On The Astrology Podcast, Chris Brennan and Kelly Surtees recently listed the books they believe will help astrology students learn the subject very well. At the top of both their lists was April Elliott Kent’s “The Essential Guide to Practical Astrology.” Always happy to go back to basics and pick any nuggets of learning I may have missed along the way, I ordered this book on Kindle and by the time I was a third of the way in, I wished I had ordered a hard copy. When choosing to purchase digital or hard copy of a book, I use a disturbing metric: I (and on dark days, I say, when) the apocalypse comes and we can no longer connect to a power grid, is this a book I could with resignation bid farewell as it vanishes into the ether, or will I need it while hunched over a fire fueled by lumber harvested from a deserted strip mall? I will definitely want to be able to clutch this book in my hands as I try to make sense of the new world disorder and explain it to others. By the way, it also occurred to me that I should stockpile a Table of Houses along with my Ephemeris and brush up on how to actually set up a chart using, gulp, math.

In this book, April Elliott Kent explains her title by arguing, “What’s more practical than a system that helps you choose a job or partner that suits you? Or to appreciate your innate strengths and weaknesses, so you can capitalize on one and compensate for the other?” She covers astrology as a second language, the signs of the zodiac, houses, planets, planetary cycles, and synthesizing all the symbols of the chart. While she covers a broad spectrum, she has a gift for using the few simple, pertinent words that communicate her idea brilliantly yet with a lightness of touch that helps the reader navigate easily through a very complex topic. “Signs are not people – they’re characters, archetypes,” she tells us, “Signs can be thought of as a costume to be worn.” She explains that we aren’t just one sign, but we experience each sign of the zodiac in different areas of our own life as they fall on our house cusps. In the cardinal signs, we initiate or claim territory; in fixed signs, we organize and create stability in the wake of change; and in mutable signs “excel at performing tasks and producing outcomes.”

If the signs are our costumes, Kent continues, the houses of the chart are the “sets and props that indicate where action is taking place,” and also “where your emotional baggage tends to accumulate, like last season’s wardrobe in a too small closet.” She clearly shows how planets fall on either the “rising” side of the chart (3,2,1,12,11,10), making them more assertive and willing to act unilaterally. Planets on the “setting” side of the chart (9,8,7,6,5,4) are more flexible and act in concert with others. She also lays out the house axes (1 and 7, for example, “The axis of boundaries: self vs. other”), and identifies the role of the angular houses (navigation: “initiative and leadership”), succedent houses (grounding: “stabilization and consolidation of resources”), and cadent houses (“where you dance”: “adaptability, synthesis and release”). She then walks the reader through each house, discouraging any interpretation of a house being ominous or threatening. Even the eighth house, she tells us, while ruling death and taxes, also includes the happier topics, “sex and inheritance.”

April Elliott Kent titles her section on planets, the characters in our play, as “Gods and Monsters,” introducing each role the planet can play in each sign as a “hero” or a “zero.” This is an excellent “cookbook” for the reader’s reference. She does not overlook asteroids, lunar nodes, Arabic parts, and the vertex, giving a brief but apt description, enough to familiarize the reader without overwhelming with too much information. Planetary aspects are described thoroughly and include a description of minor aspects. What particularly enlightened me was Kent’s description of the planetary cycles, describing our “daily planner,” the moon cycles, or “the daily mood.” Then she lists our “monthly planner,” the Moon waxing as things begin, waning as things are completed, the Sun sparking energy and personal growth, Mercury indicating communication and learning, and Venus creating times for enjoyment and relationships. Our “yearly planner” includes Mars and its “cycle of assertiveness,” Jupiter’s “cycle of exploration,” and Saturn’s “cycle of authority.” Finally, our “long-range planner” involves studying the cycles of Uranus, bringing “awakening and rebellion,” Neptune’s cycle of “enlightenment,” and Pluto’s cycle, guiding us towards transformation. This is a reference I will turn to again and again as I study my own and others’ planetary cycles.

The final section of this book walks the reader through putting all the symbols together and interpreting an astrological chart. The subject of the chart is well known, and by the time we know this person’s identity, we have a clear sense of the native’s strengths and weaknesses, challenges, talents, family and relationship history, and aspirations and life path. It was very satisfying to see the interpretation unfold, and Kent tracks her process so clearly that she communicates “See? You can do this, too!” confidence to the reader.

I love using astrology to make sense of life, its baffling experiences and wonderful people, and I would love even more to teach a class of those who are eager to learn this fascinating subject. This is truly a wish in my heart, an aspiration, and I will set my intention now to gather together this class and use as its primary text, “The Essential Guide to Practical Astrology” by April Elliott Kent.