The Chart Workshop is supposed to be the section that teaches you how to do it, and we haven’t had one of those in a while, so here goes–suggestions for students and novices:
I have said this before and I will never stop saying it. Learn your house meanings–not just the mundane ones, but the psychological and esoteric meanings. Learn how the houses are connected, how one flows into the next. For example, the 12th house is about endings, but so is the fourth–what’s the difference? The first person to answer this question to my satisfaction gets a free hour long tutoring session with me (I usually charge $50 per hour). Email your answers to email@example.com by noon EST, Tuesday, February 9th. I’ll email you if you win. (My decision will be entirely subjective.)
Learn how to construct a chart by hand. Get a book from the library and learn do it once, at least. We need to know that we aren’t dealing in abstracts, we’re dealing with three dimensional models. I know this sounds crazy in the computer age, but if you’re serious about astrology, understanding it in a physical way helps you understand the symbolism and the terminology.
Understand what the midheaven represents, and why angles are calculated from it.
Understand the difference between sidereal time and local time.
Understand the astrological terms: ecliptic, heliocentric, horizon, directions on the chart (the East is on the left). Know what a phasal relationship is (no, it’s not when your partner is on again, off again). Know the difference between applying and separating aspects and how they manifest.
Remember that the birth chart is the map of the heavens in relation to the Earth. Simple, but easy to forget. You don’t see the Earth in the chart because we’re on it.
Get a thorough understanding of the basic aspects before you get involved in the more esoteric ones. In the beginning, set your aspects for ptolemaic only: see how far you can get. That goes for angles and points, too. You’re not going to get much from the Nodes or the Vertex if you don’t really understand the main angles. See how much material you can wring from using the basics alone. If you want to be really daring, throw out the outer planets. If you really know your stuff, you don’t need them. Honestly. The same information will come by other routes if you use old rulerships (Mars for Scorpio, Saturn for Aquarius, Jupiter for Pisces).
Understand basic geometry and numbers theory. Know why a triangle is more steady than a square, why the number four represents matter.
Study other subjects. Astrology is going to make a lot more sense to you if you understand literature, philosophy, basic psychology, religious symbolism and comparative mythology. We’re dealing with a symbolic language that crosses all cultures. Trying to explain Neptune’s forces to someone might be difficult. Telling an English major that, “It’s like Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, (Dickens) is a shortcut to understanding, and more profound than any lengthy explanation can be.
First Steps for Chart Synthesis:
Tips on synthesis: everyone has to find their own way in to interpreting a chart, but it’s always a good idea to first try to get a general feel of what kind of person this is, without getting bogged down in planet details.
First, look at elements: Too much water? No air? (No matter how much Mercury may be emphasized in the chart, a person without air will not have the detachment of a person with air planets.) Is the chart balanced? Secondly, what’s the dominant aspect? Someone full of squares needs action, and is very different from someone dominated by trines or oppositions. Look at major planets only. There is a lot of talk about chart shapes (bucket, splay, etc.) but honestly, I haven’t found them as helpful as looking at dominant aspects.
Then look at modality: a dominant cardinal person has a different energy from dominant mutable. Are most planets in angular, succedent or cadent houses? It matters.
Look to see what planet gets hit with the most aspects. This is a hot spot.
Is there a planet on an angle? That planet will be on show. What are the angle rulers and what houses are they in? This is particularly important with mutable signs on angles, as there is a double Mercury/Jupiter emphasis (Mercury rules 2 signs, Jupiter rules Sag and also is co-ruler of Pisces).
You’ll have a good picture of who this person is even before you get to the Sun, Moon and chart rulers.
Look at the Moon/Sun combination: does it agree, or do they fight one another? What phase is the Moon in? This gives a general picture of the way experience is processed. Conjunctions alter the Moon and Sun personality a great deal. Other aspects are about the struggle to incorporate the energies represented by those planets into the basic sense of Self. The aspects will show whether life will make this easy or difficult.
What planet rules the Ascendant (sometimes called the Chart Ruler)? That planet is the pilot fish, and often represents a person’s default way of being. Particularly helpful if there are no planets conjunct angles or in angular houses.
I hope this sets you all off to a good start. Happy charting.