The 12 Zodiac Signs: A Beginner's Guide to the Dates, Traits, and Symbols

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Astrology 101: All You Need to Know About Zodiac Signs

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Today, we introduce our beginner’s guide to the 12 zodiac signs. We’ll give you a basic understanding of each sign, providing perspective on personality traits, compatibility, and other qualities associated with each sign. 

What is Astrology?

While astronomy is the core of the Almanac (which means “calendar of the heavens”), early Almanac readers were also very familiar with “The Man of Signs,” which is astrology. 

Astrology is about so much more than simple horoscopes. It’s an ancient study with a rich history that focuses on how the stars and planets affect our lives on Earth.

Astrologers believe the celestial bodies can dictate our personalities, life paths, and day-to-day events. While an element of fate is involved, modern astrologers believe you have free will and can work with the energy rather than assume you’re fated to one destiny based on your birth chart.

The History of Astrology

Astrology is a profound practice that has intrigued and captivated people for centuries. Imagine the awe of our ancestors as they learned to stand upright, communicate, and become fascinated with the night sky. They began to notice planets, eclipses, patterns, movements, and more. Soon, they learned how to use the energy of the moon for planting, fishing, and daily living. In time, this led to the development of a philosophy that became known as astrology.

Although there is no concrete “start date,” Yale professor Eckart Frahm explains that the earliest beginnings of astrology can be traced back to the Babylonians, a civilization deeply interested in mathematics and the heavenly bodies. They meticulously created tables to track the movements of the stars, and it’s believed they were the ones who invented the 12 zodiac signs. This knowledge eventually made its way to Egypt and Greece, where it continued to evolve. According to David Wray, an assistant professor in the Department of Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago, by the second century B.C.E., the format for astrology was set. The birth chart could determine your personality and fate. 

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Classical astrologers such as Ptolemy further refined the art. Ptolemy is credited with developing the concept of ‘houses’ in astrology. These houses are divisions of the birth chart representing different aspects of life, such as career, relationships, and health. Learn more about the 12 houses of astrology.
The Renaissance brought a resurgence of astrology, thanks to astrologers such as Michel Nostradamus and John Dee. Later, astrologers such as Dane Rudhyar turned astrology from prediction to self-actualization. As the New Age movement began to take root in the late twentieth century, astrology became popular once again. Modern astrology has evolved and adapted, adding in Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, giving us nine planets to work with. While Hellenistic astrology, which is more popular today than ever thanks to the work of people like Chris Brennan, only focuses on seven planets, you can choose which makes the most sense.

Zodiac Sign Dates by Month

Sign MonthSymbol
Aries (March 19-April 19)

Taurus(April 20-May 19)

Gemini (May 20-June 19)

Cancer (June 20-July 21)

Leo (July 22-August 21)

Virgo(August 22-September 21)

Libra (September 22-October 21)

Scorpio (October 22-November 20)

Sagittarius (November 21-December 20)

Capricorn (December 21-January 18)

Aquarius(January 19-February 17) 

Pisces (February 18-March 19)

Zodiac Elements

There are four elements in astrology: fire, earth, air, and water. The zodiac signs are divided into groups of three signs belonging to the same element. Each element has different traits, which each sign expresses in its own way.

  • Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius): passionate, creative, confident, courageous
  • Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn): grounded, practical, stable, down-to-earth
  • Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius): intellectual, independent, communicative, social
  • Water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces): sensitive, intuitive, imaginative, nurturing
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The signs are also divided into three groups called qualities (also known as modalities). These add additional insight into each sign’s characteristics.

  • Cardinal (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn): likes to initiate change
  • Fixed (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius): likes to sustain and maintain
  • Mutable (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces): likes to transform

The 12 Zodiac Signs in Order

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Aries (March 21-April 19)

  • Symbol: The Ram
  • Element: Fire
  • Quality: Cardinal
  • Ruling planet: Mars
  • Traits: original, assertive, bold, passionate, impulsive
  • Compatibility: Gemini, Leo, Sagittarius, Aquarius

Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, which means those born under the sign of the Ram tend to leap into things. These bold originals are not afraid to take risks. In fact, it motivates them. They have a pioneering spirit and are known for their courage. However, they need to learn to look before taking action to reach their lofty goals. That’s not easy because they tend to be impatient. They’re also competitive and will do whatever they can to be the best. While enthusiastic, they can be hot-headed, although their anger rarely lasts.

Taurus (April 20-May 20)

  • Symbol: The Bull
  • Element: Earth
  • Quality: Fixed
  • Ruling planet: Venus
  • Traits: determined, practical, creative, materialistic, stubborn
  • Compatibility: Cancer, Virgo, Capricorn, Pisces

Taurus tends to take a slow, mellow approach to life. Why rush when there is so much to enjoy? Beauty and security are essential to Bulls. They like to live the “good life” and will work hard to acquire material success. They also have a knack for attracting abundance, which means most eventually achieve a comfortable life. Tauruses tend to be even-keeled emotionally. This makes it great for them to be nearby when a crisis strikes. The shadow sides of Taurus are possessiveness and obstinance. When they are in that headspace, they can become unreasonable. 

Gemini (May 21-June 20)

  • Symbol: The Twins
  • Element: Air
  • Quality: Mutable
  • Ruling planet: Mercury
  • Traits: intellectual, adaptable, curious, nonconformist, flighty
  • Compatibility: Leo, Libra, Aquarius, Aries

Geminis have quick and curious minds. They thirst for knowledge and remain perpetual students their whole lives. The more education they can get, the better. Communication falls under their realm, which means they love to talk. They have plenty to say and never run out of topics to discuss. This love of conversation often leads to an aptitude for languages. Many Geminis are bilingual. Variety is essential to their happiness. This can cause them to flit about from one activity - or partner - to another, leaving chaos and confusion in their wake. As they get older, they settle down. Even so, they’re always looking for the next cool thing.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)

  • Symbol: The Crab
  • Element: Water
  • Quality: Cardinal
  • Ruling planet: The Moon
  • Traits: sensitive, persistent, domestic, caring, clingy
  • Compatibility: Virgo, Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus

Tender-hearted Cancers are not afraid to show their feelings. However, if they sense they might get hurt, they are quick to hide their soft insides behind a hard shell, much like their symbol, the Crab. Cancers want to feel secure above all else. This means they will make decisions based on what will bring the greatest security, from their choice of partners to their job. Most are savers, with money tucked away for those inevitable rainy days. They are marvelous caregivers and will do anything for their loved ones. Cancers also have remarkable memories - they never forget the past. 

Leo (July 23-August 22)

  • Symbol: The Lion
  • Element: Fire
  • Quality: Fixed
  • Ruling planet: The Sun
  • Traits: generous, noble, powerful, proud, dramatic
  • Compatibility: Libra, Sagittarius, Aries, Gemini

When Leo walks into the room, all heads turn. They have a regal bearing, so they know how to make an entrance. But underneath this proud exterior lies a sensitive heart of gold. In fact, Leo rules the heart, which means they love to give, especially to their loved ones. They are loyal to the core and expect you to be, too. If you let them down, they’ll forgive but never forget. Leos are also highly creative. Many of them go into the arts. Even if they don’t, they’ll have imaginative ways of self-expression. They can be overbearing at times, especially if their legendary egos get in the way. 

Virgo (August 23-September 22)

  • Symbol: The Virgin
  • Element: Earth 
  • Quality: Mutable
  • Ruling planet: Mercury
  • Traits: pragmatic, analytical, meticulous, reliable, critical
  • Compatibility: Scorpio, Capricorn, Taurus, Cancer

Like fellow Mercury-ruled Geminis, Virgos love to learn. They enjoy gathering knowledge and can become great scholars. Their analytical minds mean they pay attention to detail. However, if they get hung up on trivial matters, the devil is in those details. When that happens, they can lose sight of the bigger picture. Virgos are perfectionists. This shows up in their work. They take pride in doing an excellent job. These tendencies mean they are fantastic employees. The flip side of this is that no one can live up to their picky standards, which can lead to them becoming harsh critics.

Libra (September 23-October 22)

  • Symbol: The Scales
  • Element: Air
  • Quality: Cardinal
  • Ruling planet: Venus
  • Traits: fair, balanced, harmonious, romantic, passive-aggressive
  • Compatibility: Leo, Gemini, Capricorn, Aquarius

Individuals born under the sign of Libra tend to be gracious, fair-minded, and refined. They are also social creatures and enjoy being around other people. Relationships are essential for their happiness. Most of them can easily attract friends and partners. Sometimes, they put other’s needs before their own. This can lead to resentment, so they must be careful to express their needs. Because they are ruled by Venus, beauty is important. Libras may choose a career that allows for creative self-expression. They’re also concerned with justice and will fight to ensure everyone gets treated equally.

Scorpio (October 23-November 21)

  • Symbol: The Scorpion
  • Element: Water
  • Quality: Fixed
  • Ruling planets: Mars, Pluto
  • Traits: mysterious, secretive, intense, deep, vindictive
  • Compatibility: Capricorn, Pisces, Cancer, Virgo

Most astrology books will claim Scorpio is intense. It’s true; they do feel things deeply. But the rumors about them being complicated, dark characters aren’t fair. Scorpions are actually easy to understand: it all boils down to trust. If they vibe with you, they’re yours for life. Earning that trust doesn’t come easy. They’ll secretly worry about your loyalty even when they let you in. Every Scorpio has psychic abilities of some sort. They can “feel” out a situation and get to the bottom of every mystery. However, they don’t like to reveal too much about themselves. 

Sagittarius (November 22-December 21)

  • Symbol: The Archer
  • Element: Fire
  • Quality: Mutable
  • Ruling planet: Jupiter
  • Traits: honest, adventurous, loves freedom, optimistic, blunt
  • Compatibility: Aries, Leo, Libra, Aquarius

Honesty is everything to Sagittarius. These truth-tellers have no trouble “telling it like it is,” even if it hurts. Although this may make them appear insensitive, they’re not. In fact, these idealists want to live in a world where everyone can be who they want to be. They deeply love freedom. Wanderlust is part of their personality, meaning they have difficulty staying in one place. Many of them will roam the world, broadening their perspective. At times, they can be too trusting. This can lead to disappointment. Even so, it doesn’t last long. They’re too optimistic for that!

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)

  • Symbol: The Mountain Goat
  • Element: Earth
  • Quality: Cardinal
  • Ruling planet: Saturn
  • Traits: ambitious, responsible, organized, methodical, selfish
  • Compatibility: Pisces, Taurus, Virgo, Scorpio

Capricorns come into the world with a purpose. They know they are here to do something meaningful. It may take time to figure out, but they will work hard to fulfill that mission once they know. Practicality is in their bones, and organization comes naturally. Therefore, it’s no surprise to find them in leadership positions. Material success is important to them. They’ll work hard to achieve their financial goals. They’re also excellent providers. However, they can experience loneliness if they put too much emphasis on work. 

Aquarius (January 20 to February 18) 

  • Symbol: The Water Bearer
  • Element: Air
  • Quality: Fixed
  • Ruling planet: Saturn, Uranus
  • Traits: tolerant, idealistic, independent, humanitarian, aloof
  • Compatibility: Aries, Gemini, Libra, Sagittarius

Aquarius is the cool rebel, the eccentric idealist, and the compassionate humanitarian; all wrapped up into one fascinating package. Rather than walking the usual path, these nonconformists set the trends. They are innovative and future-oriented. The past doesn’t concern them unless it’s to learn how to improve current situations. You’ll rarely meet a snobby Aquarius. They’re tolerant and able to be friends with almost anyone. Intellectual pursuits make them happy. It’s even better when they share them with friends. Despite their friendly exterior, they can be emotionally unavailable. They try to intellectualize their emotions rather than going with what they feel. 

Pisces (February 19 to March 20)

  • Symbol: The Fish
  • Element: Water
  • Quality: Mutable
  • Ruling planet: Jupiter, Neptune
  • Traits: compassionate, creative, empathic, intuitive, escapist
  • Compatibility: Taurus, Cancer, Scorpio, Capricorn

Pisces is deeply in touch with their feelings. Like their fellow water signs, they are extremely sensitive. They’re also responsive to other people’s emotions, which means they can be easily influenced by their loved ones. This can lead to a reputation for being wishy-washy or gullible. In worse cases, they can be taken advantage of. Despite that, Pisces are kind, compassionate, and always willing to help those in need. They can make great sacrifices for people they love or for good causes. Pisces have a strong sixth sense. When they get a feeling about a situation, they should always trust it. 

Common Myths and Misconceptions

Myth: Your Sun Sign Determines Your Personality Traits

Fact: Your Sun sign is only one part of your natal chart. When you’re born, all the planets and other celestial bodies, such as asteroids, line up into different signs. For example, you may be a Taurus Sun sign, but your Moon might be in Aquarius. The Moon rules your emotional life. This combination would amplify stubbornness due to both signs being fixed. Still, the Aquarian Moon would also add an element of coolness to the way you express your feelings. What is your Moon sign? And what does it mean?

Myth: Astrology Can Determine Your Future with Certainty

Fact: Astrology is not fatalistic. It may offer insights into your talents, interests, challenges, and possible vocation, but you have free will. If you do not like the way the stars are showing up for you, you can find alternate routes.

Myth: You Can Only Get Along With Certain Zodiac Signs

Fact: This is not true. Astrological compatibility, known as synastry, isn’t determined by Sun signs. Many other points are considered. Even so, you can have a chart that is compatible with someone but still struggle to get along. In contrast, so-called incompatible charts might have few, if any, issues.

Myth: If You’re Born on the Cusp, You Have Characteristics of Both Signs

Fact: You are not born on the cusp. You are either one sign or another. Cusps are only considered when you look at the zodiac signs on the divisions of the houses. Other than that, they’re not a thing!
You tell us! What is your experience with astrology? What is your zodiac sign? We want to hear all about it!

About The Author

Theresa Reed

Theresa Reed, aka The Tarot Lady, is a tarot reader, author, and educator. Read More from Theresa Reed

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