When is a Trine not a Trine?

This is a continuation of the discussion of the previous post of 10 Jan 2012 on serial killer Henri Landru (12 April 1869 – 25 February 1922), whose chart raised some interesting questions about techniques in astrology.  One of the most puzzling features is the grand trine involving Mars, Saturn, and the stellium of planets in the 12th house.  Modern astrologers are taught that trines are “good,” so how could a grand trine produce a serial killer?  (According to C.E.O. Carter and Marc Edmund Jones, the grand trine was considered an unfortunate or even evil influence by medieval astrologers, but I have been unable to find an original source to document this idea.  Perhaps someone who practices medieval astrology can leave a reference.)

If we go back in the history of astrology, we discover that trines don’t necessarily always act like trines.  According to the ancients, a lot depends on the zodiacal signs involved and whether they are signs of long or short ascension.  In the northern hemisphere, signs that take a long time to rise over the horizon are the summer and autumn signs of “long ascension” from Cancer through Sagittarius.  Signs that rise quickly are the winter and spring signs of “short ascension” from Capricorn through Gemini.  The difference in rates of rising occurs because the signs are measured along the ecliptic (path of the Sun), whose plane lies at an angle of 23.5 degrees from the plane of the earth’s equator.  In the southern hemisphere the signs or short and long ascension are opposite those in the northern hemisphere.

Ptolemy refers to aspects in signs of long and short ascension in the Tetrabiblos (p. 283, Loeb edition): “And sometimes, also, among the signs that ascend slowly the sextile aspect destroys, when it is afflicted, and again among the signs that ascend rapidly, the trine” [because it acts like a square].

Dorotheus of Sidon in the 1st century CE spoke of straight and crooked signs: straight because they rose fairly upright to the horizon (long ascension) and crooked because they rose obliquely (short ascension).  Because they took longer to rise, the straight signs seemed to stretch out the distance between planets.  Conversely, because they rose so quickly, the crooked signs seemed to compress the distance between planets.  Thus, major aspects in signs of long ascension seemed to be “stretched” to the next larger aspect, and major aspects in signs of short ascension seemed to be compressed to the next smaller aspect.  Horary astrologers sometimes appealed to this rule to get a “right answer” when the usual rules of horary did not give a correct result.  Deborah Houlding has a nice discussion of this idea in her forum at Skycript Astrology.  There is also a good overview of aspects in horary astrology at the mithras93 site.

What Dorotheus was getting at are now called aspects “in mundo,” meaning that they are measured in terms of how long planets take to rise rather than where they are on the zodiac circle.  It would not be uncommon for a trine between two planets on the ecliptic (path of the Sun) to become a square when measured in terms of the difference in how long the two planets take to rise based on their sign positions (whether they are in signs of short or long ascension).

The difference between aspects measured in the zodiac and aspects measured in mundo is analogous to Morin’s distinction between the celestial and terrestrial state of planets.  The celestial state refers to the planet’s conditioning by its location in the zodiac whereas the terrestrial state refers to the planet’s conditioning by its location with reference to the horizon at the moment and location where the horoscope is cast.  Both states are important in determining how the planet will manifest in the life of the native.

One way to visualize this difference is to cast an analogue chart called a mundoscope, which shows the positions of the planets in terms of their rising time differences (diurnal arc) rather than their zodiacal locations in signs.  The following diagram makes this clear:

Placidus Mundoscope of Henri Landru, showing the zodiacal analogue of diurnal arc. Note especially how the Mars/Saturn TRINE in the standard zodiacal birth chart becomes a SQUARE in the Mundoscope based on the diurnal arc of the planets.

The chart on the upper right shows the Placidus mundoscope, containing analogous positions of Landru’s natal planets measured in their diurnal arc, that is the rate at which rise over the horizon.  The zodical positions in the mundoscope simply refer to relative distances rather than the actual chart positions at birth.

The important point is that the natal trine from Mars to Saturn in the birth chart, as measured in the zodiac, becomes a square when measured “in mundo,” as the ancient Greek astrologers had noted.  I have tried this rule about aspects in signs of long or short ascension in horary charts with mixed results, but had never applied it to a natal chart until now.  To be honest, I have never cast horary charts in the form of a Placidus Mundoscope, and maybe doing so would reveal that this rule is more reliable that I originally thought.  In the natal mundoscope of the serial killer, Landru’s grand trine has disappeared.  Instead, we find Mars sequiquadrate Jupiter and square Saturn, both stressful aspects.

The fact that serial killer Landru’s Mars trine Saturn in the zodiac becomes a nasty Mars/Saturn square “in mundo” (with reference to speed of ascension) certainly seems apt in this case.  I would need to look at this rule in many more natal charts to decide whether it is reliable, but Landru’s chart gives us a lot to ponder.

Addendum:  I recently came across a page by astrologer Andrew J. Bevan of Norway who has an excellent discussion of the traditional view of dexter and sinister aspects as well as signs of long and short ascension.  It is well worth reading.

Also, Mark Cullen in his comment mentions the online article about in mundo aspects by Ken Browser.

About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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8 Responses to When is a Trine not a Trine?

  1. james says:

    i think traditional astrologers are taught that trines are good too anthony, based on my reading of valens and a few other trad astrologers… at any rate, thanks for your article.. i enjoyed it.. mark linked to this from skyscript… cheers james

    • Hi James,
      Thanks for your comment. I was trying to say that modern astrologer generally see trines as “good” aspects and don’t often see the nuances in their interpretation. Charles Carter is an exception to this in his book on aspects. I’m still undecided about stretching and shrinking trines based on signs of long or short ascension.

      • james says:

        anthony, i would agree with you that many astrologers regardless of there orientation often don’t look at the many nuances that can be gotten off an astro chart… doing a chart in mundo is another window on the chart…grand trines actually have a bit of a bad rap as i understand them as being closed circuits that are resistant to outside pressures.. i took a look at john wayne gacys chart in mundo very recently to understand it better emphasizing right ascension.. gacys birthdata is march 17 1942 chicago 0:29 am 1 sag 22 ascendant.. perhaps you would enjoy looking at the differences in zodiac positions verses in mundo positions for his chart as well.. best regards! james

  2. James,
    Thanks for your insights. The grand trine apparently has a bad rap in medieval astrology, but I’ve been unable to find original sources describing it. Maybe some practitioners of medieval astrology can help out. I’ll look at Gacy’s chart when I have a chance. I haven’t done horary charts in mundo, but that would be an interesting exercise (to go back over horaries whose outcome is known and see what was happening in mundo).

  3. Mark Cullen says:

    Hello Tony,

    Thanks for raising this topic again. Inspired by your post I have opened a general discussion on in mundo aspects at Skyscript: http://skyscript.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=6506
    Martin Gansten has made the interesting point there that although the system with semi-arcs is most common method of in mundo aspects utilised in astrology today there are at least two other distinct approaches that been adopted in the tradition. He suggests that mundane aspects based on semi-arcs only dates back to Placidus de Titis (I: Placido de Titi) (1603-1668) . However, the technique of using semi-arcs in primary directions can be traced back to Ptolemy. To me at least it doesn’t seem that much of a leap in astrological logic from one to the other.

    It is a little disappointing that Solar Fire software many of us are utilising only allows one to plot the aspects between the planets and not their in mundo position to the angles. Not sure why it defaults to an 0 Aries ASC. The Skyscript thread has opened up discussion of other software options.

    How do you look at applying aspects in this approach? Presumably we are looking at application in the direction of primary motion? I think you are right in adopting a much tighter approach to aspects working in mundo. While I use medieval orbs for zodiacal aspects I would probably limit this to 3 degrees in mundo.

    Looking at chart examples Prince Charles is interesting: 14th November, 1948, 21:14 GMT, London, England, United Kingdom. Mars (MC ruler), and Saturn (7th house ruler) form no zodiacal aspect in his chart. However, they form a tight in mundo square! As a royal the marriage of Charles to Diana was a very public matter and their acrimonious separation and divorce was International news. The whole affair did much to dramatically diminish the public reputation of Charles as his long term relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles became exposed.

    I dont think I would consider doing an entire horary in mundo. However, I do feel the in mundo positions can provide valuable supplementary information. It seems much more specific than the rough and ready approach of just looking at planets position through signs of short or long ascension.

    In some ways I think this discussion mirrors the debate going on in the traditional astrological community between proponents of whole sign and quadrant houses. It seems to me both the celestial idealized approach (zodiacal aspects, whole sign houses) and the terrestrial earth bound (in mundo aspects, quadrant houses) have their respective role.

    I have a grand trine in my own chart and no squares by zodiacal aspects. As the mundane squares involve the benefics I think this mitigates their negative impact somewhat. However, it also arguably diminishes their power to be helpful. What I found more revealing though was the Pluto squares that are trines in my natal chart. That has given me some fresh insights and seems to resonates well with my actual experience.

    I haven’t seen a reference to grand trines being negative in any medieval texts but the tradition is very long . However, the whole issue of emphasizing aspect patterns in chart analysis is largely a modern phenomena. Sounds like a good discussion topic for Skyscript.


    • Mark,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and enlightening post and for the links. My thought about horary was that the in mundo aspects allow us to see more precisely when a trine acts like a trine and when it might be “distorted” by occurring in signs of long or short ascension. I’ve also been reading a lot of Morin lately and it seems to me that the aspects on the ecliptic have to do with what he calls the celestial state of the planets, whereas the aspects in mundo have more to do with what Morin calls the terrestrial state of the planets, which is tied to the very specific determinations that the planets have in a given horoscope chart. In other words, a trine on the ecliptic may have a universal significance of a favorable aspect but its particular meaning at a specific place on earth will be seen more clearly in the mundoscope. That’s a theory at least. Whether it’s true or not depends on further testing.


      PS: for those who use Solar Fire, the Placidus mundoscope is found under “F6” – Z-analogue diurnal arc.

  4. Hi, Tony
    It may be off-topic to mention this, but a propos of the grand trine being a “bad” aspect pattern, it’s certainly helpful to look at the planets involved. I recall reading the opinion (in Brady? Frawley?) that a trine (or a square) is neither good (nor bad), it just works more smoothly (or with more friction in the case of a square).
    If it was in Frawley, it would have been in reference to the aspect-perfection in horary (i.e., perfection of the terms to a square means success just as a trine would), but it seems like the same notion applies to natal. Squares to the benefics aren’t necessarily bad, and trines to the malefics may prove challenging to the native.
    [Not deliberately trying to undermine argument in your lucid post above, just trying to come at it from a different angle (;->) — sorry if it is so obvious as to need no mention. And having said all that, I confess I’m trying to work out for myself what weight to give mundo aspects. The fact that they are location-specific makes them more compelling, in principle — as Bowser seems to suggest –, but it also raises further questions (e.g., for their value in relocation charts).]
    Interesting topic!

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