Spotting Themes in A Birth Chart – The Rule of Three

An old rule says that for an astrological interpretation to be true, you must be able to see it expressed three ways in the chart. If you see it once, it is only a possibility; if you see it twice, it becomes more likely; but if you can see the same theme a third time, that interpretation then becomes a probability. These repeated and related chart features often point to major themes in a person’s life.

What constitutes a theme? When analyzing a chart, you would look for sign and house placements and aspects that are similar in nature to one another. One starting point is the astrological alphabet popularized by Dr. Zipporah Dobyns, which held Aries, Mars, and the 1st house as equivalents, Taurus, Venus and the 2nd house as equivalents, and so on.

Then look for repetitions in the chart. A concentration of Pisces planets, plus the Sun or Moon in the 12th house and several aspects to Neptune would make a person highly Neptunian. The themes of Neptune, Pisces, and the 12th would, therefore, be a strong dynamic in this individual’s life, whether expressed primarily in a positive way (such as spiritual study, creativity, and service) or in more problematic ones like addiction, rescuing, self-deception, or even delusion. With any such concentration, the life path of the individual may be strongly colored by attempts to master the issues and drives connected with that sign, house, and planet.

Another person might have Cancer rising, the Moon as the focus of a grand trine, and the Sun, Mercury, and Venus in the 4th house. Lunar issues – home, security, family, the mother, nurturing, and food – would strongly motivate this individual and be a major focus of effort. However, such a person will not necessarily deal with these issues in a typically Cancerian way, for the sign and aspects of the Moon become important modifiers of the pattern. Also, when the Sun and other planets are located in the 4th, the individual places great emphasis on home life and family but may not be as moody and emotional as the typical Cancerian, depending on the Sun’s sign and element. A person with a stellium in air in the 4th may not be particularly emotional but would still tend to be deeply invested in the home.

One conceivable interpretation of someone with Mercury on the Midheaven could be that a brother or sister functioned in a parental role, since Mercury, like the 3rd house or Gemini, often indicates the role of siblings. Suppose you also note that Saturn, one indicator of parental authority, falls in the 3rd house – a repetition of the sibling/authority connection. Then, you find that the Moon, which describes the Mother, is in the Mercury-ruled sign of Gemini. This is another clue that a sibling may have taken on a substantial share of the parenting functions. You are then fairly safe in venturing that interpretation – and smiling modestly when the client gasps, “How on earth did you know that?” (A second level of interpretation of these same placements, given Mercury on the Midheaven, would focus on the career. We might infer that this individual is very much a communicator and will pursue a career in a related field.)

Astrology students often worry about a particular facet of a chart, but they need not become alarmed unless this factor is confirmed in other ways. For instance, many people born without planets in the water signs have sworn that they are not especially emotional. Yet, some of them have Neptune on the Ascendant and Pluto conjunct the Moon; these people are, on the contrary, extremely emotional. Their challenge, instead, is to manage those emotions.

Other people worry excessively about some feature of their chart that is shared by most of the people born around the same time. For instance, almost everyone born in the winter months of the early 1940s had Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto all retrograde. This astrological event deeply meaningful in the psychology and sociology of the entire generation born on Earth in that era. However, when individuals assume that a single retrograde planet in that collection (say, a retrograde Saturn) pertains to their life alone, rather than to the challenges held in common by their entire generation, they are personalizing a generational influence.

Others congratulate themselves prematurely on some facet of their chart without balancing it by considering aspects or house placements. For instance, people with Jupiter on the Midheaven might conclude that they would enjoy good luck and fabulous success in their career. Before lying back and waiting for fortune to find them, however, they’d best take a look at the aspects to Jupiter, Saturn, and any 10th-house planets. Early in my career, I taught astrology as a volunteer at an alcohol treatment center in a slum, and I was chastened to find that some of these patients who had lived on the streets for years had Jupiter on the Midheaven.

To give an example of how the Rule of Three works, suppose that a client had Neptune and Saturn conjunct in the 4th house, which shows conditions in the home life and often in the family of origin. I might speculate that there was some mystery, hardship, and maybe a loss in the family of origin, but I would look further to see what it might be. Suppose I then noticed that the Moon was in Pisces in the 8th house. The suspicion of a painful loss involving the mother and the family of origin would grow stronger. If the Moon also formed a difficult t-square, that would pretty much clinch it. I would inquire about the early loss of a female authority figure – maybe even go out on a limb and ask if the client was adopted, since natal or transiting Neptune aspects in the 4th or 10th have shown up numerous times in my practice in cases of adoption.

Seeing a difficult placement in the chart – like that 8th-house Pisces Moon, for instance – would you automatically conclude that the mother will die? All mothers die ultimately, but when and how they die are not written in stone. You would never make a fixed prediction, especially one so negative in tone, based on a single aspect in a chart, whether natal or transiting. Look for repetitious chart patterns and for mitigating forces, such as supportive natal or transiting aspects. You also need to ask questions about how that placement has worked in the person’s life, especially during important past transits to that point, and what the native has learned in the course of living about how to express the higher potential of that placement. In the case of a transiting aspect, you must have a clear grasp of the natal condition of the planet in question and also look at all the other transits currently going on in the chart, for balancing factors. If you are still concerned about a natal or transiting pattern in your chart, consult a seasoned professional astrologer with a well-balanced approach. Find one who can admit the realistic drawbacks of a given placement but can also help you to work toward its positive expressions.

©2005 by Donna Cunningham