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The Cluster Effect: When Planetary Triggers Converge

This blog has been excerpted from the author’s latest book StarGates: Essays on Astrology, Symbolism, and the Synchronistic Universe.

In October 1991 a confluence of three weather systems occurred off the coast of Nova Scotia which was so violent it produced waves over 100 feet high, resulting in the deaths of over a dozen people. It was such a rare convergence of forces that meteorologists came to call it “the perfect storm,” with the event eventually becoming immortalized in Sebastian Junger’s 1991 book of the same name, and later, a 2000 film starring George Clooney and Mark Walberg.

As astrologers, we carefully chart the celestial “weather” at any given time, and it goes without saying that some periods are more highly charged, active, or turbulent than others — astrological “perfect storms,” you might say. One of several possible reasons for this is that multiple planetary or zodiacal triggers will sometimes converge to pool their energies around the same time, leading to what I’ve sometimes called a “cluster” effect.

Over the years I’ve found such clustering times can be hugely significant factors in our lives, for better or worse. A simple example would be my client whose chart showed a Mars return firing on the exact same day as transiting Uranus squaring his Sun, with both of those happening near a Full Moon. Since this took place shortly before he came to me, I naturally asked if anything significant happened around that time. He said he had a huge blow-up with his boss at that point, which in turn led to him getting fired — hence his reason for looking to an astrologer to get some explanation as to what happened. It was a perfect storm of stressful planetary triggers, that was obvious, and I’d like to believe that knowing about it in advance might have helped him cope with those turbulent energies better than he actually did.

Another example of clustering involved a female client of mine whose horoscope showed transiting Saturn coming up to conjunct her natal Moon within two days of her progressed Moon squaring her natal Saturn. There was no way to know for sure what that would bring, but I could at least let her know this could be an emotionally challenging time and would most likely somehow involve her home or family. It turned out that her mother fell gravely ill that week and had to be rushed to the hospital, where she passed away several days later. While knowing those astrological triggers ahead of time certainly didn’t erase the pain of losing her mother, it at least helped her emotionally brace for what was coming, rather than simply feeling sucker-punched by fate.

To be sure, the cluster effect isn’t always a negative thing — a proverbial clusterf*%k, as some call it. Take the case of my friend who experienced Jupiter trining his natal Venus just as a progressed Venus trined his natal Jupiter. What happened? That was exactly when he was in Las Vegas making a killing at the gambling tables! It was a “perfect storm,” all right, but one involving quite pleasant forces coming together.

Another example of “positive” clustering was my client who had Uranus trining his 10th house Sun precisely as Jupiter was crossing over his Midheaven. It was then that he landed a plum job as a news anchor for a local news station. Clusters like these can be approached as windows of opportunity we can take advantage of, and maximize to their fullest potentials, if we put our mind to it.

Clusters We All Share

The point here is that in all these cases it wasn’t just a single celestial trigger involved but multiple factors occurring around the same time, which combined to trigger significant life changes. In a more general way, it’s much the same principle during those times in all our lives when similar transits converge at similar ages.

One of the most notable of these occurs between the ages of 20 and 22 when we all experience a combination of Uranus squaring its natal position, and Saturn squaring its natal position too. This famously causes considerable tension for many, as it is a time when we’re trying to reconcile the urge to break free and “find ourselves” with the heavy weight of parental conditioning and youthful insecurities.

Another well-known cluster occurs between the ages of 27 and 30 when all of us experience the combined effects of our first progressed lunar return followed shortly by our first Saturn return, as well as transiting Uranus trining its natal position and Neptune sextiling its natal position. This is generally a time of intense personal reflection and re-evaluation, and often involves a struggle between contrasting feelings of aspiration and disillusion. As one friend of mine put it, “This was when I had to grow up, and realized I had to start acting like an adult.” Although some use the energies of this time to their professional or creative advantage, others find it a bit more than they can really handle — something sadly illustrated by the early deaths of so many rock and pop stars around this age, such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain, among others. It’s a formative time for many, but not always a very comfortable one.

Another such clustering takes place during our early to mid 40s, when we experience a major convergence of slow-moving transits which include Uranus opposing natal Uranus, Saturn opposing natal Saturn, and Neptune squaring natal Neptune. As with our previous clusters, the cumulative power of this one makes the early 40s a particularly vulnerable time for some, one often associated with the dreaded “mid-life crisis” when we become more aware of fading youth alongside the looming specter of old(er) age. Similar to those earlier transition points, one may feel torn between the growing urge to “find oneself” and the obligation to deal with responsibilities and existing routines. In my own case, this was a time of extraordinarily mixed emotions, since I was struggling with the need to break free of problematic situations in my professional and personal life exactly as I was experiencing some important creative breakthroughs as well. (Among other things, this was when my first book was published.)

Especially notable are those times when such “universal” clusterings coincide with other major transits or progressions in one’s chart, as if to suggest particularly significant transition points in life. Just a week before starting this article, for instance, I had a woman in her early 40s come to me who was undergoing the abovementioned cluster of Uranian, Neptunian, and Saturnian energies, on top of which she was also contending with such heavy-hitter transits as the recent Pluto–Saturn conjunction sitting exactly on her Midheaven, which was in turn closely squaring her Sun — in addition to which transiting Uranus was conjunct her Taurus Ascendant. Now, that’s a full plate!

What happened? She had been a psychologist teaching at a university who became so frustrated by the politics and bureaucratic machinations of her department that she finally resigned, which sent her into an occupational freefall that had her wondering what her next step would be. Fortunately, her natal chart showed some harmonious and constructive aspects between some of those same planets (in particular, she had a tight natal trine between Saturn and the Sun), so I suggested this period was really about a radical reconstruction of her life, a professional “course correction” she could use to regroup and reconnect with the core dreams and creative aspirations that motivated her earlier in life. In addition to having dreamt of being a writer when she was young, she had recently begun thinking of starting her own business. Her new occupational status was giving her an opportunity to seriously consider both those options.

The Cluster Effect in Mundane Affairs

It’s also worth recalling the way this clustering phenomenon manifests on the collective level, too, where we find it at work behind some important historic developments. A dramatic example of that took place during the first week of February 1962 when a rare stellium of seven celestial bodies in the (tropical) Aquarius coincided precisely with a total solar eclipse in that sign. As I mentioned earlier in this book, the full significance of stelliums is rarely felt at the exact time of their occurrence, and can then exert powerful ripple effects for weeks, months, sometimes even decades afterwards. While there were some important political developments during that period — most notably a particularly tense stand-off between the US and Russia later that year with the Cuban Missile Crisis — it inaugurated a particularly fertile time in the arts. Not only did Bob Dylan release his first album just a few weeks later, but the next few months saw the Rolling Stones play their first live show, the Beatles record their first record (Love Me Do), and the Beach Boys signing their hugely successful contract with Capitol Records.

Another extraordinary confluence of energies which I mentioned previously occurred in 1941, during the last few days of April and the first few days of May. Not only did Uranus exactly conjunct Jupiter — a combination frequently associated with cultural breakthroughs — but both planets exactly trined Neptune right then, and all of this happened in connection with a powerhouse stellium in Taurus involving the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus. Now, that’s a cluster! As it so happened, May 1st saw the world premiere of a film often called the greatest in movie history, Citizen Kane, and musical icon Bob Dylan was born just three weeks later.

Another potent form of “clustering” on the mundane level occurs when two or more planets become stationary and change directions close to one another. As I discussed in my essay “Tectonic Triggers,” station points aren’t simply a matter of planets changing directions, but about the energies of those planets becoming exponentially amplified at such times, due to the “branding iron” effect of them being relatively motionless for so long.

One example of that took place in the spring of 1967. The Beatles’s album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is widely considered one of that decade’s cultural milestones and was formally released on May 26th of that year. On several occasions I’ve seen astrologers trying to understand the significance of this album by erecting a horoscope for that one day. But what that type of “snapshot” approach to historic events overlooks is the fact that this album came out in the midst of a triple station of Uranus, Pluto, and Mars — the first two of those planets being widely regarded as those bodies most responsible for the revolutionary winds of change which swept through that decade. Mars was stationing direct on May 26, Uranus on May 28, and Pluto on May 29. Mundane astrologers often look to the exact conjunction of those last two bodies in 1965 and 1966 as the primary dates of their influence; but I’d suggest that the proximity of those stations in late May of 1967 virtually constitutes another “conjunction” — a “stationary conjunction” of sorts — exerting much the same effect. (It’s also worth noting that musician Noel Gallagher was born on May 29th that year and went on to front the English rock group Oasis, a band hailed by some fans and critics at the time as the “musical heirs to the Beatles.” A passing of the archetypal torch?)

A more tragic example of clustered station points happened in July 2014, when Saturn and Uranus changed directions slightly more than 24-hours of one another: Saturn stationed direct on July 20th, and Uranus stationed retrograde on July 21st. Over the years I’ve found these two planets to be particularly involved with notable aviation disasters, including the deadliest one in history: the 1977 Tenerife disaster in the Canary Islands. That tragedy occurred on March 27th when two passenger jets collided on a runway and 583 men, women, and children perished. This happened as Saturn and Uranus were in within a degree of the exact square of February 23rd. It all led me to wonder if we might also see some similar aviation problems in July 2014, since these two planets would be amplified to an extraordinary degree then.

As it turned out, the few days surrounding that double station witnessed several aviation tragedies: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers; two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down; a Taiwanese jet crashed; and an Algerian passenger jet went missing — four aviation disasters, all within just a few days. But that’s not all: the Israeli–Palestinian conflict heated up dramatically at that point, and due to rising tensions between Russia and the U.S. at the time some media commentators started comparing the events of that week to those which ignited World War I. For me, one of the key takeaways from events like these is that joint stations can be interpreted in much the same way as conjunctions involving those same bodies.

A remarkable cluster occurred recently during the second week of January 2020, when several powerful triggers converged close to one another. In addition to the epic Saturn–Pluto conjunction astrologers had been speculating about for years, there was a Full Moon eclipse, a Uranus station, and even a retrograde station of the dwarf planet Eris — all within just a 48-hour period. So, what happened?

Keeping in mind that it’s important to examine the days, weeks, or even months surrounding any major cluster, there are quite a few things worth noting here. This period saw the heating up of Donald Trump’s impeachment problems as the formal Senate trial of the President began just over a week later, on January 21st. This was also an exceptionally tense time for international relations, with America stepping close to the brink of world war after Trump assassinated Iranian general Soleimani on January 3rd and Iran responded on January 8th by sending missiles against a US military base in Iraq. Hours after that attack, a Ukrainian jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport, killing all 176 passengers. During this period there were also major earthquakes in Puerto Rico and Iran, as well as volcanic eruptions in the Philippines, Japan, and Mexico. In the days immediately leading up to this cluster the British royal family was rocked by news of Prince Harry and wife Megan Markle’s decision to relinquish their royal duties to pursue a life of greater self-determination; while that may be of little consequence to non-British subjects, it symbolically represented yet another break with the traditional order of things in terms of global affairs.

But perhaps most significant of all, in the weeks immediately following this cluster, media outlets started broadcasting news of a deadly strain of coronavirus out of Wuhan, China, which apparently began in December but only came to light globally in January and continued spreading in the months afterward. As I’ve pointed out in the past, the full effects of any major planetary pattern aren’t often completely known until long after that pattern fires exactly. For instance, the last time Pluto and Saturn came together exactly was back in late 1982 , and its effects arguably were felt throughout that entire decade, through such developments as the AIDS crisis and the so-called Reagan Revolution in the US, among others. The fact that this particular Saturn–Pluto conjunction was punctuated by several other celestial triggers would certainly seem to amplify the long-term influence it could hold for the world.

All of this naturally piques one’s curiosity as to what celestial clusters might lie ahead for us. As of this writing (February 2020), one of the more interesting of those is set to happen around December 21st of this year. Besides this being the date of the winter solstice, it will also be when Saturn and Jupiter precisely conjunct for the first time in 20 years, at 0°Aquarius this time (an elemental shift from their last conjunction in earth to a new domicile in air). In addition to that, though, this is precisely when Mars in Aries will be forming a tight square to the epic Saturn–Pluto conjunction from January 2020 at 22° Capricorn, serving as a trigger to that pattern as well. The fact that three major triggers will occur less than two months after the U.S. presidential election naturally leads one to wonder whether the impact of those celestial markers will somehow involve fallout from that political event — a “perfect storm” of political proportions, maybe? It’s also worth pointing out that transiting Pluto will be opposing Donald Trump’s Saturn at precisely this same time (exact on December 20th). One way or another, it’s not likely to be boring.

© 2020 Ray Grasse – all rights reserved

Bio: Ray Grasse is associate editor of The Mountain Astrologer and author of several books, including The Waking Dream, Signs of the Times, Under a Sacred Sky, An Infinity of Gods, Urban Mystic and the recently published StarGates: Essays on Astrology, Symbolism, and the Synchronistic Universe. His website is

1 Comment

  1. Terrific article Ray. So many astrologers focus on the meaning of a single transit, be it to a natal planet, or to another planet. The really big changes happen when several planets are clustered, or connecting and in the same degree, or two or more aspects are unfolding at the same time, as you describe. Understanding this principle will greatly improve astrologers’ forecasts.

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