The Art of Chart Interpretation: A Step-by-Step Method for Analyzing, Synthesizing, and Understanding the Birth Chart

The Art of Chart Interpretation: A Step-by-Step Method for Analyzing, Synthesizing, and Understanding the Birth Chart

by Tracy Marks

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Learn how to determine and interpret the essential personality traits indicated by the birth chart. Interpreting a horoscope effectively and determining an individual's primary qualities, strengths, and weaknesses requires skill in collecting and organizing astrological information. The Art of Chart Interpretation presents a practical system for amateur and


Learn how to determine and interpret the essential personality traits indicated by the birth chart. Interpreting a horoscope effectively and determining an individual's primary qualities, strengths, and weaknesses requires skill in collecting and organizing astrological information. The Art of Chart Interpretation presents a practical system for amateur and professional astrologers confused by the many details of the birth chart. With clarity and insight, Tracy Marks provides a comprehensive method for collecting and evaluating astrological data. Her step-by-step techniques and worksheets aid astrology students in developing their abilities to analyze and synthesize the many facets of the chart and to grasp the essential features of the personality.

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A step-by-step method of analyzing, synthesizing, and understanding the birth chart

By Tracy Marks


Copyright © 2009 Tracy Marks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89254-593-3



The first step in interpreting a chart involves considering the chart as a whole and assessing its overall patterns, as well as the balances or imbalances which exist among the primary astrological variables.

A1. Predominant Element

(How many? Circle the number if more than 5 out of 14 possible points.)

The fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius; the earth signs, Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; the air signs, Gemini, Libra and Aquarius; and the water signs. Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.

To determine the predominant element in any chart, add up the number of fire, earth, air and water signs which contain planets, as well as the signs of the ascendant and the mid-heaven. Using a 14-point scale, count the Sun and Moon signs as 2, the signs of the other planets as 1, and the signs of the ascendant and midheaven as 1. If a planet is between 29 degrees of one sign and 0 degrees of the next sign and direct, or between 0–1 degrees of a sign and retrograde, it is under the influence of both, and its count should be divided between the two signs in question.

Consider the element count in a chart with the planet and angle positions as shown in table 1 on page 20.

A well-balanced chart would have 3 to 4 counts each of fire, earth, air and water signs. Five counts of any element is an emphasis; six or more counts is an extreme emphasis. In the example given here, the predominant element air is moderately strong.

The following keywords should help you to interpret the emphasized elements in a chart. Insert "very" before each of these keywords when there are 5 counts of a particular element; insert "extremely" if there are 6 or more counts.

People with 6 or more fire signs may also be dominating, fast-paced, and inclined to invest all of themselves into their activities. They may have difficulty perceiving other people as separate individuals, with their own valid needs and desires.

People with 6 or more earth signs will be concerned with concrete details and tangible results. They will operate most frequently in the world of their senses, attuned to their immediate environment, to their physical bodies, and to sensory comforts and pleasures.

People with 6 or more air signs usually live in their minds, restlessly seeking knowledge and sharing their thoughts with other people. Somewhat impersonal, they nevertheless thrive on communication and social interaction.

People with 6 or more water signs frequently lose themselves in their feelings or the feelings of other people, and have difficulty maintaining their separateness. Their extreme sensitivity often leads them to withdraw into themselves. Often quite psychic, they respond with great compassion to the needs of other people.

A2. Weakest Element

(How many? Circle if 0 or 1 of 14.)

If a chart has 0 or 1 of an element, or if all the counts of one element are those of outer planets, the individual in question may be markedly deficient in the characteristics of that element. Two counts of an element indicates a minor deficiency. Sometimes, other variables in a chart can at least partially compensate for this deficiency.

Compensations for 0 or 1 fire counts include: Mars in a fire sign (particularly Aries); Mars in a focal position (conjunct an angle, at the end of a t-square or at the handle of a bucket); Mars in, or to some extent ruling a fire house (particularly the 1st house); Mars conjunct Sun, Jupiter or Moon; Jupiter in Sagittarius; or a cardinal emphasis.

Compensations for 0 or 1 earth counts include: Saturn in an earth sign (particularly Capricorn); a focal Saturn (conjunct an angle, at the end of a t-square or at the handle of a bucket); Saturn in, or to some extent ruling an earth house (particularly the 10th house); Saturn conjunct Sun, Mercury or Mars; Mercury in Virgo; Venus in Taurus; or an emphasis on fixed signs.

Compensations for 0 or 1 air include: Mercury in an air sign (particularly Gemini); a focal Mercury (conjunct an angle, at the end of a t-square or at the handle of a bucket); Mercury in, or to some extent ruling an air house (particularly the 3rd house); Mercury in Virgo; Mercury conjunct Sun; Uranus or Venus; Venus in Libra; or a mutable emphasis.

Compensations for 0 or 1 water include: Moon in, or to some extent ruling a water house (particularly the 4th house); a focal Moon (conjunct an angle, at the end of a t-square or at the handle of a bucket); Moon conjunct Sun, Neptune or Pluto; or an emphasis on mutable signs.

These compensations should be taken into account when assessing the importance of a particular deficiency in a chart. Such compensations may not substitute for a lack of an element; they may simply increase the desire to express that element, without giving the natural ability to function accordingly.

Nevertheless, because people who are weak in an element have not developed most of that element's characteristics, they usually are aware of their lack and strive to overcome it. Initially, their attempts to compensate for an inherent lack may lead them to appear as if the element in question is strong in their charts. However, because they usually strive to attune to its energy and incorporate it into their lives, they may try too hard, and express the element in an unnatural manner.

Although they struggle to become self-expressive and assertive, these people alternate between withholding themselves and expressing themselves in an overly dramatic manner. They may become mired in a hectic schedule of impersonal activities or may, in contrast, become overly preoccupied with their personal experience. Because they are not often aware of or enthusiastic about new possibilities, they may look to others for inspiration and motivation. They often feel passive and detached or uninvolved; they seek deeper personal and emotional involvement in life.

These people often develop skills which have no practical application, flit from job to job, or bounce checks and borrow money freely. Or, in contrast, they overemphasize the practical by becoming secretaries or accountants, or being overly particular about budgeting, everyday details, and order. Because they do not feel grounded, they frequently seek security by adhering to a highly structured system of thought or by following an organized but rigid routine. They may hold onto a job or relationship too long because of the stability and security it provides.

These people often hunger for social interaction. Although very concerned with communication, they frequently feel out of contact or misunderstood; they may prefer to express themselves through non-verbal or written channels rather than the spoken word. Distrustful of the intellect, they learn primarily from experience. Nevertheless, they are endlessly conceptualizing and clarifying their thinking. Because they lack objectivity, they may gain understanding of themselves only through receiving feedback from other people.

These people frequently turn to spiritual realms or universal truths in an attempt to find meaning in their lives, or to fill the emotional vacuum which their personal relationships are unable to fill. Their difficulty remaining in touch with and expressing their feelings may lead them to form relationships with overly emotional people or to become addicted to excitement and intensity. Because they may feel disconnected emotionally, they struggle to respond empathically to other people's feelings, and may attempt to prove that they are sensitive by engaging in nurturing activities (such as cooking a meal) or by acting overly concerned or solicitous.

A3. Predominant Mode

(How many? Circle if more than 6.)

The modes or qualities, consisting of cardinal, fixed and mutable signs, are not as important as the elements, but do reveal significant personality characteristics. The cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn; the fixed signs, Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius; and the mutable signs, Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces.

Using the 14-point scale, count the modes in a chart the same way you counted the elements. The example in section A1 yields 3½ cardinal, 7 fixed and 3½ mutable according to this system. Because 4-5 cardinal signs is average, 6 strong and 7 or more very strong, this chart has a very strong fixed emphasis.

The following keywords should help you to interpret the emphasized modes in a chart. Insert "very" before each of these keywords when there are 6 counts of a particular mode; insert "overly" when there are 7 or more counts. You will notice that in some ways cardinal signs are similar to fire signs, fixed to earth, and mutable to both air and water.

People with 7 or more cardinal signs would rather be overly active than bored. Although very concerned with their activities and projects, they also focus their attention on the crucial areas of life—home and family, love and profession, and are intent upon meeting challenges and resolving crises. Much depends upon whether Aries, Cancer, Libra or Capricorn dominates the chart.

People with 7 or more fixed signs focus their attention on their values and goals, and the satisfaction of their desires. Slow to start, they are nevertheless powerhouses once they determine their course of action. They resist changing direction, and refuse to be pushed, pulled or pressured.

People with 7 or more mutable signs are concerned with personal relationships, and thrive on variety and change. More inclined to flow with the current than swim against the tide, they adapt themselves readily to the people and circumstances of their lives. Frequently, however, they do not know what they want or where they want to go.

A4. Weakest Mode

(How many? Circle if 0, 1 or 2.)

Because the average number of counts for a mode on the 14-point scale is 4?, people rarely have 0 or even 1 of a cardinal, fixed or mutable sign. We would therefore consider a count of 0, 1, or 2 as a marked deficiency. As with elements, people who are very weak in a particular mode are usually aware of their lack and strive to overcome it. Often, too, they have built-in compensations in their charts. These compensations, however, may have to be very strong or very numerous to make up for an extreme deficiency.

Compensations for 0, 1, or 2 cardinal signs include: Mars in a cardinal sign (particularly Aries); a focal Mars (conjunct an angle, etc.); Mars in or (to some extent) ruling a cardinal (angular) house; Mars conjunct Sun, Moon or Saturn; Sun or Moon in Aries; Saturn in Capricorn; a predominance of fire signs; or a bucket pattern.

Compensations for 0, 1, or 2 fixed signs include: Sun in a fixed sign; Sun conjunct Pluto, Saturn, Uranus, the ascendant or the midheaven; Sun in or, to some extent, ruling a fixed (succedent) house; a predominance of earth signs; or a locomotive pattern.

Compensations for 0, 1, or 2 mutable signs include: Mercury in a mutable sign (particularly Gemini or Virgo); a focal Mercury (conjunct an angle, etc.); Mercury in or, to some extent, ruling a mutable (cadent) house; Mercury conjunct Sun, Moon, Jupiter or Neptune; a predominance of air or water signs; or a splash pattern.

The following keywords can be used as a guide in interpreting the lack of a mode in a chart:

LACK OF CARDINAL: These people can easily enjoy observing and simply "being" without necessarily "doing." But if they have 0 or only 1 cardinal sign, they may feel driven to prove themselves through activity or may substitute an emotionally intense inner life for active involvement in external challenges.

LACK OF FIXED: These people may have difficulty completing what they have begun and developing structure and stability in their lifestyles. They may, as a result, become obsessed with organizing or finishing, and may test their willpower by committing themselves to overlydemanding projects or goals.

LACK OF MUTABLE: These people usually know what they want. Frequently unwilling to compromise, they may insist that other people be adaptable and accommodate them. Because they have difficulty bending with circumstances and making personal changes, they often attempt to force change in their external circumstances, sometimes in dramatic ways.

A5. Planetary Pattern

(Circle if pattern is clearly defined.)

Not all charts have planetary patterns, and fewer still have clearly defined patterns. If the pattern of a chart is not obvious, the pattern is not likely to be as important in interpretation as the other predominant characteristics of the chart.

The following definitions and interpretations are sketchy ones. For more information, the reader may want to consult Marc Edmund Jones' Guide to Horoscope Interpretation, Dane Rudhyar's First Steps in the Study of a Birthchart (published as a small book and also as a portion of Person-Centered Astrology) and especially Robert Jansky's Planetary Patterns (see bibliography).

Splash Pattern

DEFINITION—Planets are scattered around the chart, usually with no more than two planets in any one house, with no more than three empty houses, and with no empty area larger than two houses or 60 degrees.

INTERPRETATION—The splash personality is quite Gemini-like, with a variety of interests and abilities and a tendency to scatter his/her energies rather than focus upon one or two particular areas of life.

Bowl or Hemisphere Pattern

DEFINITION—All planets fall within 180 degrees (or a maximum of 190 degrees) and on one side of an opposition, and no more than 60 degrees or two houses of the occupied portion of the chart are empty.

INTERPRETATION—The bowl personality can function in a self-contained manner in the houses occupied by planets, but usually focuses upon achieving in the unoccupied area (particularly in the sign and house which opposes the midpoint of the bowl). The first planet of the bowl (the first to have crossed the ascendant, moving clockwise) indicates the energies most frequently used to fulfill his/her needs.

Bucket or Funnel Pattern

DEFINITION—The bucket is a bowl pattern with a handle, the handle being a planet or two closely conjunct planets at least 30 degrees from the planets within the bowl (but preferably closer to 90 degrees away from them and opposing a planet near the center of the bowl).

INTERPRETATION—The bucket personality channels his/ her energy through the handle of the bucket. The sign and house position of this singleton or focal planet usually indicates the kind of energy this person most frequently expresses and the area of life through which he/she seeks satisfaction.

Locomotive or Open-angle Pattern

DEFINITION—All planets fall within 240 degrees (or a maximum of 250 degrees), with no more than two houses or 60 degrees empty within the occupied area, and with a trine bridging the unoccupied area.

INTERPRETATION—The locomotive personality is an energetic, self-driving, determined individual who single-mindedly focuses upon achieving his/her purpose, which is generally indicated by the midpoint of the empty trine. The first planet (the first to have crossed the ascendant, moving clockwise) is the engine; its sign and house position indicates the energy which fuels his/her drive to incorporate the midpoint of the empty trine into his life.

Seesaw or Hourglass Pattern

DEFINITION—Planets are divided into two groups, at least 60 degrees or two empty houses apart, with no more than one empty house within each group, and with at least one opposition.

INTERPRETATION—The seesaw personality is quite Libra-like—concerned with relationships, aware of alternatives, fluctuating between different parts of himself, and attempting to maintain balance through his/her ability to synthesize and compromise.

Bundle, Cluster Or Wedge Pattern

DEFINITION—All planets are contained within a trine—120 degrees, or with orb allowances, a maximum of 130 degrees.

INTERPRETATION—The bundle personality is a self-contained, focused personality who resourcefully concentrates his/her energy upon a limited area of life, indicated by the signs and houses occupied by planets. This individual has little perspective, but has the capacity to develop his/her resources to the utmost. The first planet often indicates energy which may be used to achieve in the area of life indicated by the far midpoint of the bundle.

Excerpted from THE ART OF CHART INTERPRETATION by Tracy Marks. Copyright © 2009 Tracy Marks. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Tracy Marks, M.A., is a licensed mental health counselor, astrologer, writer, instructor, and nature photographer. Her transformational astrology books, including Astrology of Self-Discovery and The Art of Chart Interpretation, have been translated into nine languages and have sold over 150,000 copies. A psychotherapist since 1985, she is currently maintaining both counseling and astrology practices in Arlington, Massachusetts, as well as teaching in continuing education programs.

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