I was recently at a meeting of about thirty-five people, where a few of the folks on the team didn't know each other very well. One of the leaders of the group suggested that while going around and introducing ourselves and which piece of the project we were working on this year, we all say what our Sun-sign was. So as we went around, everyone started with something like "I'm Charlie, and I'm an Aquarius..." I was the last person to introduce myself, and I said (trying to sound the least snobby I could) "I'm Chris, and I am not an astrological sign [a few weird looks]. When I was born, the Sun was in X sign and Y sign was Rising." I'm sure that a few people in the crowd thought that I was being pretentious, but since they all know me as a Traditional Astrologer (and they are all my friends), I'm hoping that they didn't just ignore the comment.
I realize that the purpose of the request to state the Sun sign was to get an overall idea of the "mix" of energies that were being brought to bear on the project. At the end of the intros, someone pronounced that there was a nice mix of all the elements. However, as I present in my talk Hey Baby, What's Your (Rising) Sign?, until recently, the Sun was not regularly considered as any sort of indication in one's personality or personal make up (and by extension, the "energy" that one might bring to a project).
In my talk, I present the probability that astrologers of the twentieth century in the USA started to disguise their work under the new, respectable heading of "psychology" to avoid prosecution on anti-fortune telling laws; to do this, they started to describe each of the zodiacal signs in terms of personality traits. (Sorry that I don't have a reference here; if I write more about this, I'll try to dig it out, but it's more work than I can do to find it for a simple blog post.) In addition, I present my theory that the reasons that people started associating these traits with the Sun are probably two: 1- It's quite easy to know what zodiacal sign the Sun is in on any given day of the year, and in fact most newspapers or online astrology columns list these dates. There are 360 degrees in the circle of the zodiac through which the Sun passes, and 365 days in a year, on average. So it's approximately one day per degree, which is quite easy to predict with almost no mathematical precision needed. 2- The post-Freudian association of the Sun (astrological) with the Ego. The Sun is the Hero in the hero's journey, and the "hero" of my natal chart is me. Therefore, the Sun must be a nice summary of me.
Another technique used in modern astrology is to take the elements and modalities of all of the planets in a person's chart (that is, the zodiacal signs in which they are all placed), and maybe their ascendant and midheaven as well, and boil them down to a "signature." So if a preponderance of your planets are in fixed signs (rather than cardinal or mutable), and you have a plurality of planets in air signs, your "signature" would be Aquarius (fixed air). But this is a mere shadow of the rich technique used for hundreds of years to determine an individual's temperament. Though there are some competing methodologies for arriving at a person's temperament (choleric, sanguine, melancholic, or phlegmatic), most agree on most issues in the process, and arrive at a much richer description of what qualities, if you will, make up a particular individual.
Prior to this Sun-sign craze, if one had to look at only one part of a person's natal chart to begin to get a fairly good description of their personality, that place would be the Rising Sign/Ascendant, not the Sun sign. The Rising Sign corresponds to a person's physical body, health, and happiness. Any planets in the Ascendant (first house) will play a predominant roll, then the sign on the cusp should be considered, then the planet that rules that sign (look at the chart to see where that planet is, how it is placed, etc.).
Traditionally, the Sun is about honor, fame, glory, preferments. So the Sun really has nothing to do with the personality, unless it is configured "accidentally" to it. For example, the Sun is the body that rules Leo; if Leo is the Rising Sign, then the Sun, and the sign that it is in, will have some bearing on the personality, due to the Sun's rulership of Leo rising. Also, if the Sun is in the first house (the Ascendant or Rising Sign), then obviously, the Sun will be determined toward personality. If the Sun Sign and the Rising Sign are the same (this can happen if a person is born near dawn), then obviously there is a relationship there. And finally, if the Sun aspects (conjuncts, opposes, squares, trines, or sextiles) the Ascendant itself, or the planet that rules it, then it is determined toward first house affairs (body, health, happiness).
To divide people and archive them into one of twelve boxes (the signs of the zodiac) is to do what newspaper sun-sign columns do. And we all complain about that, so why do we perpetuate it? I propose the answer is that people don't know how to do otherwise. They know that Sun-sign astrology is superficial, but they don't know how to get beyond it. Modern astrological texts don't help, they simply perpetuate this. Despite their pleas to take the entire chart into consideration, they will still delineate people's personalities predominantly by the sign that the Sun was in when they were born.
But what struck me more than ever at this meeting was that in listening to people introduce themselves as "I am a Sagittarius," etc., not only are we reducing the personality to the incorrect correlation, but we are reducing the entire person to a sign of the zodiac. And not just to that sign, but to our imperfect (and often erroneous) understanding of it. Instead of dealing with people as individuals, who embody all sorts of different "energies," we are engaging in a calculus of stereotyping, and according to categories that most of us don't even understand. I'll point out here too that most of the astrologers or astrology buffs who engage in this kind of activity, as if it will tell them how everyone in the group will act, are also the ones who denigrate the idea that there is any such thing as fate in astrology. Note the internal contradiction here.
So I repeat: I am not an astrological sign. While there is some information, and even some wisdom to be gained by a familiarity with my birth chart, we should all resist the temptation to deal with people as if they were merely zodiacal signs, and attempt to see them as the unique individuals that they are.