Welcome back to my intro to astrology series! Last time I went over the planets and today I will be diving into natal chart structure and a little bit about houses. This series is here for people who are clueless about astrology and would like to develop a working knowledge of it. So please, do not use my series to administer astrological consultations to other people, as this will not prepare you to be able to ethically do that. This is to empower you to understand your own chart and understand what astrologers are talking about when you consult them.
We are now ready to start exploring charts. The components of a natal chart depict what positions the planets occupy in the sky relative to the zodiac and then divide the zodiac into houses. Houses are where deep astrological analysis is able to take place. We know there are 12 zodiac signs, and these also make up 12 houses in a natal chart. This is the part of natal astrology where people’s heads tend to start spinning. There are all kinds of different chart styles and housing systems and it can be difficult to understand what is being represented in a chart. To really understand what we are seeing in a natal chart, we need to start with the sky.
Above is a screenshot I’ve taken in the free stargazing application, Stellarium. This application allows us to observe a simulation of the sky outside. I’ve chosen a random location near the equator so that the ecliptic cuts as straight across the sky as possible. Then, I zoomed out so you could see the entirety of the sky. In red you can see the compass directions. When you look to the eastern horizon, you are looking towards a point in the sky that is referred to as the ascendant or lagna (Sanskrit) in astrology. The ascendant specifically is the point where the eastern horizon meets the ecliptic, and thus the zodiac. This point shifts around depending on how close or far away you are from the Earth’s equator. The zodiac sign where the ascendant falls is commonly called the rising sign because it literally rises above the horizon and across the sky throughout the day, just like our Sun. Opposite this point is called the descendant, at the western horizon where the sun sets. Between them lies the midheaven, which sits opposite the imum coeli – through the ground to the opposite side of the earth where you are located. In terms of natal astrology, these four points represent the cardinal houses (1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th houses).
Before we get deeper into houses we need to briefly go over chart design and components. A chart shows us the position of the zodiac signs and which of the 12 houses they occupy. There are many styles for how to draw a natal chart. The Western tradition typically uses a circle, while the Vedic tradition uses a couple different shapes: the “diamond chart” (North Indian Style), and the “square chart” (South Indian Style). All three are pictured below:
While they look vastly different from each other, these chart styles are all able to accomplish the same thing: giving us a pictorial representation of the positions of the planets, zodiac, and houses across the sky. Your chart style preference is largely going to come down to whether you prefer the houses to be stationary (Western Chart Style and North Indian Style), or the zodiac to be stationary (South Indian Style). I prefer the former, so I tend to use the Western and North Indian styles in my practice. The movement of the zodiac in these two styles is consistent with the way it looks in the sky, which is part of why I like it.
Circling back to before, now that we know about the cardinal points and chart styles we can start understanding how a chart relates to the sky. In any chart style, the ascendant or the 1st house always represents the eastern horizon, while the descendant or 7th house always represents the western horizon. The midheaven or 10th house always represents the highest point up in the sky, while the imum coeli or 4th house always represents the lowest point beneath the ground from where you are located. Therefore, houses 7 through 12 are “above ground” and visible to us in the sky, while houses 1 through 6 are “below ground” or not visible to us.
Now we are ready to dip into houses. In natal astrology, the zodiac is divided into 12 houses in addition to the 12 signs. There are many methods of calculating houses, but since this is meant to be an introductory level series I am going to focus on whole signs houses. In the whole signs scheme, each astrological house is the full 30 degrees of a sign, starting with the ascendant. The houses begin where the signs begin, which means the ascendant can fall anywhere within the 1st house.
Let’s cast a chart for the positions we captured in Stellarium. Note that since we are using the positions of the constellations themselves, this is going to be a sidereal chart. Using the image from before, we can see that the ascendant is located at the very end of Taurus in the sky, which makes Taurus the 1st house. This defacto makes the 7th house Scorpio. The midpoint between the two falls in Aquarius, the 10th house, which makes Leo the 4th house – which we cannot see in the sky because it is “beneath” us. Here is what such a chart would look like in the Western style:
You’ll find the ascendant, called the AC, is located at the very end of Taurus. The line that represents the ascendant-descendant axis is the plane from which we can observe the sky. Planets above this line are visible to us in the sky (depending on whether it it night or day, etc.), and if we were to look up at the night sky represented in this chart we would see Jupiter and Saturn among the stars. The other planets in the chart would not be visible because they are on the other side of the earth. If you remember, the lunar nodes are fictitious points in the sky, so we cannot see them regardless of where we are. You’ll also see a point in this chart called the MC; this is the true mathematically calculated midheaven in the sky, which doesn’t always fall in the 10th house depending on where on the globe you are located.
Beside the planetary glyphs you will see numbers. These numbers tell us what degree of a zodiac sign the planet occupies. Zodiac signs are measured in degrees and minutes. Degrees represent the angular degrees of a circle – the zodiacal wheel being a 360 degree circle divided into 12 sections. Minutes are a single degree divided into 60 parts. Each zodiac sign is 30 degrees long, starting with 0 degrees and 0 minutes going up to 29 degrees and 59 minutes. In this chart you will see that the Moon is located at 9 degrees and 59 minutes of Leo – this Moon is in the very end of the 10th degree of Leo. Meanwhile, Mercury is located at 21 degrees and 01 minutes of Virgo, meaning Mercury has just entered the 22nd degree of Virgo. Degrees can carry some meaning, but it is not necessary to know in great detail at this stage. A general rule of thumb for degrees is that the higher a degree is, the more “mature” that planet is considered to be. A planet such as Mars at 0 degrees and 48 minutes Gemini is considered a very “young” planet, just getting started in his journey through Gemini.
By now, you should be able to look at a chart and be able to tell what was going on in the sky at the moment for which the chart was cast. Now we can look deeper at houses and what they represent in a chart, in the next article. See you next time.
I am currently studying to become a professional astrologer and if you are interested in receiving a brief consultation please check out my rates and services page. I am grateful for opportunities to practice my skills and increase my experience.