Astrology Secrets Revealed by ERIC FRANCIS

Book on Aspects


December 17, 2004 (with chart)


Hi Eric:

Can you recommend a good book on aspects, not just 'this aspect in this situation makes that', but actually something to help me interpret them?



Liz, South Africa



Dear Liz,

Hello South Africa! This question goes to the head of the class. Instead of recommending a good book, I'll write you a little book chapter.


Let's start with a definition of an aspect. In common language, an 'aspect' is part of the situation, or a perspective of the whole. The word contains the Latin root 'spect', as in spectacle, something we look at. It is a way of looking at the chart.


Fred Gettings, in his excellent dictionary, defines it as the "term applied to a large number of specific angular relationships between planets and other celestial bodies or nodal points." In this column we talk a lot about aspects: they have names like square, trine, sextile and quintile. Simply put, an aspect is when two planets align a particular way. This is the purpose of all the numbers in an astrological chart. When two planets have similar numbers, they are in aspect (there are other aspects that are not so easy to see).


An aspect is another way to say that planets (or points, such as the ascendant) are in contact. They are communicating. The kind of aspect tells you something about the style of communication. They can be fused or blended (a conjunction), working together with good leverage (sextile), in a tense, strong dynamic (square), in such total agreement that they may disappear or lose strength from lack of friction (trine), or fully distinct from one another and in a confrontational mode (opposition). While it's possible to think of these qualities cognitively, it's possible to feel them and to develop what has been called aspect sensitivity. That's like getting into the aspect with your emotions or body and sensing what it feels like to be there. You can actually sense the quality of the aspect. This takes some practice, but once you know what you're going for, it's not particularly difficult to get the hang of it. Some people have a shocking natural talent for doing this. If you meet someone who does, eat dinner at their house a lot and hope some of it rubs off on you.


To actually read an astrological chart rather than do it paint by numbers out of the books, you have get yourself into the slipstream of interpretation. Feeling with your body is one way; sometimes it can come through a little like channeling; other times, it seems like an intellectual process, but it has a lot of momentum and pushes you along. It's like being in this zone where the information just comes. Young astrologers can do it as well as the old ones. So experience is not necessarily such a big factor, though obviously, with practice, we get better at anything.


Books are good for what I call commentaries. Some are better than others, and even the boring or negative ones can contain excellent clues. There is a long tradition in both scholarship and esoteric studies for the people who came before us to pass along their commentaries and observations, and they can be very useful. That is, as long as we remember what they are: not the truth or the bottom line, or the 'meaning', but rather a point of view that may be helpful, or serve as a starting point. They are essentially clues, but you are the detective.


There are often a series of logical steps to getting into this interpretation space (this is the Virgo part of the process, which is based on a set of technical skills). And then you're suddenly in this space where the images and correspondences in the chart are providing something new and original that is more than the sum of the parts of the parts, more than the commentaries say, and that is very specific to the situation (the Pisces aspect, which is highly intuitive and imaginative).


Did I say imaginative? Yes, ma'am. To be a good astrologer, you need a vivid imagination. This is because every chart is a chance to do an original reading of an original piece of artwork and a unique life. Always, always remember: each chart is unique, and no matter what a book may say about bits and pieces of the chart, unless you're really famous or get a question answered on this column, your chart is not going to be written about in a book or study materials.


As many of you know, I spend a great deal of session time getting a feel for what my clients are going through, and sensing how their chart works in real-life rather than in theory. One of my tools for doing this is using Chiron. This is a quick, easy way to get a sense of how an aspect structure works. Once you see an aspect in the natal chart, I suggest you ask the client for a description of their life at the time Chiron was making a conjunction to one part of the aspect. In other words, if the person has Venus square Mars, check the time frame when transiting Chiron was conjunct Venus, Mars or both. You are not looking for 'something big', rather, just for the story of their life. Listen carefully, and you will very likely hear something that gives away their experience of this aspect, or reveal the issues it may represent. It may tell you about an aspect (same word) of their life that they need to work out or keep in balance.


This is just one technique, and I have found, time and time again, that it helps. It works, I think, because there is an opening created to allow the client be a voice for their own chart. Aspects in the chart exist as potentials. They are activated by transits. When Chiron comes along, it's like turning up the juice on that particular placement or aspect. It turns the potential into some form of a reality.


There are other approaches, what you could call purely interpretive. Let's look at a chart example or two, which will help us walk through the steps to looking at aspects using another method, a more technical method. I am sitting here trying to figure out what a good example chart to use. I'm tempted to start with George W. Bush, because we all know him so well and his chart says so much about him -- but it's too freaking depressing (I'll do more on Bush right before the inauguration). So let's think of somebody else. How about somebody from the other end of the spectrum, but who you may not have heard of: Seymour Hersh. He is an American investigative reporter who (among other things) exposed the lies and atrocities of the Vietnam War. He continues to work to the present day.


So, now, before you look at the chart, let's just ask: what about this chart says modern-day hero? What motivates him? Let's look at one or two obvious aspects, using the major planets and Chiron, and see.


So now. Gemini rising. That's an 'aspect' of the chart. We know he's a writer; we know we're looking at the right chart. Can you feel that Gemini ascendant pouring off the screen? I's quite strong, and it's even simple enough for me to understand. Let's break it down:


-- Gemini rising (we will eventually study Mercury to learn more), which is an easy call on a gift of gab, a quick mind, and a mercurial person, that is, someone adaptable, and enough of a trickster to stay alive as an investigative reporter.

-- South Node in the ascendant, which says old talents, established way of doing things.

-- Chiron in the ascendant, which says maverick, individualist, highly aware person; in Gemini, someone who may feel like he has a mental or intellectual debility and then go to great lengths to compensate for it, which bestows a powerful gift. Chiron rising also says humanitarian and teacher.


Now, note what's happened: to read this aspect, we've considered the house (the 1st house or ascendant, which tells us about identity) and its associated sign (Gemini, which gives us the color of the energy and some personal tendencies). We've considered the planet and point occupying the 1st house (the South Node and Chiron).


Now let's add a planet to the aspect: the Sun. That's the yellow ball on the top left (stay calm, this is easy). It's in Aries. Aries says fire, strong sense of individualism (repeating the ascendant's theme), placed in the 11th house (where we relate to the community and have a strong sense of public service). He can say, 'my business' (Aries) is 'our business' (11th house). Reading an aspect is about putting together different factors and coming up with something original. Over time, you will learn, acquire or make up keywords for the different factors. This is where reading about astrology comes in handy. Then you look at the chart, you take it in pieces and you apply what you know. Often, just doing the legwork of, 'this is in this house, that's in that sign, these are the aspects; what does it mean?' will get you relevant information in about the time it takes to snap your fingers; or sometimes you may have to ponder it overnight. Keep looking and asking, with sincerity, and you'll find out more. Remember: the aspect has a message; it exists like an apple dangling from a tree. It's there, and it's natural -- not merely a theoretical thing.


Now, notice the number 18 next to the Sun and the 18 next to Chiron. They are in a very strong sextile or 60 degree aspect. Let's look in detail to see why I'm saying very strong. The Sun is at 18 degrees and 19 arc minutes; Chiron is at 18 degrees and 59 minutes. The Sun moves faster than Chiron (with practice, you memorize little facts like this, and logic dictates most of them, i.e., the closer something is the faster it moves). This tells us that the Sun is applying to Chiron; it's making the aspect; it's leaning into Chiron, as if pushing it; the aspect is developing as he's being born.


It's a sextile, saying that these two planets are in close harmony. Gemini is air and Aries is fire; air feeds fire. That Sun, out there in public, is very well supported.


The Sun is also aspecting the lunar nodes -- this is very good for being well known. The nodes involve the public and public karma. If you have the nodes angular (that is, in the 1st, 4th, 7th or 10th houses, you can expect the person to have some involvement with the public and the wider world, which may feel very much like a calling. The question is, what is that, and you can sometimes tell from the life; or, you look for images and suggest them to the client. Now, I have told you this, and you can just go and test it out, like we're doing here. Clearly, Sy Hersch has done a lot for humanity, he's made himself a pain in the ass of bad people, and he's quite an independent guy.


Now, so far, I haven't used a book. I've just used the chart. Let's see what Barbara Hand Clow has to say about Chiron sextile the Sun in her book Chiron: Rainbow Bridge (courtesy of Barry at the Astrology Shop in Covent Garden, who very kindly photographed the page out of the book and emailed me the jpg!).


"Chiron sextile the Sun produces a profound depth at an early age, an environment which offers opportunities to develop high principles, and a great inner need to bring significant work into the world." Not bad, Barbara. We don't know about Sy's childhood at this point (we can check his biographies to learn more), but we've got a good description of his work. "There is a noticeable steadiness and constant drive in these natives, but they are also rarely satisfied with their accomplishments." Hmmmm. Interesting. She goes on, "Chirion sextile the Sun indicates that the Higher Self will be embodied within this individual during this incarnation, and perhaps the level of dissatisfaction about accomplishments will lessen when the higher self embodies, usually after Uranus opposite Uranus." [This last is a transit that occurs at about age 40. Hersch did his most important reports on the Vietnam War, including an expose on the My Lai incident, in his early 40s.]


Needless to say, this is an extremely useful book.


Here's the kicker.


Sy has Gemini rising. Mercury is the ruling planet of Gemini (this kind of thing you have to learn, memorize or use a little chart for; when I get closer to a scanner I can publish the chart here). So to find out more about the ascendant, we look for Mercury. You can do this with any house. The ruler of that house is likely to be somewhere else in the chart, so some of the work, business, or subject matter of that planet will be played out, or find a home, in the house where the ruling planet exists. You play a little game of hop, skip and jump. Play this game long enough and you'll get the feeling for how it works. It's very dependable.


Let's see how that works here. We find Mercury in the 12th house, in Taurus. The 12th is tied for the oddest house of the lot (the 8th is just as bizarre). The 12th includes mystical secrets, secret enemies, overwhelming large institutions (governments, hospitals, agencies count), as well as dreams and fantasies. Sy has Taurus on the cusp of the 12th and Mercury in Taurus. Mercury there says solid, tangible documentation of secrets. He is able to keep his sense of identity in the midst of people and things much, much larger than he is. Pretty cool, yes?

We could go on; this is a great chart and I've never looked at it until today. Seymour Hersch has a Pisces Moon -- compassion, sensitivity and a psychic quality. All good investigative reporters are a little psychic; there is no other way to deal with 1,500 file drawers full of documents. You open one, you reach in and you find the right sheet of paper.


Liz, I have no idea if I've answered your question, but I've tried to give you an idea of how aspects work in one example, how to suss them out, and a little comparison to a good book of commentaries. Try it a few times and see for yourself, and read my responses here each week; I'll factor more of this in. By the way, my favorite cookbook for aspects, besides Barbara's, is "Astrology: A Cosmic Science" by Isabel Hickey, available at the Astrology Shop or the Astrology Center of America.