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Chart Synthesis: Part 11 of 12

by Mary Plumb

At some moment in your astrological studies, you are ready to take the courageous step of attempting to synthesize, or combine, the apparently diverse parts of the natal chart into a coherent whole. In the Beginner's Series, we have covered the basic components of the chart and you can refer back to the earlier articles to refresh your memory of the signs, planets, houses, aspects, and rulerships. It is necessary to have a fairly comfortable sense of the basics before putting books aside and starting to see the wholeness of the chart in front of you. It is truly an art that takes time (as well as looking at many charts) before most of us are able to begin a synthesis. I have, however, seen a few people over the years who could grasp a chart very quickly and have penetrating insights seemingly effortlessly. This can happen at times to all of us – after all, astrology is a gift of Uranus and is thus subject to sudden shifts of perception and great clarity of thought. Without discounting the Uranian gift of a sixth sense, which is one of the astrologer's great friends, I will suggest here a somewhat methodical approach that might provide a structure through which your developing intuition can work.

I suggest taking a wide-lens view of the chart at first, i.e., look at the overall patterns and hemispheric balance. Are the planets clustered in any particular houses or hemisphere of the chart? Is the top of the chart full and the bottom empty, or vise versa? What feeling does the pattern of the planets' distribution give to you – does it seem contracted in some areas or diffuse and spread out? Is there a focus in any particular quadrant? You are just observing, letting the chart as a whole speak to you. Once you have looked with soft eyes, so to speak, to get a feel for the whole picture, you can begin a more detailed analysis.

At this point, look at the balance by element – how much of each element is represented? Fire, Earth, air, water, the ancient building blocks of the psyche – what is the balance here? Is there a great display of fire and very little Earth? Is there equal air and fire but no water? Are there planets in all elements equally? You can get a strong sense for the fundamental tools in a chart by just seeing the elements and imagining how they might interact in any specific combination. Then consider the modes: how much cardinal, fixed, or mutable energy is represented? Again, look for emphasis as well as for lack of a mode. At this point, stop for a minute and imagine what the mode-element balance has told you thus far – if someone is predominantly cardinal-fire or fixed-Earth, how might that manifest or how would that feel? Remember your knowledge of the zodiac here, e.g., a fixed-Earth predominance may be somewhat like the energy of Taurus even if no planets are in Taurus in the chart. These first, more diffuse steps are very helpful in getting an overall feel for a chart before observing specifics more closely.

When looking at the details of the chart, I suggest starting with the Sun and the Moon and their signs, elements, and modes. The luminaries are the fundamental forces in the human being, describing the creative and the receptive. You can begin to identify the essential sense of purpose and get a feel for the emotional needs that support the rest of the chart by an examination of these two bodies. See if there is an aspect between them and, if so, what the nature of it is. Look at the Ascendant and its ruler next. What is the quality of the sign on the Ascendant and its relationship to the Sun and Moon? The planet ruling the sign on the Ascendant is of tremendous importance. For example, if Aries is rising, the ruler is Mars. Where is he placed, in what house and sign, and what are his aspects to the rest of the chart? Look at the Midheaven sign, rulership, and aspects as well.

At this point, you have acquired a lot of information and impressions. Many excellent chart readings have been based on the essentials we have just gone over. You can get a very helpful picture of an individual and tremendous insight by just covering these basics, so although a true synthesis is not realized until all the components are included, know that you are on your way!

The next steps are to analyze all the other planets in the chart by sign, house, and aspects. Each house cusp and house ruler should be studied as well. It may be a good idea to write notes as you go. As you draw the glyphs and aspect signs again and again, you are imbedding your memory and consciousness with these most ancient and potent symbols of our art. This becomes a discipline of learning as well, and is especially important now. When we use computers to do our calculations, we miss the beauty of forming the glyphs ourselves. When hand-drawn, we are adding our personal touch and intention to the process of unlocking the codes of this symbolic language.

Many people learn to synthesize by using a keyword system, i.e., having a keyword or phrase in mind for each planet, sign, house, and aspect and combining them to form complete thoughts. An example would be to use the word "drive" to describe Mars, the word "intensity" to describe Scorpio, and the phrase "base of operations" for the 4th house. So, if you see Mars placed in Scorpio in the 4th house, you would think of an intense drive operating from the base. If Mars is also in a square aspect to Saturn, you might add the keywords "challenges" for square and "structure" for Saturn, coming up with the idea that Mars in Scorpio in the 4th house squaring Saturn means an intense drive from the base that challenges the structure. Obviously, there are countless variations on how a planet in a sign in a house aspecting another planet can manifest, but by using a keyword approach, you can have an objective and clear picture of the energy involved as an excellent starting point. There are many books that use this approach of assigning keywords. Alan Oken's Complete Astrology (1) is one such book, and there is a very beautiful deck of cards called Karma Cards by Monte Farber,(2) which also has a lively keyword system that combines planets in signs and in houses. It can be used as a colorful study aid.

In any event, once you have a list of keywords that resonate with your understanding of the variables involved, you can combine them and start to see meanings emerge. Some students find the keyword approach too confining and have more of a feel for, or picture of, signs, planets' and houses, but sometimes we all get stuck and the keywords are a good source to return to, for they can provide a structure (Saturn) through which intuition can work.

To summarize: begin with overall impressions before looking at details carefully, and then weave together a story of how all of these parts may come together (and be challenging!) within a person. How might this specific Mercury aspect operate in someone with a very watery nature? Is this Pluto-Uranus conjunction on the Midheaven supported by other planetary placements, or is it a bit of a wild card? What planets dominate by sign, position and aspect? Are any elements or planets under-represented or unaspected? These are some examples of the types of questions that might assist your attempt to synthesize the mountains of information that you have gathered.

It is helpful to begin to talk about what you see. Find some friends (usually easy to do!) who want to participate with you in exploring the themes of their charts. Remember that themes in a chart tend to repeat themselves, so be alert to patterns emerging. Do lots of charts! Ask friends and family for birth data and start dialoguing with them. There is no substitute for the experience of looking at and studying and analyzing a number of charts. If you get frustrated, look at a different one or take a break and come back to it later. You are using right and left brain, probably going back and forth from general to specific, and from obvious motifs to amazingly obscure ones! It is not a process that can be forced, this noble quest of attempting to understand the mysteries and majesty of any human being's life. Be patient with yourself-you are bound to have times when it seems too complicated and you doubt your ability to ever make any cohesive sense out of any of it! Keep your sense of humor and your respect for the potency of this tool, and know that you are part of an ancient tradition that is very vivid and alive!


1.Alan Oken, Complete Astrology; Bantam, 1988.

2.Monte Farber, Karma Cards; Penguin, 1988.


Stephen Arroyo, Astrology, Psychology and the Four Elements; CRCS Publications, 1975.

Stephen Arroyo, Chart Interpretation Handbook; CRCS Publications, 1989.

Tracy Marks, The Art of Chart Interpretation; CRCS Publications, 1986.

Katharine Merlin, Character and Fate: The Psychology of the Birth chart; Arkana, 1989.

Ronald Davison, Astrology; Arco, 1963.

Robert Hand, Horoscope Symbols; Para Research, 1981.

Marc Edmund Jones, Guide to Horoscope Interpretation; Theosophical, 1972.

Alan Leo, The Art of Synthesis; Fowler, 1968.


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