Just when you thought you’d finally figured out what your zodiac sign actually means—like, if you’re a Gemini, you should role-play in the bedroom and stick a tiger eye crystal in your bra—along comes your daily horoscope to perplex you anew. Mars is retrograde in your third house? There’s a supermoon solar eclipse squaring Mercury? Cue panicky flashbacks to 8th grade French class, when you were out sick with mono and missed the entire verb-conjugating lesson. (Je voud-wha?)
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.
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 an A-to-Z(odiac) guide for all terms astrology.
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….)
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.)
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.
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
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 embrace JOMO, staying home to recharge, reflect, and ignore your texts.
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.
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’s happening 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.)
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’s describes when the moon is as close to the earth as it can possibly get, making it look larger than normal.
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.
Feeling anxious about the state of the world? Zodiac memes are here to give you some much-needed moments of levity. Or you could distract yourself by learning about your Human Design, a discipline that’s even more out-there than astrology.
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