What's in a sign? Everything, according to astrology.
Astrologists believe your zodiac sign reveals a lot about your personality and temperament, as well as how you express yourself. Even though astrology (the study of life and humans through celestial objects) can trace its roots back over a few millennia, astrology symbols aren't considered a scientific field today. Still, you can't escape the presence of astrology signs in our culture. From the monthly horoscope readings in your favorite magazine, to references on television and in music, zodiac symbols are everywhere.
Don't know your zodiac sign, or just want to learn more? You've come to the right place. By the time we're finished, you'll know what the zodiac symbols are, when they happen and which sign is yours!
What Are Zodiac Symbols?
Before we can understand what zodiac symbols are, we have to know what the zodiac is.
The "zodiac" is an imaginary band of the sky that extends about 8° each way on the elliptic, or, on the sun's path through Earth's sky over the course of a year. Each sign takes up about 30° of latitude in the sky and correlates to a constellation. The sun, moon, constellations and other planets are all visible in the zodiac. However, most of the time when people think of a zodiac, they think of either the constellations or their symbols.
The history of the zodiac dates back to Babylonian times. For thousands of years, astrology was the close sister to astronomy. But as the scientific method became the dominant standard for testing statements and establishing facts, the two fields separated and astrology was viewed as a pseudoscience. Nevertheless, astrology symbols remain of interest and in use in many Western cultures and still captures our fascination today.The zodiac is divided into 12 signs. The zodiac sign symbols each cover roughly the equivalent of a month's time. But unlike our calendar months, time for zodiac signs is calculated differently. This is because Western astrologists calculate the first sign based off the Northern hemisphere's vernal equinox (spring), which happens around March 21st every year. From there, the zodiac signs dates were set based off the dates of the sun's passage through the respective constellations during Ancient Greek times.
The Earth and Sun surrounded by the zodiac and constellations./Tauʻolunga/WikiCommons
What Do Zodiac Signs Symbolize?
The word "zodiac" originated from the Ancient Greek phrase, "zōidiakòs kýklos," which meant, "cycle (or circle) of little animals." According to astrologists, the "cycle" of zodiac symbols is made up of three key components:
- The actual sign itself
- Four elements
- Three modalities
Together, your sign, its element and modality are believed to play a vital role in your personality.
What Are the Four Elements of the Zodiac?
The four elements of the zodiac refer to air, earth, fire and water. These elements were initially recognized by Ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles during the fifth century BC. Empedocles said the universe was made up of two opposite forces known as "love" and "strife" that influenced and exerted power over the four elements. These elements, in varying combinations, served to explain the essence of nature and things in our world.
The symbols for air, earth, fire and water./Leopanza/WikiCommons
In Western astrology, each zodiac sign is associated with an element. This is called a "triplicity" because three zodiac astrology symbols are "assigned" to each element. Because the elements are reflective of the natural world, they are also considered influential to our personalities.
What Are the Three Modalities of the Zodiac?
In addition to the four elements, each sign also has an associated modality. The modality is a sign's basic operating mode, or how it expresses itself. Each sign is affiliated with a modality in what is called a "quadruplicity"—four zodiac signs are "assigned" to each modality. While signs in the same group share core qualities, each maintains its unique characteristics.
The three modalities are: cardinal, fixed and mutable.
The cardinal modality (or "cardinal expression") represents the beginning season and initiation. All cardinal signs either mark the start of a new season or a solstice. The cardinal signs are: Aries (spring), Cancer (summer solstice), Capricorn (winter solstice) and Libra (fall). Those born under this modality are considered to be traditional, leaders, and rational. On the other hand, they can also be aggressive and overly cautious.
The fixed modality (or "fixed expression") represents the middle season and sustaining. Fixed signs all begin in the middle of a season. The fixed signs are: Aquarius (winter), Leo (summer), Scorpio (fall) and Taurus (spring). People born under this modality are considered to be stable, reliable and persistent. On the other hand, they can also be stubborn and unopen to change.
The mutable modality (or "mutable expression") represents the end season and change. Mutable signs start during the change between seasons. The mutable signs are: Gemini (spring changing to summer), Virgo (summer changing to fall), Sagittarius (fall changing to winter) and Pisces (winter changing to spring). Anyone born under this modality (like this article's author), is considered to be adaptable, flexible and versatile. On the other hand, they can also be restless and unpredictable.
When we combine the zodiac symbols, elements and modalities, we get a clear system that establishes an air, earth, fire and water element to each cardinal, fixed and mutable expression.
What Are the 12 Zodiac Signs?
The 12 zodiac signs in order are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Each zodiac sign has a symbol dating back to Greek manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Let's take a closer look at zodiac symbols, the zodiac constellations, and their attributes.
Aries (March 21-April 19)
Aries is the first of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the ram. If born under this sign, you're considered to be adventurous, dynamic, ambitious and competitive. Aries are known for their quickness and leadership qualities, as well as a tendency to be impulsive (blame the "fire" element) and blunt.
Taurus (April 20-May 20)
Taurus is the second of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, Taurus. If born under this sign, you're considered to be dedicated, dependable, focused and creative. Tauruses are known for being intelligent and trustworthy, as well as stubborn (the sign is a bull, after all). Tauruses love to seek out pleasure and can be known to question authority.
Gemini (May 21-June 20)
Gemini is the third of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation Gemini, which is made up of the Dioscuri—the twins, Castor and Pollux. If born under this sign, you're considered to be energetic, expressive, intelligent and playful. Gemini are known for their outgoing nature and varied interests, but they have earned a (likely misplaced) reputation for being two-faced.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
Cancer is the fourth of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, Cancer, which is most often depicted as a crab. If born under this sign, you're considered to be bold, compassionate, protective and intuitive. Cancers are known for their care-giving nature, as well as a tendency to be distant and passive-aggressive.
Leo (July 23-August 22)
Leo is the fifth of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the lion. If born under this sign, you're considered to be vivacious, outgoing and fiery. Leos are known for their warm nature and high self-esteem, but they can have a tendency to be proud or jealous.
Virgo (August 23-September 22)
Virgo is the sixth of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the maiden. If born under this sign, you're considered to be practical, analytical and sophisticated. Virgos are known for their kindness and attention to detail, but they can have a tendency to be shy and have unfairly high standards for themselves and their loved ones.
Libra (September 23-October 22)
Libra is the seventh of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the only inanimate constellation, the scales. If born under this sign, you're considered to be balanced, social and diplomatic. Libras are known for their selfless nature and companionship, but they can have a tendency to be too pragmatic and insecure.
Scorpio (October 23-November 21)
Scorpio is the eighth of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the scorpion. If born under this sign, you're considered to be loyal, resourceful and focused. Scorpios are known for their bravery and trailblazing nature, but they can appear prickly and closed off to strangers.
Sagittarius (November 22-December 21)
Sagittarius is the ninth of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the archer. If born under this sign, you're considered to be optimistic, independent and intellectual. Sagittariuses are known for being magnetic and generous, but they can have a tendency to be arrogant and too direct.
Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
Capricorn is the tenth of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the sea goat. If born under this sign, you're considered to be patient, hardworking and disciplined. Capricorns are known for their tenacity and preference for boundaries and rules, but they can have a tendency to be stubborn and too focused on perfection.
Aquarius (January 20-February 18)
Aquarius is the eleventh of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the water bearer. If born under this sign, you're considered to be innovative, loyal and original. Aquariuses are known for their creativity and rebellious nature, but they can have a tendency to be aloof with loved ones and uncompromising.
Pisces (February 19-March 20)
Pisces is the final of the twelve zodiac signs and is represented by the constellation, the fishes. If born under this sign, you're considered to be intuitive, creative and empathetic. Pisces are known for their compassion and artistic nature, but they can have a tendency to be too sensitive or delusional.
Summary: Zodiac Sign Symbols
The twelve signs of the zodiac, their elements and modalities, reveal a lot about our personalities. Each sign's constellation and occurrence during the year can play a big role in how you interact with the world around you and how you express yourself.
Whether you're a fiery Leo, an ambitious Aries, or a trailblazing Scorpio, your zodiac symbol has some tremendous qualities worth being proud of. Knowing the birthday symbols can also provide a useful shorthand in understanding where others are coming from.
So, the next time someone starts talking about a friend's "Capricorn energy" or other zodiac sign symbols, you'll know exactly what they mean.
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Brittany Logan graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a Master of Science with Honors. She has a dual-degree Master's from Sciences Po School of Journalism in Paris, and earned her Bachelor’s in Global Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has spent several years working in higher education- including as an English teacher abroad and as a teaching assistant in science writing at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.