There is a lot of disagreement and confusion about astrological aspect orbs. Today we’ll take a brief look at orbs, and I’ll explain how I apply them. I last gave this to you almost 4 years ago, and have rewritten parts and added material. As aspects are one of the 4 primary building blocks of Astrology, the subject of orbs has been disputed for many centuries. So what is an orb and why do they matter?
An orb is the widest variation from the exact angle of degrees in any aspect which two planets make to each other. For example, we are told the square is a 90 degree angle. The orb is how far from 90 degrees (closer or wider) two planets can be and still be in a square. Some astrologers are into narrow orbs, some are into wide orbs, and in Vedic astrology they throw out orbs altogether (which I believe is one of the problems in that system, but that’s another discussion altogether.)
I tend to look at orbs as a variable number of degrees from exact, since sometimes a very wide orb is warranted, while at other times it should be tighter. I give a wider orb to aspects made by the Sun and Moon, less so the planets. As I believe all aspects show us the “phase relationship” in the dance between two planets, then the length of the phase from forming to perfect to separating is always a function of many variables.
I tend to scribe to wider orbs because an aspect shows us the dance between two planets, and orbs show us the outer limits of when a specific type of aspect energy is in play. The orb indicates the very beginnings of a specific phase relationship which grows stronger until it become perfect at the exact angle of the aspect, and the period after when the phase relationship is still active within the parameters of the meaning of the aspect.
Any aspect involves approaching energy, exact energy, and energy that is in the past but still present, because of its effects. The “orb of influence” lets us know when something is coming, something is here, or something is leaving.
Another important factor in the issue of whether an aspect is in orb or not is whether either of the two planets in aspect make a forming or separating aspect with any other intervening planet. Some that would be out of orb come back into play through “translation of light,” for example.
The Orbs I Use for the Planets and Aspects
In natal charts, as a general rule the Sun and Moon have an orb of 10-13 degrees for a conjunction or opposition, depending. The other planets have conjunction and opposition orbs of 8-12 degrees, depending. For squares and trines, I give all the planets an orb of 7-8 degrees, sextiles get an orb of 6-7 degrees, and quintiles an orb of 4-5 degrees.
Semisquares and sesquisquares get an orb of 3-4 degrees, and all other aspects, including quincunxes, 2-3 degrees at most. That means a decile is 34-38 degrees, a tredecile is 106-110, a biquintile is 142-146, and so forth. I almost never give orbs larger than 2 degrees, and frequently as narrow as a degree and a half, for the 7th, 9th, 11th, and other “minor” harmonics, since over the years I’ve found 1.5-2 degrees to be the zone of maximum intensity for any aspect, whether forming or separating.
Still, even with these as guidelines, there are variances must be allowed for, like whether they are in signs that are naturally in biquintile or quincunx, or not. There is a huge difference between a quincunx between Aries and Leo, Aries and Virgo, Scorpio and Aries, and Sagittarius and Aries, for example. A trine between planets in similar elements is stronger in its nature than a trine between planets in signs that are not naturally in trine. A trine from 12 Aries to 18 Leo is far stronger than a trine from 28 Virgo to 4 Aquarius.
Here the natural sign relationships are also a factor, since Virgo and Aquarius are in a natural quincunx relationship because they are 5 signs apart. That “adjustment” energy will be in play even if we have a trine from late Virgo to early Aquarius, or late Aquarius to early Cancer. Planets in opposing signs often work in an oppositional way, even if they’re too wide to be in an actual opposition. There are also special circumstances where a planet may be out of range of an opposition, but brought back into opposition via something like translation of light as explained earlier.
A Degree of Distinction
When it comes to orbs, one argument against orbs that are too wide is then some of them create overlapping orbs. A quincunx is 150 degrees, a triseptile is 154+ degrees. Perhaps a 152+ forming quincunx may share some blended influence with the 152+ triseptile. We are slicing nuances in phase relationships in such circumstances.
Still, very closely defined orbs are the “arena of influence.” I learned early on that the true “orb of activation” was 1.5 degrees forming or separating for transits, and over the decades I’ve found that to be spot on.
When it comes to interrelationships between several planets in a configuration, like a Yod or T-square or several points in a Great Sextile, Septile, Quintile, etc., the more exact the aspects in that configuration are, the tighter it will trigger in space-time. We can also have “loose” configurations, where things aren’t exact, but they trigger first one planet, then another, then another. The firing sequence may not be exact at the same time, but the sequence is triggered in an order depending on the degrees of the planets in the configuration. This “firing sequence” is all important in determining which aspect(s) are triggered first, second, and so forth.
As an aside, years ago I was introduced to the notion that the number of degrees from exact also had its own unique quality. In other words, a conjunction made by planets 2 degrees apart has a different quality than planets 4 degrees apart. A 73 degree quintile is different than a 76 degree quintile. An 88 degree square is different than an 84 degree square. Close observation of these sorts of distinctions yielded countless insights when I applied them to forming and separating transiting aspects.
An Example of Orbs From My Chart – How They Work
One of the most important variables in how I compute aspect orbs is what signs the two planets are in, and in the case of natal aspects, if the aspect between any two planets is forming or separating by progression. I’ll give you an example from my own chart.
I have a natal Sun at 12 Aries, a natal Jupiter at 26 Pisces, and a natal Saturn at 29 Virgo. While it might seem that my Sun is too wide to be conjunct Jupiter at 16 degrees, and barely in orb to be in a 13 degree out of sign opposition to Saturn, there are two factors that I have indicate my Sun-Jupiter works as a conjunction.
First, my life history definitely has demonstrated that I have a Sun opposition Saturn. That pulls Jupiter into the mix, since there is no question that Jupiter is opposed Saturn. The second major factor is that my natal Jupiter is at perihelion, and progresses very quickly throughout my life. It entered Aries when I was young, and now approaches my Sun.
That means by progression, Jupiter conjuncts my Sun throughout my life, since it keeps getting closer and closer to my Sun. However, since my Saturn is retrograde, it pulled away from the opposition by progression, and ultimately progressed to a pentelftile (163+ degrees). So by progression my Jupiter draws closer to a conjunction with my Sun and Saturn moves away from the opposition to the Sun, even as it progressed to an exact opposition to my Jupiter.
Another factor often overlooked by astrologers is that if one has a stellium, the middle planet(s) “gathers the light” of the two outermost planets in the stellium. It works like a three note chord, with the middle planet anchoring the tone and the outer two operating as a harmonic third and fifth. Here’s another example from my chart.
I have a Sun at 12 Aries, a Mars at 24 Aries, and a Mercury conjunct MC at 30 Aries. Ordinarily Mercury would be way too far out of orb of a conjunction to my Sun. However, in this case three factors play a role here.
The first is that all of those planets are in the same sign. That creates a powerful resonance between them and all the midpoints created by those three planets. It activates 12, 18, 21, 24, 27 and 30 Aries. Second, it’s clear that I have a Sun conjunct Mars, as well as a Mercury conjunct Mars. This is an example of Mars pulling together two other planetary energies that ordinarily wouldn’t work as a conjunction. And third, both the Sun and Mars progress to conjunctions to my Mercury. That strengthens the “Sun-Mars-Mercury” chord of Aries energies.
To finish this brief exploration of orbs and aspects, I feel it’s important to approach these things with an open mind, and remember that very little is engraved in stone in our craft. Sometimes what we think works doesn’t, and sometimes things happen even when we believe they shouldn’t.
Our charts are living time machines, and show a life where we have phase shifts approaching, phase shifts happening, and phase shifts in the past. All the planetary aspects show time triggers appropriate to the quality of those aspects, a series of pulses between all the energies within us and how we are in harmony or friction with the forces external to us. You may see an influence begins to manifest long before an actual event or decision, and that’s the value of taking a wide view of orbs.
© Copyright 2019 Robert Wilkinson – https://www.aquariuspapers.com
About the author:
Robert wilkinson An internationally-known astrologer, author, public speaker, metaphysician, and futurist, with over 25 years experience as a counselor and educator. He has presented hundreds of public talks on all aspects of Astrology, the Eastern Wisdom tradition, the Western Wisdom tradition and promoted many mass gatherings and cultural events. Some of his specific areas of interest and expertise include personality profiles, degree patterns, integrative astrology, various aspect harmonics, among others.