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Aspects and Orbs:

Understanding the Planetary Interplay in Your Birth Chart

An astrology chart is made up first and foremost of the positions of the planets – and that each planet in the birth chart is in a zodiac sign and in an astrological house. Beginners to astrology learn that planet plus sign plus house can give you a basic level of interpretation, and that’s true – but to properly get to grips with your birth chart, you’ll need to understand aspects.

What are Planetary Aspects in Astrology?

Aspect is a term which relates to the geometric angles between each planet and every other planet in the birth chart.

Remember that the birth chart is shown as a circle, which is 360 degrees. If your Sun is on the chart at 15 degrees Leo and your Saturn is at 15 degrees Aquarius, then the Sun and Saturn in your birth chart are 180 degrees apart. Meanwhile, if your Venus is at 18 degrees Leo, then your Sun and your Venus are 3 degrees apart.

Some angular relationships are thought to be particularly significant in astrology, and these are what we really mean when we talk about aspects.

The major astrology aspects are:

Conjunction – 0 degrees apart
Sextile – 60 degrees apart
Square – 90 degrees apart
Trine – 120 degrees apart
Opposition – 180 degrees apart

So, if we say that your Moon trines your Pluto, we mean that your Moon and your Pluto are 120 degrees apart in the birth chart.

Why does this matter?

Well, you’ll recall that each of the planets embodies a particular energy in the natal chart. When two planets are in significant aspect to one another, the energies of those two planets meet and mix in some way. The aspect involved tells us how they meet and mix. Do they mingle seamlessly into a whole, or do they clash violently? That matters.

For example, when Venus (love and kindness) meets Saturn (responsibility and restriction) via an aspect in the birth chart, we need to know how they interact. They could work well together, manifesting an enduring and stable kind of love, or they could clash, suggesting a relationship which is uptight, stifled and cold.

Which are the Bad Aspects in Astrology?

There are no bad aspects, as such. There are, however, more harmonious and less harmonious blends of energy. Traditionally, people thought that some of the so-called ‘hard’ aspects were ‘bad’, but now we understand that, although they may bring challenges, they also bring opportunities for growth and learning.

What is An Astrological Orb?

In astrology, an orb is the term we use for how exact an aspect is.

If two planets are exactly 180 degrees apart, we would say that is an exact opposition, or an orb of 0 degrees. If, however, the planets are 184 degrees apart, we would call it an opposition with an orb of 4 degrees.

The more exact an aspect, the more powerful its influence will be.

Obviously, one has to draw the line somewhere – and how much of an orb to allow for different aspects is a hot topic in astrology. Generally, however, astrologers will allow an orb of up to 10 degrees for most of the major aspects – a conjunction, an opposition, a trine or a square.

So, if you have two planets which are 128 degrees apart, we would still consider them to be in trine aspect (120 degrees), with an orb of 8 degrees. If they were 131 degrees apart, the orb would be 11 degrees, and too much, so this would not normally be interpreted as part of the chart or a major aspect.

Yes, 10 degrees is an arbitrary line to draw, but experience shows that it works well enough for birth chart astrology. For forecasting and synastry (relationship astrology), the orbs allowed are usually much smaller, as astrological timing depends on the accuracy of aspects.

Let’s take a look at what each of the major aspects means for interpreting your birth chart:

Conjunction in Astrology – Planets 0 Degrees Apart

In a conjunction, the two or more planets are very close together - up to 10 degrees apart. Planets in conjunction fuse their energies together into a complete, unified blend. This can be a focal point in the birth chart, but although it sounds like an ‘easy’ or ‘harmonious’ aspect, conjunctions can be tricky things.

Although the planetary energies blend seamlessly, this in itself can cause issues. For example, if Mercury conjuncts Neptune, the individual would enjoy the benefits of this blend – strong imagination and sensitive communication skills – but would also have to contend with the more difficult side of these entangled energies, such as confused thinking and vague ideas.

It’s worth noting that a conjunction with a wide orb could involve planets in two different zodiac signs. Since neighboring zodiac signs are usually not natural bed-mates, this can cause additional issues with this energy blend.

Sextile Aspect in Astrology – Planets 60 Degrees Apart

Planets in sextile aspect blend their energies easily and harmoniously, helped by the fact that the two planets concerned will be in zodiac signs with compatible elements. This energy has potential and can be channeled by the individual to good effect. For this reason, sextiles are associated with showing where our talents are, and opportunities exist.

For example, a sextile between Mars and Neptune could suggest a talent for spiritual or psychic work. It would be up to the individual to develop this talent, if they so wished, but the sextile aspect suggests its inherent presence.

Square Aspect in Astrology – Planets 90 Degrees Apart

Planets in square aspect bring their energies together with considerable tension. The energies battle one another for supremacy and work at cross purposes to each other. Squares are known as ‘hard’ aspects and are traditionally considered to be difficult to manage – however in modern astrology, we recognize that squares are a necessary part of the growth process. The level of tension in a square aspect is usually enough to prompt action of some kind, as the individual attempts to reconcile the situation.

For example, a square between Mercury and Saturn may suggest an individual who has trouble speaking their mind or who is prevented in some way from speaking their truth. Depending how exact the aspect is, this may be a source of considerable stress for the person concerned, but the energy from this square aspect would eventually prompt action to try to resolve the problem.

Trine Aspect in Astrology – Planets 120 Degrees Apart

When two planets are in trine aspect, their energies flow easily and naturally together, aided by the fact the two or more planets concerned normally belong to the same astrological element of fire, earth, air or water. Trines are traditionally considered to be the easiest and most fortunate of the astrological aspects – but when is anything ever that simple? In modern astrology, we recognize that there is a downside to trines too, namely that the energies concerned can be rather lazy and ineffectual. There is no urge to act here, so a birth chart with many trines can lead to a lack of focus or direction in life or to talents being wasted.

For example, consider a trine between the Sun and Pluto. This would indicate an individual who has considerable charm and charisma and a good deal of personal power – someone who can lead others and make people listen. Unless something else in the birth chart prompts action, however, this individual may well not bother to use those talents to the best of their ability, or even at all.

Opposition Aspect in Astrology – Planets 180 Degrees Apart

When two or more planets are in opposition, the energy struggles to integrate at all. Instead, you may see flashes of one energy at certain times, and the other at other times, leading to a back and forth or inconstancy in the way either energy is channeled. This can feel very uncomfortable and can lead to a feeling of insecurity in the areas of life involved in the opposition. Compromise is very difficult when there is an opposition involved and oppositions are typically considered to be ‘hard’ aspects.

For example, someone who has an opposition between Mars and Jupiter will tend to waver between the expression of those two energies, perhaps working extremely hard but wasting a great deal of time or resources along the way.

Remember the Sign and House Influence in Aspects!

When interpreting astrological aspects in the birth chart, it’s not only about the two planets involved. Remember that each of those planets is expressing its energy in the manner of the zodiac sign it’s in, and in the area of the house it’s in.

A square between Mars in Aries and Neptune in Capricorn will enact very differently to a square between Mars in Gemini and Neptune in Pisces.

Likewise, a trine between Mercury in the 4th house and Saturn in the 8th house will play out differently than a trine between Mercury in the 2nd house and Saturn in the 10th house.

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