Read a Birth Chart

In this article you’ll learn how to read a birth chart, based on my thirty years experience of dealing with clients on a one to one basis. People often ask me how I got started as an astrologer and how long it takes to get the right interpretive skills. Well, it might take at least a year to become familiar with everything in a chart; that is, to be able to look at one and have a good idea of the individual before you. It takes even longer to gain the necessary experience of life that shows you how most people express the archetypes on their chart. That is, how most humans respond to the forces symbolised by Venus, Mars, Jupiter etc. in the real world.

However, you can start here and learn how to read a birth chart in only a few minutes – at least the theory! You will, of course, need to put the hours in with practice and experience of other people. That is – how they really are! Don’t think you can learn everything from text books. I have worked as an administrator for an astrology business interviewing potential employees and we would give the applicant a test chart to read. The ones who didn’t get the job were those who couldn’t match the chart factors – a planet in a house, or an aspect – to something real and palpable about the person it represented; they had the theory, but not the practice. They had read all the right books, but were way off in identifying the actual person behind the chart. When interpreting a birth chart, the person comes first, remember!

As for those astrological ‘chart factors’, where exactly should you start? Sometimes, when you want to read a birth chart there’s little that presents itself readily to the eye. If you’re doing a ‘blind chart’ (for a client you haven’t met) this can be especially disconcerting; you don’t want to simply rattle off a load of keywords and phrases that, actually, may be irrelevant. Supposing you haven’t even met the client – what if the intuition just refuses to flow? What if you have astrologer’s block? Well, even before you look to see which signs and houses the planets fall in, you can do the following and remember that:

1. The person comes first, the chart comes second!

Forgetting this leads to the kind of mistakes I have outlined above. The uninitiated astrologer when trying to read a birth chart is apt to project all of their own world view and spiritual preoccupations on to their client. But they may miss certain key factors. This is indefensible when you are reading ‘live’ for someone then and there (maybe in person or online). Then, the chart is really the subject of your two way discussion about them – not what you insist the chart ought to say. Beginners in astrology trying to read a birth chart need the experience of reading for real people – but it will take time to gain wisdom from this.

2. The planets may be mostly above or below the horizon.

See where, broadly, the planets fall – are they mostly above or below the horizon, the ascendant-descendant axis? A general rule of thumb goes: if they are mainly above the person is an extrovert. The planets are  – we might say, roughly, – ‘out there’ in the social world; seventh (partners); eighth (emotional/sexual union with others); ninth (long journeys, universities etc) tenth (career/profession) the eleventh (peer groups/friends). Even the twelfth (the Collective Unconscious and the archetypes which emerge from it) can be viewed as ‘objective’ in that it isn’t some mental construct we’ve fashioned. The Unconscious seems to have a life of its own; certainly we cannot control it. This should be clear every time we deal with dreams, persistent fantasies and emotional habits, ingrained prejudices and our unavoidable ‘dark side’ (what Jung termed the Shadow). In this sense, the twelfth house (and its contents) is an area beyond our reach. It is the ego that is mostly subjective, which brings me to …

Below the horizon – if you have several planets here the person is an introvert: in the first house (ego, self-image), although planets like the sun, Mars and Jupiter provide a lot of vigour, this doesn’t necessarily mean a person is socially extroverted, merely that one is only concerned with the personal impact one has on others. These are qualities of the introvert. Obviously, houses two to six emphasise more introverted than extroverted matters: personal finance, the ‘lower mind’ and processing information, roots, home and heritage, creativity and work/duty.

3. The planets usually fall into a recognisable pattern.

Are the planets in tight clusters or evenly spread out around the chart? Are there several planets at either end of the chart, and – better still – do they form an axis? We’re in chart shape territory here, a subject covered by the American astrologer Marc Edmund Jones, and these three examples are the most obvious ones to look for. Their meanings should also be obvious: the person with tight groupings of planets (several conjunctions, perhaps) channels their energies into only a small number of interests, or (to put it in the vernacular) they put all of their eggs in one basket. This can have advantages or, just as easily, disadvantages – it depends on the person and their levels of intelligence and awareness (not something you can judge from the chart, by the way).

In the first case, it produces the specialist, one who strives to be excellent in one field; in the second, the stubborn person who can’t see the wood for the trees, or whose limited vision holds them back. Where you find the planets all splayed out you have the person who’s adaptable, with a variety of different interests. These people don’t try to specialise – they can be a Jack/Jill of all trades. Negatively, it can mean the person who fails to get it together, who can’t focus on priorities because there is just too much capturing their interest, and the attention span goes south.

With planets at either end of the chart, usually forming oppositions, you have the person who is often torn between certain views, values, emotions. On the positive side, they can see both sides of an argument and think carefully before speaking or acting. On the negative, they aren’t sure where they stand, or they’re confused about how they feel. Quite often, some person in their life (usually parents or a partner) embodies a certain viewpoint or archetype the individual with the opposition can’t come to terms with. The other person may represent a threat or difficulty of some kind. Such folks tend to believe in fate more than free will – life happens to them instead of it being a matter of volition and choice.

4. The Four Elements are your building blocks!

When you read a birth chart, always look for the dominant element: Fire, Earth, Air or Water. This will show the main psychological function, the perspective from which a person approaches the world. This will be determined by the personal planets, and angles to the ascendant and MC, from the sun to Mars. How many are in Fire signs, Earth signs … etc.? This is how individuals get through life – it’s their default setting. Moreover, you’ll soon be able to tell whether they are essentially ‛intuitive’ (fire) or ‛sensation’ (earth) types, emotional ‘feeling’ types (water), or sociable (more emotionally distant) ‘thinking’ types (air).

For example, if you have a preponderance of personal planets in fire signs, your subject is an ‘intuitive’ type, energetic, spontaneous, impulsive and in love with his visions of the future. With lots of planets in earth signs your subject plans ahead, is wedded to ‘here and now’ practicalities, is reliable and full of common sense answers to life’s problems. And so on.

5. The angular houses are critical ….

If planets are aspecting the ascendant, I.C., descendant or Midheaven, they will dominate the chart. These energies surface strongly in the personality (1st), the inner and domestic life (4th), personal relationships (7th) and the overall ‘public image’ (10th). By ‛public image’ I mean the kind of person you ideally are (in the eyes of the world), what you aspire to be in the larger environment, hence career and professional aims. These are some of the meanings for the tenth house, but their real root is the Father archetype – that which symbolises the ‘rules’ of society – hence it’s said to show our attitudes towards authority figures. It represent the final ‘goal’ of the individual (as conditioned by society at large) or how you want the world to see you which, in turn, derives from how you ideally like to see yourself.

Planets in the tenth (and the sign on the cusp or MC) say much about a person, even if they conflict with the rising sign. This is often the reason why a person’s public persona is very different from their ‘real self’ (the sun, moon or ascendant).

6. Planets have elemental qualities, too!

The sun, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus are Fire. Saturn is Earth. Mercury is Air. The moon, Venus and Neptune are Water. Obviously this is oversimplified, and some planets are a mixture of more than one elemental quality: Venus would also have some air (as it’s a symbol of social needs); Jupiter has a watery aspect (as it supports something that is growing), Uranus has some air (it can be viewed as an aspect of the Universal Mind or Cosmic Will) and Pluto would have both Fire and Water (as moribund situations are first ‛burned away’ and then ‛cleansed’ in order for the new to appear).

And whilst we’re on the subject of planets, remember that the sun and moon are usually of equal importance (followed by the ascendant). The moon’s influence can never be underestimated (beware, sun-sign fanatics!) and, as you read a birth chart, you’ll learn that it can sometimes be a stronger factor than the sun in some cases. Naturally, you have to weigh all the chart factors, for example, planets placed in the first house (especially if close to the ascendant) are the most dominant, and will strongly colour the person’s view of life, and their appearance (not only their physical type, but even their fashion sense).

In some cases, people behave like the sign ruled by a first house planet. I have done many a chart where the moon is rising and that person – even with air signs – is strongly ‛watery’: they act like Cancerians, or are very close to their mothers/sisters etc. If you have a subject with sun in the first (no matter what sign it is) that person will act somewhat like a Leo: even if sun Capricorn, their presence fills the room and they certainly aren’t backward at coming forward.

7. Look for ‘hard’ aspects first (conjunctions, squares and oppositions).

In particular, those between personal planets (sun to Mars) and outer ones (Jupiter to Pluto), between the individual and the collective. This is crucial, as it suggests how a person is processing certain energies that may be difficult, and especially, what they will project on to the environment. By this, I mean energies that seem to originate with someone else out there. Saturn in aspect to a personal planet like the sun or Mars will often feel oppressive and heavy, like something (or someone) else is to blame for your inability to succeed at life. Uranus may make everything feel insecure when all you really want is to settle down in a loving relationship. People with, say, moon or Venus opposed (or square) to Uranus may feel others are unreliable, offering little emotional reassurance. But what’s happening is that they’re projecting the Uranian part of this configuration on to others, and see it played out externally.

8. Look for the classic aspect patterns

In particular the T-Square, Grand Trine or Grand Cross. T-Squares tend to be something not easily resolved – you have an opposition whose two ends receive a square. The squaring planet is always calling out for attention and something intrudes from left field – it is time to wake up and do something about it! Grand Trines are easy and facilitate actions: others are on board with your ideas and decisions and you find like minded people to work with. With the Grand Cross there are two oppositions forming the cross, and whose ends form a series of squares. The effect is to pin down certain issues that probably cannot be changed – it’s as if everything follows a set pattern, and those patterns are challenging in some way. As if the obstacles are never quite overcome. The way to deal with such a configuration is always to look within to see how you have structured your Universe at its deepest level.

9. Saturn isn’t all bad; Jupiter isn’t all good!

Students will have heard of the bad reputation of Saturn, and how it brings bad luck, loneliness, loss and sadness. But feeling down or frustrated when life doesn’t provide what you want is a typical reaction, and it all really depends on the way you are going about things! In the larger scheme of things, Saturn actually is like our feedback system – we learn (or ought to learn) from our mistakes. It’s only those who never learn (meaning they don’t want to) that have repeated problems with Saturn, especially as they get older. Without a strong Saturn there’s very often no grounding in everyday reality. Even in Synastry, Saturn has a positive role, for without a powerful Saturnian placement there is no ‘glue’ to bind the relationship, no firm, practical basis upon which to set it. (Choose whichever metaphor you like). For, again, Saturn helps to root the relationship in everyday reality – it’s about what is realistic, about what actually works.

This is the obverse to the Jupiter effect, about which we are told as students that it’s all about progress, expansion, onwards-and-upwards, good luck and generosity. Of course, we couldn’t survive spiritually if we didn’t believe that there has to be something good to aspire to – this is the real value of Jupiter: in being able to broaden our awareness, incorporate new beliefs, and to become something more than what we already are. Jupiter can trigger something beneficial, for sure (by transit), but it can also be the focus of exaggerated expectations, especially among the unwary. Worse, it can also inflate egos (and waistlines), lead to wastefulness and excess and even enable ‘bad people’ to get away with their misdeeds. (I have observed Jupiter-Pluto transits in the sky coinciding with the excesses and corrupt – sometimes downright atrocious – behaviour of politicians and world leaders.) Jupiter (unlike Saturn) has this ‘enabling’ quality – but what if the wrong person is thereby being ‘enabled’?

If you want to read a birth chart properly, it will take time and effort, and you should at least follow expert advice. I cannot stress this enough. Therefore, check out this excellent book on chart interpretation by Stephen Arroyo:

And this one by the late, great Donna Cunningham:

They are both brilliant American astrologers.

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