The Chart Workshop: Trickster Aspects

Okay, hands up—how many of you missed the Venus/Neptune square in Tony Perkins’ chart? I was waiting to see if anyone would comment on it, as it was relevant to the discussion. None of the astrology enthusiasts I spoke to privately about the chart picked it up. Neptune, the North Node ruler and dispositor of the Moon, square Venus in the last degree of sensual Taurus. Certainly something that had to be sorted in this life. Addictions, delusions, deceptions and self-deceptions. A striving for the unattainable, for impossible perfection (more emphasized with Neptune in Virgo). Venus at it’s most earthbound struggling towards the highest form of its expression. A challenge to accept things as they are, to love things as they are. To love yourself as you are. A major theme both for Perkins and Norman.

So why didn’t anyone notice? Because the square was out of sign. Hiding.

They’re tricky, these out of sign aspects. They can deceive us. They deceive us in viewing a chart, and they can deceive the person with the out of sign aspect.

With the basic ptolemaic aspects, there is usually some key to interpretation. Conjunctions are born companions, trines share elements; squares share modality; sextiles are linked by compatible elements. (Only the quincunx is left in the dust, always the astrological odd man out. A quincunx is better understood as a yod with one half missing, but we’ll come to that another day.) By assessing the ‘pattern’ behind the aspect, we can make some sense of the way it’s going to perform in the chart. Our eyes are trained to spot the aspects this way, via sign orientation. Out of sign aspects often slip by undetected (Experienced astrologers are usually the most guilty of not looking at grids, as if grids were for amateurs–all of you who want to be astrologers, use your grids.) and even if they are detected, they can throw us off course, because the ‘typical’ pattern of that aspect is broken.

What happens with a conjunction that straddles signs? A sextile or trine with incompatible elements? Or, perhaps worst of all, a hard aspect whose elements agree?

Basically, with out of sign aspects, planets that should work together, don’t do it so well, and planets that should be in conflict wear a false mask of agreement. The Mars/Moon conjunction in the Perkins chart is an extreme example. Signs that are placed next to one another don’t have a lot in common. In fact, they don’t have much to do with one another at all. An Aries Mars conjunct a Pisces Moon is a very different thing from a Pisces Moon/Pisces Mars conjunction or Aries/Aries. A Moon/Mars conjunction within a sign gives direct access to and expression of the inner being. It might be touchy, but it has an easy time expressing needs and motivations. The Pisces conjunction will behave very differently from the Aries conjunction, but in general there is an ease of expression and purpose. When the Moon and Mars are in conflict within the conjunction, the needs of the Pisces Moon have a harder time getting satisfied, because the Aries Mars is too busy running off and satisfying its immediate (Aries) impulses, which gradually lose their connection to the more gentle needs of the watery Moon. The conjunction becomes fragmented; action splits from the developing consciousness–one side is unaware of what the other side is doing. And yet, the Moon and Mars are irrevocably tied. Mars begins to irritate the Moon, which may not be able to bear all this Martian stimulation. It becomes prickly, hypersensitive, wary, sensitive to any slight, and ultimately, insecure. In the conflict between the sensitive Moon and the aggressive Mars, Mars ‘wins’ –in the beginning, at least. Eventually, time and experience will resolve the difference between the two (well, most of the time) and they will find a way to work together. Mars will be able to use it’s energies to spur the Moon in its development, and the Moon will aid Mars’ quest with emotional substance and inspired direction. But their initial reaction is to wrangle. It may take years, particularly with the intensity and unreliability of the conjunction, before they can find a method that suits them.

This happens in synastry, as well. There is a tension to the out of sign aspect between charts, usually unspoken. It feels as if things are working on the surface and communication between the two planets is happening, but then it can suddenly all go wrong, and misunderstandings occur. Imagine a sextile between Venus in late Leo and Mars in early Scorpio. Normally, sextiles gently stimulate and rub along quite nicely. They have a lot to talk about. They have an easy time setting things in motion. But with the Mars in Scorpio, we now have a sextile between fixed signs. Contacts between fixed signs are notorious in synastry. The key to a sextile is movement. In this case, the energy exchange between the two planets would be increased by the sextile, but the fixed sign expression would add to the heat and the tension of Venus/Mars. Depending on other aspects, the sextile might facilitate flare-ups and misunderstandings, which usually never happens within a sextile’s normal energy flow. The fixity creates frustration and steam, which might be used in either a positive or a negative fashion.

It gets even more complicated when hard aspects are in complementary signs. Again, looking at the Perkins chart, we see the Taurus Venus in conflict with the earth Neptune. An initial reaction might be, well, this eases the conflict, doesn’t it? Not particularly. A square is a square. The outward ‘agreement’ can work in a number of ways, but often what happens is that the issues rising in the square go unnoticed. Rather than resulting in immediate problems which must be resolved, the person is allowed to live with the square, getting away with things that shouldn’t be gotten away with. The square can go underground. Rather than direct conflict, the two signs in agreement support behaviours that would have been intolerable to another sign. Perkins lived his life without being called on what were clearly addictions–perhaps most of all to a lethal perfectionism. The Earth signs facilitated an agreement between Venus and Neptune, throwing a veil over its conflicts and avoiding the usual boat-rocking that causes us to take action. The Earth element added to the entrenchment of the difficulties. Earth is very good at sticking its head in the sand.

The one thing to keep in mind is that out of sign aspects are not ‘wrong’ or weak. If anything, the conflicts they represent are more influential. The universe has intended them, and they’re part of a person’s make-up. I think, as astrologers, we often see things that don’t fit and try to ignore them. If an aspect is out of sign, we might spend our time focusing on the aspect but not on how the out of kilter sign placement influences its expression. It’s worth spending a little more time on these trickster aspects and studying how they manifest. Next time, they won’t fool us so easily.

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