The Chart Workshop: What Are We Doing Here?

[Note:  I’m happy to take questions on either natal astrology or synastry.  Natal questions will be answered on Sundays, synastry on Fridays.  Please leave questions in any of the comments boxes on this site or email me at  Remember to send birth data if necessary.]

What are we doing here?  If you’re thinking I’m going to get into an existential debate about our presence on earth, that wasn’t my intention.  I hear sighs of relief echoing through cyberspace.

No, by ‘here’ I mean here on the site. No one asked any general chart questions this week, so instead I asked myself one.  Why am I doing this?  (Asked in an airy, detached, Libran sort of way, not in a ‘why am I spending time on this?’ way.)

I enjoy writing about astrology, and I enjoy passing on what I know.  I love the people I meet through astrology, who are among the most intelligent, perceptive and compassionate people I have ever known.  But I suppose the primary reason I’ve created a place here is that a lot of astrological information is being distributed these days without passing on the underlying foundation of  that knowledge.  You can read endless info about individual aspects and houses, but not a lot about why that aspect has the meaning it has.  Without that knowledge, we are at a loss as to how to synthesize  information so that it has meaning within the greater context of the chart.

Astrology works because it’s an enclosed system.  It’s a system with a series of complex rules and requirements.  It is based on numerical sequence, and it is based on geometric pattern.  Those of us who study astrology learn how to read those interrelated sequences and patterns.  Experience makes us better astrologers, but not because quantity counts over quality.  Experience  teaches us to better see and understand the underlying patterns at work in a chart, and judge which ones will be more influential at different times.  All learning  follows the mutable sequence.  Gemini is about pure information.  Virgo requires that we make sense of that information and make it useful as knowledge and skill.  Sag asks that we take our knowledge and place it in a wider context.  It becomes wisdom, and universal law.  In Pisces, that wisdom is disseminated throughout the cosmos, becoming at one with the cosmos.

On this site, we are going to do a little more work on the middle two.  The articles I’ve posted here, and the ones I will post in future, have one purpose:  to ask you to take a deeper look at astrological patterns and symbols, and to learn to think conceptually about astrology.  A good astrologer is made not by memorizing the meaning of sets of astrological ‘things,’ but by learning to make the connections between things.  We learn to be good astrologers by understanding the stories astrology tells us:  the stories of the modalities, of the elements, of the triplicities, of the sequence of the houses.  The zodiac itself is a journey from Aries to Pisces, from the absolute beginning of the 1 to the infinity of the circle.

One of the things that drives me absolutely around the bend is that I see valuable things dropping away from astrology for no good reason except for the fact that they’re too complex to be grasped immediately.  Secondary progressions for one.  But I can understand why secondaries might put someone off, as crucial as they are.  It’s a complicated business that requires you to train your eye look at the chart in a different way, and is especially difficult if you don’t really understand the underlying themes in the natal chart itself.  But I see a tendency to drop things like co-rulerships,  house rulerships and even, horror of horrors,  the meaning of the different aspects.  I’ve heard people say that a sextile is ‘a weak trine.’ I’ve heard highly respected astrologers declare that having a trine between two planets is the same as having a square, it’s the contact that matters, the two planets have to work things out.  Well, no, they don’t.  This is like saying a three is the same as a four.  It violates a mathematical principle.

The beauty of astrology is that everything in it is interrelated.  Trines are related  to the division of the circle by three.  A circle consists of 360 degrees.  You get three trines to a circle, 120 degrees apart: trines represent the sequence of the elements.  Aries (0), Leo (120), Sag (240) equal one set of trines, the fire trine.  The first, fifth and ninth houses are fire houses.  This follows on with the rest of the signs.  But the initial trine, from Aries to Leo, relates to fire.  This is why trines are considered inspirational and creative.  They are easy, not because some ancient astrologer said so, but because they relate the three signs of the same element.

Sextiles divide the circle by 60 degrees.  The first natural sextile falls in Gemini.  The initial sextile is a mutable sign, and this is why sextiles have the qualities of Gemini.  They make connections and offer opportunities between the planets involved.  They instigate communication between the two.  This is a far cry from the trine, whose two planets are flowing (somewhat mindlessly) in the same direction.

Conjunctions divide the circle by one, and relate to Aries.  Conjunctions are far from the tame, balanced, merging things we like to think they are.  Conjunctions are reckless, headstrong, and unpredictable.  They do their own thing.  We long for them in synastries because we think of them as Libran, but they aren’t.  Oppositions are Libran (180 degrees).  Planets in opposition argue with one another and try to come to a diplomatic conclusion. Conjunctions go to extremes, and don’t listen to reason.  I’ll bet Romeo and Juliet had a mess of conjunctions, and look what happened to them.

Any aspect that divides the circle evenly, in and of itself,  is a powerful aspect.   Quintiles (5) and noviles (9) can manifest powerfully and directly when stimulated; but they seem to be dependent on something outside of themselves (transits or progressions) to make themselves known.  They don’t have quite the power of the Ptolemaic aspects because they don’t coincide with the 30 degree divide of the signs.  The black sheep of the bunch is the semi-square, which divides the circle by 8 and is at the midpoint of the square.  Planets in square know that they’re angry with one another about something.  Planets in semi-square are just angry.  Semi-squares have great power if they occur at the midpoint of an actual square. which provides a vehicle for  the semi-square to manifest its energy.  (You’ll notice I left out inconjuncts, which don’t divide the circle evenly.  Inconjuncts are magical and deserve their own post.)

Once we start thinking conceptually, aspects make more sense.  Astrology itself makes more sense. A mutable square that will produce nervous energy is different from a fixed square, which can be rigid and difficult to resolve (fixity resists change); those are different from a cardinal square, which will be annoyed at the lack of action and want to move forward, often before it’s ready.  If we see something dominant or important in a chart, we need to look at the whole thing within the context of the chart itself, not just the aspect.  What houses does it fall in?  Where are the rulers of those houses?  What houses do the planets rule?    This will tell you more about the areas of life that will be affected by the aspect.  Astrology is much more specific than we give it credit for these days.  We just don’t bother to read until the end of the story.

So, in the end, I’m hoping that if you spend a little time around here, you will learn enough about the concepts behind astrology to start figuring things out on your own.  If you grasp astrological theory, and do a little supplementary reading, you will eventually be able to figure your questions out for yourself.  If you want to know the reason why a trine manifests differently from a square, keep reading below.  If not, see you in the Chart Workshop next week. Please send in your questions by Friday.


The Manifestation of Trines and Squares

Astrological geometry is based on Pythagorean theory, which argues that the basis of all life is number.  The number one both is and is not complete within itself.  (If it were, there would just be stasis.)  What is not complete reaches out beyond itself to other, the 2.  If a dot represents one, and a line represents two (two dots connected by space), then a third dot forms a triangle.  The number three transcends the opposition of the two, stabilizing it and resolving the tension. The division of the circle by three represents a transcendant energy that is not dependent on the material world, which is represented by the four. With four, we have the two oppositions that represent the cross of matter, which is related to the angles of the chart.  The four represents the four elements, from which the ancients believed everything was made. Four relates to Cancer, which represents physical birth. Dividing the circle by four gives us the modalities: cardinal, fixed and mutable (each containing a type of physical energy, each containing four elements), and their associated houses.    You can already see the difference.  Signs in elements agree. Signs in modalities do not.

There is an easy flow between signs in an element.  They have common ground. As a story, it’s a comedy.  We don’t have to fret about it, or worry about putting the pieces in backwards.  They just go.  They’re related, they agree. With the four, there is a story, but it’s a drama, full of angst and struggle.  The warring points in the aspect aren’t related .  They see things very differently.  The four is related to the circle by two sets of oppositions.  There is a tension in the four, the struggle of the immaterial trying to manifest.  Each square in the modality tells a story:  the story between Aries to Cancer is the struggle from conception to birth.  Trines are about flow, squares are about the blocking of that flow until purpose  is manifested.  All squares are pregnant with something waiting to be born.  Trines are limitless.  Squares are not.

Fours are solid and stable once manifestation is achieved, trines are not.  When you figure out a square, you end up with something real, something in your hand or mind to use and work with.  With a trine, not so much.  It just goes on bubbling in the background, more or less like always, no matter what happens.  Trines can go wonky on you.   Sometimes, with the right/wrong stimulus, the flow turns into a flood.  A square can be a pain in the ****, but it will not go nuts of its own accord, without your conscious awareness.  You may be frustrated, but you will not be surprised.  There is usually an overabundance of trines when natural disasters occur, which tells you something about the way trines operate when they cause us trouble.   When the chart has dominant trines without conflicting planets to anchor them, that person will not be motivated to get anything done.  It has been said that serial killers and criminals have an abundance of trines; a sense of entitlement comes with them.  Yes, there are problems associated with trines.

But do they have the nature of a square?  No.  A square is about one specific thing, and is easier to grasp hold of and resolve.  A square is conscious, always nagging.  We live with them like annoying family.  Think about the trines in your own chart.  Then think about the squares.  Which ones have you gained something from? If you have a grand trine, have you been too laid back where those houses are involved?  Too much information or too lazy to try and make sense of it?  Sit back and hope for the best, because ‘something always turns up’?  You could never do that with a square.  A square pushes us to action, to initiate (remember the cardinal mode, which is the initial square sequence).   The trine and the square cannot be resolved in the same way.  If a trine is troublesome, or overly stimulated, it doesn’t help to struggle with the extra energy: that abundance of flow has to be poured into another vessel; hopefully another planet in the chart that anchors it.   A square needs to work out the specifics between two planets and two houses.  If we can’t isolate the aspect and work it out in the houses it resides in, then we have to look to the houses the planets rule, or to the rulers of the houses the planets reside in to act as referees and see if a clue can be found there.  Squares are helped more by physical expression–doing something relieves the tension.  The overwhelming energy of an emphasized trine is better off being rerouted or distracted, or better yet,  just live with it until the influence passes and the waters find their own level again, as they inevitably will.   Good luck trying that with a square.

See you in the Chart Workshop next Sunday.

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