Learn the language of astrology

written by Cassandra Tyndall

Space Nebula In Orion astrology planets

Credit: Bigstock

Learning astrology is like learning another language. Not only is there new jargon to wrap your head around, there is also a whole new script to learn. When you first see an astrology chart, it’s full of signs, symbols, lines, numbers and a bunch of odd shapes. You may recognise the symbol of your own Sun or Star sign on the page, but most of what you see will be unfamiliar.

As with any learning, you need to start with the basics. As you master those, you’ll gradually discover how you can group words together, form sentences and eventually engage in an entire conversation. With practice and adherence to certain rules, you can incorporate reading and writing the script. Like hieroglyphics or Sanskrit, it takes practice to perfect the integration of astrological symbols with the words, and then to create a sentence of substance. This initial and vital process is the first step towards unravelling a birth chart.

Each planet, sign and house in a chart has its own symbolism and keywords, which provide a guideline for interpretation. Initially, you will repeat ideas from your teacher, your favourite books and astrology websites. As your practice and understanding of astrology widens and deepens, so will your interpretation of its meaningful symbols.

Birth chart features

A birth chart comprises three main factors: the planets, the houses and the signs, all of which can be likened to a movie. The planets are the actors, the houses are the stage and the signs are the roles the actors are cast in.

The planets

Each birth chart contains seven planets, or actors, who each play an important part in your life. The planets are the Sun and the Moon (known as the luminaries) as well as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Many astrologers also include the relatively recent discoveries of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

To help illustrate this concept, let’s take Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example and call him Mars. In all charts, Arnie — Mars — will play some type of role. For some, he will be like The Terminator, while for others he will be more like the Kindergarten Cop.

Each planet has its own function to perform. Mars always wants to do Mars-type things. He likes to initiate, compete, assert his will and find an outlet for pent-up energy. The sign that Mars occupies describes how he will go about being himself. In some signs, his natural functions will come about easily; in others, with greater difficulty.

The important thing to remember is that each planet strives to do what is inherently instinctive for it to do. Below are a few keywords for each planet’s function:

Planet Keywords
Sun Leadership, identity, confidence, pride, vitality
Moon Responsiveness, emotional self, mother, food
Mercury Thinking style, Communication, reason and discrimination
Venus Relating style, beauty and art, how you like to enjoy yourself, unify
Mars Energy, anger, assertiveness, action, separate
Jupiter Generosity, faith, wisdom, beliefs, big picture
Saturn Responsible, restrictive, enduring, grounded, cautious
Uranus Unpredictable, original, authentic, outside-the-box
Neptune Soulful, dreamy, vague, sensitive, intuitive
Pluto Secretive, controlling, powerful, intense

By reading some of these simple planetary keyword associations, you may already feel familiar with some of these themes in your own life. You may relate to Saturn while at work but feel more in tune with Neptune when you’re at home with your loved ones.

The houses

The next major components of a birth chart are the houses. If you’ve ever seen a birth chart, you will notice it’s a big circle divided into 12 sections. Depending on the house system the astrologer uses, some houses will be very small, while others quite large. You may even see a chart where the houses are all of equal size.

Regardless of which house division system your astrologer adopts, one factor will remain the same: some houses will contain one or more planets while others will have none. Similar to being at home, you may have two or three rooms you spend most of your time in, while you only visit the other rooms from time to time.

If the houses represent the stage in the film of your life, then each actor cannot be in every scene all of the time. As in life, you are not at work all of the time or overseas all of the time or suffering from illness all of the time. Empty houses of the birth chart do not lack meaning or relevance. They are simply triggered at different periods and can be highlighted using intermediate-to-advanced astrological timing techniques.

The 12 houses describe every topic of your life, from finances to your hopes and wishes, to children and career. The houses show where the planets-as-actors occupy the most dominant scenes of your movie.

Below is a brief outline of the meanings of the 12 houses:

House Meaning
1st House Self, attitudes, beginnings, vitality, appearance, body, life
2nd House Money, values, income, possessions
3rd House Local and short distance travel, siblings, communication, neighbours, learning
4th House Home, family, real estate, Father, upbringing
5th House Children, hobbies, love affairs, romance, fertility, creativity, pleasure, sex
6th House Daily routines, pets, work, illness,
7th House Relationships, marriage, spouse
8th House Debt, tax, other people’s money, inheritances, joint finance, death
9th House Faith, international affairs, long distance or special travel, academia
10th House Career, fame, public life, reputation, Mother
11th House Good fortune, luck, hopes and dreams, friends, protection
12th House Isolation, retreat, endings, escape, self undoing, hidden

As mentioned above, Mars likes to do Mars-type things. If he is located in the 10th House of Work, then he is likely to encourage you to show initiative in your career. You may be competitive with colleagues or assertive about getting ahead if you have this placement. If Mars is in the 7th House of Marriage, you may express these same attributes — initiative, assertiveness or competitiveness — in your most significant relationships.

By now, you may be able to begin the first step of chart interpretation by blending keywords of the planets and houses, based on the houses in which different planets are located for you.

For example, Pluto in the 7th House may describe intense or controlling experiences in relationships. Saturn in the 2nd House can show someone who is responsible with money, while the Sun in the 11th House can indicate confidence and leadership with friends.

The signs

You may already be familiar with the zodiac signs and their common personality traits. In the birth chart, one of the major roles of the zodiac signs is to qualify what role is suitable for the actor, or planet.

Let’s recap the planets. Remember, each planet likes to be him or herself and do the things they like to do. Let’s use our example of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mars again. Mars, like Arnie, likes to be competitive, take action and employ physical outlets for his energy. If Mars is cast into a role where he can be himself, he’ll be happy and most likely successful in the role. However, if Mars is cast into a part that requires him to be slow, lazy or overweight, then Mars is likely to show the more negative aspects of his character. Anger, frustration or aggression can be the expression of an unhappy Mars.

A planet in a sign can range from its most positive manifestation through to its least agreeable behaviour. Planets are classified as favourable or unfavourable in the signs through a system known as the Essential Dignities, which is based partly on the signs each planet rules.

Each sign is ruled by a planet. There are 12 signs and only seven planets, so some planets rule more than one sign. Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo, Venus rules Taurus and Libra, Mars rules Aries and Scorpio, Jupiter rules Sagittarius and Pisces and, finally, Saturn takes care of both Capricorn and Aquarius. Only the Sun and the Moon rule one sign each, which is Leo for the Sun and Cancer for the Moon.

The rationale behind the dignities was developed many centuries ago, before Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered. The signs associated with them are Aquarius, Pisces and Scorpio respectively.

The Essential Dignities

In this Essential Dignities table, there are four classifications beside each zodiac sign. Here’s what they mean:

At this point, you may think, “Oh, my Venus is in Scorpio, is that bad?” Using the tables above, you can see that Venus likes to unify. Scorpio is ruled by Mars, who likes to separate. The role of Scorpio is not comfortable for Venus because it is harder for her to do what comes naturally there.

It is important to avoid placing moral or value judgements on your planets. An actor cast in an unsuitable role doesn’t necessarily make for a bad movie and, just like on a set, there’s a supporting cast and crew around to help you overcome any weaknesses.

The Essential Dignities determine the level of ability and competence a planet has in a sign. Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator is a classic example of the actor fitting the role of planet and sign combination easily. As the title character in Kindergarten Cop, discomfort, confusion and mishap dominate, just like when you’re in a role that is not natural to you.

There are many layers to the dignity system. As you get started, it may be easiest to focus on the most obvious two qualifications, that of domicile and detriment. If you have any planets in domicile or detriment, think about whether they manifest like a planet playing a natural role, or whether they have to adjust for circumstances or a role that may be a little uncomfortable.

Keywords for the signs

Aries Independent, impulsive, loves a challenge
Taurus Measured, reliable, steady, sensual, enjoys quality, stagnant
Gemini Curious, adaptable, interactive, networker, chatty
Cancer Protective, nurturing, sensitive, conservative, changeable moods
Leo Charming, engaging, extravagant, warm, radiant
Virgo Exacting, organised, purity, efficient, systematic
Libra Social, fair, diplomatic, likes balance
Scorpio Deep, intense, loyal, investigative, strategic
Sagittarius Adventurous, open minded, restless, focused on the big picture
Capricorn Hard-working, solid, ambitious, distant
Aquarius Unconventional, inventive, free thinking
Pisces Sensitive, creative, inspired, dreamy, vague

Astrology in action

Now that you have a handle on the basics, you can begin to make statements about someone based on simple combinations of planets, signs and houses. Although there is much more to interpreting a birth chart than mixing a few keywords, this is the first and vital step in learning your new language. Let’s take a brief look at the birth chart of actress Angelina Jolie.

Single Wheel: Angelina Jolie

Looking at the numbers in the very centre of Angelina’s chart, you can see the Sun (the circle with a dot in the centre) is located in the 12th House. Using the keywords, you could say that Angelina may have a sense of hidden identity or endings in leadership, or that she may gain vitality in retreat. We get the sense that the Sun in the 12th House is a very private space for the Sun to shine!

Next, add some Gemini keywords to hone in on what the Sun in Gemini in the 12th House means. Having no special rulership in the sign of Gemini, the Sun can be considered neutral here. Keyword combinations might include being chatty when hidden, adaptable leadership, being curious about what’s hidden or, possibly, Angelina is interactive and confident when out of the public eye.

The most dominant planet in Angelina’s chart is Mars, as it’s in its own sign of Aries and in the 10th House. Using keyword combinations, you might come up with ideas such as Angelina being independent in or separate from her public life, that she loves a challenge in her career or has reputation for being assertive and impulsive. Mars can express himself freely and authentically in Aries.

Notice the 1st House, where Venus is located. Keyword phrases for this placement include beautiful appearance, having an attitude towards unifying things and someone who enjoys beginnings. How Angelina will go about these things will be described by the sign of Cancer. Thus, she is sensitive in her attitude towards unifying, protective of her art and may be conservative about her beautiful appearance.

Going further

When you begin to explore astrology, the sheer vastness and complexity of the subject can be overwhelming. It can also be tempting to try to learn too much too soon.

Start with the basics. Look at the charts of your family and friends and practice making keyword-type statements about their charts. Once you’ve memorised the ABCs of your new language, you can begin to understand it at a deeper and more profound level and, then, speak it more fluently.


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Cassandra Tyndall