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Western Astrology Articles by Julene Packer-Louis

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Layout of the Chart
by Julene Packer-Louis

When you look at a horoscope, you are observing three Great Circles: the Ecliptic Plane, the Horizon, and the Meridian. A great circle shares its center with the center of earth. You are also observing a map of the heavens drawn for the precise date and time as viewed from a specific location. Therefore your birth chart is a map of exactly how the heavens looked from outside the hospital window at the moment you took your first independent life receiving breath. The horoscope is very time sensitive because the heavens rotate one degree every four minutes. (360 degrees in the zodiac circle divided by 24 hours in a day equals 15 degrees an hour. 60 minutes divided by 15 degrees equals 4 degrees a minute. Signs span 30 degrees each. A new sign rises every 2 hours.)

The outer circle that contains the zodiac signs represents the Ecliptic Plane. The Ecliptic is the path that the sun appears to travel daily as Earth rotates on her axis. Along the Ecliptic are the constellations of the signs of the zodiac. When using the sidereal zodiac, the planetary degrees are given for the position they are amongst the fixed stars of the physical constellations. When using the tropical zodiac, the planetary degrees relate to the seasons. (For more information please refer to my article entitled Celestial Mechanics).

The line that runs horizontal across the middle of the horoscope is the Horizon. The great circle Horizon is different from the rational horizon. The rational horizon is as far as you can see in all directions as you look around outside. Its center passes through your latitude. The great circle Horizon has a center that passes through the center of Earth. It is determined by where it connects with the Ecliptic in the east and west and forms the 1st and 7th house cusps. Where the Horizon meets the Ecliptic in the east is the Ascendant of the horoscope, the cusp of the 1st house. This is also the sunrise point. Where the horizon meets the Ecliptic in the west is the Descendant in the chart, the cusp of the 7th house. This is also the sunset point. The Horizon divides the north and south hemispheres of the chart. The southern hemisphere of the horoscope is that which is above the horizon: houses 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, and 7. The northern hemisphere of the horoscope is that which is below the horizon: houses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. If this seems strange to have north on the bottom, consider that you have to face to south to see the Ecliptic. Go outside at noon and look for the Sun. You'll be facing south. (In the southern hemisphere, this is reversed. You face north to see the ecliptic when you are below the Equator.)

The line that runs vertical across the middle of the horoscope is the Meridian. The great circle Meridian also shares its center with Earth. In order to define the Meridian, we have to define the zenith and nadir. Imagine a pole running straight up out of the top of your head and straight down out of your feet through the center of earth and emerging on the other side. Where that pole hits the heavens above your head is the zenith. Where it hits the heavens underfoot on the other side of Earth is the nadir. Now imagine a hoop connecting the zenith and nadir to the north and south poles of Earth and passing through the Ecliptic in the north and south. You've traced out the meridian. Where the Meridian meets the Ecliptic in the south is the Midheaven of the chart, the cusp of the 10th house. This is also the "high noon" position. Where the Meridian meets the Ecliptic in the north is the Imum Colei, the cusp of the 4th house. This is also the "midnight" position.

©, Julene Packer-Louis, 2006