The modern approach to birth charts involves describing an individual’s personality based on what planets in signs, planets in houses, and planets in aspect are said to mean. This is known as the 'cookbook' method. Scores of books and computer programs have been written with the purpose of delineating all possible planet, sign, house, and aspect combinations. Thus the seeker of self-knowledge who orders a computerized natal report will receive some thirty-odd pages of material claiming to describe him in detail.
There is a major flaw in this approach. To illustrate it, let's take an example. Suppose an individual is born with Venus in Virgo in the first house. A modern report would describe what Venus in Virgo is said to mean, what Venus in the first house is said to mean, and what any aspects with Venus are said to mean. However, at least one key point would be ignored entirely: how well does Venus function in this sign? She is in fall, Virgo being a sign where she functions poorly according to her essential nature. The consequences for the individual of Venus being in this condition would not be addressed at all.
Dignity and reception: no chart can be truly understood without a careful analysis of both.
There are two kinds of dignity. Essential dignity tells us what condition the planet is in relative to its ideal nature and functioning. This speaks to how that planet will ‘behave’ in any of its roles in the chart, which include its natural significations (e.g., Venus = love) and the matters signified by the houses it rules. Accidental dignity involves the planet’s placement within the chart: is it a strong or weak place from which to act? This speaks to the scope of the planet’s potential in the life areas which it signifies.
Reception is how we understand the planets’ relationships to each other. Which planets like or dislike each other, and who has the power in the relationship? Imagining them as characters, we then begin to understand what motivates them and how they interact with each other.
A traditional approach to the birth chart usually begins with an assessment of the individual's temperament. In the classical typology there are four temperaments, each corresponding to one of the elements: choleric (hot/dry = fire), sanguine (hot/moist = air), melancholic (cold/dry = earth), and phlegmatic (cold/moist = water). Each of us is a mixture of all four; the assessment identifies any predominance or imbalance. This is the backdrop against which the rest of the chart is examined.
Along with the analysis of dignity, reception, and temperament, the traditional approach includes checking for fixed stars, to see if any fall in prominent places in the chart; and looking at the Moon and Mercury, which together signify how the mind functions.
To learn more about traditional methods, you must read John Frawley’s four books: The Real Astrology, The Real Astrology Applied, Sports Astrology, and The Horary Textbook, Revised Edition. The latter provides an excellent summary of astrology basics in the first part.
Image Source: Pixabay (CC0).
A version of this post was first published April 25, 2010 on silvestreastrology.blogspot.com.