Aspects: Part 7 of 12
In this series we have looked at the signs of the zodiac and the planets; now we will look further into the nature of their interaction. Aspects describe the geometry of the interrelationships within the wheel – they are natural exchanges of energy or force within the zodiac and among the planets.
To begin to find and understand aspects in the chart, we will be looking at the division of the 360° wheel, at the relationships between the signs of the zodiac around the wheel. We want to start with a clear picture of the aspect and its meaning. Although aspects are most potently formed between planets, it is their geometric quality that gives meaning, and these qualities are easiest to see when looking at the relationship between the signs of the zodiac. If we have a clear picture of the nature of the square, for example, it is not difficult to eventually add the dynamic quality of the planets involved. If we understand the energetics of the square, and we have a sense of what Mars and Venus are like, we can begin to imagine how Mars square Venus might manifest.
Since aspects describe geometries that exist in space, they are also formed among all points in the chart besides the dynamic focus of the planets, i.e., angles, midpoints, house cusps, nodes, Arabian parts, etc. If we understand the nature of the aspects, we can then allow them a broad range of application.
When looking at a chart, we are seeing on a flat surface a picture of the celestial sphere, and the aspects in a chart are sometimes drawn as a series of lines connecting the planets. This can be a very useful visual aid, although it is good to remember that we are looking at a flat depiction of a complex and dynamic interrelationship. (Always a question for the astrologer – how does this picture of symbols come alive?)
There are so-called major and minor aspects. Here we will concern ourselves with some of the major aspects because they are the most commonly used and the easiest to see in a chart.
Aspects have traditionally been divided into the harmonious (or easy) and inharmonious (or difficult). I mention this so that you are familiar with the terms, however, your study of astrology will be enhanced if you keep a very open mind as to what is meant by easy or difficult. While it is certainly true that the harmonious aspects describe an ease of exchange, and the inharmonious aspects can be experienced as stressful, no progress can be made without the creative tension provided by the difficult aspects. All growing and striving human beings need life challenges (articulated by the hard aspects) as well as the seeming grace of the flowing aspects.
Aspects are measured in degrees of longitude around the ecliptic. They are derived through the division of the wheel by different numbers. The first aspect, the conjunction, represents the wheel divided by one, that is, when two planets are in the same degree of longitude and therefore occupying the same place in the zodiac. The conjunction is perhaps the most powerful aspect and may be seen as analogous in meaning to the New Moon, which occurs every month when the Sun and Moon come together. In the conjunction, there is a melding of the two – they act together in the sky, as well as in the innermost being. There is a quality of great intimacy in the conjunction; the planets, and therefore the functions they represent in the psyche, act as one. (There is also a quality of freshness or birthing with the conjunction, although that is also dependent on whether the aspect is applying or separating, and that is too complex to investigate here.) The sign and house position where the conjunction occurs will have great significance as well. There may be more than two planets involved in the conjunction as well as in any aspect, but to keep it simple, let us first grasp the key pattern – in this case, the merging into one.
When we divide the circle by two, we have the opposition. This is when planets are 180° apart on the wheel or on opposite sides of the zodiac. (Within the 12 signs of the zodiac, we really have 6 pairs of oppositions, i.e., Aries/Libra, Taurus/Scorpio, Gemini/Sagittarius, Cancer/Capricorn, Leo/Aquarius, and Virgo/Pisces.) At the time of the Full Moon we have an opposition between the Sun and Moon. At the Full Moon we can see at night, and the opposition brings the capacity for objective awareness. Planets involved in opposition aspect tend to reflect off of one another, to mirror one another. There is a strong polarity inherent in this aspect, a strong magnetism of attracting and repelling; the planets are as far apart as they can be and they must compromise and work with one another, different though they appear to be. We become aware of others through the opposition aspect, and this aspect has a great deal to do with our relationships. As a young astrologer, I remember a teacher saying that when we are ready to make headway in this life, we are ready to work with our oppositions.
The trine aspect is created by dividing 360 by 3. Planets in trine to one another are 120° apart and are usually in signs of the same element. The fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) are in trine aspect to each other as are all signs of the same element, i.e., air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius); Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn); and water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces). The nature of the trine is one of ease; there is a flowing exchange inherent in the trine aspect, which is easy to understand when we consider that the element is (usually) the same. Planets in the same element (or 120° apart) work well together; there is a resonant quality when planets are in trine aspect. If we drew the lines of the trine onto a chart, we would see a perfect triangle, an image long associated with harmony and receptivity. Trines between planets may indicate gifts, natural talents, rapport and support between the functions of whichever planets are involved.
A square aspect occurs when the circle of the zodiac is divided by 4, which is an aspect of 90°. Planets in square aspect are usually in different elements (i.e., fire, Aries, and water, Cancer; or Earth, Taurus, and air, Aquarius), so there is an aspect of inherent tension. The friction or tension felt in the square tends to be internal; the objectivity or outward pull of the opposition is not present in the square, whose energy is contained within the psyche. Planets in square aspect point to dynamic energies operating within the individual or situation that must find release. There is a necessity to face the issues symbolized by the planets in square aspect – their presence forces us to face challenges within ourselves and gives us the strength to overcome seeming difficulties. The squares in the horoscope show the areas of tension or struggle in the life and also show us the tools needed to develop ourselves. Planets in square aspect are in the same quality, i.e., cardinal signs are square one another (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn); fixed signs are square one another (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius); mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) are also in square aspect to each other. If lines are drawn on the chart joining signs of the same quality, we will see a square configuration. (Is that a building block?)
The last of the aspects that we have space to address here is the sextile, which is formed by dividing the wheel by 6, giving us an aspect of 60°. The sextile aspect links signs of complementary element, i.e., Earth and water and fire and air. Signs that are in sextile aspect to each other are Capricorn/Pisces, Leo/Gemini, Aquarius/Aries, etc. The signs (or planets) joined by sextile aspect have a promising relationship between them, and the aspect indicates a favorable interaction that we must act on to fully benefit from. This is a different quality from the trine, which tends to operate smoothly without consciousness on our part. If we draw lines joining all the sextiles in the wheel, we will see a hexagon.
Some of the other aspects used by astrologers are: the quintile, which divides the wheel by 5 and therefore contains 72°; the semi-square of 45° or a division by 8; the quincunx, or inconjunct, which is 150° and midway between the trine and opposition. These are all so-called minor, or less commonly used, aspects.
The subjects of orbs and applying, separating, and dissociate aspects are beyond the scope of this article but are very important to understand. Start, however with gaining an understanding of the major aspects. A good way to familiarize yourself with them is to take a blank chart wheel and place the signs of the zodiac around the wheel. Use colored pencils to join the signs that are trine, square, sextile, and opposite to one another. (Use blue for trines, red for squares, etc.) As you draw the connecting lines, you will see the different geometries emerge and you'll learn a great deal! Drawing aspect lines on a copy of your own chart or any others that you are looking at can be a good study guide as well.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY
Alan Oken, Complete Astrology; Bantam, 1988.
Bil Tierney, Dynamics of Aspect Analysis; CRCS, 1983.
Sue Tompkins, Aspects in Astrology; Element Books, 1989.
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