How Do I Write Horoscopes?
April 1, 2005 (with chart)
I am a freelance writer and have started working with a new publication recently. They have asked me if I could write the monthly horoscopes for the magazine. I began learning astrology about 30 yrs ago when I used to do birth charts for friends through the old fashioned system with books, ephemeris?, etc. but I have never written a horoscope. Could you help me by telling me what I would need to do, or is there a website that could help me? I would really love to do it as it sounds like fun.
Congratulations on being offered a horoscope gig. They are rare enough to find. In response to your question, there are two dimensions to the idea 'how'. The first is more obvious, what techniques to use. The second is less so: 'How do I think of what I am doing?' And I would like to start there.
Newspaper horoscopes are nothing more than a meeting place. Someone with a message puts that message where others can find it; someone else seeking a message goes looking. Yet they do so with a certain expectation that, because the message is put under one of 12 categories (quite a few, actually) that it will be a little more personally tailored to them, or even be directly specific. It works often enough that this mode of expression is in nearly every newspaper and many magazines.
I suggest to both readers and writers that you not lose sight of the meeting place quality of the horoscope column. It's simply a place where people come together to share a purpose, an idea or a sense of reality. Whatever you may think about astrology, that is a real and vital thing. It's also the only place in a newspaper where you expect to find something personally meaningful to you, and where the writer is allowed to actually care about you, personally. Astrology is humanitarian work and that kind of work is in dire need right now. So it's great to see that you're taking your talents public.
With 30 years of experience studying astrology, you have a good foundation, but I also suggest that you may need to leave out quite a bit and keep things simple. You probably know more than enough astrology by this time; what you need to learn is how to express it in 100 words. Remember that the most important thing you can do is write something that people can relate to. What people relate to is human energy rather than the planets. They may respond to the planets, but you become their voice, so you need to present yourself in a clear, direct and focused way. Write to your readers like you know them. As an astrologer you do have that privilege.
Every astrologer has his or her tone. The planets speak in energy and symbols, but the writer presents the tangible human quality. You become the identifiable character. In the best case this will be very naturally you, but you'll have a lot of decisions to make about how to present the many different planetary experiences, some of which are friendly and some of which are decidedly not.
Many astrologers feel they have a responsibility to deliver bad news. I say that astrologers have a responsibility to deal with the 'negative' in a constructive way; to view challenging aspects as challenges rather than as fated events; and to encourage people to reach for what they want, or need, or need to share with others, regardless of the conditions. It's just a matter of making the reaching fit the scene on the planetary stage in an appropriate way. Our lives go in cycles and what we don't get to experience now we will likely have the chance to experience another time. So there is a lot of room for a positive attitude writing horoscopes and still being honest about it.
As far as some of the technicalities are concerned, I'd like to call your attention to an earlier article I've written called "Go Figure!" about how newspaper astrologers pull it off. That's at this link. I'm going to do my best not to repeat earlier material, but I do need to say that the most important specific technical skill you can get down for doing Sun sign columns is the solar house system. Jonathan once wrote in his column that the late great Patric Walker remarked to him, "It's all about the houses."
I could barely agree more. The houses are the place in our many-faceted lives where things happen. They tell the astrologer where to look for the action. Every astrological chart has houses, but newspaper writers work with something called the solar house system. It's a system that counts the signs from the position of the Sun, and uses those AS houses. It's actually a very old and dependable way of doing things, much older than the natal astrology that is typically used today and is relatively modern. If you are curious, Google the term 'whole sign houses'.
In the solar house system, the sign of the Sun for any person is considered the 1st house. Properly, it's the house (which in this case is a sign) of the Sun's residence, and the houses that are counted around the wheel are called 'derived houses' (which you can likely find in any astrology dictionary) because they are relative to where you start. Let's use Libra as an example. For a Libra horoscope, we assume that the 1st house is the sign Libra and that the 'ascendant' for that chart is the first degree of Libra. There is no actual ascendant; we don't have a real chart. So we use this little model and it works pretty good most of the time -- and really good a lot of the time. The second sign from Libra is Scorpio so that's the 2nd house for Libra. The seventh sign from Libra is Aries so Aries is the 7th house for Libra.
If we started with Pisces, Aries would be the 2nd house and Virgo the 7th house. It's actually quite easy. You pick a starting point and you count. Anyone having trouble can ask a little kid.
We also presume that the edges of the signs, that first degrees of each sign, are sensitive to transits. When a planet changes signs and enters a new one, most newspaper astrologers assume there is an effect for everyone born under that sign even if their Sun is located at the end of the sign. There are good reasons for this presumption and they have solid astrological foundations, which are a bit complicated to get into -- but I touched on it last week in my discussion of what the Vernal Equinox is. But in short, the sign itself is used in newspaper horoscope writing with the idea that the whole thing works a certain way.
To start this writing project, you need to give yourself a good refresher on what the houses are about in a very basic sense. This is good advice for anyone curious about the astrological method. Just about every astrology book takes a shot at explaining the houses, so you don't need to look far; but some make more sense than others and some are based on better theories. With anything in astrology it's a good idea to work from several examples and put together your own concepts. In any case, the houses are kind of like the signs (there are 12 of both and they correspond), only they are more specific. In other words, the sign Aries might be about the idea of beginnings and the energy that starts things. The 1st house is more specifically about 'me' and taking personal initiative and the sense of self that is the starting point of all awareness.
Each Sun sign, in theory, experiences this 1st house sense of self in a little different way. This seems to be true enough, even if it's as a result of cultural programming. Many people are taught very young what their sign is about, and feel some responsibility to live out the properties. The presumptions you make about how it feels to be a certain sign here are critical, because part of what you're writing to is your idea about what a sign means to a person who identifies with it. You have to forget the fact that you don't know the actual ascendant or the Moon. You will have other factors that can fill in for these things.
The signs represent a general feeling, color and tone of energy. They are a basic vibrational tone that we can experience emotionally or psychologically. The houses are very specific to people, places and things. They are closer to Earth, literally and figuratively. Using houses is how you get the specificity of meaning in the column. That is how you know whether to begin a particular sign's write up "Things at work..." (6th house) or, "Partners may be..." (7th house) or, "A particular financial situation..." (2nd or 8th house), or, "An international situation" (9th house). The houses each have many themes; you have to pick which is appropriate.
Then you make up a little story based on the actions of the planets that are unfolding. There is a logic to all of this, and that logic is how signs and planets relate; how aspects feel; and then where they express themselves in terms of the house. In the little story, usually a sign's planetary ruler (Mars for Aries, Venus for Taurus, and so on) is the significator for the person reading the horoscope. The ruler of the opposite sign is the signifcator for partners. The ruler of the 5th would usually be any children involved. The significator can also be the sign itself -- kind of like the ascendant is a significator for the person in their own natal chart. In other words, if something comes plunging into Libra, you can make an assumption that they experience that personally.
To determine the action of the story, you look at the planets and their relationships, size the situation up, sense how it feels and imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. Also, to be fair in this discussion, most newspaper writers are (usually) paying some attention to the changes in the lives of the people around them and are learning what they can from that. But not all of them; I assure you there are purists would never dare to do this consciously; and yet it must happen unconsciously anyway. The chart is the best primary reference point because it's more objective.
Based on the story you tell, you can add a little common sense advice. That advice should be sensible and never steer anyone wrong. That's your ethical safety net. Then you shut up and don't worry about whether you got it right or wrong. If you care about whether you get it right or wrong, you'll never get it right. You just have to throw the pitch and see what happens.
After a while you'll gain confidence, find your writing voice, and be able to hear an inner intuitive voice that pretty much tells you what to say. Listen for that inner voice sooner rather than later. It's usually right on point.
I am sure you're wondering what chart you should use. For a monthly column, you have a few choices, usually applied in some combination: the Full Moon that month; the New Moon; the time that the Sun enters the new sign, and when it entered the prior sign; or some big event. It's a good idea to be looking ahead, and to know the recent territory. No need to get obsessed -- just track the general trend of thigns. Pretty soon you'll be roller skating.
It barely matters what technique you use. What does matter is that you use a chart that talks to you. So if you've cast a chart for the New Moon and you're not getting anywhere, take a look at the Full Moon and see how things have developed -- the Full Moon is just about always the expression of the most recent New Moon.
Let's look at the work of some astrology writers who have been around for a while and see how they do it, from a technical point of view. I am not going to factor for their intuitive hits, just 'reverse-engineer' their writing based on what I can recognize on its face. I will use a chart for Wednesday, March 30 at noon because most of the examples I'm using are daily for Wednesday, and the two weekly examples are close enough.
I'll use three astrologers most people who read this site are familiar with, then try one of my own from Friday's Planet Waves column. Now, what I'm not doing this time around is covering the same sign by a variety of different writers for the same time period. That is fun, and worth doing in another column. The similarities between writers are sometimes quite amazing, which is based on the fact that we are all using the same basic astrological method and that there really is a language of the stars and planets.
When you're reading, pay attention to the writer's viewpoint and the presumptions they make. Here is the chart, which I have set up in whole sign houses to get the house cusps out of the way and make for easy counting of the signs:
Free Will Astrology by Rob Brezsny
Rob is the weekly horoscope columnist
Jonathan has credited him with being his first example of an intelligent, creative horoscope columnist, a distinction which he certainly deserves on American soil, anyway. Rob basically reinvented horoscopes and made them relevant for a lot more people in the process. He was one of the first to depend on well-developed, stylized writing, instead of saying things like, "You will have a good day today." He uses many cultural metaphors, quotes from other writers, and light humor in his write-ups, and was the first columnist that I know of to do so. He has been writing since the late 1970s.
These examples are from his annual April Fools column, when he is even more ironic than usual. Rob, by the way, personally has a Cancer Sun. I have asked, and I know nothing else about his chart.
Here is what he had to tell Aquarius in his March 31 weekly.
"You seriously need to subscribe to Lucky magazine or the Robb Report or some other glossy rag about shopping. Your consumer skills have deteriorated. You're becoming hopelessly inept at finding luxury items at bargain prices. Shape up, Aquarius. APRIL FOOL! The truth is that it's an excellent time for you to take a sabbatical from consumerism. See if you can go entire days without spending any money at all. Build psychic barriers in your imagination that will make you immune to seductive commercials. Read Adbusters magazine."
Too cool, Rob has heard of Adbusters, and he's getting in on his own Buy Nothing Day this week. Now, we may ask: why is he advising Aquarians, in particular, to be less materialistic?
Aquarians are considered the idea people of the zodiac; but they also love gadgets, and we are nowhere right now if not on Planet Gizmo. There are cellular towers in the African bush. So we run the risk of shutting the entire economy if Aquarians even slow down their digital purchases a little. Could he be coming from the assumption that for this reason Aquarians are the shopping types, something he has accurately accused me and my Pisces brothers and sisters of in the past? (Though we're likely to buy a pile of CDs and play them on the old player...rather than get the three nicest models of new players and just one CD.) He does seem to be saying that. And due to the daily digital revolution, we are in high times for Aquarians, if they happen to live in the Western world -- as long as you skip all the ever-important 'let's get together and make world peace' themes of Aquarius for a moment.
Now, if I were Rob Brezsny, what would be the astrological house of shopping? Hmmm. Let's see. If the 2nd house is where you have your money, maybe the 3rd is where you spend it. That fits, because there is a lot of action in the 3rd house of Aquarius. That house would be Aries. In the solar house system, Aquarius is the 1st house of Aquarius, Pisces is the 2nd, and Aries the 3rd. And with a big stunning conjunction, there's tons going on. The main action of the week is a spectacular show in Aries: Venus is conjunct the Sun, and Mercury has just come through.
But why do LESS shopping now? Maybe because Mercury (which often represents cash) is retrograde in that house, suggesting that Aquarians conserve their resources.
Let's try another one.
Rob's Aries for March 31. "Sabotage all attempts at cooperation. Resist acts of unification. No matter what, refuse to forgive anyone. Your role models should be the Israeli rabbis who prayed for the failure of February's peace summit between prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Magmud Abbas. APRIL FOOL! I was just kidding, of course. Don't you dare pray for continued dissonance, even if it seems to serve your short-range interests. It may not be obvious yet, but you're on the cusp of a breakthrough in your ability to blend your energies with others. You shouldn't let anything get in the way."
Okay. So, I've just dug out my mala beads from my laptop case and meditated heavily on this one. I understand what Rob is getting at here. I so get it. What he is saying here, I think, is that the conjunction of Venus, Mercury and the Sun in one's own sign is about cooperation, unification and forgiveness. Don't be like those aggressive warriors or hypocritical rabbis (Mars), but rather be mellow and loving (Venus).
Note the subtle move: This cooperation factor is particularly important in this case, since Venus is the ruler of the opposite sign of Aries, which is Libra. That's about other people. So the ruler of the opposite sign is visiting Aries, which he is taking as a metaphor for cooperation and unification.
The advice to refuse pandering to your "short range interests" could be an interpretation of Mercury retrograde in this sign, taken as the potential for acting selfishly in the short term.
The references to anti-peace rabbis, and to Ariel Sharon and Magmud Abbas, are cultural examples that everyone can relate to. As for the breakthrough? Well, there is an eclipse (and other interesting stuff) coming. He doesn't say what kind of breakthrough, but the implication is that it's long term (an eclipse will shape our lives for the next year or so, which is rather long term in this world). And they can definitely represent popping through from one reality to the next. He leaves it to you to see what kind of breakthrough. Fair enough. Good job, Rob.
Jonathan Cainer is this guy in
Or: "Make the most of your life."
Jonathan has credibility for a lot of reasons, but he has lived through many, many things and he knows as well as anyone and better than most that life is a mixed bag. He's also figured out that you have a big influence in how things (usually) a work out, particularly in the long run (Sagittarians are long-range types, good for an astrologer).
This presumption that consciousness is vital to our lives has excellent standing from a spiritual viewpoint. What we experience most of in the world is not 'the world' but rather our own state of mind. It's also the easiest thing we can change. Therefore, that is the place to start, and the place to focus.
Most decent astrologers have figured out that the attitude with which you approach a transit (astrological event) has a lot to do with how it works out. Hopefully, you have an astrologer who takes that opinion rather than has a look at Pluto and convinces you in a nasty comment that your life is going to suck for two years (these types exist in larger numbers than we need). So Jon is a daily meditation on rising above it all, and he uses the planetary aspects for leverage -- and for giving the right message at the right time.
Now let's test my theory. Here is Jonathan's advice for Virgo for March 30. "It is hard to watch someone yawn without feeling the urge to yawn yourself. You don't even have to be feeling sleepy. Pessimism is contagious too. Just a brief chat with someone who is feeling disillusioned can be more than enough to set your own thoughts spiralling down a negative path. Yet you have no need nor reason to be anxious. You are in the process of making a discovery that has the potential to empower you greatly."
With so much going on in Aries, that places the action for Virgo in the 8th house. Aries is the 8th sign from Virgo, hence the 8th house. Here is a basic trick of newspaper astrology. The same big event in the sky is experienced 12 different ways by the 12 different signs; it shows up in a different house for each of them. The houses determine where the action takes place and how it is experienced.
The 8th house is the house where things are exchanged. The 8th house ALWAYS involves someone else. So he is making a presumption that there is an exchange going on, some kind of contact, which is a great image since there are a whole variety of conjunctions going on in that house, and one involves Mercury, the ruler of Virgo. So to the Virgo reading, he's presuming that they are in the consciousness of that house.
The sensitivity of Virgo to negative energy at the moment is, I think, Mercury running retrograde in that house, which he is warning can turn into a negative spiral. The discovery he references, however, is possibly 1. The eclipse that's coming, 2. Mercury eventually stationing direct, and more immediately, 3. That Venus is now conjunct the Sun in that house -- which really doesn't get better but can be overwhelming. This is one of those spells where if you're a Virgo somebody might write you a huge check that actually clears. The 8th has a lot to do with money, particularly as exchanged between spouses and intimate partners (and sex).
However, he's issuing a cautionary note not to get caught in the negative patterns of other people. From what I know of the Virgos in my own life, this is a good bit of advice.
Let's try Jonathan's Cancer entry for March 30. "How do you intend to spend your day? Answer please. Then apologise. You know, don't you, that you are doing the wrong thing. You ought to be doing something else instead. Cook up another plan. Then read this forecast, again. It, like your own negativity, will be equally scathing of whatever idea you put forward. Today, you will feel as though you are not doing enough no matter what you do. So you may as well relax!"
This is Jon playing Mercury retrograde like an electric bass, with a thumping sound. Aries falls into the 10th house for Cancers -- the house of career and what you want to be doing in life. There's a series of conjunctions going on in that house, so I think that's where the 'what you're doing' stuff is about. The sense that it's not right, not moving forward, or laced with doubts, is Mercury retrograde.
However what he is really saying is that you have nothing to worry about because there is this stunning conjunction going on -- Venus and the Sun. Besides which, you only have so much influence over all; but in truth there is only so much you need. Worrying does nothing but eat us alive.
Let's try Sally Brompton. She writes for
the Sunday Mail in
Here is her entry for March 30 -- her Aries birthday statement.
"You will be lucky in love this year, but you will also be lucky where money matters and business issues are concerned, so don't think it has to be one or the other. The most important thing is that you work for the benefit of other people as well as yourself. The more you make for them, the more you will make for yourself."
Following what we already know, we can see where she came up with this idea. The blend of self and other as having common interests is something that we covered in Rob Brezsny's entry for Aries on Wednesday. Venus-Sun in your own sign is certainly 'lucky in love'.
For Aries, though, Venus has a second meaning: it's the ruler of the 2nd house for that sign -- Taurus. So Venus plays a double role, representing both money and loved ones.
Let's try Sally Brompton's Libra for Wednesday, March 30. "There will be moments today when you have to pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. The sun close to Venus, your ruler, over the next 48 hours will see to it that everyone you live, work or do business with sees things your way -- and how often does that happen? Affairs of the heart are also under excellent stars."
For Libras, the action is taking place in the 7th house of relationships -- which is Aries. The 7th house is one of the ones we can feel the most vividly. It is an angular house, a place where we see and feel things with impact. The conjunction of Venus, Mercury and Sun as is currently developing, is extremely rare (hence her question "How often does that happen?" which is based on the presumption that Libras have a little trouble getting people to see things their way).
She is not making any presumptions that some Libras are having a hard time at the moment. Obviously some are; I don't think she has to assume that in 75 words. Something is available to them even if they are struggling at the moment, which is unlikely. She is saying reach for that something, the world is offering it to you.
Last, let's take a look at one of mine. Here is the Cancer Planet Waves for April 1. No matter what I can't bring myself to substitute an April Fool's edition for a real horoscope. Maybe if I did a daily. So this is a normal horoscope. Knowing what you know about how the other writers have developed their ideas, mine should be pretty transparent.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
There is such shocking, beautiful astrology unfolding in your house of career, profession and reputation that it's hard to live up to. That's okay because you don't need to collect the whole payoff now, you merely need to make concrete moves in the direction in which you most want to go, particularly if they represent your first time attempting to work on, develop or present a particular idea. That idea will undergo some revisions, but it is essentially the right project on the right track. You don't need the patience to complete the task now -- only to begin.
However, I've tried to account for a few things. One is that things are never perfect; life has its challenges all the time. I like to keep that balance of awareness. I think it's a realistic and responsible viewpoint. The second is that it is often challenging to live up to very powerfully 'positive' astrology. I am aware that Aries can be an extremely impatient and impetuous sign of the zodiac, so I'm accounting for the potential that some may want the whole payoff now.
Part of why I say this is that despite how 'positive' things in fact are for Cancers in their career angle, there are several unpredictable factors to work with; one being the eclipse about to happen in about 8 days, and the other being Mercury stationing retrograde. These are developments that we need to keep in mind, and which it's wise to advise Cancers to work with and be ready to take advantage of. They represent developing situations. That's astrology for you.
The last statement is borrowing from the quality of Aries that has to do with initiating activity. The idea here is that if you take initiative now and have patience in the long run, you will be able to make the positive developments of this week work for you in the long run, not just the short run. With an eclipse coming, that's a good plan.
I'll be tracking that news over at Planet Waves. Thanks for your questions this week -- keep them coming!