How To Make Sense Of Your Birth Chart

So, you read your horoscope regularly, you know your own sign backward and forward, and you've even dipped a toe into sign compatibility. If you ask us, it's high time you got your birth chart drawn up. This astrological rite of passage can be handled online or one-on-one with an astrologer (for a price), but however you have it calculated, the info should remain the same — exactly where the sun, moon, and planets were placed in the sky at the moment of your birth.

We spoke with astrologer Janelle Belgrave about how to figure out birth charts (or "soul maps," as she calls them), and what makes them so meaningful.

To get started, you need to know a few key details about yourself: your birth date and time, and where you were born. With this info alone, an astrologer (with the help of astrology software, of course) can map out which sign each astral body happened to be in at the moment of your birth. You're probably most familiar with your sun sign, or the sign that the sun happened to be aligned with when you were born; that's the one we identify with — the one we read horoscopes for.

Of course, the signs that the moon and the planets align with have a major impact on who you are, too. A well-made chart can tell you "about you, your family, the life that you were born into, and what your soul is looking to heal and/or achieve in this lifetime," Belgrave said.

While horoscopes, tarot readings, or other forms of divination work best when you have a question in mind, a birth chart is much more thorough (and doesn't require any particular query). Belgrave said to think of it as a snapshot of all the directions your life could take: "Within the natal chart you can see personality, drives, fears, parental relationships, siblings, children, psychological patterns, and more on one sheet of paper."

Like we said, you can absolutely find your natal chart online — Belgrave recommends using this site — but you might be missing out on some interpretive info you can only get from an astrologer IRL.

"Reading about a list of traits or fatalistic predictions out of context can create a great deal of misunderstanding and/or fear that an astrologer can walk you through," Belgrave explained, adding that online charts can even end up contradicting themselves. But, if you don't mind getting into the astrological weeds to get your answers, there's no harm in calculating your chart online.

However you get ahold of your birth chart, it can look a little confusing. So, with Belgrave's help, we're walking you through some of the key symbols that you'll encounter on your chart. Get acquainted ahead.

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The Sun

Like we said, you probably know your sun sign already. This is the sign you select when you read your trusty horoscope. It's also the first of what Belgrave called the "three legs" of the birth chart — the sun, the moon, and the ascendant sign.

"The sun speaks about our Ego, the 'I Am,' what drives me to be who I am and how I identify myself," she said.

In other words, your sun sign reflects who you are all the time, regardless of whom you're with or what you're doing.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The Moon

This is the second key "leg" of your chart, and its placement tells you what your moon sign is. The moon "speaks about our emotional self and what we need to feel secure, safe, and nurtured. We go to our Moon when we need to restore ourselves," explained Belgrave.

The sign that the moon happened to be in when you were born is the side of you that only a few get to see, and it's what guides you when you need direction. For this reason, your moon sign tends to be the ruling force over your decision-making.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Your Ascendant Sign

Also known as your rising sign, this is the final "leg" on which your chart stands, and it's based on the constellation that was on the horizon at the exact time of your birth. Belgrave explained that this sign represents how others see you: "When we first meet someone, we’re likely to meet their rising sign."

She also said that the ascendant sign changes every two hours or so, which is just one reason to try to be as accurate as possible when naming your birth time.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The Inner Planets

The inner planets include Mercury, Venus, and Mars, in addition to the sun and the moon. Belgrave cautioned that all planets carry slightly different meanings from chart to chart, but "as a rule, the inner planets, or personal planets, can describe core personality traits, needs, and desires."

Mercury rules your mind and communication, Venus rules your love life, and Mars rules your actions and overall energy. (You can read more about the planets and their meanings here.) So, for example, if Venus happened to be in Aries when you were born, that could mean you're playful, flirtatious, and even driven when it comes to love, since those qualities are associated with Aries.

Simply put, the key characteristics of the sign that a particular planet is in when you're born will influence a specific aspect of your life.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The Outer Planets

Meanwhile, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto's respective areas of influence are more abstract — rather than determining what makes you you, they reflect what will make your life special.

Jupiter rules luck and progress, Saturn rules your fears and self-discipline, Uranus rules change, Neptune rules dreams and how you heal, and Pluto rules your power and transformation. The placement of these planets can suggest what you have to look forward to in these areas.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Your Ruling Planet

Since you already know what parts of life each of the planets rule, you have a head start to understanding the significance of your ruling planet, or the planet that's associated with your ascending sign. This planet's qualities can tell you more about yourself, what you value, and what rules your behavior.

For example, if your rising sign is Gemini, your chart's ruling planet is Mercury. Thanks to this planet's influence, you're probably talkative, clever, and intelligent. You'll also be more affected by Mercury's orbit and movements, especially if it's in retrograde. You can find your ascending sign's ruling planet here.

We know — it's a lot to digest. But don't let the intricacies of the birth chart deter you from getting yours drawn.

"Astrology is for everyone," Belgrave said. "It can give hope, as well as guidance, and more than anything, reassurance and confirmation that who you are and who you can become is written in the stars."