Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sabian Symbols in Action: A Profile of Barack Obama

Most people know what the Sabian Symbols are – a trance revelation channeled by Elsie Wheeler, an early twentieth century spiritualist and clairvoyant, during one remarkable eight hour period at Balboa Park in San Diego, and recorded with the help of astrologer Marc Edmund Jones. Yet it still seems I get a lot of questions like, “What does this mean for me?” or “How DO you use them, anyway?”

One of the easiest ways to use the symbols is to match them up with the degrees of the planets for a given birthday, and use them to develop a profile. This turns out to be another way of looking at the natal chart – it gives you a “picture” of your subject that may be hinted at in the horoscope, but is often plain as day in the emerging Sabian profile. It takes a little practice at first, because some of the degree symbols are trickier to decode than others. But once you get the hang of it, you have a quick thumbnail that can be very handy in a flash – let’s say you’re dating a new love, and you have his or her birthdate from a Facebook page – check the Sabian degrees of his or her Jupiter and Saturn, and you will get quick insight into the major strength of their personality, and their most significant character flaw as well.

Let’s take a look at how this works. Each of the planets represents an important aspect of the personality in a Sabian Symbol context. Some of the planets are more useful than others, so let’s start there.

I don’t use the Moon, because I’ve never been able to figure out what it means. Experienced readers who disagree on this should feel free to post a comment. The Moon’s placement is also tricky if you don’t have an accurate birth time (see below).

I also don’t look at Pluto or Neptune, because these are generational markers. Most people born in a given year share the same Pluto degree, and when everyone on earth partakes of the same Symbol, it becomes pretty worthless from an interpretive standpoint. The same is true for Neptune – everyone born in a given year will share one of two symbols, and few of us are exceptional enough to tap the unique energy of a symbol shared by so many others.

I will look at Uranus for people who have been involved in spiritual communities of one form or another because experience tells me that the Sabian degree of Uranus is more relevant for these folks than it is for the average Joe. Uranus is a “higher level” planet relating to the collective, and many people access that “higher level” energy through spirituality, so those involved in spiritual collectives of many kinds may tap the Uranian energy of their age cohort. Dedicated members of churches, cults, covens, activist groups like PETA, or certain tight-knit political organizations with a spiritual or religious agenda should check this degree. Somebody who merely goes to church on Sunday or watches Glenn Beck on Fox News should skip it.

Sun – Tells you something fundamental about the person. It may describe their profession, or their nature. This symbol may be a strength or a challenge, depending on other factors.

Mercury – Tells you something about their ability to communicate, or what they hope to communicate with others during their time in this incarnation.

Venus – Tells you something about this individual’s style of loving, or spotlights an issue that recurs for them repeatedly in intimate relationships.

Mars – Tells you something about motivation and drive, and what the person is working toward in this lifetime. Many people don’t express this symbol distinctly, because they are “working toward it” rather than firmly manifesting it.

Jupiter – Tells you something about what comes easiest for this person, their special gift or talent. All of the Sabian Symbols have a dual energy, which means their expression ranges from positive to negative, but Jupiter almost always leans towards a positive expression.

Saturn - Tells you something about this person’s lifelong weakness or highlights an area of particular challenge. This may be a character flaw, a catastrophic personal event, or occasionally, a problem with the way the individual is perceived by their peers or by the public. A few rare lucky people will actualize Saturn as a strength, but most of us must face up to the negative expression of this symbol.

One of the nice things about doing a Sabian profile is that the time of birth is relatively unimportant – this is another reason why I don’t use the degree of the Moon, which moves up to eight degrees a day. Unless you are very certain of the birth time, the degree of the Moon on a public figure or celebrity can be more confusing than it’s worth. Mercury also moves quickly enough so that it can change degrees depending on the time of day on a given birth date. If you aren’t certain of your subject’s birth time, you may need to try out a couple of degrees for Mercury, and find the best fit.

This astrological technique works even without a confirmed location of birth, which is important if your subject was born to nomads on a moving camel in the middle of the Sahara, or if his place of birth is called into question by naysayers looking for a technicality that could deny him the Presidency.

Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961. His Sun is at 12 degrees Leo, and the relevant symbol is “An Evening Garden Party of Adults”. This symbol is his foundation symbol, since the Sun was on this degree at the time of his birth. “An Evening Garden Party” is all about networking, getting to meet new people, develop new ideas, and “bringing new depths to relationships and community”, according to Lynda Hill, one of my favorite Aussie astrologers. It so happens that Barack Obama started out as a “community organizer”, a term which means different things to people who support or oppose him politically, so this degree is a very close “fit” for who he was at the beginning of his career.

Lynda Hill puts an emphasis on progressing the Sun, which means looking at the degree that follows the birth symbol. Obama’s Sun progresses to Leo 13, “An Old Sea Captain Rocking on the Porch of His Cottage”. One of the keywords which Hill suggests for this symbol is memoirs. The old sea captain is looking back over his life, and figuring out how he fits into the big picture, perhaps by jotting down his memoirs. It is striking how literal a depiction this is of Obama, who first came to national public attention for publishing two memoirs that aimed to explain to people why a black man would seek the Presidency.

Obama’s Mercury is Leo 2, “An Epidemic of Mumps”. This symbol talks about something racing through a population, or raging through a chain of friends, like an epidemic that is spreading farther and farther afield. Obama was able to harness the power of this symbol very shrewdly in terms of using the Internet during his campaign to further his “message”, or the ideas he wanted most to convey to his public. Obama was very lucky to get his Mercury on a Sabian degree associated with rapid-fire communication – the word-of-mouth on his books and his Internet presence are what cinched the Presidency, in large part.

His Venus is on 1 Cancer, “On a Ship Sailors Lower An Old Flag and Raise A New One”. This symbol talks about a changing of the guard. It talks about making really big changes in one’s personal life, and about taking a public stand about one’s change in loyalties (literally raising the flag and letting everyone know).

My interpretation of the meaning is speculative – I am not privy to Obama’s private life. But I suspect this has something to do with leaving the white grandparents who raised him behind, and embracing a black identity in college and in law school, as well as his decision to marry an African-American woman.

His Mars is on 22 Virgo, “A Royal Coat of Arms Enriched With Precious Stones”. This symbol is all about becoming a king, and joining the elite. Its about getting aristocratic status, an Ivy League education, and wealth no matter what your origins were. Although many of us don’t manage to access the full scope of power inherent in our Mars symbol, Obama did.

The downside to this symbol is class consciousness, elite school snobbery, and having “servants” who do everything. Interestingly, Obama’s wife, Michelle, has taken more public flak for this than the President has. Her own horoscope shows a very strong drive to become a member of the American black elite, but her Sabian profile shows greater challenges with handling the public’s perception of her ambition.

His Jupiter is on 0 Aquarius, which is read as 30 Capricorn in Lynda Hill’s wonderful book, 360 Degrees of Wisdom. The symbol is “Directors of a Large Firm Meet in Secret Conference”.

This was the very first symbol that I checked for Obama when I was looking at his candidacy, and chills went through my spine when I saw it, because it is a fairly sinister symbol. This symbol is all about deliberately withholding information in order to maintain power by secrecy, and about the ability to make successful backroom deals.

It is a strong symbol for Obama, and we have seen it in action when it came to getting an extremely overdue health care package for the American people. Obama managed to “buy off” the AMA and the pharmaceutical bad boys, which left only the insurance industry as a huge obstacle. He also had the sense to move fast in his first term – witness the power of his Mercury degree in synergy with this degree. He will almost certainly use the power of this symbol to as much damage-control as he can on the upcoming Republican backlash to his policies.

His Saturn is on 25 Capricorn, “An Oriental Rug Dealer in a Store Filled With Precious Ornamental Rugs”. A rug merchant is a canny dealer, who always gets the best deal for himself. People can and do react negatively to the “used car salesman” quality of this symbol, but a rug merchant knows how to think on his feet. Republicans have felt the energy of Obama’s Saturn strongly – nearly every editorial about Obama in Republican newspapers I have read focuses on this theme.


His symbols are strongly grounded in material ambition – there are no overtly spiritual or otherworldly symbols in his profile, except perhaps for the final progressed symbol for his Sun, a symbol I did not address earlier. This final symbol is Leo 14, “Cherub-Like, A Human Soul Whispers Into Every Receptive Ear, Seeking to Manifest”. Obama will mesh strongly with the energy of this symbol as he grows older. Expect to see it once he has retired from the Presidency.

Obama’s symbols mesh well together. The foundation symbol of his
Sun, Leo 12, “An Evening Garden Party of Adults” is reinforced by the Jupiter symbol, Capricorn 30, “Directors of a Large Firm Meet in Secret Conference”. Both represent adroit communicators. These two symbols get a boost from a powerful third symbol with similar associations, his Mercury at Leo 2, “An Epidemic of Mumps”, effectively giving him a triple whammy, which likely confers an advantage in terms of professional success.


If you don’t know the person well, but have a birth date, checking out the degrees of their Jupiter and Saturn can give you some quick, useful insight. Let’s say you have a passion for astrology, but start dating someone who has a Saturn symbol on Pisces 28, “A Fertile Garden Under a Full Moon”. This degree is all about New Age beliefs symbolized by the “Full Moon”. It can also refer to gardening, earth conservation, and vegetarianism symbolized by the “Garden”. Unless this person has a highly spiritual Jupiter symbol, he or she isn’t going to be such a great match, and if you see it quickly, it can help you to detach graciously.

Another thing I have noticed is that gender matters on the foundation symbol of the Sun, in some cases. If the symbol references a woman, for example, it will often affect women who have their natal Sun on this degree more strongly than it will affect men. A woman with her foundation symbol on 24 Capricorn, “A Woman Entering a Convent”, is going to be more introverted and more likely to withdraw from society than a man with a foundation symbol on the same degree.

When working with adolescents and young adults, keep in mind that the Sabian symbols for their Jupiter and Saturn may not be immediately apparent to you or to them, in some cases. These symbols become more obvious over time, and by the time a young person has reached his or her mid-twenties, you will usually be able to interpret the symbols in a personal context. In my experience, Saturn is the hardest to interpret for a young person, because Saturn is associated with age. With some children, though, all the symbols seem to show up early.

The foundation symbol of the Sun, and the degrees for Mercury and Venus will be apparent from the time the child is young, and adolescents normally relate well to interpretation of these degrees. The degree of the progressed Sun often does not show up until the native is in his or her mid-thirties, and the degree of the final progressed Sun typically only reveals itself in late middle-age.


If this article has given you a better understanding of the Sabian Symbols and how they can be used to develop a natal profile, I would totally appreciate feedback in the form of your comments.

Lynda Hill.360 Degrees of Wisdom: Charting Your Destiny With the Sabian Oracle, Penguin Group, 2004.

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