A Beginner’s Guide To Astrology
“What’s your sign?”
It’s no longer a quirky question. Astrology is officially mainstream, and checking astrology apps has become part of our morning routines. It only makes sense to wonder: what’s the deal with this cosmic art? What can we learn from connecting to the cosmos and understanding our birth charts? If you’re feeling astro-curious, I’m going to break down some of the basics so you’ll have tools for your cosmic journeying.
What Is Astrology?
We live on a planet. In space. With a bunch of other planets and stars and celestial entities. Wild! Wanting to understand and situate ourselves within this galactic conversation is human nature.
Up until the 18th century, astrology and astronomy were deeply entwined and the rhythm of the sun, moon, and stars created a celestial roadmap for living life on earth. With the invention of artificial light, it’s easy to forget about the original lights—the planets, stars, and the luminaries (sun and moon). However, we can still use this ancient art to connect with ourselves and the universe.
There are many schools and systems of thought within astrology. One common thread among them is the idea that the sky is a mirror of life on earth. The movements and positions of the planets and stars can help us understand ourselves and our place in the universe.
Astrology is also a language that offers perspective, clarity, imagination, and new insights into our own movements, beliefs, and feelings. It can be clarifying and exhilarating to place our life happenings into planetary language and context. Astrology offers us a different perspective and allows for a re-imagining (and perhaps a re-enchantment) of daily life.
I find that astrology is most inspiring when used as an instrument for greater connection with the self and the cosmos. In these supercharged, fast-paced times, many of us are looking for ways to feel a sense of kinship and understanding with forces that are greater than us.
What Astrology Is Not
As astrology gets more popular, the myths and fearmongering also start to increase. So, let’s talk about what astrology is not: Astrology is not a belief system. It’s not a religion. It’s not a cult. It’s also not something to be afraid of.
Astrology is simply a way of seeing the world and positioning ourselves within a larger cosmic conversation. To benefit from astrology’s wisdom, you don’t need to “believe” that the planets are impacting our day-to-day lives (i.e., Pluto traversing your house of relationships isn’t causing drama with your beloved). It’s about synchronicity, mirroring, and looking to these starry entities for a clearer picture and a sense of cosmic dialog.
Getting Started With Birth Charts
A birth chart (also called a natal chart or astrological chart) is a snapshot of the sky from the very moment you landed earth-side—with your birth time, date, and location at the center. It looks like a wheel divided into twelve sections, and shows the positions of the planets within the astrological houses and signs based on your birthplace.
It also reveals conversations that these planets were having with each other (aspects). You can think of aspects as lines of sight between the planets, which dictate how they see and engage with one another’s energies. Think about the energetic difference of standing across the room from someone looking them in the eye vs. standing right next to someone. Planets interact like this, too.
There are many ways to think of the birth chart and my favorite definition so far is from the famed astrologer Dane Rudhyar who called it “the earth’s aura.” You can think of your natal chart as the aura of the earth at the exact moment you were born, a picture of what energies are inherent in you. It highlights your strengths, weaknesses, and offers information about things like love, career, family life, life purpose, and more.
Your birth chart is also always changing and getting activated in various ways by constantly transiting planets. For instance, when the sun enters a new sign, it’s also lighting up a new part of your birth chart, thereby highlighting new topics and themes. Likewise, when the famed Mercury retrograde happens, it’s moving through a specific part of your birth chart. Transits impact us collectively and individually, as we all have different “auras.” You can read more about Mercury retrograde here.
You can make a natal chart for anything and get a sense of the energies inherent within that event. I’ve cast charts for births, deaths, marriages, business launches, meetings, and other important life situations. You can create a birth chart for yourself (or anyone!) at astro.com, Cafe Astrology, or with apps like TimePassages by inputting your birth location, date, and time. And voila! A map of the sky at that exact moment is generated.
Reliable Astrology Resources
The volume of astrological info available out there can be overwhelming. My favorite app is TimePassages. You can store your birth chart information in the app and it offers explanations about how the current transits are impacting your chart. This is a stellar way to get acquainted with these energies. Astro.com is a great resource where you can read all about astrology and look at the current planetary positions.
Tracking the moon phases and location is one of the best ways to learn about astrology and your chart. The moon changes signs every two to three days, and when you track it (using apps or websites mentioned above), you can get a sense of what planets and topics it’s spotlighting in your own chart.
My favorite way to connect with my own chart and transits is to get a professional astrology reading with someone who resonates with me. Every astrologer has a vastly different way of relating with and translating astrological concepts, and I love when astrology comes to life with conversation and real-time interpretation.
We all have different ways of thinking about astrology. Find people, apps, and books that sync up with you.
Have questions about astrology you’d like us to answer? Shout them out in the comments below, and happy astro-tripping! 🌟
Emmalea Russo is a writer, astrologer, and creative. Her writing on astrology, culture, art, and literature appears in Cosmopolitan, Poetry Foundation, The Thirlby, Los Angeles Review of Books, Fanzine, BOMB Magazine, Hyperallergic, SF MOMA's Open Space, and elsewhere. Read Emmalea’s monthly artful horoscopes, follow her on Instagram, or book a reading with her here.