To understand this idea, first we need to understand what degrees are in astrology. Most astrological techniques are from the geocentric perspective, meaning based on the assumption that earth is the center of the Universe – we are the center of our Universe from our point of view (this isn’t scientific, it’s egocentric!) Any astrology chart is simply a map. It shows where the planets, sun, moon, and sometimes other planetary bodies were at a certain time. We place the earth in the center of the map and the Universe surrounds it, represented as a circle in a flat, two-dimensional format. Mathematically a circle is 360 degrees. The 12 signs of the zodiac form that circle around the earth and they divide the 360 degree circle into 12 portions, each sign measured as 30 degrees. The planets then move within this 360 degree circle.
Now if we say that your “Sun is in Aries in the 5th house,” each noun in that sentence is a symbol. The Sun is a symbol which has a set of meanings, Aries is another symbol with a completely different set of meanings, and the 5th house is another symbol with yet a third completely different set of meanings. Putting those meanings together in a sensible and intuitive manner is how we begin to understand what the symbols represent about a whole person (or place, or whatever the chart was calculated for). However, is there any meaning to be found if your Sun, as it moved around in that 360 degree circle was at 2 degrees of Aries vs. 24 degrees of Aries at the time you were born?
Yes, for a few reasons. There are many who believe that each degree of the entire zodiac circle carries a specific meaning itself. From what I can determine, there have been several people who have either come up with their own individual meanings for each of the degrees of the zodiac or who have expounded upon existing sets. There are three people whose work is primarily noted in this subject: Charubel, Sepharial, and Marc Edmund Jones.
Charubel (the pseudonym of John Thomas) was a clairvoyant and astrologer (among many other things), and in 1893 published Degrees of the Zodiac Symbolized, which contained a symbol and the author’s determination of it’s meaning for all 360 degrees of the zodiac. He used his psychic abilities to determine and record each of the symbols.
Sepharial (the pseudonym of Walter Gorn Old) was an astrologer, theosophist and clairvoyant (also among many other things). He brought forth a second set of symbols very shortly after Charubel which he said was translated from a work by Sig. Anton. Borelli called “La Volasfera.” Sepharial then added his own interpretations to each degree symbol and published this set in 1898 as part of the second edition of Charubel’s book.
Marc Edmund Jones was an astrologer, minister, and writer (again, among many other things) who is possibly most famous for the “Jones Patterns” which derives meaning from the pattern that planets make in their placement in a chart. In 1925 he recorded the “Sabian symbols” working with the clairvoyant, Elsie Wheeler, which were published in his book “The Sabian Symbols in Astrology” in 1953.
This last set is probably the most popular today and many have taken these symbols and run with them in their own works. These include: Dane Rudhyar (an incredible astrologer and philosopher as well as a pioneer in humanistic--“free will”--astrology) in his work An Astrological Mandala and Martin Goldsmith, who interpreted the Sabian symbols in his book “The Zodiac by Degrees: 360 new symbols.”
The ways to utilize these degree symbols, regardless if you prefer one set over the other or use them in conjunction with each other, is almost infinite. However, a suggestion often offered, and one I like, is to read the degree of the ascendant of the chart in question. Why is merely a matter of preference and opinion, but I like it because the ascendant is the ‘beginning’ of every chart in a way. You can apply this same logic or your own to using the degree of the Sun or Moon or any other use you can think of.
As an example of the various symbols from each system, here are the degree symbols from the three major sources I listed above, for 25° Capricorn:
Charubel: A field of ripe corn; the reapers at work ‘neath the beams of the Sun.
The meaning: A very fortunate person, more especially about middle life, when fortune smiles on him, and an abundance is his lot.
Sepharial: A series of bubbles floating in the air.
The meaning: This denotes one in whose nature the light, fantastic and ephemeral is predominant. A certain elasticity and expansiveness of soul will render him reflective of the world around him in all its more sparkling and bright aspects, but he will lack solidity of character, will be given over to vanities and in the end this will be the source of his sudden and untimely collapse. He is liable to be a mere dabbler, but his sympathies will be in the direction of occult verities, and a certain superficial reflection of these things may render him a fashionable mountebank. It is a degree of SUPERFICIALITY.
Jones: An oriental rug dealer in a store filled with precious ornamental rugs.
The meaning: Taking pride in the products of your culture, and the buying and selling of useful and beautiful things is a responsible position, and the claims made about the products have to be tried and true. There may be a feeling of needing to reassess your attitudes and ideals.
Refinement of cultural understanding and values. Bargains. Bartering. Selling and trading. Charging a fair price. The sales pitch.
You can see how, interestingly, the last two symbols have the same sort of theme, but the latter is more with the incorporation of choice and what to watch out for, as opposed to a fatalistic and unchangeable character flaw.