First Steps: Phasal Relationships

First Steps is a new series where I will be covering and re-discovering basic techniques and formative principles. It’s not quite Astrology 101, but will cover the foundations of chart synthesis. If any of you have questions about astrology fundamentals, please email me (alcuin9@gmail.com) or go over to the Facebook page for The Inner Wheel and leave your questions there. This post may seem to be guaranteed to make you crazy, but hang in there, because it makes sense in the end.

One of the things that separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the wise from the naive in astrology is something very simple, yet a lot of beginners never consider it and a lot of professionals forget to take a look at it when they’re analyzing charts. I’m talking about the relationship between a faster-moving planet and a slower-moving one: the phasal relationship. It gets confusing because there are two kinds of phasal relationship to consider. There is the one between the faster and slower moving planets themselves, which are either in a waxing or waning phase, and the one for each specific aspect the faster moving planet makes to the slower moving one as it moves around the chart (whether an aspect is applying or separating). The first phasal relationship gives you an idea of how well these planets know one another. The second analysis, of the specific aspect, gives you the juicy details. Taking in both will give you more of the ‘story’ of these planets and how they relate and integrate experience.

It isn’t a complicated concept. Phasal relationship begins by considering an imaginary conjunction between the two planets. The faster moving planet will start making a journey, pulling away from this conjunction. It’s leaving the slower planet. We call this movement waxing. It’s had its moment of union, of merging, and is waving good-bye, chock full of new experience of the slower planet and ready to test the relationship out on the world. Waxing planets are full of excitement, but a bit naive about the slower planet at hand. They believe they know him intimately, completely. They’re moving away from the slower planet, for now, but they believe that they know all there is to know and that they will always be together. Things will always be the same. Alas, as in any relationship, there are bumps in the road ahead. We call these ‘aspects.’

As time moves on, the ‘relationship’ between these two gets tested. The faster moving planet will continue to hit the bumps and make aspects with the slower moving planet as it races its way around the chart. A sextile, a square, a trine, a quincunx. A planet in a waxing phase with a slower planet is eager to reach out and test itself and the relationship, eager for experience. The full blossoming of that experience comes at the opposition, which is kind of a ‘full moon’ phase for the two planets. (This is one of the reasons oppositions are considered the second most powerful aspect.) The two planets are tussling with one another, at the extreme of the relationship, (they have a big argument or they reconcile, or both) and the faster moving planet is at its breaking point, yet compelled to move forward. As it moves on after the opposition, the faster moving planet is wiser about what his relationship with the slower planet is like, because it has been tested against whatever is out there in the world. It is wiser, and grows wiser still the closer it comes to the return. In the return phase, the planet is ‘coming home’, older and smarter and a bit stung, to the slower moving planet. This is the waning phase. A planet in a waning phase with another planet has experience, and is not so easily surprised. Oh, there are surprises in store–gaps in the knowledge. And much pressure to ‘get it right’–so much so that they often get it wrong just because of this. A planet in a waning phase can draw experiences that are extreme, where ultimatums are thrown out and demands are met.

The planetary phasal relationship (waxing or waning) concerns the general knowledge the two planets have of one another. Say you have a square between Venus and Neptune. It makes a difference whether you have a square between a Venus that is new to the cycle–say, Neptune in Libra with a Venus in Capricorn, where Venus is in a waxing phase to Neptune, or a Venus in a square to Neptune where it’s already been around the block a bit, all round the circle and back to Cancer. (Remembering that the imaginary conjunction of the two planets in Libra is the ‘starting point.’) The ‘experienced’ Venus is behind the Libra Neptune. The ‘naive’ Venus is in front of it.

This general phasal relationship between two planets is different from looking at whether the individual aspects themselves are applying or separating. This is a very crucial part of interpreting the meaning of an aspect. As the faster moving planet moves around making aspects to the slower moving planet, it approaches (applying) and leaves (separating) the point of the exact conjunction. So you have Neptune, say, at 6 degrees Libra, and Venus, the faster planet, is coming up towards 3 degrees of Capricorn. A square is about to be created. Does it matter whether Venus is at 3 degrees or 9 degrees Capricorn? Yes, it does. But they’re the same aspect–well, no. Not under the surface.

What you have is a waxing Venus moving away from a conjunction, eager to test its knowledge, coming up to the struggle of the square. But this Venus, at 3 degrees Capricorn, is applying to the square–it has no experience of the square, which seems to appear from nowhere. It isn’t prepared. It doesn’t know what to expect; it runs to the aspect, arms open, enthused. It’s hungry for experience. The closer it gets, the more it feels pressure to take on the challenge of this aspect, and the closer it gets to exact, the more powerful it becomes. There is something very basic about this. An applying aspect is a bit like being in the thrall of a romance; you want this to happen, damn the consequences. Then there’s the big explosion of coming together (there is nothing more powerful than an exact aspect) and afterwards–well, the separating aspect is a bit like the ‘cigarettes and sadness’ moments later (sorry, I watch too many French films). You have the leftover excitement of the conjunction, but also a bit of ‘what the hell happened’ and ‘did I really want this’ and ‘what am I taking away from this?’ It’s still a square, but with a different, possibly shell-shocked, perspective. It will still manifest all the things inherent in the square between Venus and Neptune, but it’s perspective will be different. And the applying and separating squares between a Libra Neptune and a Cancer Venus will also be very different, and very different in energy from the square from Capricorn. The Cancer Venus has already experienced one square and the full moon phase and is about to experience another square. It will still run to the square with its arms open, excited, but it is road-weary and sceptical and will probably feel a bit of deja vu about the experience.

Now, I understand that doing this with every single aspect in a natal chart will make you nuts, and I don’t recommend it. But it’s very important to understand the phasal relationship of the Sun and the Moon and doing a phasal analysis like this will help you to understand in more detail how a particular aspect behaves in a chart. Interested in that Venus/Mars square or Moon/Mars conjunction in the chart of your significant other? Understanding the phasal relationship of the planets and the aspects will help you interpret how they will affect your relationship. (Jeffrey Wolf Green in his book on Pluto in synastry has an entire chapter on the phasal relationship between Venus and Mars.) Looking at the phasal relationship of two planets is especially helpful when there are no aspects between the two. How well are your values (Venus) integrated with your actions (Mars)? The phasal relationship between the two will give you a clearer understanding. This kind of thinking is very important in secondary progressions, when understanding the relationship between faster and slower moving planets is crucial to interpretation.

Phasal relationships give us a sense of perspective. All squares (or any aspect, for that matter) are not alike. Analyzing the phasal relationship of important planets and aspects will help us understand whether these planetary combinations are new to us, or whether we have been struggling with them over lifetimes. It may be crazy-making, but it’s worth a look.


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