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Learn how to interpret your personality traits


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Have you ever wondered what in the world astrologers are talking about when they say things like “Venus is sextile Uranus” or “the Sun will conjunct Neptune”? Are the planets “doing” things to each other? Well, yes they are! Planets engage in relationships with each other as they move through the cosmos. Your own birth chart is a freeze-frame representation of the links between the planets at the time of your birth. These connections can tell you a lot about yourself and why you behave the way you do.

This dynamic between planets is called an aspect. An aspect creates action in the birth chart and is a core technique in astrological interpretation. These “lines of energy” between the planets, or angles, create the undercurrents that form your personality. They also show the ways you relate to the world and to others. Aspects also occur every day as the planets move through the skies. So what exactly is an aspect and how do you calculate them? By following the energy.

Characteristics, energy & the psyche

An aspect in astrology reflects its definition: it is a specific characteristic or feature of something. In the birth chart, an aspect can express a feature of personality. What creates this feature is the intermingling of the energy or qualities of the planets. Aspects are the direct lines of communication or contact between planets. This creates energetic patterns that require expression, and that expression comes through you.

These “lines of energy” between the planets, or angles, create the undercurrents that form your personality.

An aspect describes how two planets view each other as well as the nature of their relationship. You might consider an aspect as the way in which planets understand each other. Do they connect easily or with difficulty? An aspect reveals how effectively — or not — a planet can express its energy, and any modifying factors or obstacles the planet has to overcome.

Stephen Arroyo in his Chart Interpretation Handbook says an aspect reveals the “energy flow” between planets, and is therefore what you have to do to express an impulse inside of you. The planets represent different parts of your psyche. They describe the ways you relate to life itself. How your energy manifests is a direct reflection of the planetary aspects in your chart.

How do you figure out the nature of the relationship between planets in a birth chart? What is each planet saying to each other through their aspects? You need to look at the bigger picture first.

The zodiac circle

When working with aspects, you are working with geometry. Dealing with aspects requires considering the degrees or distance, known as angles, between two or more planets. A birth chart, like any circle, contains 360°, giving 30° to each of the 12 zodiac signs. Each planet in your chart will fall somewhere along the zodiac circle, in a certain degree of a specific sign.

To determine an aspect between two or more planets, you have to do a bit of arithmetic. However, there are certain fast cheats you can use to find aspects using the elements (fire, earth, air and water) and the modalities (cardinal, fixed and mutable), or by simply counting zodiac signs.

Elements

The elements are foundational energies in astrology. Each sign is associated with one of the four elements. Every planet falls in a sign and takes on the elemental expression assigned to that sign. For instance, a planet in Taurus, an earth sign, will take on some of the practical or grounded qualities of the earth element.

A Sun-Uranus conjunction is about expressing a unique personality.

Each sign also has a modality, which shows how the energy of the sign and planet is expressed. Continuing this example, Taurus is a fixed sign, which is associated with the slow and steady way of operating. Therefore, a planet in Taurus may be grounded, practical, and go about its business in a stable, measured manner.

To calculate an aspect, begin to look for patterns in your chart. Knowing the element and modality of each zodiac sign can help you identify your aspects.

Here is how the elements and modalities help describe each aspect, plus a brief introduction to the five primary aspects:

  • Planets close to the same degree and in the same sign and element are in a conjunction aspect — this is a merging energy
  • Earth sign to water sign and fire sign to air sign planets are in a sextile aspect — this is a flowing energy
  • Planets in signs of the same element are in a trine aspect — this is a flowing energy
  • Planets in signs of the same modality are in a square or opposition aspect — this is a conflicting energy

The five Ptolemaic aspects

The ancient Greek astrologer Claudius Ptolemy outlined five aspects in his classic text Tetrabiblos. This has influenced astrological interpretation dramatically since its time. Through the years, many other secondary aspects have come into play, for example the quintile or inconjunct. However, many astrologers stick to using the Ptolemaic aspects as they provide excellent groundwork for any good chart interpretation.

The Ptolemaic aspects divide the 360° circle of the chart by two (opposition, 180°), three (trine, 120°), four (square, 90°) and six (sextile, 60°). The conjunction is an exact aspect, thus the chart is divided by one.

Near or far: understanding orbs

An orb in astrology represents the “exactness” of an aspect or angle — it has to do with how close the numbers, or degrees, of each planet are to each other. There are various viewpoints between how many degrees should sit between planets for an aspect, but common thought is the closer the better. Look for a 5° orb within the aspect between planets. The tighter or smaller the orb, the stronger or more influential the aspect between the two planets is.

Planets that dominate

When considering the nature of an aspect, exactly which planets are in relationship to each other becomes important. As a general rule, when an outer planet (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune or Pluto) aspects a personal planet (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars or Jupiter), the personal planet takes on or is influenced by the energy of the outer planet.

The outer planet actively expresses itself through the personal planet. For example, with an aspect between Pluto (intensity) and Mercury (communication, thinking), Mercury takes on a Plutonian tone: the mind expresses intensity, depth and force. A Uranus-Mars aspect gives an alternative edge (Uranus) to desires and intentions (Mars).

Also note when one of your planets aspects a chart point like the Ascendant (identity) or Midheaven (career). Most significant is the conjunction aspect. In this case, the planet acts through the Ascendant or Midheaven, influencing the areas of life associated with the particular chart point. For example, with a Venus-Midheaven contact, relationships (Venus) are connected to career. A Neptune-Ascendant aspect brings an inspirational or ethereal nature (Neptune) to the personality (Ascendant).

Here are interpretations of the five major aspects.

Conjunction: 0° to 5°

A conjunction occurs when two (or more) planets are in the same sign, preferably within 5° of each other. These planets appear to “sit together”, like two people having an intimate conversation. The essence of each planet merges and blends with the other into a unified whole. Since they share the same space, they influence each other. The keyword for this aspect is unity.

For example, a Mars-Mercury conjunction joins action and thought together; this is an intellect that asserts itself. In a Venus-Moon conjunction, emotional connections are important. A Sun-Uranus conjunction is about expressing a unique personality.

Sextile: 60°

A sextile contact is a harmonious connection. The keyword for a sextile is opportunity. Planets in sextile will be in signs of compatible elements. For instance, if one planet is in an earth sign, a planet in either of the closest water signs, around the same degree, would sextile it. Planets in signs that are both yin, that is, in earth or water signs, will sextile, while planets in signs that are both yang, which includes fire or air signs, will also sextile.

A sextile happens between planets that are two signs away. For example, if you have a planet at 10 Taurus, the next sign around (one) is Gemini, and the second sign around is Cancer. A planet close to 10 Cancer (+/- 5° orb) would sextile the planet at 10 Taurus. You could also go in the opposite direction, from Taurus to Aries and then Pisces. A planet close to 10 Pisces would also sextile a planet at 10 Taurus.

Sextile planets have the opportunity to act together by blending their energies and forces. Sextiles often describe a skill you have, as indicated by the qualities of the planets. With a little bit of work, the potential of a sextile can be realised.

For example, if you have a Moon-Mars sextile, you are given the opportunity to assert and express your emotions. With a Pluto-Mercury sextile you can express yourself with force and power. A sextile is a gentle aspect, which speaks of a coming together of the planets involved.

Square: 90°

Squares occur between planets in signs of the same modality but in conflicting elements. The keyword for a square is effort. These planets butt heads and literally run into each other, creating tension. A square between two planets represents topics you need to work on, work through and work out. In order for each planet to get what it wants, it has to consider the other.

An easy way to figure out if there are squares in your chart is look for planets that are three signs away. For example, if you have a planet at 21 Gemini, three signs around is Virgo. A planet at 24 Virgo (+/- 5° orb) is square to a planet at 21 Gemini. You can count in either direction, so a planet at 19 Pisces would also square one at 21 Gemini. The cheat trick is that signs of the same modality square each other. If you have planets in signs of the same modality, and close to the same degree, they will square.

Square contacts are those of forced growth and mastery. The square is an aspect of change and manifestation as each planet needs to compromise in order for both to move forward. A Sun-Saturn square requires that self-expression be tempered with reserve. A Mercury-Mars square has to be wary of the foot-in-mouth disease. If you have squares in your chart, you will be actively working out the kinks between the topics in question.

Trine: 120°

A trine is another harmonious aspect. The keyword here is ease. Planets that trine are in signs of the same element (fire, earth, air or water) so they flow together. These planets want the same thing and understand each other. A trine happens between planets that are four signs away.

For example, if you have Jupiter at 7 Scorpio, four signs around in either direction will bring you to Cancer and Pisces. A planet placed between 2° and 12° of Cancer or Pisces (within the 5° orb) would trine that Jupiter. The secret to quickly spot a trine is to look for planets in signs of the same element, close to the same degree.

Trines are challenged with direction: trine aspects are so easy they often float along. This aspect is not one of doing, but being. Trines describe your natural and innate abilities and talents, but it takes action on your part to channel this energy into something productive. If you have a trine between two of your planets, you have a big gift to offer the world.

Trine planets support each other. They get along and are on the path of least resistance. A Mercury-Jupiter trine heralds a gift of communication or writing. A Moon-Neptune trine represents skilled insight, intuitiveness and incredible sensitivity. With planets in trine there is great potential, but effort is needed to manifest your natural gift.

Opposition: 180°

An opposition represents the energy of polarity. Planets that oppose sit in separation from one another and carry contrasting views. The keyword for an opposition is balance. Each planet in this aspect wants opposing things, and energy tends to oscillate between the two sides. This also brings the potential for projection. Oppositions happen with planets six signs away, and these planets are in signs of the same modality.

For example, a planet in Capricorn will oppose a planet in Cancer, provided they are within 5° of each other’s placement.

Invariably, oppositional planets see two different sides of the same coin. These are the extremists battling it out, seesawing back and forth between divergent viewpoints. Fire and air oppose each other, as do water and earth. The opposition is said to be the aspect of relationship — the other providing a mirror for what is needed to become whole or equalised.

For example, with a Sun-Pluto opposition, you tend to project your power and others are seen as powerful forces in your life. With a Venus-Uranus opposition, you carry the unity-versus-freedom dynamic within you. The point of an opposition is to bring the two forces into balance and to integrate these energies together.

Combining planets & aspects: simple interpretations

A simple way to blend and interpret the meaning of an aspect is to create a statement based on the planets and nature of the aspect.

Each planet has a basic meaning:

  • Sun: Self-expression, essence, identity
  • Moon: Emotions, the body, Home
  • Mercury: Rational mind, communication style
  • Venus: Love and relationship style, artistry
  • Mars: Motivation, desires, energy
  • Jupiter: Faith, beliefs, expansion, growth
  • Saturn: Fears, limitations, discipline
  • Uranus: Rebellion, progress, breakthrough
  • Neptune: Confusion, inspiration, ethereal
  • Pluto: Intensity, power, control, force

Each aspect has a specific action or intent associated with it:

  • Conjunction: Merging, uniting
  • Sextile: Opportunity, ability
  • Square: Conflict, blocks
  • Trine: Flowing, harmonious
  • Opposition: Opposing, balancing

Create a simple phrase using the meaning of the planet and action of the aspect. For example, a Moon-Pluto conjunction might be interpreted as: emotions are intense, powerful and felt with force. A Jupiter-Saturn square might be: beliefs can experience limits. In general, it’s best to focus on aspects that include either personal-to-personal and outer-to-personal planets, as these are the greatest indicators of personality patterns.

Adding in the element and modality, each planet in the aspect adds to the insight it offers.

Element

Fire Vision, passion, inspiration (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius)
Earth Practical, grounded, physical (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn)
Air Ideas, communication, networking (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius)
Water Feelings, creativity, moods (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces)

Modality

Cardinal Initiation (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn)
Fixed Stability (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius)
Mutable Transition (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces)

For example, if you have the Moon in Aries conjunct Pluto (also in Aries), emotions are passionate, intense and powerful and initiate with force. A Jupiter in Aquarius and Saturn in Leo square can be interpreted as: your belief systems are really broad in nature, but are challenged to consider the heart of the matter too. When interpreting aspects, it is best to stick to keywords, especially in the beginning.

Where it happens

The houses in which planets sit represent the where of the aspect. It indicates in which area of life this dynamic of your personality prefers to assert itself. This is the aspect in action directly in your life. Here are the basic meanings of each house:

  • 1st: Self, body, life approach
  • 2nd: Money, resources
  • 3rd: Communication
  • 4th: Home, roots
  • 5th: Children, creativity, pleasure
  • 6th: Health, daily round, work
  • 7th: Partnerships
  • 8th: Transition, shared resources
  • 9th: Higher education, beliefs
  • 10th: Career, public reputation
  • 11th: Groups, friendships, hopes
  • 12th: Retreat, self-undoing, unconscious

As a special note, planets in houses 1, 4, 7 and 10, known as angular houses, signify active parts of your personality. Aspects in these houses are more potent. Planets or aspects through houses 2, 5, 8 and 11, the succedent houses, have medium strength. Planets or aspects through the 3, 6, 9 and 12 houses, the cadent houses, take more energy and time to get going.

Live your aspects

Aspects are what make you an individual. You are a living example of your aspects; they show what motivates and drives you, how you go about doing things, and what triggers your innate potential. Connecting to the aspects in your chart can help you understand the why, where and how of what you do. These dynamics are the expression of your life and are your personal modus operandi.