Question: I’ve just started with astrology, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which aspects are the important ones. How do you learn this? Is there a system?
I hate to say it, but nothing but experience and instinct will teach you, and you’ll develop your own method as time goes on. There are as many ways to read a chart as there are astrologers. It’s more important to see what planets are highlighted, rather than aspects. I suggest, instead of focusing on aspects, try to find the stories the chart is trying to tell you.
There are some basic rules. For example, begin with the trinity of the Sun, the Moon, and the Ascendant. It will give you an overview. I add the dispositor of the Sun and the Ascendant ruler. Don’t just look at them shallowly, really look at them. Find the story. What house is the Sun in? That will give you an idea of the general life path, the main area of life the Sun wants to shine its light in. What is the dispositor, and what house is that in? That will show you where the Sun will apply its powerful energy. Dispositors of the Sun are very important, and often neglected. For example, you may think that an Aries is an Aries, but actually, there are 12 different types of Aries, depending on what sign Mars falls in. (And of course, house, sign, and other aspects differentiate it further.) An Aries with the Sun in the ninth is here to explore ninth house things, to adventure, to seek, to spread the word. If the dispositor, Mars, is in the fifth house, he will do it by some creative or self-expressive means. If that Mars is conjunct the Moon, it may mean exploring the psyche (an actor, perhaps, or any creative work that involves inner exploration), or through working with children or food or anything that could be symbolized by the Moon. That Moon/Mars aspect will be prominent, no matter what else is in the chart. This way of looking at the chart is much more ‘organic’ and meaningful than looking at aspects alone. You can do the same thing for the Moon and the Ascendant ruler, keeping in mind that the Moon sums up our past experience, and the Ascendant is involved with processing current experience. These three stories interweave to give us a real sense of the life path and purpose. If any of the influences are ‘doubled,’ say, the Ascendant in the above example is Leo, and the ruler is the Sun, those two ‘stories are brought together and that kicks the influence level of the planet way up.
Any planet on an angle will be dominant. Whatever touches it will pour into that end of the angle. Cardinal planets (houses 1, 4, 7 and 10) also like to show off. A stellium (three or more planets lumped together) will have strong influence.
Have a lookout for themes in a chart. The planets that represent those themes will point out which issues are most important to the client. See, in particular, if there is any particular emphasis on an outer planet. (See, “Adventures in Consulting: The Rule of Three.”) (I sometimes think there are three ‘tribes’ of people, Uranians, Neptunians and Plutonians). Aspects to that planet will also be prominent.
Since you mention that you are new to astrology, please allow me to make a suggestion. The single greatest thing that will help you to understand a chart is to really understand what the different houses represent, at all levels. They can manifest in either a mundane, psychological or spiritual way, and learning what they mean will help you understand in what way the different planetary energies may manifest. For example, the sixth house relates to health, but it also relates to the workplace. On a psychological level, it relates to the ‘clearing out’ that we do, a burning away of old habits and tendencies. No matter what sign is on the cusp (which will indicate the manner in which we do these sixth house things), it’s a Virgo house (Virgo being the natural sixth sign). Good health requires inner balance, which is what Virgo strives for. The workplace is where we serve. The sixth house is also our crisis of transformation, our crucible, where we must sort out what works from what doesn’t. Once you understand this, you will understand that a planet in a house has a certain task to perform, a certain function, and its purpose either blends or clashes with other planetary energies. Aspects to the planet will either aid or impede the planet in its task. I suggest Dane Rudhyar’s book, The Twelve Houses, or the book by Howard Sassportas, if you can find it.