Aspects are found in all systems of zodiacal astrology and it is difficult to imagine a practice of astrology without them. They show us the dynamics between planets, relationship of planets to houses and they can be simply thought of as a pre-defined network of influences. In this article we will examine the differences between two well established aspects doctrines – classical Western (or Hellenistic) and mainstream Jyotish.
While the two systems we will examine agree on the fundamental building blocks of astrology – 12 zodiacal signs, their natures, their rulerships, the 12 houses and 7 planets plus 2 nodes, they do not agree on the aspects. There are similarities, but also very important differences. Whenever I see a difference I ask myself why is that so and is it possible that one of them is in error.
When I began my Jyotish studies I had a difficulty making sense of the mainstream aspects doctrine where the inner planets aspect fully only by opposition and the outer ones have full aspectual strength at special aspects. Let’s look at this doctrine carefully.
SUN, MOON, MERCURY and VENUS aspect fully to the front, diametrically opposite 7th sign from them.
MARS additionally aspects fully to the 4th and the 8th sign from it.
JUPITER additionally aspects fully to the 5th and 9th sign from it.
SATURN additionally aspects fully to the 3rd and 10th sign from it.
I’ve read many attempts to explain these special aspects of outer planets, but non of them were convincing as they were rather subjective and lacked a solid rationale, supported by either the nature of the houses or signs. Furthermore, it is quite common today that Sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus only get to aspect the 7th place from them and not other places defined as being aspect places.
On the other hand we have a very clear rationale for the aspects doctrine in Hellenistic tradition, which was also the aspects doctrine in medieval Persian tradition and later astrology from renaissance period in Europe.
In the below diagram we can see the geometrical order of the seven aspects each of the seven planets can make.
Here we are viewing the zodiac through a perspective of Cancer being the ascendant. This was called Thema Mundi, or the nativity of the world. It was a symbolic teaching tool, a theoretical, symbolic horoscope which was used to explain many doctrines and the aspects were no exception.
The core principle of aspects is affinity. If the two signs have some affinity, then they can communicate. If there is no affinity, thus having nothing in common it is said that the two signs are in aversion.
If Cancer is our home and we look to the front to Capricorn we can see it because Cancer and Capricorn share modality (both are movable signs) and gender (both female), thus they have affinity.
In the human visual field this is a clean area where our vision is perfect. It extends 15 degrees on each side of the straight line, which interestingly enough equals 30 degrees which is one zodiacal sign. Left and right to this we have a blind spot. In our diagram these are the signs of Sagittarius and Aquarius, which are the signs that are in aversion to Cancer. Sagittarius and Aquarius do not share modality with Cancer, nor they share element, nor gender. They have nothing in common, thus they are in aversion.
Next are Scorpio and Pisces which are configured to Cancer by trine, 5th and 9th signs from it. Here we have the affinity through the same element and gender. All of them are watery and female. In our field of vision it is here where we get out of our blind area. Due to affinity through element and gender a trine aspect is considered a harmonious and flowing one through which things manifest naturally and effortlessly.
Signs that are 4th and 10th from Cancer have affinity with it through the same modality, but not by element or gender. Libra and Aries are in a square to Cancer. A square is thought of as a challenging aspect, but powerful due to the instability of the square shape.
Next are Virgo and Taurus. They have affinity with Cancer through gender, so a minor affinity and sextile is considered as the weakest of aspects, but a harmonious one due to hexagon being a relatively stable form.
The two signs adjacent to Cancer – Leo and Gemini have nothing in common with it. They do not share modality, nor element, nor gender, thus they are in aversion.
We can see that four signs are averse to the sign that is our home. This also explains why 2nd, 6th, 8th and 12th houses are considered difficult.
This Hellenistic rationale for the aspects is perfectly clear and reasonable. This brings us to the Jyotish tradition and the earliest Jyotish text available – Yavanajataka. One may ask why am I bringing up such an obscure text that almost no-one uses to build their practice upon. Maybe today this text is largely ignored, but it is a fact that Varahamihira’s works (6th century) are much respected and he was drawing from Yavanajataka and Vriddhayavanajataka and considered Yavanas as masters of astrology, thus Yavanajataka has influenced later development of Jyotish more than is usually thought.
AN ODDITY OF THE 11TH AND THE 8TH
When I was reading Yavanajataka a great oddity struck me. In verses 64 and 65 of chapter 1 there is a strange assertion that the 8th sign is a square and that the 11th is not a place of aspect, but instead the 8th is.
Verse 64: Excepting the second, sixth, eleventh, and twelfth signs from that in which it is, a planet always aspects the rest; their aspect is good when it is in good signs.
Verse 65: The influence of the aspect is complete in opposition, less by a fourth in the two “squares” (the fourth and eighth places), a half in the two trines, and a fourth in the third and tenth signs.
David Pingree, the translator of this text has even put »squares« in brackets. To make sure this was not Pingree’s error I looked at a newer and more accurate translation made by Michael Douglas Neely which reads like this:
Verse 64: Then having exempted the second, sixth, and the two behind (the eleventh and twelfth) from the zodiac sign of one’s own place, a planet always aspects those remaining zodiac signs. And among the benefics, it is determined as benefic from the aspect of those.
Verse 65: They declared the entire result of the aspect in the seventh house, but reduced by a quarter of one’s own (full aspect) (three-fourths of a full aspect) in the two four cornered (fourth and eighth house), half of the result of the aspect in the fifth and ninth houses, and a quarter (of the result) in the third and tenth houses.
As we can see our symmetrical and highly ratonal aspects doctrine we have looked at earlier has fallen apart. Now it looks like this:
What used to be a sextile aspect (the 11th – blue arrow) has now moved to the 8th place (Aquarius in this case). To make it even more strange, Sphujidhvaja (the author of Yavanajataka) writes that the 8th place is a square. It is a fact that this is not so by any means, from any perspective. The 8th place as we have seen earlier is a place of aversion and not that of aspect. Naturally it would read like this:
Verse 64: Then having exempted the second, sixth, eight and twelfth from the zodiac sign of one’s own place, a planet always aspects those remaining zodiac signs. And among the benefics, it is determined as benefic from the aspect of those.
Verse 65: They declared the entire result of the aspect in the seventh house, but reduced by a quarter of one’s own (full aspect) (three-fourths of a full aspect) in the two four cornered (fourth and tenth house), half of the result of the aspect in the fifth and ninth houses, and a quarter (of the result) in the third and eleventh houses.
Since Yavanajataka is dated as the earliest Indian text on zodiacal or horoscopic astrology it is natural to infer that its aspects doctrine was the basis for the later development of special aspects of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The »squares« (4th and 8th) were given to Mars, the trines to Jupiter and the corrupted »sextiles« (the 3rd and 10th) to Saturn.
One might object, saying these two translations are incorrect, but let us look at the meaning of sanskrit word used for the 4th and the 8th here which is chaturasra. Chatur = four, Asra = corner, thus it means four-cornered = square.
IS YAVANAJATAKA A LONELY CASE?
Seeing this oddity in Yavanajataka, which I firmly believe is a result of either scribal error or an error in understanding of the transmitted aspects doctrine has led me to look at other Indian texts which were written after Varahamihira’s Brihat Jataka in order to see if the same error of equating the 8th with a square is present in them. I was surprised at what I have found:
Brihat Jataka, chapter 2, verse 13 (Neely translation):
The 3rd and 10th, 5th and 9th, 4th and 8th, and 7th are aspected in increasing quarters. Verily, there are those who aspect in regular fashion and the others, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, are stronger in aspecting.
Saravali, chapter 4, verses 32 and 33 (Santanam translation):
Planets lend one quarter aspect on the 3rd and 10th, half aspect on the 4th and 8th, three quarters aspect on 5th and 9th and full aspect on the 7th from their positions. Saturn has special full aspect on the 3rd and 10th, Jupiter on the 5th and the 9th and Mars on the 4th and 8th. All planets aspect the 7th fully.
Phala Dipika, chapter on Auspicious and Inauspicious Drishti, verse 9 (Kapoor translation):
The aspect from the 7th house is the only one that should be considered as most effective in all cases. (!) But some learneds are of the view that the special aspects of Jupiter (to the 5th and the 9th), of Mars (to the 4th and the 8th) and of Saturn (to the 3rd and the 10th) are equally competent in producing effects in all Yogas and the like.
Brihat Parashara Hora, chapter 26, verses 2-5:
3rd and 10th, 5th and 9th, 4th and 8th and lastly 7th. On these places the aspects increase gradually in slabs of quarters and full. The effects will also be proportionate. All Planets give an aspect to the 7th fully. Saturn, Jupiter and Mars have special aspects, respectively, on the 3rd and the 10th, the 5th and the 9th and the 4th and the 8th.
This doctrine is also present in Jataka Parijata and Horasara.
What we can see in these verses is that all planets aspect by all seven aspects, but Mars instead of aspecting with only half a strength in the two »squares« (the 4th and the 8th) is instead aspecting fully by these two aspects. Jupiter aspects fully also in trines (5th and 9th) and Saturn fully also at 3rd and 10th. All three of them aspect with full strength in opposition (the 7th) as the rest of the planets do.
This is clearly a further development of the aspects doctrine from Yavanajataka, which simply gives the aspectual strength for all planets equally. Note that in Phala Dipika it says that some learned men are of the view that the special aspects of the three outer planets are equally competent as full aspects. This suggests that the special aspects of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were not the widely accepted norm from the 2nd or 3rd century onward.
The 8th as being square has found its way in all post-Yavanajataka Indian texts and it looks like no one has ever questioned it. The original, rational aspects doctrine as found in Hellenistic and Persian traditions has not been transmitted to India correctly. This error has been perpetuated for centuries and is still present today in mainstream Jyotish of India.
WHY SPECIAL ASPECTS?
To my awareness there is no consensus of why Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have been given full aspectual strength in so-called special aspects. In classical Western traditions all planets aspects equally, but different aspects were associated with different planets. We will now look at the aspects from the two domiciles of the luminaries, Cancer and Leo.
Opposition (7th) is associated with Saturn, because Capricorn is in opposition to Cancer and Aquarius in opposition to Leo. It is darkness opposite light.
Trine (5th and 9th) is associated with Jupiter, because Pisces is trine to Cancer and Sagittarius trine to Leo, thus trines are considered flowing, harmonious, beneficial and expanding. They carry the nature of Jupiter and Jupiter naturally acts well in trines.
Square (4th and 10th) is associated with Mars, because Aries is square to Cancer and Scorpio square to Leo. Square as a geometric form is chalenging and unstable as it quickly collapses without a support of a triangle in at least one of its corners. It is driving one into action, carying the nature of Mars.
Sextile (3rd and 11th) is associated with Venus, because Taurus is sextile to Cancer and Taurus sextile to Leo. It is a harmonious aspect but weaker than a trine. We see hexagonal structures present in nature. Water has a hexagonal molecular structure and Venus and related goddesses (Greek Aphrodite, Indian Lakshmi, Slavic Živa) are often associated with water. Venus is also often associated with a sweet taste. It is interesting that the sweetest of nature’s subststances – honey is produced in a hexagonal beehive and itself has a hexagonal structure.
The ancient astrologers of the Mediteranean did not specify the aspectual strength in percentages like what we see in Indian texts, but it was usually thought that opposition is (most) powerful but challenging, trine powerful and harmonious, square less powerful than a trine and challenging, and sextile the least powerful, but harmonious. The association of different aspects with different planet is of course different, but in this case we can see a clear rationale for it.
NOT AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE MYSTIQUE OF ANCIENT SAGES
I hope I have managed to clearly illustrate that the common Jyotish aspects doctrine is not as mystical, ancient and incomprehensible as many people like to think, but is instead a result of a misunderstanding or a corruption of the original aspects doctrine which as I have presented has a solid rationale based on the qualities of the signs and their affinity or lack of it. I know of two Indian astrologers who have realized this error and are now using the correct aspects, but I wish that in the world of Jyotish there was more critical thinking and less blind following of tradition that obviously is able to pass down errors to future generations.
In the West we have lost a lot of knowledge about how to use timing techniques such as timelords or dashas as they are called in India. We can learn a lot from Indian astrologers about this as they have been continuously using them for centuries. On the other hand, Indian astrologers can revise and refresh their knowledge of aspects by looking over to the ancient texts of Hellenistic tradition and thus improve or enrich their practice.
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