Every year, the Sun makes its annual return to the same position it was when you were born. This day is your birthday. In astrology the Sun holds our vitality, willpower and life force, as well as what makes you uniquely you. You are being kissed by the Sun. It’s appropriate to be made a big deal over on this day, to be showered with blessings, to celebrate our self and allow others to celebrate us!
In astrology, a birthday brings more than age. On the days surrounding your birthday, your wishes and intentions are more potent than usual. This is because the Sun, planet of your vital will and life force, is strongly supported in the ethers. Synchronicity abounds. I’ve personally observed that events and activities surrounding your birthday carry a lot of information about the year to come. It makes sense: A new cycle is beginning, and your birthday chart kicks it off.
The Solar Return
Will this birthday year be different from last year? Will it feel different? Each year you get a new birthday chart for the year- your Solar Return chart. This chart operates as a permanent transit chart for the coming year, illuminating energetic thrusts, conflicts, possibilities for the year to come. Will it be a year of busy-ness, learning, travel and networking or a year of spiritual and healing work? Will you spend most of your time on your own, or in a partnership? Is this your breakout year for bold new career moves, or a behind the scenes year? These are the types of questions this chart, combined with transits+progressions beautifully answers.
Astrologers use different methods for calculating this chart. I’ve had consistent success with a precession-corrected method pioneered by James Eshelman, in his book Interpreting Solar Returns, which places special emphasis on angular planets (because of their tendency toward action and immediacy). I initially wondered what the Solar Return chart would tell me that Transits + Progressions + Solar Arc charts don’t. Quite a bit, actually. If you’ve ever had the experience of having a longer moving transit “go quiet” for a period of time, or wondered which of your many transits will be featured this year, this is the chart you’ve been missing. The Solar Return acts as a focalizer– bringing certain transits into the limelight and allowing others to fade into the background.
A Solar Return chart interpretation helps you understand where your energy and attention is most needed and best served this year. As a practical example, imagine you have the following birthday wishes: a book to finish, a house remodel, and a happier family life… you know you need to move on all of these, but you have limited time and resources and you’re not sure which would yield results. In this method, if the Solar Return features a strong angular Mercury, with a transiting Moon-Pluto square in the background, finish that book. Sure, the emotional backdrop of your year will include difficult family/home dynamics, but it’s going on in the background. Foreground planets always speak the loudest.
The End-of-Year Mop-Up
There’s another magical period before we enter into our new birthday year to be aware of –offering a sort of close out of the past, and a sneak peek into the future.
Have you ever noticed that the last months before your birthday are interesting, sometimes event-filled, times? The chart of your previous year’s Solar Return is on its way out, the new chart is coming into play, and so whatever has not been actualized during the current birthday year’s chart takes on a particular urgency and must be lived out before your solar new year. The term “end-of-year mop-up” was coined by Jim Eshelman and Matthew Quellas to describe this period. While the dates for this time period are somewhat different for everyone, approximately 290 days after the birthday, or 10-11 weeks before the next birthday (the calculations for this are beyond the scope of this article, but can be found in the above book), we are in a preparation stage for the incoming Solar Return.
Events, goals for the year, relationship issues can take on a peculiar urgency during this time. At this time, you are trying to resolve the promise of the current chart so you can move into the next phase. Much of this is psychological, but some is literal – as in closing old doors so we can open new ones in the months to come. Moreso, people, interests, institutions, networks, ideas that play a key role in our upcoming year enter our life in the months before our birthday.
“Especially during the last month or so, be very aware of the new people you meet and new situations you encounter…These are people who will probably be important to you in the year to come. By letting them into your life in advance, as well as (unconsciously) making a few other select moves at this time, you are setting your self up so that when your birthday arrives you will be outfitted to begin immediately the activities and processes which will highlight the year before you.” -James Eshelman, Interpreting Solar Returns
Making Birthday Magic
For the above reasons, make a point to observe what’s happening around and within you before your birthday. In addition to taking special notice of what’s happening in the months preceding my birthday, noticing how my observations align with what I’m thinking and feeling about the coming months, I also take note and record the people, concerns, ideas, events and wishes influencing the days leading into my birthday. Over the years, I’ve experimented with this in various ways. I’ve journaled my birthday thoughts and intentions in a special notebook. I’ve written a letter to my future self, to be opened on the following birthday. This latter exercise is fun because, without fail, it is proof that wishes do come true! The themes I focused on do play out in the year to come.
My favorite ritual is my annual intentional birthday walk. I set an intention to receive Spirit messages about my coming year. One year, I found a bird’s nest in my path. I brought it home and made an altar with it. That year I began dating and then moved in with my future husband; my own brand new love nest! The following year, while journaling my birthday wishes in a bed & breakfast we were visiting, a wedding procession took place right outside my window; that was the year I got married. Another year, I was preoccupied with growing my business. That birthday walk featured a baby owl sighting. It was a year I grew in wisdom, integrating life skills and knowledge I had previously acquired, into my work. The more aware and intentional we are, the greater access Spirit has to speak to us about the year to come.
More Birthday Ritual Ideas
Gifts and birthday candles on cake have been a customary birthday ritual in western culture. In ancient Rome and Greece, a person not only received gifts on his or her birthday but they themselves also offered a sacrifice to their guiding Spirit– called your genius (Rome) or daemon (Greek). In custom, any birthday offering made to one’s guiding Spirit was believed to make one more spiritually, creatively, artistically and sexually fertile. The Greeks made sweet honey Moon cakes for Artemis’ birthday, believing their wishes traveled on the smoke of the candles, straight to the Gods. Sacrificial fires held special mystical significance in Pagan ritual, and candles lit in tribute to the birthday child secured lifelong luck and fortune.
More ritual ideas for your birthday:
-Create an altar to hold your intentions for the year; always write in positive terms
-Light a candle and speak your wishes into the candle
-Make a list of everything you’re deciding to leave behind
-Bathe in cleansing magnesium salts and lavender buds
-Plant a seed with your intentions written on a piece of paper. Bury it in the soil. As you nurture your plant or flowers, you nurture your intentions throughout the year.
Birthdays are special. The Sun’s return inspires our Spirit with new thoughts, ideas and magic for the year to come, and our conscious participation makes it more so. We can see our birthday as just another number, or regard our it as a magical time of renewal and recommitment to our Self, the continued development of our full potential. We can choose to see our birthday as an opportunity to receive gifts of Spirit, gifts for the journey, gifts that need us to actualize them. Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift, says, “Our Spirit carries the fullness of our undeveloped powers. These it offers to us as we grow, and we choose whether or not to accept, which means we choose whether or not to labor in its service. The genius has need of us.”