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Raphael’s Guide to Chart Interpretation ~ Part One: Getting Started

Raphael’s Guide to Chart Interpretation ~ Part One: Getting Started

by James Lynn Page

I’m often asked by clients if learning astrology is easy and how long it takes. I tell them at least a couple of years, the real purpose of which is to provide meaningful support for the client, and to get them to understand how chart factors indicate what’s truly happening in their lives. As for those ‘chart factors’, where exactly should the astrologer start? Sometimes, there is simply nothing that presents itself readily to the eye. If you’re doing a ‘blind chart’ (for a client you haven’t met) this can be especially disconcerting; one doesn’t want to simply rattle off a load of keywords and phrases that, actually, may be irrelevant. Supposing you haven’t even met the client – what if the intuition just refuses to flow? What if you have astrologer’s block? Well, even before you look to see which signs and houses the planets fall in, you can do the following …


For starters, look at where, broadly, the planets fall – are they mostly above or below the horizon, the ascendant-descendant axis? A general rule of thumb goes: if they are mainly above the person is an extrovert. The planets are all – we might generalise – ‘out there’ in the social world; seventh (partners); eighth (emotional/sexual union with others); ninth (long journeys, universities etc) tenth (career/profession) the eleventh (peer groups/friends).

The only exception would seem to be the twelfth, a house of ‘inner’ concerns. Here, however, we’re looking at an area symbolising the Collective Unconscious and the archetypes which emerge from it – ones we seem ‘fated’ to deal with. Jung actually characterised the Unconscious as an ‘objective’ entity – which is to say it’s simply ‘there’, and not some mental construct we’ve fashioned. The Unconscious seems to have a life of its own; certainly we cannot control it. This should be clear every time we deal with dreams, persistent fantasies and emotional habits, ingrained prejudices and our unavoidable ‘dark side’ (what Jung termed the Shadow). In this sense, the twelfth house (and its contents) is an area beyond our reach. It is the ego that is mostly subjective, which neatly brings me to …

Below the horizon. If you have several planets here the person is an introvert: in the first house (ego, self-image), although planets like the sun, Mars and Jupiter provide a lot of vigour, this doesn’t necessarily mean a person is socially extroverted, merely that one is only concerned with the personal impact one has on others. These are qualities of the introvert. Obviously, houses two to six emphasise more introverted than extroverted matters: personal finance, the ‘lower mind’ and processing information, roots, home and heritage, creativity and work/duty.


Are the planets in tight clusters or evenly spread out around the chart? Are there several planets at either end of the chart, and – better still – do they form an axis? We’re in chart shape territory here, a subject covered by the American astrologer Marc Edmund Jones, and these three examples are the most obvious ones to look for. Their meanings should also be obvious: the person with tight groupings of planets (several conjunctions, perhaps) channels their energies into only a small number of interests, or (to put it in the vernacular) they put all of their eggs in one basket. This can have advantages or, just as easily, disadvantages – it depends on the person and their levels of intelligence and awareness (not something you can judge from the chart, by the way).

In the first case, it produces the specialist, one who strives to be excellent in one field; in the second, the stubborn person who can’t see the wood for the trees, or whose limited vision holds them back. Where you find the planets all splayed out you have the person who’s adaptable, with a variety of different interests. These people don’t try to specialise – they can be a Jack/Jill of all trades. Negatively, it can mean the person who fails to get it together, who can’t focus on priorities because there is just too much capturing their interest, and the attention span goes south.

With planets at either end of the chart, usually forming oppositions, you have the person who is often torn between certain views, values, emotions. On the positive side, they can see both sides of an argument and think carefully before speaking or acting. On the negative, they aren’t sure where they stand, or they’re confused about how they feel. Quite often, some person in their life (usually parents or a partner) embodies a certain viewpoint or archetype the individual with the opposition can’t come to terms with. The other person may represent a threat or difficulty of some kind. Such folks tend to believe in fate more than free will – life happens to them instead of it being a matter of volition and choice.


Look for the dominant element: Fire, Earth, Air or Water. This will show the main psychological function, the perspective from which a person approaches the world. This will be determined by the personal planets, and angles to the ascendant and MC, from the sun to Mars. How many are in Fire signs, Earth signs … etc.? This is how individuals get through life – it’s their default setting. Moreover, you’ll soon be able to tell whether they are essentially ‛intuitive’ (fire) or ‛sensation’ (earth) types, emotional ‘feeling’ types (water), or sociable (more emotionally distant) ‘thinking’ types (air).

For example, if you have a preponderance of personal planets in fire signs, your subject is an ‘intuitive’ type, energetic, spontaneous, impulsive and in love with his visions of the future. With lots of planets in earth signs your subject plans ahead, is wedded to ‘here and now’ practicalities, is reliable and full of common sense answers to life’s problems. And so on.


Look at which planets fall in the angular houses – especially if they are conjunct the ascendant, I.C., descendant or Midheaven. These energies will be dominant in the personality (1st), the inner and domestic life (4th), personal relationships (7th) and the overall ‘public image’ (10th). By ‛public image’ I mean the kind of person you ideally are in the eyes of the world, what you aspire to be in the larger environment, hence career and professional aims. These are some of the meanings for the tenth house, but their real root is the Father archetype – that which symbolises the ‘rules’ of society – hence it’s said to show our attitudes towards authority figures. It represent the final ‘goal’ of the individual (as conditioned by society at large) or how you want the world to see you which, in turn, derives from how you ideally like to see yourself.

Planets in the tenth (and the sign on the cusp or MC) say much about a person, even if they conflict with the rising sign. (The conflict is inherent in any case – the asc. and MC are 90 degrees apart around the chart, in square, and in theory, antagonistic to each other.) This is often the reason why a person’s public persona is very different from their ‘real self’ (the sun, moon or ascendant).


Look for the elemental types of first house planets, or those conjunct the ascendant. And so: the sun, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus are Fire. Saturn is Earth. Mercury is Air. The moon, Venus and Neptune are Water. Obviously this is oversimplified, and some planets are a mixture of elemental qualities: Venus would also have some air (as it’s a symbol of social needs); Jupiter has a watery aspect (as it supports something that is growing), Uranus has some air (it can be viewed as an aspect of the Universal Mind or Cosmic Will) and Pluto would have both Fire and Water (as moribund situations are first ‛burned away’ and then ‛cleansed’ in order for the new to appear).

Planets in the first house (especially if close to the ascendant) are the most dominant, however, and colour the person’s view of life, and their appearance (not only their physical type, but even their fashion sense) to a large degree. In some cases, people behave like the sign ruled by a first house planet. I have done many a chart where the moon is rising and that person – even with air signs – is strongly ‛watery’: they act like Cancerians, or are very close to their mothers/sisters etc. If you have a subject with sun in the first (no matter what sign it is) that person will act somewhat like a Leo: their presence fills the room; they certainly aren’t backward at coming forward.


Look for strong aspects (conjunctions, squares, trines and oppositions), in particular, those between personal planets (sun to Mars) and outer ones (Jupiter to Pluto), between the individual and the collective. This is crucial, as it suggests how a person is processing certain energies that may be difficult, and especially, what they will project on to the environment. By this, I mean energies that seem to originate with someone else out there. Saturn in aspect to a personal planet like the sun or Mars will often feel oppressive and heavy, like something else is to blame for your inability to succeed at life. Uranus may make everything feel insecure when all you really want is to settle down in a loving relationship. People with, say, moon or Venus opposed (or square) to Uranus may feel others are unreliable, offering little emotional reassurance. But what’s happening is that they’re projecting the Uranian part of this configuration on to others, and see it played out externally.


Look for the classic aspect patterns, in particular the T-Square, Grand Trine or Grand Cross. T-Squares tend to be something not easily resolved – you have an opposition whose two ends receive a square. The squaring planet is always calling out for attention and something intrudes from left field – it is time to wake up and do something about it! Grand Trines are easy and facilitate actions: others are on board with your ideas and decisions and you find like minded people to work with. With the Grand Cross there are two oppositions forming the cross, and whose ends form a series of squares. The effect is to pin down certain issues that probably cannot be changed – it’s as if everything follows a set pattern, and those patterns are challenging in some way. As if the obstacles are never quite overcome. The way to deal with such a configuration is always to look within to see how you have structured your Universe at its deepest level.

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