I recommend you get a copy of your natal chart and have it here with you before continuing. It’ll be a lot more fun to learn on your own chart. You can get a free copy of your chart at www.alabe.com/freechart or from one of several sites at astrology links in the Library. Be sure to enter your correct date, time and location of birth. If you have kids and copies of their chart, bring those along too, Oh, and any “significant other”.
An Astrologer’s Toolkit
Besides the desire to understand yourself and others through astrology and the willingness to learn through effort, an astrologer’s basic toolkit consists of keywords for the signs, planets, houses and aspects.
Things become so much easier once you are fluent in writing and recognizing the astrological symbols. You don’t have to get that all down before continuing here, but at some point sooner rather than later, I encourage it.
Don’t try to rush too quickly through this tutorial. You’ll be learning a lot about astrology’s symbolism, which could become overwhelming if you try to go too fast. These are just words on a page and you also need application. Absorb the concepts by applying them to your chart.
First is an illustration of the houses and signs as they correspond in the natural zodiac. Click on the image for a full view. You’ll definitely want to print it out too. Makes the going easier in the long run because you’ll be comparing it to your own chart as we go along.
The background of the horoscope is a circle made up of twelve segments, like twelve pieces of pie. These are the houses and they remain stationary. Each house corresponds to a specific area in life as well as all the people functioning in the specific area.
Even though the houses remain stationary, because the earth is moving, a new zodiac sign rises over the eastern horizon about every two hours. That explains why the time of birth is important. With 30 degrees in each sign, it only takes about 4 minutes for the degree that is rising to advance to the next degree and that small amount may alter the sign and/or degree on the remaining house cusps and it is the sign on a cusp that describes particulars about a house according to the planetary ruler.
Each of the houses govern a variety of related matters and people:
- The First House governs your personality, temperament, appearance and health. Attributes of the First House shows the color lens through which you view the world and the experiences you attract based upon the first impression you make on others.
- The Second House governs your income earning power, your portable possessions and property, general finances and resources. It also reveals your value system and how you set your priorities.
- The Third House governs your mentality, communications, short trips, your immediate environment, neighbors and siblings. It’s the house of basic concepts, ideas and elementary learning.
- The Fourth House governs your home, family, parents, heritage and real estate. It also reveals the way you see and feel about yourself on the inside based upon the degree of security and foundation provided to you from your heritage and background.
- The Fifth House governs children, romance and artistic expression as well as entertainment, sports and speculation such as gambling. This house corresponds to the urge to create something that will live on.
- The Sixth House governs routine responsibilities, service, occupation, co-workers, subordinates, health maintenance and pets.
- The Seventh House governs “others” who attract your attention. Marriage partners, business partners, open enemies and counselors or advisors are some of the people reflected by the seventh house.
- The Eighth House governs taxes, insurance, inheritance, shared property and resources as opposed to the personal resources and earnings of the 2nd house. It also rules regenerative processes, sex and death.
- The Ninth House governs higher learning and the abstract mind, long-range vision, philosophy, professors, religion, publishing, propaganda and long journeys. It’s an extension of the third house.
- The Tenth House governs your public reputation and honor, profession, career and all authority figures. Whereas the fourth house was the most private area, the tenth is the most public and where you gain notice.
- The Eleventh House governs friends, social groups, long-term hopes, wishes and ideals. It is an extension of the fifth house; creative goals are shared in common with a whole group or organization.
- The Twelfth House governs subconscious motivations, secrets, behind the scenes activities, recovery, confinement, hospitals, institutions and secret enemies.
All together, the houses govern every single activity, association, interest, etc. Any question can be answered by looking into the area governed in the horoscope to see the influences at work in that house.
About two decades ago, I put together a huge collage as a visual aid to the houses. It took a couple years to complete and now it hangs in a beautiful frame in my front room. I still find it helpful at times.
The angles of the chart are the cusps of the 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th houses. These cusps form a cross (+) through the center of the chart. The angles furnish an outlet for planetary energy.
The two most dynamic areas of the chart are the eastern horizon, or left side of the chart, and the top of the chart at the 10th house cusp. People with several planets near these points tend to be “noticeable”. They are “personable” and tend to have a broad range of “influence” over others. The 10th house rules “authority”, therefore they are likely to become authorities in a specific field. These are pace-setters; they initiate action.
The two points opposite those are close runner’s up and with the 7th house brought into the picture, “other people” have a strong influential over our personal affairs, choices made, pursuits, etc. Living and working in partnership is a strong theme.
With several planets in the 7th house, others tend to fulfill us or balance out some aspect of ourselves that we cannot act out on our own. There could be dependency issues, or with the 7th also ruling “open enemies”, there may be conflicts, occasionally, actual assaults. This would depend on the planet and aspects to it, but Mars or Pluto could signify such conflicts. It’s hard to say whether the aggressive actions would be initiated by the individual or by those s/he meets up with. Usually, it’s a case of both, sometimes the individual acts aggressively, sometimes the “other” person acts as the aggressor.
The 7th house cusp is is the point of instant attraction or opposition to another person. We respond, one way or another. One way to see the dynamics of this point is to observe your own reaction to another person who’s Sun falls at this point in your own chart. This might be your perfect partner or ideal “balance”, more common if the person is of the opposite sex. Or, they might be an instant enemy, more common if of the same sex. See Compatibility.
With ten “planets”, counting the Sun and Moon, which are really the “lights”, there are all kinds of interesting possibilities when you consider each of the planetary energies and the houses they influence in your chart. Each planet has several functions and this is where the real fun starts. Understanding the energy at work in your life.
Click the image for a full view and print the Astrology Keys sheet. Here’s one tip for learning the keys: Learn the planet keys first. Each house has a corresponding planet in the natural zodiac and each sign has a corresponding planet, so you can always refer to the planet keys to start the interpretation of a house or sign.
In the key sheet above, under each planet is a list of the various people signified by the planet, as well as a list of descriptive terms corresponding to the “nature” of the planet. Each planet has several functions and there is some overlapping as far as the people ruled. Notice that both the Sun and Mars rule men and the husband in a woman’s chart. Both the Moon and Venus rule women, with the Moon ruling the mother and Venus ruling young women and their interests.
As noted above, a planet near an angle reflects dynamic activity as symbolized by the nature of the planet. Look to the symbolism of the planet to see if you identify those elements and/or the people represented in your life. Note: The angles are the cusps forming the cross(+) through the center of your chart. See The Angles.
Depending on many other chart factors, it is generally quite favorable to have planets such as the Sun, Venus or Jupiter positioned on the angles. They represent favor, ease, luck and happiness, especially so if making good aspects to the outer bodies.
Also depending on other chart factors, planets such as Mars or Saturn could reflect conflicts or obstacles in the life. This is more likely if they are angular and receiving stressful aspects, such as squares or oppositions. When together, angular and under severe aspects, these two planets indicate one barrier after another, making it especially difficult to express the individuality the way s/he’d like. S/He’s apparently stuck; blocked or restricted by forces outside. Frustration accumulates and with no outlet, the assertiveness of Mars goes inward to boil. An explosion is often just around the corner… Find more on Mars in Mars Transiting Aspects.
Mercury takes on vibrations of the planet in nearest aspect. If no aspect, it functions according to the sign it’s in, influenced mostly by the ruling planet of this sign. It shows what occupies our mind and frequently points to the profession. Those with a prominent Mercury are likely to work in some capacity involving transport or communication. Angular and with sufficient supporting aspects, it may reflect such things as media involvement, the name in print or headlined in some way. Mercury is the “messenger”. The precise angle Mercury occupies will have great input as outlined in The Angles.
The outer planets are also strong if positioned on an angle. Uranus suggests an innovative nature, originality and inventive talent. Neptune indicates a high degree of sensitivity and intuition if well aspected or much confusion and delusion in the life if harshly aspected. It may also show escapist tendencies if in adverse aspect. Another neutral planet, Neptune absorbs the vibrations of other planets in close aspect. See Sixth Sense.
An angular Pluto represents control or power issues and functions similarly to Mars at times. If on the Ascendant, it indicates great physical strength, much like Scorpios and Scorpio rising. For more on Neptune and Pluto, link to the Sixth Sense.
Having the Moon on an angle shows a dynamic interchange with the public. One somehow caters to the public and many politicians are in this group. Fame and the limelight may be in store with this position. For more on the Moon and its aspects in your chart, see Fame & Popularity.
Elements & Qualities
As indicated on the Astrology Keys printed out earlier, each sign of the zodiac corresponds to an element: fire, earth, air or water. Each sign also corresponds with a Quality: cardinal, fixed or mutable. By assessing the description for each, we get a good idea about each of the signs and how they differ.
For instance, Taurus is the Fixed Earth sign. Motivated by practical concerns, it is “stable”, stays its course to build a strong foundation and often finishes projects started by cardinal types. It takes a lot to deter Taurus from a chosen path or opinion, hence it is also observed as “stubborn”.
Virgo is also an Earth sign and so also driven by practical concerns, but in this case, it is of a Mutable Quality. Flexible and adaptable, Virgo’s may change course from time to time.
The Cardinal signs can’t wait to take action and so the Cardinal Earth sign, Capricorn, is not only motivated to achieve in a practical and material way, but sets out to make it happen, with or without anyone’s help or approval. This is the sign of big business and Capricorn usually climbs slowly but sure-footedly to the top.
And so it is with all the signs sharing an element. They have similarities as well as distinctions.
In your own chart, you can find the sign that most precisely sums up the overall energy in your chart. Using a small graph, similar to the one on the Astrology Keys, make a mark for each of your planets under the sign it falls in. Add a mark for the sign on the Ascendant. There will be an emphasis in one of the Elements and an emphasis in one of the Qualities. The sign corresponding to that Element and Quality describes much about you and your underlying drives. The sign may be different than your Sun sign.
There’s another way to find some basic themes in a life and that is through Hemispheric Emphasis. The chart is divided into hemispheres at the angles.
If the majority of planets are on the left side of the chart; that is, positioned between the 10th house and the 3rd house, the individual has a great deal of control in ordering up the events happening around him or her. These people initiate action and others follow.
If the majority of planets occupy the right side of the chart, s/he is “receptive” and “others” have a great deal of influence over the personal choices that are made. The interests of others must be considered for one’s own best interests.
If most of the planets are below the horizon; positioned between the 1st and the 6th houses, the individual is inward looking and focuses on the personal side of life, usually involving family concerns. This emphasis is likely to signify introvert tendencies.
If most of the planets are above the horizon; located between the 7th and 12th houses, the person has many worldly interests and has an outward or humanitarian focus. This planetary emphasis is apt to signify the extrovert.
The Backbone of a Chart
If you saw the collage of the houses above, the guy standing in the center of the chart perfectly depicts us in relation to our chart and the world around us. His feet are planted on the ground within the 4th house range. This is his support, his self-assuredness, the way he sees himself in relation to the world. Much of this foundation comes from our family, heritage and tradition and much of it is largely sub-conscious. One is required to go inward and evaluate to the very depths on occasion to nurture this aspect of self. This is a most private area and corresponds naturally to the instinctive Moon.
The top of the chart is where his head is held up high. This area represents the honor and esteem we’ve earned for ourselves through all of our endeavors and actions. It is our just rewards or what we’ve become deserving of. It is the reputation we’ve created for ourselves. A most public area, the 10th house cusp corresponds with Saturn, the reality factor that justice will be served and that deserved honor will follow.
And so, these two opposing points – 4th house/10th house and vertical angle is the backbone in a chart and the “I” within.
The Astrology Keys also gives a list of the most used aspects in astrology, along with their symbols, the degrees involved, and their strength and significance. The aspects show the relationship between two planets. Each sign is 30 degrees and the 12 signs equals 360 degrees – a full circle. The fractions of the circle is what determines an aspect.
As seen on the Key sheet, signs of the same element form trines to one another. They are four signs apart or 120 degrees, an “easy” relationship. Signs opposite one another form an opposition, an aspect of “tension”. Signs that are three signs apart form a 90 degree angle or Square, an aspect of potential “stress” or obstacles.
These stress aspects are often our best guide to ensuring that we stay on our path to reach the goals we aspired to. They force us to use our wits and stretch our abilities. I think we tend to appreciate the hard aspects more as we get older but it’s always a good exercise to find at least one example of what an aspect might imply if operating at it’s very best. Even a square has its good points and is behind some of life’s greatest achievements.
When checking the aspects of planets in your chart, a little more precision is required and you must account for the degree and sign of each planet. For the major aspects, they must be within 10 degrees of an exact aspect to function accordingly. Say you have two planets in the same sign and within 5 degrees of one another. That is a Conjunction, the strongest aspect of all, and both planets will function more “intensely” due to the relationship. They “reinforce” one another through the close relationship.
A Sextile is formed when two planets are 60 degrees apart; two signs apart. This is an aspect of “opportunity” and ease, but not as “lucky” as a trine aspect. If two planets are 55 degrees apart or 65 degrees apart, or anywhere in between, they are in Sextile.
The closer an aspect, the more prominent in the life this interplay of energy will be experienced. Using the key sheet, you can look at the energy associated with each planet to see how they’d get along together in the first place and then consider the particular aspect. Ok, like Venus with Neptune is a smooth pairing, so at it’s worst it could operate as too much of a good thing or living in a dream world. Venus, the Sun and Jupiter are abundantly helpful in most cases.
Just the opposite is the case with Mars and Saturn, the traditional malefic planets, because they’re most often noted to be present and to correspond with troublesome situations. Even in the conjunction aspect, either of these is more likely to describe some difficult situation or condition that comes to the surface from time to time.
You can also take a look at Chart Pattern Types to get an instant “feel” of the overall chart configuration. Continue to Tutorial 2 – Chart Pattern Types, Choosing Your Ideal Residence and answering the question, What if I have empty houses?
A good book for beginners is called Astrology in Modern Language by Richard Vaughn. Not an ordinary cook book, it leads you through not only the sign on the cusp, but also to the ruler’s house position meaning. A great book on houses is called The House Book by Stephanie Camilleri.
There are other good beginner books listed in the library. If you are past the beginner level but not quite to an intermediate level yet, a book I would recommend is How to Read Your Astrological Chart by Donna Cunningham.