Posted by: Donna Cunningham | July 24, 2011

Learning to Interpret Aspects—A Major Boost for Astrology Students

©2009 by Donna Cunningham, MSW

The following is an excerpt from the introductory section of my ebooklet, Aspect Analysis: the Building Blocks of Chart Interpretation. This 8-part tutorial includes step-by-step instructions on how to analyze conjunctions, sextiles, squares, trines, quincunxes and oppositions.

 Aspects are the building blocks of serious astrology, moving you beyond single chart factors to integrating the many features a chart contains. Not only are they crucial in natal charts, they modify the qualities of transiting planets, progressions, and chart comparison. They powerfully impact outcomes in such diverse branches of our field as electional, horary, medical, and mundane. Here are some important stages in analyzing any given aspect.

 Compatibility of the two Planets: First of all, think about how well the two planets partner one another. Are they compatible in nature? Are they arms-around-the-shoulders buddies?  Respectful colleagues with similar aims? Worthy adversaries? Or are they better off not even in the same room together? For example, Mercury and Jupiter or Mercury and Uranus, all being mental in focus, are compatible and work toward common ends, even in hard aspect. The qualities of Mercury and Saturn or Mercury and Neptune are less at ease with one another and have more conflict, even in easy aspects.           

I can’t really think of a bad aspect between Mercury and Jupiter. Though prone to garrulousness and excessive optimism, nonetheless such folks are capable of learning from their mistakes. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of a good connection between Pluto and Saturn. It can be a leaden and morose combination, even when trine. Though they show admirable perseverance in hardship, individuals with this combination typically pride themselves on being a “survivor,” even when leaving a toxic situation is the wiser choice.  

Keyword lists for planets: If you’re planning on sticking around the astrology world for the duration, it‘s helpful to start a permanent collection of keywords and key phrases for each of the planets to store on your hard drive. That would be a useful step toward being able to interpret aspects without resorting to textbooks.Lists from astrology books or websites can round out your collection, but stretch your mind by jotting down all the ones you can come up with for any given planetary pair first. 

Elements—Another Building Block: A thorough understanding of the elements is a good way to fathom the meaning of aspects. The four elements—fire, earth, air, and water—have been part of astrological lore since at least medieval times, partly because they describe the essence of the signs so well.

 Air types (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) are said to be mental and communicative, sometimes living in their heads too much. Earth individuals (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) are often down to earth, productive, grounded, and practical, though sometimes materialistic.

Fire sorts (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) can be lively, action-oriented, and warm, yet often impulsive or even pushy. Typical water natives (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) are responsive, adaptable, intuitive, and emotional, yet often too subjective. 

 The elements form two complementary pairs. Air keeps a fire going; fire warms up air. Earth contains and grounds water; water keeps earth from being so arid it can’t produce. Fire and air don’t mix well with water or earth. Here’s how the pairs of planets connect: conjunctions—same element and sign; sextiles—complementary elements; squares—mismatches between non-complementary aspects; trines—same element; oppositions—complementary elements. 

The Modes as Modifiers:  Another traditional—and highly productive—method of classifying the signs is by their mode: cardinal, fixed, or mutable. Cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn) are said to be action oriented, goal driven, and forever on the move.

Fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) are intent on preserving the status quo, stubbornly resistant to change, and gifted with endurance.

 Mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces) are adaptable, flexible, changeable, and sometimes scattered in their energy. This helps us only slightly with sextiles, since they pair planets in a mixture of modes.  

Signs:  The next stage in analyzing any aspect is to consider the signs involved and how they help or hinder one another. First think of the elements and modes of the two signs and how they complement or detract from one another.

There are more possible sextiles than any other aspect, two for each sign. For instance, Mars in the Cardinal fire sign Aires can sextile either Jupiter in the mutable air sign Gemini or the fixed Air sign Aquarius. The two sextiles would be fairly different. Aquarius adds theory to leadership, a trait that could an asset for a politician. Jupiter in Gemini with Mars in Aires gives an added dexterity and quickness of mind to an athlete.            

Houses:  Apart from most conjunctions, the aspects involve pairs of houses. The two houses involved help you identify areas of life where the energies, needs, and traits of both planets are most readily and consistently deployed. 

You’ll find in-depth articles about all 12 houses on this site under the category Houses of the Horoscope

 NOTE: This has been an excerpt from the introductory essay in my ebooklet, Aspect Analysis: the Building Blocks of Chart Interpretation. Order it here:


  1. Hi Donna, hope you are feeling better.

    IMO, a square between Mercury and Jupiter could be someone who “tells tales,” exaggerates a story for desired effect.

    • Indeed they do, but they’re entertaining all the same.

      • I have Mercury in Virgo exactly trine Jupiter in Taurus. I pride myself on my ability to see the big picture, without losing sight of the details. “You have to step back and look at the entire mosaic to know which tile is out of place” is the perfect analogy to illustrate this placement.

      • I like that analogy, Chas. Donna

  2. Hi Donna.
    I love your blog and Astrology because its so variable.
    Where I live there is NO ONE to talk Astrology with.

    Speaking Astrologically, everything seems to depend on the receptacle being hit by the planetary aspects as to how it will manifest.

    Knowing the client by questioning would be a start in doing an accurate reading…..which I do not have a whole lot of experience with…. its more of an ongoing daily observation hobby for me, since 1973.
    For awhile I followed the natural disaster charts…which were fascinating too. Checking out aspects between planets in a natural disaster chart shows ear marks that if seen in a persons natal chart would take on other meanings.
    A fascinating science.
    The round astro wheel looks like the 4 directions Medicine Wheel of Native North American Indians and it would be interesting to compare the progressions on the Medicine wheel to the Astro wheel and its interpretations.
    Any how thanks for continuing to tweak our astro thinking caps.

    • Someone did put out an ebook on that topic using the medicine wheel, but my memory doesn’t serve me here. Maybe 8-10 years ago. Anyone? Donna

  3. being blessed with 12th house pluto/uranus opposing 6th house saturn, its a delightful challenge to find something real good to say about it.

    i sometimes feel like a caricature case story right out of a monty python sketch, reading about what might happen to a person with this aspect seems all to have happened to me over the years.

    but if we can use the hardships to get on in life and perhaps even to be able to help others it seems worth it all, especially after the real hard times have passed:)

    that seems to me the real and genuinely good thing about this aspect. and its so much fun still to be around and kicking..

  4. IS this right?
    if we are explaining to ourselves aspects we are looking at,
    Do we say this planet (type of expression) in this house (area of life) in this sign is acting (in this way)

    Our communication (mercury) in this work and habit house (6th) is acting in this jovial manner – keywords for the Sign Sag. and that is in opposition to planet/house/sign ….

    Or is the line up not planet/house/sign? I’m looking for a way to express the info when reading a single planet location or its interaction to another via an aspect.

    • Yes, EJ, that is a beginning of interpreting it. Each planet and each house has a number of meanings, several of which may apply to the person. Donna

    • I want to practice this way!

      So my expansion and luck (Jupiter) in my friendship and protectors house (11th) is acting in an imaginative and emotional manner (Pisces)? Thats how it works?

      Lol that makes it sound like I have a lot of imaginary friends. I need better keywords haha.

      • Or your friends–orthe groups you belong to–are students of spiritual principles, and you learn and grow from one being with one another. Sounds good to me. Donna

  5. I’ve never found an easy to do natal charts because synthesis and weighting of different info is kind of difficult. I tend to start on the final dispositor and chart ruler because that’s the only things that I know. But you always need to have some basic background info. Without it, you can synthesize into quite different personalities, even when all of them may mean similar people astrologically.

    I think it truly takes decades of experiences to perfect this art.

    • Too right, Nathan! I’ve been at it 4 1/2 decades, and I’m still learning all the time. Donna

    • But not necessarily astrological experience. You can step away from it for a while, then return to discover that your thinking has shifted, and things that used to be hard are now easy.

      • It’s like that with clients’ charts. They may come back for yearly readings, and what you see in the natal chart can be quite different each time–your focus is drawn to different features. Donna

  6. Hi Donna,
    I love this back to the basics lesson!

  7. Hi Donna, I have been a lurker for some time now and am finally getting around to commenting on your site. I have to say, being able to read your posts and others take on charts has helped get some kind of grasp on astrology. I have been reading and studying on my own for a few years now with a confused expresion on my face and now I am getting Aha moments 🙂
    Like Lizzie I have Jupiter (luck, expansion) in the 11th (friends, wishes) but in Libra (beauty, fairness, balance)- now I know why it’s so important for me to make sure when my friend and I go out or do things for each other that I make sure we are even steven on things. still having a bit of trouble with moon in Leo in the 9th, maybe because I have a lot of not so nice aspects to it. Can’t quite suss it out individually. Yes I have heard the dramatic outburst of emotions but in the 9th?? Anyway Thanks for all the wonderful info!

    • I also have moon in Leo. Some house systems put it in the 8th, while others put it in the 9th Living in a foreign country? Nope. Mom a preacher/teacher/lawyer? Not mine. She is an immigrant, though. If I knew what moon in the 8th was supposed to mean, maybe I could figure out if that’s more appropriate.

      • Hi Chas , mine is definately 9th house in any system and I’ve been living same state all 41 years! Though I do like to imagine living in different places! hmm, 8th house moon in Leo…maybe you “take care” of “someone else’s” “jewelry” 😉 sorry, it’s late- best I could come up with !

      • It’s not necessarily foreign countries, but living far away from your birthplace. Mine is in the 9th, and I’ve lived as far east or west of my birth place continuously since college. However, my books have been published in many foreign countries.

        Moon in the 8th often refers to depending on family money rather than being self-sustaining. Donna

      • hmmm, come to think of it my mother moved out of state when she married my dad and she has Leo rising, so maybe moon in Leo in 9th shows the mother in my case…only thing that I can get out of the moon (or more like lack of) is being able to express my emotions..I have squares from merc/sat/sun in the 6th in Taurus. I can talk logic all day long, but emotional stuff, it’s like I physically can’t get the words out- oh just had another thought, 9th is also religion..I was born into a baptist raised family, but I “moved” away from that religion. I don’t feel the need for church, I just go inside myself!
        I guess Chas I should change that to being “taken care “of with “someone elses” ” jewelry”..heehee
        I love astrology!

      • Donna: Bingo!

        I’ve been able to earn money, but I’ve never, in my life, been self-sufficient. When not living on hand-outs from my mother, I’ve been wracking up credit card debt.

        And, of course, those hand-outs come with strings attached. Mostly allowing myself to be a target of abuse. If I didn’t, the money would stop. And limits, also: I get thrown a fish every once in a while — enough to keep me alive — but never enough support where I would have the means or the freedom to teach myself how to fish. Very 8th house.

        I’m finally getting my college degree now, on a disability grant — also very 8th house — and hopefully I’ll be able to change this pattern and become independent. But I worry. Ultimately, what I’ve always known is probably still true: I won’t fully come into my own until after my parents die.

        So 8th house moon it is! This comment thread probably belongs in the posting on house systems. Koch puts my moon in the 9th while Placidus and Porphyry put it in the 8th so, needless to say, I’m less a fan of Koch than I ever was.

      • And isn’t it funny, Donna: with my knowledge of Astrology, I should have been able to piece this together on my own a long time ago. But we never can see what we’re not ready to look at.

  8. hi,Donna. i have a basic doubt. say,mercury-venus are in cojunction. venus fully trines a planet 5th from it,but mercury doesn’t since is much beyond orb. will venus throw energy of mercury too on the trined planet? pl clarify.

    • It would depend on how many degrees of orb you are using. I tend to extend
      squares and trines to as much as six degrees. If the orb on the possible trine
      between Mercury and the other planet was 7 or 8, maybe not. However, other
      factors may enter the picture. For instance if Mercury’s movement was approaching an exact
      trine, (let’s say its degree would be exact in just a few days) then it is stronger but if it is moving away from an
      exact trine,then the effect would be less.

      Another instance would be if Mercury was placed in the sign that ruled the other planet,
      then they are related and more strongly affecting each other. Lets say the third planet is Pluto
      and Mercury is in Scorpio, the sign Pluto rules.

      A bit complicated, but so are most relationships. Donna

  9. thanks,Donna. i wanted to understad just the basic principle in my query, without any other factors. so, here are the specifics. mercury 11deg; venus 5deg(faster than mercury,so applying)-both in other planets in Leo. mars 3deg sagittarius.all direct. thus,mars beyond orb wrt mercury, but mars trined by venus within 2deg orb. will venus throw energy of mercury TOO on mars?(without considering any other factors. just this). regards.

    • No, I’d say an eight degree orb for a trine is too wide. Donna

  10. thanks,Donna. however,a 2deg orb between venu- mars trine is,i think,quite tight. so;WILL VENUS THROW ON MARS THE ENERGY OF MERCURY TOO??-is the real question(since venus is conjunct mercury).. regards.

  11. As , I said above, regardless of the conjuction to Venus, it’s still too far for a trine. Donna

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