Management of Measurement Constructs

Analytical Techniques January 31, 2005

Solar Return Interpretation Insights
By guest astrologer Mary Fortier Shea

Mary Shea (PMAFA since 1980) has made a lifelong study of mysticism and metaphysics, which she integrates with psychological concepts in her astrology. She has her M.A. in Counseling Psychology. Her book Planets in Solar Returns is probably the most celebrated treatise on Solar Returns extant. She resides in Maryland and can be reached at, her highly articulated website, filled with Solar Return discussion.

Of the various predictive astrological techniques such as transits, Secondary Progressions, Solar Arcs, and Solar Returns, I am of the opinion that Solar Returns are the easiest to interpret. I also believe that once the Solar Return is understood, transits, Secondary Progressions, and Solar Arcs become part of a cohesive yearly theme that makes sense on many levels, provides accurate timing, and suggests the magnitude of events and issues. For me, the Solar Return is the starting point of a yearly update reading and the main attraction. By keeping the following points in mind, we can simplify the interpretation process and increase our understanding of the Solar Return:

1. House placement is more important than Sign

I have long said that if you can read a natal chart, you can read a Solar Return because Solar Returns are actually easier to interpret than a natal chart. To start with, House placement of a Solar Return planet is everything while the Sign is usually unimportant. Here is the reasoning for this:

  • The Sun is always the same degree, minute, second, and sign.
  • Mercury can only be plus or minus one sign from the Sun.
  • Venus has 8 placements that repeat themselves with only a little variation. Usually, one of these placements is retrograde. (You can learn a lot about your love life just by knowing what these 8 placements are and how they fit in with the natal chart.)
  • The Moon has a 19-year eclipse cycle that also repeats positions.
  • Jupiter changes sign every year and is in either one sign or the other.
  • Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto change signs infrequently.
  • Mars is the only planet that seems to have a mind of its own in regard to sign.
Because of the limitations in regard to the Sign a planet is in, little consideration needs to be given to a planet's zodiacal location while greater emphasis should be applied to the House placement of a Solar Return planet.

For example, Uranus and Neptune in the 2nd House of the Solar Return chart indicates hand-to-mouth economics, earnings based on commission, and non-materialistic attitudes and values, regardless of the Sign either planet is in.

2. Aspects are more important than House rulerships

I believe the tension or ease in a Solar Return ismore aptly represented by the aspects between planets in the Houses than by following the trail of House rulerships. Keep it simple. A square between Pluto in the 10th House of career and the Sun in the 1st House makes a very clear statement about the conflict between authority figures at work and a personal need for independence and self-determination. The fact that the 10th House is ruled by Sagittarius and therefore Jupiter and the 1st House is ruled by Pisces, also Jupiter, does not mean that there is a commonality that will resolve this issue easily.

3. Retrogradation

Mercury, Venus, and Mars are the only retrogrades important in a Solar Return. Jupiter, Saturn, and the outer planets are each retrograde for half the year. Fifty percent of the population will have these planets retrograde in their Solar Returns and the effect is more generational than personal. Retrograde outer planets are not a concern except for the year a normally retrograde or direct planet changes direction in the Solar Return. This is very infrequent. I will have Pluto retrograde in my Solar Return all of my life unless I live a very long time. If I am still around, I will be watching closely!

4.Use a single chart technique

There is no real need to read the Solar Return in comparison to the natal chart. It is a stand-alone chart and, in my opinion, should be read as such. Ninety-five percent of the interpretation comes from the Solar Return chart itself and there is little more to be discovered by comparing it to the natal. If you must use a double chart comparison technique, always put the Solar Return on the inner wheel with the natal chart placed around the outside. Remember, it is House placement that is of great importance when interpreting the Solar Return. If you place the Solar Return chart around the natal, you will lose all House reference!

5. Period of significance

The Solar Return chart begins to gain significance three months before the birthday. Sometimes there is an actual event that occurs exactly three months to the day before the birthday that initiates the new themes. Events that occur in that pre-birthday period are more likely to be associated with the new incoming Solar Return than the retiring one. It is easy to get confused and look for confirmation in the wrong Solar Return.

6. Implementing your favorite techniques

You can always apply your personal area of interest or expertise to the Solar Return chart. Anything you routinely follow in a natal chart can be added to the Solar Return. If you are a Sabian Symbol devotee, a follower of asteroids, user of Arabian parts or the nodes, you can interpret these elements in the Solar Return as long as you see all interpretations as temporary and lasting a year or less.

I see the Solar Return chart as a good starting place for a yearly update reading, but I then include transits, Secondary Progressions, and Solar Arcs. Transits are very good timers of events and embellish the Solar Return theme with more specific information. Secondary Progressions and Solar Arcs give a sense of the magnitude of events. I prefer to see a similarity of interpretation from all four techniques and I look for confirmation in answering a client's questions. Using an integrated listing of exact hit dates for transits, Secondary Progressions and Solar Arcs helps to clearly define the events or issues and also refine the timing. I see these four techniques as working together, though beginning with the Solar Return chart.

On my website, at is more information about interpreting Solar Returns. There you will find a department of "Frequently Asked Questions"; Interpretations for the Sun in each of the Solar Return Houses; and a free downloadable PDF e-booklet originally published by Llewellyn in Astrology's Special Measurements: How to Expand the Meaning of the Horoscope, edited by Noel Tyl, and now out of print. [The e-booklet has example charts and discusses in depth the following topics: Tropical versus Sidereal Solar Returns; precessed versus non-precessed tropical charts; natal, residential and vacation Solar Returns; single-chart versus double-chart techniques for the Solar Return.]


Next Update, February 28, 2005


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