Synastry is the art of comparing the astrological birth charts of two or more people for insight into their relationship with a particular eye toward complimentary strengths, personality compatibility, and possible source and themes of conflict or contention. Most people today are probably familiar with the idea of whether two people’s Sun signs are compatible as popularized within the media of our superficial, entertainment-oriented, western cultures. However, many people are probably not aware that synastry has been used in horoscopic astrology since its inception in the Hellenistic era, especially for matters of marriage and friendship.
Here I’d like to briefly touch on a few of the bare basics of synastry as found in Dorotheus’s Carmen (1st Century CE), Ptolemy‘s Tetrabiblos (2nd Century CE), and Masha’allah‘s The Book of Aristotle (8th Century CE). An English translation of the Tetrabiblos can be found online here. The interested reader will want to refer to Book IV, Ch. 5, “On Marriage”. The first and only English translation of Masha’allah’s The Book of Aristotle, a mammoth indispensable work covering all aspects of natal delineation, was made by Dr. Ben Dykes in 2009, published with Abu’Ali‘s On the Judgments of Nativities as the first volume of the “Persian Nativities” series which you can purchase here. I’ll be referring to Book 3, Ch. 7, Section 11, “On the concord and esteem of each”. Carmen of Dorotheus can be picked up here.
In order to illustrate the basics I’ll refer lightly, without much in the way of deep analysis, to the charts of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. The charts of both Kurt and Courtney have been Rodden-rated AA for accuracy. Kurt’s chart information is available here and a brief bio of him can be found here. Courtney’s chart information is available here and a brief bio of her can be found here.
Sun, Moon, Venus in Natal Chart
Both Ptolemy and Masha’allah place a premium on the relationships between the Sun, Moon, and Venus, both in the natal chart and between charts. For Ptolemy, the Sun in a woman’s chart is particularly significant for describing a husband and facets of her marriage, and the Moon in a man’s chart for describing the wife and facets of his marriage, so harmony between the Sun and Moon was very important for marriage. Ptolemy does not neatly separate out natal and synastry factors, but rather seems to refer often to both and sometimes to one or the other without much clarification:
Marriages for the most part are lasting when in both the genitures the luminaries happen to be in harmonious aspect, that is, in trine or in sextile with one another, and particularly when this comes about by exchange; and even more when the husband’s moon is in such aspect with the wife’s sun. Divorces on slight pretexts and complete alienations occur when the aforesaid positions of the luminaries are in disjunct signs, or in opposition or in quartile. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, Book IV, Ch. 5, Robbins trans., 1940, p. 184-185)
The idea that I’ve taken away from this discussion by Ptolemy is that harmony between the Sun and Moon in a natal chart is symbolic of harmony between the primary powerful creative partnership. Perhaps co-presence, trines, and sextiles are symbolic of a natural harmony between two partners, sexes, or gender roles, a sense that the partners should get together in deepening bonds, while squares and oppositions draw out a symbolism of inherent tension and conflict between the same, and aversion between the lights symbolizing a detachment between them.
My sense is that this consideration of harmony between the luminaries is more important in synastry than the natal chart, but Ptolemy does imply that it is a sign of the strength of union in a more general individual sense through the natal chart as well. It should be noted that this is one minor factor among many factors that pertain to the general strength of one’s marriage bonds and the lure of relationships that can be found in a natal chart.
Looking at this consideration in the charts of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain we’d conclude, with Courtney’s Sun and Moon co-present in Cancer, and Kurt’s Sun-Moon trine across Pisces and Cancer, that there is a symbolism of partners sticking together and deepening bonds, a harmony and glue between the sexes, gender roles, or partners. For Kurt, particularly, with his Sun-Moon trine, this appears to have been symbolic of his desire for a lasting long-term traditional relationship, and his immense upset and disappointment in his parents for failing to uphold such a relationship in his own life.
Masha’allah, following Dorotheus, also stressed the relationship between the Moon and Venus in the natal chart, noting that “the traversal of Venus and the Moon in the same sign denotes the insoluable concord of the conjugal agreement” (Masha’allah, The Book of Aristotle, Book III, Ch. 7.11, Dykes trans., 2009, p. 149). He goes on to discuss Moon-Venus connections in synastry, following Dorotheus who noted in Book II, Ch. 5 of Carmen, “Similarly [does it happen] if you find that wherever is the Venus of one of the two [marriage partners], there is the Moon of the other, especially if the Moon of one of the two is in trine with the Moon of the other” (Pingree trans., 2005, p. 206). Therefore, regards between the Moon and Venus are important, and especially their co-presence in the same sign. The strength of the Moon-Venus relationship is perhaps symbolic of personal and emotional investment in love (and in many authors, such as Firmicus Maternus, it can show heightened investment in sexual activity, especially when the Moon has just separated from or is just applying to Venus).
Where Sun and Moon may show partnership in a more idealistic, general, abstract form (i.e. along the lines of husband and wife), this is perhaps showing the craving for maintaining intimacy with others. In some authors strong Moon-Venus connections (together with other factors) also come up in relation to incest, such as with a mother, again playing off of the theme of personal life, nurture, familiarity, and even emotional fulfillment (Moon) being linked with love, beauty, and sexuality (Venus). It is certainly common knowledge that relationship bonds can be shaken by a lack of sexual intimacy and affectionate personal space, so perhaps Masha’allah’s stress on Moon-Venus connections for strength of bond pertains to this sense.
In terms of the Moon and Venus, they are in aversion (disregard each other) in Courtney Love’s chart and in trine (powerful harmony) in Kurt Cobain’s chart. This could symbolize that it is more natural for Kurt that intimate familiarity go hand-in-hand with sexuality and affection, while for Courtney they may be more disconnected facets of life. Again, like Sun-Moon in a natal chart, Moon-Venus is one of several factors pertaining to strength of bond, durability of marriage, and such that are mentioned in connection with delineating marriage in one person’s natal chart, and the indications given by these couple factors alone should be examined in light of such other factors.
The regards of benefics and malefics (as well as house placement and other factors) are important when examining any factor and are discussed in the literature. For instance, that Saturn, the out of sect malefic in Kurt’s chart, is with the Sun and Venus (strongly conjunct Venus), may be indicative of weight, isolation, and melancholy in relationships, as well as the sorrow of the “husband” in the relationship, as opposed to the idealized “wife” shown through Moon with Jupiter. Courtney’s own Mars with Venus may be indicative of things getting heated surrounding love and sexuality, possibly in many ways, including contentions or “battles” over such matters.
Sun, Moon, Venus, and the Angles in Synastry
While there are many ways to delineate aspects of marriage and love from the natal chart, I’ve mentioned the ones above because they are used by Ptolemy and Masha’allah as springboards into looking at those same connections across charts. In other words, intense and harmonious connections between the Lights (especially the man’s Moon and woman’s Sun) and between Moon and Venus across charts is indicative of strong basic ties between partners (while squares, oppositions, and aversions are indicative of problems). Additionally, the “stakes” (1st, 10th, 7th, and 4th places, also known as “angles” or “pivots”) of the charts become very important, as having the same angles, or having the above mentioned planets in each other’s angles also increases the bond, as indicated in the following quotes from Dorotheus, and from Masha’allah (who is drawing on Dorotheus):
The man is suitable for the woman and the woman for the man if the ascendent[s] of these two are the same cardine. If the two luminaries or one of the two is in the ascendent or midheaven, then also it is suitable. (Dorotheus, Carmen Astrologicum, Book II, Ch. 5, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 205)
Which if each Sun, under the birthdays of both, would be lingering in the same sign and in a pivot, it promises [the same]. (Masha’allah, The Book of Aristotle, Book III, Ch. 7.11, Dykes trans., 2009, p. 149)
Additionally, all three authors, Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Masha’allah stress the role of malefic planets (i.e. Saturn and Mars) in splitting up the relationship, particularly when a malefic in one person’s chart is with (i.e. co-present) one of the Lights in the partner’s chart. The timing would seem to coincide with an activation of the malefic that is making the connection. By contrast, benefics co-present with the Lights or regarding them harmoniously increase the stability of marriage or can reunite partners when other problems such as hard connections between the Lights are indicated.
Let’s look at the synastry of Kurt and Courtney to illustrate. I have a chart pictured which has Courtney’s chart on the inside with Kurt’s planetary and angular positions marked on the outside. Some of the more positive configurations for their relationships are marked out with blue, while the more problematic configurations are marked out with red.
Angles: Kurt has Virgo rising and Courtney has Libra rising, and since these are adjacent signs which are in aversion this is not a strong connection between their Ascendants. However, it should be noted that the signs Libra and Virgo are contra-antiscia to each other which lends an affinity between the two signs (see my post on antiscia and contra-antiscia for more on this).
Lights: The Lights (Sun and Moon) reveal a very powerful connection between the two of them, particularly in that his Moon is conjunct her Sun, in Cancer, which is the midheaven of her chart (one of the “stakes”). Additionally, both have their Suns trine each other, and his Moon-Jupiter with her Sun-Moon is an extremely powerful positive connection.
However, there is a very difficult configuration in the chart also, shown by her Saturn in Pisces, which is the place of both his Sun and his Venus. In fact, her Saturn is in close conjunction with his Sun and this Saturn draws out his own Saturn-Venus conjunction in the same place in his natal chart. This Saturn is definitely the most difficult factor in their synastry.
Venus: Venus in one chart is square to Venus in the other. The squares between Venus are not necessarily indicative of problems, and may in fact show more passion and a stronger love connection than if they were in aversion. Additionally, Courtney’s Venus is in Kurt’s midheaven (a “stake” of his chart), so it has an intense attractive impact on him. However, both have Venus conjunct a malefic, Saturn in Kurt’s case and Mars in Courtney’s, so Venus in each chart is also afflicted by the malefic conjunct each other’s Venus, and Mars joins Venus on Kurt’s midheaven, fostering conflicts.
Kurt’s Death: Shortly after Kurt’s last solar return in February of 1994 his behavior began to spiral out of control, often involving relationship matters with Love. In February of 1994 Saturn had just entered Pisces, being at 2 Pisces at the time of Kurt’s last solar, two degrees from Courtney’s own Saturn, within a degree of both Kurt’s Sun and solar return Mercury (ruler of Kurt’s Ascendant), as well as with solar return Venus, reinforcing the natal configuration of Sun, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury in Pisces. The most potent symbolism of Sun-Saturn, as touched on in the post on the death of Ilya Zhitomirskiy (who also committed suicide shortly after a solar return with a tight Sun-Saturn conjunction) and the recent post on Whitney Houston, is loss of the vital heat and spirit, i.e. death.
I am not implying that Courtney directly had anything to do with Kurt’s death, but it is interesting that conflicts in their relationship intensified at the end, as soon as Saturn came into Pisces activating that synastry, and that his self-inflicted death, which ended their relationship, be so clearly symbolized in the chart. Kurt’s death occurred on April 5, 1994 with Saturn at 7 Pisces, as Courtney Love was going through her Saturn return. Transiting Mars had also entered Pisces and was conjunct transiting Mercury, just a couple degrees from Kurt’s Venus, at the time of the suicide.
Masha’allah, & al-Khayyat, A. ’Ali. (2009). Persian Nativities I: Masha’allah and Abu ’Ali. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html
Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.
Featured image for this article is courtesy of Kate Petty.