So, most people only know about Sun signs in astrology. That’s the sign the sun was in during the month that you were born so… you were born mid-August? You’re a Leo. Mid-September? You’re a Virgo. That kind of thing. But that – to me – means next to nothing. Did you know that if you’re going to read a horoscope about today or this week or month, you shouldn’t even be looking at your sun sign but actually your rising sign? Sun signs are the TIP OF THE ICEBERG in astrology and by no means the most important aspect of your astrological identity; but, sadly, they’re all most people know of this rich and multi-faceted discipline.
I mean, think about it. You probably know a bunch of people with the same sun sign as you with a birthday within a couple of weeks either side of yours. Are they the same as you? Of course they’re not. Sun signs don’t tell us very much about a person and they lead to unhelpful stereotyping and generalising like “All Virgos are perfectionists and overly critical” or “All Leos are arrogant and vain,” and they also lead people to make excuses for themselves, saying things like “I can’t help it that I’m confrontational and aggressive – I’m am Aries.” I aint got no time for that kind of nonsense.
Astrology is incredibly deep and nuanced. Your natal chart is a map of the solar system (with Earth as the centre) showing the exact positions of every planet (and also some asteroids and important mathematical points along the orbital path of certain celestial bodies) at the minute that you were born. The Sun is just one of the ‘planets’ (yes I know it’s a star, but in astrology we call the Sun and Moon planets as they behave as such in terms of energetic influences) that can be seen on your chart and only one of the energetic influences on you.
When you look at a natal chart, it is a wheel with a small X in the centre. The X represents the exact place on earth (using GPS coordinates) where you were born. Across the centre of the circle, horizontally, is an axis going East to West. This horizontal axis represents the horizon in the place where you were born (and that’s important, because the view of space from the horizon is different at different times and from different locations around the world). I was born at 17:45 in Sheffield, England. At that time, on that day, the constellation of Aquarius was rising on the Eastern horizon. If I’d been born 2 hours earlier or 2 hours later it wouldn’t have been Aquarius. Two hours earlier and the constellation of Capricorn would have been rising in the East. Two hours later and it would have been Pisces. And if I was born at that same time but a couple of thousand miles away, a different constellation would have been visible from that location…. and I would not be here writing this article today as it’s very much the energies of my Aquarius rising that give me my interest in Astrology.
The constellation (or sign) which is rising on the Eastern horizon changes every 2 – 3 hours. This is why it is important to know your time of birth. If we cannot plot the horizon and what constellations were on the Eastern and Western ends of it, we cannot create the rest of the circle accurately. And it is the rising sign (or Ascendant) which determines and colours all subsequent elements of the personality. The rising sign puts a kind of stamp on us when we are born and can determine what we present to the world and how others perceive us throughout our lives.
The horizontal axis across the middle of your natal chart cuts the circle into two halves. You have the half above the line which is in daylight and the half below the lines which is below the horizon and therefore in darkness. The wheel is then split into 12 sections that look like slices of a cake. Each section represents a specific area of life. Some of the sections below the horizon – in the ‘dark’ – represent the more formative and private parts of our life, for example our family background and our children. Some of the sections above the horizon represents those parts of our lives which are most visible, our career and goals, our social groups and friendships, our marriage/s and partnerships.
Going from your rising sign anticlockwise, the other zodiac signs follow. So my chart starts with Aquarius on the Ascendant (Eastern horizon) and the dark part of my chart – going anticlockwise – contains the following signs: Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer. By the time we get across the Western end of the horizon line (called Descendent as it is where the sun descends), we’re on to the sign of Leo (opposite sign to Aquarius) and the upper part of my chart contains the signs from Leo through to Capricorn. Each of the 12 houses (sections) of the chart are ruled by whichever zodiac sign occupies that section on your chart – and that alone will give you a lot of information about the flavour of the areas of life governed by those houses. But then we add to that another layer: the positions of the other planets.
Just as the 12 zodiac signs are spread around the wheel of your chart in a certain way, so too are the locations of the planets. Not only will you see the planets positioned within certain zodiac signs (for example, Mars in Leo, Venus in Gemini, Mercury in Capricorn etc.), but you will also see that the planets fall within one of your 12 houses and, in this way, the energies of particular planets exert influence in certain areas of your life.
Each sign of the zodiac contains 30 degrees within it, as there are 12 signs and 12 x 30 = 360 degrees – the full circle of the zodiac wheel. Each degree has its own character and quality of energy. And then, you look at the angles at which the different planets interact with one another. For example, is the person’s sun in 180 degree opposition to the person’s moon? If yes, this is a challenging aspect and will lead to tensions within that person’s fundamental nature. Or, on the other hand, is there is a flowing degree of 120 which harmonises energy between the sun and moon, leading to the individual being able to express their true self quite effortlessly. Astrologers look at ALL of these things. The Ascendant and descendent. The houses and which sign each house is ruled by. The positions of planets within signs and houses, by exact degrees. And then, the angles between the different planets (plotted with a compass and protractor, or a modern computer program) to determine the nature of the flow of energies between the different planets. These angles can be seen on a computer-generated natal chart depicted with red or blue lines – red to show challenging angles and blue to show flowing and harmonious angles.
Hopefully it’s becoming clear that a natal chart is an incredibly complex diagram and there are a lot of layers within it requiring interpretation. Some astrologers use very strict, technical processes to work through the interpretation of those layers, whereas others use a more intuitive and holistic approach. I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle. But you do need some grasp of mathematics and astronomy to be able to understand the movements of the planets (obviously every celestial body moves at a different rate and some follow quite specific paths as they orbit) and read and interpret them in relation to their progress through an individual’s chart.
The movement of the Earth on its axis along with the movement of the moon and other faster moving planets ensures that even twins, born minutes apart, will have slightly different birth charts. If you think someone else can have the same chart as you then you need to find someone who was born the same day and year, within 15 minutes of you, and within a 10-mile radius. This is NOT very common. Your school classmate whose birthday was a week before or after yours in the same year does not have the same natal chart as you. So, a natal chart is absolutely unique and individual and NOTHING at all like knowing that you’re a Virgo because you were born in early September. The level of nuance is unbelievable and this is one of the reasons why astrology can give such specific, precise and ‘freakily’ accurate information about somebody’s character.