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All about astrological charts


About astrological charts

An astrological chart is a cut made into time, a frozen still-shot of a particular moment. It is a way of getting an exact and close look at the nature of the time at any moment, and the way in which this energy will manifest in real-life issues at the place for which this chart is calculated. Here we are going to look briefly at charts – without looking at how to calculate or draw them. This web-page is an adaptation of a chapter from the book Living in Time, published in 1987.

What an astrological chart shows

A chart is a map showing how the Earth and heavens stood in relation to each other at the time for which the chart is calculated. It shows the twelve signs of the zodiac and the exact positions of the planets, wherever they stand in the zodiac at the time in question. It shows the aspects or angles between the planets and also the orientation of zodiac and planets to the Earth at the moment in question.

A chart is calculated reckoning in the position of a person or observer on the surface of planet Earth – for at any one moment in time, a person in Idaho will be experiencing day while a person in Kiev will be experiencing night, and while the planetary positions and aspects will be the same for both people, the orientation to it all of their own places on Earth will be different.

Thus, in the calculation of a chart, we work from the basic data of the exact place on the Earth's surface – expressed in terms of Earth longitude (east-west) and latitude (north-south) – and the (preferably) exact time and date of the moment in question.

For human births, this moment is that of the taking of the first breath, the first independent act an incarnating being makes on its own behalf.

For the beginnings of ventures, activities or events, we take the moment when the event in question definitely took shape or was acknowledged outwardly to have begun: for example, a meeting starts when silence is called for the meeting truly to begin, or a house-occupation starts when the occupants enter the door with the intention of staying there from that day on; an event starts when the first definite sign of its 'eventness' is acknowledged to have taken place; for a journey we use the time when we leave from the front door or make our first step.

The buying of a house, the decision to do something or the purchase of the ticket for the journey is a preparation for 'birth', not birth itself, and is equivalent to conception of a child or to various stages of pregnancy.

The chart here shows what was happening astrologically at the time of the author's birth: the time I chose to come in on. The wheel on which it is drawn is marked off in one-degree segments and signs, and the signs and planets are drawn in.

The horizontal line across the chart represents the visible horizon, drawn as if we were standing at the place of birth, looking due south: above this line is the visible sky, and below the line is the area of the heavens obscured by the Earth (which we stand on).

The other line crossing the chart is the meridian, which is a line going from due south, directly upwards until it hits the ecliptic and directly downwards through the centre of the Earth (as seen from where we are standing).

The way this chart is drawn, however, this verticality doesn't show: an astrological chart does not set out to be astronomically accurate, but rather to be astrologically useful. Its data, however, is astronomically accurate.

In this example chart, all of the planets except for one are above the horizon – although Moon is crossing the horizon, setting at the time of birth. The planet below the horizon, Jupiter, is called a 'singleton', and in this case it plays a key role in the overall array of the planets, in that it forms the 'handle' to a 'bucket' shape chart – in other words, the whole array can be grasped by grasping the singleton.

Notice also that the position of the Sun in a chart shows the time of day: in this case, Sun had moved past the midheaven, and was moving towards setting, though still high in the sky in the mid-afternoon (I was born at 2.45pm GMT).

In this and any chart, we therefore show four main factors:

  • the planets and their positions,

  • the zodiac and its orientation,

  • the aspects between the planets (the lines in the middle part of the chart), and

  • the twelve houses (comprising the four main angles, and then the cusps or dividing lines between the houses.

The Houses

When looking at time and change, in the way that we have done in this book, we could well include looking at the houses, but tend not to because they change so fast: only when focusing on a particular time, and doing a chart for it, do the houses really become important. The four angles and the houses show Earth's orientation to the heavens. The Earth rotates on its axis once a day, meaning that, on average, the sign on the ascendant changes once every two hours (it varies between 1 and 3 hours).

The angles and houses, in an astrological chart, show a different level of reality to the planets, signs and aspects. The latter show the nature of the energy available at the time, and the way it affects the psyche. The houses show the way in which this energy manifests itself in concrete, earthly life-situations, and the way in which life-situations can feed back to the psyche and prompt it to go through internal processes.

Below is a brief look at the houses, to give you a help in identifying them at work: when you get along to doing transits, it is well worth looking at planetary transits through the houses in your birth chart.

* Ascendant and House I: personal direction and intentions, ways of externalising one's nature, presentation of persona or our outer face, personal priorities and what's in our own interest;
* II: personal resources and custodianship-ownership of them, skills, business on our own account, our own ground, our attachments and relations with the land or anything we would possess;
* III: our local environment and community, sources of support, neighbours, kith and kin, soul-siblings, grasp of how things tick, communication, intelligent relations with our local world;
* Nadir and IV: where we are coming from, sources of security, fundamental feelings of okayness/agitation in ourselves, home or territory, knowns, private world, experience of mother archetype, being-in-ourselves, defined in our own way of being or by habit;
* V: self-expression, creation, procreation, coming out of ourselves, games, stances, gambles, projection of self, love affairs;
* VI: our work, ways of facing up to things, adjustment to what is wanted/demanded, self-correction, illness and healing, making a contribution, serving, helping, learning how to do things, technique, listening.
* Descendant and VII: one-to-one relationship, finding the balance between self and other, partnership, what others make us aware of in ourselves (our shadow), agreements, other-awareness, them;
* VIII: the plunge, making relationships do something, engagement, shared resources, social capital, business, taking risks, commitment, engagement, hidden truths and underlying realities, doing it;
* IX: the world at large, our understanding of things, law and custom, overall philosophy of life, higher education, gathered experience, social self-extension, social worth.
* Midheaven and X: obligations and duties, social role and standing, acknowledgement from others, own role in the social contract, taking responsibility, being seen, fitting in, the father archetype, rules, authorities, maturity;
* XI: the crowd, involvement in the collective, we-awareness, social trust and concern, belonging, groups and movements, tribe;
* XII: completions, social accountability, restrictions which must be accepted, hidden agendas, deeper meanings, inner truths, the universal, collective pressures, service, self-sacrifice, seeking after a new self.

The presence of planets in any house shows an emphasis on the issues of that house and the area of life that the planets and the psyche express themselves through, and through which areas we learn. The sign on the opening cusp (boundary) of a house shows the manner in which we approach and tend to deal with the issues of that house. Widely extended houses show areas of life which require greater attention than narrower houses. Intercepted signs, which sit within an extended house without crossing a house cusp, show areas which require special attention, because they have within them inherent contradictions to do with the contrast between the sign on the opening cusp, and the intercepted sign.

Types of astrological charts

Birth charts

The most common use of astrological charts is the chart we can calculate for the moment of a person's birth. Through this we can identify the potentials which that person has for picking up certain specific kinds of programming or conditioning, and the potentials he or she has for realising their true nature by freeing them up.

Actually, a chart shows a totally neutral assessment of a person's nature, as if they were enlightened and already working their energy openly and without limitations: but since most of us are working at partial capacity, charts have become most used, in the modem psychological world we live in, as a way of diagnosing difficulties, and of pointing to ways by which these can be resolved.

The work of an astrological counsellor is to relate a person's perceived problems to the technicalities in the birth chart, and to catalyse a perspective-change, such that, hopefully, the client goes away feeling as if those problems either are surmountable or aren't there at all, or that they were misidentified.

Event charts

One way of studying the nature of time and the way it manifests is to look into event charts. Any event which interests you can be used: all you need is the time, date and place when it started happening or first came to general attention. Thus, if you are driving along and, suddenly, a car crash takes place in front of you, you can do a chart for that moment, to see what was going on. Or if something major takes place in the news, try to find the time it took place, and do a chart for it (taking into account the place where it happened).

Or if an event is planned for the future, you can do a chart to see what likely energy is available. Or if you are looking at the past, you can do charts for events, and then trace what happened afterwards (for example, by looking at transits). The possibilities are endless.

With event charts it is also possible to take the birth charts of major figures involved in the events (if possible), and to compare these with the event chart to see how decisive individuals were being personally affected by the time and the event, either as causative or recipient agents: thus, it can be possible to look at the charts of the people in that car crash, or at the charts of the leaders of two countries who are engaging in war or conciliation.

It is possible also to take the exact time of, say, a fullmoon, and to calculate a chart for that, in order to get a closer look at the meaning of the time, or the possible outcomes which may arise, short- or long-term, from what you were experiencing at that fullmoon.

You can run off a chart for anything you are interested in, and build up a collection of charts as part of a research project. It doesn't matter how much you know about astrology: some people learn astrology by doing it this way! For example, if you are interested in, say, the astrology of gardening, you can plant your seeds at the times you feel best, then work out charts for these different times, then watch the plants growing, and retrospectively re-examine the charts: you might well find that common factors run through them or that the most successful plants were planted when Moon was in certain signs, of when certain aspects were happening. Only by experimenting, playing with astrology, can we really find inroads into a living understanding of it.

Horary and electional charts

These subjects can fill a book in themselves. A mention will suffice here, to point out another use of charts. It is possible to use charts oracularly - these are called horary charts. Which means that you can do a chart for the exact time a question pops up to be answered, or for the time a person comes to you with a question. Horary astrology is a complex field with specific rules, resting on the notion that the arising or the asking of a question is itself a significant event which plays a part in the unfoldment of the situation which the querent is interested in. If this interests you, then you should follow it up.

Electional astrology involves casting charts for different possible times on which to do important things, and using one's skills to assess which the best time is for achieving one's objectives – our criteria are important here. Thus, when planning dates for the camps, conferences and events I used to run, I did a juggling act between my ephemeris and the calendar, seeking to find dates which fitted best in terms both of astrological time and in terms of weekends, public holidays and other social factors: it was a very interesting experience, with some great successes and some questionable outcomes from which I've learned!

Void of Course Moon

One interesting astrological feature here, of immediate applicability to anyone interested in the astrology of time, is the Void of Course Moon. The moon is void between the time it forms its last major aspect (conjunction, sextile, square, trine or opposition) to any other planet, and the time of its ingress into the next sign. This can be minutes or hours or occasionally more than one day: if any planets are situated late in a sign at the moment in question, the void period will be shorter, and if planets are located earlier in the signs the void period will be longer.

Traditionally, it is said that one should not strive to begin things or make major decisions while the Moon is void. If a question comes up when Moon is void, the question will turn out to be fruitless or empty – even if, at the time, it looks perfectly sound. It certainly is the case that things can go adrift during a void Moon, or they can sag, become becalmed or go into a lurch.

However, there is another side to it too: that is, the hidden twists of life and the Great Unknown enter a situation during void moons, revealing new opportunities. Voids are well worth noting and observing – they do work and affect things. In general, it is inauspicious and often difficult to start off any new venture, big or small, when Moon is void: there is little or no energy to support it, or complexities arise, and it can be well worth waiting until Moon has entered a new sign before starting out. Often it is the case that it becomes evident that the venture was in some way not worth carrying out, or it needed approaching in a different way.


In this book we have been looking at time in general, from a transpersonal viewpoint. We have been looking into the possibilities available for gaining direct experience of what astrology talks about. Transits show the way you and I are personally affected by the movements of time.

Time is like a transpersonal subtle energy environment within which we live. Yet we ourselves, as individuals, are a universe unto ourselves, interacting with this environment. The subtle energy-environment actually comes inside us, and moves through us. But each of us is equipped with human energy-processing circuitry and machinery which uses this energy in different ways, making of it what we do, while we can.

This means that there can be a hundred people celebrating a fullmoon together, yet that fullmoon energy (and the overall energy-web which it is temporarily focusing) is experienced differently by each person. One person might have the fullmoon activating their natal Sun square Chiron, while another might have it forming a transiting kite formation to a Venus trine Mars in their chart, while another will have it straddling the fifth/eleventh houses, while another might have little that is really significant happening for them personally on that fullmoon.

The first will experience this as a challenging fullmoon, bringing up core-questions and personal dilemmas-to-breakthroughs, the second might experience an outbreak of need for intimacy, loving or giving, the third might experience a clash between their own personal interests and those of the other ninety-nine people in the group, and the fourth might be happily watching all this and thinking that they're missing out on something! Either way, it's the same fullmoon, powerful for all – although exceptionally powerful for some – and each person is processing the available energy, consciously or unconsciously, in their own way.

The idea behind transits is this. When we are born, taking breath into our lungs for the first time and making our first noises, we are starting on a journey on our own – joining other people following theirs. Apart from dying, birth is the most significant and momentous act of our lives, in which every ounce of our powers is engaged and no holds are barred: it's life-and-death.

Enlightenments and fundamental rebirth experiences can make us feel like a new person, but we are still essentially the same person, occupying the same body: the difference is that we have opened up our channels to become more ourself, and we feel born anew. It can be relevant to calculate a chart for this moment too – if an exact time can be found! – but such a rebirthing does not replace our birth as the most important moment we ever experienced in this life.

Birth is so timeless, so total, and we are so vulnerable. What's going on at this moment is vital: it has more power to affect us than any other single set of experiences in life. We choose to get born at a particular time, and this time is accurately described by a birth chart. It is a slice out of time, frozen like an action-replay, for closer examination. Yet the planets keep moving on! Each at their own speed, they move on through the zodiac, and then they form aspects (angles) to the places where they were at the moment of our birth. These aspects are called transits.

Transits then become a way of understanding how our own personal lives are unfolding, and how time-energy is personally affecting us, offering us possibilities and options as we move through life. They can mark personal crises, leaps forward, times for carrying on, times of transition, times of normality, heady and hearty times, big times and little times.

By observing transits and consciously opening ourselves to the fullness of what we are experiencing, we can learn a lot. Observing the planets in motion gives insights into the nature of time, and observing these motions in relation to our charts gives insights into the way that we ourselves are working with time, in our own microcosmic selves.

If you find that you have transiting Neptune trine natal Jupiter, it doesn't matter whether you know what that's going to do or not. Simply rest assured that it is going to offer you options, and that it is going to energise you in some way. Watch. Watch the months leading up to the transit, the time of its exaction, and the time following it. In your moments of clarity, step outside the process and look at it: for that is what transiting Neptune trine natal Jupiter is doing for you, and your responses to that situation are what you are doing with it. It can certainly be helpful looking at the odd book, or consulting someone else to help you get a fix on what you're looking at, but remember to use your own life as the laboratory and the experiment: don't replace your living experience with the opinions or prognostications a book or expert might offer.

Getting an astrological chart

Up to the late 1980s it was necessary to calculate charts manually, and teaching people how to do this was quite a procedure. Nowadays we just run it up on a computer, using an astrological program, or it is also possible to go to certain astrological websites, enter your details and obtain a chart from there. To work with transits, it is necessary to have your own chart, but there are ways and means of getting one without too much trouble.

Whether or not you calculate your chart yourself, it is well worth drawing it out manually, since the action of drawing out each detail draws your attention to it, and helps you get insights into the whole chart while you are doing it. Drawing a chart in your own style increases its power.

Once you know how to work with charts, infinite avenues open up before you. It is good to have a special folder or file in which to collect charts of people you are involved with or who catch your interest. You can use them as 'subjects' in your learning of astrology.

You will find that your perception of charts changes over time, as you come to understand new things about astrology and life, and sometimes a feature of a chart which you hadn't ever seen before pops out at you and reveals a whole new slant. For some reason, it took me 12 years to see that I had Jupiter opposing the midpoint between my Sun and Venus – partly because I had used narrow orbs on aspects, and thus discounted the wide Sun opposition Jupiter and Venus opposition Jupiter aspects present, and partly it was because I was not ready to see this until a certain time of my life! Major breakthroughs in your understanding of astrology always take place in connection with breakthroughs in your life.

Astrological charts are power-objects. Even if you do not understand your chart, the very possession of one can start you off on a journey of self-discovery, which is a process of great value in itself. Life is a process. Even though we fix ourselves to goals and aspirations which each appear to be the final answer to all our problems, the essence of life is really about process and journeying. Getting there, to the end of the road, is of lesser consequence than the travelling of that road, for goals change as we go along, and the nowness of our life is spent travelling, not arriving. For in arriving, we must set out again!

It is not important to seek fully to understand the meaning of a chart. Its meaning will change, deepen and extend as life goes on. A chart is an inroad into yourself, a horoscope by which to see. It has empowering qualities. It represents who we are in the cosmic design.

Bringing our own astrological charts into an examination of the nature of time and change shows how the universal process of unfoldment of astrological energy affects us as individuals. In other words, the astrological configurations we have been studying in this book – which apply to humanity as a whole – all play different games with our individual charts, highlighting peaks and troughs of energy of an individual nature. Having looked at the page that follows this one, concerning transits, you might be in a position to see the main drift of this book in a different light: how 'I' as an individual fit into the overall grand cosmic scheme of things. For we are on the edge of a vast collective realisation that we are one humanity, one being, and each of us as an individual plays a part in this wholeness.

NEXT: About Transits

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