Introduction to Natal Astrology – 1:
Philosophy; Factors; Chart Patterns
– Written by Philip Graves, Summer 2002;
– expanded into four parts, 13-16 Jan 2004;
– reformatted for WordPress, June 8th, 2016
What is natal astrology?
In natal or genethliacal astrology, we research and acknowledge universally found correspondences between the variable personal characteristics of individuals born on earth, on the one hand, and particular placements and configurations of the variable astronomical conditions prevailing on earth at the times when these individuals are born, on the other. We call such variable conditions astrological factors because it is clear from the consistently observed patterns of correspondence between their placements at the instant of our birth and our natures throughout life that they are astronomical causal agents, by the logic of whose placements we are all affected and influenced! ‘Natal’ simply means ‘at birth’; and a diagrammatic representation of all the relevant astronomical conditions at birth is called a natal figure, nativity, natal chart or birth chart. Those conditions in the figure that relate specifically to the axial rotation of the Earth about its equator are collectively known as the horoscope.
Our personal qualities that are seen to be affected by this astronomical logic have been found to include thinking, unconscious psychology, emotions, patterns of interaction and communication with other human beings, perception and psychic receptivity, interests and aptitudes, tastes and preferences, career potential, ambition and drive, general behavior, and even physiology and health. All of these types of personal qualities vary in their particular features, manners of expression, and general extents, from one individual to another, depending on the astrological factors present at birth. This is not to say that familial genetic heritage and environmental influences throughout life are not also separately and strongly influential – they are, and astrologers do not claim to discount them – but the study of natal astrology opens the consciousness to a vast additional vista of real and definite causes of individual difference, identifying causal relationships that, to the non-astrologer, will always remain veiled.
Because it is not yet scientifically known exactly how or why astronomical conditions at birth affect us so markedly, many astrologers in recent decades have turned meek and cagey under intellectual pressure from the inevitable scientific sceptics who contest the possibility even; indeed, these astrologers have backed down from the more conventional position that accepted and assumed a direct causal mechanism, and yielded to the arguments of the sceptics that it cannot be and is not, handing them the reins of intellectual victory in the process, and taking astrology away from its once respected status as an empirical science, and into the realms of occult belief.
These astrologers have tried to get round the issue over which they stumbled and withdrew and justify their continuing practice of and belief in astrology by suggesting somewhat more obscure and far-fetched alternative models of astrological correspondence of an ‘acausal’ nature. They have trapped themselves in fanciful and nebulous propositions that demote the zodiac and planetary influence almost to the status of the imaginary or collective illusion, or a tarot tool, and that are much less rationally plausible than the straight-forwardly mechanistic one from which they timidly withdrew. Typically, while denying that the astronomical conditions are active causal agents of any effects upon us, they pronounce instead that the astronomical conditions merely symbolise the characteristics of individuals born under them, as though they are a synchronistic omen of these characteristics, reflecting the symbolism assigned by the mass consciousness of human beings to the planets and zodiac signs concerned. Liz Greene’s view as published in her earlier books on astrology falls fairly closely into this bracket; she is one of a good number of non-mechanistic astrologers of ‘symbolist’ persuasion who lean on supposedly relevant archetypes from ancient mythology in their attempts to broadly deduce and flesh out the believed symbolic meaning of the planets.
Various suggestions have been made by astrologers of this persuasion as to the true causes of the variable individual characteristics they hold to be only symbolised by the astronomical conditions.
Some, such as the late Betty Lundsted, take the view that the astrological conditions are synchronous symbols at birth presaging the individual’s family upbringing and early life history, and their effects on the individual’s psychological development in childhood. Many of the astrologers taking a predominantly psychological approach to the understanding of astrological placements hold this type of view. Often they were reared on Freudian or Jungian psychoanalysis, which has imbued them with a strong conviction in the significance of the early family life upon psychological development, perhaps to the regrettable exclusion of their being open to the possibility that the astrological conditions at birth are real causes of individual psychology and potential, fixed in the moment of birth, regardless of the nature of the early environment. This is not to deny the quality of the insights of such astrologers: they are often highly aware of the psychology of people with particular astrological placements; only muddled as to its causes.
A rather different school of thought or belief, that still falls generally within the more sceptical camp as regards the material reality of astrological causation, is that of the so-called evolutionary or karmic astrologers, who postulate that the correspondences between the astronomical conditions at birth and human personality indicate the karmic choice or need of reincarnated souls to experience particular tests, trials and conditions of life in their latest incarnations, the idea being that the soul has actively chosen a time to be born when the astronomical symbolism would aptly describe its evolutionary needs for that lifetime.
It could be argued that the aversion by many modern astrologers to astrology’s being exposed to the more rigorous forms of mechanistic analysis to which the rest of science is accountable results in the needless intellectual marginalisation of astrology within academic and scientific circles as a non-credible or invalid discipline. It is equally true that with any such empirically based science as astrology, in which the mechanisms of causation are not definitively established although the presence of patterns of correspondence is manifest to any perceptive person, the very uncertainty of cause opens the gates to those of particular faith persuasions to champion the intellectual integration within the discipline of their originally entirely dissociated belief systems such as those of reincarnation and karma. In so doing, they are arbitrarily filling the gaps of uncertainty that rendered the science incomplete, and attracting more often than not a significant following of innocents for whom the leaps of faith required to slavishly adhere to the newly inserted belief systems come disconcertingly easily.
Astrology does not need any such obscure and faith-necessitating belief system to account for its functioning; and it is rather more credible to suppose that those who have an aesthetic taste for such belief systems have simply been eager to capitalise on the uncertainty regarding how exactly astrology does work, and glad to seize the opportunity to artificially incorporate their faiths into its teachings. These belief systems may be pretty and psychologically appealing to the human mind for whom the prospect of mortality is hard to countenance, and for whom the glimmer of mystery is delightful; but are they really anything more than pleasurable delusions that obscure and mystify astrological causality, and fortify the suspicions of those of a more sceptical, rational, evidence-conscious mindset that the whole of astrology is a quasi-religious sham?
One thing that can however be said in favour of those who blend such theories as reincarnation with their astrological slants, disregarding the already sufficiently stated causes for intellectual dissatisfaction, is that their writing is often very artistically admirable and rich in imagery, and works on a therapeutic, meditative, almost subliminal level, even if a literal reading is entirely inappropriate. Besides, as applies to the writings of the psychological astrologers who treat astrology as being ‘purely symbolic’, if you are prepared to overlook their erroneously complex and obscure explanations, their actual insights into the effects of the astrological placements under discussion are often very sharp and revealing.
But to conclude, one of the most widely agreed intellectual principles is that, where the cause of something is not certain, the simplest possible should be assumed the most likely. It is on that basis that the contention that the astronomical conditions at birth cause, rather than somehow symbolising, the corresponding characteristics of the people born under them, seems most reasonable. So for the purpose of these pages at least, the conditions will be referred to as factors and not as symbols.
Factors in Natal Astrology
1) the zodiac sign placements of each luminary (sun / moon), planet, and other significant celestial body, such as the major asteroids and fixed stars; and also the sign placements of non-material points such as the north and south nodes of the moon and various Arabic Parts.
2) the ‘house‘ placements of all the same factors;
3) the sign placements of the beginnings or ‘cusps‘ of each of the twelve houses; most important of these are the cusp of the 1st house, which is called the Ascendant or ASC, and the cusp of the 10th house, which is called the Midheaven, Medium Coeli or MC.
4) the ‘aspects‘ connecting the different significant bodies of matter and the Ascendant, Midheaven and Nodes of the Moon with each other and with the midpoints of others; aspects are simply significant angular relationships between their locations in the zodiac at the time of birth.
5) The dignity or debility of each significant celestial body in the figure.
6) Connections by dispositorship between houses and between planets in the figure.
A procedural recommendation is to read each house in turn with regard to the affairs it governs, following the steps indicated in Houses / Angles 3. The final intuitive art of weighing up all factors, assisted by consideration of 5) and 6) above, to assess the balance of influence is known as synthesis.
The remainder of this article will look at particular considerations in interpreting natal figures that are not covered by other articles here.
One of the most obvious considerations when looking at a natal figure is the pattern of distribution of the planets (counting the luminaries and Pluto as planets) around the figure. Even without finer analysis of aspects and placements, this holds clues to certain qualities of the energies that the individual will experience.
The bowl chart describes the arrangement of all the planets within one 180º half of the figure (but spanning an arc of more than 120º), which will cover five, six or seven adjacent houses and signs. This implies self-containment of the individual, with some difficulty in self-expression, but the desire to teach others what has been personally learned. The life will be focused most intensively on the areas indicated by the houses occupied, at the expense of the others. This will in some cases emphasise one of the four hemispheres (see houses / angles article page 3). The first planet in the sequence (following the normal anticlockwise ordering of the signs) is known as the ‘leading planet‘ and serves as a leading point on which the individual’s attention will be focused.
The bucket chart is the same as the bowl chart except for one planet being in the opposite half of the figure. This odd planet out (sometimes known as a ‘singleton‘) shows, in the context of its sign and house placement, a direction or goal that the individual should and probably uncompromisingly will follow. Depending on whether the singleton is in a personal or social house, the goal will be hidden from or apparent to others.
The bundle chart is the same as the bowl chart but with all the planets within a 120º section of the figure, which will span one, two, three, four or five adjacent houses and signs. It implies the limiting of the personal focus and opportunities to a narrow range of areas of life, making it difficult for the individual to integrate in areas outside these, and leading to inhibition.
The locomotive chart is the same as the bowl chart but with all the planets within a 240º section of the figure (but spanning more than 180º), which will cover seven, eight or nine adjacent houses and signs. It is associated with ambition, drive, energy and perseverance. The leading planet (following the anticlockwise order) shows by its sign and house placement qualities and areas of focus for development in relation to this ambition, which will be publicly revealed if in a social house, but kept private if in a personal house.
The seesaw chart is an arrangement characterised by five pairs of planets in mutual opposition aspect, or at least in opposing houses. This strongly highlights awareness of conflicting perspectives and viewpoints, each with its own validity, so indecision over judgements is a common by-product. It also indicates conflict between personal wishes and outer-world application, along the lines of the themes of the personal and social houses involved in each opposition.
The splash chart features the planets scattered around the figure, so that at least two are on the opposite half of the figure from the majority (so distinguishing from the bucket chart), and there is no 120º portion entirely unoccupied (so distinguishing from the locomotive chart), and without the arrangement of oppositions that characterises the seesaw chart. In all these respects it is identical to the ‘splay’ chart (below). But its defining characteristic is that no two consecutive houses or signs are empty (unoccupied by a planet). It implies a multiplicity of personal interests, and the scattered application of energies, which when negatively expressed leads to superficiality and dilettantism, but when positively expressed can show a desire for complete learning about all areas of life and the world.
The splay chart is the same as the splash chart with the exception that at least two consecutive houses or signs are unoccupied at at least one point in the figure. Frequently, the planets will be found to be scattered in small groups at irregular intervals around the figure, though sometimes a grand trine can be present. This chart pattern renders the individual highly independent, and resistant to being categorised, criticised, organised or forced into conformity by others. An emphasis on the angular houses will favour public distinction.
 NB (Footnote written June 13th, 2016): Like the whole of the ‘Introduction to Celestial Bodies’ article, the philosophy section of this article was written (back in 2002, when I was only 28) from a standpoint of rational enquiry and of belief that to the degree that astrological observations are real and not illusory, there must be a rational cause for astrological influences, although its nature is unclear.
As a result, alternative belief systems that appeared to me at the time of writing the article not to measure up to the demands of rational enquiry – which is to say, that they appeared to me to be nebulous and intellectually incoherent, thus rationally unsatisfactory – were critically addressed.
Since writing the article, I’ve become increasingly aware of the overwhelming prevalence of such alternative belief systems in contemporary western astrological thinking.
If I were to write it again today, I would choose less critical language and instead address different astrological philosophies via open statements of their precepts and assumptions, but without passing express critical judgements.
Nonetheless, I remain unapologetically of the firm intellectual conviction that there is justifiably a place for rational and critical thinking in the consideration of astrology and how and why it works.
To me personally, the search for the objective truth is more important than the uncritical acceptance of every theoretical framework that has been postulated by different astrological traditions and different individual astrological thinkers. Astrology to me is a wide-ranging field of intellectual study, and not a religion whose every previously documented word I feel bound to slavishly accept as gospel.