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The Grammar of Astrology
The major components of the astrological language are planets, signs, houses, and aspects. To successfully delineate a chart, you must have a solid understanding of the meanings of these symbols and the capacity to combine and synthesize their significations. Because this knowledge is so important, we'll look first at how to combine the individual meanings of a planet occupying a sign and a house into a meaningful sentence. Then we'll consider how the expression of that planet is modified by its relationship to another planet.
If you already understand these principles, skim through this chapter and go on to chapter 2. If this is altogether new material for you, first familiarize yourself with the meanings of the basic symbols and the process of synthesizing the keywords of the astrological alphabet. There are many excellent books on this aspect of astrological interpretation. Astrology for Yourself by Douglas Bloch and Demetra George will give you hands-on practice creating these sentences and other delineations using a programmed text format and your own chart.
Learning to read a chart is like learning to read. Your first step in learning to read was to learn the letters of the alphabet; in astrology, you must memorize the glyphs of the planets and signs. If you have not mastered that, you won't make much progress when you look at a chart. Take time to become familiar with writing and recognizing these glyphs before going any further in this lesson. Make yourself a set of flash cards, carry them around in your pocket, and get those images firmly imprinted in your mind. In first grade, you probably had a composition book in which you wrote out the letters of the alphabet—line after line of repetitions. Do the same for the astrological glyphs. Refine your penmanship—even though we are in the computer age in which no one actually writes long-hand anymore. You'll gain a certain level of understanding of the meanings of the symbols by simply writing the glyphs repeatedly.
Once you learned to write the letters of alphabet, you began to associate them with their sounds and began to recognize words. In astrology, this corresponds to learning the individual significations of each planet, sign, and house. If you look at a planet in a particular sign and house and have no recollection of even one keyword for any one of the symbols, you cannot go any further in your studies. On the back of your flashcards, write out a few basic meanings for each planet, sign, and house. Go over them until those meanings come instantaneously to mind. As an educator, I am an advocate of a certain amount of rote learning and memorization. It is the quickest way to develop proficiency in some contexts.
Each of the three major components of the astrological language—signs, planets, and houses—has basic keywords associated with it. And each is located in a specific place in the astrological chart. These keywords combine to create astrological sentences that follow the conventions of grammatical structure. And these sentences, which express the significations of a planet in a sign and house, form meaningful statements when combined in the proper sequence.
The Structure of the Birth Chart
We will be using a sample chart of a man named Bill throughout the remainder of this book to illustrate the principles of interpretation set forth (see pages 22–23). An astrological birth chart, called a nativity by ancient astrologers, is a map of the positions of the planets as they surround a person at the exact time and place of birth. The person stands symbolically in the center of the circle. This astrological map is a representation of the three-dimensional celestial sphere that has been flattened to a two-dimensional plane, just as our geographical maps are flattened to depict a round Earth.
The horizontal line connecting the Ascendant and the Descendant is called the line of the horizon. It represents the place where the sky meets Earth at the moment of birth. The planets that are above the horizon are the planets that are visible in the sky when a person is born; the planets beneath the horizon are those that were on the other side of the Earth, and therefore not visible at the time of birth.
The first component of astrological interpretation is the zodiacal sign. There are twelve signs in the zodiac:
Most people are familiar with these signs as the various Sun signs, based upon the date and month of birth. However, each person is more than just his or her Sun sign. If you look at the outer wheel of the sample chart, you can see the symbols for each of the other signs as well. Everyone has all twelve signs somewhere in their chart.
From the perspective of modern astrology, the twelve signs represent the twelve universal psychological needs:
[??] Aries—the need to be independent and develop self-awareness
[??] Taurus—the need to be resourceful and get productive results
[??] Gemini—the need to communicate and make mental contact with others
[??] Cancer—the need to give and receive emotional warmth and security
[??] Leo—the need for creative expression and appreciation by others
[??] Virgo—the need to analyze, discriminate, and function efficiently
[??] Libra—the need to relate to others and create harmony and balance
[??] Scorpio—the need for deep involvements and intense transformations
[??] Sagittarius—the need to explore and expand mental and actual horizons
[??] Capricorn—the need for structure, organization, and discipline
[??]Aquarius—the need to innovate, be original, and create social change
[??] Pisces—the need to commit to a dream or ideal
Look at the sample chart, and you will see that all twelve signs are depicted around the outer wheel. Since everyone has all twelve signs somewhere in their chart, everyone also has all twelve of the needs somewhere in their lives.
The Wheel of Houses
There are twelve houses, just as there are twelve signs. They are named by their position (first house, second house, etc.) and are always in the same location in every chart. The houses represent twelve divisions or sectors of the zodiacal wheel, and they are usually, but not always, numbered in sequence.
If you stand in the northern hemisphere and look south, east is on your left. Stop reading for a moment and orient yourself in this manner. Now look at the sample natal chart and see it as a clock face. The first house is at nine o'clock. The Ascendant degree represents the place of sunrise on the eastern horizon. The sign that was coming up over the eastern horizon at the time of birth is called the rising sign of the chart and the exact degree of that sign is called the Ascendant, often abbreviated as Asc. or As. The Ascendant is determined by the exact time of birth, and is one of the most sensitive and important points in the chart. No matter what your Sun sign is, you can have any of the twelve signs as your rising sign because of the Earth's twenty-four-hour rotation on its axis. Approximately every two hours, a new sign rises over the horizon.
In the sample chart, the sign Sagittarius is the sign rising over the eastern horizon at the birth moment and it corresponds to the first house. The Ascendant (As.) is located at 16 degrees Sagittarius 24 minutes.
The Sun rises in the east and ascends toward the south. If you look at the upper portion of the sample chart you will see the symbol "MC." This represents the Midheaven, the Sun's highest elevation in the sky around noon, depending on the latitude and the season. Then the Sun begins to descend and, when it reaches the western horizon, it sets. This point in the chart is marked by the Descendant, often abbreviated as Desc. The Descendant is not always depicted on the chart, depending upon the chart software used. Finally, the Sun sinks below the horizon and, around midnight, reaches what is called the IC (Imum Coelii). These four points—the Ascendant, Midheaven, Descendant, and IC—are orientated to the four directions and referred to as the four angles. They represent places of great strength within the chart.
Bill has Sagittarius rising on the Ascendant, Libra culminating at the Midheaven, Gemini setting on the Descendant, and Aries at the IC. Most chart printouts will have symbols for the Ascendant and Midheaven, but not the Descendant, which is always the same degree in the sign opposite the Ascendant (As.), or the IC, which is always the same degree in the sign opposite the Midheaven (MC).
Find the symbol for Bill's Sun again. Do you see that the Sun in the twelfth house has already risen above the horizon? Now look at Bill's time of birth—8:30 a.m., around an hour or so after dawn in the fall season of November.
Try this again with your own chart. Do you see how the placement of the Sun corresponds to the time of day at which you were born?
The four quarters are subdivided to create the twelve houses of the chart. There are various ways to divide this space, from which are derived different house systems like those of Placidus, Porphyry, Koch, and others. We will use the Whole Sign house system here. In the Whole Sign house system, the entirety of your rising sign, regardless of its degree, occupies the first house. Also note that, in the Whole Sign house system, the degrees of the MC and IC are not necessarily the beginnings of the tenth and fourth houses, as they are in quadrant house systems. We will discuss this more in the next chapter.
In Bill's chart, his rising sign is Sagittarius, so all of the degrees of Sagittarius occupy his whole first house. The sign that follows Sagittarius is Capricorn, and all of the degrees of Capricorn occupy his whole second house, all of the degrees of Aquarius occupy his third house, and so on.
The houses represent the various fields of life activities. As a whole, they represent all the different experiences that we encounter from birth to death. Each house has a number of different related significations, but the basic keywords for each house are as follows:
First house—body, appearance, character
Second house—personal money, possessions, livelihood
Third house—siblings, relatives, short-distance travel, communications
Fourth house—parents, home, land
Fifth house—children, romance and pleasurable pursuits, creative arts
Sixth house—health, injuries, job, daily routine and regimen, servants
Seventh house—marriage and business partnerships
Eighth house—death and benefits gained from death (inheritances), money received from others
Ninth house—long-distance travel, higher education, religion, belief system
Tenth house—profession, reputation, actions
Eleventh house—friends, associates, group affiliations
Twelfth house—sorrows, afflictions, enemies, karma, what is hidden, transcendence
Now you are ready to combine the meaning of a sign and a house. Remember, the signs represent the basic universal psychological needs and the houses represent the areas of life activities. A particular sign occupying a particular house points to the specific area of life activities in which a person experiences a particular need. We all have all twelve of the signs/needs somewhere in our lives, and this is where we are all similar. However, because of the time of day we were born—and therefore our rising sign and the sequence of signs in our houses—those needs come out in different areas of life activities for each of us. This is where we are all different.
Bill has Gemini occupying his seventh house. Gemini is the need to communicate, and the seventh house represents one-to-one relationships—especially the "significant other." Bill has the need to talk, discuss, share information, and make mental connections with his partners in order to feel fulfilled in the relationship.
Where do you have Gemini in your chart? What is the area of life in which you have a particular need to communicate?
The third factor in the astrological language is the planets. Look at the glyphs that appear within the various houses. These are the symbols of the planets, and each planet is notated with the exact degree and minute of the sign that it occupies. In the sample chart, the [??] Sun is depicted by a circle with the dot in the center. It is placed in the twelfth house, and located at 24 degrees of Scorpio 23 minutes— or [??] 24° 23?.
From the perspective of modern astrology, the planets represent the basic psychological functions or faculties common to all people. They can also be said to correspond to all the different parts of our personalities, each with its own persona and agenda telling us to do or be something different. In the same way that the Sun is the center of the solar system and all the planets revolve around it, the Sun in the chart is the center or heart of our being and ultimately each of the other planetary functions must be integrated with it before we can make a decision or take an action.
The psychological functions of the planets are:
[??] Sun—basic identity, will, and conscious purpose
[??] Moon—emotions, feelings, habitual responses
[??] Mercury—capacity to think, speak, learn, and reason
[??] Venus—capacity to attract what is loved and valued
[??] Mars—capacity to act and be assertive based on desire
[??] Jupiter—search for meaning, truth, and ethical values
[??] Saturn—capacity to create order, form, and discipline
[??] Uranus—unique individuality and urge for liberation
[??] Neptune—capacity to transcend the finite self through union with a larger whole
[??] Pluto—capacity to transform and renew
In addition to the planets, there are many asteroids and other minor bodies that we will discuss later. The most frequently used of these minor planets are Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, and Chiron. Some of their symbols may appear in your chart printout.
In the modern psychological model, the planets represent various functions of the personality or various forces operating in the human psyche. Each part of the personality operates in a certain manner that is described by the sign in which it is placed, and it operates in a different field of activities that is designated by its house position. In a sense, the planet is the Who, the sign is the How, and the house is the Where.
If the Sun is the symbol of your identity and purpose, and it is in the sign of Aries, you will operate primarily in an independent manner; if it is in Taurus, in a resourceful manner; in Gemini, in a communicative manner. If that Aries Sun is in your second house, you will be geared toward achieving financial independence; if it is located in your seventh house, you will seek independence in relationships; if it is located in your tenth house, you will seek independence in your profession. The simple sentence that expresses the Sun in Aries in the second house might read: Your basic purpose is to develop independence in generating the resources you need to secure your livelihood.
You must take the interpretation of a planet one step further by integrating the meaning of the house that it rules. Thus, in our example, you must also look to the house that the Sun rules, which will be the house that is occupied by Leo. (In chapter 2, we will discuss planetary rulership of signs.) If Leo occupies your ninth house (higher education), it will be through your educational endeavors that your financial independence is realized. Or if Leo occupies your eleventh house, friends and group affiliations will play a central role in how you earn your money. In this example, with Aries in your second house, Leo occupies your sixth house, and the topic of health and daily regimen may be an important factor in your money-making activities.
Bill's Sun is in Scorpio in the twelfth house. Combining the meanings for Scorpio and the twelfth house with the Sun, we can say that part of Bill's basic Sun purpose is for intense involvements and deep transformations in his quest for transcendence or penetration of the mysteries of life. We can also posit that, through experiences of suffering, alienation, and loss, he will be brought to his higher purpose in life. Because Leo occupies the ninth house, his explorations in higher education and spirituality play a central role in the realization of his life purpose.
Excerpted from Astrology and the Authentic Self by Demetra George. Copyright © 2008 Demetra George. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
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Prologue: Essence of Heartdrops
Introduction: A Blueprint for the Essential Meaning of the Chart
Part I: Laying the Foundation
Chapter 1: The Grammar of Astrology
Chapter 2: Determining Planetary Condition
Part II: Establishing the Framework
Chapter 3: An Overview of the Chart
Chapter 4: The Ascendant, Its Ruler, and the Life Direction
Chapter 5: The Sun, the Moon, and the Life Purpose
Chapter 6: Timing by Transits and Progressions
Part III: Building the Structure
Chapter 7: The Lunation Phases
Chapter 8: Fortune, Lunar Nodes, and Eclipses
Chapter 9: Mythic Asteroid Archetypes
Chapter 10: Aspect Patterns
Chapter 11: Analyzing Relationship and Vocation
Chapter 12: Timing by Solar Returns and Annual Profections
Chapter 13: The Finished Structure
Part IV: The Person Who Lives in the Chart
Chapter 14: Encountering Your Clients
Chapter 15: The Healing Power of Myth to Address Suffering
Epilogue: The Astrologer as Counselor
Appendix A: How to Determine Your Natal and Progressed Lunation Phases
Appendix B: Resources for the Study of Asteroids