Solar Return Chart

Solar Return Chart

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A solar return chart provides a wealth of information: It describes the overall themes of the year and the potential, options, problems, and issues associated with those themes. Solar return charts are easy to interpret and give valuable clues regarding major cycles of growth and transformation.

A solar return chart is a chart set for the exact time of the Sun’s annual return to its natal position. At the moment one’s birth, the Sun has a specific zodiacal position defined in degrees, minutes, and seconds of arc. Each year the Sun returns to this position, and the time of the return can be calculated and known. This time is then used to calculate the solar return chart itself. Calculations are difficult, and, for this reason, computer programs are recommended.

The time of the Sun’s return is hardly ever the birth time and sometimes does not even occur on the birthday. The Sun may return a day or two before the birthday, the day of, or the day after. The yearly transit of the Sun through the zodiac is different from the 365 daily rotations (days) experienced on Earth during a year. There is approximately a six-hour difference between the two. In other words, a true solar year (Sun’s yearly transiting time) is about 365.25 days long. This is the reason a leap day—February 29—occurs every four years. The extra day corrects for this discrepancy. Because of the difference between the true solar year (Sun’s transit) and the number of days in a year, the time of the Sun’s return advances approximately six hours each year, while dropping back a day every four years.

Although solar return charts are revealing and easy to interpret, they are not always understood and used. The solar return’s lack of astrological prominence is linked to misunderstandings and controversies surrounding calculation and interpretation. These controversies consist of four issues:

Tropical versus Sidereal: What is the difference between a tropical solar return chart and a sidereal one? How would one interpret each kind?

Precession: What is precession and should one precess a tropical solar return chart?

Location: Which location does one use for calculating the chart? Place of birth? Residence? Present location? And what happens if one is traveling?

Single chart or double chart interpretation techniques: Does one interpret the solar return chart in reference to the natal chart or can it stand on its own? In using a two-chart technique, which chart goes in the center and which goes on the outside ring?

Once these questions concerning solar returns have been addressed, the reader should have a clearer understanding of the choices available when calculating and interpreting solar returns charts, and the meaning of each option. Clarity breeds insight, and eventually solar returns will assume their rightful place as a valued astrological tool.

Tropical or Sidereal

When calculating solar returns, everything becomes clearer if one remembers not to mix tropical and sidereal. Astrology has been divided between these two systems for a long time. The points of reference for these two systems are different. Solar returns are subject to confusion since one has the option of calculating either a tropical or a sidereal solar return chart. Regardless of method of calculation chosen, each solar return chart needs to be handled and interpreted in a manner consistent with the originating system and its customary interpretation techniques.

Tropical astrology is based on the relationship between the Sun and the Earth, and the Sun’s apparent path projected on the Earth’s surface (ecliptic). Twice a year, the Sun’s declination becomes zero as it crosses the equator. The northward crossing is called the vernal or spring equinox, and is defined as the beginning of the zodiac or 0° Aries. The southward passage marks the autumnal or fall equinox and defines 0° Libra. The maximum northern declination of the Sun is the summer solstice and 0° Cancer, while the maximum southern declination of the Sun is the winter solstice and 0° Capricorn. Tropical systems are earth-oriented and consistent with the change of seasons. They have little to do with stellar placements and alignments, or with the precession of the Equinox (primarily a sidereal concern).

Sidereal astrology is star-based. Thus, 0° Aries is always associated with the beginning of the Aries constellation formed by stars. Whenever the Sun is in this part of the stellar sky, in this constellation, it is in Aries, regardless of where the Sun falls in relationship to the equator or what time of year or season it is on Earth. Because of the wobbling of the Earth on its axis and the resulting precession of the Equinox (which is 26,000 years long), sidereal timing shifts every year and the gulf between tropical 0° Aries and sidereal 0° Aries grows. Currently, the timing of the tropical Aries point differs from the timing of the sidereal Aries point by about a month.

Because these two systems have different points of reference, it seems logical to assume that tropical solar returns should be handled differently from sidereal ones. The solar return chart is similar to a temporary natal chart and can be treated as such. Therefore, tropical solar returns could be interpreted like any other tropical chart, and all tropical techniques—such as Sabian symbols, fixed stars, asteroids, house placements. and aspects—should apply. On the other hand, sidereal solar returns could be interpreted like any other sidereal chart, and all sidereal techniques would apply to them. The universe is consistent and it makes sense that what works for one chart in a system will probably work for other charts within the same system, calculated in the same manner and intended for a similar purpose.

Unfortunately in the history of solar returns, this is not what has happened. Until recently, there has been little information available on solar return charts, and the few books that have been published were written almost exclusively by siderealists. However, the majority of astrologers in the western world are tropical astrologers. It was easy to make the mistake of applying sidereal techniques to tropical charts. These techniques would work up to a certain point. The emphasis placed on foreground and background planets (proposed in these books) is not totally foreign to tropical astrology, but its use is primarily emphasized in horary astrology, or in regards to planetary strength based on whether a planet was angular, succeedent, or cadent. For the most part, popular tropical astrology has traditionally dealt with the whole chart, including all the planets, houses, signs, and aspects. Therefore, at first glance, it seems logical to look at the whole chart when interpreting a tropical solar return. Within this approach, the background twelfth house planets would be every bit as important as the foreground first house planets. Equal weight and interpretation would be given to each of the planets in each of these houses.

The same is true of sidereal solar returns. They should be interpreted with sidereal techniques which may include, but are not limited to, foreground-background interpretations and demi-solar returns. One should keep in mind that these sidereal techniques may not work well with tropical solar return charts, and tropical techniques may not suit sidereal solar returns.

Planets in Signs

An important distinction exists regarding the interpretation of tropical solar return charts. One cannot treat them exclusively like a temporal natal chart since the house position of a solar return planet is more important than the sign. This simplifies solar return interpretation, making these charts easier to interpret than natal charts. There are logical reasons why signs are not particularly important. They are:

  1. The Sun is always the same and never changes sign or position.
  2. Mercury can only be plus or minus one sign from the Sun and therefore has limited movement.
  3. Venus routinely has eight different solar return placements. After eight years, the placements begin to repeat themselves as a new cycle begins. A person can tell a lot about his or her love life by ascertaining what these positions are.
  4. Jupiter changes sign each year and consistently goes from one sign to the next.
  5. Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto will probably stay in the same sign for everyone during the year and it is unlikely that the sign will greatly influence the interpretation.
  6. The Moon also has a limited number of placements since it is involved in a 19-year eclipse cycle with the Sun. Once the cycle is completed, the 19 positions are repeated.

Mars is the only planet that is erratic and changes signs regularly and freely; therefore this might be the only planet for which sign is important. So when interpreting a solar return chart, it is more important to emphasize the house position than to focus on a planet’s sign.


From the previous discussion of tropical and sidereal astrology, it is evident that precession is a sidereal concept that has little to do with the tropical system. Some astrologers feel that a solar return chart should be precessed, or advanced, to make allowances for the gradual shift in the precession of the Equinox. This may be true for sidereal solar return charts, but there is no theoretical basis for precessing a tropical solar return. Precession, by its very nature, indicates stellar influences. There are no stellar, sidereal, or precessional influences innately important to the tropical system.

In all things astrological, one must look at the theoretical basis for what is being done and stay within that theoretical system. If the theory does not hold true, then the chart will not either.

Location for the Solar Return Chart

There has been a great deal of debate over the location one should use for a solar return chart. Some astrologers believe that the solar return should be calculated using the natal location. Others believe that the solar return should be calculated for the residence or for where one will live most of time during the year. Still others believe that the location at the moment of the Sun’s return is the one of greatest importance. It seems that all of these charts work, but there is a difference in how they are understood.

The solar return for the natal residence is a solar return with which one is born. Like a secondary progression for the natal location, these charts cannot be changed, and they are set in motion at the moment of birth. This natal location solar return chart is valid and has good information to offer, but it seems to be more internalized, like a secondary progression. When it is impossible to know where an individual was for the Sun’s return, use this chart and it will provide some insight into the year.

The resident solar return chart is set up for where one lives. This chart appears more accurate than the natal solar return chart since it reflects some of the changes that have been initiated since one was born. However, it does not reflect any freewill decisions made to handle issues in a manner different from the one shown in the natal or residential solar return chart. One can change the orientation completely by relocating for the Sun’s return. These decisions and adjustments only appear in the solar return calculated for one’s exact location at the time of the Sun’s return.

Many believe the solar return chart set for one’s location at the exact time of the Sun’s return is the most accurate. The other charts are valid, but this one seems to be the best. The aspects are the same no matter where one goes. Configurations (T squares, grand trines, and grand crosses) remain. The degrees and minutes of the planets’ positions will not change because of travel. This is because the Greenwich Mean Time of the Sun’s return stays the same no matter where one goes, but the ascendent, midheaven, and the orientation of the planets in the solar return wheel will slowly rotate as one moves east or west. By relocating or traveling for the solar return, adjustments are made in the focus of attention and the house placements for the planets.

For example, say one has a difficult T square in one’s residential solar return that falls in the cadent houses. One might be concerned about health if the opposition falls from the twelfth to the sixth house. Perhaps there is already a plan to move across the country during the year. In anticipation of a major career and domestic changes, one might as well place this opposition in the tenth and fourth houses and deal with problems this way. The orientation of the T square is adjusted by traveling to another part of the country for the Sun’s return.

To make adjustments, pick the location carefully, making sure the destination has the qualities needed. Through solar return relocation, an individual can make a conscious choice to grow and face issues in a certain way or through a certain venue. Since energy follows thought, this commitment to a new orientation will carry through. One cannot avoid issues by changing the location; a person can only choose how those issues will be handled.

There are certain things traveling for a solar return cannot do. One cannot negate influences seen in transits, progressions, and solar arcs. Problems or challenges seen in all of these charts will need to be faced and handled even if one seeks to negate them from the solar return chart through relocation. Solar return relocation is only a channeling process. An individual can channel or direct his or her attention to handle matters in a certain way by making a conscious choice. One decides how he or she would like to experience the changes in consciousness that need to occur and in which area of the life is most desirable for the experience. One cannot simply decide to completely hide or avoid. Keep in mind that although human beings have free will, they have only so much latitude. Some events or experiences are necessary for soul growth.

Many astrologers have strong opinions about which location is the most important one to use for solar returns. All of them are valid; individuals may use whichever one they please to calculate their solar returns.

Single and Double Chart Techniques

Astrologers have tried reading solar returns as a single chart and have also tried to read them in relationship to the natal. Many believe that the solar return chart can only be read in reference to the natal and cannot stand alone. In fact, in the study guidelines for the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR) examination for professional astrologers, this is stated clearly: “Solar returns are meaningless unless compared to the natal chart.”

Solar return charts can stand alone and be read as single charts. Ninety percent of the necessary information can come from the solar return chart itself. The information gleaned from the relationship between the solar return chart and the natal is generally a reiteration of what is already seen in the solar return chart itself. Although the added information provides further insight, it is generally unnecessary.

If one intends to look at the solar return chart in relationship to the natal chart, one should use a two-chart technique and place the solar return on the inside wheel. This preserves the integrity of the solar return houses and the placement and orientation of the planets. When the solar return chart is placed outside of the natal chart, it becomes very difficult to obtain a gestalt of what the year will be like, and the interpretation will suffer. One cannot treat a solar return like a secondary progressed chart. It is a birth chart for the new cycle of growth and should be respected in its entire presentation.

—Mary Fortier Shea


Shea, Mary Fortier. Planets in Solar Returns: Yearly Cycles of Transformation and Growth. Rev. ed. Glenelg, MD: Twin Stars Unlimited, 1999.
The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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