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Astrology 101: How to Read Your Birth Chart

You have no idea what you’ve been missing

05.19.17

I love astrology. I couldn’t care less if it’s “accurate.” It’s fun and harmless. And, as an ever-prideful Leo, there are few things I enjoy more than reading about myself on the internet. In fact, I spent the better part of my spring 2015 college lectures educating myself on astrology’s origins and nuances because I couldn’t get enough.

When my interest blossomed into a blog, Bossy Planets (where I eventually garnered hundreds of questions a day), I was surprised to learn that many of my fellow horoscope enthusiasts knew little of their astrological cocktails. You know, like the planets and houses and asteroids that bubble beneath the surface of the basic zodiac wheel. That’s probably because you can’t determine your full natal chart with your birth date alone. There are many websites (like this one) that will calculate it for you — but you need your exact time and city of birth. It’s worth the extra effort though, trust me. Natal charts delve far deeper into your psyche than your average weekly horoscope, dissecting various celestial placements at the time of your birth to give you a fuller idea of how they may affect your personality. Once I studied mine, I was hooked.

I’m not sure where you fall on the astrology spectrum. Maybe you think it’s dumb, maybe you read it every week just in case, maybe you consult the stars on what to eat for breakfast. Regardless of your level of interest, a full natal chart reading is an interesting canvas on which to explore your personality. If you’re one of those people who never felt understood by your sun sign, who knows? Maybe you’ll find you relate more to other aspects of your zodiac. Below, I’ve broken down the guiding principles of astrology to help you read your full chart. It’s a starter kit, if you will, complete with all the vagaries and self-indulgent details that make astrology so appealing to begin with.

The Sun Sign

The 12 zodiac constellations — observed and used in Ancient Rome, though their origins can be traced even earlier — are positioned along the “path” of the sun as seen from Earth. Your sun sign is determined by which zodiac constellation is behind the sun on the date of your birth. This is the one you no doubt already know; the most commonly known and important aspect of your birth chart. Essentially, your sun sign speaks to your most basic identity. It represents your ego, your daily actions, the dynamic expression of your will.

As a Leo, I would describe myself as outspoken, creative and affectionate. Although my sister would say I’m basically an “emo lion” and an anonymous user on Tumblr once used the phrases “obsessed with yourself,” “curious bugger” and “somewhat of an outcast.” Take that as you will.

The Elements

There are four elements in the zodiac, between which the 12 zodiac signs are split evenly (so, three each). These three are believed to be most compatible with each other due to their commonalities and shared values.

Fire Signs (Aries, Leo and Sagittarius) are known for their passion, confidence and strong gut instincts. Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces) are the most sensitive, idealistic and kind. Air Signs (Gemini, Aquarius and Libra) are typically the most communicative, social and open-minded. Earth Signs (Taurus, Capricorn and Virgo) are renowned for their practicality, stability, realism and persistence.

Elements tend to paint the signs with broad strokes, but they’re fun to think about when analyzing your friend, family and romantic relationship dynamics. (As a fire sign, I find I gravitate more towards air signs.)

The Moon Sign

Arguably, your moon sign is just as important as your sun sign. It’s determined by which zodiac constellation the moon was in at your exact time of birth. Your moon sign speaks to your emotional nature and inner self. It tends to reflect your personality when you’re alone — or deep within your comfort zone. It’s considered more feminine and reflects your relationships with important women in your life. So next time you’re eating chips in bed, spiraling down a conspiracy theory YouTube rabbit hole and crying on the phone with your mom, maybe blame your moon sign.

Also, some believe your moon sign is more accurate in predicting the root of your subconscious thoughts than your sun sign. My Gemini moon has given me comfort whenever I’ve felt misunderstood, because this placement is often characterized as having complex and valuable inner monologues.

The Houses

Okay. Houses. Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Mars is in your third house”? They’re referring to which slice of the sky Mars was in at the time of your birth. The house system divides the sky into 12 sections and, depending on which planets and constellations fall into which sections when you were born, provide insight into specific areas of your life. Your first house is determined by which zodiac constellation was rising on the eastern horizon at the exact moment you were born, which is why both time and location of your birth are needed to determine it. The rest of your houses count up sequentially from there. Sites like this one can provide these visuals for your chart!

Here’s what each of the houses might tell you about your personality and life:

1. The First House represents self-image
2. The Second House represents money and finances
3. The Third House represents close platonic relationships and our immediate environments
4. The Fourth House represents family and childhood
5. The Fifth House represents self-expression, creativity and entertainment
6. The Sixth House represents work and health
7. The Seventh House represents marriage and long-term partnerships
8. The Eighth House represents both transformation and sexuality
9. The Ninth House represents belief systems and faith
10. The Tenth House represents careers and responsibility
11. The Eleventh House represents aspirations and personal goals
12. The Twelfth House represents privacy, secrets and karma

If your head is spinning right now, just pay attention to your first, fourth, seventh and tenth house. They’re typically given more weight.

The interesting thing about houses is they may reveal or confirm your strengths and weaknesses. When I learned that Aries was in my second house, for example, I wasn’t surprised. Aries is a sign characterized by ambition, passion and volatile emotion, and when it’s in my second house, which represents money and finances, it makes sense that I’m very career-minded and feel that my money needs to be self-made. It also makes sense that I fall victim to impulsive spending (shout-out to my unnecessary — but also necessary — shoe purchase a week ago). Oops.

The Rising Sign

A quick word on your rising sign. Also known as “the ascendant,” your rising sign is the zodiac constellation that falls into your first house. It’s the most fickle and difficult to nail down — you may get different results if you shift your birth time even a few minutes. Many astrologists say this one is your third most important placement, after your sun and moon signs. As mentioned, your ascendant represents your public identity. It can often manifest in your clothing or really any decisions related to your outward-facing identity (such as hair color, piercings or overall style). It also might symbolize how you respond to your immediate surroundings and your attitude towards everyday life.

For me, learning my rising sign made me feel emboldened to get a septum piercing — even though my friends said it’d be too “weird” — because my Aquarius ascendant is defined by individuality and often rebellious style choices.

 The Planets

Some argue that planets are even more important than houses. In the process of their orbits, planets move in and out of the zodiac constellations, lingering in some much longer than others, depending on the speed and size of their orbits. When you’re born, imagine the night sky freezing in place. Which planets are in which constellations? The answer will help you read into your personality even more.

The Inner Planets

Mercury, Venus and Mars are called the inner planets due to their changeability and closeness to Earth. For that reason, precision with your birth place and time is far more important for these. The signs that fall within the inner-planet placements dictate your core personality traits, needs and desires.

Mercury is the planet of communication, so determining where it is when you’re born will tell you something about how you learn and converse. For instance, those with earth signs in Mercury (Taurus, Capricorn, Virgo) will likely be very reasonable, observant people. Those with air signs in Mercury (Gemini, Aquarius, Libra) are most effective communicators when writing and public speaking. Fire signs in Mercury (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) are passionate and sometimes hot-headed in arguments. Water signs in Mercury are highly emotional and likely to avoid confrontation.

Venus — named for the Roman Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite — rules a person’s love life. It speaks to the ways in which you express affection, what you look for in a partner and generally what you find attractive.

Mars is the planet of conflict, aggression and action. It represents the physical expression of your initiative and drive — often applicable to both your sex life and ambition in business — and speaks to the ways you channel desire and anger, particularly for those with fire signs in Mars. (My Mars placement often reminds me to reflect before I act and channel the balance-seeking energy of the Libra sign.)

Your inner planet placements may appear contradictory, but that’s part of what makes them fun — they delve into our own contradictions, too. For example, being a Leo Venus, I’m a sloppy love puppy who thrives on meaningful conversation and is generally a bit emotional. My Virgo Mercury placement, on the other hand, seems to speak to a detached nature — like my hatred of small talk, maybe.

The Outer Planets

The outer planets — Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (RIP) — have the longest and widest orbits, which makes them generational placements. People born within a few years of you will likely have the same placements for all the outer planets, which makes them less consequential in each individual person’s chart. The longest an outer planet will stay in the same sign is about 15 years.

Uranus rules change, Neptune rules dreams, Pluto rules power. Your placements can suggest what you work towards in these areas throughout your life. For those around my age — 21 and smack-dab in the middle of Generation Y — you’ll find both your Uranus and Neptune placements in Capricorn, indicating a strong inclination towards equality and social justice. Feel free to use that as a counter-argument the next time someone tells you millennials are useless.

The Social Planets

Jupiter and Saturn are sometimes called the social planets because their orbits are wider and longer than those of the inner planets, but smaller and shorter than those of the outer planets. They represent and influence how people relate to society.

Jupiter is the planet of luck, education and growth. The Jupiter placement is also seen as very philosophical and might indicate how you feel about religion.

Saturn is is all about limitations and boundaries. The Saturn placement can help reveal what you need to overcome and the restrictions you might encounter along the way — especially earlier in life.

For me, having Sagittarius in Jupiter, a restless sign, probably means I should travel more (I’m not complaining). An analysis of my Saturn placement, Pisces, known for its isolationist tendencies, might encourage me to take more risks with collaboration.

***

A truly comprehensive and in-depth birth chart interpretation requires research, instinct, time and resources. The details are important — even twins may find that some placements can shift within minutes. That said, you’ll rarely find two astrologists who tell you the exact same thing, because the world and the cosmos and all the people who exist within them are ever-changing and dynamic. It is important to remember, though, that these charts are designed to provide descriptions and possibilities, not absolutes. I’ve found that interpreting my chart has led me to a greater sense of self-understanding. At times, it’s given me confidence in my decisions. I’ve made it my own. Astrology should be used as a tool to enhance our lives, not dictate them.

Feature collage by Emily Zirimis, inserted collages by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

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  • ValiantlyVarnished

    Love this! I started studying astrology on my own when I was a teen and then started doing friends’ charts for fun. It’s a lot of fun and you learn SO MUCH about what drives and motivates people and how they approach things. It has helped a lot with my interactions with friends, family and coworkers.

  • prairie dogs

    I haven’t even finished this yet but I’m coming down to say OMG thank you. The weird “read your chart” websites I’ve tried in the past are confusing as hell.

  • How does this work with the “revised” version of the zodiac? Because if we’re being accurate, there are supposed to 13 signs. I’m the “new” one (Ophiuchus), so how does this apply to me?

  • LEM

    I once took a giant, lecture hall class in college and the professor said, “Who believes in astrology?” and I was the ONLY ONE who raised my hand. So he took it upon himself to follow up with, “You know I said ASTROLOGY, right?”

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  • Alice

    I’m not sure I believe in astrology, but I sure love being narcissistic and reading about myself. Also, there’s always the handy excuse if the other person believes in astrology “If I seem like a bitch at first, it’s not my fault, it’s my scorpio ascendant!”

  • Kay Nguyen

    Hmmmm I was born on the last day of Virgo at midnight so basically I’m also a Lebra, I barely have any characteristic of Libra and definitely not a single trait of Virgo… So I’m not sure about this whole astrology thing…

    https://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • Bo

    I’m going to be completely honest here. What is a birth chart

  • Forever Great

    I’m a double cancer. Holy shit I’m awesome at everything and outrageously good looking while still hating everybody and myself!

  • Birth chart of a person matters a lot when it comes to the love life. If a person wants a great love life he or she should get the birth chart read by an expert astrologer.

  • Thanks for sharing it, i think birth chart is very helpful in finding love of your life.

  • Bird

    I love astrology but am adopted and will never know my birth time. Makes me very sad that I can’t read my chart.