Sabian Symbols

Sabian Symbols

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Sabian symbols are the unique set of 360 symbolic vignettes or descriptive images for each degree of the zodiac, which were obtained in 1925 by Marc Edmund Jones from an ancient Mesopotamian source.

Several years earlier, Jones had become interested in the psychically obtained astrological symbols of the Welsh seer, John Thomas, better known as “Charubel.” He thought about asking permission to recast the descriptions of the symbols, but decided they were too moralized for his purposes. He decided, instead, to try to obtain a more universal set of symbols from one of the “invisible Brothers” who was saturated in the early Egyptian schematism from which the zodiac was originally derived.

With a plan in mind, Jones began looking for someone with psychic abilities but limited life experience (i.e., a person devoid of a sophisticated mindset) to assist him—someone whose consciousness could receive an impression, but form only a simple, modern picture or situation for each of the 360 degrees. For this task, he chose Elsie Wheeler, a Sabian Assembly student who had been wheelchair-bound with arthritis for years. A quiet park lane in Balboa Park, in San Diego, California, behind a row of trees, but close to a busy intersection, was selected as the most opportune place for the project. This setting met the requirement of natural law, that the highest spiritual tasks be performed in everyday situations of high intensity or turmoil.

The project was accomplished in the space of about four hours, in two separate sessions. Jones brought 360 white, unlined, 3” x 5” index cards with him. He had earlier written one of each of the 360 astrological degrees on each card. The role of the invisible brother was to transmit the meaning of each degree to Jones through Wheeler. Her role was to allow her mind to be impressed and describe the pictures she saw. Jones was responsible for supplying the refined cabalistic training needed to critically interpret the pictures.

During the session, Jones constantly shuffled the index cards and randomly placed one of them face down before Wheeler. She would then report on the picture she saw by inward vision. Neither of them knew which degree she was describing. Jones then took back the index card and quickly wrote down the few words that he determined to be the essence of the degree from each picture that Wheeler described.

After the session, Jones put the cards away in a trunk and left them there for several years. He later took them out and typed them in a list that was privately circulated to his astrological students. The response was so encouraging that, in 1931, he worked out the mathematical structure he had discovered in them, expanded the descriptions for each degree, and put the whole thing together in an astrological typescript. Some time afterward, Dane Rudhyar came across the typescript, recognized the value of the symbols, and obtained Jones’s permission to modify and include them in his 1936 book, The Astrology of Personality. The publication of this book brought the Sabian symbols to first broad public notice.

After some years of reflection, Jones came to the conclusion that he had gone far afield by expanding the descriptions of the symbols on his original index card notes in his 1931 typescript. He also felt he had done precisely what he had tried to avoid in the first place—moralize the symbols. In 1953, he went back to his original notes on the cards, added a new commentary and formula, and published them in his book, The Sabian Symbols in Astrology.

Twenty years later, in 1973, Rudhyar reinterpreted his own earlier version of the Sabian symbols and presented them as a contemporary American I Ching in An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and its 360 Symbolic Phases.

While the original Sabian symbol descriptions have been modified and reinterpreted more than a few times by various astrologers, the words written on the index cards in Balboa Park in 1925 stand as sole authority as to which version of the symbolic degrees is truly “Sabian.” (The original index cards have been reproduced and included in the 1998 book, The Sabian Symbols: A Screen of Prophecy by Diana E. Roche.)

The Sabian symbols are most commonly used in astrology to add depth and dimension to the interpretation of the planets, parts, and cusps in a horoscope and for chart rectification. They can also be read for the degrees of new and full moons, moonrise and sunrise, and in horary as well as natal, progressed, and transit charts. The Sabian symbol for the day, which is used for daily guidance by many astrologers, is determined by calculating the degree of the sun at sunrise, at the location of the individual. The symbols can also be used, even by the nonastrologer, in a wide variety of divinatory techniques. The most common one is to open a Sabian symbols book while focusing on a question or problem and, without looking, place a finger on the text and read what is written for that degree.

In order to determine which Sabian symbol to use, it is necessary to consider both the degree and minute of the planet. The Sabian symbol degrees are numbered 1 through 30 for each sign. There is no 0° reading for any sign in the Sabian symbol system. The method used by both Jones and Rudhyar was to read the next higher degree if a planet had reached at least the one minute (1’) mark of a degree. Their reasoning was that when consideration is given to moving bodies, as in astrological progressions or directions, the indication is to be seen as in full force from the crossing of any one minute (1’) point to the arrival at the threshold of the next one minute (1’) point.

Thus, 15° Aries 00’ is read as 15° Aries, but 15° Aries 01’ is read as 16° Aries, as is 15° Aries 59’. Determining the correct Sabian symbol to use when a planet is found at the very end or beginning of a sign, especially when dealing with seconds, can be particularly confusing. If a planet lies between 29°01’ of one sign and 0°01’ of the next sign, it is read as 30 degrees. Thus, 29° Pisces 01’ is read as 30 Pisces. Following the same line of reasoning, 0° Aries 0’59” is also read as 30 Pisces, but 0°01’ Aries is read as 1 Aries.


Jones, Marc Edmund. The Sabian Symbols in Astrology. 3d ed. Stanwood, WA: Sabian Publishing Society, 1969.
Roche, Diana E. The Sabian Symbols: A Screen of Prophecy. Victoria: Trafford Publishing, 1998.
Rudhyar, Dane. An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and Its 360 Symbolic Phases. New York: Random House, 1973.

—Diana E. Roche, M.Ed., J.D.

The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.