Paramount Considerations in Chart Interpretation

by Hank Friedman

Recently, a close friend reported to me that her Vedic chart reading by another prominent jyotishi was completely inaccurate in its predictions. Since I knew her chart well, I reviewed the analysis and could see where the other astrologer "went wrong".

This encounter inspired me to write this article, because in both Western and Vedic astrologies, there are factors that predominate over other chart factors, and if an astrologer doesn't know how to assign relative weight to each element in a chart, their readings will often fail to meet the mark.

Because I am one of the very few astrologers proficient in both Western and Vedic astrological approaches, I will apply both approaches at different times in this article (and clearly indicate which method I'm using in each case).

[Before I start, I would like to reiterate that without the priceless teachings from my Vedic guru, Hart de Fouw, I would have "lost my way" in the thicket of Vedic astrology. I thank him again for his superb guidance.]

Let me repeat: specific chart elements can control the horoscope or over-rule other chart factors, and it is therefore vital that charts be evaluated with these pre-eminent factors in mind.

Principle One: The Ascendant Rules Supreme.

[Note: readers of my website will be familiar with some of what I'm presenting below because of other articles on this website, such as The Ascendant: The Most Important Point in The Horoscope, which you can read -- if you haven't already -- by clicking here].

In Western astrology, the Ascendant is the gatekeeper: it controls how much each planet in the chart gets to express itself. A chart with a Fire sign rising, for example, will find the expression of planets in Fire signs augmented, but the expression of planets in Air signs diminished (and vice versa).*

Example One: Steve Martin has many planets in introverted signs, but his Leo rising enhances the expression of his Leo Sun and Pluto, making him more outgoing than he otherwise would be.

Example Two: A close friend has Sun in Leo and Moon in Aries, and we might expect him to be a real fireball and to "make an entrance" when he shows up. Not true. His Libra rising keeps him much more understated and cooperative, and his Fire expresses itself only after his Libra has "put up with too much".

Example Three: Bette Midler is known for her bawdiness, "out there" intensity, and loudness. She would literally have to have a Fire sign rising to come across this powerfully, and she has Aries rising (the most conspicuous of all of the rising signs) with Sun and Mercury in Sagittarius and Mars and Pluto in Leo. (Therefore she has both a Fire sign rising and a predominance in Fire.) Note: if you think that it's her predominance and not her Ascendant that is the deciding factor, look at Muhammad Ali, who has only one planet in Fire -- Pluto -- but again has a Fire sign (Leo) rising, and he too acted with fiery intensity, in fact like a king.

Example Four: Does Woody Allen come across as confident, optimistic, dominant, fiery, and spontaneous? Of course not. And yet those who give too much emphasis to the Sun sign and ignore the Ascendant would expect just that. Woody has (the often insecure) Virgo rising, which represses the expression of the Sun, Jupiter, and Mercury in Sagittarius quite significantly. Without applying this principle, the astrologer would give Mr. Allen a very incompetent reading. (Note too that Saturn aspects the Ascendant and the fire planets, also dampening them and increasing his insecurity.)

By the way, I use the Equal House system for all of my Western astrological work because after extensive testing, I found it to be, by far, the most accurate house system for psychological Western astrology.

In Vedic astrology, the Ascendant, and the First House Ruler, and planets in the First House, are preeminent in several ways. (The ruler of the Ascendant and other house rulers are used much more extensively in Vedic astrology than in Western astrology, probably because sign and house rulers work better with the Sidereal Zodiac.)

For example, one of the central features in Vedic astrology is the use of Yogas. A Yoga is formed when specific conditions are met, e.g. two house lords in mutual relationship. There are literally thousands of combinations, but less than a hundred are most commonly applied. These major yogas can be either positive or negative, but in both cases, they raise (or lower) the person's "lot in life" significantly above (or below) the norm. (Note: In general in Vedic astrology, and in this article, when yogas are mentioned, they are assumed to be positive yogas unless otherwise specified.)

E.g., the chart of Arnold Schwarzenegger is full of major yogas. His Mercury in Gemini in the First House fulfills the conditions for many different yogas. Just to mention a couple: he has a Bhadra Maha Purusha yoga because he has Mercury in its own sign in an angle (the effect is like having a "super-Mercury"). He also has a Chamara yoga because the First House and its Lord (who happens to occupy the First House) are only influenced by benefics. These yogas reflect his noted fame, wealth, and overall success in life.

However, an essential rule -- which is why yogas were introduced in this section of the article -- is that unless a positive yoga has some relationship with the First House or its lord, it is unlikely to amount to much. The First House is the self, and if a yoga does not connect to oneself, then one doesn't have access to its gifts.

I had a very striking example of this when a client came to me with a chart full of yogas, none of which had any relationship with the First House or its lord. I knew he had already consulted with many Vedic astrologers, and told him with confidence, "I'll bet each of them told you that you had a great chart, and that you would have amazing successes, yes?" He agreed. And then I said, "And you haven't had great successes, have you?" and he again agreed with me, and in fact, this was a burning question in his mind. He wondered how I knew both of these statements were true when he hadn't yet told me anything about his life. I pointed out the lack of contact between the many yogas and the Ascendant. The other astrologers had missed this vital point.

The strength or weakness of the First House and its lord is also a major consideration. If the lord of the Ascendant is combust, in a planetary war, in its weakest sign, or in a trik house (houses 6, 8, or 12) without much strength, and if the First House itself is occupied by or aspected by malefics (the Sun, Mars, Saturn, Rahu, or Ketu) that don't rule the First House, then the Ascendant is weak.

A person with a very weak Ascendant (and lord) also cannot reap the fruits of the yogas in the chart, simply because their "vessel" cannot sustain such success. I tried searching for the chart of a famous person with a weak Ascendant and lord, and could not find one (which is to be expected, since they did achieve fame!) In fact, the only charts that came close either had an Ascendant Lord with some strength (own sign, exalted, dig bala, retrograde, etc.) or that participated in a major yoga, or had a strong benefic in the First House (or influencing the lord of the First).

If, on the other hand, the Ascendant lord is in a good house, reasonably strong, and unaspected by malefics, and the First House is occupied by and/or aspected only by benefics (Jupiter, Venus, a fairly bright or bright Moon, and/or a Mercury not associated with a malefic), then the Ascendant is strong. It is further strengthened if the First House planets are yoga-forming and/or the lord of the First participates in yogas.

A strong Ascendant and lord generally indicates a successful person with significant resilience (ability to handle the challenges of life), popularity, vitality, physicality, and achievement.

Principle Two: The Strongest Factors Dominate the Chart

In Western astrology, there is the concept of "focal planets", i.e. planets that have greater strength and emphasis in a person's chart. This concept cannot be understated: if one or more planets are focal, their themes will over-rule the themes of other planets in the chart.

What makes a planet focal? Please click here to read my lengthy article on how to determine the strongest planets, but by way of a short summary:

A planet within 5 degrees of conjunct, square, or opposed to the Ascendant. (But please note that of these, a planet conjunct the Ascendant is much more powerful because the gatekeeper, as mentioned above, gives the planet full expression.)

A planet alone in half the sky or with two empty houses (or more) on either side of it (called a bucket handle).

And to a lesser degree:

A planet (or planets) with partile aspects to it. (Partile = one degree orb.)

A planet in trine to the Ascendant within 2 degrees.

A planet conjunct the M.C. or I.C.

Please remember that each planet reflects a large number of themes. For example, a person with Saturn rising can be crippled (Milton Erickson), hardworking and professional (Sean Connery), strongly disciplined by parents and shy (Kim Novak), low-key and modest (Joanne Woodward), self-isolating and self-destructive (Robert Altman), experience early life poverty (Hank Aaron), or have any other of Saturn's themes, magnified.

[An important insight: while a planet usually takes on the qualities of the sign it occupies, when a planet is very close to an angle, its own nature often prevails over the modifications by sign. E.g. a recent client with Jupiter in Capricorn right at the Descendant displayed a very strong Jupiterian nature without much Capricornian flavor.]

Example One: Wilt Chamberlain, the famous basketball player, has the Sun in Leo (both Tropically and Vedically) at the very bottom of his chart. His Sun is therefore focal and indicative of his incredible vitality and reputedly huge ego.

Example Two: Kurt Cobain, the famous creator of the band Nirvana, exemplifies the principles of the focal/strongest planet(s) well: he was an intensely individualistic and rebellious person (with Uranus and Pluto rising in Virgo), with a life marked by divorce and alienation (Uranus), intense sexual and narcotic experiences (Pluto), and radical ideas and creations (Uranus rising opposite Mercury in Pisces -- setting and so also focal).

Example Three: Diana Ross, one of the most successful female singers of all time. The planet Jupiter -- the lucky star -- is focal at the top of her chart (in Leo Tropically and exalted in Cancer Sidereally). And her life was blessed from an early age. She was born into a very tight-knit family that created a safe haven for her, and she met the other members of her musical group in high school, and they were signed up as soon as they graduated. (If both Jupiter and the ninth house represent mentors, then the fact that she met her manager when she was so young -- as a high school student -- becomes very relevant.)

In Vedic Astrology, a vitally important principle must be taken into account or predictions will go awry. (As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, that's what inspired me to write about these principles.)

As my Vedic guru Hart de Fouw teaches, there are many different levels of analysis one must do in order to interpret a Vedic chart accurately. The types of analysis -- called Vicara in Jyotish --include evaluating the Ascendant (as mentioned above) -- which is called Lagna Vicara, assessing the conditions of the houses and house lords -- which is called Bhava Vicara, finding the yogas in the chart -- Yoga Vicara, and understanding of the timing (and unfolding) of the chart via the dasas -- Dasa Vicara.

Mistakes in prediction are often made if one does not understand the relative impact of these different levels. To make it simple: Yoga Vicara is pre-eminent and its results take clear precedence over both house analysis and sub-chart (Varga) analysis. If an astrologer focuses too much on natural and temporal benefics and malefics (i.e. planets ruling good and bad houses) and on house placement, and not on yogas, they will fail to correctly delineate charts.

For example, the chart of Joni Mitchell, at first glance, looks pretty challenged. The First House occupied by Saturn, hemmed in by malefics, and its lord is totally combust and has no other strength. And at first glance, none of the other planets look particularly strong, either. How could she have ever become so successful and even famous?

The minute we employ Yoga Vicara, however, the answer becomes obvious. One of the best Raja Yogas (combinations for success) occurs when the lord of the 4th house is in mutual relationship with the lord of the 5th house. In Joni's chart, the 4th lord is in the sign ruled by the 5th lord, and vice versa (the 5th lord is in the sign ruled by the 4th lord). This is called a Parivartana Yoga in Vedic astrology (or a mutual reception in Western astrology). But, one might ask, how can this yoga be of any importance when one of the two planets is in its weakest sign, and the other is totally combust? The answer is simple: Venus in the 4th house has dig bala (directional strength) and this elevates the yoga to great potency (despite the fact that Venus is in Virgo**).

Those facile with yogas will see another major Raja Yoga too between these planets: one is the lord of the First and the other the lord of the Fifth, which again increases her likelihood of fame and success.*** (As I mention in my article on Qualifying Yogas, when planets participate in multiple yogas, their effects are significantly magnified.)

In sum, when examining a Western or Vedic chart, its interpretation will only be accurate if your attention is on the right factors. Focusing on the strongest and most significant themes will launch you on your way to a stellar understanding of the chart.

* Note the section on predominances, and how a chart predominance by element, for example, can -- to some degree -- compensate for the muting effects of a disparate Ascendant. For example, while Madonna has Virgo rising, her four planets in Fire signs are strong enough to express themselves in spite of the inhibiting effects of the Ascendant.

** In my article on the AND principle (which you can read by clicking here and going to the end, i.e. to the second article) I point out that if a planet is strong and weak, both its strength and weakness will play out in the person's life, as opposed to nullifying each other.

*** One other yoga, which I'm mentioning only in this footnote, so as to not overwhelm beginners, significantly ameliorates Venus' weakness by sign (this is called a Neecha Bhanga Raja Yoga).

Postscript: Temporal Amplification of Chart Factors

In my Western astrological essay on The Temporary Amplification of Individual Planets, which you can read by clicking here, I introduced the idea that while a static evaluation of a person's chart can be very effective, depending upon the cycles going on in the person's life, specific elements of the chart may be temporarily amplified in their expression.

The Vedic counterpart to this is that a planet whose dasa or bhukti is running is very likely to be much more active in the person's life than at other times.

In fact, just last week I had a client who was running Moon dasa and Mercury bhukti, and in their Western chart these two planets were in an exact trine in fire signs with Mercury at the descendant. His partner had just mentioned that he just seemed to want to socialize and party and play all the time lately!

In other words, the planets whose dasa and bhukti are running are very likely to be strongly expressing the themes shown not only in their Vedic chart, but in their Western chart too!

So always take into account the major transits to natal points (especially transits by Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, and conjunctions most of all, followed by oppositions and squares), when assessing which planets in a chart are likely to be expressing themselves "loudest".

And if you practice Vedic astrology, note the themes activated by the current dasa and bhukti lords, and pay attention to any major transits to them.

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