Looking at declinations in the natal chart is slowly gaining ground in the astrological community. Magi astrologers work extensively with these measurements and have re-introduced astrologers to this ancient chart-reading method.
Declinations are not meant to replace the longitudinal form of planets listed in the astrological chart but is a method that can be used in conjunction.
When used in conjunction with traditional zodiac chart reading, it gives you a well-rounded interpretation of the native and lets you zero in on important themes in the chart. It is also an amazing to tool to use in synastry.
The declination of a planet is its distance north or south of the celestial equator, measured in degrees in latitude. Refer to illustration below.
In the northern hemisphere, the Tropic of Cancer is at 23 N 26. The Sun reaches this point at 0˚ Cancer on the summer solstice. It then retraces its journey back to the equator to 0˚ Libra at the autumnal equinox. The journey of the Sun continues in the southern hemisphere and is reflected back in similar fashion. The Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn at 23 S 26 at 0˚Capricorn at the winter solstice. It then continues to make its journey back to 0˚ Aries during the vernal equinox.
Of special note, the Sun can never go beyond 23 S 26 or 23 N 26. However, other planets in the chart can. When they do, they are referred to as an out-of-bound planet. An out-of bound-planet is a wild card. It behaves outside the box and it represents a more concentrated energy of that planet. It can be a genius, outlaw or a naughty, petulant child.
Some famous people with out-of-bound planets in declinations are; Babe Ruth, Kurt Cobain Louis Pasteur, Ram Dass, Oprah Winfrey, Al Gore, Peter Gabriel, Albert Einstein, Roman Polanski, Augusto Pinochet, John Wilkes Booth, Jimmy Hoffa, Catherine The Great, Annie Oakley, Davy Crockett, Leonard Nimoy, Amelia Earhart, Giovanni Casanova, Yoko Ono, Elvis Presley, Donald Trump, Mark David Chapman, Cher, Liberace and Wolfgang Mozart.
What the folks from the list above have in common is that they do not fit into the cookie cutter mold. They march to the beat of their own drummer. They make the rules. They don’t follow them.
To get a sense of how declinations can be used in astrology, I will take the chart of Tibetan Buddhist nun and author, Pema Chodron. Pema Chodron has become a leading voice for the feminist Buddhist movement in the west.
One of the things that has made Pema Chodron so endearing to her followers, is that she is a very relatable and humorous recanteur. She very openly admits to her struggles with the darker and lower emotions in her life. She has detailed the obstacles she has endured in her best-selling books. Ms. Chodron will be celebrating her 80th birthday this upcoming month.
Pema Chodron was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in New York City, NewYork on July 14, 1936. I do not have a birth time for her.
Pema led the life of a householder before she became a nun. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s in elementary education from the University of California, Berkeley in the 60s. She has been married twice and has two adult children. She was the first American woman to be ordained as a nun in the Vajrayana tradition.
Pema has her Sun, Venus, Pluto, Mars and Mercury in sweet, emotional, watery Cancer. That is one massive, power-house stellium in the sign of the crab. Since I do not have her birth time I do not know which house this impressive group of planets falls in. Her Saturn in Pisces is making a gorgeous trine to her personal planets in Cancer giving her strength, endurance and stability.
This looks very reminiscent of the chart of another famous Buddhist, his holiness the Dalai Lama. These two could be astrological twins except the Dalai Lama was born the year before and has a lovely water grand trine in his chart. Pema does not.
Both the Dalai Lama and Pema have the ability to channel an enormous amount of empathy and compassion as a result of the trine from Saturn to the planets in Cancer.
Unlike the Dalai Lama’s chart, Pema’s chart has a bucket pattern. The handle of the bucket is Jupiter in Sagittarius. Jupiter is the strongest planet in her chart because it is in the sign of its rulership but it is also the handle of the bucket. It is the boss and tells everybody else what to do. Jupiter in Sagittarius wants to find out the meaning of life and why we are here. Every other planet in her chart has to listen to Jupiter.
My favourite Pema Chodron story is the one she told Oprah of why she became a Buddhist nun. Up until her mid thirties, Pema was a housewife, on her second marriage and a mother of two. All wonderfully, Cancerian traits. One day, while she was sipping a cup of tea, her husband came home and announced he was having an affair. He wanted a divorce. At that moment Pema became totally unhinged and lost it. In her words, her world fell apart. The rug was taken out from underneath her. She admits that the rage she felt was so unsettling to her and she did not know what to do with it. It was so alien to her.
We see her stellium in Cancer and can understand why she struggled with her overwhelming emotions. Her whole identity of wife, mother and femininity was toppled by the dissolution of her marriage. Mars in Cancer is in its fall which means it does not work optimally. It does not want to let the rage out. It wants to retreat back into its shell and lick its wounds. It wants to bottle it up but we have Pluto in the mix. With Pluto that is not an option. Pluto is explosive. The flood gates opened.
Inconjuncting her Cancerian planets is Jupiter in Sagittarius. Philosophical Jupiter was questioning why her anger was so raw. Why did she feel so annihilated by her divorce? Jupiter was the planet that led to her quest to find out. She sought out many therapies during this confusing period in her life. Planetary transits in the early to mid 70s meant that both Pluto and Uranus were making a square to her natal Cancer planets. Her quest ended when she found an article written by Trungpa Rinpoche about using negativity constructively. That, by her admission, was her saving grace.
She became a Buddhist nun so she could explore the constructive use of negativity and transcend it.
If we delineate Pema Chodron’s chart using traditional astrology, we find that an inconjunct is a stressful aspect. It creates havoc in the native’s life without resolution. In Pema’s chart her Jupiter is inconjunct to her planets in Cancer causing her a great deal of strife or so traditional astrology says. Yet, in her darkest hour, that Jupiter came to her rescue.
Declinations are wonderfully simple and really shed light on situations such as these. There are only two aspects, parallel or contra-parallel. That is it. The orb of aspect I use is 1-1.5 degrees. The interpretation of planetary aspects is like natal chart astrology. Easy enough?
If you are curious about your planetary declinations, I recommend that you go to astro.com. You can enter your natal information as you would do for any chart. Make sure you select the circular chart option from the menu. Once the chart has been generated, there is a link at the top left-hand corner with the words, Additional tables (PDF). Click on it to open the link. A table with your declinations will be provided on the right-hand column.
Using declinations in conjunction with Pema Chodron’s chart, we see a clearer picture. By declinations we see that Pema’s Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Pluto are all in a very tight conjunction or parallel of each other within 1.5 degrees. Jupiter is cooperating beautifully in declination, not fighting the other planets.
I am sure some of you are saying, “Wait a minute you don’t know what time she was born at? You don’t know where her Moon is.” This is true but the Moon does not move more than a degree per day in declinations so her Moon will still be conjuncting her planets, regardless at what time she was born at. We see the emotional, nuturing theme reinforced with the Moon in the mix of her parallel planets but we also see a Mars that is out-of-bounds at 23 N 41.
Her Mars is at 23 N 41 which is past the Sun. Her trickster out-of-bounds Mars was the root of her meltdown. You could not see that in a normal natal chart.
Pema Chodron also has her Sun parallel her Venus and Jupiter by declination. The Sun/Venus conjunction was in her natal chart but we see the same theme reinforced by declination courtesy of the Jupiter parallel. She projects a loving, warmth and kindness in her demeanour.
I wish Ms. Chodron a happy 80th birthday and many more to come. She has been an inspiration to many women for daring to choose an unconventional path but always leading by example honouring peace and love.
The interesting thing about declinations is that transits also work with the planets in your chart and can unearth powerful times in your life.
I will be following up with part two of this series which will centre around the use of declinations in synastry so stay tuned.