There are three essential topics in astrology that you want to start with when you learn astrology.The first is zodiac signs, the second is the planets (including the Sun and Moon), and third is aspects or interactions between planets. You can get to the essence of anyone’s personality with these foundational horoscope elements. The list that follows covers all these topics, in the order of signs, planets, and aspects.
1. Sun Signs – Linda Goodman
This is the very first astrology book I read, more out of curiosity than anything else. It’s arguably the most famous astrology book every published, for two reasons. One is that it was about the single most fundamental idea in astrology that everyone knows and relates to: their Sun sign. The other reason is that Goodman is an entertaining writer, and her observations of the characteristics of the signs are astute. Most importantly, she is very good at describing the many different ways in which a person may express their Sun sign, so the book is not simply a cookbook with formulaic meanings.
Of course, when I read the book I mostly focused on the chapter about my own Sun sign of Sagittarius, but can you blame me? Know thyself! But of course, you really need to go over all the signs because that is the only way to really, truly know why that Cancer friend of yours gets crabby out of the blue, or why that Leo sibling is always trying to get attention. When you get to know well the qualities of all the signs, it becomes that much easier to relate to a wide range of people and get to see the world from their perspective as well. But aside from being enfolded in that great kumbaya feel, there’s another, more personal reason to read the other signs because your horoscope is not just the Sun sign. It’s also the Moon sign, and the Mercury sign, and so on, for every planet. So while your Sun may be in Sagittarius, your Moon may be in Aquarius, so knowing about Aquarius suddenly becomes very much a must do. And what if Mercury is in Libra? You want to know everything about Libra. And so forth.
In Goodman’s hands, every sign comes alive with great warmth and much good humor. She is a terrific ambassador for astrology, and has done much to make it accessible to everyone.
2. Jungian Symbolism in Astrology – Alice O. Howell
I know what you’re thinking: is this a book on psychology or astrology? Well, it’s a little bit of both, and justifiably so, because astrology is a portal to the self, and there’s no better vehicle to do some deeper self-excavation than psychology. The next thing you’re saying is this doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of a beginner’s book. Well actually, it’s very much a beginner’s book. It is about the Sun and the Moon, and the planets, understanding all of which is the next step in your journey after you have the zodiac signs all figured out.
So where does Jung and symbolism come in? I am leafing through my copy and I am seeing highlight after highlight, on practically every single page. The book opens with an introduction titled “The Quest”, and the penultimate sentence of the introduction is this (which I had highlighted): One does not have to become either an astrologer or a therapist per se to use this universal key to the wonder of leading what Jung called the symbolic life. The entire book revolves on the idea that each planet is a symbol, and when you think of it as such, you will see the many different ways in which a symbol can manifest and enrich the life.
This book is one of the best purchases I ever made. It’s page after page of fresh insight, revealing layers of meaning of each planet, presented in an engagingly human manner that is both moving. After you read and assimilate the knowledge in this book, you will find yourself speaking and thinking of planets on a whole new level.
3. Astrology, Psychology and the Four Elements – Stephen Arroyo
You haven’t really learned astrology until you have read every single book on astrology written by Stephen Arroyo. In an early blog post I wrote about Stephen Arroyo’s work in astrology, where I mentioned his book on the four elements. This book works well as a companion to the previous book of Alice Howell, because it approaches astrology through the lens of the inner experience. It is a blend of both signs and planets, but the signs are grouped into elements so you can understand the commonalities between all signs in fire, or all signs in water, say, and the differences between the energies of the elements.
There are a couple of places in the book where I had written margin notes about particularly noteworthy insights, so let me quote these here. Both of these quotes are in chapter 11, titled “Psychology of the Individual”. This is the first quote: The Sun sign element also shows what is “real” to the individual, for it is the unconscious assumption of what is particularly real and what isn’t that determines how the person will focus his energy. This is what I wrote in the margin: This is an excellent point. And here’s the second quote: … any individual must find a type of work that is truly of his element if that vocation is going to be fulfilling over a long period of years. My margin note: Aha!
In the very next chapter, Arroyo goes into a deep exploration of what happens when there is an imbalance of elements in the placements of the planets, as for instance, all planets in fire signs, or all planets but on in air signs, etc. I wrote a blog post describing how to get a feel for a horoscope by looking at the balance of elements in the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars. When you advance in your astrological knowledge, it is easy to get lost in a mass of detail and abstruse measurements when trying to analyze a horoscope. Arroyo’s work with elements is a powerful reminder that with elements alone, you can get significant insight into a person’s psychology and tendencies that will affect almost everything they do.
Compared to the previous two books, this book might come across as somewhat dry because Arroyo tends to be more literal and factual, and less anecdotal, in his narration. But the thrust of his explanations and the ideas he conveys are no less important for that. He is one of the very few writers who never ever fails to deliver.
4. Aspects in Astrology – Sue Tompkins
If you want to buy one book on aspects alone this would be it. A lot of books talk about aspects in the course of overall horoscope interpretation (including prediction), but there are only a few that are devoted to aspects only. Obviously, this gives the writer a lot more room to get into details and firmly establish the foundations of aspects.
Sue Tompkins does exactly this by dividing the book in two parts. The first part is on the principles of aspect interpretation, where she details all the aspects that are typically used in interpretation, how much weight to place on each type of aspect in interpretation (not all aspects are equal), and how the placements of the bodies in aspect in different elements and modes influence the interpretation. A must-read chapter in this part is chapter 4, “Interpreting Aspects in Practice”, which is something you will want to return to repeatedly as you get deeper into aspect analysis.
In the second part, she gives the cookbook treatment by covering every single aspect between the Sun, Moon, and Mercury through Saturn with all planets. So, for instance, if you want to know more about that square between Venus and Jupiter in your horoscope, you’ll find it on pages 182-184, led by a small set of fundamental qualities: Expansive feelings. The good life. Wealth. Valuing meaning. Pleasure is God. This is followed by nearly 3 pages of narrative that gets into the various ways in which this aspect may manifest itself. And she does this kind of thing for all aspect pairs! (Except for aspects between the outer planets, say Neptune-Pluto or Uranus-Neptune, which are generational and don’t have much of a personal impact.)
Note: The pages are for the original edition of the book, with the subtitle “A Comprehensive Guide to Interpretation”. The Amazon link above is for the latest edition with the subtitle “A Guide to Understanding Planetary Relationships in the Horoscope”.
5. Dynamics of Aspect Analysis – Bil Tierney
This book on aspects was first published over a decade before the one by Sue Tompkins. I listed Tompkins’ book ahead of Tierney’s because I think it is more approachable for a first-time exposure to aspects. But once you have gotten a good grasp of all aspects, especially the concrete particulars of the interaction between pairs of planets in the second part of Tompkins’ book, you will be ready to go deeper into aspects with Tierney.
This book introduces a host of new aspects and formations that are best seen as a continuation of the treatment of aspects in Tompkins’ book. The new (what Tierney called uncommon) aspects include the quintile, septile, and novile. You will also find a discussion on the so-called dissociate aspects which happen when the aspect is between “out-of-sign” planets. For example (this is actually the introductory example that Tierney provides) the Moon at 1o Aquarius is clearly opposite the Sun at 1o Leo. But if the same Moon at 1o Aquarius was aspecting a 29o Sun in Cancer, the aspect would still be considered a valid opposition. However it would be an “out-of-sign” or dissociate opposition.
This book builds on the basic aspects by introducing aspect structures composed of certain configurations formed by multiple aspects. These include the grand trine and grand sextile; the grand square and mystic rectangle; the T-square; and the yod. Tierny also gets into some details of unaspected planets. The role of unaspected planets is not well understood, and while several books address them, they tend to differ somewhat in their interpretations. I haven’t seen any other coverage of unaspected planets that is as extensive as the one by Tierney, who details the effect of unaspected planets in general, and then describes how each of the unaspected planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury through Pluto) may function in a horoscope.
My Intro Book: Astrology for Life – Book 1
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t also point you to my introductory book that covers signs, planets, and aspects. The book is a collection of my articles from this blog. My approach to writing and teaching astrology is to ground the concepts with lots of examples of real charts. There are so many ways in which every planet-in-sign and every aspect can manifest in the life – it is almost impossible to interpret horoscopes unless you get a sure feel for how these horoscope elements might express in a life through stories of real people. You will find many such stories in my book.