Aspects and orbs are an essential part of astrology because they describe the exact relationship between two or more planets -- a physical relationship that’s specific down to the degree. An astrological chart is mapped out in a full circle of 360 degrees, and aspects occur when planets are zero degrees apart, thirty, sixty and so on. Soft aspects, such as sextiles and trines, bring positive, beneficial influences with them, while the hard aspects, such as conjunctions, squares, oppositions and quincunxes, are thought of as bringing intensity, drama and challenges. You might not notice the easy effects of a soft aspect, while the hard aspects can be either interesting or difficult to deal with -- or both. After all, without challenges and spikes of intensity, life would get pretty dull!
The orb of an aspect determines how far apart an aspect can be, in terms of degrees, and still have an influence that will affect your life and personality. For example, for two planets to be in opposition, they must be one hundred eighty degrees apart on a Zodiac chart. But with an orb of ten degrees, one planet can be up to ten degrees closer or farther than the exact opposition, and still be considered to be effective aspect, with all of the opposition’s attendant influences and meanings. The orbs for the different aspects vary; some, such as the sextile and the quincunx, must be within just five degrees to still be considered a true aspect.
Let’s take a look at the five major aspects astrologers use when interpreting an individual’s birth chart:
Conjunction – 0 – 8 degrees
A conjunction between two planets in an astrological chart is when the planets sit so closely together -- within ten degrees of one another -- that they're almost on top of each other, intensifying each other's energy in a big way. Conjunctions can sometimes be considered a hard aspect, because of that intensity; whether the interaction between the two planets is positive or negative, it's powerful!
It depends on the two planets involved whether their relationship will be beneficial or challenging in your life. Beneficial conjunctions occur between the planets whose energy is normally positive or playful, such as the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. But challenges can occur when you throw a planet into the mix whose energy is restrictive, like Saturn's; confusing, like Neptune's; or apt to boil over at any moment, like that of Mars, Uranus or Pluto.
Conjunctions are all about beginnings -- the creation of something new by merging two different energies. If two 'friendly' planets come together, such as Venus and Jupiter, a happy combination of their two energies results. For example, the love planet, Venus, conjunct Jupiter, planet of luck, would create a real emphasis on pleasure, affection and expansiveness. But if two planets come together that have opposing energies, such as Mars and Saturn, the results can be positive...or they can turn troublesome. In this case, either Saturn will have a focusing effect on Mars's ebullient energy, or Mars will shove against Saturn's restrictive influence like an unruly teenager against overly strict parents!
Sextile – 60 degrees
A sextile in an astrological chart occurs when two planets are sixty degrees, or two signs, apart. Sextiles are considered a soft aspect -- one whose effects are comfortable and beneficial. In fact, this aspect is such an easy one that you might not even notice its influence in your life; you might just think it's natural that you have such a smooth time in the particular area influenced by the two planets involved!
Sextiles bring opportunities, and what can seem like good luck -- but they won't necessarily make gifts fall effortlessly into your lap. You still have to focus your own energy on the area affected by the sextile to get the most benefits from the aspect.
For example, let's say that you have Mercury sextile Venus in your birth chart. The easy relationship between the planets of communication and love would result in a real facility with relationships, enabling you to talk with your lover in a sweet and open way and resolve arguments with ease -- or just avoid them in the first place. But while you might think you're just lucky in love, in actuality, you're using that innate talent in a specific way; your natural diplomacy becomes a gift you give to your lover, and a tool you use in creating a successful relationship.
Square – 90 degrees
A square occurs in an astrological chart when two planets are ninety degrees apart. If you think about it, it's no wonder that relationship causes the friction that it does -- two planets at right angles to each other, each of their energies trying to move in a completely different direction... Just as squares have sharp corners and box things in, squares in astrology can feel like being boxed into a corner.
And what do you do when you're boxed in? Either you stay that way, feeling tense and upset, or you do whatever it takes to break away from the restrictive situation. A squares is a hard aspect, one whose influence can be very difficult to bear but can also be ultimately positive, because a square forces change. It may take an entire lifetime, but a square in your birth chart highlights an area in your life that demands change.
For example, if you had Moon square Mercury in your chart, it would represent a basic conflict within you between affairs of the heart and the intellect. Your heart would tell you one thing while your head was telling you another, and the two wouldn't know how to agree on anything. But this would present an opportunity for growth: hard work would teach you how to verbalize your feelings and how to stop swinging between the extremes of logic and emotion. With some real effort on your part, you would pass this test and start living your life more fully.
Trine – 120 degrees
A trine between two planets in an astrological chart occurs when the planets are one hundred twenty degrees apart. Usually the two planets will be in the same element, giving them a solid common ground. A trine is a soft aspect, meaning its effects in your life are positive, even so easy as to seem effortless. Trines bring sweet benefits to your life: effortless accomplishments, opportunities that fall right into your lap.
Since this aspect brings such good things your way with no special effort on your part, it can make you lazy as a result. After all, if you don't have to work for your gifts in life, you could easily start thinking you deserve all the wonderful things life has to offer, and that you shouldn't have to work for them or pay your dues in any way! That is the inherent lesson of a trine -- to stay humble even when you're living on easy street.
For example, a trine between the Sun and Mars in your chart would result in a strong sense of yourself and your goals in life. Whatever you decided to pursue -- a love affair, a promotion at work, a winning game for your team -- would seem to fall into your lap with no special effort on your part. Competition would melt away, leaving you to enjoy your prize. Sounds like a charmed life, right? The trine does bring you those benefits, but urges you not to become complacent. Enjoy your gifts in life, but remember to use them to make the world a better place, not just your own life.
Opposition – 180 degrees
An opposition occurs in an astrological chart when two planets are one hundred eighty degrees apart, or on exact opposite sides of the circle. It’s probably obvious what this kind of relationship means: two energies that are as polarized as black and white, good and bad, love and hate... And like all those pairings, the two planets approach the same question from different perspectives. They have a lot in common, and a lot to learn from each other, if they can just let their guards down!
That, in a nutshell, is the biggest challenge of an opposition. It’s human nature to feel threatened by someone or something so different from you that it seems downright alien; but an opposition dares you to get over your fears and turn it into a positive learning experience. We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Opposites attract’; that’s the kind of relationship that occurs between two planets that are opposed in a chart -- a love-hate relationship that can swing in either direction at any given time.
Oppositions demand that you become adept at conflict resolution. How would you handle two close friends who mixed about as well as oil and water? In a best-case scenario, you would mediate a discussion between them to try to bring them closer together by finding common ground; and that’s what an opposition in your chart asks you to do. Find a way to make seemingly opposed energies work together, focusing on their strengths instead of allowing either one to exploit the other’s weaknesses, and you’ll master the oppositions in your own chart and life.