Occasionally, three or more planets form a configuration, all of them forming aspects to one another. These set in motion a surge of energy with a distinguishable flavour, and some of them can be major power points in time. They twang strongly. Here we are going to look through several different aspect structures. Get an overview of the chapter, for it is not necessary to read through it thoroughly unless you so wish: but it is a useful chapter for reference. For up-to-date examples of these and future configurations, see Palden's 2014 book Power Points in Time.
Multiple aspect structures
When three or more planets aspect one another mutually, they form an aspect structure, of which there are several different types. These are usually three-sided triangles or, less often, four-pointed structures, and even less often, more complex ones. Any structures forming in the heavens at any time indicate a temporal power-point, where a dominant chord sounds which has a very strong signal.
There are very definite, clear and interlocked issues to work with at such times, which can raise the stakes of life immensely. These configurations can give the energy-wherewithal for quantum leaps. When Moon or another faster planet swings into these, specific incidents or strong atmospheres can be sparked off, featuring the story of the whole configuration.
Understanding an aspect structure depends on what the aspects are which make it up. If there is a prevalence of challenging or flowing aspects, then their characteristics will dominate. In some structures, there is a mixture of both, such that challenging aspects create action, dilemma and work, while flowing aspects let off the pressure and add talent, ease or naturalness to the configuration. On the other hand, a prevalence of flowing aspects can make for gifts and assets which are present and available, but which also can be taken for granted or under-activated, but one or two challenging aspects thrown in can activate the structure and create a measure of acuteness to goad these abilities or resources into action.
Below, we shall work through the main kinds of aspect structures which tend to form between planets over time. Although there are some descriptions given here, indicating what to look for whenever you notice a multi-planet structure forming, the main purpose here is to point out the kinds of structures to be looked for, and to encourage you to sniff the air, and observe what is going on within and around you in your own life at these times. There are plenty of surprises in astrology: use the notes below as starters, and use your own senses to understand what a structure is truly doing.
This is a multiple conjunction, involving three or more planets within orb of each other (orbs can be loosened out in this case). This amplifies the general conjunction situation, in which there is a lot of energy moving from within outwards, being expressed naturally yet often unawarely, as if everyone were like that and it were perfectly normal. There can be a sense of stasis to stelliums, inasmuch as they represent a turning of tides rather than major events and changes. There is a difficulty here in seeing the effect of what is taking place, or in perceiving the contrast between intents and realities: the world has its own ways which might not accord with our own wishes, and the results will unfold as the relevant cycles develop.
Occasionally a slap in the face is needed from life to objectify this aspect. But it is powerful and often leads to big results, if worked well. New multi-beginnings, and the death of the old: the magnitude and effect of this change depends on which planets are involved. This is a strong power point for work on intent and on focusing the dream which will guide us on through the future. An example of this is the stellium which formed around 24th August 1987, where a newmoon at 0 was conjuncted (within 3°) by Mercury, Venus and Mars in Virgo – a time for forgiveness, and for resolve to clear up the potential mess made wildness of the energy prevailing during the previous few weeks (during which there was a multi-planet grand trine in fire signs).
Here, an opposition is joined by one or more planets, upping the energy. If there is a weighting to one side, then the predominant side will act usually as the conscious side, and the weaker side will act as a stirrer, lever and irritator, to agitate the predominant conjunction and objectify the energy. It depends what the planets are, and how they link up to the rest of the planetary array at the time. There is often a tendency for polarisation and them'n'us sydromes on the buildup, which might or might not be resolved into agreement at the exact forming of the aspects. There can be a dynamic tension which also brings sense and a feeling of timeliness to the settling of scores and writing of treaties. There can also be a changing of roles between the apparent sides, or a breaking through of a new reality out of the ashes of the old: something which previously had not been acknowledged. This is a peak time, good for breakthroughs, realignments and transitions to the next stage. A strong configuration, and a time loaded with energy: deep choices are enacted here.
An example is the newmoon of 3rd July 1989 with Sun and Moon at 11, Chiron at 8, Saturn at 10, Neptune at 11, Uranus at 3 and Jupiter at 24 (out of orb, but contributive) – a decisive time, when strong pressures were exerted by popular demand and social action on the legal, governmental and financial systems of the world. Powerful shake-ups going on, where being in a position of power was not very pleasant: those in power who could move with the time and respond rapidly and appropriately to the somewhat crazy energy rife at the time made great progress, while others were stopped in their tracks. This was a watershed blip playing a part in a longer-term historic line-up.
This is an opposition with a planet which forms squares to both ends of it, a very challenging triangle. The opposition lends dilemma and the squares lend effort/crisis. With such a configuration, a strong energy is driving to break through, to overcome extreme limitations or challenges: the choice offered is hard work and breakthrough, or avoidance of the issue and breakdown. It is an imbalanced structure: the squared planet acts as an irritator, yet also it is the one with the solution. The point opposite this planet is often an area of life which must be attended to urgently or intensely, in order to create a fourth energy which balances the tension and makes for lift-off. The stress and apparent difficulty involved in this triangle makes for action, drive goaded by threat or pain, and at times knotty circumstances which arise where we unconsciously confound our own purposes, find obstructions, or make things laborious.
A major T-square in 1986 had Saturn opposition Chiron, with Jupiter in square to both, straddling the mutable signs: when Moon swung into Virgo, a temporary grand cross was formed too. A lot of effort was required to make progress in getting things to work: the answer in such cases is found in radical, yet pragmatic contextual shifts of viewpoint. This was about organisational perspectives and infrastructures. A time for decisions. Gorbachev and Reagan made a go at it, but the issues were very big, and the changes of viewpoint involved were threatening to become larger than either system they represented could handle. Yet, the concreteness of both Saturn and Chiron demanded real action, and they were precipitating forced solutions, through generating a growing awareness of the costs and disadvantages of carrying on in the old mode of big-power, Cold War rivalry. Jupiter in Pisces, at the apex of the T-square, introduced a visionary, overall 'what-are-we-doing-all-this-for?' undertone to the hard negotiations, bringing into focus both immediate practical issues, visionary possibilities and longterm basic questions.
This is a step on from a T-square, involving at least four planets in mutual square to each other, with two opposition aspects linking them. This is a rare and powerful configuration, not to be taken lightly, and to be celebrated awarely. Usually, this is about uphill climbs and hard realities, forcing total engagement of energy, leading either to an 'overdrive' situation leading toward resolution and excellence, or a going-under, a giving up or a catastrophe leading to great learning. Difficult or exacting situations present themselves until the question is assaulted from the front and the bull is grasped by the horns. This is about root- and core-questions.
As with a T-square, the planets concerned will usually be in signs of the same mode, featuring the qualities of that mode strongly – if they are not, there can be complications which befuddle the situation and demand clarity. The presence of a grand cross implies that there is something very special and important happening, even if it cannot be discerned at the time. It is quite simply a question of doing it and breaking through on it. Odds appear to be against, yet these in some way increase the stimulus to get to grips with the situation.
There is tremendous spiritual power behind a grand cross, if accessed: the power to overcome experienced difficulties lies in raising awareness and engaging deep resources in the battle. Inner stillness is important as a way of quieting conflicts and getting clear. This is a breakthrough aspect: when it happens in the heavens, a crunch comes to the world, choices must be made, and things can change radically. This is a quantum leap, calling for accelerated evolution or revolution in whatever field the planets and signs allude to. The planets and signs involved point out the issues. Since most grand crosses involve faster-moving planets, they are short and sharp in duration, yet their effects can reach out a long way.
At the time of the above-mentioned grand cross (24th March 1986) I was seriously contemplating declaring myself bankrupt, in despair that my intentions and actualities seemed light-years apart – and after busting open my pride and acknowledging the situation fully I realised that there was in fact no choice for me but to carry on, for the longterm prospects (Jupiter-Saturn) were good, and what the issue was really about was about my own psychological capacity to persevere and know that odds-against often imply promising possibilities (a Chiron in Gemini paradox!). I was writing chapter 10 at the time and this book could have ended there!
An interesting grand cross takes place in connection with the total solar eclipse of 11 August 1999, with Sun-Moon in Leo, Mars in Scorpio, Uranus in Aquarius and Saturn in Taurus. This will be preceded by a series of other grand crosses in the two preceding months, as faster planets swung into a slower-planet T-square at the time (Mars, slowly hovering retrograde in Scorpio, kept this T-square alive for some time). Many regard this eclipse and grand cross as the true possible beginning of the 21st Century, and a turning-point for current history.
Here three planets are in mutual trine to one another. This is strong and very stable: it opens up a natural flow of energy, fortunes or events, endowing abilities, qualities and assets which just seem to happen, as if they had always been meant to, even though no-one had perhaps thought of it. It gives a measure of ease, beauty, grace and fortune, where the energies of each planet mutually back each other up. Often things don't happen impressively at such times, but the state of the world is nevertheless significant – in some respects a grand trine represents a well-deserved rest! Yet there is another side as well: this aspect is so flowing that we might tend not to be aware of the significance of what we have available, because there can be a lack of urgency accompanying it. Life is easy enough as it is, therefore motivation to change anything or join in on change is low-key.
But the sheer movement of energy which is released by a grand trine sets things in motion – even things which weren't supposed to be in motion – by the sheer erosion and activation brought about by a quickening of the flow and a gentle opening of energy. Such enhancements can bring out as many social or world diseases as they can bring out benefits, for while there is much healing and relaxing of barriers, emergence of latent or sleepy negativity is encouraged by this energy. When life-energy is rising, watch out for negativity getting released, and make sure it doesn't stick or pollute: in the end, what we call 'negative' energy is but energy which is not flowing freely and naturally. The grand trine is a channel-clearing, without stress: but it depends what is in the channels and needing clearing! Often the feeling around a grand trine is that the energy is not controllable, that it just happens: focusing this energy can be difficult. It is a time for trust, for opening up to the universe and the way things are going, and allowing the right thing to happen.
If, between one of the trine aspects in a grand trine, there is a pair of sextiles bringing another planet into the configuration (bringing in an opposition between that planet and one of the grand trine planets), then we have a kite. This is a very moving, flowing aspect, with a measure of the urgency the grand trine doesn't have. Here, the talent and capacity of the grand trine is channelled into a specific task through the opposition. The presence of the two sextiles brings in dynamic movement and busy occupation, and the whole configuration, if balanced astrologically and worked well psychologically, points to the possibility for success and progress in great measure, a time of memorable developments. It sails, but is grounded by the opposition.
There is a unified feeling in the air, much energy-buzzing, and a clarity underlying it too: the opposition gives an objectivity which tends not to become a dilemma because the trine and sextile aspects help the energy become one and integrated. The issues can be quite large, however, and if there is a tendency to lapse into triney routines, the opposition, when activated, will force issues through uncomfortably. The planet at the bottom of the kite usually holds a focal role, binding the trine and opposition aspects.
On 18 August 1987 a kite forms with Moon in Gemini opposition Saturn-Uranus in Sagittarius, Jupiter in Aries and Sun, Mercury, Venus and Mars in Leo (the 'Harmonic Convergence'), a time when energy will flow strong and potently (grand trine in fire signs), but focused by a short-term Moon opposition Saturn/Uranus, demanding true independent thinking, flexibility and structured (Saturn) spontaneity (Uranus). A good day for staying up all night and making the most of it!
Greater Octile Triangle
Greater and lesser octile triangles
This involves two sesquiquadrate aspects and one square. This is a work configuration, giving an acute sense of imperative, purpose and longterm intention to the time. The sesqui aspects focus immense energy into using current circumstances as a way of moving toward an eventual end: there is a task cut out which we must fulfil, even if it makes life temporarily more difficult. Goals should be reachable, otherwise this eventual goal may never be reached, and the here-and-now should be looked at and learned from as well, for it contains integrative omens and lessons relevant to both past and future. This configuration suggests a deliberate, clearly purposeful time. Facing the world fair-and-square.
Lesser Octile Triangle
Here we have a square and two semisquare aspects. Issues are not dissimilar here to the greater triangle: longterm perspectives are hauled into everything around the planets of this triangle. The difference is that personal intentions dreams and drives prevail, while in the greater triangle overall concerns and the filling of perceived social/world needs prevailed. This triangle elicits commitment, while the former tests it. But there is strong intention and imperative here, a sharp sense of distinctions and goals, and the wherewithal to develop abilities into something dynamic and original, evolved through accumulated experience.
An interesting example: during the time of the final correction of the first edition of this book, I was faced with an important task – to write some effective advertising copy for the OakDragon camps which I was organising. There was no inspiration coming, and I was getting internally ratty about the matter. On Sunday 17 January 1987, a lesser octile triangle came into being: Mercury put itself into a semisquare in the middle of the ongoing Jupiter square Saturn which was afoot at the time. To add a personal note, also, Mercury, then at 2 (with Jupiter at 20 and Saturn at 17) was forming a trine to my natal Mercury (at 2), and Jupiter was nearly at opposition and Saturn nearly at square to my natal Saturn (at 21). So what was all that about? Mercury entering into a double semisquare aspect to Jupiter and Saturn brought in a question of longterm, preferably clarifying, thought about organisational issues. Seeing this, I decided to drop what I was doing in the way of busy-busy activities, and to focus on getting this copy written.
During the Mercury semisquare Saturn on the Sunday, I sat around rather dull-brained with one of the other directors of the project, and while we got nowhere in terms of finished product, we did manage to focus our attention on the issue and bring up some very catchy phrases. As soon as the configuration had formed, things started getting clearer, and during the time-gap before the Mercury semisquare Jupiter I battled away getting down some useful pieces. But it all suddenly fell together in one fell swoop during the Mercury semisquare Saturn, and I emerged from the process with the copy required. Meanwhile, the transiting Mercury trine to my natal Mercury opened up my communicative abilities, which consciously put to work in this task. The time was used productively, toward the longterm ends I was working with. Jupiter and Saturn thus put Mercury to work: otherwise the time might have been spent mercurialising some other way, talking, reading, thinking or buzzing around – but I chose in this instance to use the occasion for a conscious purpose. It works.
This is uncommon and very powerful. This configuration lends a strong sense of destiny, dedication and the honing of abilities to a great capacity. It brings out skill and gathered experience, and makes for apt and talented work for causes, for activities which bring no immediate reward, but which have big implications. The planets in opposition focalise the energy. This often brings a discovery that there is far more underneath the surface worth working for, or that the time is Now to execute what has been awaited for long – issues arise fast, precipitating emergencies. It is ttremendously focused and well grounded. This can also make for a major failure-syndrome, wherein obstacles to be surmounted can be seen to be so large that nothing can be done – this is largely a way of seeing things rather than a fact.
Another structure with a similar taste is a T-square, with two semisquares and one sesquiquadrate thrown in. This puts the slant much more on dealing with immediate issues (T-square), but eventual ends are always accounted in as well, by necessity.
Often called a 'mystic rectangle', though there is nothing specifically mystical about it. Here, two opposition aspects are woven together with two trine and two sextile aspects. This can make for a time of enormous questions, yet it also brings potential solutions and openings which arise either by default or by apparent good luck. The flowing aspects take much of the tension out of the opposition aspects. There is much to work out, but it looks as if great things are possible. Abilities and assets search for a cause to be engaged in. Dilemmas can have difficulty being resolved in the usual ways, but they seem to work themselves out anyway in other ways. Letting go is the main way through: the state of mind is often the obstacle, when in fact there is an open road ahead. Here there can be exceptional skills which overcome immense obstacles, through synthesising apparently different elements into an original and appropriate package. The rectangle brings marked results.
An Octile Rectangle is also possible, linking two oppositions with two sesqui and two semisquare aspects. There is a great work to be carried out here, but it can involve immense focused effort for a short time: there is a secret which needs cracking, and the breakthrough is then brought about through a summoning and concentration of energy into the moment, giving a superhuman challenge with potentially great results. Other rectangles can be formed too, for example with quincunx/semisextile or minor aspects linking up the two key opposition aspects – a grand cross is related to this configuration too. The important thing here is that the oppositions generate the energy while the linking aspects release it. The oppositions need focusing and integrating, and the linking aspects demonstrate the talents and assets available for doing so.
This is a four-sided figure with two sides parallel. There can be several versions of this, each with their own undertones:
Each of these has its own flavour, but a few patterns do apply here: the two aspects linking the opposite corners of the trapezium will show the main issue at hand, while the perimeter aspects will show the media of release; of the two parallel sides, the shorter will show what the energy source and subjective element is, while the longer side will show the objective means of expression –there is a question of application of possibilities in this configuration; no planets focus the form, but it is necessary to bring all of them together to work as a chord of energy; the resonance or noise created depends on the planets involved, and the conscious use we make of the time; any outer planets involved will point to the most fundamental issues involved – note their position in the configuration. Trapezia crop up from time to time, and when they do, conscious attention needs to be given to the implications offered by the two planets on the shortest parallel side.
This is a quincunx-sextile-quincunx and its appearance is not too uncommon – especially while Neptune and Pluto have been in a running sextile in recent decades. It features a crisis of and a need for perspective, in which the energies of the two sextiled planets find difficulty integrating with that of the apex, quincunxed planet. This dichotomy is not directly a conflict, rather a bewilderingly dualistic, seeimingly irresolvable and compromising situation. This is an 'appointment with power' in which consciousness and its capacity for seeing are tested. It is a secret to be decoded, an intense dilemma, or a visitation from the Unknown. This is where intentions refuse to gel with realities: the solution is available as soon as clarity and insight dawn – there's a hidden secret underneath which needs dredging up. Allowing things to happen rather than seeking to steer them is what is called for here: yet, underneath, there is a new kind of adepthood which brings in a new form of control without holding on, if we can see it.
The yod can be accentuated when an opposition is thrown in, with two semisextile aspects too. The opposition forces the issue, and the apex planet then becomes very critical: what it represents needs to be consciously worked, owned and integrated. Hairy situations, with remarkable solutions, once found. This is a form of kite, except there is a strong perspective issue here. A yod formed between Chiron in Taurus, Pluto in Libra, Uranus in Scorpio and Neptune in Sagittarius around August 1979 precipitated (at least in my own circles) strong feelings of personal despair, recognition of darkness, difficulty and fault, and an underlying growth of resolve to do something positive about it: this was a forced clarification of issues, internally powerful, emerging into action and demonstration over the 1980s years which followed.
Traditionally, this has three sextile aspects plus an opposition, but it can involve any kind of aspects, as long as there is a string of the same aspects at work and at least four points to it. It can also be four sextiles and one trine. Either way, there is a strong nurturing, brewing, hatching tone to this form, in which the new comes into shape, or the old is creatively enlivened: the midpoint of the largest empty space in the configuration will show the hidden integrative ingredient, the key or missing link. This is a facilitative formation. If populated by sextiles, it gives birth to a set of skills and gifts – capacities which have the potential for stimulating great progress and impetus, naturally rooted and innately 'right'. With a formation of three semisquares plus one sesquiquadrate, or four semisquares with an opposition, skills and formulae are developed through focused effort and a sense of overview: there is a timeless aptness and poignancy to what happens with cradles, when they form – which is very occasionally. Cradles act as a receptacle for a strong surge of energy and change.
These are very rare in occurrence, but they can crop up, often inaccurately but all the same powerful during their period of operation. The grand trine and grand cross are the most common, but it is also possible to meet up with a grand sextile, grand octile, or a grand minor aspect form at occasional points in history. Try counting how many individual aspects are at work in a grand sextile! At these points in time, a very strong resonance is set up which, in the character of the individual planets concerned, can make for a power point of supreme proportions.
A very special message comes forward at such a time. Many oppositions are involved, creating an intense and sharp atmosphere, but the peripheral aspects will show how the energy is released by all-round integration of all of the energies present in the configuration, an alchemic fusion. A grand sextile can make so much happen, so much energy to flow, that it can become cathartic. A grand octile can set up such a thoroughly challenging dilemma that potential for resolution is infinitely expanded, through sheer pressure: otherwise everything must stop, and entropy sets in. Grand aspects are very powerful!
All sorts of different lesser triangles can come to pass, linking three or more planets. Each is an individual case. Generally, the planet not at either end of the longest side holds the key to the form, even though its aspect relations with the other planets might lead to a variety of outcomes: a unidirectional flow can arise where each planet relates easily to one other, relating to the third through the second. There can be symmetrical or asymmetrical triangles: the former will tend to be more balanced and integrated as one energy-chord.
Of the more regular symmetrical triangles there are:
- --, and -- (both mentioned above as octile triangles);
- --, a creative conception triangle, in which new perspectives and possibilities emerge into daylight, stimulating both new openings and completions of the past (for example the Neptune semisextile Saturn semisextile Pluto which took place in December 1985, fostering outbreaks of xenophobia and parochialism which also precipitated their opposite, a move toward globalism and liberal internationalist attitudes, long term;
- --, a highly flowing form, where everything cruises well and even crises become effortless (for example, March 1986, when there was a Jupiter sextile Neptune sextile Pluto, which unleashed a busy flow of developments involving the setting of future intentions and the channelling through of inner directives quietly and secretly affecting many people's plans for the future.
Of the asymmetrical triangles, a few examples:
- -- shows an impingement of the Unknown, bringing new angles into a situation, previously unforeseen or accounted for;
- --, suggesting a dynamically creative interlude and open channel;
- --, a challenger, with knots to work through, yet a clarifier and a worthy confrontation with current realities;
- --, a sensitive issue which can press buttons, but can get to the heart of the matter and work through it well;
- --, calling in wider-world issues, with regards to agreements and relations of whatever kind, is indicated by planets and signs.
All of these triangles need assessing on the merits of the planets and signs involved. It is best to openly witness a few, then to break them down into their components in retrospect.
Configurations in general
In the case of all these configurations, three or more planets are being hauled into the same basic question. They point to times when the signal (as opposed to the noise) in time-energy comes in strongly and clearly. Significant chunks of our being latch into them. The more planets involved, the more significant the energy and change. Whichever planet is in the focal position, this planet must be parlayed with in order to make sense of the time. If there is no clear focal planet, all of them must be engaged together, unless for some reason the configuration is weighted in one direction. Either way, all planets in the configuration must be accessed and worked with, even though some of them might be more readily accessible or friendly.
Configurations are major contributors, when we are looking to identify power points in time: so much energy gets caught up with them. Most often, these configurations include Moon, or Moon and Sun: it is well worth watching those new, half and full moons which engage with other planets, for in the short term these can be crucial and intense, or remarkable in some way.
When slower planets engage in complex configurations they bring with them large scale changes affecting centuries of time. An example is the Uranus conjunct Pluto in Virgo, opposed by Saturn conjunct Chiron in Pisces, with a trine/sextile from Neptune in Scorpio in 1965-6, which brought a major historical turning-point, a longterm seed-time (about which more in chapter 16) symbolised by the outbreak of the 'permissive society' (Scorpio), flower power and sex'n'drugs'n'rock'n'roll (Pisces), the protest movement (Uranus and Pluto in Virgo) and the emergence of the microchip (Virgo), as well as the impending first landing of a human on the Moon and the rise of Japan as the manufacturing hub of the world (Uranus conjuct Pluto symptoms) – all events which boded strong omens for future times.
At each major power point we are offered choices, personal, social and global: to get clear on what these options are is a large part of their resolution, and to develop the willingness to make whatever changes are pointed to is the main point of it all. Change flows naturally when our resistances disappear.