In a horoscope, all the elements of a story are implicit. The planets are the characters—both inner and outer—which are motivated by specific concerns and have potentials for certain kinds of action. They perform their roles in various settings—houses—and interact amongst themselves—aspects—in the process of striving to attain their goals. Of necessity, conflicts arise, as reflected by hard aspects, which the life is then dedicated to resolving.
Taken as a whole, the chart reflects character structure and plot structure; in effect, plot is the unfoldment of character. The inner logic of this unfoldment is displayed in the chain of dispositorships that link planets together, thus revealing the structure of action (process) in the life. Process structure usually revolves around a central question: the main theme or moral of the story and the life purpose of the individual.
This approach to the chart is consistent with what psychologists call narrative therapy or personal mythology. A narrative perspective holds that human beings are better understood by a metaphor of story than of ‘thing’. The thing approach, which is the traditional way of conceptualizing personality, reduces the person to a static character type—extrovert, borderline, hysteric, or simply a number if you ascribe to the Eneagram typology.
Personally, I abhor typologies, even astrological ones that reduce people to signs or planets such as, he’s a Scorpio, or she’s a Neptunian. Typologies tend to be reductionistic, linear, simplistic, static, objectifying, pathologizing, and dehumanizing. I think people are better described as stories because stories are complex, nonpathologizing, have movement built into them, and symbolize a process of change that leads toward resolution of conflict and growth of character.
Astrology teaches us that identities are neither simple nor fixed. People are complex and continually changing in response to transits and progressions. Each planet in the natal chart constitutes a sub-personality, or part-self. These sub-personalities have the potential to become increasingly differentiated over time, and, with sufficient effort, can be gradually integrated into a more-or-less unified sense of self that allows for the free and open expression of its various parts.
People are not only multi-selved, they are also multi-storied. There are many possible stories symbolized by the horoscope. Identities (or stories) are constructed from the meanings we give to experience, starting in infancy and extending into adulthood. Our capacity to create meaning derives from free will; thus, meanings are freely chosen, even if certain experiences are to some degree fated by our charts. How we interpret our experience constructs a world-concept and a self-concept, which combine to produce a life-story or ‘script.’ As the person matures, so does the story, edited and revised to honor the growth that’s occurred and setting the stage for yet new developments. Stories, like people, evolve.
In effect, stories are built up from meanings that are inferred from experience. Because many of these constructs were laid down in childhood, and thus form the bedrock of our personal theory of reality, they are necessarily narrow, arbitrary, and distorted. Worse, they can be grim, false, and self-limiting. They often predict that bad things will happen if we pursue our basic needs, and cause us to adapt solutions that create the very suffering they were designed to avoid.
Maladaptive beliefs and false ideas operate like self-fulfilling prophecies. They anticipate and are designed to prevent future suffering; yet, they actually bring about poverty, loneliness, shame, estrangement, betrayal, loss, failure, shock, and disappointment of every known variety. The good news is that we can amend these stubborn fictions by becoming aware of them, and there is no better way of doing this than through study of one’s astrological chart.
Horoscope as Evolving Story
The interaction of planet, sign and house form the sentences of our story. Various grammatical rules can be utilized for constructing sentences. On a behavioral level, for example, Mars in Sagittarius in the 10th can mean: “He pioneered a new theory, which launched his career.” At an experiential level, it can also mean, “My father was an angry man, especially about religion and politics; he taught me that people in authority often make up laws for reasons of expediency and personal gain.” Of course, these are but two of innumerable possible meanings of this configuration. To be fully accurate with one’s interpretations, one must dialogue with the client and include them in a construction of meaning.
By synthesizing the relevant variables—planet, sign, and house—it is possible to elaborate planetary sign-house sentences into paragraphs. Taking every planet and treating it in a similar manner, we would have about ten paragraphs, all of which are descriptive of the probable behavior and experiences of the person involved.
A narrative, however, is not told by paragraphs alone. In order to be fully understood by a reader, it must be unified and coherent. Each paragraph should be logically related to the others so that taken together they constitute a plot structure. Plot can only be gleaned by looking at the story as a whole. It is the same with the astrological chart. The individual is not simply a conglomerate of disparate and unrelated parts, but a complex network of interlocking needs and functions. We call this approach to the chart synergistic, meaning the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The process of constructing a story from the chart can be outlined as follows: Planets symbolize the story’s characters; the signs they rule represent underlying motives; the signs they occupy signify roles and behavioral styles; and the houses they tenant depict the various settings that provide a background for the story’s action. Planetary aspects and dispositors reveal the overall story line (plot) of the chart. Hard aspects can represent maladaptive beliefs that symbolize the main theme or conflict of the narrative. Finally, dispositors link signs, planets, and houses together into a continuous and flowing whole, thus revealing the story’s skeletal structure and unfolding sequence.
Discovering the Plot of the Story
Plot constitutes the arrangement of elements in a story and is characterized by a reoccurring sequence of events that are all related to a central question. This sequence makes up the plot’s pattern; incidents keep occurring that have a similar meaning or quality. Pattern is not simply a mechanical repetition, but a process of stages in progression. Each incident brings about a modification in awareness that leads toward resolution of the core conflict.
A chart has a plot, too. Just as the planets and their various relations symbolize one’s character, so they also symbolize the plot of one’s story. Each planetary character represents a type of action, which serves as a catalyst for the action of its dispositor. For example, expression of Mars in Sagittarius in the 10th activates Jupiter in Libra in the 8th. The individual may initially assert an opinion about cut throat competition for market expansion in the corporate world, and then feel stimulated to lecture on the significance of collaboration and partnership as a healing remedy. Expression of Jupiter in Libra in the 8th becomes a catalyst for Venus in Leo in the 6th, and so on around the wheel. Taken as a whole, the chart symbolizes the sequence of action.
An astrological chart has a pattern; incidents of the same or similar quality keep reoccurring, e.g., an individual continually experiences the same kind of outcomes in his relationships, career, or finances. Ideally, pattern is not simply repetition, but constitutes a path of evolutionary unfoldment. Each incident can elevate awareness, which leads toward a progressive development and integration of character. Every new episode has the potential to deepen and heighten consciousness, like a spiral top that gradually expands. People learn, develop insight, and realize their potentials over time. In this sense, plot is an unfolding of character; fate is soul spread out in time. One could even say that fate is the means whereby soul unifies itself.
No Conflict, No Story
As the action of the chart unfolds, there are invariably conflicts and allegiances that form between the various planets that make up the narrative. As archetypal characters, planets symbolize specific types of action, and every action has the potential for harmonizing or conflicting with other types of action. The challenge of any life-story is to resolve conflicts and knit parts together into a harmonious, multifaceted whole. To the extent that this is accomplished, one becomes a person of good character. That is, one attains integrity.
Conflict is essential to stories. This is as true for the average person as it is for the protagonists of myth and literature. Conflict is what drives a story forward. No conflict, no story. In external conflict, characters struggle against the environment or with each other. In internal conflict, one part of the psyche struggles against another part; motives clash and ideas vie for dominance. In most stories, a strong element of inner conflict balances the outer conflict. To understand a story it is crucial to determine the nature of the conflict and the pattern that the opposing forces assume. Toward this end, the astrological chart is an invaluable aid, for almost invariably there is at least one central conflict clearly revealed in the horoscope.
Planetary aspects symbolize the various types of relations—some conflictual, some harmonizing—that exist between parts of psychological structure. Aspects not only signify the organization of the internal world, they also describe how the external world is structured. Planetary archetypes are non-local entities that manifest simultaneously in both inner and outer events. Just as in stories, inner conflicts tend to be balanced by outer conflicts.
In the beginning of a story, there is generally some situation that entails a lack of wholeness—in other words, a conflict between characters, within a character, or both. Stories can be thought of in terms of problem and solution, conflict and repose, tension and resolution. Whether and how the conflict is resolved constitutes the main question of the drama. This is what creates suspense.
Again, a story can be seen as a metaphor for a person. Just as stories denote conflicts between characters, so every human being experiences internal conflict between the various parts of his nature. The planetary archetypes make up our inner cast of characters. Whereas one part of our nature may be quite compatible with another part, e.g., our maternal instinct (Moon) may form an alliance (conjunction) with our inner warrior (Mars) so that we are fierce in our capacity to protect, other parts of the psyche may be at war. Our impulse for pleasure (Venus) may be at odds (opposition) with the drive for perfection (Saturn) so that we feel undeserving of pleasure. This may show up in the outer world as an interpersonal conflict; one person craves the pleasures of physical intimacy, the other withholds. The outer conflict reflects the inner one while also providing a vehicle for its resolution.
Purely physical conflict does not denote a story. A story requires characterization. There have to be characters that arouse sympathy or antipathy. We must evaluate the ideas or motives that underlay the external conflict. We may sympathize with one character’s perspective and feel hostile toward another. Sympathy and antipathy, a conflict of ideas, is what makes up a story.
In astrology, too, the horoscope reveals how the native may be more sympathetic toward some planets than others. Conflicting emotions and motivations are portrayed by hard aspects between planets, such as antagonism between family ties and adult partnerships (Moon square Venus), or disharmony between one’s rational and imaginative sides (Mercury opposed Neptune). These conflicts often emerge as pathogenic beliefs—negative ideas—that express pessimism or fear about the relative likelihood of meeting basic needs.
For example, an individual with Mercury opposed Neptune may believe that psi phenomena (precognition, telepathy, and clairvoyance) are delusions perpetrated by Hollywood, and that fantasy is the enemy of science. He may subsequently become obsessed with disproving the claims of paranormal researchers. To the extent that he sides with Mercury at the expense of Neptune, he forfeits awareness of his own psi potentials. Negative ideas generate self-defeating behaviors that perpetuate external conflicts and frustration of needs, and so the story goes.
Character Is Destiny
The relation between character and events is a fundamental principle of organization in astrology, just as it is in stories. In story, plot is the unfolding of character; in astrology, character is destiny. Just as in every story there is an obvious external conflict between characters and a less obvious internal conflict within the hero, so every planetary configuration has an objective and subjective meaning.
An aspect, for example, symbolizes a facet of character and a characteristic event. If an individual believes that he can never truly belong (Moon) unless he achieves distinction in his profession (Saturn), while also fearing that too much work will jeopardize his relations with his family, this internal conflict of Moon-Saturn ideas may emerge externally as a situation in which his wife accuses him of neglecting the children in favor of his career.
Often these conflicts appear as impossible predicaments for which there is no solution. Yet, it is the challenge of life to integrate the respective planetary functions and, in so doing, bring into being a unique talent or accomplishment that resolves the conflict. Perhaps our Moon-Saturn man builds a company that provides a protective service to the community, an accomplishment that allows him to spend more time with his family. The astrological chart can reveal core conflicts in the person, but free will and personal responsibility determine whether and how these conflicts are resolved. In this regard, a narrative approach to the chart recognizes the inherent indeterminacy of chart outcomes, while also supporting the individual in actualizing his or her highest potential.
In every story, there is a key moment that brings into focus all previous events and suddenly reveals their meaning. It is the moment of illumination for the whole story, the instant in which the underlying unity is perceived as inherent in the complexity. Likewise in an astrological chart, there is a potential unity that is inherent in the complexity of the various parts and relations.
If the chart is properly interpreted, this wholeness can be illumined. Suddenly the native sees his life as all of a piece; there is an “ah ha!” recognition. Most importantly, the native realizes that the main conflict of his life provides an opportunity for learning a lesson and for actualizing a potential that can only be achieved by working through complexity, complication, and confusion—just as in any good story. Pointing the way toward such a happy ending is one of the main values of interpreting a birthchart.