There are several languages for understanding ourselves which have evolved over time and which carry their own converts and skeptics. What follows is a translation of salient overlaps between two of those languages: astrology and the personality system created by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. My aim is to show similarities between these two approaches to personality.
Let’s be clear: there is never any direct, one-to-one translation of one language to another. Otherwise, there would be no need for two languages to exist. However, as people curious about personality who want to understand ourselves and others better, some basic translation between systems is possible and worthwhile.
In full disclosure, in astrology, I am a Leo Sun, a Leo Ascendant, and Pisces Moon, as well as an INFJ in the 16-type system. This article is nonetheless broader and could be applied to any astrological sign, planet, or personality type. We will look at trends, at broad overlaps between the two systems, as a means of translating one to the other.
First, let’s have a look at each system in turn. Then we’ll get to what I see as the top 12 clearest translations between the two systems.
A primer on astrology
In astrology, there are 12 signs. There is a cardinal, a mutable, and a fixed sign in each of four elements—fire, water, earth, and air—totaling 12. Cardinal means the best, or leading, example of that element; mutable means the changeable version of that element; fixed is the stubborn version of that element. For example, Cancer is the cardinal water sign, because it is caring, compassionate and home-based, making it the quintessential water sign. Pisces is mutable water like the ocean, and Scorpio is fixed water, like a lake. Each of these describes how energy tends to move in that person (i.e., if their emotions are always changing, like waves on the ocean, or if “still waters run deep” as in a lake). Each is useful, because it uses metaphor to describe the experience.
There are also planets in astrology, such as the Sun and Moon, which have specific placements in signs for each person. This is what is meant when a person says they have “Sun in Aquarius” or “Moon in Gemini”. When someone says, “I’m a _____” in astrology, they are usually referring to their sun sign and giving only the most basic astrological information about themselves.
If there were only 12 kinds of people in the world, the sun signs would be all that is needed. However, a combination of one’s Sun, Ascendant, Moon—even Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter—tells a whole lot more about a person. For the purposes of this article, we will concern ourselves mostly with these major planets and the signs they fall in, rather than more nuanced astrology.
Planets tend to rule signs (e.g. Mercury rules Gemini). Therefore, for the purposes of translation, I will select mostly planet-sign combinations that are similar in nature. Also, I am referring here to Western astrology, rather than Vedic, Chinese, or other tradition. My hope is that these translations lead to a deeper level of self-discovery for all of us.
A primer on the Briggs and Myers personality system
In contrast to astrology, Isabel Briggs-Myers’ system of understanding personality asserts that there are, essentially, 16 types in humanity. This means that, while individual variation is immense, by and large we can see trends that point toward a limited number of personal propensities. This is one place where astrology and Briggs-Myers differ quite a bit.
As a result, a one-to-one translation of one system to the other is difficult at best. However, we can point out planet-sign combinations which have definite correlations to personality typing terminology. In this way, I’ve selected the top 12 translations between the two systems.
Top 12 translations between astrology and the 16 types
These are in no particular order. They are each equally representative of the two systems which this is an attempt to translate. I will refer to the person with such characteristics as the “native,” indicating what is present in their birth chart and also their inherent four-letter personality code. This refers to personality traits present one’s entire life.
Sun in Cancer = Introverted
Sun in Cancer means that the personality is oriented toward home, even toward “pulling into one’s shell” in social settings. There is a strong tendency toward shyness, which parallels the Introverted preference for recharging on one’s own. The Sun is our personality inside ourselves (regardless of how we project), and Cancer is cardinal water. The likelihood would be, then, that a Sun in Cancer would test as Introverted.
Sun in Aries = Judging
Sun in Aries is a native who knows what he/she wants. Aries is the first sign of the zodiac so there is a predilection toward self-assertion, over focusing on relationship. Aries is cardinal fire, so self-assertion of one’s wants tends to be strong or even forceful. There is very little chance, then, that a Sun in Aries would equivocate about choices or “go with the flow”. In this way, a Sun in Aries would likely test as a Judging type.
Ascendant in Leo = Extraverted
Ascendant is about what we project to the world, rather than how we feel about who we are on the inside. Leo is fixed fire, like a fire in a fireplace. This means that there is a stubbornness about their passion, or a projection of fieriness, as a performer from a stage. In this way, even if an Ascendant in Leo feels like an Introvert on the inside, he/she will appear as an Extavert externally, because he/she will socialize often.
Moon in Pisces = Feeling
The Moon is all about feelings. Pisces, being mutable water, indicates feelings that can change every 15 minutes. As mentioned above, think of ocean waves, which are large and constantly in flux. The native may have trouble managing his/her feelings, and others will have difficulty following them. In this way, a Moon in Pisces will be so aware of his/her feelings that he/she would likely test as a Feeling type on a 16-type personality test.
Mercury in Gemini = Extraverted/Thinking
Mercury in astrology is all about communication. Gemini is mutable air, like the wind. When you put the two together, you find a clever mind who may frequently change subjects in conversation. A native with Mercury in Gemini in his/her birth chart could test as Extraverted and/or Thinking on a Myers-Briggs test. They may skip from one idea to another. One thing’s for sure: they would make an excellent dinner party guest.
Venus in Libra = Perceiving
Venus has to do with the way one loves and appreciates beauty. Libra, who holds the scales of justice, is the ultimate equivocator, because this native can see the value in both sides. A Venus in Libra native will love and appreciate beauty in a way that values charm, kindness, and fairness. Librans are so concerned with balance, that they would likely test as a Perceiving Type, one who sees the merit in all choices that are offered up.
Venus in Scorpio = Feeling
Scorpio is arguably the most intense sign of the zodiac, especially when it comes to feeling deeply. Fixed water is like that in a lake or pooled in a cave; it's still on the surface and can go to very deep, dark places inside with ease. Add Venus to that, and you've got an individual capable of loving in an intense way. This native, who views sex without emotion as a waste of time, would likely test as Feeling on the Myers Briggs.
Mars in Taurus = Sensing
Mars in Taurus means that the way this native gets things done is in a step-by-step, action-oriented fashion. Mars is about action, and Taurus is fixed earth. Think of growing grapes in a winery, slowly, over time, and with great attention. This approach to accomplishment is so concrete, it mirrors the Sensing Type. It means that the native looks around and takes observable actions in line with his/her environment at the time.
Mars in Virgo = Thinking
Virgo is another earth sign, but it is mutable earth. This makes for a native who is a perfectionist at heart. Along with this, there is a nervous, worried, and critical energy which often throws this native into thinking mode. They are excellent employees who develop, and get attached to, their workable systems for getting things done. They are also practical, detail-oriented people who take on a lot of responsibility. Altogether, this means they would probably test as a Thinking personality.
Saturn in Capricorn = Judging
Saturn is the taskmaster of the zodiac. It concerns itself with rules and limitations, and it rules Capricorn, the cardinal earth sign. Therefore, a native with Saturn in Capricorn would most definitely test as having a preference for Judging. This means they would follow the rules, keep schedules, tidy up, and make sure things are organized, like a grand Office Manager archetype. Nothing would get lost or be indecisive on their watch.
Jupiter in Sagittarius = Perceiving
Jupiter is the planetary equivalent of a Giver, or a Patron. Jupiter represents abundance, so whichever sign it is in will be effulgent in that native’s life. Sagittarius is mutable fire, which indicates a lot of travel, switching gears, and responding to the needs of the moment. For a Jupiter in Sagittarius native, they are likely to be highly spontaneous, playful and flexible, indicating that they would more than likely test as Perceiving.
Jupiter in Aquarius = Intuitive
Last but certainly not least, a Jupiter in Aquarius is the best translation I know for the Intuitive preference. While many of the signs of the zodiac are focused on the present moment, Aquarius, as the fixed air sign, sets its mind to future goals and visions, like an Intuitive. Aquarius is the sign of social groups, of friends, and of the future, so it may help to think of it as the sign of the Internet. Like Intuition, it indicates the unseen.
In conclusion, while there is no one-to-one translation of the 12 signs of the zodiac to the 16 personality types, there is some usefulness in translating Planet-Sign combinations over to Briggs and Myers preferences. To my mind, we have continual opportunities to learn about ourselves. Western astrology and the 16-type system are two ways of understanding personality, which, to whatever degree we have studied each individually, we may do well to understand in conversation with the other.