Aspect Orbs: An Emergency Posting

Don’t panic. The reason that this is an emergency posting is that, quite simply, if I don’t explain this right here, right now, I may actually go a little mad.  For this I am breaking the flow of the higher and lower octave articles:  I apologize to those of you who have been waiting for the article on Neptune as the higher octave of Venus.  It will be up shortly.

This post is prompted by students of mine, some of them quite advanced, asking me about what orbs I’m using for whatever chart we’ve been drawing up.  Now, if you study with me for any length of time, you are going to learn that this is a silly question.  However, I do understand that many  have been taught that orbs are somehow absolute.  When does it ‘kick in’ and when does it leave?  The assumption being that the aspect exists suddenly, and then it doesn’t.  I explain this time and again, even here on the site, but for some reason when it comes to orbs I seem to be speaking some obscure alien tongue picked up from my overly extensive and attentive Doctor Who watching.  I’m here to put the orb issue in black and white (well, orange and black) again.

This question of orbs drives me crazy, because if you practice astrology with any depth, and observe it for any length of time, you realize that you cannot use an absolute orb ratio.  There comes a time in chart interpretation where have to learn to start thinking about orbs in a more holistic way.

For example, we’re often taught that, in general, a five degree orb on either side is acceptable for the main aspects, with more allowance given for the lights.  (I’m not going to argue about different aspect orbs for different aspects, although that also comes up.) This five degree option is a nice figure.  I was taught this, just as I was taught that it was better to stick to a 3 degree orb for synastry.  There is a sense to this because when aspects are this close, they are usually absolutely obvious.  Of course, any aspect in this tight  is going to manifest somehow, some day, it’s inevitable.  If you stick to these rules,  you will have some decent information to work from, and you will not be sticking your neck, or your astrological expertise, out.  Alas, you will still be left with what is, basically, a list of aspects.  All equal.  One for all, all for one.

This is a great discipline, these hard and fast rules about orbs–for beginners.  But it’s not going to help you when that whammy of a transit or progression smacks you (or your client) from out of the blue and you didn’t see it coming, because you weren’t counting that Pluto/Mars conjunction that was 7 degrees away from exact when the Sun transited over it, even though Pluto is a nodal ruler and one of the dispositors of the Sun, and Mars is ruling an angle, and Scorpio is rising in the progressed chart…

There is such a thing, in chart interpretation, called weighting–and it isn’t a formula or a calculation, only the eye of experience can judge it.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with natal charts or composites or draconic or coalescent charts, the same rules apply:  how much influence does this planet have on this chart?  This is the most important thing to judge when dealing with both natal charts and moving objects, and if you don’t get your head around it, quite frankly, you’ll never be good at astrology, because this is the meat of interpretation:  knowing what matters a lot, and what matters less.  Otherwise, we’re swimming around from aspect to aspect like a bunch of newbies, wondering which one to cling to.

Astrologers, good astrologers, are fond of saying ‘aspect trumps sign.’  This means that an aspect to a planet gives you more information than the sign it’s in–the sign tells you how the planet behaves, but the aspect tells you what influences its behaviour, and the house it’s in will tell you what area of life it will affect.  Weighting will tell you which aspects are more likely to make themselves known, and this has less to do with orbs than it does with being able to determine how much influence a planet wields in a certain natal chart.  Ever sit around waiting for a transit of Neptune or Pluto to do something devastating to you, only to realize that nothing much actually happened?  This is because of two things:  1) (most importantly) the planets involved aren’t active in the progressed chart, and 2) the affecting planet wasn’t really that much of an influence in the natal.  If you are born with the Moon conjunct Uranus and the Sun heavily influenced by Neptune, then transits and progressions to and from those planets (and others) will affect you deeply, but that Pluto transit you were living in dread of may tap you on the head and then disappear in a puff of smoke.  Why?  Because Pluto doesn’t have that much to do with you.  He will have some affect on the planet and houses involved and affect your Scorpio tinged planets and houses, but he will not come and abduct you, the way he will a strong Plutonian.  He’s just not that into you.

Strict orbs are good learning tools, but eventually we must throw that crutch away.  Now of course, we can’t go overboard and turn overly generous and give 15 degree orbs to everything and watch meaning fly out the window (particularly when we’re doing synastries–don’t hide, I know who you are).  I’m not suggesting this at all.  What I am suggesting is learning what gives a greater priority and then understanding that all aspects are not alike.

Aspects are PHASAL.  They fade into orb, become exact, and then they fade out of orb. It begins as a faint echo, peaks at a scream, and fades away into the distance. If a planet is very sensitive because it is heavily aspected in the chart, or because it has weight in the chart, a person is going to feel that aspect a lot sooner and feel its effects a lot later than a person/chart who is not sensitive to that planet.  For that particular person, that sensitive planet is screaming a lot louder than other planets in the chart.

Sometimes a lot of planets are yelling out for us.  Sometimes things are very quiet.  In the quiet times, we will hear the not-so-loud planets more.  I’ve seen little Mercury, when it’s an important natal planet, do extraordinary things.  We expect the outer planets to have big voices, but sometimes they are very well behaved.  It’s all relative to whatever else is happening in the chart.

Because it’s summer, and it’s hot here on the East Coast, and everyone of us would much rather be in or under the water somewhere instead of inside reading our screens, I’m going to start you off with a brief ‘cheat sheet’ of what to look for in terms of planetary weighting.  It’s only a list of suggestions, and each chart will throw out its own issues, but it will give you a start.

Qualities That Increase a Planet’s Influence:

The Chart Ruler (Ruler of the Ascendant).

Any angle ruler.

Planets on angles in the natal.

The Ruler of Either Lunar Node.

The Dispositor of the Sun.

The planet that forms the most aspects to other planets.  (You can narrow this by using the one that forms the most ptolemaic aspects.)

Planet ruling the Asc or Desc in the progressed chart.

Planet conjunct an angle in the progressed chart.

Planets conjunct the lights, natally.  Any planet the progressed Sun conjuncts.  (A three year influence.)

Any planet planet the progressed Moon conjuncts (A three month influence.)

Any planet that disposits a large or important stellium.

That’s it.  Rant over.  Now I’m going to put my feet in the pool and have a cold drink…





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