Interpreting Aspects in Traditional Astrology
Objective and Overview
The word aspect, derived from the Latin term aspectus, infers to the act of seeing or looking. Essentially, it is the sense of sight: the visibility, appearance, aspect, presence, mien, countenance, form, and color. Therefore, indicative of the word aspect, in Hellenistic astrology, configurations perform an optical operation: the ability to visualize planets.
According to theoretical principles, the composition of an astrological configuration varies between traditional and modern practices. In traditional astrology, aspects are largely based upon optical theories and planetary affinity. The concept of minor aspects, later introduced by Kepler in rebuttal of the zodiac signs (while labeling the 12 places or houses as “Arabic sorcery”), became more prominent in the 20th century. Noting these disparities, this article’s objective is to explain, from an introductory level, the aspect principles in the context of traditional astrology. Additionally, this information intends to supplement aspect delineations provided throughout this site, generating further context and specifications when analyzing any given configuration.
Sign-Based and Degree-Based Configurations
A notable difference regarding traditional configurations is the ability of two planets to ‘witness’ each other independent of degree. Sign-based configurations are possible via trine, sextile, square, and opposition, on account of the visual spectrum between two planets. Copresence, the final configuration included in later Hellenistic texts, is essentially equivalent to the modern-day conjunction. Again, like other sign-based configurations, copresence can also exist independent of degree.
Degree-based configurations involve two planets in mutual testimony while punctuating their acuity by degree. While degree-based aspects are a popular construct of modern astrology, in traditional astrology, these configurations must still, in accordance with theoretical principles, bear witness to one another. This is why the introduction of ‘minor aspects’ such as the ‘inconjunction’ or ‘quincunx’, ‘semi-sextile’, ‘semi-square, ‘novile’, ‘quintile, and ‘bi-quintile‘, to name a few, cannot logically cohere to the traditional aspect doctrine.
The absence of affinity by sign creates planetary aversion, which can can have both mitigating or afflicting implications. For example, in electional astrology, placing the malefic contrary-to-sect in aversion to the first house can help protect planets positioned in said place. Contrastingly, an of-sect benefic in aversion to the Hour-Marker cannot benefit the chart ruler, again, because it is unable to witness the planet in question. Therefore, planets in aversion can work favorably or unfavorably, depending on their qualities and tasks in any given chart.
Exact Degree-Based Configurations: The Seven Partile Rays
A basic note to keep in mind is this: at any time, a planet aspects seven signs while remaining in aversion to the remaining four.
Similarly, each planet incessantly emits seven partile rays. The word partile is indicative of exactitude via degree. In an acute aspect, a planet emitting a partile ray has complete visibility, entirely beholding another planet in exact degree. As a celestial composition of consistent mobility, each of the seven traditional planets are constantly witnessing and emitting seven partile rays. Once a ray strikes any given planet, an aspect is acutely activated, and its delineation is dependent upon the significance of the planetary emitter.
The Branches of Copresence: Assembly and Adherence
Copresence, also known as the conjunction (both bodily and degree-based) is considered the first original configuration. Independently defined from the four optical aspects, copresence occurs when two planets occupy the same zodiacal sign. Implying affinity via bodily presence, this configuration was initially separated from the remaining four visual aspects. In later Hellenistic texts, it was introduced and combined with the other configurations by authors such as Rhetorius.
Under the branch of copresence, there are two variations, namely termed assembly and adherence. Within the same sign, assembly is an applying aspect more than 3 degrees apart but less an 15 degrees away. With adherence, the traditional term for the more commonly known ‘conjoining’ aspect, one planet applies bodily within three degrees to another planet. Technically, assembly and adherence are both forms of copresence, yet the orb narrows as adherence becomes the closest (degree-based) branch of copresence.
Engagement and the Four Optical Aspects
Engagement, an applying ray effecting any of the four optical configurations (as discussed below), is neither a bodily conjunction nor a form of copresence. Instead, engagement is simply considered an applying aspect within three degrees, via trine sextile, square, or opposition. The important principle regarding engagement (as opposed to adherence, for example) is that it corresponds via degree, or the ray of one planet as it applies to another.
The Four Optical Configurations
Initially, the four traditional configurations indicate one face of an entire shape or figure. In fact, configurations are literally regarded as figures, alluding to the form of each associated polygon. Succinctly, the four geometric aspects correlate with the malefics and benefics in Hellenistic astrology as follows:
- The tetragon or square. The square is four signs apart, or separated by 90 degrees. It is deemed the signature aspect of (lesser malefic) Mars.
- The diameter or opposition. The opposition is seven signs apart, or separated by 180 degrees. It is deemed the signature aspect of (greater malefic) Saturn. Via opposition, each exalted planet witnesses its sign of depression. With each rise and fall, these extremes contrast the equilibrium and efficiency of planetary domicile.
Planets in exaltation opposite their depressions.
- The hexagon or sextile. The sextile is three sign apart, or separated by 60 degrees. It is deemed the signature aspect of (lesser benefic) Venus.
- The triangle or trine. The trine is five signs apart, or separated by 120 degrees. It is deemed the signature aspect of (greater benefic) Jupiter.
Note: By trine in the diurnal exaltation scheme, each exalted planet aspects its domicile. The exalted Sun in Aries trines its domicile in Leo, exalted Jupiter in Cancer trines its domicile in Pisces, and exalted Saturn in Libra trines Aquarius.
Similarly, in the nocturnal exaltation scheme, exalted planets aspect their domiciles by sextile. Again, the correlation between day, trine and Jupiter echoes the night, sextile, and Venus.
The Luminaries and the Optical Configurations
With each planet in its domicile, the solar and lunar hemispheres reflect the quality of each optical configuration. With Mercury in aversion, each light casts a sextile, square, trine, and opposition, mirroring the distinct signature aspects of the benefics and malefics. Jupiter and Venus govern the trine and sextile, respectively, as the malefics, Saturn and Mars, govern the opposition and square, respectively. This planet-aspect association (regarding the benefics and malefics) adds an additional layer to delineation, especially when coupled, for example, with considerations such as overcoming and upon the tenth. The two latter considerations are discussed below.
Overcoming and ‘Upon the Tenth’
Overcoming, especially when ‘upon the tenth‘, is often considered one of the most potent configurations in Hellenistic astrology. On the right side of a chart, planets positioned earlier in zodiacal sign exert a prevailing influence, considered the superior position, over inferiorly positioned planets on the left. Of the two, the overcoming planet directs the relationship, independent of degree. For example, taking the tetragon or square, Venus overcoming Mars differs from Mars overcoming Venus. In the former, the benefic dominates the configuration, in the latter, the malefic prevails. This occurs independent of degree.
Regardless of degree, a planet in the tenth sign relative to another planet forms a superior, sign-based square. Termed ‘upon the tenth’, this branch of overcoming can extend either benefic or malefic implications, relative to the qualities of the dominant planet. When delineating configurations, concepts like overcoming and upon the tenth can help direct prevalence regarding planetary dominance. Again, using the above chart example, Mars overcoming Jupiter via superior square has, doubly, the essence of Mars by placement and configuration (the square being associated with Mars).
Containment or Beseigment
A planet is contained or besieged when located in a sign encapsulated by the sign-based rays of another planet. As each planet emits seven partile rays, a benefic like Jupiter or Venus can mitigate a besieged planet by protecting it with a sign-based aspect. Similarly, a malefic can contain another planet by emitting rays to that planet’s surroundings. As a result, the besieged planet feels obfuscated by the malefic rays, and benefits from a sign-based aspect from a benefic planet.
Either bodily or via degree-based configuration, enclosure occurs when a planet is between two planets in the same sign. As with containment, the center planet can be maltreated or bonified, depending on the planets that enclose it. If a planet is enclosed by malefics, a degree-based aspect from a benefic can help mitigate its condition. Conversely, a planet that is shielded by the enclosure of benefics can be maltreated if a malefic planet aspects the otherwise graced planet.
Aspects in Traditional Astrology: Summary
Derived from the Latin term aspectus, an aspect infers to the act of seeing or looking. Essentially alluding to the sense of sight, aspects infer to the visibility, appearance, and presence of planetary formations. According to theoretical principles, the composition of an astrological configuration or aspect varies between traditional and modern practices. In traditional astrology, aspects are largely based upon optical theories and planetary affinity.
The subtle gradations within the spectrum of degree-based and sign-based configurations in Hellenistic astrology can provide valuable insight and precision into an otherwise basic aspect delineation. While this article is intended as an introductory guideline to traditional configurations, and various specifics have been omitted (serving as the initiatory article of a forthcoming series), the intent is to define and differentiate traditional aspect delineations from the modernized approaches in order to facilitate further precision and accuracy.
Brennan, Chris, Hellenistic Astrology
*Etchings by K. Kalynovych
*Hand-drawn chart illustrations are my own.
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