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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Planetary Relationships—Aspects and Transits

Not only are the planetary locations of importance, but so are their relationships to each other. Ptolemy divided the circle of the heavens into 12 parts of 30° each, and the movements of the planets in relation to each other geometrically is also considered to be important and these relationships are known as aspects. When planets are in these geometric configurations in the sky, their archetypal energies are “constellated,” a Jungian term meaning activated or expressed. There are five different major aspects, which one gets by dividing a circle by the different numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, which accounts for angles of 360° (=0°), 180°, 120°, 90°, and 60° respectively. When the planets are next to each other, this is called a conjunction, when they are across the circle from each other, at approximately 180° it is called an opposition, when they are at a 90° angle, one quarter of the way around the circle, this is called a square. These three configurations or aspects—the conjunction, opposition and square are called the hard aspects and they are more challenging. When the planets are in these configurations, their energies result in tensions forming which are reflected in the linguistic phrases of “butting heads” or “getting under my skin” for a conjunction, “being at odds,” “polarized,” or “diametrically opposed” for an opposition, and “being at cross purposes” for a square. The harmonious aspects are said to occur when the planets are 120° away, or one third of the way around the circle, known as a trine, and 1/6 of the way around the circle or 60° apart, known as a sextile. When the planets are in these two smooth and flowing configurations, their archetypal energies are said to get along with each other, or harmonize.

As all of this circling occurs, the different planets come into different geometric alignments with each other, aspecting each other, which are known in astrology as transits.  Your natal chart, the snapshot of the sky at the moment of your birth shows what transits were occurring at that time.  The planets continue to move on their sojourns around the sun, and as they do, they make geometric configurations with each other (called world transits) and make geometric configurations, or aspects in relation to the planetary positions in your natal chart.  The aspects between the current planetary positions in the sky compared to your natal chart are called personal transits.

For example, as I wrote this part of the dissertation in mid-October 2005, in my natal chart, Uranus was 14° Leo, and the current position of Saturn in the sky at the time was approaching it at 9° Leo.  So I was experiencing a Saturn transit of my natal Uranus—transiting Saturn conjunct my natal Uranus, among the many other things that were occurring in my chart.  And transiting Neptune was at 14° Aquarius, so I also had an exact Neptune-Uranus opposition, too, because transiting Neptune was opposite my natal Uranus.  In the sky at the time, Saturn was opposite to Neptune, so everyone was experiencing the effects of this Saturn-Neptune world transit, while I personally was experiencing Saturn-Uranus (conjunction) and Neptune-Uranus (opposition) transits.  [Link to my chart] It only recently occurred to me, as I was writing the astrological portions of the dissertation, on the home stretch, that the three major archetypal patterns that we will be exploring in the "Kaleidoscope of Culture" section, Saturn-Pluto, Uranus-Neptune, and Uranus-Pluto are all transits that I either had during my coursework or while working on my dissertation. 

One last thing about aspects is important to note.  The different aspects have different ranges of influence, so that there is an area of +/- a certain number of degrees away from the exact geometric angles where the archetypal energies are considered to be operative.  These are known as orbs.

In the case of these world transits, Tarnas feels that the orb, or range of archetypal effectiveness is 15° away from exact for conjunctions and oppositions, and 10° away from exact for squares.  He notes that the effects of the planetary influences can be seen beginning at 20° from exact with conjunctions and oppositions, which Tarnas refers to as their penumbra, but that their full force does not begin to be felt until 15°, while squares have a smaller penumbra. With trines and sextiles the orbs are even smaller, and for personal transits, the orbs are smaller still, and different astrologers have different feelings about what size they are. But according to astrologer Lisa Dale Miller (personal communication September 12, 2005), “standard orbs in Western astrology are 7° for conjunctions, squares, oppositions, trines and sextiles, 5° for quincunx.” Vedic astrology considers the different houses, and is not as concerned with how many degrees, so the orbs in Vedic astrology are thus much wider in comparison. Since the outer planets move very slowly, some of their transits can last for a decade or longer. 

As mentioned in the "Cosmic Game" chapter, Tarnas and Grof (2002, seminar) noticed correspondences between the Basic Perinatal Matrices (BPMs) and the outer planetary archetypes.  And they also found surprisingly that transit astrology was a better predictor for work with nonordinary holotropic states than any of the other tests that they had tried, such as the Minnesota Multidimensional Personality Inventory (MMPI), Shostrom's Personal Orientation Inventory (POI), Rorschach Inkblot Test, their own Psychedelic Experience Questionnaire (PEQ), and others (Grof, 2000c).  Grof and Tarnas were trying to predict the “reaction to psychedelics and the therapeutic outcome” as well as whether different times would be more conducive to a more favorable versus more challenging experience. This predictive tool turned out to be even more controversial than the LSD research itself. Grof (2000c) writes:

Ironically, when after years of frustrating effort I finally found a tool that made such predictions possible, it was more controversial than psychedelics themselves. It was astrology, a discipline that, even after years of studying transpersonal phenomena, I myself tended to dismiss as a ridiculous pseudoscience. I also realized that astrology could be an invaluable tool in the work with other forms of holotropic states of consciousness, such as those induced by powerful experiential techniques of psychotherapy (primal therapy, rebirthing, and holotropic breathwork) or occurring spontaneously during psychospiritual crises. (p. 1)

The non-English language versions of Grof’s (2000a) book Psychology of the Future (German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) have a chapter devoted to astrology, but SUNY Press felt that the subject was too controversial so the astrology chapter was not included in the English version.  [Click here to read  it.] Now that we have some basic background on astrology, we will now turn to the outer planets themselves, to get better acquainted with them.  We have already seen them in passing in the "Cosmic Game" chapter, when they were archetypally correlated to Grof’s different Basic Perinatal Matrices or BPMs.  Now let us look at them again in their starring roles.


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