SOLAR RETURN CHARTS
Many years ago, at the exact moment of my birth, the Sun was located at 15 degrees 42 minutes 31 seconds of Capricorn. This past month, it returned to that precise point at 8:56 pm-est on January 5th. That’s actually the day before my birthday, and by most people’s standards about six and a half hours before it was time for me to blow out the candles on my birthday cake. It works that way for pretty much everybody – our actual “astronomical birthday” often does not fall at the same time as our customary one. It may even be the day before or the day after. The reasons are a little complicated, but they boil down to the way we smooth out the calendar for practical purposes – essentially it all stems from the same compromises that compel us to insert a 366-day “year” every four years.
As astrologers, our computers take care of those details for us, so none of that has much practical meaning – at least until we start setting up Solar Return charts. I am sure that many of you have heard of the technique. In principle, it is a simple idea: we set up a chart for the moment that the Sun returns to its starting point and we begin a new yearly cycle. That “birthday” chart gives us insight into what lies ahead during the coming year. The trick lies in remembering that this “solar return moment” would only very rarely be the same as your actual birth time and date. If I had set mine up with my usual birth data – 3:22 am-est on January 6 – it would have been meaningless, almost more like a legal document than an astrological one.
A moment ago, I used the phrase “what lies ahead for us during the coming year.” No astrologer would be startled at such wording, but then the fun would begin. Astrology means so many different things to so many different people. A conventional astrologer might use a solar return chart (often abbreviated as an “SR”) to predict the events of the next twelve months. Jupiter in the 2nd house? I smell money. Venus on the Descendant? You will meet someone . . . There may even be some truth in those predictions, but as an evolutionary astrologer, my questions are different. For one thing, I believe that choices you make, wisely or foolishly, have a lot to do with the future you create. My aim is to empower you rather than “predicting” anything for you. For another, I think that the message of the SR chart – and really of all astrological symbolism – is ultimately about what your soul is learning, how best to learn it, and how to avoid wasting those evolutionary opportunities.
Those of you who have been following my work have already heard all that many times before, so I won’t rehash it here. I only repeat it for one practical purpose, which we will get to in a moment. Before we arrive at that moment, a huge practical question looms. We know the solar return chart is set up for the moment the transiting Sun conjuncts its natal position. That defines a day and a minute. But for what place should we set up the chart? We know that every astrological chart depends upon a date, a time, and a location.
There’s an astrological cottage industry built around helping people “choose the best place for their solar return.” Want to meet someone? Well, I see that Venus will be on your Descendant at the moment of your solar return, provided that you are in Papeete, Tahiti . . .
I am not entirely dismissive of these relocated SR charts, but I do have a serious problem with them. Before I get to my reasons, let me give you my bottom line suggestion: go ahead and use them if you want, but always give primary credence to the solar return chart set up for your place of birth. That one is primary.
A few moments ago I emphasized that in evolutionary astrology all charts are ultimately about what your soul is learning, how best to learn it, and how to avoid wasting those opportunities. Let’s say you just don’t like the tone of what your soul needs to learn this year – in fact, you feel like the universe is being a little cheeky with you. Hey, no problem! Just fly to Papeete, where the soul-lessons are more to your liking . . .
Do you detect a flaw in that reasoning? This point is really electrified when we dive into the deep philosophical heart of evolutionary astrology. The reasons that you have the chart you have – and thus the solar returns you have – are rooted in prior lifetimes. Everything in those charts is karmic. Everything in a chart is there for a purpose – and the origins of those purposes lie in the misty past, long before you were born into this particular body.
Can you change your karmic past by deciding to vacation in Tahiti this year? I think we can all agree that the question is rhetorical.
I can get up on my high horse and say that using relocated Solar Return charts trivializes astrology. I actually do think that anything that divorces astrology from its spiritual and metaphysical roots is guilty of that charge. But let me soften it a bit. In practical terms, relocated SR charts do work. They do have relevance to our experience. Much the same can be said for a relocated birthchart – say you were born in Oklahoma City, but you moved to Paris when you were two years old. That Oklahoma City chart still tells the deep story, but the influence of the Parisian chart will be felt. My favorite line is that these relocated charts feel like “permanent transits” in the new place – it’s just that, unlike transits, they last for as long as you stay there. The same goes for relocated SR charts, except that they last for a year no matter where you go.
Let me bring this down to earth with an example. Let’s imagine a woman born in Dublin, Ireland. Wherever she might presently be living, we set up a solar return chart for her birthplace. This will always reveal the heart of the matter. But let’s also imagine she falls prey to an astrologer who sends her off to Papeete, Tahiti, so that she can have “this very sexy” solar return there – and theoretically a very sexy twelve months to follow.
Before we go any further with this example, let me make one simple, practical point – one that can potentially save you a lot of embarrassment. Note that the sign position of the Moon in both of these solar return charts is identical – it’s 4 degrees 17 minutes of Capricorn in each case. It should always be that way in any kind of relocated chart. Why is that true? That’s because everywhere in the world at that moment of cosmic time, the Moon was in the same zodiacal place. All that should change is its house position – and the time showing on the local clocks. Either you or your computer can get you into a world of trouble with shifting time zones. Check the Moon. If it’s still in the same sign position, you’re OK. The key to understanding this is really simple: when it is high noon in San Francisco, the clocks read 3:00 pm in New York City, but it is exactly the same moment of time.
Back to our Irish gal. In both charts, she’s got a Venus-Pluto opposition this year. There’s no way to escape that, nor any good reason to want to escape it. The aspect itself will soon break up, but it will live on for twelve months in the SR chart. That will be true no matter where she celebrates her birthday. In the light of that Venus-Pluto aspect, our aspiration is that this can be a year of breakthrough psychological insights into her own relationship patterns and sexual dynamics. On the down side, if she gets it wrong, then “the god of hell” will make his presence felt in her intimate life.
In her relocated solar return chart, that edgy Pluto-Venus opposition is angular, and thus made even more prominent. The all-important Sun shifting to the eighth house in the relocated chart further underscores “sexy” behavior. Remember: houses are what we do. It also exaggerates the Plutonian qualities of the year.
Easy Question Department: during a year when a kind of purging of anything that has poisoned her sexuality is happening, do we hope for her to act it out or think it out?
Let’s turn our attention to the deeper SR chart, the one based on Dublin, her place of birth.
In this natally-based chart, the Sun is in the 3rd house. There’s the symbolism prescribing some of that healthy, necessary thinking – not to mention some potentially life-changing reading and conversing. There’s also a massive 11th house, suggesting some kind of collective or “tribal” activity. Maybe that suggests a support group? Is that where those helpful conversations should be happening? The Capricorn Moon is in the 6th house. Might that indicate a wise elder who is a timely mentor for her in this pivotal year of insights? Were I her astrologer, I would certainly tell her to be on the lookout for such a person.
Instead of heeding the good guidance of the true solar return chart, our hero nips off to Papeete in search of X-rated adventure. She probably finds it too. For reasons we saw, a kind of torque is applied to her life by that relocated chart, pressing her more in the direction of acting out whatever intimate toxins are surfacing. Maybe it’s as simple as her getting into a brief, bad relationship instead of finding the support that she needs in order to make a more fundamental change in her life. The relocated solar return chart “worked,” in other words – but she would have been better off following the good guidance of the natal solar return. It torqued the laws of synchronicity too – “by chance” the bad relationship was waiting for her in Tahiti, while the wise elder was having a cup of tea alone back in Ireland.
Let’s keep some lead in our shoes here. The majority of us don’t live where we were born anymore. I don’t want to get within a mile of implying that we should all return to our birthplaces for our birthdays. Obviously that would be highly impractical for most of us. And by all means, have a look at your relocated solar return if you want to – it can give you useful information, so long as you keep perspective. And you keep that good perspective by always, unfailingly, starting your astrological meditations with an SR set for your place of your birth. That’s the chart that is telling you the same thing that the angels are whispering in your ears. That’s the chart that would have told our Irish friend to think and to read, perhaps to join some kind of support group, and to keep her eyes open for a wise, old grandmother who’d been around the sexual mulberry bush a few times herself and was eager to share what she had learned from her adventures.
That’s the chart that would have sped her journey rather than wasting her time.
That’s the good road the natal solar return chart reveals.
By the way, as synchronicity would have it, I just got some good news. The best book I’ve ever seen on SR charts is Lynn Bell’s Cycles of Light: Exploring the Mysteries of Solar Returns. Unfortunately it’s been out of print for a while – and used copies are selling for US$335 on Amazon. Tony Howard is soon to remedy that sad fact by bringing out a reprint. Keep an eye on lynnbellastrology.com for updates.
“As we speak,” Lynn is also creating a three-part webinar about the technique. Check her website or click here for details – https://www.astrologyuniversity.com/shop/search-by-astrologer/lynn-bell/understanding-solar-returns/
Listen to the podcast version