Here we shall look into the overall shapes of planetary arrays. Arrays give an overview of background, whole energy atmospheres at a given time, giving us ways of pulling together our understandings of astrological situations.
At any moment, the planets as a whole form an array, a spread, which at various times can take on interesting patterns. The planets do not have to be in aspect: what we are looking at here is overall patterns, which can be discerned either through visualising the positions of the planets in your mind's eye, or by drawing them on a chart wheel, thereby building up a whole picture of the distribution of all the planets together, not just a couple of them. This helps in diagnosing the main message of the time. A whole range of different arrays are possible: below we shall run through the main options.
The general rule is that the more tightly packed a group of planets is, the more focused, specific, concentrated and subjectively-arising is the energy. The more widely-spread the array is, the more dispersed, varied, eclectic and objectivised is the energy. The question for tighter arrays is whether the subjective bias implies an imposition on the world, or is responsive to the world. The question for wide arrays is how to become free of victimhood and dominance of out-there considerations and circumstances, to integrate personal expressive needs and callings into overall environmental requirements.
Here, therefore, we shall look at a number of common patterns of array, which have certain typical characteristics. Since the planets can form any number of different patterns over time, it is necessary to see the patterns given here as models, which might not fit exactly, but which suggest how to understand the array you might be looking at.
Hemispheric pattern (Bowl)
When all planets are arrayed within half of the zodiac, leaving the other half empty, time-energy and activity is highly focused in one particular area of life (symbolised by the full half), and the other area of life remains either unfulfilled, foreign territory or a vital aspect of reality which is being grossly omitted or overlooked (the empty area). Any tight clusters within this bowl will focus the issues even more. But the question is whether the issues connected with the signs in the empty half can be integrated intentionally. This configuration will counterbalance itself over time, for while all planets can be in one half of the zodiac at one time of the year, the moon and faster planets will move out of this, leaving the slower planets where they are, eventually forming a seesaw or a similar array, bringing about a sharp contrast.
Interestingly, the discovery of Chiron in 1977 changed many perceptions of planetary arrays – mainly because it appeared into human consciousness in opposition to a bowl array of planets then in the autumnal area of the zodiac, forming a 'bucket' out of a bowl. The last bowl formation of consequence to take place was around the autumns of 1945-48, when all planets lay between Cancer and Sagittarius (except when Moon swung into the empty part of the zodiac to form a bucket). This was a time of searching for social significance, sparked off particularly by the Jupiter-Chiron-Neptune conjunction in Libra in autumn 1945 – a configuration which brought peace and the dawning of the welfare state, the United Nations, the seeds of the European Community and the beginning of the post-war 'social democratic' heyday. At the time, the institutional-corporate emphasis, in the ascendancy until the 1970s, was no doubt welcome after so many decades of disruption, but it led, by the 1970s, to an excess of bureaucracy, rules and laws.
Bundle or Cluster pattern
In this formation all planets are tightly arrayed within 120°. This concentrates energy further than the Bowl, to the extent that the collective psyche can become single-minded, obsessed or imbalanced, so focused on a particular preoccupation that there is little objectivity or perspective (an absence of oppositions). This piles all the energy into particular issues, to the exclusion of anything which is regarded as peripheral or trivial. It certainly makes things come into being, converting potential into kinetic history, for this is a powerful concentration: but the question is what the purpose is, and whether the means are justified in their intensity.
Thus, it is wise here to consciously widen awareness to overall issues, to see how the question at hand fits into the whole picture, and not to become exasperatingly hyper-focused. The signs opposite this array give contrasting insights into how this should be counterbalanced – otherwise there is the risk that such a situation will go off at a tangent, creating ripples and effects which later are regretted.
An example of the bundle at work was the mid-WW2 period, around autumn 1942, when all planets lay between the signs Gemini and Virgo. As with the above example of a bowl formation, this array formed only in autumntime, when the faster-moving planets swung into the same zodiacal area as the slower moving ones. A time of one-pointed, even fanatical warmongery, with little thought about the wider consequences, and with all planets focused in the self-oriented summer signs. As soon as Neptune, Chiron and Jupiter moved over the autumn equinox point into Libra, this narrowness of perspective eased off, and international cooperation grew.
Locomotive or Open-angle pattern
Here, all planets occupy up to two-thirds of the zodiac, leaving a 120° gap empty. Here, energy is quite all-round in expression, but there is an extreme focus on the empty one-third of the zodiac, as if it were a hole to be filled, an area of life which must be attended to: the centre of this empty half, and its sign, is particularly significant.
The empty part points to an area of life which must be fulfilled to make the array whole, and sometimes frenetic energy can or must be put into it to plug gaping holes or deal with important unattended details – especially when Moon moves through it, forming oppositions to other planets. In general, the empty part of a planetary array shows the missing link, the area which can make the whole array work. This does not happen naturally, however: it must be intended. This gap shows a hidden gift, the vital piece in the jigsaw, the weak link in the chain.
Autumn 1952 provides an example of an open-angle array: by this time, Jupiter had crossed to Taurus, and Chiron was in Capricorn, in the lead of the other slower planets, creating a gap between them. Another example is autumn 1966, when a gap appeared between Saturn-Chiron in late Pisces and Jupiter in late Cancer. The former array focused energy on empty Pisces – need for deeper vision – and the latter focused on empty Taurus – need for ongoing, steady perseverance and groundedness.
Bucket or Wedge pattern
Here, all but one planet occupy up to half of the zodiac, but then one planet, a singleton, occupies the empty half. The singleton then becomes a focal planet: if this planet can be grasped and made use of, it focuses all of the other planets and turns the key to the whole energy-configuration. Often it can be the case that there is resistance, fear or hesitation to use this singleton, for the stakes can be high, and it often represents something in the meaning of the time which is quite radically different from the dominant tone of the array. The author of this book has a Bucket formation in his natal chart, with Jupiter in Pisces as the singleton (his chart is in the Prelims section at the beginning of the book).
If or when there is an opposition formed between this singleton and one or more planets in the full half, then this opposition provides a link to resolving major life-dilemmas, and any flowing aspects from the singleton, such as a trine, will ease up any conflict involved. Since there is a good chance the singleton will be retrograde (unless it is Moon), it becomes initially a mystery to crack, a factor which takes some grappling and wrestling, but which pays big dividends when mastered. The leader and trailer of the main body give clues as to how we can move forward (leader) and work with the effects of our acts and choices (trailer).
In the early 1980s, especially in autumntime, several bucket formations formed with Chiron in Taurus as the handle, provoking some interesting opportunities to wreak miracles and outrageous resolutions to perceived problems in the world. (This applies particularly to the rise of grass-roots movements, non-organised groups of people who were then beginning to play a large part in affecting public attitudes, or who were seeding new solutions to large-scale world problems: here came the rise of feminism, the green and disarmament movements, Islamic fundamentalism, Polish Solidarinosz and third world local movements. In Britain, the Greenham Common protests were notable – a woman-driven fusion of political and magical action – and the action worked within seven years!).
In springtime, after such bucket arrays in the 1980s, when faster planets moved to join Chiron, a see-saw configuration formed, featured strongly at fullmoons. In a bucket, power is generated by the main body of planets, but focused by the singleton, while in a seesaw, power is generated by both sides, and juxtaposed in conflict or dynamism. Chiron, in this case, made a subtle yet strongly magical contribution to world affairs in its debut into the world, summoning the strength to become clearly effective when in Gemini from 1984, bringing about some major flips of perspective from that date onwards – such as the sudden end of the Cold War, which moved the emphasis to the North-South dialogue.
Here there are two clear groups of planets, ideally in opposition to one another, with a minimum of two signs on either side separating their groupings, and no more than one sign empty in either group. This carries an amplified opposition symbolism, just as the Cluster carries an amplified conjunction symbolism. In other words, life can resolve itself into two quite separate components which tend to pull against one another and demand dominance. The task at hand is to recognise that this is the case, and that dualism itself has polarising and negative consequences: it is necessary to consciously integrate the two if any significant progress is to be made. If this is not done, then longterm splits of consciousness can occur, reflected in society and social groups, and a cold or active war between them can ensue, at great cost. If there is success, though, immense breakthroughs can occur.
If the configuration is splayed to one side, then there will still be two factors at work, but they might not outrightly conflict: instead one can subvert the other or simply consume energy. The two sides need proper introduction and reconciliation.
The results of this dualism can be varied, depending on the relative weighting of each side, and the planets involved, and what people do. One side can dominate the other, but be irked by guilt or subconscious sabotage; one can lead the other, but keep it subservient; both can compromise one another, leading to indecision and non-resolution; one can be consciously held as 'me' or 'us' while the other is projected outwards and seen as 'others', without being owned; or both can be consciously recognised, and a balance is sought, through oscillating between extremes and learning to take a middle path. If Moon swings through this configuration, on one side and then the other, then the each side will alternately be featured. Crucial points come when Moon forms a square to both sides.
This pattern is formed when there are three groupings of planets, distinct from one another, and ideally forming trine links between each other. This can make for a time where there is considerable understanding and stability (depending on the symmetry of the pattern), with energy left over for creativity, culture or inventive potential. Or it can make for a time when energy is squandered, or when there is a lack of drive. These times are relaxing, bridge-building times, fostering agreement and a smooth flow: growth and developments are furthered.
Whether this pattern flows well depends on its symmetry and the planets involved, and where they sit. If, for example, the pattern forms a roughly T-square configuration, then there are big hurdles to cross, pointed out by the empty gap, and much can be achieved if the opportunity is seized. If there is a preponderance of sesquiquadrate aspects, then longterm aims and projects and historical perspectives become the issue. With a preponderance of trine aspects, life can become rather easy and decadent, and while there can be good fortune, there is a question here as to whether it is utilised to great avail.
Here the planets are randomly arrayed with no particular outstanding patterns. Deducing what this implies depends on looking at any dominant aspect-patterns, which might pull out main themes. This formation suggests an all-roundness, a versatility or wide spread of issues, which might either be related but contrasting (if strong aspects are present) or unrelated and diffuse. A clear message or theme is not present, and life goes on. There are various assorted issues to work through rather than one or two 'biggies'.
A Splash is often the formation which is identified when no other formations can be found, making it a general-purpose pattern which can answer various calls. Thus it is in many instances not clearly a pattern in itself, rather a non-pattern. Look at the empty gaps in the splash, if there are any, for indications of areas of life which need attending to.
This is not unlike a Splash, except that there are distinct clusters of conjuncting or close-by planets in it, which give it a certain coherence, and which establish dominant themes and movements of energy. There will be certain areas of life which possess special meaning, indicated by the concentrations present. These areas of life take on a dominant flavour, and the planets involved can become critical, turning-point influences which can be decisive influences in an otherwise generalised field. Splays should be interpreted case by case.
Very occasionally, the planets form into a regular or symmetric splay pattern, highly inter-aspected, which resembles a star, or some distinct structure with four, five or more points to it. The planets might not be clearly aspected, but they nevertheless form an array which take some noticeable shape in relation to one another, containing a certain symmetry. The planets do not have to be aspected to each other: they need simply form a roughly regular pattern which stands out. It can be, for example, that while the planets do not form standard aspects to one another, they do form angles which repeat themselves throughout the array, or which form a symmetry: situations such as this indicate a uniqueness to the moment, a special magic which comes only once every now and then, with abnormal or incomprehensible features.
How this will manifest depends on the planets involved, signs and aspects – often you will find thematic links, where different astrological factors, unrelated to each other, point to a particular message which is coming through. Every power point in time is in some way meant to be, in the organic logic of universal unfoldment, and carries a special dispensation.
Arrays give us an insight into the overall atmosphere over a period of time. They don't tend to activate energy specifically, except through the aspects forming within them. But they do give a period of time a certain flavour, and lend an overview of the whole current of the time.