Why is a square?


It seems like a perfectly obvious question, but it’s one that most astrologers seldom think to ask, not least, I suspect, because there are certain unquestioned assumptions in astrology as much as in any other field of study: and thus a square is simply a square because it’s a square!

This logic has always troubled me, most especially because it is based upon no logic whatever. Rather it is a received wisdom whose underlying tenets appear too fundamental to challenge. Such is dogma, and dogma is rarely useful.

We ought to always understand the raison d’être of these first principles, even if only to prove their veracity. I have explored a few understandings about the mechanics of aspects, mostly they are based upon divisions of the circle and fundamentals of numerology (although that to me seems a little chicken and egg: which came first, numerology or the division of the ecliptic?) There seems little doubt in my thinking when I have pondered the reality of aspects however: it is mostly derived from the nature of the signs themselves, modified by proximity to an equal division of the sphere.

Why should this be? A Sun and Moon blend does not need to be in Ptolemaic opposition for it to manifest the tendency to awkwardness – most especially in interaction with others – that is the hallmark of a full moon birth so long as the signs are opposite. Mars in Aries will not sit comfortably in the broad apprehension of life while Venus is in Capricorn, even if the two are not squared. The orb creates immediacy, not reality. Both Venus and Mars must be expressed somehow, and they are not compatible in these signs, so whilst they cannot (as tradition would have it) “see each other” by aspect, they certainly will not be mutually supporting as they would if both were in fire and out of orb of the trine.

To a large extent, it is entirely academic to even think in this specific way, but it ought to be obvious that regardless of aspect a planet in flighty, cursory Gemini will not mix comfortably with a planet in detail-focused, thorough Virgo; the two signs have little in common (and therein lies the challenge of the square).

So, the intrinsic nature of the signs is the keystone of aspect analysis regardless of orb or anything else. Orbs in themselves are of course important, and the closer two powers are configured, the more unquestioned and innate an aspect is likely to appear, most especially in subjective terms. That is to say that a square of less than 2 degrees of arc is very often a blind spot for the native, whereas a wider square will likely be a condition of which they have more awareness. Tight aspects are innate and unquestioned, loose ones are less integrated and impinge more upon consciousness as a result.

All of which really begs the question (and it’s a good one): what about out of sign aspects? At this juncture, it might be useful to consider an example:

00) Florence, Italy

Maurizio Gucci, fashion designer. 26 Sept 1948 01:10 (EET -2:00) Florence, Italy

Maurizio Gucci, one time head of the world famous Italian fashion house evinced an out of sign square between Sun in Libra and Moon in Gemini, with a separation of just 3°06′. Classically, a Sun – Moon square represents inner discontent due to the instincts being incompatible with the ideal self, but in an out-of-sign square such as this, the intrinsic nature of Gemini and Libra is inherently complementary, so the tension of the square would not in any way have been so evident as with Cancer and Libra (emotional and nonchalant) or Gemini and Virgo (easy-going and particular), instead with this combination we have a nonchalant and easy-going admixture: and yet the two are squared.

Bill Tierney, in the excellent Dynamics of Aspect Analysis (which I no longer own, although did until very recently) discusses this exact phenomenon, (unfortunately I cannot quote directly) and his conclusion suggests that aspects out of sign are fundamentally altered in quality and not nearly so compulsive. Thus, they appear to assume something of the quality of a wider-arc aspect.

Gucci however, did evince one of the more classic tensions of a Sun – Moon square: namely marital tension, and that writ very large. Shortly after selling his stake in the family empire for $170 million, he was gunned down by a contract killer hired by his wife. Other insights support this potential: Venus conjunct Pluto (fanatic love) in the 2nd house of wealth, peregrine Neptune in Libra and the 4th suggests powerfully confused home conditions whereas the Mars – Pluto square across those most uncompromising and remorseless of potentials: Scorpio to Leo is never going to be easy to reconcile.

Gucci’s wife was notoriously narcissitic, she once said “I’d rather cry in a Rolls Royce than laugh on a bicycle,” and it was after her husband determined to divorce her that she hatched her evil plot.

For Maurizio though, the ruler of the 8th is Uranus (thus sudden, unexpected) and conjunct Moon (the wife), which tells something of the end of things, but even more pertinent is the midpoint picture of Ur=Ma/Pl. The Mars – Pluto square across the fixed Leo – Scorpio potential is already powerfully forceful and difficult, and with Uranus at the midpoint at less than a minute of arc the interpretation becomes especially intriguing: cruelty, violence, brutality – sudden disasters or calamities of great consequence. In medical astrology, the midpoint of the tightest square: especially one involving Pluto is nearly always profoundly telling.

Of course, it works both ways, a trine that is out of sign is not nearly so innate and accessible as one that is in its element, so more effort is required to facilitate the easy exchange of energy normally associated with the aspect as might be expected with two planets in mutually incompatible signs.

For the astrologer, it makes interpretation somewhat difficult, because there is a contradictory influence at work in out of sign aspects. The out of sign opposition has something of the quincunx to consider, thus a tendency to dissatisfaction that perhaps alters the quality of the traditional opposition. The square might be eased, the trine weakened, of the major aspects, only the conjunction might be considered assisted by the tendency to the semi-sextile, although it without doubt lessens the intimacy and innateness of the usual blend.

Trines vs. Squares, Case Studies

The fact that today I don’t get a single hard transit, Venus conjunct Uranus woke me at 8:04 this morning and she crosses my Ascendant around lunchtime (and I am looking good today, if I say so myself), has got me in the way of thinking about the quality of aspect experience in the nativity. The key observation is that a chart that evinces a lack of easy aspects will be fundamentally different in quality and tone to one that contains an abundance of ease regardless of any other factor in the entire astrology. It transcends, if you like, the more specific considerations of element, triplicity, sign and house and ought to be noted where found as “important!” I wrote broadly on this principle in a previous article which can be found here.

I have conducted a small study of my files and I can now provide some specific examples which will hopefully illustrate the principle and clarify the key quality of the insight. The first observation of significance is that charts of noteworthy individuals with a complete absence of easy aspects outnumber those lacking hard aspects almost completely, in fact I could find only 4 charts in more than 2000 that contained no squares or oppositions. This ought not be the greatest surprise in theory, since the very vast majority of charts contain a fairly broad mix of hard and easy contacts, speaking only statistically that ought to be the case, but by contrast, the number of charts containing no, or nearly no easy aspects is quite disproportionately long. Immediately an insight is gleaned about drive and ambition; these are created out of the square aspect more or less exclusively, although conjunctions to Mars or Pluto often evince something of the nature of a natural square.

Technical note: In this study I tend to only consider the trine, square and opposition alone. A sextile requires effort to activate and is not innate in the same manner as the division by 2, 3 and 4, thus I would consider a chart lacking trines and with just one or two sextiles to be exclusively difficult.

Easy Charts.

First then, the 4 cases I could find of charts that contained only easy aspects, by which I mean a total absence of squares and oppositions. Pauline Collins (a British sitcom actress), Rollie Fingers (a baseball star), Daniel Wesson (co-founder of the Smith and Wesson firearms manufacturer) and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are the only examples of even moderate note that I could find. Fitzgerald is easily the most noteworthy among these four so we will look briefly at his astrology here.

22) St. Paul Minn. USA

F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer. 24 Sept 1896 15:30 (+6:12:22) St. Paul Minn. USA

A chart with this much ease of course ought to be more of a handicap than an outright boon, but you should note almost right away that Sun and Pluto are both peregrinated, whilst Saturn and Uranus form a peregrine island in Scorpio and the 9th house. This is almost certainly the source of his drive to suceed, and his greatest work, The Great Gatsby is really a novel about the experiential dissonance of the protagonist who exalts the charming social conventions (Sun in Libra) of New York society in the 1920’s but experiences a real discomfort with the rampant materialism that underpins it (8th house). The rest of Fitzgerald’s life runs much more in the vaguely dissolute groove promised by a lack of tension in the nativity. He went to Princeton, failed to complete his studies, was considered a “mediocre student” and rather flaccidly went about his affairs, making easy associations with the likes of Ernest Hemingway along the way. His love life was stuttering and somewhat lacking in urgency, and he even managed to arouse a rather generalised resentment from his contemporaries, including Hemingway who referred to Fitzgerald latterly as an “archetypal, ruined American writer”. The experience of this broad sweep of aspects then is one of a rather unfocused, random and altogether too unfussy approach to the whole arena of life and there is always a sense that progress is made as much, if not more, through luck and blind chance than through any concerted effort or desire. That then, is the unexpurgated trine experience, and without peregrination, I do not doubt for one moment that even the great F. Scott Fitzgerald would have been simply incapable of rising above abject mediocrity in any facet of his life. The fuel is simply absent.

Hard charts.

Here, conversely there is a wealth of material to choose from and if I were prepared to include charts evincing even a single easy aspect the list would grow exponentially. The Gemini Sun and implacably peregrinated Mercury in Taurus blend of Clint Eastwood and the dreamily poised peregrinated Mercury in Scorpio of Grace Kelly are examples of this latter type. Here then is the list of those charts from my records containing not a single trine:

Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
Alexander Graham Bell
Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Henri Cartier Bresson
Barbara Cartland
Walt Disney
Jodie Foster
Rodney King
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Charles Manson
William Morris
Guy Pearce
Will Smith
Bruce Springsteen

Several of these cases are extremely interesting in their own right and I have explored various facets of their respective astrologies in previous articles: Cliff Burton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Guy Pearce (whose chart is a facsimile of my own, he is a few hours older than I and born just 30 miles from me too) and of course, Will Smith, who is the archetypal peregrinated Moon in Scorpio role-model, in this astrologer’s view.

For the purpose of this article I would like to consider two further extremely interesting cases; those of Jodie Foster and Bruce Springsteen, both of whom share a common quality of A-list celebrity status, a far cry from the rather meagre fame of those in the easy grouping.

00) Los Angeles CA USA

Jodie Foster, actress: 19 Nov 1962 08:14 PST (+08:00) Los Angeles CA USA

You will note that the only sextile is almost entirely generational with Neptune and Pluto neither angular, not overly pronounced in the context of the overall nativity. Pluto is pronounced however through its lordship over Sun in Scorpio, the focal point of a rather unconvincing tee-square from Mo/Ur opp. Ju. Moon conjunct Uranus in Virgo creates a real possibility of emotional dissatisfaction, a feeling of being different but the opposition to Jupiter in the 3rd creates real stress in her relationships whenever she tries to express it. The result of that is vocal tension, a sense of crackling restraint in the self-expression when it is squeezed into ultra-controlling Sun in Scorpio. Just listen to her talk and you will immediately feel that quality, it is unmistakable. You can palpably sense the fizzing, electrical quality of Uranus being strained out through the Sun. Of perhaps even more import for the arc of her life and career is peregrinated Saturn in Aquarius, where he is undoubtedly very comfortable; here Saturn is idealistic with regard to material matters, she therefore has real power to realise assets in her life, a quality she shares exactly with Michael Caine. The overall ambience of the nativity therefore is perfectly in keeping with a lack of ease; even if life is objectively seen to be quite comfortable and successful, the lack of trines individual cannot rest on his or her laurels and must continue to strive for a resolution to that inner sense of tension.

00) Freehold NJ USA

Bruce Springsteen, musician 23 Sep 1949 22:50 (+04:00) Freehold NJ USA

Bruce Springsteen is another unique case, since his chart evinces not only a lack of trines but a remarkable lack of oppositions too. There are other charts that show no opposition, those of Paul McCartney, Orson Welles and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper for example, however, Springsteen’s chart is one of the very few that contains only squares. A lack of oppositions is in general an indicator of an uncomfortable tendency to not seek external validation. This is the same end result as a grand trine in truth, however the grand trine creates no friction, it is an entirely comfortable self-absorption; the lack of opposition by contrast merely generates isolation. The native, unable to moderate behaviour through the mirror of interaction simply annoys others until they drift away, frustrated and no doubt desirous of easier company. This, I would think in Springsteen’s case will just add to the angsty quality of the trineless nativity and drive him onward in his quest for self-acceptance and equanimity. Sun on the Aries Point of Libra creates an opportunity for fame too, but the real drive in his life is found in the Venus Mars square, a dissatisfaction with love and, with Venus in Scorpio, an inability to differentiate between sex and the more rarefied sentiments. Uranus rising in Cancer, ruling the vocation and squaring Sun creates a tension and need to express independent views on the homeland and this is a real feature of his songwriting of course. Jupiter is especially poorly placed, detrimented, squared to the Lord of the Geniture and in Pluto’s house, but it does create a real drive too to realise power in the life, and material concerns are part of that impetus with Capricorn configured. Tense, tense, tense: poor Bruce, he might never get to sing it out of him.

Trines vs. squares: half a dozen of one, or six of another?

Trines and squares create very different motivations...

Trines and squares create very different motivations...

I am not the world’s greatest fan of the trine. That may seem unfair and undoubtedly it is, and quite possibly my motivations are intrinsically selfish too because, quite simply, I don’t have any. So yes, maybe I am just jealous, but in the astrology, the distribution of trines and squares, conjunctions and oppositions is profoundly insightful and the astrologer ought always to take note of how they stack up, because a trines person is fundamentally and profoundly different to a squares person regardless of any other factor in the astrology. This is an easy insight to overlook, but if aspects are the adjectives in the language of the astrology, then if we are describing an overall ambience in the nativity with words such as uncomplicated, easy, harmonious and light, then that creates a profoundly different statement than one which contains adjectives such as tense, driven, incomplete and difficult. Thus, the key insight has to be that the trines and sextiles person has, at their very essence, a fundamentally different approach to the world than the squares and oppositions type, regardless of any other factor in the entire astrology. This is easily more meaningful in terms of interpretation than an imbalance of any single element, chart shape, aspect pattern, dispositors or anything much else that you care to consider.

Now, for the purpose of illustration I do actually have a few trines. I have Neptune trine Chiron and Jupiter (conjunct Venus conjunct Pars Fortuna conjunct Pallas) trine NN, but importantly, I have no trines between Ptolemaic points, and in fact, my only sextiles are found between Neptune and Ur/Pl, so in effect, I have a chart which evinces no meaningfully personal easy aspects. I would say, that beyond peregrination, this is far and away the most important consideration in my astrology and I would consider that to be the order of things in whatever case.

Subjectively it is difficult, no question. I simply cannot relax except when I have my Ve/Ju trine NN firing on all cylinders; which pretty much means (because Jupiter is approaching 28 Leo) that I only get to relax when I am drunk at a party of royals and dignitaries. It’s fairly true as well, because the rest of the time I am driven, and I don’t much care to relax. Trine people in my life fail to understand this and consider that I need to learn to relax, but of course they misapprehend the nature of an astrology without easy aspects, relaxing feels indolent and pointless to the intrinsically squared nativity and relaxing can be a chore and will subjectively feel deeply uncomfortable to them. There is simply no more point to telling somebody whose chart evinces no easy aspects to relax than there is to ordering a fortunate with no hard aspects to “get going!” They simply cannot relate.

For the student of self-awareness, there really is no question, a difficult astrology is preferable simply because out of the friction of tense aspects comes an apprehension of that self-same astrological principle in the life; I have Ma/Sa/3 square Pl/Vi/12-1, and I feel that aspect all the time, quite intensely and in fact I always have. My two trines on the other hand have always been so innate that it is only through much self-examination and introspection that I have been at all aware of them, (although granted, Neptune trine Chiron is a fairly far-flung impetus to try and feel, but I do feel it, no question).

I know astrologers who switch off easy aspects in the astrology, because, like anything that is taken for granted in life, they are really not of much interest. The mad and delightful Donna Cunningham refers to sextiles as “oh that!” aspects and pretty much discounts them as an aid to understanding as a direct result. People are interested in their pain, not about how they are naturally charming at dinner parties. Now this presupposes a fixation on specifics, which is far from the point of this article; for the most part the majority of nativities will evince a reasonably even distribution of easy and hard aspects, and that is entirely normal. If on the other hand, you find a noticeable lack of one or the other aspect type, then sit up and take notice. Take more notice of peregrination, but then look at this next. You should also consider the very important understanding that all aspects are squares. I have seen considerably more long-term addiction problems evinced via trines to Neptune than I have squares. The square creates a very abrupt crisis that must be dealt with and that lesson is invariably learned by the age of 30 at which point the aspect neutralises through that decade of life and begins to, what I would call, “trine out” by age 40 or thereabouts. By the exact same token, the trine starts to become a problem by age 30, the initial recognition that one has rested on one’s laurels in this particular theatre of operations starts to impinge upon consciousness, the challenge then is to find some drive and gradually transform the trine into a thing of substance before it becomes an effective square that gradually erodes the life into the 40s. There is no better realisation than this in the broad sweep of the aspects in astrology.

When Jupiter and Neptune are squared...

When Jupiter and Neptune are squared...

One good analogy is to see each planetary energy as an individual in their own right. Imagine Jupiter in Leo, he is magnanimous, noble, proud, somewhat egotistical, warm-hearted and generous. Now consider Neptune in Scorpio, a true spiritual Spartan warrior, who believes that life is about substance and not show, who believes that less is infinitely more and who is a genuine metaphysician; then square them and put them in a room together. These people are not going to interact comfortably; they don’t have much in common, they won’t even like each other very much; Neptune will think Jupiter is a show-off and Jupiter will think Neptune is no fun at all. But, despite this, if you leave them in that room together for long enough then they simply have to find a way to get along, or they’ll kill each other trying! Now consider it the other way around: imagine Jupiter in Leo trine Mars in Sagittarius. Now Jupiter finds a real friend, somebody who is endlessly enthusiastic about having a good time with easy-going Jupiter, somebody who will appreciate the shared zest for life and Jupiter in turn will enjoy this talkative, inspirational and happy-go-lucky individual in return, but of course, leave them too long in each other’s company and they might well shoot the breeze so comfortably that they eventually just get bored, and maybe, if they don’t find a shared purpose they might just get a little dissolute and decadent together.

That is the essential insight. Are you all squares and oppositions or all trines and sextiles? Do you know anyone that is?