Aspect figures for Astrology Writers and Teachers

I’m exploring a new angle that may be of interest to the many astrology writers and teachers who use case studies to illustrate how natal aspects can show up in real life. Let’s say we’re creating course material for a class on aspect configurations such as grand trines, t-squares, and stelliums. First, we want to pick out examples of notable persons born under a certain planetary aspect figure.

For instance, take the Romantic poet John Keats, who was born during the 1795 Sun-Venus-Neptune conjunction. Keats fits the descriptions given for this planetary combination in Renn Butler’s essential 2018 reference The Archetypal Universe: “a beautiful imagination, exquisite refinement, gentle humor… aesthetic epiphanies, spiritual devotion, union with the Beloved, ‘fellowship with essence’.” In fact, that last phrase is a quote from Keats.

No doubt, seeing even one good example of a certain aspect figure means a lot to students who are learning to grasp how the symbols go together. It shows that it is possible to pick out a symbolically fitting life story, linked by birth to that aspect figure. To go beyond a single example, and identify other recurrences of the same figure, is to open new territory for exploration, and pose new questions:

· Can we identify other bios that resonate symbolically with the first bio?

· Can we see the nuances of the symbolism by juxtaposing these bios?

· What can we learn by studying how often various aspect figures recur?

When I looked for other instances of that same Sun-Venus-Neptune conjunction, I found a close recurrence on 8 Sep 1935. This is 3 days after Werner Erhard was born, the fourth recurrence since 1795. Werner Erhard has led a dramatic life as a hypnotic sales talent who later became a leadership movement guru. He provides a clear contrast to Keats, while still fitting the planetary symbolism, though in a less graceful manner. Perhaps this (from Butler, 2018) would be a fitting image: “…the urge to take advantage of others through beauty or charm… A tendency to act like a religious or new-age beauty queen.” Despite (or due to) all that, Erhard has influenced many notable and influential people. And has often managed to redeem himself.

These symbolic exemplars are such different kinds of people that it enriches my experience of this stellium, with these contrasts revealing a whole range of expressions. Some people are more in touch with their daemon than others, and these are the ones we are looking for. John Keats and Werner Erhard surely qualify.

James Hillman on the Image, revisited

Last Fall, I posted here about James Hillman’s writings on “the image” and my ideas on what these insights might contribute to archetypal astrology. To quote briefly:

In From Types to Images, Hillman describes the phenomena of images:

… I do want to suggest the peculiarity in an image. Images, you know, are very odd arrangements. They are heightened intensified moments.

All the events of an image occur together. Simultaneity contrasts with the sequential reading of narrative in which events follow one after the other. (Hillman, 2019)

I only recently discovered that Hillman’s thoughts on images resonate strongly with those of certain Imagist poets such as Ezra Pound. I have to think this is not a coincidence, given Hillman’s literary studies.

It’s easy to imagine that he drew on these Imagist concepts in his writings on the significance of images to depth psychology. I believe it’s worthwhile to look for the influences on as significant a thinker as Hillman. Well, it turns out that Hillman did quote Ezra Pound and wrote about the Imagists at length (too long to include here) in a recent collection of his papers, From Types to Images Part 1, Ch. 3, entitled Persons as Images.

Another quote from this same book is a statement that for me goes to the very heart of archetypal astrology. Seeing persons as personifications, we might say. Hillman says it better:

All we need do is recognize that when we are seeing types, we have begun to imagine in a figurational mode. We have begun to personify. We have begun to envision presences as the determining powers and that life is a fulfillment of their predictions. Things run true-to-type in that each thing fulfills its image, imagines itself typically into itself, each image held within the relief of its specific form. It is the typicality inherent to the image that we acknowledge in science by speaking of prediction and in psychology by speaking of the archetypal. It is this typicality in an image that sets its limit and suggests its placing (topos).

So the evidence for a type is in the vision that sees its images. The word evidence refers to an act of vision. Seeing types is a Platonic act that cannot be established by an Aristotelian method. Two eyes, even with microscope, cannot equal that third eye. To restore images to types means seeing types as a mode of imaging that cannot be satisfied by empirically gathered evidence. (It is anyway the type in our eye—the ability to see similarities and to compare—that allows us to see resemblances in what we gather for evidence and in the questionnaires that yield this evidence.) The scientistic search for evidence betrays itself for what it is: loss of morphic vision, an eye unopened to the image.

Hillman, James. From Types to Images (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 4) (pp. 25-26). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

To describe Imagism in brief, this is from

Imagism was born in England and America in the early twentieth century. A reactionary movement against romanticism and Victorian poetry, imagism emphasized simplicity, clarity of expression, and precision through the use of exacting visual images.

Though Ezra Pound is noted as the founder of imagism, the movement was rooted in ideas first developed by English philosopher and poet T. E. Hulme

Pound’s definition of the image was “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” He said, “It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives the sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.”

Planetary recurrences and extreme weather events

I wrote this on July 1, 2021… it’s about time I posted it to my blog!

I just wanted to share an observation that seems striking. We are in the middle of a Mars-Saturn-Uranus T-square that is tighter than any recurrences of this figure since Feb 1977. Back then, there was a very extreme weather event in Jan 1977 in North America: the Blizzard of 1977. And now here we go again, on the other extreme.

The previous time the T-square got that close was in mid-June, 1862. Here’s a quote I found about that summer:”The summer of 1862 was notably cold using the CET series. All three summer months (June, July & August) had below-average mean temperatures, with anomalies (on the all-series dataset) of -1.6, -1.8 and -1.0C respectively, giving an overall deficit of -1.5C. As of 2013, it ranks within the ‘top-15’ of coldest summers using that long series.”

— from…/

The transpersonality of Stan Grof

One might wonder why, in studying a natal chart, I speak of planet events, like aspect perfections and stations. The chart is pretty well defined by the moment of birth, in which all is captured as a still life, a snapshot of the solar system. Natal astrology is focused on this point in time, but I confess, this can give me a sort of cramped feeling. What if we stepped back to view it in a broader context? It’s worth a look.

If we zoom out from the natal chart and shift our attention to the planets in motion, the birth moment becomes the center of a wider time window, as if seen from a more distant vantage point. The dynamics of the near-birth period are captured as one event, the nativity, extending for several days before and after birth, containing all near-birth planet events. This is a rich context for working with the images that may emerge from the contemplation of these natal events, their coincidings in particular.

The study of coinciding near-birth planet events has become my main focus, at first because I was using them to search for recurrences of that same combination over the period 1500-2100, within that same brief interval between the coinciding events. I have used these recurrences to explore biographical parallels between duos (and trios) of a few dozen notable persons. These studies belong in a larger collection of biographical sketches that are tied together in interesting ways. 

In Hillman’s writings I found needed insights into the metaphorical character and power of images. Let us consider one case study from a couple of years ago, before I thought in terms of images in Hillman’s sense. It is one of my favorites, given the coherent quality of the image that it ends up with.

Stanislav Grof is a Czech psychiatrist and a pioneer in psychedelic therapy, an icon in many circles for his early therapeutic work with LSD and as co-founder of the field of transpersonal psychology. Grof developed a “cartography of the psyche” based on his clinical work with psychedelics. Stan Grof and Rick Tarnas were colleagues at Esalen for years, where they used astrology in their therapies as an effective timing tool and source of insights.

As for my own astrology, I look for event-figures: planet events that coincide within a day or so, a configuration that might be repeated only once in many years. The rarer, the better; Stan Grof’s rarest event figure at birth (1931) has two other recurrences that led me to identify two of his potential kindred births, born with the same event-figure.

The first is M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist, born in 1898, 33 years before Grof’s birth. Escher’s lithographs and woodcuts feature mathematical objects, interwoven figures, explorations of infinity, reflections, and other puzzling representations. His art is a powerful metaphor for Grof’s cartography of the psyche. They see self and world in new dimensions, perhaps with rare senses. This is how I came to think of Grof as the Escher of inner space. It shows in his use of visual arts in therapy to describe that space where the sublime and the underworldly often intermingle.

Looking back another 31 years for the previous recurrence of the same event-figure, we find Augustus Owsley Stanley, born in 1867, a Kentucky Governor and U.S. Senator. As it turns out, he was also the grandfather of Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Seeing this distinguished name made me laugh out loud. Owsley Stanley III was the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD. He was the sound man for the Grateful Dead; he kept all of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters well supplied with active ingredient. They called him “Bear.” I believe he’s the original artist of the Dead’s bear artwork.

The exceptional purity of Owsley acid surely endeared it to both therapeutic and recreational users at Esalen, while it lasted. Can’t you just imagine being at Esalen in the seventies, with Dr. Grof as your therapist-guide, and with some Owsley acid on board, having a wonder-filled journey, listening to a Grateful Dead album, getting lost in the M.C. Escher posters on the wall? We have here a complex image made up of parts from three different sources, actual persons no less, who each have their own stories.

The juxtaposing of these parts creates a unique image of the early days at Esalen. Having read Hillman’s From Types to Images, I think of context as the background of entanglements and implications that are played out in the mood and scene of a complex image. All the components are present here at once; I see a mood of wonder in this image, and a scene that could be elaborated with feelings, visions, and voices. This image already seems to present a mythical whole before any elaboration.

I will close with this Hillman quote:

“…now mind you, this is a myth and not a theory. So, you can’t prove it, you can’t disprove it, you can’t argue with it logically, you can’t argue with it empirically. All you can do is see what it does for you.”

Hillman, on the Image, speaks to Archetypal Astrology

Though James Hillman had an ongoing personal interest in natal astrology, I have found few explicit mentions of it in his writings. Here is my favorite thus far, from The Soul’s Code:

There is in each of us a longing to see beyond what our usual sight tells us. A revelation of the invisible in an intelligible form leads us to the astrologer. (Hillman, 1996)

What I am seeking in Hillman’s work is not so much his astrological references as his writings on images, which I explore for insights relevant to archetypal astrology. What comes through in his attunement to the archetypal is a domain as intimate as a dream, in which the imagination does its work of image play. I find threads in Hillman’s writing with significant implications for natal astrology. The acorn theory is the most comprehensive of these, from The Soul’s Code:

The acorn theory proposes, and I will bring evidence for, the claim that you and I and every single person is born with a defining image. Individuality resides in a formal cause – to use old philosophical language going back to Aristotle. (Hillman, 1996)

This is a succinct statement of a philosophical ground that seems as fundamental to astrology as it is to his acorn theory. He describes the image a person is born with as defining the life, showing this through biographical accounts. I have been guided in my own work by Hillman’s statements on the topic of images. In his most recently published collection, From Types to Images, he describes in more detail the distinct features of an image:

…an image is nothing more than a complex depiction in any medium that is precisely qualified by a specific context, mood, and scene.

 By context I mean the psychological entanglement within a mood and scene. I could call this entanglement ‘resonance,’ ‘implication,’ or ‘depth.’ … Entangled in an image is its implication whose depth amplifies into the wide world. (Hillman, 2019)

Even though many of the images Hillman writes about are from dreams, these statements encompass also the “defining image” of a life; that is, its acorn. The astrological study of a nativity, unlike a dream, doesn’t readily provide an image; even so, I believe that the acorn can be actively imagined. I’ve drawn on Hillman’s thoughts about images to discover creative principles for my study of archetypal astrology.

Again, in From Types to Images, he describes the phenomena of images:

… I do want to suggest the peculiarity in an image. Images, you know, are very odd arrangements. They are heightened intensified moments.

All the events of an image occur together. Simultaneity contrasts with the sequential reading of narrative in which events follow one after the other. (Hillman, 2019)

How does one learn to see the defining image a person is born with? In The Soul’s Code, Hillman offers several instances of famous individuals such as the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. I was delighted to find that Hillman chose to write about Bergman and was moved to compose a brief tribute myself.

On Bergman’s influence, director Martin Scorsese commented: “If you were alive in the 50s and the 60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make movies, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman. …It’s impossible to overestimate the effect that those films had on people. It’s not that Bergman was the first film artist to confront serious themes. It’s that he worked in a symbolic and an emotional language that was serious and accessible.Scorsese on Bergman

In The Soul’s Code, Bergman’s childhood eccentricity is illustrated in his description of a pivotal episode:

At the age of 7 he was taken to the circus, an event that “drove me into a state of feverish excitement.” The crucial moment came when he saw “a young woman dressed in white, riding around on a huge black stallion. I was overcome with love for this young woman. She was included in my fantasy games and I called her Esmeralda. Under an oath of secrecy, I confided in the boy called Nisse who sat next to me at school. I told him that my parents had sold me to Schumann’s Circus and I was soon to be taken away from home and school to be trained as an acrobat, together with Esmeralda, who was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. The next day my fantasy was revealed and desecrated…”  

This fantasied love ended in heartbreak when teachers and parents heard about Ingmar’s secret, leading to severe disciplinary measures. In Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo loves a Gypsy girl named Esmeralda. Whether young Bergman really meant to name his own fantasy lover after her, he could resonate with the hunchback’s helpless infatuation, and bemoan with him the cruelty of the world. This sounds like a Saturn-Venus story for any age or era.

I focus on two planetary aspect events near Bergman’s birth on 14 July 1918. Venus’ sextile to Saturn in Leo perfects (is exact) on 11 July, and the next day, Mercury conjoins Neptune in Leo. The Venus-Saturn sextile reveals a contrast akin to the story of Beauty and the Beast. And in young Ingmar’s story, Beauty is the acrobatic Esmeralda, who performs atop a great black stallion in the circus. Mercury with Neptune gives a sense of searching for what is unknown but compelling, embracing the mysterious object of this fascination, even declaring undying love and loyalty. It hardly matters how much fabrication is needed to maintain the illusion.

In The Soul’s Code, Hillman quotes from another of Bergman’s childhood memories, which begins with another black horse, from the golden age of cinema:

More than anything else, I longed for a cinematograph. The year before, I had been to the cinema for the first time and seeing a film about a horse. I think it was called Black Beauty. To me, it was the beginning. I was overcome with a fever that has never left me…”  

After considering Jung’s and Hillman’s thoughts on the creative imagination, I believe these aspects can be treated as facets of an image that has yet to show itself. This is imagining what happens when the images of these two aspects are juxtaposed, in the context of the native’s life.

The transpersonality of James Hillman

I have read several of James Hillman’s books, and considering his substantial influence on my thinking, he was one of the first subjects I considered for my ongoing series of case studies. His natal chart displays a wedge pattern, with Jupiter and Neptune closely opposed, the Sun trining Neptune and sextiling Jupiter. I was interested in finding another notable nativity, from a different decade or century, where the same planets are making the same coinciding aspects.

I find that comparing births that are distant in time is often more interesting than studying time or date twins. And even though this is not intended as a search for literal past lives, it still holds a certain intrigue. There is one 3-day period that caught my eye when I went looking for charts from the late 1800s, and that is 24-26 Sep 1888, when the same configuration of Sun, Jupiter, and Neptune that I just described is repeated. The poet T. S. Eliot was born on 26 Sep and his name certainly stood out; Eliot is Hillman’s first kindred spirit that I found.

The coinciding of the above three aspect events within such a brief period is unique to late Sep 1888, within the 600-year range I’m studying (1500-2100). This method is guided by rarity as one principle of selection and prominence as another. In view of this, T. S. Eliot was chosen from a list of about twenty persons with Wikipedia pages who were born within those few days.

Hillman was the first director of the Jung Institute; his training was in depth psychology and his interest in dreams was both therapeutic and theoretical, as evidenced in his archetypal psychology. Eliot was an alchemist with images and words, turning dreams and visions into poetry; Neptune is the planet most akin to dream life and poetry. Theirs is a kinship that feels pretty natural. They both loved writing and lived as American expats for a long time. They explored the pinnacles and depths of human experience; they shared a rare awareness. These quotations reveal closely related themes:

Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves. (Eliot, 1964)

The truer you are to your daimon, the closer you are to the death that belongs to your destiny… Perhaps this intimacy between calling and fate is why we avoid the daimon and the theory that upholds its importance. (Hillman, 1996)

If we may use dramatic metaphors to describe planetary events, we could say that an aspect is like a dialogue, or that a station is like a soliloquy. What then is being said between Jupiter and Neptune in opposition? It surely touches on those deep aversions to facing the daimon, the unknown and unnamed. Jupiter’s mission is to recognize and to name, to translate a mysterious sighting into familiar terms. Neptune, mother of mystery and symbol of the unknown, speaks in vague images and atmospherics. The Sun, as Nous, witnesses this exchange with its own aspect events and makes of this a guiding light.

Applying Hillman’s ideas on images from my earlier post about context, mood, and scene, this description begins to capture a facet of the defining image that is present at each of these births.

Another remarkable person born during a recurrence of the same aspect pair is Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), “an Indian Hindu sage and jivanmukta (liberated being). He attracted devotees that regarded him as an avatar and came to him for darshan (‘the sight of God’). In later years, an ashram grew up around him, where visitors received spiritual instruction by sitting silently in his company asking questions. Since the 1930s his teachings have been popularized in the West, resulting in his worldwide recognition as an enlightened being” (Wikipedia, 2020).

I also am reminded of James Hillman’s long-term fascination with India and its polytheistic spirituality.

The theme developed above with quotes from Hillman and Eliot is plainly related to fear of death. The following quote from Maharshi makes clear how he related with death. In his chart Jupiter sextiles Neptune rather than opposing it. It sets a different tone from the other two:

Who am I? Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these also will vanish with death. (Sri Ramana Maharshi)

Dr. Patricia Berry, Hillman’s former wife and co-founder of Archetypal Psychology, as it turns out, also has something in common with Sri Ramana Maharshi, sharing with him a Grand Trine at her birth between Sun, Uranus, and Neptune. Hillman’s connection to Maharshi was formed by the Sun’s aspects to Jupiter and Neptune, so he and Berry share only the Sun’s trine with Neptune. They were born with two distinct figures and Maharshi was born with both.

There’s more, though, besides the symbols. The events that make up each figure coincide so closely that it is a real rarity to find people who share them. For instance, Berry’s birth in 1943 was the first recurrence of the figure she shares with Maharshi since his birth in 1879. Hillman’s birth in 1926 was the second recurrence of his figure since Maharshi’s birth. Each recurrence yields a list of ten or so names to consider, on average. So, these are unusual coincidings.

I have no real knowledge of Hillman and Berry as a couple, but they seem to have made a prodigious team, while being very distinct individuals. The symbolism of their planets suggests the capacity for a high degree of mutual attunement. I hope to read about Berry in Vol. 2 of his biography.

This planetary commentary is essentially a gift from the cosmic artist/poet. If this is evidence of the working of imagination in the world, not just in my head, then what more could I ask for? To learn more about what it’s evidence of? This symbolic image communicates a quality that has its own aesthetic value; even its own rarity contributes to that value. What does it stand for, if not its own eternal validity? These are not just rhetorical questions for me; I often argue with myself about such things.

Announcing a Coincidings update in Planetdance

I posted this recently on the Planetdance FB group, to announce a new version of my astrology app, Coincidings:

The latest version of Planetdance ( includes a major update to Coincidings. In case you are wondering, this app enables you to search across the decades and centuries for counterparts, kindred spirits, or life parallels for the selected native. The dance of the planets provides the magical part.

The new version includes improved browsing, a new Chart menu item for recurrence charts, and new capabilities: it can now search for 3-event figures. The original version was limited to 2 events, and I still mostly use the 2-event figures (they are not as hard to find).

I have simplified the browsing of births near a recurrence. Now when you check ‘Browse Births’ it will automatically include only Wikipedia entries with a photo, so you can just browse the more prominent ones. The Wikipedia page will be displayed when you select one in the browser. If you want to see all entries, check both the ‘Browse Births’ box and the ‘Include All Births’ box.

I’m planning a tutorial for the new version, so meanwhile, please see the Help text for the Coincidings app. And there are three existing tutorials posted here on this blog that are still useful for demonstrating just what it is that I do with this app.

Thanks for giving Coincidings a try. I think you’ll agree, there’s nothing else like it, anywhere.