You probably know your astrological sign, also called your sun sign. That’s the one you most commonly associate with your zodiac. But your sun is only one part of your birth chart. Also called your natal chart, you can think of your birth chart as a screenshot of what the cosmos looked like the moment you were born. To get the whole picture of your personality, you need to take into account the position of each planet. In astrology, an Aries with a Pisces moon and Cancer rising is very different from an Aries with a Sagittarius moon and Leo rising.
To find your birth chart, you’ll need three things: the date, time, and location of your birth. (Yep, you’ll need to text your mom or dig up your birth certificate.) Once you have that information, head to an online birth chart calculator, such as Cafe Astrology, and fill out the form. You’ll get a complicated-looking circle-within-a-circle with numbers, astrological signs, and symbols scattered across it. (Some chart calculator sites and apps just tell you what your signs are; look for one, like Cafe Astrology, that actually shows you a chart.)
The major areas to focus on first are your sun, moon, and rising signs. These are the planets that exercise the most influence over your personality. Then you’ll take into account which Houses — which represent the different areas of our lives — those planets are in.
It sounds intense, but it’s actually not so difficult to get the hang of. We asked astrologer Lisa Stardust to help us put together a primer on the birth chart basics to help you get started.
As we said, your sun sign is your “main” sign. Locate the sun symbol on your birth chart; it’s the circle with a dot in the center. Then look to the outer edge of the natal chart circle to find the astrological sign in which your sun resides.
Our sun signs indicate “our ego, our drive, and our needs in this lifetime,” says Stardust. Each sign is associated with different traits. For example, Scorpios, my sun sign, are known for being obsessive, mysterious, and fascinated by sex, death, and the occult.
In your birth chart, your moon sign is represented by a crescent moon symbol. Look to the outer edge of your birth chart to see where sign your moon is located. Mine is in Sagittarius, a sign known for being impulsive, adventurous, and a little blunt. If your sun represents your ego, your moon reveals your id: “your internal feelings and emotions,” as Stardust puts it.
She adds that your moon is also associated with the way you nurture and care for yourself and for others, your memories, and your comfort foods. Like me, Stardust’s moon is in Sagittarius. “When I’m really upset, I crave spicy Mexican food or macaroni and cheese with hot sauce,” she says. Makes sense. Sagittarius is all about a kick.
Your rising sign, also called your ascendant, represents “the face we wear to the world, how people perceive you, and how you want to be perceived,” Stardust explains. On the chart, it’s represented by the letters “ASC” or “AC.” My ascendant is in Virgo, a sign known for being organized, detail-oriented perfectionists. (As every Virgo will tell you, Beyoncé is one.)
The last pieces of the puzzle are the houses. For these, you look at the inner circle on your chart. There, you’ll see numbers one through 12, moving counterclockwise. These are your houses. Some of these sections will have multiple planetary symbols in them. Some will have none. That’s all normal.
Take note of which of your houses have many planets in them, Stardust advises. And then get specific: look at where your sun, moon, and rising signs are located. Once you get more familiar with astrology, you can also look up the meanings of Venus, Mars, and every other planet in your chart.
Here’s how it works: Your houses each represent different areas of your life. When you layer on the meaning of a planet, you get a nuanced view of your personality.
For example, the third house tends to stand for communication, information, gossip, and news, as well as siblings, transportation, and short-distance travel (think Manhattan to Brooklyn). My sun is in Scorpio in the third house. That’s pretty on point for a writer who covers both sex and astrology. “Where the sun is, that’s where your ego shines,” Stardust says. “You shine in writing and enjoy it.”
Everyone also has “empty houses,” or houses on our charts with no planets in them. They represent areas of our life that can be a challenge for us. For example, my eighth house is empty. This house represents spending habits, as well as sex, death, transformation, and debt. My empty eighth house indicates that “if you had a million dollars, you might go wild and spend it all,” Stardust says. If your eleventh house, which represents friendship, community, humanitarian endeavors, and astrology, was empty, you “might need to put extra effort into working with other people,” Stardust says. In other words, you might really hate group projects.
For your reference, here’s what each house represents. Of course, remember that you have free will, too. After all, if I win the lottery, I can choose to hire a financial planner to help me curb the reckless spending habits of my empty eighth house. Knowing that this is an area I’m predisposed to struggle with might encourage me to take preventative action.
The First House: Self, identity, and how you present to the world.
The Second House: Money, childhood friends, and self-esteem.
The Third House: Communication, news, gossip, siblings, and short-distance travel.
The Fourth House: Home, personal beliefs, family traditions, and ancestors.
The Fifth House: Creativity, inspiration, parties, and children. (Keep in mind that astrologically speaking, “Having a business can be like having a child,” Stardust says. A book or an art project could also count. )
The Sixth House: Daily routine, health, self-care, and the people we see every day, from your Starbucks barista to your subway crush.
The Seventh House: Partnerships — including romance, friendships, and business contracts — and open enemies.
The Eighth House: Sex, death, taxes, transformation, and debt.
The Ninth House: Long-distance travel, philosophy, intellectualism, higher education, religion, and values (such as honesty).
The Tenth House: Career, public image, and what you give to the world.
The Eleventh House: Friendship, community, humanitarian endeavors, and astrology.
The Twelfth House: Secrets, lies, psychological struggles, and hidden enemies.
This is just the beginning when it comes to decoding your birth chart — if you’re interested in learning more, you can read about the meanings of the other planets, learn about aspects (that’s the angles the planets make with each other), and find out how comfortable each planet is in each sign. If you’re willing to spend some cash, a professional astrologer can give you an in-depth reading — or you can check out some astrology books from the library and begin studying on your own. Astrology can seem overwhelming at first, but before you know it, you'll be interpreting the positions of the stars like a pro... or a Virgo.