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The word "zodiac" comes from the Greek word "zodiakos", which means "a circle of animals." Since animals represent most of the signs of the zodiac, this name makes perfect sense. But what is the zodiac? It is the system of Western astrology, having its roots all the way back to Babylonian times.

There are twelve sun signs of the zodiac. A sun sign is the place in the sky where the sun was present at a specific time. For example, someone born on December 25th was born when the sun was in the sign of Capricorn, which is what is meant when that person says, "I'm a Capricorn."
Here is a brief summary of each sun sign, with common traits.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Aries is a fire sign and it is ruled by Mars, a planet of aggression and anger. Its' animal is the Ram. An Aries person is excitable, talkative and eager. Aries also has a hot temper, but they are very optimistic as well.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): This is an Earth sign and it is ruled by Venus, the planet of love and luxury. The animal of Taurus is the bull. Tauruses are known for their stubbornnes, but also for their dependability. They are very patient, but they can also have a volcanic temper.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): This is an Air sign and it is ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication and travel. Geminis are quick in thought and action, and are very curious. They love writing and talking with everyone, even total strangers. Geminis get bored easily and can dread monotony. Gemini doesn't have an animal but is represented by a pair of twins.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): This is a Water sign and it is ruled by the Moon, the planet of emotions and intuition. This is a very feminine sign. Cancers love home and family life. Since Cancer is ruled by the Moon, it's a very emotional sign, and Cancer can be helpful one minute and snappish the next. They are also loyal and devoted, and tenacious. Cancer's animal is the crab, with a hard protective shell.

LEO (July 23-August 22): This is a Fire sign and it is ruled by the Sun, the planet of vitality and authority. Leos are born entertainers and the life of the party. Leos spend the most money out of any other sign; they appreciate the finest in life. Pride is a Leo's greatest downfall, but they are also loyal and charming friends, and will do anything to help the people closest to them. Leo's animal is the Lion, the king of the jungle.

VIRGO (August 23-September 22): This is an Earth sign and it is ruled by Mercury, planet of communication and intelligence. Virgos tend to be nervous people; stress easily affects them. Virgos are very analytical, always gathering information. They believe in facts and science. In one-on-one encounters, people see how well-read and charming a Virgo is. Virgo's representative is the Virgin maiden, innocent and reserved.

LIBRA (September 23-October 22): This is an Air sign and it is ruled by Venus, planet of beauty and social pursuits. Libra's symbol is the scales, for perfect balance. Libras tend to be very physically beautiful and full of charm. They keep elegant homes. They are happiest when the world around them is ordered and calm. They are born diplomats.

SCORPIO (October 23-November 21): This is a Water sign and it is ruled by Pluto, the planet of the beginning and end of life. Scorpio's animal is the Scorpion, a poisonous creature. Don't cross a Scorpio, or you will get stung. This sign is very sexual and it is a sign of extremes; power, weakness, hot and cold, Scorpio can be them all very quickly. Scorpios have great intuition and complex thinking patterns.

SAGITTARIUS (November 22-December 21): This is a Fire sign and it's ruled by Jupiter, the king of the gods and a planet of abundance. Its' symbol is the Archer, a lover of hunting and the chase. Sagittarius always has luck on his side. They almost seem to breeze through life. Sagittarius is very independant and expansive. They are philosophers and inventors. They are also very straightforward with people, but in an endearing way.

CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19): This is an Earth sign and it is ruled by Saturn, the planet of discipline and limits. This sign is about careers, and standing in the world at large. Capricorns are very practical and look rather serious most of the time, but they are known for their dry wit. They are cautious and conservative with money. And they stick around when things are tough. Their animal is the goat, which is surefooted and steadfast.

AQUARIUS (January 20-February 18): This is an Air sign and it is ruled by Uranus, the planet of modern science and invention. Aquarians are very idealistic, and make great activists and reformers. They are very people-oriented. They can tend to be eccentric, and they have little respect for convention, which serves them well in making a difference.

PISCES (February 19-March 20): This is a Water sign ruled by Neptune, a planet of glamour and mystery. The animal for this sign is the fish. Pisces are very compassionate. They are rather intuitive and may be involved in ESP and other alternative spiritual practices. They are very sensitive and good with people, but this sensitivity can make them very vulnerable. They can also be prone to falling in with a bad crowd.

This is just a brief introduction to the wide world of zodiac astrology. There are several books out there for excellent reference, one of which is "The Only Astrology Book You'll Ever Need" by Joanna Martine Woolfolk.