The Thanksgiving holiday this year found me spending time with family and friends, and also some time alone reading through Donna Cunningham’s Stellium Handbook.
On her website, Donna tells us that her interest in this topic is deeply personal. She was born with a stellium of four planets in Gemini the 11th house, which she has found to be a source of many blessings but also of powerful vulnerabilities. Donna uses Placidus Houses and the tropical zodiac. Here is her chart cast with data from astrodatabank and Whole Sign Houses (horizon and meridian in yellow):
Before reading this book, I never realized that so information that could be gleaned from analyzing stelliums in a natal chart. Donna’s approach was an eye-opener.
This book is refreshing both for its new insights and its transparency of presentation. Donna states her premises clearly so that astrologers of any persuasion can judge where she is coming from. She prefers Placidus houses but is not dogmatic about their use. She bases her delineations in Zip Dobyns 12-letter system (which goes back to Alan Leo in the late 1800s) but also expresses her misgivings about Dobyns’ approach. Her goal is to make matters simple so that beginning astrologers will be able to use her book productively. Donna uses the modern planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) as sign rulers. Because she is so explicit about her premises, traditional astrologers will have no difficulty adjusting Donna’s findings about stelliums to their own astrological belief systems.
Basically, the book deals with two important phenomena that can occur in birth charts: the stellium and the superconjunction.
Donna defines a stellium as “a combination of four or more planets placed within a narrow range of the zodiac, within the same sign and/or house. This makes the planets involved act in concert with one another, becoming a very powerful influence. The influence is strongest if they are also conjunct.”
A superconjunction is similar to a stellium but consists of only three slow-moving planets They occur “in rare intervals lasting several years when three of the four slower-moving planets—Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto—are within about an 8-10 range° of one another. The only one in our lifetime occurred in 1988-89, a superconjunction of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in Capricorn. … People born with superconjunctions made up of three of the outermost planets are a special case. These combinations are extremely uncommon from a historical perspective—there can be centuries between them—yet they represent major personal obstacles and opportunities in the lives of millions of people born all around the globe with that combination.”
An example of a superconjunction of Pluto, Saturn and Uranus in Virgo can be seen in my post about the chart of the sadistic missionary Junipero Serra who enslaved and maltreated the native Americans of California and brutally forced them to adopt Christianity.
Donna provides several fascinating case examples. For me the most interesting was the comparison of the charts of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr, who share a Pluto/Uranus/Mars conjunction and have almost identical angles (ASC and MC) but whose lives have evolved with distinct differences.
Donna’s book contains worksheets for evaluating the strength of each planet in a stellium and explains how to judge the order and importance of each planet’s role as the stellium is triggered by transits and progressions. It is written with beginners in mind but contains much valuable information which will appeal to experienced astrologers.
Donna has a Master’s Degree in social work and many decades of experience as a professional astrologer. Her knowledge and experience in dealing with clients shines through on every page. One can see her social work background in her statement explaining one of her main motivations for writing the book:
“The young people born during the winter months of 1988-89 may have as many as 7 planets total in Capricorn. The transiting Pluto and Uranus square is setting off their natal planets in the middle degrees of Capricorn. Many of them are struggling during this critical life stage of emerging into adulthood, and they could benefit greatly from the insights astrology can provide. In addition to the many self-help features, the book devotes a special chapter to them.”
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this text and learned a lot by reading through it. I will never look at stelliums the same way again.