Synastry in Ancient Astrology | Bare Basics with Kurt Cobain & Courtney Love
Synastry is the art of comparing the astrological birth charts of two or more people. Typically, this is done for relationship insight. We look for complimentary strengths, personality compatibility, and possible conflict or contention.
You may be familiar with the idea of Sun sign compatibility. This has been popularized by newspaper horoscopes and popular books like Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”. However, you may not have known that synastry was used in the earliest chart-based astrology (Hellenistic astrology). An analysis of marriage and friendship often involved some amount of synastry.
Sources for Ancient Synastry
I’ll be exploring a few of the 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).
Carmen of Dorotheus can be picked up here. 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 was made by Dr. Ben Dykes in 2009. The Book of Aristotle is a mammoth indispensable work covering all aspects of natal delineation, It was 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”. It is assumed that the author is Masha’allah, but Dykes has recently speculated that the author could al-Andarzaghar (another astrologer of the period).
Kurt and Courtney
To illustrate the basics I’ll take a relatively light look at charts of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. Both charts 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.
The Sun, the Moon, and Venus
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. The Moon in a man’s chart describes the wife and facets of his marriage. 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. He appears to refer to synastry when he says “by exchange” in the following passage.
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)
Natal Sun-Moon Harmony
My sense is that this consideration of harmony between the luminaries is more important in synastry than the natal chart. I believe that harmony between the Sun and Moon in a natal chart is symbolic of harmony between the sexes and/or parents. Perhaps co-presence, trines, and sextiles are symbolic of a natural harmony between two partners, sexes, or gender roles. This could relate to a sense that partners should get together and deepen bonds. Squares and oppositions draw out a symbolism of dynamism and possible tension and conflict. Aversion between the lights symbolize a detachment between them.
Natal Sun-Moon in Examples
Looking at this consideration in the charts of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain we’d conclude that there is strong impetus for both to be in a serious relationship. Courtney’s Sun and Moon are co-present in Cancer. Kurt’s Sun and Moon are trine across Pisces and Cancer. 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 relates to his desire for a lasting long-term traditional relationship, as well as disappointment in his parents for failing to uphold such a relationship.
Moon-Venus Natal Harmony
Masha’allah, following Dorotheus, stressed the relationship between the Moon and Venus in both the natal chart and synastry. He noted 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).
Dorotheus 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. In many authors, such as Firmicus Maternus, it is said to indicate heightened investment in sexual activity in the natal chart, especially when the Moon separates from or applies to Venus.
Intimate and Sexual
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 shows the more personal desire for intimacy. In some authors, strong Moon-Venus connections (together with other factors) come up in relation to incest, such as with the mother. This again relates to the personal life, nurture, familiarity, and even emotional fulfillment (Moon) being linked with love, beauty, and sexuality (Venus). Relationship bonds can be shaken by a lack of sexual intimacy and affectionate personal space. Perhaps Masha’allah’s stress on Moon-Venus connections for strength of bond relates to this sense.
Moon-Venus in Examples
The Moon and Venus are in aversion (disregard each other) in Courtney Love’s chart. They are 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. For Courtney, they may be more disconnected facets of life.
The regards of benefics and malefics (as well as house placement and other factors) are also examined 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. It may also indicate the sorrow of the husband (or father) in the relationship, as opposed to the idealized wife shown through Moon-Jupiter. Courtney’s own Mars-Venus indicates things getting heated surrounding love and sexuality, including contentions and aggression related to such matters.
Sun, Moon, Venus, and the Angles in Synastry
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 the same factors in synastry.
Intense and harmonious connections between the Lights (esp. man’s Moon and woman’s Sun) and between the Moon and Venus in synastry indicate strong bonds between partners. Squares, oppositions, and aversions between them can indicate problems, especially if malefics are involved.
The Stakes in Synastry
Additionally, the “stakes” (1st, 10th, 7th, and 4th places, also known as “angles” or “pivots”) of the charts are very important. When the same signs are angles or the above mentioned planets are in each other’s angles, it increases the bond. See the following quotes from Dorotheus and Masha’allah (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)
Malefics and Benefics in Synastry
All three authors, Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Masha’allah, stress the role of malefic planets (i.e. Saturn and Mars) in splitting up the relationship. This particularly the case 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. They may also reunite partners when other problems such as hard connections between the Lights are indicated.
Kurt and Courtney Synastry
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.
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).
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 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.
Shortly after Kurt’s last solar return in February of 1994, his behavior began to spiral out of control. The behavioral problems often pertained to relationship matters with Love. Kurt’s drug habit had also gotten out of control.
Sun-Saturn Solar Return
In February of 1994, Saturn had just entered Pisces. Saturn was at 2 Pisces at the time of Kurt’s last solar, two degrees from Courtney’s own Saturn, and within a degree of both Kurt’s Sun. It was also within a degree of the solar return Mercury (ruler of Kurt’s Ascendant), and was with the solar return Venus. These configurations reinforced the natal configuration of Sun, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury in Pisces.
Kurt’s 1994 Solar Return (precessed) – Saturn is conjuct return Sun within 1 degree.
The most potent symbolism of Sun-Saturn is loss of the vital heat and spirit, i.e. death. This indication at death (Sun-Saturn) has been discussed in my article on the death of Ilya Zhitomirskiy (committed suicide after a solar return with a tight Sun-Saturn conjunction) and my article on the death of Whitney Houston (activated Sun-Saturn opposition).
Day of Death
I am not implying that Courtney directly had anything to do with Kurt’s death. It is simply interesting that conflicts in their relationship intensified as Saturn came into Pisces activating that synastry. Kurt’s self-inflicted death, which ended their relationship, was clearly symbolized in the chart. Kurt’s death occurred on April 5, 1994 with Saturn at 7 Pisces. Courtney Love was going through her Saturn return. Transiting Mars had also entered Pisces and was conjunct transiting Mercury, both of them 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 (modified for display purposes).
9 thoughts on “Synastry in Ancient Astrology | Bare Basics with Kurt Cobain & Courtney Love”
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Out of curiosity, do you use the 12th part chart in your synastry work? I mention this, because you discussed antisica/contra-antisica in this article. I think that is maybe my biggest confusion with some of these concepts, and the various layers of prediction, progression, profection, etc, is that I am not sure when to use these methods.
Also, I noticed that you mentioned zodiacal releasing in a previous article. Have you written more about that, or can you recommend a good starting place to learn more about that? I feel like that is a complete foreign language concept, although I have seen several people mention it.
I use 12th parts for everything. Including that. In my opinion, they are an essential element of the chart. I often omit them in articles that introduce an approach to a topic to keep things clearer and simpler though.
My wife and I have each other’s Venus 12th parts conjunct each other’s natal Venus.
Zodiacal Releasing is from Vettius Valens alone and he didn’t call it that. I think Robert Schmidt may have given it that name. It’s not one of my favorite techniques but I’m all about checking things against a number of predictive techniques. Also, Valens used it in predicting crises. My favorite techniques are profections, solar and lunar returns, planetary years, primary directions, and transits – those are all techniques which were pretty popular in Hellenistic and Persian astrology. You can find links to articles I’ve written exploring most of those from the home page.
To learn zodiacal releasing I recommend reading Valens. Aside from that Chris Brennan’s book and course are good. You can also do the calculations in the Valens software version of Morinus.
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