A Handy Guide to Enhance Chart Interpretation

The Contemporary Astrologer’s Handbook

By Sue Tompkins


In The Contemporary Astrologer’s Handbook, Sue Tompkins presents astrology students (including astrology students for life, like me) with a very thorough guide to interpreting the signs, planets, aspects and houses. While my favorite book for beginner students is The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest, Sue Tompkins’ handbook would be an excellent second book because it fleshes out interpretations and gives the student a connection to the astronomy of the planets as well as the mythology at the heart of their meanings.


The astrological chart, Tompkins believes, indicates what we ‘might’ become, and it is also less a guide of what our future holds in store than it is an indication of where we are now. The role of the astrologer is to bring awareness to the client of forces at play at the current moment and what choices are available to him or her. In doing so, astrologers empower their clients by helping them make conscious choices. Looking at a situation clearly, Tompkins writes, often changes that situation for the client.


Sue Tompkins also lays out a clear “interpretation checklist” for astrologers to follow when delineating a chart. As I have done in previous essays, I will apply this checklist to a chart to demonstrate the process. Since, in January of 2021, we are at the end of a long political campaign and change of administration in the US, I will use the chart of the newly inaugurated US president, Joe Biden.


We begin by looking at the whole chart. What elements and modes dominate, and which are lacking? We see in Joe Biden’s chart that the greatest number of planets fall in water signs, showing an emphasis on emotional security and belonging. With only one planet in fire, the indication is that he would struggle to develop faith in himself and the confidence to pursue his desires. However, with six planets in fixed signs, he would demonstrate great persistence and stability, which could help offset his limited access to fire.


Before we leave the whole chart, Tompkins instructs us to look for any major aspect patterns. In Joe Biden’s chart, we see a wide T-square has formed, with the Moon and Mars in opposition and Pluto at the point of the square. Noting that this T-square falls from the fifth house to the twelfth house cusp, with Pluto in the eighth being the point, we can recall that Joe Biden has tragically lost two children, one to an accident and one to cancer.


Tompkins next directs us to look at individual planets, beginning with any planets falling near the Ascendant, Descendant, Midheaven or IC. In Joe Biden’s chart, his Sun Venus conjunction lies within 5 and 6 degrees of his Ascendant, adding to his magnetism and ability to project his solar energy into the world. Uranus and Saturn straddle his Descendant, emphasizing difficulty and well as stability in partnerships (Saturn) and crisis and unexpected bolts from the blue in relationships (Uranus).


We then look for emphasis in any unaspected planet, or planets enjoying mutual reception, or planets in their own sign or house. By this analysis, Joe Biden has a strong Mars in its own sign of Scorpio. We next look to see if any planets are exalted or in detriment or fall. Joe Biden has both an exalted Moon in Taurus and an exalted Jupiter, his chart’s ruler, in Cancer. Venus, however, is weakened by being in detriment in Scorpio.


After this, we identify any dominant signs or houses in the chart. Joe Biden has four planets in Scorpio and three in the twelfth house (with Mars being one degree from the twelfth house cusp). Turning to Tompkins description of Scorpio, we read that Scorpio is a sign which indicates the capacity for great strength through self-mastery, for passion and ruthlessness, and for courage in the face of crisis. Like an iceberg, a Scorpio native conceals a great deal of this volcanic energy beneath a calm surface. In the twelfth house, Tompkins instructs, planets work behind the scenes, resonating with a call to serve the collective, especially through institutions. They function well in seclusion, and challenge the native to confront aspects of himself which he may prefer to keep hidden, or unacknowledged.


Finally, a planet becomes extremely important in the chart if it falls at the Sun-Moon or at the Midheaven-Ascendant midpoint, which does not occur in Joe Biden’s chart. It is interesting, though, that Mercury was stationing and turning direct on November 3, 2020, at 25 degrees Libra, one degree away from Joe Biden’s Midheaven-Ascendant midpoint.


To complete the interpretation checklist, we examine the aspects made by the planets. Do any aspects dominate? We see slightly more trines and sextiles than oppositions and squares, although all aspects are present. This demonstrates that while Joe Biden could experience great tension and opposition in manifesting his energies in the world, he will have help in the luck and opportunity provided by the trines and sextiles. The tightest aspects, however, are the most significant, especially those with a 2 or less degree orb. Perhaps Joe Biden’s rise to a role he had aspired to for most of his life could be best explained by his Sun being within a tight orb to both benefics – within 1 degree of a conjunction to Venus and within 2 degrees of a trine to Jupiter, exalted in Cancer and his Ascendant ruler.


Sue Tomkins uses chart examples of notable people at the end of her book to demonstrate how biographical detail reveals the manifestation of the energies in the chart. It also shows astrology students that a static chart and its interpretive elements come alive once we have the chart native before us and can learn from them how they are living the energies in their chart. With Sue Tompkins’ valuable handbook as a guide, we bring to chart interpretations a clearer gaze.