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Spiritually Curious: what are birth chart readings, and are they really more accurate than horoscopes?

Spiritually Curious is a column investigating practices and rituals that have been adopted by the modern wellness movement. Stylist’s Chloe Gray tells herself she doesn’t believe in astrology, but will read anything that predicts her future. Will a birth chart reading convince her of the planets’ effect on her personality and choices?

Do I believe in astrology? My brain says no. Yet my hand flicks to the horoscopes every time I pick up a magazine that offers them, and my mouth often says things like: ‘That’s the Cancer in me!’

There are lots of reasons why young women in particular are currently feeling a pull towards the stars. But one thing is certain: the last few years have seen the return of the horoscope. In 2019, it was near-impossible to browse certain women’s websites without being told what the month/week/day had in store for your sign; to scroll through Instagram without seeing someone blaming their mistakes on Mercury; or to go for dinner without being persuaded to download astrology apps like Co-Star or The Pattern.

And so despite my scepticism, I’ve started to feel curious about what astrology might mean for me. (What can I say: I am nothing if not easily influenced.) So I booked an appointment with astrologer Francesca Oddie – who has built up a cult following on Instagram – to see if a face-to-face reading could convince me that my personality really has been shaped by the planets. 

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What is a birth chart reading, and what’s the history of the practice?

We all know our star sign. Otherwise known as your ‘sun sign’, they’re the basic astrology labels, like Aquarius or Gemini. But it turns out, there’s more to our horoscope than just that. In fact, the location of all of the planets and the moon at the time of our birth are believed to influence who we are – potentially even more than the sun.

The theory is based in natal astrology, thought to date back to around 6th century BC. The idea is that by mapping the time, location and date of where you were born, you can draw out a birth chart, and allegedly learn a lot about your personality.

“The big difference between normal – astrology sun sign horoscopes – and real, grown-up astrology is that the former uses only the sun in its predications,” explains Oddie.

She says she never uses horoscopes to dictate her life, “because they are too vague. They’re the taster, not the full picture. On the other hand, a birth chart is unique, individual and cannot be repeated.”

What’s the point of a birth chart reading?

Narcissism. (I’m joking – kind of.) Like your regular horoscope, a birth chart reading is basically a chance to be told all about yourself.

“I was always overly curious and philosophical, so astrology meets the need I have to understand what is really going on,” says Oddie. “I think that understanding leads to acceptance – and when we can accept and learn from our experiences, we are on to a winner. Life becomes clearer, lighter and more manageable. I’m not the only astrologer to report feeling less anxious since learning about my chart.”

Is there any scientific evidence that birth charts are accurate?

As with all astrology, the science is, well, lacking. Astrological practices are based on ancient traditions, and their supposed accuracy can only be backed up by anecdotal evidence – meaning that believers and practitioners have long been at loggerheads with the scientific community. That’s not to say that astrologers don’t think they’re scientific: Oddie has a degree in natural sciences.

However, there is some evidence to suggest our personality can be affected by our date of birth. For example, a 2003 study by researchers at the University of Aarhus, Denmark concluded that bipolar disorder was slightly more common in people born during the winter months.

A year later, scientists at the University of Tokyo found that people born from December-February tended to have lower ‘agreeableness’ and higher conscientiousness than those born during the summer months. But while some scientists say these personality differences are due to seasonal variations in air, light and nutrition, astrologers blame them on the planets.  

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How do you learn to read a birth chart?

No one needs qualifications to sell you a birth chart reading. You can learn how to read them online, or download apps to explain your chart to you.

But if you’re after the full reading experience, and want to ensure you’re not being ripped off, you can look for qualified astrologers. Astrology.org.uk has a list of registered members, as does the Association of Professional Astrologers. Of course, these aren’t people with proven powers – but as you may wind up telling your astrologer intimate details about your life, you might feel more comfortable with an established professional.

How much does a birth chart reading cost?

From around £150 per session, depending on the astrologer. 

What happens before and during a birth chart reading?

Before our meeting, I sent Oddie the date, time and location of my birth. This information needs to be as accurate as possible: get it wrong, and your chart will apparently be inaccurate. I thought I was born at 7:45am, but my mum told me it was actually 8:27am. Within those few minutes, planets moved around, and my birth chart would have changed considerably.

When I meet Oddie for a flat white at The Allbright, she produces a laminated (yes, laminated!) birth chart based on the details I sent her. To me, it looks like a bunch of shapes and lines and squiggles on a page. To her, it’s something powerful. She tells me she had lunch with my chart, reading over it and finding out about me. She talks as though we’ve met before, listing details of my personality so specific that I start to wonder if maybe we have previously crossed paths.

Oddie begins by telling me that although the chart can tell her about my personality traits and desires, I need to tell her my story to give it context. We begin by breaking down the important parts of what she can see: my sun (the aforementioned Cancer), my rising (Virgo, apparently obvious because I’m very small), and my moon (Leo). She tells me lots of very true things about my personality: I have a busy brain. I am led by the rational. I have stories to tell. I am attracted to musicians.

What does a birth chart look like?
Chloe's birthday chart, made by Francesca Oddie

To be honest, Oddie probably could have guessed all of these things by looking at my job description or scrolling through my Instagram feed. But then she asks if my dad is provocative and whether we push each other’s buttons – yes, very much so – and if my sister has a big personality (that’s one way to put it). Suddenly, I start to believe that she might know more about me than I care to admit.

Next, we look forward. Oddie suggests I have big things coming up, specifically with work. She’s right: at the time of our reading, I was just about to step up in my role (something that hadn’t been made public online, either by me or my bosses). Oddie isn’t surprised. On 20 January, I’m apparently going to have what’s called a Jupiter Return – when the planet makes it way back to the same spot it was in when you were born – something that only happens every 12 years. As I’m coming into my 24th year, I should expected things to start to feel different.

But, Oddie reassures me, this is a happy moment of change. It will look like I’m coming into my power; doors will open easily. Things may be trickier in February, as I have a Saturn transit (meaning the planet is moving into a different house of my chart): this will be a time to really work on myself. In April, Neptune will move into my 7th house, the house of partnerships. Have I been putting off relationships, she asks? Only forever.

Then we move onto numeracy. I expected planet talk; I didn’t know that maths would come into it. Oddie tells me my birthday number is five, which means I’m non-conformist, interestingly innovative and a great communicator. My name adds up to 11, a master number in astrology, meaning that I’ll do great things in life. I’m more sceptical of this: my name was plucked out of a book of baby names, so it seems unlikely to be connected to my personality in any meaningful way.

Yet I’m still transfixed by my conversation with Oddie. It’s like therapy, and when the session ends I can’t believe we’ve been talking for 90 minutes. I leave feeling as though I’ve had a gentle massage, or listened to an hour of ASMR. I’m content, excited and – frankly – smug about my potential. But I can’t help laughing at myself for saying that. I guess I’ll find out how accurate my chart was on 20 January.

In-person consultations with Francesca Oddie cost £225 for an hour and a half. Online consultations are £175.

Images: Getty / author’s own

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