Last time around, we looked at a technique by which we can use the concept of Planetary Rulerships of Signs to point out connections between different Houses. These connections can be very definite and direct in the life of the person whose chart is being examined…but they’re not made visually obvious in a chart for us. In other words, unless you already know what Planetary Rulerships are, then you might have no idea that these connections even exist among the Houses.
There’s another kind of connection, though, that is marked for us in standard charts, and that is therefore visually obvious. This variety of connection is called an Aspect; it represents a mathematical/geometric relationship between any two Planets or Points, and Aspects are represented by most Astrology software packages as colored lines running amok within the central portion of a chart. Some of the lines are blue, and some of them are red…some are dotted, and some are dashed. The next few posts will get into what these all mean, and what kinds of information they can provide…
First, though, if we’re about to set sail into waters that can be described by terms like “mathematical” or “geometric,” I want to be sure to first issue the informational life-preservers that you’ll need so that you’ll feel comfortable along the way, and not like you’re about to get sucked down forever by some merciless undertow of eggheadedness. If you already have a good grip on the ins and outs of a circle, you might be able to speed-read through all this, but if not, I’m aiming to make this as painless as possible, and as quick as it can be without assuming too much.
Let’s start with the circle. As you’ve likely noticed by now, that’s exactly what a birth-chart is: a circle. It’s riddled with symbols, it has a fat rim around its outside that factors into the mix, and it’s cut into a dozen little pie-slices…but essentially, when all is said and done, we’re dealing with a circle.
And a common convention used when dealing with a circle is to divide it into 360 equal units of measurement running around the outside of the circle that are called degrees. Here, a degree is a unit of distance, not of temperature, although the symbol is the same as it would be if we were discussing readings on a thermometer: “A circle has 360°…”
Degrees in this context are not absolute, objective measurements, either, not in the same way that units like, say, centimeters are. A centimeter is always the same length no matter who’s using it, or where it’s being used around the globe. A degree, though, changes relative to the size of the circle being discussed. If we were looking at the biggest crop circle ever made, and it was 360 kilometers around its outer rim, then each degree of that crop circle would measure 1 km. If we then looked at a circle that was only 360 centimeters around its rim, then each of that circle’s degrees would measure 1 cm. The point is that it doesn’t really matter to us in chart interpretation how big the circle is in objective terms – all we care about is that a degree equals 1/360th of the chart. This is our entry-point into meaningful discussions about charts with other people.
So you may recall that the outer yellow rim of a chart represents the Zodiac belt. If you look at a chart, you will also see that both the outer rim and the inner rim of the Zodiac belt are scored by legions of little hashmarks – each of these hashmarks represents a single degree. If you have the time and the inclination, you can count them, and you should find that each side of the Zodiac belt boasts 360 such marks.
You may also recall that the actual Zodiac belt out in space is made up of 12 equal-sized patches of sky through which all of the Planets seem to move as we look out at them from our vantage point here on Earth. So that’s valuable info right there: if a circle is made up of 360°, and if that circle is divided up into a dozen sections of equal size:
360° / 12 = 30°
Each Sign then covers thirty degrees (30°) of the Zodiac belt out in space, and of its corresponding representation in a chart. You can pick a Sign and count the hashmarks bristling from it to check me on my math if you feel like doing so – it will take way less time than going all the way around the chart, and most astrological software packages also help us out by making every fifth hashmark a little bigger than the single ones, and every tenth hashmark larger still.
Astrologers can get very precise, though, and quite often, one 360th of the circle doesn’t feel specific enough, so the astrologer will drill down even deeper into the measurement. Have you ever used an interactive map program such as MapQuest or Google Maps to look at a location? If so, then you know that you can change the apparent distance from which you’re viewing the map: you can start out looking at an entire continent, as though you’re watching Earth from a passing space shuttle, or you can zoom in, closer and closer, descending into a view that closes in on a single city…then a neighborhood…a single street…one individual address… If these programs were higher-powered, you could probably get down to the atomic level. But the point is: you can zoom way in.
The same holds true for a birth-chart. We now know that the rim of the chart is divided up into 360 equal measurements called degrees. Here’s the next step, then, which is like zooming in from city-view to street-view in MapQuest: each single degree is then subdivided into 60 smaller, equal units of measurement called minutes. It’s the exact same term we use when describing 1/60th of an hour in a day, but in the context of chart analysis, a “minute” is another unit of distance, and has nothing to do with time. We indicate minutes in written notation with the same mark that, in regular writing, we call an apostrophe. So, if famed actress Lana Turner has her Sun at 19 degrees and 34 minutes into the Sign of Aquarius, we write that as 19° 34’…
In fact, within the chart itself, you’ll see that degrees are written in a larger font than minutes…so Lana Turner’s Sun has a notation next to it that features a large 19 with a smaller 34 just next to it. But down in the chart below, which lists all of the Planetary placements, you’ll see yet another notation for her Sun… Remember how each degree is subdivided into 60 minutes? Well, if you want to drill down deeper still, each minute is then split into 60 equal subdivisions called seconds. Again, this measurement shares a name with a unit of time, but in chart interpretation, a second is a measurement of distance. In written notation, we indicate seconds using a double-apostrophe. So when we see the listing for Lana Turner’s Sun as 19 Aqu 34′ 2”…this means that when Lana Turner was born, the Sun up in the sky had traveled a distance of 19 degrees, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds into the patch of sky that we call Aquarius.
Now, it’s likely that you’ll almost never really need to get so specific that you’re getting into seconds when discussing a placement. To be honest, even zooming down to the level of minutes probably won’t be something you’ll be called on to do all that often. For the most part, you just need to know how astrologers keep track of placements. In practice, you’ll find that most of the time, rounding to the nearest whole degree will do the job just fine.
Next time, we’ll start to get into how we can use this measuring system to pull all kinds of valuable information from out of a chart…