Cornerstones of Astrology – Planets, Signs, Houses and Aspects

by Marilyn Muir, LPMAFA

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Reading charts is the unconscious goal of everyone who studies astrology even if they don’t realize it. You can pick up any beginner’s book or astrological magazine and read what others have written about the various parts of astrology. What most are wishing to achieve personally is the ability to look at wheel and decipher what it says and what it means. That takes some personal effort, a good memory and time.

Sun sign astrology is very popular and you see it as the daily, weekly or monthly mini-readings done for the twelve signs. I’ve written many a column myself for magazines and newspapers plus radio and television shows. It takes real effort to turn out those simple sentences especially those phrases with which you closely identify. You cannot just grab sentences out of the air (or you should not), because some readers or listeners take what you say literally. I have often thought that someone must be following me around to be that accurate. Other times it is like the column is speaking a foreign language that has nothing to do with me. Accuracy has to do with the skill of the astrologer as well as the receptivity of the audience.

Sun sign astrology is very generic in nature. The equivalent of one sentence aimed at 1/12th of the world’s population has to connect with someone, does it not? Most people know their Sun sign so they know which sentence to read. If you happen to know your rising sign and also read that, you can get double the mileage out of the column and you will identify somewhat with those sentences as well. Add your Moon sign and you can get even a few more tidbits from that column. I would doubt that well-written and accurate Sun sign columns could give much more than that to the man on the street who possesses a cursory understanding of Sun signs. Sun sign astrology is very generic but very popular and easy to access, but it is a shorthand version of real astrology.

So what is real astrology?  It is a sky map constructed for an individual using date, time and place of birth (longitude and latitude on the globe). Since no two births can occupy the same space at the same time, such a moment creates a map for an individual. (We are pushing this particular envelope with multiple births, are we not? However, my brother is married to a twin, and the twins are very different.) That map of the moving sky provides the astrologer with a diagram of possibility and intent for that individual that can be watched and read as a moving dynamic. Reading the chart is why you go to an astrologer and is also how you, yourself, could become infected by the astrology bug so you can do that reading for yourself. Having been around for a lot of years, and having studied many self-help techniques, astrology is definitely the best technique I have ever encountered for understanding myself and my life. Once you get a taste of what it can do for you, you want more, even if you have to work to obtain it.

When you have an individual sky map, one that is your very own, a map only about you and your life, the sky is truly the limit. All sorts of new doors open besides the initial Sun sign door you may read in your local newspaper. There are other bodies besides the Sun, which are collectively called the planets.  I know, I know. The Sun is not a planet, it is a star. The Moon is not a planet, it is a satellite of the Earth. It is just easier to say the planets collectively rather than the Sun, the Moon and the planets. Repeat after me: “ease of reference, ease of reference”.

So we have the twelve Sun signs (you have to learn all of them, and not just your Sun sign) and the planets, which has hugely expanded what we initially needed to study. If you look at the wheel provided when your sky map is cast, you will see twelve segments of the wheel like orange or grapefruit segments contained with the fruit globe. The wheel represents the wheel of life. It is the Earth upon which we all stand, down to earth, physical reality, all of it. Since all of it all at once is difficult to grasp, we conveniently divide it into smaller segments called houses. The whole wheel represents the whole life of the individual and the twelve divisions represent segments of that life, or what I call arenas of interest. There is a segment for your physical body and self. There is a segment for your parents and family. There is a segment for your profession and career, and so forth. Each division covers roughly 1/12th of your life, so while small, the compartments are full of issues. Add this to what you must understand to do a reading. We now have three categories with lots of work, but there is one more important category.

Aspects are the single most learning-intensive area of astrology. Why? Aspects must assume that you already know the planets, the signs and the houses because now you must make them interact or form relationships. Aspects are not more difficult as a subject, but you do need the other three categories working before you can make sense out of and know how to apply aspects in a reading.

If I were suggesting a study guide, I would suggest Sun signs as a good place to begin reading because we already have a head start with the popularity of Sun sign astrology. Just know that this is only a thin first layer. Here you will begin to learn the nature of the signs, a prerequisite to the application of the planets within those signs. There are twelve signs, but there are lots of combinations to learn within those signs such as cardinal, fixed and mutable; fire, earth, air and water; the symbols or glyphs; the myths, etc.

The ten bodies we collectively call the planets would be my next suggestion to study because planets will become increasingly important as you develop your astrological skill. Study them one at a time and thoroughly as each represents a guiding principle, influence or energy regarding life.

Next, study the astrological houses in all their glory. Each house represents 1/12th of your life experience so each tiny house is just jam-packed with issues and events. There really is a lot to learn, so take your time. You have your lifetime to pursue this study.

Last but not least, study the aspects. As mentioned, the combination represented by the angular relationship between two bodies or points requires that you understand the two bodies or points individually before you study the relationship formed between them. Aspects can get in your face and demand your attention. Signs and houses will get into this act as well, so study aspects once you have learned the language of the other three categories. This is your basic study guide, the order in which to study the four categories.

Now I need to change gears as to the order of importance in application or reading. My best analogy for a beginning student is to think of building a house. First you select the country, city, neighborhood, subdivision, lot, architectural plans and builder – all necessary preliminary work. Astrologically you choose the type of astrology, eastern or western (sidereal or tropical), geocentric or heliocentric, type of charting and wheel, define your objective – all the preliminary steps that lead up to the setting of the sky map itself. All of this gets us up to the equivalent of laying the foundation of the house. The wheel itself at this stage can look like a plate of spaghetti that needs organizing and deciphering.

Usually once the foundation is laid, the cornerstones are set. In our analogy, the building now has a guide or dimension for natural flow of what is to come. Astrologically the cornerstones are planets, signs, houses and aspects. Once your wheel is set and visible, you will then turn to the four categories we discussed earlier to understand that sky map and you will use the information generated from your study of the four categories to read or translate it. As long as you have a plan and work the plan you will be surprised at how much information you can get from that sky map. That wondrous body of information will steadily increase as you develop your knowledge and your skill through experience. The first time I wrote out a chart reading, I generated more than a dozen pages of information about a total stranger. I was stunned and the stranger was stunned. I was also hooked. That was 36 years ago and I am still doing astrology.

We have four cornerstones which you should have diligently studied and, through that study, developed a body of information on each. One of those cornerstones must become the keystone, the one that leads or controls the flow of information for that chart. The order I gave you for studying must now shift as the natural key category moves to the front. The keystone is planets. Planets “rule” the signs and houses and you will discover aspects (angular relationships) can sound very similar to the nature of certain planets.

Most of what we can learn and apply can be defined as the what, where, when, why and how of existence. We can determine the what, where, why and how through these four natal categories.

  • The what of our lives such as principles, energies, drives and motivations are planets.
  • The where of our lives such as issues, events, arenas of interest are the houses.
  • The how of our lives such as attitudes, expressions, mannerisms, or coloring are signs.
  • The why of our lives such as stress, conflict, luck, flow, or constriction are the aspects.
  • When is a function of both the natal and the dynamically changing personal charts.

It is really that easy. Once you learn the core principles of the four categories, the rest is application and experience. Your skill develops naturally and sequentially. There is always more to study, but developing an organized body of information which you have taken the time to cement into your consciousness is what provides the basis for all that you can and will do. If you skimp studying these categories, you will have a weak and porous base, holes in your knowledge that can trip you up every time until you fill those blank spots in your astrological skills toolbox. I know this because I have been there and done that. These four categories are the place for you to begin to build a strong foundation of astrological knowledge that you will find no end to applying to your life. If I regret anything about my astrological studies, it is that I did not start sooner. Sooner would have made my life more understandable, particularly during the more difficult episodes. 

Bon appetite. A virtual astrological smorgasbord awaits you limited only by those constrictions you place or allow to be placed on it. The universe (and its Creator) provided us with a giant map of potential and possibility and gave us enough brains to develop the skill to read it. Go for it!

First published on Ezine website January, 2010, republished with slight editing.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.