Black Hat or White? The Non-duality of Aspects

An interesting question has come up in my progressions classes. How do you tell a good progression from a bad one, a positive progression from a negative one? Why is it that one person with Sun square Jupiter by progression wins an award, and another goes into rehab, or gets arrested?

The answer is that you can’t view progressions in such a simplistic way, by isolating an aspect. You have to look at the whole picture. It depends on what those planets are doing in the natal chart, what role they have to play in life. You have to look at houses and house rulerships, and put the aspect into the natal houses. It’s a complicated business. You can’t view transits in such a simplistic way, either, but a lot of people do, and that’s why they can’t give you any more information than the basic cookbook assumptions. Saturn going over the Ascendant, for example. A drag, right? A squelching down of your individuality, a need to buckle down and grow up. Well, not always. Not if you have a natal 10th house Saturn trine Venus and Mars, and Saturn by progression is conjunct Venus and square Jupiter. You just might be entering one of the most creative periods of your life, when you can actually get some work not only finished, but respected by the public.

Ever anticipated a big transit that fizzled out and did nothing? That’s because transits need to be supported by progressions. Otherwise, its effect will be immediate, but fleeting, and not likely hit deeply into the consciousness unless that planet is crucial natally. The rule of thumb is natal first, progressions second, transits third. Transits trigger things in the natal chart, but also are extremely powerful when they trigger the progressed chart. Many of my clients first come to me for advice when the progressed angles are being transited by outer planets, or progressed angles move to conjunct progressed and natal outer planets. Progressed angles are channels by which spirit and matter interact. An outer planet there can be overwhelming, and leave us not knowing where to turn. We feel different, but we don’t know how to be different. Not yet.

The Sun, Mars, the transiting Nodes, even the transiting Moon can trigger something that has been set up and waiting in the progressed chart. For example, if you have transiting Uranus sitting square your progressed Asc/Desc angle, the transiting Sun or Mars or nodes hitting Uranus can trigger that T-square for those days. Uranian upheaval in relationships will flare then, though the aspect is long term (depending on how fast Uranus is moving and whether or not it’s making a station–the progessed Asc moves roughly one degree per year). You need to watch and wait for the ‘trigger planets’ to transit the progression in order to know when the flare ups are likely to occur. It’s especially true when the transiting planet is the same planet as in the progressions. For example, if progressed Venus has come to an exact semi-square with progressed Neptune, and transiting Venus is conjunct either of those planets, you have action.

But is this action good or bad? This is where advanced astrology gets complicated. The thing we struggle through today is the thing that gives us strength tomorrow. Is that good or bad? We can anticipate a Venus/Jupiter conjunction and enjoy our easy and generous mood, and ignore the 15 pounds we put on during the retrograde period.

Astrologers learn very quickly that the supposedly ‘good’ planets and aspects are not all they’re cracked up to be. Jupiter on the Descendant brings divorce as often as marriage. Progressed New Moons can bring relationships into our lives, but more often they herald an unstable period where we don’t know that the h*** we’re doing from day to day, because the energy we need to incorporate is too new and unfamiliaar. Progressed New Moon charts also tell us, in very exact terms, what we need to work on over the next 28 years, and often there are clusters of difficult incidents in our lives during the progressed new moon time which reflect this. I’ve been working a lot with Ceres recently–by progression, she shows her ‘other’ face, the Ceres of the scorched earth and the scythe. A far cry from the generous harvest goddess we have been taught about–Ceres is as prominent in death charts as she is in births and weddings. She often cuts us away from what is nurturing us in a very ruthless manor. In studying astrology, I’m often reminded of the quote from Mark Twain, “The problem with most of us is we know too much that ain’t so.”

Sure, there are out and out difficult aspects. No one likes outer planets sitting on their planets, or opposing them, either by transit or progression. No one likes an outer planet on their angles, which feels more like a violation than an aspect. But progressions, on the whole, do not have aspects that fall into the category of good and bad–rather, we have active and passive, the hard aspects being the active ones (particularly inconjuncts). Soft aspects via progression tend to hum along in the background, being supportive. If they touch the Sun, the Moon or the Nodes, their presence is particularly strong. But they don’t make things happen the way hard aspects do. And ultimately, to make complete sense of them and get the full story, we have to refer the active planets back to the natal. What are they doing there? What are their ultimate goals?

It’s human nature to want to separate what’s good from what’s bad, but in the end I think it’s all a question of perspective. Is it what we need at the given time? That’s what’s important. We need to get out of this concept of duality and the sense of separation inherent in it, inner from outer, individual from universal, me in here versus you out there. We are all developing beings in a developing universe, and we all play our part at many levels. The more conscious we are of our connectedness, the easier it becomes to negotiate our world.

If we win an award under a progression/transit, will it make us happy? Will it open up the doors we desire onto our future, or will it merely be a gift given to us at the culmination of a career? Life can go downhill or uphill afterward, as any number of Academy Award winners will tell you. Sure, we look for Sun/Venus or Sun/Jupiter–those are usually great aspects. But if my Venus is square Neptune natally, the Sun will also square that Neptune. The Sun is literally a light, it sheds light on anything it touches in the chart. It makes us aware, but it also consolidates experience so that we have to deal with the issues that arise. Sometimes, we can’t. Sun/Venus/Neptune may make us aware of our obsessions and addictions here, but also may cause us to dig our heads further into the sand, because we can’t face what we see.

At the beginning of my career, many years ago now, I practiced an astrology that was more predictive. It was what I was taught, and people expected it then. Can I do it? Yes. Will I do it? No. It’s tedious work, and you miss the forest for the trees. I gave it up because I discovered after a time that it was completely hollow. What was the point of experiencing anything if you don’t understand the meaning behind why it happened? Why do people come into our lives at particular times and not others? Why that particular person? And, more important, why am I here?

It also became very clear to me that predictive astrology was the most successful with people who were almost entirely unconscious that they had any role to play in their own lives. They lived their lives in a surface way and waited for things to happen to them. Things did, as predicted. This makes us not more conscious, but less. We keep waiting for stuff to happen. We abdicate our responsibility. Liz Greene writes about this in her book, The Astrology of Fate (which everyone should read). Liz is a scholar of medieval and renaissance history, through her studies of alchemy. She surmises that astrological predictions were so accurate back then (and their accuracy is well documented) because relatively few people were conscious of their interior lives. What we do not recognize within ourselves, we have to meet through the external world, through fate. And it’s true even now, in our internally-oriented, psycho-therapy obsessed culture. I see it happen all the time in synastry. The things that people may not ‘get’ about themselves, often meet them in real life form, either through others or through events. We often marry them. It’s not quite the shadow and not quite projection. Rather, it’s an impulse to wholeness that is wholly unconscious and primal. The opposite happens too–if someone is in the middle of an event crisis, and new behavior is called for, it often happens that a relationship pops up in their life to draw the energy away from that crisis and help them avoid the new beginning that’s called for. This is what I mean by non-duality–relationships are not always what they’re cracked up to be, either. Especially the so-called ‘fated’ ones.

Success is the same challenge as failure, two sides of the same coin. Ask anyone who has become famous–life is still hard, it’s just a different kind of hard. Real success makes us ask the same questions of ourselves, at core, as real failure does: Do I know who I am anymore? Am I my failure (or success) or is there something beyond that failure by which I can and should identify myself? Does my failure/success make me feel grounded and genuine, or do I feel that the earth is slipping away under my feet? Can I deal with the pressure of the changes being demanded of me? Both extremes tend to attract the same results. If we fail, we may be in danger of losing friends and family members who only loved us when we were on top. If we succeed, we may be surrounded by sycophants. It’s the same thing with positive and negative aspects. There can be too much of a good thing. Trines and sextiles abound in natural disasters. Serial killers have clusters of grand trines. The energies of the trine and sextile often overflow.

Plato said, “Time is the moving picture of eternity.” I feel this way about progressions, which are based on a movement of time, and are a snapshot, anchored in time and space, of the endless possibility implied in the natal. They are a map of our spiritual progress, where we have been and where we’re heading. As for our part in it, and active versus passive progressed aspects, I have a favorite quote from Plotinus, from the Enneads: “Every action has magic as its source, and the entire life of the practical man is bewitchment…a prayer is answered by the mere fact that one part and the other part are wrought into one tone, like a musical string which, plucked at one end, vibrates at the other.” Progressions show us where these vibrations are occurring, and allow us to better orchestrate our further actions.

Or, to quote another source of wisdom, Keanu Reeves: “I didn’t used to have a plan…but you have to have a plan. Otherwise, you get caught up in someone’s else’s plan.” When we don’t act on our own accord, according to the dictates of our own soul’s progress, we get caught up in other people’s actions. We need to be aware, we need to have intention, and we need to be conscious of our behaviour and our thoughts. We can become a victim of both. If we act without awareness, we create traps for ourselves. Buddhist philosophy tells us that worry is a disease of the mind, and the misuse of creativity. How much of our worry is real, and how much just a dark mental picture we’ve painted because we have no better outlet?

Anyone looking to astrology to find out what’s going to happen, rather than why, is severely limiting themselves in any number of directions. Sure, we’re all curious as to what the future will bring. But what it will bring depends a lot on what we expect of it. What’s important is that we take Keanu’s advice, and meet our challenges with courage and creativity. If there’s a Sun/Jupiter square in the progressed chart aspecting the MC, do we look for accolades to come to us or do we use the energy to expand our horizons, culturally, philosophically, and in terms of our sense of purpose? Do we wait for the Moon/Venus opposition to bring us a partner, or do we focus on appreciating ourselves more, and therefore deriving more pleasure from our daily existence? The more inner directed we become, the more authentic we become, and the more we find we are able to direct our energies into the world at large. Eventually, the veil drops between the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ worlds, and we find that we are living in a safe place somewhere between the two, able to create in heretofore unimagined ways.

Life itself is a complex negotiation between soaring and falling. The only way forward is through love, in all its manifestations. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks:

The way of love is not
a subtle argument

The door there is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom

How do they do it?

They fall, and falling,
They’re given wings.


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