The Strengths and Weaknesses of Interpretive Software

By Hank Friedman

Updated November 2016

Many professional astrologers feel that astrology programs that interpret charts, transits, etc. are of little value, or is completely inadequate. (A majority of astrologers responding to a poll in The Mountain Astrologer disapproved of interpretive software.)

That's a shame, because -- for report software written for Western Astrology -- the bottom line is:

Interpretive software is as good or bad as the astrologer who writes the interpretations.

[Note: The accuracy of the planetary calculations is not an issue nowadays, as most programs have accurate calculations and time-change atlases -- except all but three free programs.]

In the following sections, I will examine the value of and problems inherent in each type of interpretive software.

An issue all reports have in common is the issue of uncertain birth times. In my article, Astrological Techniques and Uncertain Birth Times, which I highly recommend that you read, I explore which astrological techniques break down the most with inaccuracies in birth time.

(The best natal astrological reports offer the option of creating a report for someone with an unknown birth time. In such reports, all factors that rely on a precise birth time (house positions, lunar aspects and sign, etc.) are omitted from the report. Most report programs, however, lack this feature.)

The most important weakness of all interpretive software is: It is impossible for programs to take into account more than one or two horoscopic factors simultaneously. E.g. the software author creates a paragraph delineating a planet in a sign, or in a house, or in a specific aspect to another planet, or in a particular dasha, without regard for any of the other factors that modify its qualities. This greatly reduces the accuracy of all software delineations.

All reports ignore whether a planet is combust, or retrograde, or "out of bounds", or the ruler of good or bad houses, strong or weak, or peregrine, or in a major aspect pattern (e.g. a Grand Trine). All of this highlights how unfeasible it is to try to create a truly integrated astrology report.

Because of the time it takes the report's creator to prepare even a basic set of delineations, the number of astrological factors that can be taken into account in any astrological report is very limited, and only one factor can be interpreted at a time. That's about as sophisticated as it gets. Yes, there are programs that also throw in delineations such as a predominance of planets in a particular element or house, which can be useful, but there is still no greater synthesis going on.

Nevertheless, even with these limitations, programs that interpret planets by sign, or house, or aspect can give valuable information. The more depth of understanding and the more artistry the writer has, the more valuable the report software. And there are some very, very talented and devoted astrologers writing reports. (Note that all of the limitations mentioned in this portion of the article apply to all astrological cookbooks as well -- books that delineate planets by sign, planets in transit, etc.-- as well as to the delineations of novice astrologers who have not yet learned the art of synthesis.)

Western Astrology Report Software

1. Natal Reports.

Birth chart reports introduce a person to the core astrological themes of their lives. They can elucidate very important patterns, and enable greater self-understanding and personal growth.

Primary Issues:

Which patterns are dominant in a chart. One issue in common in all types of interpretive reports is the need to be able to determine which of the themes will predominate, and which will be more in the background. The reader has to determine this on their own, because software can't. Some reports do show the strength of aspects or the proximity of cities to map lines, but virtually all of the prioritizing is left up to the reader.

In other words, when a report says both that a person is antisocial in one paragraph and that they are sociable in another, one must resolve the contradiction by themselves, deciding which is the more prevalent pattern. One trick is to add up the number of times specific themes occur in a report. Themes that recur the most often are more likely to be relevant and true.

One can also give more weight to the themes provided for the most important chart factors: the Ascendant, Sun, and Moon, etc.

What makes a poor report?

Reports that cause harm. There are writers who are unconscious of how impressionable and vulnerable readers can be to scary and depressing delineations. In fact, some people are so incredibly susceptible to negative messages that one has to be very careful when communicating with them.

I have read many interpretations that I would never give out to anyone, because they exaggerate and distort challenging features of a chart in very damaging ways.

For example, there are reports that say "this is a treacherous aspect" or "will lead to serious emotional and psychic disturbances", etc.

Reports that misinterpret:

There are actually two kinds of misinterpretations to address here:

1. The limitations of an astrologer's understanding. I've seen many reports which reveal the astrologer's inability to understand, for instance, what an opposition or quincunx really means. They blithely interpret factors "from the top of their heads", i.e. with little or no understanding about whether their delineations are accurate or not. This often happens in the case of "pioneering" reports that delineate factors that no one else ever has.

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2. When astrological writers melodramatize factors in a birth chart, they are also usually inaccurate. Most people are not axe murders nor have soap opera lives where disaster follows disaster follows disaster. In both natal and predictive reports, it is both wrong and inaccurate to unduly overestimate the negative effects of astrological themes.

This is one of the main reasons why I find so many report programs unacceptable. I happen to, for example, have Mars exactly square Uranus in my birth chart, and most reports delineate this to mean that I will have many accidents. In point of fact, I have had very few accidents in my life, and all very minor with no damage to people and little to objects. All of these reports are wrong. It is just not accurate to say Mars square Uranus causes accidents, and it's alarming as well.

The task of a good interpretive astrologer is to write delineations that will be true no matter what sign or what house the planet is in (or what aspects it receives). Many astrologers don't have the depth of understanding to do that. They are blind, for instance, to the fact that when Mars squares Uranus and both planets occupy soft signs like Cancer and Libra (as they do in my chart), the aspect won't manifest on a concrete level (i.e. in accidents or injuries) as might the square if it were in Earth and Fire signs, but instead show up in social interaction (i.e. abrupt and defensive behavior). So unless report authors are able to provide universal meanings for each configuration, their interpretations will be inaccurate.

2. Predictive Reports.

Predictive reports can help people understand the path ahead. "Forewarned is forearmed." In other words, they help people prepare for future challenges, and assist them in navigating these passages optimally. They also help forecast optimal times for initiating activities of many sorts.

Primary Issues:

Which events are most impactful. Predictive reports often make little or no effort to assess, for the reader, which events will have the greatest effects. The rule I often use is that the transits by the outer three planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) predominate over those by other planets, especially as indicators of large changes. Transits by Saturn are usually very palpable, for periods of two to four weeks, depending upon its speed.

Jupiter's transits predominate over the inner planets' transits, and can represent times of grace or excess. Also, the longer the transit lasts, e.g at times of planetary stations, the more likely it will have an observable effect.

For progressions, the progressed Moon's aspects to natal planets have the most immediate and palpable effect, followed by the progressed Sun's aspects, etc.

Predictive reports overemphasis of minor and short-lived transits. Often, the astrologer writing the text for a transit or solar return report will exaggerate the effect of a short-lived transit (or an aspect in a return), when in reality the configuration will have no noticeable effect at all in the person's life. I've seen authors act completely oblivious to the fact that they have a living, breathing, feeling audience, and unwittingly proclaim that a particular aspect will be catastrophic. To my mind, this is irresponsible and very misleading. It is equally inappropriate to report that a two day Jupiter transit will cause incredible good fortune, when the person with such a transit usually won't notice much happening at all.

Too much context and too little content. One might put forth the analogy that the text, in a transit report, that delineates the effects of a transiting planet's aspect to a natal planet is the "meat" of the report, and the text that describes the generic effects of a transiting planet's influence (without reference to any natal planet) is the "bun". General information in small doses is fine, but the real value is in the specific planet-to-planet delineations. I bring this up because one of the transit reports has over 90% generic text and less than 10% actual planet-to-planet delineations. The report, at first glance, looks impressive, but there is actually very little substance to it.

No duration. Progressed reports, in particular, sometimes omit the duration of a progressed influence, and some only show the date of exact aspect. This is useless to the reader, who will most likely be unable to determine how long each influence lasts.

Endless Effects. Worse is the transit report that uses very wide orbs for each transit, portraying events as lasting for much longer periods than they really do. The reader starts focusing on a transit when it is not having any effect, and might stop paying attention by the time the transit really kicks in. Readers of this type of report have no way of knowing when the transit will truly be active. This also leaves them facing the prospect of living through challenging times for far longer than they will actually experience them.

My rule of thumb is that transits are by far the most palpable right around the time of exact hit, and that orbs for really feeling their effects should be limited to one degree in most cases, and otherwise to two degrees.

3. Compatibility Reports.

Getting an objective view of one's relationship can be a priceless gift. Astrological compatibility reports show where two people mesh well and where they don't. By seeing these patterns, couples can understand that "the other person is just being themselves" instead of thinking that they are trying to be obstructive or difficult. They can also be reminded of the ways in which they mesh together beautifully, which can be a lifesaver during hard times.

Primary Issues:

Using charts with inaccurate birth times. Because house positions (and rulerships) provide vital information in assessing compatibility, as does the precise position of the Moon by degree, using reports to interpret compatibility for people without birth times is chancy, i.e. they will do a poor job.

What factors carry the most weight. Compatibility reports do not address the issue of which of the inter-aspects between the two charts (or which aspects in the Composite chart) are the most important. Here, the reader should focus on the aspects to the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant, as well as the strongest aspects (i.e. those with the tightest orbs). It is also useful to focus on Mercury's contacts for evaluating communication patterns, and on Venus and Mars for patterns of romantic love and passion.

Composite Charts. When Rob Hand invented the Composite Chart technique in the late 20th century, he gave astrologers a new tool for examining relationship themes. Unfortunately, however, novice astrologers make the mistake of thinking that this is the be-all and end-all technique for assessing the compatibility between two people. In fact, the primary method used for most of Western astrology's history is the comparing of the aspects between both charts' planets, and this technique is the best for revealing the interpersonal dynamics. So those who naively use the Composite technique (and reports) only are missing out on the most important method of chart comparison.

4. Relocation Reports.

Where to live is a concern for many people. Relocation reports help people anticipate the kinds of energies and events they may encounter at specific locations, and which of their traits will be amplified in each place.

Primary Issues:

Which astromapping method will most accurately describe each place's effects. Astromapping reports give the reader delineations for many factors. A good report will evaluate the meanings of Astro*Carto*Graphy lines, Local Space lines, and Parans for a specific city, but how does one decide which technique best represents the location's overall influence? Astromapping reports don't provide an answer for this question.

Way Too Wide Orbs. One astromapping program uses too wide orbs for determining if a location is near Astro*Carto*Graphy lines (in order to generate a substantial report for any place). It gives delineations for lines that are much too weak to deserve mention (much less be influential upon the person).

Inaccurate Birth Times. Of all of the astrological techniques in common practice, astromapping methods are among the most sensitive to birth time imprecision. If a person doesn't know their exact birth time, there is no point giving them either astromaps or astromapping reports, as the results will be completely unreliable.

5. Child Reports.

Parents may or may not be able to separate their own projections from the true nature of their children. Child reports are invaluable in helping parents recognize their children's own temperament, needs, etc.

Primary Issues:

Which factors to pay attention to. All of the limitations mentioned at the beginning of the article concerning natal reports apply to child reports too, but the most serious problem lies in how a parent, who is just learning who a child is, reconciles sections of reports that contradict each other. One paragraph might point out that the child will be shy and needs to be encouraged to express themselves, and the very next section of the report might talk about how the child is overly expressive and needs to be taught to be quiet. The only way a parent can digest this contradictory information is by observing their child as objectively as possible and seeing which of the two really describes their child.

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Despite the issues raised above, I want to reemphasize that Western astrological report programs can be very valuable when they are well-written. Some astrologers are very good at giving readings, while others are mediocre. Similarly, some reports may give more accurate delineations than an unskilled astrologer. In fact, reports can teach astrologers and students of astrology about delineation.

So even though it's the current fad among professional astrologers to "dis" computer-generated reports, such an attitude is off the mark. It all depends upon the quality of understanding of the person writing the software.



Vedic Astrology Report Software

The lack of accuracy of Vedic interpretive reports. I think reports are universally inadequate in Vedic astrology. Vedic astrology requires a much higher degree of integration of factors (than Western astrology) for it to function well or even be accurate on a basic level. For this reason, I would much rather have a reading from a Western astrologer with two years of learning than a Vedic astrologer with the same amount of experience. Vedic astrology is a much more demanding field of study.

Here's an example: In Western astrology, it is generally sufficient to treat Jupiter as a strong benefic, and to say that Jupiter brings expansion, good fortune, and positive experiences to the person's life. But in Vedic astrology, that's not true. In Vedic astrology, house rulerships play a major role in determining whether a planet brings positive or challenging experiences to a person's life. For those with sidereal Taurus or Libra Ascendants, Jupiter rules bad houses, while Saturn, on the other hand, rules good houses. So Jupiter transits (and its placement in the birth chart) can actually bring much more challenging experiences than Saturn transits (and Saturn's placement in the natal chart).

In fact, if Jupiter is weak in a Taurus or Libra rising chart, that can be good, because it diminishes the problems indicated by the (bad) houses Jupiter rules. So that even though Jupiter is considered the strongest benefic in both Western and Vedic astrology, its effect is much more context-related in Vedic astrology. Vedic report creators simply cannot delineate a planet in the First House, or in Leo, or aspecting Mars, because there is a great likelihood of some other factor contradicting the effects indicated by a factor taken by itself.

Another way to illustrate this is that there is a huge difference in the quality of a person's life if they have Saturn in the First House occupying sidereal Capricorn, Aquarius, or Libra (in its own signs or exalted) -- which can have very positive effects -- than if they have Saturn in any other sign, which can be problematic in a variety of ways. Even the classical Vedic texts address this issue. For a Vedic report to be at all valuable, these differences would have to be recognized and interpreted.

One couldn't just interpret Saturn by house, nor any planet for that matter, but would need to give differing delineations for a planet strong-by-sign or weak-by-sign in each house, at the very least.

Therefore, for a Vedic interpretation program to have even decent accuracy, it would have to take into account many factors simultaneously, which quickly becomes a huge and unmanageable job requiring thousands of specific paragraphs for each placement. This is one of the reasons why Vedic reports should not be handed out to clients or novices in astrology.


Basic Factors that should be considered in Vedic Reports

    At the very least, before delineating any factor, reports should take into account:

  The house occupied by the planet.

  The sign the planet is in and the placement of the ruler of that sign.

  The sign the planet occupies in the Navamsha.

  The houses ruled by the planet.

  The strengths and weaknesses of the planet.

  The positive and/or negative yogas participated in by the planet.

  The aspects received and the associations with other planets.


Additional Weaknesses in Vedic Natal Reports

Yogas in Vedic Reports. The finding and delineating of yogas (planetary combinations) by computer is fraught with difficulties. Besides not taking any of the aforementioned crucial factors into account, programs that find yogas in a chart often make mistakes and include yogas in reports that don't actually exist in the chart.

Additionally, there are a whole classes of yogas that nullify other yogas. The better reports may list both types of yogas (the problematic and the antidotal ones) in separate paragraphs, but what they should do is determine if there is are nullifying yogas, and if so, generate different, more accurate delineations.

Finally, as I explore in my article Qualifying Yogas, for a yoga to bear fruit, a whole slew of conditions must be met: at least one of the yoga-forming planets must be strong (or participating in multiple yogas), one or more of the yoga-forming planets needs to have a relationship with the Lagna or Lagnesa, and the Dasa of at least one of the planets needs to be running (or have already run). Of course, no software takes any of these into account.

Extreme languaging in Vedic reports. A final "nail in the coffin" destroying the value of Vedic natal reports is that classical texts, as a mnemonic device, use worst-case examples like "your mother will die" if you have such-and-such configuration. These texts were written within a culture that expected the student to study the books with the help of their astrological Guru. No classical Vedic author ever intended that these extreme examples should be handed out to a lay person in a printed report, much less that they would be accurate when taken by themselves out of context. They are simply teaching tools, not astrological cookbooks.

Vedic predictive reports

Vedic programs fail completely when they try to interpret planetary cycles (dasas) and/or transits. Report creators usually quote ancient Vedic texts which were never meant to be used for that purpose, and are almost completely inaccurate when applied to an individual's chart. I recently pointed out to a class I was teaching that one gets more accurate predictions by delineating the dasa of the lord of a house, than of a planet itself. This illustrates an important point: Venus may be a significator of relationship, but the dasas of the lord of the 7th house or the occupants of the 7th house are usually much more relevant to unfolding relationship themes than Venus is.

Vedic Electional Software

One reason why I also don't recommend Vedic electional programs (called Muhurta) -- which are used to select the right time to initiate an activity (like getting married or starting a business) -- is because there are astrological factors that can override other electional factors (and thereby determine by themselves whether it's a good time or bad time), and these are not taken into account by Vedic electional programs.

Additionally, most of the Muhurta software writers think that "more is better" and so they give a weighting to each of many, many factors and then add them all together. This is not how astrology -- or life -- works. Neither chart factors nor people can be reduced to formulae. (Both of these problems can also crop up in some Western electional software.)

Gem Recommendations in Vedic Software

Vedic astrology has many ways to remedy difficulties in charts, including mantras (chanting), yagyas (offerings), and pujas (prayers and rituals by priests).

The least potent but most often used remedy is the wearing of specific gemstones. Each specific gem supports the expression of a particular planet. To be effective, a gemstone must be of high quality and large enough to be effective, and worn as a tribute to the planet (and first put on at a particular day and time). If in a ring, there can be no backing, I.e. the light must shine through the gem.

This path can be fraught with difficulties, e.g. gems made ineffective by heat or radiation treatments (these enhance the color of inferior stones), counterfeit and dyed stones, etc.

But the biggest, and most dangerous, issue is wearing the wrong gem for ones chart, which can actually make ones life worse. (Jyotisha is rife with stories about this.)

I have explored gem recommendations in many different Jyotish programs, and every single one made very serious errors in its recommendations.


So What is Vedic Software for?

  The short answer is: Calculations, Charting, Creating Tables and Graphs, Astro-Mapping, and Research.

  Vedic astrology employs a truly huge number of calculations that would be incredibly tedious, if not impossible, for most Vedic astrologers to do by hand.

  There are so many important factors to have access to. (E.g. Dasa listings, Arudhas, Bhava Madhyas, Alternate Lagnas, the Yogi and Avayogi, the Panchanga, Upagrahas, Sahams, Ashtakavarga, Varshaphal, Vargas, etc.)

  In addition, there are many different Dasa methods, and to learn how to calculate each one with precision would very difficult.

  The creation of lovely charts and accurate tables is a great boon, enabling the Jyotishi to spend their time in analyzing the results instead of taking hours to prepare them.

  The best Jyotish software also has powerful chart file and time search functions, advanced research capabilities, and even transit hit listings.

Contradictions, revisited

Every report, Western or Vedic, has paragraphs that contradict each other. This can be very confusing to the reader, but the truth is, people are contradictory. In certain settings people can be assertive and in other settings they can be very unassertive. Or in one area of life emotional and in another unemotional. These contradictions show up in charts all of the time.

Nevertheless, most people are pretty consistent in their temperament, and reports don't help readers resolve the many contradictions within them.

In conclusion, well-made Western astrology report software can be very valuable both as a learning tool for students and as a way to bring astrology to those who want its help but don't want to study astrology.

Vedic astrology, on the other hand, is much too complex for its delineations to be computerized for the masses, but Vedic natal reports may serve as a learning tool for students who have enough training and experience to discern their strengths and weaknesses.



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