You probably know your sun sign (you know, the one you look up in a newspaper to read your horoscope). However, you might not be aware that the history of the 12 zodiac signs is steeped in mythology. Or maybe you do know. Either way, I thought it would be nifty-keen to explore the mythology of zodiac signs to get a bit of history, personality, and deeper meaning to your astrology signs.
Table of Contents
- A Bit of a Backgrounder on Astrology
- About the Constellations and Zodiac Signs
- How Zodiac Signs and Mythology Work Together
- The Mythology of Zodiac Signs
- Aries and the Rescuing Ram
- Taurus Woos Europa
- Gemini the Inseparable Twins
- Cancer and the Admirable Efforts of Hera’s Crab
- Leo and Protecting Hercules
- Virgo and Faithful Astrea
- Libra and Standing for Justice
- Scorpio – Orion’s Nemesis
- Sagittarius and Chiron’s Devotion to Knowledge
- Capricorn and Honoring Amalthea
- Aquarius, the Equalizer and Fount of Beauty
- Pisces – Love and Fish Forever
- Last Thoughts About Mythology of Zodiac Signs
A Bit of a Backgrounder on Astrology
The origin of astrology dates back several thousand years to the world’s earliest civilizations. Early societies used constellations to predict changing seasons and climatic events and even used astrology for agricultural purposes. Ancient civilizations also used astrology to foretell events and learn more about themselves, their community, and the universe in which they lived. Moreover, astrology served as a big feature in many spiritual practices, religions, and perspectives on the world and universe.
About the Constellations and Zodiac Signs
To date, around 88 constellations have been recorded in the heavens. Twelve of these are devoted to astrology signs. The most commonly known constellations that represent zodiac signs were derived from the early Greeks and Romans. So, when you gaze into the evening sky and see Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc., – you’re actually viewing a slice of Greco-Roman history that established these constellations as eternal figures in the skies that represent the common astrology signs we know and love today.
When you pull up a list of astrology signs, you might notice they aren’t in alphabetical order. That’s because the order of astrology signs is given according to when they appear chronologically in the Greek calendar (not in alphabetical order).
How Zodiac Signs and Mythology Work Together
Each of the twelve zodiac signs is based on a figure in mythology. This was a clever way for early civilizations (such as Greeks and Romans – the mythic-centric zodiac signs with which we are most familiar) to personalize the stars.
Assigning mythic characters and deities is also a way for you to get to learn your astrology sign better. How so? Well, when you learn the legends and myths behind your sun sign, you get a richer, more intimate understanding of its history as well as a deeper understanding of your own personality.
Each mythic character was in charge of their own sign, and every sign corresponds to a different personality type. Some of these astrology mythic figures are super-outgoing, boisterous, and assertive, while others are more introverted, reserved, or aloof. All the twelve mythic characters represented in zodiac signs run the gamut of human emotions, personality flaws, assets, thought processes, behaviors, and more. Therefore, each zodiac sign tells a story of your personality through its mythology – and all the signs encompass aspects of every person.
The Mythology of Zodiac Signs
Each sign of the zodiac is influenced by a planet or luminary (the moon and sun). Interestingly luminaries and planets have their own astrology and mythology. Classic astrology derives mythic characters from ancient Roman and Greek origins. Because the Greeks and Romans were so intertwined in civilization and community, the names of characters and deities are often interchangeable.
So while a deity partnered with a planet or zodiac sign may come from ancient Roman mythology, they also have equivalents in Greek myth. You can read more about astrology, mythology and the planets here. All that covered, let’s dive into the mythology of zodiac signs individually.
Aries and the Rescuing Ram
Aries is the first astrological sign, which represents the ram. This symbolizes rebirth and beginning. Mars is the planet that governs Aries signs and is associated with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts.
Aries’ symbol is the ram, and that’s very symbolic. The myth associated with the Aries astrology sign is as follows:
The myth of Phrixus and Helle tells the story of two twins who came into this world through the love of Athamas, a Boeotian king, and Nephele, the goddess of the clouds. However, eventually, Athamas fell in love with Ino, and Nephele was appropriately ticked. So, she left in anger, provoking a devastating drought upon the land in her wake.
In order to finally end the drought that had stricken their land, Ino attempted to sacrifice Athamas and Nephele by throwing them off Mount Colchis. However, in the nick of time, Nephele invoked a golden-wooled ram to save them and allowed them both to escape on its back. They then flew upon the winged ram’s back, who whisked them away from danger, so they were able to start a new life together elsewhere.
Taurus Woos Europa
The second Zodiac sign is Taurus, and it’s symbolized by a bull. Taurus is ruled by the planet Venus. Some astrologists associate the planet earth with Taurus signs – but that’s a debate for another day.
The constellation Taurus honors the god Zeus, who tried to capture the heart of the Phoenician princess Europa. Zeus did this by shape-shifting himself into a white Bull. When the princess hopped onto his back, the Bull swam across the Mediterranean Sea, taking her all the way to Crete.
Regrettably, the wooing went afoul when Zeus raped Europa. Not that it’s any consolation prize for being assaulted – but Europa consequently was proclaimed queen of Crete in the aftermath of Zeus’ unwanted advances.
Gemini the Inseparable Twins
Twins Castor and Polydeuces are most often associated with the zodiac sign of Gemini. These twin brothers were said to be born to Leda, Queen of Sparta, by two different fathers. Castor was believed to be the son of King Tyndareus and thus mortal, while Polydeuces was said to have been the son of Zeus.
Gemini is named after the twin sons of Leda, a princess from Aetolia. Pollux was immortal, but Castor was not. After Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to allow him to unite with his brother. Zeus honored the duo by transforming them both into the constellation Gemini.
Gemini is the third astrological sign and it’s ruled by Mercury. This sign symbolizes duality, inner unfolding, and the unification body and the soul. Just as the mythic twins are, Gemini are known to be both clever, controversial, and congenial.
Cancer and the Admirable Efforts of Hera’s Crab
The constellation of Cancer is thought to represent a giant crab, sent by the jealous goddess Hera, that Hercules killed with his club during his second labor. The crab was trying to stop Hercules from battling the water snake Hydra as he performed penance for killing his family.
To make sure that Heracles couldn’t win this fight, Hera sought help from a crab. To Hercules’s dismay, the crab wasn’t much of a help, as he easily squashed it with his foot. Today, that crab lives on in star form because Hera respected it for doing its best against Heracles.
Cancer is the fourth astrological sign, represented by a crab – but sometimes a lobster – and this sign is governed by the moon. Much like Hera’s crab, Cancer often displays loyalty and willingness to serve others. This sign is the one you can count on in times of need, and Cancerians are often found in helping roles such as caregivers and teachers.
Leo and Protecting Hercules
One of Hercules’ 12 labors was to kill the Nemean Lion, an animal that terrorized the citizens. The lion was undefeatable, and its skin could not be penetrated by any man-made weapon. Hercules was meant to kill the lion as a penance for slaughtering his own family. After killing the beast, Heracles stripped its skin and wore it as his armor. In appreciation for the lion’s bravery, Zeus made the lion into a constellation that still shines brightly in our sky today.
Leo is the fifth astrological sign, representing the force of life. Leo, which is represented by a lion’s mane, is ruled by the Sun. Much like the myth, it’s associated with, the sign of Leo displays characteristics such as courage, confidence, and strength. It is a protective sign, and Leo’s in our lives are often found to be the fearless defenders in our communities and families.
Virgo and Faithful Astrea
The astrological sign for Virgo is the sixth of twelve and is governed by the planet Mercury. It’s been associated with various goddesses in many mythologies, including Dike, Artemis, and Aphrodite. Astrea was the Greek goddess of justice who helped Zeus overthrow his father, Cronus, becoming one of the youngest members of the group that became known as the Olympians.
Virgo, as a constellation, is connected with Astrea, who was a faithful Titan. During the Titanomachy war, she fought on her father’s side by carrying lightning and being a loyal ally to Zeus. For this loyalty, Zeus treated her well and raised and transformed her into a constellation that we now know as Virgo.
Virgos often live in the moment, in which they can rely on their logic and practicality to manifest the best outcomes for themselves and others. They’re disciplined and systematic when it comes to just about anything they do.
Libra and Standing for Justice
In Greek mythology, Libra symbolizes Themis, the Goddess of Justice and daughter of Astrea. These goddesses carry scales of justice which became the Libras symbol. And, by association Libra is known for its scales of wisdom, harmony, and justice. Libra is the 7th astrological sign in the zodiac, and it is ruled by Venus. It is symbolic of balance and even-mindedness.
As mentioned, Libra is linked with the goddess Astrea. When the god Zeus erected Astrea into the heavens as a constellation, part of that Virgo formation also became the constellation known as Libra. As a figure of justice and truth, Libra is typically portrayed as a stoic female figure who is often wearing a blindfold and holding scales in her hands.
This is a symbolic theme we often see in the justice system, and this iconic symbol represents the necessity of not being swayed by anything other than facts and truth. This ability to see the truth and discern what is right is, appropriately, is something Libra’s are notorious for doing.
Scorpio – Orion’s Nemesis
The constellation Scorpius actually means “scorpion” in Latin. The Greek myth associated with the sign involves Orion, a giant who was killed by a scorpion. According to Greek mythology, Orion was one of the most beautiful and seductive mortals ever to exist. Orion had many skills as a hunter, which made him dangerous to all those around him because he could kill indiscriminately.
In response, Artemis, the god of hunting, sent a scorpion to kill Orion. The arachnid chased Orion until it finally caught up with him and killed him. Seeing their error, the gods tried to make amends for their mistakes and presented the constellation, Orion. The gods then positioned the Scorpio (known as the constellation of Scorpio) opposite of Orion – seemingly always at odds with each other in the heavens.
The 8th sign in the astrological zodiac, Scorpio, is represented by the arachnid known as the scorpion. Though they have few other similarities with their neighboring constellation, the scorpion symbolizes destruction and rebirth. The Scorpio sign is ruled by the planets, Mars and Pluto. Symbolically, this sign shares themes of struggle and conflict but also displays attributes of cleverness, resourcefulness, and courage.
Sagittarius and Chiron’s Devotion to Knowledge
In the Greek mythology of zodiac signs, Sagittarius is commonly thought to be the mythological representation of a centaur, or half-man and half-horse creature. Sagittarius was most often depicted as Crotus, the son of Pan (the god of pasture and shepherds) and Eupheme (the nurse of the Muses).
Also, in Greek mythology, the centaur (depicted by Sagittarius) Chiron is a wise and good-natured creature; unlike his brutish kin (most centaurs were generally considered feral and barbaric, whereas Chiron was depicted as being quite refined and erudite. Chiron resided in a cavern along Mount Pelion in Thessaly, where he devoted much of his time thinking, philosophizing, and making discoveries that he often shared to help humankind.
Zeus created the constellation of Sagittarius (which means “archer”). He did this in honor of Chiron as a remembrance to all that education in all things is a life well spent. The most notable example of Chiron’s benefits and devotion to knowledge is Achilles, who was tutored by Chiron. Achilles (armed with Chiron’s wisdom) eventually defeated of Hector in the Trojan War. Symbolically, the Sagittarius inherently adopts the admirable features of Chiron. Sag is a sign that typically explores all manner of pursuits intending to increase wisdom and share knowledge with others.
Capricorn and Honoring Amalthea
Capricornus is a constellation that takes its name from the story of how Pan. Pan was the Greek god of forests and fields, became half-goat and half-fish after diving into the Nile River to escape Typhon. Capricornus looks like a large triangle of bright stars. The brightest ones are side-by-side at the triangle’s western tip.
In Greek mythology, Capricorn is usually depicted as a goat or a sea goat. But to the Romans, it represented the wild Pan. In an attempt to flee from the monster Typhon, Pan jumped into a river. Then he tried to transform into a fish to swim away. Only part of his transformation took effect. He wound up with a fish’s tail and the head and body of a goat.
Capricornus is linked to the mythic story of Amalthea. Amalthea also took on the form of a goat. She mothered Zeus after his own biological mother (Rhea) hid him in the mountains. Amalthea did this so that Zeus’ father (Cronos) wouldn’t eat him. Cronos. As a result of Amalthea saving his life, some stories state that the constellation Capricorn is an honor to her. This is because Zeus eventually battled his father while wearing goatskin armor as a tribute to Amalthea.
The personality traits of the Capricorns are ambitious, reliable, and responsible. Capricorns are known as a sign of prudence and wisdom. They are ruled by the planet Saturn and symbolized by a goat.
Aquarius, the Equalizer and Fount of Beauty
As with most mythology of zodiac signs, Aquarius begins its history in Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians equated Aquarius with the flooding of the Nile river every year. The banks of this sacred river were meant to flood each time Aquarius put his pitcher into the water at the start of every spring. In Greek mythology, Aquarius was always represented as a single vase pouring down onto Piscis Austrinus.
The constellation of Aquarius is also associated with Ganymede, who was considered one of the most stunning and handsome mortals. Zeus absconded with Ganymede and spirited him up to Mount Olympus, intending to make him his cupbearer. Hence, the classic depiction of a vessel and the nickname “water bearer” is associated with Aquarius.
The eleventh astrological sign, Uranus, is Aquarius’ ruling planet, and while it is a water bearer, Aquarius is an air sign. The sign of Aquarius is known to symbolize revolution, deep thought, innovation, unconventionality, and wisdom. Aquarius is usually represented by water which is carried by a vase, pitcher, or jug.
Pisces – Love and Fish Forever
As we’ve seen in many of the aforementioned mythology of zodiac signs, mean ole Typhon plays a big role in the Pisces constellation and zodiac sign. Typhon was a most ferocious and feared water creature, and many mythic characters were constantly changing form in order to escape its wrath during the Titan wars.
The constellation Pisces was created when Eros and Aphrodite took on the form of fish in an attempt to resist being apprehended by the monster Typhon. To commemorate their plight, they were made into the constellation of the dual fish connected by a ribbon (symbolizing their connection to each other) we know as Pisces today.
As the final and twelfth sign of the zodiac, Pisces symbolizes the harmonization of dualities. In response, Pisces signs often attempt to unify opposites and create order in otherwise chaotic situations.
Last Thoughts About Mythology of Zodiac Signs
I hope you enjoyed these summaries about the mythology of zodiac signs. Ideally, each mythological perspective for each sign is meant to provide illumination into each sign as well as provide a deeper understanding of your own sign. Of course, these descriptions are brief, and as with all myths, there are many more details to research. But hopefully, this served as an appetizer to inspire you to learn more about the mythology behind zodiac signs and research more into your astrological history.