What I tried to do in my books Planetary Combination and Planetary Strength was to provide an approach to interpreting natal horoscopes which begins by looking at the overall pattern of the chart/personality (in terms of aspects and configurations – groups of three or more planets in mutual aspect); and then, once the general picture has been grasped, to look at the specifics (strength factors) that make this horoscope unique (the person’s sui generis strengths and weaknesses).
To interpret a horoscope you have to get a feeling for the client. It’s easiest to do this using Solar House System horoscopes (available for free from http://www.astro.com/horoscopes – specify that you want Sunshine House System charts at the bottom of the house system drop-down list).
What is meant by a “feeling” for the client? It means to put your own judgments and defenses aside and open up to how that person “feels” (which you pick up from the features in his or her particular horoscope). “Feeling” someone is like picking up the vibes from a person you are making love with – knowing what they are feeling, what they want, what turns them on, what turns them off, when to be intense, when to be silly, etc. To be a good lover you have to put your own agendas aside and be open to what the other person is feeling. And similarly when interpreting someone’s horoscope (whether the client is physically present or not; whether it’s someone you know or a complete stranger).
When you are feeling a person (whether in real life or in the horoscope) what you first pick up is that person’s underlying mood – light, heavy, intense, scattered, worried, hard-driving, sweet, tyrannical, sensual, forbearing, frivolous, etc. etc. In astrology, the native’s underlying mood is shown by the moon and its paraphernalia (nodes, Part of Fortune, critical degrees); its condition by sign and aspect; and particularly by the lunar phase (from 1 to 28 as delineated in my book The Great Wheel).
Next, a consideration of the aspects and configurations in a chart shows much of the native’s dynamics and involvements with other people: trine configurations show people who are relaxed, easy-going, taking things as they come, and generally successful in relationships (at least those relationships indicated by the sextiles and trines); whereas square configurations show people who are uptight, vigilant, defensive, controlled and controlling.
As you look up the interpretations for the features in a given client’s horoscope, you start to notice certain recurring themes; in other words, the horoscope tries to tell a little story, and it will usually say the same sorts of things in different ways (for example: lunar Phase 12, the Rectangle configuration, and Saturn in Libra, Capricorn, or Aquarius, all have much the same basic meaning of uprightness, honorableness, dedication to higher ideals, and unassailable integrity). So you usually tend to find several horoscope factors of similar meaning in a given person’s horoscope; and this becomes the basic starting point for your interpretation.
These books had to be written as cookbooks (with interpretations provided for each horoscope indication); and they can indeed be used that way; I use them that way myself. I wrote them for my own use as an aid when I am interpreting horoscopes for clients (since I don’t keep all that information in my memory). However, they are best used not in piecemeal fashion (looking up each native’s indications one at a time), but rather to get a handle on what a particular factor means in general. This requires making a list of all the natives you know well (or famous people) to which each horoscope factor/cookbook description applies (most astrological software has database capabilities which enable such searches); and then trying to get a feel for what all those people have in common. In other words, the individual cookbook descriptions may not be astoundingly accurate in Tom’s case; but when you look at Tom, Dick, Harry, etc. – all the natives who share this particular horoscopic indication – then a picture emerges of what all these people have in common which the cookbook description suggests (because that’s all the descriptions are – suggestions).
Remember that everything modifies everything else. For example, consider what Mars conjunct Ascendant means: Mars conjunct Ascendant natives always get their own way in any situation or relationship, by hook or by crook, come hell or high water. If Mars is well-aspected (as it is in the case of e.g. Donald Trump, where it lies on one vertex of a favorable Trapezoid configuration) then other people (and life) readily grant the native whatever it is he wants – they go out of their way to help or serve him. Had Mars been afflicted (say, part of a Grand Square or T-Cross configuration) then the native would still get his own way, but only with much struggle, hardship, opposition, frustration; even if this leaves him standing alone.
Also, the sign is important – it describes how the native goes about getting his own way: if Mars is in a favorable sign (such as Aries, Scorpio, Capricorn – or as in Trump’s case, Leo) then the native has a positive, expectant attitude which receives his just due (getting his own way) as if by divine right (especially – in Trump’s case – with Regulus conjunct Ascendant). Mars in Aries is cocksure; in Scorpio, insinuating; in Capricorn, takes charge. But if Mars were in an unfavorable sign (such as Cancer, Taurus, or Libra) then the native still gets his own way, but is never satisfied with it – if in Cancer he’s too abashed and hesitant; in Taurus too complacent; in Libra he’s given to ineffectual hand-wringing and grumbling no matter what the outcome.
Thus, although it was unavoidable that Planetary Combination and Planetary Strength should be written in cookbook fashion – and in the second-person so that the text could be used as a basis for software – nonetheless these books were intended to give the reader an intuitive idea of what the combinations and strength factors mean, so that he or she can improve their intuitive grasp of what a horoscope is saying.