A Tutorial in Western Astrology: A step-by-step sequencing of lessons
I have organized all of the instructional articles and essays on this website into a step-by-step set of lessons in Western astrology that I will expand over time. This will allow students of astrology to more systematically approach the material on this website.
You can access the tutorial pages by clicking here
Note: when you click on any link in the tutorial, it will open in a new window, so that you will be able to go back to the tutorial listing at any time.
The Major Aspects in Western Astrology
Western Astrologers commonly use 5 major aspects in their chart work: the conjunction, sextile, square, trine, and opposition. (More advanced astrologers will pay attention to semisquares and sesquiquadrates, as well as quincunxes, quintile and other minor aspects. Beginners should be wary of trying to use too many aspects at once, to avoid confusion.)
Aspects that are within 3 degrees of exactness (e.g. two planets 2 degrees apart or 182 degrees apart for the opposition) are much stronger than aspects that are 5 degrees apart. Aspects over 5 degrees apart often contribute little to the dynamics of the chart unless there are few or no stronger aspects. Aspects that are 1 1/2 degrees orb or smaller are the strongest of all and should be given the most attention.
A conjunction occurs when planets are within 8 - 10 degrees of each other. This can be the most powerful of all aspects, because it focalizes the person's energy more fully in just one area of the life (one house) and amplifies a particular type of energy (one sign).
The conjunction represents the blending of two (or more) adjacent planets' energies and themes. If the planets are of similar nature, the conjunction is a natural blending. (Such as conjunctions between members of the firey group Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Pluto; or between members of the cooler group Saturn, Mercury, Venus, and Neptune, but not between the two groups.)
If it is between like planets, one does have to be careful of not being too skewed or extreme in the area involved. But if it is a conjunction between the two groups, then there is a challenge within the conjunction that must be resolved by learning how to "marry" two disparate energies.
Finally, the sign involved can show which planet -- especially in a disparate conjunction -- dominates. For example, a conjunction of Venus and Mars in Aries, Scorpio, Capricorn (Mars' exaltation sign), or Virgo(Venus' sign of fall), will have Mars dominate. In Libra, Taurus, Cancer (the sign of Mars' fall), or Pisces (Venus' exaltation sign), on the other hand, Venus will dominate the conjunction.
The opposition, when planets are opposite (within 8 or so degrees of exactly opposite), is the second strongest aspect.
This aspect can have both positive and negative effects, again depending upon the planets involved (whether they are in the same or disparate group -- see the paragraph above) and how strong the opposition is. If an opposition is within 2 degrees of exactly opposite (178 - 182 degrees apart) it will be more intense and more likely to cause both inner and interpersonal tension.
It is important to realize, however, that the opposition and conjunction to the Sun are special cases to consider. Any planet too close to the Sun (conjunct) becomes invisible -- called in astrology "combust" -- and therefore weakened in its expression. Any planet (including the Moon) opposite to the Sun is at its brightest and therefore at its most powerful (note: for Mar, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto this means that it will be retrograde and therefore be both powerful and less conventional).
Planets opposed to each other can blend their energies (e.g. Moon opposite Venus representing a very nurturing person), feel paralyzed (e.g. Saturn opposite Sun feeling full of self-doubt), or at odds (e.g. Mercury opposite Mars being torn between thinking and action). Note: the examples given are possibilities, not inevitabilities; e.g. a person with Sun opposite Saturn may or may not have self-doubt, depending upon the signs involved, other aspects, the rising sign, etc.
The trine, when planets are 120 degrees apart (within about 6 - 7 degrees), is the strongest harmonious aspect. The trine represents an effortless blending of two planets energies, and even blends these energies well between disparate planets. E.g. Saturn trine Sun can give purposefulness, focus, and groundedness.
While trines represent inherent talents and places in the life where things flow easily, they do not give one the motivation or initiative to make something of these gifts. Unless there are enough challenges (squares and oppositions) in contact with the trining planets, the person may "coast" and take the easy way out and not make the most of their abilities.
Squares (planets 90 degrees apart, plus or minus 6 - 7 degrees) are the most dynamic challenging aspect. While slightly less energetic than the opposition, they involve disparate signs and so are harder to resolve and more troublesome.
(Incidentally, internal conflict is more typically represented by squares while interpersonal conflict by oppositions.)
Even between compatible planets like Jupiter square Mars, for example, the square may create too much assertion, too much impulsiveness, and too much arrogance. In fire and earth signs, this Jupiter square Mars would represent the conflict between play and work, between impulse and control. In fire and water signs, there might be issues of extroversion vs. introversion and possibly too much emotional reactivity, impulsiveness, and intensity. In water and air, this can create intimacy issues: close vs. claustrophobic, as well as changeability, and very variable thoughts and feelings. In earth and air signs, this can represent the conflict between a detailed/pragmatic/hands-on approach vs. an abstract and detached deliberation (working vs. talking and thinking about it), as well as the conflict between working and socializing/interacting.
Finally, the sextile occurs when planets are 60 degrees apart (plus or minus 3 - 4 degrees). This is the weakest aspect of the major aspects, and tends to manifest more fully as the person matures. That's because the sextile represents learning to blend different elements in a harmonious fashion. The sextile, then, is a bridge that allows the person to become more flexible, more versatile, and more talented.
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