(c)2009 by Donna Cunningham
Before you begin to interpret someone’s birth chart, ask yourself the most basic question of all—how accurate is the birth time? The birth time is the key to such crucial parts as the Ascendant (also known as the Rising sign or first house cusp), the Midheaven (the career point at the top of the chart), and the signs on the cusps of all twelve houses. Rounded-off times like 7:00 or 7:30 are suspect.
Times on the quarter hour—7:15 or 7:45—are likely to be closer to true, and a time like 7:06 could be exact. You need to know, also, whether you are talking about 7:30 AM or 7:30 PM, since they are 12 hours apart and usually six Rising Signs different, and yet that part of the birth certificate may be blurry.
Estimating the Accuracy of the Birth Time
Ask where the person got the data. If it’s from Mom’s memory, she’s 80, and she had seven kids, it’s iffy, unless memorable circumstances accompanied the birth. A birth announcement or baby book should be given some credence. If the time was noted on the birth certificate, it is at least as close as the delivery room staff could make it.
Be especially cautious when the Ascendant is in the last few degrees of one sign or the first few degrees of the next, since a slight difference in birth time could change the rising sign. In borderline cases, ask the Sun sign of both parents, as one of them may be the correct Ascendant.
However, when difficult planets like Saturn, Pluto, or Neptune fall near the Ascendant, inquire if any unusual circumstances accompanied the delivery. Often there is quite a saga, and if this was a chaotic (Neptune) or a particularly difficult birth (Saturn or Pluto), the data could well be in question. Especially in life-threatening circumstances, delivery room staff are paying attention to the baby and the mother, not the clock on the wall. Typically, when both stabilize and cleanup begins, someone will ask when the baby was born. The person in charge looks at the clock and vouches a guess, and that guess is recorded for posterity.
Also take the birth place and year into account. Until 1967, observance of daylight savings time was notoriously changeable from town to town and even year to year, especially in the Midwest. The best reference is The American Atlas, available in both digital and hardcopy format, but even that is amended as new information comes to light. (San Diego, CA: AstroComputing Services 1981)
Pesky Pennsylvania–the Bane of an Astrologer’s Existence!
In some areas–and some eras–state law mandated that standard time be used on the certificate rather than daylight time. Illinois was such a state until 1959, as was Pennsylvania between 1921 and 1970. Where the rule was in effect, the birth certificate of someone born May 25th at 9:00 PM EDT would read 8:00 PM. Not all hospitals paid attention to the law–and not all delivery room staff remembered it all the time. So, even the time on a birth certificate may not be recorded correctly.
For Pennsylvania and Illinois natives, definitely ask where the time came from. A baby book or birth announcement notation may be based on clock time and thus might be daylight savings. A parent’s memory of the birth time may be from the clock (and thus Daylight Savings Time) or may be from a later glance at the birth certificate (and thus possibly Standard Time).
For DST births, ask for a few key past events, to double-check the Midheaven through transits or progressions. Despite precautions, errors creep in, but at least you’re forewarned.
That’s bad enough, given that there are 186 time tables for Pennsylvania in The American Atlas. At least six months of the year, we don’t have to worry about daylight savings time–except for those born during World Wars I and II and the oil crisis of 1974-5. However, just when I thought it was safe to fire up the software, I discovered that if Pennsylvanians find a town name they like, they tend to use it more than once.
I surveyed one two-page spread–two of 26 pages of towns in Pennsylvania. Among the many redundancies were two Bethlehems, two Bryn Mawrs, three Bloomingdales, five Brooksides, and SEVEN Bridgeports. (There may also be North and East Bridgeport and Old Bridgeport–they wouldn’t be listed on that page.) Also watch for spelling variations–there were two Bridgetons and one Bridgetown.
The towns are often far enough apart to produce several degrees difference in Ascendants and Midheavens. Between the two Bethlehems, there are three degrees difference on the Midheaven and four on the Ascendant. That is enough to throw predictions off seriously or change a rising sign. To avoid error, ask the county of birth or nearest good-sized city.
(Pennsylvania isn’t the only problem area–there are three Brooklyns in New York state. Two are in the boonies a considerable distance from New York City, but the one where so many bright, funny, famous and infamous folks were born is 73W56; 40N38.)
What can you do if the birth time is suspect? There is a site on the internet where you can order copies of your birth certificate. Be sure, however, to specify that you want the LONG FORM, which more often has the time inscribed, and, to be absolutely certain, indicate that the birth time is what you want to know. The link to the Internet site is: http://www.vitalchek.com.
UPDATE: After this was published, I heard from astrologer James Alexander about an exciting piece of software that makes rectification much easier and more accurate in the hands of a knowledgeable astrologer. I prevailed upon him to write a post about it, which you can see here: Getting the Birth Time Right—Polaris Software Makes It Possible
NOTE: This is an excerpt from Donna’s hardcopy book, How to Read Your Astrology Chart: Aspects of the Cosmic Puzzle, one of the texts for her email course on chart interpretation for intermediate students (Email Course–Astrology ) . To order a copy of the book, call the publisher, RedWheel/Weiser, at 1-800-423-7087 or order from Amazon.com.