What Are The Sabian Symbols?

December 18, 2018

Intriguing to astrologers and non-astrologers alike, the Sabian Symbols give deeper meaning to the positions of the Sun, Moon and Planets in your birth chart. They can also give answers to life’s questions or set the tone for the day. Emily Anderson finds out more, and astrologer Lyn Birkbeck shares his insight into the symbols’ meanings.


Over 90 years ago, a gifted psychic together with a renowned astrologer sat in a car in California, channelling images for the 360 degrees of the Zodiac. The Sabian Symbols, as they became known, have captured the imagination of many through the years and continue to bring meaning and magic to everyday life.




















The Origins of the Sabian Symbols

The Sabian Symbols are verbal images for each of the 360 degrees of the Zodiac, from Aries 1 to Pisces 30, ranging from two words, such as ‘A Harem’ (Virgo 2) to much longer descriptions. All of them were channelled on one day in 1925, in Balboa Park, San Diego, California by a gifted clairvoyant called Elsie Wheeler and quickly written down by astrologer Marc Edmund Jones. Both were keen to contribute something important to the study of astrology, so undertook the ‘experiment’ in optimum conditions devised by Jones himself.

He found a place where they could be surrounded by the vibrations of modern American life but would not be disturbed by passers-by. As Wheeler had severe arthritis, they sat in Jones’ car for the duration, splitting the 360 degrees into four two-hourly stints, all chosen at random by shuffling plain index cards with just the sign and the degree written on them. Each card was placed face down before Wheeler and according to Jones’ book, The Sabian Symbols in Astrology, published in 1931,  ‘she reported on the picture she saw by inward vision.’

The speed with which she connected with, saw and described each image demonstrated to Jones that Elsie was tapping into another level of consciousness, which he called the ‘ancient mind matrix’ of the Sabian alchemists of ancient Mesopotamia. ‘A sort of group identity, or with an intelligence which is immortal in the fact that it can be revivified and consulted at will.’

As British astrologer Lyn Birkbeck, author of The Sabian Symbols ~ Astrological Oracle, explains: ‘Marc believed Elsie was channelling an occult brotherhood from ancient Mesopotamia (Sumeria), some of the originators of astrology, still existing on inner planes of awareness. There is evidently some connection to a sect actually called the Sabians (also the name Marc gave to his student group who tested the Symbols), at that time and in the area of Harran, a city on the banks of the Euphrates River. They were the followers of a religion led by the avatar Hermes Trismegistus to whom is attributed the axiom that perfectly summarises astrology: ‘As Above, So Below’. In light of all this, it may be said that the Sabian Symbols come down to us from the same source that has carried and kept through millennia some of the key mysteries and secrets of life on this planet.’

In his book, Marc Edmund Jones gives tribute to fellow astrologer Dane Rudhyar for popularising the Symbols in his work, An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and Its 360 Symbolic Phases. Jones wrote that Rudhyar’s, ‘way of explaining it, his “special social psychology and abstract philosophy”,  gave a redoubled indication of their validity.’

Although Rudhyar was never a student of Jones’ or a member of the Sabian Assembly (founded in October 1923 to test the Symbols’ validity and relevance  and still going strong today), Jones saw Rudhyar’s interpretation as a ‘remarkable testimony to the universal Sabian depth.’


How Are They Used?

Fascinating, fun and deeply revealing, the Sabian Symbols are mainly used in two ways. Astrologer Lyn Birkbeck explains: ‘You can use them as a kind of close-up interpretation of any planet or point in a birth chart. Remember that if, for example, you had your Moon at 28 degrees and 46 minutes of Aries, then this would mean that it was at the 29th degree of Aries, not at the 28th  degree of Aries. This can be understood if you had a planet at 0 degrees and 25 minutes of, say, Virgo you look up the Sabian Symbol for the first degree of Virgo. So there is not a zero degree before the first degree.

‘More commonly (and easily), the Symbols are used as an Oracle where you use dice or playing cards to select a Symbol as you pose your question. In all cases an image may be used to illustrate the Sabian Symbol in question, but remember they are written images and so the user is free to imagine them as they see fit, using their own intuition and experience, as the following examples demonstrate.


Personal Relevance

‘The writing of The Sabian Symbols ~ Astrological Oracle gave rise to much despondency, doubt and despair as my logical left-brain insisted upon more literal and easy-to-understand answers. Because I had to be so exhaustive in testing and researching the Oracle (over 3000 questions) it sometimes involved using other oracles such as the Chinese I Ching and Tarot to check things out. When I asked the I Ching about my doubt, I received Hexagram 61 – Inner Truth. This reveals the connection between the inner and outer worlds and how doubt actually cuts you off from the truths the Oracle makes available to you.

‘This was all confirmed, and the dilemma created by my own doubt finally resolved, when such doubt reached an extreme in the early hours of one morning. Somehow frustration gave rise to a question to the Oracle of startling clarity. I simply asked it ‘Who are you?’ I got Taurus 16 – ‘An Old Man Attempting Vainly to Reveal the Mysteries’ which not only answered that question clearly but also the one regarding the difficulties of writing the Oracle itself. Furthermore, this is the Sabian Symbol of the Moon in the birth chart of renowned and groundbreaking psychologist, Carl Jung, who encountered many a doubt about his work in the face of conventional thought at the time,’ says Birkbeck.


As A Reality Check 

‘You can use the Oracle for a ‘reality check’ when you want to know where you are at, but are not quite sure how to phrase the question. In my line of work – that is, advising people – quite often you wonder if you have the right to advise anyone on anything. So I asked the Oracle to give me, as an astrological consultant, a reality check.
I drew Aries 11 – ‘The President of a Country’. The opening text was “Now is the time for a total focus of ego upon itself in order to achieve and maintain (worldly) position, possibly at the expense of what could be termed normal personal interaction and lifestyle. Take command of the situation.”

This made it clear to me that I firstly had a position of great responsibility, and that secondly the effective executing of such responsibility hinged upon making certain personal sacrifices, doing a lot of hard work and soul-searching (all of which I also do). Consequently, I took the reality check to be saying that I still qualified for the job I am doing, provided I kept up the payments, so to speak.


Instant Interpretation

‘You should initially interpret a Sabian Symbol purely through what it brings to mind straightaway, if possible, through free association with the image itself. A client of mine was at a loss for what she was supposed to be doing in her life. She wisely asked for a ‘clue’ to her direction/purpose, and got Gemini 15 – ‘Two Dutch Children Talking’. She immediately became emotional and explained that her late grandmother used to have two figurines of Dutch children upon her mantelpiece. She said this grandmother was ‘her best friend’, and the tears began to flow, opening up a store of suppressed emotion that had been holding her back. Here the Sabian Symbols enabled her to  tap into her deepest feelings in order to open up a path to genuine motivation.


Connection to the Moon in Your Chart

‘One of the most personal points in your birth chart is the Moon. This is because it represents the nature of your soul and feelings, your predispositions and what gives you a sense of security. As such, the Sabian Symbol for your Moon should strike an intimate chord, even though – or especially because – you may need to ponder on it to see the emotional truth that it is able to reveal. In my own case such pondering was not really necessary as its meaning is fairly literal. My Moon is on the 29th degree of Aries, which has the Sabian Symbol, ‘A Celestial Choir Singing’, and is placed in the 10th House, the House of Profession and Public Position. This Symbol is very apt because my first position in life was as a musician and record producer, and my current profession is an astrologer, which, like the Symbol, is all about studying, interpreting and listening to the Music of the Spheres. It also has other very personal and spiritual associations for me, not least that which is revealed by the subtitle I give to this degree’s Symbol in the texts, namely ‘Cosmic Attunement’. Singing is still a very personal and therapeutic experience for me.


Giving Meaning to Things

‘Here is a classic example of how the Sabian Symbols can tap into the ‘meta-meaning’ of a given event, that is, the meaning that lies beneath initial or superficial observation. On the night of December 6/7 2015 my locality found itself in the path of Storm Desmond. It was a true disaster, destroying homes and businesses. On the day after the storm there was a rare occultation of Venus by the Moon, when the Moon exactly conjoins Venus by both latitude and longitude. This took place on the 3rd degree of Scorpio with the Sabian Symbol ‘A House Raising’, which has two meanings; a negative one of a house being razed to the ground, and a positive one of the community helping to build or rebuild structures for individuals. The latter was ultimately the most noticeably valid meaning, with everyone enthusiastically offering help and supplies to their fellow citizens. Again, the Sabian Symbols caught it all in one!


The Moon in Princess Diana’s Chart

The Sabian Symbol for the Moon in the chart of Princess Diana, at 28 degrees Aquarius, is ‘A Hydrometer’. The Moon is the planetary symbol of what is utterly personal, all the more so in her case as Diana is the Goddess of the Moon, and her Sun-Sign was Moon-ruled Cancer. Odd at first glance, but the general Sabian interpretation is insightful: “What’s in play here, or needs to be, is a combination of gut instinct and sound principles that can ‘read’ the real quality and value of a given person, thing or situation. A hydrometer is an instrument which symbolises the measurement of something against an eternal or elementary constant.” Folowed by the advice to “keep focused on trusting your acutely accurate sense of whatever you consciously choose to involve yourself in, for this in turn clarifies matters for everyone concerned.” The People’s Princess responded to all situations in this spontaneous, empathetic and unequivocal fashion for which she will always be admired.


Find Out More:

  • Lyn Birkbeck is a professional astrological consultant and writer of 37 years experience, and a leading authority on the Sabian Symbols.
  • The Sabian Symbols ~ Astrological Oracle, also available as a
  • Kindle edition (£7.70).
  • You can also get a free daily Sabian Symbol reading on his Facebook page and for the new and full moons in his monthly astro-bulletin: www.lynbirkbeck.com/sabian.html
  • Sabian Assembly: sabian.org


Posted by: jack.hallam