Life is a Quincunx

Maritha Pottenger

In my current, overextended lifestyle, there are at least three astrological books I’d like to write (not to mention the romance novel which ten years ago I promised myself I’d do “someday”). With no immediate prospects of a break, I’ve decided to start my book on quincunxes here in The Mutable Dilemma. It is my hope that, some unknown number of issues in the future, I will have a book! Subscribers will get to read it before anyone else.

I believe the quincunx warrants a book of its own. This much-neglected aspect is too often dismissed as “minor”—or ignored altogether. I have found it extremely significant in horoscopes.


I regard the quincunx as THE most challenging of aspects. Most traditional aspects connect planets occupying signs with at least something in common. (Trining signs share an element. Squaring and opposing signs share a quality. Sextiles link signs of compatible elements as do oppositions. Conjunctions share a sign, usually, and often a house.) Semi-sextiles and quincunxes, in contrast, point to two sides of our nature which have nothing in common. The element, quality, sign and house are all different. With the semi-sextile, however, we have the stepping-stone principle. Each sign (and house) builds on the foundation of the one before, so there is some basic harmony and mutual support involved. With the quincunx, we cross the three major sections of the horoscope: personal, interpersonal and transpersonal. Thus, one basic issue—in ANY quincunx—is striving to balance either personal needs, wants and desires with interpersonal intimacy issues; personal needs with transpersonal, larger-scale views and ideas; or interpersonal needs with the broader perspective of the transpersonals.

For example, the 1/8 quincunx pits spontaneous instincts and desires against the impulse to share the sensual, sexual and financial world with another human being (personal versus interpersonal). The 5/10 quincunx may be experienced as love versus work, desire for attention, admiration and applause at odds with a sense of duty, responsibility, and discipline (interpersonal versus transpersonal). The 2/9 quincunx includes the challenge of blending comfort/security/pleasure/ease/beauty needs with freedom/intellectual/looking for truth needs (personal versus transpersonal).

The above reasons help to explain the challenging nature of the quincunx aspect. Many times, people experience the differing drives symbolized by the quincunx as incompatible: “I CAN’T combine these parts of life. It is just not possible.” And yet, integration is exactly what is being called for!


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 sides of life, to blend two very divergent parts 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. A well-known example is Jerry Brown. Trained for the priesthood, he ended up becoming governor of California. After a controversial term as governor, plagued by the Medfly furor and other issues, Jerry Brown ran for the Senate (against Pete Wilson) in 1982; Brown lost. Since then he has made yet another major shift in life, becoming interested in the work of Mother Teresa.

Jerry Brown’s natal chart reflects these issues nicely. Both planets involved with the quest for answers and search for God (Jupiter and Neptune) are making quincunxes: Neptune in the 2nd in Virgo quincunxes the Sun in Aries in the 9th while Jupiter in the 7th in Aquarius quincunxes the midpoint of his wide Moon/Pluto conjunction in the 12th in Cancer. (Jupiter is 4 degrees and 6 minutes from the quincunx to the Moon, 3 degrees and 26 minutes from the quincunx to Pluto.) Thus, both planets and both houses connected to the quest for the Absolute are involved with quincunxes for Brown. To provide further icing on the cake, he has two quincunxes from the sign Sagittarius (our third form of Letter 9’s quest for religion/philosophy/ultimate answers): Vesta in the 5th quincunxes Mercury in the 10th in Taurus while Juno also quincunxes Uranus (and more widely Mars) from the 5th in Sagittarius to the 10th in Taurus. The final exclamation point is provided by Chiron (which we read as primarily Letter 9, with overtones of Letter 11). Chiron is ALSO in a quincunx: from the 11th house in Gemini to the North Node in the 4th in Scorpio (1 degree, 16 minutes of orb). We see the need to fit in the spiritual at every turn, and the potential of Brown’s spiritual aspirations pulling him away from other activities—-if not integrated. (The Juno quincunxes to Uranus and, widely, to Mars nicely reflect the issues around intimacy for the still-bachelor Brown with the asteroid of marriage at odds with two freedom planets. The quincunx between Chiron, calling for the intellect, freedom and transpersonal involvement and the domestic, intimacy-oriented Scorpio Node in the 4th again suggests the tendency to feel a choice must be made between service to the world and searching for the truth versus establishing a home, family and close, emotional partnership. The 5th house quincunxes to the 10th also repeat love versus work issues.)

Jerry Brown’s chart emphasizes the pull between the ideal/spiritual/ethical/religious side of life versus work/reality/practicality in another way. Patterns which hold, in secondary progressions, for years and years of the life are indicative of important, central issues in the character. For Brown, there is a long-term quincunx between Chiron (spiritual/idealistic/intellectual) and retrograde Vesta (practical/grounded/sensible).

As we would suspect, quincunxes also appear in the progressions for when Brown lost his bid for the U.S. Senate. The progressed Ascendant (self) was quincunx (separating from) his natal Saturn/Ceres conjunction (work/professional role). Progressed Mercury in the 10th had moved to within a one-degree orb of the Vesta in the 5th (again suggesting possible career changes with Vesta at one end and the 10th house at the other). There was a yod (double quincunx) present with the progressed North Node (emotional security needs) in Scorpio (intimacy needs) in the 4th (desire for emotional closeness) quincunxing progressed Ceres (work) in Aries (self-expression) in the 10th (career) as well as natal Chiron (intellect/spiritual needs) in Gemini (mind/communication) in the 11th (freedom/intellect/legislative bodies). And, of course, there was the long-term Chiron quincunx Vesta mentioned above. (Naturally there were other appropriate aspects (such as progressed Mars square natal Neptune—his idealism was still an issue, contributing to his image as a sometimes-flake), but I am only listing quincunxes as that is our concern here. There were certainly enough to suggest a fork in the road as far as his path in life.


Yet not everyone goes in and out with quincunxes. Some people appear obsessed in an area which a quincunx highlights. They exhibit almost a driven, compulsive quality in that area of life. Brown is reputed to have meditated five hours a day, to be incredibly disciplined and focused. It appears the 10th house stellium (self-discipline, productivity, need to get the job done, potential workaholic) won out despite the two freedom planets involved (Mars and Uranus), the sign Taurus (often laid-back) and the quincunx to the two asteroids in Sagittarius. (Of course, Vesta in Sagittarius, Saturn in the 9th, and Ceres in the 9th can turn work into god—among several other options—another key to the potential workaholic.)


However, changes do occur OFTEN with quincunxes. 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 and tri-octiles in the charts. Then, a quincunx or yod moves into orb, and the individual finally acts (or feels forced to act).

Ideally, we make the changes associated with quincunxes 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 subconsciously (often uncomfortably) where we feel “done to” by the world (or other people). The goal of any quincunx is to harmonize very different needs and drives within our nature. We need to determine what should be fixed to make it more effective, what is worth saving, and what is no longer helpful (garbage) and should be thrown away.


Some astrologers use “adjustment” as a key word for the quincunx, but “adjustment” is a nice, general term which does not give people much an idea of what to do, and also tends to imply that life is forcing one to adjust. The “adjustments” to which quincunxes are a timing key have to do with careful analysis, useful self-transformation, winnowing out the wheat from the chaff and generally distinguishing what is useful in the life (and worth retaining) and what needs to be altered, improved or thrown away.


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. It points to a need for self-improvement. 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. If carried to an uncomfortable extreme, Scorpio can be compulsive and much too retentive. Scorpio depicts the inner drive for self-control and self-mastery.

I see the closet cleaning of the quincunx operating in a couple of 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. This is just as true on an emotional level as on a physical one. The longer we avoid facing issues and emotions, the more the internal pile-up and the potential of an explosion of “garbage”—which may be an emotional outburst, repression hitting the physical body with illness, or the buried drives being expressed in ways we would not consciously choose and which we find uncomfortable.


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. The psyche strives for balance. Buried drives do NOT go away; the unconscious seeks some way in which to incorporate them into our lives. All too often, we dislike the means by which our unconscious includes issues we have been repressing and avoiding. 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 airline because they “won’t let me off in San Francisco.”

Take, for example, the individual who is holding down a job that she feels is very boring, routine, uninteresting and not at all challenging. The person feels this work is beneath her and resents being there, but is afraid to leave because of security reasons. She may lack the faith that she could find anything better, so stays in a position which she detests and feels confined and hemmed in. One possible result is that the resentment and anger could lead to minor accidents, breaking out and breaking free. Another option is headaches which can be a form of blocked anger. It is also quite possible that the individual could end up coming to work late a lot, or being a bit sloppy about her responsibilities (NOT consciously or deliberately) until she ends up being fired—and HAVING to find a new job. Hopefully, she then gets work she can LIKE and find challenging or exciting. If not, she is likely to repeat the above pattern. The desire for freedom and stimulation has to be satisfied somewhere. If we do not deal with it deliberately and consciously, the unconscious will find a way to incorporate it into our lives regardless. When we lock ourselves into a situation we detest, we are setting ourselves up for trouble sooner or later. Far better to either change the situation—or find something we CAN like and enjoy about where we are!


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.

To broadly generalize, strong fire and air types are more prone to trying to run away. Strong earth and water types are more prone to sitting on the accumulating collection. Any of us can learn to face the buried issues, emotions and needs and to use our analytical, critical judgment to figure out helpful ways in which to meet our needs most effectively.

The challenge is to be sure we are not splitting prematurely without facing and analyzing the issues, without finding more efficient solutions for self-mastery. (Selling the house does not 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 the status quo, ignoring the growing pile of garbage, such as old habit patterns which no longer serve a useful, productive purpose in our lives.


Perhaps more than any aspect, I see projection—dealing with our Shadow side by having significant others reflect it back to us (very Scorpionic)—with the quincunx. People set themselves up to be fired, or left by partners, or forced to move, etc. They unconsciously arrange to make a change, but in such a way, all too often, that they experience it as outside of their personal control. 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 not be consciously aware of that drive). When the 7th or 8th houses are involved with a quincunx, projection is even more likely.

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! (This may occur literally, but more often is achieved in terms of uncovering 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.


Within the two broad categories of possible closet cleaners (packrats versus runaways) are many variations. Let’s look at a hypothetical family to illustrate some of the options. Suppose this family shares a theme of Letter 1 quincunx Letter 8 (whether Mars/Pluto, 1st house/8th house, or Aries/Scorpio). One possible issue is dealing with anger and aggression.

Dad is a very physical, assertive man. He is impulsive and quick to anger, but also quick to get over it. If he is irritated, everyone knows right away. One thing that “makes” Dad angry, however, is for his wife or kids to “sass” him. He is very intolerant of anger in others and tends to resent seeing his family express anger.

Mother is very quiet and self-contained. She says she is never angry and believes people should control themselves. Her family sometimes notices an edge to her voice which “makes” them wince. Occasionally, when a family member has been particularly exasperating, Mother will let fly with a verbal “zinger” that floors the other person. She always has a rationale, however, and denies that rage has anything to do with what happened.

Oldest Brother was known, when younger, for having a temper “just like his father.” The family claims Oldest Brother “outgrew” his temper. He has not directly expressed anger in the family for 8 years. He gets awful migraine headaches.

Oldest Sister is unpredictable. Sometimes she is free, open and expressive with her anger. Other times she is sullen, resentful, brooding and volcanic. She is identified as “moody” and does not seem to have any control over these abrupt switches.

Youngest Brother was a very “good child.” He never seemed to get angry. Now that he has entered his teens, he has become “wild” and is “mouthing off” and “talking back” a lot. Yet other times he just laughs insults off. Sometimes the family members get the feeling he is playing games with them.

Younger Sister is varied in her behavior. She is willing to confront issues immediately and does not seem afraid of being angry or listening to someone else who is angry. Yet there are times when she clearly controls her anger and does not get into a battle with other family members. The rest of her family marvels at her “luck” because her expressions of anger generally lead to positive resolutions of situations.

In this family, we see illustrated the following quincunx options:

1) Repression of one end of the quincunx and overdevelopment of the other end. (Father is overdoing Letter 1. Mother is overdoing Letter 8.)

2) Repression of one end of a quincunx leading to physical illness. (Oldest Brother is our candidate.)

3) Projection of the disowned end of a quincunx. (Mother and father have a lovely folie a deux with mutual projection.)

4) Overdoing one end of a quincunx without real awareness of alternatives, then a switch to overdoing the other end. (Oldest Brother and Sister both demonstrate this, although with very different time tables.)

5) Experimenting with each end of the quincunx, trying out different roles. (Youngest Brother seems a likely bet here.)

6) Relative integration—able to express each end of the quincunx, relatively positively, in the appropriate time and place. (My vote goes to Little Sister.)

In this example, only the younger generation appears to have done any analysis or discrimination. The elders are stuck in compulsive, uncomfortable behavior patterns and have yet to discover alternative ways of being. If they ever open their minds and hearts to other possibilities they could discover a veritable treasure trove in the capacity to use anger wisely and well—neither too much nor too little.

It is important to remember that ALL members of this imaginary family have the option to change at any moment. Though all share the 1 versus 8 theme, each expresses it in his/her own unique way. And each one could choose, at any time, to try another pathway of expression. It is also extremely likely that the level of integration among the family will vary considerably on other 1/8 issues. The older generation, for example, might be more integrated than the younger, in terms of handling sexual issues (also tied to both Letter 1 and Letter 8). The horoscope will NOT tell us who is doing what (in exact detail), as that can change over time. But the horoscope will identify important issues for us, giving us all more knowledge and the potential of selecting more fulfilling options from amongst our choices.


Quincunxes occur not only as actual aspects, but many planet/house or planet/sign combinations have the theme of a “natural” quincunx—and face the challenge of integrating two very different drives. A “natural” quincunx is present with any combination of letters of the astrological alphabet which have a difference of 5 or 7. Thus, the following are all quincunxes of a sort, whether depicted in terms of planetary combinations, signs, houses, or a mixture of the three: 1/6, 1/8, 2/7, 2/9, 3/8, 3/10, 4/9, 4/11, 5/10, 5/12, 6/11 and 7/12.

The more times a chart repeats a given theme (including a quincunx theme), the more significant that theme is—the more central in the nature of the individual depicted. However, there are subtle shadings of differences between a conjunction which is a “natural” quincunx (e.g., Moon conjunct Jupiter), versus an actual quincunx, versus a planet/house (Moon in the 9th or Jupiter in the 4th), planet/sign (Moon in Sagittarius or Jupiter in Cancer) or house/sign (Cancer in the 9th or Sagittarius in the 4th house) combination which makes a “natural” quincunx.

The general rule of thumb is that planets and aspects are the most dynamic. They show where the action is. That action may be further described by the house and sign placements, but planets and aspects are the major descriptors of DOING something in life. Thus, the Moon/Jupiter quincunx carries a far greater potential for the person feeling torn between staying at home and going on the road (and other 4/9 conflicts) than do any of the planet/house/sign combinations. This is because an actual quincunx involves two planets, and the planets are the power centers in a horoscope. With the Moon/Jupiter quincunx, the individual is likely to leave home to explore the world at some point—or give up wandering the world in order to establish a nest. The individual is likely to take chances (hoping for a big pay-off) that risk emotional or physical security—or give up on grand schemes and dreams in order to protect what s/he already has. Mother figures may be at odds with in-laws or grandchildren. Church duties or spiritual ideals may take away from family security or comfort—or the person may give up on vital religious quests in order to establish a family.

The point is that with a quincunx, the person will make changes. The individual will DO something. Generally the individual will, sooner or later, live out both ends of the quincunx. Whether that is done comfortably, in an integrated, balanced manner, or whether it is done with tension, projection, flip-flops or less satisfying expressions, the person in some way faces both sides of the 150 degree angle.

How does the quincunx then vary from the square or opposition? It is a matter of very subtle shading or degree. The opposition is most apt to be expressed in a seesaw manner: the person first expresses one end of the opposition (often to excess), then the other end. After this experience, it is relatively easy for the person to recognize the natural partnership inherent in an opposition and find the middle point of doing some of each, in an appropriate, fulfilling manner. It is also common, with an opposition, that the person will attract someone else to express one end of the opposition, until the two people can learn together to share the themes.

Generally, there is more conscious awareness with an opposition than with a quincunx. (Remember, however, that air is the element of conscious awareness. The more air in a combination, in general, the more potential awareness. This will outweigh the nature of the aspects involved.) The two sides of an opposition tend to be polarized and are more easily identifiable in the case of an opposition. They also are natural partners, so it is somewhat simple to compromise (a little bit of each) or to take turns with them. Recall that the signs involved in an opposition (and often the houses as well) have much in common. They will usually be air and fire or earth and water—compatible elements. In addition, the signs (and often houses) tend to have the same quality (cardinal, fixed or mutable). An opposition involving planets which are “naturally” quincunx one another, however, carries within it the inherent “hard-to-put-together” themes of the quincunx. It is slightly more work to integrate than an opposition which involves planets naturally opposite each other. And the latter is slightly more work than an opposition involving planets naturally in harmony with one another.

With the square, there is slightly more work to do than with the opposition. It is easy to deny or repress one corner of a square (with physical illness the ultimate result, if carried on for too long). It is also possible to project one corner, attracting other people who express those qualities to an excessive degree. Recall that repression becomes more likely the more water is present in the picture, and projection is most likely when the 7th and 8th houses are involved, but possible in many other circumstances as well. The challenge of all conflict aspects remains: to be able to take turns, expressing each side at its appropriate time and place, or to be moderate—doing a little bit of each. There is slightly more awareness likely with the square. People are a bit more inclined to recognize the issues and know what it is they are trying to balance. With the quincunx, individuals are a bit more likely to only recognize one side at a time (denying the other or projecting it) or to feel that they can only HAVE one side or the other—interpreting the situation as a forced choice, rather than believing there is room in life for all (contributing to the traditional quincunx definition of “adjustment” which implies life is somehow coercing us with a quincunx).

Unlike aspects, the planet/house/sign combinations are less intense. They can be avoided longer. (We get away with not cleaning the closet, or with splitting the scene for a longer period of time.) We are less likely to unconsciously arrange changes in the life structure when aspects are not a part of the picture.

Planet/house/sign combinations are all variations on the themes of a conjunction: in some way, the individual is blending these two or more parts of life. Of course, the blend may be a healthy balance of the two or more drives—or it could be one overdone at the expense of the others. The levels of intensity involved go (from highest to lowest): planet/house; planet/sign; house/sign.

Returning to the 4/9 example, if all other factors are equal in a chart, Moon in the 9th is more likely to find emotional security through religion, travel, adventures or horizon-expanding activities; take the home onto the road (a trailer) or into the world (sometimes including a home in another country); find a sense of emotional connectedness through spiritual quests; or seek security through education, while Jupiter in the 4th is more likely to value home, family, domestic activities and emotional security and safety; place one’s faith in family or mother; bring the world into the home (through books, interesting people, etc.) or believe in unconditional love. Both placements have the “natural” quincunx issues of: home versus adventure, security versus risk, roots versus spiritual aspirations, human support versus cosmic answers, nurturance versus faith and other tensions associated with 4 versus 9. But people are more likely to be making SOME kind of blend or combination when they have a “natural” quincunx, while they are more likely to create changes (or unconsciously attract them) when they have an actual quincunx by aspect. Remember, too, with the “natural” quincunxes, that the planet outweighs the house and the house outweighs the sign.

In the next issue of The Mutable Dilemma we will take up one of the twelve quincunx pairs in detail.


Since the yod (or “double quincunx”) involves THREE planets rather than only two, we would expect its issues to be even MORE intense. Again, the potential of action, of feeling torn (between at least three possibilities) or of feeling a “forced choice” situation all exist.

I am indebted to Batya Stark for pointing out that every quincunx and every sextile in the chart is a yod waiting to happen, needing only a single planet added in the right place. Any yod in a chart can produce two other yods as planets move to form a sextile on either side of the singleton planet at the stem of the yod. So most people will face the challenge of the yod from time to time, whether shown by secondary progressions, transits, or other forms of current patterns. Since everyone born from around 1940 through the rest of this century has a sextile between Neptune and Pluto, we can look forward to periodic yods formed with these planets.

It is interesting to me that this sextile involves two of our three water planets, pointing to issues around union and oneness. I believe that a major challenge of our times is to truly comprehend (on an emotional as well as on an intellectual level) that we are all ONE. It is the perception of separateness that leads to many of our current challenges: racism, sexism and nationalism to name just a few. The Pluto/Neptune sextile points to potential harmony, and easy blending, between our intimacy needs/desire to merge and share with a mate and our quest for infinite love and beauty/urge to reexperience Oneness with All That Is. Perhaps spiritual experiences make the commitment of intimacy easier for us. Perhaps a deep, caring commitment to another human being helps us to find a sense of faith and purpose in life.

The fact that transits and progressions will regularly form yods with the Neptune/Pluto sextile reiterates that we are working on integrating these watery drives with the rest of life. We are learning to give and receive and share pleasures/possessions/money and the resources of spaceship Earth with others (Pluto). We are seeking ways to reconnect to the Source, reaffirm our gut-level faith, trust in a Higher Power and KNOW (without words) that we are all ONE (Neptune).

Until humanity integrates the issues symbolized by these planets, we will see the less-positive manifestations of their drives: power plays, debts, death, destruction, abuse and sexual struggles/diseases (Pluto) along with escapist drugs, mysterious illnesses, deceptions, illusions, fantasy and false idols (Neptune). Individuals who have largely integrated these issues in their lives will experience the more positive examples of what Pluto and Neptune symbolize: deep, intense intimacy, commitment and fidelity, personality transformation, mutual economic support and passionately satisfying sexual bonding (Pluto) as well as inspired art, natural healing (emotional/physical/spiritual), compassion, assistance, mystical experiences, higher consciousness and spiritual uplift (Neptune). The universe clearly reflects and reveals our issues and options.

With any quincunxes or 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 and habits to make our lives more efficient, improve our possibilities, and utilize all our buried treasures. Live long and prosper!

Copyright © 1987 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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