Get Familiar with the Basics
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 8, 2022
I bought this book because I had seen a reference to it by another astrologer in her article on the Internet, though there was little to inform me that it was more useful than anything that I already owned. Nevertheless I decided to buy it. I was only mildly disappointed and also a little surprised by its unusual features.
Note: I had to use CAPITAL LETTERS where I wanted use italics because this program does not allow them. Titles of books are in quotation marks for the same reason.
"Aspects in Astrology: A Guide to Understanding Planetary Relationships in the Horoscope" (latest edition 2002; earlier editions 1989, 2001) has 299 pp. and is in three parts: I. The Principles of Aspect Interpretation (for beginners and a good review for students further along in their study and even for practicing astrologers; one can never know the basics well enough), II. A Planetary Cookbook (planet-to-planet discussion, comprising roughly half the book) and III. The Angles (describes the likely effects when planets fall near or on the cusps of houses 1, 4, 7 and 10). The author added sources of data and an index of names and birth data for the charts that she used in the text (although only seven charts were displayed, she referred to other people and events that demonstrated certain aspectual traits in her text), a bibliography of the works by other astrologers that she cited in her text and a short list of astrological organizations that would be of use only to residents of Great Britain.
Upon opening the book the reader really should look through the first part and study some of the material. It is fundamental to the understanding of aspects. Chapter four in that section, “Interpreting Aspects in Practice,” is important and is the teaching of an obviously experienced astrologer. Chapter five, “Qualities, Elements and Signs in Aspect” presents these three rudiments in groupings that I had not seen before; they provide the “roles and costumes” for the planets as they “act” on the “stage” of the various houses of the horoscope. Tompkins’s discussion is unique; only "Planetary Aspects: From Conflict to Cooperation" by Tracy Marks comes close to giving detail this fine. It is worth careful study because it is the foundation of traditional astrological thinking.
Now for the reason why I bought this book and didn’t get what I hoping for. For the intermediate-to-advanced astrologer who wants to get into the depths of another experienced astrologer’s analysis of individual aspects, such as Moon opposite Uranus, Mercury conjunct with Venus, Mars square Pluto and so on, by using the so-called cookbook section to see what she has to say about them he or she will be disappointed because the author gives a lengthy discussion only of the idea of contact between two planets (she mainly uses “contact,” “aspect” and “combination” to describe this relationship), with the exception of sun-moon aspects: conjunction, opposition, square, trine and sextile. A curious nonastrologer with a chart in hand, a beginning astrologer or an advanced astrologer will not find a detailed description of the classical, major aspects (those just mentioned above for sun-moon), which all astrologers use. This manner of presenting aspects is novel because all the other major texts which I know of have always discussed the individual planetary aspects in more or less detail.
To justify this treatment, here’s what she says in chapter four, “Interpreting Aspects in Practice,” p. 63: “Thus in the cookbook section, the individual aspects have not been dealt with, only the planetary combinations, for in my view, in a ‘cookbook’ of this sort which of necessity can only ever make generalisations [sic], such distinctions would become rather contrived. However, this does mean that the reader obviously has to bear in mind the type of aspect under consideration when using the cookbook section, soften the text where trines and sextiles are concerned, and in all cases, bearing in mind that the descriptions of the combinations are REALLY CARICATURES AND OFTEN UGLY DISTORTIONS of what the true-life reality might be about.” [my capitalization] A rather strange and harsh judgement of one’s own work. In the next paragraph she sets forth a sensible though arduous and perhaps unwelcome prescription: “The best way of interpreting an aspect, or indeed any other piece of astrological information, must be to work it out creatively for oneself, through long and careful deliberation. Books of potted interpretations can only ever provide food for thought.” An astute observation. One has to learn to think for oneself once the fundamental principles are firmly grasped, and this takes a long time, yet the “potted interpretations” will get one started in that thinking. Astrology is a complicated subject.
Nevertheless this section is useful for a general understanding of the pairing of the ten planets, from sun to Pluto. In the introduction to each of the paired planets she gives a two- or three-line synopsis. For example, for moon-Mercury she writes: “Common sense. Sympathetic response. Rationalising [sic] feelings. Feeling opinions. Keeping a diary.” Then she launches into a three page discussion in broad summary of how the two planets (moon and sun are called planets in astrological jargon) interact in the various aspects. It is interesting, though not as informative as other texts that give a precise and full account of years worth of an astrologer’s observation of the individual aspects in the charts of those who seek counseling. However, from time to time she cites the chart of a person to illustrate how one of the aspects has manifested for him or her. Chapter thirteen, the last in this same section, is titled “Aspects between the Outer Planets” and takes one-third of a page. These planets are Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Instead of an interpretation of their mutual aspects she ducks and refers the reader to the works of other astrologers, namely Liz Greene, Reinhold Ebertin and Baigent, Campion & Harvey.
One can tell that Sue Tompkins is a British writer, for she employs British usage and spelling: “amongst,” “whilst,” “rather” (Americans like to use “kind of”), “different to” (“different from” is the standard usage), “behavioural,” “the family were,” “pressurised” instead of the American “pressurized” and so on. Her consistent use of “they,” “them,” “themselves” when referring to one person (the person, the individual, the type, someone...) drove me nuts! Is this the British habit in contemporary writing? A ludicrous example of this appears on p. 42: “Imagine an artist trying to paint a self-portrait having never seen THEIR face in a mirror or photograph.” [my capitalization] The face of them? One face on how many bodies? I had to laugh when I read that. Here’s an equally ridiculous example: “It could be said that the person with this configuration has all THEIR eggs in one basket...” [my capitalization] (p. 93) Whose eggs? How many other people have eggs to put into one basket? Her text is studded with this. It’s poor usage, and the secondary pronoun when referring to the same person should be “he” or “she,” or “him” or “her”, not “they,” not “themselves”. To use the third person plural always makes me think of a group of people (which group?). It really is irresponsible and sloppy writing and has caused a reader of many years (me) to realize that “they” and “them” when one person is referred to shifts the responsibility of action to the vague, indefinable collective (isn’t that socialism or communism?). It also is indicative of being sufficiently devious to refer to a person of no gender (a humanoid?), which smacks of the dishonesty and delusion of the sexual revolution (everybody is sexless–or is one of 85 or more sexes–even radical feminists, who were the genesis of this usage). How can a person be a “they”? Is the author being so sensitive to a person’s sexual existence that she won’t even name him or her by the correct pronoun? What’s she afraid of–a book that won’t sell because it uses correct pronouns and doesn’t cater to popular delusion? This is a great flaw in her writing. On p. 163 appears the word forté; apparently she doesn’t know that the French never heard of the word in that form–it’s forte (silent e) when used as the feminine adjective, meaning strong, or forte, which is pronounced fortay (meaning loud; from Italian) without an accent when used as a direction in music. The English word “forte” (silent e), borrowed from French, means one’s strong point, that in which one excels; this is what she means. She also uses “issue” to mean “problem,” “challenge,” “difficulty,” “controversy” and so forth. Everything these days is an issue (your car accident, a quarrel between husband and wife who are your neighbors, someone’s brain tumor, global warming–you have an issue, they had an issue, we have an issue, etc.–nonsense!).
Because of these oddities and others throughout the book the writing has the feel of being notes and carry-over from every-day spoken idiom, which gives the writing a colloquial, chatty or even chummy quality, that Tompkins may have employed for classes or lectures and of material that she had recorded from her reading of her clients’ charts and perhaps conversations with other astrologers and that she later adapted for use in a text book. This familiar style unfortunately contributes to the general looseness and redundancy of expression–too many words to say what could have been said in fewer words. Not bad, but a little disjointed and even jarring at times for a work that ostensibly tries to hammer out and nail down a difficult subject. Moreover, she is indifferent to punctuation, which is inconsistent if not completely chaotic. I also detected several typos: the orb of the semi-square (her spelling) should be 43-47, not “43-45”, because the semisquare itself is an aspect of 45 degrees and is allowed an orb of two degrees on either side (p. 38); “They type” should be “This type” (p.112); “or,” which should be “of” (p. 137); “from,” which should be “to” (p. 138); “Moon-Pluto’s emotional life reminds me a seabird...” should be “reminds me of...” (p. 156; I could say something snide about this...; “by being sent to goal or hospital” should be “by being sent to gaol or hospital” (gaol is the British spelling of “jail”; p. 266); in the bibliography Bil Tierney is spelled with two l’s (one is how Tierney himself spells it) (p. 298). There are others. Furthermore, now and then she uses words in a loose or strange way, and another word would have fit the context better. At times a sentence or phrase is vague and makes little sense. Her use of “configuration” is fuzzy too. That word generally applies not to individual aspects but to planetary formations such as yods, boomerangs, T-squares, grand squares and others that have distinct patterns with several aspects. These are minor flaws to be sure, but they are indicative of fuzzy usage, poor editing and definitely a sign of no proofreading. She is not a careful writer, but that may not be her forte! A good editor and proofreader would have worked wonders for this book; none is mentioned in her acknowledgements.
The third section, on the angles, is quite interesting and a topic that may be overlooked or slighted in chart interpretation. The angles are determined only by an accurate time of birth or noting the time of an event to see what planets were close to them or aspecting them. According to Nicholas Devore “They are the most powerful and important arcs in Astrology.” (Article, “Angles” in "Encyclopedia of Astrology".) The author covers the ascendant-descendant axis, the midheaven (MC) and lowest (point of the) heaven (IC) axis and all the planets when they are on or near these four angles. Planets that conjoin with the angles are powerful; one definitely notices their influence.
Although my astrological library contains Robert Pelletier’s "Planets in Aspect: Understanding Your Inner Dynamics" (1974), Betty Lundsted’s "Astrological Insights into Personality" (1980), Bil Tierney’s "Dynamics of Aspect Analysis: New Perceptions in Astrology" (1983, 2015), Tracy Marks’s "Planetary Aspects: From Conflict to Cooperation" (1987) and venerable Charles E. O. Carter’s "The Astrological Aspects" (1930), I consider myself only a student of astrology and never feel that I have quite enough information to be absolutely certain about a particular aspect. This is not bragging; it is to illustrate that to understand certain aspects, I have needed all the views and findings of others that I can lay my hands on and then blend parts of them for myself. Understanding individual aspects in a chart and then synthesizing them to obtain an integrated view of the person or event is difficult especially when a chart has many aspects. Through time the growth of understanding has wrought a gradual refinement in the delineation of aspects. Tompkins’s work is a helpful contribution to that end in the sense that it is an overview and not a precise analysis of the five major aspects or of the minor aspects between two planets.
I shall make use of this work to benefit from another astrologer’s understanding of the wider range of meaning between two planets when in aspect as I study the charts of people whose aspects I want to know more about. It’s generally a helpful discussion. It warrants four stars.
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