Since I began teaching and consulting, I’ve provided explanatory handouts to students and clients. This one is a modified and updated adaptation of a document from decades ago and draws from the Keywords in my Janet’s Plan-its calendars. It shows the symbols and provides brief explanations for the basic components of astrology charts.
Important additional (and very personal) features of a chart are those based on the exact time of birth: the Vertex, a point showing seemingly fated connections (explored in depth in this Advanced Topics vertex article) and the four “angles” (directions):
The Ascendant is at the eastern horizon, shown at center of the left side of a chart (where 9 o’clock is on a clock face). As the dividing line between the 12th and 1st houses (as well as the upper and lower hemispheres of the chart), it begins the 1st house and the chart, which is read counterclockwise from this point. Its meaning is essentially the same as the 1st house and the sign appearing here is known as the rising sign. (See Houses on the Cheat Sheet for this angle and those below.)
The “IC” at the bottom of the chart is the northern direction, beginning the 4th house. Its name comes from Latin imum coeli for “foot of the sky.”
The Descendant starts the 7th house in the West, at the middle of the right side of the chart.
At the top of the chart is the southern direction called the “MC” (from Latin medium coeli for middle of the ceiling or sky). It is the doorway to the 10th house.
The directions of a horoscope map are the opposite of those on an earth map because we’re looking up at the sky instead of down on the earth.
Using these building blocks, you can construct a rudimentary interpretation of any chart.