Astrology is a fascinating and, for all practical purposes, endless subject. At times, I know it can seem like a foreign language to people who are new to it… especially when looking at charts. However, once an astrology student can read charts – even at a very basic level – the fun and excitement of analyzing the charts of family, friends, love interests or celebrities often jumpstarts the learning process. If you’re curious about astrology, but unsure how to read an astrological chart, my hope is that this series of posts about chart-reading fundamentals will help you get over that hurdle.
As this post is aimed at those new to Vedic astrology and/or South Indian-style charts, more experienced readers may want to check out my posts under the “Observations” tab.
I’ve included a chart – (in the South Indian style, which is what I use on this blog) – for a hypothetical person born at the time I’m writing this, which is December 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm in Los Angeles. I’ll refer to this chart throughout the post:
Let’s start by finding the corner where a diagonal line is drawn in the chart. In this instance, we can see that a diagonal line is drawn in Gemini (abbreviated to “Ge”), which is in the upper right-hand corner of the chart. This diagonal line and the number next to it, 21:53, represent the “ascendant,” which is the degree during the exact time of birth, as viewed from our location. A good way to think of the ascendant is as your “starting point.”
Since Vedic astrology uses what is known as an “equal house” system, each of the 12 houses will contain exactly 1 zodiac sign and 30 degrees. As the ascendant in our example is located within the zodiac sign of Gemini, the entire 1st house will be in Gemini. Each house includes exactly 30 degrees, starting at 0:00 and ending at 29:59 (29 degrees and 59 minutes).
Now that we know where the 1st house is, we can find the other houses. This style of chart (“South Indian”) is always read clockwise and the small two-letter abbreviation in the corner of each house indicates the corresponding zodiac sign.
The zodiac signs stay in the same places in every chart, which means the position of the houses changes from chart to chart. In the above chart, Gemini (Ge) is the 1st house – remember to look for the diagonal line. Moving clockwise, the 2nd house becomes Cancer (Cn), the 3rd house becomes Leo (Le) and so forth.
The planets are located throughout the chart using common-sense two-letter abbreviations – Su is the Sun, Mo is the Moon, Me is Mercury, Ve is Venus, Ma is Mars, Ju is Jupiter and Sa is Saturn. Ra (Rahu) and Ke (Ketu) are astronomical points that have the same status as planets in Vedic astrology. The three-letter abbreviations above each planetary abbreviation are fixed stars (called “nakshatras” in Vedic astrology). The nakshatras are a bit more advanced than the scope of this article, but they function as, essentially, another layer of zodiac signs that provide increased specificity during chart reading.
If you see a capital “R” after a two-letter planetary abbreviation, that means a planet is in retrograde (backwards) motion. Planets don’t actually move backwards, but they appear to from our perspective on Earth. The most basic meaning of this is that a retrograde planet tends to impact us in a manner that is slower and more internal than would otherwise be the case.
Without getting into too much detail, the big-picture astronomical context for astrology is that we’re evaluating the effects of the planets on our lives… which take place on Earth. This is why the appearance of retrograde motion matters and also why there is no “Earth” position in astrology charts. If, for example, we colonized Mars, then someone born on Mars would have Earth in his or her chart but not Mars.
At this point, if I’ve explained things well enough, you should be able to find the ascendant and 1st house, and, then, counting in a clockwise direction, determine where the other 12 houses are. If you want to make sure you’ve got it, see if you can figure out which house and sign Mars is in. I’ll get to the answer in a paragraph.
My previous blog posts include basic guides to the meaning of each planet and to the meaning of each house. You can mix and match these – or similar information from many websites or books – to come to a rough definition of how each planet functions in each house.
For example, in the above chart Mars is in the 4th house (in the zodiac sign of Virgo). If you know what Mars represents and which areas of life are related to the 4th house, you can guess that this person will be action-oriented and aggressive (Mars) in matters connected to his or her home and family (4th house). Virgo relates to details and analytical behavior, which places another filter on our interpretation.
After understanding which house and sign each planet is in, the next step in chart reading is learning about “aspects,” which are the angles at which planets influence both one another and certain areas of the chart. Learning about the connection between each sign and the planet that “rules” it is another important fundamental. These topics will be the focus of part 2 of this post.