A Conversation with Virginia Bell, author of Midlife Is Not a Crisis

Enjoy the conversation below with Virginia Bell, author of Midlife Is Not a Crisis.

What does the Saturn Return mean? You hear that term a lot.

Every year we have a Solar Return or what is commonly known as our birthday. The sun returns to where it was at birth. The planet Saturn takes 29 years to return to where it began at birth. At 29 we have our Saturn birthday or Saturn Return. Saturn is that planet of reality, responsibility, hard work, maturity; around 29 we tend to get serious and make a commitment. Maybe we go into business for ourselves, get married, start a family, get sober, or go back to school. If we’re doing it right we work hard and mature in the process. We build something that will come to define us. Our thirties are our Saturn years. It’s the first life cycle and lays the foundation for whatever follows.

How did you get involved in astrology?

I’ve always been interested in astrology; in fact I had an astrologer on staff at my restaurant (he ate in exchange for readings) but I always thought of astrology as simply a form of prediction (as in, when will this crisis be over?). It wasn’t until I read Steven Forrest’s book, The Inner Sky, that I realized it was so much more. From then on, I was hooked.

What’s the difference between a sun sign column you read in the paper and having an actual reading with an astrologer?

The sun sign columns are based on one thing—the sun. Now, the sun is the most important symbol in the horoscope so it carries a lot of weight, which is why those columns are often spot on. But it’s not the only thing in the horoscope. Your individual chart is a picture of the sky at the moment you were born and includes the sun, moon plus eight other planets. All those planets are in a sign and a house (an area of the sky). An astrologer blends all that information to give you an in-depth analysis. It’s like getting a (cosmic) DNA test, so to speak.

What about all these new planets being discovered? Does that change the chart?

Yes and no. There are lots of new planets but until astrologers have enough information about them they probably won’t include them in a reading. Chiron was discovered in 1977 and many astrologers (myself included) use Chiron. Sedna and Eris are two newer planets. Sedna was discovered in 2003; Eris in 2005. Some astrologers do use them. There’s already a great deal of information to cover and sometimes it can be confusing for a client.

There are a lot of generalizations in astrology. How can all Scorpios (for instance) be sexy and secretive?

The sun is the biggest ingredient in the recipe, so to speak, but it is flavored by other ingredients. Scorpios are intense but if someone has a moon in cozy Cancer or a gentle Pisces rising, then that will influence them greatly.

What exactly is astrology?

Astrology is a system or language that uses symbols; the sun, moon, planets, signs, houses and aspects. These symbols relate to different parts of our self as well as our past and our future. An astrologer interprets these symbols to discover our strengths, gifts, and goals as well as our weaknesses and how to heal them. The birth chart is a map of the heavens; a powerful tool for self-discovery and a guide to becoming actualized.

When did astrology begin?

Since the beginning of time humans have gazed up at the heavens in search of meaning. No written records exist to tell us the exact moment astrology began, but we do know that it was in the ancient Middle Eastern city of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia that a primitive form of astrology was first discovered. Astrology has been an integral part of every great civilization, from the Greeks and Romans to the Chinese, Egyptians, and Hindus. Today astrology is flourishing in the 21st Century; thanks to the Internet, astrology is more popular than ever.

Why do so many people read their horoscopes?

Life is challenging; I think people want to read something positive and uplifting. In a way it takes us out of our ordinary world; it brings a bit of magic and mystery, even for a few moments.

How much astrology does someone need to know to understand this book?

None at all. The book is based on the generational life cycles we all share at the same age, such as the Saturn Return at 29 and midlife, etc. I do have an overview of astrology in the beginning explaining the planets, signs, houses, and many astrological terms. But it comes with a warning: astrology is addictive. It is an ancient language; one that includes mythology, gods and goddesses who, by the way, are far more exciting than reality stars. It can be very seductive.

What about people born the same day, same year? Are those people alike?

There would be some parallels, yes, but since they aren’t born at the same exact time, there would also be differences. It’s called an astrological twin. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born same day, same year. So were Angelina Jolie and Russell Brand.

The Signs of the Zodiac

by Cass and Janie Jackson

The astrological signs that begin with Aries and continue through Pisces are known collectively as the signs of the zodiac. These names are derived from groups of stars that we know as constellations. Most of these constellations were thought to represent animals—though you need a vivid imagination to see them in the night sky—hence the names: Aries, the ram, Taurus, the bull, Cancer, the crab, and so on. The Greeks called these constellations zodiakos kyklos—“circles of animals”—which translated into the English word “zodiac.” The table on page 5 lists all the zodiacal signs in order, and their corresponding animal or symbol.

Imagine standing on top of the world, able to see the sky all round you. The zodiac would form a belt around you, with the constellations in the order in which they are normally encountered—Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and so on around to Pisces, which completes the circle.

The ancients realized that the Sun, as it traversed the sky, passed through every zodiac sign each year, before starting its round again. Records were made of the dates on which the Sun passed from one constellation to the next. Although they vary by a few days each year, the dates for each sign are typically as shown in the table on page 5 (included below).

Astrology Chart from p. 5 of "Astrology, Plain & Simple"
Astrology Chart from p. 5 of “Astrology, Plain & Simple

This divided the year up very nicely into twelve almost equal sections. The astrological year always starts with Aries, which begins around March 21, the spring equinox—a time when the days and nights are of equal length. This was also the start of the ancient Roman calendar, and while other calendars have come and gone, this one has stuck fast, as far as astrology is concerned.

Imagine that you are again standing on top of the earth, with the zodiac slowly moving around you. You are standing at the center of a disc, of which the zodiac forms the border. Dotted about on this disc are the planets that also appear to be revolving round the earth.

From our point of view on earth, the Sun appears to pass through each zodiac sign during the course of the year. This orbit is so regular that anyone can find their Sun sign by looking at their horoscope in the newspaper, or at the dates listed in the table on page 5. Although this works well for most people, the Sun doesn’t change sign at exactly the same time or even on the same day of each year. This means that those who were born on the cusp (that is to say, on the border) of two Sun signs might not be sure which sign is truly theirs

Astrologers also use the Moon and the planets of the solar system in their studies. A Moon sign will show your inner, emotional nature. (You will be able to find the position of your Moon on the day of your birth in chapter 6.) The planets represent the cosmic energies that influence your basic character. Depending on the time you were born, the planets occupy different zodiac signs in your astrological chart and thus affect your personality. We will go into more detail about the planets in chapter 4.

The rising sign (also known as the ascendant), is the sign of the zodiac that was rising above the horizon at your time of birth. It is another very important factor since it says something about how other people perceive you. The rising sign is connected to the time of day you were born. All twelve zodiac signs will rise during the course of 24 hours. Unfortunately, they are not broken into nice, neat 2-hour blocks of time. Don’t worry: this book will help you find your rising sign in chapter 5!

At some point you will probably want a professional astrological chart made that lists every feature with absolute accuracy. Check out websites such as http://www.sashafenton.com or www.astro.com  to find out how you can obtain a free horoscope and how to buy extremely inexpensive astrology software. In addition, you may want to visit your local astrologer. He or she will be able to point out more complex features in your chart, as well as help you understand what is going on in your life at a particular time.

Excerpted from Astrology, Plain and Simple by Cass and Janie Jackson


Cass and Janie Jackson first met through a writers’ correspondence course. Their similar interests acted like a magnet and they immediately became inseparable. They have taught live classes using their own inimitable tandem teaching style, as well as teaching correspondence courses. Between them, they have written over a dozen books on various aspects of alternative medicine, but their personal interest has always been in astrology. They’ve contributed to many magazines over the years and Janie has written a couple of novels. They are both now officially retired, but like all true writers, they never stop writing