Archetypal Astrology: Protean Nature of Archetypes

Home / Concepts & Theory / Archetypal Astrology: Protean Nature of Archetypes
Archetypal Astrology
And the Protean Nature of Astrological Archetypes

By Glenn Perry


Proteous Archetypal Astrology

Our topic today is archetypal astrology and the protean nature of astrological archetypes. Archetypal astrology is rooted in the Jungian concept of archetypes, which can can be defined as formative principles in Nature that also constitute the organizing principles of psyche.

It is the protean nature of astrological archetypes that gives astrology its enormous flexibility as a language. In Greek mythology, Proteus was a sea god who could change his shape at will. To be protean refers to something that can readily take on varied shapes, forms, or meanings. A protean entity, in other words, exhibits considerable diversity in its manifestations. As such, it is a multidimensional being.

Just so, a single astrological archetype is capable of depicting at least four inner dimensions (motive, affect, function, and target state), four outer dimensions (person, place, thing, and event), and a ninth dimension—behavior—that bridges the gap between inner and outer reality. Before proceeding further with this idea, let us consider where astrological archetypes originate.

The Meaning is the Angle
The first thing to realize about astrological archetypes is that they derive from angles—that is, numbers, or ratios. There are four fundamental variations: planet, sign, house, and aspect. All but one of these (planets) are actual angles, which are phase relationships of whole cycles. However, since cycles are formed by planetary movements, a planet is the primary variable that allows for all the others. That is, without planetary cycles there would be no phase relationships to measure.

Consider, for example, the meaning of the last 90 degrees of a 360 degree cycle. This is the phase relationship of Capricorn, the 10th house, and the closing square, all of which are variations of the closing 90° angle and thus have a similarity of meaning. Saturn, of course, is the planet whose significance corresponds to that phase. All of this is to say that astrological archetypes are essentially angles formed by division of a whole cycle by 12. The meaning is the angle. And for every phase relationship, there is a planet that has a parallel meaning.1

Angles as Astrological Archetypes













Opening Semi-sextile





Opening Sextile





Opening Square





Opening Trine





Opening Quincunx







150° (210°)



Closing Quincunx


120° (240°)



Closing Trine


90° (270°)



Closing Square


60° (300°)



Closing Sextile


30° (330°)



Closing Semi-sextile


Figure 1: Planets, signs, and even houses are often referred to as archetypes, but the unifying factor is actually the corresponding angle. Note in the left hand column that all angles after 180° are closing angles; thus, even though the angle of the first and second squares are both 90°, the closing square begins at a later phase of the cycle (at 270° ), which is never-the-less 90° from 0° Aries.

We recognize that certain signs, houses, and aspects share a commonality of meaning. This is the basis of rulerships in astrology. For example, Libra, the 7th house, and the opposition all are described in similar ways. While each of these variables is different from its counterparts, they all share a familial relationship by virtue of a common principle: their mutual angle of 180 degrees. Libra is 180 degrees from the beginning of the zodiac at 0 degrees Aries; the 7th house is 180 degrees from the Ascendant (which inaugurates the 1st house); and two planets in opposition are at the 180 degree phase of their synodic cycle, which commenced when they were conjunct. Once again, we see how the angle is the archetype.

Sign-Planet Systems
Now, let us return to the idea that astrological archetypes can be described in terms of nine dimensions. The first dimension is sign motivation, and the second is planetary function. Rulerships in astrology are based on the recognition that signs and their affiliated planets are closely related in meaning. Accordingly, I like to think of signs and planets as sign-planet systems: the Aries-Mars system, the Libra-Venus system, the Capricorn-Saturn system, and so on. Psychologically, signs and their ruling planets are as inseparable as a rocket and its fuel tank. The sign is the motivating principle, and the planet is the action principle. Aries, for example, symbolizes the motivating need for autonomy and survival that stimulates Mars to perform the requisite actions to satisfy the Aries motive. Planetary functions represent our capacity to act in the service of motivating needs. In effect, a planetary function is the normal, proper, or characteristic action of that archetype.2

Every planetary function has its own range of actions, but how does a person know when to act in a manner appropriate to a time and place? Motivation for action is conveyed by feelings (affects), which is our third dimension of astrological archetypes. Each sign symbolizes a range of feelings that fall along a continuum of affective intensity. Aries, for example, ranges from a state of mild restlessness to consuming fury. The stronger the feeling, the more motivated the person to perform the necessary action—take a walk, or storm the bastille!

How does a person know when to terminate a particular behavior? If an action fulfills its motivating need, a state is attained that conveys fulfillment of that motive. This is the fourth dimension of astrological archetypes—the target state. For Aries-Mars, this state might be a sense of aliveness, freedom, and joy. Once attained, the Aries-motivation recedes into the background only to be succeeded by a new need that assumes dominance.

Note that a motivating feeling is subtly different from a target state. A feeling pushes from behind and operates on the basis of deficiency, motivating the person to take action. A state, on the other hand, is like a teleological cause that beckons from the future. It signifies an emotional ideal, a condition of fulfillment, that for the sake of which the action occurs. Every sign-planet system has its own target state, which can be defined with a few simple key words—freedom, comfort, knowledge, belonging, self-esteem, competence, power, faith, control, insight, or transcendence—to list a few. Between motivation and target state lie a range of emotions that depict varying degrees of satisfaction of the relevant archetype. Again, fulfillment operates on a continuum, from chronically unfulfilled (neurosis) to optimal fulfillment that is readily attained. A planet’s capacity to satisfy its motivating need is a measure of that planet’s functionality (or dsyfunctionality).

Content Mirrors Process
Generally speaking, the language of astrology can be divided into two broad areas: process and content. Process constitutes the psychodynamics of the birthchart and has to do with the underlying motives, beliefs, goals, and choices that characterize a person’s inner life. Because process can be defined as a series of operations conducive toward a goal, it is dynamic; it is the active movement of consciousness as it progresses from motive to action to target state. Content, on the other hand, is the outcome of psychological functioning. It shows up in a person’s lived experience—relations with people, places, and things. Whereas process is psychological functioning, content is the consequence of psychological functioning, an epiphenomenal by-product of psychic life. In effect, content is a vehicle for process. Content provides the actual experiences that allow individuals to fulfill psychological needs and grow in their capacity for yet greater fulfillment.

Note again that process has four inner dimensions: motive, function, emotion, and target state. For example, Capricorn is the need/motive for success, and Saturn is the function of achievement. As an emotion, Capricorn may signify a fear of failure that stimulates Saturnian actions of planning, organizing, and persevering. Saturn also symbolizes the target state (a feeling of success) that signals fulfillment of the originating motive.

Likewise, content has four outer dimensions: person, place, thing, and event. For example, Saturn can signify an authority figure (person), an executive office (place), a calendar (thing), and a delay (event). If an individual striving for a promotion is given a deadline by his boss to complete a project, this event becomes a vehicle to fulfill his need for success as well as to stimulate growth in his capacity for yet greater success.

Behavior is the ninth dimension and has qualities of both process and content, for behavior is the connecting link between inner and outer experience. Any behavior, by definition, involves some sort of interaction with an outside environment. Whereas Saturn signifies the functions of organization, structure, and control, a person’s capacity to express those functions varies considerably. Capacity is a measure of how integrated that planet is in the overall psychic economy. If a person is in conflict with his Saturnian impulses, then his behavior in this area may be comparatively dysfunctional: disorganized, impractical, or undisciplined in situations that call for a Saturnian response. Needless to say, the results of his behavior are likely to reflect his dysfunction.

Since the same astrological variable can symbolize any of nine dimensions, a key idea is that content mirrors process; intrapsychic dynamics are reflected in the nature and quality of one’s outer experiences. Jung’s theory of synchronicity is central to astrology because it provides an explanatory mechanism for how inner and outer experiences are related via circular causality. Internal processes generate outer conditions, which, in turn, influence internal processes; hence, a system learns by processing the consequences of its own actions. Synchronicity rests on Jung’s concept of the archetype, which he described as having psychoid properties. That is, an archetype can manifest simultaneously as both an intrapsychic factor and an environmental condition.

The systems concept of feedback explains how circular causality may act as a spur to consciousness evolution. Feedback is the effect of a system’s output that is reintroduced to the system as information about that output. Synchronistic events constitute feedback in that they reflect the psyche’s current state of integration, while also serving as a catalyst to its further development. Content not only mirrors process, it provides a vehicle for its evolution over time. As consciousness evolves via accommodation to its environmental correlates, new experiences are created in an ongoing, iterative cycle.

This brief (and highly condensed) tour of the complex symbolism of sign-planet systems underscores that astrological archetypes are multidimensional. Their protean nature allows us to see how the intrapsychic realm of drive, function, and target state manifest in the event world as relations with people, places, and things. A single astrological archetype has multiple significations revealing how inner and outer worlds are connected. This is precisely what makes astrology so versatile and adaptable as a psychological language.

In subsequent installments of this column, we’ll explore some further entailments of this idea, especially with regard to how a process interpretation of an astrological configuration differs markedly from its corollary content. We will also examine how planetary aspects signify complex psychodynamic processes – conflicts, defenses, and compromise formations – that are built upon the foundation of sign-planet systems.


1 For a more detailed explanation of this concept, see my related column, “Archetypes as Geometric Forms“.

2 For more information on this way of thinking about astrological archetypes, please see An Introduction to AstroPsychology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This