The Very Basic Elements of Astrology

by Hank Friedman

Revised May 2018

Several years ago, a fledgling astrologer wrote in and said that he liked my tutorials, but he needed a very basic introduction to astrology to get started, and asked me if I would write one, so here it is.

Astrology is the study of the sky and its reflection of life and events on Earth. I deliberately use the word reflection because I don't believe in a causative model (i.e. that the physical planets actually directly influence us).

Imagine, as an analogy, a palm reader telling someone that a particular line on their hand causes them to be challenged in their career. Instead, people understand that their palm reflects their life themes, and so do birth charts.

Astrologers work with many types of charts, but foremost is the birth chart, which is a depiction of the sky at the moment and place of a person's birth.

Here is an image of the visible sky for Paula Abdul's birth date and time:

Western birth charts, like the circle chart below, depict the visible sky in the top half of the chart, and the sky on the opposite side of the Earth as the bottom half of the chart.

Paula's astrological chart wheels look like these:

The round chart on the left is the style used in Western astrology, and you can see how it matches the image above.

The square chart on the right is a North Indian style chart as used in Vedic astrology. Here the Ascendant and First House are at the top, instead of at the left.

The point in each chart marked As is called the Ascendant or Rising Sign, I.e. the sign rising at the Eastern Horizon at the time of the chart, and it is the most important point in a chart. You can learn about it here.

The sign rising (Ascendant) changes sign about every two hours, as depicted in the following animated Winter Solstice chart (for one day, starting at Sunrise):

In the above animation, you can see the Sun rise, culminate, set, and anticulminate, as the Ascendant changes sign (look where 9:00 would be on a clock face) during each two hour interval.

Daytime and night-time charts

In the chart for a person born during the day, the top half of the chart is illuminated by the Sun, which is, of course, visible during the day. For a night-time birth, the Sun is on the opposite side of the Earth, and so the top half of the chart is shown above as black, for night.

Beginning astrologers often ask, "Why is South at the top of the chart instead of North?" The answer is that astrology developed in the Northern Hemisphere, and one has to face South to see the planets in the visible sky. (E.g. At noon, the Sun can be seen high in the sky when facing South.)


Every chart has within it several components:

1. The Planets.

Charts show the positions of the planets at the moment of birth. Their positions are show both by sign and by house.

You can click on any of the planet names or symbols above to open a page describing each planet in greater detail.

2. The Signs.

There are twelve signs of the Zodiac:

(You can click on any of the sign names or glyphs to find out more about them, and their corresponding planet and house.)

As you can see above, each of the signs resides in an element. Fire signs are assertive, expressive, warm, and extroverted; Earth signs are practical, grounded, conservative, and disciplined; Air Signs are verbal, visual, social, and cerebral; and Water signs are tender, receptive, nurturing, and sensitive.

Again, you can click on any of the sign names or symbols above to open a page describing each sign in greater detail, including information on the planet ruling the sign and the house associated with it.

Each sign spans a total of 30 degrees, and in charts, planets are shown at the specific degrees of a sign that they occupy. E.g. in the Western chart above, the Sun is at 28 degrees of Gemini.

3. The Houses.

There are twelve houses in each birth chart, numbered one through twelve.

To learn about the meanings of each house, click here and here.

4. The Aspects. There are five major aspects used in birth chart work.

The lines you see drawn between planets (in a chart) are the aspect lines.

You can learn about the aspects by clicking here.


Putting it all together

The task of the astrologer is to put all of the chart factors together to weave an understanding of the person.

One simple metaphor is that the planets are the actors, the signs are their roles, and the houses the stage upon which they appear. And the aspects are the relationships between the actors.

As such, each planet expresses the energy of the sign it resides in, in the planet's own unique way, in the areas of life represented by the house it occupies.

For example, Paula Abdul has the planet Venus -- the artist, singer, creative one -- at the top of her Western chart in the house of career, in the sign of Leo -- the Queen.

I hope this very basic introduction will help you on your astrological way.

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