My birthday is coming up so I thought I’d write about solar return charts, which are kind of an astrological birthday chart.
The solar return is the moment when the Sun returns to the exact degree as your natal Sun. To use this technique, you need an exact birth time. This may or may not be on your actual birthday – sometimes it can be a day before or after. This is because a day is actually four minutes less than 24 hours, which adds up to almost six hours of variance each year. This means the Ascendant of the solar return chart can be in any of the signs; sometimes it will be the same sign as your natal Ascendant, but most of the time it will be different. (FYI, the four-minute difference per day/six-hour difference per year is also why we have a leap year with an extra day every four years.)
Let’s look at an example to show this technique – here’s the natal chart of Julia Child, who was a famous cooking teacher, author and TV personality who popularized French cuisine with the American public. She’s also one of my personal heroes. Her Sun is at 23°02’ Leo:
Here is her solar return for 1961, which was an important year in her life. All the planets are in different positions, except the Sun of course:
I always interpret the solar return chart on its own first, and I approach it in basically the same way that I read a regular natal chart, paying particular attention to the ruler of the Ascendant and its location, aspects and condition.
For example, in the case of Julia Child’s chart above, the 1961 solar return chart has a Gemini Ascendant with the ruler – Mercury – in Leo, the third house of this chart. That immediately suggests third house topics, like communication, learning, siblings/friends, and short-distance travel, will be more prominent in the next year.
Mercury is also sandwiched between the Sun and Uranus, suggesting that these Mercurial third house pursuits will involve visibility, prominence, and/or form a central part of the year ahead, and also involve some sudden unexpected or shocking developments.
Indeed, during the period between her birthdays in 1961 and 1962, Julia Child published the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (publication date: October 16, 1961), her canonical book on French cooking that’s still widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost cookbooks. As part of her publicity work to promote the book, she appeared on a few television shows and did some cooking demonstrations, which she enjoyed immensely and to which audiences responded very warmly. That led to a Boston television channel asking her to record three pilot episodes of a cooking show that aired in July 1962, which became the precursor to The French Chef – her award-winning, decade-long cooking show. Her father also died during this year, on May 20, 1962.
The third house emphasis is clearly seen by the publication of her book and her publicity activities to promote it – she travelled around to different cities and did a lot of interviews, appeared on various TV shows and had newspaper articles and reviews written about her book. That’s the kind of travel that the third house describes, as opposed to the ninth house version which is international, long-distance travel. All of these activities are obviously centred around communication, the main third-house topic, and she was pioneering a new form of communication about cooking in the form of her TV spots, which shows the Uranian influence.
Regarding her father’s death, which occurred during this period, note the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction in Capricorn, the eighth house of the solar return chart. This event certainly matches up with the symbolism of both Saturn and the eighth house. This also matches Pluto and Mars in the fourth house of family, which is in Virgo in this chart – and therefore also ruled by Mercury, tying it to the Ascendant and Julia herself.
Not all years in our lives are as eventful as 1961-2 was for Julia Child, of course. In order to judge how prominent a year will be, you can’t rely on just the solar return chart alone. The next step is to compare it to the natal chart. When a solar return chart has a lot of close connections to the natal chart, particularly to the angles but also to close planetary and nodal conjunctions, the more likely that the events/topics described by the solar return will manifest in prominent ways. Similarly, if the solar return chart doesn’t really connect strongly to the natal chart, then there probably won’t be so many prominent events.
Here is a biwheel showing Julia Child’s 1961 solar return in the inner wheel and her natal chart in the outer wheel:
You can see right away that the Ascendant of the solar return chart is very close to Julia’s natal Saturn-Ascendant conjunction. This immediately suggests the year will be more prominent for her. Similarly, her natal Sun is in the third, so the Sun-Mercury-Uranus-North Node conjunction in her solar return chart has a much stronger emphasis for this year. It’s also interesting that both Mars and the Moon are in their natal signs as well – that increases the prominence of both, suggesting she’ll be revisiting her relationship to those planets and what they mean in her chart.
In her natal chart, she’s got a close Saturn-Jupiter opposition conjunct her Ascendant-Descendant, and in the solar return chart she has a Saturn-Jupiter conjunction in her eighth house. Again, because Saturn-Jupiter is so strong in her natal chart, since it’s along her Ascendant-Descendant axis, we expect this conjunction in her solar return to have a stronger effect – and because it’s in the eighth house of the solar return chart, death is a more significant theme for the year.
With her Moon being close to its natal position, there’s an increased chance that the year would have some key events that will hit on a deeply emotional level. As well, this is in the fifth house of pleasure, creativity and entertainment – certainly very apt for a woman sharing her love of French cooking through books and TV!
Finally, in the solar return chart, Pluto is closely conjunct her natal Mercury-Venus conjunction in the fourth house of Virgo. Mars is also here. That suggests a year of strong transformative personal potential brought on by taking action, directly related to her first, fourth and fifth houses. In other words, it reinforces everything we’ve seen already in looking at the solar return chart on its own and then comparing it to the natal.
Now, this example of Julia Child’s 1961 solar return is a little unusual, in that the Ascendant of the solar return chart was very close to her natal Ascendant. Most of the time, the solar return Ascendant is totally different than the natal Ascendant. However, years where the solar return ascendant is close to the natal Ascendant have stronger potential to be more prominent time periods.
You will also note that I used a relocated solar return chart for Julia’s 1961 return – she lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time, so I set the chart for that location. Some astrologers use the natal location for solar returns, but I always use relocated locations. I think it makes sense logically that you would set the solar return chart for the location you’re actually in on that date, which may very well be far away from where you were born. Some people even travel to a certain location for their solar return, in order to manipulate their solar return chart to be more favourable – sneaky, but I’ve heard it can work quite well!
The relocated charts also seem to be more accurate, from my experience working with them. Here’s Julia Child’s 1961 solar return chart set in her birth location of Pasadena:
The relocated chart has a Pisces Ascendant, which means the ruler is Jupiter in the eleventh house, conjunct Saturn. That sort of works as this was a year where she gained prominence in her wider community, an eleventh house topic. However, the conjunction with Saturn suggests a restriction in this area, which doesn’t quite match up – upon publication of Mastering, she began doing a lot of interviews and TV appearances to promote it, and she was received very warmly by audiences and critics alike.
As well, the Sun-Mercury-Uranus-North Node conjunction is now in the sixth house of this chart, which doesn’t really match up with what she experienced either. The Moon is in the eighth house too. Again, that would all suggest a year with a lot of health issues and/or other struggles, which wasn’t the case.
Yes, she lost her father, but she characterized her relationship with him as being quite detached. As she described in her autobiography My Life in France: “frankly, my father’s death came as a relief more than a shock.” That does not match up with the symbolism described by the relocated solar return, where we would expect that heavy sixth house emphasis to be a lot more difficult.
To recap, my method for solar returns is to read the solar return chart on its own and then compare it to the natal chart. The more connections to the planets and especially the angles of the natal chart, the more likely that the solar return chart will describe a more prominent year for the individual, and vice-versa.
Even if a solar return is very intense on its own – because the transits at that time are really intense – if it doesn’t have much connection to the natal chart, then that year probably isn’t going to be as prominent. Essentially, the solar return chart is the transit chart for a certain time, magnified and given prominence for the next 12 months – just like the natal chart is a snapshot of the transits at a certain time, magnified over the life.
You can also layer on additional timing techniques, like solar arcs, secondary progressions and annual profections, in conjunction with the solar return chart to further gauge how strongly the influences of the solar return are likely to show up in visceral ways.
For example, when you apply solar arcs to Julia’s chart for the 1961-2 period, the Sun arcs to the exact degree of Julia’s natal Moon, the Ascendant arcs to her natal Neptune, and the Nodes arc to within a degree of her Saturn on the Ascendant. Additionally, secondary progressions show her progressed Sun conjunct her progressed Mercury on the same degree as her natal Moon.
As well, in 1961 Julia turned 49, which meant that she was in a second house profection year with the Moon as her Lord of the Year. That increases the importance of the Moon in the solar return chart, and recall how her solar return Moon is very close to her natal Moon position. So that increases the effects of the Moon in the coming year – as we already noted, this describes her year very well, sharing her deep love for French cooking – literally sharing nourishment, a very lunar impulse – with many people through her book and TV show (very fifth house things).
When you see that many hits all together, you know it’s going to be a super big year! And indeed, this was the year where Julia Child became a household name in America and established her as one of TV’s iconic personalities.
Solar returns offer great insight into the coming year, and a good way to think about our chart in a different way.
I use solar returns in my year-ahead readings, in addition to a few other predictive techniques including annual profections, secondary progressions, solar arcs and transits.
If you’re interested in booking a year-ahead reading with me, please visit my consultations page. A great time for this reading is around your birthday, but you can book any time of the year and still get a lot out of it.