Your birth chart is a two-dimensional map of what the sky looked like from the precise moment and location of your birth.
However to most, a birth chart is a chaotic jumble of esoteric symbols, glyphs, and lines. It is, quite simply, overwhelming. It has its own language and like any language or map, it takes time, energy, and patience to decode it. But we promise, it’s worth the effort.
Your birth chart as a map of your life’s purpose
Just as a map offers a symbolic representation of space — charting out roads, mountains, and rivers from the perspective of the map user — your birth chart is a map of your life’s purpose. And like a map, it has pretty precise directions about where to go, how to get there, and what to develop within yourself along the way. It is a blueprint of your own heroic mission and how to live it out.
Why your birth time is so important
The sky never sleeps. It is, from our vantage point, always on the move. The sky looks different from minute to minute, if we’re paying attention. Your birth time determines how the sky looked at the moment you entered this world — that’s why it’s such a crucial piece to this puzzle. It’s also why everyone and their dog has texted their mom/caregiver/family member to ask what time they were born.
If you don’t know your birth time, check out this post.
Where were you born?
Have you ever noticed that the night sky looks different if you travel to a faraway place? Or that the Sun rises and sets at different times, depending on your location? Not only does the time of your birth matter, but also the location. Where you were born determines what the sky looked like when you were born, and therefore what your birth chart looks like, and what it has to say about your purpose.
Your birth chart is a meeting place of space, time, earth, sky, and You.
While some traditions depict the birth chart in other shapes (such as squares), CHANI app maps the planets onto a wheel. Like any circle, the chart wheel is made of 360°.
Just as in Google Street View, we orient ourselves in the circle as if we’re situated in the center of it, rather than looking down from above. This can be confusing at first, because we’re used to imagining a compass with West to the left, East to the right, North on top, and South on the bottom. In a birth chart, the directions are flipped, because we label it as if we’re on the inside, looking out. (Theater kids, you may have an easier time visualizing this. It’s similar to identifying Stage Left or Stage Right from the perspective of the actors — not the audience.)
This means that when you look at your birth chart, the rising sign is situated on the left of the chart, known as the Eastern hemisphere, where the Sun rises. The degree rising at the moment of your birth becomes the degree of your ascendant, which is the point that most intimately represents you.
The Midheaven (MC)
The midheaven forms the Southern hemisphere — or high noon of the chart. This is where the Sun culminates in the sky, and where you tend to be most visible.
The Descendant (DC)
The descendant is found in the Western hemisphere, where the Sun sets. This point of the chart represents your close relationships and other people.
The Imum Coeli (IC)
The IC, or Imum Coeli, is found in the Northern hemisphere. This is the midnight of the chart, where you live out your private life.
To pull up your chart now as you go through this article, use this tool or head over to the CHANI app.
Birth Chart Essentials
A birth chart includes 4 essential components: 1. the planets, 2. the relationships (or aspects) the planets form with each other, 3. the signs, and 4. the houses.
The planets represent the central drives in a chart, such as the drive to love and connect (Venus), think and communicate (Mercury), or win (Mars).
Traditional astrologers focus on the planets you can see with the naked eye, from our two light-bearers (the Sun and the Moon) to Saturn. Modern astrologers include Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were discovered between 1781 and 1930, as well as asteroids and minor planets, such as Chiron.
The traditional planets and their roles are:
Sun — your identity and where you shine
Moon — your body and emotions
Mercury — how and where you communicate
Venus — how and where you connect
Mars — how and where you take action
Jupiter — how and where you create abundance
Saturn — how and where you create boundaries
The modern planets and their roles are:
Uranus — how and where you innovate and disrupt
Neptune — how and where you use your imagination
Pluto — how and where you hold secret power
Aspects symbolize the relationships that planets have with each other. Just like humans, not all planets work well together.
Imagine that you go to a party. At that party, there are people who act like your greatest champions, singing your praises to anyone who will listen. But there are also people who glare at you from across the room, making you uncomfortable and unnerved. Then there are people you feel neutral about, and people that you never actually meet, even if you’ve vaguely heard of them.
In short, your birth chart is a party, and every planet comes bearing their own agenda.
Knowing who is on your team and who might feel like your saboteur is important information. In the end, we believe that we can make friends with the whole room — or birth chart, as it were. It takes work and self-understanding to restore a challenging set-up into one that is helpful and affirming, but that is the magic of working with astrology.
The traditional aspects (or relationships) between planets are:
Sextiles — planets that are 2 signs away from each other (or 60 degrees apart). One planet will be in an earth sign, the other in a water sign, or one will be in a fire sign, the other in an air sign. These elements tend to work well together, and sextiles can feel like encouraging gifts, though they’re a little more subtle than trines.
Trines — planets that are 4 signs away from each other and in the same element (or 120 degrees apart). There is natural harmony and flow between these planets. They speak the same language. Trines between planets tend to bring blessings, protection, and ease.
Squares — planets that are 3 signs away from each other (ex. One in Scorpio and another in Leo). Squares bring points of friction, which encourage us toward action, even if they feel a bit abrasive.
Oppositions — planets that are 6 signs away from each other (in signs opposite to each other). Oppositions bring tugs of war, where we are asked to balance opposites and understand what we project onto the world and what we must be able to reclaim for ourselves.
Conjunctions — planets that are in the same sign as another planet. The closer the planets are to each other, the more their energies will fuse together, like mixing two essential oils together to form a unique fragrance.
In an astrology chart, the zodiac signs represent the style, manner, or mood, through which the planets express themselves. Mercury in the subterranean cisterns of Scorpio will express itself differently from the butterfly-tongued airways of Gemini, for example.
The signs and their styles are:
Aries — independent, action-oriented
Taurus — stabilizing, grounded
Gemini — curious and conversational
Cancer — caring, emotive
Leo — expressive, entertaining
Virgo — perfecting, analytical
Libra — accommodating, justice-oriented
Scorpio — mysterious, penetrating
Sagittarius — buoyant, positive
Capricorn — disciplined, self-restricting
Aquarius — intellectual, definitive
Pisces — sensitive, creative
We can think of signs as the homes of the planets. In the traditional system, each of the 7 classical planets (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) have a special relationship to the signs, doing exceptionally well in some places, while feeling challenged in others.
The signs also help to break the 360° of the chart wheel into 12 equal parts of 30°.
Recall that a map is a symbolic representation of space. Similarly, the signs of our zodiac offer a symbolic depiction of the constellations that the Sun passes through from our point of view on Earth.
This path of the Sun from our perspective is known as the “ecliptic.” In reality, these constellations do not form 30 equal degrees. The constellation Virgo is twice the size of Libra, for example. However, like any map or diagram, this visual representation of reality has its own wisdom and efficacy. The drawing doesn’t have to be “to scale” to be useful.
Like the signs, there are 12 houses. The houses represent different areas of your life. For instance, your 11th House represents your friendships and community involvements, while your 4th House represents family, home, and ancestral lineage.
The 12 houses are:
1st House — self, body, appearance, and vitality
2nd House — assets, resources, and livelihood
3rd House — communication, daily life, siblings, and extended family
4th House — parents, home, and foundations
5th House — children, creative projects, sex, and pleasure
6th House — work and health
7th House — committed partnerships
8th House — death, mental health, and other people’s resources
9th House — travel, education, publishing, religion, astrology, and philosophy
10th House — career and public roles
11th House — friends, community, patrons, and good fortune
12th House — hidden life, secrets, sorrow, and loss
While the planets in signs are calculated from an outer reality (the solar system), the houses are rooted in the time and location of your birth. They’re what bring the sky down to you.
If the difference between signs and houses still feels murky, it might be helpful to remember that the fastest moving body, the Moon, takes 2-3 days to pass through a sign. However, the Moon will pass through every house in your birth chart in a 24-hour window. The same applies for every planet. For example, Pluto takes 12-31 years to pass through one sign, but 24 hours to pass through the 12 houses.
How to start using this map
It takes time to understand all these puzzle pieces, but the journey is fun and rewarding. As you dig into the nooks and crannies of your chart, you’ll find a language to express what you know deeply about yourself, but have possibly struggled to express. You receive a bird’s eye view of your own heroic quest in life, including the paths that will bring you the most joy and meaning.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Pull up your birth chart on the CHANI app or our online tool.
- Rather than trying to understand every piece of your chart at the same time, start with these 3 keys: your Sun, Moon, and rising sign, as well as the planet that rules your rising sign. We break down each of these components in the CHANI app, and you can also learn more in Chani’s book, You Were Born For This.
- Choose one of these keys — your Sun, Moon, rising sign, or the planet that rules your rising sign — to get to know over the next month. Draw out its symbol and place it on your altar, or on your bathroom mirror. Meditate on the planet or sign’s natural purpose or style (for example, the planet Venus as a connector, or the sign Leo as self-expressive.) How do you embody these energies? How do you want to?
- Devote a notebook or journal to your apprenticeship of your chart — write down your notes, brainstorms, and downloads.