The sign of Aries is one of action, fire, lust, and rage. Its ruling planet, Mars, was adapted by the Romans from the Greek god of war, Ares. Despite the similarity of the names, though, the constellation Aries represents the ram with the golden fleece from the Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts. Other deities of war and passion include Anann (Celtic), Jiutian Xuannu (Chinese), and Inanna (Sumerian).
Venus, Taurus’ ruling planet, is the Roman goddess of love and prosperity. Taurus does have a gentle fondness for the finer things in life. So where does the “Bull” come from? The most common myth is that Zeus took the shape of a beautiful bull to kidnap and seduce the Phoenician princess Europa. King Minos (mino-taur, get it?) of Crete was their son. Other deities of wealth and beauty include Lakshmi (Hindu), Aphrodite (Greek), and Freyja (Norse).
The constellation Gemini contains the two stars Castor and Pollux, named after the twin warriors in Greek mythology. Leda was their mother, the King of Sparta was Castor’s father, and Zeus was Pollux’s father (no, the ancient myth-makers weren’t concerned with reproductive science). Mercury rules Gemini, and this Roman god of youth and charm bestows intelligence and eloquence. Other deities who deal with these concepts include Tir (Armenian), Papa Legba (Vodoun), and Ganesha (Hindu).
The Greek myth tells us that during Hercules’ battle with a Hydra, the goddess Hera sent a giant crab to distract the warrior. When the battle was over, she placed the crab in the sky as a show of appreciation. As a zodiac sign, Cancer gets its traits from Hera, a powerful mother figure who rules marriage, birth, and the home. (And if Cancers seem a little paranoid and overprotective, imagine what Hera had to deal with: her husband Zeus is a legendary adulterer!) There are plenty of mother-goddesses in world mythology, such as Bast (Egyptian), Brighid (Celtic), and Yemaya (West African).
Many cultures saw this constellation as a lion, and the Babylonians associated it with royalty as well. To the Greeks, Leo was the Nemean Lion (another one of Hercules’ challenges) — its hide was impervious to every weapon, and it could only be defeated by strangulation. Hercules wore its hide as a cape, quite befitting to the legendary hero. Leo is ruled by the Sun. Every pantheon has a Sun deity, but if you want something more specific, Leo is also a sign of kings and generosity. Try Amun or Ra (Egyptian), Apollo (Greek), or Yhi (Aboriginal).
Virgo may have been Astraea, the Greek virgin goddess of justice and virtue. According to the stories, as humans grew more war-like at the beginning of the Iron Age, Astraea gave us all a stern warning before disappearing into the mountains. Perhaps this zodiac sign’s cynical nature can be traced to the Goddess’ keen analysis of everything that was going wrong, and her knowledge that it was only going to get worse. Mercury rules Virgo as well as Gemini. In this sign, its rational, intellectual side is emphasized. Minerva (Roman), Nidaba (Sumerian), and Gefjon (Norse) are goddesses of similar spheres.
Libra, the Scales, is the only sign in the zodiac represented by an inanimate object. In some stories, it’s the scales held by Astraea (the goddess of justice from Virgo). Others make it out to be the claws of Scorpio, a sign which rules legal systems (among other things). The Greeks also thought it to be the chariot of Hades, who kidnapped Persephone and caused the first winter. (The Sun in Libra marks the Autumn Equinox, the end of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.) Venus rules Libra as well as Taurus. Here, its love of harmony and compassion are emphasized. Other gentle deities of justice, equality, and peace include Shamash (Mesopotamia), Ma’at (Egyptian), and Vishnu (Hindu).
When the hunter Orion bragged that he planned to kill every animal in the land, Gaia, the Earth goddess (or Artemis the Huntress, in some versions), sent a giant Scorpion to deal with him. We can still see Scorpio chasing Orion across the sky every year. Scorpio is a sign of mystery and extreme emotions hiding beneath a cool exterior, an assassin sent to show us the consequences of letting our pride get out of control. Scorpio is ruled by Pluto. With its dark, secret agenda, it may be considered a “Trickster” and can be found in the same company as Anansi (Africa), Loki (Norse), and Coyote (Native American).
Sagittarius’ story is that of Chiron, the centaur (not to be mistaken for the asteroid Chiron). The gentlest and wisest of his kind, Chiron was a healer, a teacher, and a seeker of knowledge. Hercules accidentally shot him with a poisoned arrow, but as an immortal, he couldn’t die. To end the unbearable pain, Zeus placed him in the sky as a constellation, with his arrow always pointing toward the mysterious heart of the Scorpion. Jupiter (the Roman version of Zeus) is Sagittarius’ planet. It’s associated with abundance and good luck. Similar deities include Tyche (Greek), the “Seven Gods of Fortune” (Japan), and Copia (Roman).
Capricorn is “the goat,” or more specifically, “the sea-goat.” The bottom half is a fish! In fact, the goat in question is none other than the god Pan. When the Olympian gods were fighting the Titans, it was Pan who found a conch shell in the sea and blew it like a horn to frighten (or panic) the enemy. In other myths, Pan has the lower legs of a goat and the upper body of a man (like a satyr), and plays on reed pipes (also called Pan pipes). Pan is always shrewd, calculating, and ambitious. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, a planet associated with time, patience, and rational thinking. Other deities like this include Chronos (Greek), Janus (Roman), and the Norns (Norse).
Ganymede was a young man who was taken to Olympus to serve as Zeus’ cup-bearer. He was the first mortal human to attain immortality, and because he asked to be allowed to bring water to the humans, too, became a god of rain. The “water” that Aquarius carries could be seen as the understanding and wisdom of the gods. When he shares it with humanity, it lights a divine spark in the mortal souls, inspiring us to evolve. Aquarius is ruled by Uranus, a planet of surprises and transformation. Other gods of change, wisdom and evolution include Psyche (Greek), Etain (Irish), and Saraswati (Hindu).
Aphrodite (the goddess of beauty) and her son Eros (the god of love) were trying to escape Typhon, a monster that was just as powerful as the Greek gods. One version of the story is that they jumped into a river and turned themselves into fishes. Another version is that when they hit the water, two fish came to their rescue and helped them get away. To show their gratitude, the gods immortalized the fish in the constellation Pisces. Ruled by Neptune (the planet named after the Roman sea god), Pisces is associated with the imagination, dreams, emotions, and psychic abilities. The gods include Enki (Sumerian), Morpheus (Greek), and Nott (Norse).