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Signs and Cusps - Astrology FAQ 3
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Some Frequently Asked Questions about Signs, Cusps, Birth Charts, and Horoscope Readings
This page is written to be read from top to bottom to get a fuller understanding of Signs and Cusps; but you can also choose any question of interest below and click on it to jump to the specific answer you seek. - Michael
- What is my Star Sign?
- What is my Sun Sign?
- What if I was born on the Cusp between two signs?
- What does "on the Cusp" really mean?
- Where can I get the most accurate information about my real Sign and the Cusps?
- What if I don't know my birth time and can't find out?
- What exactly is a Cusp?
- How reliable are those date ranges in the horoscope columns for determining my Sign?
- Are the dates in the horoscope columns like Cusps in real Astrology?
- If I was "born on a Cusp", do I have two Signs?
- Can the Sun in my horoscope chart be in two Signs at once?
- What does falling in a Sign mean?
- When the Sun really is on a Cusp, how do you decide which Sign it's in?
- If I was "born on a Cusp", do I have traits of both Signs?
- Why do I really seem to have traits of both Signs?
- How are the Cusps and Signs affected by the time of day?
- What is my Rising Sign?
- How are the Cusps and Signs affected by a Leap Year?
- How is my Sign affected by my actual time of birth?
- How are the Cusps and Signs affected when I was born in a different Time Zone?
- What adjustments to the time are done when calculating a horoscope chart?
- Can you do a personal Horoscope Chart for me ?
- Should I read the daily horoscope for my Rising Sign as well as the one for my Sun Sign?
- What is my Ascendant?
- How accurate can those Sun-Sign Horoscopes be?
- Why does it say "For Entertainment" on those Daily Horoscopes?
- How can I get my birth chart interpreted so I know what it means?
- What related pages at STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine can I read for more information?
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Answers to Questions
About Astrology and Horoscopes
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Star Signs, Birth Horoscopes,
and Confusion about Cusps
Star Signs and Sun Signs
The Sun is actually a star, so it's not incorrect to refer to your Sun Sign as your "Star Sign"; but astrologers usually refer to it as your Sun Sign. What people think is "their Sign" is actually the zodiac Sign in which the Sun was located at the exact time and place of their birth (at the moment when they drew their first breath of air). What you may not realize is that you also have the Moon and eight Planets in your birth horoscope too, and each of these is in a Sign as well. So you really have at least ten "Signs", not just your Sun Sign. You are far too complex to be described by just one of twelve Sun Signs!
What is My Sign?
If you were born when the Sun was in the Sign of Aquarius, we would say "you have Sun in Aquarius". Sometimes, for convenience, we would say "you are an Aquarius", with the understanding that this is referring to your Sun Sign, not your Moon Sign or the Sign in which any of the planets were located at the time and place of your birth. We might also call you "an Aquarian", again with the same understanding that this refers to the Sun's position at your birth.
If both the Sun and Moon are in the same Sign, say Aquarius, we would say you are "a double Aquarius" or "a double Aquarian". (You can also be a "double" by having the Sun and Ascendant in the same Sign, but not just the Moon and Ascendant. But having all three in the same Sign makes you a "triple".)
What Does the Sign Really Mean?
The Sun and Moon and Planets represent parts of your psyche or psychological nature, and the Sign they are in indicates the ways you tend to express these parts of yourself. Thus you are not "a Sign" - the Sign the Sun was in at your birth is just an indicator of what you are like, what motivates you. You might say the Sun Sign is the major indicator of your character. I like to say the Sign represents the strategies used to express the nature of the part of the psyche represented by the Sun or Moon or Planet contained within that Sign. For example, one of the psychological processes symbolically represented by the Moon is the need to nurture and be nurtured; and the Sign the Moon is in will indicate the ways the person seeks to nurture and receive nurturing. It works basically the same way with each of the "personal planets" Mercury, Venus and Mars too.
Born on the Cusp?
The "Cusp" issue confuses a lot of people who have not studied real Astrology. They get their information about what "Sign" they "are" from date ranges listed for the Signs in the newspapers, or from simplified tables like the one at the bottom of my Free Weekly Horoscopes page at STAR SIGNS. These tables of dates and Signs are convenient to use, but the table shows dates that are only median dates in a range that can actually vary up to a day before or after that median date. For your year of birth the table can be showing the wrong date! Click to read about The Fudge Factor so you don't end up reading the horoscopes for the wrong Sign. For more details, also read the section about Moving Averages below.
Your Personal Horoscope Chart - "Your Personal Place in Time and Space"
The most useful and complete information comes from an accurate Natal Horoscope Chart which uses the hour and minute of birth, as well as the latitude and longitude of the place of birth. Natal means "at birth". In your own horoscope chart you will find the exact position of the Sun (and the Moon and all the Planets), and know for sure which Sign they are located in.
You can learn to cast a horoscope chart yourself, but it takes a while to learn the complicated process. Most people simply pay an astrologer to make a chart for them, or buy a computer program designed to print a horoscope chart. When you order the "Six Pack" of personal horoscope readings (plain-English interpretations of your horoscope chart) at Star Signs Astrology Zine, you get a free Natal Horoscope Chart as part of the $15 special package.
Note that the horoscope chart is like a map of the heavens, not an interpretation of what it means. That would be called a horoscope reading. Don't ask for a "chart" or "a horoscope" if what you really want is a "reading" or "interpretation" of your horoscope chart.
What if I don't know my exact time of birth?
If you do not know your exact birth time, a special kind of chart can be used - called a Solar Chart. This is calculated with an assumed birth time of Noon (or sometimes Sunrise); which means the actual position of the Sun could be in error by up to about one-half of one degree in either direction. However, when the day of birth is known for sure, even a Solar Chart will tell you that the Sun must have been somewhere between its point at 12:00 AM and its point at 11:59 PM on that day. If this shows the Sun was not moving into a new Sign at any time during that day, then you will at least know exactly which Sign it was in at your time of birth, and also know (within one-half degree of possible error) its actual position in that Sign. If it shows which Sign the Sun was in at Noon, and it were at 0 to 1 degree of that Sign; then at least you will know that if you were born at a time after Noon, your Sun would be in that Sign. If the Sun were still at 29 degrees of the previous Sign at Noon, then you would know that if you were born at any time before Noon, your Sun Sign would be that Sign.
I have designed a set of "personality" types of readings that can be accurate even when the actual birth time is not known. They are based on astrological factors which are not sensitive to the time of birth, only to the day and month and year of birth. If the person does not know his or her birth time, the "Solar Chart" method is used. In the rather rare cases where the Moon or one of the Planets used in the reading might have been changing Sign on their day of birth, there is a little warning note added to the particular paragraph that might be affected by an inaccurate birth time, while the other paragraphs not so marked could still be relied on as accurate. Of course, if one CAN provide his or her birth time to within a few minutes, all parts of all these readings should be accurate for them. (See the Six-Pack P1-5/P11 of five readings on romance and psyche secrets plus a free natal horoscope chart.)
There are some types of horoscope readings which simply cannot be done without knowing the time of birth to within at least a few minutes of accuracy. My own Career Counselor and Success Secrets reading C4 requires a fairly accurate birth time to give accurate suggestions for careers that would fulfill you the most. Sometimes even a one minute change in birth time can change the suggested careers considerably; while in other cases, depending on what time you were actually born, an estimated time of birth within up to an hour before or after might not change the reading much. In any case, an error of more than two hours would certainly change the reading and make it less accurate or even misleading; so a reading like this should not be done unless you can make a fairly good guess at your real birth time.
It is possible to try doing readings based on birth times starting at midnight and then for times at each two-hour interval throughout the day of your birth, and this will usually produce one reading which IS appropriate for you - you will almost certainly be able to tell from the careers it suggests - but it can be a little expensive to order up to 12 readings! The closer you can estimate your birth time, the fewer readings would have to be done to find the right one - and the nice thing is that once you find the "right" career reading, you can be sure that you WERE born within the same two-hour period during which your "Midheaven" point was in the same Sign used to produce the "right" reading. Then you can use that estimated time in future readings to get a more accurate interpretation than you would without knowing your birth time at all.
I once guessed a local celebrity's birth time to within 30 minutes simply by doing the above procedure using his known day and month and year of birth, and sending him the fourth career reading I tried (using 12, 2, 4 and 6 AM times) which happened to suggest the same career which I knew he WAS in at the time. He later confirmed that he was born about 6:30 AM and that the career reading I sent him which arbitrarily used an estimated birth time of 6:00 AM was indeed accurate, in his opinion. I often use this particular reading to "fine-tune" a person's birth time if they don't know it for sure, since it is easy to tell if the time is "off" by simply examining the set of suggested occupations. It's not a matter of trying to decide character traits which may or may not be displayed openly, which makes it harder to "reverse-engineer" a reading to find the real birth time - the careers were either chosen at some time in life or not, or were at least known to be ones the person considered seriously even if they did not choose to follow them (yet). Then one can "test" the assumed birth time by doing other types of readings and seeing how accurate they turn out, perhaps making some further fine adjustments in time so that both types of reading are accuate.
Other types of horoscope readings such as my Karmic Gifts and Lessons reading C2 are not quite as sensitive to birth time, but in some cases a shift in the birth time of even a few minutes could change parts of the reading, while not affecting other parts. The trouble is, you don't know which parts; so you would have to order the reading using your best estimate of your true birth time and then, after the reading has been done, use your own judgment about what parts really are appropriate for you, and which may not be.
On the Cusp?
When determining the Sign the Sun was in, I consider the term "on the Cusp" to be valid only when the Sun or a Planet is positioned within about half of one degree on either side of the Cusp. From Earth, the Sun appears to be one degree in "width", and since the Sun moves across the Zodiac at the rate of about one degree per day (24 hours), then only if you were born within 12 hours before or after the exact hour and minute when the center point of the Sun would be exactly at the point of the Cusp, would you be considered to have your Sun "on the Cusp". Otherwise, no part of the Sun would even be "touching" the Cusp line. Just being born on one of the days listed in those tables of Cusp Dates does not necessarily mean you were actually "born on the Cusp". For one thing, those dates can be off by a whole day, depending on the actual year you were born, and in reality your Sun may not even be near the "cusp" on the date shown in the table.
I should mention that sometimes an astrologer might say the Sun or Moon or a Planet is "on the Cusp" when it is a few degrees away from it on either side (usually less than 5 degrees). But when trying to determine if the Sun is actually straddling the line between two different Signs, or to decide which one it is actually located in, I believe the above "half-degree" rule makes sense.
What is a Cusp?
In astrological terms, a "Cusp" is the imaginary "boundary line" between two Signs, or between two Houses. It is described by the degree of a Sign where it is located, such as "0 degrees of Aquarius" or just "0 Aquarius". Sometimes you may see this written as "00 AQU 00" or where the AQU is replaced by the glyph or symbol for the Sign of Aquarius. If the Sun is at 0 Aquarius (00 AQU 00), or between 0 Aquarius and 0 degrees plus 30 minutes of Aquarius (zero plus 30/60ths of a degree, or 00 AQU 30) - then it is "on the Cusp". If it is at 1 Aquarius, it isn't. If it is between 29 degrees plus 30 minutes of Capricorn (29 CAP 30) and 0 Aquarius (00 AQU 00) it is also "on the Cusp", but actually in the previous Sign.
All of the Cusps of the Signs are at 0 degrees and 0 minutes, by definition, since the Signs are the reference points for locating the Planets, similar to the way degrees of longitude and the meridian lines are used to find places on a map. But the Cusps of the Houses depend on the actual time of a person's birth; so they could start at any degree from 0 to 29 within a Sign. However, we are concerned here with Sign Cusps, so we do not have to worry much about degrees right now.
The Fudge Factor
The main reason for all the confusion about Cusps is that newspapers and magazines don't really have the space available to fully explain how the horoscope columnist determined what "Sign" applies to your particular date of birth. It's a lot simpler to just list twelve date ranges and say that if you were born within one of those ranges you "are" a certain "Sign". This works fine for most people, except for those who were born on one of those twelve dates in the list, or on the day before or after that date.
In reality, even people born the day before or after those dates might be assuming their Sun is in the wrong Sign, for the actual date the Sun moves into the next Sign is not the same every year. But when you want to keep things simple, it is easy to "fudge" things a bit and ignore this little discrepancy. It works for most people, but I have met a few people born on or near one of those Cusp dates who thought their Sun Sign was the wrong Sign, and were reading the wrong daily horoscope all their lives!
When a Cusp is not a Cusp
The kind of "Cusp" implied in those date ranges used in the daily horoscope columns is not exactly the same kind of Cusp described above. It seems like "Cusp" refers to the end of one date range and the start of the next, like a line in time instead of a line in space, which is what Cusps really are. So people quite naturally assume that if their birth month and day are the same as one of these so-called Cusp dates, then they were "born on the Cusp". This is not necessarily so.
It is a convenient way to "fudge" things to keep them simple - at the cost of being somewhat inaccurate. Cusps are not determined by human calendars, but by positions of the heavenly bodies. Even though calendars are actually based on the position of the Earth relative to the Sun, they do not correspond exactly; and are not accurate enough in predicting the position of the Sun, on a certain day, to within one degree. Relying on those date ranges could result in you thinking you have the wrong Sun Sign, if you are born a day before or after, or on, the date they say the Sign changes.
Two Signs is One Too Many
The implication given in those tables of date ranges is that if you were born on one of those "Cusp Dates", then you somehow have two Signs - and are a little like this one, and a little like that one too. Except in certain rare cases, I do not agree.
This is just an extension of the simplistic idea that you can determine where the Sun was located at the time and place of your birth just by finding your birthday in a list of twelve date ranges. It's simple and convenient, but this "fudging" can also be inaccurate and misleading for those born near those particular dates. The calendar we use is based on the motion of the Earth around the Sun, but dates on the calendar do not correspond exactly with the apparent position of the Sun in Zodiac - which is why we have "leap years" to re-adjust our calendar back to reality. Those "cusp dates" can be different by a whole day in certain years, which is enough to make those date ranges unreliable for people born within a day before or after those listed dates.
In or Out
The Sun can only be in one Sign or another, not in two at once. The center point is considered to be such a small point, that it would cross from one Sign to another in less than a minute; and thus will go from 29 degrees and 59 minutes of one Sign, to 0 degrees and 0 minutes of the next Sign, in a very short time (Signs have 30 degrees, and a minute is 1/60th of a degree). The position of the Sun or any planet is never described as being in two Signs at once - it is in one Sign or the other, even if it is barely into the next Sign, or almost leaving the previous Sign. The only time it would be "on the fence", so to speak, is if its center point were exactly at the Cusp line, which is a rather rare occurance, since the center point and the Cusp line are infinitely small.
In reality, since our methods of measuring may not be up to such infinite accuracy, the Sun might be considered to be "on the Cusp" if it were within, say, 1/60th of a degree (one minute of arc) of the Cusp line. If you ever see a birth chart with a position written as 29 AQU 60 (using Aquarius as an example only - this applies to all Signs), then this indicates the Sun or Planet was less than 1 minute (of arc) from the next Cusp, but had not yet moved across the Cusp boundary. Normally, 00 PIS 00 would come after 29 AQU 59, so the 60 is just a way to show how close it was to 00 PIS 00 without actually being there yet. (If you want more precision, you can add "seconds", which are 1/60th of one minute, to the position; but not all computer programs and not many human astrologers can work things out to this degree of accuracy. And since very few people would know their birth time to the exact second anyway, it seems irrelevant to try to calculate with more accuracy than the accuracy of the birth time itself would realistically allow.)
The Sun Falls Into a Sign
Since we often describe the position of the Sun or a Planet as "falling" into a particular Sign or House, I will use a simple analogy about "falling" to help you understand why the Sun is in one Sign or another, but not both. If you were standing on a narrow fence, you would be "on the fence" - but if you were even slightly off balance and leaning towards one side of the fence, you would "fall" on that side if you fell. You would not fall on the side you were not leaning toward; and you would only really be "on the fence" if you were in perfect balance, leaning to neither side. In other words, if your "center of gravity" is not exactly above the narrow fence, you are not really "on the fence" - for you may soon fall off! Think of the center point of the Sun or a Planet being on a Cusp line as similar to your center of gravity being centered on the fence. If it's not very close to the cusp line, the Sun or Planet is not really "on the cusp" - and unless its center is exactly on the cusp line (a rare occurence), it is really in the Sign its center is located in, not in both Signs. The only way to know for sure which Sign it is in is to have an accurate birth chart done using an accurate time and place of birth. In some cases, even a minute or two might make a difference.
Can I Have Characteristics of Both Signs?
Once you get your own personal Natal Horoscope Chart done, you will see which Sign your Sun was actually in at birth. If it is within half a degree of the Cusp, you might have some influences from both Signs; but the Sun itself is in one or the other, not both.
You might say it is sort of "on the fence" - but its center is going to be on one side of that fence or the other, since a Cusp is considered to be a very fine line of zero width. Think of a tiny peppercorn sitting on a fine pencil line - even though it is wider than the line and extends to each side, its center point is on one side of the line or the other. Only in rare cases is the exact center point of the Sun so close to the Cusp line that, within the limits of accuracy available to us, would it have to be said to be exactly "on the Cusp". And that's the only time you would really have some characteristics associated with each of the two Signs.
Some astrologers differ in their opinion about this, so you will have to decide for yourself whether this opinion (which is shared by some highly respected world-famous astrologers like Liz Green in England) makes more sense to you than saying the Sun is "on the cusp" if it is crossing the cusp line at any time on your day of birth - or saying it is "on the cusp" if it was located within one or two or even five degrees of the cusp line at the time of your birth. Keep in mind that the time of birth you were told might be inaccurate by a minute or two, and that if you got a birth chart done using the "real" time of birth, it might show the Sun or a Planet being in a different Sign - not because it is "on the cusp" but because the more accurate birth time placed it in the correct Sign.
What can be of great help here is that because adjacent Signs are very different in their qualities, you can often decide which Sign is the "right" one by observing which Sign's traits are the most appropriate for you. Then you can adjust your birth time to make a new birth chart which does show the Sun or Planet in the Sign which seems more appropriate (because it just might be your "real" birth time). That time adjustment will shift other things in the birth chart, especially the Ascendant and the House Cusps, so if you have to agree that your Sun or a Planet does indeed seem to be in a different Sign than your original birth time indicates, then you should adjust the birth time to get it in the right Sign and use the new time to calculate where ALL the Planets and Cusps are "really" located. But if you should find that the new chart has moved the Sun or another Planet into a different Sign which does not seem as appropriate as the original chart, you may have to do some tweaking of the birth time to get a time which places the Planets into Signs which ALL make sense to you. Only one or two birth times will be close enough to your true birth time (if you are working to the nearest minute), so you just have to experiment until you find that time which produces a chart which makes sense on all counts.
Hopefully, adjusting the time a little to move the Sun into a more appropriate Sign will not cause the Ascendant or Moon or any planets to change Sign. But it might. If the Sign on the Ascendant changes, you should be able to tell if that is the right Sign for it or not, since the Ascendant Sign (also called the Rising Sign) is the most obvious in terms of indicating how a person "appears" to others in terms of personality and style - more so than the Sun Sign. If the Ascendant Sign seems "wrong" then you probably have used an inaccurate birth time, and should try another time.
But Why Do I Really Seem to Have Traits of Both Signs?
Something you wouldn't realize, unless you studied real Astrology, is that the Planet Mercury is always either in the same Sign as the Sun, or in one of two the Signs on either side. It is so close to the Sun that from our perspective on Earth it cannot appear very far from the Sun (as all the Planets beyond Earth's orbit can).
Since Mercury is the Planet of "the Intellect" which indicates how you think and how you "communicate" (by talking or writing or gesturing), and it can often be in the next or previous Sign from your Sun, this can explain why you may think you have some traits of that Sign as well as the traits of your Sun Sign. You are observing the traits of your Mercury, not your Sun.
Venus, too, is always close to the Sun, and cannot be more than two Signs away from the Sun in anyone's horoscope. So if you were born when the Sun was near a Cusp (and even if it isn't near a Cusp, but less likely), there is a good chance your Venus may be in one of the four Signs adjacent to your Sun Sign, and that may be the reason you display some other traits which match that Sign instead of your Sun Sign. Venus indicates, among other things, how you give and receive affection - how you show you care and how you like to be shown that you are cared for. Venus is also about how you "relate" to people you are very close to, in what we call "intimate" relationships, and the nature of your relationships with intimate friends, partners and lovers is indicated by the Sign which Venus occupies in your birth horoscope.
In either of these two common cases, those observed traits of the next or previous Sign are not the result of your Sun being "on the Cusp" at all - but because you have Mercury and/or Venus and/or other Planets (or the Ascendant) in the adjacent Sign. (This can occur even when your Sun is not near a Cusp line, for the Moon and the other six Planets beyond Mercury and Venus can be in ANY Sign.)
The Ascendant is a point which is based on the rotation of the Earth on its own axis, not on its revolution around the Sun; so it moves about one degree every four minutes of Earth time, and thus can be in any Sign - depending on the exact hour and minute of your birth on a given day. It is only in the same Sign as your Sun for about two hours around the time of sunrise; so about 11 out of 12 people will have their Ascendant in a different Sign than their Sun Sign. The Sign the Ascendant is in is called the Rising Sign.
Since the Ascendant indicates how we "appear" to others (as in "first impressions") and also how we want to appear to others - which you could call your "style" or "image" - the traits of your Ascendant Sign (Rising Sign) are even more "noticeable" than your Sun Sign traits, especially to people whom you have just met for the first time. Probably most of the confusion about how you seem to be "more like" a different Sign (than the one those Sun Sign tables of dates is indicating you "should" be like) comes from having your Ascendant in a different Sign than your Sun Sign.
Your Sun Sign indicates how you are "deep down" - as in "character" and "sense of self" and "goals in life" - while the Ascendant Sign indicates how you appear "on the surface" - as in "superficial style" and "mannerisms". How you "look" is not necessarily how you "are", and that is one manifestation of having the Sun and Ascendant in different Signs. You still "are" the way your Sun Sign qualities would indicate - you just may not "act" that way on the surface if your Ascendant is in a different Sign. You may actually "appear" more like your Ascendant Sign than your Sun Sign. Again, it is not being "born on the cusp" that causes this - it is from having your Sun in a different Sign than your Ascendant.
To review a little here... Sign Cusps are always at 0 degrees and 0 minutes of each Sign. House Cusps, however, can be located at any degree and minute of a Sign, since House Cusps are determined not by the positions of the stars, but by the rotation of the Earth and its minute-by-minute alignment towards the stars. The House Cusps shift by about one degree every four minutes (from 29 Aquarius to 0 Pisces, for example) - and this is why the Rising Sign also changes about every two hours, since the Earth rotates once every day, and thus faces all 12 Signs (each being 30 degrees of arc) in an Aquarius-to-Pisces-to-Aries kind of sequence (i.e. counter-clockwise in a standard horoscope chart) during that 24 hours.
You can see the Sun appear to move from the Eastern Horizon to the Western Horizon in about 12 hours or less every day; and you can see the Moon move part way across the sky over the course of just a few hours. ALL the stars and constellations (and the Sun and Moon and Planets) in the band we call the Zodiac also appear to move as the Earth itself is rotating, if you watch for several hours at night time. Actually, the Pole Star is the only star which does not appear to move at all.
So you can see that the time of birth is important if you want to know exactly where the Sun and Moon and Planets were located in relation to your place of birth on Earth. The Sun and Mercury and Venus can move about one degree in 24 hours, and the Moon moves through nearly half a Sign (13-14 degrees) in 24 hours. The Ascendant (described above and below) moves about one degree in just four minutes of time, and the Rising Sign changes about every two hours on average. To know your Rising Sign and the Sign and degree of your Ascendant, you would have to know your time of birth to within a few minutes of the actual time you drew your first breath as a new-born baby.
The Rising Sign and Ascendant
The Sign of the Zodiac which was just coming up on the Eastern Horizon at the time and place of your birth is what is called your "Rising Sign" - and it's there even if you can't see it because the Sun was too bright because you were born during daylight hours. To know which Sign was rising, you have to know what time you were born, and the place you were born (the town or city is sufficient - you don't need to know the hospital or street address).
Rather than having someone run out while you are being born to look at the sky, we can use tables in an Ephemeris, or a computer program, to determine the exact Sign and degree of that point on the horizon, which is called the Ascendant or "Ascendant Point". You may see "the Sign on the Ascendant" refered to as the "Rising Sign" or "Ascending Sign", which mean the same thing. When you see a reference to "the Ascendant", it refers to a point defined by some exact degree (0 to 29) within the Ascending Sign, not just the Sign that was rising at the time of birth.
If you just happened to be born at exactly the moment the Sun was rising on the Eastern horizon, the Sign and degree of the Ascendant and the Sign and degree of the Sun would be the same. If you just happened to be born at exactly the moment the Sun was setting on the Western horizon, the Sign and degree of the Sun would be the same as the Sign and degree of another important Point called "the Descendant", which is always exactly 180 degrees opposite the position of the Ascendant (and thus in the opposite Sign), since they are both on the same Horizon Line.
The tables of dates used in horoscope columns and mass-market Sun Sign books are based on the average dates the Sun enters each Sign (i.e. when it crosses the Cusp point). In reality, the actual date can be a day earlier or later in any given year, because our human calendar does not exactly correspond to the actual movement of the Earth around the Sun. While our calendar shows a year as 365 days, it actually takes 365.25 days for the Earth to return to its original starting point after revolving once around the Sun.
We have a Leap Year every four years to bring the calendar back into line with reality and adjust for those four quarters of a day by adding one full day that year. Being born in a Leap Year does not really affect the "Cusp dates" or the real astrological Cusps in your horoscope chart - but what makes a Leap Year necessary is also the reason the so-called "Cusp dates" are not always the real date the Sun moves into the next Sign. Astrological calculations take Leap Years into account when they translate your own calendar birth date to "Universal Time"; so the Cusps or Signs in your personal horoscope chart are accurate even when you were born in a Leap Year.
Even when you are born on the actual day the Sun crosses into a new Sign; it depends on when you were born during that day. If the Sun entered the Sign near the end of the day, but you were born in the early hours of that same day, then your Sun might actually be in the previous Sign, even though the table of dates would lead you to believe that since you were born on the listed date, you should have your Sun in that next Sign. This is why you must know your actual hour and minute of birth, and get an accurate horoscope chart made for you, or learn how to do it yourself. Otherwise, you will never be certain you have the right Sign for your Sun; and of course you would not know all the details about your personal horoscope chart, and what they could tell you.
Today Here - Tomorrow There
The other thing people often overlook is that these kinds of date tables are based on an assumption that the dates they use are the ones which are applicable at the location (the geographical longitude and latitude) where they were made to be used. If it is January 1st in North America, it may already be January 9nd in Australia or Japan, depending on the time of day you were born. You have to adjust your day of birth to match up to the dates used in the particular table of so-called "Cusp Dates", or you might be referring to the wrong day.
The standard for date changes is the day at Greenwich, England, which is also the reference point for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and Universal Time (UT) - which are basically the same thing. But in North America the date tables used in those horoscope columns may, for convenience, be referenced to Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5) or Pacific Standard Time (GMT -8), which are 5 or 8 hours later than GMT (the local clocks show a time 5 or 8 hours earlier than clocks on GMT in England). I say "later" because the Sun rises later in North America than in England, and the day starts later, in reference to Universal Time. This means the local clocks in North America show a time which appears "earlier" in terms of lower numbers for the hour of the day, but this is because they show local time, not Universal Time.
This can be a bit confusing at first, so give it a little thought and try to understand how the local clocks in your country are "behind" or "ahead of" the clocks at Greenwich, England, which is located on the line of zero longitude on all world maps. If you live west of Greenwich, your local time is "behind"; and if you live east of Greenwich, your local time is "ahead". The International Date Line is 180 degrees of longitude east (and also 180 degrees west, since it is exactly half-way around the world) of Greenwich, so the maximum time shift is 12 hours ahead or behind. But note that a certain number of hours "ahead" or "behind" could take you back into the previous day or into the next day, relative to the "date" at Greenwich at the same actual (Universal) time. Universal Time is also called "Sidereal Time" (sidereal means "of the stars") because it is based on "star time" as opposed to "earth time". The heavenly bodies do not really care how man has constructed his clocks and calendars to use on Earth; they move on their own time! So we humans have to adjust our man-made time measurements if we want to know exactly where the Sun or Moon or a Planet appeared at the local time we were born and in relation to the place we were born on Earth.
Since we know the Sun rises in the East, any place east of your location will have sunrise occur at an earlier actual (Universal) time; so I find it helps to think like this: "When the Sun is rising in New York, it is already close to Noon in England; so the clocks in New York are "behind" the time in Greenwich." When you see time quoted in, say, an email letter, you will see the time for New York written as (GMT -5.0), which tells you to subtract 5.0 hours from the Universal Time at Greenwich to get the local time at New York. The minus sign tells you the local time is "behind" Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). For Tokyo, it would be written (GMT +9.0) since Japan, being far east of Greenwich, is 9 hours "ahead".
If you were born in a place East or West of North America, you should check which day it would have been at the place the Cusp date tables were referenced to. (The daily and weekly horoscopes at STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine are referenced to the Eastern Standard Time Zone (EST) or (GMT -5.0) which is used for Toronto and Montreal and New York and all states in the Eastern U.S.A.).
Nowadays in North America, from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October), when Daylight Savings Time (DST) is in effect, the clocks are artificially advanced one hour; so the equivalent time is then (GMT -4.0). They advance the clocks in England too, and call it "British Summer Time" (BST), which is really (GMT +1.0) - but "Mean" Time indicates that the time (GMT) is a "standard" which is not affected by that change in the local clocks, since it is used as the standard reference time around the world. Greenwich is in England, and English clocks may show GMT +1.0 hours in the summer time - but when we are referring to GMT itself, it is always the same standard time, no matter what the local clocks are showing.
When we use "Daylight Savings Time" in the summmer months, that New York time would be written as (GMT -4.0) to account for the fact that local clocks have been set one hour forward or "ahead" during that time. "Spring forward, Fall back" is a phrase which helps you remember which way the clocks are set in the Spring and Fall seasons. Even though people in England may set their local clocks ahead in the summer months (then being GMT +1), GMT itself always remains the same as 0 hours Universal Time.
Again, the only way to really get an accurate indication of which Sign the Sun was in at your particular time and place of birth, is to get an accurate natal horoscope chart created for you - one which uses your exact time and place of birth in its calculations. And it also must adjust the time to allow for the human habit (in countries far from the Equator) of moving the clock forward by one hour during summer months - i.e. going on Daylight Savings Time. The dates this occurs vary widely for different locations, and knowing when DST was in effect, or not, is quite tricky to determine. In some years, a city only a few miles from a city in another state of the U.S.A. may have been be on DST while the other was not; or one city in the same state might have been using DST while others were not!
Most countries which use DST unified their country-wide application of DST by the late 1960s or 1970s so that all towns changed to DST at the same time (usually 2:00 AM) on the same date (usually a Sunday), but in North America the official DST starting date in April was changed in the late 1980s from the last Sunday to the first Sunday. And one state in the USA still does not use DST at all. It's still quite complicated even for birth dates after 1966, so special reference tables must be used to be sure you are using the right time adjustments for any place of birth north or south of about 30 degrees of latitude. Generally, places near the Equator do not and never did use DST. Also note that during the "energy crisis" of the mid 1970s the USA changed its DST dates during two years to start in January or February instead of April. As I said, "It's complicated!"
Horoscopes are based on "Star Time", which is officially called "Sidereal Time" (ST) or "Universal Time" (UT), and NOT on clocks made by humans. We use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a standard reference to adjust the local clock time to Universal Time. Then there must be a further adjustment to allow for the longitudinal distance from the nearest Time Zone meridian (main longitude lines which are a multiple of 15 degrees) which lies between the actual place of birth and Greenwich, i.e. the meridian whose longitude is within zero to 15 degrees of the longitude of the birth place and also lies closer to Greenwich than the next one, i.e. it has a lower number (in New York that meridian would be the one at 75 W 00 longitude). The Time Zones are set by the meridian line closer to Greenwich, so we have to add a little extra time adjustment to account for the fact that the actual place of birth may be 0-15 degrees farther away from Greenwich and thus be on a "real" time which is some number of minutes later (for places West of Greenwich) or earlier (for East of Greenwich) than places right on the artificial Time Zone meridian. Remember, using Time Zones means assuming all places in that zone use the same local clock time, which is NOT necessarily the way things really are in terms of Universal Time. When dealing with heavenly bodies instead of trains and television schedules, we have to find the exact Universal Time, not the man-made clock time.
A few countries like India and Iran and Guyana (and the Canadian Province of Newfoundland) use a Time Zone which is a fraction of an hour, such as GMT +5.5 for India and GMT -3.5 for Newfoundland, and thus the appropriate meridian would not be an even multiple of 15 degrees for these places. Every 15 degrees of longitude represents one hour of time, since the Earth turns once in 24 hours and each rotation goes through 360 degrees (of longitude) - 360 degrees divided by 24 hours = 15 degrees per hour.
In reality, the Sun rises earlier in a town a few miles to the East of another, even though human clocks may say it is the "same" time because the two towns are in the same man-made Time Zone. The adoption of standard Time Zones was originally proposed by a Canadian engineer, Sir Sanford Fleming, who got "knighted" for his contribution to making sense of the confusing variety of local and railroad time systems. If we want to find out where the Sun and Moon and Planets actually were at the time of our birth, however, we have to work with Universal Time, which is actually based on planetary motion, not on man-made clocks or Time Zones. Wherever the Sun appears to rise at daybreak, it IS "sunrise", no matter what time it says on the local clocks!
Your Personal Horoscope Chart
For those who don't want the hassle of trying to cast their own horoscope chart, or don't unvershave a computer program to do it for them, I offer a plain-text square-chart version of a natal (birth-time) horoscope chart on the STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine web site for US $5, and also include it for free in the $15 "Six Pack" along with five personal horoscope readings. This chart is designed to be transmitted by email and printed on any printer, so it is not graphically "pretty" like some other colored wheel-shaped charts you can also order on the Web. But it does give accurate positions of the Sun, Moon, and all the planets, plus the exact positions of all the twelve House Cusps and your Ascendant, Midheaven, True Node of the Moon, and your Part of Fortune (or Fortuna). I also include a list of all the "Aspects" between the Planets, which saves you lots of time you'd have to spend trying to figure them out yourself. It's available at...
Read the Daily Horoscopes for Both
Your Sun Sign and Your Rising Sign
To get the most from your Daily Horoscopes, what you really need to do (assuming you know your time of birth) is find your "Rising Sign", also called "the Sign on the Ascendant" or "Ascendant Sign" or "Ascending Sign". For most people (11 out of 12), this Sign is usually different than their Sun Sign, and should be the one referred to when reading the daily or weekly horoscopes. If you read the one for your Sun Sign, and the one for your Rising Sign, you'll get a more complete picture than by just reading your Sun Sign forecast.
The Rising Sign is the Sign which was coming up on the Eastern Horizon at the moment you were born. If you were born from about two hours before Sunrise to the actual moment of Sunrise, your Rising Sign is likely the same as your Sun Sign, since if the Sun is rising, so is the Sign it is in. If you were watching the night sky just before the Sun rose, you could actually see the constellation containing the Sun rising up over the Eastern Horizon - at least until the Sun made it too light to see the stars! But you were just a new-born babe then, so you missed it...
A little more detail about Zodiac Signs and Constellations:
Keep in mind that in earth-based Tropical Astrology now used by most western astrologers (and myself), the zodiac Signs are not the same as the original ancient constellations which were seen along that band in the sky called the Zodiac. All constellations seen by ancient sky watchers were just perceived "patterns" in the stars that were given names relating to the mythology of the civilization of the observer. They formed the Sidereal Zodiac used in ancient Astrology.
This discrepancy between modern Signs of the Tropical Zodiac and the ancient constellations of the Sidereal Zodiac is due to a slow shift in the actual direction the Earth's axis points in relation to the stars, called "precession of the equinoxes", and modern Tropical Astrology takes this phenomena into account by constantly adjusting the Sign cusps to our current earth-based viewpoint and ignoring the old star patterns which were used as visual markers by ancient astrologers who didn't have the use of telescopes or computers. They noticed when a "wandering star" (a planet) moved across a constellation of fixed stars. The fixed stars were the reference point, while the moving "stars" (planets) were what interested the ancient astrologers, for their motions would indicate some event on Earth which affected their king and country.
In Sidereal and Vedic Astrology, the ancient constellations are still used to determine the Signs of the zodiac, so Signs and constellations are still considered identical for practicioners of those branches of Astrology. But if you are using the type of Astrology practiced widely in Europe and North America and most English-speaking countries (but not India) the star pattern one would see coming up on the horizon at the time of a person's birth would be the part of a constellation which NOW is considered to contain the "sign" corresponding to their Rising Sign.
In other words, if the "constellation" of Aries were seen to be "rising" at your time of birth, it may actually be the Sign of Pisces which is rising; since all Sign cusps have shifted "backwards" through most of the previous constellation which originally indicated that Sign. (When the cusp of the Sign of Aries finally moves all the way through the constellation of Pisces and enters the constellation of Aquarius more than one hundred years from now, we will have finally reached "the Age of Aquarius".)
Signs in Tropical Astrology are now calculated by computers, and not tied to those ancient imaginary star patterns called constellations which one can still see in the night sky. I think that since we are all born on Earth and since the Earth itself has changed by shifting its axis over the centuries, it makes more sense to adjust the way we practice Astrology to reflect this reality, rather than to keep using the system of Astrology developed four or five thousand years ago when the constellations and Signs were named.
By the way, "tropical" means "relative to the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn" - two lines of geographical latitude which are determined by the way the Earth tilts towards or away from the Sun during different phases of its orbit around the Sun, which is what causes the Seasons. The Tropics indicate the northernmost and southernmost points on Earth where the Sun appears directly overhead at the beginning of the Season of Summer in either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. I live north of the Tropic of Cancer, so I never see the Sun at its "zenith" at any time of year - in Canada (and in the USA) it always appears lower in the sky than directly overhead, but appears the highest at the Summer Solstice in June, when the Sun enters the Sign of Cancer and appears at its zenith (highest point) in places located on the Tropic of Cancer.
The Rising Sign can be seen in your natal horoscope chart as the Sign on the Cusp of the First House, and also as the Sign in which the Point called the Ascendant is located (the Ascendant point and the First House Cusp are the same point, because that is how the starting point of the First House is determined). Your Ascendant is a Point defined by the actual degree of a Sign which was exactly on the Eastern Horizon at the exact time of your birth. Points are not "real" things like Planets, but in Astrology they are treated similarly, as being "in" a Sign and indicating certain characteristics of a person. There are other Points used in Astrology, but the Ascendant and Midheaven are the two most important ones.
Even if you think you were born "on the cusp", unless you were born within 12 hours of the exact time the Sun actually crossed into the next Sign, I would forget about reading daily forecasts for the two adjacent Signs at a "Cusp". Instead, read the horoscope forecast for your actual Sun Sign, and also the one for your actual Ascendant Sign (Rising Sign).
How Accurate Can Sun Sign Horoscopes Be?
Please understand that since no one has actually told the astrologer his or her personal time and place of birth, these "daily horoscope" columns cannot be nearly as accurate as a forecast based on an individual's exact time and place of birth. If you really want to get some useful information from Astrology, you need to work from a real horoscope chart, not a generalized forecast which has to apply to some degree to everyone whose Sun is located somewhere between 0 and 30 degrees of a particular Sign.
Without knowing which degree the Sun (and the Moon and all the Planets) actually occupied at your time of birth, no astrologer can produce a really accurate, detailed, and useful forecast or personality analysis for you. Without at least the day, month, and year of birth being given, a real horoscope of any kind cannot be cast. When an astrologer does those Sun Sign horoscope columns, he has to assume certain things and use estimated positions of the Sun and House Cusps, which may or may not be close to the reality of your own horoscope. Other things, which cannot even be estimated, have to be ignored and not discussed.
What Else Affects the Accuracy of Sun Sign Horoscopes
Another thing which can make those simplistic "Sun Sign" daily horoscopes appear inaccurate at times, is what I call the difference between "themes" and "variations on the theme", to use a musical metaphor. Or you could say "patterns" and "forms". For example, all crystals have one of six "patterns", such as "six-sided", but that pattern takes various "forms" in the many kinds of six-sided crystals. Snowflakes (crystalline solid water) are six-sided crystals, but no one has seen two that have exactly the same form. Similarly, even if a certain astrological factor or "influence" would indicate that, say, all people with Sun in Taurus would have a certain "theme" expressed in their lives on a given day, some Taureans would have it expressed in different ways than other Taureans.
Writers of Sun Sign horoscopes tend to mention rather specific details, but the chance of that specific variation on the "theme" being expressed in every Taurean's life on that day are far from certain, even though the same general "theme" may actually be expressed in all or most Taurean's lives at that time. We tend to remember the "hits", and forget all the "misses", which is why many people may think the daily horoscope they read is more accurate than it really is.
Don't forget that we all have Free Will, which means we can CHOOSE whether or not to be "influenced" by a particular astrological factor when we make the choices whose consequences affect the emotions and experiences in our individual lives (see more about Free Will below). In general, the more consciously "aware" you are of your own psyche and the inner desires and fears which motivate you, the more you are able to excercise your Free Will. You can be aware of an astrological "influence" and then choose to let it guide your choices - or to not affect your choices at all. When you are not "aware" then you are likely to automatically make choices guided by those "influences" - and thus are more "predictable". What is "predicted" in your horoscope is more likely to actually take place in your life when you let those influences unconsciously affect your personal actions and reactions - instead of making conscious choices by exercising your Free Will to choose as you see fit.
Don't buy into the "bull" that you are "fated" to experience what your horoscope "predicts" for you; for your "Fate" is actually the consequence (what follows in sequence) of your own past choices, and your future is the consequence of your present choices. A wise astrologer once said, "Character is Destiny" - and I take that to mean that the character you were born with (and can mold through your choices in life) is what influences the choices you make - and thus determines the consequences those choices lead to.
You were born with the type of character indicated in your birth horoscope, and have the basic needs and motivations it indicates; but you also can make choices about what you believe about yourself, about what actions you will take, and how you will react to your experiences in this lifetime. It may be difficult or even impossible to change your basic nature, but you can choose many different ways to express your nature, and which parts of your nature to express or suppress. A man born with a good imagination and a talent for persuasion can choose to become a copywriter or a con man, or a salesman or a swindler - and his "destiny" will likely be determined by his choice.
You are always in control of your future, for you make it for yourself. Whether you make it the way you really want it (by consciously choosing to act according to what you desire), or make it by default (unconsciously choosing to be guided by your fears, or automatically reacting out of habit the same way you did in the past), is what determines the kind of future you will experience. You always have a choice. Even not to choose is a choice; and all choices have consequences. But they are your choices and your consequences! You are responsible for your consequences; but you also have the power to choose them!
Another thing affecting the "accuracy" of Sun Sign daily horoscope columns, and also the description of "traits" of the various Sun Signs in popular media, is the influences of the Moon and Ascendant and all the other Planets in a person's unique birth horoscope. The Sun is the most important indicator of character, but not the only one; for there are a Moon and eight Planets in everyone's horoscope chart too - each one symbolizing and indicating a different part of their psyche.
When the moving ("transiting") Planets make certain angles to the position of the Sun and Moon and Planets at birth, they add other "influences" - some of which might counteract, or even emphasize, the kinds of influence they indicate when they are making angles (called "aspects") to the Sun - which are the only ones the Sun Sign horoscope writer can consider, since he doesn't know your full birth date (not even the year) and cannot tell where the Moon and Planets were located at your time and place of birth (i.e. in your personal natal chart).
The same effect applies when the Planets make various aspects to each other at the time of your birth, so your psyche or "personality" might have some traits which are contradictory to your typical Sun Sign traits, and other traits which are emphasized even more, due to the influences of the Moon and other Planets in your birth chart. For example, a typically "outgoing" and "cheerful" person with Sun in Sagittarius, but who has Virgo on his Ascendant (i.e. Virgo Rising), will appear more modest and introverted and more of a "worrier" than is typical for an optimistic Sun in Sagittarius type - because the Sign on the Ascendant indicates one's "style" and this person would have a "Virgo" kind of style. On first meeting, they may often be seen as a somewhat shy Virgo, even though their Sun is actually in very gregarious Sagittarius. Similiar effects can occur when the Moon is in a Sign which has a quite different form of expression than the Sign of the Sun. A Virgoan with Moon in Sagittarius is usually more outgoing and cheerful than the typical Sun in Virgo person.
"For Your Entertainment"
The "daily horoscopes" are fun to read and check out, but they are written "for entertainment only" - mainly because they cannot possibly be very accurate, since accurate birth information about you or any individual is not available when they are written. Often there are surprisingly accurate "hits" when something actually does happen for an individual that was "predicted" in the daily horoscope column - but I doubt if every person with the Sun in that same Sign would have had a similar event happen at the same time. In general, certain "themes" may play out for all those people, but a specific form this takes will likely apply only to certain people at a given time, not to all in the group.
Have fun reading your daily horoscope column to see if it makes some accurate predictions for you; but don't base your important decisions on a generalized Sun Sign horoscope forecast. If you want to use Astrology for understanding yourself better, or for guidance in the choices you make, get your own unique Horoscope Chart "cast" (created) and have some competent astrologer "read" (interpret) it for you. Better yet, learn how to do it yourself!
Free Will - Freedom to Choose
Don't forget that you have Free Will to make your own choices, so what happens in your life is really determined by your personal choices, even if you have the same influences or temptations as many other people. We don't all make the same choice under the same circumstances. Some people love to dance in the rain, while others bitch about it ruining their parade. So read your daily or weekly horoscope column as if it were describing the circumstances - but reserve the choices for yourself! (Unfortunately, many people do not even choose to make their own choices, so the events in their life are more likely to be determined by circumstances, not choice.)
When you rely only on the generalized daily horoscope columns for your astrological guidance, it is something like watching a health show on TV instead of going to your own doctor for medical advice. If you want to use Astrology to help you make better choices and experience a better life, then you really need to use "real" Astrology and work from a personal horoscope chart, or have one cast and interpreted for you by a competent and caring professional astrologer.
Using the Horoscope Chart for Interpretations
Once you have your Natal Horoscope or "Birth Chart" you can discover much information and many insights about yourself through Astrology, by reading the interpretations given here at STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine or other astrology web sites, or by reading some of the many fine Astrology text books listed on the Astrology Book List page, or by ordering some of the many emailed Horoscope Readings written by Michael Star's own horoscope interpretation software - which can be ordered here at STAR SIGNS for US $5 to $25 (personal checks and credit cards accepted).
- Michael Star
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Published JAN 25 1999. Updated August 21 2003 15:00 EDT(c)1999-2004 Michael Star (World-wide rights reserved.)
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"Your Horoscope is the map of your soul's journey.
Astrology is how to read it."
(c)1996 Michael Star
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