You meet someone new.
After introductions, they pause and ask when and where you were born.
They start rambling about your “moon” and your “rising,” and maybe even your “Venus” if they’re playing matchmaker—and it feels like they’re speaking another language.
But before you can ask if they’re talking about astrology, they’re urging you to call your mom to confirm the exact minute you were born.
What Is a Natal Chart?
For astrology beginners, a natal chart—or birth chart—is a map that shows the positions of the planets at the exact time you were born—a personal cosmic blueprint, if you will.
This celestial snapshot can tell you a lot about your predispositions: your strengths, weaknesses, what sort of communicator you are, what type of love language you endorse—the list goes on.
Since ancient times, planets have been regarded as rulers that govern certain areas in our lives:
This is expressed differently in each of us due to their positions at the time of our birth, which determine how each trait influences and is interpreted by us. Thus, natal charts are an in-depth look at how the planets’ energetic influences uniquely affect our astrological personality.
How to Read a Natal Chart
A natal chart is positioned like a big clock: the wheel is divided into 12 sections, each representing a different house that is based on the 24-hour rotation of the Earth.
The 12 zodiac signs match up with each of the 12 houses, which are based on the Earth’s annual orbit of the Sun.
The wheel starts at the 9 p.m. position on the left; this first house is known as the Ascendant House and progresses counterclockwise.
The zodiac also starts from the Ascendant House and likewise moves counterclockwise, starting with Aries in the 1st house and ending with Pisces in the 12th house.
The houses in the first half of the wheel determine your personal qualities, while the other six affect your interpersonal relations.
Planets visit different sections of the chart and interact with different houses and zodiac signs based on that planet’s qualities.
To get your birth reading, identify the signs and houses that each of the 10 planets were in (Pluto is still considered a planetary force in astrology), relative to your birth time and location.
Each chart carries a different balance of the elements and qualities of the zodiac.
Due to the numerous factors and endless combinations to understand, it usually takes an advanced astrologer to provide accurate and intuitive readings.
That being said, you can start by getting to know the three essential signs that are the most commonly discussed: the Sun, the Moon and the Ascendant/Rising signs.
Your Sun sign represents your core personality, identity, and true self, and it’s the easiest sign to identify.
This is essentially your zodiac sign, or the house that the Sun was in during your birth month, and is considered your primary ruler.
The Sun affects your temperament, sense of confidence, vitality, and self-realization—so your Sun sign dictates how you express your authentic self.
Your Moon sign represents your internal self, as the natural satellite that’s in charge of your deepest, innermost feelings.
This sign represents the house the Moon was in when you were born. The Moon has a rapid orbit compared to the planets, since it whizzes through all 12 houses every month, so knowing your exact birth time and location are essential in identifying your Moon sign.
The Moon influences your subconscious and determines your emotional experiences, including the type of nurturing you want and provide, and your instinctual reactions to situations.
Just as the Moon reflects the light of the Sun, this celestial body feels your wants, desires, and needs. As such, many people—especially water signs—find they relate more closely to their Moon than their Sun.
Your Ascendant or Rising sign represents your external self.
It refers to the zodiac sign that was ascending or rising in the east during your time of birth.
Due to its placement in the chart, it governs all that’s new and prominent. From the way you introduce yourself to others to how you behave in professional situations, this sign describes your surface self.
Your Ascendant is like the front-facing mask you wear in public—it’s the way you present yourself, and is seen in your physical expressions and your style of dress.
Usually when someone asks for your birth chart, they’re trying to break through this mask to understand what lies beneath to more deeply understand your emotional needs.
Going Even Deeper
These Sun, Moon, and Ascendant/Rising placements may be the most prominent signs in astrology, but you can seek more insight behind a natal chart by observing all the planets and their house positions.
For example, if you’d like to dig into your love and sex life, exploring your Venus can explain the predispositions of your love language and the nuances you have when forming romantic connections.
Inspecting your Mercury will uncover your communication style if you want to discover what’s blocking your channels.
As you investigate your own chart—or that of your best friend, partner, mom, or celebrity crush—remember that a planet will behave differently than others based on which house they fall under.
So, if you’re a Libra Moon but your best friend is a Libra Rising, you two won’t act or feel the same way: it just means you express your Libra traits differently based on the properties of that given house.
You’ll need to look at each of the zodiac signs individually to understand what traits are associated with them. But for now, you’re ready to go off and explore the many wonders revealed in your natal chart.