The Definition of a Horoscope
The word horoscope is going to be used in its traditional meaning. It was so often misused in the last couple of centuries that nowadays many astrologers are a sort of ashamed to use this word - or they simply want to make clear the difference between what they are doing and those entertaining texts that appear in numerous newspapers and magazines under the name of "horoscope".
So contemporary astrologers prefer to replace the word horoscope with something else: birth chart, cosmogram, astrological chart, natal chart, nativity and so on. All these are legible terms that can be applied in different circumstances but the generic term for them all is the horoscope.
I am going to claim the traditional term back and to use it in its proper sense, here is the definition:
Horoscope is a simplified diagram of the Universe as seen from a specific point in space at a specific moment in time.
As a rule, a horoscope shows the planets of the Solar System, their positions in the sky and any existing relationships between them - all this relative to the local horizon of a certain place on the Earth, and at a specific moment in time - say, where and when a person was born or a significant event took place.
However, depending on the practitioner, the used technique and the purpose of the horoscope, many other elements can be added to it, including certain stars, nebulae, asteroids as well as a wide array of non-material entities coming from different astrological traditions.
Horoscope can be quite complex, and in the traditional approach to teaching astrology it is only introduced after a lengthy period of studying all the different elements of it. However, I find it useful to introduce horoscope in the very beginning: first, you are already familiar with the most important elements, the planets and the Signs of the Zodiac; second, it can be much easier to understand the rest of the elements when you already know where they are going to be used. Also, as we go along, you will get used to reading horoscopes, and this is one of the most important skills in astrology.
As the prerequisites, I expect that you know the following:
- The names of the ten planets (including the Sun and the Moon) and their symbols. It will be also useful to know the sequence of planets in the Solar System, from the Sun to Pluto.
- The Signs of the Zodiac, their names and symbols. Also you should understand the idea that the Zodiac depicts the path of the planets around the sky, plus provides a ruler to measure their movement.
What we are going to do here is to gradually build a simplified horoscope, then compare it to a real horoscope for the same moment and place. While doing this, we are going to learn:
- Horoscope is basically a simplified map of the starry sky with planets on it.
- The main movements that take place in the sky.
A Simplified Map of the Sky
Let's start from something you should already know quite well, from the Ecliptic and the Zodiac article.
This is how the Zodiac is depicted on its own: the beginning of it, the first point of Aries, is on the left-hand side, and then the signs follow each other around the circle, anti-clockwise.
Now, the sky rotates around the observer on the Earth making one full circle in 24 hours (ah, of course we know that it's actually the Earth rotating around its axis but it looks like the sky is moving, doesn't it?). Imagine that the Zodiac, above, is rotating clockwise. At a random moment in time, it can be oriented in any way - say, Aries can be at the bottom and then Capricorn will be at the left.
So here are the first two details to remember: the signs follow each other in the Zodiac anti-clockwise, but the Zodiac (the sky) is rotating clockwise making full circle in 24 hours.
The next important thing to understand is that planets are moving along the Zodiac, and at any moment in time each of the planets is situated somewhere, in some degree of some sign. How do we find where exactly? Well, the simplest to place is the Sun.
I am writing this on the 21st of November, and if you were ever interested in "start signs", you know that those born on the 21st of November still belong to Scorpio, but those born on the 22nd of November already have Sagittarius for their sign. That's because each year on the 21st of November the Sun leaves the last degree of Scorpio, and on the 22nd of November it enters the 1st degree of Sagittarius. Let's then put a dot in our Zodiac, somewhere in the very end of Scorpio, and mark it with the symbol of the Sun:
As for the rest of the planets, to find their locations in the sky we would need to use quite complex astronomical calculations, or printed tables that were prepared using such calculations. This was the way to go for any astrologer, including myself, in the times when computers didn't exist yet, or weren't widely available.
Fortunately, these days the life of astrologers is much simpler: there is a number of free and commercial programs that will calculate planetary positions for any moment in time with high precision. We will return to them a bit later. For now, we need to understand one more important idea.
The celestial sphere is always divided into two halves by the line of the horizon. At any given moment, a half of the sky is above the horizon and is visible to us while another half is below the horizon. The line of the horizon is an important element of a horoscope, so let's add it to our picture.
This time we'll position the Zodiac relative to the horizon exactly how it was positioned at the time when I started writing this lesson: 12 PM (noon), on the 21st of November 2010. The location is important as well, because this is the local horizon. I made all the calculations for Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK.
Here is the result:
The dotted line is the line of the horizon. On the lefthand side it is marked with Asc: this is the East of the horizon, and the point where the Zodiac intersects with the eastern horizon is called the Ascendant. It plays a very important role in a horoscope, this is where planets are ascending if we imagine that the Zodiac is rotating clockwise while the horizon stays where it is.
The righthand side of the horizon is the West, this is where the planets are descending, and the point where the ecliptic crosses the horizon in the West is called the Descendant (Dsc) - yet another important point in the horoscope.
You can see that the first degrees of Aquarius are ascending in the East. To be precise, the Ascendant is in the 3rd degree of Aquarius. Again, to calculate this back in 1980s we would use some tables and cumbersome calculations, more or less the same as what William Lilly used in the 17th century. Nowadays, all this is calculated for us in a split of a second by a computer program (wait just a little bit more for instructions where to find such a program and how to use it).
Please note that the Sun is above the horizon and quite high in the sky, which is natural for the middle of the day.
What's left is to put the remaining nine planets into their appropriate positions in the Zodiac. I have calculated their positions using a free online program. Here is our completed simplified horoscope, we won't go further than this today:
By the way, you can see the current positions of planets on the right hand side of every page.
The blue and red arrows do not belong to the horoscope, they are here to just remind you the directions of the most important movements in the sky. The horoscope itself is a snapshot, like a photo of the sky made at a specific moment, so it doesn't actually move. However, in many cases in astrology it can be important to understand the movement of the sky in the minutes and hours that follow the moment of the horoscope.
Here the blue arrow shows the direction of the fast movement of the whole sky: the Zodiac makes the full circle in 24 hours and carries all the planets with it.
The red arrow shows the direction of the normal movement of the planets. They are moving anti-clockwise, with different speeds but in any case much slower than the clockwise movement of the sky. The fastest of the planets, the Moon, makes the complete circle around the Zodiac in approximately 28 days (the sidereal lunar month) whereas Pluto does the same in about 248 years.
I mentioned the normal movement because sometimes planets (but not the Sun or the Moon) change the direction of their movement and become retrograde, i.e. move for a while in the direction that is opposite to normal.
Let's have another look at the horoscope that we have created so far. You can see that there are six planets above the horizon: from left to right, Pluto, Mercury, Mars, the Sun, Venus and Saturn.
Neptune, Jupiter, Uranus and the Moon are below the horizon. The Moon is almost exactly opposite the Sun, so there is a Full Moon. Neptune is not very far from the Ascendant, and if we imagine the daily rotation of the sky (the blue arrow), it will ascend soon.
There is nothing complex in this picture, do you agree? Just the sky, the planets and the horizon, as they were positioned relative to each other in a specific place at a specific time. The difference between this picture and a proper horoscope is only in the number of details, and in the way how different elements are drawn.
Here is the complete horoscope created for the same time and place as our simplified map of the sky was created.
When creating horoscopes of your friends and relatives, you will notice that in different horoscopes, planets are positioned in different signs of the Zodiac. You already know a little bit about the symbolism of the planets and of the signs. Try to think how the energy of a planet blends with the energy of a sign.