A Beginner's Guide to Natal Charts
Perspectives on the meaning of natal charts abound. One of my preferred perspectives is that they show the portal of energy through which one entered this lifetime, complete with gifts and skills, lessons to be learned (sometimes re-learned), and supportive (or challenging) initiations along the way. You might say we’re made up of starlight and earth energy, and our natal chart describes the particular flavors of starlight-and-earth energies that we combined to form this lifetime’s experience. Rather than predictive astrology, I view it as a palette of our preferences and intended explorations.
The three layers of information that I’d like to share about are the signs (for examples The Ram (aka Aries), The Water Bearer (Aquarius), the Sovereign (Leo)), the planets (including Sun and Moon) and the houses, numbering 1-12. Here is a sample natal chart, for someone born today. (If you'd like to follow along with your own natal chart, you can get a free one at astro.com. Click on "Chart Drawing, Ascendent", and put in your birth info.)
Yes, there’s a lot in the natal chart at the top. Let’s break it down a bit. The signs are the symbols in the outer rim of the circle. I’ve circled them:
The signs, circled. Note that each sign is given 30 degrees of the circumference of the chart.
One way to understand the signs is that they are mystery schools exploring different archetypes. The Water Bearer-Aquarius mystery school is one of exploring freedom and uniqueness, exploring beyond the status quo, playing with thoughts and ideas, and viewing life as an experiment. The Fish-Pisces, on the other hand is focussed on mysticism and merging with the infinite, valuing the bodhisattva ideal. The Ram-Aries is a school of warriors, fighting for spiritual causes (think Samurai or Jedi) and upholding ideals. Its energy is aggressive but with a purity of intent, a clean focus. Each of these mystery schools are equal pathways into the mystery of the infinite, different pathways of spirituality and ultimately enlightenment.
I love that about astrology; each path is valid, and equally important. However, some cultures favor some of the archetypes over others, leaving some people to feel a bit lost or undervalued on their journey. For me, astrology has helped to clarify why some of my ongoing longings and priorities are so at odds with the culture I grew up in - my journey and intentions are just different from the current cultural status quo. Had I been born with my current alignment to a different tribe and different time, prioritizing Earth wisdom and the seasonal cycles, creativity, and embodied enlightenment, (among other things), I would have fit right in. So it goes…
And no one person is just one archetype - the signs/mystery schools show up differently in our lives depending on where they are in our chart, and which planets are at play in those signs. So, if you consider the night sky when you were born, you’ll see the signs/constellations laid out across the sky, some above the horizon, and some below, under the Earth. The planets will be following their paths through the sky, some of them visible, crossing through one of the signs, and some will be below the horizon (also in a sign).
The natal chart shows where those planets were the moment you were born. The top half of the natal chart is above the horizon, while the bottom half is below the horizon. And the placement of the planets show what sign they were in.* I like that image, thinking of my parents going outside to look at the stars and planets on the evening I was born and seeing what they see - that is reflected in my chart, and I can “see” it too.
Here are the planets in the chart:
The planets, circled. Note how each planet is within the portion of the circle dedicated to a given sign. Towards the top of the chart, the Sun, symbolized by a circle with a smaller circle inside it, is right under the yellow symbol for Libra. So, the Sun sign is Libra. Venus, to the right of the Sun, is also in Libra (but in a different house).
Each planet represents a different aspect of you or your gifts/tools for awakening. Venus is the feminine principle or Inner Goddess, Mars the masculine principle or Inner God, the Sun is the fuel you burn to reach your goals, while Jupiter shows the path of expansion that will help you awaken.
The location of each planet on the chart shows what mystery school you “signed up for” for each of those aspects. So, for this person, with today's natal chart, both their Sun and their Venus are in Libra (the mystery school focused on conscious, equal, sustainable partnership). Both their inner feminine and the fuel they burn to reach their goals has to do with egalitarian sustainable partnership. For someone with Venus in Aquarius, however, they would be exploring the inner feminine as embodying freedom, and viewing life as an experiment.
What about those houses? The houses divide the sky into 12 sections, 6 above the horizon and 6 below, starting at the eastern horizon. The sign on the eastern horizon at the moment of your birth is referred to as the “Rising Sign” and sits in the 1st house. Each house is a different area of one’s life, from communication to play to sacred work to partnership.
Here are the houses in a natal chart, highlighted in orange. They look like pieces of pie:
The houses, delineated in orange, with the number of the house circled in black towards the center of the chart. Note how each planet is within one of the 12 houses. The Sun is in Libra in the 9th house, Venus is in Libra in the 8th house.
So now we have three layers: where the planets are, which signs they are in, and which house they are in, showing what area of life that aspect of self and mystery school is most likely to play out in. So, this person has Sun in Libra in the 9th house, meaning that conscious partnership will be a main focus and fuel on their journey to reach their goals, particularly noticeable in the house of self-expansion.
Simple, yes? :) Those are three of the most important layers. Being able to identify the signs is helpful, as well as the symbols of the planets, but you can always use a guide such as the one below if you don't have them memorized.
And what about interpretation? I daresay that's the funnest bit, and it's a whole other story :) If you’re keen to dive into your natal chart, here is a quick guide from the Shamanic Astrology Mystery School with descriptions of each sign, planet, and house and a few other odds and ends.
Thank you for joining me for this dive into natal charts! Please feel free to message me with any questions. Or, if you'd like to schedule a natal chart reading or transit reading, please do! Next time I’ll explain a bit about angles and aspects and what they mean for a chart.
* Note: the signs and the constellations are progressively out of alignment with each other. This is due to the precession of the equinoxes, as the sun moves along its 26000 year cycle away from and back towards the center of the galaxy. The type of astrology that I practice regards the signs as seasonal markers, and consciously lets go of the exact location of the current constellation it was named after in the sky. So, the signs remain in their place through the solar cycle as the constellation shift, slowly, in the sky...