Posted by: Donna Cunningham | February 7, 2009

Spotting Themes in a Birth Chart: the Rule of Three

3guy-a2dby Donna Cunningham

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. In all my years of working with charts and passing along my interpretations, I am more and more convinced of the wisdom of that teaching. These repeated and related chart features, in fact, 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 planetary 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 is no dou
bt deeply meaningful in the psychology and sociology of the entire generation born on Earth in that era – though I couldn’t articulate it in less than a volume. However, when individuals assume that a single retrograde planet in that collection (say, a retrograde Uranus) pertains to their life alone, rather than to the challenges held in common by their entire generation, they are personalizing a generational influence.astroanalysis-2014-220x300

Added 1/25/13 from a Wikipedia page about the phrase (nonastrological) The Rule of Three:  “The Latin phrase, ‘omne trium perfectum’ (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.” Donna

 Note: This is an excerpt from a longer exploration of chart themes in my ebook, Astrological Analysis, which can be purchased along with several others Download a sampler here:  Sampler–2015 Astrological Analysis.

More Excerpts from Donna’s E-Books:


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