“So, what’s your zodiac sign?” is a pretty common greeting (or pickup line, depending on your intentions). The question is

“So, what’s your zodiac sign?” is a pretty common greeting (or pickup line, depending on your intentions). The question is so cemented into our culture as to seem perhaps more time-worn than time-tested. 

Some may find the classic interrogative about your birth chart charming, while others might find it ironic. Still others may roll their eyes and seek a quick extraction from the conversation. Many people, however, don’t really know what a “sign” even is in this context, or have at best a tenuous grasp on its meaning.

With a better understanding may come a better appreciation for, acceptance of, and perhaps even an affinity for astrology. Because that’s what’s at question when someone mentions your sign: astrology.

What is astrology?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, astrology is: “the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.”

But for those with a keen interest in astrology and horoscopes, those brief blends of life forecast and bits of insight created based on a study of celestial movements, astrology is about more than “human affair and terrestrial events” in a big picture sense, but is instead plays a very intimate role in everyday life. 

An adherent of astrology turns to the zodiac – that collection of 12 star signs – to glean insight, inspiration, and understanding – not of the way of the world writ large, but rather in very personal, practicable terms.

In other words, your sign, your horoscopes, the zodiac, and astrology as a whole can be a meaningful part of your life, playing as much a role as other things that help in your pursuit of happiness, success, fulfillment, gratitude, and the full expression of your personality. 

If you’re looking for quotes about life that can inspire you to live yours to the fullest, that’s all well and good. If you’re looking to get more exercise, change your diet, improve your sleep, and drop bad habits, that’s good stuff too. And if you’re hoping astrology can help you achieve more happiness and clarity, that’s just fine as well, because what do all of these things have in common? 

Correct! All three share a common goal of creating the best version of yourself that you can achieve. You can achieve that primarily by yourself and for yourself, by the way, not for others. You’re worth it.

The origins of astrology: A widespread history

Almost every ancient culture displays some form of a belief in and practice of what many today would recognize as astrology. Well over 2,500 years ago, ancient Assyrian’s and Babylonians looked to the skies for omens ranging from the predictable (like the coming of a crescent moon), to the sudden and mysterious (phenomena like solar or lunar eclipses.

is astrology science
(Gilmanshin / Getty)

This was in the hope that that these celestial events could help foretell the future faced down on the planet.

An amalgam of older practices

Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans living in the few centuries preceding (and shortly following) the switch from to the Common Era incorporated some of the astrological practices of earlier civilizations while adding their own new beliefs as well, looking skyward to glean insight into everything from fortunes in coming battles to favor shown to this or that leader to the portent of danger ahead.

The belief in astrology spread from the Middle East and classical world eastward to India and as far beyond as China and Japan, and for centuries it was treated by many as on par with any other science.

As the modern sciences developed rapidly beginning in the 17th century, many began to question the legitimacy of astrology, while others instead adapted to approach a reading of celestial meaning not so much as a science, but more as a spiritual part of their lives. And thus it remains for many today.

Each zodiac sign: A quick breakdown

There are 12 zodiac signs, each one represented by a celestial constellation and with a person’s sign assigned based on the time of year of his or her birth.

The signs are Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn These dozen astrological signs are often grouped into four categories. 

Water zodiac signs

Scorpio, Pisces, and Cancer are the Water Signs, known for their intuition, emotional perception and sensitivity, and their mysterious ways. 

Fire zodiac signs

Aries, Sagittarius, and Leo are the Fire Signs, known as passionate, adventurous, and often temperamental. 

Air zodiac signs

Libra, Gemini, and Aquarius are the Air Signs and tend to be warm and loving and usually very social. 

Earth zodiac signs

Finally, Virgo, Capricorn, and Taurus are the Earth Signs and are usually practical and reserved.

Examining astronomy and astrology: A closer look

Horoscopes tend to factor in the qualities associated with each sign of the zodiac, so let’s take a brief closer look at each of the 12.

Aquarius 

The Water Bearer – January 20th through February 18th – People born under Aquarius tend to be clever, self-reliant, and don’t like to be controlled by others.

Pisces

The Fish – February 19th through March 20th – Pisces folks are sensitive and creative, often creating art and music or else turning to the arts for comfort and joy.

Aries

The Ram – March 21st – April 19th – Aries people are confident and ambitious, ready to lead and to achieve and often not willing to suffer fools along the way.

Taurus

The Bull – April 20th through May 20th – People born under Taurus tend to be reliable, honest, and hard-working, and occasionally a bit acquisitive and needy.

Gemini

The Twins – May 21st through June 20th – Geminis are extroverted, flexible, and often easy-going, sometimes to a fault as they can lack conviction.

Cancer

The Crab – June 21st through July 22nd – People born under Cancer are loyal and loving, though often emotional and temperamental.

Leo

The Lion – July 23rd through August 22nd – Leos are kind and compassionate, generous and patient, and often without as much concern for their own ambition.

Virgo

The Virgin – August 23rd through September 22nd – People born under Virgo tend to come across as friendly, humble, and patient, but they are often quietly ambitious and quite capable.

Libra

The Scales – September 23rd through October 22nd – Libras are balanced, calm, and committed to justice and harmony in their lives and relationships.

Scorpio

The Scorpion – October 23rd through November 21st – Scorpios tend to be clever and strategic to the point of being secretive, they are curious and self-reliant and occasionally moody.

Sagittarius

The Archer – November 22nd through December 21st – Sagittarians are kind, caring, and empathetic, and can be optimistic to the point of fault

Capricorn

The Goat – December 22nd through January 19th – Ambitious and self-motivated, Capricorns are often high achievers, but they can be rigid and relentless in their pursuits.

Is astrology science? Is astrology real?

In short, the answer to the first question is no, the answer to the second question is yes. But perhaps not quite in the way some people may believe it, or would have you believe it, in the latter case.

Astronomy and astrology are often confused as one and the same or at least as similar, whereas in fact that have nothing to do with one another beyond the elements of the cosmos being involved. 

Astronomy is a natural science rooted in mathematics and physics (and even chemistry and history and other disciplines) that, to put it simply, involves the study and search for better understanding of everything that happens beyond the earth’s frail atmosphere. 

horoscope astrology
(ClaudioVentrella / Getty)

Astronomers seek to know what happened before, what’s out there now, and what’s coming in the future, but all in very tangible, practical terms. And with time and care, these scientists can arrive at solid, incontrovertible facts.

Astrologers, on the other hand, look for meaning, purpose, guidance, and inspiration informed by the zodiac signs, by the movement of planets and stars and the sun and moon, by the time of year at present and the astrological sign under which they or others were born. What an astrologer (or an adherent of astrology tuned into an astrologer, at any rate) seeks is not incontrovertible fact, but rather significance, meaning, and motivation

Thus asking “is astrology real” is about as meaningful as asking whether wonder, desire, thoughtfulness, meditation, or even happiness itself are real. What one finds in the zodiac signs or tarot cards can help expand and deepen your thinking and self-reflection, can help you better analyze life choices you have made or will make, can help you consider others in your life and how you relate to one another, and can inspire you to make changes or take chances that may dramatically improve your life.

Last thoughts

So is a horoscope written out by an astrology expert the same as an equation predicting planetary orbits devised by a scientist? Not in the least. But is a horoscope real? Again, this is the wrong question, or at least the wrong framing. If the lasting inspiration one person gets while standing on a mountain summit is real, or if the way a beloved song moves your emotions is real, or if the way you feel when envisioning a future for yourself or thinking on key relationships is real, then yes, astrology is real as well.

So go ahead and let the zodiac signs inform, inspire and influence your thinking. Just make sure you are working with an astronomer, not an astrologer, if you plan to study the practical makeup of the solar system or galaxy.