Factors to consider in assessing a life theme

by Hank Friedman

Note: this article focuses on the Vedic approach to astrology. I am eternally indebted to Hart de Fouw for his profound understanding of and superb teaching of Vedic astrology. Without him I would have been lost.

I frequently receive emails from people asking me to look at their chart and tell them how a particular area of their life will work out (e.g. career, love, etc.) They presume that a quick look will do the job.

What they don't understand is that to do any thematic analysis justice, many factors have to be taken into account, not just one or two. And that will take quite a bit of time and energy.

It would be inaccurate, for instance, to predict wealth just because Jupiter is in the natal second house. In fact, single factors have little predictive value.

Vedic astrology has been a continuous tradition for millennia, and having reached a deep level of maturity recognizes how everything in a person's chart is part of an interactive whole.

Jyotishis understand that many factors must be taken into account when evaluating a chart including:

General Factors

There are astrological placements that synergistically weaken or strengthen the chart as a whole and therefore will affect all life themes. These include the strength of the Ascendant, Sun, and Moon, and a strong Jupiter.

Primary Rule: The following principles will only give conspicuous results if they "stack up". I.e. if most or all of the factors tilt in the same direction (positive or negative).

1. The strength of the Lagna is paramount.

Hart once asked the class if a person's astrological yogas would pan out. I quickly answered "no" because the Ascendant was too weak (and my answer was correct).

We assess the strength or weakness of the Ascendant in several ways:

A. Are malefics or benefics in or aspecting the Ascendant. If both, which are stronger?

B. What is the strength of the Lagnesha? Is it aspected by benefics or malefics?

C. Where is the Ascendant lord placed? (Good or bad placement.)

D. Are there any yogas in the Ascendant or involving the Ascendant lord.

E.g In Arnold Schwartzenegger's chart, only benefics influence the Ascendant, and its lord is well-placed (in the First House) and strong and yoga-forming.

2. Planets in contact with the Ascendant and its lord.

A client who had gone to many Jyotishis came to me wondering why all of their readings failed to accurately predict his life. His chart was filled with strong planets, which dazzled the astrologers looking at it, but they failed to realize than none of the strong planets had any contact with the Ascendant or its lord, and so these strengths couldn't influence his life appreciably.

In other words, for a person to be able to utilize the positive configurations present in their chart, these factors should have an influence on the First house or its lord.

3. Bhanghas

When I taught my 44 week long course in Jyotish, one of my students brought up the subject of Bhanghas. She was concerned that a specific chart factor would nullify all of the positive ones in her chart.

Side note: A primary mnemonic device used by classical Jyotish authors, to make sure that students would remember the verses, was the use of extreme exaggeration. Instead of writing, "a factor might cause skin problems" for example, they would write, "configurations leading to leprosy".

Similarly, there are factors, like the weak Ascendant mentioned above, that can significantly reduce the effects of positive yogas in a chart, but they do not completely nullify them.

In this case, after researching bhangas for the student, I came up with two common ones: the Sun or the Moon at their point of deepest debilitation (10 degrees Libra and 3 degrees Scorpio respectively). One can extrapolate that if the Moon is very weak by other reckonings (e.g. almost exactly New and aspected by a strong malefic) similar diminution will also occur.

Vital Jyotish Principle: The whole chart has to be taken into account, not just factors in isolation.

4. A strong Jupiter aspecting Lagna or Lagnesa.

The opposite of the Bhangha effect happens when a strong Jupiter aspects the Ascendant and/or Ascendant lord. This placement ameliorates negative configurations in the chart in a major way.

5. Awakened Yogas. One of the unique features of Jyotish is the use of yogas, I.e. planetary placements and combinations that either raise or lower the quality of a person's life in a major way.

Yogas in the birth chart only come into full play when one is running the dasa (or bhukti) of the yoga-forming planets (or preferably both).

For example, if a person has a Neecha Bhangha Yoga formed by the Moon in Scorpio aspected by Mars, then during the Mars dasa/Moon bhukti or the Moon dasa/Mars bhukti -- whichever comes first -- the yoga will be fulling activated and remain activated for the rest of the person's life.

Specific Factors

When examining a specific life theme, the obvious factors to consider are the significators: the house, ruler of the house, and the planet(s) that signify that theme. However, some themes are also indicated by yogas (e.g. wealth, disease, fame, etc.) and so they should also be considered. And, Varga charts (aka divisional charts or amsa charts) also come into play in a more dynamic way, I.e. depending upon the placements of the dasa and bhukti lords.

1. The house. It is very important for Jyotishis to know which house or houses to inspect when evaluating a life theme.

Often, more than one house will be involved. For example, health involves the First, Sixth, and Eighth houses; wealth vs. poverty the Second, Seventh, Sixth, Eighth, Eleventh, and Twelfth houses; fame the First and Tenth houses; spiritual themes the Fifth, Ninth, and Twelfth houses, etc.

It is necessary to assess both the strength and the influences upon the house(s) involved. The themes of a house only aspected and/or occupied by malefics will be quite different than one only aspected and/or occupied by benefics.

A house containing or aspected by weak planets again will differ in its themes from a house occupied and/or aspected by strong planets.

Note: A house is greatly strengthened when occupied by a planet in its own sign and aspected only by benefics.

2. The house lord. The ruler of the house is as important as the house itself . The bhavesa (house ruler) becomes the paramount factor if it also resides in or aspects the house or the significator of the theme or is the significator of the theme.

E.g. if the topic is marriage, then everyone who has Scorpio rising has Venus as the main significator because it both rules the Seventh house and also signifies relationship. Similarly, if the Moon is in the Tenth house, then it becomes the preeminent significator of mother, happiness, and waters, because it aspects the Fourth house and signifies those themes.

The strength of the bhavesa, it's house placement (good or bad houses), and the planets that associate with and aspect it all influence the life theme significantly, as do the yogas it participates in.

3. The significator. One of the most common mistakes that astrologers make is giving too much weight to the influence of a significator of a life theme.

Unless the significator resides in or aspects or rules the pertinent house (or its house ruler), it is of minor significance. E.g. Venus is not the primary factor to look at with regard to marriage unless it meets one of the above-mentioned conditions.

Nevertheless, the significators placement by house, strength, and the aspects it receives and the yogas it participates in are not insignificant.

(Hart suggests that the house is 40%, the house lord 40%, and the significator 20% of the theme.)

4. Vargas. The divisional charts or amsas cover many themes. E.g. the Navamsa is the marriage amsa, the Dasamamsa the career amsa, etc.

Hart taught that the most powerful use of the varga charts is in analyzing the placement of the dasa and bhukti lords in the relevant varga. He used the Iyer method (explored elsewhere on this website) to ascertain whether the themes indicated by the specific amsa would go well or poorly during the dasa/bhukti period.

One of the most important insights I've gotten from him is about the four types of placement:

A. Poorly placed and weak.

A Dasa lord is poorly placed if it's part of a Papa Sankhya Yoga or is a malefic in a Mishra Sankhya Yoga or is either a benefic or a malefic in a bad house (3 or 6 or 8 or 12) without a planet in the corresponding house (11 or 8 or 6 or 2 respectively). A Dasa lord is weak if it is within 3 degrees of the Sun natally or in a planetary war in the Rasi chart or debilitated in the amsa chart.

If the lord is both poorly placed and weak, then the themes of the varga chart both go poorly and are very challenging to the native.

(There are some exceptions to this general rule, e.g. if the Dasa lord is aspected by a strong Jupiter, themes better.)

2. Poorly placed and strong.

If the Dasa lord in the varga chart is poorly placed (see above) but is also in its own or exalted sign or Vargottama or has Dig Bala or is Retrograde, then there are definitely challenges but the person can handle them. Think of a very skilled captain navigating a bad storm.

3. Well placed and weak.

If the Dasa lord is a malefic in a good house (with no planet in the corresponding house) or a benefic in a good house or in a Mishra or Shuba Sankhya Yoga, but the Dasa lord is weak, then the themes go well but the person can't make a lot out of them.

E.g. a person in a good period in their marriage but they can't fully appreciate their spouse.

4. Well placed and strong.

If the Dasa lord is well placed and strong, then the themes of the varga are well-augmented and the person is able to take full advantage of them.

5. Dasas. Dasas are periods of time when a particular planet is activated. During such periods, everything the planet signifies and touches (by aspect, rulership, residency by house, etc.) is mobilized.

When, for example, a person runs the Dasa of the 4th lord, many of the themes of the Fourth House will come to the fore, including home, land, Mother, happiness, etc.

6. Yogas. There are thousands of specific planetary configurations in Jyotish called Yogas that indicated the greater likelihood of specific life themes. These include more common ones that are indicators of wealth or poverty, fame and success, etc., but also others that indicate specific medical conditions, psychological issues, social patterns, etc.

The advanced Jyotishi knows many, many yogas and can use them to further evaluate the likelihood of a specific event or theme coming to bear upon a person's life.

And since, as mentioned above, yogas primarily manifest when the yoga-forming planet is awakened by its Dasa or Bhukti, the timing of events is also predictable.


Note: I am not giving very detailed examples in this section in order to show that often the analysis doesn't require such thoroughness to be accurate.

Working Forwards or Working Backwards

Sometimes when one looks at a chart, the tilt of a life theme will jump out at them, and only later will the astrologer receive the details fleshed out. This is what I'm calling Working Backwards.

For example, in looking at Marilyn Monroe's chart, I immediately saw -- without knowing much about her -- that she had to have relocated a lot.

(Notice that Saturn with double exaggerated strength -- exalted and retrograde -- resides in the 4th house and aspects the 4th lord)

Similarly, I looked at Clint Eastwood's chart and saw the potent 8th house placements (Sun and Mercury in the 8th) and wondered what brush with death he had.

I later found out that during his Mercury Dasa, he was hitching a ride in a military plant that crashed into the ocean, and only survived by swimming three miles!

Working Forwards

In most cases, astrologers are asked questions about how a life theme will work out in the future. E.g. will I be successful in my career? Or Will I have a happy marriage? Etc.

If Clint had come into my office for a reading and asked about marriage, for example, I would have quickly noted the Mars in its own sign of Aries conjunct Rahu (with Dig Bala) in the 7th house. (And I would have seen that no other planet is in or aspects the 7th house.)

Mars with Rahu is a very potent combination indicating rushing into relationships with women, being impulsive, wanting more, and having a lot of intensity and heat in relationships.

According to Wikipedia, he has in fact been with many women, even simultaneously.

And if he asked if his career would be a success?

The answer would be a resounding "Yes!"

In addition to having the Moon in its own sign in the Tenth House (and pristine, I.e. completely unaspected by malefics), both his Ascendant and Ascendant Lord are influenced by Jupiter, and Lagnesa participates in two important Raja Yogas.

Note: this makes for a valuable teaching point. A beginning astrologer might focus unduly on the fact that the Lagnesa Venus is aspected by a strong (Retrograde) Saturn, and think that this would be to his detriment.

But they would be missing an important principle: Yogas are preeminent, so while aspects by malefics do play out in a person's chart, yogas have more impact.

And Saturn in the opposite house to Venus (and therefore in mutual relationship) forms two Raja Yogas with Venus. And yes, two planets can form more than one yoga at a time.

Saturn as the 4th Lord plus Venus as the 1st Lord is one Raja Yoga, and Saturn as the 5th Lord and Venus as the 1st Lord forms the second Raja Yoga.

And since yogas formed by the same planets reinforce each other, these are potent indicators of Mr. Eastwood's fame and success.

While there seem to be a lot of things to consider in evaluating a life theme, when one gives emphasis to yogas and the strongest relevant planets, the work gets much easier.

Over time, we all get better at feeling what's indicated in each chart, and evaluating each theme more and more accurately.

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