Originally October 22, 2007
From the Desk of Samuel Reynolds
One thing to help in astrological analysis is to recognize that planets are on trial. Like a court trial, planets testify for or against something, and you, as the astrologer, have to judge their testimony. That’s why one of the classical phrasings for delineating a chart was “judging” it. This brief essay outlines a technique that will improve your astrological analyses and help you come out with better judgments overall.
One of the developments in modern astrology that’s made it so difficult to accurately judge a horoscope has been the advent of cookbooks. Not food cookbooks, but astrological books that look at the placement of planets in signs and provide interpretations for each one, as if they’re individual ingredients for a dish. You might think at first that this should have been a boon, but it’s not. The reason is simple: traditionally, planets were not viewed in isolation of each other. For example, it would be impossible to consider Venus in Aries, without considering the “testimony” of Mars as well. What’s more, an astrologer would also look at what houses Venus rules, occupies, and what houses Mars ruled and occupied as well. The two would be connected, because Mars rules Aries.
There’s also another big issue to consider with thinking about planets in signs first or only. Traditionally, that is before the 20th century, astrologers didn’t focus on interpretations of planets in signs; they focused on the conditions of the planets. Going with our last example, Venus in Aries is a very challenging position for Venus, because she’s in the sign opposing to what she rules, Libra. This means she’s in detriment. This compromises her ability to rule justly and well over the affairs she rules by a house. She also might sour somewhat the affairs of the house she occupies. So if Venus in Aries is the ruler of the 7th house (Libra) for an Aries rising person, then this person might have trouble integrating the lessons of true partnership in her life. There’s further testimony of this as Venus in Aries is in this person’s first house. This means she is even more likely to think about herself first, though the person may protest to the contrary. This is pretty specific information, but admittedly not enough detail. We only have the testimony of one planet. That’s why our next step would be to look at the testimony of Mars, the planet that rules Aries and most likely rules the house that Venus occupies.
However, a cookbook would come up with a snappy judgment that perhaps complements what Venus says, but adds more that’s not fueled by additional testimony. For instance, a cookbook might say something like this about Venus in Aries: “Socially aggressive. Passionate romantically. Tend to be impetuous in love, possibly even marrying in haste. Can take initiative making money, but may be just as impulsive in spending it.” This sounds great, but could be completely wrong as we don’t have enough testimony or evidence for this just from a Venus in detriment. That’s the key thing! Mars in Scorpio, however, may temper that Venus to be very good with money, almost too deliberate. Although Venus in Aries is likely to be in the first house of an Aries rising, her ruler, Mars in Scorpio, may not only suggest she’s very attractive, but she has an allure that makes her compelling in getting what she wants. She may, in fact, be driven by a measure of selfishness, but she may not get it by overt aggression! This is why it’s important to see the chain of evidence that you have to construct when “judging” a nativity, a chart.
I also recognize that since the advent of psychotherapy, astrologers have become reluctant to judge, or pass a moral statement on just about anything. I think that’s unfortunate as it’s built into the actual system of astrology. This is why we talk about planets in detriment, fall, exaltation and dignity. This does not mean, however, that we have to judge a person as a bad person because many of the planets are in fall. These placements speak about what has been given by nature (at the person’s birth) and testify to the work he or she must do to improve his or her life. However, if we skirted the importance of that work, of the planets’ testimony (by fall or detriment) that certain areas of life need serious attention and effort, we could cheat the client out of his or her destiny or spiritual growth. The testimony of the planets provides us with windows into spiritual growth and possibilities for the person.
In some ways, getting away from the cookbook principles of astrology is liberating. I used to find it tedious and laborious to look up the zodiac placement of every planet in someone’s chart. Then I would have to synthesize what it would mean. If I know that Venus in Aries doesn’t allow for the true expression of Venus in that sign, then I know that detriment will complicate the areas that Venus also rules and prove challenging to the planets that Venus contacts, especially by square or opposition. I keep the terms of Venus’ testimony to a simple level, without running the risk of adding statements that can’t be supported by the chart, as we saw with the cookbook example above.
In other systems, like in India , they have even more advanced ways of “grilling” the testimony of the planets for particular houses using “amsa” charts or divisional charts. Divisional charts are what we call harmonic charts in the West, and they divide up the chart by different numerical sections. For instance, a navamsa chart is a 9th harmonic chart that divides each sign of the zodiac into 9 equal parts and then superimposes that into 12 houses, like we regularly do. From this type of chart, the astrologer can gain more information about the power and weaknesses of planets for 9th house affairs (and marriage in Vedic astrology, but that’s a different topic.)
One final word about testimony comes from looking at a house cusp for the testimony of a planet, for example, looking at the ruler of Pisces on the cusp of the 12th house. This is something that also has become confusing in the 20th century with the adding of modern rulers of particular signs. I personally don’t believe the outers truly rule signs, though I know the standard idea is that Uranus rules Aquarius, Neptune rules Pisces, and Pluto rules Scorpio. However, I challenge any astrologer, student or otherwise, to produce the evidence that demonstrates HOW astrologers came up with these rulerships. From what I’ve been able to read, it seems that people, in this century, have just seemed to go with the flow, though there’s not a lot of written testimony on why and how these planets were assigned to these particular signs. There’s more I can say about this, but my key point is that the astrologer should stick first to the traditional rulers: Saturn for Aquarius, Jupiter, Pisces and Mars, Scorpio. If additional testimony is needed from the outer planets, their testimony should be added only after the traditional rulers.
You are a judge as an astrologer. You’re not here to judge the person, but you can judge the nativity. No one has made you God to judge someone’s lifestyle or even a client’s hair-do. However, you can look to the testimony of the planets to see where they are strong and weak and how that will affect the native, the person holding the chart. It is your responsibility to do this to the best of your ability, and that means keeping a level head. If you go by just planets in signs, you might be apt to make some statements that don’t bear out in the life. This mostly is because there is a chain of testimony that connects the planets to permitting something…or denying it. You do have to interrogate each planet to see how they testify. Sometimes they sing like a canary, and other times they’re sealed shut like a clam. But you have to take your time and do the work. Thank the heavens that there’s only seven to use initially, and a smaller number to use for additional testimony.
Further Testimony from other sources:
Rulers of the Horoscope by Alan Oken
Astrology: Understanding the Birth Chart by Kevin Burk
Christian Astrology, Book 3: An Easie And Plaine Method Teaching How to Judge upon Nativities (Don’t be put off by the title, Christian Astrology! This is a must have in your library!) by William Lilly