The astrological glyphs for the planets are well known across the world and often take a surprisingly large part in popular culture. While modern thinkers have come up with interpretations of what those glyphs represent, what is it that they symbolize and what were they before they came to take shape as the symbols we recognize today? Some of them are easily explainable, but others have taken on a different lineage than has been attributed to them by modern practitioners.
Evolution of the Moon
Today the Moon is symbolized by either a right-facing or left-facing crescent, obviously representing one of the most iconic stages of the lunar cycle. Modern thinkers have associated this symbol with a crescent of receptivity, showing the mind and the evolving human spirit.
We know this symbol goes back at least to William Lilly’s day, though he seems to consistently use a left-facing crescent, which reflects the way the Moon looks during her waxing phase, wherein she is generally regarded as a benevolent planet. This left-facing crescent is echoed in a 1506 translation of Abu Masar’s Great Introduction.
The earliest representation for the Moon can be traced to a 2nd century BCE tablet called the Bianchini planisphere which shows the patron of the Moon wearing a tiara with an upturned crescent which heralds to a lunar phenomenon called a Wet Moon where the “horns of the Moon” – or the crescent – is turned facing up.
Evolution of Mercury
Mercury’s symbol is shown by an upwards facing crescent on top of a circle which rests on a cross. This is said to represent the mind as the crescent resting on divine spirit – shown as the circle – which stands firmly on the cross of matter.
Interestingly, in Lilly’s Christian Astrology, he seems to mostly utilize an older style of drawing Mercury which goes back to 1150 CE as shown in a planisphere attributed to a Manuel Komnenos who was most likely copying from earlier sources. In this rendering, Mercury losses his crossbar, but the loop at the top is apparent as being one symbol instead of being broken down into two distinctive symbols. Lilly, of course, adds the crossbar when using this image for Mercury.
Evolution of Venus
Kamateros’s Venus is missing the crossbar, and it seems that in an attempt to Christianize astrology, the crossbar was added to Venus’s symbol and it fell into popular use sometime between this work and Abu Masar’s. This idea will be repeated for another planet later.
The Bianchini planisphere shows Venus’s symbol as an ornate necklace. This is an interesting distinction from popular modern conception which holds the symbol as being Venus’s hand mirror, but how fitting for Venus to be symbolized by a piece of elaborate jewelry. Even the modern symbol quickly takes back its old connection with the circle representing the chain and the distaff showing the pendant.
Evolution of the Sun
The symbol for the Sun is a dot surrounded by a circle. Modern thinkers interpret it as the divine spirit surrounding and nurturing the seed of potential. Obviously that depiction is of the solar disk which is something that we see a lot in Renaissance period art adorning the heads of deities or other important spiritual figures. Later we would interpret these solar disks as halos.
It’s not until we go back to Kamateros and his sources that we see the image for the Sun change. Here it’s a smaller solar disk with a single ray coming out from it. We use a similar symbol today to denote the position of comets.
The Bianchini plainisphere shows the personification of the Sun as wearing a crown adorned with many rays, and it’s that symbol that was attributed to him then. It’s interesting to note that throughout time the Sun has gone from having many rays to having no rays.
Evolution of Mars
Mars changes very little over time, but there is a significant change in Kamateros’s planisphere. Here, Mars is shown by a line through the circle showing the spear being placed diagonally along the shield. The implications seem to be a bit different here as the shield and spear seem to be at rest rather than actively engaged.
Evolution of Jupiter
Modern Jupiter looks like stylized number 4, but upon closer inspection you can break it down into two parts. A crescent attached to the arm of a cross which is said to represent the mind overcoming matter.
There’s a major shift in Jupiter glyphs when we go back to Kamateros and his 600 CE Egyptian source where the one in common use is the lowercase of the Greek letter zeta, or the first letter in the Greek word Zeus. The dramatic shift from this Greek letter to the cross and crescent of the next stage may have something to do with Christianization of Pagan concepts like with Venus where the best way to change something to make it less “heathen” is to slap a cross on it.
The Bianchini planisphere shows Jupiter with a scepter, denoting his status as king. Jupiter’s glyph is the most drastically changed with the modern glyph bearing little – if any – resemblance to the original intended item.
Evolution of Saturn
Saturn today is the image of a crescent attached to the side of a cross. Modern thinkers have interpreted it as matter (shown by the cross) taking precedence over the mind (shown by the attached crescent. This symbol is a depiction of an upturned scythe, the symbol of Saturn as the god of the harvest.
Kamateros’s planishpere shows that his several hundred year old source (by his time) depicted Saturn without the crossbar, showing that the addition of the bar must have been a Christian introduction as it was with the other symbols that underwent similar additions.
The Origin of the Symbols of the Planets by Maunder, A.S.D.