How to Calculate a Solar Return by Hand

A recent question at Altair Astrology has motivated me to show how the solar return can be calculated by hand. Now that we have the convenience of a computer to do the calculations for us, there is also a danger that the ‘how’ – that is the calculations the computer is doing for us – are forgotten. Many of the younger generation, who have grown up with computers, may never have calculated a chart by hand and may not really know what calculations the computer is really doing, as it takes only a few seconds between a choice of a menu item and the results presented on the computer screen.

With a solar return one is searching for the time that the Sun reaches its radix position. (radix = root or birth position). Three things are known:

  • the birth position
  • the position at midnight (or noon depending on which ephemerides you use) for the day before the Sun reaches its radix position
  • the position at midnight (or noon depending on which ephemerides you use) for the day after the Sun reaches its radix position

We are looking for an unknown; the time of the birth position. So we have the ingredients for a simple proportional relation:

daily movement of the Sun (a) : movement from previous midnight (noon) to radix position (b) = 24 hours :  unknown time (x)

simply put:

a:b = 24 : x


x = 24 (b/a)

Now an example. Let us say someone has the Sun at 29 Pisces 00. We want to calculate the solar return chart for 2009.

Sun position on March 20th, 2009     29 Pisces 30 49
– Sun position on March 19th, 2009      28 Pisces 31  10 (I am using an ephemeris with midnight positions)

daily movement of the Sun (a) =  59m 39s

radix position of the Sun                       29 Pisces 00 00
– Sun position previous midnight          28 Pisces 31  10

Suns’ movement to radix position (b) = 28m 50s

Now to use the above formula:

x = 24 (b/a)   =

24 (28m 50s/ 59m39s) =

24 (1730 seconds/3579 seconds) =

11 hours 36 minutes and 4 seconds

since we are using a midnight ephemeris the Sun reaches 29 Pisces 00 at 11:36 am GMT on the 19th of March, 2009. Now all that has to be done is decide to calculate the chart for the birthplace or if we use Morin’s method, for the place where the person is on their birthday.

Vincent van Gogh: Solar Return Charts (2)


Solar return 1876

Solar return 1876: Paris, France

In 1876, when he is fired because he could not deal with customers, the Ascendant picked up on the Saturn motif of 1869. The Ascendant of the solar return chart for this year is at 16 Sagittarius. Mercury in the solar return chart is at 18 Pisces. So, as with Saturn in 1869, it is square the solar return Ascendant. It is of course also trine the radical Ascendant, which might explain why Vincent accepted his dismissal without protest. The North Node in the solar return chart, at 29 Pisces, is conjunct radical Venus.

The 22 degree mutable sign axis, in which the Nodes and the MC/IC axis are bound, is of particular interest as the MC/IC are at the midpoints of the Nodes. Werner Haftmann, in his book on “Painting in the 20th Century” also devoted a beginning chapter to Vincent van Gogh (I will be quoting him a few times in this series) says of Vincent,

“Gaunt, awkward, red-headed, highly-strung, he took everyone but himself for a genius. Given to dreams of universal brotherhood and love, he met with indifference everywhere. Like all lonely men, he was either taciturn or over-talkative… He talked like a lout, his ideas were expressed in a hopeless muddle. The truth was that he grew muddled because he was full of ideas which got in each other’s way when he tried to express them…”

This passage describes the effects of a peregrine Moon and Mercury in impetuous fire signs, but also the effect of the conjunction of a cadent Lady of the Ascendant (Moon) along with her essentially dignified, but cadent dispositor and Lord 10 (Jupiter) to the South Node. Vincent was not capable of recognising his own genius. Even in 1890, when he was finally beginning to gain recognition and declared by Aurier in an article in “Le Mercure de France” as a renewer of the art of painting, he instead of thanking the author wrote a detailed letter explaining that this wasn’t his but Gaugin’s achievement!

We will see this axis activated in 1880 and 1887, two significant years in his life. In 1880 solar return Mars is at 22 Gemini and the solar return antiscion of Mercury is at 22 Virgo. In 1887 the Ascendant is at 21 Virgo 28

Vincent van Gogh: Solar Return Charts (1)

Dear Readers,
I posted this article in October, but according to the statistics on it, there didn’t seem to be much interest. Now I am not sure whether they are dull or whether the time at which they were published was not opportune. Please be so friendly as to give me some feedback so that I know whether solar return charts are of interest. I had planned to go through the following 6 years in detail, but will only take the time if there is an interested public!

I examined six critical years in Vincent van Gogh’s life:

  • 1869 Vincent begins his apprenticeship with Goupil
  • 1876 Vincent is fired
  • 1880 Vincent decides to become a painter
  • 1887 Vincent moves to Arles in this solar year
  • 1888 Vincent’s fateful meeting with Gaugin and his first nervous breakdown (cuts part of his left ear off)
  • 1890 Vincent’s (unintended?) suicide

The major planetary clusters in Vincent van Gogh’s chart are in mutable signs; Sagittarius (Moon, South Node and Jupiter) and Pisces (MC, Mars and Venus). And so I will be concentrating my attention first on any solar return activity in these signs, where conjunctions, oppositions and squares to the central planetary configurations of the natal chart are made. It is generally a good idea to look for patterns in a whole series of solar return charts, instead of looking at each year seperately. In each of the above years one set of the mutable signs is on an axis. In 1869, 1876, 1880 and 1887 it is the Ascendant/Descendant axis. In 1887, 1888 and 1890 it is the MC/IC axis.


In 1869, solar return Mercury (14 Pisces), L1, is square solar return Saturn (17 Sagittarius), L10. Saturn is also conjunct the radical Moon. This means that the radical Moon/Jupiter and Mars/Venus configuration is activated. In addition solar return Venus conjuncts radical Venus. Solar return Jupiter (L10 of the radix) also conjuncts natal Mercury. So we have both a focus on learning the profession of art dealer, with all its accompanying communicative difficulties. Vincent also has first encounters with the art of painting, albeit passively. There are of course other aspects that are of interest. Solar return Mars interestingly enough is conjunct solar return North Node (15 Leo) and so exactly square natal Saturn (15 Taurus)*. This means that Saturn is at the midpoint between both nodes. The opposite midpoint is occupied by solar return Moon (13 Scorpio) This is interesting as both Moon and Saturn are activated in both charts, one by conjunction, the other by opposition. Both are rulers of the Asc/Descendant axis of the natal chart. I’m not surprised that solar return Mars is in the 4th house, the choice of this apprenticeship was not Vincents idea, it was made for him by his family. They were the driving force behind the decision. Vincent was after all only 16 years old.

* You might also want to note that the antiscion of solar return Mars is at 14 Taurus and so conjunct natal Saturn!

Mars and a Will of Iron

This is the chart of an exceptional person, Jean-Dominique Bauby. If you haven’t read his book, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, read it. The book demonstrates exceptional will-power in a hopeless situation. It was literally written with the blinking of an eye.

Here is his chart:

I want to point out only two elements of this chart. The first is an ‘almost’ feral Mars and the second is the opposition between Mercury and Saturn.

What is a feral planet? It is a planet that has no aspect with other planets. In this chart Mars, forms a very wide opposition to the Sun, but as he is within moiety of the Sun and retrograde, he is applying opposition to the Sun so we cannot technically say that he is feral. Even so this is an important concept and the ‘almost’, with only one slowly forming aspect shows something unusual. Mars in his own sign, Scorpio, and so has strong essential dignity, this is weakened somewhat by his slow motion and being retrograde. He is also in the 7th house. And most importantly he is Lord of the Ascendant and the dispositor of the Moon, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. Morin in his discussion of planetary aspects describes the situation thus:

“If a strong planet has no aspect with another planet it is said to be feral and will act simply in accordance with its own nature, especially if located in its domicile. Every feral planet indicates something unusual – good or ill – depending on the nature of the planet.” Chapter 11, Book 22, Astrologia Gallica

Mars as Lord of the Ascendant, dispositing a whole crew of planets on the Ascendant, all the above-mentioned planets except Mercury, is a strong indicator that this ‘something unusual’ will show itself in connection with his body. The strong grouping of planets in Aries on the Ascendant is already indicative of strong will-power, especially when we consider that the Sun is also in the first house, though in Taurus. The one planet placed in the 12th house, for Morin the house of ill health, is also the one that is in opposition to the Lord of the 12th, Saturn. Saturn being in the 6th house. This is a determination for crippling illness at some point in the life. When that time is reached can often be shown by primary directions and also by solar return charts. We will look at the solar return for 1994 and for 1995, the year in which Bauby had the massive stroke which was the cause of the ‘locked-in syndrome’ that literally imprisoned him in his body.

First the 1994 chart, which in a sense shows the circumstances which in the following year would become reality. The first thing that immediately shown is the 8 degree Cancer Ascendant. This is the IC of the radix chart. And this solar return Ascendant is at the centre of the radix Mercury/Saturn opposition at 9/10 Aries and Libra. The antiscion of the solar return Saturn at 20 Libra is also in oppostion to the radical Ascendant.The movement of the IC to the Ascendant can be viewed from different angles. First it is the deepest part of the horoscope and indicative of being buried, in the grave. It is also signifies ones roots, the ancestors. It is very possible that an inherited tendency toward a stroke may have also been activated. It is very clear that Saturn as Lord of the 12th will have a role to play.

Now to the 1995 solar return:

Here we have 12 Virgo rising. What is not at first visible is that the antiscion of the Moon and Venus of the radical chart at 11 and 13 Virgo respectively are conjunct the Ascendant of this solar return chart. In fact this chart is overlaid with antiscion activations, notably the antiscion of Mars s.r. (solar return) at 12 Taurus is in opposition to radical Mars. The same is the case with the antiscion of Saturn s.r. at 9 Libra. It is in opposition to radical Saturn. Both the malefic planets are activated and also from the opposite position in the chart. There is yet another antiscion aspect and that is between Mercury s.r. and Mars s.r. both are in conjunction. Mars also conjuncts the cusp of the 12th house, that of confinement and dangerous illness. Both Mars and Mercury are applying square to one another. This is not good. Mars is also Lord 8, the house of death. He was indeed in danger of death. The stroke which in an older world view could be considered a surge of choler, should have led to death. The only ‘saving grace’ was the radical Moon/Venus conjunction to the Ascendant by antiscion, but because Venus is in detriment, she is, as the lesser benefic, not strong enough to prevent major damage. The basis for the stroke was already laid in 1994. It came to completion in 1995. It might be added that Mars conjuncts the solar return Ascendant in 1996, the year he began writing his book. We see in these two charts a strong activation of natal Mars, Mercury and Saturn. He communicated the contents of his book through blinking his left eye. In a man’s chart it is the Moon that is the natural ruler of the left eye.

What is the Butterfly in his chart? And what is the diving bell? The Butterfly I think is Venus that is hovering with the Moon just above the horizon of the radical chart, and who is the companion of the saving Moon in the solar return chart. The diving bell? This one is made of iron. It is Mars in the water sign Scorpio. The lead weight of Saturn has led to his bodily confinement, sunk him into the depths and has almost completely shut off his nervous system (Mercury). But it also Mars, the will who through the Moon communicates this moving story of a strength of will that few attain. Herculean.