When it is considered that interpreting a birth chart involves combining the individual meanings of, at a minimum, the ten planets and the five major aspects they make to each other, the twelve signs and the corresponding twelve houses and several other key points, such as the so called four angles of the chart comprising the Ascendant (Asc) or Rising sign and its opposite point the Descendant (Dsc) and the Midheaven (MC) and its opposite point the Immum coeli (IC), plus the North and South nodes of the Moon and the planetoid Chiron, the need for a method of synthesising all these elements is readily apparent.
The increasingly popular computer reports aren’t of much help in this regard, for while they are often excellent at delineating the meaning of individual chart factors they tend to leave the reader with the feeling of being a conglomeration of often contradictory influences with no obvious central focus, and so create more confusion rather clarity.
Synthesising a chart involves sorting out what is most significant in the vast array of information that a chart provides and combining the resulting distilled elements into a coherent whole that tells a meaningful story, a story that gives insightful and revealing clues to answering the perennial questions ‘who am I?’ and ‘what I am here for?’, ‘what is my life purpose?’
The Key Principle
Each planet rules a particular zodiac sign and its corresponding house, giving rise to what could be called the 12 ‘letters’ of the astrological alphabet. These letters are:
1) Mars / Aries / 1st House
2) Venus / Taurus / 2nd House
3) Mercury / Gemini / 3rd House
4) Moon / Cancer / 4th House
5) Sun / Leo / 5th House
6) Mercury / Virgo / 6th House
7) Venus / Libra / 7th House
8) Pluto / Scorpio / 8th House [Traditional ruler Mars]
9) Jupiter / Sagittarius / 9th House
10) Saturn / Capricorn / 10th House
11) Uranus / Aquarius / 11th House [Traditional ruler Saturn]
12) Neptune / Pisces / 12th House [ Traditional ruler Jupiter]
The letters 1, 5 and 9 correspond to the fire element; 2, 6 and 10 to the earth element; 3, 7 and 11 to the air element; and 4, 8 and 12 to the water element.
The key principle of chart synthesis is that similar character traits and life issues, patterns or themes are indicated by an emphasis on an alphabet ‘letter’, whether that derives from the planet, or the sign or the house which it rules.
Please note this is presented as a working principle that will serve to guide the general reader to delineate some key chart themes, but it should not be taken to mean that there is no difference between a planet, a sign and a house – because there is. The planets refer to the archetypal energies, needs and drives we all share, the signs show how those energies are ‘meant to’ be expressed or fulfilled, and the houses show where or in what areas of life the planetary energies are to be directed for optimum expression. Nevertheless, in practice the principle will work well to aid the initially daunting process of chart synthesis.
A sign or house is emphasized when it contains the Sun,
Moon or the planetary ruler of the Rising sign, or two or more planets.
The Rising sign is always important. Where the planets are is where the
action is, so obviously the more planets there are in a sign or house,
the stronger the influence of that sign or house in the life of the
planetary strength is a little more complex, as there are numerous ways
that a planet is given strength. The following is a brief list of the
commonly accepted ways that power is bestowed on a planet:
• When it conjuncts, within 5 degrees of exactitude, any of the four angles of the chart – the Asc/Dsc or Mc/Ic
• When it is the ruler of the Ascendant or Sun sign
• When it is in the sign it rules, or less powerfully when it is placed
in the house that corresponds to the sign it rules. Refer to the list
above again for those correspondences if you need to. When this is the
case, it is said to be ‘dignified’
• When it aspects many of the other planets
• When it is the focal planet of a major aspect pattern such as a Yod or
T Square. [Disregard this last point if you are not familiar with
If there is an emphasis on letter 1 in your
birth chart, whether from the planet Mars or from planets in the sign
Aries or the first house you will have a strong personality with an
assertive or aggressive edge that will be highly self-motivated and
given to competitive endeavour. Letter 1 people are born leaders and
pioneers who are destined to stand out and make their mark on the world –
for better or worse as the case may be. If they don’t rise to the
challenge of that destiny they are liable to suffer from debilitating
feelings of failure and regret.
Letter 2 emphasis indicates a destiny
of accumulating personal resources, defining values, and building self
worth and material security. Typically money and possessions and
whatever natural talents have been given at birth will at first form the
basis of self worth. But sooner or later, usually triggered by
experiences of loss, deeper questions are bound to arise. Questions
like, what do I really need in order to be happy? What constitutes true
wealth? What could be more important than love and health? Letter 2
people want practical answers, not philosophy. Life will teach them the
wisdom of insecurity, that all things change and pass away, that true
beauty is more than skin deep, that love – as opposed to sex – can never
be bought, and that more generally it is not wise to base self worth on
what you have rather than who you are. Evolved types possess a beauty
of soul and have a prosperity consciousness that continually enriches
themselves and their loved ones, a consciousness premised on the
knowledge that the more you give the more you get.
Letter 3 emphasis indicates that the
life of the mind will be central to the fulfilment of the destiny. An
avid curiosity engenders an ability to process information quickly and
logically. Information, knowledge and understanding are constantly
sought and passed on when found. Facility with the spoken and written
word provides the passport to vocational success as teachers, reporters,
messengers, go-betweens, net-workers, problem-solvers, sales people and
public relations ‘spin doctors’. Strengths include versatility, wit and
intelligence. However, breadth of knowledge may substitute for depth of
understanding, and a certain amoral capacity to rationalize almost
anything may result in morally questionable practices such as talk back
radio ‘cash for comment’, and politicians defining their promises as
‘core’ when kept and ‘non-core’ when broken. Comedian Groucho Marx
encapsulates the underlying modus operandi in this brilliant witticism:
“The secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that,
you’ve got it made.”
Imagine moonlight on the sea shimmering softly to get a sense of people with the Moon ruled letter 4
emphasis in their charts. This is a very yin or feminine emphasis,
producing sensitive, feeling types who shine brightest when in the
company of trusted family members and loved ones. Their approach to life
is subjective and personal – only that which impacts directly on them
or their close circle forms the boundary of their concern, and is
strongly conditioned by a deep need for emotional security grounded in a
home and family of one’s own. Some however, are fated by difficult
early childhood experiences to a life of compulsive wandering,
perpetually searching for a place that feels like home. Intense soul
yearnings may then find creative expression in art, literature and
music, while their nurturing disposition may draw them to vocations of
healing and care giving in areas such as teaching, child care, family
counselling, social work and nursing.
Letter 5 emphasis indicates an
individuality with a very yang or masculine disposition, much given to
grand gestures and theatrical displays. Visualize the sun in all its
golden splendour and dazzling brilliance to understand how these types
are naturally drawn to positions of leadership and centrality in family
and society, and how both their virtues and faults are writ large for
all to see. Positively, they are warm, generous and open hearted, and
blessed with a delightful, child-like quality of being that radiates joy
and happiness. Negatively, they can be over-bearing, attention-seeking
and childishly self-centred, with an arrogant born-to-rule attitude that
positively invites rebellion, criticism and rejection. What to do? Some
do and some criticize. The response of these philosopher kings, queen
mothers, noble knights, romantic lovers, entertainers and all round
larger than life characters might well be: “So be it then. Let us play
our given roles with passion and panache. Our sacred task is to light
the world with life, love and laughter. ‘To thine own self be true’
shall be our guide. Enough said. On with the show!”
Letter 6 emphasis brings everything
back to earth. Here modesty and humility reign supreme, self-improvement
is the order of the day, less is more, small is beautiful, and the
‘devil is in the detail’. Take pity that no matter how conscientious the
efforts of those with this emphasis to be morally and professionally
above reproach, mistakes inevitably occur and standards are not always
met. Think communication being sabotaged by a misplaced apostrophe, an
accountant leaving out a nought in a tax return, a surgeon cutting too
close to a nerve, or a singer just missing a high note, etc, and it’s
easy to see how anxiety and guilt can sabotage the peace of mind of
these perfectionists and would-be paragons of virtue. Never mind I say
that mountains are made out of molehills and forests can’t be seen for
trees, we can all be thankful that these potentially neurotic types are
so fastidious about the need for precision and accuracy in their work.
Health is the other major area of interest for letter 6 people. Health conscious types are ruled by Mercury in his guise of alchemical healer, performing daily rituals of cleansing, healing and purification to transform dis-ease into well being and suffering into wisdom,
The pursuit of the good, the true and the beautiful in partnership with significant others is the central life focus of those with Venus ruled letter 7 emphasis in their charts. Love and marriage relationships form the paradigm, but all contractual arrangements where issues of fairness and personal integrity are paramount such as business partnerships also figure strongly. Personal growth is intimately bound up with developing awareness around projections on to partners and associates. Astrology can be of immense value here as planets in the seventh house and the sign placement of Venus give an accurate indication of what is sought in the partner, and what experiences are likely to be constellated in relationship. And letter 7’s are in fact often interested in astrology. Now given that ‘character is fate’ and ‘what is within surrounds us’ then what is experienced in relationship, whether that be good, true and beautiful or ugly and painful, is mirroring us back to ourselves. No doubt, to ‘see ourselves in the beloved and delight in the recognition’ is what we would all wish for, but for those like Charles and Dianna who have had the sobering experience of one’s beloved turning into an intimate enemy, then Oscar Wilde’s typically astute aphorism, ‘choose your enemies well for you will become like them’ might well be more relevant. [Note the seventh house as well as being the house of marriage is also traditionally associated with ‘open enemies’.]
On a brighter note, let’s turn to the Indian Master Papaji, a Sun sign Libran, to express the higher calling of letter 7 people: ‘The purpose of life is to be at peace, to love all beings and to know who you are’. To know who we are it is profoundly helpful to see ourselves reflected in the mirror of the other.
For those with Letter 8
emphasis, making the darkness conscious will form the leitmotif of
their life’s work. The path of destiny will necessitate spending time in
the underworld of the psyche traversing the ‘badlands’ of rage, lust,
compulsive obsession and the black dog of depression in order to free
themselves from unconscious complexes that sabotage the achievement of
sexual healing, deep intimacy, and the attainment of joint goals.
An end to the war within through forgiveness and atonement is sure to be
sought at fateful turning points. Along the way power battles and
intense experiences of love and hate and triumph and despair are sure to
be encountered in the bedroom, the work place, and, for some still
repaying karmic debts, in the family law court or on the therapist’s
couch. Breath work, past life regression, shamanic soul retrieval, or
even a near-death-experience may prove valuable on the healing journey.
Some will be professionally or personally psychic, able to discern the secrets of destiny and the mysteries of fate, and many more will consult them to get information on loved ones who have passed over, or the outcome of illicit affairs, or to try to get to the root cause of a dysfunctional pattern or a life threatening disease.
Always the same theme of bringing light to the hidden, forbidden, ugly and rejected.
Letter 9 people are freedom-loving seekers of truth and adventure, destined from birth to embark on a seemingly never-ending quest to find the meaning of life and a guiding purpose for their own existence. Extraverted action types seek it by pushing the limits in sport, business, adventure travel, the performing arts, or a party-hard lifestyle with fellow aspirants to the high life who live by the motto ‘nothing succeeds like excess’, whereas positive thinking 9 types seek it in the credo of ‘whatever your mind can conceive and believe it can achieve’. Simply by changing our thoughts we can transform our lives from one of scarcity and meaningless struggle to one of abundance and purpose they preach and teach. All it takes is faith in Providence and the attitude of gratitude they claim. As the bible says, ‘Ask and you shall receive’.
Then there are also the more introverted intellectual 9 types, who seek answers to all the big life questions in philosophy, religion and literature. These are the eternal students and learned teachers of academe who know that the more you know, the more you know there is to know. This category contains idiot savants and know-alls who won’t be told anything, but also the genuinely wise who know that only fools think themselves wise, whereas the truly wise thinketh themselves fools.
emphasis also produces genuine spiritual aspirants who will retreat
into silence at some point to empty their minds of accumulated book
learning, and in so doing get to experience the truth of Lao Tzu’s
sutra: ‘Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know’.
Life revolves around work and family for letter 10
people. For work-centred types, fulfilment comes from achieving
excellence and high status in a well paid career that is a true
vocation, but even when their working life doesn’t quite reach those
lofty standards, doing their personal best and making enough to support
themselves and any dependent loved ones will usually suffice to ensure a
modicum of happiness and a good night’s sleep. Status anxiety can be
very real for letter 10 types though, with feelings of self worth being
strongly bound up with how much they earn and the level of professional
recognition they get. The respect of their family and peers is much
valued and forms a strong motivating force in their lives.
When the prime vocation is being a parent and raising children, similar considerations apply, but anxiety can be even more pronounced as the responsibility of parenting is felt to be so great, precisely because children are so vulnerable and dependent on parental care and guidance. The pressure - both internal and external – to get it right can be oppressive if it is not kept within proper bounds. After all, one can only do the best one can. The rest is up to God or Destiny is it not?
Fulfilling one’s dharma, doing one’s duty, and clearing karma by making a sincere effort to atone for past mistakes and failures is the essence of daily spiritual practice for those with this emphasis. And meditation too of course, which truly understood, ‘is not a method of achieving anything at all. It is peace and blessedness itself’. [Dogen]
The higher calling of letter 11
people is to join together with like minds to co-create a better world.
To surprise, enlighten, challenge and provoke established ways of doing
things; to open windows into alternative realities; to explore higher
states of consciousness; and to experiment with alternative life styles
that support freedom of individual expression within a unified field of
friendship, community and respect for individual differences.
Their challenge is not to just ‘do their own thing’, or to be a rebel
without a cause, or to succumb to feelings of alienation from the
perceived irrelevance and mediocrity of the mainstream, but to engage
and shine their light for the benefit of the whole. To think globally
and act locally; to live sustainably, to be the change they’d like to
see, to live the golden future of the Age of Aquarius now. To rap it out
loud and clear: ‘Astronauts of inner space / Adventurers in
consciousness / Let us unite / We are all beings of light’.
11 people are the big picture thinkers of the zodiac who take life, the universe and everything as their subject matter. They believe, and some demonstrate, that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Prime examples are Charles Darwin with his Theory of Evolution and the ‘Spectrum of Consciousness’ model of contemporary transpersonal theorist Ken Wilber, which integrates Western psychologies with Eastern paths of liberation. He even names a recent  work, A Brief History of Everything.
Letter 12 people are old souls who come into this world filled with mysterious soul yearnings and a longing in their hearts for .. they know not what. The journey of a lifetime may be undertaken to figure it all out, requiring them to delve into all those hidden, deep issues that in ironic mode they might opine are best avoided. Try as they might to make a joke out of it all, or to slip-slide-and-evade it through sex, drugs and techno-tribal-acid-house, or whatever else works at the time, the questions ‘What’s it all about?’ and ‘Is this all there is? will haunt them until they are answered.Now these maybe universal questions, but the point is these people are the universal souls of the zodiac – Pisces is the last sign of the zodiac remember. Because they’ve been through it all and know suffering to the depths of their very souls, they are the ones that life has picked out to be the saviours and wise ones to come up with the answers on behalf of us all. Not intellectual answers such as ‘life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved’, but existential ones that will still the longing and the need for answers, or at least help to get us through the day. The best ‘answer’ I’ve come across is ‘Love is the answer, now what was the question’. And for when it all gets too much, there is always the sage advice to ‘Forget your troubles and dance’. Finally, saving the best till last, meditation is the cure-all for existential angst. In the bliss of stillness and silence, questions disappear and the peace that passes all understanding descends .. A-h-h-h
The zodiac signs are divided into positive and negative or masculine and feminine, or better put - because least culturally loaded with stereotype baggage - yang or yin signs. The yang signs are the fire and air signs, which correspond to the odd numbers of the astrological alphabet, namely 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11, while the yin signs are the earth and water signs, which correspond to the even numbers, namely 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12.
To ground the concept of polarity in common experience, consider that the paradigm of yang is the Sun which radiates heat and light, the quality of its light being brilliant and bright, while the paradigm of yin is the Moon whose light is subtle and magnetic and reflected from the Sun.
A preponderance of yang signs tends to produce an extraverted, active, outgoing, personality disposition that seeks to change the world to fit itself, while a yin sign emphasis inclines to a more passive, receptive and introverted personality that moulds and accommodates itself to life’s circumstances.
In terms of the well known Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change / The courage to change the things I can / And the wisdom to know the difference”, a yang temperament will have difficulty with the first part but feel right at home with the second, while conversely, a yin temperament will find the second part challenging but feel at ease with the first.
Determining polarity emphasis is interesting and valuable as it can explain the obvious fact that some men are by nature more yin or ‘feminine’, that is sensitive, sympathetic, etc, while conversely some women are naturally more yang or ‘masculine’ in make up, which is to say assertive, outgoing, career oriented, etc. Or, to use the contemporary idiom you could say some men are from Venus and some women are from Mars. Using astrology we can tell from birth just who will fit into which category and so make appropriate adjustments in the child’s education and socialization process.
To determine the element weighting of the chart, in the first instance simply add up how many planets and key points are in each element grouping of the signs. To recap, the Fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius; Earth signs are Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; Air signs Gemini, Libra and Aquarius; Water signs Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. Then give extra weight to the element of the Sun, Moon and Rising Sign and also to the sign element of any planet that conjuncts any of the four angles. If none does, give extra weight to the sign element of the planet that rules the Rising sign.
An emphasis, or lack of an element is always significant and is perhaps the most immediately accessible of any chart factor, because the elements are usually on full display as it were in the character of an individual.
To gain insight into how the elements function and inter-relate both within ourselves and between people, it is instructive to tune into how the elements function in the natural world, because after all, we’re part of nature too. For example, consider fire and water. Fire makes water boil and water puts fire out. How accurate and relevant is that metaphor to explain so many conflicts. Another example. When water and earth combine in the right measure they create fertile abundance, but tip the balance to the water side and you get a boggy swamp.
A fire emphasis bestows warmth, energy and vitality, producing a can-do attitude and a high-spirited character given to flights of inspiration and intuitions of future possibilities. Negatively, fiery individuals can be insensitive, dominating, and just plain too much in the same way that a hot sun can be! Too much as in taking up too much space, being too loud, too full of themselves, etc. Life will teach them the dangers of hubris and the wisdom of moderation. Burning the candle at both ends for too long leads to burn out, breakdown, and premature ageing. The tragic recent suicide of work hard, play hard share trading guru Rene Rivkin, who had a strong Leo influence in his chart provides a salutary example.
Lack of fire can result in a tendency to timidity, risk aversion, passive or resentful acceptance of unsatisfactory situations, boredom, and at worst feelings of meaninglessness and depression. On the other hand, it can leave space for the virtues of selflessness, humility, prudence and modesty to flower.
An earth emphasis bestows common sense, practicality, and a love of comfort, pleasure and beautiful things. Life for earthy people revolves around work and the achievement of material security. Taking care of the bottom line is their top priority. More interested in results than ideas, they value reliability and stability over excitement and adventure, and sensual pleasure over emotional depth. They tend to mature early and flower late. ‘Older and wiser’ usually applies. As the bible so sagely puts it, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul? In a more spiritually evolved character, there can be a keen awareness of the poverty of materialism and the pitfalls of attachment to possessions and loved ones.
Lack of earth can make for difficulties with being grounded in the here and now of one’s particular life circumstances. Commitment, discipline and follow through may all prove challenging and often there is anxiety around work and money issues and more generally finding their place in society. Having children makes or breaks this type.
An air emphasis leads to a lot of talk, thought and social interchange. Airy people need to talk as much as others need to eat. In fact, you could say words are food for the soul of these intelligent and witty types who are much given to gossip, discussion and debate. A good idea well expressed truly turns them on. Positively, they are blessed with all the social graces and make artful conversationalists who are both knowledgeable and interesting. Negatively, they can be scattered and restless, easily bored, and congenitally unable to commit or to be truly present for more than ten seconds. ‘Air heads’ you might say, out of touch with their bodies and feelings, all talk and no action.
Lack of air inclines to subjectivity, lack of perspective and narrowness of focus. There can be shyness or awkwardness in social situations, and feelings of not being truly accepted or understood. Communication difficulties are common. However, as is the case for most life issues, when consciously acknowledged and worked on these difficulties can be overcome and turned into a strength.
A water emphasis shows itself in character qualities of emotional depth, sympathy, compassion and humility, for in nature water always gravitates to the lowest place. Watery characters are caring types who will always lend a helping hand to those in need. Love is what it’s all about for them. Love, service and healing, for water is the element that heals, cleanses and purifies. Water also has no shape of it’s own, so water people easily melt and merge and will readily sacrifice their own needs for those they love. On the down side, this can lead to issues of dependency and manipulation in relationships as they greatly fear rejection and loss. They tend to see their partners as their rock or anchor. Psychic ability is not uncommon, as are tendencies to confusion and delusion. Consider that water in the air condenses as cloud and fog.
Lack of water can lead to dryness and infertility, which at the extreme can result in a barren life, devoid of love and pleasure. In a strange way, people with this deficiency can be out of tune both with other people and within themselves, seeming to lack the ability to pick up on subtle signals of dis-ease. Consequently, love may seem to elude them and health issues more readily manifest, as toxins, whether physical or emotional, are not so easily discerned or eliminated. On the other hand, it can work for them when it comes to achieving goals as they will not be thrown off course by emotional needs and appeals.
Now for some general remarks on learning and applying astrology for self-knowledge and personal growth.
Astrology is a powerful tool that needs to be handled wisely if it is to fulfil its sacred task of guiding us to actualize the full potential of what our birth chart indicates we are ‘meant to’ become.
All too often however, people hook into negative interpretations of their difficult chart aspects as though these are written in the sky and thus have the status of immutable truth. In so doing they fall into the trap of allowing astrology to limit and negatively define them. What they get out of astrology then is only more good reasons for why-they-are-the-way-they-are and their life is-the-way-it-is and reinforcement of the fatalistic attitude that there is nothing that can be done about that for it is ‘written in the stars’.
It cannot be denied that such a victim like attitude has its psychological attractions, for when all else fails you can always ‘blame it on the stars’. The ultimate cop-out!
The way out of that cul-de-sac is to realize that any interpretation you read is just that, an interpretation, the truth of which is necessarily limited by the level of knowledge and wisdom and inherent subjectivity of the author, and the fact that the writer cannot possibly take into account all the variables that come into play when that aspect is considered in the context of a whole chart.
In any given chart for instance, a challenging aspect like Mars conjunct Saturn say, which implies blockage of ego drives, may have outlets for that blockage via flowing aspects to either or both planets. Also, what if the conjunction is in the sign Capricorn, the sign that Saturn rules, and the sign of Mars so called exaltation? Then the conjunction is much more likely to manifest its positive potentials, as Capricorn is less likely to be bothered by the delayed gratification the aspect implies and might even welcome the discipline and restriction necessitated by the aspect as the price it is more than willing to pay for the achievement of a hard earned promotion to a position of executive leadership say. On the other hand, if the conjunction was in impatient Aries it might be experienced as far more frustrating, especially for a young person.
To conclude, here is an outline of some key dimensions and potentials of Mars / Saturn aspects to illustrate the general point that any challenging aspect has positive potentials. It is important to be creative and to always keep in mind that all problems are opportunities in disguise. Life is an alchemical process of turning lead into gold.
Images and Metaphors
- driving a car with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake
- banging your head against a brick wall
- a teen-ager arguing with a parent
- a military parade; a martial arts demonstration
- turtle beating the hare
- hard labour; doing it the hard way; stress, frustration, wear and tear
- self-defeating action; self sabotage; unconsciousness
- fear of taking action, of getting it wrong, making a mistake, failure or rejection;
paralysis of will, hesitancy; stop/start
- over or under assertion; explosion = anger, rage, violence ..
implosion = impotence, inadequacy, failure, resignation, breakdown ..
- blocked energy; impeded movement; delayed gratification; frustrated desire;
lack of progress or achievement
- contained energy; bounded desire; voluntary restraint; appropriate caution
- structured-disciplined-focused action or movement
- considered-precise-intelligent-effective action
- long term strategy
- leadership, authority, responsibility, respect, wisdom, awareness
- good timing based on experience; ‘there’s a time to push forward and a time to retreat’
- ‘neither make haste nor postpone’; the ‘longest way around is the shortest way there’
- working smarter rather than harder; economy of movement; effort without stress;
- ergonomic design
- energy conservation, sex without ejaculation, retention of semen
- patience, endurance, acceptance .. of what is, of how things are, of limits
- success in mature age; well earned success
- lasting achievement