How to Read an Astrology Chart
By Vic DiCara
The Planet's, Signs and Houses in a birth chart
In an astrology chart you basically have three factors: (1) nine planets, which move through the (2) twelve zodiac constellations, which themselves rotate through the (3) twelve “houses” of the sky. The pre-requisite to being able to interpret an astrological birth chart is that you have to know what each of those 42 items means. You need to be completely familiar with what each of the 9 planets, each of the 12 zodiac constellations, and each of the 12 houses stands for and represents.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you are already up to speed on that (which you’re probably not ;~) in fact, even if you’ve been practicing astrology for years in my opinion it’s never good to assume that you are familiar with the basics). Let’s move forward and start to talk about how to understand the combinations of these factors. Let me help you get started with the most basic (and therefore most important and powerful) principle of astrological interpretation.
Saturn in the 2nd House
Let’s take, for our example, a planet like Saturn – a great favorite of mine. The outstanding feature of Saturn is that he is extremely sturdy and tenacious, yet this sturdiness comes as a result of his ability to restrict things by stripping them bare and cutting away all the “fluff.” So let’s say you have Saturn in the 2nd House, which is the house of our family unit. So what does that mean?
Many paperbacks will tell you the “positives” and “negatives” involved in a Second House Saturn. Well, how helpful is that? I mean, which is it? If I have Saturn in my second house should I expect a very sturdy and stable family life, or should I expect a family which really restricts my freedom, is depressing, and is cold and distant??? Both of these are fully plausible interpretations of Saturn in the Second House! So which one is it!?
Some books and astrologers will try to write this question off saying something like, “it’s up to you.” In some sense, they are correct. This range of possibilities does sort of define the range of what you can do with Saturn in the Second House depending on the choices you make in this life. But it really sidesteps the question of what is going to happen if you do nothing and just go with the flow.
The answer to the question starts by recognizing that so far we have only considered two out of the three main factors in a birth chart. We have considered factor #1, the planet. We consider factor #3, the house – but we are ignoring factor #2, the sign. Here is the most important sentence in the first part of this article: you will get the positive or negative effects of a specific placement depending on the disposition of the planet involved, and the disposition of that planet depends upon the zodiac constellation (a.k.a. “sign”) which that planet is in.
Now, this is only the very beginning of the answer. So don’t stop reading here and fly to your chart or someone else’s and try to start interpretation. Keep patience and read the whole article!
Planets in Signs
Again, there is some pre-requisite knowledge you need to have before you can proceed (no one said Astrology was child’s play. To be a significant astrologer you honestly have to memorize and internalize roughly the equivalent of Webster’s Dictionary worth of material). You will need to know the effect that each sign has on each planet. For the sake of being able to complete this article before it is a book unto itself, let’s assume that you already posses such knowledge and just proceed with our example of Saturn in the 2nd House.
Saturn in Aries in the 2nd House will give absurdly different results than Saturn in Libra in the same house.
Here are the possibilities. A planet will give 100% positive results if it is “fully exalted.” That is to say that if the planet is in the constellation causing it to be exalted (something you need to memorize) and at the degree in that sign of it’s most pronounced exaltation (something else you need to memorize), then you can expect 100% only the good stuff about having that planet in that house. Conversely, a planet that is fully debilitated will give 100% negative results. So, in our example, if Saturn is at 20º Libra in the 2nd House, you can rather confidently predict that the family life will be 100% stable, reliable, practical, strong and enduring. Conversely, Saturn at 20º Aries in the 2nd House means that family life is 100% cold, depressing, distant, detached, reserved, and harsh.
I hope you sort of get it so far?
Now I said “rather confidently” because there is still a very, very important part to add to this equation to get close enough to “full confidence.” But more on that later.
There is a spectrum starting with 100% positivity at full exaltation, and ending at 100% negativity in full debilitation. The waypoints of that spectrum are as follows (again, lots of stuff you need to have memorized as a pre-requisite):
- 100% positive = in the constellation and degree of exaltation
- 80% positive = mooltrikona constellation (usually the male sign owned by the planet)
- 75% positive = the female constellation owned by the planet
- 60% positive = in a constellation owned by a friend
- 50% positive = in a neutral constellation, but in a navamsha section of that constellation owned by a naturally benefic planet
- 40% positive = in a neutral constellation
- 40% negative = in a war with another planet (i.e. fighting to occupy the same degree of space)
- 50% negative = in a neutral constellation, but a malefic navamsha
- 60% negative = in a constellation owned by an enemy
- 75% negative = in the constellation of debilitation
- 100% negative = at the highest degree of debilitation or conjunct with the Sun (fully “combust”)
I have to mention that if you try this with the tropical zodiac you will be disappointed. Take my word for it and use this system with sidereal zodiac and a simple whole-sign house system. It works.
Yes there is lots of stuff you now know you need to go an learn and memorize. But now that you know it’s importance you will hopefully have the motivation required to internalize all that data. Once the above list makes perfect and natural sense, and you completely understand how to you it, you are ready to interpret a birth chart, almost.
So let me run you though some examples.
I already gave the example of fully exalted and debilitated Saturn. So now let’s say that Saturn is in the 2nd house in Aquarius (his mooltrikona constellation, the male sign that he owns). In this case you should predict that Saturn’s results regarding family life will be about 85% positive, and there will be some amount of negligible negative impact. To be a real astrologer you will need to be able to divine where that negative impact lies. The answer to that lies in the harmonic vargas, which I will explain later on.
Let’s say Saturn is in Capricorn in the 2nd House… then you expect a pretty positive experience of stability and strength in family life, with some small amount of the negative traces of distance or separation, or something along those lines.
Friend / Neutral / Enemy Sign
Now, you need to know which planet’s are the friends and enemies of Saturn. I’ve defined that all before in my previous articles and you can’t do astrology without fully memorizing it. It’s that simple. But to proceed, Saturn is friendly with Mercury and Venus, and unfriendly towards Mars, the Sun, and the Moon. So If you see Saturn in a sign owned by Mercury or Venus (Gemini, Virgo, Taurus, or Libra) you can assume that it falls in the category of “being in a constellation owned by a friend.” And you can predict about 60% positive results. But there is another factor you have to consider. If a friendly planet is too close or two far (less or more than 2, 3, or 4 signs from the planet) then the relationship deteriorates. So let’s say you see Saturn in Taurus in the 2nd House. You might think that Saturn is in a “friendly constellation”, but before you make up your mind on that, you have to take stock of where Venus is, because Venus owns Taurus. If Venus is 2, 3, or 4 signs from Saturn on either side, you’re right, Saturn is in a friendly sign. But if Venus is more or less than that, then the friendship deteriorates to neutrality, and Saturn is in fact in a Neutral sign. So, in this example of Saturn in Taurus in the 2nd House, if Venus is in Gemini, Cancer or Leo (2, 3, or 4 signs on one side), or in Aries, Pisces, or Aquarius (2, 3, or 4 signs on the other side) you are good. Saturn is then in a “friend’s sign.” But if Venus is also in Taurus, or is in Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius or Capricorn her relationship with Saturn will deteriorate, and Saturn will be in a “neutral sign.”
If that’s the case and you find Saturn in a Neutral sign it’s more or less a 50/50 interpretation you should give. But you can check to see Saturn’s sign in the navamsha (of course, you need to know what that is, first). If it is the sign of a benefic planet (something else you need to know), the results veer towards being somewhat more positive. Otherwise the results are a little less than 50/50.
Planetary war is not particularly significant in reading birth charts. It only steers the interpretation towards more negative predictions if it occurs in a neutral sign. If a planet is in a Neutral sign but in a war, you expect negative results to start outweighing positive results. So, up till now, in all the scenarios above, Saturn in the 2nd House would be producing more or less good results in terms of family stability and endurance (just for the sake of the example’s simplicity), with increasing negative side effects and you progressed to here. Once you get here the situation flips. You start getting a predominant effect which is negative, with progressively less and less positive side-effects. It’s starts by seeing Saturn in a neutral sign, but in negative situations such as a planetary war or a malefic navamsha negative effects start to predominate (you can be tempted to add a negative aspect, but for the sake of clarity in learning this stuff… which we are all doing… don’t try to mix that in to this equation yet). So Saturn in Gemini in the 2nd House when Mercury is in Sagittarius, for example, creates a neutral sign placement for Saturn. But if Saturn is in a harmonic position (navamsha) which belongs to a naturally malefic planet (Aries, Scorpio, or even Leo) you know you are going to get predominantly bad effects. The person will experience family life that is mainly stoic and cold and depressing, but which does have visible potential and results in some strong personality traits that have positive side effects. Yet the main feelings is one of negativity.
It get’s worse if Saturn is in the sign of an enemy. This basically happens when Saturn is in a sign owned by the Sun, Moon, or Mars – or if He’s in one of Jupiter’s signs when Jupiter is too near or too far from him in the chart. In this case you should predict the prominence of negative experience to be 60% strong.
Worse still is when Saturn sits in his sign of debilitation, Aries. This starts off with 75% negativity. The closer Saturn is to 20º of Aries the more 75% increases towards 100% negative results.
Most of this article, if not all of it, is based on the 3rd Chapter of a medieval book called Phaladeepika. The author of that book has a very strong opinion of planet’s being too close to the Sun (“combust”) equating it’s severity to full debilitation. In the course of reading hundreds of horoscopes I have experienced enough to believe in his opinion too, but would add that combustion is a rather subtle experience which does has significant positive repercussions that full debilitation simply does not. That however is a topic for a different article altogether.
Now you are almost ready to interpret birth charts. The “almost” part comes first of all from the fact that you have to internalize all the key meanings of the 9 planets, 12 signs and 12 houses as well as the details of their relationships. Not a small endeavor, and something that is of paramount importance to get right! If you don’t get that part right, and get it deeply, then no amount of expertise in this other fancier stuff is going to work right.
But there is another, fancier reason why you are still only at “almost ready” after reading this article. It is extremely enlightening and is connected to my previous article and will be explained in more detail in my next one. It is the fact that every half of a degree in each sign is slightly different from the next! A planet basically has not just one sign, but ten! Because there are harmonic divisions and echoes of all the twelve signs all over the degrees within any one given sign. So just when you thought the above was thorough and exhausting… now you learn that you have to do this ten times for each planet in the chart before you have a full picture of the planet’s effects in a particular house in a birth chart!
But that will be in my next article. For now, you will go a long way to understanding and employing astrology if you can really figure out what I meant by everything I said here in this article, and try to run your own chart through it, and the charts of people you know. Remember, please, that these are techniques that work only on sidereal charts with whole-sign houses (the ancient system of astrology, from which this ancient technique was developed). So if you don’t know where to cast such a chart for yourself, that’s yet another bit of “pre-requisite” you’ll need to catch up on!
Best of luck and stay tuned for my next article!