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Multiple Layers of Meaning

Multiple Layers of Meaning 

By Glenn Perry


Multiple layers of meaningStudent: Recently I heard an astrologer give a reading in which he made no mention of planets in signs or houses. He only interpreted aspects. The client was going through her Saturn return and the astrologer interpreted Saturn conjunct natal Saturn, but that’s all. Yet, it seemed to be helpful! I’ve also heard astrologers interpret planets in signs but they did not seem to fit the person. Maybe sign positions are superfluous? In striving to understand chart synthesis, how important are signs and houses in comparison to just aspects? 

Glenn: There’s no question that aspects are extremely important. In chart synthesis, they’re the skeletal structure upon which the sign positions can be added, like flesh on bone. And the houses provide the background setting in which the planetary aspect plays out. Unless we’re talking about a conjunction, there are generally 7 variables in an aspect that have to be combined into an intelligible statement—two planets, two signs, two houses, and the aspect itself. The complexity of the challenge is daunting and so the tendency is to focus on two variables at a time, the planet in a sign, or a house, or in aspect to another planet. However, fragmenting the person in this way misses how all these variables combine to make the person who he or she actually is.
It is relatively easy to say something intelligible about a planet’s sign or house position or a single aspect to another planet. But unless the astrologer takes pains to explain that the interpretation only pertains to a part of the person—that is, it does not describe the person as a whole—then the client is unlikely to recognize the validity of the description offered.
All of this underscores the importance of talking to the client before interpreting the chart. Unless the astrologer takes time to really know his client, it’s almost impossible to make an interpretation that synthesizes the seven variables in a way that is actually relevant to how the client is expressing that configuration. Again, the challenge is incorporating the sign and house positions into the interpretation of the aspect. This makes the interpretation more nuanced, specific, and complex in its ability to more closely approximate the person’s actual experience.
I call this “layering.” Just as the earth has different layers from its core to its atmosphere, so astrologically a planet has a core meaning for itself, over which is layered the meaning of its sign position, its house position, and additional layers contingent upon its aspects. The more an interpretation combines one meaning layered over another in a way that relates to the client’s actual life concerns, then the more accurate, precise, and relevant the interpretation becomes.
Such an interpretation has the quality of a subplot within the larger narrative of the chart as a whole. It is too complex to be reduced to a series of statements about personality traits. Conversely, if a simple interpretation is made of a planet in a sign, or a house, and these factors are not synthesized with the aspect of which they are a part, then it remains generic and not nearly so relevant to the actual experience of that particular person. 
To give a simple example, I have two clients with Venus forming an opening square to Mars. Generically, this suggest some difficulty in being able to tolerate the tension of conflicting drives, one for attachment (Venus) and the other for autonomy (Mars). The first person, a woman, has Venus in Pisces in the 10th and Mars in Sagittarius in the 7th. Her tendency is to dissociate (Pisces defense) when in relationship because she worries the other person will become aggressive and violate her rights. With her Mars in Sagittarius, she anticipates she will be attacked on moral grounds (Sagittarius). Since Venus is in the 10th, her Pisces defense of dissociation (passivity, withdrawal) occurs most noticeably in her profession where she takes on more responsibility than she can actually handle. In other words, she cannot say ‘no’.
The second person has Venus in Libra in the 9th square Mars in Cancer in the 7th. His fear is that if he commits to marriage with his girlfriend he’ll lose his freedom, so he equivocates and placates and appeases, which is characteristic of Venus in Libra. Since his Mars is in Cancer, he anticipates she will be angry and hurt if he wishes to spend time with his friends. He worries that her dependency needs (Cancer) will overwhelm his capacity to adapt (Libra). And since his Venus is in the 9th, he rationalizes his reluctance to commit on legal grounds (9th house) that divorce laws are biased in favor of woman. 
More could be said about both cases, but hopefully this brief example illustrates the subtle differences between aspects on the basis of sign and house positions. The devil is in the details to be sure, but the larger story is in how the details fit together to make a life.
In courses AP 102 through 104, specific rules are taught that enable students to make complex, layered interpretations that are maximally relevant and accurate while also allowing for flexibility of meaning. For more on this topic, see my column on “Astromyopia”.

Robin Williams Birthchart

Robin Williams
Too Much Water, Too Little Air

By Glenn Perry


Robin Williams birthchartBy now, everyone surely knows that Robin Williams hung himself on Monday, August 11th, 2014 at his home in Tiburon, California. Apparently, he had been battling depression over the last year, and perhaps his whole life. It is true that his progressed Sun conjuncted natal Saturn in June 2013, and that transiting Neptune was approaching an exact conjunction with his Moon. And certainly there are other relevant transits and progressions to Robin Williams birthchart that we might surmise contributed to his untimely end. But these cannot explain the lifelong vulnerability to mental illness that haunted him. 

If I did not already know Robin Williams, my initial impression of his chart would be that he’s an extraordinarily sensitive, somewhat maudlin individual with a bit of a dark side (Scorpio Rising). Years ago when I first saw Williams’ horoscope, I was surprised. I was expecting some kind of zany Aquarian type energy that would be a fitting signature for his unorthodox, wacky, frenetic humor. I did not expect to see Sun Cancer with Moon in Pisces. A chart with both lights plus the Ascendant in water is too sedate and inhibited to fit the irrepressible Robin Williams. But now I know better.

As is true with any chart, the key lies in seeing how all the parts fit together. One crucial factor in understanding Williams’ manic performances is the emphasis on his 9th house (Mercury, Pluto, Sun), and the centrality of Jupiter as the planet with the most aspects (5). The closing trine from Moon to Mars-Uranus in the 8th may be particularly telling. As a Sagittarian angle to planets that also receive the square from Jupiter, there’s quite a bit of Sag-like energy in that configuration. All of this would be consistent with mania. For mania is the pathology that best reflects the extreme, unbalanced expression of Sag-Jupiter type energy, which helps us understand Williams, too.1

Robin WilliamsCST

Robin Williams: July 21, 1951, 1:34 pm CST, Chicago, IL

A strong emphasis on the archetype of Sagittarius (by house, aspect, and Jupiter) may be a contributory or even necessary factor in Williams’ mania, but it is not sufficient. The other important factor is the signs in which the relevant planets reside. Note that the closing trine from Moon to Mars-Uranus occurs in two water signs, Cancer and Pisces. Underneath all that manic-Sag energy is an extraordinary sensitivity, a bottomless well of feeling that extends to unfathomable depths. As a metaphor, I’m picturing a hot air balloon rocketing into the skies with its furnace going full blast. But below there is a yawning, cavernous lake at the bottom of which resides the dead family of the native. The hot air balloon signifies his escape route, a desperate, feverish attempt to fly above and away from a tragedy too horrible to face, a grave situation that threatens to pull him down into a morass of guilt and grief that will extinguish all happiness forever. This is just a metaphor, of course. Yet, the real story is not entirely dissimilar. 

In the vast majority of cases, mania alternates with depression. This is what is meant by bi-polar disorder—two diametrically opposed states that vacillate back and forth. What goes up, must come down. Writer Greg Gutfield noted that comics are like construction workers dangling from the girders, inevitably one will fall down. It is an apt metaphor, as comedy can be understood as compensatory to the demons that lurk below. Comics are notorious for being quiet and reflective in their personal lives, and often tortured in their private thoughts. In a 2006 NPR radio interview with “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, Williams said that mania was something he imitated for various characters he performed, but he was not always manic. “Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes,” Williams said. “Am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah.”2

Seeing Williams perform his frenzied comedy routines, I always had the impression that he was struggling to stay away from something—to rise above it, but not necessarily in a good way. This is typical of humor, of course. As a defense, it allows us to bind and release feelings that are too painful to face directly. It is almost cliché to say that comedy is born out of suffering. Like his idol Jonathan Winters (who was also bipolar), Robin’s comedy style seemed more self-generated than interactional. He was like a self-sustaining, perpetual motion machine that only minimally required interaction with other people on stage. Once he went on a riff, he could sustain it under his own steam with little input from anyone else. For him to actually stop, listen, and connect with others would merely interrupt the self-stimulating flow of his non-stop free-associations. Exciting, crazy, brilliant, it was breathtaking to watch him. It was as if he were channeling some comedy sprite. But such a pattern of behavior is more than simply a talent. It reflects something deeper. When the ‘on’ switch is always on, one suspects the off switch is dreaded.

Robin WIlliams natal chart
Robin WIlliams

In the interview with Terry Gross, Williams was asked if he had ever been diagnosed with clinical depression. Williams answered: “No clinical depression, no. No. I get bummed, like I think a lot of us do at certain times. You look at the world and go, Whoa.” This is interesting, for it suggests Williams’ sadness was more in response to collective suffering than to events in his personal life. In a 2010 interview for The Guardian, Decca Aitkenhead observed that Williams seemed to be two different people. On camera he’s “hyperactive to the point of deranged, ricocheting between voices, riffing off his internal dialogues.” Off-camera, however, she notes he is a different kettle of fish. “His bearing is intensely Zen and almost mournful, and when he’s not putting on voices he speaks in a low, tremulous baritone – as if on the verge of tears – that would work very well if he were delivering a funeral eulogy. He seems gentle and kind – even tender – but the overwhelming impression is one of sadness.”3

Too Much Water, Too Little Air
Aitkenhead provides as good a description of Sun Cancer/Moon Pisces as you’ll read in any astrology text. Her experience of Williams is consistent with what one might expect with someone whose dominant function is water. As astrologers, we know water is the most vulnerable of elements. Each water sign in its own way signifies a need to love and be loved—Cancer, to love those who depend on us for care; Scorpio, to love another with a depth of passion that transforms both lover and beloved; and Pisces, to love humanity with an indiscriminate, all-inclusive compassion that transcends the petty differences that separate us. But water-needs come with a price, for almost invariably our actual experience of love will fall short of the ideal. And it is precisely the failure to realize that ideal—failure to love enough and frustration of our need to be loved—that makes water so susceptible to emotional pain.

All of this is especially true of Moon Pisces, for it combines two watery elements—the Moon, which rules the personal sign of Cancer, and Pisces, the transpersonal water sign. Moon Pisces thus signifies an instinct to love collective humanity in a personal way, as if every human being were one’s own child, especially those victimized by an absence of love. At the time of this writing, I know little of William’s family background, children, divorces or anything of the sort, but Moon Pisces suggests he is no stranger to loss and tragedy, even if it is not his own. Moon Pisces feels everyone’s loss as if it were their own. As the poet John Donne wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Pisces is existential guilt, the guilt we feel merely for being human; the sort of guilt that reminds us we are our brother’s keeper and that tugs at our conscience whenever we see another person suffering. This condition is exacerbated when the Moon disposes three planets in Cancer, one of which is the Sun. By way of dispositorship, all that Cancer energy leads to the Moon, which, in turn, injects even more feeling into the Cancer clad planets it trines. That’s a whole lot of unrestrained Cancer-Pisces energy. In fact, it’s non-stop, just like Robin’s comedy style.

Speaking of comedy, a word about Scorpio is in order. While astrologers seldom speak of Scorpio as a sign of humor, its relevance to comedy is self-evident. The vast majority of humor reveals a grievance of one sort or another; it addresses those things about which we experience the most discomfort—processes of elimination (bathroom humor), fear, pain, shame, sex, power, and at the top of the list, death—all of which are ruled by Scorpio. A primary function of humor is to release feelings that accumulate around such topics. Such catharsis is orgasmic and healing, which we experience as laughter. With Scorpio ascending, this was Williams’ prime directive, his most basic instinct. Scorpio rising assured he would seek an outlet for the fear, pain, and shame that we all experience as human beings. And with the focal planets of his T-Square (Mars conjunct Uranus) in the 8th house, this only underscores the centrality of the Scorpio archetype in Robin’s chart. 

Even with such an outlet, however, we must assume it was insufficient to process the sheer depth of pain that Williams experienced, all of which seemed to be funneled into his Moon Pisces. Just consider the chain of dispositors. His Scorpio Ascendant is ruled by Pluto, which (with Mercury) is disposed by the Sun, which (with Mars and Uranus) is disposed by the Moon. The Moon is disposed by Neptune and Neptune by Venus (with Saturn), which leads back to Mercury-Pluto, and so the cycle repeats. At the bottom of his chart, however, is the basin into which all his water flows: Moon Pisces. This is the cavernous lake of infinite depth that I suspect he sought to avoid, but in the end claimed him.

Whether by synchronicity or merely a casting director’s intuition, actors have a tendency to be cast in roles that reflect their core issues and character structure. To cite but one of innumerable examples involving Williams, he was cast early in his career as the irreverent DJ,  Adrian Cronauer, in the 1987 film Good Morning Vietnam. Initially he manages to stay above the pain of war by spoofing the military in his usual manic way, but his humor is like a tourniquet on a bleeding wound. Soon he is drawn down into the underbelly of Saigon and comes face to face with the horrors that afflict both Americans and Vietnamese alike. His anguish is palpable. He wants to save everyone. He fails.

We might say it is the story of his life.

When you consider Williams’ life as a whole—beautiful wife, beloved by millions, a home in Tiburon, millions of dollars in assets, and an ongoing fun career that seemed to have no limits—one is compelled to ask, what’s wrong with this picture? If a person cannot be happy with all that, what hope is there for the rest of us? But Moon Pisces is not merely a container of personal happiness; it’s also an open vessel for all the suffering in the world. Its emotional antennae is attuned to the millions of victims one cannot save, the stark tragedies of life, the sickness and despair, the excruciating losses and ineluctable grief that sweeps across the oceans like a tsunami into one’s own consciousness.

What effective response can there be to such suffering? My answer is rationality—the state of being reasonable. That’s what air is about. It confers the ability to step above the immediate situation and view issues from a detached perspective regardless of how upsetting they might be emotionally. Air is the witness, the spectator, the objective function that serves as a mediator between the ideal and the real. This provides the individual with a logical, rational faculty that enables him to learn the underlying causes and reasons for what ails us, and to propose sensible solutions.

Given the sheer amount of suffering in the world, this might seem cold, unfeeling, even indifferent. But that’s precisely the point: the element of air allows us to recognize the sheer unreasonableness of assuming responsibility for the world’s ills. As an individual, you do what you can—contribute to charities, support worthy causes—and turn the rest over to God and the slow, patient unfolding of time. After all, you’re just one person, here for only a brief moment in the vast expanse of human history. You have to keep things in perspective. Left unchallenged, however, the existential guilt of Pisces can metastasize into excessive, unwarranted, irrational guilt—the kind of guilt that robs you of personal happiness and sabotages your health and well-being in the misguided notion that you should atone for the imaginary crime of not helping enough. Guilt of this sort leads to the classic Piscean act of self-undoing. When mired in irrational guilt, a martini beckons like a seductive temptress and a line of cocaine says, “Take me in; oh yeah, I’ll fix your problem alright.” And very soon one is a victim oneself, of addiction, a condition that Williams battled for much of his adult life.  

In Williams chart, air is his inferior element, which should come as no surprise. Its only inhabitant is Neptune in Libra in the 11th house, which forms the third leg of the T-Square to Mars-Uranus and Jupiter. One suspects Neptune in Libra was a co-conspirator in that manic T-Square that Williams utilized to avoid grief, for Libra is antithetical to feeling. It seeks a way out by playing fair and being nice. I am reminded of the scene in The Abyss in which the couple played by Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio argue over who should put on the only diving suit as their damaged midget submarine slowly filled with—you guessed it, water. Each kindly offered to let the other live, but whatever rationality remained between them was soon overcome by the sheer, overpowering amount of water that submerged them. 

If Neptune in Libra is your only planet in air and you’ve four planets in water, it can be like getting a note from the hospital that says, “The good news is that we’ve learned a lot about the virus that originated in you, killed your family, and subsequently wiped out your home state of Illinois. But gosh isn’t it wonderful that you survived!” A polite communication utterly dwarfed by the tragedy of its contents. My point is simply this: too little air in the face of too much water cannot mitigate with rationality the guilt that one is required to endure. So, into the depths you go, flailing and gasping. How ironic that Williams died of asphyxiation, literally a condition of severely deficient oxygen to the body—or, too little air.

Further testament to Williams’ lack of air is his 2010 interview for The Guardian. Aitkenhead notes that Williams only became coherent when talking about his travails with alcohol and subsequent guilt. Otherwise, 

He is vague, tangential and at times more or less incomprehensible.…the freakish articulacy showcased in Good Morning Vietnam was gone. Quite often when he opens his mouth a slur of unrelated words come out, like a dozen different false starts tangled together, from which an actual sentence eventually finds its way out….It’s like trying to tune into a long-wave radio station.4

Certainly, this can typify a lack of air. What Williams really wanted to talk about, it turns out, is his relapse into alcoholism—in other words, water topics, at which point Aktkenhead says he suddenly becomes lucid and forthcoming. Robin admits he resumed drinking in 2006 to deal with a general all-round “fearfulness and anxiety,” and he laments how his second marriage ended in 2008 largely because of his drinking, even though by then he was sober. “You know, I was shameful” he confesses, “and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from.”5

Clearly, Williams feels guilty about his drinking and the destruction of his marriage. However, I suspect this merely encapsulates a deeper, more irrational guilt that drove him to drink in the first place. The consequences of his drinking is not the true source of his grief and guilt, merely the visible tip of the proverbial iceberg, a focal point into which he can pour his feelings. The ultimate wellspring of his suffering is more diffuse, ineffable, and without bounds, like Pisces itself.

According to all reports, Robin Williams did not leave a suicide note. And so we may never know the real reason that compelled him to take his own life. My best guess is that he simply did not know how to make sense of his feelings. His capacity for a rational and objective response to the world’s ills, which he experienced as his own, was simply inadequate to the extraordinary depth of compassion he felt in the face of human suffering. Sometimes one can be too good a person, which is its own kind of illness. Robin’s stopgap remedy was humor, and when that failed, drugs and alcohol; and when that failed, suicide by hanging, as if he truly were a criminal. In the end, his escape into the giddy heights of manic humor failed him. Perhaps he simply ran out of gas. The gravity of his situation finally proved too much, pulling him down into that deep dark lake and extinguishing forever the last flicker of brilliance in a tortured soul. 


* * * * *


1 Perry, G. Depth Analysis of the Natal Chart. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press. See in particular Chapter 6, “Psychopathology of the Zodiac”.

“Robin Williams on Depression: ‘I Get Bummed’, from The Huffington Post, by Kurt Heine, posted 08/11/2014 at 11:07 pm, at

Aitkenhead, Decca. “Robin Williams: ‘I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust – that’s hard to recover from'”, in The Guardian, posted Sunday 19 September 2010.

4 Ibid

5 Ibid

The Significance of Planetary Emotions

The Significance of
Planetary Emotions

By Glenn Perry

planetary emotionsA
t the heart of AstroPsychology is the simple assertion: needs motivate. But to account for motivation, a model of the psyche must deal with human feelings and emotions. Once a felt need begins to dominate awareness, that person is motivated to engage in behaviors that satisfy the need. People act out of anger, fear, curiosity, love, excitement, pride, shame, aesthetic pleasure, and so on. In this column, we will explore the significance of planetary emotions for an astrological theory of personality.

The relationship between planets and signs provides a key to understanding feelings. Planets are actors of the personality. Each planet signifies a particular type of action that is designed to fulfill specific needs. Yet, how do we know which planet and which action is appropriate to a given situation? What is it that tells us when to act and with what degree of intensity? Our answer is zodiacal signs. Each zodiacal sign can be correlated with a set of interrelated psychological needs and associated feelings. When needs are triggered by events, they are communicated via feelings to the appropriate planetary function, telling it what to do, when to do it, and how much of it should be done. Feelings, in short, provide a means for prioritizing needs. To take a simple example, Gemini correlates to the need for learning. If a person experiences interest in a particular topic, their curiosity activates the Mercury function of inquiry. Learning is the Gemini need, curiosity the feeling, and inquiry the Mercury action.

Emotions versus Feelings
Before proceeding further, it will be useful to distinguish emotions from feelings. Emotions can be described as complex, physiological reactions to the meaning of an object or event. They comprise the core responses that constitute our subjective experience and may derive from basic organizing principles in the Universe—archetypes—that are immanent in nature at all levels. It’s been established, for instance, that animals and even plants have emotional responses to events that are not appreciably different from human emotions.1 Proceeding from Aries through Pisces, each sign can be correlated with a group of related emotions. Taking one emotion from each sign-group, some examples would be: anger, calmness, curiosity, caring, happiness, worry, attraction, fear, hope, determination, detachment, and compassion. 

Feelings are the more general and secondary term, for they entail an evaluative response to emotional (and sensory) experience. A fish may feel slimy, and its sliminess may be further evaluated as strange, good, or bad, all which can be called ‘feelings’. But none of these are emotions. Conversely, a person may see a barracuda swimming toward him, and feel fear. The emotion is fear, and the feeling of his fear prompts him to avoid the barracuda. While a directly felt emotion is virtually indistinguishable from a feeling, it precedes feeling in the way that heat precedes the sensation of being burned. It would be fair to say, therefore, that all felt emotions are feelings, but not all feelings are emotions. Also, an emotion may or may not be felt. If a person gripped by fear allows it into full, conscious awareness, we can say he feels afraid. But if he defends against his fear, he may not feel it at all. Yet, it is still there, influencing his behavior at an unconscious level. His emotion of fear exists whether he feels it or not. For purposes of simplicity, I will use the words ’emotion’ and ‘feeling’ interchangeably in the remainder of this article.

Emotions and Suffering
The exact nature of emotional responses is a complex phenomenon that has spawned a considerable amount of research over the last 100 years, including entire books dedicated to the subject.My own view is that emotions are archetypal voices of sign-planet motivational systems. As such, they function as barometers of need satisfaction. From the ancient Greeks to the middle of the 18th century, what we now call emotions was commonly referred to as passions. Passion derives from the Latin, pati, which in turn is related to the Greek, pathos, meaning suffering. Also related to passion are such terms as passivity and patient. Emotions are experienced passively in the sense that they are beyond the individual’s control, as when a patient “succumbs” to illness. The term emotion comes from the Latin, e + movere, which originally meant to migrate or transfer from one place to another. It was also used to refer to states of agitation or perturbation, whether physical or psychological. Emotion thus emphasizes the often stormy or turbulent nature of our reactions, and their tendency to arouse and activate behavior.

At the root of these concepts is the notion that an individual who is experiencing emotion is undergoing or suffering some change, as opposed to initiating change.3 In other words, emotions are passively rather than actively experienced. Colloquially, the experience of passivity during emotion is expressed in many ways. We “fall” in love, are “paralyzed” by fear, “plagued” with doubt, “haunted” by guilt,” “torn” by jealousy, “carried away” with joy, “consumed” by envy, “seized” with remorse, and so forth. In archetypal psychology, one speaks of “daimon possession,” meaning the usurpation of the total personality by a split-off part. This way of speaking implies that emotions are something that happens to us, not something we do. It is as though emotions were alien forces that “overcome” and “possess” an individual.

Astrological texts tend to associate the Moon with feelings. However, this is simplistic and misleading, as every sign-planet system corresponds to its own range of feelings. Even an air sign like Aquarius is characterized by a certain kind of emotion—detached, remote, distant, tolerant, dispassionate, cold, and aloof. Such feelings are associated with Uranian functions of objective overview and holistic perspective. This serves to illustrate that every planetary action has its own emotional undercurrent, including behavior that we might normally consider unemotional. As a psychological function, the Moon is merely our capacity to contain and reflect upon needs/feelings conveyed by each sign-planet system.

In his book, Affects as Process, Jones declares that emotions, or “affects” (the two terms being synonymous), are best understood as presymbolic representatives and governors of motivational systems.4 An emotion is presymbolic because it is a way of knowing that does not depend upon the symbol systems we call language, and it is the experiential representative of a motive because it conveys information about our state of being and what we need at any given moment. In short, an affect is an analog of a psycho-physiological state. Just as sense organs within the brain monitor the body’s states and needs through feelings such as hunger, thirst, and temperature, so emotions provide a continuous readout of how the psyche is functioning. If a person’s freedom (Aries) is threatened, he feels anger; if his desire for learning (Gemini) is stimulated, he feels curious; if his need for self-esteem (Leo) is met, he feels proud. “Emotions are the experiential monitor of complex motivational systems,” says Jones. “By cross-comparing the affective intensity of feelings from competing systems, the organism has a simple, effective way of prioritizing information and thus reaching a decision, which, in turn, initiates a course of action.”It is in this regard that emotions are governors of motivational systems.

Astrological Corollaries
Again, we can think of this astrologically by relating each sign-planet motivational system to a specific range of affects. Consider, for example, the Leo-Sun system. We know that a sign’s need can be inferred from behavior that is characteristic of that sign. All Leo traits can be understood in the context of the need for validation, self-esteem, and approval. If these needs are met, the individual attains the target state of Leo-Sun, which is pride and confidence. In pursuit of this state, however, he may momentarily experience a whole range of Leonian affects on a continuum from positive to negative: confident, happy, buoyant, playful, worthy, willful, stubborn, defensive, disdainful, unworthy, self-doubting, unconfident, humiliated, or ashamed. Such feelings inform him as to how far or close he is to the solar target state of pride/confidence.

Planets, or course, have relations with one another, which can give rise to mixed feelings that are prioritized in accord with whatever need/feeling is strongest and most immediate. An example might be a young man with Mars square Moon who experiences a simultaneous desire for freedom (Aries) and closeness (Cancer). As one motivational system is competing with the other, the intensity of competing affects allow for a quick means of prioritizing information and determining choice. If our young man recently spent a considerable amount of time alone pursuing independent interests, it is likely that his Cancer-Moon motivational system will emerge into awareness with greater affective intensity, thus motivating him to seek closeness. However, if he just enjoyed an intimate weekend with his girlfriend at home, his Aries-Mars motivational system is likely to become dominant and he will feel an urge to separate.

The connection between emotions and motives is illustrated by the etymologic history of the terms. Both words are derivatives of the Latin movere and its past participle motivere. In effect, emotions are subjective experiences that “move” us to action. Psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to needs as “impulse-voices.” If sufficiently attuned to these archetypal voices, one can “hear” what they want. Asked to account for his sudden separation from his girlfriend, the young man might say, “Something was telling me to leave; I had to get away.” Further reflection might reveal that he felt restless. Very often when there is too much or too prolonged closeness an individual will begin to feel irritated with his or her partner, often provoking a fight. In retrospect, one can see that the feeling of irritation and subsequent fight was operating in the service of a need to separate.

Again, affects are prime motivators of behavior. “Cross-sectionally, affects provide the principle means of identifying moment-to-moment shifts in motivational dominance” writes Lichtenberg.In other words, emotions provide the affective signal indicating what motivational system is operative. If planets could talk, each would have a characteristic imperative; each would have has its own distinct internal voice.

Aries-Mars:  “Just do it! Go for it! It’s your right.”

Taurus-Venus:  “If it feels good, enjoy it. Pleasure yourself. Mellow out.”

Gemini-Mercury: “That’s interesting; define and classify it. Put on your thinking cap.”

Cancer-Moon:  “Listen, turn inward; what are you feeling now?”

Leo-Sun:  “Let it shine, baby. Express yourself!”

Virgo-Mercury:  “Be careful, there’s a problem here. Figure it out.”

Libra-Venus:  “Turn on the charm and engage. Consider, compromise, and cooperate.”

Scorpio-Pluto:  “Face your fear and take it to the limit. It’s do or die. Get down and dirty.”

Sagittarius-Jupiter:  “Keep the faith, baby. God is good. Just do the right thing.”

Capricorn-Saturn:  “Bear down and focus. Concentrate. Control yourself.”

Aquarius-Uranus:  “Expect the unexpected. Stay open and detached.”

Pisces-Neptune:  “Let go and let God. Surrender. Trust the Universe.”

The above examples illustrate how we experience planets as a form of self-talk. These are our inner voices, the archetypal imperatives that tell us what to do through specific emotional signals that are converted into symbolic language. For example, we might feel angry (Mars) and then say to ourselves, “I’ve got to fight; he can’t do that to me!” If we feel attracted (Venus), we might think: “Be nice; let them know you are interested.” Each planetary state has its own agenda and behavioral imperative.

As analogs of psycho-physiological states, affects are experienced through a range of intensity. This intensity gradient can be described by pairs of words that represent opposite extremes of emotion along a continuum. In our astrological model, there is a different affective range for each planet. Mars is joy-rage; the Sun is pride-shame; Neptune is bliss-grief, and so on.Experienced changes in intensity are the analogic representation of complex sensing systems that allow us to make quantitative distinctions, such as how angry is the person (Mars), how determined (Saturn), or how proud (Sun). Intensity variations in affects provide the means for prioritizing needs: the loudest, most intense affect is the one that gains our attention and thus activates the behavioral sequences of that sign-planet system.

Conflict & Integration Involving Aspects
Planetary emotions also differ qualitatively along a continuum of affective states. This qualitative range illustrates various degrees of integration of sign-planet motivational systems. A well-integrated, fully functional planet will more often be experienced in terms of positive affects, whereas a repressed, weak planetary function will more often be experienced in terms of negative affects. If, for example, an individual has difficulty with the Capricorn-Saturn motive, he is more likely to experience the negative end of Saturn’s emotional continuum—despair, pessimism, and inferiority. However, if he overcomes this tendency and works to strengthen his Saturn function, he is more likely to experience its positive states—a feeling of control, success, and superior status.

As indicated by the Mars-Moon example, a person may experience conflicting emotions and voices as evidenced by hard aspects between planets. In such instances, both planets are activated simultaneously, each with its own feelings, motivational imperative, and impulse to action; yet, planetary impulses are operating at cross-purposes. This is what is meant by ‘intrapsychic conflict’. A whole range of intrapsychic and thus emotional conflicts can be symbolized in the birthchart. Hard aspects tend to signify blockages and intensifications of motivational energy, resulting in the under- or overfunctioning of planetary functions.

If a person has Sun square Saturn, for example, the solar function can be temporarily blocked by the Saturnian injunction to favor work over play. When emotions signal it’s time to enjoy oneself and socialize with friends, they are ignored with the result that Leonian needs build up within the psyche. When finally released, the person may overdo attempts to gain approval and validation, as if having to compensate for inner feelings of low self-esteem. It can operate the other way, too. Favoring play over work, emotions that signal its time get serious and productive are avoided (procrastination). Unmet Capricorn needs build up in the psyche and when finally released the person may overwork to compensate for feelings of failure and inadequacy. Sometimes, an outer condition arises that synchronistically reflects the inner conflict. With Sun-Saturn, the person’s rejection of his Saturnian impulses may manifest externally as a domineering boss with unrealistic demands. Of course, integrated versions of Sun square Saturn are also possible.

In a future column, we will explore how the relationship of emotion to motivation can be described in terms of calibration and psychodynamics, and how these, in turn, are depicted in the astrological chart. For a full explication of this model, please see An Introduction to AstroPsychology and Depth Analysis of the Natal Chart. Meanwhile, stay tuned!

* * * * *


1 Watson, L. (1973).  Supernature.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

2 See, for example, Averill, J.R. (1980). The emotions. In E. Staub (Ed.) Personality: Basic aspects and current research (pp. 133-199). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Also, Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.

3 Averill, Ibid

4 Jones, J. (1995). Affects as process. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

5  Ibid., p. 45

6 Lichtenberg, J. (1989) Psychoanalysis and motivation. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, p. 260

7  For graphs and tables of planetary emotional states, see Chapter 4 of Depth Analysis of the Natal Chart.

Deconstructing the Grand Cross: A Present-Centered View

Deconstructing the Grand Cross
A Present-Centered view

By Glenn Perry

the grand crossF
or months the astrological community has been ablaze with commentary on the grand cross in cardinal signs, exact this very day, April 23, 2014. A grand cross entails four planets occupying approximately the same degree in four different signs, all of which either square or oppose one another. Pluto in Capricorn, Uranus in Aries, Mars in Libra, and Jupiter in Cancer currently occupy the 13th degree of their respective signs, adding an even more ominous note to the proceedings. 

At the time of this writing a cursory review reveals that most astrologers focused on prediction of likely events. The usual suspects are included: wars and revolts, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, monetary crises, the end of the world and general mayhem. 

Astrologer Zell Bodine writes on Facebook: “Will the Cardinal Grand Square Explode This Week?” She continues: “It’s like three warehouses full of fireworks, TNT, and nuclear fission materials with three fuses, one each, leading straight to them. And Mars holds the other end of all three fuses, ready to light three matches on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.” Zell goes on to list other, more positive possibilities, but it is a compelling metaphor that illustrates how easy it is to be alarmed by the aspect in question. 

Grand Cross 4-23-14, 1115am

Rather than attempt to predict events that, in fact, are already occurring, I would like to deconstruct the configuration into its respective parts and interpret it at a process level. Astrological configurations admit of two levels of interpretation: process and content. Process is the underlying, archetypal dynamics that operate at a more abstract level, whereas content pertains to observable behavior and events. The general rule is that content mirrors process. Tangible outcomes provide a vehicle and catalyst for an evolutionary process that is endlessly unfolding. In this article, we will take a look at some of the more dramatic expressions of the grand cross, while keeping in mind that such events exemplify a deeper, archetypal reality. 

The Grand Cross: Some Preliminary Remarks

World transits can be distinguished from personal transits. The latter pertains to planetary movements in relation to natal charts. Unlike personal transits, world transits are pervasive and affect everyone generically. They apply more to the collective psyche.

There is a tendency to think that dramatic configurations like a grand cross can be isolated in time as if they are singular events, like a wayward comet smashing into the earth’s crust. In actuality, every planet is continuously engaged in a synodic cycle with every other planet. Synodic cycles mark the period of time it takes for any two planets to move from their conjunction to the opposition and back again, thus completing a full circle. Synodic cycles are punctuated by the same 30-degree angles that comprise the tropical zodiac. Aspects, in effect, derive their meaning from the signs that correspond to those angles. An opposition, for example, has a Libra quality since Libra is the sign that marks the 180 degree angle from the vernal equinox (0 degrees Aries).

Each pairing relates to broad themes that crystallize into focus whenever there is an aspect between the relevant planets. And as the planets move out of aspect, these same thematic elements recede into the background. This rhythmic unfolding and enfolding serves to remind us that any current transit is but the latest chapter in a never-ending story co-authored and continuously updated by the respective planets. A world transit is a phase of development in an evolutionary process that has no beginning or discernable end. Every planetary aspect, therefore, has an ancestral line, earlier incarnations in which those two planets made the same aspect in different signs. And while there will be similarities between the respective incarnations, there are differences, too. Just as the adult form of an organism is different from its juvenile phase, so later forms of a transit will tend to manifest in more mature ways.

Significantly at the present time, several dyadic pairings are coalescing into a more complex story—a grand cross—comprised of not two planets making a single aspect but four planets making six interdependent aspects:

  1. Pluto square Uranus
  2. Pluto opposed Jupiter
  3. Pluto square Mars
  4. Uranus square Jupiter
  5. Uranus opposed Mars
  6. Jupiter square Mars

Each of the above aspects is considered ‘hard’, meaning they denote stress and conflict between competing aims. Squares correspond to the signs Cancer and Capricorn, and as such are aspects of containment and control. They signify that the respective planets have to exercise restraint in relation to one another in order to prevent unwanted outcomes. If properly integrated, squares can be utilized in caring ways and harnessed for significant accomplishment. Similarly, oppositions are comprised of complimentary opposites engaged in open conflict, which can only be resolved by compromise. As Libra angles, oppositions afford opportunities for true partnership in which each planet balances and enriches the functioning of the other. Given that the grand cross is comprised of four squares and two oppositions, representative events will be characterized more by the square than the opposition. Squares are like hammer and anvil; irresistible force meets immovable object. Two or more powers locked in dynamic tension struggle to maintain control. In the end, some sort of compromise (opposition) must be affected. Stripped to its bare bones, this is the grand cross.

Also significant is the fact that each planet of the grand cross is in a particular sign, which adds four additional variables to the mix. In total, we have four planets in four signs making six aspects—thus, 20 variables—all working together as dynamic parts of a complex whole system. As with any complex system, the interaction of component parts will produce emergent properties that do not exist at the level of the parts that comprise it; in effect, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Given that any single variable has a multiplicity of meanings that when combined with other variables can produce an exponentially greater number of outcomes, it is a stupendous task indeed to predict exactly how these 20 odd variables will manifest. Since the human mind is only capable of dealing with a limited number of variables at once, interpretation of a complex scenario like the grand cross is akin to putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Eventually, the whole comes into view.

It is fascinating to observe how events invariably reflect the meaning of world transits. In general, however, we are much better at seeing these connections in retrospect than via prognostication. Astrologers are enamored with their ability to predict the future (however poorly), and the general populace seems to assume that this is our proper role. Personally, I believe there is greater value in using astrology to understand the archetypal meaning and purpose of events that are currently unfolding; that is, to use astrology to more fully and consciously live in the present rather than worry anxiously and helplessly about an uncertain future.

Study of archetypal dynamics helps us recognize the significance of events—not just events on the global stage, but also those within our businesses, communities, and families. Focus on prediction of world-shaking events like wars and earthquakes can be misleading in that it suggests only those events are likely to occur. Yet, the same configuration that is reflected in global events also manifests through the myriad happenings of our individual daily lives, albeit in a more subtle manner. World transits are equal opportunity employers: they affect everyone, everything, everywhere. This point was driven home recently when a client was discussing her exasperation with a dysfunctional university where she was employed. The problems of the university could have been lifted from the daily headlines pertaining to our dysfunctional federal government, for they were identical in microcosm. 

Uranus square Pluto

When interpreting an aspect, it is advisable to start with the slower moving planet, for a planet’s influence is inversely proportional to its speed: the slower the planet, the more powerful. It follows that Pluto is the dominant player and proper place to start in our analysis of the current grand cross. Since it is forming aspects to Uranus (opening square), Jupiter (opposition), and Mars (closing square), we can expect that Pluto’s presence will be particularly salient in the world at this time. The dark lord is spreading its influence into the domains ruled by each of the planets it aspects. Each will be deepened, intensified, and rendered more passionate; each will be imbued with a transformational imperative.

The opening square to Uranus has been felt for several years now, as Pluto first squared Uranus in June 2012. Due to retrograde motion it will have been exact seven times by the last square on March 16, 2015. Squares between these two planets rarely occur more than once a century. Accordingly, this aspect is more of a backdrop to the current grand cross, though its effects will be expanded by Jupiter and inflamed by Mars for the remainder of the current month. Pluto has intensified the Uranian impulse for collective evolution and cultural revolution, infusing Uranus with a do-or-die mentality. This has taken different forms in different countries since 2012, being most pronounced in nations that are already unstable, as exists in much of the Middle East; and less so in countries that are more stable, such as the United States and China.

The signature event of Uranus square Pluto is the Arab spring that has morphed into a seemingly endless winter threatening Egypt, Libya, Syria, and their neighbors. Dysfunctional dictatorships are being threatened by radical uprisings demanding greater freedom and economic opportunity. In the United States, this same pressure for change is embodied in conservative (Tea Party) and liberal (Occupy) movements locked in an intense ideological battle for the future of the country. Conservatives, favoring Pluto in Capricorn, advocate for elimination of administrative waste and inefficiency, opting for smaller government, lower taxes, and fewer regulations as the surest route to deficit reduction and economic prosperity. Too much change and social engineering (Uranus) is seen as a threat to fiscally responsible policies that would otherwise be employed to achieve a balanced budget and solid, measured growth. Liberals, on the other hand, favor Uranian solutions for social justice and the reduction of income disparity between rich and poor via higher taxes, more deficit spending, and expansive government programs that redistribute wealth.

It is noteworthy with the opening square that the relationship between Pluto and Uranus is in a Cancerian phase, for that is the sign that corresponds to the opening square. As with Cancer, opening squares have an inhibiting, restraining effect. Just as the Sun at the summer solstice appears to slow, come to a stop, and then reverse its course by moving progressively lower in the sky over the next six months, so the opening square signifies a slowing and potential reversal of course in the relationship between the respective planets. The current synodic cycle of Uranus and Pluto began in 1964-1967 when the two planets were conjunct. In the United States, this period corresponded to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘great society’ and ‘war on poverty’ that entailed the inception of government entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and welfare. Designed to eliminate poverty and care for its citizenry ‘from cradle to grave’, entitlement programs are the heart of the welfare state. Likewise in China, the 1964-1967 Uranus-Pluto conjunction triggered the launch of Mao Zedong’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ that sought to implement socialist policies that would assure a more equitable (re)-distribution of wealth.

With the opening square, it is precisely what began during the conjunction that has to be reappraised and, if necessary, reversed in order to assure sustainable progress. Johnson’s entitlement programs that began with the conjunction are now thought to be unsustainable and if continued in their current form will bankrupt the country.

As with any aspect, the relationship between Uranus and Pluto goes both ways. Not only does Pluto intensify and deepen the Uranian impulse for progress, but Uranus radicalizes and objectifies the Plutonic impulse for transformation. While this can have myriad effects in Plutonic realms of medicine/healing, human sexuality, and all things associated with depth and death, it is apt to be especially noticeable in economics. Pluto rules the financial realm. In accord with the square from Uranus over the last few years, there has been increasing evidence that the global monetary system is outdated and dangerously unstable. This is most obvious in the out-of-control deficit spending of western hemisphere nations, including and especially the United States. Some kind of substantive reform in monetary policy seems inevitable and likely to occur before the last Uranus-Pluto square of 2015. It is against this backdrop that Mars and Jupiter’s contribution to the grand cross must be considered. 

Jupiter opposed Pluto

Jupiter is associated with justice, laws, ideologies, religions, doctrines, and belief systems in general. When opposed to Pluto, this dimension of life is deepened, intensified, and rendered more extreme at least partly in response to Pluto’s transformational imperative. Unintegrated oppositions have a pulling-apart quality characterized by reciprocal influence and mutual resistance. The result is a see-saw effect with first one planet then the other vying for dominance. We can expect intense ideological battles involving various factions attempting to convert the other to their own (opposing) point-of-view. This is palpable, for example, between religions like Islam and Christianity, racial divisions like blacks and whites, competing parties such as Democrats and Republicans, and rival economic policies such as Keynesianism and monetarism.

While the religious extremism of groups like al Qaeda has been conspicuous for decades, there’s been a spike in reports of religious extremism during this current Jupiter-Pluto period. Only last week there was a flagrant al-Qaeda meeting in Yemen that included over 100 members openly planning to launch attacks against foreign interests. Within days, U.S. drone strikes killed 55 al-Qaeda militants, the most recent strike being only yesterday. Of course, this event is best understood in the context of the entire grand cross. Mars square Pluto can correlate to terrorism,while Uranus in Aries opposed Mars is an apt signature for radical militants whose violent intentions triggered a high-tech, immunizing response from the skies—a lethal drone strike, perhaps the ultimate example of blowback.

On a related note, the traditional Christian story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—itself a Jupiter-Pluto event—was celebrated this Easter weekend accompanied by numerous stories of the persecution of Christians at home and abroad. The synchronicity of the grand cross with Easter is interesting in light of the fact that crucifixion of Christ on the cross is an apt metaphor of the grand cross configuration: the shocking death (Uranus-Pluto) of a religious figure (Jupiter) by violent means (Mars). Other Jupiter-Pluto reports this weekend featured the upcoming release of the religious film, Son of God, the final scene of which is the crucifixion. Producer Mark Burnett admits the film is unabashedly evangelical with the goal not merely to entertain but convert—a Plutonic intention that will surely divide the true believers from their secularist/atheist counterparts.

Another dramatic example of Jupiter opposed Pluto has been unfolding this week at the Nevada cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy. A long simmering feud between Bundy and the federal Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) boiled over in charges that Bundy owes back fees for his cattle grazing on federal lands. Jupiter-Pluto dynamics are perfectly encapsulated in legal judgments (Jupiter) against Bundy’s family and home (Cancer) with regard to his alleged indebtedness (Pluto) to the federal government (Capricorn). The footprint of this opposition is also plainly evident in the legal dispute over whether states or the federal government should control public range lands. Bundy’s revolt would not have made news except for the fact that armed federal agents replete with attack dogs and snipers surrounded his property. This, in turn, triggered a response by local militia groups coming to Bundy’s aid armed to the teeth in defiance of federal agents. Critics charge that the Bundy standoff has brought into sharp focus the overreaching (Jupiter) of the federal government in violation (Pluto) of state’s rights, a point we will return to shortly. 

Bundy subsequently made racially insensitive remarks about African Americans having a better life under conditions of slavery than they do on welfare, which ostensibly was Bundy’s attempt to castigate the federal government for enslaving people by keeping them dependent. Only a few days later, the issue of race again exploded in the national news when the owner of Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball franchise, Donald Sterling, was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million after recordings of him making racist comments were made public. This sparked a national debate on race and the extent to which the United States has become increasingly intolerant of racism, whether of whites against blacks or blacks against whites. All of this is consistent with a wound (Pluto) surfacing in relation to issues of justice (Jupiter), as one might expect when Jupiter and Pluto engage in open dialogue via the opposition. As always with Pluto transits, an opportunity presents itself for a deeper level of integration—in this case, literally the deeper integration of a minority (blacks) within the majority (whites). 

Uranus square Jupiter and opposed Mars

When Uranus and Jupiter square off we can expect changes in conventional morality, established laws, and religious tenets, to name a few. When forming a hard aspect to Jupiter, Uranus tends to objectify and challenge standard interpretations of any belief system. Judicial activism is a good example. It occurs when judges decline to apply in a neutral and unbiased fashion constitutional law (Jupiter) according to its original public meaning; instead, they decide cases based on subjective policy preferences in an apparent attempt to bring about social change (Uranus).

Something similar occurred a few days ago when U.S. president Barack Obama signed a law enacted by Congress to deny entry to the U.S. of an Iranian ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, who was involved in the 1979 hostage crisis during which fifty-two Americans were held for over a year. In signing the law approved by Congress, Obama stated he would consider it “advisory” and not binding. Critics charge that like his predecessor, George Bush, Obama is reinterpreting laws at his discretion and doing an end run around Congress in the process. On Monday, April 21, he rewrote federal law again by extending his power of ‘pardon’ to allow the early release of drug felons—heroin and crack cocaine dealers—incarcerated under draconian sentencing regimes that by today’s standards would seem excessive. Advocates are seizing the opportunity to file thousands of new clemency petitions.

These examples serve to illustrate the general trend when Uranus and Jupiter are square. Certainly there are innumerable other challenges and rebellions against conventional law/morality occurring at the present time, most of which we will never know because they do not rise to the level of national news. Accordingly, we must content ourselves with a few examples that serve to illustrate the larger principle.

Returning to the Bundy ranch, the Nevada cattleman made it clear that he does not recognize the federal government as having jurisdiction over his cattle—or anything else, for that matter. Instead, he regards himself solely as a citizen of Nevada and subject to its laws alone. Bundy is the tip of the spear in a general populist revolt against federal laws that confiscated over 80% of Nevada land for pet projects like protecting the desert tortoise, leaving ranchers with scant range for their cattle. On Saturday morning April 12 in a perfect display of Uranus square Jupiter, a crowd of protestors rallied under a banner that read “Liberty Freedom for God We Stand.” Armed BLM rangers were poised to commence a round-up of Bundy’s cattle for trespassing on—what else, federal land. The agents were heckled and chided as Bundy addressed a crowd comprised not only of neighbors but White Mountain Militia and the Praetorian Guard (local militia groups rallying to his defense). “We definitely don’t recognize the BLM director’s jurisdiction or authority, his arresting power or policing power in any way,” shouted Bundy. “And we’re about ready to take the country over with force!”2 According to The Guardian,

A tense, hour-long standoff then ensued at the mouth of Gold Butte, the preserve where the cattle were corralled. Militiamen took position on a highway overpass, offering cover as horse-mounted wranglers led protesters to face off against heavily equipped BLM rangers and snipers.3

Jupiter square Uranus was not the only aspect in play during Bundy’s revolt. Mars is also a key component since it opposes Uranus and squares both Pluto and Jupiter. As the fastest moving of the four planets in the grand cross, Mars operates like a trigger that inflames and escalates tensions contained in the more enduring T-Square of Pluto, Uranus, and Jupiter. Like Bundy himself, Uranus-Mars is the incendiary, rabble rouser, and firebrand that incites action in the service of Uranian change, which often takes the form of breakups, rebellions and liberations. Mars, of course, is the impulse to do battle, whereas Uranus rules progress. When these two planets interact by opposition there can be fiery confrontations between pro-change forces and forces pitted against them. Note that Uranus in Aries is opposed to its own dispositor—Mars. This correlates not only to angry exchanges  between rival factions but also blowback as occurred when armed federal agents surrounding Bundy’s ranch incited protestors to arm themselves in response. Throw Pluto into the mix and the situation has devolved into an ugly power struggle with no-holds-barred, clenched-fist intensity. Jupiter’s contribution has been to expand the issue into a vociferous debate on federal overreach versus states rights. 

Again, the Bundy crisis is notable not so much for its own sake. People can legitimately disagree over who is right or wrong. What makes the standoff so remarkable is the extent to which it encapsulates all the elements of the grand cross. Recall that four squares signify an emphasis on containment and restraint in order to prevent unwanted outcomes—in this case, a deadly civil war. The BLM is the hammer, Bundy the anvil. Irresistible force meets immovable object; two powers locked in a struggle for control over land. While the four squares reflect the nearly unbearable tensions involved, the two oppositions hint at the possibility of compromise. In the midst of the crisis the BLM was ordered to suspend their round-up and return Bundy’s confiscated cows, though some had already been killed and buried in shallow graves. At present the situation is far from resolved. 

The Ukraine

The real poster child for the grand cross is the political crisis in Ukraine that has captured world attention. Although occurring on a grander scale, in almost every respect it exactly parallels the Bundy crisis in the United States. Last November the Ukrainian government decided to abandon a trade agreement with the European Union and seek closer ties with Moscow. This sparked a revolution that by March 2014 resulted in a new interim government that sought to restore and strengthen ties to the west. Meanwhile, pro-Russian factions seized government buildings in Crimea, a semi-autonomous republic on Ukraine’s southern border populated by an ethnic Russian majority. On March 16th Crimea’s parliament issued a referendum with official results stating that 95% of voters supported union with Russia. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, immediately signed the treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia, the first time the Kremlin expanded its borders since World War II.

The Crimean referendum entailed a change in law by virtue of a special ballot put forth to the electorate. As such, it exemplifies Uranus in Aries square Jupiter in Cancer—an immediate and revolutionary change (Uranus Aries) in the legal status of a country (Jupiter Cancer) via a managed process that contained and reflected the feelings of the populace (opening square).

Following Putin’s orders, 40,000 Russian troops quickly massed on the Ukrainian border to assure that the transition went smoothly. This, however, emboldened Russian-speaking Ukrainians in eastern swathes of the country who likewise want greater autonomy from the new government. Over the past week—April 14-22—tensions escalated as Mars moved into position to oppose Uranus and square both Pluto and Jupiter. Roving bands of local militia seized control of government buildings and shot at Ukrainian soldiers who sought unsuccessfully to disperse them. Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded on both sides. By April 15th Putin declared that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.

On April 17 more fighting broke out in the eastern regions as 200 pro-Russian Ukrainians demonstrated on the streets against the government in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. Fearing for the safety of ethnic Russians, Putin said he hoped not to have to use his “right” to send Russian troops into Ukraine. On April 18, pro-Russian separatists declared they will not be moved from occupied buildings until the ‘illegitimate’ government in Kiev is also removed. Moreover, they demand a referendum granting the region broad independent governance and the Russian language “special status”. While the Kiev government says it is willing to decentralize some of its power to Ukraine’s eastern regions, they will not allow a referendum until the militants disperse and disarm. Once again, as in Nevada, it is a hammer and anvil situation. Irresistible force meets immovable object; a deadly standoff reflecting the grand cross.

Summary and Conclusion

Understanding the astrology of the time enables us to see the connection between events like Bundy’s revolt in Nevada and the pro-Russian revolt in Ukraine. In both instances, armed separatist forces are threatening a civil war against a central government they believe is encroaching upon their freedom. Bundy argues that the BLM has no jurisdiction over his land. Likewise, pro-Russian separatists argue that Ukraine’s central government has no jurisdiction over their region. Armed militia in both instances has spontaneously taken up arms against a superior power. Legal debates rage over unjust laws that need to be overturned. Separatist sentiments abound. In Nevada as in eastern Ukraine, strenuous efforts are being expended to contain the conflict and de-escalate hostilities on both sides. Compromise seems possible, but has yet to be implemented.

These events are sensational expressions of the grand cross wherein its primary elements are overtly and dramatically displayed: Plutonic violation, Martial forces, Uranian rebellion, and Jupiterian disputes all locked together in a pressure cooker threatening to explode. And yet, it has not. Thus far the period has not been one of unbridled violence and bloody revolution. Rather, it has been characterized by control and containment of threats. Standoffs, deadlocks, and negotiated truces have been the order of the day. Given the extreme tensions of the grand square—like a molten river of lava rising to the tip of its banks—it is noteworthy that the potential for destruction has been restrained to the extent that it has. Of course, the period is not over; we can only pray the levees hold. 

Meanwhile, enormous efforts are being extended to find solutions to conflicts that have exposed fault lines in the structures and foundations of society. All of this makes sense when we consider the nature of the grand cross, which is more like a strait jacket than a frontal assault. The person within the strait jacket may be quite powerful and experiencing tremendous frustration; he is, after all, involuntarily restrained. Yet, it is precisely the function of the strait jacket to protect the person from harming himself or others. This is an apt description both of the grand cross and the world events in question. 

If I might, allow me to extend this metaphor further. Our man in the strait jacket is ultimately forced to turn inwards to reflect upon his predicament, for until he can find a more constructive expression of his feelings and impulses, he cannot be released. This may lead him to remember and resolve old wounds, experience new insights, and knit together competing aims in ways that once applied allow for substantive achievement. Given the nature of the news media (they have to sell advertising) the viewing public will only see him struggling in his straight jacket howling in protest. When he is at last released to achieve the dream he envisioned during his time of struggle, the media will have moved on to the next crisis—perhaps a desert tortoise trampled by mad cows.

No doubt there are innumerable positive instances that encapsulate the full array of variables involved in the grand cross. Integrated versions are surely occurring in fields that fly below the radar of national headlines: medical breakthroughs combating deadly diseases, advancements in predicting tornadoes, technological innovations in robotics, significant research discoveries in archaeology, peacetime applications for drones, progress in harnessing nuclear fusion, revelations exposing the power of faith, new legislation to reduce the national debt, and on and on. Everyday people simply marching to the beat of the grand cross, admirably and nobly. 

* * * * *

The Guardian, “Federal rangers face off against armed protesters in Nevada ‘range war’.

2 Ibid

3 Perry, Glenn. “Mars square Pluto: Death in a Pressure Cooker,” at:

Father in the Horoscope: Understanding Barack Obama

Father In the Horoscope
Understanding Barack Obama

By Glenn Perry


Students frequently ask what planet signifies the father in the horoscope, Sun or Saturn? Also, what is the relationship between father and other characters symbolized by these planets? 

father in the horoscope
Barack Obama, Sr.

It is important to distinguish Sun and Saturn as representatives of father, for they signify different principles yet both are father-like in their own way. When identifying characters assigned to a planet it is useful to consider the underlying logic involved. Just as a planet signifies a set of functions that are designed to meet certain sign-needs, so the external characters that represent that planet are likewise in the service of fulfilling needs associated with that sign-planet system. The Sun, for example, is dedicated to meeting Leo needs for self-esteem, identity, and creative self-expression. Any characters that are instrumental in meeting these needs can be solar figures. 

Sun as Father
Regardless of whether the chart is of a woman or a man, the Sun signifies father as your first best friend, playmate, and greatest fan. These roles are central to the development of self-esteem, which is the primary need of the Leo-Sun system. Ideally, the child sees herself reflected back as the gleam in her father’s eye. And just as the 5th house is associated with a number of different characters—romantic interests, bosom buddies, playmates, teammates, fans and admirers—so the Sun can signify these characters as well. In short, anyone who is a source of admiration, approval, and validation for one’s self-expression (choices, play, performance, creativity) can be a solar figure in the native’s life.

These characters are superimposed over the characters normally associated with the house that the Sun tenants. If the Sun is in the 6th house, for instance, then one’s servants, co-workers, employees, and workers in general can be solar figures—that is, sources of approval and validation. With his Sun in Leo in the 6th, U.S. President Barack Obama is frequently criticized for surrounding himself with sycophants on his white house staff. Views that express disagreement with Obama are notoriously unwelcome. In this regard, Obama is said to live in a bubble that insulates him from potential challenge. If one does a Google search for “Obama lives in a bubble” there are dozens of articles titled along those lines. 

The problem with Sun Leo in the 6th is the sheer strength of the Sun in an environment that requires diligence, caution, and critical thinking. Having the Sun in its own sign in the 6th is like throwing a birthday party for yourself in the middle of a shift at a General Motors automotive plant. The workers may cheer and love you, but not much gets done. The assembly line comes grinding to a halt. One suspects that Obama’s approach to work is more about creativity and performance than solving problems with cool efficiency. In short, charisma may substitute for competence. 

Obama, Barack

Barack Obama: August 4, 1961, 7:24 pm, Honolulu, Hawaii

It is not just Obama’s Sun Leo in the 6th that accounts for his living in a bubble at work, but the fact that his primary solar aspect is a square to Neptune. As a psychological function, Neptune signifies our capacity for idealism, imagination, and fantasy. When square the Sun, this can translate as a penchant for living in a dream world wherein the self is perceived as extraordinary. Thus, one article is titled “Obama in Wonderland”, which captures the self-aggrandizing, solipsistic nature of his Sun-Leo square Neptune quality.

It follows that Obama is likely to surround himself with people who similarly distort reality in the service of an ideal. And since his solar square is to Neptune in Scorpio in the 9th house of law, it is not surprising that one of his best friends and staunchest allies, Attorney General Eric Holder, has been accused of fostering cover-ups out of loyalty to the president. Holder was cited for contempt of Congress when he refused to turn over documents related to a federal gun operation that led to the death of U.S. border agent, Brian Terry. More than 100 members of congress have called for Holder’s resignation over his handling of Fast and Furious, terrorism, and other matters.

Saturn as Father
All of this, of course, is completely different from Saturn figures that signify authority, limits, mastery, and such. Father as boss, rule maker, disciplinarian (tough love), taskmaster, and worldly success are some of the roles that are consistent with Saturn. Women/mothers can perform these functions, too, but archetypally they are more associated with fathers. Saturn’s sign, house, and aspects provide information as to how one’s actual father embodied these principles.

In Obama’s case, his Saturn is in Capricorn in the 12th house. The 12th house association with sorrow and loss is consistent with the fact that Obama’s father abandoned his wife and child, eventually becoming an alcoholic and tragic figure in his native Kenya. It follows that Obama’s compassion for 12th house figures – the poor, underprivileged, victimized, dispossessed, and sick – at least partly derives from his perception that their Saturnian capacity is weak or missing, for that is the condition of his own Saturn.

Obviously, one does not become president of the United States without a somewhat functional Saturn. However, this should not detract us from recognizing that Obama’s supreme ambition is to minister to those who appear to lack a capacity for success without government assistance. Accordingly, Obama’s administration is renowned for having significantly expanded unemployment and disability benefits. Welfare payments have jumped 32% during Obama’s presidency; food stamp recipients have nearly doubled over the last six years. Obama’s signature achievement is the restructuring of the health care system to provide a safety net for individuals unable to obtain their own health insurance. In short, Obama’s Saturn is largely employed in the service of those who appear to be lacking or missing their own Saturn function.

Pointing this out is not meant simply to be critical. All things considered, Obama’s overriding ambition to help the underprivileged is an admirable use of Saturn in the 12th. At higher levels of integration, the best and proper use of any difficult configuration is to employ its energies in the service of helping those who are mired in that same planet’s lower level expression. Despite one’s best efforts, however, any planet in the 12th can manifest problematically in the form of characters who embody that function poorly and who directly impact one’s life. Sometimes there is simply no escape. 

One of Saturn’s primary roles is that of expert, master, and authority. When placed in the 12th house, the people that perform these roles may be absent or dysfunctional, just like Obama’s father. It is noteworthy that the alleged experts that Obama has relied upon to build and administer the Affordable Care Act have largely failed him. From the disastrous rollout of the website to the constant changes within the law itself, Obamacare has been described as a “nightmare,” “train wreck” and “chaotic mess” by members of his own party.

Likewise, endless confusion over the Benghazi tragedy, IRS scandal, and NSA leaks has reinforced the view that public officials within the Obama administration are either incompetent or deceitful. All of this has contributed to the widespread impression that Obama’s presidency is itself dysfunctional. Yet, when pressured to take responsibility for his administration’s failures, Obama appears insulated and clueless. The joke circulating about Washington says it all. Question: What did the president know and when did he know it? Answer: Not much and about a minute ago.

The point here is not merely to pick on Obama (of course, I am), but to demonstrate how Sun and Saturn can signify various characters that reflect the native’s own capacities vis-a-vis those planets. Recognizing that Sun and Saturn not only symbolize psychological functions within the individual but also characters that perform specific roles in the native’s life helps us to appreciate the synchronistic nature of astrology. As within, so without: fate is character turned inside out. 

Planets Symbolize Psychological Functions

Planets Symbolize Functions

By Glenn Perry


Planets symbolize functions Early humans experienced planetary archetypes as messages from gods originating outside of their own minds. Today we recognize archetypes as the core feelings, needs, and values that constitute our inner life. A core tenet of AstroPsychology is that planets symbolize psychological functions that are oriented toward satisfying the needs of the signs they rule. Signs are motives; planets are their active agents.

Another way of saying this is that a planet symbolizes a single psychological faculty, which can be defined as an inherent power to perform multiple functions. Planetary functions are the normal, proper, or characteristic actions of that planet; thus, for example, Mars symbolizes the functions of asserting, starting, fighting, competing, and surviving.
Again, planetary functions are motivated by the need(s) of the sign that planet rules. This implies that motivation and function are as inseparable as a rocket and its fuel tank. In fact, each sign-planet pairing can be regarded as a system. When we talk about the body, we refer to specific systems such as the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, and the endocrine system. Likewise, there are psychological systems as well. Aries-Mars rules the competitive/assertion system, Taurus-Venus the security/stability system, and Capricorn-Saturn the control/mastery system.
A sign-planet is a motivational system because it entails an interaction between two components of the psyche: sign and planet. As needs, signs motivate their ruling planets to perform specific functions, and these functions involve appropriate actions that serve the underlying motive.
Abraham Maslow (1968) proposed that human beings are born with an essential nature that is analogous with physical structure. Just so in astrology, psychological functions are analogous to their biological corollaries. The functions of digestion and elimination, for example, are paralleled by corresponding psychological processes ruled by Virgo-Mercury and Scorpio-Pluto.
Whereas the Virgo-Mercury system governs the intestines, gastrointestinal system, and overall food metabolism, it also governs psychological process of analyzing and utilizing information in the service of competence. Just as we digest food, so we digest information, breaking it down into useful parts and assimilating it into our cognitive structure. In other words, Virgo is about the metabolizing of information—a clear corollary to the process of digestion on a biological level.
Likewise, biological and psychological processes of elimination are ruled by Scorpio-Pluto. On a biological level, Scorpio-Pluto governs the sexual/generative organs, which include the bladder, prostate gland, testicles, colon, and rectum. Note that these organ systems are involved in processes of ejection and elimination; ovulation and menstruation in the female and ejaculation in the male. We purge and eliminate on a psychological level, too, as when we experience catharsis and abreaction, purging toxic emotions or eliminating destructive mental habits. In addition, Scorpio-Pluto rules sexuality and tends to be penetrating, erotic, and regenerative by its very nature. 
These two examples—Virgo-Mercury and Scorpio-Pluto—illustrate how biological and corollary psychological functions are ruled by the same sign-planet system. In effect, a sign-planet system is analogous to a biological organ in that it symbolizes a type of action that is in the service of a psychological need, or motive. Just as the need of a sign can be inferred from behaviors that characterize that sign, so a planet’s functions can be inferred from actions that characterize its nature.
This is simply a matter of inductive reasoning. By observing characteristic actions of a planet, one can discern where the actions are leading to—in short, the purpose of the behavior. An action is any behavior that is goal-directed, or done for a reason. If one observes that Neptune is implicated in spiritual strivings, compassion for suffering, redemptive love, charity, psi abilities, fantasy, and dreams, then the faculty of Neptune would have to account for all actions classified as Neptunian.
If we call Neptune the Transcendent Faculty, this may suffice, for spiritual strivings are in the service of transcending the separate self-sense and uniting with a higher consciousness. Concern for the less fortunate, charity, and redemptive love require one to transcend self-interest and act to relieve the suffering of others. Psi abilities involve cognitive capacities that transcend rational intellect and sensory experience, while fantasy and dreams involve the perception of ideals and possibilities that transcend everyday, material reality. While no single word does justice to the diverse forms this archetypal process takes, Transcendent Faculty is as good a term as any. It may be that the best name for a planetary faculty is simply the planet itself—in this case, the faculty of Neptune.
Any characteristic action of a planet can be converted from a verb into a noun, which gives us a name for that function. Recall that planetary functions are the normal, proper, or characteristic actions of that planet. For example, Neptune symbolizes the verbs to imagine, to empathize, and to intuit. By converting these verbs into nouns we get three functions of Neptune: imagination, empathy, and intuition. Each term captures one facet of a complex, psychological faculty. Of course, there are other functions of Neptune beyond these three.
Again, functions are always in the service of needs. For every need represented by a sign, there is a planetary function devoted to the fulfillment of that need. Signs and planets form verb-noun pairs, as it were, the planet being the active agent (verb) of the sign-need (noun) over which it rules.
Saturn, for instance, is the planet that rules Capricorn. The need of Capricorn can be described as the drive for perfection in material form—or, put simply, the need for order, structure and control. Saturn, as the verb form and active agent of Capricorn, fulfills its needs by ordering, structuring, and controlling within the behavioral environment. Hence, Saturn represents the functions of order, structure, and control. In this regard, every planet symbolizes a particular kind of activity. Planets are actors and each one acts in a different way.
In an actual chart, Saturn would be in a parti­cular sign. Let us say, for instance, that Saturn is in Gemini. Thus, we have the syntax of an astrological sentence: the need of Capricorn (noun) is fulfilled by Saturn (verb) in a Gemini manner (adverb). In short, the need for order is fulfilled by achieving intellectually. Saturn in Gemini represents the drive for perfection through the ordering of mental constructs.
If Saturn is highlighted in the natal chart by, for example, being conjunct the Ascendant, we might have an individual with an obsessive need to structure language into a logical system. Perhaps he might write a book on linguistics or devise a theory of syntax. The Gemini sign placement merely suggests how Saturn fulfills its Capricorn-need and what some possible outcomes might be.
The point here is that needs symbolized by signs provide the motivation that triggers functions represented by planets. How and whether those functions satisfy their motivating needs is indicated by a host of additional factors including the planet’s sign and house position and its aspects to other planets. The degree to which a planet can satisfy its sign-need is a measure of that planet’s functionality (or dysfunctionality).
This is a topic that will be explained more fully in subsequent columns. In our next installment, we will explore how sign-needs are experienced as emotions that trigger behaviors calculated to achieve specific ends.
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Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.
Perry, G. (2012). An Introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press.

Astrological Prejudice

Astrological Prejudice

By Glenn Perry


Astrological PrejudiceRecently there was a discussion on Facebook that illustrated what I call astrological prejudice. A professional astrologer got the ball rolling by posting the following: 

“Simple question about Venus in Leo: How do you counsel these people? How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else? (Okay, this is a personal issue. My brother has Venus in Leo. Any random thoughts are appreciated).”

I was struck by this question and the conversation that followed because it seemed to endorse a subtle form of discrimination. Many of us know people who report how an astrologer looked at their chart and made some negative comment accompanied by a sneer or look of consternation, as if that person were cursed, afflicted, or simply bad. Apart from the underlying arrogance in assuming that one can know a person merely from his or her birthchart, I think such responses betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how astrology works. 

In the question above, for instance, there is reference to ‘these people’ followed by a negative stereotype: “How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else?” (Implying they are all self-centered). Most of us will recognize that there is no “these people” with regard to a planetary sign position. The very phrase implies there is some consistency that applies to everyone who has Venus in Leo. As with any other planetary sign position, it is an ingredient within a complex mix in which everything affects everything else (in addition to extra-astrological factors such as age, maturity, culture, and so on, all of which make their own contribution). So, to reduce a person to a planetary configuration and expect to explain some negative aspect of his behavior on that basis alone is a prejudice in the same way that making sweeping statements about blacks, or Hispanics, or any other minority is a prejudice. The comment this astrologer posted on Facebook could easily be construed as:

“I dislike people with Venus in Leo. They’re so narcissistic! My brother had Venus in Leo and all he could talk about was himself.”

To be fair, a certain amount of generalization is unavoidable if we are going to create intelligible meanings about planetary sign positions. Yet, it is important to differentiate statements about a planetary configuration from statements about a person. With astrology we can describe components of the personality but we cannot reduce the person to the component any more than you can reduce a casserole to a particular ingredient. It follows that we should not make statements about whole people on the basis of particular parts; rather, we should make statements about parts, and then seek to discern how the parts fit together to make the person.

It takes some discipline to restrict one’s statements to parts, but it is a good habit to cultivate. For example, I can say, “Venus in Leo seeks intimacy by being showy and playful” without assuming that someone with Venus in Leo will necessarily behave this way. For there are other possibilities, too, as well as additional chart factors that will complicate the picture. If, for example, Venus in Leo is in the 12th square Saturn and opposing Neptune, these factors are likely to mitigate the native’s tendency to be showy and playful in relationships. Saturn might incline the person to feel anxious about his attractiveness and social skills. And the Neptune/12th house factor suggests that relationship needs could be repressed or sacrificed in any number of ways. 

Of course, Venus’ position in Leo is still going to operate, but it will be so intermixed with these additional chart factors that knowing exactly how the Leo component will show itself is largely guesswork until the astrologer gets to know the person. Given Venus’ house position and aspects, perhaps the native works as an art therapist with individuals who are institutionalized for mental illness. In that context, he helps them develop confidence in their Venusian social skills by finding ways for his patients to collaborate on a joint art project, like a group painting. Here we see how the Leonian need for self-esteem and creative self-expression finds an outlet within that specialized setting. In effect, he facilitates fulfillment of Leo needs in his patients (12th house) through art (Venus). But this is a far cry from claiming our art therapist is self-absorbed. 

In his personal life, he may worry whether he is sufficiently attractive to find a mate. If he is socially awkward and anxious, we might not be surprised if he focuses too much on the egoic needs of a narcissistic co-worker who is using him to cheat on her husband (he rationalizes that he is saving her from a bad marriage). The possibilities are endless. In short, real people are too complex to be slotted into simplistic categories based upon a single planetary sign position.

I imagine that the astrologer who originally posted his Facebook question knows what I am saying in theory. Most of us have heard the old saw that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, the way we use the language does not always reflect that. Differentiating statements about planetary configurations from statements about people is a subtle distinction, to be sure. Too often we pay lip service to the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but then make statements about a part of the chart that suggests a greater degree of certainty vis-a-vis a behavioral or event outcome than is actually warranted. 

I take pains to let clients (and students) know that any statement I make about a part of the chart is just that: it’s about the part, not about them. Since the human brain is only capable of synthesizing three or four variables at a time, and since those variables individually and collectively can manifest in a multiplicity of ways, and since people are free to grow and change within the parameters their chart allows, the idea that we should be able to tell people who they are and what’s going to happen to them borders on the preposterous. How my clients express the full complexity of their charts is not something I can know from the chart alone. All of this underscores that being a good astrologer requires a certain tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, without which we are apt to presume things about clients that are at best simplistic, at worse untrue. 

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The Zodiac as Archetype of the Self

The Zodiac as
Archetype of the Self

By Glenn Perry


zodiac as archetype of the SelfIn a previous column we discussed Jung’s assertion that certain events occur as a consequence of an archetypal need being activated within the field of the psyche. By ‘archetypal need’, I mean any need that falls within the purview of a zodiacal sign. Needs for learning and communication, for example, are related to Gemini. Every zodiacal sign constitutes a grouping of self-consistent needs, which can be inferred from behavioral traits and themes that are characteristic of that sign.

Synchronistic experiences reflect the activated needs while also providing a vehicle for their potential satisfaction. In this regard, events are both symbolic and purposeful in that they seem to motivate the individual toward the development of certain universal values. One can decipher in the synchronistic event (as in dreams) an apparent evolutionary tendency of the unconscious. In effect, astrological archetypes symbolize both internal and external motivational factors; they impel behavior, manifest as events, and thereby motivate new behavior in a feedback cycle that assures the individual will continue to evolve by experiencing the consequences of his or her own internal states.
The phenomenon of synchronicity points to an intelligence in nature that actively searches for solutions to obstacles that block the continued unfoldment of life. This transformational process has a teleological quality and is consistent with perennial models that purport life is animated by transcen­dent Forms, or archetypes, which serve as formative patterns and universal ideals for processes occurring on lower levels. In an effort to conform to these patterns and to actualize the ideals they embody, creatures spontaneously organize themselves into states of increasing unity and integrity. This, in turn, is consistent with the perennial claim that living systems are drawn forward by the memory of a higher state of being from which they are descended, and to which they are destined to return.
While the zodiac describes a hierarchical sequencing of archetypal motivations, it is psyche as a whole that describes the master motive—wholeness or unity. This has been variously referred to as self-actualization (Maslow, 1968) or individuation (Jung, 1953), both of which imply that the psyche has a tendency to grow toward the fullest possible actualization of human potential. This tendency to develop in the direction of a stable unity is the central defining feature of Jung’s psychology. It was this conviction that underlay his assertion that the sovereign motive of human beings was individuation, Jung’s term for the intrinsic tendency of the psyche to evolve in the direction of psychic wholeness—that is, to be an indivisible whole. Both Maslow and Jung were proponents of a teleological theory of motivation that postulated some sort of unitive consciousness as the ultimate and final cause of behavior.
Just as Maslow postulated the drive for self-actualization, and Jung the path of individuation, there is an overarching motive implicit in the organization of the zodiac. As an integrated totality, the zodiac symbolizes the potential for wholeness. In effect, the zodiac symbolizes the archetype of the Self, which Jung defined as both the center and the circumference of the psyche. This definition echoes the German mystic Meister Eckhart’s description of God as a circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. As the unity archetype and the organizing principle of the personality, the Self not only signifies the union of opposites within the psyche, but is also a God-image that symbolizes a wholeness toward which the psyche strives.
Here we see an obvious parallel to the zodiac, which has a center—symbolizing the individual—and a circumference symbolizing the 12-fold division of the collective psyche. According to Jung, the archetype of the Self incorporates within its paradoxical unity all the opposites embodied in the various archetypes. Likewise, the zodiac is composed of six archetypal pairs of opposites­—Aries/Libra, Taurus/Scorpio, Gemini/Sagittarius, Cancer/Capricorn, Leo/Aquarius, and Virgo/Pisces—which, once integrated, enables the individual to find a new center, a point of balance that allows for harmony both within and without.
Just as the archetype of the Self is depicted as a process of centering or as a process involving the union of opposites, so the zodiac symbolizes a process of integrating these polarized sign-needs into a unified whole. The Self emerges as the central archetype from the union of all other archetypes; as such, it constitutes a higher order category of archetype. The zodiac, too, constitutes a higher order category than the signs that compose it.
The emerging central archetype is often depicted in images of the mandala. In its simplest form, the mandala is a quadrated circle combining the elements of a circle with a center plus a square, a cross, or some other expression of fourfoldness. As such, the mandala symbolizes the Self, the archetype of totality. The zodiac also has a four-fold structure due to the sequence of Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable that repeats itself four times round the zodiac. Thus the zodiac is a quadrated circle combining the elements of a circle with a center plus a square.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of mandalas are characterized by the circle and the quaternity (see Figure 1). The circle and the square depict the inner and the outer aspects of life. The watery, fluid inner realm is round and signifies a state of flow, while the earthly world of substance is square and correlates to groundedness, or stability.

Mandala as symbol of the Self
Figure 1: A Mandala Image

In the image above, note how the circle is contained within an encompassing square; another square is contained within the encompassing circle, and within that square is another circle, ad infinitum. Again, the circle of the zodiac also contains a fourfold structure, as determined by its four cardinal points that symbolize the beginning dates of the four seasons: Aries (Spring), Cancer (Summer), Libra (Fall), and Capricorn (Winter). Just as mandalas depict the inner and outer aspects of life, so each sign of the zodiac symbolizes an intrapsychic factor and a corresponding outer condition. These outer conditions serve as points of attachment, like ground stakes attached to tent lines that keep the tent centered in one place. Analogously, human beings become attached to people, places, and things, which ground their existence and provide the necessary stresses and strains to fuel an inner process of centering, or integration.
In alchemy, mandalas represent the synthesis of the four elements to produce the quinta essentia, the “Incorruptible One,” which represents the union of opposites necessary for the Mysterium Coniunctionis, or “inner marriage”. Jung considers the mandala image the preeminent symbol for the Self, the archetype of wholeness. Again, the zodiac can also be viewed as a four-fold whole, with its four elements of fire, earth, air, and water—all opposites—that must be brought into balance by finding a center.
Mandalas are ubiquitous across cultures and seem to represent a basic unifying principle that lies at the root of the psyche. Whether we call it the drive for self-actualization, the path of individuation, or depict it in the mandala of the zodiac, the message is the same: wholeness is the ultimate and final motive of the psyche to which all actual experience is subservient.
Because mandala images appear spontaneously in dreams and in certain states of conflict, Jung theorized that they represent an integrative factor. This idea receives support from Buddhism where mandalas function as ritual instruments that assist meditation and concentration. Likewise, the horoscope, by objectifying the psyche through zodiac symbols, provides insight into the nature of consciousness and the meaning of experience. Integration is supported by study of the horoscope because it provides an image of the psyche as a potentially unified (indivisible) whole. Reflection and meditation upon such an image can promote the process of individuation.
Jung (1960) describes how centering brings about a shift of power from the ego to the Self, thus enabling the individual to more readily surrender to a higher power that works through him. Because the Self, of which the mandala is a symbol, is the archetype of unity and totality, it is, therefore, the God within. The individual, in seeking Self-realization and unity, becomes the means through which “God seeks his goal.” By fulfilling his or her own highest potential, the individual is also fulfilling God’s will. This is why Jung felt that the individuation process was ultimately a spiritual journey.
All of this is implicit in the structure of the zodiac, which is a symbol both of microcosm and macrocosm, human and divine, part and whole. The prime dictum of astrology is, “as above, so below;” cosmos and psyche are mirror images of one another. Jung noted that the “quaternity of the One,” his mandala symbol for the Self, is likewise the schema for all images of God. Thus the innermost divine essence of man is characterized by mandala images that can just as well express a God-image, the atman that is Brahman. An astrological chart is an image of Deity—the Universe as a whole—unfolding within the consciousness of an individual human being.
Again, as symbols of the Self, mandalas seem to represent an integrating factor. Jung noted that when consciousness is confused, mandalas might emerge via dreams or fantasies as compensatory attempts at self-healing by imposing an ordered structure. When people are disoriented because of severe psychological conflict, the circular pattern of the mandala compensates the disorder of the psychic state—namely, through the construction of a central point to which everything is related. This can be interpreted as an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature. The psyche instinctively produces a mandala image, which operates teleologically as a lure or a reminder of a potential wholeness yet to be realized.
Just so, the zodiac symbolizes a concentric arrangement of contradictory but reconcilable elements. It is precisely when people feel confused and conflicted that they often seek an astrologer. Like a mandala, the horoscope symbolizes the potential for integrating what appear to be irreconcilable parts into an ordered whole with a new center. For many people, the goal of a good reading is insight and integration, for the horoscope enables one to see that a disordered psychic state and corollary external conflict has a meaning that, once understood, can bring order out of chaos. Seeking a chart consultation may serve the same purpose as a spontaneous mandala image; it is the psyche’s attempt at self-healing. Perhaps the astrologer is employed by the client’s Self and used as an agent of that Higher Will. In this sense, every astrologer and every reading is potentially in the service of an evolutionary imperative that issues forth from a transcendent power—the God within and without.
In next month’s column, we’ll explore how planets are agents of wholeness, psychological functions that strive not only to satisfy their relevant needs, but also to combine with one another in ways that bring about ever increasing psychic unity.


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Jung, C.G., (1953). Psychology and Alchemy. Collected Works, Vol. 12, Bollingen Series 20.  New York: Pantheon.
Jung, C.G., (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche.  Collected Works, Vol. 8, Bollingen Series 20.  New York: Pantheon.
Maslow, A. (1968).  Toward a psychology of being.  Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

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