Astrology aspects

The term ‘aspect’ has a specific astrological meaning. In this post, I give an overview of astrology aspects, for those new to the topic.

astrology aspects

Ptolemy, as depicted in a 1584 woodcut.

Aspects are firstly to do with the ‘distance,’ in degrees and minutes between two (or more) planets in the 360° zodiac of a horoscope.

More specifically, if the distance between some planets are within certain agreed numbers of degrees, then an astrologer would say those two (sometimes more) planets are ‘in aspect.’

In other words, these two planets are ‘connected.’ Their planetary energies combine. So in an individual’s horoscope, we’re likely to see the person express this combined planetary energy.

Astrology aspects have names. And these names correspond to the number of degrees (plus or minus a few) between the planets involved.

Astrologers use many different aspects — it’s a crowded space. But thankfully there is a foundation set of tried-and-true aspects.

These have been around for at least 2,000 years. They are called the ‘Ptolemaic’ or ‘classical’ aspects. They’re named after Ptolemy (100 – c. 170 C.E.). Ptolemy wasn’t an astrologer. But he wrote a famous astrology book, the Tetrabiblos. This book is a core text of Western astrology.

You can do an awful lot of really great astrology just by using Ptolemaic aspects. You can add other aspects later, as you gain experience. About 90% of the aspects I use, after 20 years, are the Ptolemaic aspects. Less is more.

You might want to download my free one page PDF of astrological symbols. This is because each aspect has a particular ‘glyph’ (pronounced ‘gliff’) or symbol. And it’s good to memorise those, as a kind of shorthand.

So let’s look at each of these Ptolemaic aspects in turn, along with some examples.

Conjunction (two or more planets about 0° apart) – can be positive or negative

The closer two planets are together, the stronger the effect. Imagine two people. Bob has Mars at 5° Virgo and Pluto at 9° Virgo in his horoscope. So for Bob, these two planets are about 4° apart. Meanwhile, Bob’s friend Julie also has Mars at 5° Virgo. But her Pluto is at 6° Virgo. So for her, they are just one degree apart.

So while both Bob and Julie have Mars-Pluto conjunctions, Julie’s will be more powerful in its effect. The closer the planets are together, the more strongly the energies combine. A way to think about this, is to imagine each planet has an ‘aura.’ And the closer they are, the more the auras interact; the more the energies combine.

A conjunction is a very unified combination of the planetary energies involved. It’s very directed, focused and pointed. It reminds me of an icebreaker ship, ploughing through the ice.

Conjunction example: Hillary Clinton


Hillary Clinton’s horoscope, set for 8:02am, October 24th, 1947, Chicago. This birth time is speculative, as her official birth time is not publicly available.

Hillary — no matter what her birth time — has Mars at 14° 00′ Leo and Pluto at 14° 50′ (blue oval, above). We’d call this a close or ‘tight’ conjunction.

This is because these planets are close together, within a degree. So the planetary energies combine, and are part of Hillary’s character. Those energies are power (Pluto) and force, assertiveness (Mars).

Sextile (two or more planets about 60° apart) – positive

The sextile (and trine – see below) is known as a ‘soft’ aspect. By ‘soft’ we mean ‘easy’, gentle, or easy-going. Two planets in soft aspect have a generally harmonious relationship, like a friendship. In a horoscope, the energy of this kind of aspect can be often be asleep. It can switch on, or switch off.

For example, if I have Mercury at 17° of Cancer and Jupiter at 15° of Virgo. These two planets are ‘about’ 60° from each other, so are said to be in sextile aspect.

Which brings us to the topic of ‘orb’. Orb is an astrological term. It means ‘allowance’, or ‘how much either side of exact still counts as an aspect.’

In the Mercury and Jupiter example above, a perfect sextile aspect would be Mercury at 17° Cancer and Jupiter at 17° Virgo – that is, exactly 60° apart. But most of the time, aspects are not exact. They are ‘sort of’ close to exact. And that’s ok. We allow for that.

Astrologers can get hung-up on the ‘orb thing.’ They obsess over how many degrees (before or after an exact aspect) should be allowable, for the planets to be considered ‘in aspect’ at all.

My view? Just use the ‘aura’ metaphor. When aspects are close to exact, the effect will be strongest. The further from exact the aspect is, the weaker the effect. After about 5° either side of exact, the effect of the aspect is much diminished.

Sextile example: Orson Welles

Astrology aspects

Orson Welles. He was born May 6th, 1915, at 7:00 AM in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

This talented filmmaker, author and director (e.g. Citizen Kane) has Mercury at 20°36′ of Taurus, in sextile aspect to Jupiter at 20°46′ Pisces (red arrows, above). This connects communication (Mercury) with an expansive optimism (Jupiter), in a ‘friendly’ way. It would indicate he’s comfortable talking about the big picture, and has a wide range of interests.

But it’s a minor ‘soft’ aspect, so it might not be something entirely obvious about Welles. It’s a gift, and he may occasionally use it. But it won’t have that ‘in your face’ quality of a square or opposition aspect.

Square (two or more planets about 90° apart) – challenging

Squares are tough. Not as friendly or amiable as sextile and trines. Rather more harsh and brittle in expression. What we might call, um, ‘challenging.’

The planetary energies that combine via a square are always switched on. If you have a Mars-Pluto square, for instance, it’s a signature of strongly connected power and force strongly connected. All. The. Time. Squares and oppositions (see below) are ‘hard’ aspects. ‘Hard’ as in ‘full on.’

The conjunction is a more focused and consistent energy, like the point of an arrow. Squares and oppositions (see below) have a more abrasive quality.

What about other planets in square aspect? Consider Mars at 10° Libra and Moon at 12° Capricorn. Just two degrees short of being an exact square aspect. So the energy of this planetary combination will be prominent. Moon (emotions) and Mars (action) connect in a powerful combination. In a horoscope it indicates someone whose feelings (Moon) will likely dictate their actions (Mars).

And remember what happens if the aspect is ‘wide.’ If Mars was at 10° Libra, but the Moon was instead at 15° Capricorn, the effect would be much less dominant. The further apart the aspect, the weaker the effect. After about 5° away from exact, the effect is negligible. The ‘is it in, or is it out?’ of aspect is a hot topic in astrology circles.

Square example: Scarlett Johansson

Astrology aspects

Scarlett Johansson, born November 22nd, 1984 in New York. This horoscope uses a speculative birth time of 7:00am.

Scarlett’s horoscope has a square aspect between Mars at 5°03′ Aquarius and Pluto at 3°10′ Scorpio. The orb (difference from an exact square) is about 3°. So while it’s still a powerful combination, if the orb was 1° or less, the effect would be more pronounced.

This combination of power (Pluto) and assertiveness (Mars) might explain Johansson’s choosing roles in superhero movies. It’s a forceful combination, denoting plenty of energy and ‘fight’, and someone who can be rather blunt. Being a square, the energy is more lively than the conjunction between Mars and Pluto – which is in Hillary’s horoscope.

Trine (two or more planets about 120° apart) – positive

This is like the sextile, but considered more powerful, optimistic and beneficial.  Two or more planets about 120° apart in a horoscope gives a harmonious blend of the planetary energies involved.

It’s an aspect of optimism and opportunity. But like the sextile, it can also be forgotten about. This is because it’s not permanently ‘switched on’ like the hard aspects are. A trine, while positive, can lie dormant in a horoscope. It can certainly be a gift, but one we need to actively work with, to keep it awake.

Trine example: Prince

Astrology aspects

Prince. He was born June 7th, 1958 at 6:17pm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Prince has a trine aspect between Neptune and Moon in his horoscope (green arrows). Neptune is at 2° 20′ Scorpio and the Moon is at 1° 59′ Pisces. This brings a friendly combination of emotion (Moon) and imagination and mystery (Neptune).

Opposition (two or more planets about 180° apart) – challenging

A bit like the square, the opposition is another ‘hard’ aspect. It’s similarly challenging and can have a more confrontational flavour. It might express as challenges around balancing seemingly opposite forces or energies. None of this is necessarily ‘bad’, by the way.

Opposition example: Barack Obama

astrology aspects

Barack Obama’s horoscope. He was born August 4th, 1961 at 7:24pm in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Obama’s Mercury at 2° 19′ Leo is opposite his Jupiter at 00° 51′ Aquarius. Orson Welles has the sextile between these two. Obama’s opposition is a different expression entirely. He will find it challenging to reconcile his grand vision (Jupiter) with his communication (Mercury). The two energies are not as harmoniously combined as they would be in a sextile or trine aspect.

What Obama says (Mercury) and his sense of ‘hope’ (Jupiter) are opposite each other. This is something he has to continually reconcile. There is a measure of conflict and acute difference between these two sides of his character.

Astrology aspects: summary

This post is just a very brief outline of the topic. There’s a few things I’ve not covered. Such as the difference between applying and separating aspects. Or where in the horoscope the aspects are located. Or saying more about other astrology aspects such as semisquare (45°), sesquiquadrate (135°), quincunx (or inconjunct, 150°) and several others.

And also bear in mind that in any one horoscope, there are likely to be quite a few different aspects in play. It’s the astrologer’s job to untangle all the aspects, signs, houses and planets into a coherent picture. And if we use just the Ptolemaic aspects to start with, this job is somewhat less daunting.

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