“Hello. How are you? I’m fine. Bye.”
These are the types of basic words and sentences we might learn how to say when first learning another language.
Astrology, is a language. When someone says “I’m a Pisces”, this is equivalent to being able to say the above sentence in Arabic when you are not a native-speaker. It’s fun to be able to know a few words in another language so you can exchange a basic greeting with a native-speaker of the same language, but really, it won’t get you very far! It is only the beginning. Most people don’t move beyond this point. They learn how to say some basic phrases just for fun, or to be able to navigate their vacation trip with less frustration.
I’m not a language expert. I’ve tried to learn French, Spanish, and Arabic, but I haven’t come close mastery. However, I have learned a few things about the process of learning a language, and learning astrology. Here are 6 steps that will get you well on your way to learning astrology!
STEP 1/6: Get your natal chart
Don’t hit up a cookbook astrology text or website before you have the basic skills to be able to read a natal chart! If you have done any investigation into astrology, I’m sure you have come across what is called the cookbook approach. A cookbook approach to learning astrology presents a list of planet-sign or planet-house combinations with a page or paragraph dedicated to each; the Sun through to Pluto. That is like diving into grammar and sentence structure before you have a basic grasp of the language and are familiar with the way the language looks and sounds. It can be fun to look up other people’s interpretations of your planet placements, but starting with the cookbook approach can get you stuck in stereotypes and clichés that may not be relevant, because the authors are taking these combinations out of context when they describe them.
Learning astrology piecemeal-cookbook-style, can slow your learning. Admittedly this was how I started learning astrology and eventually I had to work my way back to the fundamentals to gain a better understanding. I’m writing this article because I don’t want others to make the same mistake I did.
It might seem a little daunting at first, but I really think it is best to start learning astrology with a copy of your natal chart in front of you. Your natal chart is a visual representation of what the solar system looked like at the moment you were born. It is the theatre stage on which the rest of your life will play out. Here is an example of what a natal chart might look like:
Astrology is geocentric. Astrology is about how the movement of the planets influence humans, here on Earth. Therefore, in an astrological chart, the Earth is placed at the direct centre of the chart circle, and everything else in the solar system rotates around it.
Here is how you can get a copy of your astrological natal chart:
- Find out your exact birth time! As close to the minute as possible. This is so important because even a few minutes can make changes to the birth chart. Check your baby book, look for your hospital bracelet, ask your parents, ask relatives, or if you live in a place where they record birth times, ask for your birth certificate from the hospital or government. If you can’t find out the exact time, estimate to the nearest hour or 1/2 hour, but keep in mind that it might not be a perfect fit. An accurate birth time is essential for a truly accurate reading. For more assistance, check out Wiki’s How to Find out What Time You Were Born article, or Laurence Hillman’s suggestions on how to Find Your Birth Time. If you live in the U.S. you can order the “Long Version” of your birth certificate (hopefully containing your birth time) from the government department associated with the state you were born, and also see Forrest Astrology’s list of information and helpful advice for ordering birth certificates from each state government (+ some tips on obtaining birth certificates outside the U.S.).
- Go to Astrodienst and enter your birth information into the form (in addition to the time, you will need the full date and your birth city). The form should look like this:
- Pressing “continue” takes you to the Extended Chart Selection page. The default settings should be fine for now. The Chart Type should indicate “Natal Chart Wheel” in the pull-down menu. Click on the appropriately titled “Click here to show the chart” button. There’s your natal chart! You can right-click on this to save it as a JPEG and to print it.
- In the upper right hand corner there will be a blue button that says “with transits”. Click on this to see what the current sky is doing, in relation to your natal chart. The current transits are marked in green around the outside of the natal chart.
- On the left upper side, is a link that reads “Additional tables (PDF)”. Click on this for a PDF for all the details regarding your planet placements. It might not make any sense now, but it will! I would recommend printing your chart, along with this additional PDF, so you have it as a reference.
I wanted to introduce you to Astrodienst first, because it is a fantastic free online resource for creating charts that offers many, many options that you may find useful one day. However, there are also some great astro chart apps for your phone that may be more accessible and beginner-friendly (while also potentially offering less versatility, depending on the app).
Here are a few chart apps for your mobile devices that I would recommend:
- Astro Future for iPhone and iPad (free, but you pay for extra features); this is a great app for beginners who are just learning the symbols and how to read a chart. It is limited in its capabilities, but the visuals are great – very user friendly. Astro Future would be my top choice for someone who is just getting used to working with 360° charts.
- Time Passages for iPhone & iPod (free, but you pay for extra features); this is a popular app among beginners and intermediate learners (advanced astro nerds use it as well!). Provides short horoscopes for your current transits as well as for your solar arc and secondary progressions (for an additional fee) which is very useful if you don’t otherwise have access to this information.
- Time Nomad for iPhone, iPad, & iPhone (free); this is a lovely app, 100% free. It has clean graphics and a wonderful “slider” feature that allows you to advance a chart through time and focus sequentially on different aspects between planets. I also really like its unique, astronomical “solar system view” of a chart. This may be a little advanced for the beginner, but perfect for the intermediate user and useful as well, for advanced learners.
- iPhemeris for iPhone and Mac OSX (US $17.99); a great astrology app that provides a full ephemeris as well as a number of different chart calculations and display capabilities. This app is more appropriate for the intermediate or advanced learner.
- Astro Gold for iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac, and Android (US $24.99); an astrology app created by the same people who created Solar Fire – arguably the most popular astrology software program. This app is more appropriate for the intermediate or advanced learner, but offers a multitude of chart options as well as interpretations.
STEP 2/6: Become familiar and comfortable with looking at natal charts and identifying a couple key components
When I was first trying to learn Arabic, I began by getting comfortable and familiar with seeing Arabic letters (even if I didn’t understand them) and listening to Arabic being spoken fluently (even if I didn’t understand what I was listening to). I also did a bit of research into the different dialects so I could decide what dialect I wanted to focus on and how I should proceed.
The equivalent of this stage of the learning process in Astrology, is to orientate yourself to a natal chart by identifying the chart’s angles and being able to locate some recognizable celestial bodies in a chart (like the sun and the moon).
You may have noticed that the natal chart primarily uses symbols, or glyphs as they are often called, instead of using the English language equivalents like “Aquarius” or “Pluto”. Don’t get overwhelmed by the symbols! Start with the sun and the moon for now. The glyphs for the sun and moon look like this: . Easy, right?
I will write more about this later, but you should also be able to immediately identify where the Ascendant and Descendant line is. This is the horizon line. The Ascendant in the East (marked as “AC” in the chart) indicates what zodiac sign (note – not the sun) was rising on the horizon at the time you were born, and the Descendant (marked as “DC”) indicates what zodiac sign was setting in the West when you were born. The AC/DC horizon line is always directly horizontal, running across the middle of the chart. If you were born after sunset, you will find the sun symbol in the bottom half of the chart (below the horizon) and if you were born during daylight hours, you will find the sun symbol in the upper portion of the chart (above the horizon).
You can look up the charts of friends and family to practice with, and to get familiar with what other natal charts look like. You could also look up the charts of celebrities using the Astrotheme database (use the Celebrity Search option on the left side of the page). Check to see if the sun is in the bottom of the chart or the upper half of the chart. Can you tell if the person was born after sunset or during daylight hours without looking at the birth time? For example, here is Madonna’s chart.
You can also compare natal charts to the chart of the current sky. Check out Planet Watcher to see what the planets are doing at this very moment. Can you find the sun and the moon? During a full moon you should see them opposite each other. During a new moon, you should see the sun and moon symbols right next to each other. You should be able to tell if someone was born at a new moon or full moon by noticing where the moon and sun are in the chart in relation to each other. Remember that all celestial bodies in transit move counter-clockwise through the signs.
The more that you become familiar with looking at different astrological charts, the more comfortable you will be with interpreting them. This can be compared to the benefits of immersing yourself in a new language regardless of whether or not you understand everything you are hearing or reading!
If you like learning visually, here is a great little video that highlights the main building blocks of a chart – the houses, signs, planets, and aspects. Skip the first minute or so to get to his helpful break down of a birth chart. If you would prefer to learn this information by reading, check out Astrolibrary’s free astrology lessons for beginners.
STEP 3/6: Memorize the astrological alphabet – the glyphs and symbols!
Now that you know how to orientate yourself to an astrological chart, you are ready to learn the alphabet of astrology (beyond just knowing the glyphs for the sun and moon). This may seem annoying, but it will be waaaay easier to move forward if you don’t have to constantly look up what a certain glyph represents. When learning another language is pretty annoying to keep referring to your bilingual dictionary for direct translation, right?
The building blocks of astrology include the signs, houses, planets, and aspects. There are 12 zodiac signs, 5 major aspects, and the 10 main celestial bodies (the sun, moon and Pluto are often referred to as ‘planets’ in astrology for convenience). The 12 houses are simply referenced in the natal chart using numbers and are always in the same order in every chart; 1-12 going counter-clockwise, beginning at the Ascendant. So this means that there are only 27 key glyphs to memorize. That is not so bad. That is only two more symbols than the English alphabet has! There are actually many more glyphs that you could learn, but I would recommend focusing on these 27 for now.
You can download the handy guide to memorizing glyphs that I created (Word doc), to get you started.
Once you have memorized the astrological alphabet you should be able to read an astrological sentence like this:
(Translation: Mars opposite Jupiter)
STEP 4/6: Learn the basic function of the glyphs as you memorize them
While I was memorizing the Arabic alphabet, I was also learning what the associated sound was for each letter and how the letter functioned when I put it in a word with other letters. For example, many Arabic letters are written four different ways, depending on where they are in the word.
While memorizing the astrological alphabet, you can begin learning how the glyphs functions in a chart. For now, just explore enough to get a general sense of what type of energy each planet/sign/house/aspect represents.
Consider the many combinations you can have even when you are just working with 10 planets, 12 houses, 12 signs, and 5 aspects. For example:
- Planet <-> House combinations
- Planet <-> Sign combinations
- Planet <->Aspect combinations
- Sign <-> House combinations
- Sign <-> Aspect combinations
- Aspect <-> House combinations
Remember that any single combination won’t give you the full story. For an accurate interpretation you would need to combine all components of a placement in your chart: Sign – House – Planet -Aspect(s).
So yes! Now is the time to slowly begin exploring and learning more about the meaning behind the planets, houses, signs, and aspects, as well as how some of the different combinations might express themselves. Just don’t get overwhelmed or jump to premature conclusions, and remember that astrology books and websites usually only address a combination of two components at a time (e.g. the expression of a planet in a sign). A generic interpretation is never going to be wholly accurate, although it will give you a rough sense for how that particular combination might play out, or what energies a planet, sign, or house is associated with.
It is really easy to get stuck on stereotypes when you start reading other people’s interpretations. For example: “Geminis are super talkative and flirty”, “Scorpios are intense and possessive”, “Pisces are impractical and cry all the time”, “Leos are so full of themselves”, etc. Getting stuck here, would be like getting stuck always speaking like an awkward tourist when you are trying to learn a new language.
Don’t be an awkward tourist.
Read the interpretations with a grain of salt. Keep your interpretations and knowledge flexible. And keep immersing yourself in natal charts.
At this point, you could check out a beginner astrology book (even if it is cookbook style), or hit up Google with your astrology questions.
My Guide to the Astrological Alphabet has some contextual information on the planets, signs, houses, and aspects that will help you get started.
You could also check out Cafe Astrology’s guide to the signs of the Zodiac (which includes how the different planets are influenced by each sign), and Astro Style for a quick overview of what the 12 houses of the Zodiac represent and the basic meanings of the planets.
STEP 5/6: Learn the grammar while working with a manageable vocabulary – i.e., focus on holistically interpreting your Sun, Moon, and Ascendant
Grammar is defined as a system of rules; how words or components of a language function when they are combined together.
So how would the Sun in Pisces in the 8th House conjunct Mercury and squared Uranus and Mars, express itself in someone’s life?
To answer that question you would need a solid grasp of astrological grammar, because each component is modifying the expression of the other components in complex ways. A Sun in Pisces in the 8th House will express itself completely differently than a Sun in Pisces in the 11th House. The aspects with Uranus and Mars modify this energy further.
It is easier to practice applying grammar when you are using a small vocabulary. If you master the grammar while focusing on simple vocabulary, you should be able to apply these same rules to other examples.
For this learning step, your vocabulary focus is on the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant (the Eastern end of the horizon line as explained above). These are the Big Three – the major players in a person’s personality. The Sun represents your ego, your vitality, your core. The Moon represents your inner, more subconscious, emotional life. The Ascendant represents your style of interacting with the world and society, and it shapes the first impression you make on people. Some astrologers call the Ascendant the “mask” someone wears, but I disagree with this term because it makes it sound like the Ascendant is not a central component of who the person is. All three – the Sun, the Moon, and the Ascendant – are vital key components to your personality.
Study your natal chart (and the additional tables that accompany it in the PDF download – see Step 1 for instructions). Examine your Sun, Moon, and Ascendant sequentially, and than look at how they relate to each other. If you are starting with your Sun, note what sign it is in, what house it is in, and then look at the aspect chart and make a list of the major aspects that it forms with other planets (ignore the minor aspects for now). Astrology Marina’s guide to reading an aspect chart will be helpful if you haven’t done this before. Now turn to Google, or astrology books, and search for at least two interpretations for each combination, written by different authors/astrologers. Try to piece together the interpretations of the combinations to create a comprehensive interpretation of your sun placement. Then do this again for your Moon and Ascendant.
Once you have thoroughly analyzed your Sun, Moon, and Ascendant placements, think about how well they support each other. People are complex paradoxes. You will likely notice some very different energies in your interpretations. For example, if your Ascendant is a confident, fiery, adventurous Sagittarius, how is that going to jive with your watery sun in Cancer in the 4th house and your watery moon in Pisces in the 12th house? Important insights emerge by analyzing paradoxes and conflicts in a person’s personality.
After completing a thorough analysis of your Sun, Moon and Ascendant placements, try to apply the same grammar to some else’s chart.
STEP 6/6: Becoming fluent – synthesizing the micro with the macro
The art of astrology is synthesis. Synthesizing a chart is what happens after you examine all the different ‘pieces’ at the micro level, and then you step back to see the big, macro picture and ask how does it all fit together? Synthesis refers to the combining of many small parts into a unified whole. It is like trying to fit together all the individual puzzle pieces – the planets, signs, houses, apects – to form a picture that makes sense.
I’ve always been told that to be able to speak a language fluently, you need to stop trying to directly translate the new language into your origin language before you respond. You need to start thinking in the new language.
Same with astrology. You need to think in astrology. Read astrology books and blogs, watch astrology YouTubes, and listen to astrology podcasts – all of these sources will deepen your understanding of the astrological energies and how they function. But ultimately you should be developing your own deep-rooted sense of how these energies express themselves. Interpreting different combinations should become like second nature to you, because you will have a good grasp of the fundamental components involved. There are a lot of inaccurate astrological interpretations out there. As you grow more comfortable with the language of astrology, you will be sharpening your skills of discernment to be able to identify the good astrology from the bad 🙂
Branch out beyond the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant and start analyzing – and then synthesizing – all the components of your natal chart… and the natal charts of your family, friends, acquaintances… the more charts you read, the more skilled an astrologer you will become!
The journey of learning astrology is endless. In this post I have primarily focused on explaining how you can learn to read astrological natal charts to understand a person’s personality, challenges, and talents, but there are lots of other types of chart readings, and many different types of astrology. For example, there are transit charts, secondary progression charts, synastry charts, composite charts, and solar return charts. There is Western Astrology, Hellenistic Astrology, Vedic Astrology, Electional Astrology, Financial Astrology, Medical Astrology, Archetypal Astrology – just to name a few!
I had no idea how vast this field was when I started. This post is just an introduction to this beautiful language of the sky!
For more resources you can check out my growing compilation of learning resources on this website and Astrolibrary’s 18 free astrology lessons for beginners. You could also check out Chris Brennan’s 10 Tips for Learning Astrology and a great podcast hosted by him and Kelly Surtees titled: Tips for Learning Astrology and Becoming an Astrology (there are some written tips in the link as well).