Astrology is ambient. Like the latin meaning of the word: it is all around.
I approach astrology by working with it every day. And I am deeply interested in its origins. Due to many recent translations of ancient texts, we have available to us for the first time a tremendous amount of teachings coming right from the source of our tradition. I believe applying this knowledge appropriately in meaningful, responsible, and skillful ways is our task at hand.
Some technical specifics:
I do not subscribe to the idea of modern rulerships: that the outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto rule the signs Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio. While there may be some associative similarities, these (invisible to us) planets are not rulers of these signs. Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars have been doing just fine as the domicile lords (rulers) of Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio for at least two thousand years. And there is an elegant symmetry to the original sequence of rulership which is totally lost when you hand over domain to the outer transpersonal planets; sacrificed too is the original meaning underlying the aspects. Also, why limit an outer, invisible, transpersonal body? Attempting to encapsulate and trap its meaning in a single zodiac sign feels forced, trivial, and mechanistic.
See: A Conversation With Robert Hand - The Modern Astrologer With a Medieval Heritage.
I think you can and ought to read a chart with just the seven traditional (visible) planets, at least some of the time. Many modern western astrologers get hung up on outer planets, imo, too early on. You can always derive a tremendous amount of information from just the visible planets (the wanderers) ― especially via accidental and essential dignity, house rulership, aspects, and so on. After establishing the structure and story with these essential points, moving on to the outer bodies (including asteroids, etc.) makes sense as they can offer quite specific additional information.
I tend to use the Whole Sign House System for topical purposes, but take special note when planets are "advancing" or "retreating" around the actual angles. (Technically this means I use both Whole Sign and Quadrant houses.) Whether a planet is rising, setting, culminating, or anti-culminating is a physical/visual reality, which determines a planet's terrestrial strength, and should not be overlooked. In some cases I use the Porphyry house system, which 2nd century astrologer, Vettius Valens, mentions using for specific techniques in his Anthology. And at the moment I'm preferring Alcabitius and Meridian house systems. I also experiment with house cusps as sensitive points with other Quadrant systems.
I use midpoints, the 360 and 90 degree dials, planetary pictures, and some other Symmetrical (aka Uranian or Cosmobiological) tools and methods. This is atop a traditional Hellenistic, Persian, Early Medieval, Indian (Jyotish), and modern psychological perspective.
- Note: the Lots (commonly called the Arabic Parts, i.e. the Part of Fortune) are one major unifying component between systems and astrologies throughout time. The Lots are older than Hellenistic astrology, probably Babylonian or Egyptian in origin, and utilizing them was of chief importance to all Hellenistic and early Medieval astrologers. Modern astrologers too, due in large part to the lunation cycle work of Dane Rudhyar, employ the Lot of Fortune and sometimes the Lot of Spirit. The Lot of Fortune itself even offers us an alternate Ascendant! Lots are planetary pictures―an important feature of Symmetrical astrology, and are expressions of planetary phase relationships. These symmetrical sensitive points, potent and mysterious, marry astrological thought through the ages, and to me, they feel timeless.
I work with essential dignity, especially as it pertains to planetary interchanges through configurations (aspects) and reception. I utilize and note triplicity, trigon lords, Egyptian bounds, as well as antiscia, declination, parans, planets in phasis -heliacal risings and settings (planets and fixed stars), planetary stations, and divisional charts like twelfth-parts (dodecatemoria). I also contemplate the actual constellations and fixed stars to some extent.
I sometimes work with asteroids, and the Transneptunians (TNPs): Cupido, Hades, Zeus, Kronos and company. They are not at all imperative, in my view, but they add embellishment and nuance, and very particularly, sometimes eerily, describe character and situations.
Finally, I find the twelve letter astrological alphabet (Aries = Mars = First house, etc.) to be too simplistic and often misleading. For a deeper understanding of the signs, houses, aspects, and planetary meanings associated with them, I think it is best to begin your study with the Thema Mundi (hypothetical chart of the world/teaching tool). *One may also consider the symmetry in the sign-based decanates of the zodiac. This is not often discussed, yet it reinforces the potency and significance via the geometric symmetry of the seven traditional planets as rulers.
The Houses: Temples of the Sky by Deborah Houlding - (also see articles on Skyscript)
Origins of the Significations of the Houses by Chris Brennan
Astrology and the Authentic Self: Integrating Traditional and Modern Astrology to Uncover the Essence of the Birth Chart by Demetra George
Preferred Timing techniques:
Zodiacal Releasing (as outlined by Vettius Valens, 2nd c.e.)
Dasas and Bhuktis (from the Indian system)
Annual and Monthly Profections
Solar arc directions
Valens' Quarters of the Moon
Minor planetary periods