It’s no secret that astrologers can map the future. But what about the past, namely: the really, really distant past? If your chart maps a compass of your arrival on this planet, can it reveal any truths about who you were in previous lives, and what karmic assignments you’ve yet to wrap up?
The use of astrology to map a soul’s progression is known as evolutionary astrology. Students of this field view all the elements of a chart as tools or teachers meant to progress one to their ultimate destiny. No planet, then, is wholly negative or positive, but is instead a gate through which we move forward. In viewing the chart as a karmic map, evolutionary astrologers work beyond the confines of linear identity, opening up the study to include past lives and biological karma. It’s not just who we arrived as, but what we came here with, which informs the work laid out for us.
“I like to think of it as extending the chart beyond the bounds of one lifetime.” That’s Taryn Leigh Bond, the beloved evolutionary astrologer whose erudite TikTok posts break the field down to new-user-friendly terms. “Evolutionary astrology always brings us back to the question of why,” she tells NYLON. “Why would a person have this chart? Why would they have this moon placement? What lessons are they learning? Where are we meeting you in this life, based on what’s been done before? Your soul chose this chart. It chose this in a series of many charts, maybe hundreds or thousands of charts. It tells a story. It’s far deeper than taking a purely psychological approach.”
For evolutionary astrologers, certain key players in your chart can reveal everything. Here’s how to spot some of the key karmic players in your chart.
For any insight into your long past or higher destiny, refer to the lunar nodes, the two points in which the ecliptic, or the imagined orbit of the sun, intersects with the moon’s path. Suffice it to say, the south and north nodes move retrograde through the signs, always in exact opposition, entering a new diad of signs every 18 months or so. Eclipses occur when the sun and moon align with the nodes.
Referred to as the Dragon’s Head (north node) and Dragon’s Tail (south node), these two points speak to our karmic trajectory: the placement of the north node leads us to our higher initiative in this lifetime; meanwhile, the south node speaks to what has come before, and who we likely were, in previous lives. In Yesterday’s Sky: Astrology & Reincarnation, Steven Forrest writes that the south node “represents unresolved wounds, tragedies, limitations and failures from the past, which potentially interfere with our ability to fulfill our soul-contract in this lifetime.”
Your south node, then, can give us insight into your literal past, in this lifetime. To go further back, look to its sign and house placement, along with the planetary ruler of that sign, and any planets the south node interacts with. Once you’ve interpreted the thematic resonance of your south node, you can start to consider what baggage you may have arrived here with. Forrest argues that our charts rarely tap us into the easy stuff from previous lives; our nodes only raise history that needs to be dealt with so that we can move forward. “There must be either a soul intention or an evolutionary necessity to work on the issue in this lifetime,” Forrest writes. “The ‘karma has ripened,’ in other words.”
Your north node, meanwhile, directs you to your destiny in this go ‘round. It warns against a lapse in behaviors, or stagnation into the old rhythms of your south node, instead calling you forward to fulfill a new assignment. “The truth of the south node is in your experience now,” Bond says. “With the north node, the opposition point, they always coexist: What do you really want from life? You could validate the past lives’ experiences by being like, ‘Wow, it does make sense that the opposite is what I, as a person now, is actively seeking.’”
The Twelfth House & Rising Sign
To go in on how your last life may have ended before this one began, train your focus on the site of endings and beginnings in your chart: the twelfth and first houses. The twelfth house is the final processing chamber of your entire chart, where all the lessons and experiences of the previous houses and signs pour in for healing, closure, and synthesis. As you spelunk the caverns of your twelfth house underworld, you’re guaranteed to discover truths, feelings, gifts, and pains that transcend the finite and veer into the liminal. Bond says that the twelfth house “is very mystical, and has the power to reach into prior existences. The twelfth is about your soul’s memories.”
The twelfth house ends your chart, preceding your ascendant, or rising sign, which launches the whole saga all over again. Marking the moment you took your first breath, the rising sign acts as the start and endpoint of your chart, dictating the placement of all your planets. Think of this as where you first landed. In what sign does your ascendant rise, and is it on any cusp? Say your ascendant is on the very first degrees of Cancer. Perhaps the drives of this lifetime, towards safety and tribal belonging, are new, and you’re still shaking off the motives of previous Gemini cycles, in which your primary directive was to collect a vast range of experiences. Look to the signs, degrees, and planets preceding your ascendant for insight on what has been completed, and what is yet to be processed this time.
Key Planets & Asteroids
You could spend a lifetime getting to know the mythic archetypes of your chart, many of whom deal with retribution, healing, and resolution of past history. In terms of planets, look to the moon and for information about your ancestral line, your emotional makeup, and the underbelly of your identity. Pluto acts as the karmic gate and processor, the hellmouth from which all things originate and ultimately end. The placements and aspects of these planets show you how to access the deeper, darker, potentially liberating truths that lie within.
Meanwhile, asteroids paint a more detailed origin story. Chiron speaks to painful experiences we transform into wisdom; Juno learns from betrayal and gets smart; and Lilith (though not an asteroid) meets exile and abjection with glorious revenge. Once you allow yourself to consider the past of this lifetime as a jumping-off point, you can invite these characters to share lessons from the ages before. Let the girlies talk: They’re rarely shy.
Putting It All Together
Accessing past life information through your chart combines the analytical and the intuitive. A lot can be gleaned, for example, by considering the placement of your south node. Say you’re a Scorpio rising, with your south node in Leo in the tenth house of public glory, conjunct Psyche. Leo’s ruler, the sun, is in Aries, in your sixth house, and the north node is in Aquarius, in your fourth house of home. This gives us plenty to work with: With the asteroid Psyche and your south node in such a position of prominence, perhaps you were a princess, or someone of high standing, who may have been confined by idleness and court rules. The placement of the north node, in Aquarius, meanwhile, directs your attention not to the cultivation of fame and success, but to the construction of a real and equitable home in this life — a queer palace of your own making. Your sun in Aries, in the sixth house of work and boundaries, wants to put you to service, giving you a sense of purpose you may have lacked in a previous life of privilege and wasted potential.
Of course, this is but one, very loose interpretation. You’ll only land on the one (or ones) which speak to you by honing in on your intuition. Bond recommends employing the core emotions of this lifetime as a starting point. “Do you remember what your childhood felt like? Because the south node is an imprint of what we’re trying to let go of. Childhood and early life experiences reflect the past life, where you ended last time. You can add in the dimension of theories about what the past life might have been from an intuitive place.”
Much of how we currently trade in astrology can feel very by-the-numbers: What’s your big three? What house is your Mars in? To really let your cosmic archetypes speak to you about deeper experiences, you’ll have to allow for more abstraction, ambiguity, and unanswered questions. It’s highly likely that whatever challenges you’re facing now have a strong rooting in your planetary makeup, and an established precedence in prior existences. The chart will give you the tools to look deeper, but only if you’re trusting your instincts, and not trying to narrate over them. When working with your spirit guides, angels, or astrological archetypes, a good way to begin is by focusing on one specific question. How can your past lives give you insight into this particular field of inquiry? By honing in on a feeling, you’ll give yourself direction to go in deeper, and not feel either overwhelmed or at a loss. Your chart has no real ending, or beginning, and neither does your life cycle. Go easy, take your time, and see what comes when curiosity is embraced.