Interpreting Aspects in Traditional Astrology

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.

Planetary Aversion

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.

Venus scrutinizes seven planets.

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. Remaining in aversion to 4 places, each planet hurls 7 partile (degree-based) rays: 2 sextiles, 2 squares, 2 trines, and 1 opposition. While planets witness each other via sign-based configurations, they keenly scrutinize (katopteuō) each other when configured by degree.

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.
  • 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.

Diurnal Exaltation Trines

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.

Exaltation Scheme

Nocturnal Exaltation Sextiles

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

The Luminaries

The luminaries aspecting the benefics and malefics.

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’

Upon the Tenth

Left: Jupiter, upon the tenth, overcoming Mars. Right: Mars overcoming Jupiter.

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 


The Sun contained by Saturn’s rays.

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

Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos

*Etchings by K. Kalynovych

*Hand-drawn chart illustrations are my own.

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Copyright © 2019 Saturn and the Sun Astrology. All rights reserved.

Venus Conjunct Pluto

Venus Conjunct Pluto

Roland Penrose, Winged Domino (Portrait of Valentine), Oil on canvas, 60 x 44 cm., 1937.

Venus Conjunct Pluto In the Natal Chart

As indicated by the Judgement card, Pluto, the metaphorical Judge, went direct on September 31st, as if positioning himself to oversee the wayward waltz of Venus retrograde. Aside from planetary transits, however, the natal union (or conjunction) between Venus and Pluto is as intensely purgatorial as that of Venus’s retrograde in Scorpio.

The Natal Conjunction: Coiled Roots

The natal conjunction consists of an 8° orb between two planets, increasing or decreasing in strength relative to the orb’s exactitude (0°), or distance (8°), respectively. When planets conjoin, a merging or energetic blend occurs between both planetary influences, causing their characteristics to intertwine like coiled roots at the base of a tree. As a result, their energies form an inseparable relationship, which is partially why the natal conjunction is deemed significantly potent. Although conjunctions are generally considered challenging aspects, as is the case with the Venus-Pluto conjunction, not all conjunctions are created equal, and this is highly dependent on the planets involved in configuration. However, for the purposes of this article, the conjunction is challenging in its inability to differentiate between two energies, as a result of their significantly close proximity.

Note: Aspects should not be isolated in interpretation, as the overall chart can demonstrate mitigating or contradictory factors. Instead, a thorough chart analysis will bring the necessary clarity and cohesion of celestial influences.

Correspondences of Venus in Traditional Astrology

Venus is the traditional domicile lord/ ruler of Libra and Taurus, exalted in Pisces (degree of exaltation: 27º Pisces), in adversity/ ‘detriment’ in Aries and Scorpio, and in depression/ ‘fall’ in Virgo. She is the ‘positive’ manifestation of the phlegmatic temperament, which is cold and wet. In Hellenistic astrology, Venus finds her planetary Joy in the fifth house. She is of feminine gender, occupies the nocturnal sect, and rules precious stones such as diamonds, emeralds, and copper. Her colors are white and green and she is said to be oily (‘greasy’) in taste. She is considered the lesser benefic in traditional astrology, although her (benefic) energy is more pronounced in nocturnal charts. As a benefic, Venus affirms or says ‘yes’ to her planetary associations.

Venus Conjunct Pluto

Johannes Vermeer, The Seamstress

Meaning of Venus in the Natal Chart

Venus’s nature is reconciliatory, she is the benefic that oversees the subjectively positive affirmation of love, intimate relationships, friendships, and marriage. She governs the fine arts, including painting and the process of mixing pigments. Likewise, she rules over singing, pleasant sounds, melodies, and the production of music. She oversees scents including the perfume industry. Venus is joy, laughter, and merriment. She is said to grant assistance from royal women or relatives, securing auspicious reputation when functioning cooperatively. Venus nourishes in her capacity to grant and reciprocate pleasure [Brennan, p.178].

Correspondences of Pluto in Astrology

Pluto is an outer planet (often referred to as ‘transpersonal’ in modern astrology). *While the traditional rulership scheme, based on planetary distance from the Sun (ie., Saturn governs Capricorn and Aquarius because both signs are farthest from the Sun), modern planetary assignments appear to be more archetypal. Pluto is said to be the modern ruler of Scorpio (in modern astrology), exalted in Aries, but authors differ regarding Pluto’s signs of detriment and fall. In modern astrology, Pluto is often deemed the ‘higher octave’ of Mars. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was once deemed the ninth planet, during an epoch that witnessed the spawn of nuclear/ atomic power, deleterious dictatorships, and The Great Depression. The word Pluto is derived from the Greek ‘plutos’, meaning wealth.

Meaning of Pluto in the Natal Chart

In the natal chart, Pluto signifies the elimination and renewal process through regenerative progression. As a planet of extremes with clearly punctuated heights and depths, it is responsible for the pulverization of all psychological residue hindering spiritual transcendence. Paralleling Hades’s helmet of invisibility (worn upon fleeing the underworld), the metamorphosing power of Pluto is often inconspicuously cloaked and filtered through hidden psychological layers. Because of its discovery during the development of atomic power, Pluto has the pulverizing capacity to discharge concealed energy. While Pluto certainly possesses an annihilating force, it can equally be wielded into reconstructive growth and personal power.

Venus Conjunct PLuto

Francis Bacon, Two Figures, oil on canvas, 1953, 60 x 45 ⅞ in. (152.5 x 116.5 cm)

Venus Conjunct Pluto in the Natal Chart

The natal Venus-Pluto conjunction often describes a native seeking to dissolve their core identity through excessively intense relationships. Crisis-related patterns incessantly emerge in relationships, and it is often this type of energy that is being drawn into the native’s life by their own subconscious volition. While fidelity is quite pronounced with this aspect, rarely will a balanced, serene union maintain the interest of a Venus-Pluto native, as the insatiable urge to explore depth and complexity overrides the otherwise reconciliatory nature of Venus.

Although the grasp of Venus-Pluto wields a forceful, magnetic pull, it can simultaneously repel, depending on the partner’s own resonance with Plutonian themes. Severity and depth pronounces the quality of responses generated in Venus-Pluto relationships, and it is difficult for these natives to contemplate the possibility of pursuing a partnership that offers emotional tranquility and lightheartedness. The mark of the Venus-Pluto conjunction punctuates extremities, for its fuel is the adrenaline of intensely consummating experiences. In essence (and in what appears seemingly contradictory), their sense of security is subconsciously immersed in these life-devouring unions. The material resources afforded by Venus are happily sacrificed with the Venus-Pluto aspect, becoming emblems that validate the native’s interminable affections.

For creative types, the Venusian production of art often alludes to Plutonian themes otherwise shunned by conformity. Provocative, dramatic, depth-riddled undertones saturate art used as a vehicle to explore controversial subject matter. Because Venus is responsible for artistic endeavors and, in this aspect, she is fused with the energy of Pluto, creative expression is driven by the same intensity and passion that permeates relationships.

Re-emerging patterns of intimacy enveloped in emotional crises will surge until, at last, the native grows conscious of their root origin. Once aware of the reasons why exhaustive, emotional intensity is so vital to the breath of their relationships, the native begins to shift behavioral patterns in favor of more constructively sustainable partnerships. Implemented wisely, the lessons of subjectively traumatic relationships can help forge the foundational core of authenticity.


Lilly, William, Christian Astrology III.

Brennan, Chris, Hellenistic Astrology.

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