Astrology Answers

by Terri Smallwood


I love practicing astrology. I love looking for patterns and correlations between our lives and the movements of the planets and stars. I love how our charts are a reflection of the mysterious workings of the Universe as a whole — the synergistic relationship between the comparatively small thing of one single individual and the great macrocosm of sky and space and time. It’s a vast and complex subject, and exploring its intrigues opens a doorway to a lifetime of learning and discovery.

With all its myriad theories and concepts, new language and mathematical calculations, getting started with astrology can be overwhelming. Christina, aka “LibraGoddess6,” a new member of the discussion forums at is just beginning that leap. In a conversation at the Star Chat forum early this January, Christina expressed confusion regarding the placement of planets in the houses of her natal chart. She wanted to know more about the houses in her chart, and transits to them. This month’s Astrology Answers is my attempt to clarify her questions and provide a bit of a primer for other people opening the doors to astrological discoveries.

Most people come to the study of astrology slowly. They know that they have a “sign,” that they are a Capricorn or Aries or Libra, and that the date of birth determines what sign a person will be. They know that certain signs have certain traits. Just about everyone knows the stereotypes that Scorpios are sexpots, Leos are proud, or Capricorns are driven. What most people don’t know is that the Sun Sign is just one element of the story they were born with. The Sun Sign is the main theme of the novel, the heroic protagonist. But there is a cast of supporting characters that flesh out the rest of you, and the way these elements interact is really the basis of the study of your natal chart.

So we all have a Sun Sign, right? But we also have a Moon Sign and a Rising Sign. Then there are all the other planets, from Mercury right out to Pluto. At any given moment each of these planets, our closest celestial neighbors, are transiting any given sign. “Transiting” is an astrological term meaning that the planet in question is passing through the part of the sky that belongs to a particular sign.

Each of the 12 signs of the zodiac is named after a constellation, and these constellations reside in a more-or-less fixed place in our skies. They are millions of miles away from Earth but the energy that they emit has been a constant since our planet was created. Our modern astrology has roots that pre-date Babylonian times.

Each planet has its own distinctive properties too, and each planet rules a specific sign (some of them rule two!) bringing to it elements of their own energy. The planets, being closer to Earth than the stars, appear to be moving across this backdrop of zodiac signs. The distinctive energy signature of each of the planets is modified as it passes through (transits) the part of the sky that belongs to a particular sign. The planets and signs work together, and their energy enhances the richness of our human experience.

The following are some useful keywords to describe the characteristics of the various signs and planets. The keywords describe a range of behaviors, including positive traits and pitfalls. The pitfalls are a sort of worst-case scenario — behaviors that may be underlying tendencies, but not necessarily present all the time. The lists are by no means definitive, as entire volumes could be written on the topic!

Planet Keyword Phrases
The Sun The giver of life and representative of individual consciousness.
The Moon The giver of feelings. The female essence in three forms; Virgin, Mother, Sage.
Mercury The giver of reason. The light that shines when ideas are shared.
Venus The giver of love. The light that guides an artist to that which is beautiful in substance and form.
Mars The giver of conflict or impetus. The light that shines when opposing forces unite.
Jupiter The giver of wisdom and plenty. The expansion of consciousness.
Saturn The giver of freedom through responsibility. The karmic gate-keeper.
Uranus The giver of revolution. The thunderbolt of change.
Neptune The giver of Universal Love. The Christ Consciousness.
Pluto The giver of transformation. The Phoenix.

Sign Ruler Mode Elem. Positive Traits Pitfalls
Aries Mars Cardinal (Initiator of energy) Fire Brave, Assertive, Dynamic, Inventive, Natural leader Risk-taker, Aggressive, Self-involved, Dictatorial
Taurus Venus Fixed (Stabilizer of energy) Earth Loyal, Sensitive, Fertile, Practical Stubborn, Unyielding, Emotionally Cold, Overindulgent
Gemini Mercury Mutable (Disseminator of Energy) Air Intelligent, Adaptable, Cheerful, Agile Purposeless, Nervous, All talk — No action
Cancer The Moon Cardinal (Initiator of energy) Water Nurturing, Caring, Strong family values, Thrifty, Psychic Moody, Fearful, Materialistic, Selfish, Smothering
Leo The Sun Fixed (Stabilizer of energy) Fire Confident, Protective, Artistic, Romantic, Creative Vain, Overly Proud, Hedonistic, Show-off
Virgo Mercury Mutable (Disseminator of Energy) Earth Steadfast and dependable, Meticulous, Intelligent, Resourceful Critical, Manipulative, Worrier, Workaholic
Libra Venus Cardinal (Initiator of energy) Air Balanced, Artistic, Sociable, Peacemaker, Intelligent Indecisive, Vacuous, Superficial, Loses self in partner
Scorpio Pluto Fixed (Stabilizer of energy) Water Loyal and Protective, Observant, Dedicated, Inspirational Promiscuous, Self-Destructive, Obsessive, “Psychic Vampire”
Sagittarius Jupiter Mutable (Disseminator of Energy) Fire Truthful and Candid, Natural Philosopher, Generous, Fun-loving Blunt and Inconsiderate, Self-indulgent, Scattered
Capricorn Saturn Cardinal (Initiator of energy) Earth Ambitious, Steadfast, Hardworking, Loyal and Honest Insatiable, Materialistic, Tight-fisted, Unsympathetic
Aquarius Uranus Fixed (Stabilizer of energy) Air Alert and Intelligent, Companionable, Egalitarian, Visionary Fanatical, Impractical, Mentally Agitated, Cold and Aloof
Pisces Neptune Mutable (Disseminator of Energy) Water Compassionate, Selfless, Imaginative, Intuitive, Spiritual Manipulative, Low Self-Esteem, Addictive Personality

An understanding of the signs and planets, plus tools like an ephemeris and table of houses (or the internet), allow an astrologer to know what planet is transiting which sign at any given point in the past or future. Understanding how the energy of a given planet behaves under the influence of a particular sign allows the astrologer to predict events or know what traits and behaviors a person is likely to possess.

The cyclical movement of the planets affects us all. Our natal chart is one reflection of that. The natal chart is a picture of the heavens at the exact moment of our births. Using Christina’s natal chart as an example, we can see that it resembles a pie cut into twelve slices. Each of the slices is called a “house,” and in the method I am using (called the Equal House method) the houses each contain 30 degrees. There are other methods for dividing the chart wheel into houses, and not all of them will result in 12 houses of equal size. Deciding which house system to use is a choice every astrologer will make at some point, but for the sake of keeping it simple, the equal house system is an excellent place to begin. It’s also the oldest and most traditional house system and the one that Linda Goodman preferred. I take that as a good endorsement!

Christina’s Natal Chart

Looking at Christina’s natal chart, we see that the 12 signs of the zodiac are arranged around the outer rim of the chart drawing, each occupying 30 degrees of the 360-degree circle. Moving inwards, we see a ring numbered 1 though 12, which indicates Christina’s houses, and designates which piece of the pie is ruled by which sign. Inside the houses we see the symbols for the nine planets plus the Sun and Moon. They are placed according to where they were when Christina was born.

In Complete Astrology, Alan Oken writes, “If the planets are the WHAT of astrology and the signs are the HOW, the houses are considered the WHERE.”

Each of the houses rules a different aspect of our life. Each is related to a particular sign and planet, and the energy of the house is very similar to the energy of its associated sign. The following list has the basic keywords for each of the houses, along with their ruling signs and planets.

House Sign Planetary Ruler Key Concepts
The 1st House Aries Mars Self-awareness, physical appearance, the public persona, the initial approach to life
The 2nd House Taurus Venus Resources, values, the ability to accumulate wealth and security
The 3rd House Gemini Mercury Communication, daily activities, short trips, siblings, childhood and early education
The 4th House Cancer The Moon Family ties, relationship with the mother, the home — and the security it offers
The 5th House Leo The Sun Creative expression, procreation, children and relationships with children
The 6th House Virgo Mercury Work — including hobbies and volunteer work, attitudes towards heath and well-being, small animals and pets
The 7th House Libra Venus Relationships — especially marriage, business partnerships, legal affairs and commerce
The 8th House Scorpio Pluto Money or resources that come via other people (legacies, wills, marriage), death and reincarnation, mystical experiences — especially channeling and communications from the other side
The 9th House Sagittarius Jupiter Institutions of higher learning, philosophy and religion, long-distance travel, the social conscience and wisdom
The 10th House Capricorn Saturn Career, ambition, public life, contribution to society, authority figures — especially the Father
The 11th House Aquarius Uranus Friends and associates, group expression and contribution to society, humanitarian endeavors, intuition and astrology
The 12th House Pisces Neptune The subconscious mind, unconscious behavior patterns, karma, freedom from Samsara — or circumstances that bring about one’s own undoing

The Rising Sign, or Ascendant, is the key player in ordering the signs around the chart wheel. The Rising Sign is just that — it was the sign rising on the eastern horizon at the moment of birth. In Christina’s case it was Scorpio — 22 degrees Scorpio to be precise. The degree of the Ascendant marks the beginning of the 1st house, and so Christina’s 1st house is ruled by Scorpio. Her 2nd house begins 30 degrees later, at 22 degrees Sagittarius, and the 3rd at 22 degrees Capricorn, and so on around the wheel.

In this way we see that each of Christina’s houses is ruled by a different sign, and so the energy of the house is modified according to the influence of its ruler. Only a person with an Ascendant of 0 degrees Aries will have her houses appear exactly as they do in the natural horoscope. The rest of us must learn that while the 4th house, for example, always relates to matters of the family, the sign that rules the 4th in our own horoscope may not actually be Cancer.

In Christina’s case it is Aquarius. Her feelings about family are likely unconventional. Chances are she has difficulty accepting the authority of her parents, as she is more likely to view all the family members as being equal. She may appear to be cold, and may grow distant from them at some point in her life. The Uranian influence may lead to shocking events in her family, which may seem upsetting at the time but ultimately pave the way for a positive change to occur.

The next step would be to look at what planets occupy which house. When a planet occupies a house it brings its own energy into the mix. Nothing changes in terms of what the house represents, but your feelings about those issues and to what degree they are influential in your life as a whole do change. In Christina’s case she has a Scorpio Pluto and Mercury occupying her 12th house, which is ruled by Libra in her chart.

Pluto, powerful in its own sign of Scorpio, embodies much of the Scorpion energy. It is obsessive, relentless and ultimately transformational. Mercury in Scorpio is a deep-thinking repository of occult knowledge. All of this is heightened by the placement in the 12th house, inasmuch as the 12th house also relates to the occult, the subconscious and transformation through the balancing of karma. Having communicative Mercury involved in this matrix of energy means Christina is likely to think and talk about these issues a lot, and in doing so is bringing about a regenerative transformation in her present life.

Finally, there is the question of planets that are transiting a specific house. In the case of a transiting planet, the effect is short-lived. Your horoscope is a snapshot of the sky at the moment of your birth — but the planets didn’t just stop cycling after you were born! Instead they continue in their predictable orbits. Your natal chart is a constant, it is the energy that imprinted on you at birth and will be with you always. Transiting planets cycle in and out of importance and serve as check-points along the way, helping to keep us on track, bringing different facets of our life into prominence at different times.

Christina’s Natal Chart with Transiting Planets in the Outer Circle: February 1, 2005

When looking at the effects of a planet transiting a specific house, it is worth remembering that some planets move very quickly, while others take years to cover the 30 degrees necessary to transverse an entire house. The Moon, for instance, passes through a house in just over 48 hours. Pluto, on the other hand, can take decades! Personally, I tend to spend more time considering the effects of the slower-moving planets. The influence is felt for such a long time that becoming familiar with it is a good way of integrating the energy into your daily life.

In Christina’s case, we can see that Jupiter in Libra has just entered her 12th house. So putting together everything we have learned about planets, signs, and houses, we can predict that for the next few years Jupiter will be seeking to give Christina wisdom and bounty as relating to the affairs of her 12th house. The 12th house represents the subconscious mind, unconscious behavior patterns, karma, freedom from Samsara — or circumstances that bring about one’s own undoing. It is likely that during this time Christina will grow increasingly interested in expanding her knowledge of the mysteries of life by contemplating philosophical questions as they relate to the 12th house. And because Jupiter is a bountiful and generous planet, Christina is likely to find the answers to many of the questions she has. I hope this column has been a good start!

There are numerous books and online resources that offer specific interpretations of the various combinations of signs, planets and houses. However, no amount of reading can replace the effort of actually sitting with your own chart and weighing its meanings yourself. By memorizing the keywords for the planets, signs and houses, and then layering them together, you can produce your own chart interpretations that, with practice, can rival those of any professional astrologer. All it takes is a genuine interest and a willing heart — and an openness to the process of learning as much as the actual outcome. After all, it’s a vast study, I’ve been at it for years — maybe lifetimes — and still I am dazzled by new revelations and deeper understandings. When it comes to learning astrology, I would have to say, getting there is definitely half the fun!


Questions, which need to include one’s date, time and location of birth, may be sent to Terri at