Behind the Astrologer’s Curtain

I recently spoke with a group of friends who came to have their cards and charts read at The Chakra Shoppe, where I currently see clients on Saturdays. One woman said that she’d had her chart done years before, would another astrologer see something different in it? And I realized that many people have little insight into how astrologers work or how charts are done.

In this post, I’ll take you behind the astrological curtain. It answers all kinds of questions you might have, like: What happens? What does the astrologer do? Are all charts the same? How can you discern an astrologer’s competence?

The chart is less important than what you understand from having it done…

Casting a Horoscope (How Most Astrologers Work)

First off, when someone says, “have a chart (horoscope) done,” s/he is referring to the natal chart. There are many kinds of charts, but the natal chart is what really relates the others to you as an individual. It’s a kind of prerequisite. It is a map of our solar system the moment you took your first breath (if you have your birth time; if not, on the day you were born). It shows where all the planets were and how they relate to each other.

If you know your birth time, the astrologer can use houses, which divide the chart’s circle into twelve pie pieces. Each of them represents a distinct part of your life (see the houses post). You can have a very detailed and insightful chart done without houses. If you don’t know your birth time, the process for getting it varies with where you were born and how birth records are done, but three common places to look for your birth certificate are: the local government (county, city, province), the church/parish records, or hospital records. You can also query family members. If you can’t find it and you really want to know, you can have an astrologer analyze your life events to determine when you were born (“rectifying a chart“).

Each astrologer’s approach will be grounded in why s/he decided to do this work, what is her/his point of view, sense of mission, and this will impact her/his approach to your chart.

Like most practices, astrology has computerized, and most astrologers use special websites or software to do the calculations of the actual chart. You can produce your own chart, too, and even pay a website to do a basic interpretation. I use a site called Astrodienst. The computer does all the calculations that we old-timers used to do by hand.

Professional astrologers will ask you to have an initial consultation, as close to in person as possible (video chat is next best, and phone after that). S/He will want to know what’s going on in your life, what’s prompting you to have your chart done. What you want it to help you do. Then, after s/he has cast and interpreted your chart, the astrologer will make a follow-up appointment and reading at which s/he will go over the interpretation with you and answer your questions.

Each astrologer’s approach will be grounded in why s/he decided to do this work, what is her/his point of view, sense of mission, etc. For example, in my case, I help people rediscover their spiritual core. I call this “Rediscovering your inner Queen/King.” I highly recommend asking the astrologer you’re exploring why s/he is doing this work, and pay close attention to his/her nonverbals, which reflect his/her attitude more effectively than words.

A Standard Way to Interpret a Birth Chart

The way each astrologer approaches her/his craft varies widely, but most interpret charts according to these factors. If you are exploring having yours done, print this out and ask the astrologer about how s/he approaches these things.

  • Interpret the personal planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars) and how these relate to each other. This reveals how their energies affect the development of your core personality.
  • Relate your personals to the chart’s horizon (Ascendant/Descendant) and meridian (Midheaven/Nadir) and houses (when you know your birth time).
    • Midheaven signifies your outermost expression (reputation, career, “social office”) and Nadir your private, innermost self (family of origin dynamics, ancestry, private life). Ascendant is a two-way mirror that signifies how the outer world/people see you, and how you see it. Descendant describes your way of expressing/learning about yourself by interacting with other individuals.
  • Analyze how your personals relate to your social planets, Jupiter and Saturn. This gives insight into how your core fits into the larger social world, how you can learn, engage, and grow through interacting with “society” at various levels—and what limits and obstacles you probably face.
  • Delve into how your personal and social planets relate to your transpersonal planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. These are very important when you want to delve into your spiritual life, and they can be powerful influences in your earthly life, too.

Check out the Bodies post to learn more about what planets signify.

  • Next, many astrologers work with asteroids (I specialize in Chiron), Moon Nodes, and Arabian Parts (I work with Pars fortunæ), and many other parts. If you are curious about this, it’s a great question to ask the astrologer during the initial consultation.
  • In these analyses, the astrologer will focus on the sign and house of each planet. Planets’ energies are usually strengthened or weakened by the sign in which they sit, and houses change their relative influence, too.
  • The planets’ and angles’ aspects to each other (angles) carry very specific meanings (check out the Aspects post to learn how these work). The dynamics they describe can be more precise than years of therapy. This blows me away because their meanings are rapidly standardizing in practice (see Astrodienst (“astro data-bank“) and Astrotheme (see “celebrity data base“), each of which has thousands of charts available for study and data crunching). If you want to get somewhat geeky, ask the astrologer how s/he works with orbs, which refer to how exact aspects are.
  • Most people’s charts also have overall “chart patterns” and “composed aspects” that can be incredibly revealing. It astounds me, clients tell me that they are blown away at how these describe their life dramas relatively simply.

The above analyses are the ground work, but then the astrologer synthesizes them into the “big picture” and relates the overall meaning to where you are in life and what kind of advice you want. Here your mileage will vary a lot.

By the way, if you want to see how one astrologer organizes all these things, check out my “Counselor to Kings and Queens” page. I organized them into three levels of analysis.

How to Tell an Astrologer’s Competence

Obviously, this is a question that defies an easy answer because anyone’s perception of “quality” is very relative. That said, here are some things I would look for:

  • Humility: do you feel that the astrologer is really into him/herself? How much “ego” do you feel? This is important because your chart and life are about you, not the astrologer. Do you feel s/he really wants to serve you?
  • Ask some geeky questions, and pay attention to how s/he feels when answering. Do you feel that s/he is taking you seriously?
  • When you ask her/him about why s/he does charts, do you feel s/he’s being forthcoming? Earnest?
  • Does the astrologer write articles? If so, observe how s/he uses data. Does s/he back up assertions with references or solid reasoning?
  • What kind of training does s/he have? This one is one of the less important, but I’m biased; I have had little “formal” training at this point. But it can be one useful indicator of how important s/he takes astrology.
  • How does s/he respond when you ask about her/his chart casting process? Is s/he willing to take you behind the curtain?
  • Do you feel that this could be a partnership based on trust? Totally trust your intuition here; it’s the most important.
  • Do you know other people who have had their charts done by him/her? Don’t lean on this too hard; they were not you, and their experiences don’t mean you’ll have the same one. Pay more attention to their self-reported interactions than what they learned.
  • I invite further questions in comments!


Another Level: A Spiritual Perspective on “Getting Your Chart Done”

I understand charts to be spiritual skeletons, a person’s roadmap for this life (incarnation). Every person has a different level of awareness of her/his spiritual purpose, and this evolves as one’s life unfolds.

One of the most important things to realize about having your chart done is that it is an event that has spiritual significance. Your spiritual journey looks different at 20 and at 40. So you could have your chart done by the same astrologer at different times and have different insights.

Dane Rudhyar asserts that when a person has her chart done, the astrologer should reference that day’s chart and the client’s transits because the day is spiritually significant. You are consulting your spiritual map; you are looking for something, seeking a spiritual connection or grounding in the universe.

After all, the chart is less important than what you understand from having it done. It’s more about your understanding, taking it in, than it is about the chart or the astrologer. And your understanding is key to your ability to create change in your life, change that you want.

So, having your chart done is an experience more than getting an artifact called a chart. How are you able to take in and use its guidance? This varies significantly, and the astrologer you choose has a large impact on the experience you have, what you learn from it.

I invite your questions in comments!

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