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A Primer to Understanding Your Birth Chart:
The Luminaries and the Inner Planets
by Frank C. Clifford
Author’s Note: This introductory article on the inner planets has been written as a warm, second-issue welcome to our Dell subscribers and as a primer for regular readers and students of astrology.
In the last issue, I looked at the twelve signs of the zodiac as descriptive of twelve specific journeys or “callings” in life. In this follow-up, I shall introduce the luminaries — the Sun and Moon (often referred to as planets) — as well as Mercury, Venus, and Mars. These five celestial bodies are the closest neighbours to us on Earth and move through the zodiac faster than the other planets. Accordingly, their sign placements are considered more personally descriptive of our nature, skills, desires, and needs.
In this primer, I’ll be looking at what these five planetary bodies represent in the birth chart, along with some keywords and what to expect if that planet — or the sign(s) it rules — dominates your chart.
Being born on the cusp
There are many chart calculation services online to help you discover in which signs your five planets fall. The one I use for my school can be found here: You’ll need your date, place, and time of birth (an estimate of the time will usually suffice). If you have no idea of your birth time, enter 12:00 p.m. but be aware that the Moon changes sign every two and a half days and may have changed during the day of your birth.
For those of you born on the cusp (i.e., a day that the Sun changes from one zodiac sign to another), you’ll need to know your birth time (or an approximation) to know the sign in which the Sun is placed. Being “on the cusp” doesn’t mean you’re a mix of two signs, but your horoscope may contain planets in both signs.
Before I introduce the five planets, it’s important to know that the sign in which a planet falls will say much about how you specifically express the various meanings of that planet. Imagine the planets are the actors in your personal drama (the nouns, the energies). The signs are the clothes these actors wear (the adjectives, the archetypal energies, and how the planets act through them). Have another read of “Part I” in the April/May issue of The Mountain Astrologer for a reminder of the qualities of the twelve signs.
Let’s begin with the star of the show, the Sun:
Your Sun sign spotlights:
• Your mission, purpose in life, and vocation
• Your identity, essence, and character — who you were born to become
• Your set of core principles
• The route to achieving something significant and meaningful in your life
• The self-expressive activities that make you feel alive
• The image you have of what makes a hero
Sun keywords: journey, vocation, purpose, courage, hero/heroine, leader, authority.
If the Sun is prominent in your horoscope (e.g., heavily aspected by other planets, or conjunct one of the horoscope’s four angles) or you have numerous placements in Leo, it’s indicative of a creative personality and a life path in which forming an identity and cultivating self-expression are key themes. Life can be a self-involved quest to discover who you are (solar journeys in pop culture include those of comic book superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, and characters like Harry Potter, Simba the Lion King, and Luke Skywalker). Ideally, once this discovery has been made, you can mentor others to “find” themselves, too.
Being a solar type, you “display” well and may attain positions of authority because you exude a measure of confidence, charisma, and dignity that others gravitate towards. Less attractive qualities can be a sense of narcissistic self-entitlement — believing the world owes you before you’ve earned it — as well as vanity and an unwillingness to share the spotlight or begrudging others their time in the sun. And sometimes there’s a squandering of early promise or a parent that dominates the childhood landscape — both of which require courage so that you can get back on track and assume personal control over your destiny.