It seems like a perfectly obvious question, but it’s one that most astrologers seldom think to ask, not least, I suspect, because there are certain unquestioned assumptions in astrology as much as in any other field of study: and thus a square is simply a square because it’s a square!
This logic has always troubled me, most especially because it is based upon no logic whatever. Rather it is a received wisdom whose underlying tenets appear too fundamental to challenge. Such is dogma, and dogma is rarely useful.
We ought to always understand the raison d’être of these first principles, even if only to prove their veracity. I have explored a few understandings about the mechanics of aspects, mostly they are based upon divisions of the circle and fundamentals of numerology (although that to me seems a little chicken and egg: which came first, numerology or the division of the ecliptic?) There seems little doubt in my thinking when I have pondered the reality of aspects however: it is mostly derived from the nature of the signs themselves, modified by proximity to an equal division of the sphere.
Why should this be? A Sun and Moon blend does not need to be in Ptolemaic opposition for it to manifest the tendency to awkwardness – most especially in interaction with others – that is the hallmark of a full moon birth so long as the signs are opposite. Mars in Aries will not sit comfortably in the broad apprehension of life while Venus is in Capricorn, even if the two are not squared. The orb creates immediacy, not reality. Both Venus and Mars must be expressed somehow, and they are not compatible in these signs, so whilst they cannot (as tradition would have it) “see each other” by aspect, they certainly will not be mutually supporting as they would if both were in fire and out of orb of the trine.
To a large extent, it is entirely academic to even think in this specific way, but it ought to be obvious that regardless of aspect a planet in flighty, cursory Gemini will not mix comfortably with a planet in detail-focused, thorough Virgo; the two signs have little in common (and therein lies the challenge of the square).
So, the intrinsic nature of the signs is the keystone of aspect analysis regardless of orb or anything else. Orbs in themselves are of course important, and the closer two powers are configured, the more unquestioned and innate an aspect is likely to appear, most especially in subjective terms. That is to say that a square of less than 2 degrees of arc is very often a blind spot for the native, whereas a wider square will likely be a condition of which they have more awareness. Tight aspects are innate and unquestioned, loose ones are less integrated and impinge more upon consciousness as a result.
All of which really begs the question (and it’s a good one): what about out of sign aspects? At this juncture, it might be useful to consider an example:
Maurizio Gucci, one time head of the world famous Italian fashion house evinced an out of sign square between Sun in Libra and Moon in Gemini, with a separation of just 3°06′. Classically, a Sun – Moon square represents inner discontent due to the instincts being incompatible with the ideal self, but in an out-of-sign square such as this, the intrinsic nature of Gemini and Libra is inherently complementary, so the tension of the square would not in any way have been so evident as with Cancer and Libra (emotional and nonchalant) or Gemini and Virgo (easy-going and particular), instead with this combination we have a nonchalant and easy-going admixture: and yet the two are squared.
Bill Tierney, in the excellent Dynamics of Aspect Analysis (which I no longer own, although did until very recently) discusses this exact phenomenon, (unfortunately I cannot quote directly) and his conclusion suggests that aspects out of sign are fundamentally altered in quality and not nearly so compulsive. Thus, they appear to assume something of the quality of a wider-arc aspect.
Gucci however, did evince one of the more classic tensions of a Sun – Moon square: namely marital tension, and that writ very large. Shortly after selling his stake in the family empire for $170 million, he was gunned down by a contract killer hired by his wife. Other insights support this potential: Venus conjunct Pluto (fanatic love) in the 2nd house of wealth, peregrine Neptune in Libra and the 4th suggests powerfully confused home conditions whereas the Mars – Pluto square across those most uncompromising and remorseless of potentials: Scorpio to Leo is never going to be easy to reconcile.
Gucci’s wife was notoriously narcissitic, she once said “I’d rather cry in a Rolls Royce than laugh on a bicycle,” and it was after her husband determined to divorce her that she hatched her evil plot.
For Maurizio though, the ruler of the 8th is Uranus (thus sudden, unexpected) and conjunct Moon (the wife), which tells something of the end of things, but even more pertinent is the midpoint picture of Ur=Ma/Pl. The Mars – Pluto square across the fixed Leo – Scorpio potential is already powerfully forceful and difficult, and with Uranus at the midpoint at less than a minute of arc the interpretation becomes especially intriguing: cruelty, violence, brutality – sudden disasters or calamities of great consequence. In medical astrology, the midpoint of the tightest square: especially one involving Pluto is nearly always profoundly telling.
Of course, it works both ways, a trine that is out of sign is not nearly so innate and accessible as one that is in its element, so more effort is required to facilitate the easy exchange of energy normally associated with the aspect as might be expected with two planets in mutually incompatible signs.
For the astrologer, it makes interpretation somewhat difficult, because there is a contradictory influence at work in out of sign aspects. The out of sign opposition has something of the quincunx to consider, thus a tendency to dissatisfaction that perhaps alters the quality of the traditional opposition. The square might be eased, the trine weakened, of the major aspects, only the conjunction might be considered assisted by the tendency to the semi-sextile, although it without doubt lessens the intimacy and innateness of the usual blend.