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Our recommended order of operations when you engage a chart...

By John Townley, March 2015

When you look at a chart, what do you evaluate first and most, least and last, what’s your order of battle? What tools do you choose to use preferentially, and which do you leave on the table for later? Here’s a thumbnail list, a la Vivian Robson's "Fifteen Points in Professional Astrology", of my own marching/sailing orders, based on the theory that astrology is primarily physical in nature (though psychological or spiritual in its effects) and that the natal horoscope is a map of the habits and expectations you get from experiencing it. It’s all about the rhythms,  tides of the planets, and how they repeat themselves based on the natal starting point. It's short and sweet, but with lots of links for further explanation on many of the steps. There are lots more refinements and techniques available that are worth pursuing, but here are the most important steps to initially and solidly nail down the native horoscope:

1. Chart shape.

That’s the biggest generality. It tells whether you’re a solo player, a multitasker, are partner-driven, or ambition-fired, lots more. It’s simple Jones patterns, q.v. for more.

2. Clusters…

…preponderances, then patterns. Planets can be little clustered islands in the sky (stelliums) that always concentrate specific things, or spread out into broader supportive (trines, sextiles, grand or otherwise) or debilitating (squares, crosses) patterns that get repeatedly activated by transits and progressions. This portrays style, from easy grace to constant struggle, in the planetary areas concerned. Preponderance of element (earth, air, fire, water) or lack thereof also show critical balance issues.

3. Sun, Moon, Ascendant...

…by sign, house, aspect,. Most astrologers start with this, because it’s the big guns. Who you feel you are (Sun), how you react (and thus your feelings, Moon), and your physical appearance, what you see in the mirror.

4. Chart order...

…(rising ahead of Sun, what follows what). Back to a more careful consideration of islands in the sky. What gets hit in what order, and thus what you come to believe comes next, in life. It’s the order of the acts in your show, who's the opener, the closer, which one introduces the next – it’s how the drama unfolds, over and over again.

5. Most featured planet...

…(not necessarily "ruling" planet). The tradition “ruler of the Ascendant” may be most important, but not always. A bucket handle planet can be critical, or whatever takes the most aspects (so it always gets the most attention at once), kind of like who’s mom or dad’s favorite sibling.

6. Most afflicted planet...

...the downside of the last. Mommy (or Daddy) never liked that one, or just ignored the little bugger. It’s the source of a preponderance of problems.

7. Elements, angularity.

This is a refinement of #2. You can use Lilly weighting, or more modern count-up methods. Basically, it’s about what’s in your face, and what lurks behind.

8. Outer and inner planets...

…and their cross-involvement. This is a subset of general aspect evaluation, but critical. Inner planets involved with outer ones mean personal issues driven by social ones, which can sweep you along in the popularity and acceptance game or hang you out to dry. It’s the mortar and pestle of moral and spiritual conflict and the arbiter of both faith and hope.

9. Nodes and Vertex...

…and their involvement. This is similar to above, but locked into bigger issues, almost like the jaws of Fate. Here is where critical turning points, deep friendships, ancient enemies, critical crossroads that promise life-changing possibilities, but don’t give the details. Nodes are like “karma”, Vertex like blind fate. Conjunction and opposition, primarily.

10. Basic midpoints.

There are so many midpoints, and they each tell the tale of where the power shifts from one planet to another. Most important are Sun/Moon, Venus/Mars, Jupiter/Saturn, Uranus/Neptune, Mercury/Pluto..

There are lots of other things to look at in a basic natal, but that’s the basic high-priority stuff. But don’t just leave it there, at each step. Every one is likely to pique your curiosity, lead you down side paths to fill it out. And look for trends across the board, similarities that reflect or reinforce the overall picture. Feel free to diverge, and above all, if you’re doing this for a client, ask specific questions about what’s actually happened, developed in the life, what current concerns are. It will focus both of you, save immense time. 

Now, for the rest:

11. Transits...

…of planets/angles by planets. That’s standard, and conjunctions count the most. And remember, all transits are cyclic, so check out not only what’s happening now, but what happened on the last several before, to develop style and trends. Remember, the reinforcement by these cycles is what makes for the habits and expectations that are the “character” found in the chart. And if any one transit is part of a larger, ongoing sky pattern at the time, that makes the effect more noticeable. Look for direct hits (conjunctions) first of the bad-boy outer planets for shifts that can’t be fought, then Jupiter and Saturn, for fair winds or foul weather that can be handled, then Mars, Sun, Moon, and the inners for accents along the way.

12. Transiting planets...

…by house. When a planet gets into a house, it colors the area for the duration of the transit. Affairs of that house start to point accordingly, up, down, or just different…but also repeating what happened the last time in another form, so you’ll see what’s being emphasized, reinforced.

13. Lunations…

…esp. eclipse rhythms, waves. This is a different form of transit, more like a strong accent. Lunations are like wave crests, when the overall pressure is greater, tides run higher (inside and out). When they hit personal degrees, then your surfboard is riding the wave, so it’s time to ride it while taking especial care not to fall off in the process. Eclipses are the extra-intense version.

14. Progressed Moon.

Progressed new and full Moon are life-changers. New Moon launches into a whole new life, quitting the previous, either by choice or necessity. Full Moon is time to cash in on work and resources, often move in the process. The house the progressed Moon is passing through is the current life focus.

15. Progressed sign changes...

…and transits chasing progression whirlpools. Inner style changes when progressed planets change sign, whole life does when they go over the Ascendant. Also watch for transit/progression tie ups like Moon chasing Saturn, or progressed Sun or Moon (or even inner planets) tangling back and forth with transiting outers. These can be real tripping points, kinks in developments.

16. Solar returns.

It’s when the tone/phase of the solar rhythm resets, and the return chart describes the timbre of the year’s tune. Yes, it’s worth travelling for, if it looks bad at home. Lunar returns are worth a look, too, but they’re comparatively light-weight, not worth getting too deep into, as they’re gone so quickly.

Preponderance of Evidence

Well, there you go, simple as that! But the story isn’t in any one of these, but in how they all stack up together. When a life is in crisis, or when riding suddenly to unexpected success, it’s usually the result of multiple factors combining to heighten the effect. Like wind, tide, and currents all converging to carry you out to sea, or beat you back to a standstill in the channel. Put it all together, weigh the combinations, then go with the preponderance of evidence...

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