Yesterday I gave a presentation to the Denver Astrology Group on the topic of reading charts holistically. We had a great turnout for the talk and I got a lot of positive feedback afterward. Without reproducing the entire 90-minute talk, I thought you would be interested in reading my main points on holistic astrology, which I’ve reproduced here in this post.
I’ve left out the example charts that we looked at, but I think the notes from the lecture still get the point across.
A Holistic Approach to the Astrological Chart
Many readers start by studying astrology via the cookbook style, memorizing what each planet in each sign and house means. But when they actually read a chart, their piecemeal approach topples, failing to address the soul found in the patterns of symbols. By looking at aspects, aspect patterns, and contradictory indications in charts, we’ll practice integrating symbols, resolving the paradoxical, and deepening basic knowledge into profound understanding.
Joy’s Way to Read a Chart, or “The Joy of Astrology”
How I Got Started
I’m a self-taught astrologer who tended to make things up as I went along. I started studying astrology about ten or eleven years ago, inspired by the tarot. I only worked with my own chart (yes, I’m an Aries). Because of my tarot background, I focused on the four elements in the chart. Because of how my chart looks–I have a kite configuration with very few aspects outside of that major pattern–I also focused on aspect patterns, although I didn’t know that’s what they were called. I figured all charts looked like that!
The Standard Way
Then around 2008 I had to learn astrology as part of my training in the Golden Dawn. One of the officers of the Temple, the group’s resident astrologer and my mentor, gave me an initiation gift of my chart. He was a March-McEvers student and produced a lovely, thorough, attractively bound astrology report for me. As I read it, it sounded stilted and broken. It was full of contradictions. I didn’t think it sounded like me. Nor did it sound remotely like the work I did with my own chart.
I decided to prepare a chart for my mentor for his birthday. In June 2009 I did my first formal chart delineation. By examining the four elements in the chart and noting aspects, I saw in this chart a tree (earth elements Saturn and Capricorn, opposite) growing in a river (water elements Moon and Cancer, opposite), and with that metaphor in mind, compared the chart to the story of Apollo and Daphne. Apollo, the sun god, was chasing Daphne. She ran into a river and called on her father, a river god, to save her. Her father turned her into a laurel tree, rooted securely at the edge of the river. My friend and mentor told me that he had never seen a chart read like that before.
Joy’s Way Falls Apart
Then I tried to teach this method to a tarot meetup I led. The participants were mostly experienced astrologers. It didn’t go over so well. The participants shared knowing looks at each other over the table. Then they all left the group.
Joy’s Way Meets The Standard Way
So I buckled down and learned. Meanwhile, every time the GD group interviewed an applicant to our Temple, we would look at the person’s chart. At first I was invited to chime in with thoughts, then I started regularly doing short delineations for each applicant. I also was tasked with selecting dates for initiation rituals. For whatever reason, the main officers were comfortable with me taking on the mantle of resident astrologer. And eventually they began teasing me about how spookily accurate my readings were.
A Holistic Approach
One of the officers of the group ended up recommending me as an astrologer to a local metaphysical store. I got my first store gig as an astrologer, not as a tarot reader. But I never lost my intuitive focus on patterns in the chart. And now I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned with you.
Cookbook Vs. Holistic
“Cookbook Astrology” means following carefully defined “recipes” or pre-established meanings for all chart placements. This is a memorization based technique in which you learn each planet in each sign, in each house, and in every aspect. Cookbook astrology tends to sound rigid, uninspired, and textbook. Delineations done in the cookbook style tend to be full of contradictions.
Holistic astrology seeks to discover the unity of the chart. When practicing astrology holistically, every contradiction in the chart is resolved into the truth of the individual. Holistic astrology tends to produce inspiring, deeply resonant, compassionately honest delineations.
On July 1 of this year, a client had his aura photo taken before (top photo) and after (bottom photo) a 1-hour astrology reading with me. The colors and brightness in the second photo indicate a lightening of his aura and deeper spiritual and emotional connection. Reading holistically is healing!
How to Read Holistically
Holistic astrology considers the chart to be a blueprint for the highest expression of the self, not something to be fated to or to rise above. Although there can be many techniques and subtleties employed in holistic reading, today we will focus on three specific approaches:
- Aspect Patterns
- Contradictory Indicators
How to Blend Symbols
One of the keys to reading holistically is to be able to blend symbols, the way you might mix pigments to create secondary or tertiary colors in painting. Tarot cards are less abstract and more imagistic, therefore easier to blend, so we’ll start with those. Let’s take a look at the Empress card and the Tower card and see what happens when we blend them.
For example, Venus combined with Mars would be represented by the Empress and the Tower tarot cards. I’ll use simple interpretations to make my basic point. We usually think of symbols consecutively: The Empress followed by the Tower is growth that is destroyed. We might think of this astrologically as Venus applying to Mars.
The Tower followed by the Empress is growth after destruction. In astrology, this might be indicated by Venus separating from Mars.
But the more we can blend the symbols, the more holistic the chart reading becomes. The Empress and the Tower blended into one image might look like lightning (from the Tower card) striking a field of wheat (from the Empress card).
Although this also could be symbolic of destruction, that interpretation highlights the lightning over the wheat. A blended image keeps the strength of both symbols. This combination could produce the symbolism of fertilization. Or it could indicate baking, which is symbolic of transformation. It could also represent the type of seeds that only germinate after a fire.
For this presentation, we’ll focus on the Ptolemaic Aspects, also called “major aspects.”
These aspects are:
- Conjunction (0°)
- Sextile (60°)
- Square (90°)
- Trine (120°)
- Opposition (180°)
Sun, Moon, Ascendant
Often a standard approach to a chart is to start with the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant. The Sun is considered the self, the Moon is the soul (also read as the emotions or the inner aspect of self) and the Ascendant is considered the mask or how others see you. (Thanks Steven Forrest!) But by noting aspects to these important placements, and blending the symbols, we can find a deeper meaning.
Finding the Heart
In a holistic reading style, you don’t necessarily need to start with the usual Sun-Moon-Ascendant. Although as the reader it’s important to note those, the approach to the chart is not about analyzing and cutting apart the placements but about searching for natural connections to launch from.
Noting standout aspects and blending their symbolism is a great way to start a reading and to quickly find the heart of the chart.
Tips and Tricks
- Tighter aspects are more significant than those with a wider orb.
- Trick: reduce the orb in your software program
- Out-of-sign aspects have a different symbolism than aspects by sign.
- Tip: give less weight to out-of-sign aspects
- Remember to eyeball aspects to points and objects that the software doesn’t draw aspect lines to, such as the Asc., Dsc., MC, Nodes, or Chiron/asteroids (if used).
- Trick: you can adjust the settings of your software to add these aspects if you like, but it can make the chart look crowded.
An aspect is the relationship between two placements or positions on the chart (more than two planets can be included when conjoined planets aspect another planet or conjunction).
An aspect pattern occurs when three or more placements or positions are geometrically configured. Basic aspect patterns include:
- Grand Trine
- Grand Cross
- Grand Sextile
Working with Aspect Patterns
How do you choose what to work with in a short reading, or where to start if you’re doing a longer reading?
- Patterns that include the Sun and Moon take precedence over other patterns
- Big patterns (Grand Trine, Grand Cross, Grand Sextile and the other “grand” patterns) take precedence over smaller patterns
- Challenging patterns (based on the challenging aspects, squares and oppositions) like Grand Cross and T-Square take precedence over easy patterns (composed of trines and sextiles)
- Patterns with personal planets take precedence over those with outer planets
- Patterns hitting the angles will have more significance
- Remember to consider the orb and whether the patterns are in sign or out-of-sign
Noting Contradictions in the Chart
Some astrologers follow the “rule of three” whereby three examples of a particular indicator must appear in order to consider the signification strong. This means to find something expressed three different ways in the chart. However, sometimes you see something expressed but then find something else that contradicts it. These contradictions make chart reading more difficult—which one is right? By blending symbols, rather than trying to allow one to trump the other, we can often discover deep truth in the chart.
Examples of Contradictory Indicators
- A strong planet aspected by a weakened planet – such as a dignified planet in conjunction with an ill-dignified planet, or a benefic opposite (or otherwise in aspect to) a malefic
- Benefic or dignified planets in bad houses (and vice-versa)
- Indications of inner focus expressed outwardly in the chart—such as the night-time moon at the top (high-noon position) of the chart, Scorpio planets (considered secretive) in the first house or top of chart
- These are only a few examples!
It might seem practical to gloss over things that seem contradictory, but engaging them opens up interesting delineations that tend to be more accurate and relevant.
- Liven up your chart delineations by employing a holistic approach.
- Attempt to find the unity of the chart.
- Practice blending the symbolism of aspects.
- Work with stand-out aspect patterns as an initial approach to the chart.
- Integrate contradictions rather than trying to find which one trumps which.
If you found this interesting, you might like my upcoming class on tarot and astrology, The Pips and the Decans. Please click the image below to visit the Denver Tarot Meetup for more information.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.