborn.

Mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces) are the zodiac signs that occur in the transition between the seasons. In the same vein, mutable signs are flexible, flowing, and a bit flighty.

Moon Phases

Every 28 days, the moon cycles through four phases. Astrologers believe that each phase of the moon has its own distinct energy and can impact the way we feel—it's even thought to affect our dating lives. (If the moon can control the ocean tides, experts say, shouldn't it also have some impact on our water-based bodies, too?)

New moon: When the moon goes completely dark each month, it's considered a fresh start. If you're going to start a project or set intentions for the month ahead, this is a good time to whip out your journal.

Waxing moon: As the moon becomes more and more visible in the sky, its energy is also building. This is thought to be a good time for taking action on the intention you set at the new moon.

Full moon: When the moon is at its biggest and brightest in the sky, it's harvest time. This is when you can reap the rewards of whatever you've been working on and say peace out to what's not working.

Waning moon: For the last week of the month, the moon fades back to black. Some say this is a good time to stay home to recharge, reflect, and ignore your texts.

Natal Chart

Your natal chart is basically a map of the sky at the moment you were born, based on the exact time, place, and date you made your debut. (You can run your chart for free here.) Astrologers believe this blueprint shines a light on your personality and the opportunities and challenges you may face in your life, and it's a lot more telling than just your sun sign alone. You'll want to pay extra special attention to your sun, moon, and rising signs, as these are thought to make up a big part of who you are.

Sun sign: This is the one you typically look at when you're reading your horoscope, and it's said to reflect your core essence. This is the sign the sun was in when you were born.

Rising sign: If you were to ask someone else to guess what sign you are, they might pick your rising sign—it represents the traits you project to the world, whether by choice or unconsciously. This is the sign that was on the eastern horizon when you were born, and it's so important that some astrologers suggest you read your horoscope for your rising sign in addition to your sun sign.

Moon sign: Your moon sign represents your inner life and emotions, the side of yourself that you don't necessarily show other people. It's the sign the moon was in when you were born.

Opposite sign pair

This term refers to zodiac sign opposites, or signs that are six signs away from each other and separated by 180 degrees on the astrological axis. Sometimes called sister signs, each pair symbolizes two sides of one coin; they share a quadruplicity, are harmonious elements, and share other key traits and goals yet also possess some differences. The ascendant and descendant signs in your natal chart are always opposite sign pairings. These are the opposite zodiac sign pairs: Aries/Libra, Taurus/Scorpio, Gemini/Sagittarius, Cancer/Capricorn, and Virgo/Pisces.


You know when you're stopped at a traffic light, the car next to you starts creeping forward, and you feel like you're suddenly going in reverse? That's essentially what happens when a planet is in retrograde: The earth is orbiting past the planet at a faster pace than that planet is moving, so the other planet appears to be moving backward. It's often associated with things going haywire—AKA the dreaded Mercury retrograde—but you can also look at retrograde periods as an opportunity to slow down and troubleshoot the hidden bugs in your life. (Kind of like updating an app on your phone.)

Saturn Return

When Saturn approaches the same point in the sky as it was when you were born, a total shitstorm isn't far behind—at least, that's what astrology fanatics think. Saturn return happens sometime between the ages of 27 and 30 and lasts for up to three years, and it's associated with learning hard lessons so you can move into the next phase of your life as a more evolved human. Oh, and if you've already had yours, don't get too comfy: You're due for another Saturn return in your late 50s and your late 80s.


This word is thrown around like it's something special, but supermoons are actually not that rare, happening several times a year. It describes when the moon is as close to the Earth as it can possibly get, making it look larger than normal.


Synastry is a thorough, side-by-side analysis of the birth charts between two people, or in other words, a deep reading of astrological compatibility. It involves overlaying two birth charts to determine the cosmic energies at play and how they interact with each other. A synastry reading can help you discern the individual challenges they may face in order to better understand what a couple may face, plus their strengths, weaknesses, and shared similarities in a relationship.


A transit happens when a planet is making moves up in the sky, aspecting another planet, or moving into a new house or sign. There are usually at least a few transits happening on any given day, which is why we're all so fascinated by astrology. Because no matter what happens or whether or not you believe in it, it's never boring.

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