How Long Does it Take to Learn to Read Birth Charts?

woman learning astrology

If you’ve just gotten interested in astrology and think you’d like to learn how to read charts yourself, one of the first questions you’ll have is: How long before I feel proficient reading charts on my own?

The answer is different for everyone, but I’m going to be honest with you. It’s not possible to learn how to read a birth chart in a weekend workshop. So don’t believe the hype if you’re being sold a course online that promises you’ll be able to read charts after 4 days, or even 10 days or six weeks.

In fact, it’s not likely that you’ll feel completely confident reading a birth chart even after a full year of intensive study. However, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable than you do today!

So how long will it take? After a year of intensive study, you might feel comfortable taking in a birth chart and making some introductory statements about it. But don’t be surprised if it takes two to four years before you start to feel comfortable sitting with someone to give an hour-long reading.  

You have to start somewhere though, and a weekend workshop or online course is a great place to begin your studies. Just make sure your expectations are set properly and know that you’ll need to put in many hours not only taking courses, but studying charts on your own before astrology really begins to click.

The Four Signals that You’re On Track

Most new students of astrology have four experiences in common during their learning journey. You can think of these as the four main signposts that you’re well on your way to becoming proficient at reading charts.

Stage 1: Excitement

The first stage is excitement. Astrology is so popular and rapidly gaining in popularity in part because it can truly blow your mind. After you’ve had your first taste of an astrological correlation that “works,” whether it’s in your own chart, or with a world event, you’re hooked. Because you see that there is a mysterious and wonderful connection between us and the cosmos and that’s awe-inspiring. You willingly jump down the rabbit hole. And if you are lucky enough to find the right books or teachers from the start, your excitement grows with each new insight.

I encourage students to make the most of this phase. Keep a journal and write down your thoughts. Because you’re new to astrology, you’ll have a mentally fertile period of creative thinking. You’ll have new ideas, thoughts for further study, and possibly even come up with your own fresh insights that you can spend the next few years pursuing and expanding on. Your beginner’s mind is your best friend here. You won’t have it again, so record the steady stream of thoughts pouring in.

In the excitement stage, it’s important to commit regularly to your studies to keep the excitement flowing and stay productive. Listen to podcasts, take short workshops or webinars that interest you, get readings.

And most importantly, don’t stress when you encounter a teaching early in your studies that feels “over your head.” That lost feeling will actually compel your brain to work harder to solve the mystery that is blocking your understanding. The searching-for-the-answer discomfort helps you learn. The more you read or study, the more the concepts will become familiar.

Keep feeding your excitement by taking in subjects that spark your curiosity. And know that you’ll reach a critical mass at some point that will take you to Stage 3: The Lightbulb Moment.

But until then, keep your excitement level up, because you’ll need it to make it through Stage 2.

Stage 2: Overwhelm

Shortly after you’ve had a few experiences of feeling lost or confused, you’re likely to reach a roadblock feeling of overwhelm. Maybe you start to take in just how many symbols, archetypes and combinations of those that you’ll have to memorize and getting a feeling for, and you realize how long that might take.

Maybe you encounter conflicting teachings or methods. There are plenty of those! Just like any professional field, whether it’s psychology or medicine or science, the community as a whole isn’t in agreement on certain concepts, styles or approaches. Astrology is no different. You’ll find varying opinions, techniques that clash with each other, and strong personalities with opinions to match.

Maybe you encounter the house system debate – that’s a classic moment of disillusionment and confusion. This is a debate that has not been settled, even though you’ll encounter people who claim to have the definitive answer. The fact that the community isn’t in agreement on this subject should tell you that we’re still working it out. So rather than trying to “figure it out” yourself, take an approach of curiosity. Learn what the different opinions are. Test out your own chart in different house systems. And talk to several seasoned astrologers to learn about their approach and thought process.

At the overwhelm stage, some people duck out. Don’t feel bad if that’s your impulse. Chances are that after a break you’ll return to your studies. Astrology has a way of hooking people for life. But if you’re feeling like bailing, try picking up a new book or take a course with a new teacher or study a new method. Get a reading with an astrologer you haven’t seen yet. It might be that you just haven’t found the approach that best suits you yet. Keep looking, it’s out there.

At the overwhelm stage you might also just need to apply yourself more to your studies. That could mean increasing your study time. It could mean reading a book all the way through instead of skimming or sampling several books. It could mean running some charts yourself and doing your own mini research project.

The good news is that the overwhelm stage will pass, and the next stage is one of the funnest.

Stage 3: The Lightbulb Moment

At some point in your studies, sometimes right after finding just the right teacher for you, you’ll have an lightbulb moment. Something will just click, and you’ll all of a sudden “get it” with a technique you’ve been learning. Maybe it’s seeing a planetary aspect and having a knowing sense of what those planets could mean in the house and sign they’re in. Maybe you get a feeling for a whole complex of symbols all at once, where before you were just mixing and matching keywords. Or you sense how a Moon-Saturn in Scorpio aspect might feel very different to someone with a Pisces Sun versus a Capricorn Sun.

I can’t tell you when or why this moment will happen. But I can promise it will. And boy is it fun! Your excitement from stage one will kick into overdrive, and you’ll start to feel confidence in your own ability at the same time. It just takes a critical mass of information to build up, or hearing the same archetype described in a new way, and suddenly – boom! Understanding.

My advice for this stage is to stick with what you’re doing. Don’t jump ship to a different technique or method here. Instead, dive deeper into the teaching that gave you the aha moment. You want to spend time nurturing your new insight and deepening your understanding to prepare you for the next stage. You also need to establish a strong foundation of knowledge that you’ll be able to return to throughout your study and practice of astrology.

It’s at this stage that you might choose to commit to a method or teacher, at least for a time, to further your learning.

Stage 4: Overwhelm the Sequel

As you get further in your studies, you start to realize just how deep the rabbit hole is. Maybe you hear about declination and realize that there is a whole other set of measurements to take in. You get it that the chart wheel is rather two-dimensional, but the sky is not.

Maybe you hear a debate about the sidereal versus the tropical zodiac and you become interested in Vedic astrology, and get drawn to learn an entirely new system.

Or maybe you see your teacher in action, or you have a reading that makes you painfully aware that you have a long way to go before you achieve something that feels like mastery.

Just like the first stage of overwhelm, in this stage it’s tempting to throw in the towel. In order to push through, you’re going to need to make an even stronger commitment to learning. And that might mean finding some new inspiration.

But don’t be tempted to distraction by the new shiny object, because there almost always is one with astrology. You might be on the verge of breakthrough if you just stick with it right where you are and apply yourself further.  

It’s common to feel like you’re just one technique or insight away from unlocking the whole thing! It’s ok to let that feeling drive your studies, but set up your expectations realistically too. There is no secret teaching or magic insight with the answer to everything. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t worthwhile techniques and insights to learn. It just means there is no magic bullet. The sooner you let go of expecting one, the better. Then you can get down to the real work of learning how to read charts.

What Comes Next?

Typically at this point, your efforts in pushing through the discomfort of overwhelm will start to pay off. You’ll get the courage to give your first reading and realize you have a lot more to say than call fill an hour. Or your client shows up with the wrong birth time and you have to prepare the reading on the fly—and it goes well!

At this point, you’ve arrived. Not at the end of the line, but at the new beginning. You’ll discover just how much there is to learn, but also that every client is there as your teacher, just as much as you are there to help support your client.

With each reading, you’ll build your confidence. You’ll be able to test out theories and concepts in real time, with real people. And not all of them will pan out. But with humility and curiosity you’ll get through this just fine. You’ll begin to see your clients as the wondrous expressions of human complexity, beauty and resilience that they are, in a pure reflection of that same beauty and complexity in the heavens.

You’re in good company. There’s a whole community of astrology lovers just like you ready to welcome you. Glad you’re here!


Ready to start learning? Try Kelly Surtees’ Chart Interpretation series. Over 3 courses you’ll learn about the planets, the aspects, and the personality.

Watch chart reading in action in these webinars:

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