Archetypal Ambiguity

Is an Inescapable Fact

By Glenn Perry


archetypal ambiguityOccasionally students express confusion with regard to how a planet, sign, and house can correspond to the same phenomena, or how different configurations can lead to identical outcomes, or how a single configuration can manifest in dissimilar ways. I explain that astrology is an archetypal language in which a given archetype can take many different forms much like a single word can mutate into several parts of speech. This makes for a certain inescapable archetypal ambiguity in astrology. 

The word ‘assert’, for example, can be a verb, “I assert that Democrats are idealistic.” Or it can be a noun, “An assertion is something declared without proof,” or an adjective, “He has an assertive manner,” or an adverb, “He spoke assertively.” Likewise, a single astrological archetype can take four forms—sign, planet, house, and aspect—each of which can manifest in a multiplicity of ways that are mutually consistent. For example, Mars, Aries, the 1st house, and the conjunction are all related forms of the same archetypal principle, and each of these corresponds to associated phenomena including assertion, the instinct for survival, new beginnings, spontaneity, sharp objects, novelty, competition, pioneers, warriors, stadiums, weaponry, and so on. Note that in addition to its internal, psychological meaning, an archetype can manifest outwardly as a person, place, thing, or event.

When citing astrological archetypes, I generally use the sign designation because it neatly groups the archetypes into twelve fundamental categories. For example, I might say that the archetype of Aries corresponds to ‘weapons’. In saying this, however, I recognize that Mars, the conjunction, and the 1st house also correspond to weapons. Any phenomenon that corresponds to a sign also corresponds to the planet, house, and aspect associated with that sign/angle. This is not to deny the important differences between a sign and its related planet, house, and aspect; however, despite these differences, there is an overarching commonality of meaning that constitutes the archetype as such.

The meaning of an astrological archetype depends largely on the context in which it appears. Consider the conjunction, for example. Someone with Pluto conjunct Mercury in Capricorn might aggressively investigate government cover-ups, such that the written word becomes a weapon to destroy the careers of corrupt politicians. A weapon, in other words, can be an actual thing or a metaphor that symbolizes an analogous phenomenon. In this case, the conjunction corresponds to a relational dynamic that renders the operative planets inherently more aggressive. As Mercury-Pluto can signify investigating a cover-up, and Capricorn represents the domain of politics, taken as a whole we have a relatively complex archetypal compound involving four interrelated principles—one angle (conjunction), two planets, and one sign—that together symbolize: “I aggressively investigate government cover-ups.”

Even when we combine just two archetypal principles, such as a planetary sign position or a planetary house position, it becomes possible to describe the same outcome in more than one way. Astrology is a very flexible language. Consider, for example, a gun collector. Since guns correspond to Aries and the action of collecting corresponds to Venus, someone with Venus in Aries might, in fact, collect guns. The kind of stuff one values corresponds to the 2nd house; thus, a person with Mars in the 2nd might likewise collect guns. In the first instance, the sign Aries functions as a complement to Venus by answering the question, “What does this person collect?” In the second instance, Mars in the 2nd house functions in a similar way by answering the question “What does this person value and wish to possess?” The point here is that different configurations can lead to the same outcome.

Different planetary house positions can likewise lead to the same outcome. If a woman marries a news reporter, what is the astrological corollary to such an outcome? Given that the 7th house corresponds to partners, and Mercury is the messenger archetype, someone with Mercury in the 7th could certainly marry a news reporter. However, consider that news reporting is also an activity of the 3rd house. The planet Venus signifies what we are attracted to; thus, its house position suggests where we seek love, intimacy, and partnership. Venus in the 3rd could signify that one is attracted to individuals who are sources of information, such as news reporters. Thus, Mercury in the house of Venus (7th) or Venus in the house of Mercury (3rd) constitute different archetypal processes that could conceivably result in the same outcome.

When we combine planet, sign, and house (three variables), things become even more interesting. Venus in Aries in the 3rd might suggest being attracted to a war correspondent, whereas Mercury in Pisces in the 7th could be a husband who works as a film critic. Both planets signify partners who provide news, but their sign positions further qualify the type of news. Venus in Aries in the 3rd says “I am attracted to warriors that provide news,” and Mercury in Pisces in the 7th says “I am attracted to discerning intellectuals who are interested in film.”

Of course, there are innumerable other outcomes that could correspond to these planetary positions, and each configuration may manifest in ways that are radically different from the other. Venus in Aries in the 3rd could be a husband who teaches art in a manner that encourages students to trust their instincts and try new art forms. Mercury in Pisces in the 7th could be a business partner that engages in pharmaceutical research and drug testing. Each outcome is entirely consistent with its corollary configuration; yet, the two outcomes appear to have nothing in common despite the archetypal parallelism of Mercury in Venus’ house and Venus in Mercury’s house.

The bottom line is that astrology is a flexible, archetypal language that by definition is polyvalent—capable of combining in ways that produce more than one outcome. If we conflate outcome with the meaning of a configuration, then it must be admitted that a single configuration can have multiple meanings. This is precisely why prediction of singular outcomes from chart configurations is ill-advised, like trying to guess which pocket a ball will fall into on a roulette wheel. One can know that within the parameters of the wheel the ball will fall into a red or black pocket with an even or odd number, but it is precisely the indeterminate nature of the outcome that constitutes the gamble.

Given the complexity of an astrological chart in which every variable is interacting with and influencing every other variable, the very notion that astrology should be concretely predictive borders on the absurd. The best we can do is hypothesize possible outcomes and then observe the client to determine the actual reality. Almost invariably, the way the client expresses the configuration is a more perfect reflection of the relevant archetypes than we could ever have imagined.

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1 Comment

  1. Dylan Newman

    Love this one Glenn. Thanks for all the various examples.


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