When a student begins studying astrology, the basic components can be easily learned from a book and memorized, to a certain extent. Putting puzzle piece A together with piece B can also be done rather efficiently. But when it comes to putting the puzzle of an entire chart (and therefore an entire person) together, it can be easily overwhelming. A natal chart isn't just the sum of its parts, and must be understood on a foundational level to see how all the parts really fit together. Once the foundation is understood, themes start to emerge and you can transcend the parts and understand the whole. This is the holy grail for any student!
There are many ways to start dissecting the puzzle of a natal chart. Many people start to dive into a chart by starting with the Sun, Moon, and Rising sign so as to understand a sort of basic vignette, and then add the rest of the planets in one by one to that foundational understanding. Many people assess the bigger picture by analyzing a sort of hierarchy of planetary 'weight', such as which planets are stronger or weaker because of their dignity or debilitation (fall, exaltation, rulership, or detriment). Still others will look at groupings of planets, to determine which elements or modalities are strongest, or the Jones' patterns such as the Bucket or the See Saw. All of these are fine ways to begin, and all are an attempt to get a sense of the foundation of a chart, an understanding of the primary cornerstones of a chart on top of which everything else in the chart can rest. I'm going to illustrate a different way of discovering the foundation of a chart using the nodes.
The Chart Behind the Chart
I look at the foundation of a chart as well, but because I am an evolutionary astrologer,* I use the nodes of the moon to understand a person and a chart's foundation. I ask two questions of the chart; first, rather than trying to understand or predict what this person will do, how they will behave or what good or bad luck will befall them based on their planetary placements, I ask the chart 'Why is this person here?' Before I try to understand what someone with a Sun in Aries IS, or how they'll behave, I try and understand why that soul needs their Sun in Aries to begin with. To do that, I first start with understanding the north and south nodes of the moon: why they're here, and where they came from - the orientation they entered this life with, respectively.
Second, rather than assuming someone will epitomize all expressions of their natal chart placements as if they were a walking astrological stereotype, I assume that the chart tells me not what that person IS, but what they are becoming. Therefore, I ask the chart, 'What is this person trying to learn?' Having a birth chart represents the tool box they were given when they were born, but they still need to learn to use each tool (planet in sign and house) effectively. Once I understand the nodes, I can look at the rest of the planets in their signs and houses in the chart and understand why this person has the toolbox they do.
It's with these two things in mind that I interpret any chart, and I'll demonstrate the resulting techniques here. This
is the chart of a mystery actress. I chose a famous person because
while a famous person's life is not revealed only through what the
public knows about them, it at least gives some ability to place
biography with astrology. I will reveal her name at the end of this
interpretation. Be good! Don't skip to the end.
First I take stock of the south node, including it's sign and house, and any planets in association with it, through rulership or aspect. What I try and do is create a metaphor from the symbols that gives a sense of where this soul's orientation was as she entered this life, and so sometimes it can be helpful to think of the south node and it's condition as giving clues to the past life of the soul that show us the attitude they may have been used to as they entered this chart and this life.
The South Node
So in this chart I'm considering Aquarius, 11th house, Saturn conjunct and ruled by Uranus in the 6th house. While many metaphors could be created from this chart's south node situation, this speaks to me of someone who felt like she was under constant restraint, (Saturn) that things were difficult or her outlook always seemed limited. With the ruler of Aquarius in the 6th house in Virgo, that emphasizes a possibility of feeling crushed under a sense of duty or too much responsibility, like the older child having to take care of the younger children if the parents are unable or unwilling to. Because of the Aquarius element, and in the 11th house, there might have also been a feeling of feeling like an odd man out, like she either only fit in with the misfits or didn't fit in at all, probably because of limited resources and maybe even poor social standing.
So this soul enters this world and probably experiences circumstances in early childhood that reinforce this orientation, sort of reliving or recreating what one is used to which lays a foundation for the soul to realize what it wants to grow out of or away from, and into the north node. The qualities of Aquarius can lend a strong sense of individuality and also detachment from others, especially in the 11th house of 'the public' or one's peers, but with Saturn there, it further emphasizes a feeling of being restrained, always having to hold in what one really is perhaps, or feeling limited because of what she is, like how class, race, or education can set one apart from a community that has a majority in a different class, race, or education level, for example.
The North Node
Moving toward the north node, we see that what this woman has come to do is get in touch with Leo, 5th house energy. Since Saturn is conjunct the south node, it is opposite the north node, and for he to be able to bring her Saturn energy forward into good use for this life, she'll need to let go of some of the old ways she may have responded to Saturn, like letting go of a habitual tendency to do things the hard way, or to hold back what she really is out of a misguided sense of individualism or out of a fear of feeling like an outcast. Leo and the 5th house experiences will help her reinforce a sense of it "being ok to be you and me," helping her be present in the moment instead of pulling away from the drama of a moment out of a fear of getting swept up, being exposed, or letting go. People and experiences that help her learn how to play, and how to let go of systematic or objective thought in situations where a more spontaneous and organic response would be better, will help her learn to trust herself and therefore enjoy herself and life more. This soul has come to feel the warmth of those who love her for who she is, and the more she is comfortable with herself, relaxes and trusts life, the more enriched she will feel.
The ruler of her north node can assist her in living the soul's north node intention. The ruler of Leo, of course, is the Sun, and her Sun is in Scorpio in the 8th house. She needs to build a sense of identity which is based on a more whole and deep view of herself - not just the easy or good parts, but taking her to the depth of herself. The 8th house has been called the house of "Sex and Death," which sounds a bit strange but really, 8th house activities are anything that take us to our edges, have us braving the skeletons in our closet or our deepest fears, which is where we can also find our deepest strength and courage. In Scorpio, she does this by embracing intensity and a sort of 'all or nothing' attitude at times, as well as being willing to penetrate the pretty stories that we tell ourselves to escape from life's hard parts and really look what's beneath the surface - of life and herself.
At this point, we can start making our way around the rest of the chart to think about each placement in light of this soul's past and intent. Obviously the stellium of planets in Scorpio and the 8th house we've discussed above with the Sun, but how about the fact that Venus and Neptune and even Mercury are all in a conjunction? Venus conjunct that Sun reveals how relationships and connections with others will help her clarify her identity, and the fact that it's in Scorpio and the 8th house shows the kind of relationship she needs: one that is deep enough to say the true things and reveal the raw truths of ourselves. What an effective urge for this soul to use to break through old patterns of feeling distanced from others. With Neptune conjunct her Sun, also in Scorpio and the 8th, it is also a fundamental desire in her consciousness to open up to spiritual priorities, helping her develop a sense of strength that is based on the softness and opening effect of Neptune rather than the hardening of boundaries and closed habits of Saturn on her south node. Mercury in this house and close to Neptune has her more likely to think with fluidity and on a more intuitive level rather than strictly the objective and factual.
We can simply continue the rest of this way throughout the chart. Mars in Leo in the 5th but bridging into the 6th shows a passion for self-expression and to bring it into her work, to live her daily life with that passion and learn to surrender to the joy of a moment and the drama of a moment by letting creative ecstasy overtake her at times - in fact, much of this chart is in the fire or water element, including the ascendant, which helps to soften and open. Her Taurus Moon is like an anchor that roots her, giving her a steady heart which can help her stay solid in her own values through a basic building of her own self-esteem (2nd house), perhaps helping her let go of any shame she might have left over, perhaps even inexplicably, from the feeling of being an outsider and the more comfortable she gets with herself, the less she'll feel she has something to prove.
Everything I've discussed here can be taken deeper, but this has been an overview of how this technique works. If you're interested in learning more about the nodes in this light or seeing another example, visit my website to purchase a 4 hour video I did on the nodes: "The Chart Behind the Chart." In this video, I go into each step to analyze the nodes in detail and go through another couple of examples more thoroughly than I've done here.
This chart belongs to the actress Demi Moore.
*There are two common 'branches' of evolutionary astrology. While I am familiar with the techniques of both, and often use some of both, I am primarily trained by Steven Forrest and fall more along the lines of his interpretation of the nodes.