Aspects of Life

Maritha Pottenger

One of the disadvantages of writing is that once your words are in print, you continue to grow, evolve and change your mind. My thinking about aspects has recently been stimulated by other people, so I wish to share a few thoughts which differ slightly from—or perhaps are more fully articulated than—what I have written in the past.

In the past two months, I have been exposed to at least two people, whose opinions I respect, discussing aspects only in terms of “contacts” between planets—with no distinction between, for example, a square versus an opposition. This has led to me searching and clarifying my thoughts on the subject.

I still believe that aspects are the second-most important factor in astrology, following planets, with houses third and signs last. I remain convinced, like most astrologers, that the closer the aspect is, the more important and central it is in the basic nature. However, I do experience a difference in quality and manifestation between “contacts” involving the same planets, but different aspects.

In a sense, I agree with the “contact school” of astrology because I feel one must always consider the nature of the planets involved in the aspect—as well as the nature of the aspect, the houses, the signs. Thus, any Saturn-Mars contact—even if a trine or sextile—must still deal with the “natural” square between Mars and Saturn. And, any Moon-Neptune contact—even if a square or quincunx—still has the “natural” trine between Moon and Neptune working in its favor.

The conjunction is the role model aspect for the “contact school” since its expression is judged almost entirely on the basis of the symbolism of the two (or more) planets involved, modified somewhat by house and sign. My analogy for the conjunction is a marriage before divorce was possible. That is, these two factors are TOGETHER, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do they part. With a conjunction, we do not express the one part of our nature without the other. Returning to the above examples, we do not get Mars without Saturn or Moon without Neptune when they are conjunct. Of course, the blending is still up to us. Mars/Saturn can be expressed as courage with caution or driving with the brakes on! Moon/Neptune could be expressed as idealistic nurturing or a dependent victim. And there are many more alternatives. The point is that the characteristics indicated by these planets operate in tandem. Those attributes are consistently intermingled in our personalities—for better or for worse.

When a chart has a very tight conjunction, this is particularly important to remember—throughout the life. Especially watch patterns involving planets near a change of direction—whether retrograde to direct or direct to retrograde—and outer planets which hold an aspect in secondary progressions for years and years! These show major themes in the character and life. Any one-degree orb conjunction (and possibly others) can be considered a lifetime pattern. That is, even when looking at progressions, directions, transits or other forms of current patterns, the individual with the close, natal conjunction does not express one planet without the other. Those people with tight natal Saturn/Mars conjunctions never “get” Saturn without Mars nor Mars without Saturn. Transits from Mars to such a person’s chart will be expressed as transits from Mars and Saturn. Transits from Saturn will be manifested as transits from Saturn and Mars. And similarly in other systems. As before, the KIND of a combination the individual makes is up to that person. The planets merely represent our inner drives and needs. How we choose to blend these is an ongoing source of learning and evolving in life.

One of the qualities which is sometimes noticeable in people with such a tight conjunction is that they do not quite grasp other people’s experiences which differ from their own blend. For example, the Moon/Neptune person may have trouble recognizing that not EVERYONE is idealistic about mothering; or that not everyone is sensitive, empathic and psychically open. Their instinctive response for improving the world may be emotional support and they may have trouble “seeing” the value of other forms of rescue. Whatever the “marriage” in their basic nature as symbolized by their personal horoscope they may experience problems in grasping other people’s manifestations, who live out the two planets as “single people.” The person with the mixture finds it more difficult to recognize the “pure form” because it does not exist for that individual. That person has ALWAYS had a blend!

Thus, the likelihood of repression or projection is less with a conjunction. The individual tends to experience BOTH sides of the conjunction in the life. Generally, we are living out (in some fashion) the nature of both planets. Of course, other factors may bring in repression or projection. Water in general is associated with repression. Thus, water planets or houses or signs include the potential of repression. But, when we talk about a conjunction, we are talking about the themes and issues of BOTH planets being repressed (if that is the road selected)—not repressing one and manifesting the other. And, if a conjunction falls in a house or sign of the chart where we can project, that is a possibility. E.g., Mars/Saturn conjunct in the seventh MIGHT be projected onto partners. But again, if that happens, we project BOTH. We do not pick a Saturnian partner and do the Mars ourselves. Nor do we pick a Martian partner and do the Saturn ourselves. Instead we attract a partner who is doing a combination of both Mars and Saturn (well or poorly)—and presenting a mirror from which we can learn.

The opposition, by contrast, is tailor-made for projection. It is very commonly experienced through relationships. We identify with one end of the opposition and attract some significant other into our life (parent, partner, child, friend, boss...) to express the other end for us. Then we can fight about whose way is “right” until we learn to express both sides and meet in the middle. Also common with the opposition is the seesaw life—living out one extreme (one side of the opposition) and then flipping to the other extreme. Learning to balance is part of the challenge. Finding the synthesis between the two ends is the goal.

Of the so-called “hard” aspects, I do consider the opposition the EASIEST to integrate. Both the houses and the signs are usually a polarity though out of sign aspects, such as early Aries to late Virgo, are possible. The six polarities in astrology are natural partnerships. Each end NEEDS the other; they are complementary. Each completes the other. Thus, there is an inherent tendency to come together and find that middle, cooperative ground. Zip Dobyns has often used the analogy of the opposable thumb and forefinger for the opposition. That is one of the characteristics which separates humans from apes and monkeys. The other primates pick things up very clumsily, with only the fingers, the thumb dangling rather uselessly at the side. Humans can bring the thumb and the forefinger in—coming from opposite ends—to meet in the middle and accomplish TOGETHER much more than either could do alone. This principle of meeting in the middle from opposite sides is also the basis of many of our tools—pliers, vise, etc.

In a sense, I see the square as the reverse of the conjunction. That is, with the square, the individual tends to feel as though it is extremely difficult to combine the two parts of life symbolized by the squaring planets. The reaction may be to repress one corner of a square (or T-cross or grand cross); to project one or more corners; to live a seesaw life. We integrate by finding a reasonable way to express all the needs and drives indicated by the square(s). Such a solution can include doing different sides of our nature at different times, in different situations and contexts. Or, it may include being moderate in our expression, and keeping room for some of both (or all) sides of who we are.

The square does have (usually) a commonality of quality going for it. This shows minimal agreement about focus in the life. Cardinal squares deal with events, learning through the school of experience. Fixed squares indicate power, control and sensuality issues. Mutables have a mental focus. (Again, remember that squares between mutable planets or houses are much more mutable than squares between mutable signs.) People dealing with the cardinal dilemma need to make room for different kinds of events and life experiences. People working on the fixed dilemma face the challenge of discovering different kinds of power and arenas of control. Individuals facing a mutable dilemma need different kinds of “knowing” in harmony with each other.

When we come down to octiles or trioctiles (semi-and sesqui-squares), I do approach the “contact school.” That is, I think of octiles and tri-octiles as simply “little squares.” For me, they carry the same implications of differing needs, wants and desires within our own nature which must be faced and integrated, with room for all in our lives. Potential dangers include repression, denial, projection or simply flip-flopping in the life from one to another. I make no real distinction between squares and octiles and tri-octiles. Orb becomes the most important factor. A tight octile or tri-octile is much more significant in the nature and in the life than a wide square.

In terms of fine tuning, it is quite possible that the octile which involves houses or signs sextile one another is slightly easier to integrate than the octile which involves houses or signs semi-sextile each other. Similarly, the tri-octile which involves houses or signs naturally trine represents inner drives that are probably a bit easier to handle than the motivations indicated by a tri-octile involving houses or signs quincunx one another.

Turning to the “soft” aspects, I still consider that the trine indicates inner harmony, these parts of the nature tending to agree, to support and reinforce one another. (Generally, the signs, often the houses in trines are the same element.) The main danger in a trine is OVERDOING. My favorite quote here is from Marilyn Waram of Terrace, B.C., Canada. She notes that trines symbolize agreement and goes on: “...but what if they (the planets in a trine) agree on something illegal!” Fire trines may be TOO confident, extroverted, self-centered (“I want what I want and I want it NOW.”). Earth trines may be too practical, boring, pedantic, careful, etc. Air trines may end up rationalizing and intellectualizing everything—the perpetual observer and commentator on life who refuses to get involved. Water trines may be too psychic, too open on the emotional level, too inward. Of course as long as we do not get carried away with the potentials mirrored by our trines, they point to assets, talents, areas where we tend to have an easy flow.

Sextiles I think of as “mild harmony.” They usually involve compatible elements (earth with water or fire with air), with a potential of backing each other up. Personally, I pay little attention to sextiles unless the orb is very close. However, any sextile is also a quincunx waiting to happen as will be discussed below! Tight sextiles I read (like trines) as inner harmony, likelihood of ease, with less potential of overdoing. Naturally, if the planets involved are square, opposite or quincunx by nature, those issues must still be faced. But the sextile suggests integration will be relatively easy.

I must confess to ignoring semi-sextiles often. I do treat them as a “minor” aspect. The literature is most divided on semi-sextiles, with some categorizing the aspect as “harmonious,” while others opt for “conflict.” There is some validity to both positions. The semi-sextile does involve contact between two signs and houses that are usually adjacent and thus are different elements and qualities. However, adjacent signs and houses do build on one another—like stepping stones, so there is some built-in harmony in the sense of carrying further something we have already been working on. When I use them (if very close), I consider them merely pointing to areas where we have an opportunity to further develop something we have already begun.

The most challenging semi-sextiles are between the eighth and ninth houses and signs and between the twelfth and first houses and signs. There, we not only blend somewhat incompatible elements and qualities, we also cross from an interpersonal focus (eight) to a transpersonal focus (nine) and from a transpersonal focus (twelve) to personal concerns (one). The semi-sextile between the fourth and fifth houses and signs are not so challenging. Letters Four and Five of the astrological alphabet have a lot in common, including a need for love, affection, closeness and usually home and family. Both are emotional. And, although Letter Four is personal in some respect, it is interpersonal in others. Letter Five is definitely interpersonal, so this blend is easier to put together than the other fire/water combinations. Like all fire/water mixtures, however, the individual must balance the extraversion and outward expression of the fire with the introversion and inward searching of the water.

The challenging qualities of the semi-sextile relate to what it has in common with the quincunx: the combining of totally different elements and qualities. Blending diverse motivations and needs is not always easy and we may resort to repression or projection before reaching integration. But the goal is to figure out what our foundation is and then add to it in a constructive fashion.

The most fascinating of aspects is the quincunx. I find this so-called minor aspect the most DYNAMIC of all! Over and over again in current patterns, I have noticed people who do nothing with squares, oppositions, octiles or tri-octiles finally act and change when a quincunx moves into orb. And in the natal chart, clients experience more subjective discomfort in striving to integrate quincunxes than any other “conflict” pattern.

Like most people, I ascribe this to the very different sides of ourselves which we face with a quincunx. The quincunx not only combines two different elements and two different qualities. It also ALWAYS crosses the major thirds of the horoscope: personal, interpersonal and transpersonal. One is inevitably trying to compromise between personal needs and interpersonal desires; personal needs and transpersonal issues or interpersonal concerns and transpersonal yearnings. More than any other aspect, I see people manifesting the inner conflict of the quincunx as: “I CAN’T combine these parts of life. It is just NOT possible.”

Zip Dobyns and others have called the quincunx a Virgo-Scorpio blend or the “closet cleaning aspect.” Virgo symbolizes the need for analysis, discrimination, work, effort and discipline in order to function more effectively in some way. Scorpio denotes the need to know when we are finished, to be able to let go, to be thorough and persevering but release at the appropriate time. It depicts the inner drive for self-control and self-mastery. The quincunx is often associated with changes in the life. Ideally, we make these changes consciously and deliberately, having carefully analyzed our habit patterns, circumstances, attitudes and actions in order to create a more fulfilling life pattern. Otherwise, the changes may come about more unconsciously (often uncomfortably) where we feel “done to” by the world (or other people).

I see the closet cleaning of the quincunx operating in a couple variations. One group includes the people who never clean the closet until forced. These people HATE to throw anything away. They have a packrat personality in handling emotions if not physical possessions as well. Actually, this is maligning packrats, who are known for leaving something of value for everything which they take. The collectors hang onto everything, piling up more and more in the closet. Eventually, the hinges on the closet burst—and piles of old, ignored GARBAGE (also ruled by Scorpio) cascade out—usually onto the newly cleaned living room floor. The person is often shocked at this point: “WHERE did all this garbage come from?” having forgotten that they have been piling it up for months or years.

It is this sort of circumstance that creates the image of the so-called “fated” quality that people ascribe to the quincunx and especially to the yod (or double quincunx). Part of the issue with a quincunx is dealing with deeply rooted emotional needs (Scorpio). Some of these desires are likely to be unconscious. We set up our lives to receive certain desired emotional payoffs. All too often, we dislike the means by which our unconscious obtains those emotional payoffs. Blaming the quincunx or “fate” for our own garbage which we are confronting is analogous to taking a nonstop flight to Seattle and blaming the airlines because they “won’t let me off in San Francisco.”

Perhaps more than any other aspect, I see projection (which to me is very Scorpionic—dealing with our Shadow side by having significant others reflect it back to us) with the quincunx. People set themselves up to be fired, or left by partners, or forced to move, etc. They arrange to make a change, but in such a way that they experience it as outside their personal control all too often. However, if we look at the underlying psychological motivations, it becomes very clear that the individual NEEDS and desires that change (although s/he may resist going for it directly).

One of the themes of closet cleaning is bringing things to the light of day, including digging up unconscious material. (Scorpio rules all hidden things and what we dig to uncover—whether through archaeology or psychotherapy.) It is true that people often experience an influx of garbage in their lives with a quincunx, but it is OUR garbage and we need to deal with it. However, people can also discover BURIED TREASURE with a quincunx! (That may occur literally, but more often in terms of unappreciated or unrecognized talents, abilities, potentials, choices, etc.) The theme of a quincunx is figuring out ways to make our lives function more effectively. That is assisted both by cleaning up the garbage and by utilizing buried treasures.

The second kind of closet cleaner is the one who sells the house rather than clean the closet. Such people take off, move, change, rather than deal with some of their more deeply buried issues. However, if we ignore the closet too long, we merely end up with a new house, open the closet door there and find our old garbage has miraculously teleported to that NEW house and comes pouring out for us to face.

Changes occur OFTEN with quincunxes. The trick is to be sure we are not splitting prematurely without facing, analyzing the issues and finding more efficient solutions for self-mastery. (Selling the house doesn’t work. We still have to clean the closet.) And, we need to be sure we do not resist change too long, continuing to cling to security and status quo, ignoring the growing pile of garbage such as old habit patterns that no longer satisfy our needs. To broadly generalize, strong fire and air types are more prone to the first defense, trying to run away. Earth and water types are more prone to the latter approach, sitting on the accumulating collection. Any of us can learn to face the buried issues, emotions and needs and use our analytical, critical judgment to figure out helpful ways in which to meet our needs more effectively.

There does appear to be a restless quality associated with the quincunx. People with lots of natal quincunxes often go through many changes in their lives. (Depending on how they handle their potential, they may interpret those changes as outwardly-forced or inwardly chosen—or, usually, a mixture.) We are striving to combine two very different parts of life, to blend two very divergent sides of our own nature. People are often tempted to suddenly “take off” in a new direction (like the 150 degree angle) rather than integrate their contradictory needs.

My thanks to Batya Stark, who at the SWAC Conference this year pointed out the inherent instability of the quincunx and yod. Both grand crosses and grand trines are basically stable. That is other planets can come in and join the grand cross or grand trine, but they do not form new configurations. The set-up is stable. However, every quincunx and sextile in a chart is a yod waiting to happen, needing only a single planet added in the right place. So most people will face the challenge of the yod from time to time, whether shown by secondary progressions or transits of major planets. Since everyone born from 1940 through the rest of this century has a sextile between Neptune and Pluto, they can look forward to periodic yods formed with these planets. Also, any yod in a chart can produce two more yods as planets move to form a sextile on either side of the singleton planet at the stem of the yod. The progressed Moon would thus form two new yods and trigger the original one within a matter of months as it moved through the appropriate part of the zodiac.

With all quincunxes and yods, as long as we remember to use our analytical abilities, to deal with our deeper emotional needs, to do a little psyche-shaking, we can transform our attitudes, actions, habits and lives to have more efficient, fulfilling experiences.

We will continue the discussion of aspects involving individual planets in our next issue of The Mutable Dilemma.

Copyright © 1983 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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