The Significance of
By Glenn Perry
At 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 the actors of the personality; each planet signifies a category of self-consistent actions that are designed to fulfill specific needs associated with the sign that planet rules. Yet, how do we know which planet and which action is appropriate to a given situation? How do we know 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.2 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.”5 It is in this regard that emotions are governors of motivational systems.
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.6 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.7 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!
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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.