Six Types of Western Astrology
It's about more than your sun sign
If you walk into your local coffee shop during the morning rush (think pre-Covid) and ask people their astrological sign I can pretty much guarantee everyone will know their sun sign and a handful will know their rising sign or more–and that number is growing, particularly amongst millennials.
These days, astrology is booming in both its pop and more complex forms in the West (I say the West here because there are many types of astrology in the world, like Vedic astrology in India, Sheng Xiao Chinese astrology, etc. but it’s beyond the scope of this post or my knowledge to cover them all.)
However, in my experience most people still don’t understand how rich and varied this tradition is and what types of skills many of its form involve.
That’s why I decided to write a short survey about six different types of Western astrology still practiced today.
So, here goes.
Sun Sign Astrology
Yes, checking up on your weekly love life if you’re a Libra or how things will pan out at work if you’re a Sag in a horoscope column is definitely still the most ubiquitous form of astrology.
However, this approach has only really been around since 1937 as a sort of media ploy to bring in more readers to the newspaper’s astrology column. To understand someone writing about a full birth chart analysis, you really should have at least a basic understanding of astrology, but everyone can quickly figure out their sun sign.
Although the first “star sign” columnist, was an actual astrologer, my guess is that many who followed in his footsteps were really just hack writers from some other department who simply made the stuff up week by week.
That’s changed for the most part these days. Popular sun sign astrologers like Susan Miller are actual astrologers, not borrowed help from the Metro section who in reality can’t even tell Virgo from Aries.
If an actual astrologer is at the helm, they can definitely say some general things about people’s sun signs by tracking the transits and aspects other planets will be making over a period of time. However, by nature theses predictions still tend to be quite general and don’t show the reader how deep astrology can actually go.
Although sun sign sign is designed to be light and entertaining rather that deep and complexly predictive, it is the way most people become interested in astrology, a sort of “gateway drug” to astro land if you will.
Who knows? If I hadn’t bought that Aquarius mug while visiting relatives in South Dakota all those years ago, maybe I would have never become interested in astrology and I wouldn’t be writing this article today.
It was a nice mug though.
When people dig deeper into astrology than the sun sign approach, the next step is nearly always natal astrology.
This type of astrology is one where you create a chart based on the time, date and place you were born. Once this information is entered into one of the many natal chart calculators available online (or calculated by hand if you want to be hardcore), you’ll end up with a pie-shaped chart like this with lots of lines and little symbols. It looks something like this one belonging to the King of Rock and Roll.
Ten planets, twelve houses, twelve signs, four angles, four elements, three triplicities, four major aspects, Chiron and countless asteroids too if you like to add those in.
Oh yeah, and don’t leave out the lunar nodes and Arabic lots and the sometimes otherworldly drama of the fixed stars.
To become truly competent at reading astrology charts, let alone good, you really need to put in several years of concentrated study.
You can get free written reports for your chart in various places online, which can be a helpful start, but the best way to understand this stuff is to dive head in yourself.
If you do, you’ll have plenty of different approaches to choose from. Without going into too much detail, modern approaches (e.g. evolutionary astrology) tend to be closely connected to depth psychology and/or spirituality while more traditional forms (e.g. Hellenistic) are more technical and predictive.
Personally, I prefer to use the traditional approach mixed in with some of the psychological savvy the modern era brought us – truly the best of both worlds.
Mundane astrology is astrology that examines and makes predictions for history and world events and how they might play it in particular regions. They do so partly by casting charts for a particular event, say the Challenger explosion in the 80s, and then analyzing the chart to look for clues, comparing and contrasting it with similar events, etc.
Other important factors they look at include ingress charts, studying eclipses and following lunar and planetary cycles.
Truly the researchers of the discipline, most mundane astrologer still need day jobs. You can make a living as an astrologer, but it would be tough to do if your only focus was mundane astrology. People will pay for natal readings, or horary and electional astrology, yes, but there’s not much of a market if you specialize in explaining flood cycles over the past four hundred years from an astrological standpoint.
If you’d like more insight about what mundane astrology can do, then check out the book Cosmos and Psyche by the historian Richard Tarnas. He really deep dives into the outer planetary cycles here (the book was written in 2006, but his analysis of Saturn Pluto cycles is basically dead on for describing the disaster that was 2020) and you don’t need previous astrological knowledge to follow what he describes.
It’s well written and a great read in general, so pick up a copy, and make sure to order it from an independent bookseller (Jeff Bezos is kinda rich enough already, just saying…)
Although natal astrology has been by far the most popular form of astrology since eat 20th century, this definitely was not always the case.
Back in, say, 1532 unless you were of noble birth, there’s little chance you would know the time you were born or even the day. Without that information, natal astrology is of little use.
But did you still go to see the astrology in his stand on market day?
When you did, you paid him a handful of coins and asked questions like, “Will my horse get sick?” or “Does Anabel love me?” or “Where is my hat?” The astrologer then cast a chart, interpreted what he saw and gave you an answer. (Sorry about using he here, but back in the day it was pretty much a given that an astrologer would only be a dude).
Known as horary astrology, this is where astrology dips into divination, similar in some ways to tarot.
Like the tarot, horary usually only works well if the questions are concrete and relevant to the present or not-too-distant future.
In other words, general questions like “Will I ever get married?” don’t work that great, whereas “Will I marry Vicky next year?” do.
However, unlike tarot, horary is also very good at helping people find lost objects (as well as letting you know if the search if futile, so time to give up). I’ve only dabbled in this form of astrology, but I did use it to successfully locate my cell phone.
The reading told me it was “in the study on the floor”. Since I was sure my phone was on my desk in the “study” aka my office/bedroom (it wasn’t really lost), I thought the reading had gotten it wrong. But when I went and looked, my phone was indeed on the floor being charged.
The seventeenth century English astrologer William Lilly is especially well-known for this type of astrology. Apparently, he used to ask his servants to hide things around the house which he then found by casting a hoary chart.
Oh, dear Willy and his Friday night shenanigans.
Horary is very complex and technical and I’m definitely interested in learning the art to add to my astrology toolbox. I just signed up for a course at STA which kicks off in July, so stay tuned!
Remember how I said astrology can’t tell you for sure if you’ll ever get married someday?
Well, it sure as heck tell you when to get married if you decide to get hitched!
Yep, electional astrology is the branch of astrology that helps people find auspicious times to do just about anything: Weddings, founding businesses, sending an e-mail to your boss, changing your hairstyle, all of these events and more can be effectively planned with the help of electional astrology.
This type of astrology is a huge part of Indian Vedic astrology, but it finds plenty of clients in the West as well, including Nancy Reagan, who worked with the astrologer Joan Quigley for many years when Ronnie was in the White House.
Although electional astrology is super helpful, it is also most certainly the branch of choice for those with OCD-tendencies. Just because you can cast a chart to find the best time to go get a sandwich at the deli around the corner, doesn’t mean you should.
Unless it is something super important, like a date for a wedding or founding a business, etc. I personally think it’s still best to just follow your gut.
That said, I do definitely keep planetary hours in mind for a lot of smaller decisions (more on that soon).
As you might have guessed, astrological magic is where astrology meets magic – who would have thought?
In a nutshell, astrological magic is the art of creating talismans based on precise astrological timing which are created out of materials that support a particular energy (e.g. topaz for Jupiter, silver for the moon.). The rituals, symbols and images used are those found in historical texts such as the Picatrix and the Three Books of Occult Philosophy.
Vague, I know, but there’s a lot to get into here.
Ok, I think that’s enough astro talk for now. If I’ve left anything out here or you want to know more about a certain form, be sure to leave a comment below.
I’ll be back next week with an astrological overview for January 2021, so until then happy holidays!
Rebeccah Dean is a writer and astrologer based in Berlin. To find out more about Rebeccah and her work, swing by rebeccahdean.com