Basics of Astrology: Part One

This series, “Basics of Astrology,” is intended to help those who are either new to astrology or who are early in their studies of astrology to understand the material offered on this site.  The series is not structured to teach one how to practice the craft of astrology.  With this reference material the reader should be able to follow any of the discussions presented.  Questions can always be placed within a comment section at the end of each post.

At first glance an astrological chart looks intimidating; a circle full of strange glyphs, zodiac symbols placed about the circle, lines criss-crossing the chart.  Even watching a chart being created, whether by hand or with the use of a computer, seems bewildering. It is all fairly simple in its concepts.  Everyone can learn to cast a horoscope. What one does with it also needs to be addressed.  That is what this series of Basic Astrology essays is going to do; show you what a chart really is, and then illustrate what you can do with it.

basic-birth-chart-layout-j

Note the above diagram.  A chart typically shows a circle with the zodiac symbols in each of twelve segments.

  • The circle represents the Earth, specifically the Earth at the time and place of our birth.  The heavy line represents the horizon, the sky above, the ground below.
  • The zodiac circle represents the sky about the Earth.  We can only see about half of the sky at any one time, the other half is beneath our feet, hidden by the Earth.
  • The Sun (circle with a dot in the middle) is shown at the bottom of the chart, below us.  This suggests that the person was born at night.
  • The zodiac is a mathematical circular projection based on the Sun’s apparent motion through the sky over a year’s time.  All of the planets move in their orbits in a plane which is broadly similar to that of the Earth (as seen in the Sun’s apparent motion). The exact moment of Spring, when the Earth’s tilting equalizes the length of day and night time, determines the start (zero degrees) of Aries, the first sign of the zodiac.  This point in time can occur at any time of the day or night in late March, usually around the 20th or 21st of the month.
  • Zodiac signs are used for mathematically positioning the planets as they move through the sky.  The signs are exactly 30 degrees in length.  Other than their names, they have no relationship to the constellations or star patterns.  The star patterns, as conceived, vary in length and often overlap each other as well as extend well outside of the zodiac band.

The Earth can also be seen as a ‘clock’ in addition to being our terrestrial globe and home.  It rotates constantly, once each day.  The Sun is like the ‘hour hand’ of the clock. In the above diagram the Sun (the round circle with the dot in the middle) is at the lower part of the chart.  If this represented a birth time for someone, that someone would be born near midnight.

Referring again to the chart diagram above, we note a heavy dark line at the left side of the circle. It’s endpoint is designated as the ‘Ascendant’.  This is the point where the local horizon intersects the zodiac circle.  The Ascendant (or the eastern point of the chart) is where the Sun rises each day.  The opposite point on the chart, at the right side, is where the Sun sets each day.  (These statements are generally true, but not specifically accurate due to a number of astronomical factors and mathematics).

This Ascendant point is located in the sign of Pisces, shown as two crescents facing away from each other with a line joining them.  Below the Pisces segment is the sign of Aries, a glyph of a vertical line with two hooks at the top.  This symbol represents a Ram.  The Pisces glyph represents two fish tied together with a ribbon.  The symbols can be discussed at another time.  Not shown is an important point in the chart called the MC.  The MC is shown at the top of the chart, an opposite point called the IC is shown at the bottom of the chart; these points will be discussed later.