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Here, Donna teaches the reader to zero in on the most important features of the chart and transits and to synthesize the apparent contradictions. The book offers fresh and often pungent insights into planetary types, missing or weak features, and other facets of the horoscope that shape our character and actions. Donna pays particular attention to the role of aspects, which she believes are the key to understanding not only the birth chart, but also transits and chart comparison.
Looking a Chart in the Face
After studying astrology for a while—ten months for some, ten years for others—you decide it's time to stop reading books and start reading charts. You pick one up and wonder how to proceed. You recall dozens of rules and techniques, some of which contradict each other. You stare at the chart. Confronted by a dizzying array of symbols, you try to figure out what's important. Over time, astrological sophisticates develop their own systems for reading horoscopes. This chapter, and the rest of this book, presents mine. This is not the only method for reading charts. You may not choose to use it. But this is the way I analyze charts in my practice. It identifies the most significant features in very short order.
First, Check the Birth Time
Begin by speculating on the accuracy of the data. Times that have been rounded off, like 7:00 or 7:30, are suspect. Times on the quarter-hour are likely to be closer to the truth, and a time like 7:06 may be exact. Be especially cautious when the Ascendant is in the last few degrees of one sign or the first few degrees of the next, since a slight difference in birth time can change the rising sign. In borderline cases, ask for the Sun sign of both parents, as one of them may be the correct Ascendant.
Ask where the person got the data. If it's from Mom's memory, she's 80, and she had seven kids, the data may be faulty unless memorable circumstances accompanied the birth. A birth announcement or baby book may be given some credence. If the time was noted on the birth certificate, it is at least as close as the delivery-room staff could make it.
However, when difficult planets like Saturn, Pluto, or Neptune fall near the Ascendant, inquire if any unusual circumstances accompanied the delivery. Often, there is quite a saga. If this was a chaotic (Neptune) or a particularly difficult birth (Saturn or Pluto), the data could well be in question. Especially in life-threatening circumstances, delivery-room staff pay attention to the baby and the mother, not the clock on the wall. Typically, when both stabilize and cleanup begins, someone will ask when the baby was born. The person in charge looks at the clock and makes a guess, and that guess is recorded for posterity.
Take the birthplace and year into account as well. Until 1967, observance of Daylight Savings Time was notoriously changeable from town to town and even year to year, especially in the Midwest. The best reference, at this writing, for checking this is The American Atlas, but even that is amended as new information comes to light.
In some areas—and some eras—state law has mandated that Standard Time be recorded on the certificate, rather than Daylight Savings Time. Illinois was such a state until 1959, as was Pennsylvania between 1921 and 1970. Where this rule was in effect, the birth certificate of someone born on May 25th at 9:00 P.M. EDT would read 8:00 P.M. Not all hospitals paid attention to the law—and not all delivery-room staff remembered it all the time. As a result, even the time on a birth certificate may not be recorded correctly.
For Pennsylvania and Illinois natives, you should definitely ask for the source of the time. A baby book or birth announcement notation may be based on clock time, and thus might be Daylight Savings Time. A parent's memory of the birth time may be from the clock (and thus Daylight Savings Time) or may be from a later glance at the birth certificate (and thus possibly Standard Time). For DST births, ask for a few key past events to double-check the Midheaven through transits or progressions. Despite precautions, errors may creep in, but at least you'll be forewarned.
That's bad enough, given that there are 186 timetables for Pennsylvania alone in The American Atlas. At least, for six months of the year, we don't have to worry about Daylight Savings Time—except for those born during World Wars I and II and the oil crisis of 1974–5, that is. However, just when I thought it was safe to fire up the software, I discovered that, if Pennsylvanians find a town name they like, they tend to use it more than once.
I surveyed one two-page spread—two of 26 pages of towns in Pennsylvania. Among the many redundancies were two Bethlehems, two Bryn Mawrs, three Bloomingdales, five Brooksides, and seven Bridgeports. (There may also be North and East Bridgeport and Old Bridgeport—they wouldn't be listed on that page.) You also have to watch for spelling variations—there were two Bridgetons and one Bridgetown.
These towns are often far enough apart to produce several degrees difference in Ascendants and Midheavens. Between the two Bethlehems, there are three degrees difference on the Midheaven and four on the Ascendant. That is enough to throw predictions off seriously or change a rising sign. To avoid error, ask the county of birth or the name of the nearest goodsized city. (Pennsylvania isn't the only problem area—there are three Brooklyns in New York state. Two are in the boonies a considerable distance from New York City, but the one where so many bright, funny, famous, and infamous folks were born is 73W56; 40N38.)
A Visual Survey of the Chart
Astrology is primarily a visual medium. Out of the five or six usual senses, we each have one or two that we prefer. Some of us are visually inclined, some are tactile, and some learn best by hearing. If you're not particularly visual, you can train yourself to see more acutely. You could accentuate color in drawing up a wheel, as some astrologers do. They may use red ink for planets in fire signs, green for earth, blue for water, and perhaps orange for air. Another visual aid is the European system of drawing houses their exact size rather than the illusory equal size (the pie chart) of most printed charts.
Whatever devices you adopt, keep the wheel uncluttered. As discussed in the introduction, I focus on the basic, no-frills chart—the ten original planets and outer-planet transits. In actual practice, I start with a one-ring chart with just the natal placements. After analyzing them and drawing in the aspects by hand, I use a bright color to plot in house positions of the transiting outer planets and Jupiter. When a transiting planet shifts houses within the year, I draw a double-headed arrow showing before and after house positions.
One advantage of eliminating clutter is that important features stand out more starkly. Charts 1 and 2 give two renditions of the horoscope of astrologer/seeress Jeane Dixon to illustrate this. Chart 1 confines itself to bare bones (see page 6). The inner ring is her natal wheel and the ten traditional planets. The outer ring shows outer-planet transits at the time of her death on January 26, 1997. Chart 2 displays five asteroids, with transits in ring two, and solar-arc progressions in ring three (see page 7). Do you tense up just looking at the three-ringed version? If so, work with chart 1 until you are fluent enough not to get thrown by detail. Without getting into the meaning of anything on the page, determine what stands out visually. Which houses or sectors are emphasized, and which are empty? Where do planets clump together? Are there planets that leap out at you in any way—for instance, by being alone on one side of the chart while everything else is on the other side? Make a note of your observations, for these "standout" factors are likely to be important.
Start by ignoring the outer ring. Survey the inner ring and note that the planets are widely scattered, with only two empty houses. This is somewhat unusual—many people have four or five empty houses. Jot this down, as we'll look at houses later. You may also remark that several planets cluster near the Midheaven—not surprising for someone in the public eye. Let's explore what these observations mean.
Planets on the Angles
Use a broad-tipped marker to highlight planets up to 10 degrees on either side of the four angles—the Ascendant, Midheaven, Descendent, or IC (4th-house cusp). This includes planets in the 3rd, 6th, 9th, or 12th houses, as long as they are within 10 degrees of an angle. These crucial areas are the Gauquelin sectors, named for Françoise and Michel Gauquelin, the French psychologists who discovered them.
The Gauquelins made an invaluable contribution to our field by researching over 60,000 timed birth charts. In their meticulously designed studies, they consistently found that planets in those sectors affect public perception of the individual, to the extent that they are signatures. Their statistics showed that the strongest of the four regions are: within ten degrees of the Midheaven, but in the 9th house; and within 10 degrees of the Ascendant, but in the 12th house. The closer the planet is to the angle, the stronger its effect. The system, of course, depends on an accurate birth time.
We can only touch on their work, but you should read about it for a more complete picture—or to sway that skeptic in your life. I have used this method for over 25 years and find the highlighted planets consistently emphasized in client's lives. For instance, if Venus is highlighted, the person tends to be noticeably Venusian (e.g., concerned with relationships, appearances, and keeping the peace).
In Jeane Dixon's inner wheel, you will find six planets highlighted, an unusual number that probably increased her public visibility. Three of these are within 10 degrees of the Midheaven—Mercury and Saturn in the 9th house, and Mars in the 10th. Pluto is in the 1st house, 10 degrees from her Ascendant, Venus is in the 6th house, 9 degrees from the Descendant, and the Moon is in the 4th house, 9 degrees from the IC. Chapter four discusses the significance of each angular planet.
Another proof of the importance of angular placements is their effect in relocation charts and Astro*Carto*Graphy® maps. Part of the impact of a major geographic move is due to the shifting of new planets onto angles. That's why some folks thrive on Phoenix and hate Boston, or vice versa. Or why a recluse born with Pluto on the Ascendant can, at least partially, emerge from her cocoon by moving 3000 miles from her birthplace. The accuracy of this technique depends on a precise birth time, but the shifting of planets to new angles has the same result as moving Gauquelin sectors. Planets on relocated angles operate as keynotes in that region.
Situations that arise in various locations can even be used to double check the birth time's accuracy. Despite his respect for astrology—or possibly because of it—U.S. President Ronald Reagan's birth time has remained a mystery. Astrologers have enthusiastically espoused as many as twelve different Ascendants. Jim Lewis, who created Astro*Carto*Graphy®, put forth an interesting argument for Pisces. He pointed out that with Pisces Rising natally, Reagan's relocation to Washington, DC, put Mars in Capricorn near the Midheaven, the career and status angle. Capricorn is the sign of executives. Mars represents leadership, but is also connected with war, weapons (recall the Stealth Bomber), and, especially, guns (remember his near-assassination in Washington and the gun-control bill.)
The House-Cusp Controversy Revisited—Again
For at least twenty years, astrologers have disagreed about house divisions, often vociferously. The more scientifically-minded tend to espouse the Koch system, while diehards like myself stick with the traditional Placidus system. The knotty problem lies with the intermediate cusps, which may be in different signs in one or the other system. Moreover, some planets may change houses, depending on which system you use. Many people pick the system that puts their own planets in the best light. If their Venus falls in the self-defeating 12th in one system and the friendly 11th in another, they'll swear by the one that puts Venus in the 11th.
No one seems to disagree about the cusps of the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th houses. They are clearly demarcated and identical in all but the equal house system, which buries the true Midheaven and IC. They correspond with the four angles that showed up so sharply in the Gauquelin studies. A planet sitting on one of them carries extra power. They also correspond to four major reference points in space—the two horizons, the Zenith, and the Nadir. Unlike other house cusps, they are given their own names—the Ascendant, IC, Descendant, and Midheaven. These four points in space are nearly as active as a planet. If the birth time is exact, when a transiting or progressed planet forms an aspect to one of them, an event will usually occur. A progressed angle making an aspect to a natal position may also coincide with an event.
For all the above reasons, these four cusps are real. I am not entirely convinced of the reality of the remaining cusps. There is no such clear demarcation of the intermediate house cusps—2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th. Their degree, and even their sign, may vary with the house system. A planet that sits on one of these cusps does not gain in power. Events only occasionally occur when a planet crosses them by transit or progression. When they do, there is usually a natal planet in that numerical range that accounts for it (e.g., the house cusp is at 8 Libra, but there are planets at 8 Cancer and 8 Leo). Unlike the progressed angles, when a progressed intermediate house cusp forms an angle to a natal planet, it may not correspond to events.
If the intermediate cusps were real divisions rather than artificial ones, there wouldn't be such controversy about them. The truth would be self-evident. Instead of crisp dividing lines, there may be gray areas shading gradually from one house into another. I hold as suspect any planet within 5 degrees of an intermediate cusp.
I then question the person to determine which house seems to be the focus of that planet's energy. What these interviews clarify, more often than not, is that the planet on the cusp affects, and is affected by, the matters of both houses. Moreover, it appears to draw the two together. For instance, Venus on the 11th-12th cusp often shows up as a tendency to have secret, unrequited crushes on friends or even—until the person learns better—to engage in unhappy, illicit affairs within their circle of friends.
Full House, Empty House
When you scan a chart, some houses may appear empty, while others are relatively full. Here, I pay attention only to the basic ten planets, not to nodes, asteroids, or parts, because those basic planets represent major focuses and expenditures of energy. Given twelve houses and only ten planets, at least two houses will be vacant. However, when several planets clump together in a single house—as often happens with the Sun, Mercury, and Venus—even more houses will be unoccupied.
This is as it should be. We can only scatter our energies in so many directions before we become as fragmented as the asteroid belt. The person whose planets are deployed in many different houses tends to have many interests and to try to juggle many responsibilities and connections. Whether they are successful at it, or whether they become ineffectual dilettantes, depends on other factors in the chart. We can't know that from just looking at the house pattern. Jeane Dixon's natal planets are dispersed into nine different houses, and yet she did accomplish many things.
Full houses depict highly significant areas of life, not unlike putting lots of eggs in a single basket. The area in which we expend our energy is where we tend to get results. A full house is therefore, an area in which meaningful people, situations, and events are clustered. If you have several good planets in the 11th house, but nothing in the 4th, friends will be major supports and may outweigh family in importance in adulthood. Likewise, club officers often have significant 11th-house placements.
The matters governed by a house with a stellium, or containing the Sun and one or two other planets, can even be a career indicator. For instance, a friend with a stellium in the 3rd house started a very successful answering service. A travel agent had several planets in the 9th house. Many academics or spiritual teachers also have a 9th-house emphasis. The 8th house, when strong, can show mediumistic tendencies, and may also be an indicator of the potential for wealth. Jeane Dixon's Sun is in the 8th house.
Empty houses or sectors indicate that major planetary energy isn't being deployed toward matters of that house, but instead is focused elsewhere. Therefore, matters of that house are apt to take a back seat to matters of houses where planets are massed. A woman with no planets in the 4th or 5th house, but with the Moon in the 10th, is likely to be more fulfilled as a career woman than as a traditional homemaker.
Just don't conclude that an empty house means nothing will ever happen in the areas of life that house governs. One of Jeane Dixon's empty houses is the 3rd, signifying communication, and yet her columns and books have been the foundation of her success. In this case, Mercury and Gemini, both related to the 3rd house, more than compensate for the empty house, because she has Gemini rising and Mercury conjunct the Midheaven.
Many novices become upset if their 7th house is vacant, thinking it means they will never marry. Consider, however, what else in the chart may compensate. How strong is Venus? Are there major placements in Libra, especially the Sun, Moon, or Ascendant? Librans tend to marry, whether their choices are sound or not. Where is the ruler of the 7th house? If the ruler of the 7th is in the 4th, and the 4th is strongly tenanted, then forming a family and maintaining a homelife is a stronger drive than marriage itself. The marriage may be a means to that end.
Excerpted from How to Read Your ASTROLOGICAL CHART by Donna Cunningham. Copyright © 1999 Donna Cunningham. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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List of Charts
List of Tables
CHAPTER ONE Looking a Chart in the Face
CHAPTER TWO The Sun, Moon, and Ascendant—Working Partners or Family
CHAPTER THREE Plugging in the Individual Planets
CHAPTER FOUR What Planet Are You From?
CHAPTER FIVE A Guided Tour of the Hard Aspects
CHAPTER SIX Soft Aspects—When the Living is Easy
CHAPTER SEVEN Piecing Together the Major Configurations
CHAPTER EIGHT Understanding Transits—Another Way to Use Aspects
CHAPTER NINE An Overview of Transits—Seeing the Whole Picture
CHAPTER TEN How Aspect Analysis Illuminates Chart Comparison
About the Author