Additional Notes on Polarity and the Trigons

Astrologers know that polarity and the trigons are inseparably linked. We can’t fully understand one concept without the other. There are several cross-cultural approaches that may add to our understanding of sidereal polarity and the trigons which can tie together into a cohesive sign theory: (1) modern psychological research, (2) Indian cosmology, (3) Polarity in the I Ching (4) Hellenistic triplicity lords and (5) Aristotle’s four qualities of hot, cold, wet and dry.

Polarity and Modern Psychological Research

I’ve discussed the modern research findings on the behavior patterns of men and women in articles on this site as related to sidereal signs: The Lost Zodiac, Parts 1-3. The concepts of male and female are different than the usual astrological understanding of the energy of these two polarities.

Indian Cosmology

In relation to polarity, we have a general understanding in cosmology as taught in Indian scriptures: In a nutshell, Indian spiritual philosophy teaches that Spirit beyond creation (categorized as "male," for the sake of astrological symbolism) is unmanifest in the created universe. All of creation (nature)—is manifested through Spirit’s manifested consort, Divine Mother. Thus, the created ever-changing, restless, evolving universe comes only through a feminine channel. Thus, traits such as autonomy and self-containment can be symbolically understood as male while linking to active energy outside ourselves is female. This agrees with modern psychological findings on men and women.

Polarity in the I Ching

Polarity in the I Ching (Book of Changes) isn’t exactly similar to the usual western understanding of the Chinese Yin and Yang. An excellent explanation of male and female energy can be found in the Richard Wilhelm translation of the I Ching. (Pantheon books, 1964) Wilhelm points out that the terms Yin and Yang (sometimes used by tropical astrologers in relation to sign polarity) don’t occur in the older editions of the I Ching either in the text or in the commentaries. Rather the terms used were “the firm” and “the yielding.” (p. xxxvii)

The text then points out that the essence of Hexagram 1 “The Creative” (six solid lines) is power or energy: “In relation to the human world, it denotes the creative action of the holy man or sage, of the ruler or leader of men, who through his power awakens and envelopes their higher nature.” (p. 1)

“In relation to the human sphere, this shows how the great man brings peace and security to the world through his activity in creating order...” (p. 3)

The Image:
The movement of heaven is full of power.
Thus the superior man makes himself strong and untiring. (p. 5)

There’s nothing in this symbolism that suggests introversion, but rather as in Indian cosmology, there is a sense of power and the spiritual. Positively used this type of energy can result in a spiritual master or a great artist or musician. In the psychological sense, the image suggests firmness and constancy. There’s also a sense of acting as a guide and caretaker for humanity. Negatively used—the powerful energy having no constructive creative escape—we can find neurosis or destructive behavior.

Hexagram 2: “The Receptive” (six broken lines)
This hexagram represents Nature (India’s Divine Mother) in contrast to Spirit.

“ applied to human affairs, the principle of this complementary relationship is found not only in the relation between man and woman, but also in that between prince and minister and between father and son. Indeed, even in the individual this duality appears in the coexistence of the spiritual world and the world of the senses. (pp. 9-10)

“Applied to human affairs...what the hexagram indicates is action in conformity with the situation. The person in question isn’t in an independent position, but is acting as an assistant. This means that he must achieve something...since there is something to be accomplished, we need friends and helpers in the hour of toil and effort...(p. 11)

The Image:
The earth’s condition is receptive devotion.
Thus the superior man who has breadth of character
Carries the outer world. (p. 12)

“In the same way the superior man gives to his character breadth, purity and sustaining power, so that he is able both to support and to bear with people and things.” (p. 12)

A prominent concept of this hexagram is the the need to cooperate and interact with forces outside oneself—complementary relationships, the need for friends and helpers. “Carries the outer world” and “ that he is able to support and to bear with people and things” are especially apt for astrology.

Astrologically we find the planet of the earth or feminine, the Moon, at home in one sign of feminine polarity (Cancer) and exalted in another (Taurus). Venus, the other feminine planet, has its domicile in Taurus and is exalted in feminine Pisces. This suggests that the feminine signs are the networking and social signs of the zodiac just as social scientists have shown women to be.

Hellenistic Triplicity Lords and the Trigons

The revival of Classical Astrology has meant a re-discovery of Hellenistic triplicity lords. Various planets were given day and night rulership over each trigon of signs; these lords were used in various ways when interpreting horoscopes. These planets can give us further keys to the characteristics of the three signs in each trigon:

Aries, Leo, Sagittarius: triplicity lords Sun (the most diurnal) by day, Jupiter by night; The Sun is exalted in Aries while Sagittarius is Jupiter’s primary domicile.

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn: triplicity lords Venus by day, the Moon (nocturnal) by night; The Moon is exalted in Taurus, and Taurus is the domicile of Venus

Gemini, Libra, Aquarius: triplicity lords Saturn by day and Mercury by night; Saturn has its domicile in Aquarius and is exalted in Libra; Mercury’s domicile is Gemini.

Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces: triplicity lord Mars by day and night according to Ptolemy’s scheme; (Some add Venus and the Moon.) Scorpio is the domicile of Mars, a planet that was considered to be nocturnal. With the addition of Venus and the Moon by other authors, Cancer is the domicile of the Moon, and Venus is exalted in Pisces.

(For more complete details on diurnal and nocturnal rulership, please see Rob Hand’s notes on trigon assignments in the Robert Schmidt’s translation of Tetrabiblos, Book 1, Golden Hind Press, 1994, p. 36.)

So there is a clear assignment of male planets to the Aries trigon and female or nocturnal planets to the Taurus and Cancer trigons while the Gemini trigon was given mixed rulerships—Saturn was considered to be male while Mercury was variable.

Aristotle’s Four Qualities

Although it’s become common, it’s confusing to give the sidereal trigons the same labels as the tropical triplicities—fire, earth, air and water. Robert Hand and Robert Schmidt have noted that according to Ptolemy even in the tropical zodiac these labels are mistakingly applied to the trigons. A note by Robert Hand in Robert Schmidt’s translation of Tetrabiblos, Book 1 reminds us that in relation to the planets Ptolemy doesn’t refer to the four elements but instead emphasizes the four qualities: hot, cold, wet and dry. Robert Hand writes:

"Unfortunately, later astrologers consistently converted Ptolemy's “wet” to “water”, “cold” to “earth”, “hot” to “fire” and “dry” to “air”. The problem is that according to Aristotelian philosophy Water = Cold and Wet, Earth = Cold and Dry, Fire = Hot and Dry and Air = Hot and Wet. Or if one uses the Stoic system of elements, one gets Water = Wet, Earth = Dry, Fire = Hot and Air=Cold. What astrologers did was correct according to neither system of elements." (Tetrabiblos, Book 1, Golden Hind Press, p. 16)

Perhaps we can make a more accurate complement in the sidereal zodiac by aligning the trigons with the four qualities—hot, cold, wet and dry. In another note in Schmidt’s Tetrabiblos translation Robert Hand writes:

"The text does appear to be saying that Hot = Masculine, Wet = Feminine, Dry = Masculine, Cold = Feminine. If Ptolemy is completely in accord with standard Aristotelianism in which Hot and Cold are both active whereas Wet and Dry are both passive, then Ptolemy here classifies Hot = Active & Masculine, Cold = Active & Feminine, Wet = Passive & Feminine and Dry = Passive and Masculine. If this analysis is correct it has all manner of interesting symbolic consequences for astrology." (Ibid, p. 17)

Note: If it isn’t obvious from the foregoing quote, in Aristotle’s element scheme, fire and water are opposites as are air and earth. But astrology has placed fire opposite air and earth opposite water, so there is no agreement with Aristotle. Assuming for the moment that Robert Hand’s comments are correct, I’ve expanded Aristotle’s four qualities and theory to the sidereal zodiac. I am very far from being a scholar of Greek philosophy, but have collected quotes from various sources, mainly from the internet:

Wet and Dry
Aristotle’s “Dry” is said to be algebraic, object oriented, solid, rigid, clear, enhances distinctions; we might realte these qualities to the rational mind.

Aristotle’s “Wet” is spatial, geometric, liquid, able to assume the shape of the container, fluid, formless, ambiguous, blurs distinctions, "irrational" according to Aristotle.

Male and Female
Reflecting the society in which he lived, Aristotle elevated the rational over the passionate or emotional. He discussed gender especially in the History of Animals. Aristotle observed the female to be softer in character, more easily moved to tears, more compassionate, but also more jealous and quarrelsome. (That is, the female displays emotion!) Aristotle respected the male characteristics of courage and rationality over emotional attributes which he considered to be inferior.

Active and Passive
Aristotle’s “active” and “passive” don’t resemble our contemporary understanding of those terms. Instead, they are related to functions of intellect. Commentators have disagreed for centuries on exactly how Aristotle defined the active and passive intellects. One understanding is that the active intellect relates to a fixed and stable set of concepts, a link to a universal mainframe, so to speak—the mind of the universe which would be similar for everyone. The passive has been said to relate to matter or the world of forms; the body. The passive intellect would relate to computer data files, but not the hard drive itself.

There is the suggestion that the active intellect is linked to the immortality of the soul, a universal constant. One commentator used the words "immutable mover," a link to Divine substance. A modern commentary states: “The active more properly called the Agent Intellect, as it is the force...causing thoughts to pass from the potential to the actual. (Absolute

So, however commentators and students of Aristotle wish to understand the “active” intellect, the general idea is that it’s more central and universal than the passive. The passive is external to the active, and seems to be related more to the external world.

The Triplicities and Four Qualities

Much has been written and observed about the tropical triplicities. There is nothing comparable in sidereal or Jyotish literature. For the sidereal astrologer, the only option is to adjust these descriptions to the preceding signs. Possibly with a better understanding of Aristotle’s four qualities, this can be symbolically accomplished. In the meantime, the paragraphs below are meant as a suggestion for future study, perhaps a symbolic system for sidereal trigons.

(1) HOT: Active and Masculine: If we equate “masculine” with the predominance of mind over feelings, then we can assign Hot to the sidereal Aries trigon. “Active” would suggest more a centering direction than a “going out” beyond the self to collect experience and information (as in data files?).

Aries = the secondary domicile of Mars and the exaltation of the Sun (hot)
Leo = house of the Sun (hot)
Sagittarius = house of Jupiter (Jupiter is said to be hot and moist)
(Triplicity lords: Sun and Jupiter)

Sidereally this trigon would be one hundred percent masculine in rulership and energy. (Remembering that “masculine” here is a different concept than the popular tropical understanding of the word, and refers in part to solar qualities assigned to Tropical earth—direct, constant, self-motivating, relies on own perceptions, able to use will power to manifest events; literal: “What I see with my eyes is the way things are.”

(2) COLD: Active and Feminine, symbolically is placed opposite Hot: Feminine = Of the feelings. This is the Gemini trigon. “Active” directs the attention within to the universal mainframe.

Libra = exaltation of Saturn (cold)
Libra = domicile of Venus (cold and wet [moist])
Aquarius = house of Saturn (cold)
(Triplicity lords: Saturn and Mercury)

This trigon is masculine in the sense that it’s internal and trusts its own perceptions (the centering function), but feminine in that: It can sense undercurrents, and perception and experience have a feeling or intuitive base. These traits belong to Tropical Water.

An interesting footnote to this trigon is that in Vettius Valens' Anthology as translated by Robert Schmidt, the Gemini trigon is noted to be Masculine, but also noted as "effeminate" (possessing feminine characteristics). It's doubtful that Valens was suggesting that males with female traits were born in this trigon more than others! Valens doesn't use that word (as translated by Schmidt) in relation to any other zodiac signs. Unless Valens was thinking of Aristotle's Cold (active and feminine), it's difficult to imagine why "effeminate" would be listed as a characteristic of Gemini, Libra and Aquarius. At any rate, we can only speculate on this odd addition to the Gemini trigon in the Valens text. (The Anthology, Book 1, The Golden Hind Press, 1993, pp. 10-15)

(3) WET: Passive and Feminine: “Passive” suggests a looking to the world outside oneself for stimulation and verification of one’s feelings (the outer location of 'data files.') Feminine equates to “of the feelings.”

Cancer = exaltation of Jupiter (hot and wet)
Scorpio = domicile of Mars (Mars is nocturnal; Ibn Ezra classifies Mars as feminine.)
Pisces = exaltation of Venus (wet/moist)
Triplicity lords: Mars (nocturnal) (Others add Venus and the Moon.)

An interesting note on Mars as a primary triplicity lord is that in the tropical zodiac this trigon (fire) is defined as “fiery,” active and spontaneous. Fellow triplicity lords, Venus and the Moon are emotional planets. Aristotle termed wet “irrational.” Tropical Fire traits: unstable, changing, loves freedom, active and dynamic emotions, needs involvement outside the self. According to Aristotle, tropical fire’s traits are emotional rather than rational.

(4) DRY: Passive and Masculine: that is, open to outside influence (passive) and mind predominant over feeling (masculine). Since Dry is opposite Wet, this would be the sidereal Taurus trigon.

Capricorn = domicile of Saturn (dry as well as cold)
Capricorn = Exaltation of Mars (dry and hot)
Virgo = Domicile and exaltation of Mercury (Mercury partakes of both dry and wet according to Ptolemy)
Triplicity lords: The Moon and Venus (These represent the social and interactive qualities of this trigon, but don’t align with the mental qualities of dryness.)

Supporting note: How often have excessively mental people been called “dry?”
Tropical Air traits: abstract, logical, social, not emotionally intimate

Tropical Correlations

A little contemplation shows that the assignment of Aristotle’s qualities to the tropical triplicities turns into a brain twister:

FIRE: Hot signs (active, masculine) Aries, Leo, Sagittarius are opposite
AIR: Cold signs (active, feminine) Gemini, Libra, Aquarius; Feminine relates to feelings, but tropical Air is abstract and logical; that is, this trigon operates as “male.” Tropical Fire (Hot) is an emotional trigon and operates as “female,” but is tropically assigned to male signs.

EARTH: Dry signs (passive, masculine) Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn can be called masculine in the sense that they aren’t emotional, but tropical astrology calls these female signs; The Dry (earth) trigon is opposite WATER: Wet signs (passive, feminine) Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces. Tropical traits can be correlated with “Wet” as these signs have been called feminine in that they operate from feelings. But these signs aren’t “passive” in Aristotle’s sense.

Therese Hamilton
3 March 2009
© 2009 East-West Publishing

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