Astrological terms are bandied about now, even by those who are not students of the stars.  Who doesn’t know that a retrograde Mercury is a sure harbinger of snafus?  And nearly everyone alive seems to know his or her own sun sign.

But what about all those other terms that astrologers toss out with abandon – terms like ascendant and transit and lunation?  With hopes of making your journey into the cosmic science of starwatching a little easier and more pleasant, I’d like to offer a glossary of terms – not getting too technical, mind you – just enough so you can hold your own with astrologers and other mystic-folk when they talk shop.

Have fun with your Astrological Crib Sheets and always remember that the stars impel, they don’t compel, so use their wisdom to help you progress on your journey with knowledge and understanding.

Ascendant. This is also called your Rising Sun.  It’s the sign on the cusp of your first House.  (Imagine a clock face – the Ascendant would be at 9:00.)  In horoscope interpretation, the Ascendant is very important – it describes the way people see you, the outward persona you show to the world.  For example, a woman with a Cancer sun and a Leo ascendant may easily appear flamboyant and theatrical when at heart she’s a Cancerian softly.


Aspect. This is the relationship between planets, house cusps or other sensitive points (like asteroids) in your chart.  Conjunctions, trines, sextiles, squares and oppositions are all aspects you’ve probably heard about.


Asteroids. Only a few asteroids are mentioned in astrology.  Chiron, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta and Lillith are the ones you’ll probably hear mentioned.


Conjunction. When two planets are within 6° of each other they form as aspect called a conjunction.  The effects may be positive or negative, depending on which planets are involved.


Cusp. This is the dividing line between two houses.


Degree. The Zodiac circle has 360°, divided among 12 Houses, each of which relates to different aspects of life (home, family, career, partnership, etc.)


Descendant. The 7th House Cusp.  (This would be 3:00 on your imaginary clock).


Dragon’s Head. The North Node of the Moon.  This is considered a benevolent node.


Dragon’s Tail. The South Node of the Moon.  This is considered a malevolent node.


Elements. Sometimes called Triplicities because there are four groups of three signs each:

  • Fire signs:  Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
  • Water Signs:  Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
  • Earth signs:  Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
  • Air signs:  Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Ephemeris. A book which lists the sun’s, moon’s and planets’ positions on any day of any year, so an astrologer can make calculations.



Mean Time (GMT).

This is the standard time set for all navigation, international communications and astronomy, as well as astrology.


Horoscope. This is a chart of the heavens at the moment you drew your first breath.  It shows the position of the sun, moon and planets at that exact moment in time and is properly called your natal chart.


Houses. The horoscope is divided into 12 parts called Houses.  Each House represents a different aspect of your life and opportunities.

  • Angular Houses are the strongest:  1st, 4th, 7th & 10th
  • Succedent Houses are neutral:  2nd, 5th, 8th, 11th
  • Cadent Houses are weakest:  3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th
Lunation. The period from one New Moon to the next, or the arrival of the New Moon itself, as it moves into the next sign.


Malefics. Saturn and Mars, which tend to cause oppression and strife in a chart.  Pluto and Uranus can also cause havoc.


Midheaven. The cusp of the 10th House.  (Or 12:00 on your imaginary clock.)


Opposition. 180° aspect in which two planets oppose each other, generally causing tension coming from outside the person.


Part of Fortune. A favorable point, the same distance in longitude from the Ascendant as the moon is from the sun.


Progression. The future chart of a person, calculated so that each day after birth represents a year in the life of the person charted.


Retrograde. When a planet appears to be moving backward because of the relative movement of the earth and planets in their orbits.


Rising Sign. Ascendant.


Signs. Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces.


Square. 90° aspect which is difficult and suggests tensions within the person.


Transit. The continuous movement of the planets and the aspects they make to the natal (birth) chart.


Trine. Favorable 120° aspect between planets.