Management of Measurement Constructs

Analytical Techniques: November 30, 2004

The Sabian Symbols & Astrological Analysis

”Every word was once a poem”: Ralph Waldo Emerson

By guest astrologer, Blain Bovee

Blain Bovee was prominent on the Discussion Forum of this website for some six months of daily analysis commentary of the Sabian Symbols in Astrology. His insights were crystal sharp, remarkable, and valuable. His sensitivity and skill with these symbols attracted a book contract from Llewellyn Publications, and his artful, practical, imposing book The Sabian Symbols & Astrological Analysis has just been published in November 2004. Blain maintains his practice in Guelph Ontario and is preparing a series of lectures for presentation throughout Canada and the United States. He can be reached at and 1-800-445-5250.

In a single day in Balboa Park, San Diego, 1925, Marc Edmund Jones and Elsie Wheeler derived the full set of 360 Sabian Symbols: one for each degree of the zodiac. The images derived at that time have gained great prominence in Astrological analysis, prompting further research and interpretation over the years. There is a great deal to be gained from honoring the original words as they were written on that remarkable day. Words are magic, have a power to reveal, enlighten, and awaken understanding. As practicing Astrologers, we all know the greatest challenge in our field lies in finding the right language to communicate with our clients… and ourselves. When exploring the world of the Sabian Symbols, one finds a treasury of poetic word images. One also finds when honoring the original penciled words of Marc Edmund Jones that, indeed, every word was once a poem.

The classic works on the Sabian Symbols begin with Marc Edmund Jones’ The Sabian Symbols in Astrology (1953). This culminating masterpiece, the result of 30 years of work, presents the Sabian Symbols through their degree oppositions, Aries 1 facing Libra 1, an insight I have revisited in my own work.

Dane Rudhyar’s An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and Its 360 Symbolic Phases (1973), re-interprets the symbols in a new version. Rudhyar’s personal stamp on how the symbols read and his insightful interpretations remain favored by many.

Lynda Hill has done more to promote the popularity and understanding of the Sabian Symbols over the last 15 years than perhaps anyone. Lynda’s The Sabian Symbols as an Oracle has made the Sabian Symbols available to many in a warm and personal way, free of the often ponderous language of Jones and Rudhyar.

Diana Roche’s The Sabian Symbols: A Screen of Prophecy, another extremely important work, presents reproductions of the actual index cards upon which M. E. Jones wrote the original symbols, plus interpretation suggestions which follow Jones’ own efforts.

All of the works mentioned are worthy of your library. What struck me as I began to intensively investigate the Sabian Symbols is that even M. E. Jones changes the wording of a few symbols. Rudhyar goes even further afield from the original index cards. It is certain that changes to the symbols were made in the spirit of interpreting, of amplifying and illuminating the originals. However, changes to the wordings are interpretations, not the symbols themselves. Pursuing this further, I found that in every instance the original wording (with the single exception: 4 Virgo) revealed more sense when the derivations of the words in opposing symbol pairs was followed.

In considering what would best further understanding of the beauty and magic of the Sabian Symbols, I chose a path of honoring the original words, of honoring the very revelatory degree-oppositions, and of inviting the reader to think through the hidden sense of meanings within the presentation of interpretations. In this way, further insight is encouraged: one gets the feel for one’s own “take” on the symbols involved; one feels the magic and wisdom of the words through their derivations, how the fingers of sense spread with remarkable intricacy.

Applying the Sabian Symbols

First, we must develop a feel for the vista of it all: the poetic expanse that is being opened to us when considering the symbol for a specific placement. It is much like, when dreaming, one opens a previously undiscovered door in one’s home. The door opens to reveal a vast numinous landscape, one fraught with significance for understanding oneself.

Illustrating the symbol oppositions, consider the following (always round up! For example, the location 27 degrees Aries 37 minutes = “28 Aries”):
28 Aries “A large disappointed audience”: any placement here, but especially the Sun, Moon or Ascendant, often experiences disappointed expectations in some area of life (which can be ascertained through house placement and rulership routing). The opposing symbol, 28 Libra,“A man in the midst of brightening influences” assures an uplifting grace: although expectations can be let down, there is ever something better soon to follow.

20 Leo/Aquarius, “The Zuni sun worshipers” and “A big white dove, a message bearer”. One remarkable feature about the Zuni Indians is that their language is linguistically unrelated to any other, even those of fellow Hopi nations. I asked a client with a 20 Leo Mercury placement about a secret made-up language she might employ. She replied that she loved improvisation, comedic theatre, and had the ability to spontaneously speak a gibberish language much to the delight of audiences and amazement of her co-actors on stage. I nearly fell off my chair laughing as she demonstrated this capacity over the phone. These kinds of entertaining examples abound.

6 Taurus, “A bridge being built across a gorge”: one theme that emerges is that of throat issues. My Sun-Moon midpoint lies within this degree. I speak softly, have a problematic reverse neck curvature, was born with the cord tightly wound around my neck and have a deeply seated fear of suffocation. The opposing degree-symbol 6 Scorpio “A gold rush” suggests a golden voice since “gorge” is related to throat and gorgeous adornments such as those expressed with a rich, resonant voice. Noel Tyl’s Uranus in within the 6th degree Taurus: a very successful opera singer with an unforgettable and distinctly recognizable voice!!

Word derivations: developing sense. Consider 11 Taurus “A woman sprinkling flowers”. “Sprinkling with water” is actually the primarily sense of the common word “aspersion”. “Aspersion” derives from the root word in Latin "sparsus" meaning scarce or sparse, and the Latin "spargere" to scatter or strew. In the context of religious ceremony, sprinkling water, holy water for example, is an expression of blessing. One may bless flowers with a sprinkling of much needed water. However, the word aspersion is better known in modern times as a false charge or defamation. “Casting aspersion” on someone is to cast a stain on their character, tarnishing their reputation. Over time the meaning of aspersion has shifted from the sense of besprinkle as with water to bespatter as with a stain. Suddenly we are alerted to a possible shadow dynamic beneath the surface of what appears to be an innocuous symbol.

This allows for a careful question in consultation regarding the tendency to bless or to “cast aspersions”: how little separates blessing from tarnishing the reputation of others! Careful consideration of opposing symbols and the derivative meanings of the words dispels any over-concern with negative or “reversed” symbols.

Within the horoscope as a whole, it only stands to reason that the Sabian Symbols for dominant aspect configurations, important points, special brush stroke indicators, will also leap off the page with significance. Believe in the big bells you see in the horoscope and then extend these crucial points, positions and configurations through the magic door of sense opened by the Sabian Symbols.

We apply the Sabian Symbols to:

 All planet and point positions with added emphasis to the Sun and Moon, Midheaven, Ascendant (the Sabian Symbols for the angles are great aids to fine tune a rectification!), and any major aspect configuration (squares, T-squares, quindeciles, Grand trines, etc.).

 The Sun/Moon midpoint… Definitely! But also the AS/MC midpoint for a lyrical snapshot of identity awareness throughout one’s lifetime.

 Emphasize any Aries point placement (Noel Tyl’s Asc in the 1st degree Cancer “A furled and unfurled flag displayed from a vessel” opposing “An Indian chief demanding recognition”, 1 Capricorn, leads one to wonder about the need to project one’s own prominence through two or more successful careers.

 Peregrine planets: want to catch the paint color on these runaway planets? Check the Sabian Symbol(s).

 Pay attention to any other “brush stroke”: mutual receptions, final dispositors, the oriental planet.

 Sabian Symbols also can be applied effectively in event charts, mundane charts, for rectification and for divinatory purposes.

Regardless of which of the many fine resource books on the interpretations of the Sabian Symbols you use, please remember that interpretation of symbols is a matter of attitude: a sincere thoughtful exploration of sense. An open mind and sincerity is always appropriate; an insistence on definition of THE meaning of a symbol strongly suggests running in the opposite direction.

And please, honor the words>/I>. It is not a mere point of scholarship to return to the necessary vibrancy of the original wording of the Sabian Symbols. The versions of the Sabian Symbols with which many are familiar, by virtue of changing the wordings and by virtue of what a symbol is, already interpretations. Honor that extraordinary event in Balboa Park, San Diego, 1925, when Marc Edmund Jones and Elsie Wheeler brought these most marvelous symbols into the world. The words and images of the Sabian Symbols are magic. Honor their words!


Next Update: December 31, 2004,


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