Astrology: Understanding Zodiac Symbols

Astrology uses symbols or 'glyphs' to represent the planets and signs. The glyph is made up of shapes representing the energy and physical matter of which the universe is composed. How these shapes are used in each glyph give us clues as to the properties of the Zodiac sign or planet it represents.

Ether and substance

The ancient view was that there were five elements, Fire, Air, Water, Earth, and Ether. Ether is invisible energy, while the four tangible elements are known as 'matter'. Ether, as pure energy, cannot be influenced by any of the matter elements, although it fuels and surrounds them. Aristotle viewed this idea as a circle (Ether) with a cross (matter) in the centre. This glyph is used in astrology to symbolise Earth and the 'cycle of life' (See symbol below).

Astrology Ether symbol

Understanding the cross of matter

A cross is used to represent the relationship of the matter elements with one another. This is known as the 'cross of Matter'. Each of the four elements in the cross of matter has a principle characteristic, known as its 'Humour'. There are four humours, as follows:

astrology cross of matter
  • Fire = Hot (Choleric)
  • Water = Wet (Phlegmatic)
  • Air = Cold (Sanguine)
  • Earth = Dry (Melancholic)

Arranged in the cross of matter, each element has an opposite, known as a cross-purpose element, the characteristics of which it needs to function. For example, Earth is dry, but needs water - its cross-purpose element - to supply vital nourishment before vegetation can grow.

Understanding the cycle of life and ether

Ether is everywhere but, like energy, exists primarily outside of the four elements. Water can dowse Fire, make Earth fertile and absorb Air, but it cannot change energy. In fact, Ether cannot be 'moved' or affected by any other element.

Cycle of life

Imagine the cross of matter moving in either a clockwise movement from bottom up, or anti-clockwise movement from top down.

Ether, the energy that drives this movement - or the energy of life itself - is therefore drawn as a circle surrounding the cross. The resultant symbol is known as the cycle of life.

Ether and the planets

Ancient astrologers believed that the planets and stars were created by Ether so that it would have physical matter to control.

The symbols used for the planets are therefore made up of the Ether (represented by the circle) and the relationship between the four matter elements (represented by the cross of matter).

astrology earth symbol

Symbols of Ether

Half circle astrology


The circle is the Ether, the circle of infinity or spirit. But you may also find it represented by the half-circle. The half-circle, or crescent, depicts the soul force or consciousness. All curved lines, whether half or complete, are considered emotional and responsive

Symbols of Elements

Vertical Line

The vertical line is designated as the line of destiny or intellect. It is detached and unemotional

Horizontal Line

The Horizontal line is considered concrete or physical when at the bottom of a glyph, abstract or metaphysical when at the top.


When the vertical and horizontal lines meet they form the cross of matter. All straight lines are considered intellectual, clear thinking and unemotional.

astrology vertical line
astrolofy horizontal line
astrology cross of matter