December 2003

A Conscious Evolution Newsletter




Dream Lucidity:
Find Oneself Dreaming

Surviving Divorce and Supporting Your Kids Through Tough Times

A New Approach to
Chart Interpretation,
Part 5

Survival of the Spirit:
No Longer Here,
But Still With Me

"Star Arts" Lexigram:
Peace on Earth


December Star Watch

Conscious Community

Interactive Calendar


Newsletter Committee, Writers & Contact Info.


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Past Issues:

Metamorphosis Newsletter Past Issues

Index of All Articles

Volume 2, No. 12

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.


A New Approach to Chart Interpretation

by Rusty Hamilton


Part 5: A Predictive Technique Using
Thread-Based Astrology and Solar Returns

Previous articles
in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

In this last article of the series, we’ll take a look at the predictive technique I find most useful for looking ahead at life a year at a time. In a nutshell, this involves comparing your natal chart to your solar-return chart — set up in a particular way — and applying the thread-based interpretation approach, detailed in Part 4, to the combination of charts. This provides a specific context in which the transits shown in the solar return can be interpreted with more precision.

Because the set-up is essentially a comparison of two charts, the same comparison technique can be used to interpret synastries between the natal charts of two people or entities, although of course the results then would describe how those two people would be likely to interact, rather than describing how the year ahead is likely to affect you.

In the previous installments of the series, we covered all the fundamental tenets of astrology, from the elements and qualities that make up the signs, houses, and aspects, to the actual delineation of a chart using the thread-based system. However, the picture at this point is still incomplete. Natal charts are great for determining the basic potential of a living system, be it a person, a nation, or otherwise, but they don’t offer much information about how or when we change. Integrating the predictive techniques of the solar returns and how its transits will affect your year rounds out the method I developed for understanding astrology.

Once again, my work in integrating predictive techniques with thread-based astrology came largely out of my dissatisfaction with the current literature on predictive astrology. Mary Fortier Shea’s Planets in Solar Returns is an excellent book, and I still use it as a reference when I’m truly stuck on something in a solar-return chart. My copy is battered horribly, and charts and astrology research are crammed into it haphazardly. As I have used this book quite often, I do not mean to denigrate anything Shea says in it. However, like so many of the astrology texts out there today, it lacks consideration of the individual as a whole. The author does provide a very useful technique for comparing solar returns with natal charts, but it is still missing something. We’ll look at Shea’s main concept for interpreting solar-return charts, but we’ll also combine that idea with the insights of thread-based astrology.

I will not be covering progressions in this article, primarily because I have not completely worked out how to combine progressions with thread-based astrology. I imagine that you would compare your progressed planets with the threads you have formed from delineating your natal chart. I use a similar technique in considering day-to-day transits. On the other hand, you could instead treat the progressed chart as a stand-alone chart a la the solar-return chart, forming threads for it as well and integrating the threads of the progressed and natal charts, which would be similar to the method I will be demonstrating with natal and solar-return charts here in this final installment. I would need to get a better handle on progressions myself before venturing a suggestion for others as to how to handle progressions.

Solar-Return Charts

Many people do not like using solar-return charts for some reason, finding transits and progressions more than sufficient for predictive work. However, I find transits a bit limited in their scope, in terms of how much they can predict for you, and I haven’t yet developed for myself a firm basis on which to interpret progressions, so I find solar returns, which are basically charts of the anniversaries of one’s birth, my most useful tool in predictive astrology.

Transits, used in concert with the natal chart alone, yield only general information subject to nearly unlimited potential interpretations. This is obvious once you think about it. Let’s say you have Uranus in Gemini making a slow transit of your 8th house. What could this mean? Unfortunately, it could mean quite a few different things. The basic meaning would be that you would experience some sort of sudden change (Uranus) relating to communication- or transportation-based activities (Gemini), and this change, if used correctly, would result in your undergoing some sort of death and rebirth (8th house).

This sounds very specific, but it really isn’t. What exactly is going to happen here? There is a practically unlimited number of possibilities for the manifestation of this energy. It could be explained as simply as “You’re going to write something that will change your life immensely.” You could instead receive some sort of information or news that would change your life or your view of reality to an equal extent. Or, quite morbidly, you could get hit by a car and die, theoretically. How do we know which of these is going to pass?

The answer is, we don’t. Of course, no single planetary placement can be considered outside of the rest of the chart, but even when integrated with the chart as a whole, transits do not narrow down the possibilities enough for my taste. We might (hopefully!) be able to rule out vehicular death, but what about the other possibilities? Unless one is already planning one or the other of the theoretical events, it will be hard to predict which of them is more likely to happen. This is where solar returns come in.

Solar returns occur every year, when the Sun returns to the exact position it occupied when you were born. My Sun is at 4 degrees, 56 minutes and 19 seconds Virgo, so whenever the Sun reaches that exact position, down to the precise second, I put the date and time of that event into the Astrolog software program and see what kind of chart is generated. I was born on August 28, but during some years, my solar return occurs on August 27. That is because the solar year is 365.25 days long, not an even 365, which is why we have leap years every four years.

Since solar returns are based directly on your personal solar placement, the resulting chart generated from the date and time this occurs essentially “links” the transits occurring at that time to you. This eliminates some of the abstract, limitless quality of transits. As a quick example, let’s consider again a transit of Uranus in Gemini through your 8th natal house. This time, though, we’ll say that your current solar return chart has Uranus in Gemini in the 5th house. What does that mean? First, analyze the position of Uranus in the solar-return chart. Uranus in Gemini in the 5th would suggest a dramatic change in self-expression for you this year, with communication being the vehicle of the change. It is crucial to realize here that the house positions in a solar return chart symbolize the areas of life you will be putting a planet’s particular energies into during that year.

Now look at the transit. Since transiting Uranus is in your 8th natal house, this position can be factored in as well. The dramatic change in self-expression indicated in the solar-return chart will create the rebirth experience, so it is most likely that the meaning of the transit relates to the flowering of your own creative communication rather than some news from outside of yourself or a runaway vehicle careening your way.

As mentioned earlier, Shea has an interesting technique for comparing solar return charts to natal charts. Most people, if asked to do this, would draw up the natal chart first, with the solar-return positions on the outside. Doing this, Shea says, makes it pointless to even use solar returns in the first place, since all this method does is basically show you the transits on your birthday. Shea explains that a better way to contrast solar returns and the natal chart is to draw up the solar return chart on the inside with the natal planets outside. Here is an example (from my 12th birthday) showing a solar-return chart and natal chart arranged together in this way:

Comparison chart set up with the author’s solar return at age 12 occupying the inner circle and determining the house placements (using Placidus houses). In the outer ring, the planets are positioned at the degree they occupy in his natal chart. The red “Asc” in the outer ring marks the natal Ascendant, where the first house begins in his natal chart.

This method may seem counterintuitive at first, but it is crucial when we take this one step further and blend the interpretations of your solar return with your transits. Remember, a solar-return chart, while giving you what is basically a natal chart for your own “new year,” is also an illustration of the transits going in the sky at that particular time. Putting the natal planets on the outside of the solar return chart, though, makes it look almost as if the natal planets are transiting the planets in the solar return! It’s as if the natal planets, not the transiting ones, are calling the shots.

The usual image associated with long-term transits is of the big mean outer planets forcing the natal planets they affect to change in some way. This is partially true. For example, when looked at entirely in terms of my transits, the years 1989-2001 were essentially a big galactic football game between Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — with me as the ball. In 1989 alone, these planets made a total of 13 squares to my natal planets. When I looked at this period in my life in this way, I felt as if the universe was literally conspiring against me. I knew that the transits were supposed to make me change in a variety of ways, but it seemed a bit unfair to me that I had no choice in whether or not I even wanted to change.

Looking at these transits through the solar returns they occurred in, though, made me rethink my opinion. While it’s true that the transits I experienced were very heavy, since Pluto squared my Sun, Moon, and Ascendant during this period, I also had to consider the fact that my natal planets were still having a say in all this, too. Shea uses the analogy of a play to illustrate how the natal and solar-return planets interact. She likens the solar-return planets (which are, as we said before, the transits for the anniversary of your birth) to a script you are going to follow during the given year. The natal planets are the actors; through the “script,” they act out a certain theme or themes for a year, learning quite a bit about themselves in the process.

When looked at this way, solar returns and their inherent transits can give us valuable insights into how we need to change. Whenever you feel completely besieged by your transits, think of the transits and solar returns as opportunities for you to resolve the issues in your natal chart. As stated above, we tend to see our transits or even our solar returns as inherently separate from us; they are perceived as “things that happen to us.” I would go so far as to suggest that these “outside” influences are not separate at all, but are an extension of our natal charts. It is for this reason that I do not believe an accurate judgment of a person can be made using the natal chart alone.

Some people, for example, have relatively easy charts, with few or no “difficult” aspects. However, try taking a look at the transits and solar returns of these people. You may find that life does go relatively smoothly for them … until a certain time, when, through transits, they suddenly are attacked by 10-20 hard aspects. I would not want to suggest to such people that, based on their natal charts, they don’t really have it so bad. Having 10-plus hard aspects going on at once would be classified as “difficult” in my opinion, even if the planet placements in the natal chart blend together relatively smoothly. Since many people are misdiagnosed in this way, this may be a contributing factor to the skeptic’s claim that “astrology doesn’t work.”

There is enough literature on the subject of solar returns out there that you should be able to figure the basics out on your own. However, the basic concepts of solar returns are not the major difficulty in successfully blending solar returns and natal charts together. What is often mind-bendingly hard is the fact that you are dealing with so much information at once. This problem is another reason I designed the thread-based system; it organizes the information produced into a more coherent, top-down format. Doing this enables you to go into only as much detail as you want to process at a given time.

Comparing Charts

Using the thread-based system to compare solar-return and natal charts is easier than you would think. In fact, using it to compare any two charts is simple. The only difference between comparing the charts of two people and comparing solar returns and natal charts lies in the basic meanings behind the processes. When you compare the charts of two people, both charts are considered to be separate from one another. For this reason, doing synastry for two people is really nothing more than individually doing each person’s chart and then considering how the threads of each chart will interact with the other. The basic organizational techniques used below will suffice for a synastry, but remember that in a synastry, both charts would hold equal weight.

The first step in interpreting two charts at once using the thread-based system is to break each chart into its component threads, as if you were going to interpret each chart individually. We covered this last time, so refer back to Part 4 if you are unfamiliar with how to break charts down into their constituent threads. Looking separately at the solar-return portion of the chart above, and displaying only the planets involved in the longest — and therefore most important — thread of the solar return, we see in the illustration below that Mercury, positioned in Virgo, a sign ruled by Mercury, is the thread-ruler, exercising power over the Sun in Virgo, which in turn extends its influence downward over Venus in Leo, which reigns over Mars and Jupiter in Libra. For simplicity’s sake, our illustration will continue with that thread alone from the solar return, and with its influence on natal planets, although a complete interpretation would involve all the threads from both charts.

Mercury-Ruled Thread: The power in this thread of the author’s solar-return chart proceeds from Mercury in a sign it rules to the Sun in Mercury-ruled Virgo, then down through Venus in Sun-ruled Leo, and finally to Mars and Jupiter in Venus-ruled Libra.

Once you have put everything in its proper thread, take some time to write down the definitions of each placement. You can use the keywords and “astrology sentences” I showed you how to create back in Lessons 2 and 3 to do this, or if you have a really strong impression about a certain placement, write that down. The important thing to do here is to write something down for each placement in each thread. You’re going to wind up with two separate lists of information, one for each chart.

What I do next is only necessary if you’re like me and you need visual reminders right in front of you all the time. My short-term memory is horrible. So, what I do is take each chart and make a little drawing detailing the threads and the aspects among the planets. The result is a sort of schematic of how the energies of each particular chart flow. I have to warn you that sometimes these drawings get really, really complicated. For some charts, they will probably be more confusing to use than not. As I said, this is an optional step in the process. You might be able to skip this entirely, or you might come up with another method.

After the charts have been broken into their inherent components, they need to be integrated based on the kind of charts you are interpreting. Remember how the solar-return planets and their positions were likened to a script, which the natal planets would act out? Because of this, we make the solar return planets central to the interpretation, rather than the natal planets as we might first expect. So we start our interpretations with the solar return.

What I do first is expand on my little “schematics,” writing out the interpretations of each planetary placement in the solar-return chart, starting with the thread-rulers and working my way down. After this, I look at the aspects between the solar return planets and my natal planets. If a solar return planet aspects a natal planet, I write the keyword interpretation of the aspect down. Then, placing the word “inner” before the natal planet’s keyword, I write a brief description of the natal planet, using the keywords developed in Parts 2 and 3.

Again, my particular method for organizing information may not be best for you, so if you have a better method — use it. My organization method is the least important part of this article. What I want to make sure you come away from this article knowing is that solar return planetary placements reflect changes and experiences that the natal planets need to go through at that particular time in order to evolve.

Here is an example using the Mercury-ruled thread from the solar-return chart, but this time including information about how the planets in that thread aspect my natal planets. The pertinent thread from the solar return, and the natal planets that the thread directly affects, are represented in the comparison chart below. The astrology sentences that follow the illustration, based on the keywords I developed for the planets and their placements, describe the predictions we can make about the effects in store during that year.

The natal planets shown here (in the outer circle) are the ones affected by the solar-return planets in the Mercury-ruled thread (in the inner circle).

Mercury in Virgo in the 3rd house =
The Focus of Consciousness,
    Expressing itself through Analysis/Adaptation
      to or through Communication/Information-Gathering, is
Fused with (conjunct)
    the inner, evolving Active Consciousness (natal Sun)
      and the current Active Consciousness (solar-return Sun).

Proceeding down the solar-return thread, Mercury in Virgo drives: Sun in Virgo in the 3rd house.

Sun in Virgo in the 3rd house =
Active Consciousness,
    Expressing itself through Analysis/Adaptation
      to or through Communication/Information-Gathering, is
Fused with (conjunct)
    the inner, evolving Active Consciousness (natal Sun)
      which expresses itself through Analysis/Adaptation (Virgo)
        through Value Assessment/Growing Processes (2nd natal house).

Continuing down the solar-return thread, the Sun in Virgo drives: Venus in Leo in the 2nd house.

Venus in Leo in the 2nd house =
Passive Desire,
    Expressing itself through Self-Expression
      to or through Value Assessment/Growing Processes,
Acts in a pure, unrestricted manner (because it is unaspected),
    Acts unconsciously on the inner, evolving area
      of Summation/Transcendence (the 12th natal house).

Farther down the solar-return thread, Venus in Leo drives: Mars and Jupiter in Libra in the 4th house.

Mars and Jupiter in Libra in the 4th house =
Active Desire and Expansion,
    Expressing themselves through Close Personal Contacts
      to or through a process of Finding Foundations, are
Fused with (conjunct)
    inner Passive Desire (natal Venus),
    inner Expansion (natal Jupiter), and
    inner Limitation (natal Saturn),
      which express themselves through Dualities/Contacts (Libra)
        or Communication/Information Gathering (3rd natal house).

By using the thread-based system, we can see that Mercury, the ruler of this thread, represents a basic theme for this particular year. In terms of the solar return alone, this theme has to do with analyzing communication strategies and adapting to those of others. Mercury is helped in achieving this goal by the planets it rules in the thread. The unaspected Venus in Leo represents a sudden, intense need to express oneself in order to determine what is a necessary means of self-expression and what is not. This leads to Mars’ and Jupiter’s efforts in attracting close personal contacts that will lead the individual (me) into finding the foundations of relationships.

But we can also see that the solar return’s Mercury, ruler of the major thread, is conjunct my natal Sun, or “fused with my inner Active Consciousness.” This can tell us quite a bit of information. Because the solar-return Mercury is the thread-ruler here, Mercury’s quest for communication analysis this year is going to be directly and consciously connected to my natal Sun’s mission in life. My Virgo Sun, positioned in the 2nd house of my natal chart, essentially wants to find out what is necessary about me as an individual. The solar-return Mercury and its associated thread will help my natal Sun do this.

Notice that I just said that Mercury would “directly and consciously” affect my natal Sun. Compare that with the effects of the solar-return Venus. This planet is listed as having an effect on my natal 12th house; I use “Summation and Transcendence” as a key phrase for Pisces and the 12th house. However, Venus in the solar return does not contact any of my natal planets through aspects, so its effect is subtle and not necessarily brought into awareness. Aspects between the solar return and the natal chart create a focus for awareness within the larger scheme of things. Where there are aspects between solar-return planets and natal planet, you will be more likely to become aware of how the changes occurring during a solar return year will affect your entire life.

And, on that note, we’re finished! There’s really nothing else to present that you can’t discover yourself by playing around with the rules of the thread-based system. It’s been quite an experience writing these articles, and I think I’ve probably learned as much about my own system as you did! Thank you all for reading, and good luck delineating your charts!