Planets in Solar Returns
By Mary Shea
I came away from Mary Shea’s Planets in Solar Returns deeply appreciative of the clarity she brings to analysis of the solar return chart. I have explored solar return charts by matching them with feelings about and experiences during the solar year but have not been able to have a systematic approach. In this book, Mary Shea instructs us that each solar return chart is a building block to the subsequent year, so attention to the themes and challenges of the current year helps us prepare to better meet following years.
The Sun, for example, moves around the chart by primary motion (clockwise) each year, usually falling in the next house of the same angularity (angular, succedent, or cadent). A solar return Sun in the 4th house indicates the native is “looking for a physical, spiritual, and emotional home.” From the previous year, when the solar return Sun was likely in the 7th house, the native has established emotional connections and learned cooperation with others which makes the building of this inner and outer home possible. In the following year, the solar return Sun will usually fall in the 1st house when the challenge will be to build on the inner security gained to develop a stronger sense of self and achieve personal goals.
To demonstrate the method of analyzing the solar return chart described in Mary Shea’s book, I will pull up the solar return chart of someone much in the news these days (December 2020) as The Crown is airing on Netflix, Princess Diana. I am using her solar return chart on July 1, 1981, the year she married Prince Charles.
One of the first thing Mary Shea notices is whether Mercury, Venus or Mars is retrograde. We see that Mercury is retrograde at 26 degrees Gemini. This can be an indication that Diana was overwhelmed by information at the time and could not sort things out to make clear decisions. It can also tell us that “secretiveness” is an issue during this year, and Diana may feel she needs to quell her own thoughts and swallow her own words to keep the peace. Given that Diana was marrying a man who had concealed from her that he was in love with another woman, this would have been a valuable observation to Diana had she consulted an astrologer.
Mary Shea next looks at the number of planets in each hemisphere and quadrant of the chart to determine if there is a particular emphasis. We see in Diana’s solar return chart that most of the planets fall above the horizon, indicating that this year will bring more emphasis on “external manifestation and achievement” rather than “internal processes.”
While there is a balance of planets in the 3rd and 4th quadrants, all of the personal planets lie in the 3rd quadrant, which signals this is a year when the focus in on relating to others, and to one person in particular – which is a very apt emphasis for someone getting married in this solar year. It would also show a reluctance to back away from her proposed marriage and give her the impulse to soldier on.
Mary Shea then considers the balance of modes and elements. In Diana’s solar return chart in 1981, five of her planets were in cardinal signs. Mary Shea tells us that this is a clue that this will be a year with “a tremendous amount of activity,” and the native can fall into the trap of being overwhelmed with activities, not know what to do first. Diana, still a teenager, learning to play the role of a royal princess and a global public figure, would certainly have an overwhelmingly active year. She would also in this year become pregnant and deliver a child shortly before her next solar return, adding to the challenging level of new activities.
This solar return chart also lacks planets in earth signs. While Mary Shea indicates that this can foretell a year of financial difficulties, this does not seem likely to be the case when someone is marrying into a wealthy family. Alternatively, we can imagine that marrying into wealth could make someone feel poorer and powerless since they are depending on the partner for all their physical needs.
The place of the Sun is the next consideration. In her 1980 solar return chart, Diana’s Sun fell in the 11th house of hopes and dreams, showing her courtship with her “Prince Charming” and her dreams of a royal marriage. In 1981, her Sun is in the ninth house of her solar return chart. This is the house of our beliefs, the way we imagine the world to be. “Generally,” Mary Shea writes, “there is at least one misconception recognized during the year.” Sadly, we have learned that it was not very long after her marriage that Diana realized her “Prince Charming” had given his heart to someone else. The 9th house themes of long-distance travel and expanded horizons were also in play this year as Diana stepped into her role of Princess of Wales.
Aspects to the Sun are also important in the analysis. The square of Jupiter and Saturn to the Sun in Diana’s solar return chart indicate the need to expand one’s abilities or skillset (Jupiter) and the expectations place on her to accept responsibility and meet expectations.
Looking at the Moon next is key. This shows the “evolution of emotional fulfillment.” With Diana’s solar return Sun and Moon in the same house, a new experience is indicated, which involves both the conscious, Sun, and unconscious, Moon, being. While Diana would be growing into her role as an internationally recognized royal, her thoughts about herself and who she was would also be shifting and changing. Also, the Sun and Moon in conjunction suggest a pull between public and private responsibilities, such as balancing a pregnancy with the need to appear in public on a regular basis.
The Moon also lies in square to Jupiter and Saturn. With Jupiter, the emphasis is on the Moon’s need to express its emotional nature. Emotions become big and unbearable when unexpressed. The Saturn square, however, shows a time when “responsibility wins out over emotional expression.” The Moon is caught in a can’t win triangle, unable to keep a stiff upper lip and enduring feelings of failure for the inability to feel that one is being responsible and even admirable. With the Sun and Moon both enmeshed in this aspect, we see that Diana would succeed spectacularly in her public role this year – even producing the much hoped for heir to the throne – and yet she would privately feel herself to be a failure.
Planets in Transit then proceeds to delineate the house position of the other planets in the solar return chart as well as their aspects to each other. She then states that while we can place the solar return planets around the natal chart to expand on the interpretation, she believes that an extremely accurate picture of the year ahead can be found in reading the solar return chart by itself. “Think of the solar return as a play put on by the natal planets,” she tells us. “Every year there is a new script, complete with new scenery and roles.” And as we watch each play unfold, Mary Shea’s book teaches us that each year is a building block that we stack on top of the year before, creating a highly meaningful and well-lived life.