Aspects of Life
Several readers have requested in person or by letter, that we begin another regular column on basics in the tradition of House Foundations. Thus, I have decided to initiate this column on aspects. This issue of The Mutable Dilemma will cover absolutely fundamental material, e.g. definition of aspects, orbs, meanings, etc. In subsequent issues of The Mutable Dilemma, I will discuss particular aspects “cookbook” style, e.g. Sun-Moon aspects, etc.
An “aspect” is an angular distance between two (or more) planets or a planet and an angle or two (or more) angles of the chart. The sun, moon and asteroids are called “planets” for convenience. Angles include the Midheaven, IC, Ascendant, Descendant, Vertex, Antivertex, East Point, West Point, etc. Aspects can also apply to Arabic Parts, nodes of the Moon and planets, perihelion and aphelion points, midpoints, etc. (Beginners, don’t worry about that last set of terms.) In short, anything which we give a position in the horoscope can be in aspect to any other part of the horoscope which has a position.
This column will discuss longitudinal aspects only. That is, the angular relationship (aspect) is determined by the zodiacal position of each of the planets (or whatever) involved. Each planet (angle, etc.) is located a certain number of degree and minutes in a sign of the zodiac. E.g. Mercury 11 Taurus 35 refers to Mercury in the position of 11 degrees and 35 minutes in the sign of Taurus. Every sign has 30 degrees. Every degree has 60 minutes. The signs start with positions at 0 degrees and go through 29 degrees. After 29 degrees and 59 minutes of each sign, we come to 0 degrees and 0 minutes of the next sign.
Certain aspects go back in history at least to Ptolemy. These traditional aspects are used by most astrologers. They are called the conjunction, opposition, trine, square, and sextile. The conjunction aspect is 0 degrees. This means that in an exact conjunction the two (or more) planets (etc.) will be in the same degree and same minute of the same sign. They will be in the same position in the zodiac. The opposition is 180 degrees. That means the planets are six signs apart. (Remember each sign is 30 degrees, so 6 signs are 180 degrees.) The trine is 120 degrees, or four signs. The square is 90 degrees or 3 signs. The sextile is 60 degrees or two signs.
TABLE OF PTOLEMAIC ASPECTS WITH SYMBOLS, DEGREES,ETC.
Obviously, it is extremely rare for planets or angles to be EXACTLY 0 degrees or 90 degrees (etc.) away from one another. Thus arises the concept of orb. Orb addresses the issue of how much leeway to permit, while still considering the aspect to be present. Orb refers to the distance we allow on either side of an exact aspect and still “count” that aspect as existing. E.g., if 0 degrees is a conjunction, what of 2 degrees, 6 degrees, 12 degrees, 18 degrees, and so on? At what point is the angular relationship no longer an aspect?
If you ask ten different astrologers about orbs, you are likely to get at least eight different answers. I will (later) suggest some TENTATIVE orbs to start with, but one must first realize the complexity of the subject.
POINT ONE: The closer to exact the aspect is, the more important it is (in the chart, in the psyche). Exactness is also called “tight orb” or “close.” An aspect that is far from exact is called “wide.” My general rule-of-thumb is that any aspect within a one degree orb is very important. Aspects within three degrees are significant. Beyond three degrees, they may or may not be important. This orb refers to planets, angles, asteroids and nodes of the Moon. Midpoints, perihelia, aphelia, planetary nodes, etc., I require a one to one and a half degree orb MAXIMUM to consider. Remember, orb refers to the allowance ON EITHER SIDE. Thus with Mercury 11 Taurus 35, Venus at 12 Taurus 34 and Mars at 10 Taurus 36, BOTH Venus and Mars would be within a one degree orb of a conjunction to Mercury.
POINT TWO: There may be a wave effect in aspects. John Nelson, in his work predicting the state of the ionosphere for radio transmissions looked at the angular relationships between the planets. He found many angular distances besides the traditional Ptolemaic ones to be significant. For Nelson, every multiple of 7-1/2; 11-1/4 and 18 degrees was useful.
There are some schools of astrology which allow up to 15 degrees orb for a Sun Moon conjunction. If we accept that Nelson’s work has some validity (90% + accuracy for 15 years is impressive.) we would expect an “aspect” at 7-1/2; 11-1/4; 15; 18 etc. (15 is two times 7-1/2) We could suggest, then, that a conjunction might look like this:
The major peak of power would be at 0 degrees (the EXACT aspect), falling off rapidly. A minor peak would occur at 7-1/2 degrees, still falling off. Another minor rise in power at 11-1/4 degrees and possibly another at 15 degrees. This is, at any rate, a hypothesis to consider.
POINT THREE: Another factor in orbs is planetary interactions. E.g. Consider Sun 3 Taurus; Mercury 6 Taurus; Venus 11 Taurus; Moon 15 Taurus; Jupiter 20 Taurus. With even the widest orbs, the Sun and Jupiter would be too far to be called conjunct. But, wait! The Sun is conjunct Mercury; Mercury is conjunct Venus; Venus conjuncts the Moon and the Moon conjuncts Jupiter. This is called a “rolling conjunction” and seems to operate as one large conjunction. Because the planets in the middle “pull in” (by aspect) the planets at the edges, this operates as if all five of them were conjunct one another. This can be written as Sun o Mercury o Venus o Moon o Jupiter.
POINT FOUR: A similar interactive effect occurs with midpoints. A midpoint is exactly what it sounds like: the precise middle point between two planets or angles, etc. E.g. with the Sun at 3 Gemini 30 and Moon at 3 Leo 30, the midpoints would be 3 Cancer 30 and 3 Capricorn 30. By convention, the nearer midpoint is put in the chart (3 Cancer 30), but the other is understood to be opposite. Many people write midpoints with a slash between the two symbols of the planets (angles, etc.) involved. E.g., the Sun-Moon midpoint would be written thus:
Finding a midpoint is like getting an average. Add the positions of the two bodies together and divide by two. Do NOT forget signs! E.g. Sun 3 Gemini 30 is 2 COMPLETED signs (Aries and Taurus), 3 degrees and 30 minutes. Moon 3 Leo 30 is 4 COMPLETED signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer), 3 degrees and 30 minutes. Their sum is 6 completed signs, 6 degrees and 60 minutes. Divide that by 2 and we get 3 completed signs, 3 degrees and 30 minutes. Three completed signs takes us THROUGH Gemini, so we have 3 Cancer 30. An alternate method is to find the distance (angular relationship) between the two bodies; divide the distance by two and add that figure to the earlier body or subtract it from the later body. E.g. 4 signs; 3 degrees; 30 minutes minus 2 signs; 3 degrees; 30 minutes leaves 2 signs; 0 degrees and 0 minutes. Two signs divided by 2 is 1 sign. Adding one sign to the Sun gives 3 Cancer 30; subtracting one sign from the Moon also gives 3 Cancer 30.
Having reviewed midpoints, consider: Mercury 1 Taurus; Juno 15 Taurus; Venus 29 Taurus. None of these would be conjunct by most astrologers’ orbs. However, Juno is at the EXACT midpoint of Mercury and Venus. (14 degrees to each). Therefore, the EFFECT (thanks to the midpoint) is like a Mercury, Juno, Venus conjunction—though not as strong.
POINT FIVE: Anything important in the chart will appear as a repeated theme. Therefore, if an aspect is wide, but backs up a theme already emphasized, I’ll tend to count it. A wide aspect lacking support of that theme elsewhere, I tend to ignore.
I suggest you use the table of maximum orbs as tentative. Try them out. See what works for you. If narrower orbs make more sense in your charts, use narrower orbs. If wider orbs are clicking for you, fine. What is right for me is NOT right for everyone else. Trust your own experience. Just remember, wider orbs are LESS important than closer orbs.
TABLE OF MAXIMUM ORBS
The most important information within ANY aspect is the nature of the planets (angles, etc.) involved. An aspect is like a relationship between those two or more planets. So, knowing these two planets, how are they likely to relate: easily, comfortably, with tension and stress? We also consider the traditional meaning of the aspect and the shadings given by the house(s) occupied and the sign placement(s).
According to my interpretation, there are no “good” or “bad” aspects. EVERY aspect can be handled in a positive and fulfilling way. Similarly, every aspect can be handled in a negative and unfulfilling way. The choice is ours. It is OUR personality, our attitudes, our actions, our decisions as to how we cope with our options. We can always change. I read aspects in terms of inner harmony (we agree with ourselves about what to do, how to be) versus inner conflict (a part of our nature is in disagreement with another part). Neither or these is “good” or “bad” in its own nature. Inner harmony, if over-done, leads to excesses and abuses. Inner conflict, if coped with positively, leads to flexibility and a wide variety of options.
A conjunction is a blend or mixture of the two or more planets involved. The expression depends largely on the nature of the planets involved, shaded by house(s) and sign(s). Planets that tend to combine easily will blend comfortably and work together with relative harmony. Planets with natural conflicts will tend to feel stressful in conjunctions with one another. The native experiences difficulty in combining such contradictory energies.
A generalization (There are exceptions!) is that planets which are naturally trine, sextile or semi-sextile (to be discussed later) tend to be easier to blend. Planets naturally square, quincunx, or opposite tend to be more difficult to combine. (The quincunx will be discussed in later columns.) This is in terms of the natural zodiac. E.g., Mars squares the Moon and Mars squares Saturn because the Moon rules Cancer and Mars rules Aries. Aries squares Cancer. And Saturn rules Capricorn. Capricorn squares Aries. Etc. But Jupiter (ruling Sagittarius) is naturally trine Mars (ruling Aries).
With a conjunction, I think: given that these two (or more) must be mixed together, how do they support and complement one another? How do they conflict with and contradict one another?
An important pattern to watch for is life-long (or long-term) aspects which hold for years and years in secondary progressions. This will generally be with outer planets, but could be with inner ones when retrogrades are involved. E.g., Uranus square the Ascendant, remaining within the one degree orb for secondary progressions for years and years. Or, Saturn trine the Midheaven. Etc. Such configurations show deeply ingrained character patterns that tend to be life-long, or lasting for years.
In spotting conjunctions, it is important to remember that the aspect is 0 degrees. Generally, planets conjunct one another are in the same sign, but NOT always. E.g., Mars 0 Scorpio 35 is clearly conjunct Venus 29 Libra 55. Such out-of-sign conjunctions are just as important as in-sign ones. I do NOT read one as stronger than another. The ORB determines the strength of the aspect. Out-of-sign conjunctions are more complex, because more themes are involved (two signs as opposed to a single sign.) Ditto for conjunctions that involve two houses.
The opposition is 180 degrees. This generally means the planets are in opposing signs, but is not universal. E.g. Mercury 0 Capricorn is opposed to Saturn 29 Gemini. Beginners should memorize the polarities in astrology for a variety of reasons. One reason, is to be able to quickly spot oppositions. Thus, Aries opposes Libra (and vice versa); Taurus opposes Scorpio; Gemini opposes Sagittarius; Cancer opposes Capricorn; Leo opposes Aquarius, and Virgo opposes Pisces.
The theme for meaning in an opposition is a see-saw. An opposition tends to operate (at least initially) as a see-saw in the life of the native. S/he will over-do one end of the opposition, then over-do the other; return to the first extreme, etc. Or, we may project one end of the opposition. We over-do one end, and pick a partner (parent, friend, child, etc.) who over-does the other extreme. And then we fight about it. Etc.
The goal of any opposition is to find the fulcrum point, the balance in the middle. Oppositions are easier to integrate than squares or quincunxes (generally speaking; there are exceptions.) because the polarities ARE natural partners. Each supplies something the other lacks. Thus, there is some inherent pull towards integration within each opposition. The analogy Zip Dobyns uses is that of the opposable thumb and forefinger, which (among other things) distinguishes human beings from apes. Apes pick up things very clumsily with four fingers. The thumb sort of hangs there, or operates with the others as a fifth finger. Human beings bring the thumb OPPOSITE the finger, and close together to pick up things. This is the principle on which pliers, vises, and many of our other precision tools are based. It is very effective. The two ends of the polarity, together, accomplish what neither can alone.
Remember, everyone has AT LEAST one opposition in his/her chart: the nodes of the Moon. By house and sign placements, this opposition is a key to where the native is learning to balance polarities, and may swing between extremes before achieving integration.
The trine aspect is 120 degrees, or approximately four signs. Again, there are exceptions when planets are very early or very late in their signs. Generally, elements trine one another: fire trines fire; earth trines earth; air-air; water-water. The “grand trine” refers to a configuration of three or more planets with each one trine the others on opposite sides. E.g. A grand fire trine might include something at 15 Leo; something at 18 Aries and something at 16 Sagittarius.
The trine aspect shows innate abilities and talents. This indicates parts of the nature which are in harmony with one another. All systems are go. There is no disagreement over what to do or how to be. The major danger here is excesses. Since the native feels, “This is the way to go; this is the way to be.” s/he may over-do in that area. If handled, trines indicate areas where we tend to perform easily, where that part of life comes with relatively little effort. We already know how to do it. We just have to be sure we don’t do TOO MUCH of it!
The excesses we would expect to be related to the nature of the planets, the houses occupied, and the signs. Thus, grand trines between fire planets, in fire houses or fire signs might have too much confidence, impulsivity, self-assertion, self-centeredness, extraversion, restlessness, etc. Grand trines with earth planets, houses or signs might be too practical, careful, pedantic, concerned with details, caught up in the physical world. Air trines might over-intellectualize, be too detached, aloof, superficial, abstract, etc. Water trines might be too sensitive, vulnerable, empathic, retentive of emotions, nurturing, etc.
The square or 90 degree aspect is approximately three signs. (Remember to be careful at beginnings and endings of signs.) Thus, qualities square one another (generally): cardinal to cardinal; fixed to fixed and mutable to mutable. The grand cross or grand square refers to a configuration in which four or more planets (etc.) are involved. Each one is square one on each side and opposite a third. E.g. Something at 19 Taurus; something at 20 Leo; something at 19 Scorpio and something at 21 Aquarius is a grand cross in fixed signs. A T-Cross or T-Square refers to a pattern where one planet is square two others, one on each side. Those other two are opposite one another. Or, you could view it as an opposition with the two ends both square the same planet in between them.
Squares refer to parts of our psyche that are inherently contradictory, by their nature in conflict. It is difficult to do them together. People may ignore one side of their nature, and have difficulties when it manifests indirectly through the unconscious, or brings on physical illness if squashed long enough. They may project one corner (or more) of a square and fight it in the outside world, in another person. They may learn to integrate by doing each part of themselves in the appropriate time and place. Handling squares often means not doing ANY corner to its fullest extent. Moderation is usually helpful. We also often have to strive to create a TIME and PLACE for each of our contradictory sides, so no one is left out, but neither is any one manifested in an inappropriate sphere.
Zip Dobyns refers to the Grand Crosses as Dilemmas: balancing acts that all of us have (to greater and lesser extents) in our lives. We all have some internal contradictions and inconsistencies we are learning to handle. The effect of the Dilemma can also come without the aspect. E.g., Mars in Capricorn in the Fourth is LIKE a T-Square because Mars is naturally square Capricorn and the Fourth House (which is like Cancer). Similarly, we can have the effect of grand trines, e.g. Sun in Aries in the Ninth House. Etc. Each set of squares has its particular focus and issues. Again, repeated themes are the most important. Thus, repeated fixed squares or a grand cross in fixed houses and signs is much more important than scattered squares in cardinals or mutables, which are not connected to one another. Aspects which reinforce one another are more significant.
The sextile is 60 degrees or about two signs. Again, the elements are helpful. In general (with exceptions), air and fire sextile each other; earth and water sextile each other.
Sextiles indicate mild harmony, areas where we tend to be in internal agreement. Our desires tend to move in the same direction, though not as strongly as in a trine. It is usually easier to express the energies involved, talents indicated, etc.
It is important to remember, with ALL ASPECTS, that the most important part is the planets involved. If the planets are in natural conflict, we may have challenges despite a trine, sextile, etc. If the planets are in natural harmony, the squares, oppositions, etc. may be easier to integrate. We also have to consider houses as well as signs. If two planets are sextile by sign, but square by house placement, there is additional tension, internal conflicts to be worked out by the individual. Anything in the chart, CAN BE expressed on a positive level. It is up to us to find the appropriate channel for all our various needs and drives!