Popular astrology, that is the astrology that most people know of, focuses on the Sun sign, meaning the zodiacal sign the Sun was found in (longitudinally) when a person was born. People everywhere identify with their Sun sign, usually because they know nothing else about their chart, and this is due to the fact that the Sun is the only astrological body whose position in the Zodiac is easily known without consulting tables of planetary motion (called an ephemeris) or doing lengthy calculations (to calculate a full birth chart). It enters the same sign every year during roughly the same day/period of time, making it easy to know where it was when you were born. The Sun sign undoubtedly says a lot concerning a person's basic character and psychological profile, yet it paints a very incomplete picture. This is because there are many more components to a chart. The Sun and its function in astrology will be elaborated on below, and for the time being we wish to make it clear that Sun sign astrology is not in any way a reliable form of the art and that nothing on this site caters to Sun signs alone. What is said in the reflections on the zodiacal signs bears some relationship to the Sun, but is meant to be applicable to the sign as a whole and the personality traits listed and/or elaborted on, refer to those people whose charts show an emphasis on a particular sign.
Let us briefly list all of the other components that go into understanding a chart:
The Ascendant and the other 11 houses
The Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Lunar Nodes, (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto)
Various arabic parts (points calculated by taking the distance between two points (usually planets)) and adding that distance to a third point (usually the Ascendant)
The way the planets aspect one another and the manner in which they are arranged in the houses
The Sun, and the sign it is placed within at the time of birth, is a far more generic factor than the Moon or the Ascendant. The Ascendant is the sign rising on the eastern horizon at the time of birth. Each sign rises for approximately 2 hours (though, due to certain factors in the earth's orbit, this is not quite true), while the Moon moves through one sign of the zodiac in about 2.5 days time (again this is an average). The Ascendant is the most individualized point in the entire chart for the obvious reason that every sign of the zodiac will rise on the eastern horizon in a day, while planets spend days/years in one sign alone.
Astrologers who do Sun sign columns get their prognostications for each sign by taking the position of the Sun at, say the beginning of a month or perhaps the week, and use that as an artificial ascendant (meaning the Sun's degree becomes the 1st house of the chart). They then read the chart in this manner in order to prognosticate. This is certainly not an invalid technique in and of itself. What is invalid is the idea that these prognostications apply to anyone who has their Sun in X sign or their Ascendant in X sign, etc. What is garnered from these types of readings, using the Sun as the ascendant, is very generic and basic, so much so that the language used has to be necessarily vague so that what happens in your (madame or sir) life can be made to conform to this Sun sign column.
Many people, untrained in the art of astrology, will heavily identify as their Sun sign and then collect other "signs" that they fall into from other traditions (chinese astrology, for example) as a way to explain their identity, which usually means justifying their bad habits and the lies they tell themselves so as to avoid working on their own personal growth.
The early 20th century astrologer, Alan Leo, invented Sun sign astrology in order to reach a wider client base. This decision was undoubtedly influenced by his approach to astrology, which was perhaps the first approach to emphasize destiny/character over a rigid fatalistic point of view. Yet for thousands of years the Sun in astrology had not been the central point of focus amongst astrologers. Instead the Ascendant (its ruler and any planets placed therein), for the reasons discussed above, was the primary point of interest for any practicing astrologer. Sun sign astrology is roughly only 100 years old.
More on the Sun
The Sun has always been of great importance in astrology and the traditional approach actually shares quite a lot in common, regarding the Sun, with modern astrology. In Medieval astrology the Sun has significations over:
Ambition and worldly pursuits
Life force/vitality (called Spiritus in Latin)
The father (in a day birth)
Kings, princes, the wealthy, those in positions of power (ie a General)
Hyleg (the giver of life)
These are just the basic meanings of the Sun. Medieval authors would often give extensive lists of the many things signified by each planet.
In Humanistic or Psychological astrology:
The Will/Purpose of the individual
The psychological fuel an individual runs on
In Transpersonal or Esoteric forms of astrology:
The Spirit, the Divine Monad or Source
The Personality (see the astrology of Alice Bailey)
The Truth body, or the native's connection to the Divine Truth of existence
The Divine Father within
These lists I've given are incomplete but they serve to show some of the key significations of the Sun, depending upon which system of astrology is being used. When studying a chart from a psycho-spiritual perspective the Sun becomes the basic form of energy fueling the person's being. It is the raw material used to build or power the entire engine of the personality or life. It's energy is symbolically distributed and altered by the other planets and the overall structure of the chart (based on the Ascendant). The sign the Sun is in gives us a clue to a person's primary mode of being (individual-subjective (fire), social-objective (air), emotional-subjective (water), physical-objective (earth)) and what drives them and connects them with a sense of purpose on a basic level. The house the Sun is in gives us a clue about the area of life experience where the person derives a sense of purpose, the kind of activities that re-energize a person. This implies, as well, that the house the Sun resides in is the area of life that is singled out, or revealed, as a spot light illumines a single dark patch of ground. On a deeper level the Sun deals with the native's relationship to Truth and how it is veiled in this present incarnation, but this is a story for another time. Where the Sun shines its rays, the Truth may be revealed, for better or worse.
"The Sun pours its light upon everything: a diamond will sparkle magnificently; a decaying fish will decay more quickly" - Dane Rudhyar.
Sun sign astrology scratches the surface and has been a source of degradation of the art for those who were already skeptical to begin with. Join me in probing deeper than the Sun sign and together we can uncover the real magic of this art.