Aspects are the angular relationships between planetary bodies (or zodiacal degrees like the Ascendant) that are crucial to knowing how a person will tick. Usually, categorised as either ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ aspects, this all depends on the degree of zodiac separating the two bodies. Hence, sextiles (60º) and trines (120º) are ‘easy’, or ‘soft’, and conjunctions (0º), squares (90º) and oppositions (180º) are ‘difficult’ or ‘hard’. The implication is that sextiles and trines involve a nice and harmonious flow of energy between the two planets, whilst squares and oppositions entail a kind of conflict, or friction that is difficult to deal with.
Students of numerology will at once understand why, say, a square has been interpreted as ‘hard’ and the trine as ‘easy’. Aspects derive their intrinsic nature from how the 360º circle is divided. For instance, squares are formed by dividing the zodiac into four (4x 90 = 360); trines by dividing it into three (3x 120 =360). We can then speak of a quality of ‘fourness’: this, for one, relates to the Earth and how we find or understand our place in it – hence the four compass points, seasons, elements etc, Beneath this is the principle of containment, or the need to impose category and order on the Universe. Even the fours in the Tarot are underlain by the idea of restraint, or consolidation, where energies are crystallised in some way. These are the traditional meanings of ‘fourness’.
It’s not difficult to see Saturn in all of this – and its limiting influence. Positively, ‘fourness’ also relates to materialisation, the process of bringing something into being. Nothing can happen at all without taking on physical form – things just remain ideas. But in taking on a material nature, the original potential to become anything has now been lost – it has become limited by the fact that it has assumed a definite form. Limitation is also a Saturnian keyword; indeed, the square is a highly apt symbol for Saturn, both of which have a rather poor reputation in traditional astrology. The word ‘square’ has even been adopted in popular culture to describe someone whose is dull, unexciting, predictable and staid. (Saturnian qualities!) In our example, such a person will probably also be hard-working, dependable, practical and loyal to friends. (Positive Saturn traits!)
‘Threeness’, on the other hand, is the universal principle of growth and expansion. In the system of the Greek Pythagoras of Samos (arguably the inventor of numerology) it is the first ‘complete’ number (having a beginning, middle and end) and makes the first harmonious form of three matching lines – the equilateral triangle. Three has signified a sense of abundance back into furthest antiquity. Primitive people had words for ‘one’ and ‘two’, yet any amount of three and over was shown by a word meaning ‘many’. It even appears as a positive or beneficial number in much folk-lore, figuring powerfully in world religion and mythology: for the students of Pythagoras three is the first and noblest of all digits, there were three gifts at Jesus’ birth, and we have the three treasures or basic virtues in Taoism. And let’s not forget making three wishes, and the belief that luck comes in threes. If you’ve noticed the presence of Jupiter here you have been paying attention: the trine on a birth chart does indeed have the Jupiterian effect of expansion, momentum and unimpeded flow towards one’s target.
But let’s look at just one other major facet of astrological aspects – the ‘twoness’ of the opposition. Here we have the principle of polarity (north-south, positive-negative, good-evil), of dualism and therefore the conflict that is so often the result. In metaphysics, the unity and self-sufficiency of the One is split asunder and now a developing entity is aware of the ‘Other’ – a duality has been created. Or, geometrically, the point of energy (that is the conjunction) becomes stretched/transformed into a straight line – which, of course, now has two ends where one pole ‘opposes’ the other (though this merely a matter of perspective – they are both still parts of the One). However it is this ‘opposition’ that ancient philosophy considered so baleful. Aldous Huxley in his Perennial Philosophy takes up this theme when he writes: ‘how significant it is that in the Indo-European languages … the root meaning “two” should connote badness. The Greek prefix dys- (as in dyspepsia) and the Latin dis- (as in dishonourable) are both derived from “duo”’
So we can see at once why the opposition aspect is traditionally ‘bad’ or ‘hard’. But we can also see that crises or difficulties stirred up by the opposition actually stem from the same source – they are two halves of the same phenomenon. That source is you! In modern psychological astrology, the so-called ‘bad’ effects stirred up by the opposition are really the work of the unconscious, of the greater psyche. Let’s take an example on a chart – sun opposite Saturn. I have encountered people with Sun-Saturn oppositions who report their continual ‘bad luck’ or lack of success, feeling that ‘something’ is always holding them back, getting in the way of progress, even that some unspecified higher power is teaching them a lesson – and they’re not permitted to enjoy life’s bounty until they’ve finished learning. These are all unconscious projections – blaming fate for what is essentially an inner process. What actually happens is that the Saturn end of the opposition is discarded and disowned rather than integrated. Saturn energy is all about thoroughness, concentration, patience, responsibility, application; we prefer to identify with the Sun end of the opposition – the ego. This is retained, and then Saturn becomes the thing which stands in the way of our having fun, being creative or successful. Or rather, it is projected on to the environment.
This represents the traditional view on interpreting aspects – the nature of the specific aspect determines the outcome. However, I am now going to show how you can sidestep this teaching. I prefer to eschew this scheme for one overriding reason: whilst numerology does provide a metaphysical basis to the aspects, it seems the actual effect from them derives from the nature of the two planets involved, not so much the angular distance itself. For example, even squares and oppositions need not be difficult to deal with, in spite of their reputation. Someone with moon square Venus, or moon opposite Mercury would not – as a result of these aspects – experience the uncomfortable tensions or blockages normally associated with ‘hard’ angles. Nor, necessarily, would Sun-square Jupiter create the sense of struggle we usually think of when considering the 90º angle.
Plus, when it comes down to it, I have never really noticed much difference between Saturn conjunctions, squares or oppositions, say, by transit to my natal sun. They all involve a feeling of seriousness, or alienation from the social mainstream; of generally feeling burdened with life. But the square, for example, is not experienced as being much different from the opposition. The only difference is one of intensity – for the hard aspects pertain to an excess of the energies associated with planets under consideration. Conjunctions, squares and oppositions are a powerful focus for those principles, and in some cases there is a high amount of energy there – probably too much to deal with, hence their problematic nature.
To return to the above example, moon-square Venus (natally) will probably not cause too many problems, though the individual will, nevertheless, be dealing with an ‘excess’ of moon-Venus energy. This may manifest as overt sentimentality, possibly insincerity and the kind of person who always seems to over-react in a dramatic way. In none of these cases can it be said there is ‘blockage’ or inner tension, or even any real conflict – results we normally ascribe to the square. Obviously, this person may experience tensions in their personal relationships because they behave in this way. But that is a different thing.
The traditional view on the difference between sextiles and trines (whilst both in the ‘soft’ category) is that the former is slightly weaker in effect. Trines are all about easy progress, whilst a sextile may require some effort for its potential to come to fruition. But, on the whole, sextiles and trines are easier to deal with simply because (unlike conjunctions, squares and oppositions) the ‘right’ amount of energy is being triggered; the planetary energies are easier for us to ‘handle’ and we’re not overwhelmed by them as with the ‘hard angles’. Hence our traditional interpretation of ‘growth, harmony and good communication’ that belong to the ‘easy’ aspects.
This is the principle I adhere to in my present practice of astrology – the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ angles is merely in degrees of energy made available. This is why it’s said that some hard aspects are actually good for us. That is, they can force us out of our complacency to make necessary life changes. Often this can only be done by ‘working off’ a high degree of internal or external tension. Or energy. I often enjoy my Mars transits (even the bad old squares and oppositions) simply because I know there’ll be more energy available to me for getting things done. Of course, bad things can happen with squares and oppositions – you just need to remember that at these times you have excessive planetary energy to release into the world. The hard angles on a birth chart are always the most important, too – they provide good feedback as to how well (or not) you are managing the art of living, your material goals and relationships. And if there are serious problems – remember, they probably start (and end) with yourself!