Many years ago, I wrote an article called Finding Synergy (at this link). While it was polished enough, nevertheless, it was a bit abstract and probably a rough read for beginners.
I would like to supplement the article, and also add an important principle, plus examples.
The basic premise is that in exploring charts to find out what makes their owners "tick", i.e. what distinguishes their lives from the lives of others, one effective method is to look at what stands out in each chart. And among what stands out in charts are repetitive themes.
What makes a repeating theme?
The same theme showing up in multiple ways in a chart.
Western astrology calls this "the law of three", i.e. if the same theme occurs three times in a chart, it is very likely to manifest.
It is seldom noticed, however, that:
It is also the absence of contradictory factors that makes a specific theme manifest.
In order to assess both types of influences, one needs a very good working grasp of astrology. For example, in Western Astrology, factors that should be taken into account include:
Here are some examples of repeating themes in the lives of famous people, e.g. (Using Western astrology):
Jack Nicholson's Western Chart
Jack Nicholson being a "ham":
Sun focal at the top of the chart, square the Ascendant
Mars in Sagittarius exactly trine the Ascendant
Venus in Aries conjunct the M.C.
All of the above are major fiery factors likely to increase the "show-off" nature of a person (especially if they are male).
George Harrison being reserved:
George Harrison's Western Chart
Moon in Scorpio rising
Sun in Pisces
Sun exactly squared by Saturn
Libra rising (which can be extroverted or introverted, but having its lord -- Venus -- in Pisces and in the 6th house tilts it towards introversion.
but in both of the above cases, it is also useful to look at what else in the chart indirectly augments these themes:
For Jack Nicholson:
Often, the need to be seen is fueled by a fear being neglected or rejected (i.e. early life emotional wounding). The exact opposition of Saturn to his Moon (with the Moon both in Virgo and in the 2nd house of self-worth issues) is a clear indicator that Mr. Nicholson's great need to be seen is at least in part a compensation for early life challenges.
For George Harrison:
Fire is very under-represented in his chart (Pluto is the only planet in a Fire sign), and this makes it very likely he will be under-assertive, overlooked, and self-contained. This is a very important consideration, since another person could have all of the same Sun, Moon, and Rising positions and be assertive, if the rest of their chart was fiery enough.
To summarize: one should look at both factors that cause a theme and factors that don't interfere with the theme (or nullify its influence).
The key to chart analysis, then, is pattern recognition. Not the over-emphasis of any individual chart factor, but a taking into account of all the factors and their impact on any specific life theme.
Principles of Finding Synergy
1. Take into account as many factors as possible.
Chart elements to consider include individual elements (e.g. each planet), paired elements (e.g. two planets in aspect or yoga-forming), and larger patterns (predominances, chart shape, major aspect patterns, confluent impacts upon a house and its lord, etc.).
Remember to examine both the factors that create a theme and others that could -- if present -- impede the theme.
E.g. in evaluating a theme related to a specific house-related life topic, like one's mother, look at:
the sign on the 4th house
the occupants of the 4th house
the aspects to the 4th house and its occupants (traditional astrology includes planets in the 10th house as aspecting the 4th)
the strength of, aspects to, house placement of, and phase of the Moon (the significator of mother)
the strength of, aspects to, and house placement of the 4th lord
In evaluating George Harrison's Western chart (above) the placement of the Moon in the 1st house very close to the Ascendant points to the great importance of his mother in his life. Apparently, she was incredibly loving and supportive. The Moon is trine to his Sun, and at the tip of a Yod, signaling how seminal his Mother's influence was on him.
2. Weigh factors carefully to emphasize the most influential ones.
Chart factors that have multiple influences on a life theme (e.g. aspect the 5th house and the 5th lord) have greater impact.
E.g. in Jack Nicholson's chart, Uranus aspects both the Ascendant and its lord (the Sun), indicating that he is likely "march to his own drummer", i.e. be Uranian in personality (and in fact he has relished playing the roles of the eccentric, the rebel, etc.).
Chart factors related to a life theme that are either consistently positive (strong by sign, in a positive house, aspected by benefics/positive aspects) or consistently weak (weak by sign, in a challenging house, aspected by malefics/challenging aspects) tilt the theme's nature up or down respectively.
The strongest planet(s) often carry the greatest influence on a life theme.
E.g. In George Harrison's chart, Jupiter is strong* and in a great house (the 9th house). To have the significator of spirituality and gurus (Jupiter) in the house of spirituality and gurus, as one of his strongest planets, is a clear indicator of how such life themes would be dominant in his life.
House occupants (and rulers in Vedic analysis) carry more weight than general significators. Note however if the significator (like George Harrison's Moon) is very prominent then it can carry a lot of weight. (The same is true if the significator has a direct relationship with the relevant house or its lord.)
3. Look at dynamic factors and synastry.
Taking into account transits and dasas around the time of birth can be valuable; and if the life theme is a person, interaspects between the two charts can illuminate and reveal deeper patterns.
* The strength of George Harrison's Jupiter is indicated in the Western astrological approach by its exaltation in the sign Cancer, while in Vedic astrology, his Jupiter is retrograde (which is a major strength because it is closest to the Earth and brightest in the sky when retrograde) and in its own Nakshatra.
When exercising one's skills at pattern analysis using finding synergy principles, one needs to carefully combine the influences of:
1. The Ascendant and Ascendant Lord
2. Specific houses and house lords
3. The role and placement of the significator of a theme
4. Relevant divisional charts
5, Yogas (especially those located in the thematic house)
6.The activation of natal chart elements via the unfoldment of Dasas
7. And additional factors relevant to the theme (Nakshatra significations, Jaimini karakas, etc.)
Since there are usually contradictory elements affecting most life themes, untangling the ambiguities, and feeling the cumulative "lean" of the influences becomes as much an art as an analysis.
There are a very large number of guidelines in making discernments about the influence of each thematic component. Some initial guidelines are:
1. The main impact of a planet by sign is its strength (or weakness) in that sign, and secondarily, the planet's relationship with its dispositor.
2. Evaluate a house by looking at its occupants and ruler, especially the strength of the planets involved, and the benefic/malefic nature of them.
3. The rulers of, and occupants of, the primary challenging houses (6, 8, & 12) can be detrimental or obstructive to a theme, or indicate serious issues.
4. When multiple planets influence a theme, usually the strongest planet has the biggest impact on the theme.
5. The unilateral aspects (by Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) are of unusually potent influence.
6. Unless a significator aspects or owns or occupies the house whose theme it signifies, it has a minor influence on the theme (compared to planets aspecting the thematic house or its ruler).
7. Divisional charts are most influential in the context of dynamic analysis. In other words, if during a specific dasa, the dasa lord is well placed in the relevant divisional chart, the themes indicated by it will be enhanced, and vice versa. The exception to this is when the dasa lord forms major yogas in the birth chart, in which case the theme will stay positive even when its divisional chart position is poor.
8. Yogas raise a theme to a significantly greater level of success and positivity provided that at least one of the yoga-forming planets is strong (and in the relevant thematic house), and that the yoga itself is a positive one. (Yogas are a preeminent influence in a chart.)
Vedic Chart Example
Paula Abdul's chart shows many themes that can be teased out using the principles in this article.
1. Relationship patterns. It is immediately evident that Ms. Abdul will have many relationships instead of one long one. The lord of the 7th house is in the 6th house (which is both one of the challenging houses, and also 12 houses away from the 7th house, and therefore represents loss of relationships). In addition, both the significator of relationships, Venus, and the 7th house itself are aspected by Saturn, the planet most disinclined towards relationships (Saturn is a loner). There are also no commitment-to-relationship planets -- the Sun, Mars, or Jupiter -- aspecting her 7th house or its lord. In other words, because we get a completely congruent pattern towards failed relationships, we can confidently predict this pattern in her life.
[Note: it was only after seeing this theme in her chart that I consulted her biography, and confirmed that this was indeed the case. She has had several short-lived relationships.]
2. Material success, especially in the entertainment industry. As was mentioned above, yogas have a powerful affect on a person's life. Paula's 5th lord, Saturn, is doubly strong (in its own sign and retrograde) and mutually aspects the 9th lord Venus, which forms a powerful Raja Yoga in the houses of entertainment (5th and 11th). Since Venus is also the 2nd lord, the pair also form a potent Dhana (wealth-producing) yoga too. The impact of both yogas is magnified by their presence on the nodal axis.
3. Bulimia. When we examine her 2nd house for themes around eating, the same yoga-forming planets Venus and Saturn show a different face. Here Saturn aspects both the 2nd house and 2nd house lord to the detriment of the 2nd house's themes (and the 8th lord Mars also aspects the 2nd house). The result of this "confluence of malefic influences" was an eating disorder.
4. Performer and Judge. Saturn being in its own sign in the 5th house (and retrograde) gives Ms. Abdul abilities as a performer and director (she directs people as a choreographer) and also affords her the discernment necessary to be a judge (she has judged on American Idol and the X Factor). The aforementioned spiritual Raja Yoga reflects her compassion and kindness towards those that she judges.
In the above analyses, we have used several of the principles outlined above. I could continue my analysis of many other themes (childlessness, passion, etc.) but the ones covered will suffice for now.
What distinguishes those who have mastered the art of astrology from beginners is their ability to take into account many of the elements in a chart at once. The ability to feel the dynamics within a chart, notice major congruencies -- where most of the factors point one way, and to experience the person from within the chart; these are what the more adept practitioner is capable of.
May your understanding of charts operate at this level.