Astrologers use your time, date and place of birth to draw your birth chart. While your date of birth tells where the planets were when you were born, astrologers use your coordinates and time to reveal a second layer of data unique to you.
To demonstrate, I drew the birth chart of Herman B Wells. He was born June 7, 1902 in Jamestown, Indiana. University historian and Wells biographer Jim Capshew said the late IU president was born at 6:20 a.m.
Capshew considered including Wells’s birth chart in his book “Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University” and had a local astrologer not only draw and interpret Wells’s chart but also estimate Wells’ minute of birth based on major events in his life.
Online chart calculators often come with a table that translates this crazy-looking wheel into words. It takes a second to learn zodiac symbols and glyphs for the planets. It’s like learning a new language. And it doesn’t help that Wells’ chart has a lot of these planets on top of each other.
Wells’ birthday, year included, tells me where all the planets were when he was born. In a birth wheel, the signs are represented in 30-degree wedges. The sun’s movement through the sky is consistent — it doesn’t actually move, even though astrology is pre-Galileo — and while it spends roughly one month in each sign, other planets move at their own speeds.
For example, most current freshmen were born with Jupiter in Taurus or Gemini. Almost everyone in my graduating class of 2019 had Jupiter in Aquarius, a placement we share with Wells.
Wells’ time and place of birth tell me even more information. It determines the inner wheel of his chart, illustrated with dashed lines. These wedges are the 12 houses of astrology, which divide life into areas of focus like home, career and relationships.
If you think of the birth chart like a linear graph, the signs and houses are x- and y-axes. Both are important to understanding a planet’s influence in your life. Knowing your birth planets’ signs and houses is a great way to start studying your birth chart.
Since this isn’t my first rodeo, my eye is drawn to the oddities of Wells’ chart.
Wells was born with five planets in his 12th house. See the two clusters of glyphs around 9 o’clock? Wells has Pluto on top of his Gemini sun. One sign over in Cancer, his moon, Mercury and Neptune are all close together, separated by only a few degrees.
The 12th House is a field of life described by service to a higher ideal, whether that’s an institution, a vocation or something more mystical, even if that service takes priority over the self.
Wells never married or had children. His life’s work was IU, and while you might be tempted to see this as a sacrifice, his Venus is placed in the 11th house. Venus, planet of love, finds fulfillment in community when in this position. The 11th house is about friendships and idealism, working with others toward a vision.
The sheer volume of Cancer influence in Wells’ chart tells me he approached the world with emotional instinct. Cancer is often described as a motherly — in gross, gendered terms — or nurturing sign, the most outward-centered water sign. Wells was equipped to lead with empathy and care for students.
I interpreted these placements without acknowledging his sun sign: Wells was a Gemini. If you don’t relate to your sun sign, it's tempting ignore it in favor of the rest of your chart. Gemini is an air sign, whose primary mode of being is through intellect and socialization. Who else could spend his or her lifetime in academia?