I’m gradually working my way through a bunch of astrological material. Part of this is Christopher Warnock’s class in Renaissance astrology, and part of it is reading people like Chris Brennan’s Hellenistic Astrology and Bernadette Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars (or her Eagle & The Lark).
Today was spent with Chris Brennan. Over a very pleasant cup of coffee at Bread Euphoria with a delightful almond croissant, I spent a fair bit of time digging into the Hellenistic ideas about aspects — the conjunction, the trine, the square, the sextile, and the opposition.
This hasn’t been something that’s been deeply clear to me before now, this doctrine of aspects. An aspect, for those who aren’t familiar with the language of astrology, is an observed angle between two planets. The angles that are regarded as particularly meaningful are the:
- conjunction or meeting: when two planets meet each other, usually at the same degree (called exact);
- the square, when two planets are at a 90°-angle relative to one another;
- the sextile, when two planets are at a 60°-angle relative to one another;
- the trine: when two planets are at a 120°-angle relative to one another;
- and the opposition or diameter, when two planets are 180° from one another.
In practice, sextiles are separated from each other by two signs of the zodiac; squares are separated by three signs of the zodiac; trines by four signs of the zodiac, and oppositions by six signs. A conjunction occurs when the two planets are in the same sign, and an exact conjunction occurs when they’re at the same degree of the same sign. There are some minor aspects, but I don’t want to get into them right now.
The larger issue is the question of interpretation of the aspects:
- Conjunctions, sextiles and trines are generally thought positive;
- Oppositions and squares are generally thought negative.
Whichever planet is on the right (when you face south and look up at the ecliptic, in naked-eye astronomy) is considered the stronger planet in the relationship; the planet on the left is considered weaker (at least in Brennan’s interpretation of Hellenistic sources).
So, at the moment, there’s a triple conjunction occurring over me, of Mercury with Mars, and Mars with the Moon. Mars is to the right of Mercury, and the Moon is to the right of Mars. The Sun and Venus both frame this three-fold conjunction, but the golden prince and the copper-haired lady are neither close enough to affect the conjunction. And I’m fudging numbers a bit — there’s a zone around each planet which modern astrology calls an “orb” that’s considered to be 3° wide on each side; being inside the “orb” is a zone of particularly intense activity.
Anyway, aspects. Mercury is a planet of business and communication; Mars is a planet of conflict and of drive. So I would expect business matters to be conflicted — Mars is on the right, so communications would be bitter and difficult and controversial. The moon is on the right of Mars, though, so the drive would be moderated or tempered, or perhaps a little confused.
At the same time, conjunctions are often positive (although a malefic planet like Mars in a conjunction usually heralds difficulties or maladies). The conjunction isn’t exact at breakfast, so maybe things didn’t get controversial until later; but we’re in the intense period now.
There is a sextile between the two benefic planets now, during breakfast — Jupiter and Venus. Venus is on the right, higher in the sky: I would expect Venus to take action to create a more loving and expansive life. I had some money issues today resolve positively (Jupiter), and I earned some cash from my Etsy store, and I finished work on a major project and started a new one.
Venus is trine to another planet, dreamy Uranus. Uranus is on the right, so fantasies and dreams are likely to see a higher priority during the day…? Creativity is likely to take a back seat as we learn about dreaminess and visionary work. Maybe it’s apropos that I spent some time on Gordon’s Journeying class today, and on a lesson from Jason Miller on astral work.
Squares are difficult aspects, right? The most important one seems to be the Sun square Saturn. The Sun is on the right, at the moment, so I would expect questions of self-identity to loom large and defeat any sense of self-limitation or boundary.
The opposition I found in the chart of the hour was that of Mercury to Neptune; the communicator and the revolutionary in a position of challenge. There was some discussion on my news feeds about Sean Spicer’s effort to rehabilitate himself at the Emmy Awards by telling some jokes and admitting that maybe he spoke some untruths at the White House podium in the press conference room.
At the same time, there are reports of riots in St. Louis over police brutality. The communicator and the revolutionary do appear to be in opposition, with one side resorting to trickery to normalize abnormal behaviors (Mercury), and the revolutionaries in the streets dealing with firelight and pitchforks (Neptune’s symbol, the trident, is a watery pitchfork).
So, all in all, I feel like I’m getting a handle on the idea of aspects. I’m slow at interpreting them, and there’s a peculiar macrocosm-microcosm thing going on, too.
Let me see if I can explain that.
As I currently understand it, astrology doesn’t predict our future. Rather, it’s a big, predictable, cycle of time’s flow. All of time, though — all of it! (or at least, all of it around these parts, these parts being either our solar system, or maybe just our planet or at least the northern hemisphere…) — lives and moves and has its being according to these cycles. It’s sort of the way Hurricane José is somewhere off-shore, somewhere out to the south and east of where I live: I may never see the storm itself, but its effects are coming onshore tomorrow and Wednesday. In the same way, I can’t see the cycles of time, but I can see the planets move, and predict where they’ll be tomorrow or next month or three years from now. Certain cycles of astronomy seem to correspond to certain periods of disruption or beneficence on earth (because the planets and the Earth and us are moving in the same cycles of time!) so watching the astronomy closely, may help predict the other kinds of movement.
In theory. As I currently understand it.
I can look up at those aspects — the conjunction, the trine, the sextile, the square, and the opposition — and I can, more or less, see them in the sky. It helps that I have some sophisticated software to help me understand this on my phone and my computer.
And I can tell you that astrology has developed some sophisticated rules — some highly-cosmopolitan algorithms, in fact — for translating astronomical data into stories. Stories about you. Stories about me. Stories about us — both as individuals, and as nationalities and tribes within those nationalities. What Chris Brennan has done (very well, in fact) is help translate some older rules from the ancient Greeks and Romans into accessible rules that I can understand with my modern-day English-speaking skills. And now, apparently, I can sort-of use these rules for creating stories about you, about me, and about us.
In my examples, woven together out of star-lore, coffee, and an almond croissant— I have found stories that I recognize as part of my day. Chances are that you might recognize some of these same stories in your day, too, or in the news and rumors that reached you today. The stars didn’t tell these stories, exactly — I did, or you did, or we did — but the stars provided a weird type of larger context, a sense that some of this was obviously going to happen, because some of it always does. Sometimes creativity gets the upper hand, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes communications are perilous and conflict-laden, but they’re more emotional than physical.
So I find myself pondering, as I finish my coffee, the idea that this is a pretty highly-developed system for reminding ourselves that stories have a way of appearing and re-appearing. Sometimes they take on a larger context. Sometimes, it’s helpful to reframe things, or to see them by starlight — to lift our eyes to the horizon, and wonder at the wanderers.