HOW TO APPROACH A CHART -- Part One
When you have a friend and you want to describe them to someone else, what do you
describe? You describe characteristics that distinguish that person from other people. It's different
than describing them to the police. If you're describing them to the police, you'd say they're 5'4",
brown eyes, scar on the left arm, whatever, but if you're describing them to a friend you'd say,
"They're pretty talkative and they're interested in music." That's the kind of information you want
to be able to get out of a chart. You want to know what distinguishes the person. Therefore, what
you look for in a chart is what distinguishes that chart. In other words, since every chart has the
same ten planets, twelve houses, and some aspects, what distinguishes it from other charts?
I am going to assume that you know a little bit about astrology. The Rising sign is over
where 9 o'clock is on a clock face. The bottom of the circle is the nadir of the chart. The
top of the circle -- where 12 would be on a clock -- is the top of the chart. And the setting is
over on the right where 3 o'clock would be. There are twelve houses, numbered counter-clockwise
one through twelve, and ten planets.
The first concept I want to introduce is: What gives a planet weight or strength, i.e. what
makes a planet potent in a chart. There are several principles. One has to do with occupying an
angle. If a planet is at an angle (the definition of an angle: bottom, top, sunrise, sunset), that
planet becomes stronger. That planet becomes a distinguishing feature of a person's chart. The
closer to an angle, the stronger it is. So if we allow 0-6 degrees as the range of how close to the
angle we'll count, then if, for instance, the descendant is at 19 degrees and a planet is at 4
degrees of the same sign, it isn't close enough to sunset to count (because it is 15 degrees away
from the descendant and the cutoff is 6, and 19-4=15). In other words, if something is to be focal,
it has to be within 6 degrees of the angle; the closer the stronger.
There is also a hierarchy of angles. A planet at the top of the chart will tend to be
stronger than the planet rising. A planet rising is going to be second strongest. A planet at the
bottom will be third strongest. A planet setting will be fourth strongest. Why? In terms of basic
logic, the last two aren't visible. Sunset is visible but it is waning in light. But if something is
rising, you tend to notice it. If something is at the very top you really tend to notice it. So even in
terms of just plain visuals this makes sense. Top, Rising, Bottom, Setting. In addition, there are the
other angles, meaning the other house cusps. (Note: I use the Equal House System, which means
that every house is exactly 30 degrees wide, so when I talk about a planet at the top of the chart,
I mean 90 degrees from the Ascendant, not conjunct the Midheaven.)
Aside: There are probably 40 or 50 different methods of slicing the sky into houses. They are
called house systems. The most popular ones are called Placidus, Campanus, Koch and Equal. One
of the reasons I use the Equal House System is so that you don't miss planets at the secondary
angles. For instance, in a chart with 19 Libra rising and the planet Uranus at 21 Gemini, Uranus is
within 2 degrees of the 9th house cusp, and therefore strengthened. For the secondary angles, I
allow about 0-3 degrees orb. Again, by secondary angle, I mean not at the top, bottom, left, or
right angles, but at one of the other cusps (e.g. the 11th, 12th, 2nd or the 3rd house cusp).
The second factor making a planet unusually strong is when it's alone in half the sky. In
our sample chart, the Moon is in the 4th house with nothing in the adjacent two houses on one
side and nothing in adjacent three houses on the other side of the Moon. So the Moon is alone in
this half of the sky (from house 3 through house 8). A planet alone in half the sky can be even
stronger a planet rising.
The Rising Sign
People will often say to you, "What's your Sun sign? What's your Moon sign? What's your
Rising sign?" These are very important factors. The Rising sign has a lot of different meanings. It is
how people first see you. I've researched the charts of those whose Rising signs are in an element
where there are no planets (in the same element). In one case, a man had all his planets in water
and earth signs but his rising sign was Sagittarius. He would go a party and women were attracted
to his enthusiasm, his passion, and his independence, but once they got to know him, they
discovered he was "mud" (water and earth). I.e. he was clingy, conservative, introverted, dependent.
The first image, the first contact was the Rising, and it does not always represent a person's true
inner temperament therefore.
Another idea is that the Rising sign is the "guardian at the gate," "the Gatekeeper" who
controls and regulates what comes into a person and what comes out of a person. Every planet in
your chart has to express itself through the Rising. That's a very important principle. It means
that if the Rising sign is in Air, a person will preferentially express the planets in their chart that
are in Air signs, and suppress or restrict the expression of the planets in other elements. For
example, one of my best friends has a fiery Moon in Aries and Sun in Leo. But, because his Rising
sign is Libra, he does not initially come across as firey. In fact, he often avoids confrontations (as
air signs do) until it is too late, and then explodes very fierily. His fire essential nature has to
express itself through a filter (the rising sign in Libra) of softness, gentility, and social receptivity,
so he's not going to be anywhere near as fiery as someone who has Fire Rising along with a Sun
and Moon in Fire. In terms of letting things in, someone with a Water sign rising is very affected
by the world around them, while someone with has Earth sign rising is usually more sturdy and
A third attribute is that the Rising sign affects our relationship to our bodies and
embodiment. For example, I had an Aikido teacher who had only one planet in Earth, and you'd
expect Aikido teachers to be very grounded. What made up for that was very simple. She had
Taurus Rising. Your embodiment is very strongly affected by the Rising sign and therefore how
you relate to your body, how you relate to your embodied feelings, and what kind of link there is
between the rest of you and your body, is strongly indicated by the Rising. (Note: of the three
Earth signs, Taurus is the most earthy because it's fixed Earth and also the first Earth sign. Fixed
Earth is likely to be much more conspicuous than mental Earth which is Virgo or social Earth
which is Capricorn. Similarly, Aries is the most fiery because it is completely unbridled fire,
partially because Aries is a Cardinal (initiating) sign, and initiating Fire is likely to be much more
expressed than fixed Fire or scattered Fire, the other two fire signs. While I don't have a strong an
opinion about which sign is airiest, I think that Cancer might be again most watery because of its
cardinality, the initiative of Cancer stirs the water up a lot and makes for a lot more waves.)
By the way, the First House is the house of identity. Any planet in the First House
automatically becomes stronger just by being in the First House, because you tend to identify
with that planet. It's more the case if the planet is in the First House in the same sign as the
Rising but it's true in either case.
The Sun and the Moon
The Sun has a dual quality as does the Moon. The dual quality of the Sun is Ego and
Essence. The outer shell, the circle, represents Ego. The dot in the center of the symbol represents
Essence. And so you can say that someone's Sun sign has a balance, has two qualities, some very
egocentric qualities and some real essential qualities. The path of a soul is to go towards the
essential qualities of their Sun and to face up to and become freer of the ego qualities. E.g. With
my Sun in Cancer, my ego asks "Do you like me, do you like me?" and wants approval and strokes,
and can be insecure, needy, and sometimes avoiding or reclusive. The essential qualities of Cancer
are a loving and caring nature. As I move into my essence, I express more love and less insecurity.
You can look at all planets in a similar fashion, i.e. what are its primitive vs. evolved qualities.
The Moon is the most subjective planet in the chart. The planet it is hardest to witness, to
be detached from, to see in operation. Thus, the Moon's qualities are sometimes the most
immature, acted out, and the most unconscious. When you start off life, when you have Moon in
Air, for example, you're likely to be very claustrophobic about getting close to people (even more so
if you're a socialized male). I've seen more bachelors with Moon in Air than any other element. If
the Moon is in Fire, you're more likely to dominate and/or express yourself bluntly and intensely
without even realizing it. If you've got Moon in Water, you're likely to take things personally
without even realizing it and feel really hurt by people. And if you've got Moon in Earth, you're
likely to inhibit yourself, or to hold on tight, or be conservative, without even realizing it. So the
Moon at its most primitive acts instinctively and is unconscious, immature, exaggerated, and
childish. With maturity, one's Moon becomes appropriately self-conscious, and begins to first
compensate for, and then use optimally, their basic energies.
The high side of the Moon or the evolved Moon is both the healthy inner child and the
healthy nurturer/mother. The healthy child is spontaneous, expressive, and the mother is
protective and caring for people. Since the elements determine what you believe is important, if a
Moon/mother wants to care for someone, with the Moon is in Air, they'll share their ideas (possibly
also social activities). If the Moon is in Fire, they'll share their adventures and their enthusiasm. If
the Moon is in Water, they'll share cuddly, nurturing affection. If the Moon is in Earth, they'll share
money or other kinds of concrete support like cleaning the person's house. Astrology is a language
that describes reality.
Aspects & Planetary Strength
We now have two things that make a planet strong. A third one is aspects, the angular
relationships between planets. If a planet is conjunct, opposed, trine, or square the Sun or Moon
(or even sextile -- which is weaker) within 0-3 degree orb, it becomes more important
thematically in the journey of the individual. Note: in using the above methods of assessing
planetary strength in charts where all of the aspects are fairly wide, you should consider using a
wider orb than the ones specified.
In other words, if you find a chart where there's nothing in category one or category two within
orb, and there's something conjunct the Sun within 4 degrees, it definitely counts. In fact, I might
allow a slightly larger orb for the conjunction than the others (maybe 4 degrees) because any
planet conjunct the Sun becomes an integral part of who the person is. Planets squared or
opposed to the Sun become a real challenge to integrate. So those planets become strong but a
challenge to integrate. A person with Sun conjunct Uranus feels comfortable with being different
and an individual, but someone who has Sun opposite or square Uranus is going to have a real
struggle with feeling different. So while it's still an intimate part of their chart, it's a more
convoluted, more complex, more conflictual.
The trine is like the conjunction, a natural blending of that quality into the essential
nature. This becomes another factor you can look at. Is it conjunct the Sun, is it conjunct the
Moon? Or is it in at an angle to the Sun and Moon. When planets are within a degree of exact
aspect, they should always catch your eye.
Now I want to introduce a fourth factor: what are the strongest aspects in the chart,
because these aspects represent where there is the most energy. If the aspects are squares or
oppositions (or even semisquares or sesquares), they can represent where in the body illnesses are
likely to occur. Imagine a body wrapped around the chart, with the head in the first house, the
throat in the second house, etc. There's actually an anatomical correspondence to each of the
houses and to each of the signs.
1. Top importance in amplifying the strength and meaning of planets are:
Planets at angles (top, bottom, rising, and setting).
Planets alone in half the sky.
Planets in aspect to the Sun or the Moon.
2. Of secondary importance:
Planets near secondary house cusps (2,3,5,6, 8, 9, 11,12).
Planets is strong aspect to other planets.
An example: I had a client who was born with 3 degrees Capricorn Rising and Pluto at the
end of the Seventh House at 3 degrees Leo. Since Pluto was at the same degree as her Rising, that
meant transits to her Rising were likely to also bring up transits to her Pluto. It also meant
something else. It meant that the Plutonian force was going to affect her identity, her body and
her life. The Rising Sign is the symbol of a person's life. It's also the symbol of the birth, and of
the life itself. So I was able to tell her that, "With Capricorn Rising you build structures in your life
(a career, a relationship) and then Pluto comes along at the same degree and blows it up. And
that was exactly what she experienced. So even though it was at a minor angle (an inconjunct
aspect to the Ascendant), it was at exactly the same degree (as the rising) and she experienced it.
Any planet at the same degree as the Rising strongly affects the course of a life.
Q: What about Unaspected Planets?
A planet is only unaspected if it really forms no angles whatsoever with anything in the
chart. If someone had Uranus unaspected and not connected to the Rising, you'd expect them to
either individuate less or in real fits and spurts, meaning really live a humdrum life and then all
of a sudden get radicalized, and then live a humdrum life and then get radicalized. In other words,
unaspected planets are unintegrated. An unaspected Sun is found in the chart of someone who has
a hard time really getting to the core of their own importance, the core of their own beingness.
They can. They develop the connections, but initially might have felt that what other people
wanted was more important, and didn't express themselves that much. If two planets connect to
each other and nothing else in the chart, they are unaspected too. I.e. they're going to float and
be fragmented. In other words, you can look at the degree of fragmentation in a person's psyche
by the degree of fragmentation in their chart.
Q: That was my question about, if they belonged in a discussion of focality because if we
think of this as a picture of psyche, anything unintegrated in psyche is actually extraordinarily
powerful in the life because it is autonomous?
But that is not my experience. I understand what you're saying. I'll paraphrase and tell me
if I did it right. She was saying that in psychology if something is unintegrated in the psyche
because it is autonomous it can be tremendously powerful, and that's true. I'm not trying to
contradict that, but I'm saying that can manifest astrologically in one of two ways. It can be a
very primary principle, or it can be a principle dissociated from. So let me give you an example of
that. One of my clients had an unaspected Jupiter in Cancer, no other water in her chart. She
never wanted to have children because the most fertile, "I want to have babies" element is Water.
All of a sudden at the age of 20 something or 30 something, one of the outer planets strongly
aspected Jupiter. All of a sudden she can't wait to get pregnant. She gets pregnant without getting
married. The transit is over, and she goes "What the hell was I thinking." All of a sudden she's with
child and she's back to her old modality of "I don't want a child." Now she was able to foster a
relationship with her daughter and it was able to be fruitful but until I explained it to her, her
whole life that puzzled her, what prompted her to do that. An unaspected planet that was
unintegrated suddenly became prominent.
Now there's a difference between a planet that's unaspected that's strong by one of the
factors we are calling strong and an unaspected planet that's not strong. For instance in my ex-wife's
chart she has the Sun unaspected relatively. There are inconjuncts which are minor aspects
that you can ignore in terms of looking for unaspectedness. You'll use the Ptolemaic aspects:
Conjunction, Square, Opposition, Trine and Sextile when you're looking at if something is aspected
or not. She has an unaspected Sun, and it's in the Seventh House which people tend to disidentify
with. You tend to identify with what's in the First, and to some degree while you may connect to
others with what's in the Seventh, you may not always identify it as yourself. So here's her Sun in
the house she's likely to not identify with and it's not aspected with any degree to any other
planet, and this is a person who has taken a long time finding themselves, which fits perfectly with
what I'm saying.
I want to go back to this chart and do some actual delineation. We already said the Moon is
strong. The Moon incidentally is going to be strong for several reasons. Here is another evaluation
process. If a Moon is closer to Full, meaning if a Moon is bright, it's considered a lot stronger than
if a Moon is closer to New. Her Moon is fairly bright. If the Moon were over here, it would be Full.
It's right before that, so she's got a very bright Moon. That makes her Moon even stronger. And
regardless of focal principles, the Sun is always going to be important and the Moon is always
going to be important. The Moon is important because it's the Moon. The Moon is important
because it's bright. The Moon is important because it's alone in half the sky. That's a major Moon.
Therefore we expect this person to have Aries qualities, and very unbridled, very spontaneous Aries
qualities. We expect this person to be enthusiastic. We expect this person to be independent. We
expect this person to be playful. Now I'm using Moon and Aries. I'm not separating the two. It's the
synthesis of those two principles. We expect this person to look innocent because if you think of
the Moon as the child, there's going to be a certain innocence, and she played the role of a nun
which was a very innocent nun. She also played the role of a flying nun which is a very interesting
thing in terms of Aries which is whoosh. I think that's very important to understand that these are
Aries qualities. However, without knowing the gender of the person, if I had not said who it was,
you would not be able to tell how harsh the person is. For whatever reasons, in our society men
with Aries tend to be much more aggressive than women with Aries strong. Wouldn't you say that's
Q: Even tempered so nicely in that grand Trine?
Well she's a female.
Q: I know, but in terms of the Aries energy if you're talking about a male's chart.
You know what it depends on more than that, it depends on the quality of the chart in
general. One thing you can do to discover whether the person is primarily challenged or primarily
easy with themselves, or a mixed bag, is to count up the Squares and Oppositions versus the Trines
and Sextiles. What I'm introducing now is the idea of the "tenor" of the chart. If you have someone
who has a chart that clearly has the predominance of Squares and Oppositions, and remember the
principle of strength (number 4, Strong Aspects), someone could have six Trines in their chart, but
if they had three Squares and they're all much stronger, much smaller orb, then they are much
more challenged then they are harmonious. It's not the number of aspects. It's the number of
strong aspects. Or I should say, it's not only the number of aspects. The number of aspects does
count. If they had six Trines and three strong Squares, the Trines do count, but the strong Squares
show you more what's the heart of the matter, where the energy really is. Remember is, the
strong aspects are where the energy really is.
If someone had a chart which shows more challenge than harmony, then the Aries is likely
to come out more aggressively even if it's not the Aries necessarily itself that is challenged. If, on
the other hand, a person has a more mellow chart, more strong Trines and Sextiles and benefic
Conjunctions, then we'd expect them to have more sweetness and light, more smoothness in their
expression of Aries which she certainly did.
The Libra Rising can also strongly affect the expression of the Aries. As I said, one of my
close friends has Moon in Aries in the same place with Libra Rising, and when he loses it, he loses
it big time because the Libra keeps everything nice and nice and nice and nice, and then there's
this rubber band effect--boom. Don't forget that about Venus energy. Whether you've got Libra
Rising or Taurus Rising, there's a tendency to want to keep everything nice, and that means that if
there's feisty energies in there, when they come out they're likely to come out really intensely
because they're snapping back.
Back to the tenor of the chart. If we look at her chart, we would have to say a mixed
tenor. Because she has this incredibly strong square from Sun to Pluto. It's probably the strongest
aspect in her entire chart, so therefore that's challenge. She's also got lots of harmony: a Grand
Trine and so on. There's a Sextile here and on and on. This is a mixed chart. And most charts will
seem fairly mixed. These are 1 degree Sextiles, so they do help considerably. Most charts will be
mixed. I'll never forget the time I had a client (one of my first clients when I was first testing
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