Like most everything in astrology, the aspects are an often debated topic. Astrologers have basically all agreed upon the mannerisms of aspects, but the types acceptable, the orb, and the power of the aspects are topics that will probably never be resolved, leading the individual astrologers to make up their own minds based on what they read and understand from various other authors, as well as what they have themselves observed through their own astrological career. This is rather unfortunate, really, as there are so many better things astrologers could be bickering over. However, like many things in astrology, the foundation is either ignored or forgotten, and I think that’s the best place to start. It is my astrological opinion that all new things in astrology must be founded off of the tradition of astrology as the basis of the entire art. There is a philosophy for everything in astrology, and I feel that “add-ons” to the system are welcome, but they must obviously follow the rules of the original astrological philosophy to be applicable. After all, all of the “original” members of the set had to follow these rules, so why should any new additions be exempt from following the rules of the team?
The Major Aspects
The “Ptolemaic” aspects are the Opposition, Inconjunction, Trine, Square, Sextile, and the Semi-sextile. These aspects are based off of the Signs themselves and how they view one another. You can see an illustration of this below. However, to call these aspects Ptolemaic is a misnomer, when in fact they are handed to us by Marcus Manilius from even more ancient sources. The origin of these aspects is based on numerology and geometric figures inscribed in the sky by the casting of the aspectual contact. It is a misnomer to call the conjunction an aspect as the word aspect comes from a Latin word meaning “to regard”, however, similar words were used to describe the way planets viewed or saw one another. As far as the conjunction is concerned, the planets do not see one another, but are actually physically joined. The opposition is based off of the shape of the geometric line, a symbol of division by two. The opposition is interpreted as two opposing forces that are in constant disagreement. It is a very strong and direct aspect, as the two Signs involved have a clear and direct view of one another.
It is also a misnomer to call the semi-sextile and inconjunction aspects, in that Signs that share this relationship are literally unable to see one another. The semi-sextile is considered slightly fortunate, but since the line of sight between the Signs involved is obscured, it is not as fortunate as it could be, and in fact it holds no sway over judgment without any other factors to back up what the semi-sextile is suggesting. Planets five Signs apart are in an inconjunction aspect, however, since there is no geometric figure that links these Signs together, they seek to avoid one another. Houlding states: “Such a relationship was considered unfortunate or ‘alien’ and the signs were said to turn away from each other, indicating an almost malevolent lack of sympathy. In classical literature the term ablepton meaning ‘not seen’ or ‘blind’ is frequently encountered, as is asyndeton meaning ‘unconnected’, aversum ‘turned away from’, and alienum ‘unfamiliar’.” The trine is based off of the number three which is a number that is often associated with harmony, and in fact with find Holy Trinities all of the world in various cultures and philosophical systems, whether they are the Holy Trinity of the Christian faith, or a trinity regarding the balance of mind, body, and spirit many philosophical and occult studies hold, the harmony and balance implied in the shape of the triangle is almost universal. The harmony this aspect allows gives the planets the ability to sympathize with one another, but the idea that the trine is always beneficial is incorrect, it just allows the planets to work well together, and sometimes there are planetary pairs we don’t want working in cahoots. The square is a forceful and brunt aspect based on the shape of…a square! This is not an entirely negative aspect as – after all – it is better to have planets in square than in no aspect whatsoever. The reception between the planets involved can bring about very fortunate outcomes, but it seems the power flowing between the planets is overwhelming, which often leads to the undesirable end.
The Minor Aspects
Now, let me introduce to you to the modern aspects. There are really quite a few of them, however, there are three that are a bit different than the rest. The quintile, bi-quintile, and sesqui-quadrate were all originally developed by Johannes Kepler. It seems that Kepler took a page out of Ptolemy’s book and continued his thoughts on the aspects being connected with notes in a musical scale with a conjunction being the same notes played in unison, the sextile being a minor third, square a perfect fourth, trine a perfect fifth, and opposition an octave. Once he was able to break from focusing on the Zodiac Signs, Kepler was able to come up with more aspects that continued a musical correlation. The quintile became associated with a major third, the sesqui-quadrate with a minor sixth, and the bi-quintile with a major sixth.
Other aspects don’t have such a famous and ancient origin from Kepler, as the other modern aspects attempt to finish off the rest of the circle, dividing it (or more correctly, forcing it to divide) by other numbers. The quintile (72°) is a division of the circle by five, however, apparently it is “totally in line” with harmonic theory to continue to divide by multiples of five and get the biquintile (144°, division by 2.5), vigintile (18°, division by 20), decile (36°, 10), and quindecile (24°, 15). Other numbers include an attempt to divide the circle by seven which gives us the Septile aspect of 51° degrees, the semi-square (45°) is a division by eight, now by dividing by nine we get the novile of 40°, we also get the undecile (32°) in an ugly attempt to divide by 11, and an even uglier attempt of dividing the circle by a third (3.333) gives us the tredicile aspect of 108°.
So, what do all of these aspects mean exactly? That’s a very good question. About the quintile and bi-quintile, Sue Tompkins writes: “Hamblin has isolated and promoted the notion of ‘style’ as being descriptive of the quintile aspect, so that a quintile aspect will say something not only about an individual’s personal style, but also about the style and technical quality of their creative work.” It is apparent that the derivation of the number five is important in the character of the aspect. Also, the idea that Mercury is also associated with the number five in numerology has been used to come up with ideas as to what the quintile could possibly mean. The quintile has become associated with artistic manifestiation, creative impulses, how we communicate and how we give form to our mental processes. I can find no differentiation in the interpretations of the rest of the quintile family.
The septile (division by seven) can apparently be either beneficial or negative depending on the Signs and planets involved, however it is said its focus is on perfecting something. It is also suggested that a septile is a consequence, reaction, or an effect. The semi-square maintains its parent aspect’s (the square) association with frustration and conflict, though to a lesser extent, and it seems the sesqui-quadrate joins it in these associations. It is said also that disruptions the semi-square and sesqui-quadrate cause are more deeply buried in the psyche, which apparently makes them more outwardly explosive in terms of events that cause their revelation. The novile (40°) is considered a constriction between the planets involved and can be used to unlock an area of self-enhancement. The tredecile (108°) is associated with a social creativity and a need to withdraw and inspect oneself for external originality. Finally, the undecile (32°) is associated with social consciousness and the ability to reach beyond oneself for assistance. There are, of course, other minor aspects, but they are so minor that they don’t even have special interpretations, but are, instead, interpreted off of their parent aspect. So we won’t get into them here.
Lately there has been a huge push to constrict the effect of orbs. Obviously this is the work of modern astrologers and proponents of the modern/minor aspects. After all, they’ve nearly tripled the number of aspects in astrology, so having the orbs that were allowed in classical astrology still applicable would make the same pair of planets in a couple of different aspects. This would obviously lead to confusion about which aspect is more applicable, and would make the new, minor aspects seem superfluous (as if they didn’t appear that way already).
The Faculty of Astrological Studies has handed down a suggested table for aspectual orbs. These orbs are based on the importance and supposed power an aspect has in some sort of hierarchy of aspectual power. The table is as follows:
I suppose this table could be useful to some, but I find it a bit ignorant of a few traditional points. In traditional astrology, the orbs are based on the planets involved, not the type of aspect formed. These orbs were based off of the luminosity of the planet itself when viewed as stars from Earth. For example, the Sun was given an orb of 17° as this 17° mark is when planets disappear in the light of the Sun and are invisible to us on Earth, this is when a planet is visibly obscured and gave rise to the condition of Under the Sun’s Beams. Luna was given a 12° orb as it is 12° after he conjunction with Sol (the New Moon) that we are able to see her as a waxing crescent once more. The other planets seem to be based off of helical obscurity, or when a planet first appears as a morning or evening star (far away enough to shine just before the sun rises or just after it sets). Adjustments were later made for the superior planets (Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), and the inferior planets (Mercury and Venus) which ended up giving us an orb of 8° for Mars, 9° for Jupiter and Saturn, and 7° for Mercury and Venus. This means that, in all, the planets get twice the amount of the orb I’ve written as the orb goes of influence envelops them wholly, which mean it shows on both sides of the planet. So, while I’ve stated that Sol has a 17° orb, in reality he holds a 34° orb as he has 17° on either side of his body.
These huge allowances for orbs may make the jaws of some astrologers drop, but don’t worry, we’re about to get a bit smaller. Dariot wrote that application of planets did not begin until the moiety (meaning middle) of the planets’ orbs began to meet. So while the orbs of the planets are based on the halo of visible light surrounding the body, the moiety is half of this and so we start to get the physical body of the planet involved as well. While planets are in aspect the moment they come within orb of one another, they do not produce recognizable effects until the middle of these orbs touch one another. A table is given below for orb and moiety of the individual planets.
|Planet||Full Orb (both sides)||Orb (one side)||Moeity (middle of orb)|
The way you figure out if planets are in orb is to take the mean of their moiety. So, an aspect between Sol and Saturn is 8 ½ + 4 ½ = 13, then divide 13 in half to get 6 ½°. Whereas an aspect between Saturn and Venus would call for a smaller orb as the mean of their moieties would obviously be smaller (3 ½ + 4 ½ = 8, divided in half gives us 4°). This system is obviously more complex, but takes into account things that modern astrology leaves out, the differing levels of planetary importance and Earth-based observations among other things.
Arguments: Point One
So then, where did things go wrong? One of the biggest deviances, I feel, is the idea that the aspects were based off of numerology. While this is partially correct, it is more correct to state that the aspectual relationships were based off of the geometric figures inscribed in the heavens. Obviously, the conjunction did not share this, but since the conjoined bodies appear as one body in the sky, they are based off of the unity implied by what they saw. The opposition, however, is where we begin to see this take form. The opposition splits the sky in half by a line, this is where the idea of division and conflict arise. A completed sextile pattern creates two hexagons which are related to a weaker trine aspect, completed square patterns form three different squares, and completed trine patterns form four different triangles. Now, the semi-sextile and inconjunction are considered to be minor-major aspects because (while they do meet one criteria) they fail to create a significant geometric figure, while this may seem silly to some, it is the geometric figure that sets the tone for the aspect’s influence. The semi-sextile pattern forms a dodecagon, which was seen as unimportant, and the inconjunction forms a dodecagram (twelve-point star) which isn’t a real geometric figure as the lines cross up. Also, with these two patterns it is impossible to create another set using different Zodiac Signs as they are all used up. You can see the aspect charts for the Ptolemaic aspects below.
So, it would seem that the modern aspects must inscribe a closed geometric figure that is capable of being reproduced using different Signs of the Zodiac without using the same ones twice. Let’s see if any of these aspects do that. With the quintile, it is possible to create a geometric figure (the pentagon) twice without doubling up on Signs, however, if I were to start one with Aries and another with Taurus, I would leave Pisces and Libra excluded and if I did start another pentagon starting with Pisces (as Cancer has already been used), the Signs of Taurus, Cancer, and Sagittarius would be used twice. The bi-quintile forms a similar pattern excluding Pisces and Libra and doubling on Taurus, Cancer, and Sagittarius, except this time we are forming a pentagram which is not a geometric figure as it closes in on itself with the lines crossing. The sesqui-quadrate forms an octogram who is not a geometric figure as the lines cross up, and again Signs of the Zodiac are left out (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces) and to do it a second time has Signs doubling up on Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn. The vigintile automatically doubles up on Aries and forms a figure I’m not sure what to call, though it seems closer to a circle than anything. The decile seeks to skip Pisces and Virgo, and doing a second pattern doubles on Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn. The quindecile repeats the mistakes of the vigintile. The septile completes a septagon in the Zodiac, however it is impossible to make a second with the Signs left over from the first (Gemini, Leo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces) without doubling on Aries, Cancer, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Aquarius. The semi-square acts very similarly to the sesqui-quadrate except forming an octagon instead of a star, and leaving out and doubling on the same Signs. The novile aspect forms a neat little nonagon, but fails to include Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, when a second is done to include them, all but Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius are doubled. The tredecile creates a decagon, but excludes Pisces and Virgo, while doubling up on just about everyone else when making a second pattern to include them. The undecile basically creates a big circle, looping around the Zodiac numerous times before finally closing. The patterns can be seen below.
None of the modern aspects are able to produce a geometric figure that includes all of the Zodiac Signs without doubling up on any of them in a way similar to the major, Ptolemaic aspects. The trines, squares, and sextiles are able to operate independently of one another, without the same Sign being placed in two different triangles or two different squares, however, it is obvious that the modern, minor aspects are unable to carry this on, as each displayed an inability to create independent shapes whilst including the entirety of the Zodiac.
Arguments: Point Two
Something else that has differed in the classical and modern times is that the modern aspects are no longer based on the same number. In other words, the classical aspects were all based off of the number 12, the number of Signs in the Zodiac, and the important aspects were based off of numbers that are prominent for one reason or another in the Zodiac. The conjunction aside (we’ve discussed why this one is different earlier), the opposition is based off of the number two, the number of polarities (masculine and feminine) in the Zodiac, this give us the number six (as twelve divided by two is six), which is the number of oppositions that can form. The trine is based on dividing the Zodiac by the number three which is the number of modes or qualities in the Zodiac (Cardinal, Fixed, Mutable), this division leaves us with the number of four (12 / 3 = 4), which is the number of triangles that can be formed in the Zodiac (giving us the Fire, Earth, Water, and Air Triangles). The square is derived from the division of the Zodiac by four which corresponds with the number of elements (Fire, Earth, Air, and Water) and it leaves us with the number 3, which gives us the number of possible squares we can inscribe in the Zodiac (which gives us the Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable squares). The sextile is based off of the number six, which represents the number of Signs involved in each polarity (Masculine: Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius. Feminine: Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, Pisces), this division leaves us with the number two, which is the number of hexagons that can be formed out of the Zodiac with the sextile aspect, linking the members of the same gender. The semi-sextile serves to represent the number twelve itself, which just links the twelve Signs of the Zodiac together in a semi-helpful fashion. The inconjunction, however, is a very different aspect as there is no important association with the Zodiac and the number five, it’s this lacking that has given this aspect its strange qualities.
Now, the modern aspects are all based off of the number 360, which – obviously – is how many degrees are contained within the circle of the Zodiac. This move here represents and interesting switch in perspective. The focus used to be the Signs of the Zodiac, now the focus is the degrees of the Signs of the Zodiac. It shows an interesting trend in the modern perspective to put more emphasis on the individual degrees of the Zodiac. You can find this trend echoed in various techniques that I won’t go into here, but I thought it was an interesting correlation. However, the very idea is that the modern aspects are using the wrong base number as the emphasis in tradition and the classical era has always been on the unquestioned power and significance of the Signs is a bit strange. Especially when compared to the questioned and debated topic of degree influences, after all, is there really any difference between 9° Taurus and 10° Taurus in terms of significance? I don’t think so. However, the differences between Taurus and Aries are obviously apparent.
Arguments: Point Three
This point only works with some of the aspects, but I feel it’s enough to get some thoughts going. If we were to use the traditional orbs of moiety, then we would find that some of the minor aspects are, in fact, major aspects. Case in point, the bi-quintile of 144°; if we were to get a planetary duo whose mean moiety was 6°, this would be an inconjunction. The basic ideas of these aspects are contradictory, the bi-quintile being harmonious and the inconjunction being nasty. So I find this idea bit difficult to believe. This is echoed in the idea that the decile (36°), quindecile (24°), and undecile (32°) are really just semi-sextiles (30°).
Wikipedia. Astrology Notes: Septile. 1 Mar. 2006.
Wikipedia. Astrological Aspects. 8 Aug. 2008.
Houlding, Deborah. The Classical Origin and Traditional Use of Aspects. 1 July 2004. <http://www.skyscript.co.uk/aspects.html>.
Tompkins, Sue. Aspects in Astrology: A Guide to Understanding Planetary Relationships in the Horoscope. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 2002.