As I write this, the Planet Neptune is slowly swimming through the watery Sign of Pisces. The Zodiac Signs are essentially patches of sky blocked out and designated by astrologer-types from long ago. We do our astrological work by tracking the movements of the various Planets against the 12 distinct backdrops that make up the Zodiac belt.
What’s interesting for me about Neptune’s current celestial location is the fact that it’s now pretty much directly opposite the patch of sky that Mars had occupied at the moment of my birth. Mars has now of course moved on, and made a couple dozen circuits around the Sun since I first appeared on the stage of the world, but the snapshot of the sky that we call the birth chart never changes.
To put it another way, it doesn’t matter where Mars goes now or in the future in terms of my own natal placement: when I was born, Mars was about a third of the way into the Sign of Virgo, and for the rest of my life and beyond, my natal Mars placement will remain just that same “about a third of the way into Virgo.”
Think about it this way: if you cast a baby’s footprints in bronze, the baby – and of course the baby’s feet – will grow and evolve from that initial starting point…but the bronze casting taken at the moment of birth will remain as it was. The casting won’t grow along with the feet.
And that’s how it is with our birth charts: they are essentially cast in time-proof metal as we take our first breaths, and remain with us throughout our lives, even though other forces and influences can pour across them like ever-changing winds or tides.
So when transiting Neptune (= Neptune up in the sky right now) lines up in opposition to my natal Mars (= where Mars was when I was born – not where it is now), astrologers will claim that my own Mars functions will be receiving a big wash of Neptunian energies. This kind of thing happens whenever any two Planets line up in ways that Astrology declares geometrically meaningful. These temporary but powerful geometric relationships that form between the Planets are called Aspects…and the opposition is one of the more widely recognized and potent of these Aspects.
But what does this mean to me in practical terms? What happens when the Universe gets Neptunian energy on my Mars function? And how can I take this bit of analysis and move beyond the intense specifics of my situation (Mars in Virgo! Neptune in Pisces! Fourth House! Tenth House! Opposition! Et cetera!!!) such that I can start to analyze any and all Aspects, regardless of which Planets/Signs/Houses/Aspects are actually involved…???
Okay. It’s incredibly helpful to always keep in mind that each symbol in Astrology – Planets, Signs, Houses, Aspects, and other Points of interest – never really stand for just one thing. Each one is like a basket that’s filled with multiple concepts. Often these concepts seem clearly related, although at times, some of them can seem to be getting pretty far afield from each other. The trick when evaluating any Aspect, then, is to try to understand which of each Planet’s concepts might be coming to the forefront during this Aspect’s merging of energies.
Take a look at the graphic at right. It uses my own current transit experience as an example. In it, you can see the “basket” of Neptune-concepts in blue, and next to that, the basket of Mars-concepts in red. And please note that these versions of the baskets of concepts are by no means exhaustive – we could come up with a dozen more sub-items to stick into each basket before we’d even start to slow down…but in the interests of getting on with our lives, I stuck with a half-dozen or so of the most primary ones that jumped out at me.
But the idea now is to understand that any and all of these different concepts might try to merge together during a Neptune/Mars Aspect…or maybe only one or two from each Planet’s basket will add itself to the shared mix. This is part of the artistry of being an astrologer: you need to learn to apply both your logical left-brain and your intuitive right-brain, and see which Planetary concepts jump out at you in a given situation.
Sometimes other information in a chart will help you to do this, as you’ll often find that some of the same themes keep getting pinged as you work your way through the analysis. At other times, you won’t have much else to help shape your determinations, so you may need to listen a bit more to your raw instincts. Over time, you’ll develop and then refine your own methods and techniques here.
But to carry on with our example, any of the Neptune-concepts might land with any of the Mars-concepts in the intersection of the two Planetary baskets.
For example, maybe during this Aspect, I’ll experience a collision of my Neptunian dream-landscape and the Mars sense of lust, such that my dreaming state is marked by arousal and erotica way more than it might normally be. Or maybe instead, it will be the Neptunian tendency toward dissolving and the Martial anger that start to integrate…and maybe the result will be that my normal levels of baseline anger get scattered and stretched so thin that I barely feel them while this Aspect is in effect.
Or maybe – as this second graphic has it – my Neptunian spirituality combines with some Martial courage, landing me for a time in the role of the spirit-warrior. This could involve me facing all kinds of various fears as I attempt to dig deeper into certain corners of my own spiritual being. Maybe I can engage in a round of exceptionally productive shadow-work during this time. Or maybe I can arrange to go off on some sort of visionquest experience that involves exposure to what the mystics call “ego-death.” My ego doesn’t want to die, not even temporarily, and when threatened with that possibility, I can honestly tell you that the spike of panic I feel in response to it is always pretty overwhelming…but when Neptune and Mars start to integrate their energies together, the resulting mixture can pour out like a welcome smoothie of pure spiritual courage.
And that’s the process. With Aspects, it’s important to disentangle the multiple layers of what’s happening. Start with the Planets that are involved – do an inventory of the basket of meanings that rides with each, and start to get a feel for how they might intersect. For spatial constraint reasons, that step is as far as this article is going to go in any kind of detail.
But remember that after you weigh the Planetary themes against each other, you then want to factor in the business of the Signs that are involved. Here, for instance, transiting Neptune is in Pisces, and my natal Mars is in Virgo. To fully grasp what this transit-Aspect might be dropping off on my doorstep, I’d need to include Piscean and Virgonian themes, which will add some specifics to the evaluation, and might also help me to rule out some of the concepts in those Planetary baskets. Keep in mind that the Signs explain how and why a Planet will be doing what it’s doing in a given situation.
Also include some assessment of the Houses that are hosting the action. Neptune is transiting through my Fourth House, while my natal Mars resides in my Tenth House – these will be the venues in my life where this Aspect is almost certainly going to be playing itself out. The Planets are what happens, the Signs are why and how it happens, and the Houses are where in our lives it happens.
And finally, don’t forget to ponder the specific Aspect that’s in play. The one we’ve been looking at is an opposition…but each Aspect has its own distinct personality. You need to eventually learn these, too. A Neptune/Mars trine will be every bit as much about the merging of Neptunian and Martial energies as the Neptune/Mars opposition is – but it will have an entirely different feel to it, because trines and oppositions tend to manifest in very different ways.
Part of what makes Astrology so fascinating is the exact same thing that also makes it so complicated, especially in the early stages of learning it – that is, its symbols are very complex, and there are a hell of a lot of them! So it’s really important to allow yourself time to digest everything fully as you learn, to advance in relatively gradual stages and plateaus rather than shooting for sudden, stratospheric leaps upward in understanding, and to unpack any given Aspect with care and with attention to detail.
With that all said, I’m off to look into this ego-death business here…see you on the other side!