Demystified: Two Black Astrologers On How You Can Better Understand Yourself Through Your Birth Chart

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Welcome to Demystified, Unbothered’s monthly spirituality series for Black and brown folx. Through a lens of reclamation, Unbothered is helping its audience reconnect with ancestral practices while debunking myths and misconceptions. As stigma surrounding non-Christian spiritual practices fades and Black and brown folx reclaim spiritual tools for self-healing, we’re educating our readers while making spirituality accessible for the seasoned practitioner, the curious and uninitiated, and everyone in between. This month, we’re exploring astrology as a tool for self-understanding alongside professional astrologers Samylda Charles and Janelle Belgrave.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s not at least a tiny bit into astrology. As R29 staffer Elizabeth Gulino noted last year, astrology has been booming for over a decade now, and it only seems to be getting more popular amidst the COVID-19 pandemic  and the rise of TikTok. And for good reason: as many have embarked on journeys of self-exploration during these last two years of trauma and uncertainty, astrology has not only become away for us to find the answers to the many questions we have about everything happening around us, but also the things happening within us — how we’re responding to present circumstances, the shadows we’re wading through, the things that move us, or even why we suddenly feel drawn toward a new calling.
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“With such an all encompassing and unbounded tool like astrology, there is a way to gain in depth understanding about essentially anything, especially oneself, when natal astrology [the study of birth charts] is done properly,” says Samylda Charles, professional traditional astrologer. “Because natal astrology is reflective of ourselves in context to the world around us, it can show through its symbolism where we fit, why we fit, and what we can do to fully embrace that. Once we bring in more advanced timing techniques on top of that, we can start to explain why certain times illuminate different experiences and aspects in our lives. I think it ends up having the potential to breed an absolute and awe-striking acceptance of oneself and surrender to one’s timing.”
In part one of our conversation about astrology, Charles and fellow astrologer Janelle Belgrave break down the basics of the ancient practice, a brief history of how it came to be, Black roots in astrology, and how it can be used to illuminate one’s path.
R29Unbothered: How would you define astrology?
Samylda Charles: “I like to define astrology as ‘the language of time.’ Astrology is based on interpreting the quality of any given moment in time, through the calculation of planetary cycle movements. Every moment something new is being created into existence. I like to ask people ‘what is time?’ Reflecting on that question will help people to understand what astrology is. Astrology isn’t something to believe in, it’s time, it just exists and cycles, with and around us.”
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Janelle Belgrave: “A very loose definition would be the study of the heavens, meaning the planets, the stars, fixed stars, things that are above our heads in the celestial sphere and how we basically interpret them. Astrology is the human experience of how the heavens affect us down here on Earth, essentially.”
Generally speaking, what is astrology used for?
SC: “We, as astrologers, use this symbolic language to describe, understand, or predict the energy of that moment, person, or thing. Time is constantly moving and things are constantly shifting. It’s a tool with the ability to keep up with those changes. Context is really important when it comes to astrology. What are we talking about? Who are we talking about? When and where?”
JB: “There are four main branches of astrology. The one that is most popular today is natal astrology, which is studying the birth charts of people as individuals and all the things that make them who they are and all that kind of stuff. There's also mundane astrology, which is about the astrology of the world or world events, the state of the world, politics, economy, agriculture, weather, all kinds of natural phenomena all fall in mundane astrology. There is horary astrology, and that is talking about being able to ask a specific question and using the chart for that particular question when you asked it, so making a birth chart for the question and being able to use that chart to essentially answer it. People use it a lot for 'Will I get married? Is he cheating on me? Where are my lost keys?' Or things like that. And then the last one is election astrology, which is basically studying when is the best moment in time to initiate a project or an event. For example, I just had a client who was looking for a wedding date and I had to look through various charts and compare and contrast against hers and her to-be spouse using astrology to pick the perfect date for their wedding. But there's rules and regulations for all that to happen.”
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How can astrology be used as a tool for self-awareness to help us better understand ourselves?
SC: “I like to call myself a time traveler as a joke. Pulling the chart of my birth or my client’s is like going back into that moment where we were created and seeing all the potential that existed and still exists as long as we live. It can be very empowering in that way. Because natal astrology is reflective of ourselves in context to the world around us, it can show through its symbolism where we fit, why we fit, and what we can do to fully embrace that. Once we bring in more advanced timing techniques on top of that, we can start to explain why certain times illuminate different experiences and aspects in our lives. I think it ends up having the potential to breed an absolute and awe-striking acceptance of oneself and surrender to one’s timing.”
Janelle, you were just talking about birth charts. Can you explain what a birth chart is and how it applies to this self-understanding conversation?
JB: “A birth chart is basically a snapshot of the sky at the moment of your birth. So when you're born, or when they say ‘so-and-so was born at 2:40 p.m. in New York City on March 9th, 2002.’ Anyone can pull up a birth chart. You can go to a website like astro.com or many others put in your natal information — your birth date, time of birth and location — and it's going to pull up the sky what it looks like on the day of your birth. That particular sky is going to give you a ton of information about what essentially makes you tick, what your motivations are, what the challenges are, and all sorts of crazy things you can find in the birth.”
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When people are discussing birth charts, I most often hear them talking about their rising and moon signs alongside their sun. Can you talk about what these three placements represent in our charts and why these are the ones that people most often talk about? 
JB: “The sun, the moon and the rising are kind of the three legs of your chart. They're the most sensitive portions of the chart, more or less so the sun represents your ego what you're here for. So, for example, a Sagittarius Sun like myself might be here for venture or travel or education inspiration versus someone who is maybe a Taurus sun might be here for a more epicurean experience that's more artistic or food oriented or pleasure oriented for example. The Moon typically talks about our emotional needs. It's more of a soul connected point. A lot of people will peg you for your moon sign versus your sun side because it's kind of like your heart: your emotional needs, what you need to feel safe, how you want to be nurtured. And then the ascendant, or the rising sign, this is when the clock stopped on the day of your birth and said, 'This is it.' And that ascendant is talking about what you might look like physically. It can also talk about your motivations and what makes you an individual and what is driving you or your objective in life. So those three together give a lot of information about what a person needs to feel content in life, but there's a lot more behind that too.” 
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Black people are integrating astrology with other spiritual gifts: channelling, intuitive knowledge, and dream interpretation. Are you able to speak to how Black folx have used astrology throughout history? For example, intuitive astrologer Kesaine Walker explained to VICE in 2020 that while European cultures are usually credited with creating astrology, the practice dates back to ancient African civilization, which I knew nothing about.
JB: “I don't have a ton of information, but I do believe that all ancient civilizations around the world have some perspective on astrology, whether it's the ancient Incans and the Mayans, the ancient Chinese, Europeans, Africans, everyone was studying the sky in some way and divinating from it. One group out of Africa that comes up quite a bit is the Dogon tribe, and I think they're a part of what is now modern Mali right now. Apparently, they are known for advanced mathematics and astronomical knowledge because they had rituals and ceremonies that were surrounding a particular star in the sky that at that point in time was invisible to the human eye, and that would be Sirius B. They knew about the existence of this star centuries before it was discovered in 1970, so there's this belief that astrology was studied in Africa and through contact with the Greeks and other people who came forward to meet with them and through international trade or study, that knowledge was taken to Europe or other parts of the world and then kind of translated into what we know today. 
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But as far as I know, astrology probably originated out of Mesopotamia and then spread to India, Europe, the Middle East and so on and so forth. I cannot say with certainty what the African diaspora, especially within this continent, had to do with astrology because we know so much of our knowledge has been lost or destroyed over the years.”
SC: “I feel there is a pretty large erasure in the history of how Black folx have used astrology. I know there are ancient West African indigenous perspectives on the celestial space and our connection to it which is not very spotlighted. Just like any other subject, cultural erasure, appropriation, and silencing of astrological perspective in black folk exists. With astrology, we are talking about how we interpret our world! My language as a Black woman will sound a lot different than the next person’s. I think we currently have an opportunity by teaching and learning at this moment, to redefine our role in the astrological world.”
What resources can you recommend to people who are wanting to study astrology at a beginner level and gain a better understanding of themselves?
SC: “I recommend using websites like astro.com and astro-seek.com to calculate your chart accurately. The best way to learn, I believe, is through applying the new knowledge to your own chart. I recommend seeking out books, PDFs, that break down the fundamental pieces of astrology and center the planets. These days, accurate and in-depth information can be hard to find on the internet due to the centering of pop astrology. I think it’s a good idea to seek out and keep up with credible Astrologers you resonate with while learning, as we have loads of articles, PDFs, and information to share.”
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JB: “One of my favorite books is The Contemporary Astrologer's Handbook by Sue Tompkins. [It’s] fairly basic. There's another one called Astrological Insights Into Personality by Betty Lundsted that's more of a modern astrology Jungian take on different aspects in the natal chart, if you're interested in figuring out what makes you tick and why you have your hangups. But take everything with a grain of salt. You don't have to accept everything that you read. And that's a big part of astrology, finding it resonates and leaving what doesn't alone. No one's being forced to believe in things or study things they do not like. Even on the internet, [it’s important to] be very cautious and use your intuition to weed out what feels good versus what doesn't. I'm very wary of any astrology that blames people for their charts or tells them that you were going to have a miserable life because you have Venus in Scorpio or something like that.
This was a trend for a while on Twitter, especially. Everyone was bashing each other's charts, and it was a whole thing which is not great because we're all flawed, right? The idea is not that you need to be perfect in order to have a great life. It's just living in your chart authentically, and that's what I try to do. What I'm doing with clients and also reminding people that astrology is complex and there are lots of things that show that everyone has their highs and lows in life, and it's not about failing. It's just about doing your best with the energy available to you. So keep it simple. Explore safely.”
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