Astrology 101: The Aspects
A general explanation on the astrological aspects for beginners who want to know how to read birthcharts.
The aspects in your birthchart show the interconnection of all of your astrological placements. It looks like a bunch of symbols on a circle with lines going back and forth if you aren't familiar with how to read a natal chart, but I hope this article will help you see that astrology bring more clarity than confusion. You may have a general understanding of the zodiac signs, the planets, and the houses, but knowing their relation to one another is the next step to advancing your astrological knowledge.
What are aspects?
How many times have you tried to have a conversation with someone about their zodiac sign and they bluntly claim that their sign doesn’t describe them at all, and thus, it only seems like nonsense to them? Studying astrology takes an ample amount of time once you get past the sun sign.
Aspects “link the various parts of our nature and experience…[and] are shown as lines connecting planets from different parts of the chart. The position of the lines is determined by a set of rules, based on the number of degrees that separate the planets in the 360˚ chart circle,” (Gillett, 2011). The aspects we’ll be going over are considered the Ptolemaic Aspects, which were coined by Claudius Ptolemy in 1 A.D. (Kenner, 2013). It’s important to note that there are other interpretations of star charts. If you go to astro.com (go to "Free Horoscopes", "Drawing and Calculations", then "Extended Chart Selection") you can look at your own chart drawn out in different styles, some historical and some modern.
Keep these terms in mind:
The modality of a placement refers to its zodiac sign being mutable, cardinal, or fixed.
The polarity of a placement refers to its zodiac sign or celestial body being masculine or feminine (a placement's polarity can have different associations. For example, the celestial body Mars is masculine, but can be under a feminine sign like Cancer.)
The element of a placement refers to its zodiac sign or celestial body associated with an element (although the moon is associated with water, an Aries moon would be associated with fire.)
The “easy” aspects are the trine, sextile, and semi-sextile. Aspects that are easy indicate what traits or abilities come naturally or are natural to the person. These aspects are linked by similar elemental energies: taking action and direction (fire), managing material possessions (earth), being inventive or inquisitive (air), or being intuitive and in touch with emotion (water).
Trines emphasize the ease of an elemental flow between two planets or asteroids 120˚from each other. Pointing out one’s natural talents appears clearly in a trine. A trine doesn't always look like a triangle on the chart. A grand trine will always look like a triangle. The symbol for a trine is an equilateral triangle. Trines are major aspects.
Sextiles are apart by 60˚ sharing similar polarities, but different elements and modalities. The symbol for a sextile looks similar to the asterisk. Sextiles are major aspects.
Semi-sextiles are 30˚ apart and moderately work well together, but are usually more neutral. The symbol for semi-sextiles looks like the top half of an asterisk. Semi-sextiles are minor aspects.
The Challenging Aspects
The challenging aspects are the opposition, the square, the semi-square, and quincunx. Although these aspects point out the struggles or blocks someone is likely to go through, I wouldn't interpret it as a "damnation" of any kind, but more like an area of weakness that someone should learn to transmute into their strength. These aspects have a "know thyself" energy.
Oppositions appear when two planets are 180˚ apart. These placements share modalities and polarities though they have different elements (not opposite, just different). Although in opposition, these traits create an iron-sharpens-iron or yin-yang kind of dynamic. The symbol for an opposition is two small circles at the end points of an oblique line. Oppositions are major aspects.
Squares appear when two placements are 90˚ apart and the modalities are the same, but the polarities and elements are opposite of one another. Unlike the opposition aspect, a square portrays different traits that won’t cooperate. It’s a desire versus want dynamic that encourages compromise without complete agreement. The symbol for this aspect is a square. Squares are major aspects.
Semi-squares are placements are 45˚ apart. This aspect shows similar connection to the square aspect, but not as intense. There is an aspect called the sesquisquare at 135˚ that is the same. The symbol for the semi-square is a 45˚ angle sign and the symbol for the sesquisquare is a small square with a line that shows a right angle. Semi-squares are minor aspects.
A quincunx aspect is similar to the semi-sextile except the planets are 150˚ apart and have a more stressful to neutral interaction. The symbol for this aspect looks like the bottom half of an asterisk. A quincunx is a minor aspect.
This aspect refers to planets that are close to one another or if there are three or more, form a stellium. Sometimes the planets with this aspect cooperate wonderfully; sometimes they can be out of control or obsessive. Conjunctions point out how focused someone’s traits can be. These are major aspects.
What To Consider While You Learn The Aspects
Don’t overwhelm yourself. The aspects provided are the most common ones, but there are others. The major aspects–trine, square, sextile, opposition, and conjunct–will stand out to you initially. The minor aspects are important too, but focusing on the major one’s will give you an idea on how to start reading charts correctly.
There are more than just the planets on your charts. When you get past the planets, there will also be asteroids, your rising sign, your midheaven, and much more. Move on to those when you are ready. You can use astro.com to create a chart that shows your asteroid placements.
Thanks for reading
Gillett, Roy. The Secret Language of Astrology. London: Watkins, 2011.
Kenner, Corrine. Astrology for Writers: Spark Your Creativity Using the Zodiac. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2013.
Astrodienst. "A Brief Introduction to Astrology." Aspects. Last modified 2020. https://www.astro.com/astrology/in_aspect_e.htm?nhor=32